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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Holly Ward: volunteering in Peru

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    30 Sep

    In 2017 I travelled to the Peruvian Amazon to take part in conservation volunteering with the Crees Foundation in the Manu Biosphere Reserve located just east of the Andes.

    After arriving in Cusco, we had time to explore the city before we began our journey into the rainforest. This included a tour of the city with a guide, and we also had the chance to try some traditional Peruvian food and drink at a local restaurant. The city is located at an altitude of 3,400m which makes physical activity a challenge, especially during the uphill hike to see the Cristo Blanco statue looking out from the hillside across the city.

    To reach the research centre, we had to leave at 5am to begin a 15 hour journey through the mountains and into the rainforest. We began by travelling up to 4,100m altitude in the Andes, stopping off at a traditional bakery, Huacarpay lagoon and the town of Paucartambo (famous for their yearly street festival). We then reached the entrance to Manu National Park located in the Cloud forest and continued our journey down through the clouds and into the rainforest below where we spent the night in a forest lodge by the river. The next day we travelled further into the rainforest and the journey ended with a 45-minute boat ride down the river where we managed to spot two Capybara sat by the water.

    The research centre is home to scientists, volunteers and visitors surrounded by regenerating rainforest. There is no electricity so meals are eaten by candlelight and electricity is only available for eight hours per week.

    Projects I took part in include Macaw monitoring at the clay lick (a short boat ride down the river away) to help study the impact of tourism on the activity of the birds, mammal monitoring including tracking and camera traps, night-time reptile and amphibian transects searching for indicator species, and finally leaf litter surveys which aim to study the different insect species found in the leaf litter of different stages of regenerating rainforest. Throughout my time in the rainforest I was able to see some amazing species including Howler Monkeys, Capuchin Monkeys, Capybara, Caiman, Brazilian Wandering Spiders and the Cock of the Rock, the Peruvian national bird.

    I was able to spend a couple of days in the local jungle town of Salvacion helping to build a biogarden so local families can live sustainably with the surrounding rainforest and earn money by selling produce. I also helped with an Agroforestry project which encourages farmers to use sustainable wood and banana production rather than illegal logging to provide short and long term income. I took part in an English lesson for the locals which allowed me to practice my Spanish.

    Following the end of the project, we visited a jungle waterfall and hot springs before taking the 10 hour journey back to Cusco. From here, I spent a couple of days travelling and visited Machu Picchu before returning home. The entire trip was an amazing experience out of my comfort zone and I am really grateful to the Gateway scheme for giving me the opportunity.