ShelbySkinner's Travel Journals


  • 27 years old
  • From Yellowknife, Canada
  • Currently in San Jose, Costa Rica

My adventures through Costa Rica, Peru, and Ecuador

Weekly updates of my trip

First Week at the MLC

Peru Manu National Park, Peru  |  Oct 19, 2014
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This was my first week getting involved with activities at the MLC. It wasn't a particularly exciting week as I spent most of my time around camp rather than in the forest unfortunately but someone has to do those jobs as well. 

On Monday we had emergency first response training all morning where we learned CPR, bandaging, and other first aid related stuff. We had a lot of presentations in the afternoon. Kitty, a staff member from China, gave a presentation on the amphibians around the MLC to prep us for our frog night walk later in the evening.. Then Elenenor gave a talk on taxonomy. Our last presentation was on a local tribe called the Arakembut who came to visit the MLC and tell us more about their culture. We learned about a few of their myths and discussed the symbolism of it in small groups. On our night walk we found and collected 11 frogs. Sadly I didn't catch any of them but it was still fun. The calls they make in the night are incredible and it is hard to believe something so small and make so much noise. On the way back on of the local students found a snake which we also brought back to process at the MLC.

Tuesday was a little more exciting. I woke up with a slightly swollen and sore foot so I was happy to be close to camp. I did LSD, it's not what you think, forthright whole morning. Once a month we go and collect canopy litter from the nets and bring it back to sort and dry to determine the biomass of the litter that falls. We separate the leaves, sticks, and seeds from each bag and dry them separately. It's a good way to meet and get to know people. After lunch we had a talk from the science coordinator about the birds around the MLC. Most of them we had seen before because they are on our ID test.

Wednesday was an early start because we had a bird walk with Jaime. Most of the birds are heard rather than seen here in the forest. The walk made my foot worse so I hung around camp again doing LSD. Callum, one of the other volunteers had a swollen foot as well so he stayed back with me too. We went through about four bags of litter. In the afternoon we had a butterfly presentation with Lawrence and then went to check some of the butterfly traps. We learned how to properly take the butterfly out of the nets, how to hold them, and how to identify them. I didn't get a chance to hold them because we only caught three but I will have plenty of practice I'm sure. That evening we had our question period with the Arakenbut people. They are an indigenous group of people who have seen a lot of hard times. They went through a major genocide during colonialism where there population went from 30,000 to 1,500 people. They have also lost a significant amount of their land and it has been severely fragmented leading to divisions in the populations. This has resulted in a few different languages within the Arakenbut people. It was a really neat presentation.

Thursday morning I had Colpa which means clay lick. It involves getting up early and going to the beach to count and observe the arrivals of the macaws, parakeets, and parrots to the clay lick. They believe that the birds use this area to socialize, eat minerals from the salt,as well as use the salts to neautralize the toxins in there body. We mostly identify the birds by their calls since it can be hard to see their colouration. The Blue-headed macaw population has declined in recent years so they are also targeting this species specifically. We monitor the number of tourists that come to the clay lick and disturb the birds to see if there is a correlation between increased tourists and a decrease in Blue-headed macaw populations.

On Friday I was on camp prep all day which means I was helping the cook with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We made lentils for breakfast, spaghetti for lunch, and soup and bread for dinner. It was a good day in the cocina and I was able to practice my Spanish with the cooks.

Finally on each the last work day of the week I got to leave the MLC and do some agroforestry with Renaldo. He is a local man who is very interested in sustainable farming and forestry. What we do is go to a slash and burn plot that has been purchased by the local people and we plant three varieties of trees. This week we were planting softwood trees which take about 15 years to mature. These trees are also planted alongside banana trees and hardwood species. This is to ensure the local people have wood to selectively harvest at different times. For example, the banana trees will produce a profit after a year and a half, so the locals have a continuous income. I was following behind the guys who were digging holes and planting the seedlings. Renaldo and a few of the locals were measuring out where to plant each tree. I got a good workout from climbing over downed trees and walking back and forth with 10-12 seedlings in my arms. It is a really fun day of tree planting but it can get quite warm. We worked from 7-10:30 because it was already getting unbearable by 10 and we were clearly slowing down. After lunch I studied for our ID test which I didn't feel very confident about after going through the 51 different species. I ended up doing quite well on the test only getting 3 wrong and lost half marks for spelling on one of the names.

The food has improved significantly since the first week. The head chef had been away for a week so the kitchen staff did their best. We had a lot more meat this week but the vegetables and fresh fruit are still lacking. We had lots of sweets this week including brownie, lemon cake, sweet bread, and biscuit and crema de leche. I am hoping I am in the jungle more next week and not at the MLC all week again. Ciao for now!

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