ShelbySkinner's Travel Journals

ShelbySkinner

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

My adventures through Costa Rica, Peru, and Ecuador

Weekly updates of my trip

Welcome to the Jungle

Peru Manu National Park, Peru  |  Oct 12, 2014
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This week was a combination of city living and jungle adventures! I have to say that Cusco is my favorite city I have been to so far. The downtown area is quite touristy but the city is scattered with markets and cute little restaurants and coffee shops. There are beautiful old churches and museums around the main plaza as well. You can see mostly Spanish architecture around town but there are a few Inca walls remaining which you can distinguish from the newer construction by the perfectly cut stones, the slightly angled alignment, and some have symbols of snakes on them. I highly suggest spending some time in Cusco even if you aren't a fan of cities.

Not much happened on Monday. I was picked up from my hostel by Nicola, who is one of the education coordinators with CREES, and taken to another hostel where the other volunteers from my group were staying. When I arrived I met Solvita from Latvia, Danny from England, and my roommate Sahika from Turkey. I spent most of the day wandering the streets of Cusco looking through shops for souvenirs. I stopped into a cafe Simon had shown me easier and had a tea and a lemon meringue pie tart! So good! I bought a beautiful alpaca wool sweater for myself. I met up with Solvita and Danny and attempted to walk up to this view point where you can see the whole city of Cusco but I only made it about halfway. There were a lot of stairs involved and the altitude was getting to me so I headed back down to town. That night we went for pizza at a place I had found earlier that day. The pizza was very good because they cooked in a wood fire oven! 

On Tuesday we got to meet the CREES team in the Cusco office. We learned more about CREES and what we will be doing in the Amazon rain forest for a month! After that the 11 of us went and ate a traditinal Peruvian lunch. I had pasta, bread, fries, steak with an egg on top, and of course rice! After lunch we went to the San Pedro market to try some local fruits such as passion fruit. That night a few of us went to a tapas bar for dinner. The tapas were quite different from Canada as they were all bread with different toppings. They were all pretty tasty.

Wednesday was the first day of our trip to the jungle! We left Cusco around 7:30 and made several stops along the way. The first was at a town famous for its bread. They bake in wood fired ovens and add pork fat to their breads. Our next stop was at these stone tombs where people used to be hurried. There was a lady there who was selling handmade bracelets and dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing. We stopped at Manu National Park for lunch. This is the park that the Manu Learning Centre (MLC) is bordering and where I will be living for the next month! When we first arrived we couldn't see any of the park as it is a cloud forest but by the time we had finished our lunches it was clearing up and we could see a bit of it. Our last stop before stopping for the night was at a lookout point where Cock of the Rocks are found. They are an orange bird and the males come to the female's nesting site and compete with each other to mate. We saw 8 at one time which is quite rare. We spent the night at Paradise Lodge which was absolutely gorgeous! It was located right beside a river and had a lot of bird life around. I had my best sleep here since arriving in Peru.

Thursday was our final day of travel before arriving at the MLC. We left Paradise Lodge shortly after breakfast and it was only a short drive to Atalaya where we would catch the boat to the MLC. The boat we took was quite narrow and almost flat bottomed due to the low water levels. It was about a 30 minute boat ride and we saw lots of birds along the way. When we arrived we were given our rooms and left to settle and unpack. All of our stuff had to be put in plastic bins because it is very easy for mold to grow on your stuff since it is so humid in the jungle. I was paired up with Holly (Australia) and Nica  (South Africa) in a room. The rest of the day was spent learning the rules and getting to know the MLC.

Friday was our first day of orientation. We went on an ecology walk with Jaime who is the science coordinator for CREES. We saw three species of monkey; the squirrel, night, and Capuchin monkeys. The forest around the MLC is not primary forest and some parts had been completely cleared by logging and agriculture. The forest is quite dense but the structure is still lacking in the upper canopy which means when you look up you can still see the sky. We walked through completely and partially cleared as well as bamboo forest and a wetland. We also had some compass and GPS training but didn't get to practice much due to the down pour of rain.

 On Saturday we went to a small town nearby called Salvacion to learn about CREES involvement with the local communities. We took a short boat ride and then hiked about 30 minutes to town. The work that CREES does in Salvacion is building biogardens for the local people and agroforestry. The biogardens involve building a garden for a local family by building the beds and roof as well as planting fresh vegetables. This is done once a week by four volunteers and you go to town for two days and then come back to the MLC. The families are carefullysele ted and expected to take care of the garden after the volunteers leave. This project is important because fresh fruit and vegetables do not make up a huge part of the local diet as fresh food is shipped from Cusco, which means expensive, and not always in the best shape when it arrives. The agroforestry program is used to help the local loggers to learn how to sustainably harvest trees. Forestry is a very common occupation here in Peru but it is leading to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. In this project, volunteers are sent to plant banana, soft wood, and hard wood trees on a cleared plot. This combination of trees allows the farmer to see both short and long term benefits. The banana trees will start producing bananas after a year and a half, the software wood species can be harvested in 15 years, the hard wood species can be logged after 40 years. The three species also help each other to grow faster compared to a tree plantation of one single species. The thing that I like most about CREES is that they realize that forestry is the livelihood of many people here and instead of talking their work away from them they come up with sustainable ways to farm. We got to meet the local hero who is in charge of the biogardens and agroforestry programs, Renaldo. We had a tour of his house which is almost completely sustainable. He has his own biogardens to get fresh vegetables from, he raises chickens, fish, and guinea pigs which he also sells to local people, and he also has an outhouse that produces methane which he then uses as fuel for his stove! It is pretty incredible! He doesn't have acres of land either for all of this, his lot is about the same size as my yard back home. Saturday night is party night and dessert night at the MLC since everyone has Sunday off to relax. There is a small bar which serves pretty much any drink you want along with pop and a few snacks. This Saturday they organized a games night with 6 legged race, tug of war, potato sac races, musical chairs and limbo. There were many injuries from that night including a massive bruise on my arm. Our team came in Second place out of four which was pretty good. Afterwards we moved down to the hammock area to hang out and chat. There are tourists that come here as well so we didn't want to disturb them.

As I said above, Sunday is our day to relax. We get a special breakfast with pancakes and then are left to do whatever we want. I did some ID test stuff to try and learn some of the species around here. We have a test next week and if you get 100% then you get a chocolate bar ;) I also watched what to expect when you're expecting with a group of people. It was also a good day for laundry which piles up quite quickly here. I didn't really feel like I deserved this day off since we had been doing orientation all week but I'm sure I will look forward to next Sunday :)

The food here isn't nearly as good as at my volunteer place in Costa Rica but they are feeding way more people here. We eat rice basically three meals a day with some sort of stew to put on it. As I said before, fresh vegetables are in short supply so we mostly eat potatoes and the occasional salad. Breakfast can be anything from an egg, mashed lentils, bread, or porridge. There is not a lot of meat either as we only get one delivery of food a week and it is hard to keep in this heat. The hottest day this week was 34.5 degrees with 57% humidity! We get dessert twice a week as well. I really wish that I had brought some vitamins to take to make up for the lacking food. The servings are also quite small considering the amount of work people do around here. The food is good though, just not enough.

Well that is it for this week! Ciao!

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