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Las Aventuras de Liz en Tambopata

Elizabeth Hobson | Dec 10, 2009


I was bitten by the field research bug relatively early in life. I spent a summer in high school working as an intern for the fisheries department, but soon moved over to bird work. Since then, I have been lucky enough to work in some beautiful areas of the world with some amazing wildlife. As an undergraduate at McGill University in cold snowy Quebec Canada, I spent much of the long winters searching for my next summer adventure. I had always planned to conduct my own research one day, so working on many varied field projects gave me useful skills not only in terms of technical knowledge and hands-on experience, but in how to deal with co-workers and supervisors, and, because all field projects should be based on the premise that everything will probably go wrong, in making decisions and solving problems on the fly.  When it all comes down to it though, these summers away provided me with two things: the opportunity to work with incredible wildlife, and the chance to be immersed in completely foreign ecosystems while living (preferably) in the middle of nowhere.  Countless hours of searching for my 2003 summer adventure had led me to a job in Peru working with the Tambopata Macaw Project.

Off I flew to Peru for the summer, leaving two very worried parents who were convinced I was going to be eaten by a Jaguar, and landing eventually in the Lima airport at dark-thirty in the morning.  I staggered through customs with my huge trekking backpack on my back (later to be nicknamed "Heavy").  Walking through the airport, I accidentally dropped my passport in a crowded area and, mindful of all that I had been told about Lima and thieves, dived to retrieve it without a second thought.  I almost landed flat on my face with the extra weight I was carrying, but managed to keep my balance and partially preserve some shred of dignity by utilizing the quick shuffle-to-the-side technique to get myself back under the main weight of the pack. 

From Lima I boarded a plane to Puerto Maldonado, in the south-eastern part of Peru and almost on the Peru-Bolivia boarder.  This flight, broken into two approximately hour-long halves, is one of the most incredible that I have ever been on.  From Lima to Cusco we flew over increasingly jagged-looking mountains, snow-capped and awe inspiring, to a landing in Cusco, nestled high in a mountainous valley and surrounded on all sides by the tips of the spiked giants.  From Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, I saw what looked like trails through the mountains, reminding me of ancient Incan travel routes.  As we neared our destination, the mountains gave way to forested greenness.  As a Brit sitting a few rows ahead of me said, this was "proper rainforest."  Each tree's crown strained towards the sky, giving the intense green below an overall bumpy texture.  We landed and disembarked onto the airstrip, humid air washing over me like walking through a doorway festooned with streamers, wafting across my face as I stepped from the plane.  Here, I felt like I was finally in Peru, in the humid tropical-ness I associated with the country, so unlike the dreary damp coolness of Lima. 

The last step of my journey to the field was a stop in town to get my permits sorted out. Puerto Maldonado is an interesting little town on the verge of a tourist-conversion.  Although there are a few souvenir shops which cater to the tourists, the town mainly appears to be recovering from the gold and later the timber booms which led to its creation.  The next big 'boom' will likely be a tourism boom.  As the gateway to the surrounding rainforest, Puerto stands poised to become the next great eco-tourism destination. Mixed in with the mostly dirt rutted roads of the town, Puerto has a certain charm.   

First day in Peru

Puerto is an interesting little town.  Most of the roads aren't paved.  They're like two giant wheel ruts of slippery red clay potholes running through the city with a divider of broad-leafed tropical plants. I had to laugh at one of the road signs near the middle of town at a regular street corner, pointing one way towards Cusco and another way towards Arequipa, each hundreds of kilometers away.

Second day in Peru

I was so tired my first night in town that I passed out cold. The next morning, I planned to pick up some last few things from civilization before being cut off for months.  Sofia, one of the guides with Rainforest Expeditions, gave me directions on where to go to buy stamps and get money changed.  Unfortunately, I got lost (I took the first left and should have taken the second) and got all turned around.  Disoriented, I ended up asking a little old lady for directions.  This was pretty challenging because I suddenly realized that with my pathetic Spanish abilities, I couldn't remember how to say letter, send, stamp, or even post office, and I had accidentally left my dictionary back at the office.  However, I did remember how to say “change” and “money”. These two words caused a light bulb of understanding to go off over the old lady's head and she graciously took me by the sleeve and led me through the streets to find her friend who changed some money for me.  Then, to get around my lack of vocabulary, I told her that I wanted to “write to my family in the U.S.”  Again, with a flash of understanding, she grinned, took hold of my sleeve, and led me off to the post office and even helped me buy the right stamps.  Thank goodness for gracious strangers! Note to self: don’t ever go anywhere without your dictionary…