After endlessly thinking of how I wanted to spend my summer holidays, I finally decided that I wanted to do volunteer work. After a few quick searches, Projects Abroad came up and I was immediately intrigued. At first, I had some trouble choosing a project, as Projects Abroad offers a wide range of projects that all seem super interesting.
However, I had always wanted to work with animals and I care deeply about the conservation of the rainforest. The Conservation Project in Peru at Taricaya Ecological Reserve in the Amazon rainforest was the best of both worlds for me. Not only did I get to spend loads of time with the animals and learn more about Peru's diverse rainforest, but I also immediately felt at home in Taricaya, where both the volunteers and staff were super helpful and friendly.
Preparation and my trip to Peru
When I first booked my two-week trip with Projects Abroad, I was immediately put into contact with Elvira, who organises the trips of the volunteers to Peru. Elvira is an absolute angel as she was always quick to answer any of my questions and she guided me throughout the entire booking process.
The only thing that you might want to do before your trip is go to your doctor and check if you've had all the vaccinations that you need. I did take malaria pills even though there is a very low risk (two to three cases every ten years).
I came all the way from Belgium, Brussels, and had quite a journey to make (I had four different planes to catch!) This was my first time travelling on my own outside Europe. Luckily, after more than 24 hours of travelling, Elvira was waiting for me at the airport with a much-needed sandwich. She brought me to the port, where another one-hour boat ride awaited me. The boat ride along the river Madré Dios was absolutely spectacular! I arrived at 17:00 and the sun was just beginning to set, resulting in some pretty beautiful views.
Conservation work in Taricaya
There are many different types of jobs in Taricaya, some more fun than others, but all are important to the centre. My first job was animal feeding, which in my opinion is the easiest and nicest job, as you get to interact with the animals and learn more about their diets and eating habits. With some animals, the birds and the smaller monkeys, you actually get to go into their cage to feed them.
Another really fun task is bird banding. This is where you put up nets and catch birds. After taking their measurements and putting a band on them, you release them back into the wild. When I did this, we caught some really cool birds, for example two different types of humming birds and two big toucans.
Other highlights were animal training, counting turtles, butterfly catching, making a walkway, and the spider monkey walk through the rainforest (we were super lucky, as we got to see some released spider monkeys!). The canopy walk, where you climb up a 42-metre high tree to do bird watching was another job that I personally really enjoyed. The views from above are amazing and the walk up is exhilarating. Other jobs, like working with a machete and carrying wood, were a little bit less interesting but still very important to the centre, and a good workout.
Another really nice thing in Taricaya is that they sometimes give information talks or organise walks. The talks are really interesting and informative, especially one I attended about the release programme of the spider monkeys. The walks in the rainforest are not only really beautiful, but you also learn a lot. If you're brave enough, you can also organise your own walks with at least two other people, and explore the rainforest yourself.
Tips and recommendations for future volunteers
The best tip that I have for any volunteer is to take your camera with you everywhere you go! You never know when something really spectacular is going to show up and I really regret not taking more pictures. Another tip is to bring some washing detergent as your clothes will get dirty really soon. You can get them washed in town but, sadly, some of my clothes didn't make it through the laundrette.
I also really recommend staying at least one weekend in Taricaya. The first weekend that I arrived, I was basically by myself at the centre and got to do animal feeding with two other staff members. I fed all the animals and learned a lot as I got some one-on-one information from Rachel, who manages the camp.
Nearly all of the jobs in Taricaya are pretty intense, so it's really important that you stay hydrated, which is extra difficult with the 30-degree weather. That's why I really recommend you bring a big water bottle! Taricaya has its own water cleaning system, so you can always refill your bottle in the kitchen. I also advise you to bring some snacks or buy some in Puerto Maldonado. I often took a nap in between jobs and I definitely needed a snack to wake me up before the next task. However, make sure that you buy snacks that are wrapped individually and don't let food scraps lay around in your room otherwise you'll get an insect party!
I also highly recommend you bring a couple of good books. Taricaya has no internet connection and in between jobs, a good book is the best way to relax. Also, if you have the chance to learn some Spanish before you go, I would definitely do so! Most of the staff speak English, but it's still very nice if you can speak some Spanish and every effort is highly appreciated.
My Conservation Project in Peru left me with many new friends, insights, and experiences. When my departure date arrived, I didn't want to leave and I still frequently think fondly of my time there. If you love animals, care for the environment, are eager to learn new things, and aren't afraid to get dirty, then this project is definitely for you!