Thursday, March 31, 2011


This has been another super busy month!  I started March with another Environmental Expeditions group, this time from Foxcroft, an all girls boarding school in Virginia.  This group was a lot of fun, the girls were great, really down to earth.  With the girls from Foxcroft I had a chance to see first hand how Carnival is celebrated in the jungle.  The Carnival celebration here is related to Lent just like Carnival in Brasil and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but in the jungle it lasts almost the entire month, and I think its link to Lent is pretty weak these days since they keep celebrating once Lent has started. In the villages they celebrate with an humisha.  The humisha is a palm tree that is cut down, little gifts are tied in its branches, it is planted upright again and then everyone dances around the tree, taking turns whacking it with a machete until the tree falls and everyone runs to get the gifts, kind of like a piñata.  I have participated in cutting down the humisha many times visiting communities with school groups, the difference for Carnival is water, and getting filthy!  As you dance around the tree people start throwing buckets of water at you and then smearing whatever is available all over your face!  With the girls from Foxcroft they started with achiote, which is a plant related to paprika with smooshy red seeds inside of a spikey pod that is often used as a dye or face paint.  After they used all the achiote on hand they switched to real paint, then smashed bananas, then mud, and finally ashes!  The girls got really into it and had an all-out war with the local kids to see who could make the other more disgusting! With this group I sat out, watching everyone’s cameras to make sure they didn’t get wet.  I had a chance to participate with my next student group, from Sandy Spring Friends School in Maryland.  Luckily at this community they stuck to achiote and water, no paint or ashes!  It was a lot of fun.

One of the Girls Taking a Whack at the Humisha!
My group from Sandy Spring was also pretty great, we saw so many animals!  The very first night we saw two snakes while we were on a night float at Explorama Lodge.  Our luck stayed with us the entire week, I saw a lot of things I have never seen before.  We saw tons of frogs, 3 sloths, hoatzins, tarantulas and even an extremely venomous fer-de-lance snake.  I watched as a gecko dropped its tail on purpose, escaping from one of my students (who wasn’t supposed to be picking it up in the first place!!).  The tail, now totally detached from the gecko, wriggled like crazy on the ground while the gecko froze, hoping we’d only notice his spastic tail.
Hyla tuberculosa Frog

We had a good view of the pink river dolphins, and while out birding before breakfast one morning they even saw a mother and baby dolphin! (I had decided to sleep in that day of course!)  We saw lots of lizards on the canopy walkway, I finally saw a pygmy squirrel on the walkway, and even the couple of students who were too afraid of heights to go up got to see a troop of monkeys while waiting below.  The highlight for me was waking up to the sound of scratching outside my room at the ACTS lodge.  I had arranged to have a room clear on the other side of the lodge from the rest of the group because they were pretty chatty and I wanted a little break! When I heard the scratching I debated getting out of my mosquito net to see what it was, I figured I wouldn’t see anything, but I couldn’t resist. I opened my door to find a huge bicolor spined porcupine outside, eating the wood floor!  It was awesome!  I have never seen one in the wild.  I took some pictures and as I crouched down to get a better view, he puffed up a little, so I went back to bed!  I didn’t want to see its giant quills any closer!

Bicolor-spined Porcupine

It was an incredible week.  One night we took boats out to a sandbar in the middle of the Napo River to look at the stars.  It was too overcast to see very many but when we got on the beach we could see flecks of gold glistening in the sand and we all sat around while Willy, one of Explorama’s fabulous guides, told us some of the legends of the Amazon, it was magical.  I always tell my groups that it doesn’t matter how many times I go out into the jungle, I always see something new, it is always special, I always learn new things, and after nearly 13 years since the first time I came to the Amazon this remains as true as ever. 

With both of my groups in March we went back to monkey island.  I just love this red howler monkey.  Her name is Perla and she is pregnant!

I have had about 2 weeks back in Iquitos since my last group left.  The family that lives at my house is still here, they were supposed to move out at the beginning of the month.  We had some issues because while I was gone they used all of my Cholula hot sauce that my mom sent me! A serious offense in my book. They made it up to me, (I guess), by cleaning out, and getting rid of the broken oven that was full of dead rats!  I may buy a new oven when I come back from the States in June, until then I’ll have to stick to no-bake cookies (which have not turned out so great with the humidity here!)

I have been working at the office now that I am finished with student groups until July.  I am thrilled because I am now the proud owner of my very own Explorama shirts, with my name on them and everything!  I think everyone else here may be sick of wearing them, but I love them because, flattering or not, they make me feel like an official part of the Explorama family.

School started again in mid-March at Las Malvinas where I worked before with the school garden.  I’ve been out to visit a few times but it is still a little early to do very much with them, especially since I don’t have much time in Iquitos right now.   We have been waiting for enough rain to stock the fish pond.  We were hoping to get the fish in this week, but it looks like the water is not going to be high enough.  While we were at the school checking it out we were visited by Malvina, the guard dog.  In case there wasn’t enough going on right now we decided that the dog needed to be fixed, deparasitized, and treated for fleas and possibly mange.  She technically belongs to the school, but she guards the garden, so to set a good example for the students we decided she needs to be well taken care of.  So today I picked her up at 8:30 with Gilbert the gardener and took her to the clinic in a moto-taxi! She had never been in any sort of vehicle before. She will have to spend the night with me tonight, and tomorrow I will bring her back to the garden, along with about 20 little palm trees that are supposed to arrive this afternoon from Napo!

Saturday begins the annual Adopt-A-School volunteer trips for CONAPAC, they will spend two weeks visiting all of the communities CONAPAC works with delivering school supplies and doing some service projects.  Volunteers began arriving yesterday, and I was lucky enough to head out to the Iquitos Manatee Rescue Center with some of the volunteers!  The project has been around for a few years, rescuing baby manatees and rehabilitating them.  They need milk until they are 2 years old, and are hand fed by the staff.  After they no longer need milk they eat water hyacinth.  Since they are so used to people the manatees then spend another year or two in a pond where they have little or no contact with humans to hopefully get them ready to be released back into the wild.  This April they will release their first manatees back into the Amazon.  Hopefully it is successful!

Feeding a Baby Manatee

Of course I have to mention that today is my 30th birthday!  So far so good!  Tonight Cynthia and I are going out to dinner to celebrate because it is also her birthday!  Happy birthday Cynthia!  We are going to Al Frio y Al Fuego, a floating restaurant on the Itaya River.  I have never been there but I can see it from the office! We’re going with some of the volunteers, they have all known each other for a long time, and tomorrow night I am celebrating with more friends at my house.

Sunday I head to Explorama Lodge for about 7 weeks to work at the CCC Amazon Library!  I am very excited.  The Amazon River is on the rise and I can’t wait to see Explorama as the river grows.  I will be taking a dugout canoe across the Yanamono River each day, then walking about 20 minutes to the library.  Hopefully there will be no blog posts to follow about me tipping my canoe!  The little dugouts are a lot shakier than the big aluminum canoes I grew up with!  I will be heading back to Iquitos on some weekends- Cynthia has decided to make a Thanksgiving-style dinner for Easter, I am looking forward to it already!

Sunrise on the Amazon River

1 comment:

  1. Happy Birthday, Megan. My mother-in-law, Margaret Hillary, just forwarded us your blog. Looks like all is well and life is full of adventures. Terrific!

    Have a blessed birthday!