Nearly four years ago, I first came to Taricaya, staring wide-eyed out of the aeroplane at the vast expanse of greenness spread below me. Here was the rainforest, The Amazon Rainforest: a new and unknown place full of wildlife, plants, cultures and customs of which I knew very little. Like many new volunteers I was excited and perhaps a little in awe of what lay before me. It had seemed an exciting, distant adventure only a few months previously – handing in my notice and upsetting the routine of my life as a primary school teacher to go and fulfil my dream of travelling the world and seeing places I’d only read about or seen photos of.
How different my experience was this time, only a few months ago, when I returned to Puerto Maldonado and to Taricaya in my new role as Volunteer Co-ordinator: coming back to a place that no longer was so new and mysterious. This time it felt almost like returning to my second home. Much has changed since those initial days and months spent exploring the world. Peru is much more familiar to me. Still the feelings of excitement, but this time it was the excitement of a new job to tackle, the excitement of seeing old friends, the excitement of being back in the jungle.
So, a little about me: from Primary School teacher, to a Projects Abroad Conservation volunteer, to traveller and then after a brief stint primary teaching again, I was back in Peru teaching English in Puerto Maldonado. I lived in Puerto for about a year and a half, before returning back to England for a time. However, on hearing of the opening for a new Volunteer Co-ordinator at Taricaya I did, of course, jump at the chance to return.
It seems to me that Taricaya changes all the time, but somehow manages to stay, in essence, the same. New buildings are constructed, new animals arrive, old animals released, new projects and studies are undertaken and new species discovered within the reserve. Despite these continuing changes and progressions, the essence of Taricaya, the charm of the jungle that captures new volunteers as they arrive, this essence endures. For some it may be the moment they meet the new baby Howler Monkey, so young, so playful and so endearing; for others it may be the first day of working hard, sweating like never before, blisters beginning to redden the hands and standing back to view the area of cleared land, ready for a new cage, new plants or a new project. It may be the first night seeing the stars brightly scattered in the night sky as you go to your bunk and lie listening to the endless sounds of crickets and frogs and leaves rustling and paws scuttling in the darkness all around.
For me, I think, my first real reawakening to the fact that I was back in the rainforest happened early one morning as I woke up and heard high pitched squeaks and chatter in the trees around my bungalow. It was a group of Saddleback Tamarin Monkeys that often pass near to the lodge. I opened my door to find that they had discovered the heavy bunch of ripening yellow bananas weighing down the tree outside my room. They paused for a moment, looked at me, and scampered away a short distance: not too disconcerted with my presence, but preferring that I move on my way before they were going to come quite so close again.