Apr 9, 2010
Source: Bancroft This Week
Way back a year ago eight kids, two parents and a teacher from North Hastings High School signed up to embark on a voyage down the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve in Peru as a conservation effort. The group called themselves Student Expedition to the Amazonian Rainforest for Conservation of Habitat or SEARCH. Throughout the year they raised money to take down much needed supplies for the local village of San Martin on the Coast of the Amazon. After all their efforts, the group on March 7 finally got on a plane and headed for the trip they have waited for so long to go on.
After a long 22 hours, missing a flight and an extra two hour delay on top of a six hour layover, the group at last boarded the 1906 Ayapua. The students were to stay on an old restored rubber boom boat from the 1930s for the duration of their stay. The Ayapua, along with two other boats with kids from schools in Toronto were all owned by Dr. Richard Bodmer. He has been working with Pablo Puertas for 25 years for sustainable conservation in the Amazon and more specifically, the Pacaya Samiria Reserve which extends more than 7,700 square miles in Peru. The first two days on the Ayapua were all about travel from Nauta, down the Maranon River then meeting up with the Samiria River to come to PV three which in English translate to Guide Post three. The students had to endure some lectures on dangers in the Amazon such as bullet ants, the plans for the next six days and finally when sunscreen and bug spray will be most wanted. The students were also privileged enough to have the lectures given by Dr. Richard Bodmer himself.
The students from NHHS were accompanied by a school from Cornwall as well, together there were approximately 20 students and 15 staff on a boat that could only hold 40 passengers. Fortunately the students were not crammed at all. The perks of air conditioning for five hours per day and personal showers were enough for everyone to stay in good moods.
March 11, 2010 marked the first day that the students were able to "get out in the field" helping university students with collecting numerical data. The students were divided into three groups and went in a three day rotation participating in three different expeditions. One day the students woke up bright and early for 5:30 am and went out till roughly 8:00 am counting Macaws.
With this activity in your group, you went out with a University student, in this case a girl named Erla, and someone to drive your boat. Once you got going you would travel 500 meters up river, down river or in an oxbo lake and wait for 15 minutes recording the type of Macaws you saw and how many. The most common Macaws to observe were Blue and Yellow and Red Bellied Macaws. There was a chance to see 5 different types although some were rarer to see than others such as the Scarlett Macaws. The boat stopped an average of 6 times and after watching the sunrise you headed back for breakfast which was served from 7:00 am to 9:00 am. After eating the students were back out at 10:00 am for a three and half hour boat ride aboard the Fitzcoraldo observing dolphins. On this expedition our guide was William Bodmer, the son of Richard and a boat driver as well. After you were on the boat, depending on which direction you were going, it would drift down the river and drive back or drive five km in and drift back. The students were looking for Pink and Grey Dolphins unique to any dolphin you would observe at Marine Land. These dolphins have a big bulb-like forehead which houses sonar in which the pink dolphins are able to stun their prey.
The pink dolphins are also the only dolphins that can move their head sideways, thus allowing them to navigate through the flooded forest when the water is the highest. Though sometimes hard to get a look at, the students were lucky and observed as many as 50 dolphins or more at one time. Back in time for lunch the students had a nice rest on the boat until 4:00 pm when they did their pm Macaws. In the evening the Macaws were not as mobile, especially after a rain but one group was lucky enough to see 114 Macaws where as some groups would see none at all.
The next day the students were lucky enough to be right in the heart of the jungle observing various primates. At 7:00 am the group would split into two and begin a transect with either Edward and Odeillo or Euclides and Pablo. Once walking, you would stagger out about 10 feet apart looking for most commonly seen, the howler and squirrel monkeys. One group was fortunate to see Wooly monkeys who are at the top of the Primate world. The students would walk so far and stop for an hour, let the jungle settle down and walk back. Although the numbers of primates seen doesn't compare to the Macaws, the students loved trying new fruit, watching leaf cutters ants and the humongous Saber trees. The fruits the students got to try included, wild Mango, Guava and Anna Fruit. The whole expedition took until around 1:30 pm depending if you had to travel by boat or not. The rest of the day the students just chilled on the boat playing cards or soccer.
Lastly was fish day. At a later start to the day, 9:30 am once again Erla guided you with a driver to a little knoll or nook and began. The most popular fish caught on our freshly cut bamboo poles was Red Belly Piranhas and Sardines. The students either fished with other fish or raw chicken. "It is nasty" comments Ashalynn Fuller on her experience with the chicken. While fishing, one student would go out with the driver in a canoe to set the nets. Over a span of three and half hours students would catch from as many as two to 40 fish at one time. The most common fish caught in the net was an ancient species called Carachama, as well as a couple peacock bass. The students thoroughly seemed to enjoy when the jaws of the other fish were chewed off by the stressed out piranhas. This expedition while it served as a purpose to understanding the river better, also served as supper. "Piranhha is pretty good, nice and salty. The Carachama though were just kind of tasteless and mushy and grey, disgusting," tells one mother who went on the trip Bonnie Young. After the students got back to the boat, they had all day to relax until 8:00 pm when after the daily debriefing, they embarked on Caiman catching. Into the blackness with nothing but a spotlight and a headlamp, the students sat in the boat while the guide scans the horizon for eyes of a Caiman. If a pair of eyes was spotted, the guides would catch the caiman, tie it up to avoid danger, measure it and define the gender. Every student was lucky enough to witness a Caiman whether it was a baby or as big as one and half meters. One group was even fortunate to see a Caiman that was too large to bring into the boat.