There is no distance on Earth that separates us from the benefits that rainforests provide. The Amazon rainforest is one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the world and greatest remaining natural resource on Earth. For years, I dreamed of traveling to the "Lungs Of Our World" and experiencing it's adventure, serenity, culture, and natural beauty. Well, I certainly got more than I bargained for! It all began two years ago when I started building Everything Connects and planned my second mission of planting 10,000 trees. I reached out to Project Amazonas and have been collaborating with this wonderful organization ever since to make this tree planting mission of mine a reality. My goal was to plant as many trees as possible and donate to and volunteer with the indigenous tribes, particularly the children, in the area. I traveled with my sister and met a group of awesome volunteers in Peru at the Project Amazonas Santa Cruz Forest Reserve. This trip was incredibly eye opening to the realities of jungle life. We first landed in Iquitos, which is a city built in the heart of the Amazon and is only accessible by plane or boat. We stayed there two nights to get settled in, become accustomed to the endless mosquito attacks, meet the other volunteers, and prepare for our excursion to the field station. Iquitos is the third world equivalent of New York, bustling with life all day and night. However, I found the city to be very polluted with garbage everywhere, dirty water, and horrible air quality. Not to mention the countless stray dogs that were all suffering from some type of horrible ailment. The locals were for the most part very kind, but being the "gringo" I was, which is an outsider or tourist, I always had to watch my pockets, especially in the busy marketplaces. I've always known about the challenges people in third world countries faced and lifestyles they led, but it's very different to learn about these issues online or in a book and to actually experience it first hand. I wanted to help every single child and stray dog in need while there! It drove me nuts not being able to. Anyway, our second morning there we finally left for the field station which was an adventure in and of itself. We began by taking a "Moto Kart", that my sister and I called "Go-Karts", ride to the dock, where we boarded on a small boat that took us down the Amazon River to the town of Mazan where we were welcomed by a swarm of locals trying to grab our bags to put into their Go-Karts and take us to another dock on the other side of Mazan. These locals meant no harm, but initially I was defensive trying to "protect" my belongings. I learned slowly the cultural differences and more times than not, the hard way. We finally decided which Go-Kart to jump in and made our way across the beautiful scenery of Mazan to the other dock where we settled into a small boat operated by Juan Pablo, who was working for Project Amazonas. We then made our way down the Mazan river and finally to our field station. Here are a few photos of our journey from Iquitos to the forest reserve:
Upon arrival at the field station, the volunteers, my sister, and I were welcomed with raw beauty and complete serenity. The noise of the city was non-existent, all we could hear was the beautiful chorus of endless Amazonian creatures. The field station itself was remarkably beautiful and spanned many acres. We had our own chef and a great mentor and guide Don Dean who is a board member of Project Amazonas and owner of the field reserve accompanying us. After settling in, Don gave us an introduction to the reserve and outlined our work schedules and what to expect during our stay. We learned that to get to bed every night, we would have to hike almost an hour through the jungle to sleep in another part of the reserve! This was exciting as most of the wildlife came out at night, but fairly dangerous as we were a good distance from civilization and surrounded by poisonous snakes and venomous spiders, however with good caution and common sense, we were all enjoying ourselves. With all the danger that surrounded us, it was a moth that got the best of me. On one of our night hikes, we saw a snake and so we all pointed our flashlights to it and I jumped into the light to snap a photo. Unfortunately, all the focused light attracted an immense amount of flying insects. One of those flying insects, a moth, happened to fly into my ear. As soon as it went up the ear canal, I panicked and stuck my finger in there to get it out, but instead I pushed it deeper in to the point that no one could even see it. I ended up spending two nights and three days with this moth in my ear until leaving to go to the hospital in Iquitos. Both those nights I spent hearing nothing but buzzing and wing flapping in my head. It was psychological warfare for me to stay calm, but I did a good job. Arriving at a hospital in Iquitos, even the doctors in the E.R. couldn't remove it, so I was sent to a specialist elsewhere in the city who needed to use a robotic camera to find it and then a special metal scooper to take it out. The moth was huge, but I was just glad it was taken out without further incidence. Here are a few photos of the reserve, our group, and some of the wildlife:
We spent our days setting up seed bags, planting trees, playing with and donating to the local kids, maintaining the house, traversing the jungle, trying to survive the onslaught of mosquitoes at night, and simply enjoying our stay and awesome company. Half way through the trip, all the other volunteers and Don left and my sister and I stayed a week on our own with a local named Juan. We decided on our second day alone to kayak together and after being out there for an hour, these dark rain clouds surrounded us in a matter of ten minutes and we were rushing back to the reserve trying to escape the coming downpour. We never made it in time and got drenched, but I'm glad because as soon as we pulled our kayaks onshore, we didn't bother running to the house and instead danced in the rain! It was an amazing feeling of rawness and oneness with nature that I'll never forget. Having the house to ourselves, we went on working planting the trees and maintaining the house, but the biggest task we had to do was hike the entire perimeter of the reserve to plug in coordinates for GIS satellite mapping that my sister Ariana specializes in. This was crucial for Don who really needed to update his maps and so we spent almost every day hiking. One of the days we hiked seven hours. It was a tough, but very rewarding experience. The jungle despite being filled with beauty was lurking with danger and we learned that weary eyes and clear minds were our greatest allies. In the end, we had planted tons of trees, made a GIS map, spent time playing with and donating to local children, helped renovate the house, made some great new friends, experienced the beauty, danger, and culture of the Peruvian Amazon, and created memories that will last a lifetime. For anyone who wants to volunteer for this organization, contact me and I will put you in touch and answer any questions you may have. Here are some more pictures from the trip. Hope you enjoy!
George Tsiattalos is the creator and founder of Everything Connects.
The mission of Everything Connects is to inspire you, educate you, and empower you to make a difference in your life, for all life, and for the ecological foundations of life.