Visiting a shaman. Viewing pink dolphins. Handling tarantulas. Walking over the tops of 100-foot tall trees. Fishing for piranha. Wearing boas (the reptilian variety).
These were just a few of the new experiences that five Garrison Forest students (rising 8th and 9th graders) had on their recent trip to the Peruvian Amazon with Middle School Science teacher Karen Meyers—this was her second trip to the region—and GFS parent Scott David.
The July 5 through July 14 trip, which was planned and executed by Environmental Expeditions (Maryland) and Ecoteach (Washington state), offered the GFS group a first-hand look at all that the Amazon rainforest offers and a cultural, service and scientific experience that they will never forget.
Enjoy the photos (right) and Mrs. Meyers’ reflections on the exciting trip itinerary:
“We flew to Lima then took an in-country flight over the Andes to the city of Iquitos, where the main branch of the Amazon is formed by the confluence of several rivers. There, we visited the colorful Iquitos Market before boarding the Amazon Queen to start our journey down the river. We stayed at four different lodges, all operated by Explorama Lodges. The first three featured open air rooms, beds covered with mosquito nets, and no electricity or hot water.
At the first lodge, the students met the Yagua people of a nearby village, who shared their knowledge of roof thatching, basket weaving, pottery and other crafts. They also visited the village and traded t-shirts and other American goods for handmade crafts. Dr. Linnea Smith, an American doctor who started a clinic to serve the Ribereños (as the people living along the Amazon are known, spoke about her work. Later in our stay, we visited her clinic. A night hike through the rainforest revealed some of the wildlife, which is impossible to spot in daylight.
The second lodge is located near the Canopy Walkway, which winds its way over the tops of the rainforest trees for a quarter mile. Platforms have been constructed in large trees, and suspension walkways join the platforms. From this vantage point, we had a completely different view of the rainforest from that seen on the floor! A night hike revealed bioluminescent fungi that look like stars scattered on the forest floor. Dr. Meg Lowman of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the preeminent expert on rainforest canopies, conducted a workshop with us on rainforest leaves.
Near the third lodge, we visited the shaman at the ReNuPeru Botanical Garden and heard about the many medicinal uses of rainforest plants. We enjoyed a service project day at the village of 22nd de Noviembre. The people of the village turned out en masse to welcome us and before the work began, there were speeches, songs by the children, dancing and presentation of gifts to the visitors. The girls helped plant trees and paint the house occupied by the village teacher as well as the school kitchen. They came up with the creative idea of having the children put their handprints on the outside of the kitchen building. The culmination of the day was a dance around a tall pole, festooned with gifts handmade by the villagers. It is similar to the idea of a piñata but, instead of hitting it, the dancers strike the pole with a machete until the whole structure falls and the gifts are retrieved.
Other activities included fishing for piranha (which were then served for lunch), visiting a monkey rehabilitation center and enjoying a plunge in the swimming pool and a hot shower at the last lodge the night before heading home. It was the trip of a lifetime and will hopefully become an annual event at GFS!” – Mrs. Meyers
From a few of the girls' comments below, it's clear that the trip will resonate with them for years to come:
Jamie Glueck: "My favorite part was learning about and studying the rainforest firsthand. What suprised me most about the Amazon was how much we can improve the medical field by studying plants natural chemical composition. I learned that all biennial works in different ways to attain essential nourishment. I also learned that I can rise to any challenge that lies before me. My trip inspired me and showed me how much research is needed in all scientific fields; at GFS I will be motivated to challenge things I learn and take in what is being taught because that is what a good scientist does."
"Going on the canopy walkway and experiencing the different layers of the Amazon was very fun. I was surprised with the amount of birds we saw. Everywhere you looked there were birds of all different species. I learned about how different everyone's cultures are. We visited local villages and tribes; their lifestyle is very different from ours. I learned that the only thing you really need to survive is food and water--everything else is just extras."