Navigating an obstacle course with a jar of sardines: Peru Week 4
November 26th 2023
My journey to the rainforest could have been right out of a nature documentary. As we crossed the river Las Piedras, a tributary of the Amazon River (I think), we were surrounded by exotic-looking trees and colourful birds and butterflies.
As the research centre is so remote, the food supplies must be collected in the same way as we were, a boat journey across the river. Energy at the station is generated by solar panels, and the water comes from a well deep below the ground. As these resources are limited, we must use as little of them as possible. There are compost toilets, and we are limited to one cold shower a day – which isn’t much of a problem because it’s so hot and humid here.
There is only one other intern here at the same time as me. She is from Norway and is here for 8 weeks, whereas I am here for 10. She is fascinated by insects. I, however, am less enthused.
On our first morning, we awoke to a bullet ant (so named because its bite is said to be as painful as being hit by a bullet) right outside of our room. As one side of the room is completely open, there’s nothing to stop the bullet ant from wandering right into our room or come to think of it, right into our beds. Actually, we’ve seen quite a few bullet ants near the research centre. Someone suggested that there might be a bullet ant nest nearby. Delightful.
And do you remember those wandering spiders I mentioned in my second blog post? Well, we’ve been warned to shake our clothes before we put them on, lest the wandering spider be dwelling inside them. Luckily, the species of wandering spider present here in Peru is much less dangerous than the species in Brazil.
In addition to wandering spiders, shaking our clothes also helps lower the chances of botfly larvae from settling on our clothes. If clothes infected with botfly larvae are worn, the larvae may enter the skin, where the parasite can do its damage. Botfly larvae can also be transmitted to humans via mosquito bites when the larvae are laid on the mouthparts of the mosquito.
Living in the Rainforest
Understandably, I was a little apprehensive about living in the rainforest. “Do you have any advice for me?” I asked the young couple whom I met at the hostel in Lima, who had just been in the rainforest for 3 days. “Oh no, it’s totally fine,” one of them piped up. “Just stay on the trail and try not to touch the plants, there are ants on them.”
My first morning in the rainforest, we were off the trail for hours. We were setting up a grid of small mammal traps. Basically, the traps catch small mammals such as rodents, we measure them and then release them. Off the trail, getting through the jungle is like navigating an obstacle course. We battle through branches, clamber over fallen trees, and narrowly avoid (mostly) being tripped up by vines. There’s no avoiding the plants or insects, which crawl over our boots, up our sleeves and fly into our eyes. All of this I did while carrying a jar of mashed sardines in their juices (bait for the traps). This seemed to attract even more insects.
I realise that I may have described this as a bit of a nightmarish scenario, but that’s not the case at all. It’s all worth it for the animals we’ve seen. I’ll tell you more about that, and the research I’ve been involved in, in my next post.