Introduction As the tans fade, and the mosquito bites disappear, my memories of the Peruvian Amazon Expedition are slowly changing into snapshots of happiness, which I believe will be preserved as clearly as photos in my mind, in all of my Fire’s minds, for life. We met, almost as if for the first time, at Heathrow. Although having met at the briefing weekend, it had been three months since we had last spoken properly, but almost straight away it seemed that the Arowana Fire, also known as Fire B, would get on well. The sky in London was a picturesque blue, I recollect, mirroring our excitement and anticipation. All we could talk about were our expectations. Little did we know that the trip would not only fulfil, but also exceed these expectations – although perhaps in unexpected ways. The three flights taken to get to our destination passed in a haze of non-sleep and glorious sunrises –the first Peruvian dawn we saw while setting down in Lima was a striking red, blue and green amalgamation – and soon, having passed over acres upon acres of magnificent jungle vegetation, we were in Iquitos, at the very beginning of our expedition. The heat when we descended down the airplane steps and onto the cracking tarmac below was blisteringly humid; it seemed the acclimatisation process was going to be difficult! The day spent in Iquitos for our Fire consisted of our completion of the swim test, a meal, where we all bonded over exquisite Peruvian cuisine, and, of course, shopping – which was a slightly odd process in Peru as we were, at that point at least, unused to the pushy street sellers and the bartering process. On the return journey ‘Para dos soles por favor?’ became our main Spanish line, however! As we were yet to realise, our time spent in Iquitos was a mere gentle introduction to the expedition, although there were difficulties even in Iquitos, with the tuc-tuc’s (like rickshaws with motorbikes attached to them instead of bikes) rushing around constantly – around half of the Fire was nearly ran over during our time spent in the city! San Martine, the tribal village situated within the Payaca Samiria National Reserve Park, where we would be spending the next three to five weeks exploring, was our next destination. We had stayed at a hostel in Iquitos the night before we boarded the boat that would take us to San Martine, and this stay also became the last night that some of us would sleep comfortably in a bed for a whole five weeks! Even so, at the time this was of little significance, and the boat we boarded, known as the Eduardo Ocho, was magnificent. A huge old-fashioned metal construction, it was crudely beautiful with age, and our expedition party had a whole two floors to itself. With our hammocks swinging gently in a line from its beams, we could watch as the jungle breezed us by, and bemoan the fact that the majority of us had been stuck with the rubbish green net hammocks instead of the good ones. On the roof we watched out for freshwater dolphins, tanned and chatted, and when it got dark, looked to the sky for shooting stars. Many of us had never seen such a clear sky as the Amazon beheld, with the Milky Way even being identified. The boat journey lasted a little longer than planned unfortunately (although, even though we were knackered, on the second boat journey I remember Fire B being particularly awake and buoyant, who knows what we kept laughing about), and by the end I think we were all glad to depart; finally making it to San Martine at the ungodly hour of 4am. After catching a few hours sleep, and a more than edible breakfast of egg rolls, courtesy of the immense San Martinian cooks, it was time for us to start the first phase of the expedition, Canoe Phase. Canoe Phase Fire B’s canoe phase was somewhat unique from the other Fire’s. It being our first phase meant that we were given the opportunity to take a completely different route from everyone else. We were to journey up the Yanayaquilla River, to “The Lost Cocha”. The term cocha (lake), was actually deemed incorrect by the guide who told us that our destination was simply a pond… But even so, it was the first time BSES had explored that region, perhaps the first time any Westerners had, so we felt privileged to be given the opportunity. After exiting San Martine, we were plunged in straight at the deep end – as usual. We were going to have to paddle to our first camp! Equipped with varying sized paddles, we were split into groups of the
people who could paddle and those who couldn’t and then, with a little instruction, put into rather suspect looking canoes (including the particularly infamous leaky one), and headed towards land on the other side of the river with varying success. Canoeing, as some of us soon discovered, isn’t as easy as it looks – at least not with the blazing sun thwarting your efforts to stay cool. However, we did all successfully make it across, and after dragging our kit up onto the bank, we had the perhaps even more daunting task of setting up camp. While leader Tim showed some of the boys how to make our first long drop, others helped to erect the tarpaulin that we were to sleep under and some dealt with the fire (this time with the help of Stevie G, Andy Minor/Major – and Matt). Although we had difficulties and there was a lot to learn concerning jungle camp craft, we soon got to grips with the process of setting up and dismantling camp (a skill that was used once more in Jungle Trek) and by the end of Canoe Phase we were quite adept! However, on that first day, there were more pressing concerns to be had – as after camp was made, it was time for us to practice what to do if our canoes ever capsized in the river. Donning our attractive red buoyancy aids, we made our way to the river in perhaps rather lower than normal spirits. It had been a long day and everyone was tired. However, little were we to know that swimming in the Amazon is quite a unique, and very welcome, pleasure. The water was surprisingly warm, and it cheered us all up, although the nibbling fish did take a lot of getting used to. Our guides were amazing, helping us not only with the paddling, but with setting up camp and fishing too. On one particular day, a few YE’s went out on a canoe and came back with a large amount of fish, that they grudgingly admitted the majority of had been caught by the guides. Stoic, and quiet but friendly, the guides must have looked upon our fumbling to set up camp at this point in the expedition with some amusement and perhaps even frustration, but not once did they show any kind of exasperation; they simply helped us by way of gestures and quick slices with machete’s. Unluckily, some of us succumbed to an unfortunate bout of illness during Canoe Phase, with Dan, Amy and James all suffering the effects of the dreaded ‘D & V’: 30th of July 2011 Tropical Illness Today was without a doubt the worst day in my entire life! I woke at around eleven last night and went to the toilet. I stumbled the whole way there. I felt very drowsy. I soon found out what the problem was. I had pretty bad “scoots”! A roll of toilet paper and about six drowsy toilet trips later, having had no sleep we were all woken by the battering rain against the tarp. I was exhausted but still had to do the morning faff, even though I was gagging and felt extremely ill, I kept using the toilet and at about trip eight I started to cry, exhaustion had taken its toll. I just wanted to go home, not because I missed people, just home comforts. However I was already so dehydrated next to no tears came out! Thankfully the group leaders made sure I did not do too much. I tried to stomach my breakfast but threw it up every time I ate or drank anything. I sat on the boat and just tried to stay awake and stop myself from throwing up. I could not even keep down the dehydration salts, so I was quite ill. They paddled for about two hours until we stopped. I used the toilet quickly and still it was still running out of me like water. Amy had heat stroke again and we were both being sick. We went for another 15 minutes up stream, but this time they put Charles (to look after us), Amy and I into the peke – peke to the next camp so we could have a rest at the new camp. I dropped against a tree for what I thought was 10 minutes but was apparently 2 hours. I dropped in and out of consciousness I had the sweats and a series of hyperventilation’s, according to Amy. Apparently they spoke to me but I looked right through them and was unresponsive. I remember none of this and I do not really remember the previous couple of hours. Group leader Steve woke me and put me on a peke – peke even though I was reluctant. I went with Dave who had been bitten by something and felt faint and was going numb. I woke up one hour later in San Martine. I was starting to come around. I used the toilets and Victoria gave me some tablets and fresh water. I was feeling slightly better; it turns out I had D&V (diarrhea and vomiting) with, for obvious reasons severe dehydration and heat stroke. Dave stayed in San Martine for the night and I got back into the peke – peke. As soon as we got going a huge tropical storm began. I was so relieved as it would cool me down. When there is a storm here the wind blows then calms, the temperature drops and then the tropical rain strikes. I really stank after my sweating, vomiting and scoots. The thunder and lightning was magnificent, the rain was so heavy and the lightening was huge with the loudest bangs. I saw lots of river dolphins on the way back. When I got back to camp dinner was ready and I was relieved to see the team. Noodles with rubber pepparami were for dinner it was pretty sick. Just after my faff and change into dry kit, I was walking back to the fire but I slipped and fell down the bank into the river. I was so annoyed! I got dressed and then went straight to bed. James Hannon
So, as we soon realised, living in the jungle is never simple or easy. Canoe trek had its bad moments, such as when people got ill, and its amazingly good moments, such as when we saw the graceful egrets for the first time. Although sometimes it felt as though we were simply camping in an English forest, there were startling moments of clarity in the jungle, when we could just feel how alive the place was, how vital. Like when we would realise that the twig that we were looking upon was actually not a twig at all, but a stick insect; or when an immense tropical storm came crashing down upon us with little to no warning. The vivacity of the jungle really hits you hard. Perhaps the most magical night we spent on canoe phase was one of the last, and was one such moment where we all truly recognised where we were, and how lucky we were to be there: 2nd of July
Caiman Last night was beautiful. After a majorly disgusting dinner (my fault), we all got out onto the canoe at night and went to try and spot some caiman in “the lost cocha”. The star studded sky shuddered with a silent lightening strikes – they must have been from a storm far, far away – and the river looked serene as it glimmered, reflecting the electric light. Fireflies still amaze me, and they were in abundance at the cocha, darting around – flitting fluorescent eyes in the starlight (the moon always appears to be hidden in the jungle). Antonio, our Peruvian guide, guided us around effortlessly – no surprise there – expertly avoiding the “traps” as he named the fishing nets. After a few false moves, Antonio managed to catch a caiman and we were all able to hold it and take pictures with it! It just felt so alive, and it was quite a petite little thing, only “uno” years old according to Antonio – just a baby. For many the caiman night has been the highlight of the trip so far. Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
So, in the end, we made it to the lost cocha! The group actually split up around this point – some of us, including those who had been ill, weren’t feeling up to another day of canoeing and wanted a rest, while the others journeyed on and made it to the cocha a day before. Canoe phase was very stressful of course, but a beneficial experience, and our first taste of jungle living. We weren’t helped by the amount of people who became ill, nor the fact that we weren’t at all used to the climate, but we did have some hilarious, amazing times, and see many interesting animals. Perhaps among the most exciting animals were the large green and red caiman lizard that we paddled past until someone spotted it hiding in the vegetation on the banks of the river, the caimans themselves, and the huge Morpho butterflies that flitted past us in the sunlight. San Martine Phase I think we were all very relieved to journey back to San Martine and begin our stay in the little village of the Cocama-Cocomilla tribe. But, as with all things that we encountered on the trip, we should have expected the unexpected, and the San Martine phase admittedly gave us a whole host more challenges to overcome. We slept in the Asiendes hut under mosquito nets on the rough wooden floor. It was raised up on stilts to protect it from flooding in the wet season, like all the houses in the region, and had a roof constructed from dried palm fronds that managed to keep the water out, even in torrential rain. Having our meals cooked for us by cooks in the adjoining building, which was connected by a walkway, was an amazing novelty. Surrounded by lime trees, flowers, and at one point holding a tiny baby bird in its nest; walking through the Asiendes walkway was always a pleasure as we knew that awaiting us were huge platters of rice, fish, vegetables, banana chips, churro’s, and on one fateful occasion, Arowana fish! Our namesake! Food was a huge deal for our fire, and we soon gained a reputation for eating the most. Nothing pleased us more than when seconds, and sometimes even thirds or fourths, were brought out to be demolished. Our motto became waste not, want not, and it was always a fight to get the last scrapings of food; with San Martinian cuisine soon gaining a legendary status among us. Our days in San Martine were structured as so: Wake up at 6am (5am if you were going for a run – which some of the more motivated of us, Andy Major and Victoria did unfailingly), go for a wash on the pontoon, have breakfast, start work with your sponsor (yuca planting/processing, church building or canoe repair), 12pm-2pm lunch, start activities (either oar making, art, jewellery making or fishing), 5pm dinner and then free time until 10pm, when we all generally retired back to our mosquito nets for some well deserved rest.
The work in the mornings tended to be slightly more hard going than what we would get up to in the afternoons. Sweltering day after sweltering day, the majority those who were on the five week expedition would be planting yuca (a cassava root which is a staple in those parts) on Senor Jose’s wife’s farm, while others would be helping the Senor himself repairing a canoe and learning the Spanish names for tools which they would relate back to us with glee (maar-tiii-sooo – martillo: hammer). Unfortunately, some of us were also given the task of cutting grass with machete’s, during church building. Peruvian’s seem to have a vendetta against grass, for there was little growth initially, and apparently, as I can imagine, cutting grass with a machete is hard work! In the blazing mid-day sun we would play frantic games of football and volleyball on the dusty ground outside Asiendes, gutted when the sun would fall from the sky and our games ended. We had an amazing time making friends with the locals, and our sponsors always treated us with courtesy and respect as we did in return. We soon realised that we had more in common with these people, isolated in a remote part of the Amazon jungle as they were, than we thought we would. Unfailingly polite, the Peruvian’s simply lived a more simple existence than we did in some respects; and they were so practical. Everything that should have been a difficulty they had found a solution for over the hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years that they and their ancestors, had worked off the land. They took from it, but gave it back. And the river to them was not simply just a strip of water; it was their whole lives. Without it they couldn’t survive and so there was a reverence and understanding for the water that could be seen in their elegant paddling, or their instinctive fishing knowledge. It was magical to be given the opportunity to see the Peruvian’s just going about their own business. And I think we all learnt a lesson or two from them about hard work. Our day off of work was on Sunday. For a change of scenery and focus, we travelled down the Maranon to see a site of ‘archaeological interest’. The history was fascinating. The bit of land we were taken to was so elevated that it stayed dry during the wet season (or at least it didn’t get flooded) and that was apparently the reason for the pottery that we found being buried there. Only discovered eighteen years ago by our guide’s grandfather, it is suspected that Inca’s buried anything of value when the Spanish came and invaded Peru. We very illegally decided to try and get the pottery we found dated at the V&A at the request of the Peruvian’s, until it was decided that we would need to take it through the correct and legal channels, so no one could get in trouble. The unveiling of the pottery also made me think about why the Peruvian’s appeared so patriotic, so virulently nationalistic; with Peruvian flags drifting from even the most remote huts that we saw in the midst of the jungle. Of course, when we were travelling on the Eduardo and saw said flags, it was nearly Independence Day (28th of July), which is why they were in such abundance, but they seemed proud people anyway. It must be a horrific thing having your identity stolen by another country, just, as we came to realize as we discovered more about the jungle and what was happening to it nationally, as it must be awful to have parts of the rainforest taken in swathes when certain companies find possible energy reserves under the soil. On the way back from the trip we had a laugh, splashed water into the boat and nearly capsized a few times, and after another fantastic lunch we had a football match, which is apparently an annual BSES tradition. For our match, it was BSES (including leaders and Peruvian sponsors) vs. the Peruvian college team. Ali was our fantastic coach: 7th of August 2011 Football Having returned from the Inca ruins in the forest (with some smuggled artifacts) we were ready to play some football. This was clearly the highlight of the year for the locals as they came out in there 10s. The 2 o clock kick off meant that the heat would be unbearable, and it was. As we were walking down the path towards the football pitch, dressed in our blue BSES shirts ready for action, I had to constantly wipe my brow due to the sweat. This would be difficult. Fortunately we had Sandro, Reiter and Roland (friendlies) who played for the whole game, everyone else had to be substituted. I was nominated captain and decided to give a moving speech before kick off. I don't think it worked too well, but I tried nonetheless. A closer inspection of the pitch revealed some interesting things. It was littered with holes, sticks and mud. However we didn’t complain and got on with the task in hand. The referee was the Tulio, who in his spare time was a musician and church builder. The first half was well organized but ended up being 4-‐0 to them. It was 22 minutes a half. However spirits were high with almost everyone willing to play. I tried to change the tactics in a democratic way but that didn't work
out, and we went on the pitch utterly unorganized. This must have fooled the opposition because a few minutes into the game I managed to get a cheeky shot away and score. The final result was 6-‐1 to the home team but we had a lot of fun. Man of the Match went to Charlie for some awe inspiring runs which not only surprised the opposition but I think herself too. We all went for a well deserved dip in the river in the end. Ali Kapasi
The last day we spent in San Martine was one of the best. Unfortunately, it was also the three weekers last day in the jungle! Lucy, Andy, Adam, Ali, Harry, Amy, Will and Dave were all going home, over half our fire! After allowing us to make chocolate (and our burning of the first pan of beans, much to our disgrace), the Peruvian’s, in true exuberant style, threw us a fiesta. Dan by far won the award for best costume after constructing a coconut bra! Everyone was very inventive though, with a medley of natural face paint, plants, flowers and such. The face paint was an especial surprise. Cracking open a fig shaped plant, little orange seeds inside were coated with a vivid orange paste which was smeared everywhere by the Peruvian’s and ourselves – not coming off for days! Even though all we had to make a party out of that night was a flute and a drum, played beautifully it must be said, we still managed, and got some of the Peruvian’s to join in on our dodgy dancing, all sharing different dances; from the Cocama ‘tangarama dance’, named after the Amazonian ants who’s bites make your skin sting itchily for hours, to the rather more Western conga. Falling into bed that night after all the dancing was finished; I think we were all contented with how well the last night in San Martine had gone. The following morning was a wee bit tearful, which was to be expected, as we bid farewell to the three weekers and boarded the peke-peke, which was to take us somewhat reluctantly to our next phase – Jungle Trek. Jungle Trek The best thing about Jungle Trek was probably the amount of amazing animals we saw. On the first day at Jungle Base Camp, Dan brought to our attention some monkeys, spider monkeys, and basically the first mammals we’d seen in the jungle. Following that, we saw a “shushubie” snake – a beautiful six foot green coil of a thing, with a gorgeous silver strip down it’s scaly back and a rattling tail (which rattled furiously at Andy Major’s photo taking), an incredibly venomous coral snake, a great green iguana and a shy tortoise which refused to withdraw from its shell. We also experienced a true tropical downfall, right when we were in the midst of a walk. The aim of Jungle Trek was to make our way to Science Camp, stopping off as many times as necessary to make camp on our way. Although quite a challenge, we were under the instruction of leaders Helen, Arklay, Victoria, and Andy Major, so we were relatively confident of our abilities to achieve our aim. None of the other Fire’s that had completed Jungle Trek had managed to walk all the way round to get to Science Camp (instead they were picked up by canoe and paddled over, as Science Camp was situated next to a cocha) and so it became an extra matter of pride to reach our destination ‘the long way round’. However, on the first night, while we were still at Jungle base camp, poor Siân became ill with the hated ‘D & V’ – which meant that we had to stay another two days at Jungle base camp as she was too unwell for the trek. Although we were admittedly grateful for the resting period this gave us, it let us get back into the swing of jungle living after the relatively easy ride San Martine had been, it did mean that we had to do an awful lot of walking in quite a short period of time, and by only our second day we were across the cocha from Science Camp, a walk that had took the two previous fire’s a week to complete. Partially due to this, spirits weren’t high. 15th of August 2011 Porridge Today has been another difficult day. We walked back to the guard station and took a canoe across the river, had another long walk, and then realised that it was a dead end. It was a most futile, humourless journey and everyone has been in a pretty rubbish mood all day. After walking back, we stopped at the guard station for lunch, which was a welcome relief. One of the lovely Peruvian’s situated at the wooden hut – which was the guard station “Orma Rena” – invited us in for shade, as it was boiling. They treated us to a sort of limeade; apparently limes, or citrons as grow here, can be used as water purification means. After a twenty-minute break at Orma Rena we journeyed back down a well-trodden trail to be picked up by jungle leader, Tim. We’d actually seen him and YE’s Bea, Sam and Izzy earlier. The canoe journey across the cocha was hot and after we had to set up our first camp from scratch since canoe trek in the dense jungle. Stressful. Now we’re all fed and washed – lying in adjacent sleeping positions as we construct a story word by word. Everyone’s happier now, laughing even. Small pleasures. Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Our guides on this part of the expedition however (Gabino and Marco), were particularly excellent – carrying extra equipment and showing us loads of fascinating things that we would not have noticed before. In piecing together the best parts of Jungle Trek, their presence is integral. It was they who provided us with extra machete lessons at Jungle base camp (slant the blade), they who told us all about the massive buttressed Lapuna tree; the biggest tree in the Amazon and used as a communication device by the natives; they who cut down vines, palm heart and berries for us to drink and eat from, and more often than not, they who spotted the monkeys and other creatures that we came across while in the jungle - with their keen eyesight and slight of hand far surpassing ours. The Lapuna tree especially caught my attention. Seeing a piece of wildlife as a large as that accentuates your place in the world, making you re-evaluate your importance and size. Fundamentally, it makes you respect nature. In the end, we didn’t make it all the way around the cocha, instead, like the other Fire’s, we had to canoe over. It was a disappointment, but we knew that we were coming to the end of Jungle Trek, with its long walks and meager rations and I think everyone was pleased after we’d set up camp on the other side of the cocha to discover that Science Camp was a mere 15 minute walk away. Having in one day crossed the same amount of distance that two of the fire’s did in a week long trek, and passing up and down one trail a total of three times, it was a relief to know that we had just a little to go. Science Camp Science Camp was our last phase and I think that we all wanted to make the most of it. We arrived at bang on 7am having packed up our camp, just to see the tail end of Fire A depart. Although warned by Fire A about the early starts, our fire was really happy to finally be at Science Camp! Not only had we actually made the journey, we were soon discover that in Science Camp we would have decent portions of food, with the Peruvian’s cooking lunch for us every day, a privilege that I think most fire’s did not receive! Beyond that, Science Camp gave focus to the member’s of the fire who were interested in science; and as Sam and George were going on to study Zoology and Biology at University, I think our time there further affirmed their decision to do so – even with the rather annoying precision that has to be taken over facts and figures. I don’t think anyone enjoyed finding out the Latin names of over 20 species of birds! From doing Transects (silent 2km walks where we had to note down any animals seen) to caiman surveying (when we went out in a canoe late at night and attempted to spot, capture, and examine caimans); the science aspect of the expedition was interesting even for someone like me, who has never had any experience in the subject. Even better for me though, was the opportunity to have a little bit of down time; such as when paddling out on to the cocha in the warm morning sun. Mist would rise off of the water, creating a surreal feel to the unfolding dawn, with the floating islands that the cocha was home to sometimes blocking off whole sections of the lake. Science Camp beheld perhaps the most beautiful scenery of the whole trip, and it was a nice way to encapsulate our time spent in the jungle, with a mixture primitive civilization and untainted nature – both of which we had already experienced in the other phases, San Martine and Jungle Trek. We even had the opportunity to do a little more canoeing as two of our Transects, and the Orma Rena guard station (where many of us were treated to meals by the guards who lived there), were across the large cocha from where we were situated. We spent some amazing days in Science camp and saw even more amazing animals. Split into groups of two, Sian and Sam, Dan and James and George and I, we worked on a kind of rota; those who were doing caiman surveying at night would have to get up at 4am to prepare breakfast, and would only have one activity (such as bird surveying or a transect) during the day, therefore leaving them time to make everyone else who had two activities dinner as well. Those who had two activities might have turtle egg hunting at 2am the next day, or they would have caiman surveying the next day, therefore meaning they would be getting up at 4am; and so on and so forth. The early starts were initially daunting, but we did actually get quite a lot of sleep (apart from Sam perhaps, who went on numerous caiman surveys). Conclusion It was finally time to begin our journey home on the 23rd of August. I know for me it felt weird to know that I would probably never ever see this part of the jungle, perhaps any jungle, ever again. We had started dismantling Science Camp the previous day, and so by the 23rd we were almost ready to go,
apart from the deconstruction of the massive green tarp we had been sleeping under, and the handing out of the left over group kit. We were woken up that morning to the sound of a Peruvian radio blasting music in the hut where the guides slept. We weren’t very happy at the time, but looking back I appreciate the hilarity. We also had a nice, and unexpected, Peruvian breakfast– four mini savouryboiled banana’s, and fish in a tomato sauce. This more than made up for the rude awakening. Unfortunately, it was quite a long walk from Science Camp to the river where we would be collected by peke-peke, especially with our rucksacks and kit weighing us down. We were all quite used to walking in the jungle with heavy loads by this point however, so there was maybe slightly less complaining than usual, and everyone tackled the challenge of the walk in good spirits, as we knew that food and relaxation awaited us in San Martine. Also, we were very lucky in that it was an extremely cool day and not as humid as it had been on previous walks. This made the journey less tiring. After one last picture with our guides, our comrades as they had become over the course of our week spent in Science Camp, we were on our way. There were a fair few challenges to be found upon the walk however. As so happens on expedition, the unexpected falling of a tree led to a new path being cut for us by the guides, and several times I think we all questioned just how much longer we would have to walk – but at the end of the journey, not only did we have a peke-peke awaiting us, we also had the pleasure of two Eat Natural bars, including an orange one, with yoghurt coating. The significance of this food was amplified by the fact that we had practically been living off of purple Eat Natural’s during Jungle Trek and having finished the orange one, we all agreed that they were heavenly. Being back in San Martine was a pleasure, as ever. Although it was sad to think that the expedition was coming to an end. Everyone, even at this point, had begun to forget the harder parts of the expedition and focus on the good bits, which meant that some of us were far from ready to journey home – although of course we were all desperate to speak to and see our family and friends. As the other fires started to arrive, we helped them off with their kit and eventually it was dinner – fresh, still warm, bread. After dinner there was a final goodbye and thank you with the San Martinian’s where we gave them gifts. There were many eloquent speeches and I think our extensive gratification was displayed, just as it should have been, to our kind hosts. The next morning we headed back to Iquitos on the “Sonia” boat, arriving late in the afternoon. On this return journey, our chief leader Steph informed us that a boy had died on the BSES Arctic Svalbard expedition, having been mauled by a polar bear. This was a horrible, intensely saddening, piece of news, but we were assured that the rest of the expedition party were either in hospital, or back in the UK alive and well. We were also told, and I think we all agreed, that that this tragedy should not impact on how we felt about our expedition; although there is no denying that it made us seriously consider the risks and dangers that we had faced during our time in Peru, and appreciate the huge amount of work BSES put into keeping us safe. A lovely last day was spent in Peru the following day, where we all bought presents, I fell halfway down a manhole, and the boys (mainly George) bought excessive amounts of ice cream. James, Sam, Dan and George also received their exam results as we were given the opportunity to phone home, and they all did spectacularly well; with both Sam and George getting into University! At nighttime we had a party where everyone got to grips with a multitude of dances. The party was located in a hut, on stilts high above the Amazon River, and in the distance we could see the faint lights of Iquitos standing out before us and the stars shining their farewell. It was a magical night, and a lovely way to say goodbye to everyone. Sam presented Andy Major with a wooden Arowana fish, which we all hope will continue to remind him of us and our gratitude to our group leader! The next morning, bright and early, we boarded buses that would take us to the airport, and then, finally, after a long, glorious, hard, tearful five weeks, we were flying home:
26th of August 2011 Tomorrow This time tomorrow I’ll be home! We’re at present on a flight to Lima. This time – luckily – all our baggage and stuff will be taken care of, so no more horrid check-ins. Unfortunately three Young Explorer’s and three leaders were left behind in Lima due to trouble with check-in. I really hope James and Sam are on the flight, ‘cause I didn’t see them board. I’m going to miss Peru and the wonderful people I’ve met on this trip a lot. Last night we had a leaving party thing with some questionable Peruvian DJ’s and even more questionable dancing. Stevie G was a special favourite, and we even got George and James, the non-dancers apparently, up for a while We’re now on the second eleven-hour flight. There was a huge kerfuffle with this flight too – with less than an hour to board we were informed that instead of luggage check-in being dealt with for us, we would have to do it ourselves, after our initial flimsy boarding passes were rejected at security. It must have been quite a sight for the locals; forty Young Explorer’s and leaders, mainly in brightly coloured stripy trousers, rushing through the airport. Although stressful, I thought it was quite fun and exciting –everyone managed to board just on time! I’m now sitting at a window seat – 5L – catching my final glances of the jungle with extra legroom to boot. Such a vast, enchanting place. Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
I don’t think I could concisely summarise the BSES Amazon 2011 trip neatly, for it contained so many different elements. There is no harm however, in reiterating that the Arowana Fire went on a trip of a lifetime, and that we will never ever forget it. We all learnt a lot about ourselves, and about one another on the expedition; and for me at least, the experience has carried back into everyday life in the UK. Having spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for five whole weeks in each others company, it was a wrench to say goodbye at Heathrow, and we are all eagerly awaiting the next time we see each other. For as well as the destination, the scenery, the animals, and the nature - it’s the people who make the trip.