Thursday, August 11, 2016

Educator Academy Part 2 - ExplorNapo Lodge

This post continues the previous, leaving Iquitos Peru on a boat ride up the Amazon River and arriving at the ExplorNapo Lodge.  Our first night at ExplorNapo consisted of orientation to the lodge and Educator Academy program, introductions, dinner, and a night boat ride.  I opted out of the boat ride so I could get up bright and early at 5:30am the next day for the first of many morning birding excursions by boat.  With very knowledgeable guides Luis and Lucio, and returning birders Phil and Dave, we saw over 150 bird species in just 8 mornings of birding (1.5 hours each).  And also saw the pink Amazon River dolphins!  And sloths!  Each night we took either a boat ride or forest walk to see caiman, sleeping hummingbirds, bats, bioluminescent fungi, and the Southern Cross (for the first time). 

Our days were packed with lessons and discussions about the forest and hands-on activities.  This gave me many ideas of what I can do with both the Haitian university and elementary students, such as having students interpret tables to make graphs of biodiversity, explore one-meter square areas of forest floor, and look for birds with Cornell’s BirdSleuth kits (if anyone would like to help me purchase supplies, you can donate at my Global Scholars account).

The Explorama series of lodges are very well maintained and serve great food.  All have large dining halls where we had our classes (with water, coffee, and tea available all the time).  These first three nights we stayed at ExplorNapo Lodge.  To reach our dorms from the dock and dining hall we had to cross a bridge over the flooded forest!  Talk about immersion into your studies.  While there was electricity in the dining hall, kerosene lanterns lit the bedrooms and walkways.  The latrines were huge!  And showers cold, so I adopted my Haiti routine of showering and laying out my evening things during the afternoon while there was light and a cold shower felt good.  We were in the Amazon during Peru’s dry winter season, so temperatures stayed around 75F.  Which meant I used a blanket at night.  But humidity was so high that you work up quite a drenching sweat just walking through the forest during the day.  Many visitors staying at the more upscale CeibaTops Lodge (electricity and hot showers) stopped at ExplorNapo for lunch on their way to the ACTS Canopy Walk – subject of the next post!

Giant latrine!  With nice walls.
Walkway in front of the rooms.
Mosquito nets over the beds.  Open windows and thatched roof!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Tropical Ecology Class for Teachers – Educator Academy Part 1

Flight to Iquitos over Amazon forest & rivers.
I teach tropical ecology classes at UCCC in Haiti, and was fortunate to take a tropical ecology class of my own this summer!  In the Amazon!  I wanted to see in person what it is that I teach my class: the physical structure of the rain forest, the shallow organic layer covering the forest floor, the diversity of birds and other wildlife.  However, to reach Haiti’s remnant tropical forests such as those at Peak Macaya requires a day and a half drive, a day’s walk, camping equipment, hiring a guide, etc.  It all seems complicated.  And financially impossible to take my students.  Then I learned about the Educator Academy in the Amazon Rainforest that takes teachers from the US to Peru to not only teach basic tropical ecology, but just as importantly, how to convey that information to students.  And I received a partial scholarship to attend the academy!  

Charcoal in Iquitos (like in Haiti)
The following posts highlight the activities we did at each of the ExploramaLodges that we stayed in during this 10 day excursion.  The lodges are located along the Amazon River and its Napo tributary, accessible only by boat from Iquitos, Peru’s port city on the Amazon (and the largest city in the world accessible only by boat or plane).  Who knew that the Amazon River had ports as large as ocean-side ports?  And that ships travel all the way upstream 2200 miles from the Atlantic Ocean? 

The trip consisted of flying to Lima Peru, meeting up with 30 other teachers and the academy faculty, staying overnight in a hotel connected to the airport, flying to Iquitos on a rather large plane, and landing in a decent-sized regional airport (I was expecting dinky plane and airport like in Haiti).  We loaded onto a bus and stopped at a market on the way to the boat dock.  I couldn’t help comparing everything I saw to Haiti, which made me realize I expected Peru to be less developed, and perhaps indicates how undeveloped (or just chaotic) Haiti really is (the crowds, litter, downed electric lines, open manholes, horrible traffic, etc. has all become normal to me). 

Cat at the Iquitos market
At the dock we boarded two boats for a 2 ½ hour ride ON THE AMAZON RIVER!  To our first lodge – located IN THE AMAZON FOREST!  More to come in the next post.

Tapir and caiman skulls?  

Logging ship on the Amazon River.
Large ships at port on the Amazon River.