Withington Onwards Travel Award Winner (2010) – Gabrielle Richardson

Gabrielle Richardson won one of our 2010 Withington Onwards (formerly Senior Club) Travel Awards and has sent us the following report of her trip to the Peruvian Amazon in Summer 2010. 

Welly-deep in swamp, the third day of a non-stop rain storm and the 12th hour of mapless walking, and I was asking myself why I had ever voluntarily signed up for a five week expedition to the Amazon Rainforest – and it was only day six! I was in the middle of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve of Peru, on a BSES expedition to the Peruvian Amazon.

After only a briefing weekend held in April, where we were split up into four groups, or "fires", the 64 nervous students arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 packed and ready for their jungle adventure. On arrival in Iquitos, we were subjected to what was our first experience of an Amazonian rain storm, and certainly not our last. With no less than two days acclimatisation under our belts (definitely not enough) we were unceremoniously thrown in at the deep end, or more the deep jungle, at 6am the next morning, and spent a physically and mentally challenging week trekking through the deepest rainforest imaginable.

Gabrielle with her 'fire'My fire, "The Flamin Caiman" had chosen the most difficult and never-before-trodden route in our determination to make the most of the experience, which in hindsight was not the most sensible decision we could have taken, as it led us into what became known as the "24 hour trek." Wielding machetes, we hacked through dense jungle for hours on end, regularly disappearing, sometimes waist-deep, into the swamp, battling through the trees, stinging ants and dinner-plate sized tarantulas with fervour. A short boat ride to the village which would be our home for the second week concluded the jungle phase and we were all sad yet excited to be leaving and moving on.

The village of San Martin offered us forgotten luxuries such as daily washes, toilets, bountiful toilet paper and of course real food. During our time in the village, we set up many projects, and I, along with my group of four others, was assigned the task of building a 160m fence around the local primary school's garden. Lugging planks of wood around in the baking hot sun for hours was not the most exciting start to our project, but thankfully, the village children took it upon themselves to help us. My knowledge of Spanish proved to be a lifeline for the group and I became group translator for the duration of the expedition.

Canoeing in the AmazonWeek three took us back into the jungle, but taking a different approach this time, we travelled through the middle of it in canoes. For most of the week, we had to travel upriver in canoes of two or three, praying for a weak current and a miracle. Paddling upriver in one of the most un-streamlined vessels known to man was not easy, made even harder by the constant need to bail buckets of water out of the bottom of them.

Finally, we were all excited to begin our final phase on the research boat. The daily surveys gave us an interesting insight into the biodiversity in the Amazon and the transects were a fabulous chance to see weird and wonderful animals in their natural habitat.

I would again like to thank the members of Withington Onwards for their generous sponsorship, without which this fantastic opportunity would have been much more difficult to obtain.