Gone to Guyana, 2017

So, this is it. The final trip of my Global Field Program experience. I have to be honest, I had to look at the map of South America to find the exact location of Guyana when this trip was assigned to me. Even with not knowing much about the place I was going, nor anyone who had been there before to give me advice I was ready to go. After the past two Earth Expeditions, jumping on a plane and heading to this remote location didn’t phase me at all.

I found Guyana to be an amazing place. Green, remote, relatively undisturbed, the forests of Guyana are vast and this is a truly special place on the planet. After spending time in the rainforest I have a greater appreciation of how truly diverse this planet is and how important these far away places are to the planetary biosphere. And we saw giant river otters. I love otters. And I stood in a torrential downpour in the rainforest. And we swung from vines. And met some amazing people along the way.

As I started the tradition in San Diego, in the airport on the way home I wrote in my journal the lessons that will stay with me thanks to this trip.

1. The jungle is hotter and more humid than I thought was possible. In the hot and heat, evolution has lead to this place being beautiful, and bitey, and spikey, and poisonous, and venomous, and overall pretty inhospitable to my Colorado sensibilities. With all that, it is amazing to explore a place where life is everywhere – layers upon layers of life within the jungle.

2. At the end of the day, all people love playing games and spending time together. The need for connection and fun is fundamental to being human. On this trip, we spent time together with our travelers and our hosts telling stories and celebrating life. These are always among the best moments in time. Cultures may have different flavors of how these moments look and play out, but at the end, it all comes back to wanting to be connected.

3. I love wildlife biology and learning about field work, but I still don’t love being the one in the field doing the field work. I respect those folks so much but give me the results and an audience and I will teach about what is being done and help others appreciate how important that work is. It’s nice to get to a point where I recognize my strengths and weaknesses and know how I can best contribute.

4. Thank goodness for a well-stocked first aid kit and kind classmates who donated supplies. There is nothing like being scraped up in the middle of the rainforest far, far away from the nearest pharmacy.

5. Protection of these forests is an ongoing and constant battle against the industries who see short-term profits in the extraction industries. Without Norway’s subsidies and organizations like Iwokrama, this forest would be lost like much of what I saw in Brazil and Paraguay last year.

6. Amerindians are facing the same challenges as many small, remote communities around the world. Many of the young people are leaving home for the big city and aren’t necessarily continuing the traditions and lifestyle of living in their small home villages. And why shouldn’t they have the choice to travel the world and be connected? But how does a cultural not fade away? It’s complicated. One comment from the first hour in Guyana sticks with me, our driver told us that there are currently more Guyanans living in other countries than living in Guyana.

7. I loved living with all of the little critters. Every time I took a shower the shower gecko made me smile. And the bird that would fly in the room in order to check itself out in the mirror and peck at its own reflection each day. The lizards, birds, bats, frogs, snakes eating frogs as snacks, and the local wake of black vultures (that’s a group of vultures that are on the ground feeding) were all very charming. However, the mosquitos, ticks, biting flies, and the other creepy crawlies are not charming and I do not miss them at all.

The hardest part about being home is that now the Global Field Program is coming to a close. These trips, the people I’ve met and worked with along the way, the projects and discussions have all changed me. I can also look at my writing and see how practice has improved those skills. I am more confident in my interactions with people and can comfortably walk into situations where I would have avoided before. I am fortunate to work in the conservation field as a professional already and experiences, like I had in Guyana, have made me work harder to help everyone appreciate this place we live.

And now, PICTURES!

 

 

Walking on the Iwokrama Canopy walk.

 

 

 

 

Check out all of the things that live on a fallen log!

 

 

 

These kids. They know wildlife.

 

 

 

 

A day on the farm.

 

 

 

Fern Gulley may be a real place near Kaieteur Falls.

Not done with my travel photos year? Here is the complete set – in a random order.

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Paraguay 2016 – La vida en Laguna Blanca

I miss Laguna Blanca every day. Every. Single. Day. I have traveled all over the world and seen amazing places and met amazing new friends many times before, but this experience continues to get to me in a new and profound way.  My time in Paraguay working with Para la Tierra (PLT) at Laguna Blanca will affect what I do and how I live far into the future.

Since returning to Denver, many people have asked me about my time in Paraguay. The question, “What was the best part?” has confounded me time and time again. What was the best part? Really, all of it. Even the bug bites, the cold rainy days, being lost in the forest, and all the thorns colored in the experience to make it a full-on, real-life symphony of learning, loving, and laughing.

As with any international travel, I had plenty of time in transit to record my instant impressions of the trip. From Silvio Pettirossi Aeropuerto in Asuncion, Paraguay on 10 August 2016…

Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned in the past 10 days…

  • There are places on this planet where you can walk down a runway owned by a Brazilian eucalyptus plantation company and Jorge can pick up a skink without a scientific classification. And then you can walk a little further and see a couple of endangered birds in the field. All in the dark of night. These places are rare and special and will disappear if no one cares enough to protect them.
  • Take less stuff and wash clothes along the way. It’s way less of a hassle. What was I thinking?
  • Kids are kids, but rural Paraguayan kids are a hardy, quiet, respectful, and reserved bunch.
  • If people don’t love the forest and see it’s value, they burn it down to make room for more cows. These massive fires do not lead to helicopters, slurry bombers, fire crews, and engine crews coming from all corners to suppress the blaze.
  • I don’t actually need all of the space, stuff. and comforts provided by the American lifestyle. Frogs living in the shower are fun!
  • Community is powerful. I happy to have been part of this EE/PLT community.
  • Changing the world isn’t easy, but it is certainly a worthwhile way to spend my days.
  • My life is super cool and I know so many amazing and wonderful people. I am very lucky.

In the past weeks it has become apparent to me that my heart lies in doing work that may be beyond the borders of Colorado. That there is conservation work to be done that with some commitment, passion, skills, and excellent timing, I can make a big difference for communities – both human and natural. It’s scary to think of a life where I don’t go to my government-pension job and live so close to where I grew up – but as my good friend always reminds me, “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”

Once again, an Earth Expedition has significantly impacted my outlook and, as I believe any travel experience should, has changed who I am now that I am back home. It makes me jump for joy that I have one more Earth Expedition to look forward to next year.

With that, here are a few photos from the trip:

 

img_4068     Welcome to Laguna Blanca!

 

Coatis in the Atlantic forest.     img_4101

 

img_4100          29 kids in a truck!

 

A long day of education is exhausting!      kinion-paraguay-2016-girls

 

img_3910     The endangered white-winged nightjar

 

Atlantic forest view   dscn5800

 

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And some friend selfies. Miss you all!

 

And the rest of the photos can be seen here.

Baja 2015 – The Journey Beyond the Expedition

It is hard to believe that four months have past since the 2015 Baja I Earth Expedition group returned from our 10 days exploring the desert and the sea. This expedition, while full of amazing new cultural and natural history knowledge, really represents a journey for me far beyond the actual travel.

In order to start processing our 10-days of travel, I sat in the San Diego airport on my way home making a list of things that I will always hold dear about this trip. This list isn’t about the numerous moments of sheer nature-nerd joy I experienced with a whole group of fellow nature-nerds. This particular airport list is about my internal personal journey. The journey of looking inwards about the relationships and experiences that happened interwoven with all of the whales, starfish, cacti, scorpions, statistics lectures, and field investigations.

From my trip journal, June 11, 2015 –

With this closing of this trip journal, here are the things I think I’ve learned:

  • It is possible to be friends with everyone in a travel group. I’m going to really miss all of these people.
  • People are so adaptable – we jumped in a van and immediately were a temporary community that felt like an instant family.
  • When everyone smells bad equally, you don’t notice how much you stink. It doesn’t even matter.
  • A sense of humor and a few questions can make it easy to make new friends.
  • Next time (on the next Earth Expedition), I need to get over the lack of control much sooner and just enjoy the ride. The people on the trip will become friends, you will fit in, and “don’t anticipate.” 
  • Living in the moment is a huge gift of this Earth Expedition. Being disconnected from technology and fully present in the moment is a place I want to spend more time in.
  • After everything we’ve been through in the past week and a half, my future EE’s will cause me more excitement than anxiety. The Project Dragonfly staff said this is a trans-formative experience, happily I feel transformed today!

Reading these words from 4 months later and after spending a significant amount of time working on my Inquiry Action Project, several big-picture thoughts come to mind:

  1. For me, conservation isn’t as much about “saving the planet” for the sake of the planet anymore. It’s about protecting ecosystems from human-caused destruction for the sake of humanity. If we cannot protect our vital ecosystems, then we cannot prevent our own extinction as a species. At the end of the day, it’s that innate biological desire for our species to go on in a healthy world beyond my own lifetime that gets me out of bed and to my job as a conservation educator.
  2. Letting people discover how much they personally value ecosystems by facilitating an opportunity for them to experience and explore on their own is a far more powerful learning experience than a lecture of facts and photos. Inquiry is far more time-consuming and is much harder to quantify, however the old-school “drag and brag” form of nature interpretation does not have the same personal impact.
  3. Experiencing different ecosystems and cultures helps put ones own world into perspective in a new and different way every time. While I have already visited places all over the world, every new place and new experiences changes who I am a little. I look forward to changing my world view again in future Earth Expedition experiences.

Now for some fun photos in random order from this fantastic experience:

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 I feel that snorkeling selfies are in my now in my top 5 favorite types of selfies. Not for the great photo quality, but because snorkeling is awesome.

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Conservation is bumper-sticker worthy everywhere, especially in Bahia de los Angeles.

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Desert mornings are good mornings. 

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I don’t even have words to describe the moment I took this photo. Thanks to Robyn for the pep talk right before. 

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It wasn’t all vacation-like! I just wanted to be clear about that for those of you who might be forming that conclusion from the photos here.

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Good night Rancho San Gregorio. I miss you. And everyone that experienced you with me.

This was our last sunset there before moving on to Bahia de los Angeles.

You can see the rest of my photos here.