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ACEER expedition in the Peruvian Amazon, Part 1

by Paola Moreno-Roman, Director of Strategic Partnerships


 Day One


After two amazing weeks in Lima, Peru - where I was born and raised - I said goodbye to my lovely family and headed to the airport. Destination? Iquitos. Iquitos is located in the Peruvian Amazon and is the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road.

Photo credit: Erik Castle


Even though I lived in Peru for a little over two decades, this was my first time visiting Iquitos. When I arrived at the Iquitos airport, the first person I saw was Jon Cox - president of the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER) Foundation and Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at the University of Delaware. I had met Jon in 2018, when I joined the Foldscope team’s trip to Madre de Dios, Peru (read more about it in our blog: part 1, part 2). The Explorama team was waiting for us with a van outside the airport. The Iquitos streets were busy with motorcycles and mototaxis. Lots of color, sounds, smells, people. I took a few moments to take it all in as we drove to pick up the rest of the team that had arrived the day before.

Photo credit: Erik Castle (top), Paola Moreno-Roman (bottom)


We headed to the river port and started our 4-hour boat ride to the ACTS Field Station, part of the Explorama lodge network, located in the the Maijuna-Kichwa Regional Conservation Area that is only a 10-minute boat ride from the Maijuna “Sucusari” community. We rode down the Nanay and Itaya rivers, which connected to the Amazon river, and then through the Napo river that leads to the ACTS Field Station.


Photo credit: Jon Cox (top), Paola Moreno-Roman (bottom)


During our ride, we saw the bridge that is being built as part of the road that will go through the Maijuna-Kichwa Regional Conservation Area. There is a big movement to stop this road construction because it will give access to loggers and hunters to the community. Since the boat ride was pretty long and some of us had been traveling for more than a day, Explorama gave us a lunch box and we all took little naps in the boat.


Photo credit: Paola Moreno-Roman (top), Erik Castle (bottom)


We arrived at the ExplorNapo lodge and walked for almost 30 minutes towards the ACTS Field Station. It was a beautiful walk where I got to chat with a few team members and learned from them.


Photo credit: Paola Moreno-Roman (top), Erik Castle (bottom)


We arrived at our lodge super tired, and after settling into our rooms we headed to the main area for dinner. The food, cooked by the staff team, tasted extra delicious after the long trip: meat, rice, dessert. Afterwards, we had a meeting to go through the logistics of the next few days and to get to know each other. It amazed me how, wherever I looked, there was always an interesting species like this pretty bright insect I found in bathroom. After the meeting, a group decided to go on a night walk. I didn’t join because I was so tired. I went to sleep. I needed to get as much rest as possible for the following days.


Photo credit: Paola Moreno-Roman


Day Two


Even though I was super tired when I went to bed last night, I didn’t sleep well. I kept waking up during the night and I think it was because my subconscious was having a hard time relaxing in this new environment. It is truly amazing the survival skills our bodies have. At 5:30am, I decided to officially get up and get ready to go on a canopy walk with a few other team members.

Photo credit: Paola Moreno-Roman


We got there early enough to watch the sunrise from the canopy walk - truly a magical moment. It was amazing hearing how the sounds around us changed, nocturnal animals going to sleep while others were just waking up with the first rays of sun. We saw a couple of birds and heard a lot of monkeys but didn’t see any - hopefully I will get to see one during this trip!

Photo credit: Jon Cox


On my way back, I walked and chatted with Jon Cox - Director of ACEER and Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at University of Delaware. I met him in a previous Folscope trip in partnerships with ACEER in 2018. Since it was our first time walking that path, we got lost. We joked that the chullachaqui, a spirit that habitates in the Amazon, led us astray. Eventually, we found our way back to our lodge right in time for breakfast.

Photo credit: Paola Moreno-Roman


Right after breakfast, we got on small boats and went towards the Maijuna community “Sucusari’. The community is 5-10 minutes by boat, depending on the speed and river conditions. On our way, we saw a giant river otter. Brian Griffiths, Executive Director of ACEER and organizer of this expedition, told us that the giant river otter used to be extinct from this area for 50 years, and almost completely extinct from the Peruvian Amazon - mainly eaten by hunters and loggers. However, the conservation efforts are paying off and now they are back. We also saw a few birds.

Photo credit: Paola Moreno-Roman


We got to the community and we all gathered at the communal area. We had a meeting with all the Maijuna community “Sucusari”. There are four Maijuna communities. The President of all the 4 communities was in attendance. We introduced ourselves and asked for permission to work with them in all our different projects. He listened to us, read our proposals, and accepted. Up to that point, none of us took a single picture nor video because we had not received permission yet. This process was really important to ensure we give them the respect they deserve as outsiders entering their home.

Photo credit: Brian Griffiths


We went back to the lodge for lunch and then rested for a little bit. After that, we split into two teams: community & research. We gathered in teams to plan and discuss logistics for the upcoming days. I joined the beekeeping team, whose main goal is to get footage of the Maijuna beekeepers so the knowledge can be shared with other communities. Since I will also be running a few Foldscope workshops and working with the Foldscopes, I partnered with Debbie Delaney, an Associate Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware, to collect and analyze under a microscope/Foldscope samples such as pollen, bee body parts, honey, etc; and to brainstorm how can this knowledge support local bee-keepers.


Time went by really quickly and we gathered for dinner. It was so yummy!  Afterwards, we went on an evening walk and saw so many different animals. The highlight of this walk were the bioluminescent leaves. Roldán, our guide, took us to a very dark area, where he asked us to turn off our flashlights and then look up. We could barely see the stars because of the trees. Then, he asked us to look down and my hear leaped. There were quite a few dots on the floor that were glowing. It was so magical. We quickly learned that it was the leaves that were glowing, Roldán suspected that it was due to a fungi. I grabbed one of the leaves and could see it glowing on my hand. We all were overwhelmed with childlike wonder. I took one to look at it under the Foldscope.

Photo credit: Paola Moreno-Roman


On my way back, we saw so many species such as this beetle and frog. Sadly, I think the glowing leaf fell out of my pocket because I couldn’t find it when i got back to my room. I took my first shower and then got ready for bed. I slept way better that the first night but woke up cold.

Photo credit: Paola Moreno-Roman