This summer, with the help of the go abroad fund, I had the opportunity to work with Operation Wallacea to help leading biologists conduct population studies in the Guyanese rainforest.
This expedition was something that I had been dying to do watching Attenborough documentaries growing up. When the chance arose to spend a month in the world most untouched jungle, I jumped on it with no inhibitions. Only, once I got confirmation of my place did I realise what I’d signed up to. I thought how do you sleep in a hammock without falling out? How do you deal with all the mosquitoes and bot flies laying larvae in your skin? How do you shower in the middle of the rainforest? All questions were to be answered when I got there.
Closer to the expedition I started to worry. Who were the other research assistants? The trip was open to students from all over. What if I didn’t get along with them and it ruined the trip? This worry was unfounded, everyone, regardless of where they were from, was fast friends, I knew they would have my back where everything fights back. They were perfect company when experiencing macaws flying below you as you stand on a mountain seeing nothing but forest to the horizon, and then 2 days later climbing the hill again at 4am to watch the forest wake up.
Even when moving camp, getting stuck on the jungle highway for 6 hours with nothing but dry crackers and 1 litre of water each, watching a bridge getting built in front of us, didn’t feel like a catastrophe purely down to the people I was with. One thing I’ve taken away from my time in the jungle, is that no problem is too big, all you must do is attack it, slap and chop (like a fallen tree across your path) and it will sort itself out. It’s my new life mentality.
The aim for me going to the most remote Opwall project was to push my limits, pick up skills and techniques you can’t anywhere else; I can sling a comfortable hammock, know the best mosquito bite remedies and how to prevent bot flies and I can have a boat shower without capsizing. Additionally, I’ve gained scientific skills, from banding birds and hole punching bats to reading animal tracks and setting camera traps. Conducting forestry studies only accessible through a swamp was particularly interesting.
But crucially this expedition has taught me so much about myself. I know I have the confidence to do anything, I can get along strangers in high stress situations and become so close to them that I cry when parting ways. But the biggest revelation is that I know what I want to do with my life. I want to be on the front line. Collecting data and protecting wildlife and their habitats. This has been THE best experience I could have ever asked for and I now want to help encourage the next generation as Attenborough, scientists and other research assistants I have worked with have done for me.