My journey to the Amazon with British Exploring Society
15 January 2018 15:38
By William McMahon
In October 2016, I applied to go on an expedition to the Amazon rainforest with the British Exploring Society. I am 16 and love the outdoors, am a keen Explorer Scout and want to explore as much of the world as I can. I originally spotted an advert on Facebook, and applied through the link. I saw this opportunity, so I grasped it with both hands. When I was accepted onto the expedition after a telephone interview, I was ecstatic! I couldn’t wait to go!
The expedition cost £4000, which is a large sum of money for a 16 year old! The added cost of kit is about another £500, so I decided I needed to raise funds through a series of different methods, otherwise I would never be able to go. Suddenly all of the money I would earn from my paper rounds would be sent straight into my savings account, all I wanted for Christmas from my extended family and friends was monetary contributions, and all I wanted for my birthday was a new jungle shirt! I also raised funds through a sponsored walk around London, where I walked between every location on the London monopoly board- this also turned out to be excellent training for the jungle as well as great fun as I was able to see all the sights around London.
I also benefitted from the Explorer Miles funding scheme. I volunteered (and still do) at my local scout troop. This involved me taking the role of a Young Leader, where I would run games and plan activities for the scouts. Not only was this a good way to earn funding for my expedition, it also gave me new skills in team working, leadership and organisation. Overall, I was able to receive £300 from the Explorer Miles scheme. Not only was I doing something that I enjoyed, but I was fundraising at the same time.
In the Easter of 2017, a few months before we were due to fly out to the jungle, a briefing weekend was held at Youlbury Scout campsite. This was an opportunity for us all to meet each other, because at this point we were just strangers who all shared a mutual Facebook group! I shared my very small tent with the tallest person there, which was quite a feat to get in and out of, as well as get ready in it in the morning. On this training weekend we met our leaders and were sorted into our fires. Our leaders quickly got to know us, and I clearly remember playing a series of ice breaker games and having to remember everyone’s names. Over the weekend we went on various hikes and learnt vital map reading skills, as well as learnt about hygiene in country and kit we would need. Despite all of the training, I don’t think anyone was truly prepared for jungle life until we left Cuzco.
On the 24th of July 2017, we met at Heathrow laden with luggage bound for Peru. I remember sitting in Weatherspoons waiting for everyone to arrive- I had forgotten everyone’s name! The flight to Bogota was 9hours and 30mins, and we arrived at Bogota at a time so early I wasn’t functioning correctly. We had a 2/3 hour stopover, however nothing was open that early in the morning, so we commenced group bonding! We had a very heated game of Uno (which I won), and then got on our next flight to Lima. This flight was only 4 hours I think, and it was light by the time we got there! It was meant to be mid-morning, but everyone’s body clocks were still in sync to British time, so we were all starving for lunch. We were in Lima for about 8 hours, so after a few more heated games of cards, we boarded the final flight to Cuzco.
Getting into the jungle was a feat in itself. We woke very early the next morning to catch a minibus over the Andes and into the jungle. The views were spectacular, although the ride lasted 10 hours. Furthermore, none of the roads had tarmac so it was the bumpiest ride of my life. When we finally got to a small jungle village we boarded small boats to sail down the river towards our basecamp. The boat ride lasted about 30 minutes and when we finally reached basecamp we still had one last obstacle to overcome. There was a mighty bank that we had to climb to reach basecamp. However, we also had to bring up all of our kit that we would need for the next 3 weeks.
The first few days in the jungle, we learnt all about jungle life. We learnt about collecting water, cooking food, hygiene and jungle tools. After we had settled into jungle life, we went for our first proper adventure. We decided to go and explore two camps outside of basecamp which we planned to stay at whilst doing our fire science project. This was the first day it rained, and everywhere was sodden! We spent time comparing both camps, although camp is a glamorous word. They were more like brief clearings in the rainforest.
A few days later, we set off on our first tour. We had decided and planned where we wanted to go and what science project we wanted to do. We set off towards the Crees River, as we would be looking at biodiversity in and around the rivers. We also did lots of bird watching, something that I had previously dismissed as a boring hobby. After my experience in the jungle I have bought a book about the birds in the local area around me.
Towards the end of my time in the jungle, we went on our elective activities. These were activities that weren’t with our fire, and we each got to choose what we wanted to do from a range of different options. I chose to be part of the Pini 3 expedition team. Our goal was to trek up a spur of the Pini Pini ridge, Pini 3. We planned our food and water, and looked at the map for a rough area to camp at. The following day, we set off into the unknown! On the way there, we passed a snake which Charlotte nearly stepped on and ruins which we believe were from Incan times. That evening, we found a large clearing that had sadly been cleared by loggers. We pushed up the mountain at a rapid speed, clearing a path with the machetes, and managed to reach the top by lunchtime. This is by far one of my greatest achievements ever. The rest of the day was spent trekking back to basecamp, which we didn’t mind because we had achieved such a feat earlier that day.
As we left the jungle, I realised what an experience I had just had. The bus journey was the first time in 3 weeks where I had been able to completely stop and reflect on my experience. Leaving the jungle was very sad, as I had met some amazing people and done some amazing things. I remember reaching the boarder where the jungle met the mountain, and the trees were no more. I definitely came out of the jungle a different person. I am certainly more willing to try new things and feel more confident in myself as a person. In the future, I want to go on more expeditions and create more memories that I will never forget- my current ambition is to go to Antarctica. What started as me browsing the internet in my bedroom became a whole gigantic unforgettable experience.
Find out about our expedition to the Amazon this summer here.