Twelve months ago this week I unpacked my bags in a simple hotel room and stepped out to meet Lima, the city that would be my home for the next year-and-a-bit.

Lima… almost 10 million people pressed up against the desert coast. The kind of place where no-one is truly from, if you go back far enough. The pre-Colombian cultures that built their mud and stone temples here fished and worshipped in the summers when the sun shines brightly and the rains pour down in the Andes. In the endless grey days of winter they returned to the hills and the fields of the river valleys. Permanent settlement came with the Spaniards who claimed this swampy coast for their capital in the conquest of the region.

So began the difficult history of this city, a place of clashing cultures and competing motivations. The Spaniards brought with them African slaves, then later Chinese coolies to work the silver mines and guano deposits. Japanese migrants came to settle at the end of the Second World War. Domestic terrorism in the Shining Path years drove the mass migration of Andean peoples to the city outskirts. Now and the promise of work and a better future for their children draws people from the far coast, the high Andes and the steaming Amazon to Lima.  Read More

Huancayo 064a

It’s a question I asked myself on my first day of work here in Lima. On Day 1 I arrived at the office and was handed an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for an irrigation project and asked to provide my opinion on the quality and the shortcomings of the EIA and the project. What on earth is a “bofedal”? Read More


I should be doing a final check for references on the blog post I’ve had sitting as a draft for the last fortnight: an article on one of the ecosystems here in Peru that’s really caught my aquatic-scientist attention. Instead, I’m going to tell you a story that I think is far more important. The story of Andres.  Read More

Why I Write


It feels a bit wrong to make my first post after a long silence one about why I write. Maybe I should call it “Why I no longer write so regularly” and talk about things like work-life balance and learning to give myself time to process tricky emotions and adapt to big changes, and about having so much to say after such a break that I don’t know where to start. This seems as good a place as any though, participating in a blog hop that my friend Lauren tagged me in.

Lauren writes a little about food and a lot about coffee. She’s also a something of a social justice champion and creator of the $35 food challenge, in which I have always been too scared to take part. Maybe I’ll do it this year, where AU $35 will buy me about PEN S/90 worth of groceries, which means I can maintain my fine dark chocolate habit… Anyway, if you live in or travel to Sydney and care about your coffee, go read Lau’s blog. She’s aces.

Anyhoo, I’m supposed to answer a few questions to elucidate why I write, so I’d best get on with the questions: Read More

Flat out like a lizard drinking


Oh hello there! Thanks for sticking your head in to check on me. I promise I’m not dead! I’ve just been rather busy of late. There’s always so much I want to do and so little time to do it in  and I haven’t had the time or focus for proper writing for a while.

Come back again soon though! I have so many interesting things I’d like to share.


So what’s it like being an environmental volunteer in the developing world? I can only answer as to my experiences here in Peru, but the same things hold true in many other places.

For me, this year has brought a lot of big challenges beyond just from being a long way from home and working in a foreign language and culture. The toughest stuff has been the reality of my work: good environmental management depends on understanding the problems out there and the resources that are available to (try to) deal with them, and sometimes can be quite shocking. Read More


When you choose a path to walk you cannot know exactly where it will lead you.

At best we can only see part-way to where the journey will take us and the obstacles we will encounter.

Adjust to the path as you find it and let it lead you where you need to go.

Let the journey become part of you.


I haven’t re-blogged anything before, but this post by the Snail of Happiness sums up so much of my own thinking so eloquently that I had to share it.

Originally posted on The Snail of Happiness:

Over recent months there has been a massive increase in the number of on-line petitions that I’ve been asked to sign. They are generally targeted at various levels of government and often seem to me like worthy causes: don’t sell off the Land Registry; don’t sell off public land, including forests; don’t allow the use of neonicotinoids… the list goes on and I am quite happy to support such causes. But, it’s not enough. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that simply clicking a button on our computer is going to change the world if we are not prepared to take action ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong – I think on-line petitions are a great way to tell our politicians what we think. It has been too easy in the past for those in government to be separate from ‘the people’ and technology is a brilliant way of facilitating…

View original 864 more words


Hello! This is a really quick post to say that I’m alive and well-ish, after being floored for a week by a rather nasty sinus infection. My respiratory system really dislikes the cool, humid Lima winters, especially the way the humidity traps the serious air pollution and deposits it all over the inside of my lungs. Mmmm!

So I’m pleased to say that I’m getting away from it for ten days, heading off on a trip-of-a-lifetime to the Amazon jungle! Ok, so I’ll be spending half my time in the jungle city of Pucallpa, which by all accounts is a NOT a trip highlight. Pucallpa will be a good immersion in the threats to the Amazon and social challenges resulting from urban expansion and economic modernisation. It’s mostly poor shanty-slums in a cleared and developed section of the rainforest, with logging the major industrial activity, but from Pucallpa I am travelling on to Purus.

You’ll struggle to find Purus on a map. It’s a tiny speck in a sea of near-pristine forests right near the border with Brazil. The only way into and out of Purus is the float plane that comes twice a week and lands on the river. It’s not on the tourist routes: there’s not even a hostel in town. I only know about the place because of my work with Peruvian natural protected areas. Two areas - Purus Communal Reserve and Alto Purus National Park – are managed by national parks staff based in Pucallpa and Purus, and the Director of the Communal Reserve has invited me to come for a visit. He will meet me in Purus and show me around. Yeah I know, I’m spoilt. Read More


Head north out of Lima to the town of Huaral, in the valley of the river Chancay. Turn east and follow the river valley through the desert plains and into the foothills of the mighty Andes, passing the irrigated fields and orchards that help to feed the mega-city. Drive by ancient mud-brick temples crumbling back into dust, by rural villages nestled into bends in the river…

Three hours out of the city, turn off the main road and onto the bumpy track to the village of La Florida, where you pay the community a small fee to enter their lands and continue up the steep switch-back dirt track that leads to the ghost-town of Pampas, abandoned as people moved down the valley to towns with electricity and running water, though people from La Florida still tend crops on the ancient agricultural terraces that surround the over-grown buildings.

Rupac ruins hike

Pampas, last home of the Atavillos of Rúpac, now a ghost town

Rupac ruins hike

The donkey-man’s faithful companion

Here  you meet the man with the donkeys who will carry your packs up the steep trail ahead, leaving you only to worry about food, water and cameras as you make the climb up to 3 400 mASL through the misty clouds, stopping to spot birds and identify pretty wild-flowers, or just to catch your breath and admire the view as the green hills give way to the coastal desert.

First you reach the ruins of the outpost , most likely a guard post on the original trail climbing up from the valley below, and get your first glimpse of the distinctive stone buildings first constructed about a thousand years ago and still standing. Climb a little higher and the hidden citadel of Rúpac comes into view, just as the rains arrive. Shelter, shivering, in the ancient ceremonial porticoes while you await for the man with the donkeys to arrive, carrying the tents and warm clothes.  Read More


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