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…

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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


On Sunday I went with the crew from Los Pantanos de Villa wildlife reserve into central Lima, where they had a stall at the FestiFeria. The FestiFeria is a moving fair of government services that visits the poorer districts of the city and I was interested to see the sorts of things they do. As well as providing information about educational and recreational services, the fair also provides front-line services that people would otherwise struggle to access: there’s a triage unit and medical consultations, dental services, domestic violence support, notary services and registration assistance for various government initiatives and programs, or even just getting an official ID card, which can be a challenge when you’re poor and illiterate.

Each time I wander into the poorer parts it changes me. It steals a little more of my optimism and energy, my faith in humanity. It teaches me a little more about Peruvian culture and politics and the daily reality of many. Each time I come back understanding more about the causes of Peru’s social and environmental problems, and understanding how little I can actually do about any of it. This huge, tangled mess of culture, history, colonialism and human nature… I trace the problems to their roots and through my ecologist’s eyes begin to see the way the environment has influenced culture to get to this point – a society so destructive of the very resources that it depends on to survive – and shake my head at the irony of modern human behavioural ecology.

Peru’s environment is inherently unstable and unpredictable. This is a land of earthquakes and landslides, where a loose chip of glacier destroys a whole district every 50 years or so. It’s a place of rainless deserts, harsh highlands and thick jungle, where resources are frequently scarce and fiercely defended. Rainforest soils are too thin and poor to support agriculture, but traditional tribal hunting and gathering has been replaced by forestry, oil and gas extraction, illegal mining and ill-advised cattle ranching as modernity stretches its grip into the Amazon. Rain falls in great torrents that wash away the young earth of the still-rising Andes, then disappears for 7 months of hard frosts and cloudless days in alpine plains where the hearts of empires formed and fed their armies by sculpting the mountainsides into innumerable terraces . Desert life depends on the flow of Andean water both overland and underground, and on the richness of the sea. Ecologically suited for small settlements, Lima now holds almost 10 million people trying to make a living in the dust.

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