Inti Eco Lodge Volunteering
We have come to the point in our travels where traveling just for the sake of traveling is no longer fun. Walking through new cities doesn’t interest us, being the tourist and doing organized adventures is no attraction for us anymore. We have a deep rooted need to finish off our last continent but need to have a strong reason to be somewhere, a goal of sorts. We already ticket off Antarctica and long distance hitchhiking. Now onto something else that can teach us something.
For the past few years Jirka had been interested in Earth Ships ( an off the grid self-sustaining house), and I have been interested in natural medicine, so when Jirka found Inti Eco Lodge online we thought we had hit the jackpot. It was meant to be a place in the amazon where a French girl was creating a space for tourists but environmentally friendly, with medicinal plants, permaculture and an earth ship.
Quickly, we applied to volunteer there and a couple days when we were accepted we immediately bought flight tickets to Iquitos, the largest city in the world inaccessible by road. Our flight left that afternoon so we quickly packed and took a bus to the airport.
Our connecting flight didn’t leave until the next day so we stayed the night at Lima’s airport. Once we landed in the jungle an overwhelmingly happy feeling came over us, we were back in the jungle with the heavy air, full of the scent of nature. We hadn’t been in the jungle since Papua New Guinea and we had missed it, especially after so long hitchhiking through the desert, it was nice to see green again.
We took what has to be the world’s cheapest transport from the airport to town, in a bus with no windows or door, it only cost us 1 sole (40c AUD) and we were dropped in the middle of town. Every Monday at 11am Anna, the French girl that was building Inti Eco Lodge meets new volunteers and we were just in time to meet her at the meeting hostel.
She came in and greeted us then busied herself with some shopping. We spoke w bit with the other volunteers. When Anna came back, her and the other volunteers had a long meeting in French, then everyone packed up and headed outside where a van awaited us. While leaving Anna came to Jirka and I, told us we would observe for three days then come up with a project or something we wanted to do, like painting. Then she left. That was the last time we saw her. She didn’t come out to the lodge, staying in Iquitos instead. Surprise.
The van ride took a bit over an hour until we came to a small village by the river. Everyone bought lunch, the food sitting on the wooden tables next to the road consisted of rice baskets with meat inside, fish, meat and more meat. We did manage to find some grilled plantain balls and rice which were pretty good.
After lunch we packed the weeks’ worth of food onto a small canoe like boat with a motor and headed out along the river. What we found to be the biggest shock was the lack of large trees, sure it was a jungle but sparser than we thought the amazon would be, and all the trees we could see were fairly small and thin, tangled amongst the wines.
After an hour on the boat we came to a muddy shore and cleared the boat, then walked a couple hundred meters to a clearing. We had arrived at Inti Eco Lodge, a gorgeous place in the jungle with wooden buildings and fresh air.
There were about 10 of us volunteering, plus a few more local workers on the site. They had a massive building full of beds with mosquito nets for the volunteers, water tanks with filters and a generator to pump the water, a kitchen which was a few tarps thrown over poles and leaked like crazy when it rained, plus a few more buildings in various states of construction. What we loved most about the site was that it was quiet and peaceful, a lack of electricity ensured there was no music intruding on the sounds of nature.
On the first night we had a meeting where everyone was made to introduce themselves in Spanish as it was the mutual language that we all understood to different degrees. Then we constructed a cooking and cleaning roster, and headed off to bed.
I had a corner bed and could have spent the whole night lying on my mattress by candle light, listening to the sounds of the insects. It was simply beautiful.
The next day Jirka, myself and the other new volunteered spent the day wondering behind the other volunteers like little ducklings, trying to find something to do, someway to be of use, but it seemed that no one really did much. Anna had left us with a list of things she wanted done, so some people spent the week doing minor chores, and once that was done the volunteers migrated to the hammocks.
After two meals of pretty bland and unexciting food, I appointed myself the chef and Jirka as my assistant, and we spent our days in the kitchen making the most amazing food. Well Jirka manned the pizza oven most of the time while I brought him things to cook in it.
The best meal we made was fresh garlic bread, guacamole, pea soup, salad and pizza pickets. It was so good that by the end of the meal the other volunteers were conspiring ways to make us stay. One volunteer even said it was the best meal he had ever eaten there and he had been at the site for 6 months already. I also set up lots of lentil sprouting and ginger beer.
In between the cooking I helped Jirka make a compost, one had been started aaaages ago but no one was using it, and all the food scraps were going to waste. Jirka taught the other volunteers about composting and some permaculture principles. It wasn’t until we arrived that we realized how much we have learnt along our travels and we have quite a lot to offer.
What was disappointing about Inti Eco Lodge was that it wasn’t quite too eco, they weren’t growing their own food (apart from some ginger that we discovered, biggest clumps of ginger I have ever seen in my life!), the Earth Ship was either under construction or had been abandoned and was just some earth bags making three walls, no medicinal plants, the organization was questionable, they ran out of gas to cook on, ran out of petrol to pump water for showers and Anna chopped down the biggest tree in the area to use to make furniture with for her tourist lodge. This is why even though she wanted a three week minimum we stayed only one. We had a hunger for learning and it was obvious we would not be learning anything new there.
That set aside we did actually have a great week there. I taught a French lady the ukulele, we sat around plaiting wrist bands, swam in the murky river with piranhas, relaxed on the hammocks and ate amazing food.
By the end of the week 4 of us decided it was time to move on and we packed up. Only one girl stayed at the lodge over the weekend, all the other wanted to go to Iquitos to drink beer and party. We all headed out together, and instead of catching the boat back to the road, we had a great jungle walk, 10 km’s through the amazon.
My favorite was the river crossings where we had to balance on logs to get to the other side. Jirka and I were carrying our massive packs and one crossing was on a log suspended about 3 meters above the brown river.
After a couple of hours we emerged from the jungle onto the road and caught a van back to Iquitos, back to the noise of the city, and wondered where we would end up next. We really wanted to go back to the jungle and volunteer but this time at a place which actually used natural medicine so we could learn something.