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Day 7 of the 2015 Advice Project Summit (Fishing for Piranhas)

This morning we had a workshop to discuss whether feminism concerns only girls and women (the short answer was a resounding “no”), and we also talked about the differences between feminism and humanism. We learned that while humanism began as a branch of philosophy in the 13th century, feminism is at its core a political movement that calls directly for social change. The issues are complicated, and they raised many more questions than we could answer in a two-hour workshop, but we’ll continue to tackle them in the next many days.

This morning Advice Project Summit participants were also given guidelines for writing opinion editorial articles (op-eds), and we were asked to consider topics that hit us “in the gut” that we’d like to share with a wider audience. We also had time to break into our small groups to work on our final projects: Hannah, Gaelle, and Sofe are tackling intersectionality and feminism; Shneider, Melodie, and Anevay are investigating the treatment of men and women in various industries; and Courtney and Saskia are writing about travel and privilege. Meanwhile, Jenn and Blessing have each decided to work on individual projects that they’ll finish after the summit ends, and Melissa is working on a video of the trip as well as crafting a few articles.

Before lunch, we continued with our reforestation project. Yesterday we collected bags of soil from the riverbanks, and today we took a hike into the forest to collect 200 chihuahuaco seeds. This was hard work, as many of the seeds we located had already been found by monkeys and munched on thoroughly! By the time lunch rolled around, we were also hungry, and nearly wordlessly devoured our meals.

Some of us could’ve used a siesta after lunch, but our day was just beginning. We pulled on our rubber boots, put bug spray and water bottles into our hiking bags, and took off for the river, where our boat was waiting to take us a ways upriver so that we could hike to Tres Chimbadas Lake.

To get to Tres Chimbadas, we needed to hike about a half an hour through the forest. Along the way, squirrel monkeys and tamarinds swung in the trees over our head, and industrious leaf cutter ants carried leafs and berries towards their nests to ferment and use for food.

Tres Chimbadas is a small oxbow lake, which means that it was once part of the Tambopata River, but was cut off when a curve from the river was cut off by storms and sediment. An oxbow lake is a unique ecosystem. This one is famous for being the home to a small family of giant river otters, which are amongst the rarest otter in the world. While we hoped to see some of these otters during our visit to the lake, they kept themselves hidden.

Fortunately, a host of other creatures kept our eyes busy. Once at the lake, we boarded a catamaran raft and slowly paddled to the center of the lake. A black caiman also made its way across the lake, and we watched it until it reached the opposite bank, lifted itself out of the water, and gracefully lumbered off.

We also saw a number of bird species such as the Amazon kingfisher, black vulture, great and snowy egrets, and the loud (and stinky!) hoatzin. Finally, we made our way to the shallows beneath some trees, anchored our boat, hooked some raw, red meat onto a handful of fishing hooks, and tried catching some piranha.

Yes, piranha!

Many species of fish live in Tres Chimbadas, including four types of piranha. As we plopped our bait into the lake, our guides cleared up a big misconception about piranha – most of them aren’t usually blood-thirsty killers, but rather, are opportunistic omnivores that often feed on seeds that fall from overhanging plants. Usually, when humans are prey, it’s when they have either drowned or are dripping blood from injuries.

Needless to say, the bloody bait we dropped into the lake was soon nibbled on by piranhas, and more often than not, they devoured their prize before we could pull them out of the water.

Finally… Success! Not one, but two small piranha! We learned from our guide that one of the most dangerous time to be around piranha is when they are being removed from fishing hooks. Their sharp teeth and powerful jaws work like swift hole-punchers, and it’s important to not allow fingers to get in the way!

As the sun started to get lower in the sky, we made our way back to the trail. We’d need to return to the boat in the dark. A couple of days ago this might’ve made some of us nervous, but at this point, we’re starting to get accustomed to the night noises of the jungle and seem to take it all in stride (with only the occasional shriek or holler).

Tomorrow, we’ll have a workshop about how to include men in feminist conversations, and the day after we’ll begin to make connections between gender and conservation issues. Our daily adventures allow us to see with our own eyes some of the places in the jungle that are at risk of being destroyed by human activities, and in a handful of days, we’ll return to Tres Chimbadas Lake with a group of Peruvian teens from Puerto Maldonado and together, start discussing ways we might share the issues we learn about with others around the world.

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