“El misterio de las plantas amazonias”

The mystery of Amazonian plants

The theme of this day is best explained with this quote from Robert Crawshaw: “Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards…but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way”

We started this morning with a 6AM hike through the jungle, and had a little bit of “pre-breakfast protein” in the form of termites fresh from the mound. They taste like a cross between mint and lemon, but we quickly discovered that it was not enough to sustain us until breakfast.

A termite nest!

Kathy with a giant land snail shell- in Spanish, we call this animal churo

After breakfast, we continued exploring the forest. While walking, we saw scarlet macaws, various insects, and also found enormous land snail shells! Abelardo, our guide, told us that the indigenous people believe that putting a circle of these shells around the tree will result in a higher fruit yield. Why? The shells provide the tree with extra calcium!

We then moved to our next destination – ExplorNapo Lodge. To get there, we traveled downstream on the Yanamono river, downstream on the Amazon to the Napo river, upstream on the Napo River, and finally we took the Sacusari river upstream to our destination. At this point we haven’t traveled in, or even seen, a car in five days. River transportation is everything in the Amazon!

Once we were settled in, we went to visit the shaman- a traditional medicine man from one of the local indigenous tribes. It was a privilege to learn about, through smell, touch, and taste, local plants with medicinal qualities. He then performed a relaxing and healing ceremony for all of our group members. We left enlightened and smelling of rosewood.

After dinner, we had a night boat tour of the Sacusari River. We instantly saw a two-toed sloth (different from the 3-toed sloths we saw the day before, and the same kind that lives in the Living Conservatory at the Museum!), many frogs, sleeping butterflies, and an incredible mating pair of white throated toucans!

It’s been a long day. Off to bed to sleep under mosquito nets with 2 species of bats overhead!

Receiving a blessing from the shaman

We were ecstatic to find a pair of white-throated toucans tonight! Only one is pictured here, and a few of us have better photos, but we weren’t able to access them yet.


“Full hearts”

And we are all connected to each other in a circle in a hoop that never ends – Pocahontas

As we sit down this evening to write our blog, we are so overwhelmed with so many areas with which we can expand. Morning began as each morning has here at Explorama Lodge. That means a breakfast (desayuno) with some of the most delicious food we have all had the opportunity to taste. After a hardy breakfast we set out on our day to visit one of the local schools, the local library, and the only local clinic.

After a short boat ride we arrived with one of the warmest welcomes we have ever experienced in our lives. The welcoming group consisted of students, the 4 teachers, and most of the community to welcome us and to work with us. We were greeted with smiles and waves, hand-written posters, and so much excitement, we knew immediately today would be a very special day. We went from the dock into the modest schoolhouse and we were welcomed with introductions, short welcome speeches, and beautiful singing from the kindergarten class. We were gifted some of the most thoughtful and articulate gifts from the community consisting of hand woven fans from local materials, cards with poetry for us, and hand carved keychains also with local materials. The love and excitement in the room was overwhelming for all of us. As educators we know everyone is a lifelong learner and that each day brings a new opportunity to learn, grow, share, teach, and love. This trip to Pucallpa only reiterates the lesson we all already knew, but fueled an inner desire for us all to take back to our classrooms, families, and communities. We were welcomed and worked along side of friends despite the language barrier for most. We all had a common goal and desire to improve their school. One group painted the outside of the kindergarten building, one group planted a row of coconut palms and orange trees around and behind the school, and the final group painted all the chairs and desks of the 1-5th graders. The love and appreciation was overwhelming as we painted, planted and participated in a local cultural celebration. We danced to festive Peruvian music around a ceremonial palm tree piñata after eating a traditional Peruvian meal of Juanes.

A few of the young girls made signs welcoming us to their community of Pucallpa

Planting coconut trees with some of the community members

A “Juanes” (chicken, hard-boiled egg, and olive with rice wrapped up with a leaf to look like the decapitated head of John the Baptist)

Our next destination was the local library Sustainability and Education Center. The center is the only of its kind in the area. Not only is the raised structure beautiful, it is well maintained and cherished by all who use the center. The center’s director Fernando Saavedra does a wonderful job at directing volunteers and students to make the absolute most of all of the opportunities the center has to offer. He explained how the center was founded by a visiting American with a love of books and a love equally for Peru. Students and anyone with a love of books may come visit throughout the week. Most have to travel by boat or walk. The center offers not only the opportunity to read various books but the students have access to musical instruments, crafts, computers, and games. We were able to observe multiple students during our time- some students were reading, several were playing beautiful music, and several working with the 3 computers that were available. It was so refreshing to see students going out of their way to expand their knowledge. The love they have for this facility is evident in the care they all take in working within the center. We donated many new books to add to the center’s collection that were collected by students in our own classrooms. We left the center with a desire to continue to give globally, to expand on children’s knowledge by the use of books, and most importantly to remember to enhance the love of learning.

Reading some of the books we brought to donate to the library

Our third and final destination today was to the local community clinic, la Clinica Yanamono. The clinic was founded and is run by doctor Dr. Linnea Smith. She came to the area in 1996 and as many of, she fell in love with Peru and the local area. She has worked hard to maintain accurate records of community members and has seen an improvement in the overall health- a decrease in common illnesses and increase in life expectancy of local community members. She spoke of the evolution of the clinic and future goals. We were introduced some of the staff of 4 and were shown around the clinical rooms. Many of us worked with our students before we left to gather resources to donate to the clinic and at the end of the introduction we presented these to Dr. Smith. We all were very interested in how we could help to facilitate the growth of the clinic and Dr. Linnea gave us the information and website for anyone wishing to donate to support the clinic.

We arrived back at the lodge absolutely covered in mud with sun-touched faces and very full hearts. Today was full of love, appreciation for all of our global neighbors, and an increased awareness/desire to instill within our students the importance of becoming globally aware and friendly. We want to inspire our students not only to succeed academically, but also have the desire to travel and learn about other cultures. By sharing our experiences we hope to create the curiosity of travel and unknown places.

What a day!


“The music of the Amazon”

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” -Joseph Campbell

The rhythm and harmony of life on, and near, the river was the theme of our experiences today. We began just after dawn with bird watching, turning our heads to the calls and drawing our binoculars to our eyes to follow the rapid movement from tree to tree. Following breakfast, we took two boats to Lake Caceres, where we saw three-toed sloths, giant water lilies, and jacanas (nick-named Jesus Christ birds because they can seemingly walk on water!). Our guides knew each bend in the river, and shared stories of where they would fish or climb trees. We were astounded at how a slight shadow, sixty-feet in the air, could be so adeptly identified as a three-toed, female sloth – but our guides were in tune with life on and around the river.

In the afternoon, we participated in the cultural and artisanal fair with the Yagua people. We were to treated a sampling of Peruvian music by the band Los Mosandaros. Styles ranged from Cumbia – heard in many parts of Latin America – to Pan Deja (with a pan flute) – a style of music enjoyed in Amazon communities during their Carnival celebrations. We also enjoyed local cuisine derived from sugar cane, yucca, and peanuts, and learned the proper way to eat Miel de Cana on sugar cane (sugar cane molasses). Using the natural materials around them, artisans fashioned pots, thatched roofs, rope, and baskets. Dyes were created from various plants, and we swatched our cheeks, arms, and journals with the green dye made from young pijuayo palm leaves and indigo blue from the mishki panga (ginger fruit) husk. The paint made us look especially fierce as we shot darts from the blow gun.

A completed thatch panel we made for the roof- such skill is involved in this process!

In the evening, we floated back out onto the Yanamono river and at first heard, then spotted, a number of frogs, including an incredibly large and exceedingly loud Smoky Jungle frog – they can grow to be as long as 7 inches (not including the legs)! As our boats floated into the grass we turned off all lights and were silent – revealing the symphony of frogs that seemed to be coming from every direction. As we made our way out to the mighty Amazon, fish jumped around our boats, and the clouds parted, revealing the night sky. We identified several constellations, including the “teapot” constellation, which inspired us to sing two renditions of the song “I’m a Little Teapot” in both English and Spanish – and yes, we did the motions.

The heartbeat of the Amazon is strong and steady, and we are incredibly privileged to be a small part of its music during this trip.

Ps. ALL of us got our bags back! It’s a miracle!!! Many thanks to the tireless efforts of the Explorama staff for making that possible!!!

Our luggage has arrived and we are so excited!


“Bienvenidos a la selva Amazonica!”

Welcome to the Amazon Jungle!

After close to 30 hours of travel, including three planes, two buses, and a boat, we finally made it to Explorama Lodge! This eco-tourism lodge is about an hour and a half boat-ride from the city of Iquitos, the largest city in the world accessible only by boat or airplane.Our journey started with a delayed flight to Lima at 1:55 in the morning and several lost bags at baggage claim. Leaving Lima to fly to Iquitos, we saw the vast expanse of the Andes and later “Miss Ana,” a nickname for the Amazon River which comes from how it snakes around like an anaconda.After being picked up in Iquitos, we drove through the Belen Market. Roaming Peruvian Hairless Dogs and Black Vultures perched on rooftops were a common sight in the market. We also saw medicinal plants, spices, fresh and grilled meats – it was an experience to see and smell.From there, we met up with our group of Peruvian educators and had lunch on the boat as we cruised down three rivers; the Rio de Itaya , Rio de Amazon, and Yanamono River. Along the way, we spotted countless rainbows, birds and small communities along the river. Upon arriving, it took no longer than a minute for the resident squirrel monkeys to captivate our team as they jumped from tree to tree.We are sharing a meal together before embarking on our first real Amazon adventure tonight: a night-time boat ride to find creatures and see new stars. Buenas noches y hasta manana!


“At long last we have arrived”

Boarding the plane to Iquitos

We are sleep deprived, and only half the group has our checked luggage, but we have arrived safely to Lima, Peru! Now we fly to Iquitos and the rainforest!


“A Good Journey is Never Linear”

“We are ready! This is the cleanest we will be all trip.”

Today is the day we leave for Peru, and it is also the day we discovered that travel is often a non-linear event. Instead of flying to Miami at 11:50am, we are *hoping* to fly at 6pm due to technical difficulties. But we take it as a good omen, because at least we are not on a malfunctioning plane!

The cleanest and least sweaty we will be all trip is right now, in the airport!

Although we don’t know each other yet and don’t know what the next hours will bring, we are all talking and laughing and sharing creative ideas with each other. We haven’t missed our phones! We have had conversations with a group from Colombia, and practiced sighting the native bird species of RDU.

Practicing our binocular skills at gate C11, to identify the house sparrows that are stuck inside the airport terminal

At some point the airline even brought out the snack cart. Not just dry snacks, but the cart with the special “Refuel and Refresh” box of snacks with 8 lucious choices.

To keep our spirits up, we all joined in to sing “Los Pollitos Dicen”, a Spanish children’s song. The silly chicks say, “pío, pío, pío” to get their worms. Maybe if we sing their song we will get what we want too and make our flight! Wish us “buena suerte” (good luck) for the next leg of our journey and what will probably be a long next 48 hours.

Michelle is very excited for snacks!

1:15am update- we have all successfully boarded a flight from Miami to Lima. Hopefully we will still make our morning flight to Iquitos as scheduled and be back on track for the rest of our journey!


“¡Estamos listos! We are ready!”

For weeks now, we have been slowly adding to our piles of things to pack. For our families and pets, this big trip and our preparations can be difficult to come to terms with. For Andromeda’s dog, Luna, “Every time I add something to my bag she thinks I’m about to leave, so she’s been very involved in the process! Today I finished gathering the last few items so I’m double checking my list to make sure I have it all (and it all fits in my bag).”

Andromeda’s dog, Luna, is anxious for her to leave for such a long time. She knows something is coming, as she has been watching items accumulate in the pile of things to be packed. Lining our bag or backpack with a big trash bag and packing in ziploc bags are great methods of waterproofing our clothes in case of downpours on the way to the lodge.


For Michelle, packing for an immersive experience in the remote Amazon rain forest has meant a shift in how she usually approaches travel. “Typically when I pack, I consider my credit card to be that one essential item. If I have forgotten anything, I am sure that I can just get what I need. However, packing for remote locations in Peru means my credit card will not be my safety net (there aren’t stores to buy things where we’re going- the big city will be several hours away!). Reviewing the itinerary and combing through the packing list is what will help me prepare. Additionally, my recent purchases have included a rain poncho, collapsible backpack, desiccant packs (to keep important things like batteries and paper items dry), and anti-monkey butt powder (for the hot, humid weather in the tropics). I also have been looking for Spanish language books to donate to the local Peruvian library. ”

Michelle’s pile of things to pack includes some Spanish language books to donate to the local library, as well as gauze and wound care items to donate to the Yanamono medical clinic we will visit.

Rebecca’s organized pile of things to pack, including lots of non-cotton, sweat-wicking materials.

We’ve also been diligently practicing our Spanish phrases so we can communicate with our local Peruvian teachers that will join our group upon arrival to Iquitos. We are excited to meet our new friends, Tula, Roxana, Jackeline, and Juan Pablo. Each of them comes from a different local community that partners with CONAPAC, one of the local non-profits we will be working with on our visit. We’ll even have the chance to help the community plant citrus and coconut trees, and refurbish the gardens around Roxana’s school in Pucallpa. After so many preparations, we are finally ready for our new adventure to the Peruvian Amazon! ¡Estamos listos!



“Inspired, Rejuvenated, and Amazed”

June 24, 2019

Today is the day that we fly back to North Carolina, and it was an 8 o’clock wake up call. After our full stomachs and sleepy eyes last night, waking up a little later felt good. We ate breakfast and headed to the airport. It was quieter this morning in the vans, many of us in disbelief of how fast this trip went by. Early mornings were difficult when we started, but as we continued on our journey, they allowed us to make so many more memories.

Walking the Upper Geyser Basin boardwalk in the early morning

These memories include the natural wonders of Yellowstone, but also the fast friendships formed over the miles and adventures. There were so many passionate teachers who brought unique gifts on the trip. There was always someone ready to lend a hand. Even as we loaded our bags to head home, many opened their bags for others whose bags were now overweight with souvenirs.

Mandie, Kristen, and Michele take a selfie

As we enter back into our own worlds, we are so thankful that these quotes ring true:

“Friends are the people who make you smile brighter, laugh louder, and live better.” – unknown

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

⁃ John Muir

Flowers bloom in front of the Grand Tetons

Inspired, rejuvenated and amazed. These are three of the countless words that accurately describe our adventure into the mesmerizing Yellowstone National Park. As we sit in the airport and wait to board our flight, we all sit in awe of the “firsts” we have each experienced this week. With three amazing leaders, lots of coffee, and the desire to take in every second of every day, we all come back better, more enriched individuals and educators. It’s going to be great to see our families and hold them tight, but being able to relive and share the experiences of Yellowstone with them and others is going to be a bright spot within us for the rest of our lives. For that, we are forever thankful.

With lots of love we sign off for the last time,

Emily, Mandie, and Kristen

The 2019 Educators of Excellence Yellowstone Institute participants


“Grand Geysers, Phenomenal Paint Pots, and Thumping Thermal Features”

June 23, 2019

Today was a mixture of excitement and sadness as we headed into our last real day in Yellowstone. We started off the morning with a walk through Upper Geyser Basin, just outside the Old Faithful Inn. We were dazzled by the array of different hot spring formations—pools of bubbling blue water, billows of fluffy white steam, rings of red thermophiles, and fountains of water spewing from deep within the earth. A few of our favorite features included the Beehive Geyser (with a cone shaped like—you guessed it—a beehive), Spasmodic Geyser (with water spewing every which way), and the Grand Geyser. The Grand Geyser was particularly spectacular—it erupted high into the sky, up to 180 ft. Water gushed into the sky for about 8 minutes, and just when we thought it was over, it erupted a second time with an even higher column of super-heated water. Afterwards, Ranger Rebecca led us on a tour through Upper Geyser Basin. She explained the various mechanisms of how geysers work, pointed out the bobby sock trees (long dead after absorbing silica), and shared her urgency / passion for environmental conservation.

Ranger Rebecca shares her deep knowledge of the thermal features of the Upper Geyser Basin

From there, we started our long trek back to Bozeman, which included several stops along the way. First, we stopped at Black Sand Pool, locally known as “Thumper.” Megan told us to lay down in the dirt around the pool. Although it sounded like a strange request, we complied and laid in a ring around the bubbling pool. We waited…and waited. At first, nothing. And then, without warning, a thump came from deep within the earth. It felt like a giant was trapped beneath the surface and was knocking to escape. We could feel the thud against our backs and hear the hollow sound reverberate against the rock. Megan explained that these thumps were caused by explosions of super-heated water underground. So cool!!

Lying on the ground, experiencing the thumping of Black Sand Pool

We also stopped at the Fountain Paint Pots. There were several geothermal formations there as well, including geysers, steam vents, and mud pots. The mud pots were an unusual sight—a cesspool of bubbling mud swirled with pinks and yellows. Bacteria and acid play a key role in these formations. Bacteria in the ground produces sulfuric acid, which in turn breaks down the surrounding rocks, producing a mud pool. It was interesting to compare the mud pots to the geysers we saw earlier in the day.

Besides sight-seeing, we also had some final group-bonding moments. A few days ago, we decorated our vans. Amidst all of our excursions across Yellowstone, both of our white vans have accumulated a thick layer of mud and dust. Of course we could have figured out a way to wash it off, but instead we decided to write a tally of all the wildlife we’d seen. Our vans were a hit with the tourists! We caught several groups today pointing at our vans and taking pictures, gawking at the collection of wildlife we’d seen.

Our wildlife talley on one of the vans

At lunch, we played a competitive (and hilarious) Yellowstone-themed game of charades. We rolled with laughter as various teammates acted out “badger hunting uinta,” “pika,” “Grand Prismatic,” “Megan,” and “rock snot.” We ended the day with our final team meeting, where we shared out highlights and appreciations from the trip. Needless to say, we ended the day with heavy hearts that our adventure is coming to a close. However, at the same time, we could not say enough to express the joy, appreciation, and inspiration we’ve experienced on this trip. It has been truly remarkable and awe-inspiring—a trip we will never forget!!

Johnny performing during charades


“A grand day in Grand Teton National Park”

June 22, 2019

Another early morning in Yellowstone- we departed Old Faithful Inn at 5:00 am and headed into adjacent Grand Teton National Park. The two hour van ride was quiet as most of us slept in the early hours of the morning. Once we reached the majestic peaks of the Tetons, we were all rejuvenated with sights of jagged snow-topped mountain peaks cutting into the bluebird skies. After a quick breakfast surrounded by jaw-dropping views, we visited the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve near Phelps Lake. We used our time at the preserve to take in the sights and sounds and reflect on our surroundings.

Early morning yoga at the entrance to the Laurance S. Rockefellar Preserve

After some impromptu yoga at the trailhead we visited the Laurance S. Rockefeller Visitor Center to get our bearings and plan our hikes for the day. The center has a soundscape room which many of us used to sit quietly and contemplate our connection to the natural world.

Once we were limbered up, we set off on a 3 mile hike to and from Phelps Lake. Along the way we observed and identified numerous birds and wildflowers including silver lupine, arnica, sticky geranium, and fairy slipper.

The group at Phelps Lake

Later, we stopped at a pond near Murie Ranch to enjoy a picnic lunch, where we were entertained by a raw example of predation: an osprey stalking a duckling. While we never saw him catch his lunch, we did get to see a great blue heron and it joined our growing list of birds seen thus far.

After lunch, we went on a four mile loop hike to Taggart Lake. We were treated to magnificent views of all three Tetons and Disappointment Peak, named because explorers thought they were on Teton but were disappointed to find they were not. We were all happy that the sun was shining and the temperature was much warmer. We have experienced two seasons in one week!

We stopped at Leek Marina for pizza dinner and then, exhausted, headed back to Old Faithful Inn, forever on the lookout for the last wildlife spotting of the day. After a quick rainstorm, a remarkably vivid rainbow was cast across the sky as we departed from the Tetons. The perfect end to the perfect day.