Welcome to the jungle

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A group of four biology students were stranded for almost a week in the Peruvian jungle over the summer when their field trip was halted due to a coca strike.

The students arrived at the second largest coca site in Peru on a Monday morning and were only able to leave the following Sunday evening. The local strikes meant that the students couldn’t get out of the area where they had made camp when they realised the plant life there was not what they needed for their research.

Suzanne Phillips, one of the four students, said that “everything went right” at the first of the three stops they made. The second stop was close to a logging concession and this is where “it all started to go a bit wrong”.

Logging went ahead close to where the students were staying even though their professor had requested that no logging happen there. Phillips said: “It’s pretty dangerous. They were cutting down 30-foot trees and when they fell they took another 20 with them. The roads were constructed by cutting down everything, which created a heap of mud sometimes five feet tall.”

When they tried to leave the Aguaytia village, they were told that no one could enter and no one could leave. “We had plenty of food and we boiled water. But two of us got quite sick.”

Unable to communicate with family, friends or their tutor due to the lack of phone reception, one of the four students took to a motorbike with a local and made it to an area where there was phone signal. She was unable to contact her professor but did reach her family, though there was very little anyone could do.

Phillips said: “It was stressful but we managed. We’re all independent people and quite self-sufficient. The local people were very kind even though they had no responsibility for us and they tried to distract us from the difficulty of the situation.”

The students had to change the title and focus of their project. However Phillips said: “I learnt stuff I wouldn’t have learnt. I never felt my life was in danger. It was an adventure.”

Strikes are a common feature of the area on the road between the Aguaytia village and Pucallpa. Amnesty International said the primary issues they are dealing with in Peru are indigenous rights, water and land protests.