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The Amazon rainforest is a dense, seemingly impenetrable place. Before our scientific team can accurately document the biodiversity of an area they need a map to follow and clear trails on which to walk. Enter Alvaro del Campo, the Rapid Inventory logistics guru!

This is a segment in a series about The Field Museum's Rapid Inventory No. 27, a journey through the forests between the rivers Tapiche and Blanco in Peru. Every year, the Museum's conservation group [the Action Center!] gathers together leading scientific experts across a number of disciplines (botany, zoology, geology, and anthropology) in order to gain an understanding of little-known areas of the rainforest. They work with local communities and their governments to help inform decisions made for conserving these unique, precious, and threatened parts of the world.

To learn more about the Rapid Inventory program, check out the other Amazon Adventures!

Read more about The Field Museum's Rapid Inventory programs:

This expedition would not have been possible without the generosity and help of Corine Vriesendorp, Nigel Pitman, Alvaro del Campo, Tyana Wachter, Ernesto Ruelas, and the rest of the Rapid Inventory team. Thank you for allowing us to join you on this journey, and for giving us the trip of a lifetime.


Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Writer, Editor, Camera:
Tom McNamara

Theme music:
Michael Aranda

Created By:
Hank Green

Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Filmed on location between the rivers Tapiche and Blanco in Peru.

All the love for Martina Šafusová for providing English closed captions on this video. +1 to you, Martina!
[theme music plays]

[background music throughout]

Emily: [whistles] This is the trail into camp.
This is el comedor, the dining area.
This is Nigel's tent.
This is the biologist work station.
This is the helipad.
This is where we wash our clothes.
This is our bathing area. There's an electric eel in there.

[man speaking spanish over radio]

Emily: The camp radio.
So Álvaro, what is it that you do for the rapid inventory?

Álvaro: I do all the coordination, like before hand, before the inventory. There's many stages, first we have to visit the communities, talk to them, they need to be informed about what we are going to do. We just invite all of them to one large community so we have this informed consent session, so they all have to sign that they agree that we are going to do this work here.
The second stage, after we do that, we do an over flight. So we fly over the air to identify the points of interest from the air because it's much closer. Just imagine, just zoom in the satellite image and then you're right there. You see the kind of forest much easier than here.
And then the third stage would be like I come with the advance team, just get like cabled down with the helicopter.

Emily: So, like a helicopter is flying over, like, you don't have anywhere for that helicopter to land, we are in the middle of nowhere, and it puts you in a harness and they drop you down --

Álvaro: They drop me down.

Emily: -- with a chainsaw just cutting an area to land.

Álvaro: Yeah, so I just go first and then two people with chainsaws come after me.

Emily: Yeah? And those are people like --

Álvaro: So you just put the harness -- Local people from

Emily: Yeah like the people --

Álvaro: Like the people who are with us right now.
So we just clear an area that is like safe for the helicopter to just come down, and the helicopter comes back with the rest of the team. There is like, one cook, and the rest are like two chainsaw persons that help being the chainsaws, and the rest are like the rocheros. These guys make the beautiful trails for the scientists to walk on.

Emily: Well, and it makes sense that if somebody was going to come to a region like this and try to understand an undocumented region of the rainforest and you have so many people from different disciplines, like an ornithologist and a geologist, like, scientifically, you can't draw any conclusions if they're all going off in different directions and, you know, just ambling around the forest. So it makes so much sense to have them go through the same trail and say like, "oh at 5000 meters on trail 4, did you see this?" and they're like "Oh yeah, I totally saw that!"

Álvaro: Absolutely right. They're like, it's great for them to just come here and there's already trail system ready for them to walk.

Emily: Well, let's keep going with these guys and, and see.

Álvaro: Okay, I'm just going to put the other marker to we have the two very obvious for the scientists to see where the trail starts. And they know that two flagging markings next to each other means the beginning of a trail.

Emily: The beginning There we go.

[cutting and breaking noises]

Álvaro: So we just advanced about 200 meters, so we're at 100 meters away from the first point

Emily: Okay.

Álvaro: So we're getting, getting there.

Emily: Getting close. Alright.

Álvaro: Getting close to the first spot.

Emily: When you're cutting one of these trails, what is it that you're looking for on the map to identify where a trail should go.

Álvaro: Well, we begin in Chicago, after we get these beautiful satellite images and we discuss with the botanists, we just ask because you're the specialist, right?

Emily: Yeah.

Álvaro: But after so many years, I sort of like, can tell the kind of forest they would choose. So we do like a draft map of the desired points in the satellite images, so they give me that, and with that in mind, I just put those points in the GPS system and make like a trail system that makes sense, and this kind of forest looks very hilly, you see?

Emily: Yeah, it does.

Álvaro: So there's just what we call "colinas bajas," like low hills --

Emily: Okay.

Álvaro: -- low hill forests. It's like a big terrace next to the river, this is the Yanayacu right here, and this is downstream, so we just decided to cut near the river and through the hills, to see what we found.

Emily: Yeah, that's cool. And so that's how you came up with like, the four different trails that kind of try to loop over all of the different terrains, incorporate the different -- yeah, that's great.

Álvaro: To find like more species.

Emily: Ahaha!

Alright, Álvaro, I don't want to cut my leg off trying to do this.

Álvaro: Okay, Emily, you know this is a really big machete, right? It's very sharp, you saw him --

Emily: Yeah.

Álvaro: -- just, uh, sharpen the edges.

Emily: For like, an hour.

Álvaro: Exactly. So this is, this thing is just really sharp.
First, they don't do this. Go behind me. If I just go through --

Emily: Oh, God.

Álvaro: -- way back, I can cut your eye, right?

Emily: Yeah.

Álvaro: So they just don't go any farther than this behind.

Emily: Yeah.

Álvaro: So from here, up. Choo, choo, choo. So you go like choo, choo, choo.

Emily: Okay.

Álvaro: And you just need to--you don't make to--you don't need to make like a road, because the guys behind are gonna make like a nice trail.

Emily: Yeah.

Álvaro: So what you need to do is just cut a few branches for us to go through and for the three teams in the back to see the machete cuts and they know where to go.

Emily: I don't know what to cut.

Álvaro: Just cut a little bit of the palm leaves.

Emily: Like this guy? Like --

Álvaro: Yeah. Yeah. Keep going.

Emily: Okay, I cut that.

Álvaro: Anything that is in your path, cut it. That leaf there.

Emily: Whoops.

Álvaro: Like this.

Emily: Like that?

Álvaro: You see, diagonal, diagonal, there we go. Cut it diagonally.

Emily: All right.

Álvaro: There.

Emily: Cha! Oh man! Yeaaah!

Álvaro: There we go!

Álvaro: Excellent.

Emily: This thing is really sharp.

Welcome to Troche Cinco. Yeah! So now that we've cut this trail, what--what is the next step?

Álvaro: We're gonna mark it with flagging every 50 meters.

Emily: Okay.

Álvaro: And for that, we have the help of Gomer, who was leading the path, now we have the trail, so we're gonna mark it every 50 meters by using this 25 meter string.

Emily: So the scientists need to know that for two reasons, right? One, so they don't get off the path accidentally, they know if they're wandering around and all of a sudden, they don't see flagging for like, you know, 20 minutes, they've probably wandered off the wrong way.

Álvaro: Yeah.

Emily: And when they're taking notes in the forest and making observations and they say 'I saw a tapir over here', they need to write down at what point in the trail they saw it.

Álvaro: Yeah, mm-hmm.

Emily: That's good to know.

Álvaro: This goes in your - you write with your left hand or right?

Emily: Right hand.

Álvaro: Right hand. So this goes in your right pocket, and this is your stick.

Emily: My stick.

Álvaro: And I will tie the rope into your pants. There we go.

Emily: Are we ready?

Álvaro: I'm ready.

Emily: Okay.

Álvaro: So remember, when I--when I scream 'Ya!', this means that this is going to be at the end--

Emily: Okay, okay.

Álvaro: --and then you just boom, and then keep walking. And I'm gonna follow you, and then give you the stick.

Emily: See you in 25 meters.

Álvaro: Ya!

Emily: I'm gonna mark it.
And then -- I got this.

Álvaro: Yep.

Emily: Trail Five, 150 meters.

Álvaro: Perfect.

Emily: And then you do that for like, four more miles.

Álvaro: Could be monotonous at times, but then when you see a bunch of monkeys, that makes a difference.

Emily: Yeah, yeah. Cool. Awesome. Well, Álvaro, thank you for taking the time to show us how you make these beautiful trails so our scientists can come in and do their work.

Álvaro: My pleasure.

Emily: It's great.

[outro music]

Emily: It still has brains on it.