Colleen McDougal’s experience in Girl Scouts began when she was a Brownie, a level of scouting reserved for young women in grades 2-3. Now a 14-year-old Homer High School freshman, Colleen has taken the experience to a new level. In July she traveled to Peru with nine other scouts from across the United States through Girl Scouts Destinations program.
Through travel, the program participants meet other scouts, develop leadership skills, build self-confidence and experience valuable learning opportunities.
Colleen learned about the program through her mom, Billeen Carlson, leader of Troop 515, but becoming a participant was her own doing.
“I read through the information, filled out the form and wrote an essay,” said Colleen.
She also did the fundraising.
“It was around $4,000, but I got a lot of donations and I sold a travelogue,” said Colleen
The travelogue consisted of letters and postcards Colleen sent during her July 20-July 29 travels.
What was the biggest lesson learned from the experience?
“I’m probably pretty good at charades,” said Colleen, referring to what it took to communicate with her limited understanding of Spanish. “There was a lot of pointing and gesturing.”
One of the biggest challenges was understanding the value of Peruvian currency.
“I was trying to get a bunch of stamps, 40 or something like that, and international stamps are expensive,” said Colleen. “My friend was telling me it was like $200 and I said, ‘What? Are you sure you didn’t forget to move the decimal?’”
As it turned out, her friend’s math was accurate.
Following is an account of Colleen’s adventure.
MY Amazon Adventure
By Colleen McDougal
This summer I spent a week in Peru on the Amazon River. Nine girls, ranging in age from 14-18, and I were chosen from Girl Scout applicants from all over the U.S. through Destinations, a Girl Scout program with a rigorous application process much like applying to college. Our Destination was through the Global Explorers. Global Explorers is a travel agency for kids to teach them about ecotourism.
Girl Scouts has offered me a wide range of opportunities from volunteer work to an overnight on a college campus, but this trip was by far the coolest opportunity yet. While in Peru, we hiked, took boat rides, spent time with the locals and learned about the rainforest and the city of Iquitos. It was the greatest adventure ever.
For most of the trip we were in the jungle. We woke up early to go for a hike or a boat float, ate breakfast, hiked, ate lunch, hiked, ate dinner, hiked, came back to our damp beds, crawled under our mosquito netting, and fell (plummeted) to sleep. Boat trips were my favorite. The sun was hot on my back, but there was always a brisk breeze on my face and I could dip my hand in the water. Once we boated out to a small tributary to go fishing, then we went swimming on a muddy beach.
We spent time with many interesting people, too. Dr. Steve is a scientist who studies ants. He taught us about how ants can swim and glide. Dr. Yokanovia is a doctor from the United States who came over to Peru and decided to stay there and build a clinic. She hired and trained a handful of nurses from the area and is one of the few clinics that takes anyone regardless if they can pay. Cesar was our guide. He was born and raised in the jungle and knows all about the plants and animals. Once he took us to a woman who makes thatch, a type of roofing made out of leaves and strips of palm wood. We used big leaves with long stems and wove it around a palm branch. We each did a few while she carefully explained it to us in Spanish; Cesar had to translate. On the last day of our trip we did a service project in the town of San Isabella. I painted a school with some of the local kids and we traded words from Spanish to English and vice versa.
In the forest, there were so many trees we couldn’t see the sky and when we were on the canopy walk we couldn’t see the ground. It was so humid that when we got into bed, our sheets were damp. There were lots of bugs, too. One girl found a cockroach in her bed and screamed. A tarantula got swept out of the dining hall. I got to hold it. I even got to eat termites and a grub. The termites were in a big nest on a tree. Cesar broke off a piece, I stuck my finger in the hole in the nest and they crawled onto it. When I bit into one it tasted sharp, tangy and cold. The grubs were nasty.
We also spent two nights in the city of Iquitos. Our hotel was really nice and had a pool. All the buildings in Iquitos were brick with tin roofs. There were almost no cars. There were just a lot of motorcars like rickshaws with motorcycles attached to them, motorcycles and busses. The Belin market, the biggest market in Iquitos, had all the food and products displayed in the open air under thatched stalls.
This trip was amazing. I learned lots and met amazing new people with whom I hope to stay in touch. I got to experience a whole new environment. We learned a lot about travel and about the people of Peru, and people of other cultures in general. I strongly encourage any girls in middle to high school to join or stay with Girl Scouts because it only gets cooler as you get older.
I also would like to mention that this trip was expensive. If it weren’t for the many generous donations made by the communities of Anchor Point and Homer, I would not have been able to go. Thank you.