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27 de junio de 2019

Tras los pasos de Miguel de la Quadra-Salcedo: Mi experiencia guiando una expedición al Amazonas con la British Exploring Society (Parte I)


Hace un millón de años, allá por 1994, un Fernando mucho más jovencito que el que esto escribe estaba comiendo leche con galletas delante de la tele.


Sus ojos estaban fijos en la pantalla y la cuchara goteaba leche, a medio camino entre el tazón y la boca abierta. ¡Su programa favorito iba a comenzar!

El programa se llamaba “La ruta Quetzal” y Fernando soñaba con participar.

Cada año, un grupo de suertudos (quiero decir: creativos, inteligentes…) chavales se iba de expedición por Iberoamérica, para aprender sobre su cultura e historia.

A mí, he de confesar, por aquella época, la cultura y la historia me la traían un poco al pairo. Bueno, tampoco es eso, pero en comparación, lo que me motivaba de verdad, lo que me hacía verter la leche con galletas en la faldilla del brasero, eran las imágenes de los chavales en la selva, bajando en canoas por el Amazonas, dando machetazos a través de la espesura.

Uff, cómo se me caía la baba con la selva.

Y encima no se iban solos. No, los guiaba uno de mis héroes: 

Don Miguel de la Quadra Salcedo.



Don Miguel


A ver, jóvenes lectores. A aquellos de vosotros que no lo conocísteis... ¿Cómo os os puedo transmitir lo increíble que era don Miguel? Venga, os cuento un poco sobre él:

Era la leche. Como una mezcla entre Indiana Jones y el Capitán América

Estudió agrónomos en los años 40, en Navarra, España. Allí, muy pronto descubrió que era bastante bueno lanzando cosas muy lejos, así que empezó a practicar jabalina, martillo y disco.
Acabó siendo campeón nacional 9 veces.

En los años 50, un paisano navarro le enseñó una forma diferente de lanzar la jabalina, girando varias veces sobre sí mismo al modo pastor. Al poco de practicar ya superaba el record mundial por 20 metros (!). Vascos tenían que ser… 

Desafortunadamente, la federación internacional dijo al verlo “¡Dónde vas, animal! ¡Que vas a cargarte a alguien del público!” Y no le permitieron usar la técnica en los Juegos Olímpicos de Melbourne '56, donde seguro hubiera barrido.


En 1960 participó en los Juegos Olímpicos en Roma, viajando hasta allí desde España con su hermano, los dos en una vespa. Más tarde, ese mismo año, fue a Chile, a participar en los Juegos Iberoamericanos. 

Allí Miguel se empezó a desmadrar un poco más. Cuando el resto de la delegación española volvió a casa, Miguel decidió aprovechar el viaje y quedarse por la zona. Se hizo camionero en los Andes, y cuando ahorró algo de dinero, se compró un pasaje para ir a la Isla de Pascua. 

A los tres meses se había aprendido todas las leyendas e historias de todas las piedras de la isla. El pobre se aburría. ¿Cómo escapar de la isla?

Fácil: se enroló en un barco ballenero 🤦‍♂️

Con el dinero que ahorró emulando al capitán Ahab, se compró una cámara y varios rollos de película y se fue al Amazonas, donde estuvo perdido durante 3 años. 

Allí vivió todo tipo de increíbles aventuras. Buscó oro, trabajó de guía, explorador y de investigador en etnobotánica para el gobierno colombiano. Se hizo amigo de mil y una tribus indígenas, a las que impresionaba con su habilidad en lucha greco-romana y lanzando la jabalina.

Cuando regresó a España, se fue a las oficinas de TVE, y dejó a todos con la boca abierta con las imágenes y videos que trajo del Amazonas. 


No hubo más remedio que darle un empleo como reportero.

Su primera misión fue en el Congo, donde casi muere rescatando el tesoro de unas monjas españolas. Le salvaron de morir, en el último segundo, unos amigos cubanos derrapando en un jeep frente al pelotón de fusilamiento. Como en una película de James Bond.


Así, durante un par de décadas, estuvo dando tumbos alrededor del mundo, cubriendo todas las guerras, desastres y conflictos. 

Su mujer, Marisol, otra aventurera, se iba con él a menudo. Se casaron en Japón y, en su luna de miel, se fueron juntos a cubrir la guerra de Vietnam. Juntos descendieron el Amazonas en una balsa de madera junto a su primer hijo, Rodrigo, en una gran aventura emulando la Jangada de Julio Verne.


Más tarde en los ‘70, empezó a grabar documentales históricos sobre aventura y exploración: Marco Polo, Amundsen, Orellana… 

En algún momento debió pensar que se estaba encasillando, así que se buscó otro entretenimiento: Se unió al Circo Ruso, como domador de leones (!)

Es casi imposible seguir el rastro de todas las cosas que hizo...

Hombre, pues claro que también entrenó en Texas para ser astronauta!😂
La mejor parte comenzó en 1979, cuando el Rey de España le sugirió que organizase un evento de aventura y cultura anual para jóvenes con el objeto de recuperar y fortalecer los lazos históricos y culturales que unen a España con Hispanoamérica. 

¡Y así nació la Ruta Quetzal! Chavales de todos los países de habla hispana, más Portugal y Brasil, juntos en expediciones increíbles, explorando lugares históricos en España y América.

¡Y dando machetazos por la selva! 

Y es que, como dijo García Lorca al volver de Buenos Aires: "El español que no conoce América no conoce España". (Voto a Dios que así es, me dice siempre mi amigo Pedro Llanillo, ex-participante de la Ruta Quetzal, viviendo ahora en Chile).



¿Te imaginas qué pasada participar en una de esas expediciones?

Pues, desafortunadamente, yo también me lo tuve que imaginar, porque nunca me seleccionaron :(

Pero...

20 años más tarde...

Septiembre de 2016. Un no tan joven Fernando está comiendo leche con galletas frente a la pantalla (sí, qué pasa, me siguen gustando).

La cuchara otra vez a medio camino, goteando sobre unos papeles. Pero ahora no estoy mirando la tele, sino 35 pestañas del chrome, papers sobre parásitos de peces y una página de Word con cuatro párrafos inconexos

Llevaba toda la mañana tratando de avanzar en mi proyecto, mi plan para solicitar financiación para mi siguiente contrato de investigador postdoctoral. Y la cosa no iba bien, me estaba quedando dormido.

Y así, con esa habilidad extraordinaria que tiene mi cerebro para procrastinar, me puse a pensar en la selva.


Una cosa llevó a la otra y acabé en iNaturalist, que me llevó a la wikipedia, que me llevó a realizar en google búsquedas tan complejas como “trabajo selva biólogo” o “scientist jungle adventure”.

Y entonces me topé con esto:


British Exploring Society

British Exploring Society es una organización benéfica británica que lleva desde 1932 organizando expediciones a lugares remotos. El principal objetivo de estas expediciones es proporcionar experiencias enriquecedoras a través de la ciencia y la aventura a jóvenes valientes.

¡Como las expediciones de Don Miguel, pero en plan científico! Ahí es na.

Esta organización, para mi gozo, buscaba un biólogo aventurero que quisiera participar, de manera voluntaria, en una expedición a la Amazonía Peruana.
En 15 minutos había enviado la solicitud. Reconozco que era más fácil que escribir mi proyecto, pero aún así me sorprendió lo poco que me costó rellenarla: ¡Una señal inconfundible de las ganas que tenía de escaparme!

A los pocos días recibí la alegre noticia: Había sido seleccionado para una entrevista en Londres, en la sede de BES, que no es otra que el emblemático edificio de la Royal Geographical Society (!), y me daban a elegir entre varias fechas a finales de Noviembre.

Iba a ser interesante, ya que justo cuando me llegó el correo estaba mudándome de vuelta a Suecia después de dos años viviendo en Texas, e inmediatamente después de llegar a Estocolmo, tenía que cambiar de mochila e irme un mes a Zambia a hacer trabajo de campo… hasta finales de Noviembre.

Iba a estar más perdido en esa entrevista que un garaje en un pulpo.

¿Y aquel proyecto para el postdoc? No volví a abrir aquel archivo...

Mi casa frente al lago Tanganyika

La entrevista


El 20 de Noviembre aterricé en Estocolmo con jet-lag, una infección de oído gordísima y, probablemente, una docena de parásitos africanos después de un mes buceando en el lago Tanganyika.

Unos días después, agarré mi petate de mano, un vuelo de esos de ir de pie, y me fui todo contento para Londres. 

He intentado varias veces quedarme a dormir en el Museo de Ciencias Naturales, pero siempre me acaban echando. Esta vez me quedé en un albergue que hay enfrente y así, al menos, podía babear mirando por la ventana.


Como te contaba antes, para la entrevista me habían citado en la sede de la Royal Geographical Society, alli frente a Hyde Park. ¡Tener ahí al dr Livingston mirándote le daba bastante caché a la cosa!


Allí me encontré con un montón de gente que también venía a la entrevista. 

Nos habían sugerido que vinieramos preparados para posibles actividades al aire libre, así que aquello parecía el campo base del Everest: botas, mochilas, brújulas, goretés… Enseguida empezamos a charlar y a descubrir que éramos todos unos frikis con mentalidades similares.

Nos llevaron a una sala y allí nos presentamos, uno por uno, describiendo brevemente nuestros perfiles y diciendo en qué rol y expedición estábamos más interesados.

Después nos pusimos a jugar todos juntos en plan colaborativo (típica entrevista grupal, bajo la atenta mirada de los organizadores). Los juegos estaban diseñados para mostrar cómo nos desenvolvemos en grupo. Nuestra asertividad, liderazgo, capacidad de conciliación... La verdad es que fue muy interesante… ¡y una risa! 

Mi consejo para este tipo de entrevistas: relájate y diviértete. 


Más tarde nos proporcionaron unos mapillas así un poco especiales (con pequeños errores y trampas) y nos pidieron que, en pequeños grupos, organizásemos una expedición por Hyde Park, donde tendríamos que realizar varias pruebas y dar una pequeña charla relacionada con nuestra especialidad.

Yo no había tenido tiempo de preparar nada, pero empecé a hablar del comportamiento de las aves y de cómo se comunican a través del color de su plumaje. Como siempre, me emocioné contando anécdotas y curiosidades y parece que aquello les gustó.

Por último, tras el almuerzo, nos entrevistaron individualmente, profundizando en nuestra experiencia y tratando de averiguar cómo responderíamos ante diversos escenarios.


La verdad es que fue una de las entrevistas más completas que he realizado nunca, lo cual dice mucho de la Sociedad. Tanto esfuerzo y cuidado a la hora de seleccionar el equipo de guías explica porqué las expediciones acaban siendo una experiencia inolvidable para todos los afortunados que participan.

Y, bueno, ¡esta vez sí que fui uno de los afortunados! 

Al poco tiempo de regresar a Suecia me confirmaron que había pasado el “assessment” y que era ya guía aprobado de la British Exploring Society. Y unas semanas más tarde me confirmaron que tenía plaza asegurada en la siguiente expedición a la Amazonía Peruana como “Science Leader”. Yippiiie!

El entrenamiento

No sólo la entrevista fue exhaustiva. Una vez confirmada nuestra participación como guías, empezaron a definirse los planes y, durante varios encuentros de fin de semana en distintos lugares de Inglaterra, recibimos un montón de formación general y específica para nuestra expedición.

El primer fin de semana fue una introducción al Ethos de la Sociedad, sus protocolos y filosofía. Recibimos un millón de seminarios sobre lo que significa ser un guía, cómo facilitar la comunicación, resolver conflictos, seguridad, e información específica sobre los distintos roles dentro de la expedición.


También fue una oportunidad estupenda para conocernos unos a otros. Compartiré una anécdota que muestra una vez más el excelente resultado del proceso de selección:

La noche del sábado, tras terminar los seminarios del día, nos sentamos junto a una mesa 7 u 8 personas. Allí había científicos, médicos, maestros, deportistas… Gente de muy diversos ámbitos y edades muy variadas. Comenzamos a charlar y, en algún momento, alguien contó una anécdota aventurera de un cruce de fronteras entre países remotos y exóticos. Todos reímos y una chica conectó esa anécdota con otra propia, cruzando otra frontera en algún lugar ignoto. De nuevo reímos y, una vez más, otra persona tomó el testigo y contó otra batallita similar. Y así, de forma casual, uno por uno, todos los presentes en aquella mesa terminamos contando una anécdota fronteriza. ¡Todos! 

Sin lugar a dudas, una de las mejores ventajas de formar parte de la Sociedad es la oportunidad de conocer a gente tan loca como yo.

Al mes siguiente, nos reunimos de nuevo un fin de semana en un campamento de los Scouts, en una región muy bonita y agreste de Inglaterra: el Lake District. El objetivo, esta vez, era recibir formación específica sobre cada expedición.

Jess, una de nuestras médicos, practicando amputaciones
En nuestro caso, como miembros de la expedición Amazónica, practicamos técnicas de orientación, seguridad en zonas acuáticas, uso de herramientas (ahí todos dando machetazos), y aprendimos sobre medicina e higiene, fauna y flora locales, supervivencia y “bushcraft” (vamos, cómo apañárselas en la selva con pocos recursos). 

Por último, empezamos a definir los proyectos que llevaríamos a cabo y planificamos la logística de la expedición.

Conociendo a los expedicionarios

En Abril, nos reunimos en otro campamento Scout, cerca de Oxford, donde recibimos por primera vez a nuestros jóvenes exploradores. ¡Cuánta ilusión y ganas de aventura!

Allí les presentamos los planes de la expedición, conocieron a sus compañeros y a los que seríamos sus guías, y practicamos juntos múltiples escenarios como entrenamiento.

¡Alguien se ha roto un tobillo! ¿Qué hacemos?
Para ello, nos organizamos en “fires”, grupos más pequeños de 8-12 personas, llamados así desde tiempos inmemoriales por ser el número ideal de exploradores que se pueden reunir junto a una hoguera de campamento.

Cada fire suele tener como monitores fijos a un guía científico y un guía de aventura durante toda la expedición, y durante periodos cortos, una rotación de varios “trainee leaders” o monitores en prácticas, médicos, y otros integrantes del campamento base.

Mi monitora de aventura, Hannah Findlay, explicando cómo de grandes son las arañas en el Amazonas
Yo viví aquel fin de semana desde dos puntos de vista: Como guía, preparando y motivando a los chavales para la expedición, pero también como aquel joven Fernandito que soñaba con ir de expediciones. 

Fue fantástico ser testigo directo de la emoción que estarían sintiendo esos jóvenes exploradores, a punto de zarpar en la primera gran aventura de sus vidas.

En Mayo nos reunimos por última vez antes de la expedición, para realizar un curso intensivo de primeros auxilios. Algo que, por cierto, recomiendo encarecidamente a todo el mundo, vayas o no a una expedición. 

Espero que nunca tengas que poner en práctica lo que aprendas pero te aseguro, desde mi propia experiencia, que te alegrarás de saber un par de cosillas si la situación lo requiere.

Durante todo este tiempo, los integrantes del equipo de monitores estuvimos en contacto, planificando en más detalle la logística del viaje, los proyectos… y chafardeando, ya como amiguetes, en un infame grupo de whatsapp.

Ya estábamos listos para la expedición... 

Pero eso os lo contaré, muy pronto, en la segunda parte :)



*************************************

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Y voy a compartir estos superpoderes a lo grande, colaborando con la web más enorme en el mundo de la conservación: Conservation Careers

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... Apúntate a nuestro curso online y compartiré contigo las mejores estrategias para conseguir tu primer empleo en conservación.

¡Cerramos las inscripciones el viernes 28 de Junio!


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26 de junio de 2019

Beca para hacer la tesis en Londres estudiando el comportamiento de insectos sociales

We are looking for a highly motivated PhD student to participate in our project on nest building behaviour in social insects, at the University of Roehampton, London, UK. This is a fully funded PhD opportunity for UK or EU nationals who have or will achieve a Master’s degree by the 1st October 2019. The successful applicant will join the Centre for Research in Ecology Evolution and Behaviour of the University of Roehampton (London, UK) and will receive a stipend of £16,777 per year, for three years. The tuition fees of £4,260 per year will be covered by the University. Research funds (£14,400) will also be provided to support the direct research costs of the PhD (research travel costs, computer, consumables etc.)

Project description:
Nest building by social insects is one of the most classical examples of self-organisation phenomena in living systems, and has contributed to the evolutionary success of ants and termites. Surprisingly, still very little is known about the mechanisms underlying the construction of these structures and about their morphological and functional properties. Our laboratory aims at addressing these questions by using a variety of techniques, from behavioural experiments with ants and termites, to micro-CT imaging, 3D image analysis, mathematical and computational modelling.

Requirements:
Successful candidates will have a Masters degree or equivalent in biology / computer science or a related field. Candidates with strong interest (ideally with prior experience) in agent-based modelling and/or programming are highly desirable, though not essential. The ideal candidate will have good oral and written communication skills in English.

Deadline for applications is 10th July 2019, for a start date of the PhD on the 1st October 2019.

For further information, please contact Dr Andrea Perna, email: andrea.perna@roehampton.ac.uk. Applications should include a cover letter describing the motivation, previous research activities and current research interests, a reference letter and a CV (in English).


https://www.findaphd.com/phds/project/the-biology-and-physics-of-the-most-complex-form-of-animal-architecture-a-study-of-growth-and-form-of-social-insect-nests/?p101524





Dr Andrea Perna
Senior Lecturer in Theoretical Biology
Life Sciences Department
Roehampton University | London | SW15 4JD
Whitelands College | Holybourne Avenue | Room 1048a
andrea.perna@roehampton.ac.uk | www.roehampton.ac.uk
http://perna.fr/
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8392 5028

25 de junio de 2019

Oferta marinera de divulgación científica en UK

Marine Outreach Officer - D229116C

We are recruiting a Marine Education Officer to join the Outreach team at the Dove Marine Laboratory, working alongside Newcastle University’s Faculty Outreach Team.

If you are an enthusiastic communicator and believe passionately in the importance of Ocean Literacy, we welcome an application from you.

You will have a passion for education, for science and for conservation of the natural environment, and will enjoy working with young people to nurture their love of science.

You will have a good degree in an appropriate science subject, and expertise in marine ecology and marine species. You should have one year’s experience of outreach and public engagement development and delivery in a science (preferably marine or environmental) context.

For further information, and details of how to apply, please visit https://www.ncl.ac.uk/vacancies/jobs/#about

And

Search for the details under the job code : D229116C or under ‘Marine Outreach’

Date for interviews is provisionally set for 5th July


Informal enquiries to jane.delany@ncl.ac.uk

Postdoc en genética de poblaciones de arrecifes de coral en Australia

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/Australian Institute of Marine Science
Research Fellow: Coral population genetics
The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, headquartered at James Cook University, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) are global leaders in coral reef research and have common interests in research that promotes the future sustainability of coral reefs. As part of this collaboration, we are seeking to appoint a joint postdoctoral fellow to work with leading researchers at both the ARC Centre and AIMS.
The position provides the opportunity for an exceptional candidate to pursue research in the population genetics of corals on the Great Barrier Reef, and the evolutionary responses of wild corals to recurrent episodes of thermal bleaching due to climate extremes. Suitable areas of focus include genetic modelling, evolutionary theory, genomics, geneflow and meta-population dynamics. The joint appointment will provide the candidate with the freedom to develop a research program linked to the broad objectives of the position that suits their interests and expertise.
Applicants must possess a PhD in a relevant area, and have a strong publication record. The successful applicant must have demonstrated the ability to conduct and publish research independently and as part of a team.

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Research Fellow: People and Ecosystems
The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies is a leading coral reef research group, encompassing >250 researchers and graduate students. The vision of the Centre is to provide the scientific knowledge necessary for understanding the world's coral reefs and their interaction with people in order to foster their sustainable use, secure the benefits they provide to tropical societies and economies, and enhance the effectiveness of coral reef management world-wide. An employment opportunity for an outstanding early to mid-career Research Fellow is now available for a three year appointment. We are seeking people with broad areas of expertise which would contribute to the following research theme of the Centre:
People and Ecosystems: The key objective of this program is to improve the governance and management of natural systems and to enhance our capacity to sustain both human and natural capital. We are seeking to transcend the disciplinary constraints of the biological, oceanographic, geochemical, anthropological, economic and policy sciences, to create an exciting research agenda that focuses on the local and global resilience of coral reefs from both social and biological perspectives.
Applicants must possess a PhD in a relevant area, and have a strong publication record. The successful applicant must have demonstrated the ability to conduct and publish research independently and as part of a team. The appointee will have the freedom to develop a research program linked to the broad objectives of the position that suits their interests and expertise.

Employment Type: Appointments will be full-time for a fixed term of three years.

Salary: Academic Level A - $A82,358 - $A88,132 pa; Academic Level B - $A92,575 - $A109,234 pa plus 17% superannuation. Level of appointment and commencing salary will be in accordance with qualifications and experience.

Applications close on 17th July 2019
Additional information is available from https://www.coralcoe.org.au/about/careers-employment

Jennifer Lappin
Chief Operations Officer
ARC centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

24 de junio de 2019

Following the steps of my childhood hero: My experience volunteering with British Exploring Society

(Puedes leer este artículo en español aquí)

Almost a million years ago, back in 1995, a very young Fernandito was eating cookies with milk in front of the TV.

His eyes were wide open and the spoon, dripping milk, was hovering motionless, halfway between the bowl and Fernando's mouth. His favourite show was about to start! It was called “La Ruta Quetzal” and it was an exciting competition for young students, who had to prove their knowledge for the chance to go on an expedition with this guy:

Don Miguel de la Quadra-Salcedo

OK, dear readers. For those of you who didn’t know him… How do I explain how amazing this guy was? He was a badass. Some kind of Indiana Jones meets Captain America, with a crazy, crazy life. He studied agricultural engineering in the ’40s, in Navarra, Spain, and soon discovered he was very good at throwing things far away, so he started practising shot put, discus, hammer and javelin throw, and became a national champion 9 times. During the 50’s he developed a new technique to throw the javelin and managed to add 20m (!!) to the world record. Unfortunately, the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) deemed the technique “too dangerous”, and his fantastic records were invalidated. It is thought that being an athlete coming from a dictatorship country might have influenced this decision.


In 1960 he participated in the Olympic Games in Rome (travelling from Spain with his brother on a Vespa!). Later that year he went to Chile, to participate in the Ibero-American Games, and when the rest of the Spanish delegation returned, he decided to stay behind. He worked for a few months as a truck driver in the Andes and, when he saved enough money, he boarded a ship and headed to Easter Island, where he stayed for a while. Three months later, he knew the story of every rock on the island. He got bored and restless... but how to escape? Easy. He joined another ship’s crew, and became a whale hunter (!) for a few months. After that, with the money he saved, he bought a camera and went to the Amazon, where he ended up living millions of adventures. He spent 3 years in the rainforest, leading expeditions, gold digging, and researching ethnobotany for the Colombian administration.

During these expeditions, he became friends with lots of indigenous people, earning their respect and admiration with his javelin and wrestling skills. He witnessed things that no other foreigner had ever seen before.
With some amazing footage, he returned to Spain and went to the National TV, where there was no alternative but to give him a job as a reporter. Soon they started sending them to the most dangerous missions. During the first one, in Congo, he almost died while recovering some Spanish nuns' treasure. He was saved at the last second from a death sentence, by a group of Cuban friends driving an armoured jeep in front of the firing squad, like in a James Bond scene.


Then, for a couple decades, he went around the world covering all the wars, disasters, and conflicts. His wife, Marisol, also a bit crazy, would often follow him. They got married in Japan, and went together, during their honeymoon, to cover the Vietnam war!

A few years later, they travelled the Amazon river from Iquitos on a wooden raft with their first son, Rodrigo.

Later, in the seventies, he started shooting historical documentaries, mainly about adventure and exploration: Marco Polo, Amundsen, Orellana... Oh, and somehow in those days, he ended up in the Russian Circus, working as a lion tamer 🤦‍♂️.

It’s almost impossible to keep track of all the things he did.


Yes, of course he also trained to be an astronaut.
But the best part started in 1979 when the Spanish King asked Miguel to organise a yearly event "with the aim of strengthening the Hispano American Community of Nations".
The plan Miguel designed was to select a few hundred kids from all Spanish speaking countries (plus Portugal and Brazil) and take them on amazing expeditions exploring historical places in Spain and America, studying the common history and shared cultural values, as well as the wealth of precolombine cultures and their mixture. But, to me, the most alluring part was the jungle. Hammocks under the tropical rain, hiking through the green hell with my machete… Can you imagine how cool must have been to join one of those expeditions? Unfortunately, I also had to imagine it, because I was never selected and had to settle for watching the expedition every year on TV :(

But no worries, this story has a happy turn!

20 years later...

A slightly older Fernandito is again eating cookies with milk (yep, I still like that), spoon hovering and dripping, eyes wide open… but this time he’s not watching TV. I was reading a scientific paper on host-parasite dynamics, while writing a new proposal for my next postdoctoral grant application. I had been at it the whole morning and by now I was tired and, must confess, quite bored… And so, with the extraordinary ability to procrastinate that my brain has, I started thinking about the rainforest.
The rainforest had never stopped to allure me. By then, I had been to a couple of them in Australia and on Trinidad, but the queen of the rainforests, the Amazonia, had managed to escape from me so far. When was I going to plan a trip?? I sighed and went back to work. For 5 min. One, two, three-four-five... With a click of my mouse, I sent the postdoc application to a dark corner of a random folder in my laptop, opened Google and typed:
“Jungle job biologist”
And this is one of the first things I found:


British Exploring Society is a youth development charity which has been organising expeditions to remote locations since 1932. The main aim of these expeditions is to provide enriching experiences for young explorers through Science and Adventure. Just like the expeditions with Don Miguel! Pure awesomeness. This society, to my utmost joy, was looking for an adventurous biologist who wanted to participate, as a volunteer, in an expedition to the Peruvian Amazon. After the whole morning trying to write two lines of my postdoc application, it took me roughly 10 min to write 5 pages for this one and send it. A few days later I was selected for an interview in London, at the Royal Geographical Society building (!), with practical tests and mock expeditions in Hyde Park. It was, hands down, the most thorough and fun interview I ever “suffered”.

By the end of the year, I received the good news: I had been selected to participate as a Science Leader in their next expedition to the Peruvian Amazon!! ... And that postdoc application is still forgotten somewhere in my laptop.

The Expedition

It is extremely hard to transmit with simple words the explosion of feelings you are blasted with after five weeks sleeping in a hammock in the rainforest. You’d need to experience it to understand it!

Photo: Hannah Findlay
Waking up to the spectacular sound of the howler monkeys. Salute an epic sunrise while we do a bird survey looking over the river. Enjoying breakfast, sharing antimalarial vivid dreams, missing-home feelings, and funny night-expedition-to-the-latrines anecdotes.

Planning the day over a map, assigning roles in the team. Packing machete, compass, bannock bread (lembas!) and scientific gear. Starting the route, walking the narrow paths in single file, observing tracks, fauna, and flora along the way.

Surveying streams, identifying butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, birds… Hiking up the creek in search of the source, making our way among the lianas. Settling in a new satellite camp, hanging our hammocks -bartering for the best trees- and tents. Cooking and having dinner, telling stories, playing games.



Deciding, once more, that tonight we’ll go to bed early; then changing our minds again for another night walk to look for snakes, glass frogs, amblypygids.



Coming back to camp destroyed, but incredibly happy. Getting in the hammock and falling asleep, attempting to write in the journal, lulled to sleep by the night sounds, rocked gently by the jungle breeze.

What has meant to me to volunteer with British Exploring Society?

Apart from becoming my childhood hero, you mean? (all things *not* being equal, of course, there will never be another Miguel de la Quadra!).
Wait a minute. I’m inspiring young people! In the rainforest! I’m Don Miguel!! Photo: Alex Mallison.
That moment in the photo, I promise you, was a sudden instant of realisation. Finally, I had achieved my dream of going to la Ruta Quetzal… ...as an expedition leader! If I’m honest, when I applied to go on an expedition with BES, youth development was not high on my ranking of motivations. I just wanted to go to the Amazon! Luckily, my selfish motives didn’t trigger any warnings during the job interview in London. Or perhaps they did, but BES staff knew that it didn’t matter: Those brilliant young explorers would end up winning my heart and, inevitably, become the absolute highlight of that experience, and the reason I keep coming back to volunteer again and again. If that weren’t enough, there are other great things that happened after joining the Society:

Many more incredible adventures

After that first experience, I came back to civilisation, thirsty for more adventures. BES upped the game and offered me a new challenge: Exploring the Canadian Yukon, this time as Chief Scientist of the expedition. Bears, wolves, Northern Lights, canoeing a distance equivalent to the one between London and Paris...




After the expedition per se, I even stayed for another week, recceing a large area by truck and canoe, with the aim of improving future expeditions.

It was EPIC. After that, I participated in a pilot program in the UK, then in another wonderful short expedition to Scotland last April… And, coming up in August, the ultimate adventure! A heroic journey to the land of the sagas. We’ll sail from Scotland to Iceland on one of the largest wooden tall ships in the world. A proper pirate ship! We run some tests last October and it was awesome 👇


And then we’ll hike Iceland! Climbing volcanoes, crossing rivers, stalking arctic foxes… There might still be some free spots, join us and together we’ll follow the steps of Odin the Wanderer like true Vikings.
I have stop shaving altogether.

Meeting amazing humans

Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur and motivational speaker famously said:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Well, if working with young people was the unexpected highlight of these expeditions, spending all that intensive time working alongside other leaders, staff, and members of the Society was, undoubtedly, the catalyst for the start of a Golden Age of my life. Mmm… that sounds like I’m becoming an old lady or something. Maybe I’ll rephrase it later. No, seriously. Amazing, incredible people. My “average” has gone through the roof after meeting them, and it’s still trying to catch up. Like I said in that interview I did for BES:
“British Exploring Society manages to gather a very special kind of people as expedition leaders - experts of thinking out of the box, incredibly gifted misfits who dare to be different and love sharing their enthusiasm.”

The effect of these lovely misfits on my life goes all the way from the personal to the professional, and I don’t have the space or time to thank them all today. You all know who you are and how much I appreciate you.

What I’ll share today is a couple of examples of the generosity and pure awesomeness of these people and the ripple effect that their kind gifts are still having on me:

Alex Gregory and public speaking

I always get nervous when speaking in public. Particularly before speaking. Back in Academia, when I had to present something in a conference, I would be nervous for several days before the event, reaching a scary point, close to total incapacity seconds before my performance. It’s a bit better when I talk out of Academia and the impostor syndrome is a bit milder. Still, imagine the crippling fear when BES invited me to talk briefly about my experience as a scientist on a British Exploring Scociety expedition… ...at the Royal Geographical Society! Imagine! Darwin, Wallace, Livingston, Burton… probably they all talked there! I did what I could 😅

There were many friendly faces in the audience: other expedition leaders, members of the staff... but it was also full of scary, famous people. One of them was Alex. Alex Gregory is a double Olympic Gold medallist, an adventurer and Arctic explorer, an author and, most importantly for this anecdote, an inspiring and experienced speaker. As a former participant in a BES expedition, and nowadays also a patron and a Fellow of the Society, he was sitting in one of the front rows, whilst I was up there mumbling things about Science and Adventures, with my thick Spanish accent. When I finished talking and went down the stairs, Alex approached me, shook my hand… And then he said something to me that, somehow, has had one of the most dramatic effects to date on my self-esteem.


I don’t know why or how, but his kind words (almost) cured me! Now, every time I have to go up some stage, I channel my inner Alex and off I go! No wonder he is sought after by all kinds of companies to make superheroes out of their employees… Thank you, Alex :)

Emma and the rainforest

Emma Brennand is a freelance filmmaker, producer, and adventurer who joined the 2018 BES expedition to the Peruvian Amazon as their volunteer Media Leader. Apart from mentoring, guiding, and keeping everyone safe, she carried along metric tons of filming gear, and shot hundreds of hours of footage, to give this beautiful present to the young explorers. Back in Bristol, where she’s based, she went by the BBC Natural History Unit to say hi to her mates - Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that she often works there, doing cool stuff such as the EMMY & BAFTA winning series Planet Earth II. You might have heard about it. There, she heard that her friend Chadden Hunter -also a legendary producer and director of blue-chip nature films- was looking for a field assistant to support a filming expedition to the rainforest. A few days later, whilst hiking in Spain, I received one of the most exciting emails a field biologist can get. And a few weeks later I was working in South America… On this!
Emma (and Chadden!), you rock.

Volunteering with BES helped me in a difficult moment of my life

Do you know why it was so hard for me to write that postdoc application? I was burnt out. It’s happening a lot in Academia. The main cause is that the most coveted position you can attain, the most advertised and desired, it’s also the most difficult to reach.


“The Scientific Century: Securing our Future Prosperity”, Royal Society Policy document, 2010.
But that was not my problem. I mean, not saying that it would be easy for me to get that Professor job! No, of course not. My real problem was that I wasn’t sure if I wanted that job! You see, I studied biology to be outside, observing animals.

Most professors I know, however, spend their time roughly like this: 1) Writing grants 2) Sending students to the field to get data. 3) Fixing what those students write after analysing the data. A few lucky (and/or very intelligent) ones get to go to the field for a few days, maybe a few months at most, but usually they must go back quickly to feed some bureaucratic monster. I hadn’t studied and worked so hard for all these years to end up behind a desk, but that was exactly where the system was pushing me to. And, what was the alternative? “Are you going to give up?” “Such a pity, all that effort for nothing…” I was torn. But the problem was easy to solve. I had become too stressed, thinking about what I wanted to be, instead of focusing on what I wanted to do. The people I met through BES helped me remember that important difference. Now I do more of the things I enjoy, including something I didn’t know I could be good at: Helping young people develop into confident adults. And not only on expeditions! I’m SO stoked to be supporting a course to help early career conservationists to find their first job. Perhaps my experience becoming a mercenary biologist will also give confidence to not-so-early career switchers ;-) "not-so-early" 😂 Don’t worry, “older” colleagues. Let me finish this monster post with one last story:

A few days ago I phoned Sol de la Quadra-Salcedo, the daughter of my childhood hero. 

I just wanted to ask permission to use the photos of this post, but we ended up talking for 40 minutes about expeditions, youth development, and the never-ending energy of her father. 

She told me about that day when Miguel, already 84 and bedridden, removed his intravenous drip and the oxygen, and run away from the hospital to be, one last time, with his young explorers. 

They were being received by the King of Spain at the Palace. When Miguel appeared there, chased by doctors, the King laughed and said: “Of course, we know that nothing could stop you”. 

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Thank you, British Exploring Society, for not only changing the lives of the young explorers, but also the lives of their expedition leaders. I hope to be still leading expeditions with you when I’m 84! 

After all, as Don Miguel once said:
"I found that which Ponce de Leon so hard looked for: the fountain of eternal youth. I discovered that the trick is to maintain your curiosity and to be surrounded by young people. If you do that, you will never get old".




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