Conservation through exploration

The sun was just starting to crest above the Maya mountains, illuminating a low rolling mist that was covering the valley below. I stood at the edge of Tiger Fern peak, mesmerized by the sight in front of me. I looked back at the tent that housed the two TREE participants that were on this particular trip, unsure if I should wake them or let them rest. Almost on cue, one of the two ladies unzipped the sturdy canvas and stepped outside. She walked up beside me and uttered only a single word: Wow.

These are the moments I live for, sharing experiences in nature that you can’t find every day –and can’t even be bought. In this instance it was a combination of luck and the participants’ willingness to push their limits. I mean, how often do two city gals get the opportunity to camp in the jungle and wake up to such a sight? I had never seen this kind of mist before, even though I had been to that very peak more than twenty times. The beauty was indescribable. And the thing that made it even better was that we were helping to preserve the landscape before us. That is the beauty of TREE trips.

Let me explain.

At the heart of every TREE trip is two things: genuine experiences and rainforest conservation. Tiger Fern peak is in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Preserve – the first and only in the world. By visiting, and paying the PACT (protected areas conservation trust) fees, and the camping fees, and park fees, we were contributing to the protection and management of the entire reserve. It’s no accident TREE visits areas such as this. It’s something I had thought about long before I envisioned TREE.

As a grad student at the University of Malta, I wanted to do my thesis research in the jungles of Guyana. I had worked down there, at the Iwokrama International Center for Rainforest Conservation and Development, for half a year prior to entering grad school. As gorgeous as Malta was, I wanted to go back to the Amazon more than anything. So, I spent long hours formulating a thesis topic that would center on ecotourism, protected areas, and conservation. In the end, I returned to the jungle and completed my 25,000 word paper on how ecotourism could be used to improve protected area management and, ultimately, conservation. Thus, without knowing it, TREE was born – though it would take another couple years for it to come to be. Immediately after graduation I was hired by Ecology Project International to lead student trips in Belize. Towards the end of my two year contract, I got the idea that these trips might be of interest to the general public instead of only students – with a few tweaks, of course. TREE – Tropical Rainforest Education & Exploration – was founded on my experience leading trips throughout Belize, and Guyana, and to a lesser extent Jamaica, where I had led several groups voluntarily in conjunction with RickTours (the owner is a family friend). I wanted to give participants a genuine, different experience in each of these countries, with conservation at the forefront of everything we did. I also wanted to make these trips as fun and exciting as possible, which included full cultural immersion.

The result has exceeded my expectations.

I’ll never forget taking the city gals up to Tiger Fern peak and camping in the jungle under the starriest sky any of us had ever seen. I’ll never forget staying in the Jamaican countryside, listening to reggae music and enjoying fruit picked right off the tree. I’ll never forget staring out from atop Turtle Mountain in Guyana, with panoramic views of the greatest remaining rainforest on earth. And I’ll never forget sliding down waterfalls at Ben’s Bluff, river tubing through the rainforest, making chocolate with Mayans, or snorkeling with nurse sharks in Belize’s diverse landscapes.

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At TREE, we create trips that allow us to show people the real country they are visiting. We expose people to the real culture, the real food, contemporary music, festivals, gatherings, and home-cooked meals with locals. We also visit some of the least-visited natural environments, and contribute to conservation the entire trip, from start to finish. The TREE website measures every group’s impact through our Conservation Tracker, which can be found at the bottom of any page on our site.

Anybody looking for genuine experiences, with genuine people and tangible contributions to conservation, can find it with TREE.

Conservation through exploration.

It’s what we do.

And we do it well.