¡Buenos días! It amazes me how much I have grown to love being here in Ecuador over the past month. I have seen my relationship with my host family grow with compassion and experienced my new friendships blossom into connections that I hope to hold with me long after I leave Ecuador. I have learned so much in such a short period of time and yet am still craving for more and still have the time to travel and explore! I don’t think I have ever had so much fun being a student!
So in my last blog entry I left off expressing how my class was heading into the Amazon rainforest the next week…well, let me tell you, it was absolutely amazing. Even I, coming from tropical hometown Honolulu, Hawaii was impressed by the immense biodiversity and sheer near-unimaginable awesomeness that is the Amazon rainforest. We spent a total of five days in the Tiputini Biodiversity Reserve, where class consisted of hiking and doing other awesome fun things such as rope bridge climbing, floating down rivers, taking pictures of huge magnificent butterflies that would land on our shirts and waking up to Howler Monkeys in the morning. Now do not get me wrong--it wasn’t a vacation from school; the fact was, that the learning was just so innovative, hands on, enjoyable and exciting that it didn’t feel like school at all. But, all of the things I learned during those five days in the Amazon have made more of an impression on my life than all of the days we spent in the classroom. There is just no comparison between learning in the classroom and learning in the field. The latter wins, hands down. So let me break down our trip day by day so you can get a better and more detailed description of what we actually did in the rainforest for five days…
The majority of the first day was spent traveling. We took a total of three buses, two boats, and one airplane to travel one-way to Tiputini and the entire trip took close to ten hours. Unfortunately I got sick due to food poisoning, so I spent half of the trip throwing up all the yummy food I had eaten that day. Despite my upset stomach, I was still able to enjoy and appreciate all of the new scenery and fauna around me as we hopped from each mode of transport to the next. By the end of the day, aside from being exhausted and dehydrated, the only thing hurt was my pride. Luckily I had good company and people were constantly checking up on me to make sure I was all right. After dinner we watched a presentation on camera trapping and how it is used to study species populations and biodiversity in the Amazon. We learned how, through camera trapping, researchers have been able to capture photos of species such as the puma, short-eared dog, giant armadillo, jaguar, and peccary and use them to gain better understandings of population densities and even identify individuals all by just looking at pictures! That night I fell asleep to the sound of millions of insects and animal calls echoing throughout the forest. The forest is always awake and there is never a quiet moment in the Amazon, which was a strong reminder how the world is always alive and we are never alone. It was a long trek to Tiputini, but reflecting upon the day it was more than worth it.
The next day we split up into smaller groups with our own guides. My group took a boat along the river to the beginning of our hike to a small lake in the forest in which we paddled around in a small canoe to observe the different bird species living in the trees. The amount of noise that filled the air was incredible and everywhere we looked we saw colorful birds flying to and fro across the sky. On our hike back to the biodiversity station, we saw Jaguar tracks in the mud! They were huge and I can only imagine how big the animal is in real life.
On the night of the third day we went on a night boat outing down the Tiputini River. It was like something out of a movie…just think Avatar except without all of the glow in the dark plants. The river was creamy brown and almost looked like we were floating down a river of chocolate milk. Both sides of the river were lined by the canopy of vegetation of various heights that shone as silhouettes in the night as we meandered down the river guided by the moonlight. Mist floated across the river and spread across the sky partly covering a magnificent tree in the distance that spread its branches out against the black night sky. During our night adventure, we saw caimans on the banks of the river. These alligator-like creatures peered up at us from the water and their eyes shone bright yellow. Then, our professor had the boat motor turned off so we floated down the river in the darkness and silence. It was an indescribable experience. I felt so in touch with nature and with myself. It was one of the most tranquil moments of my life. It made me think about how I want to keep doing this, how I want to pursue this sort of life style. We floated down the river in the Amazon rainforest at night; how many people in the world get to experience that? Experiences like these are once in a lifetime and irreplaceable--there’s nothing else like it.
On our fourth day we got dropped off in the river with life jackets to experience floating down the river. On the way there, we were extremely lucky to see river dolphins breaching above the water, which was a pretty surreal and mystical experience. On the fifth day we woke up early and began our long journey back to Quito. As long and tiring as the journey was, it was all part of the great adventure. We were all sad to leave such an amazing place where we could see so much and were reminded that we can live happily with so little. It reminded me that a full life is not one full of money and monetary objects; it is full of wonder and good company and friends to experience and share in the laughter and joy you find in and share with the world around you. So goodbye for now, Amazon, I hope to see you again sometime soon so that others too can marvel at the river dolphins and giggle at the spider monkey in trees and the butterflies that land on their noses.