A trip to the Amazon forest

Time here does not wait for anyone. It has been so hard for me to take a minute and catch a breath between classes, homework, commuting, host family events and travel. Recently I spent a weekend in Tiputini, the Amazon rain forest. The trip to Tiputini was about 12 hours in total jumping from bus to boat to chiva to boat, etc. This kind of gives you an idea how deep into the jungle we were. Although the commute was long, the trip was an amazing opportunity because this trip was not a typical vacation or tourist attraction. It was a trip organized by my school to allow students to visit the schools research station in the middle of the rain forest. This is definitely not a place where just anybody can visit. We were the only tourists for miles and miles since the station is mainly used by researchers.

On the way to Tiputini there was a stretch of the trip where we needed to enter a petroleum site because it was the only road available to get where we needed to be. This part of the trip really opened up my eyes to the controversies between the indigenous communities and the petroleum companies. This section of the trip I was not allowed to take any photographs or videos in case the photos I take are used to exploit the oil company. When we first arrived to the petroleum site, our group was forced to watch a video that presented people from the Yasuní community explaining that they agree fully with the oil companies saying things like “these people are our bosses” and “they have full rights to the land”. The video explained if anyone ever wanted to enter the land, they need to go through the petroleum company first. Previously in my culture class we learned a lot about the relationships between indigenous communities and petroleum companies in Ecuador. At this time I had many questions and speculations running through my mind but overall I was just so grateful and intrigued to be able to be there and witness this relation in person since I studied it so much before. On the way through the petroleum site we had a 2 hour bus ride and about half way through the site, we were stopped by not only the Yasuní , but the exact people that spoke in the. Our bus of students were not allowed to pass unless we got out and looked at their crafts. Although the video explained the agreement and accordance these two groups have, actions being took told me different story.

This topic is very controversial and can have many different perspectives. I just wanted to know so much more and ask questions especially because it was hard for me to fully understand the exact dynamics especially because they keep nus in the dark about many things. I also wanted to do the right thing in the situation when we were forced out of the bus, but I didn’t even know what the right thing was Do I buy a souvenir from the community or does that just add to the support of their behavior? I ultimately decided to buy a small braided bracelet because the way I saw it was I already supported the oil company by using their roads and transportation so I wanted to support the Yasuní as well since I side with them a bit more. I could go on and on about my opinions and views, but I know that it is a sensitive topic and want my blog to be more informative rather than political. If this is the first time you are hearing about this type of thing however, I really encourage you to take a minute to look into the topic because educating ourselves about controversies like these is the best thing we can do.

When we finally  arrived to the Tiputini research station I was in so much awe. We were just living in the middle of a rain forest in tiny little huts. I can honestly say I have never done something quite like that before. After a long journey, a few of us decided to take a dip in the Tiputini river and as we were swimming,  monkeys just casually flew overhead throughout the trees. The many species of monkeys I saw were one of my favorite parts, especially when we were able to see baby monkeys hanging from their mothers back.  It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that these animals are just living in their natural habitat, they weren’t just placed for tourists. It’s one thing to see animals like this outside their habitats but it was an extraordinary feeling to feel like the outsider and the intruders for once.

The following days there were crazy as well. We had an awesome tour guide who took us on excursions showing us different plants that could be used as medicine. He even put a vine that smelled like mango on the arm of my friend who was stung by a bee (the swelling and pain went down in a matter of minutes!). We also saw every type of insect possible:  from a spider who wraps up its prey in 5 seconds to  large hairy tarantulas, ants that could kill in one bite to ants that tasted like lemons (yes I ate live ants from a tree in the Amazon). Another plant our guide showed us was popular among the indigenous groups and was used to dye fabrics. Though it only looked like a green stem, I chewed it and my whole entire mouth was blue for the rest of the day. Everywhere I stepped, there was some type of new species of plant, insect or animal. Another bonus to the trip was the food prepared for us at the station. It was some of the best Ecuadorian food I have ever had, I even tried yucca for the first time which reminded me of a chewy potato.

My last night in the Amazon was the most surreal. My group went out on a boat along the river at night with only one spotlight. As we strolled scanning the shore, the faint outline of the jungle trees were against a night sky lit by the moon and the brightest stars I have ever seen overhead, I felt like I was in a movie. Our group was so lucky that during the whole stay we had clear skies and no rain in the rain forest. When we returned that night, a couple of us decided to stargaze out on the dock with the sounds all around us. We said hello to the lightning bugs flying by, talked about life, counted the shooting stars we saw, enjoyed the fresh jungle smells and all the songs of all the Amazon critters. A memory I will never forget.


A new beginning in Quito, Ecuador

Since arriving in Quito my life has seemed to be such a world wind but I could not be happier. In the beginning, I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say the most nerve racking part about coming to Ecuador was when our group arrived in Quito and we had to go our own ways to meet our host families for the first time. These nerves didn’t last long at all after I was welcomed with a big hug from my host mom and a host brother who offered to take my bags for me. From the very moment I met my host family I knew right away that I was going to feel right at home. After my first night in Quito my family has had nothing but kind, caring and understanding attitudes that really helped take stress off me in the first couple weeks. I also think the fact that they remind me of my big and outgoing family back in the states is a bonus because it really makes me feel like part of the family.

Once our group had attended a long orientation and our classes started, we began to settle into our new life in the big Ecuadorian city of Quito. At first the routine of public transportation and full spanish immersion was a bit overwhelming. The staring eyes everywhere I went took a little while to get used to as well, especially when I was still trying to figure out my way around the city. Now that it has been a couple of weeks I would say that I am super confident in my routine here in Ecuador. A typical day for me includes classes Monday-Thursday usually finishing around 4:00pm. To get to and from my University in Cumbaya I take 3 buses each costing $0.25 and taking me about 1hr 15m. Luckily, I have since met an ecuadorian friend who lives nearby and can drive me sometimes which only takes 25-30 min to get to school, saving me time and money.

Ecuabuddies is one of the programs here to meet and interact with ecuadorian students. The Linfield group and I have had some fun times with ecuabuddies, especially the pickup fútbol games on wednesdays, but I still felt I was missing the raw immersion. One of my biggest fears about coming to Ecuador was not being able to immerse myself enough into the culture and the people here, but I have figured out a couple ways to branch out since then. First thing I did was take an extra art class that won’t count towards my Majors but allowed me to have a class with full ecuadorian students, unlike my other classes that were all for international students. Considering that I am not that shy of a person I also decided to join the salsa club on campus, allowing me to meet some really fun, interesting people and practices my already awesome dancing skills. Last, I just decided to just step out  of my comfort zone and try as much as I could.My decision to ask a girl I didn’t know for help with my computer has gained me a bunch of ecuadorian friends here in Ecuador and has really made my time here that much more amazing.

Although the first couple of weeks were time for us to settle into our new home, we still found time to do some pretty amazing things. Our program provided us with a trip to centre historico in Quito. I was excited because I knew that Quito was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I knew it was going to be beautiful. Here we got to visit an indigenous museum, Basilica del Voto Nacional, plaza de la independencia and the fully plated gold church of San Francisco, Quito. The entire Linfield group also planned to visit Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) together. First we stopped at the huge monument placed in 1736 by the French Geodesic Mission then we went to the current location 250 meters away in the rad Museo de sitio intiñan. I am not going to brag but I was the only one that could balance an egg on the equator. Next up was the Ecuador vs. Columbia soccer match. I am so glad I was able to have this experience. The energy was unlike any game I have ever been too I will probably go back to another, but next time learn the lyrics to the famous song they sing “Yo te diré.” Last I want to wrap up this post talking about my amazing experience taking the TeléferiQo and submitting the 4696m high Rucu Pichincha Volcano. I am not going to lie when I say that this hike was probably one of the hardest hikes I have ever done. It also probably didn’t help that I was not super adjusted to the high altitude of Quito yet but, I will say that this hike was 100% worth it. I love hiking back home in the states so, having the opportunity to hike such a beautiful new place and have a view of a volcano and Quito was a vision I won’t forget.

I can not believe the amazing time I am having here. I think that its been filled with such rich adventure that I never got the time to be homesick. I really believe that I am learning so much and growing as a person. I am so blessed to be able to have these experiences and I will not take them for granted. Although my time seems to be going by so fast, I am trying to embrace every part of it. If you want to continue with my crazy adventures in Ecuador, you can look forward to hearing about the beach, the amazon forest and the Galapagos islands! So until then…

Nos vemos y saludos,

Magdalena McGuire