A Wayfarer in the Land: Adventures in the Amazon

Since June 25, I’ve been on 10 airplanes, which is more than some people have been on in their entire life. If I had a dollar for every time someone called me a world traveler, maybe I could actually afford all of my trips.

This past weekend I took a break from Quito, the capital city of Ecuador and my home for the semester, to visit the Amazon and offer myself up as a snack for bunches of unique creatures. Bug bites galore, swimming with caimans (members of the crocodile family), and a tumble or two on slippery rocks were pretty much what we all experienced at the Universidad San Francisco’s biodiversity station in Tiputini.

Like all plane rides, mine began with a trip through security. Of all the airports I’ve been to in my life, Ecuador wins the prize for the most lax security. Of course I still managed to be the girl pulled over for further screening; 10 planes since June and I’ve been stopped four times. It’s a talent of mine, I guess.

During my weekend in the rainforest, I saw, ate, and did some pretty weird things. We saw the typical rainforest delights like yellow macaws flying across the sunset, countless monkeys, hummingbirds, and vivid orange flowers. We tried to walk as quietly as possible so we wouldn’t scare away the animals, and the whole time I felt like Katniss Everdeen, jungle style. We ate ants that tasted like lemons, cut our hair with a plant stalk, and climbed a 48-meter high tower that definitely defied the laws of physics in order to reach the canopy. I guess it’s karma that I ate a few ants and then a few took a bite out of me up in the canopy.

I spent a few hours up in the trees on rickety bridges made of rope and wood, all the while remembering that episode of “30 Rock” where Jenna fell despite her harness. “Have faith in the equipment,” our guide told me. I’d have a lot more faith if it didn’t shake so much and look like it was rotting.

I met photographers for “National Geographic” that gave me tips on some interesting documentaries that will be coming out in the next few years. They took some really flattering pictures of us as well…and they were British. Let’s just say it was a good time. Of course, for all the fantastic photos we took, there are several that should be deleted right away; unfortunately, most of those are not within our possession. On the second day, a few of us stumbled into a camera trap designed to capture wildlife in their natural habitat doing natural wildlife things. Now the scientists have several shots of dazed Americans making confused faces as the camera took picture after picture. Whoops.

I justified not studying for an upcoming geology test because I was learning so much biology. I decided to believe the guides when they told us the animals are more afraid of us than we are of them, so I jumped off the boat in the middle of an afternoon rain shower to swim in the Tiputini River, a tributary of the Amazon. We made sure to keep away from the shore, where the caimans like to linger, and of course no one took a pee break in the middle of the river because of those weird fish. Yeah, those fish.

Visiting the Amazon was an amazing experience. I’ve been living in a developing country for about a month and a half now, which is so different from the United States, but it’s entirely different to live in the middle of the rainforest. We only had running water and electricity for a few hours a day, and of course the water was freezing. I truly appreciate why it’s called the “rainforest” now, after enjoying over 72 straight hours of feeling damp. I’ve never experienced rain like that before; the clouds might as well have been dumping down buckets instead of individual drops. After living in Quito, the humidity made it feel more like swimming than walking, and it took me about a day to settle into that sunscreen/sweat/bug-spray mode that we all know and love.

I always suspected that I would be a lost cause if I ever ended up alone in the rainforest, but I now I know that I would definitely die. For all the hidden medicines and foods out there, there are even more things that I would rank as highly dangerous. I wouldn’t be able to tell the useful apart from the deadly. Everything looks the same and getting separated from the group would be game over for any foreigner out there. I think the Amazon is a truly miraculous place, yet at the same time its size and exoticness are intimidating.

After a weekend in Tiputini, I have the utmost respect for the people who call the Amazon home. They live like we could never imagine, and after experiencing it, I truly appreciate the comforts and extravagance of my own lifestyle in the States, and even in Quito.

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