Amazon Wilderness: Tiputini and Yasuni

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There are some things everyone knows about the Amazon. It is called a rainforest for a reason. There are billions of mosquitos, millions of scorpions, and countless tarantulas. Heat and humidity will drench you in sweat every hour of the day. And getting lost is a bad idea.

In anticipation of the exotic birds, animals and plants to be seen, I forgot about all that and instead spent Thursday afternoon–the day before leaving–daydreaming about pygmy monkeys, parrots, and giant river otters.

Naturally we ended up getting lost. At 4:00 AM no less, in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by all those aforementioned terrors–humidity, heat, and millions of bugs.

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Exactly a day prior at 4 AM we had woken up in Quito, at 10,000 feet in the Andes, where you can gaze out the window at snow-capped peaks. In Ecuador, one day is enough to teleport you from the comfort of a house in a modern city to an unfamiliar trail in the middle of the amazon jungle.

All around us hummed the night sounds of a rainforest. A Tawny-bellied Screech-owls whistled softly, while a bizarre Great Potoo screeched from somewhere in the distance. Insects chirped and clicked incessantly. I walked quickly, rivulets of sweat rolling down my back, headed towards our destination. Pausing to catch my breath, I took a moment to ponder the phenomenal place I was fortunate enough to experience.

Finally we made it. I’d only thought I was lost.

Three-hundred narrow oversize steps and we reached the platform, immediately encountering more tarantulas and a shred of orange on the horizon. Slowly, the sun rose.

Tiputini sunrise

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I’d say it was worth it.

We saw a lot during our three days in the jungle. We learned that there’s a plant that turns your tongue blue if you chew it.

We also learned about all sorts of trees:

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And about all sorts of animals, like the giant river otters or strange pre-historic-looking Hoatzins:

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It turns out that everything I had daydreamed really did exist. Our trip was filled with Paradise Tanagers, finger-sized pygmy monkeys, butterflies, and hundreds of other exotic species.

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On the last afternoon, after trekking through the rainforest of Yasuni National Park to see pygmy monkeys, we swam in the river. The water was warm, and though the thunder cracking around us unnerved me just a little, it was the perfect afternoon.

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Photo essay of last weekend: Cuenca and Guayaquil

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 Friday, October 3rd:

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Ingapirca, the best Inca ruins of Ecuador. The tourism business likes calling it the “Machu Picchu of Ecuador” but that seems pretty far-fetched.

Saturday, October 4th

Hiking in Cajas National Park.

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Endemic Violet-throated Metaltail, found no where else in the world but the mountains around Cajas National Park.

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Sunday, October 5th: from the 14,000-ft tundra, thorugh rainforest, to the coast

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Monday, October 6th: Guayaquil (largest city in Ecuador):

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Nine Reasons Why Ecuador is the Perfect Study Abroad

I was eating a burrito on campus last winter when my twin Adrian showed up, and next thing I knew he had convinced me to study abroad. I studied abroad here by accident. I put effort into making it happen, but before deciding on a whim to go, while under the influence of a burrito, I had never even considered studying abroad in Ecuador.

Ecuador is a small country–the size of Oregon in territory, with a population representing one-fifth of one percent of the world’s population. Its prominence in the news, class room, or everyday conversation might be even less significant. You hear about Ecuador every now and then–after they win a game in the world cup, or pull a controversial political stint–but we hear a lot more about Haiti, Syria or Costa Rica all of which have comparable populations.

My parents visited Ecuador 25 years ago. They traveled the country for six weeks, summitting snowy volcanoes, canoeing through the heart of the rainforest, and hiking on the beach. Nonetheless, even they never mention Ecuador, which seems odd, because their other travel stories come up often: The Chinese guy who held their passport upside down while pretending that he could read it; various near-death mountaineering trips that they would kill me for doing; trekking New Zealand and Nepal… the list goes on.

It is as if Ecuador doesn’t exist. Many of us know the capitals of Costa Rica, Haiti, or Syria. But Ecuador? I’ll admit that I didn’t know its capital, either, until I decided to study there for a semester.

Considering all of this, I can’t blame my college friends who are studying abroad elsewhere right now for not coming here instead. That said, they are missing out. Ecuador is the little-known perfect place to study abroad. Here’s why:

#1 The language. Speaking in another language is an amazing experience. There is nothing like dreaming in Spanish, effortlessly speaking the local slang, or comprehending without trouble.

A fascinating aspect is the influence of Quechua–the Inca language–which is infused in Ecuadorian Spanish, to the dismay of Google Translate. After accounting for abbreviations and slang, you end up with crazy stuff if you attempt to “see translation” on Facebook.

#2: The culture: It is humbling, interesting, and educational to learn another culture, its customs, norms, and traditions. Staying with a host family has offered me a window into another world. The culture is rich here in the Andes of South America.

#3: The food. Even I like complaining about “all the rice”–and don’t get me wrong, I am still looking for a good plate of spaghetti–but I will admit that the food is actually scrumptious. Even guinea pig. The street food is remarkable; there is nothing like a skewer, empanada, or fresh coconut from a curbside vendor. And when your host mom makes hot soup and spicy chicken pasta for lunch with chocolate walnut mousse topped in whipped cream for desert, you can only justify so much complaining.

#4 My versatile experience in Euro-travel amounts to the six-and-a-half hours I once spent in Brussels. I had a long layover and simply could not pass on the chance to check another continent off the bucket list. Joking aside, I spent long enough to verify that a week in Ecuador would not pay for a night in Europe. It’s cheap. A hostel costs seven dollars and a bus ride costs twenty-five cents. You can do anything in a weekend for under a hundred dollars.

#5: The easy bus system. Ten bucks and an overnight trip can get you to any city in Ecuador–a quaint beach town, a historic mountain city, or a village in the amazon. The buses are clean, efficient, and cheap.

#6: Outdoor Paradise. Ecuador is like the example maps in geography books. You can watch a snow-capped volcano spew lava at night; you can wander a pristine tropical beach, swim with river dolphins in the rainforest, or marvel at tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. I cannot imagine a better paradise.

#7 The people are friendly. I have conversations with taxi drivers; the guy sitting next to me reminds me to get off when I arrive at my bus stop, and people are genuinely happy to meet and greet you. You can start a pick-up basketball or soccer game anywhere–even in the Galapagos.

#8: It’s relaxed. Sometimes too relaxed. But it can be nice too, avoiding the stress of high-strung life in the states.

#9: Recreation. This is something else I didn’t consider before coming, but between surfing, soccer, ecua-volley (volleyball sort of), rafting, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, hiking, “canyoning”, mountain biking, canoeing, sightseeing… there is nothing you cannot do.

Of course, this is just for me. Sunsets over beach towns, friendly people, good food and life-changing adventures aren’t for everyone.

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