Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chulla vida

Salida de Campo- Yasuni

October 2-5

I made it! We had our first “salida de campo” (field trip) to the Amazon this past weekend… Yasuni National Park- what an adventure! (Then again, what do I do here that’s not??) I’m not going to tell you every detail (that’ll have to wait until I get home…you can read my journal :) But I’ll give you a pretty good description of the highlights of my muddy boots-tangled hair-sweat dripping-sunscreen covered rainforest adventure.

Background/Day 1

We left early Friday morning and flew from Quito to Coca, a small, post-oil exploited town (only a half hour flight or 10 hour drive). One of the first things I noticed when we stepped off the plane was the humidity! Argh- I had forgotten what that was like after getting accustomed to dry Quito. From Coca we took a “barco” (small motorized boat) on the Napo River about 45 minutes and then a 1.5-hour van ride until we reached our final destination. We stayed at a scientific research center associated with the Catholic University in Quito, but researchers from all over the world also come and stay here to do research for a couple months at a time (plants and monkeys are the biggest interests, but non science areas are investigated as well). I met a young female biologist from the University of Texas doing an internship at Yasuni between undergrad/masters program. It was nice to be able to talk to her about what she was researching and where she had been since graduating college. (Her advice- definitely go for a higher degree, but take some time off!) The station was great. We had good food (they accommodated to my newly found vegetarian-ism…fresh fruit and veggies-yum!) and the rooms were comfortable. We slept 4 to a room (air conditioned- each having 2 bunk beds) and we had running water (hot showers!) as well. Our group was separated into two smaller groups, each having a chaperone and a guide. Upon arrival (after eating), my group went for a 45 minute “caminata” to get our first taste of the rainforest. It was beautiful! So many trees and plant species that I had never seen before…and the sounds! Try sleeping with those every night ;) Sadly, my camera didn’t work very well in the midst of the jungle (with the lighting), but I don’t think pictures would have done it justice. It’s something everyone needs to experience (yes, even the not-so-nature-types). We were advised to wear long sleeves and quick-drying pants (I was definitely prepared- thanks mom!), and black rubber boots were a necessity. Walking through the sloppy, sticky mud was a bit hard to get used to- and I fell (the first and only time) on this walk. Wildlife was a bit harder to find, we had to be really looking to pick things out. But once I started looking, I sometimes wished I hadn’t! (See day 2 below). After the walk, we had a little down time to explore before dinner. I mostly settled in my stuff and took some pictures around the station. We had another walk that night following dinner, and the rainforest turned into a total different place when the sun went down! Still very pretty, but definitely creepy; I wouldn’t want to be stuck out there alone! We saw some toads, spiders, other insects, and a tiny little tree snake. My headlight came in quite handy for this! This 2-hour walk was followed by a quick shower and some journaling before the power was shut off at ~10:30. I then hit the sack- early morning ahead!

Day 2

So 5 am actually wasn’t too bad to wake up to- except I spent the night tossing and turning. The noises of the forest were crazy loud! I’ve done my fair share of camping, but I swear there were hundreds of different species right outside my window. We got an early start (5:30) in order to try and catch some of the birds at their peak timing. It was just getting to be light out as we left, but the woods were a bit darker. We hacked through the trees for a couple hours, stopping every now and then to hear about certain trees and other species. Our guide told us that after staying out in the open in the rainforest for 5 days straight, the ants would have eaten all your clothes off! Yikes, don’t want to be stranded there! We were headed for a 32-meter (~120 ft) tower. Here, half of us stayed at the bottom and ate breakfast while the other half geared up (helmets, harnesses, clips, gloves) for the ascent. I’m not usually afraid of heights, but this got me a bit! My arms got super tired, but I made it without problems ;) The view from the top was surreal. It was a total different perspective- being among the treetops and looking out- trees on all sides as far as you could see. After an hour or so we started trekking back towards the station and stopped at the Tiputini River to take a swim. The rest of the day was filled with eating and a tour of REPSOL-the petrolera in Yasuni. The tour was very…interesting to say the least. Everything was really strange feeling- it was a very private/secured area, and it seemed pretty obvious they didn’t want any outsiders there. It was also hard to listen to the men talk about a process that goes against everything I believe in and what they’re doing to exploit the local indigenous people and the environment. The really sad part is that they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. It’s all about the money, honey. But, that’s an argument that can be had another time. It was informative and eye opening to see the other side of the fight to save the rainforest. We did another night trek after dinner, and this time we played a game to see which team could find the most wildlife. Well, guess who won? The whole time I was thinking I didn’t really want to look and REALLY didn’t want to see a snake. And low and behold, near the end I was just kind of walking, scanning the area around our path with my headlight and BAM-snake. I stifled my scream and started calling “serpiente, serpiente!” to my guide, while turning away in disgust. (If you didn’t know or haven’t gathered by now, I’m pretty much deathly afraid of snakes). The guide came running and said, “ohh, it’s the equis! (X)” I knew what this meant, he had just told us earlier today that it was the second most poisonous snake in all of Ecuador! Go figure, I would be the one to find this. It was just a tiny guy, too! Once I found this out, my fright turned into a bit of pride and I ran to find the rest of the group to show off my findings. Everyone [carefully] crowded around and admired (or almost vomited in my case) at the sight. Nasty snake aside, it ended up being quite the hike. And again, I exhaustingly crawled into bed (without shower this time, because it was after 10:30. But wait, who am I kidding, I probably wouldn’t have showered if I could ;).

Day 3

So if we thought the snake and tower was an adventure, we didn’t even know what we had coming. We took off from the station at about 8 am in a motorized “canoa” or canoe, with our guide and a driver. Things were going well…cruising down the Taputini River at a nice leisurely pace…wind in my hair…the view was great. We saw quite a few birds, turtles, and butterflies. All of a sudden, after about an hour, the motor started to sputter. The driver (or Jungle Man as we called him) kept trying to yank on the cord of the motor to restart it…and then it broke off. I saw his face, and if definitely looked like he was thnking, “Ohh crap.” (I know I was). Before we knew it he ran up the side of the canoe from behind where he was stationed (don’t ask me how he did this) and belly flopped/dove off the front with the rope to pull us to shore. We were close to a muddy/sandy small bank, so we decided to do a little swimming while the “men” decided what to do. It ended up that they were going to cut down two large branches to use as 2 paddles/pushers to go up river to a bridge that we had passed about 45 minutes back. In the meantime, we had 3 people get stung by some unidentified- hurts-worse-than-a-bee-sting- insect, and one of those girls got a bunch of thorns in her foot. Whew, we were ready to get out of there! We began the journey with enthusiasm and excitement, it was as if we were on a Gondola ride in Florence! As time went on, the sun got hotter, the canoe got smaller, our stomachs got hungrier, and the conversation got stranger and stranger. Our guide and Jungle man were working their tails off to push us, dodge rocks/logs, and avoid the strong current. We just had to sit back and watch our lethargic pace, wishing there was something else we could do to help. A couple people tried to take the place of our guide to give him a break, but we found it was a very difficult task to maneuver those sticks. After about four and a half hours of this…we were soo relieved to see the bridge! From here it was about a 45-minute walk back to the station. When we pulled up to the bridge, we saw another canoe with a working engine. Jungle man said it was a “family members” so we decided we would just switch the motors and he’d bring us back to the station via canoa. We did a little more swimming during the switch, and once it was done jungle man started it up for a test run. He went for about 4 seconds until the engine flew off the back with a huge noise and plunked right into the river, sinking to the bottom. Noooo! Our faces were all aghast as we watched this happen, in the meantime a pack of about 5 wild dogs came flying down the hillside barking like crazy at the noise. We felt so bad for jungle man as well! They don’t just have a boat motor store down the road…and those things aren’t cheap! He said he could find it at the bottom and was going to get some people to help him pull it out, and there was nothing else we would be able to do. We trudged up the hill to the top of the bridge and luckily found someone from the station there with a pickup. We all hopped in, exhausted and famished, and raced back to the station. I ate and hardly had time to relax before I headed off again to the tower to watch the sun set. This time I didn’t use the gear, only gloves, and I made it okay. The sunset was definitely worth it- and I’m not one to miss out on a possible adventure! I figured I might only be here once J We stayed up there for about an hour, headed back to eat, and then I had a pretty calm night playing bananagram (speed scrabble) and chatting.

Day 4/return home

Monday we woke up pretty early to eat and head back to Coca. The trip went smoothly, nothing crazy (luckily). On my way out I reflected on everything I had experienced. I watched the trees pass by out the van window, thinking about all the possibilities ahead of me. I’d really like to come back some day, to do research or just visit, as well as travel to many other places in this vast world. You’ve done it mom, the travel bug has definitely rubbed off! I had mixed feelings about returning to Quito—time to get back to “normal” life, as I’ve become accustomed to in the past month. Time seems to be flying by, and I still have a long list of journeys waiting to be discovered. This was just another chapter in my time here, and only a couple pages in the grand book of life. J

Chulla vida! (meaning we only have one life- ya gotta be willing to live it up)



  1. ¡Tienes las cuentas mi amigita! Estoy emocionada ver cuales adventuras tenemos en los proximos dos meses.

    Chulla vida es cierto.

  2. yep this made me rule out rainforest. i shuddered reading about the "little" snake