The Amazon Rainforest. It’s one of those places that was marked on my mental bucket list even though I never expected to realize it. Serendipity is a funny thing, though. Somehow choosing Ecuador, and specifically the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the opporunity was practically thrown at me.
The university established a biodiversity research station deep in the Amazon in 1994, which has since been open solely to students and scientists. Hence, it remains highly remote and beautifully wild. In fact, the trip to it’s location, Tiputini, requires a flight from Quito, two busses, a chiva (essentially an open bus) and two river boats. ¡Caramba!
Upon arrival, I was overwhelmed with what I saw: the earth as truly alive. The infinite forest was made up of trees and vines forming the respiratory system of the land, and the sounds from the all of the fauna created a constant buzz of energy. Humidity reduced me to a human pool of sweat, but in a way it felt purifying. There in the Amazon, everything felt natural and necessary.
We were graced with the privilege of indigenous guides, who navigate the jungle with unbelievable expertise. They know the earth as family, and locate plant and animal species as if they were kin. I was constantly impressed with their ability to point out the creatures that slid under my radar, camouflaged to be invisible.
Speaking of, the abundance of these creatures finally allowed me to live out my Animal Planet aspirations. As I kid, I grew up watching programs such as the Jeff Corwin Experience, Crocodile Hunter, and the like. Needless to say, I was well ready to capture some creepy crawlies with my bare hands. I did exactly that! My 10-year-old self swelled with the chance to hold centipedes, vine snakes, scorpion spiders, and even a teeny-tiny bat. (Nerd fact: the word for bat in Spanish is Murciélago, and contains all 5 vowels).
As shown in the photo, I sketched many of the animals that we witnessed on the trip….and yes, that is a jaguar! Realistically, nobody thought that we would ever catch a glimpse of one. Although they’re the king of the jungle, they reign with elusivity, and the chances of seeing this big cat are extremely low.
That being said, the Amazon gave everyone a parting gift during our departure. Making our way in boat up the river, we noticed something on the banks. There, in plain sight, was a jaguar sunning itself near the riverbed. I could hardly keep down my gasp as it acknowledged our group with a stare, and then casually retreated into the trees. Truly an unforgettable feline, and a priceless way to conclude our expedition.
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<p>I'm Dani - a leftie, a henna artist, and a wannabe world-traveler. My passion for exploring began when I was 10: taking inspiration from Indiana Jones, I fancied myself "Indiana Dani." Ecuador will be my second time studying abroad, as I spent a semester last year in Granada, Spain. I'm hooked, and hope to one day work in this industry!</p>