I came to Ecuador to push my limits, conquer my fears, experience as many new things as possible, and grow as an individual. However, as I stood paralyzed in the middle of the Amazon rain forest in total darkness watching my guide poke a stick at a tarantula spider to get it out of its hole, these goals were the farthest things from my mind. In fact the only thing on my mind was devising a plan on how to survive the hour long hike in the dark and rain without a flashlight without slipping on my butt and being carried away by gigantic insects. But even though most of my days are not spent consciously thinking about my goals for studying abroad, it is as if Ecuador is always thinking of them for me.
From October 6th to 9th I was given the opportunity to go to the Amazon for an IES planned trip and I am so glad I took the opportunity. Although Friday consisted of a 5 am alarm clock waking me up for a full day of travel: a short 30 minute flight to Cocoa, a two hour canoe ride, two hour chiva ride, and another two hour boat ride down the Tiputini river to our final destination. Ecuador took care of my boredom though, on the way there I accomplished of one of my life goals—to play and hold a monkey—and on the way back we played with a litter of puppies.
During our trip we took lots of hikes through the dense rain forest, climbed up towers and rickety bridges higher than the tree canopy in order to see four types of monkeys and countless types of birds. We swam and fished in the same water that we saw caiman and piranhas swimming in, and we danced in the Amazon rain which gave us relief from our constant sweating. I was tickled and amazed as butterflies landed on my hand and petrified as I heard buzzing from bugs that lay eggs in your skin zipped around our heads. Our group hid in the rainforest trying to scare other groups and stood in the sludge trying to catch fish. I was coaxed into playing soccer and the Ecuadorian equivalent of volleyball with the researchers who lived there. They were so enthusiastic about the fact that I could actually play soccer and would scream “Jenny” at the top of their lungs every time I scored— “Channing” seems to be an impossible name for Ecuadorians to pronounce.
It is evident that slowly but surely my anxieties of speaking to strangers, speaking in Spanish, playing soccer, being near bugs, and standing on shaking platforms high above the ground are slowly beginning to disappear… and laughter is taking their place. I cannot remember a week that I have not had tears roll down my cheeks because of something amazingly hilarious happening to our small group of enthusiastic IES students. This is turning out to be the wonderful and life changing experience that I hoped it would be.