A Week in the Amazon Rainforest

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Nicollee Hammer
February 2, 2024
Jaguar yawning on riverside

Due to the safety of our program, my first two courses for my program were switched causing my class to go to the Amazon sooner than all the other IES Abroad classes. We were all originally supposed to go in the second course before leaving for the Galapagos, but instead we got to go less than a month into our program!

My teacher for our Freshwater Ecology class was the founder of Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS) which is a research facility situated on the north bank of the Tiputini River, a southern tributary of the Napo River within the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. We were able to go for basically a full week, but the journey was very long, and we took almost every mode of transportation that I can think of.

We left on Monday morning of our last week of the course and headed to the airport to catch our flight from Quito to Coca. Once we arrived in Coca, we headed by bus to a boat for a 2-hour ride along the Napo River. After the first boat ride we had about a 2-hour bus ride where we were served delicious lunches before we got to our final boat ride which was also a few hours. 

On the boat ride to Tiputini we got to meet our guides for the week and begin to admire the beautiful biodiversity up close as we began to spot birds and other fascinating creatures. About an hour and a half into the ride, someone spotted an Anaconda on the side of the river! Before we arrived to the Amazon, we talked about each of the main species we might see while we were there but our teacher told us to keep in mind that when you go for such a short period of time like us you usually don’t get to see trophy animals like anacondas, jaguars, river otters, and more, but we had extremely good luck. 

We pulled the boat over to the side of the river and our teacher hopped off to examine the Anaconda since we couldn’t tell if it was dead or had just eaten. My teacher explained that anacondas only need to eat 2-3 times a year and each time they eat it takes about a month for them to digest where they basically just float at the riverbank and don’t move. Fun fact: typical prey for an anaconda are deer, capybaras, caimans, etc.  We all were shocked when my teacher poked the anaconda with a stick to see if it was alive or not and it moved! He allowed us to get off the boat to get a closer look since it wasn’t dangerous and now, I can say I’ve been a foot away from an anaconda in the Amazon!

After admiring our trophy find for some time, we headed to TBS to get settled and have a short orientation. Once we got settled into our rooms, we headed to dinner which was something delicious and new every day! Later in the night they offered a night hike to whoever wanted to join and of course I had to go! We grabbed our flashlights and headed out with the guides and quickly started spotting cool creatures! Some of my favorite things we saw from our night hikes were fuzzy caterpillars, tarantulas, snakes, whip scorpions, colorful insects, and frogs the size of a football.

Then next day we split up into two groups and my group rode up the river to a swamp and went on a short little hike. We saw a giant river otter skeleton, leaf cutter ants, Common Howler monkeys, Squirrel monkeys, butterflies, Anoles (lizards), and many spiders and other insects as well. 

In the afternoon they told us it was time to go in the river, so we all slipped on our bathing suits and rode up the river. The guides told us to grab a life jacket and hop in. We ended up floating downstream in the Amazon wondering what was swimming below us while we gazed up at the rainforest scouting for animals in the distance. Later that night we went on another night hike and saw even more than the night before!

On Wednesday, our second day, we hiked to the bird tower which is 38 meters tall! We saw toucans, vultures, macaws, and tons of other colorful birds. Later that day some of us spotted some monkeys near camp and watched them jump through the trees for an hour or so. That night we went out on the boat at night to look for animals and we ended up seeing many caimans, capybaras, birds, and more. 

Our last day, Thursday, we were headed for the salt wall in the morning to see birds, but little did we know our alarms weren’t going to be waking us up this morning. Most of us woke up to the sound of a massive branch falling from the Fig tree (which can grow up to 40 m) which fell right next to all our cabins. After we recovered from our near-death experience, we were on our way to the salt wall when our guide spotted a Jaguar! It was basking in the sun on the riverbank and blended in so well it was hard to see. Our teacher kept telling us how lucky we were since we’d already know seen capybaras, an anaconda, and a jaguar. At the salt wall and saw macaws, parrots, and other colorful birds. Then, when we left, we ended up spotting a river otter as well! How lucky can we be! 

After our crazy morning, we went back to rest until lunch which we were all sad about since it was our last day here. But the guides took us out on the river to float downstream again but this time for an hour and a half. It ended up raining a few minutes into our float and felt instantly magical. 

The next morning was very depressing as none of us wanted to leave TBS and all the new wildlife we’d all just come to know. But, on the way to the airport that day we were able to stop at an indigenous community and purchase some hand made goods which most of us got bags that my teacher called “indestructible”. As we arrived home that day at USFQ it was our last time with our professor and to reminisce together about the unforgettable moments we had together this week. I'll never forget our week in the amazon and how magical and unreal it felt every day we were there. 

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Nicollee Hammer

I'm from Ohio but I've traveled since I was little so I've got to see many different countries and experience different perspectives and ways of life. I enjoy meeting new people and trying new things. I can't wait to see what Ecuador has to offer!

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Biological Sciences
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