From the Jungle to the Sea

Tony Harris
October 13, 2017
Study abroad in the Galapagos Islands with IES Abroad

I expected the Tiputini Biostation to be rustic, low tech, bare cabins full of bugs and lacking most comforts. Basically, a camping setup. However, the facilities pleasantly surprised me. The dining area was large and always had drinks, fruit and snacks laid out. Bats hung from the ceiling and ants were as common on the table as the wood used to make it.

The station has a dining hall, a library (with AC), labs, and cabins for researchers and students. We walked along a wooden path to 4 cabins. Each cabin had 2 rooms, 2 bathrooms and 2 bunk beds in each room. The doors and windows were covered with screens. Shortly after moving in, I found the non-human roommates I’d have for the next 5 days. The animals and insects run the show in Tiputini.

A tarantula was lounging on the back wall of the cabin. I’m no fan of spiders but I couldn’t contain the glee of seeing a tarantula that wasn’t behind glass. It was easily bigger than the size of my hand but was a baby. After closer inspection of the cabin, I found a gecko perched on the window near my bed (I took the top bunk) and a spiderweb with a large spider. My friends and I named him Humungosaur.

Esteban took us on a short hike to the Tower. The Tower extends from tall trees in the canopy with a telescope at the top. The journey to the Tower was almost as exhilarating as the tower itself. Binoculars are a must for Tiputini. We spotted Wholly Monkeys, birds and various insects on the way to the tower. The monkeys were the highlight for me. They were high up in the trees and fearlessly jumped to branches. It’s impossible to not see a monkey while in Tiputini.

Arriving at the Tower made my fear of heights resurface. The Tower is the best place to bird watch and there are plenty of birds to see in the Amazon. I didn’t want to be the only person on the ground so I climbed the Tower. I will never do this again. It was worth it though. I could see for miles in every direction the top of the canopy. We were able to focus on birds in the canopy and some people saw monkeys who enjoy tree tops. It was beautiful.

All of Tiputini is beautiful. The bridges we walked over, albeit dangerous, were built by the guides leading. We hiked through dense foliage, canopy gaps, past frogs that may or may not be poisonous, underneath monkeys leaping from trees, etc. Howler monkeys have red fur and sound like strong winds blowing when they howl. It can scary when you don’t know where the sound is coming from.

One night, we went on a caiman watch. Caimans are like alligators, except they only grow up to 3 meters long. For the caiman watch, we got on a boat and went down the river slowly. The only light was the one the guard had to look for caimans. The caimans eyes glow when a light is on them. We found this adorable baby caiman resting on the beach. It stayed completely still until the guide began to talk. Then, it ran off to the water but accidentally hit our boat. The caiman was fine so I can laugh at it now.

Right after the caiman, the guide spotted a Tapir swimming in the river. Tapirs are hard to see and we were lucky to find him. We quickly reverted to paparazzi, if the paparazzi could be quiet, and took as many pictures as possible. The Tapir handled the attention gracefully and began to exit the water after shaking off. Sadly, I wasn’t one of the people taking pictures because the humidity in Tiputini destroyed my phone which doubled as my camera. I would suggest buying a camera for this trip because phones get wrecked in Tiputini.

My phone would’ve been useful during the river tour. This tour is around the river by boat to view the beautiful and numerous bird species. Brightly colored or varying muted shades of wings flew around us. The river was alive with bird calls and flapping wings. I saw a Tucan that I promptly named Fruit Loops.

Tiputini is a majestic place with new things to discover with every walk. The humidity can be overbearing at times but it’s a small price to pay for the new experiences. I ate ants that tasted like lemon. I saw the leaf cutter ants I learned about in class, in action and was nearly attacked by the soldiers. I floated in the river with little swim skills. I learned that bull spiders are shy. I saw monkeys from the library window. I conducted field work in the Amazon. I fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle. This trip was amazing.

Two days after the Amazon, I would have my first encounter with the ocean. I wasn’t sure if the feeling rising inside me was excitement or fear, but I guess I found out.

 

Tony Harris

<p>I attend Loyola University Chicago and am majoring in environmental science with a chemistry minor. When I’m not studying, I’m planning events and handling communications for the Student Environmental Alliance club. This has included cultivating previous journalism experience into scientific literature or publications. I try to keep busy with internships and campus events.</p>

<p>Besides academics, I enjoy being with friends and unwinding with video games, a book or TV. My favorite games are multiplayer and I binge watched Orange is the New Black in two days. I love being out in nature and try to go on adventures.</p>

Home university:
Loyola University Chicago
Hometown:
Chicago, IL
Major:
Environmental Studies
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