My host mom asked our apartment building guard to walk me to the bus station at 4:30am so that I could meet the group to head to the airport. With my backpack ready to go, I boarded the bus to head to the new Quito airport. Once at the airport, we met up with the USFQ staff member who would accompany us during the weekend. We were cutting it close on time, so we had to jump to the head of the security line (careful to not make eye contact with everyone else) and got to our gate just minutes before we got on our “shuttle” to the plane. The flight from Quito to Coca was less than half an hour, and from there we waited at a hotel on the Río Coca where the dugout canoe would come to get us. As we waited, we grabbed a quick breakfast and hung out with the pair of squirrel monkeys who lived there (actually a sad story of monkey kidnapping, but I didn’t know until later). Finally, the boat arrived, and we were off to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Yasuní National Reserve.
The boat ride lasted 2 hours, and then we got to an oil company station, through which we had to go because they own the road that leads from Río Coca to Río Tiputini. We took a van to the next stop, where we waited for the rest of the group and the lancha on the Tiputini. From there, the next boat ride lasted about 2 hours, at which point we finally arrived at the station. After a quick briefing on the set-up of the station and the rules, we settled into the rooms, and then had dinner before wrapping up the day.
After a 6:30am breakfast, we got ready to meet at 7:15 at the lab. Our group was composed of six students, guided by Meyer, an Ecuadorian in his late 60s, whose sight and hearing put us to shame. Our destination that morning was the tower in the rain forest. We were able to look out above the rain forest, watching the birds and simply enjoying the beauty and expanse of the forest.
After returning for lunch, we went out again in the afternoon to the laguna. Although it was pouring rain the entire way there, it let up just as we got to the water. We cleared the canoe of standing water, and circled the little lagoon, with the primary animal presence being the prehistoric bird, or hoatzin.
That night after dinner, we learned about the Camera Trap project at the station. In collaboration with National Geographic (btw, check out the January edition, which has a complete feature on Yasuní, with photos all taken at Tiputini), the station has set up camera traps in the area to capture images of many of the large land mammals and birds. Triggered by motion and/or heat recognition, these cameras have produced images of extremely rare animals, including a black panther. It was absolutely incredible to see these photos, knowing that all of the animals lived basically where I was. Although we didn’t see m/any of those rare animals, a puma was caught on a camera nearby the next morning, right as we were all setting out on our adventures.
This day happened to fall on March 3, which was the reason I chose this weekend for the rain forest adventure: my 21st birthday. After another 6:30am breakfast, our group made our way to the bridges atop the rain forest, which provide a stunning view and the opportunity for some more solitary reflection in the upper balcony. I cannot imagine having had a more beautiful start to the day, given the view and the simply awe-inspiring experience. Although we didn’t see too many animals, just to be there was great. I hadn’t mentioned my birthday, but then I just got so excited about being there that I said that it was a perfect place for turning 21. It was special to have that atop the rain forest. The guys of the group even sang “Happy Birthday” as I was crossing one of the bridges! Our guide gifted me with a special bracelet made from the fibers of a palm leaf, which is a special reminder every time I look at my wrist. We trekked back to the station, coming across a coral snake and another poisonous snake along the way.
After lunch, we went up the river a little ways, where we saw a group of several red howler monkeys and another group of squirrel monkeys from just a little ways away. We then put on our life vests, and jumped in the water! We floated down the river for about 35 minutes, back to the station. By the time we got there, we were freezing and starting to wonder if we’d make it, but then we sited the building and all was good again. We dried off, then ate dinner before embarking on a night hike. Somehow, our group managed to end up with 2 flashlights between the 7 of us, which made for an interesting time walking through the forest. We didn’t see too many animals because of the significant rainfall and cooler temperatures, but we did see some cool insects and a salamander! We also got to see a banana spider, which is apparently one of the most poisonous spiders in the region (which Meyer so kindly told us after we all got really close to take a photo). Let’s just say, a tarantula looks like a kitten compared to that one.
When we got back to the station, we started to wash our boots when one of the students came outside and told us that we had to go to the library for a last-night debriefing. As it turned out, the staff had actually made me a cake and we had a little 21st-birthday party right there in the jungle! It was so special, and made sharing my birthday with people I’d just met a few days before such a great experience.
We set out on the lancha again after breakfast to make our way back to Quito. After the two hour boat ride and the 1-hour-ish bus ride we boarded another boat, during which ride most of us slept on the deck. We got to the hotel and spent time there again before making it to the airport to fly out. We were back in Quito by 7, and back home by 9, having to finish assignments again for the coming week.
· Squirrel monkeys
· Spider monkeys
· Red Howler monkeys
· Wooly monkeys
· Green parrots
· Red macaws
· The movement of a tapir running away from us
· 3-toed sloth
· Spiders galore
· Snakes (2 poisonous, 1 not)
· Frogs (including the crystal frog, whose intestines you can see though their abdomen wall)
· Insects (mantis, lemon ants, bullet ants, stick bugs, and more)
A special birthday and a special weekend, without a doubt. Thanks for the birthday thoughts and wishes!
(if you want to see more of the photos, you can look at the pictures on facebook [even if you don't have an account] here)
|Tasting lemon ants|
|Lydia and the squirrel monkey|
|Top of the Tower|
|Top of the Tower|
|That's how high up we were|
|Itty-bitty dot is actually an itty-bitty frog in my hand|
|The ladies of the group|
|Harnesses for the bridges|
|Birthday on the bridges|
|Atop the solitary reflection platform|
|Finding the poisonous snake and then getting really close|
to take photos
|Jumping into the River Tiputini|
|Toad and Millipede: the next great friendship story|
|Morgan Falls/falls on her birthday:|
it was only appropriate for me to slip on the day I turned 21
|The banana spider.|
|Birthday cake and candles :)|
|Birthday cake in the jungle|
|Cutting the birthday cake to celebrate|