Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Amazon Rainforest

I’ve always wanted to go to the Amazon rainforest and being there really was like a dream come true. It still feels like it was a dream looking back on it. Getting there was like it always is in Ecuador: a lot of waiting a lot of changing plans and a lot of fun! We took a plane to Coca, then a bus to a hotel where our boat was waiting on the Napo River. Then we had to go through a petroleum checkpoint and take an open-air bus for 2 hours to the Tiputini River where we got on a canoe (all 19 of us plus Canadian tourists) and motored down the river to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station. The trip took all day but I’ve been learning that travel always takes longer then you think and that it’s not always pleasant.

But all of the travel was so worth it. I don’t even know if I have sufficient words to describe what the rainforest was like. It was so pristine and hot and humid, but really not that rainy. When it did rain though, it really rained, and without warning. There was wildlife everywhere if you looked for it. Life around every turn. One of the researchers at the station told us that every day in the rainforest is like Christmas because you get a gift. This was so true. Every day we were there (all 7 days) was almost overwhelming because there were so many new sights, sounds, tastes and experiences. I swam in the Tiputini River (a tributary to the Amazon), climbed into a tower in a kapok tree, crossed canopy bridges, saw the sunrise over the canopy, ate an unidentified species of fruit, danced in the rain, learned the names and sounds of birds and learned so much more in one week than I would have learned about the Amazon in an entire semester.

It was so amazing seeing the wildlife too. I saw seven species of monkeys and heard their calls in the forest every day! The squirrel monkeys were my favorite. Three of us stumbled upon a troop of them on a hike and they were so curious about us. The youngest ones came down the trees, still sitting above our heads, and looked right at us, tilting their heads back and forth in confusion.

Also, I got the opportunity to accompany two researchers who are studying the reproductive success of manakins (a type of bird) and the distribution of their leks (the place where they dance to attract the females). We set up mist nets to catch the birds, take blood samples of the manakins, and just measurements of the other birds we caught. It was such a valuable experience to see what a day in the field is like. We had to hike through swamps, climb over fallen trees and slide down clay cliffs to get to all of the nets. It was really intense and I think that in order to do field work you have to be superhuman. The researches seemed to forget about eating and using the bathroom the entire day (5am – 2pm). They were like machines, and it was probably because they are so dedicated to their work and passionate about their study.

I had such an appreciation for field experiments and researchers after that experience. I also fell in love with the Amazon rainforest and would love to return some day. I keep carrying the lessons I have learned and keep seeing every day as a gift. Even if I don’t see an armadillo while on a night hike, or a hoatzin bird on an oxbow lake, I will still look for the gifts in every day, even when I’m in the city.