This past Friday I got back from spending 8 days in the middle of the Amazon rain forest. The first 3 days were spent in a small town called Limoncocha. To get there, we took a bus to the airport in Quito then a 30 minute plane ride to the town of Coca. From there we took an open air bus to the Napo River then a 2 hour boat ride to Limoncocha. On the first day, on the way to Limoncocha, we stopped at an island called Sumak Allpa which means “heaven” in the indigenous language. It was also known as monkey island and we soon found out why. During the hour and a half that we were on that island we saw Pygmy marmoset monkeys (the smallest in the world!) and some wooly monkeys. Unfortunately during the whole trip I didn’t get any good pictures of the monkeys because they were always either too far away or moved too fast. After leaving Sumak Allpa, we finished our trip to Limoncocha. While we were in Limoncocha, we stayed in a hostel and I got to have my first experience with mosquito nets. During those 3 days we woke up early to go birdwatching every morning and at night would go out on the lake in canoes in search of Black Caimans (a type of Crocodile). The first night we went out, my group saw 4 juveniles but the second night we saw 4 adults! The biggest one we saw was 4 meters long!!! Below there is a picture of one but it was very dark so it is very had to see. We also saw some pretty cool piranhas!
One day during our time in Limoncocha, we went on a Toxic Tour. First, we went to the site of an oil drill. At first sight, it looked pretty harmless. It was small and appeared to not be doing that much damage. But we then learned that when the oil is removed from the ground, water is removed with it. The oil and water are separated and the water is dumped into the ground in a “pool”, then covered up with dirt. However, we then walked across the street to visit a family’s house. We went in their backyard where the kids, chickens, and dogs are running around to find a pile of oil. Their backyard is an old pool where the water was dumped, but now the oil is seeping out of the ground in the middle of where they are trying to grow cacao trees! We went a little further to find a pool of what appeared to be clear water. Our guide stirred it up and put his hand on top and it came back completely black and covered with oil. The worst part was that the children were down there with us playing. Our next stop on the toxic tour was an oil refinery where they burn the gases made by the drills. The fire burns 24/7/365, releasing natural gases into the air. This already seems terrible and then we learned that the fumes go into the clouds which then rain toxic water. However, this water is the only water that the people who live there have to bathe, drink, and cook with. We then changed topics and talked about the African palm. It appears harmless, but the African palm plantations are the cause of the majority of deforestation in the Amazon. At first I had no idea why. But then, I learned that palm oil is in almost everything processed! I had no idea that the foods I was buying at the stores were helping to increase deforestation in the Amazon!
The last 5 days in the Amazon, we spent at Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a research station nestled in the middle of the Amazon, with minimal human contact. To get there, we had to cross the Napo River to arrive at the entrance to Yasuni National Park. And guess who controls the entrance to the park? A petroleum company! We took an open air bus 2 hours to the Tiputini River then took another boat 2 hours down the river. During our boat ride we saw a tapir! It was so amazing! When we got to TBS it was so peaceful. Since it is so far away from everything, resources are limited. It meant there was no cell service, wifi was expensive, electricity was only turned on during certain parts of the day, and the filtered water could run out at any moment. It was so great to get a break from the stresses of the world and enjoy being in such a remote location. Again, we woke up each morning to go birdwatching, one morning from the boat, one morning from the bottom of the forest, and one morning from a tower in the top of the canopy. Over the coarse of those mornings, I saw 4 different types types of macaws, 3 different types of toucans, a hawk, a capybara (the biggest rodent in the world!) and multiple other birds. During the day, we had class, did research activities, and went on hikes. It was about 100 degrees F and about 100 percent humidity every day but I got used to it and really enjoyed my time in the forest. My favorite part of the trip was getting to see monkeys every day multiple times a day. I saw pygmy marmosets, woolly monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and heard howler monkeys. I also saw a giant armadillo, some really cool frogs, spiders, butterflies, and other insects. Overall, it was definitely my favorite trip so far (even if I did get stung by 2 wasps)!