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Into the Jungle

By anna.sapak, July 10, 2009 11:38 am

So last weekend we had our final university-sponsored trip, this time to the jungle.  Our university has a biodiversity research station in the Amazon, co-sponsored through Boston University, where they are working to learn more about Amazonian animals, especially large mammals like monkeys and jungle cats.  It’s called the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, on the Tiputini River.  They have motion sensitive cameras set up in different areas in the jungle, and they also caught a monkey while we were there, which they collar and identify before releasing him back (they named this one Felipo) so they can track them.

We left for the jungle on Friday morning.  We flew to Lago Agrio, which is east of Quito and fairly close to the Colombian border, took a bus for an hor and a half or so, took a boat across a river, took another bus for another hour, then took a boat for about two hours down the Tiputini River.  We got there around four in the afternoon.  We stayed in four-person cabins (two sets of bunk beds) that each had a bathroom with a shower.  The only building with air conditioning was the library, which had two computers and some microscopes, and probably more laboratory equipment upstairs.  The dining area was like a big porch, with a roof but no walls, but the floor was tiled and the furniture was nice. 

Because they’re working to protect the jungle there, we were provided with biodegradable soap and shampoo to use and we only had electricity from 11 am to 1 pm, then again from 6:30-9:30pm.  Also, the water was not heated.  However, in the Amazon Jungle, I don’t think it ever gets cooler than 75 degrees and 90% humidity, so hot water isn’t really necessary. 

We did everything in small groups because we were hiking through the jungle, trying to see animals.  Each group had their own guide, ours was Ramiro, who is from the jungle and has workedas a guide for a very long time.  He was pretty amazing because we’d be walking along the trail and he would stop, listen, then pull us off the trail for 30 yards or so, point up, and there would be mokeys in the tree we were standing under.

Saturday morning we went on a hike to one of the two observation towers.  We saw four of the ten species of monkeys they have, including a pygmy marmoset, which is the smallest monkey.  It was about the size of a rat and I’m not sure how Ramiro found him.  After an hour and a half or so, we got to the tower, which was maybe 30 meters high.  At the top, we were at the height of the canopy and could look out over the whole forest.  After we came down, we walked back to the river and took a short boat ride back to the station.  After lunch, we went to the canopy bridges.  We climbed up 30 or 40 meters and were harnessed into the bridges.  They were basically rope bridges suspeneded between tree tops, and there were little platforms built around the trees.  We were really close to monkeys, and the view was amazing. 

That night after dinner, everyone got back into the boat and we went looking for animals in the dark.  We saw one little caiman, some birds, and supposedly the guides saw a cat or something, but I’m not sure.  There wasn’t a ton of communication about what we were looking at.

The next morning, we went to the other observation tower, saw three more spieces of monkeys (seven out of ten), parrots, a macaw, and lots of insects.  In the afternoon we went for a boat ride with one of the other small groups.  And then, we went fishing for pirahnas.  For real.  They gave us little wooden paddles with fishing lines and a hook, and one of the guides brought out a big piece of raw pork and started slicing off little bits.  I didn’t catch one, but the guides did, and so did a few of the students.  The biggest was about ten inches, but when the guide pulls down the fish lips and shows you the scary scary teeth, it doesn’t matter how little it is.

Then guess what we did?  We went swimming.  In the river.  Where we had just caught pirahnas.  Pirahnas with scary scary teeth.  Teeth that eat raw meat.

I did not go swimming, actually.  The water was really murky, and since we had already seen pirahnas and anacondas at the river, I felt like I could be happy staying in the boat, so I did.  But the majority went in and floated downstream, and the boat floated down and kept up with them. 

That evening, we had dinner and hung out.  In the morning, we had to leave by 7:30, so everyone pretty much went to bed at 9:30 when the lights went out.  Sunday, after the boatride upstream, it started pouring on us, so we all got soaked in the 10 minute wait between boat and bus, but it was ok.  I would have felt cheated if I had’t gotten rained on in the rainforest.  We had the same trip back to Quito, and by the time we were off the plane, in was after five.  Most of the group was ready to leave but I could have stayed for longer, definitely.

Ok, this post is too long already, so I’ll just list the other cool things we saw and did.

-saw two anacondas relaxing by the river

-saw a bunch of river turtles

-saw a deer (much smaller than ours) swimming across the river.  The guides think it had been attacked by a jaguar because it was bleeding.  It’s actually super-rare to see deer in the jungle.

-ate ants.  Lemon-flavored ants, actually.  They tasted citrus-y

-got stung on the back of the neck by some sort of jungle bug.  It hurt like hell for about 40 minutes, felt like it was burning and radiating up and down my neck, then it went away completely.  The bump was even gone after an hour.

So, that was the jungle.  In terms of coolness, I’d say it was on par with the Galapagos, but in a different way.  Super chevere, as they say here.

This afternoon, I’m heading to a town a couple hours away called Mindo.  It’s a cloud forest, and semi-tropical.  You can go rafting, zip-lining, and things like that, and there are tons of birds ad butterflies.  Megan and Alan and I are going, and two other girls from the trip and meeting us there tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to a relaxing adventure weekend, where we don’t have to be up by 6:30 every morning.

I’ll check back in with you all next week.  I’ve only got two more weeks here, so I’ll be seeing you all soon-ish!



By anna.sapak, July 1, 2009 4:31 pm

So, everyone, sorry I haven’t posted anything for a while, but I’ve been busy doing the coolest activities of my life.

This past weekend, I went to the Galapagos Islands with my three closest study abroad friends, Megan, Alan, and Parker.  We had a four-day trip to four different islands and we stayed on a boat (the boat’s name was Eden, which was already a part of my top three boat names).  There were 12 other tourists on the boat besides us, from England, Austria, France, Germany, and Japan.  They were all really nice, but we spent the most time with the three people from England.

Because the Glapagos Islands are a national park here in Ecuador and they’re highly protected, you can’t go to shore without havinga guide with you.  Our guide, Jorge, was a native of the islands and very knowledgable, even though he was kind of cocky.  Either way, he showed us a ton of super cool things.

Because we had the luxury of sleeping on the boat, we were able to spend all day on or around the islands, then travel at night.  This made sleeping more difficult because there are lots more waves in the open ocean than there were in the areas where we anchored during the day, but we also go to see more of the islands.  Definitely worth it.

So.  Every morning we had breakfast at 6:45 then took a dinghy to the island.  We would have a walking tour along a marked path to see animals and sights, then we would go back to the beach and snorkle.  Every day we went snorkling twice in lovely, warm, clear water that was full of animals.  For example, in four days, in their natural happy habitats, I saw giant tortoises, sea turtles, sea lions, fur seals, galapagos penguins (yes, penguins), marine inguanas (they dive), black and white-tipped reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies (and you thought they only had blue feet), manta rays, frigate birds, and lots of other birds.  And, excluding the non-swimming animals and the rays, I went snorkling with all of them. 

After our morning excursion, we wold go back to the boat for a few hours to rest and eat lunch and maybe move to a different part of the island, then we would go back to land for another walk and more snorkling.  We’d be back aboard by five or six, have dinner at seven, get a talk about the next day’s activities, then have the rest of the night to ourselves.  We spent a lot of time laying out in the bow, or at night, lounging on the second level and watching stars.  Stars are different in the southern hemisphere, and even when we were north of the equator, I still didn’t see anything I recognized.  Also, stars in the middle of the ocean are better than they are anywhere else in the world. 

For those who like other details, the weather was super beautiful.  Even when it was cloudy, on the islands we didn’t wear more than shorts and tee shirts, and we spent a lot of time in swim suits.  On the boat it was breezier, especially when we were moving, but even at night it was comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeve.  When it was sunny, it was probably 80 or 90 degrees, even at 9:00 am.  It was perfect.

Sorry to not put any pictures up yet.  I do have them but it’s a process and I am still going to school, which means I have homework to do. 

This weekend we’re headed deep into the jungle to a research station connected to our university.  We’ll be seeing lots of jungle-y things like monkeys and bats and birds, and bascially just hanging out in the Amazon Basin.

Again, I’m thinking of everyone, I wish you all could be here to see what I’m seeing.  It’s absolutely stunning and I want to share it with everyone.  Don’t worry, I’ll come home with tons of pictures!

side note

By anna.sapak, June 15, 2009 9:20 pm

Ok, so I can’t see the pictures until after the post is posted, which is why I can’t seem to figure out how to rotate them, even though they are rotated elsewhere on my computer.  I realize that the last three pictures show up as unavailable, but if you click them, you can see them.  They aren’t properly rotated  because I have more important things to worry about. That’s all.


my walk home (la camina a casa)

Alright, I’m not sure if these pictures are in order or if they’re rotated properly, but I think you can handle it.

I have a walk of about 8 blocks to get from my house to the bus station, Estacio Norte.  I live almost directly west of the station, in the northern end of Quito (hense the bus station being “North Station”).  However, the volcano Pichincha is to the west of the city, meaning that my walk home is uphill.  These photos are an attempt to capture the amount of work I put into getting home, but unfortunately, pictures don’t show angles well.  Just trust me that it’s super steep.  The first two photos are looking up the hill.  The photo showing lots of the city (hopefully the third picture) is looking east and downhill.  The following picture is facing west up my road, past the steepest part, but shpwing how you can see mountains everywhere.  The final picture is the front gate to my housing complex. 

I don’t really know whether to call this a house or an apartment.  There are three or four floors, but each floor is essentially a house with tons of space, multiple bathrooms, and everything you expect a house to have.  So far, every other host-family home that I’ve been into has been the same idea.  There is a gated driveway, a gated front entrance, another locked door to get into the building, then the door to our home/apartment/thing.  There is a guard across the road and I think his job is to watch who comes and goes.  Actually, there are guards everywhere in the city, but I haven’t seen them do much except stand in doorways with batons and/or guns.  They give the appearance of safety but I’ve heard you can’t trust them because they’re only responsponsible to whomever pays them.  So mostly I avoid eye contact.

Anyway, I swear the road is super steep.

These pictures are from my first weekend here, when we went to el Centro Historico de Quito (the historic district).  We went to one big church and the basilica.  The first picture is the first church, and the rest are from the basilica.  A man working at the basilica gave us  tour of the catacombs under the church where people are still buried.  There’s space for thousands of people in the catacombs and people are continually being buried there.  Then we climbed up the towers to see all around Quito.  In the picture with the two square towers, we were under the clock on the left.  Then we went over to the small, pointy tower where it looks like people shouldn’t go.  It was a really nice day to see the city, it was kind of cloudy but we still had a really great view.

que mas?

By anna.sapak, June 9, 2009 9:50 pm

So apparently I didn’t knock on wood after that last post because I came home from our trip to the beach with quite the intestinal infection thing.  It was not pleasant, but antibiotics work quickly and everything’s back to normal.  As far as I know, I didn’t make any mistakes with food, I probably just got some fish that wasn’t super fresh or something. 

Anyway, the Pacific Ocean is pretty great.  I’d never been in it and we had a really great experience.  It was cloudy off and on all weekend, but that was fine because when the sun comes out down here, you know it!  They took us to a couple really beautiful resort-type beaches, hired boats to cruise us around and pull us around in big tubes (my arms are still sore) and found some really delicious coastal food for us (lots of fish and shrimp).  The resort we stayed at was nice, we had a pool even though we didn’t really use it, and the lodgings were comfortable. 

It’s really humid at the coast and even on the cloudy days I’d say it was 85 degrees at least.  It was certainly warm enough to walk around in just a swim suit all day and be comfortable.  The water was super warm, which is nice since Lake Michigan never quite gets warm enough for me.  The salt water is kind of gross, you can definitely taste it, but it wasn’t bad enough to keep me out of the water.

On the drive home, we stopped at a place called Mindo, which is in the mountains, but not as high as Quito.  It’s kind of a cloud forest thing with really lush plants and lots of birds.  We had lunch there, but in a few weeks, I think a small group of us is going to go back to Mindo for a weekend for river rafting, zip-lining, and other forest things.  After seeing it for an hour or so, I’m excited to go back.

In other news, hopefully tomorrow we’re going to the soccer (futbol) game.  It’s the beginning of the world cup, Ecuador barely squeaked in, and they’re playing Argentina, I think.  Our travel agent was going to be getting us tickets, but we still haven’t found out for sure because he, like everyone else here, thinks in South American time, which is to say they all just think that everything will fall into place at some point.  We’re still stuck in US time, which means we would really like to nail down a plan.  Either way, I hope it works out for us, it’s going to be really exciting.  I’ll try my best not to get crushed in a riot.

Anyway, good night all.  I miss you and I’m thinking about you all and wishing you could experience a little bit of the magic here in the mountains.

Information de Quito

By anna.sapak, June 3, 2009 8:18 pm

Hey everyone,

Sorry there’s no new pictures yet.  I’ve been busy with things and not in the mood to fiddle.

Here’s what’s happening.  Starting tomorrow afternoon, we have the first of three university-sponsored trips.  We’re leaving the university and driving to the coast.  We’ll be there until late Sunday morning.  We’ll be at a hotel on or near the beach, swimming and lounging and hanging out.  The university is covering all the costs and doing all the work for us.  Actually, we’ve already payed for everythingwhen we payed for the trip, but I’m just going to pretend this is a free trip.  We’ll get to try out all the local food (lots of sea food) and spend a lot of time in the sun very near to the equator.  (Don’t worry, I have heavy-duty sunscreen)  Because this is a university trip and we’re under their responsiblity, we won’t be going out at night.  This is mostly fine with me, I don’t need to see every bar in Ecuador, but I also don’t want to be trapped inside.  Either way, I’m sure it will be fine.

Also this week, we met with a travel agent (muy guapo) about a trip to the Galapagos Islands.  There are four of us who want to go together so we went to see about tickets.  It looks like we’ll be going for four days total (which includes travel time) but you live on a boat and they take you around to the different islands and guide you around.  It’s going to be a little expensive, especially compared to our other trips, but this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to them, and probably the cheapest it will ever be, so I feel like I have to go. 

Also at the travel agent’s, we learned about Mindo, a town on a river where you can tube down the river, climb into the canopy, take a zipline through the forest, and lots of other cool things, so we’ll probably do that one weekend.  We also might (probably will) go rafting through the jungle one weekend, and climb Cotopaxi, one of the volcanoes here on a different weekend.  Combine this with two other university trips (one to the jungle, one to a different place in the mountains) and I’m pretty sure we’ll be gone every weekend.  In order to make time to see the actual Equator, we might have to go after school one day.

Mom and Dad, don’t worry, everything will be fairly inxpensive except the Galapagos, and besides, I’m in Ecuador.  It’s a tiny country with a little bit of everything and we only have 9 weeks to see it all. 

Just in case people were wondering, I haven’t been sick at all.  My whole family drinks boiled water, even the dogs and the bunny, so I don’t have to worry about that.  The food is good, lots of carbs, and my family is fairly Americanized, so things are different, but not outlandish.  We eat rice every day, for meat we mostly eat chicken and sometimes tuna.  My mama doesn’t eat beef, but the girls do so sometimes we have some, and they don’t eat pork at all.  We go to the bakery often and the bread is Fantastico!  They said that you need more carbs at this altitude because you use them faster.  I don’t know if that’s true but I have a killer climb to get back to the house from the bus station, so I figure I can eat all the carbs I want.

This is getting long, but I imagine people have had some questions. 

Besitos! Ciao!

By anna.sapak, May 31, 2009 10:41 pm


yes, I know

Still, I can’t seem to figure out the picture posting. If Mike (Hi Mike) would be online at the same time, I could get some tech help but at the moment, by the time I try to do everything and realize that it’s not working how I want it to, I’ve already been trying for an hour and I’m sick of it. Also, bear in mind that I’m working on a 9 in laptop with windows, using a blogging site that is also not intuitive. I’ll figure it out soon, there are just better things to do than sit on my computer. At least you can see Olivia.

Pictures for real this time

So here are some pictures of my house.  It’s pretty large and I like it, except that we’re on the first floor of a complex and we don’t get a ton of light.  Add this to the tempurature of Quito (about 65) and it gets really cold at night.  Everyone else is used to it, but my hands and feet are usually pretty chilly.  As well as these pictures, there are also bathrooms, Sandy’s studio, everyone else’s bedrooms, and the awkward hallway where I sit on the computer because it gets the best wireless signal, as well as two more dogs, Max and Candy.
We did all sorts of things this weekend and I have photos, but it still takes a long time to load them and I need to figure out a more efficient way to do it (provided that there is a better way).  Things are really pretty here so I want to show you all lots of pictures.

The bunny, Olivia

The bunny, Olivia

 This is the bunny, Olivia.  She doesn’t really like to be touched, but in the evenings, we close the doors to the kitchen and let her run around.  She likes to go behind the stove and the refridgerator, but if she’s back there, she’ll probably eat the wires.  She’s not afraid to hop onto a chair and up to the table, especially if the vegetables are on the table.

The kitchen

The kitchenEverything happens in the kitchen. This is where people hang out (and also where we eat).One of the dogs, LuluI only have pictures of Lulu so far. She looks like a fox, but fatter. All the dogs are friendly and cuddly and I like having them around, even though all my clothes are covered in fur.The turtle, TortugaThis is Nicole's turtle. He's a red-earred slider (like Frank) but he's super fat and not as pretty as Frank. His tank is in the living room.more paintingsThe living room is full of paintings, they're stacked everywhere. The two on the top of this picture, the blue ones, are my favorites in the whole house. They're part of a group of six that are already promised to go somewhere. Sandy's putting off painting the final one because she doesn't want them to leave the house now. I agree.The living room (and more paintings)The living room, but no one really spends any time here. In the mornings, sometimes I read on the couch because it gets good light. Tortuga's tank is to the left of this picture and I like to watch him.paintings

 More paintings.  They’re everywhere.

more of my room

more of my room

My closet and a little of the bed.
The rest of my room
The rest of my room

The other half on my room.

Panorama theme by Themocracy