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!