Work at day, Play all night, and the Most Beautiful Place in the world
My new host family is a huge improvement from before. They actually eat meals with me, and we discuss things like yoga, religion, travel, and the like. Marta and Jorge are an older couple that were the grandparents of the host family of my friends from the summer (Colleen!).
Another big change is my new job in a café near campus called Bigoté. I only work a few hours a week, but it’s an awesome way to practice my Spanish and try lots of tea, coffee, and smoothies in the process of learning how to be a barista. Not to mention all of my awesome co-workers, especially the bosses, Cody and Andrés, who are the best!
The past two weekends, I hung out here in Quito. At first I was bummed about it, because I had been planning to visit the rainforest and then go to the beach this weekend for my birthday. It turned out that it was for the best: I met an awesome group of friends that I hope to spend more time with, and got in some quality time with the lovely CISabroad intern, Frances, before she went back to the states. I did some real rock climbing with my Andinismo class on a natural rock wall near Cuyuja. Furthermore, I got to know the local Santa Clara market and find miracle cures like Chuchuwaso and Dragon’s Blood. And I went to a BBQ/house party with a mixture of Ecuadorians and exchange students that reminded me of being home in Seattle.
Before all of that, I had one of the most amazing weekends that I have had so far in Ecuador. As part of my surprise birthday present from CISabroad, I spent two full days at the Tiputini Biological Reserve located in the heart of Yasuní National Park. A group of about 20 of us met at the Quito airport early in the morning on Friday, September 20th to start the journey. Our 20 minute flight to Coca was delayed about 2 ½ hours, but the view of the Andes Mountains our the window of the plane was breathtaking. We headed out of Coca (a small town on the edge of the Amazon), in a riverboat for two hours before arriving at the government controlled petroleum checkpoint at the entrance to Yasuní. From there we took 2 more hours on a chiva (open-air bus), and finally another 2-3 hours on a boat in the Tiputini River to reach the remote biological station. The first night was a quiet one, preparing us for the early morning hike on Saturday.
My smaller group went to the lake on our first hike. It was a waterhole, overgrown by wild Amazonian shrubbery and prehistoric birds with clawed wings. Some highlights from our walk back to the reserve were leaf-cutter ants, flowering fungus, trees that ere 500 years young, and a dozing frog or two. After lunch, we ventured over to the hanging bridges munching on leaves that turned our mouths blue, lemon ants that tasted like citric acid, and swinging around the tree houses full of Capuchin and Spider monkeys! That night, we did some late night animal watching on the river. We saw a tapir (the largest animal in the rainforest), caiman, a capybara (world’s largest rodent, which looks like a cross between a pig and a dog), and some birds from the riverboat.
On our second day, we climbed into the lookout treehouse and spent the morning spying on birds and howler monkeys we heard rumbling in the distance. On the way down, I did a mini experiment by dropping an apple 100m to see what would happen: FYI it exploded and turned completely to mush. Somehow our guide tracked down the howler monkeys and we had a small conversation with them. He also told us about a bark that cures arthritis (the guide not the monkey) and an oddly shaped vine called monkey ladder. In the evening, we saw a presentation of all the animals that they have captured on film as part of their photo-capture program at Tiputini. And at the end of our second, and last day, I took a self-guided nighttime tour of the reserve with a few friends (one of which studies entomology) and saw more different spiders (!!!), bugs, and reptiles that I think I have witness in my whole life combined.
We took the reverse trip on Monday back to Quito, with a few main differences:
• I left the reserve with more friends than I started with
• I can confidently name the most beautiful, diverse location I’ve seen
• I got to ride in the bow of the boat on the way back
• And, it rained cats and dogs during the final stretch on the river, giving me a new appreciation of my poncho
The majority of my pictures in the CISabroad folder on Facebook are from my weekend in Tiputini, and they are definitely worth checking out.