In this post I would like to first address the global pandemic that has become worldwide. We were alerted of this as soon as we got back into service after being in the Amazon for a week. The hours following have been a blur of events and as of now Whitman has chosen to have school online and are sending all study abroad students home that were in Europe. Three people on my program are being forced to return home by their universities. I almost wish we had just stayed in the Amazon… As of now this program will continue because the virus itself isn’t too bad in Ecuador but things are developing very quickly and there are increasing worries about being able to travel.
In the light of current events it seems weird to be blogging about my newest excursion experiences but I think it will still be important for the next group to be able to read.
All coronavirus events aside, the Amazon was amazing. The first three days alone were so full of new experiences. After arriving in Coca, a city in the Amazon, we did something called the toxic tour in which we drove around learning about petroleum extraction in the Amazon. Once the pipes that carry crude oil were pointed out to us it became hard to miss them everywhere we went. They snaked along the roads for miles and miles. Apparently, they have a leak once every week, but it seems like it should be much more than that with how many miles of pipe we saw. We went to a “machero” which is where companies burn of the natural gas that comes up with the petroleum because they don’t want to spend more money to process it. You can see the machero from the road and as we walked closer you could feel the heat coming from the flames. There was a chemically smell and the whole area just seemed like a health hazard. The heat was so intense we could only stay for a few minutes. On the way back our guide collected some insects from the below the flames to show us. Because these macheros produce light thousands of insects fly towards them and then die when they get close. It seemed crazy to me that this was all allowed to happen. For lunch we went to Loma del Tigre, a Quichwa community, and listened to their stories about how the petroleum industry had affected their lives. In areas of petroleum plants and macheros, the incidents of cancer are THREE TIMES that of Ecuador’s national average. It makes me mad that the effects are so obviously hurting people, yet nothing is being done.
After Loma del Tigre, we went to Limoncocha lake and took a boat ride around the lake, identifying birds and looking at the wildlife. We saw monkeys and some really cool birds! We also saw sloths, although I have no idea how the guides spotted them because they look like blogs of moss even through binoculars. As the sunset we began to look for caimans and one of the guides caught a baby one that we got to hold. As soon as the sun had disappeared, tiny pinpricks of light began to appear on all the leaves and lilies. These little larvae were like fireflies of the water lilies. On the rest of the ride we saw two more adult caimans. After the boat ride we piled into trucks that took us to another boat that took us to our lodging for the night. I could used to this type of traveling! It was a really busy day and I was happy to fall asleep, safe in my mosquito netting.
The next day we boated to an island that is a monkey sanctuary which like everything else was amazing. Our guide lives on this island and has been running the place and organizing research on it since he bought it. We saw pygmy monkeys and woolly monkeys. I am grateful one of the guys on our trip brought his really nice camera so we got some really good pictures of them. I also have been perfecting the picture-through-the-binoculars method which works with varying success. These were just the first couple days in the Amazon, there was so much in store for us!