Location: Quito to the Amazon Rainforest
Today was fantastic. We woke up at 4:30 am and got ready to take our flight to Coca, Ecuador from Quito. The majority of the group had a very easy morning. After everyone ate a quick breakfast and we all piled into our bus to head to the airport. We all made it through the airport with ease and made it to our gate. Unusually, the gate did not lead to a tunnel that brought us to the airplane; it opened up to a shuttle bus that brought us to the airplane out on the runway. We all climbed up a big metal staircase to the plane and found our seats. The flight was only 25 minutes, so the attendants gave out newspapers and peach juice before we even took off. The majority of the group took short naps to try and catch up on the short night’s sleep that everyone had the night before. Once we landed in Coca, everyone got off of the plane and headed into the tiny airport. Our bags were set on a long metal table on the side of the building, which made baggage claim extremely easy. After we got our bags, our guide, Hector, met us at the door. It was raining when we got there so we had to wait until the weather passed before we could get on the long, narrow boat that would take us to the hotel. During the intermission between the airport and boat, Hector gave us a quick tour of Coca. We walked through a little market where he pointed out various herbal medicines that vendors were selling. Hector even let some of us try grubs (big fat worms). Quinn, Isabelle, Devin, Sky and I all tried the grubs, which we all decided tasted nearly identical to bacon except with a slightly different texture. Finally, the rain somewhat passed, and we embarked on the gigantic Napo River which is a tributary to the Amazon River. The sheer size of the river stunned all of us; I could not believe that it was just a tributary to the Amazon. Hector drove us for about 45 minutes until we made it to a tiny little finger of the Napo, which broke off from the main channel. He turned into the motionless eddy, and we drifted back into a twisting and turning a section of the river. We drifted back further and further, through the thick jungle brush that was nestled up next to the edge of the mirror-like water.
At last, we turned a corner and saw a hill with a mowed lawn and a white set of stairs leading up to a little village of huts containing thatched roofs and an open-air dining room where all of our meals are going to be served. In this oasis in the middle of the endless jungle, there is only electricity from 6-10 in the evening. Luckily, we have running water all the time. All of the rooms have a bathroom and two white bug nets hanging ominously over the two twin beds. After we all got settled in, we ate a wonderful lunch in the dining room before we headed out on the boat again. This time on the boat, our destination was a 250-acre island that Hector owns and operates. Once we arrived at the wooden dock that jutted out into the main current, we were greeted by two German Shepard dogs that were the security system for the island. We docked and walked into an openly aired lodge with a fire burning and a kettle of tea on top. The tea was made with a special leaf that the locals drink every day for the bugs to be repelled. Personally, the tea seemed to work well, but it might have had something to do with the abundance of bug spray and bug lotion that I had applied before our excursion. While we drank our tea, everyone listened to Hector tell about the goal of the island which is to give a safe haven for various species of endangered monkeys so that they can begin to reproduce and grow until they are ready for relocation. Hector led us on a long walk through the dense jungle, which engulfs the majority of the island. We went on a trail and followed him silently through his paradise. As we tiptoed behind him, Hector would suddenly stop dead in his tracks, raise his hand to his mouth and use his hand to create an ear piercing call that he used to locate the monkeys. After about a half hour of walking, we finally saw little furry bodies leaping from one tree to another. The beings were Squirrel Monkeys and they were playing youthfully in the tall branches. The only other species of monkey we saw during the day was the Furry Monkeys, which were slightly larger than the squirrel monkeys, yet they dove from branch to branch with just as much vigor as the other species. After we saw the expanse of the jungle that encapsulated the island, Hector showed us his garden that contained many different medicinal herbs that he trusts more than any other Western medication to cure ailments. Overall, our day was full of adventure and new experiences. The entire group is going to have kinks in their necks after the sharp vertical viewing that we all experienced. Everyone ended the night with a filling chicken dinner that soothed us all into a sleepy attitude and pulled us all to bed.