Location: Coca, Ecuador to the Amazon River basin

As we arrived in Coca, the door opened with many markets along the streets. Seeing so many markets in such proximity to one another brought many memories from S. Korea, where I used to live. We entered through the market streets as a few of the students started to scream, jump, and shout as the roosters greeted us jovially and lively. Walking further down the streets, our fantastic tour guide Hector introduced grubs, a wiggly worm for eating. A few minutes later, Hector gladly asked Hugo and David to try eating the energetic live grubs. With scrunched faces, they both shouted, NO! Shaking their heads fast, so we tried the grilled grubs instead. Some people were brightly smiling after eating them as they said they tasted like bacon, but for me, it felt like the grub was moving in my tummy even though it was cooked.

Afterward, we visited a local pharmacy and learned about unique and interesting kinds of medicine including dragon’s blood and Wayusa tea plant. Ecuadorians have been using these natural remedies for hundreds of years. Dragon’s blood is a brilliant, helpful medicine that heals your wounds and helps with nausea and Wayusa is a dried tea plant that promotes energy and calms the ethereal body. We had the opportunity to try Wasusa at Hector’s island, and it was delicious as it could ever be. Learning about these drugs made me wonder how it would be if they were sold in the U.S. to cure people who are having a difficult time with injuries or even to make them stronger!

Soon, we embarked on an hour long canoe ride; luckily this canoe was motorized so we didn’t have to row a canoe for an hour as that would have been a difficult journey. Warm, scorching rays of sunshine were shining, and tall green trees were dancing, giving naturalistic views of the Amazon. After a twenty-minute long boat ride, the world was opened with another new door; we arrived at Yarina EcoLodge which was a very bold contrast to what we saw Coca. It wasn’t a view that you could have ever seen before anywhere else. Our lodge is made up by several smaller grass-like huts with one large communal space for mealtime and meetings.

Finally, the first grand adventure of the Amazon had come, a visit to Hectors Monkey Island (also known as Sumak Allpa)! Hector was the best, giving us a precious opportunity to visit his island! Hector quickly pointed out Wooly monkeys swinging from the tops of the trees nearby. Wooly monkeys are adorable and hazelnut color. Walking through the Amazon rainforest was fascinating, especially because we were following Hector who has the best eyes for spotting animals, especially the monkeys and birds. One by one, our knee-high rain boots made footstep marks on the ground, symbolizing that we were here. After a few miles of walking into the verdurous, astounding natural forest, we spotted two more monkeys on long, thin branches. We stood in this spot for a while we observed even more monkeys. Shutters were clicking faster than lights, eyes were wide open, and our heads were cranked up to the sky. Looking up toward the canopy, we saw views filled with colorful, dynamic and stunning images of monkeys that will be treasured forever. The launch of our exploration of the Amazon had been amazing thus far. Having seen only one monkey so far, I hope I can see even more kinds of monkeys during this course of this trip. Our fabulous guides, Skylar and Devin, said they had seen seven and seventeen types of monkeys, respectively. A girl can dream!

After our adventurous day, we made our way back to our Ecolodge where we heard simple melodies of crickets. We sat down for a pleasant dinner and then concluded our day in the quiet and peaceful communal room as we shared our thoughts about the meaning of the service. We went to sleep dreaming about tomorrow when we will begin our service work at the Limoncocha Biological Reserve.