Location: Amazon

One word to describe today: snails.

We woke up and headed to a 6:30 am breakfast of fruit, yogurt, eggs, and plantains (I am pretty sure that plantains have been in every meal that we have had so far). We then made our way to the traps that Hector, our guide to the Amazon, had set the night before. The traps contained a lot of salt, plantains, and beer. By the morning there were about ten snails in each of the four traps. After learning the difference between the native snails and this African snail species, we set to work picking up all different sizes of the snails with the intention of burning them after as a way to get rid of them quickly and easily and also destroy any eggs. At first, this seemed a bit wrong to me because we were taking innocent snails and burning them to kill them, but Hector explained that these snails are not as innocent as they seem. What started as two snails brought to Ecuador has transformed into a major problem as they have rapidly expanded their population size in this area of the Amazon. These snails eat native snails, damaged crops, and are a problem for other types of animals and plants in their environment. These snails also have the potential to spread meningitis to humans (but don’t worry- we wore gloves). As we worked, we began to realize how large the population size is. In about four hours we had between 4,000 and 5,000 snails. And they were everywhere! We started in a grassy area and found hundreds instantly. A few hours later we moved into the rainforest to hunt them down and stuff them into our huge white sacks. The snails covered the trees as well as the ground of the rainforest. They could climb pretty high up on trees and stay upside down on the underneath of leaves. Hector made his path for us using his machete and would only say there or 1,2,3,4 as he saw the snails attached to the plants around us. We all liked collecting the snails in the forest because it was much cooler than the first location. The bags started getting heavier and heavier as snails piled up by the hundreds. We then gave them to Hector, who then put the enormous pile of snails into his pot above the fire. We quickly found out that collecting snails in the sun is exhausting, so after our work was done, we plopped down onto our mattresses for the short time we had before lunch. Lunch was also really good and contained a starter of bread and butter + something that looked like a corn dog but had yucca (which Hector called a South American potato) on the inside. We also had some meat, beans, rice, vegetables, and plantains (again!). We then headed to our rooms and took a nap before our three-hour hike through the rainforest guided by Hector. It started to rain, so we got on our rain gear and headed out into the rainforest, which is just a walk away from our rooms. As we walked through deep mud and on a path made of tree trunks over the swamp, we saw many different plants and animals. We saw butterflies, leaf cutter ants, a monkey, a toad, flowers, nuts, and mushrooms. Hector also pulled a branch off of a tree and told someone to stick their tongue in it. It looked all right, but when he opened it, there were a ton of ants and eggs moving around on the inside. We thought that he was kidding because it looked disgusting, but then Hector stuck his tongue in for a lick. Then Luke stepped up and decided to take a turn. A few others had their turn at licking the ant-covered inside of the branch and then concluded that it had a sour taste. The hike was nice even though it involved many, many falls, trips, and slips. Another guide that went with us weaved a few of us headbands along the way as well. We finally made it back from our hike, washed off our boots, and headed for our rooms to rest before dinner, which will probably involve more plantains. Today was a long, fun, snail-collecting day, and even though we are all tired, we cannot wait to start again tomorrow.