Audrey O'Connell is one of Spirit's 2017 Volunteer Abroad Ambassador Scholarship winners. She is volunteering at a child-care center in Quito, Ecuador for four weeks through our partner in Ecuador, Fundación Bolivar Education.
Jo and I took an overnight bus to the Amazon, which thankfully was uneventful. We waited outside in the cold for quite a while before the bus came, but only because we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it. Both of us slept most of the way, and when we woke up, we were in a little town called Lago Agrio. I impressed myself by navigating us (about a 25 minute walk) to the hotel we were supposed to meet at because we didn’t want to pay for a taxi. We ate breakfast there and waited for the shuttle to arrive. We met another couple who was waiting for the same shuttle; they were visiting from Switzerland, and they were super sweet. Our bus came, and we had a two hour ride to a lodge. From the lodge, we got into a canoe with the Swiss couple, two men from Argentina, and a family from France. Our canoe ride was about two hours, and it was absolutely beautiful. I had never seen anything quite like it; the trees were growing directly in the water which was amazing to me. Everything was green and vibrant, so I didn’t get tired of looking around for the long canoe ride.
We all ate lunch at one long table, and there was mainly a mixture of English, Spanish, and French spoken. I loved hearing all the different languages together, and I was able to practice my Spanish with everyone. After lunch, the staff showed us to our room. We had a chance to rest, and then we changed into swimsuits to go on a canoe ride to watch the sunset. Just before sunset, we all swam in the river, and it was amazing to watch it from that viewpoint. After we dried off, we took the canoe back in the dark to search for caiman, which are like alligators. Luckily, we did see one because of the glowing eyes peeking out of the water. We all shined our flashlights on it, and it simply looked back at us. The guide said that it was actually very large, even though we could only see the tip of his head. We headed back to the lodge for dinner and met some other college-aged students who were staying there. They were from various countries as well, and we had fun chatting with them before going to sleep.
It was raining when we woke up this morning, but we were told to expect rain at any time, so we were prepared. We went to the dining room for a great breakfast, and then we got dressed in rain boots and ponchos for our three hour hike. Our guide took us through the forest, and I saw so many plants and animals that I never thought I’d actually see in real life! He was knowledgeable on everything related to the rainforest, answering every question in detail. We saw poisonous frogs, snakes, tarantulas, and huge caterpillars, in addition to learning about the different types of trees and leaves growing in the forest. The most exciting thing was when our guide had us all eat ants. I never thought I would do that! Oddly enough, they tasted like lemons. When we returned to the lodge, we all ate lunch together before Jo and I took a siesta in the hammocks.
During the evening, we canoed out to watch the sunset and look for animals. When it became completely dark, we went back into the forest for a night hike centered on the insects in the forest. We saw many cool bugs; Jo even let the guide put a scorpion spider on her face! The coolest part of the hike for me was when we all turned off our flashlights. Our eyes adjusted to the lack of light, and we were able to see glow-in-the-dark mushrooms! We returned for dinner and went to sleep fairly early after talking to the rest of the group for a while.
Jo and I woke up at 5:45 am in order to make it to birdwatching with our guide at 6. We were the first ones there, and as people started trickling in, they were very impressed that we made it up in time to watch. My dad loves birdwatching, so I really wanted to get some good pictures for him. The guide found parrots, a vulture, and some toucans for us to see! I have always loved toucans, and looking at one so closely made my day. We ate breakfast with the others, and then, once we packed our things, we took the canoe back to the bus. Our bus ride home was long but bearable, and we were both excited to get home so that we could finally wash our clothes, haha!