“But what about all the bugs?!” This was usually the first response I got when I told my friends and family I would be volunteering on the edge of the Amazon Rainforest. A bottle of bug spray and an experience of a life time later, I am happy to report a total of two bug bites throughout the entire trip.
I had been looking for an out-of-country trip ever since I arrived at UT, but couldn’t find any that fit my schedule, were something I was passionate about, or were a trip which I could actually afford. I saw the flyer for the Global Initiatives trip with the College of Engineering in an email and knew this was the one. It had advertised an eight-day trip to Ecuador, exploring Quito, Banõs and Puyo while volunteering at Yana Cocha, an animal and wildlife conservation center on the edge of the rainforest. With great excitement, I packed my rain coat, hiking boots, and anything else I could think of for this great adventure.
Ecuador itself is an amazingly diverse country, and is very different than the United States. The people are extremely loving and open, and they made me feel right at home where ever we travelled. The food was always fresh and I didn’t eat one thing I didn’t immediately fall in love with throughout the entire trip. Although I must say that I can never look at a banana from home the same way after eating bananas from Ecuador. The produce was amazing. I ate the biggest avocados I have ever seen, and drank juices made from fruits I have never heard of previously. Personally, the changing geography was my favorite part. Our trip started in Quito, the highest capital city in the world, and moved to Puyo, a small town bordering the Amazon Rainforest. The drive from highlands to lowlands was filled with waterfalls, mountain ranges, the occasional volcano, and million-dollar views.
Our time in Puyo was spent volunteering at Yana Cocha, where we worked with mechanical engineers, reserve employees, and other volunteers to build a bridge and connecting trail along a fish lagoon. The work was hard, but extremely rewarding. We got very muddy and very sore, but made some great memories along the way. Never again will I take a wheel barrow for granted, that’s for sure. Building the bridge and trail put into perspective the amount of perseverance and tenacity required to run and maintain a place such as Yana Cocha. The respect they had for the environment, the animals, and their cause was a truly humbling and eye-opening experience.
Our time off the clock was spent hanging out with the animals, exploring the jungle, and getting lost in the cities. I had the time of my life while in Ecuador, and encourage anyone who is on the fence to take the jump, go all in, and enjoy!