Best of the Oriente

I just got back from a week in the Oriente, which is what Ecuadorians call the Amazonian region of the country (basically, everything east of the Andes). I’ll update later with some thoughts on ecology, oil and all the rest, but for now, I’m just going to list the coolest things I did.
1) Saw an anaconda eating a caiman. We were out on a night boat ride to see wildlife, and we’re apparently one of only two SIT groups to have ever seen an anaconda, much less one strangling its prey. This was, naturally, the same river we were all swimming in every day. It also has piranhas and little fish that can swim up your urethra or vagina and stick there (they’re fish parasites that live in fish gills, but sometimes they get confused).
2) Got up at 4:45 to hike up to the canopy tower in the rainforest and watch dawn break over the tops of the trees, with a soundtrack of scarlet macaws, thousands of insects, and howler monkeys.
3) In response to a severe rainstorm, we all put on our bathing suits, covered ourselves in mud and formed a tribe called the Goops. It was kind of a lot like Avatar, and involved running around mostly naked, making up a nature song, finding our plant souls and sliding down a muddy hill into the anaconda-infested river to rinse off.
4) Spending a few hours in the canopy tower in the dark, on a half-moon night with stars, getting completely naked 120 feet above the forest and watching the heat lightning in the distance before hiking back to camp wearing nothing but my rain boots.
5) Teaching several of my fellow program participants how to navigate using a compass, take bearings on a map and triangulate. And then, for the first time in my life, getting lost in a forest and actually using a compass successfully to get unlost! I knew all that high school outdoor program stuff would come in handy sometime.
6) Explaining to a group of woolly monkeys in a tree that if the land across the river opens for oil exploration, they should try to sabotage company operations by throwing feces at oil company workers and destroying their machinery. Not sure they understood me; they kept eating and throwing leaves at me instead. Maybe they don’t speak English.
7) The moment when Taylor accidentally let a snake loose in the classroom and I had to go outside (other than flying/takeoff, snakes are the only thing I’m really afraid of, though in a pretty rational fashion). And then I got to watch through the window while four people attempted to find and recapture the snake (which they eventually succeeded in doing).
8) Leaving the hotel where we were waiting for our bus to take us to the Coca airport and wandering around town by myself for ten minutes. Probably the most interesting ten minutes of my week that didn’t include wildlife. I was the only gringa on the street and got a lot of whistles, catcalls and greetings from men. The stores and general smell reminded me of Ghana—a hot, humid place where most of life takes place outside and there are giant cuts of raw meat dangling from awnings on the street. It also underscored how coddled we are on this program—I wasn’t supposed to leave the hotel, supposedly because of “safety”, which I understand is important to an institution, but still struck me as a bit odd. After all, it was broad daylight, anyone trying to hurt me would have had to do so in plain view of about three dozen other people, and the only thing I had on me other than my clothes was fifteen dollars tucked in my bra.

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