The first few days of this trip, back in Quito, a lot of us here had laughed and joked about how it felt like we’d already lived lifetimes in Ecuador with how many academic and cultural experiences we’ve had jam-packed into a single day. Yet, we had no idea the millions of lifetimes we would live since. And it’s so crazy to think that we’re only halfway through the trip?
Last blog, I talked a little bit about our first muddy excursion during Day 3: the Cloud Forest. This took place not long after our first hike in the Andes mountains, but this was a whole different experience. The clouds went through the forest so it was extremely wet, humid, and honestly felt like being inside of a video game.
We got mud all over our shoes, clothes, hands, and honestly? It was great! After the walk, we had the most fantastic empanadas de queso and coffee from a stand outside the entrance.
On Day 4, we woke up at the Iyarina lodge and were told we were going on a short hike. The hike ended up being 6 miles against the river’s current! At the end, you would’ve never guessed we went on that long and strenuous exploration of nature. You’d have never seen a happier group of 12 college students, all giggly and excited from what was an honest bond with nature.
The same day, we had class outdoors. It was beautiful learning about chocolate tastes and preferences around the world, then a presentation from a local association called Kallari where we learned about the history of their chocolate production along with the international issues and challenges that they face. All of this while breathing in the fresh air and having a beautiful view of the river by the lodge.
On Day 5, we departed from the Iyarina lodge to visit the indigenous Waorani nation of the Amazon in Ecuador. To get there, we traveled around 2 hours by bus, then a 3 hour motorized canoe ride!
All of the community members speak the language Wao, but some of the younger members speak Spanish and even understand some English. The night we arrived, after dinner, we learned all about the history of their nation. We went around in a circle and they gave us all a nickname based on a word from the Wao language. I received the name Nambay, meaning the fletches or the arrows they would use to hunt with a blowgun.
The next morning on Day 6, we were told we were taking a short hike to a waterfall. To the waterfall and back ended up a total of 5 hours! I would love to have called that immersing and beautiful but to say that would be an understatement. I’m not quite sure if there are simple adjectives to describe what it feels like to be in touch with the Earth like that. All semester long, we’ve been told that the biodiversity of Ecuador is incredible, but it is so much different to experience it in person. Alina exclaimed several times that we felt like ants, because the leaves and jungle and trees around us were huge compared to us. The people from the Wao community led and guided us, using machetes to cut the way. And they could always find the way, despite not having any type of map and all of the rainforest seemingly never ending.
Along the way, we would stop and they would show us many of the ways that they interact with the land. First, we stopped at a plant with big, green leaves. They would use the leaves to clean babies and also as a form of toilet paper, which would be returned to the Earth for it to biodegrade and help the life in the forest. Later, they showed us thinner leaves from a different plant that they would weave together to make baskets and demonstrated the construction of multiple baskets for us to use on our hike. We also saw a nearby plant at the same time that they could use the inside as a form of a natural shampoo. Lastly, they used the insides of a tree branch to create crowns or headbands for us to wear on the hike.
After what felt like a long and laborious journey back to the community, they laughed at us as they said it was a short hike for them yet we were all extremely tired and exhausted! But it was 5 hours of mud, uphills, downhills, sliding, rivers, creeks, and so much more. I think I had more mud on myself in that one hike than I’ve ever had in my whole life. Yet, for once, mud didn’t feel gross. It felt connecting and relaxing.
After the hike, we went to a nearby area to plant the cacao. They taught us how to plant the beans in the ground, and then showed us how to eat the fruit from the grown cacao pods. We learned about how they would grow the cacao next to the plantains and yuca plant, which I was surprised to find out also exists in Ecuador as I grew up eating foods with yuca from the Philippines. Feeling the dirt on my hands while putting the cacao in the ground felt incredibly ethereal.
I’m a city boy. I grew up in Las Vegas, and I now attend school in Pittsburgh. I’ve never done anything outdoorsy growing up, and I’ve never considered myself to be the type to do anything that I’ve done here. But it’s given me an absolutely beautiful, new perspective on what it means to live on planet Earth.