June 17th, 2014 – Tiputini Biological Reserve
If a tree falls in the forest and only I hear it, does it make a sound? Not today. Not if no one believes me. It is funny how the utterance of one sentence can dictate your day. The collection of sounds was arranged in a specific order with intonations and expressions that conveyed an emotion most closely resembling disappointment. This was confirmed during my stay in the forest. Having been left with that sour remark before departure, I now stand alone on the forest path, left to wander down the roads of self-reflection laid ahead. I have been given even more time to psychoanalyze my thoughts and assess just how terrible my progress is thus far.
Again my thoughts shift back to why I even came here. I begin to think that this was a bad decision. Why am I unable to follow simple directions? Is it really because I am too adventurous and curious, or do I have a general disregard of my own personal safety? A lack of self-respect for the preservation of my life? I start to wonder whether I will be able to study abroad for a longer period of time in a program that will have more dire consequences if I deviate from the rules. Do I even want to do it if I am having such a variable experience here? These thoughts whip up in every direction of my mind, like a sandstorm buffeting my body. My hour alone in the jungle consisted of the climatic impossibility of a desert weather event. Nothing more and nothing less as I felt the weight of the pouring rain burrow deep into my skin. Seeping its way into my soul and dragging the grains of thought down with it.
This was not an isolated event. Ceiba likes to test the survival skills of its students by sequentially sequestering them to individual checkpoints along various ecosystem trails. We must ponder the workings of ecological principals for an allotted time slot of some arbitrary period of time. My mind was nowhere near the idealized goal. When you spend that much time in the forest, it is only natural for the curious mind to wander, and become lost in the world between living and dreaming, conjuring the impossible to fruition. The world that is summoned always converges upon a single notion or idea, and in my case it is the future. Every time. There is an innumerable list of possibilities that lie before me, yet I cannot escape the unknowing nature of what lies in the future. It remains an inevitable enigma forever. I still wander.
Even when we walk, we must stare at the ground here to ensure stable footing and continued survival. Search for any hidden predators that may shorten your span of years on this earth. Looking around at the scenery above you can be dangerous. It is because of the extended observations of the hardly changing land beneath my feet that I have yet another opportunity to become lost in that world. The basal act of maintaining balance requires little attention and provides minimal stimulus, especially when the road is unchanging and familiar. Hopefully I have accurately expressed my thoughts and it has become apparent to you how easy it is for me to escape reality into the otherworldly realm of imagination. Ecuador has offered much in the sense of an opportunity for serious self-reflection. My mind has truly wandered.
Enough of my personal problems. My duty is to IAP Study Abroad Scholars, so I shall end my excerpt of the meditations on a rainforest path and attempt to recount the musings of an overeager and adventurous program participant and his experience on the Rio Tiputini. Our destination was the prime nutrient gathering for mammals and birds alike, only to be known as a “salt lick”. This mineral sink is a key location for the fauna of the rainforest because it allows them to process the toxins present in their diets. The current theory is that folivores will consumed the ions present in the clay particles which will bind to the plant toxins found in leaves, rendering the chemicals unable to bind to any substrate in their body. I guess a little dirt won’t hurt here.
Of course when you are travelling on a prime ecological example of a whitewater river ecosystem, there is much more to be seen (“than could ever be seen, more to do than could ever be done”). Every minute a new organism would appear for our viewing pleasure, either unaware of our disturbances or apathetic towards our existence. The latter seems more reasonable. This provided a superb opportunity for us to observe avian species that can only be seen in South America, one of the reasons many students come here. It was great for the students that actually DID have their binoculars like good tropical field biologists in training. No sight for bitter eyes.
But alas, I believe my time was salvaged with the surprise event of the day. I was presented with the opportunity to jump in the pre-Amazon River, with all its beautifully deadly organisms and pristine glory. The river possessed an earthy brown coloration, nowhere near ideal drinking conditions. The sewer-like water did not glisten before me or offer beckoning calls to draw me into its depths, but I rationalized that I would never have the opportunity again to jump into these fatalistic waters. So I led the group into the abyssal waters as the very first jumper. Needless to say, I did indeed survive. And now I tell my tale.