A Day in the life: VT Ecuador study abroad at Shiripuno Amazon Lodge

STUDENT REFLECTIONS FROM THE 2018 VT ECUADOR STUDY ABROAD TRIP

 

The Shiripuno Amazon Lodge is a privileged, remote location surrounded by miles of unbroken, pristine tropical rainforest and the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve in the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador.

 

Besides occasional insomnia, there’s another reason why I plan to study birds and behavior: spring and summer mornings are my favorite times of the day and year. Even as a kid, I remember waking up and just listening to the songs outside my window, enjoying the complexity and variety. Now as an adult, there’s still something magical when I wake up just around sunrise: there’s no need to start the day yet, coffee or tea is brewing, and half the world is still asleep. Well, half of the human world is still asleep, but the natural world is awake and thriving. San Isidro multiplies that feeling.

Located in the cloud forest, the lodge overlooks a valley that usually has one or two low flying clouds in it (hence the name, cloud forest). One of the final days of our stay at the lodge, we were told we would have a later breakfast, meaning everyone could sleep in. My mind doesn’t work like that: 6am rolls around and I’m alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic. Even though we didn’t have to be at breakfast for another two hours, I was ready to start the day.

Inca jay
Inca jay

Chestnut-breasted coronet
Chestnut-breasted coronet

After brewing a (slightly strong) cup of coffee, I wandered to the main lodge planning to read my book in the foggy morning. Inca jays squawk just off the path and a russet-backed oropendola called out their distinct rain drop call once or twice. By 6:20, I was settled in and wondering if a gnome was going to come out of the jungle. Instead, the hummingbirds made an appearance. 

Chestnut-breasted coronots were fighting off fawn breasted brilliants who were chasing off the wasps. Every so often one would come up to check out my red shirt, only to angrily zoom off when they realized I had no sugar water to give. I realized this was going to be as silent as it ever will on the deck. My mind started to sink back into that fuzzy, just woken up feeling for the next hour while I enjoyed the magic before the rest of the world start to wake up.

– Catherine Hucul, Biological Sciences

When we arrived at Shiripuno Lodge in Ecuador’s beautiful Yasuni National Park we began our projects. Out of a total of 11 individuals in the class, there are 4 groups, each of which having completely different objectives. The group I am in, fondly referred to as “the salt people”, is studying temporal preferences of mammals at a natural clay lick. On the first day in the lowlands, we set out camera traps at a nearby clay lick. The plan was to leave them for 5 days and then retrieve them on the last day. Little did we know that the weather had different plans. After a long week filled with rain (hence the word rain in rainforest) we loaded up the canoe to retrieve the camera traps. As we approached the bank where we had previously disembarked, we quickly came to realize that it was entirely underwater! Fernando Vaca, one of our guides, said that it was the highest he had seen the Rio Shiripuno in all the years he had been there. My three group members and I jumped out of the canoe onto the “trail” which was under chest deep water. We trekked for several hundred meters before Fernando decided that it would only get deeper, and that it was unsafe. We tried to enter the clay lick from a different trail, but when Walaka jumped out of the canoe the water came high over his head! Fernando and our team ultimately decided that it could be too dangerous to try to retrieve the camera traps. Luckily a Michigan State class was going to be at Shiripuno Lodge the following week, and had agreed to get the camera traps once the river receded. I’ll never forget the experiences I had at the Shiripuno Lodge!

– Dominic Latona, Biological Sciences

If you like adventure and really feeling like you are close to nature this lodge has it all. So far, our stay at the lodge has been incredible. We have seen so much wildlife in the short time span that we have been here. The connection you feel when you are in the forest is like no other. Shiripuno and everyone working there makes sure nothing is left out of your trip. The small structures they have for guests hold up quite nicely. They definitely make sure you never go unfed. Three meals a day each with three separate courses and every single one is more delicious than the next. The men that work here are very kind and have a vast amount of knowledge about the rainforest. The man that deserves the most praise for his efforts in keeping this place alive and for keeping the amazon in the beautiful state that it is, is Jarol Fernando Vaca. This man has done the most for us on the trip. He has made sure that everyone is satisfied and comfortable. He has such a great attitude when it comes to finding critters and sharing the knowledge he has on them. He really inspires you to try and learn as much as possible with the amount of time you have. He has been a tremendous guide and truly knows his way around the rainforest. His skill set is vast and it makes the experience you have a Shiripuno even better. The primary goal at Shirpuno Lodge is research. Fernando conducts many studies just around the lodge that are unique and he finds items and information that are new to science almost every chance he gets. He loves the people that come through however his main goal is to show these people how special the rainforest really is and what the potential is if people continue the research that he has started. This lodge is not just great for the lodge itself but for the great men who are running it. They do the most that they can and ask for nothing in return. They deserve the most praise. This is by far one of the best trips I have been on and met the best people. I hope that I can stay in touch with Fernando and come back again someday.

– Georgia Martin, Fish and Wildlife Conservation

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