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Students in Ecuador Travel the Amazon

Professor Dan Rogers — The first thing you notice, beside the heat, humidity and chirping of birds, frogs, and insects, is the lack of contrails. We haven’t seen evidence of an airplane in days. The sky is as untouched as the landscape around us.

Click here to see the first set of photographs.

Last Saturday (June 2) the group left the comfortably cool breezes of Quito (9,300 feet above sea level) and took a short flight to Coca — the last airport in the Amazon region of eastern Ecuador. From Coca, we traveled two hours by pickup truck to a bridge near the small village of Pindo. Next to the bridge we saw the large canoe that would be our home for the next eight hours.

As the afternoon light faltered giving way to evening and darkness, a Quichua Indian guide stood on the bow of the canoe with a flashlight helping the pilot sight the twisting shoreline of the Tiputini river, recently inundated with heavy rains. The Amazon lived up to its reputation that evening. We sailed along through rain as hard as any of us had every seen. Hours after dark (the sun goes down at 6:30 PM on the equator) we arrived the Tiputini biological research station — the first stop in our long trek through the rain forest.

Students and faculty climbed to the top of a 160-foot canopy tower to spot toucans and huatzins. Another group repelled through the rainforest canopy with mountaineering gear. And another lucky group spotted the harpy eagle: the Amazon’s top raptor and one of its rarest sights.

On the way out of Tiputini we were luck to see an even rarer sight — a freshwater dolphin swam around our canoe for five minutes. Nearly identical to its salt water cousin, the pale white freshwater dolphin is one of the most endangered species in the Amazon basin.

Over the next two weeks we will look at the impact of human activity on the rainforest. In fact, this means petroleum production. Almost 50% of the country’s national budget is funded by petroleum extraction and with the price of oil as high as it is, the incentives to search for new reserves are great.

Another group participating in the program this year will spend the next few weeks living in an indigenous village on the Napo river (a major tributary of the Amazon). With professors Rogers and Doug Calisch, students will help repair a small damn, build trails, and volunteer at the local clinic and high school.

Professors Melissa Butler and Kay Widdows will take the other group to see petroleum extraction and pumping facilities. Their part of the program culminates with the mother of all road trips — they will drive the length of pipeline that delivers oil from the Amazon basin to the coast studying the cultural, political, and economic impact of petroleum production and high oil prices.