I opened my eyes and placed my hand five inches from my face, but in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest at nine at night I couldn’t make out anything around me.. Everything was pitch black.
Less than 24 hours before, I had rolled out of bed at 3:30 in the morning and headed to the airport, where myself and a group of nine other students, boarded a plane to a small town named Coca on the edge of the Ecuadorian rainforest. Travel was a blur — one plane, two buses, and two more boats later, I found myself at the Tiputini Biodiversity Research Station, 500 kilometers away from civilization: a dream come true.
Every preconceived notion I had about the rainforests suddenly came to life, and I couldn’t help thinking about books I read while I was growing up and a third grade project I did coloring in and describing life in the different layers of the rainforest.
The trees seemed to rise for miles above the coffee-colored water, the constant sound of birds echoed in every direction, and the canopy of trees above occasionally shook with the movement of monkeys maneuvering from one branch to another.
The dense jungle had the comforting smell of a fresh rainstorm and the rain boots I pulled on every morning were necessary for the mud that consumed every inch of the trails.
Our weekend consisted of wading through swampy waters, tattooing ourselves with the juice from berries, eating Lemon ants off tree trunks, and floating down the mysterious, murky river.
We spent four days discovering life in the jungle and living alongside the researchers who spent months at the station collecting data and samples from the seemingly endless variety of foliage that makes up the famous Amazon Rainforest.
A novice of jungle life and the elements that accompanied it, I was in a constant state of awe.
Our guide led us through the forest, pointing out wildlife and teaching us about the plants and animals along the way. In the Amazon Rainforest, every square mile holds more diversity and life than all of the United States.
As we explored the rainforest, I couldn’t help but think that caring for the environment is, unfortunately, just another fad, and people act like they care when their actions say otherwise.
There is so much more I could do, and I too am guilty of telling myself I don’t have time for the work, but everything shifted when I was there.
By experiencing the place that is directly impacted by petroleum drilling, pollution and global warming, it became evident that caring for the earth is about more than just separating trash and recyclables.
It’s estimated that if climate change were to increase the world’s temperature by only 3 degrees Celsius then 75% of the Amazon would be destroyed.
As our guide led us through the forest on a night hike, we all gathered in a huddle and turned off our headlights. The pitch black overtook my vision and we all fell silent, just listening and being there.
I looked up and saw a sliver of the full moon through the trees. In the dark, the shapes of the unfamiliar jungle consumed my thoughts and world was suddenly still.
I was only an insignificant speck in the vast rainforest around me. And yet, never before have I been part of something so significant.