Visiting Ecuador’s Rainforest

Last week, I interviewed my friend, Kim, who attended the Yana Puma Spanish School in Ecuador last year. I thought it would be nice to hear about what her time in the rainforest and in the program taught her.

She participated in the program for three months, from January to March of 2016. The school is meant to expand one’s knowledge of the Spanish language by having the participant visit and volunteer for different indigenous communities so that they can become immersed in the culture to learn the language. She went to the rural parts of the western Amazon in Ecuador.

She says her favorite experience was learning about all the trees and flowers that she planted as a volunteer, “‘Cause a big part of it, you know, you’re told you’re going to be reforesting a section and planting indigenous plants, but…that doesn’t necessarily mean that much to you until some of the locals start telling you about some of the plants, like, some of the medicinal properties, and if it’s good building material or if it bears fruit or something, and it’s just really interesting to learn about all these wild plants that we don’t have in North America.”

I asked her what she learned about the rainforest. “I think a big part of the trip [was that] we focused in on a lot of agricultural aspects which I found that in smaller communities, agriculture and conservation are really tightly wound together, so I think that was a really eye-opening experience because I feel like in North America, we’re kinda told that we need to encourage sustainable farming in third world countries and everything, and I think for me it was really eye-opening to see, like, these communities do wanna be farming sustainably, but it’s economic pressure that bigger corporations put on them that make that less of a reality for them.” Sustainable farming is so important because indigenous people contribute to deforestation in order to survive, and poverty keeps them unable to obtain the advanced technology that would keep them from having to resort to destructive ways of living. Large corporations, just like Kim mentions, keep indigenous people poor by destroying their homes and evicting them from their lands and using their resources.

Would you say visiting a rainforest gave you a better appreciation for rainforests? What did you think about them before your visit? “Yes, I would absolutely say that actually experiencing it gave me a much more broad understanding of how the ecosystem works…And I think for me, seeing how the communities interact with the forests and the animals was also just so different.”

Would you recommend this program to others? “Yeah, I definitely recommend programs like this. I think immersive, long-term programs can be really eye-opening and life-changing for people because you’re forced to experience things from somebody else’s perspective for long periods of time, so you start to notice the nuances about it.”

Any tips for anyone who wanted to participate/visit a rainforest? “This is kinda gross, but the best advice I was given as far as medication goes…you want IB Profin, obviously, and then something to make you stop and something to make you go, ’cause there’s all sorts of weird parasites that you’re definitely gonna get. It’s unavoidable.” She also suggested long, light-colored clothes to protect from mosquitoes, to cover all of your skin, and to buy sunscreen before you visit because the indigenous people don’t buy it so the prices are ridiculously high. She also mentioned to always wear shoes, depending on where you’re staying, as there could be spiders everywhere you step, and the way she described them did not sound like something you’d want to walk through barefoot.

Would you visit another rainforest if you could? “Yeah, absolutely.”

Why? “I keep saying this, but it’s just such an interesting and different experience than any forests or ecosystems we have over here, so I can really build an appreciation for  the diversity of nature.”

Do you think you are going to visit another rainforest? “Yeah it’s definitely a goal of mine. I honestly wanna go back and visit some of the people in the same area I was. And also I want to compare different areas.”

Would you say you’re invested in the fight for rainforests now? “Yeah, I would definitely say it is something…so my trip focused a lot on agricultures, so that’s something that I think has changed in my life. I’ve gotten a lot more conscious about sustainable agriculture, even in regard to rainforests…Something I’ve noticed is that I know everybody says you don’t need to buy organic fruit or buy organic bananas because the pesticides don’t get through the peel, but just for sustaining the environment they’re grown in, it is really good to buy organic bananas. And again, seeing how they’re grown…with bananas you just put a bag over it so the insects don’t get to it instead of spraying it with pesticide which is so easy.” Pesticides are a huge problem in the rainforest. They kill insects, but they also kill the surrounding plants and animals, and some of the poison gets into rivers that more animals eventually drink and end up getting poisoned.

Would you say that agriculture is a major issue facing rainforests? “Yeah, I would say it’s definitely the most prominent threat.” She has a point. Agriculture is the third largest reason for rainforest devastation, just after logging and cattle ranching.

It sounds like visiting a rainforest is definitely something everyone with the means to do, should do. It’ll teach you about the problems facing the rainforest, get you invested in the fight for them, and it’ll be an eye-opening and life-changing experience (if you go through a long-term program, at least).

Photo courtesy of Leosanchez2011.

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