On the 9th day of my study abroad trip in Ecuador, our group of 20 made our way by bus to a rustic hostel in the heart of the lush Amazon rainforest. Being surrounded by low hanging clouds, the beating sun, and thick, overpowering moisture made me feel like I truly was so very far from home for the first time. After nearly two weeks of mental and physical exhaustion, I was about ready to have a rest. Little did I know, the next few days in the jungle would test the threshold of my comfort zone, and deliver me unique experiences I could have never anticipated.
The very first night, we all gathered on the top deck of our hostel and were given the humbling opportunity to experience native culture in the works. I and a group of three others sat together as a Shaman expelled our negative energy and blessed us with good luck. This was the first time in a while I had found myself connected to my spiritual side. This experience, combined with my homestay with the Agato people, made me realize how much I should have a deep appreciation for living things as I was immersed within the extreme elements during this Amazon stay.
There is a definition I learned in one of my anthropology classes that discussed the meaning and concept of power: “Someone has power over another if they can persuade them to do something they would have otherwise never done.” The Amazon possesses incredible amounts. It is almost more effective to compare the jungle to a living being that has power over its occupants. I felt as though I was a foreign visitor being welcomed into a temporary home. Just like in the ocean, if a shark were to attack you, you must remember you are in their territory. Nature provides for you, but it can dually harm you. There was a day in the Amazon that I indeed experienced something that would change my life forever. Though too extensive to elaborate on here, this experience truly taught me that life is so very precious. It also taught me that humans are never above or stronger than the nature, and that we should exist in harmony alongside it. This realization allowed me to have greater humility and perspective, and thus respect for the place I was living in for this short period of time.
There were specific instances where I felt as though the Amazon had the power to pull me out of my comfort zone. On a hike in the middle of the jungle, I ate live ants…something I never in my life would have anticipated myself doing. I also had promised myself I wouldn’t swim in the rivers of the Amazon prior to this trip, but on day one, there I was, surrounded by friends, swimming my heart out. Every day I participated in the designated activities, even if unwilling at first. I constantly pushed myself, knowing that the educational gain would be fulfilling, and I would regret it if I did not just push myself for that one moment. I learned something about myself in these three days. If I was experiencing something uncomfortable, I would compare it to the worst-case scenario of something similar I had endured. I thought to myself, “if I could do it then, I can surely do it now.”
On the second to last night of our stay, I spoke to our professors that lead us for this trip. Dr. Anderson provided me with such incredible insight. He introduced me to a concept called ‘the novelty effect.’ In essence, every new experience an individual has eventually loses its ‘newness.’ For me, after being exposed to bugs the size of my palm, bats hanging outside my room, and some of the most toxic species on Earth, I eventually found myself completely desensitized to them, casually swatting them off my arms and legs. They made the things I was once afraid of seem miniscule by comparison. This is a mechanism, I believe, that allows individuals to grow as humans. The next time I travel, I will be more experienced and only be confronted by more unique novelties.
Overall, the Amazon rainforest is like a painting. It is entirely what I expected and more. It holds some of the most precious forms of life on Earth, and is as beautiful as it is perilous. At times, you will feel like the forces of nature such as the overbearing sun and humidity are relentless. But there will be times that you will be swinging on a rope swing before dusk over the tranquil, sun-kissed waters feeling entirely at peace. I entered this place uneasy, and unaware of the person I would be when I left, but I am forever grateful that I did.