The Galapagos is an ecosystem and geological site that all biologists dream to visit, along with nearly everyone interested in experiencing its unique beauty and confounding endemism. I had the opportunity to visit during the semester for three weeks studying marine biology; one week a cruise around the majority of the islands and two weeks living with a family and studying at the San Francisco/GAIAS campus on San Cristobal. While I never had the passion to go into marine biology studies I’m sure you can imagine how wonderful this course was and how it sparked my interest and formed a love for the ocean and its processes. The ocean is such an endless and enormous ecosystem, we haven’t even scratched the surface of truly understanding all it has to offer, along with the creatures that call it home. I have an enormous respect for the people who dedicate their lives to exploring our oceans and more importantly are working on fighting for its freedom and security against the fishing, oil, and dumping industries. I believe in our lifetime the ocean will see drastic changes...we already are. With overfishing, pollution, and a lack of control it is the hardest area of biology to maintain. People seem to think that because it is so big and things just “disappear” into it that it doesn’t feel the effects of human consumption. Living in the Galapagos I learned the reality of living so closely with the sea, the necessity of its habitants to rely on healthy resources and stock, and how issues thousands of miles away can effect places in front of your door. To spend any time in the Galapagos is a treat that not many people get to experience, getting to go back a second time was something even I couldn’t imagine. I know I will return someday to the islands but in how much time I don’t know, regardless it will forever hold a special place in my heart and strong ties to my spirituality and memories during the semester and after with my parents.
After my parents left I stayed with my Galapaganian family for a week longer and got to experience the solitude of the islands. One of the most amazing experiences I had was camping alone at Puerto Chino, a tranquil beach 45 minutes across the highlands from the main Puerto Baquero Marinez. For at least 14 hours I had the secluded beach to myself. I couldn’t help but think how this was the definition of solitude. Tent camping, alone, on a secluded beach, on the Galapagos Islands. It felt raw and powerful. There is something so spiritual about living with the sun and moon. At one point with the sun in front of me and full moon behind me I swear I felt the equator pass straight through my body and physics and creation flow through my veins. It makes you appreciate life for everything that it is. All beings involved and all experiences, good and bad, that have shaped it. But then again, what other choice do we have than to accept what is in front of us and appreciate this life? People get so caught up thinking we have to seize every moment because life is “short.” But I think we should appreciate it for reasons other than time. Life isn’t short, although it can be for some individuals, it can also be quite long, and its getting longer. 80+ years is a lot of time to make something of yourself and experience everything fully. Rather I think life is unexpected, and it is for this reason we must take chances. Surprise ourselves.
I decided to make the Galapagos it’s own blog because it is such a special place. Each day that passes on the islands I find myself feeling torn between feeling more connected and more secluded from the world. The biologist in me cant help but connect everything I see towards the basis of scientific theory and evolution. The philosopher in me finds solitude and a peaceful bliss at slipping away from the outside world and falls easily into island life. So far from family and what I’ve built my life around but so close to the land and myself. I have been blessed to be able to have visited the islands twice in a short amount of time, and have thus learned a lot about the ecosystem, people, and uncertain future of the archipelago. Many people don’t realize the challenges that face these geological gems. Growing populations and tourism exploits the resources and land that is so susceptible to degradation. Increased fishing, development, and demands of tourism challenges the islands purity and makes outside reliance a necessity. For the Galapagos and for all sacred areas of this world I urge people as citizens of the world to be conscious of their impact. Conservation is not just an idea, it must be an action. Changing our thoughts about sustainability is the first step but living a minimal impact lifestyle is crucial to saving these ecosystems for the future. Take responsibility of your waste, resource usage, and consumption. We are all responsible for protecting the worlds beauty. As for the Galapagos, if you visit, make it a point to ask where the food and water is coming from, what happens to the garbage, how fuel gets to the islands, what energy source fuels the electricity, ect. Awareness makes this issue real and aids by putting pressure on the organizations that control those resources but also responsibility on other tourists to realize the impact of enjoyment. I wrote this next paragraph during my last few days during the first time I was on the islands studying marine biology.
A bittersweet goodbye...
The Galapagos will be one of the hardest places I've ever had to leave, sadly the possibility of never returning seems much more realistic than any other destination I've given farewell too. Many places go in and out in your life but usually always I feel some pull that either the time I had was the time I needed or my life will certainly cross paths with it again. The Galapagos are another experience entirely, the magic of these islands pulls you in wondering if I ever would feel like a certain amount of time is sufficient. The future is very uncertain for many of the islands, tourism, overfishing, global warming... time will tell whether we have the capability of loving the earth over money and sacrificing greed for appreciation. Nevertheless we mustn't forget the power of the natural world, and as if we had any other choice, Mother Nature always wins.
So whether you are a mathematician, theorist, history buff, philosopher, coffee aficionado, dreamer, literary genius, student, daughter, husband, friend, biologist, reader, listener, believer, whatever, we are all part of the same world and must all work together to preserve what we have. Each and every type of person uses the world in one way or another that has a greater influence than you imagine. Be one. Embrace people, culture, love. Acknowledge differences but connect yourself with positivity and the world. Whether you want to believe it or not you are a child of the same planet as everyone else and must work with your brothers and sisters to keep what we have.
Imbaburu, Quilatoa, portal de la selva
From the highest mountains to the deepest valleys
As time would have it, the days go slow but the weeks are flying by. I’m officially a year older and the journey is nearly two months in!
After a lovely time on the coast we left the sunshine for some altitude and discovered our need to lighten our loads. We began the first days in Ibarra and hiked the local volcano Imbaburu. This was a great start to the backpacking because we left our sacks at our friend Estebans house and did the day hike feeling light. I love traveling through the land rather than just passing over it, I find myself noticing everything I’ve learned over the semester. As I sat high in the Andes watching clouds pass rapidly overhead I remembered the lectures we had on the climatic processes which make the Andes such a unique mountain range. You can watch the clouds from the east heading towards the coast and dropping moisture over the cordilleras. It is really a beautiful sight.
Traveling in Ecuador is an outdoor enthusiasts dream, I feel so connected with the land. Just as each place differs in its ecosystems my feelings to each differs in my molecules. I feel connected to each place uniquely but each with a genuine fondness. Like flavors while cooking I cant even choose which one I love indulging in most, because I honestly feel that I love them all. And it just keeps getting better, or I am learning to appreciate and see things more clearly with every passing day. Each day is a chance to grow and discover yourself and the world. I have fallen for the thick overgrown vegetation of the jungle, the drastic rise and fall of the Andes, the uniqueness and hidden secrets of the cities, the buen ondas of the coast, and the majestic power of the Galapagos. I feel so fortunate to have had these experiences and hope everyone can find peace in the place they are living like I have found in Ecuador. Whether it be pondering life on a tube on the rio arajuno in the amazon, creation on the rim of an extinct volcano, freedom while paragliding over the rolling Andean hills, or the worlds forces from the forested highlands of San Cristobal Island, life is good. amazing. fantastic. real. beautiful. exciting. I realize I am extremely lucky at this point in my life but I also feel luck has little to do with it. Every point we are at in our lives is the result of choices and experiences that have lead us here. That being said I have a lot of people to thank for me getting to this point in my life, mainly my family and most importantly my parents...so, thank you!
After Imbaburu and amazing hospitality we gathered the infamous A Manta Ray Kutner aka Kubes, Chelsea’s friend from Toronto, Canada and these three ladies and I set up camp just in front of lake Quilatoa. We were inside the crater lake that was formed 800 years ago from a sunken volcano. Beauty is limitless in this environment, so raw and expansive. We hiked to the next town through the Ecuadorian Andes. I discovered the harshness of living /surviving in this area. The Andes, which I have come to know as the civilized wilderness are so vast and humbling there is no wonder why the Incas and Canaris worshiped them as gods. Do not be fooled that just because the land is inhabited that it is controlled. The crevices and mountains rise and fall like waves during a tsunami, peaking out among the clouds like Poseidon in a storm. There is no question why the religions of the Andes built empires towards the sun and moon. The power of the land is unlike anything I have known, a humbling beauty brings you to imagine the height of these civilizations conquering the madre tierra.
We continue to met and gather amazing friends through all of these experiences, from a contact through a friend we set out to Portal de la Selva in between Puyo and Macas to stay with a Shaman and work the land for a few days. Appreciating early nights and good laughs. Before I knew it I was leaving the girls behind to meet my parents in Quito for a whole new way of experiencing Ecuador. Having my parents here in Ecuador was a bit surreal considering the time that has had to pass in order for them to have already come and gone. A whole semester and then a month of traveling and two lovely weeks getting a taste of the richer side of life. We had amazing food, a non-stop tempo of adventure, and new experiences for all of us. It was amazing getting to show my parents my life here in Ecuador and show them the many reasons why I love this country. In just two weeks they saw the capital city, the cloudforest, street markets, the jungle, a futbol loving culture, lush green valleys of Banos, volcan Cotopaxi, and two islands of the Galapagos. Through windy roads, busy streets, and unfinished highways we managed to successfully rent and return a rental car and see the majority of the countries ecosystems in two weeks. It is special to be able to share experiences with loved ones, put faces with names, and be with family when its been so long.
Having to say goodbye to my parents felt too quick, just as they had arrived we were hugging at the airport in San Cristobal saying goodbye for the next few months. I will miss you guys until I return back to the states, but am so happy to have shared a wonderful two weeks showing you my passion for this journey. Thank you for supporting me through it!
Adventures with the Parents
The past month goodbyes have gotten to be very frequent. It is weird getting used to leaving people and places, it is very much a part of life moving on and heading off but it does take its toll. My first goodbye was to Quito and all of my friends from the semester. As my parents and I left on the airplane towards Baltra, Galapagos I was gifted with the view of many of Ecuador's’ volcanoes peeking out from the clouds... Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Antisana, Cayambe. It felt like a proper goodbye, and just as I leave a good friend I left Quito feeling thankful for all of the memories, a heavy heart for leaving, and filled with hope to return again soon. Thank you to all who made the semester such a wonderful experience and are the reason that Quito felt like home the past 7 months. Hasta la proxima vez!
My last big goodbye was to Ecuador, I have officially crossed the border and left my host country of 8 months. I have to admit I was a little nervous, a little reluctant, but of course excited. I can’t wait to see what else awaits me traveling through South America.
An incredible part of my experiences here in Ecuador and now traveling has been being surrounded by brilliant young minds. I am amazed at the amount of young potential here and friends of my generation making something of themselves and a difference in the world. I feel inspired by the people I am meeting and excited to see where life takes them. What I also have come to learn by living in a foreign country is that no one is going to make things happen for you, it is up to you to take chances, makes changes, and be bold. A favorite latin quote of mine reads “Fortune favors the bold” Sometimes you have to go against the feeling of comfort and let yourself be afraid. You are not going to get anywhere without taking the first step, why not make it a leap? Go big. Scare yourself every once in a while. Keep life interesting, when you look back on your life, whether short or long term let it be filled with memories that make you smile and feel content. Appreciate who you were. If you don’t like what you’re doing, chances are the world doesn’t either. Think globally, act locally. Think positively, act confidently.
During the last month I have gotten only a little herping in but lots of amphibian conversation and have finished the first draft of my grant with comments from all of the collaborators. By August I will have completed the proposal and only have the application details left. The herping I did was at the Itamandi lodge along the Rio Arajuno near Tena, Ecuador. It was amazing what we found in two nights. Three different species of snakes, a type if vine snake, a viper, and a Dipsas. I also found many species of Hylidae and Craugastoridae frogs.
I made it back to the mainland of Ecuador after an incredible time in the Galapagos (which is in the next post!) to meet my friends Chelsea and Amanda in Montanita, Ecuador. We celebrated the weekend with birthdays and the world cup final, which was lots of fiesta and very little productivity. Before allowing ourselves to get to sucked into the coast I left to the call of the mountains. Despite the amazing experiences I have in the sunshine, sand and sea my heart always urns to return to the mountains and this was a welcomed change of pace. Chelsea and I had the idea to hike the three day trek from Achupallas, Ecuador to Ingapirca, the Incan and Canari ruins worshiping the sun and moon. Whether it be our knack for taking wrong trails, losing all forms of communication (both of us lost our phones), or strong desire to follow our guts than our heads we couldnt confidently say we were on the right trail and backtracked 18 kilometers with about 25 kilos each into town to hitch a ride to the ruins. There we were greeted with free camping and the entrance of a beautiful culture. Ingapirca has two temples, one dedicated to the moon, originally from the Canari civilization, and the other a temple of the sun, worshiped by the Incans. It is incredible the accuracy and precision that these cultures had with everything they did. Even with the age of technology that we are in today I would still trust the Incans in matters of time, astrology, and cultivation. Learning about the cultures has been the first time I really identify with a defined belief, it is amazing to feel passion for spirituality. I am eager to delve more into this way of life and living and know that Peru will be a wonderful place to find out more.
After Ingapirca we skipped around Southern Ecuador, trying to get a feel for the last bit of the country that I hadn’t known. Two days in Cuenca, which is a beautiful colonial city that I could see my parents living in and three days in Vilcabamba, the valley of longevity. This was a magical few days, hiking, yoga, eating healthy, and as Chelsea would say “having the best shower in South America yet.” It is easy to see why people are drawn to this part of Ecuador, there is an unspoken pull towards the land and lifestyle. Our last night we spent camping in Podocarpus National Park, in between Loja and Vilcabamba, were I was able to talk with the park rangers about amphibians, overall ecosystem characteristics, protected area politics, and even got a group of three biologists, and three adventurers to come herping for a night! Although I believe the area was a little too high and cold for most species I did find two of the same species of Pristimantis.
It seems weird to wrap up 2 months of my journey into a few paragraphs and even as I now load this page sitting on the beaches of Peru, I still feel a longing to be in Ecuador and a sadness that it will be a while until I return. There is something about that country that will always have my heart.
I cannot wait to aid in the push for amphibian and overall conservation issues in the third highest biodiverse ecosystems in the world. Ecuador, te amo.
Reunited and south bound
The conversations that come up while traveling are incredible, before you know it you can be discussing life’s biggest secrets with someone you’ve met 15 minutes ago. I’ve come to discover that everything happens faster when you’re traveling; creating friends, learning lessons, losing money, falling in love, making memories, discovering peoples stories, time. Thats why when you find a connection that you know will last, whether it be with a person, place, or thing, it makes it that much more special. What has been special for me these last few weeks of traveling was to have two familiar faces join me here in Ecuador. Two of the loveliest ladies I know, some of my best friends from Colorado State University Chelsea Samani and Tara Stitzlien arrived in Quito to begin the joint chapter of our journey together. Chelsea recently graduated from CSU with a degree in psychology and a passion in neuroscience and will be traveling with me through South America until November. Tara graduated in December with a degree in Biology and has continued her love of traveling and exploration after college living in Driggs, Idaho and then a journey through Chile and Bolivia before coming to Ecuador. By the first day she was here we had moved her flight back a month later than what was planned. With two beautiful gals at my side and a world of possibilities we set out to the coast after spending the first two days in Quito staying with a good friend of mine and getting to enjoy each others company in Cumbaya.
We set out for Canoa. We knew from the moment we arrived that Canoa would be an adventure. An early bus ride lead us to two immediate friends and a week full of experiences. The first afternoon we spent swimming in the ocean and just as the waves were brewing from the oncoming storm I felt my excitement brewing in my stomach. Alligator bites with tranquilo vibes and 6 days later we quickly realized the small town coastal life has an adaptability that soon has you wondering whether its been two days or two hours. It’ll have you questioning your decision to leave before you’ve even decided when you are leaving. If you're lucky, you might accumulate what you've lost and break even. The days pass easy, each with a taste of excitement dosed in laughter. Legs were turned purple, travelers into gypsies, and lessons into games. The second night I painted a heart on my inner arm and as we were leaving I noticed it had faded to specs of red, perhaps we all did leave a little part of our hearts in Canoa. Or perhaps, we leave a little bit of ourselves everywhere we go and this was no exception. Except for the few who can call Canoa home this beautiful ridge lined paradise is a fleeting love affair in between many journeys. By Friday of that week we decided it was time to move on and we left for the town of Tabuga, just 45 minutes north. We spent three beautiful days on my favorite beach, which I had been shown during the semester by my professors. Tabuga is the town were the Ceiba Foundation has a Dry Forest Reserve called Lalo Loor. We meet some local fishermen who gave us a ride to the beach and we took some time to enjoy the scenery, the sunset, and the solitude. That night the local fishermen came back from their catch at about 10 o’clock and gave us 4 langostinas and 5 fish. We roasted them over our already burning fire and indulged on the fresh seafood. It was the first time I had gutted a fish! I find that with the more experiences I have through traveling the harder its getting to find anything “weird.” I fell asleep that night with a full belly, the moon above me, and the songs of tree frogs and toads singing in my ears.
The scenery of the dry forest is breathtaking, the forest extends all the way to the coast line and drastically drops into the ocean in places. On the two night walks I took I ran into four species of frog, two toads, two snakes, and looooots of lizards. I encountered a member of the Viperidae family, Bothrops asper, the turnip-tailed gecko in Canoa, Thecadactylus rapicauda, the common cane toad Rhinella marina, one more species of Bufonidae and two species of Pristimantis, which is a large genus of frogs that is still being discovered here in Ecuador. Species highlight:
Thecadactylus rapicauda and all geckos have amazing adaptations that set them apart from other members of the lizard order. Geckos do not have eyelids, so they have adapted to licking their eyeballs to keep them moist as well as clean them from particles. If you encounter a gecko watch it for a moment and you will notice this behavior. Another adaptation that geckos have is the use of van der Waal forces, which allows them to stick or cling to any surface and by as little as a toe. The setae (hair-like structure) on their footpads creates an intermolecular bond with the molecules of the surface and causes the molecules to cohere (AH Science Dictionary). This discovery has lead to the research into using this technology for humans.
Rhinella marina, is an extremely common amphibian to encounter in Central and South America. The common name, cane toad, comes from the history of introducing this species on cane sugar plantations to eradicate the herbivorous insects and other pest animals. The cane toad is known for its large size, opportunistic feeding, and wide distribution.
After highlighting a few of these species I’d like to take this time to describe the importance of the ecosystem they inhabit, the dry forest. El bosque seco is the newest addition to the worlds “hot-spots.” This is categorized as an ecosystem with high amounts of biodiversity which is threatened by humans. The threats facing the Manabi coast of Ecuador are daunting and rapidly increasing; vulnerability, water quality, deforestation, and development are all causing this incredible ecosystem to disappear. The issues specifically affecting amphibians and reptiles are habitat turned to pasture, river pollution, road kill, and a lack of local understanding of their ecological contributions. Often amphibians and reptiles are regarded as dangerous and harmful creatures.
My goal is to change this way of thinking and the start of this is by talking to people about amphibians and of course I am always eager to talk about herps! When I do I am rewarded with stories, confessions, and a chance to spread the knowledge. While talking to an Argentinian friend we began the conversation of amphibians. During the conversation he asked me whether toads were males and frogs were females. This struck me as the perfect example of why more knowledge needs to be spread to travelers and locals. I explained the difference between frogs and toads, the reliance they have or don’t have on water, and the different reliances on the ecosystem that each has. One really interesting thing he told me is that at his farm in Cordova, Argentina (where I hope to go volunteer at!) there has been a switch from seeing an abundance of frogs to only toads. This is extremely predictive to possible land uses, toads are less susceptible to environmental changes because their skin is not as permeable, but instead much drier and thicker.
These last two weeks have been the beginning of a big future. Us three gals have been brainstorming and collaborating to plan for a future that involves returning to Ecuador and incorporating all of our interests and specialties. Hopefully returning the following year with a research grant, the process continues connecting with contacts, writing the proposal, and filling out applications! I underestimated the scarcity of internet and time while traveling but am learning how to dedicate the appropriate effort to ensuring I can fulfill amphibian conservation while fully experiencing the life of a mochilera. The next part of our journey is headed to the Andes for hiking, crater lakes, breathtaking valleys, and working on the land. With good friends and good fortune I can't wait to see where the adventure takes us.
Life here in Ecuador has been amazing, I have been learning and discovering everything there is to know about the biology, ecology, culture, and people here. I can't believe how fast the semester went...let alone my undergraduate career! Time really does keep getting faster as you grow older. This semester has ignited my passion for learning and shown me what I want to dedicate my life to. I am so passionate about staying here in Ecuador and studying amphibian biology while incorporating the topics of conservation, sustainable use, and local education. Traveling really does bring the world together, I have made amazing friends and incredible memories over the past 5 months, and I am excited to see where the next 5 months take me. Now, the journey of becoming an explorer and feeling the freedom of a graduate begins...!
My first week as a conservation biologist:
After spending the previous day with my friend Nina in the visa office waiting 6 hours, only to have a 10 minute meeting and an exchanging of numbers (who knew all you needed was a whatsapp account to get a visa extended?) I was ready to leave the concrete jungle for some fresh air and green landscape.
First stop, Mashpi Reserve. This is a 1200 hectare privately owned protected area at the heart of the larger municipality of the Mashpi area. I left for Mashpi early Wednesday morning with members of the Tropical Herping team to photograph a red-tailed coral snake. While the photos were being taken I spent the day pondering life and practicing a little yoga in front of a waterfall. I was deep in thought planning and dreaming about the future, smiling about the past, but most importantly appreciating the moment. I began to understand while its important to strive for the future and remember the past, you can't get stuck living in them. The strongest memories come from losing yourself to the moment and being content with the here and now. Take the time to let your senses feel your surroundings. Get lost in thought. Sit and think, but think the thoughts that are worth your time. Don't loose minutes over possessions you don't have, people you can't change, and circumstances beyond your control. Focus on what is in front of you and put your effort into things you can make a difference in. Be content. But never lose the excitement for adventure. And then go look for frogs and snakes...
So after the day passed I planned to get a ride into the town of Mashpi to stay at a local chocolate farm. But it turned out I would be staying at the reserve a little longer...Carlos, the head biologist and friend of Tropical Herping informed me that the town was about an hour and a half away from the reserve, in the opposite direction than how my friends were returning to Quito, and the last shuttle had left about 45 minutes ago. Looks like my plan to meet my friends at the finca would be postponed until tomorrow. No problem, I would take the 9:00 bus out and I was lucky enough to be offered accommodation in the biological station in the reserve. It also happened that this was the night he would be giving a presentation on the projects he had conducted and currently worked on throughout his four years as the biologist there! What appeared to be a stranding was slowly turning into a blessing in disguise...
After learning about the diversity and potential within the reserve I woke up the next morning after a night of rain, lots of rain. 8 hours of downpour had apparently caused three landslides in between where I was and the town, blocking access out of the reserve and into Mashpi. Besides this delaying my arrival at the farm and causing my friends to think I had gone missing (I'm sorry!) I had the day to explore the beautiful area :) I helped out in the morning at the Centro de Vida, which is a butterfly reserve with a full breeding program and research center. I learned the process of starting and maintaing the populations and spent the morning transferring newly hatched caterpillars onto designated plants to grow and mature. Spending the day at Mashpi also provided time to discuss my ideas for the grant with Carlos, who would be an affiliate of the project, and brainstorm the direction of the proposal. Around 5 that afternoon I said a final goodbye to what would be a hopeful return and was at last on my way to Mashpi Chocolate Artesanal!
Winding through dense cloudforest is an incredible site. The rolling hills display every color of green and are a mosaic of farmland and natural forest. The three local ladies along in the ride advised me of my stop and I walked up the beautiful road towards Mashpi Shungo, and just in time to eat chocolate bananas and spend a last night with my friends before they headed out to Banos. My time at the chocolate farm was an inspiring and possibly life deciding event. I fell in love with the area and the lifestyle. Everything they eat is within 50 km of the farm and in the open kitchen and living room swings hammocks and book shelves that look out to the beautiful landscape underneath. I was able to spend the nights discussing conservation and sustainable use with Alejandro and playing and watching futbol with Augustina and Vanne, the ladies in charge of the chocolate making. These ladies along with 15 other teams from around the area travel 2+ hours every Saturday to play futbol matches. On Saturday we fit 15 people in the pick-up, got turned around 4 times due to closed roads, and got soaked with rain in the back of the truck during the downfall on the way home. It was a lovely afternoon and a beautiful experience. That night I was lucky enough to celebrate the birthday of a visiting friend and we had montons of carne and pork asada, vegetables, salad, and red wine all paired with interesting people and good conversation. I left early Sunday morning on the ranchero out of town, knowing that I will be back to further my relationship with the town and biology of the surrounding area.
Now for the herp report!! My amphibian findings: Alejandro and I set out for some Friday night herping around the farm and along the river of Mashpi, until about 2:00am listening and identifying what we could. We found an incredible amount of beautiful herp species, including a glassfrog, many species of Hylidae, Pristimantis (family Craugastoridae), Bufonidae, and Plethodontidae, which is the family of Anolis lizards. It was a successful herping trip and the area was breathtakingly gorgeous and natural! Filled with a restored tilapia pond which now served as great amphibian habitat, dense forest in between plots of land use, and overgrown river banks teeming with wildlife. After talking with Alejandro, who is one of the most innovative and passionate conservationists I have had the pleasure of meeting, I understand the opportunity to research and discover the amphibian diversity within Mashpi and share that knowledge with the locals. My future project could be a part of a large scale sustainable use plan implemented for the surrounding areas within the Pinchicha province. The idea is to make Mashpi and the neighboring towns a model forest for sustainable agriculture, conservation, and community tourism. I cannot wait to return and get started on these projects!