The first week was spent camping in rainforest deep in the Amazon Basin to the east of Ecuador – an area that holds world records for biodiversity. The objective was to contribute to conservation work and measure levels of biodiversity in a protected area of pristine rainforest, in order to help the local Sani community build ecotourism rather than sell out to oil exploration.
The second week was spent on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos, where the group took part in a series of lectures and exciting trips to gain an understanding of the ecology of the Galapagos Islands and their iconic wildlife.
Our first day in the country was spent traveling from Quito over the Andes and into the Amazon Basin, which entailed eight hours by bus, a further three hours up the mighty Napo River (a tributary of the Amazon, which was over 1km wide, despite being about 3,000 miles from its mouth) and an hour’s paddle in canoes to get to our campsite.
During our week in the rainforest, the students were split into four groups and contributed to surveys of birds, large mammals, herpetology, vegetation and fish.
There was also a series of excellent lectures from the inspiring scientific team. Much of the work involved travelling in boats to various trails and we saw some wonderful wildlife including giant otter, caiman, five species of monkey and several snake species.
The students also completed a superb wilderness first aid course, led by the expedition medic, Laura Jones. This involved rescuing Operation Manager, Freddy Herrera, from a swamp/river after he had “electrocuted” himself while electrofishing. Jenn Westermann and Amelia Marriott jumped into caiman/anaconda/piranha-infested waters with little hesitation.
The environment was incredible. Our jungle camp was beautiful and the lack of light pollution meant that we saw some magical night skies. We also spent a wonderful day amongst the Sani Community after spending half a day trying to learn someting of their Kichwa language. We were able to try their food, learn about their crops and way of life and understand more about the insidious tactics of oil companies to insinuate themselves into communities, which they were bravely resisting.
We then travelled back to Quito and flew to the Galapagos Islands. Here, amongst other things, we visited the famous Tortuga Bay to see the marine iguanas, El Chato Reserve to see giant tortoises and lava tunnels, spent a day diving, snorkelled and sea kayaked in the mangroves between Santa Cruz and Baltra, and contributed to a forest regeneration programme by potting and planting seedlings of the very rare and endemic scalesia tree.
Working with knowledgeable and dynamic scientists in two beautiful and remote locations was hugely inspiring. Their leadership and example, together with the wildlife and beautiful environments we saw, will, I hope, live long in the memories of all those who took part in the expedition. And I hope that a new generation of Salopians will be inspired to travel off the beaten path and love travel and the wonders of nature in equal measure. I hope they have also learned a lot about themselves.