At home with the desert now, I am not the same person I was when I left. Never would I have ever thought that I could change in such a short amount of time. Since returning home, my bike has seen me more often, along with the books in the conservation and plant science section of the library. The mist of the Andes will forever hold me captive. The virgin forest and the fragrant smoke of the Quichua villages have taught me, more than ever before, about whom I am and what I can become.
Listening to the music that I had listened to while in Ecuador, I tried to relive the experience and to jog my memory. It was successful, along with the help of my journal, to remember the beautiful time in Ecuador, but was unsuccessful in the case of reliving the experience, as I was missing something: my new found best friends. I have never met more inspired and passionate youth. Their minds filled with ideas for change and action. Every conversation inspired. After returning one night, we discussed a hydro dam project that we had visited earlier that day. I later recorded. “These conversations on hydropower, renewable energy, sustainable resources, etc., are liberating because we are coming to learn and understand what is really going on, and once we are aware, there is only room for innovation and change.” It was invigorating to spend time with such eager hearts.
From painting river mud masks on each other’s faces to the rafting war on the Rio Jatunyacu. We learned and grew together. Not only the youth in our group, but also our wonderful trip leaders, Kristi and Maclaine. Both educated and inspired, they fostered an incredible group dynamic, while making us laugh each day. These eleven strangers changed my life, but these strangers are not strangers. They are motivators, educators, and friends.
We later traveled down in to the Amazon, where we stayed at a conservation lodge and saw a vast array of birds, culture, and last but not least: plants. Every morning here was ethereal, being awakened to the sound of jays, taking a deep breath of the vaporous jungle air, and drinking fresh blackberry juice. All enclosed in a landscape of palm, huasquila, hummingbirds, and hope.
We wore our rubber boots filled with water through the jungle while our guide, Saul, taught us about native plants. From suro-panga to cusco-panga to guayusa, the list goes on. Telling of their uses and providing insight on reforestation, harvesting, and maintaining a healthy ecosystem that provides food and for the medicinal needs of the Quichua people. Every day we learned multiple new plant and animal species. Through this, we also learned that the forest that had been teaching us so much had once been leveled for cattle grazing. This secondary forest, that we loved so dearly, bounced back because of the efforts of this lodge, and special grandfather tree that we encountered on one of our many hikes. The tree being one of the few that was not cut down for agriculture. It was a capsule of life, providing a home for many other tropical plant species, it was its own ecosystem, preserved during a time of strife, and later aiding in the process of reforestation. As Saul’s grandfather told us of this special tree, I couldn’t help but to feel hopeful and eager to participate in more conservation projects back home.
With the taste of fresh cacao on our tongues, we enjoyed every moment of our time spent in Ecuador. Every moment was just as liberating as the previous, inspiring us to implement the knowledge acquired. Whether it be starting an environmental club, changing daily habits, or planting a community garden. This experience has changed my perspective and has pumped a fresh dose of revolution in my heart.
A new version of me took a deep breath of the dry desert air as I got off the plane in Utah, an environment incomparable to the dewy and lush rainforest of the Amazon. Although they are opposites, our world landscapes are scenes of strife, change, and opportunity. These wildernesses have both nurtured me, and after this experience, they mean more to me now than ever. Sustainable Summer has taught me to see opportunity, to see the hope, and has guided me to see through the struggle and through to possibility.