What Really Happened (and Other Musings on Studying Abroad)

| March 5, 2014 | 0 Comments

This guest post by Jon Suh is a response to the Culture Shock post The Cock-of-the-Rock by Evan Kuras. To submit a guest post to Culture Shock, see our ‘Write for Us’ page.

Did you see that?

Kind of…?

There, through the branches! There are more branches. And through those branches there are leaves, and beyond those leaves there are more leaves. And if you squint really hard you can see an odd pigeon-shaped thing, a majority of its body obscured by the vegetation. My memory estimates about 10 or 15 birds, but who knows because they were hidden by the dim morning light. A muted orange against a muted forest. I was “lucky” enough to be present at the event described by my good friend Evan, but here’s my take on the story.

An actual video of the event taken by yours truly.

Normally I would never wake up at 3:30 and hike two hours in the rain just to see some lousy birds, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything. Luckily the cloud forest is an exotic-looking place and the giant flora is enough to keep me occupied. Or rather, the quick pace of our guide in the jet black morning along the slippery trail keeps me focused on not falling down the steep ravine to an anticlimactic death. I could imagine it now: “Boston University student missing. Trips down mountain, nowhere to be found. Must have really liked birds.”

When we finally reached our soggy destination in our soggy clothing, something much more amazing than a bunch of unfortunately-named birds was before us.

“Talk about Ecua-dorable!” Photo credit: Jon Suh

“Talk about Ecua-dorable!” Photo credit: Jon Suh

A sleeping juvenile Anolis aequatorialis! Arboreal lizards often sleep on the ends of leaves and twigs as a sort of makeshift alarm system. Anything climbing up your bedtime plant will cause the leaf to shake alerting you to its presence and giving you enough time to escape. Fortunately for me, a quick hand from above curtails this strategy. Two-hour sleep deprived hike in the rain: success.

I could ramble on about the biology of lizards for days, but hopefully you can see the absurdity of either situation: whether it’s going through such efforts to see some birds try to get it on, or validating such efforts just because you saw a lizard. As abnormal as this may seem to you normal folk, there’s a theory that this love of animals is ingrained in our nature. It sure seems that nearly all children have it. Then there are the anomalies like me and Evan who never seem to grow up in that respect, but we’re not alone. This is the same fascination that drives eco-tourism and why rich people will pay top dollar to go around the world just for a glimpse of their favorite species of bird.

Substitute “birds” with “lizards” and you have me: a weirdo who derives pleasure from catching reptiles and amphibians, or in more scientific terms, a wannabe herpetologist. I had a one track mind to see as many of these creatures as I could, but at some point along my personal journey to fill my real-life Pokedex, I made the even greater discovery that Ecuador doesn’t only have lizards. It has people too. So despite catching a handful of lizards later that day, the highlight of the trip ended up being when our guide sang folk music for us after dinner and told us the about the history of the reserve.

It became clear to me that the wildlife of Ecuador was inextricably linked to the people living there, and to ignore one for the other would severely diminish the experience of being abroad. So go! Go to a cloud forest, or wherever it is you want to go, and regardless of your interests, reptilian or human, don’t be blinded by tunnel vision. Keep an open eye and sooner or later you might realize that everything is connected.

Jon is Evan’s friend, aspiring herpetologist, and first-time Culture Shock guest writer. You can revisit his experiences in Ecuador at his blog: derpetologist.blogspot.com.

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Category: featured, HTC Abroad, Nature

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