Toot-toot-too-too-too-too. A Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl whistles away from the understory of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. Fifty-three meters above, we lean over the edge of the observation tower and watch a glowing ball of orange rise from the horizon. Mist shrouds miles of unending forest canopy in every direction. Monkeys howl at each other, ants parade through the trunk-sized tree limbs, and a silky tarantula scuttles past. Crickets and insects chirp, in crescendo with the rising sun, and a thick smell of leaves, rain, and wood clings to us with the humid morning air.

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Tiputini Biodiversity Station is home to more birds, reptiles, plants, and amphibians than perhaps anywhere, and a National Geographic photographers on a quest for the world’s most biodiverse places called it the most amazing place on planet earth. Adjacent to Yasuni National Park, this research station run by USFQ (my Ecuadorian university) is a full day’s journey from Ecuador’s capital. A half hour plane ride from Quito to the small town of Coca on the banks of Rio Napo, followed by a two hour boat trip, takes us to a small road through an oil development. A two hour bus ride through the jungles takes us to the Tiputini River, the boundary of Parque Nacional Yasuni, and from there it takes several more hours of boating down the lush Tiputini River.

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We watched otters in the river, turtles on the banks, and macaws in the trees. Tiputini research station is a cluster of cabins, a research lab, and dining hall tucked amongst the trees along the river bank. As the forest turned black and the sky filled with stars, we fell asleep to the symphony of insects and birds.

Saturday got off to a good start. After a delicious breakfast, we split into smaller into smaller groups; nine of us joined our guide Ramiro and headed off through the rainforest. We found biting ants, baby snakes, and ants that taste like lemons. We tasted plants that turned our tongues blue and tattooed ourselves with strange fruits. We listened to guans and toucans, watched howler monkeys and Hoatzins, and slipped and slid our way from one amazing discovery to the next.

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The afternoon proved equally amazing, with a trip to the canopy bridges. Sitting atop the amazon, we watched birds, monkeys, lizards, and insects make their way through the canopy, and watched the orange sun sink to the horizon.

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Sunday morning Christian, Alden, Christopher, and I headed off through the darkness of the jungle at 4:30am. Atop the 50-meter observation tower by 5, we watched the sun rise and headed back to camp for a 6:30 breakfast.

Our group with Ramiro returned to the tower later in the morning. We saw between 60 and 70 species of birds, some monkeys, and insects. On our hike back to camp, an adorable Paca (a small rodent) scurried past us. We learned about the many medicinal uses of rainforest vegetation.

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I’ll get around to finishing the rest of the post in a few days, but for now here are some photos of finger-sized monkeys, creatures found during our night hike, and the amazing view during the flight home!

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