Happy Birthday Tree Ferns

It's May 2nd 2014, the day I turn two decades old! What present do I give myself?

Tree ferns.

The plant in which pterodactyls like to hide.

But let me back up. Last night, the day after finishing my Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, after not nearly enough rest and relaxation in Cusco, I flew back to Ecuador. It was an evening flight to Lima and then to Quito, where I landed at 12:15 in the morning.

"Happy birthday," I told myself quietly as the Ecuadorian customs officer checked my suitcase.

It wasn't until an hour later that I arrived at my hostel's lobby. There, in the middle of the night, I pulled my extra luggage out of storage and rearranged my belongings. I wanted to leave all my wool garments, alpaca-themed gifts, and winter clothes in Quito. In the Amazon I would be needing quick-drying pants, long-sleeved shirts and plenty of socks -- plus my Birds of Ecuador book, of course!

Without showering or brushing my teeth, I stumbled into my assigned bunk bed in the eight-person dorm room. It was with great sorrow that I yanked myself from bed a mere three hours later. Juan Carlos, the driver from my next destination (a research station in the Amazon called Estación Científica Yasuní) was scheduled to pick me up at 6:30am.

I sat on the curb eating a grand birthday breakfast of peach yogurt, the kind which comes with a little plastic cap full of powdery frosted flakes and a two-piece miniature plastic spoon. Just the thing to ring in my second decade of life.

Juan Carlos showed up an hour late due to traffic, or because of the thermos of coffee he had brewed, or maybe just because that's still "on time" in Ecuador. I got the backseat because another volunteer was in the front.

During our twelve hour drive to the research station, I got to know the two friends who would keep me company for the next twenty days: the jovial Ecuadorian man, Juan Carlos, and the sarcastic Dutch girl, Renate. We played loud music, stopped for bathroom breaks, and ate a delicious lunch of fish grilled in leaves and jungle green tea in the Amazonian city of Coca.

Arriving at the RepSol oil company checkpoint reminded me of last September, when I first visited Yasuní National Park with my study abroad program. This journey was much the same.

Even the friendly mama dog was still there, begging for love as usual.

Juan Carlos, Renate and I wandered around the barely-existant settlement of Pompeya while we waited for the RepSol canoe and barge to take us and our truck across the Napo River. We attempted to deliver a box of medical supplies to a house of nuns, but nobody was home.

The RepSol motorized canoe docked at Pompeya.

As we arrived to the other side of the river, I noticed the gorgeous wall of tree-ferns you saw at the beginning of this post. I wasn't with family or even people I knew on my birthday, and I wouldn't be unwrapping any presents, but I soaked in those elegant tree ferns and gave them to myself as a gift.

We bumped along the gravel road for a couple hours. Juan Carlos stopped the car to cheerfully greet every Huaorani by name, reaching out to touch the children and clasping hands with the adults. He speaks fluent Huao-terero.

Finally we arrived at the research station, just in time for dinner and desert of grape jello. It sure wasn't my grandma's famous chocolate birthday cake, but it was a fabulous end to my twentieth May 2nd on Earth. What better way to celebrate a birthday than to enter the lungs of the planet, the largest jungle in the world, the home of jaguars and river dolphins, the Amazon Rainforest?

The five buildings of Estación Científica Yasuní, as seen from the back.

Estación Científica Yasuní seen from an overlooking cabin.

I hope we humans manage to curb our tendency toward destruction so this place will be around for many more birthdays to come.