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September-November 2011

The gem of South America.

Ecuador has, by most measures, the highest density of both biodviersity and landscapes on Earth. It's a truly remarkable display of variety crammed into a small, mountainous area, from jungle to snow.

I signed up to volunteer in a rural clinic in the Amazon fresh out of college. During my several months in the clinic, I both travelled extensively and started learning Spanish. I wasn't fluent upon leaving, however - that took another six months of watching Mexican films with subtitles a dozen times each.

What I was truly struck by was the vastness of the jungle, and the rate at which it's disappearing. The eastern jungle is being deforested rapidly, converted to lumber, to properties, to ugly civilization. Rivers are nearly all dammed up, and many are now completely dry, with their water going to soy plantations. If there's a single nation that needs environmental action now, it's Ecuador. It's also one of the most dangerous countries to be an environmental activist, with murders and kidnappings common. The future is bleak for the plants and animals of this unique place.

I lived with a family, and made many friends at my job. I felt like a local, eating rice and plaintains daily, swimming in rivers with piranhas, and trekking through the jungle in sneakers. The Quichua indigenous people of the Amazon fascinate me, and I respect them greatly for their survival abilities and their battle to save their land.

I haven't returned. I don't know if I will. Ecuador is a nation every traveller should wander, but it's here that both the planet's most epic places and man's most rampant greed for resources battle.

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