Waking up at 6:00 am that morning was hard. Not because at that hour the sheets are dewy, or that you need to take a headlamp into the bathroom, or because you’re exhausted from the hike the night before. As soon as we woke up on our last day at Tiputini, our hearts broke, for we were leaving our family in the forest, and already missing the wholeness we had found in isolation. In the boat ride, we watch the morning sun sparkle on the river, the rays failing to access the river’s muddy secrets below. Sitting on the bow of the boat is the oldest guide at the Biodiversity Research Station, and as we ride, I marvel at the legacy of a gentle man who at seventy-two years old is as enchanted and enamored by the rainforest as we are. Mayer will retire soon, and although this trip is simply to see home for a week, it is evident in his youthful energy and enthusiasm that he will count down the days to the return ride, just for “una vez más.”
The magic of Tiputini lies not only the highest level of biodiversity in the world, or the silent seclusion from humankind, but in the effortless familiarity of the people. Between the staff and researchers, we adopted each other for the month, earned indigenous nicknames, and watched the sunrise together on the canopy tower. It is a goodness and grace none of us will ever want to forget.
I arrive home to Quito and am greeted by my grinning host mom, who calls me hija and hugs me with the genuine love a mother. My classmates and I go to class with our professor whose kind eyes twinkle as he laughs, and whose lectures are uniquely taught through pure passion for the world. Later that week we take a field trip with the BU program director, a mother-hen with her chicks, who sets us free to experience and love her country as she does.
I am reminded of World Civilization class in my freshman year of high school, in which we watched a documentary of two men who walked the Silk Road. The men came back sandy and scraggily, having walked the route and relied on the kindness of strangers along the way. I will never forget what one of the men said when they returned: “There are many bad people in the world, but most people are good.”
I have had the pleasure, good fortune, and incredible opportunity to experience this first-hand in the year 2016. Once arriving in Italy in January, I had never lived so far away from home, nor had I experienced meeting new people from a foreign country every day. At the end of Padova, I was so grateful and full by the compassion I had received, from double-cheek kisses of “alla prossima,” invitations to visit friends’ homes, and to the program director who held my hand as I leapt into the bay of Naples to pursue my career and study octopus cognition. In Naples, I fell in love with the golden city and its people, who epitomize the benevolence of Italians and who made me feel welcome when I was my most alone.
Upon arriving home, my parents tirelessly helped me organize the next leg of my travels while all they wanted was for me to have more time at home. At the end of the semester in Ecuador, I cannot express how thankful I am to my family, who have celebrated with me this year’s successes, and supported me when things felt impossible, which they often did. I am so excited to come home to New England Christmas, and begin my last semester at Boston University. I did not realize 2016 was going to be this impactful on my life, from achieving fluency in two new languages, experiencing bursting joy and numbing heartbreak in both loneliness and familiarity, all in originally strange places that I now hold close to my heart. This year I have been blessed to meet such loving and impassioned people, who shared their lives and cultures with me, proving first-hand that most of the world is good. So thank you to all who made my year what it was, something totally spectacular and oftentimes unexpected, and 100% worthwhile. I’m coming home, mom, and ready to start my next adventure.