– Sam Wotipka
In the rainforest, wonder and amazement can give way to complete terror rather quickly.
The day had started off well enough. We had hiked along the Rio Zuñac for several hours, encountering the usual surprises offered by an eastern montane neotropical rainforest–colorful exotic birds, transparent-winged butterflies, orchids the size of a thumbnail, orchids resembling flies (copulatory mimicry, look that one up), orchids that can’t be found anywhere else on earth, plants growing on plants growing on plants (epiphytes, they’re called), and the like. Not a bad way to be spending spring term.
After a quick lunch that was interrupted by an anteater sighting–they’re endangered and quite rare down here–we had briefly begun to trek up a particularly precipitous slope of the Topo-Zuñac valley before deciding to turn back after finding that a recent landslide had taken a large chunk of our trail with it.
Our group was about halfway down the hill when we noticed that there was a substantial quantity of honey bees buzzing amongst us. We ran, some of us faster than others. But “Africanized” honey bees, as they turned out to be, are ultra-aggressive hybrids between the European honey bees that are common in North America and their African counterparts, and they are persistent little shits. They follwed us in swarms for more than three quarters of a mile. Between eight of us, we were stung somewhere around 70 to 80 times. I was only stung once, others weren’t quite as lucky. That honey bees die once they use their stinger provided some minimal consolation for our pain.
Sam is a junior studying English and Biology (he swears that the two are related). Currently, Sam is in Ecuador as part of the Neotropical Ecology program offered by the University of Oregon’s biology department. He is part of a group of 17 other UO students and they are learning about the rainforest–plants, animals, biodiversity, and all of that good stuff.