Journey to Villa Carmen

Villa Carmen

08 September 2018

Cocha Cashu is now a memory. We departed early this morning to head down the Madre de Dios river. This has been an invaluable experience that I feel truly grateful for. I have been dreaming of being a field wildlife biologist and this past week, I’ve been able to live this dream. The thrill of constant alertness and mindfulness, waiting for the crashing of palm trees to discover a primate species. The distant barks of Ateles chamek (spider monkey)that I trace like a detective makes me feel alive. Observing the various species of primates was a fascinating experience that I cannot believe I had the opportunity to partake in. When we arrived to the station, it seemed like we were a nuisance to to the researchers. By the time we departed, I felt more like a researcher. The opportunities to ask researchers questions and bounce ideas off of each other helped to build confidence as a scientist starting out.

It’s amazing how different the temperature varies from morning to the afternoon. In the morning, the fog rolls off over the river mysteriously, enveloping our canoe in a blanket. In the afternoon, the sun beats down, absorbing its energy into the sand and radiating out as I step onto the river bank, once submerged under the Madre de Dios.

We originally planned on stopping to set up camp at Limonal but we all decided to continue since we arrived around 1 pm. Our trip continued for another three to four hours and we were going to camp on the beach. Around 5 pm, we found a beautiful little resort along the river that we were able to set up camp at. The host told us that we could not tell his boss we stayed there but allowed us to pay 10 sols per tent to sleep on the grounds, far above the river. We pitched the tents outside among the flower beds and had a nice dinner in the kitchen. I am officially a Cashu nut!!

After dinner, I went to my tent to go to sleep. I was extremely tired and needed some time alone. Tomorrow we have a long day on the river followed by our bus ride to Villa Carmen.

                            Etlingera elatior (Ginger)


10 September 2018 Villa Carmen

I am feeling rejuvenated this morning! After our arrival on land yesterday, the class stayed at the hostel along the river and shared some well earned cold beers together. A few of us woke up early and met with Ursula and Jennifer to do some bird watching. We set out around 6 am around the small lake and witnessed a plethora of bird species from woodpeckers to wood creepers, piping guans and there is no lack of predatory birds.

Crested oropendula nests


Plant propagation at Villa Carmen

Later on the class went on a guided walk to learn about Villa Carmen and the medicinal plants harvested and grown there. The land was previously owned by an agronomist that worked for the government. Conservation and sustainability efforts were eventually implemented. Our guide worked for the Amazon Conservation Association, who purchased the property. The ringing of Cicadas was intense in the medicinal garden and vibrated throughout the group and into the surrounding forest. The guide went on to tell us that he obtained his knowledge of medicinal plants from a native person who knew over 300 species. He shared with us that medicines such as penicillin was discovered in the tropics. 

River swim at Villa Carmen

11 September 2018

We have departed from Villa Carmen and we are on the road to Wayqecha Biological field station. The Amazon basin is a special place. I can see the differences in varying layers of vegetation and I know we are gaining altitude when I begin to observe giant tree ferns. Along the narrow dirt road, small waterfalls cascade down the steep rocks, giving way to a lush green under story. Soon we entered the land of Rupicola peruvianus, the Andean cock-of-the-rock and Peru’s national bird. These birds are a gorgeous and attractive bright red color. On the way down, the lek was closed off to the public but upon our return from Cocha Cashu, we were allowed–in groups of five–to silently descend the staircase to observe the birds in action. It feels like another lifetime that we ventured down into the Amazon basin. I feel as if I am returning as a new person with curiosity, excitement and burning passion.

Canopy walk at Wayqecha

Tips for Application and Preparation!

It’s time to start applying for winter study abroad trips, with an application deadline of May 15th, so here’s some application tips! If you’ve already applied for Summer, Early Fall, or Autumn programs, I have preparation tips for you as well!


  • Start your research early! Think about areas of the world you’re interested in going to, and topics that’d be relevant to your major–but keep an open mind. Studying abroad is all about stretching your mind and horizons, so don’t be hesitant to apply to a program that might not directly tie into your major!
  • Stalk the UW Study Abroad “now accepting applications” page. Not all programs get posted at once, so check back and you might see more show up that could be interesting to you!
  • Choose the programs you apply to wisely. You get to apply to up to three programs, so I’d highly recommend using all three of those applications! Yes, it means more writing, but some programs are pretty competitive, and if you’re set on studying abroad in a certain time frame (like I was, my schedule was pretty full and early fall 2018 was really the only chance I’d get!), definitely use all three.
  • Apply for scholarships! Scholarships can make a massive difference in affordability, but start looking early as some close at the beginning of the year! UW’s Study Abroad website has a list of scholarships that can be used for study abroad listed here: Also, there’s a box you can check during the application process that automatically makes you eligible for the UW Plan to Go scholarship that awards up to $2,500. In addition, if you are a UW Bothell student, you can apply to the UW Bothell Study Abroad Scholarship that, if you earn it, can reimburse you for airfare costs (which financial aid can’t cover!). In return, you commit to promote study abroad in various ways on campus.


  • The nitty gritty. So you’ve been accepted to a program! Congrats! First things first, get a passport early if you need to. It takes forever for them to process and you don’t want to get stuck paying the expediting fee.
  • Start searching for flights. You know know your destination country and arrival date, so start looking for flight deals. They fluctuate significantly, and getting a grasp on what’s a good price will help you decide when to buy. Also, watch layover times! Most international flights will have layovers in airports which is fine, but make sure you leave at least 2 hrs between flights so that you have time to get from one terminal to another! Missing a flight is no fun. When it’s a layover after entering a country, if you aren’t staying in the international terminal you’ll have to go through customs–so leave extra time for that. For example, on my way to Chile I went Seattle –> LA –> Santiago and didn’t have to go through customs until we landed in Chile. However, on my way home I went Santiago –> Lima –> LA –> Seattle. Entering Lima I didn’t go through customs since I stayed in the international terminal, BUT entering LA I DID have to go through customs since I was moving from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. Just a point I got confused about and thought I’d try to help you guys with! Hope that makes sense.
  • Shop second-hand and sales. If you need any particular clothes for your trip, start looking early so that you can try to find deals at thrift stores or hit a sale for big ticket items, including luggage if you need to buy!
  • Make a packing list. This helps you make sure you don’t miss anything and helps you plan. Some key items that I’d recommend bringing that are a bit out of the ordinary are:
    • a portable battery (to charge your phone on the go, especially if you’re planning on taking pictures!)
    • a daypack/small backpack for daily activities. You don’t want to lug anything to big, but there will be things you’ll want with you on the daily like a water bottle (soooooo important) and a notebook and pen!
    • money belt to keep things safe (especially if you have to keep your passport on you at all times). Personally, I went a little different and bought a running belt, since I found it much more comfortable. It still fit my phone, passport, and some money with no problems. I used this one, which works great since it has a zipper (there’s a version without, watch out!) and you can have the zipper on the outside for access, or “flip” it inside for more security.
    • mini duct tape. You never know when you’ll need it.
  • Practice pack! When you get closer to the departure date, collect all your things you’re bringing and do a trial run packing. This way, you can make sure 1) everything fits and 2) you’re within the weight limit. Usually the weight limit for international flight checked bags is 50 lbs, but check for your specific airlines. And don’t push the limit on the way there–you’ll definitely buy souvenirs and you’ll want space for that!

That’s all the advice I can think of for now, but feel free to leave a comment with any questions! I’d love to help answer them 🙂

Chile North to South: Visiting Universities in Santiago

Last August and September I visited Chile as part of a UW Study Abroad Exploration Seminar. It’s taken me awhile to get my experiences written up, but here’s a bit about the beginning of my trip.

I arrived at the Seattle airport at 3am, checked my bags, and made my way through security. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so nervous and also excited for anything in my life. Not only was this my first time traveling to another country, I was about to spend a month in a country with twenty-one strangers and a population whose language I barely speak. Despite my nerves, I was also very excited. An eternity of a plane ride later, I landed in Santiago and met up with the group in the airport, and the trip began!

Hotel Diego De Velazquez

Our hotel had very comfortable accommodations, with spacious rooms housing about 3-4 of our group in each room. I shared with two other girls, and we ended up staying up late often talking about the events of the day and attempting to journal all the things we wanted to remember.

Let me give you a basic overview of how each day went:

Morning: Departed the hotel to start the day’s activities, usually starting with more scholastic activities such as visiting universities, touring hospitals, and listening to short lectures from people working in healthcare

Afternoon: Each lunch somewhere as a group and get the chance to sample the local cuisine, then proceeding with the group on more “touristy” activities like visiting museums, landmarks, and shopping areas

Evenings: Return to the hotel, usually had individual free time to hangout in smaller groups, go get dinner where we’d like, or work on laundry or journaling or sleeping!

University Andres Bello (UNAB)

One of the simulation rooms inside UNAB


On the first full day in Santiago we started the morning at a university, where we learned about the basic structure of the healthcare system in Chile and also got to tour their “simulation hospital,” where they have situational setups of various departments of health. The instructors determine the disease, and students properly treat it, practicing their skills on a high-tech mannequins


The very top of the hill has a beautiful viewpoint where you can get a 360º view of the city

The group at Santa Lucia!

Following our tour at Andres Bello, we visited a Catholic university in the area, where we got to hear from a young doctor who has worked in the army and extensively in rural areas of Chile. After these informative destinations, we continued into the center of Santiago to climb Santa Lucia Hill. This small hill marks the spot where Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago in 1541. The lookout was landscaped into a public park in the late 19th century to memorialize the historical event.

We ended the day on a delicious note with a group dinner at a delightful restaurant near Santa Lucia hill. I tried eel for the first time, which was thankfully delicious and just tasted like fish!

We found out that Chileans tend to eat dinner much later than your average American when we arrived around 6:30 and found the restaurant nearly empty! It wasn’t until about 8pm or so that traffic started picking up, and Professor Olavarria confirmed that this is pretty standard. By the end of the trip we’d all become pretty accustomed to eating dinner much later!






Hospital Roosevelt Tour

Friday, August 10, 2018

Today the UW group toured the Hospital Roosevelt in Guatemala City. The group was subdivided into two, and each tour viewed a different area of the hospital. My visit was led by two of the hospital’s nurses, and we observed the emergency room, holding areas, operating rooms and the ICU. Some history facts, the Hospital Roosevelt was built in the 1940’s and is named after President Roosevelt, the healthcare facility serves people from the capital city and the entire country. Patients are referred to the hospital, and the care is free but items such as IV fluids, blood products, and medication are not free, and the patient or their family/friends need to purchase items required for the care which can be difficult for a poor, ill person.

The hospital tour felt like stepping back in time, in the general areas the equipment was very old looking, the holding areas were wards which did not allow privacy for the patients. When touring the ICU, I was pleasantly surprised to see updated equipment, the ICU monitors were modernized, they used the same feeding pumps as my ICU, and the ventilators appeared to be very new. During the hospital tour, there were no overly distressed patients, everyone appeared to be comfortable, the group of patients waiting for orthopedic surgery all seem to be tolerating their injuries well. I thought there would be a lot of moaning and distressed patients due to pain, as it is difficult for a patient to afford pain medications.


Baltimore Clinic (Coastal Village)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Today’s clinic was a bit surreal, we arrive at this coastal village via boat and disembark on the beach. The scenery was picturesque, the air was breezy warm, exotic birds fluttered close by skimming the water to retrieve small fish in their beaks, and children in the water, cheerily playing but very focused on the newcomers. The medical team is in high spirits, I cannot tell if this joyful mood is due to the beautiful surroundings or because this will be our last clinic for this trip? I am cheerful for both.

It was my teams turn today to complete a community windshield survey for a village, I am looking forward to this experience for everyone before has enjoyed their village tours. The village health promoter helping us today is Miguel. We started our journey from today’s clinic area and traveled by foot through the village and learning about what the community resources are. We learn of a couple of their income resources, they dry smelt fish caught at the beach and then dry the small fish on large black mats, and package them for sale, a second income comes from selling charcoal, the process for this is burning wood covered by soil which then produces the charcoal for sale.

The village includes two churches, one Catholic and one Evangelist, a large school with three classrooms, a large playfield for soccer, a small tienda (store) which holds food, household products, and some medicine. I am surprised to see antibiotics for sale at the tienda. The homes are all surrounded by fences constructed of barbwire, and the homes vary from traditional materials of wood and palm roofing to concrete structures. One house had a satellite dish which was uncommon. The transportation modes include, boats, walking, bicycle, motorcycle for the villages and the finca (estate) owners have vehicles. For employment many villagers need to leave for two-week periods, to work at finca’s to provide income for their families.

Today’s village tour indeed provided insight into the life of a Guatemala villager and understanding of the struggles they face. The community resources for income are not enough to sustain families, and family members needed to travel for additional income which takes them away from their loved ones for up to two-week periods. We learned that the local school teaches in Spanish and not the traditional language of Quiche, this method could potentially affect the customary native tongue, they could lose this unique language.

Chinachabilchoch Clinic

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Starting today is difficult for we stayed in the village overnight due to the length of time required to reach this area, yesterday we had a clinic for the Semanzana village people who travel to Chinachabilchoch to be seen. Today we will be seeing the Chinachabilchoch villagers and then going to our Paraiso Hotel. Staying in the village overnight was challenging due to the lack of comforts after working a long hot day. A makeshift shower system was placed in a building for the teams use, but very few used it due to lighting and privacy issues. The latrine was an outdoor facility used by 20 or more people which did not stay clean. We set-up our sleeping quarters in the same building as our clinic. We prepared for this overnight stay with air mattresses and mosquito nets which were arranged in three different areas of the building. Everyone was tired after our work day but falling to sleep was difficult due to the hot nighttime air and the rustling/noisiness of the other cohorts.

Everyone worked hard today and even though we woke this morning with little sleep and felt at our worst, no one showed any signs of frustration towards the patients or each other during the clinic. I was very proud of our group today and glad to see everyone overcoming the difficult challenge placed upon them with such professionalism. Everyone worked with a focus today as we process 90-100 patients, we were motivated to get back to the hotel for some comfort and relaxation.

Esperanza Tunico Clinic

Monday, July 30, 2018

Today our village clinic was in Esperanza Tunico, people were already waiting for as we arrived to get set up for the workday. In total for the day, we saw about sixty patients comprising mostly women and children, for the men are at work during our clinics which run from 9 a.m. to about 2 p.m. For this clinic I worked in the vital sign station, the station rapidly became chaotic as patients did not understand the flow process and the language barrier provided additional challenges. It did not take long to come up with an organized process which improved the patient flow, this is where I noticed my passed charge nursing experience came into action. Mostly the patient’s vital signs were stable, as this group of people are seen every six months by the GVH team and regularly by the local health promoter. The GVH records the data for each patient seen, and we noticed very few new clients at this clinic.

Today I was able to work on my Spanish skills to communicate greetings, my title and what my station was providing. It was easy to feel motivated to help this population for the patients were very pleasant, cooperative and eager to seek help. I noticed the patients were well dressed, I felt the people were in their best clothing to come to the clinic, they show pride in the cultural attire. During the chaotic day, I never once viewed a client who was angry, upset, or pushy, everyone displayed a pleasant disposition. I wondered if this clinic was really helping the people of Esperanza Tunico as it felt like we were band-aid healing. I learned that the local health promoters follow-up with patients care, which helped me think that we were making a difference.

The most difficult challenge for this clinic was dealing with the hot, humid weather and remembering to drink plenty of fluids. Drinking warm water was not refreshing but adding flavoring to the water, like a GU electrolyte helped me to take in needed fluids.

Adventures into the Amazon basin

If you’ve ever contemplated any kind of science career, you should participate in field research in the forests of Peru in the Biodiversity, Conservation and Sustainability study abroad program in early fall with Dr. Ursula Valdez. My experience in this program this August through September reinforced my passion for field work and ignited a curiosity within me for wildlife biology. Some of my classmates went into this trip thinking they wanted to pursue the medical biological field yet completed the program with a desire to conduct field research instead. One main reason I chose this particular program over the other one I was accepted to in Rome was that I could never recreate the experience offered in Peru. We ventured through treacherous winding roads for a day and spent two days traveling by canoe to the Cocha Cashu biological station in Manu National Park. Tourists are not permitted to travel this deep into the park so this experience was truly an exceptional one. When else in my life would I be able to study monkeys in the Amazonian rainforest in South America? As an individual who loves animals, conservation and nature, this trip was spiritually and educationally stimulating at all times. Following is a snapshot of my journal entries for travel to and time spent in Cocha Cashu.

The beginning of our adventure started at 3,399 m from Cusco, Peru over the Andes

The Madre de Dios river in southeastern Peru

28 August 2018

Our adventure on the river begins! I awoke to the sounds of more birds and bugs than I have ever heard in my life! The forest dominates the land. A massive stretch of natural beauty. Here, we go into the unknown, down the Madre de Dios river. This is heaven compared to our sixteen hour bus ride from Cusco. Grasses taller than I’ve ever witnessed upwards of twenty feet tall!! They resemble palm trees at first until you see the gigantic spikelets shooting from the top that must have been half my height! Sweeping valleys enveloped in all levels of succession catch my eye. I wonder what secrets this forest holds. This immaculate treasure tucked away from society. You need not worry about the world beyond your own two feet and the community you have built. We have a hunger, a curiosity for the adventure ahead. I am blessed to literally be with those who like to stop and smell the orchids, poke the slimy ferns and ponder over fuzzy caterpillars.

Motorized dugout canoes took us to our destination–Cocha Cashu

This is a great start to the journey ahead. We ease our way down the river, flowing with gravity and venturing deep into the heart of darkness (Conrad 1899). The rich copper tones drape down into the river, kissing the pale water. I am alive!! More than I’ve ever been. Each sense awakens and becomes more tuned with our Mother Earth. Through all the pain and suffering in the world (socially, spiritually and environmentally), I feel a sense of relief in the presence of a vast expanse of rainforest.

Canoe views

29 August 2018

We have started our excursion on the river with a vertebrate survey. Most of the species observed have been birds with the exception of a few reptiles such as Caiman or the yellow spotted river turtle. I witnessed a biodiversity hotspot right along the Manu river. We saw well over 50 species in a few hours, including at least three to four monkey species!!

Having arrived at Cocha Cashu, I am overwhelmed by the richness of species within the region. There are many researchers partaking in fascinating work. From bird banding to those aiming to research the family of ten giant river otters.I look forward to working in this place over the next ten days. Seeing all the monkeys along the river has me extremely excited to start our primate behavior and ecology research project! The class is split into six different research groups: bird ecology, primate ecology, mammal and camera traps, insect ecology, plant/fungus ecology (ended up pertaining to butterflies instead) and a qualitative project (the group chose sustainability as a focus). I also got stung by a wasp square in the forehead during introductions. Awkward turtle! This is definitely part of the experience and I am sure I will be stung by many other creatures.

Cocha Cashu biological station

03 September 2018

Day one of Black spider monkey (Ateles chamek) research

Lizzy, Katerina, Nico and I left the station around 6:00 four minutes after leaving, we spotted one individual leaping through the canopy. It seemed we were off to a good start. The trails we ventured down made a big loop, all the way past Cocha Tortura and back around to Cocha Cashu. Along the way, we encountered two groups of primates on separate occasions; squirrel monkeys (Saimieri sciurius) and Saddleback Tamarin (Saguinus fuscicollis). We took note and observed the troops for a bit but did not record all data because our research is focused on Spider monkeys. The total distance we ventured was around 3.5 miles. Our plan is to go out again in the afternoon but we are definitely exhausted. However, I loved seeing all the different primates. The most interesting troop was that of the Saddleback Tamarin because of how stealthily they moved through the canopy. If you did not spot them you would never know they were there. This extremely contrasts with the Spider monkeys who crash wildly through the palms, not making an effort to be inconspicuous. I really hope I have time to do some observations of the Pygmy Marmoset (Cebuella pygmaea).

Forest canopy where primates are                                    observed

Nico and I went on a canoe adventure after lunch to see if we could spot “monkeys zappa” from the vantage of the lake but this resulted in no success other than paddling in circles, literally. The researchers make canoeing look much easier but it takes time to warm up. I was about to give up on collecting data for the day when, after I utilized the compost toilet I spotted a single Spider monkey slowly climbing through the canopy within a few hundred meters of the biological station. I ran to wash my hands and get my research team. Lizzy and I followed the adult female and one juvenile for over an hour. The female appeared to be pregnant. After awhile of feeding, ‘Preggo’ rested 25-30 meters up in an unidentified tree. When it comes to chasing primates through the Peruvian rainforest, there is never a dull moment.

Spider monkeys curious about human observers


Brown capuchin (Cebus apella) observed near Cocha Cashu

This snapshot of my time at Cocha Cashu reflects the mindfulness and presence one embodies when in the rainforest. The adventures of collecting research are never predictable but the process of creating a proposal and being flexible with your approach to data collection is a great educational experience that will provide one with a sense of accomplishment. This amazing experience can give one insight into the type of career to put energy into–work indoors or work outdoors. The value of experiencing biodiversity firsthand is priceless and I hope every aspiring environmentalist has the opportunity to extend their education into the field.

Early morning fog rolling off Cocha Cashu