Take Off

I’ve been waiting all summer for moments of inspiration, flashes of thought that creep down into my hands, urging me to write. But they have eluded me. I think writing is an art, for which you need creativity, passion and a purpose. It’s not like maths or science where you apply logic or reason to which there is only one true solution. As with all the arts, you can develop the instinct to write and with practice it becomes easier to skilfully tap into that, however for a beginner like me who’s immersed in science, it’s been quite hard to let my creative juices flow. So now is the time to put pen to paper (metaphorically; fingertips to keyboard doesn’t have quite the same ring) and start writing again. I want to document my imminent adventure, develop my skills as a writer and communicator, and share my discoveries: personal and professional. For I am going on a journey along a path less trodden. Out into the wilderness where my basic human instincts will be fine-tuned, and my need to impress and satisfy my self-worth upon Western standards will diminish.

This is my second long trip. My first was 18 months in Australia and Asia. I’m heading to a different part of the world this time: South America for 1 year. It’s quite exciting really, I go in the pursuit of knowledge and learning, rather than on a path of fun and self-discovery as was the case when I was 18.

I was lucky enough to be offered a research placement at the Timburi Cocha research station in the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, in order to complete a research project of my own during the placement year of my degree. Originally I was not enrolled on a degree with a placement year, however I made the decision to intersect my 3 year BSc with a year in industry while I was in my first year.

Before I tell you how excited I am, I want to preface that with a short summary of my first two years of uni. I study Biomedical Sciences at The University of Manchester: the biggest uni in the UK and situated in the heart of the northern capital. I chose Manchester because of its good reputation, the variety of modules and specialities available to me and the allure of a busy, metropolitan city. I can say, hand on heart, that Manchester has lived up to those expectations. I have loved most of my modules and I’m so grateful for the amount of choice I’ve been offered. I’ve studied some absolutely fascinating topics, from the more mainstream such as Biochemistry, Endocrinology, Genetics etc. to topics a little off the beaten track such as Parasitology and Gut and Renal Physiology. The city of Manchester is beautiful, offers a lot of culture and night life, and I don’t think I’ll ever run out of things to do there; and true to its name, Manchester boasts some of the best researchers and academics in the country, and is home to some major scientific discoveries.

Despite this glossy exterior, my experience at Manchester hasn’t been the easiest. For the two years I was there, I couldn’t escape this sense of isolation and loneliness. Even though Manchester has the highest student population in the UK, I never felt like I fitted in, or belonged, or truly ever found my niche. I had great friends, who are great people I would love to always keep in contact with and follow their journeys through life, I was also part of a sports team and had a job at uni. The issue wasn’t the quantity of my social interactions, more the quality. Everyone has a billion and one things to do and places to be, with their own agendas and priorities, and I just didn’t seem to make the cut. That’s what it felt like anyway. Perhaps I’m studying the wrong degree, hence I’m not surrounded by like-minded people; I’ve always fancied studying philosophy. In fact, I still might. Perhaps being an old soul and older in age created a distance between me and the people around me that was intangible but still unbearable. Perhaps, I didn’t prioritise my own social life as much as I needed to, because at the time I felt like there were more important things to do, like earn money, exercise and sleep. Too responsible for my own good.

So this summer I decided to take a bit of time to rest and recuperate. I prioritised my immediate friends and family, fitness classes that I enjoyed, and making decisions based on what I wanted to do rather than what I thought I should do or what was expected of me. I actually feel a lot better now, much more centred and fulfilled. But it wasn’t until I walked through Heathrow airport this morning that I realised what’s really been missing. Adventure. My soul yearns for it. If routine and conformity make me unwell, then travel and adventure are my antidote. So here I am, sitting on a plane heading to San Francisco, at the start of my next big adventure. It’s in moments like this where I truly feel like myself.

I’m visiting my aunt, uncle, grandmother and cousins in San Jose for two weeks before heading to the jungle. Over the last couple of years I’ve learnt a lot more about the USA and its culture, and I’m so excited to go there and experience a little bit of it myself and have a good catch up with my family. My life has turned in a direction I did not at all expect, not for a second, and I’m so excited.

Then in the beginning of September, I fly to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where I’m staying for 6 days in order to explore the city and orientate myself, as well as complete a few missions like buying wellies / a hammock / a blanket and a few jumpers. I then fly to Coca with Heather, my placement buddy, where we’ll be picked up by the station manager, Javier, and escorted to the station. The station is situated in the amazon, and I will write all about what it’s like and put pictures up as soon as I get there and figure it out for myself.

Our purpose at the station is to complete a research project which will count 10% towards our final mark. We will spend the year deciding on a hypothesis (the big question, what do we actually want to find out), gathering data, (field work, getting the answers), analysing that data and compiling it into a report which we can then present and communicate our findings. The main area of research at the station is biodiversity in the rainforest, however after reading all about the station, its location, aims and involvement in the local community, I have set my heart on doing a public health project regarding diseases, healthcare and medicines in the local, indigenous communities. I would love to learn all about their common diseases and how they cure them, then perhaps compare them with a Western Medicine alternative. Or investigate why their own medicines are so effective, what is it in their remedies that are so effective at treating their diseases? I want to tap into their knowledge of how to survive in the rainforest and learn from them. The difficult part will be constructing a hypothesis where I can actually gather binary data in order to prove or disprove a fundamental question. I don’t need all the answers right away. I’ll have a few months to settle in and do a bit of research before I start my project.

So I’ll sign off now and end this post with a few goals and a few fears. Goal no. 1: come up with a research proposal so interesting I can’t not spend every day finding out the answer; goal no. 2: learn Spanish; goal no. 3: live in the moment, in the present, take each day as it comes, go to sleep when the sun sets and wake when it rises, live with the Earth not against it, and learn as much as I can. Fear no. 1: get bitten to death, quite literally, leishmaniasis and malaria are a real danger; Fear no.2: my project doesn’t go to plan or I don’t manage to prove my hypothesis; fear no. 3: not having access to a well-rounded vegan diet. I had to think hard about those fears as I don’t really get scared or anxious about things.

Let the adventure begin.

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