Twelve and a half months in Ecuador

· 00:20 GMT-5, 2nd July 2012 - Arrived in Ecuador's capital, Quito, when the airport was still smack bang in the middle of the city.
· 18:55 GMT-5, 22nd July 2013 - Watched the sparkling night lights that sprawl over Quito's mountainous façade shrink beneath the plane that took me from the equator.

In an attempt to summarise the uncompressable and spare you my rambling, I've selected five photos from each of the months I spent in Ecuador on industrial placement. They're not necessarily the best photos nor personal favourites, but they all mean or represent something.

First off: Where I was and why (briefly)

For those of you who are not aware, I spent the best part of the best 12.5 months of my life in a pocket of the Ecuadorian Amazon called Payamino.

San José de Payamino is an indigenous Kichwa settling that expands over a 17,000 ha mosaic of pristine tropical rainforest, regrown and disturbance forest, rocky rivers and stringy streams, and the fincas and chagras of local people. There is a village centre primarily built by the government and the oil company PetroAmazonas. A little way up river from the village lies the Timburi Cocha Research Station, born from a collaborative project between Aalborg Zoo (Denmark) and the University of Glasgow (UK). Today the research station is jointly managed by the University of Manchester (UK) and the Universidad Estatal Amazónica (Ecuador), and it is where I have been working and living for the past year.

This year at the research station comes as part of the University of Manchester's Zoology bachelors degree. On this programme we have the option to seek out a work placement where we can also conduct research. At Timburi Cocha I worked as Communications Coordinator and webmaster, with other odd bits of graphic design work thrown in. My main piece of research involved using camera traps to compare mammal diversity between primary (mature) and secondary (disturbed) rainforest. Don't hold your breath for results on this yet, still going through thousands of photos!

On the 20th of July 2013 I left Payamino with a heavy heart and promising to return. If it were not for needing to finish my degree, nobody could have pulled me out of the jungle!

(1) July 2012

As the beginning of the University of Manchester field course, we headed up to the Bellavista Cloudforest Reserve.
My view for the following twelve months. © X O'Reilly
Climbing trees to collect bromeliads. © A Bertolotti
University of Manchester field course students pushing a canoe. © X O'Reilly
Explaining off-side during a Payamino - UoM footie match. © K Carbin

(2) August 2012

Pleased to make the acquaintance of some cool critters. Phyllomedusa vaillanti. © X O'Reilly
Left to right: Tamara Williams, Sue Bennett, and Rachel Haworth on a stroll down the Tiuyaku. © X O'Reilly
Attine leaf cutter ant. © X O'Reilly
Toucans in the trees infront of the station. Chestnut-eared aricari, Pteroglossus castanotis. © X O'Reilly
Gabe Svobodny crossing a river, keen avoid getting his plant collection bag wet © X O'Reilly

(3) September 2012

The original jungle crew: Rachel (left), Tamara (left, back), Gabe (right, back), Carly (right).
I'm trying to eat the cake and that yellow and brown blur beside Rachel is Luzbenia Jipa.
Market. © X O'Reilly
Gabe and I went to Quito, soon joined by Tamara, to get our visas sorted out. © X O'Reilly
Andes: view on the way up Pichincha volcano, right outside Ecuador's capital, Quito. © X O'Reilly
Flowers on Pichincha, with Quito as a backdrop. © X O'Reilly

(4) October 2012

Due to visa delays, we ended up having to spend a total of 6.5 weeks in Quito. We stayed in the
Mediterranean-looking Academia Latinoamericana, a Spanish language school. © X O’Reilly
Earrings at the Mariscal artesanal market. © X O’Reilly
Walking in Quito's Parque Metropolitano: a huge green space - completely composed of introduced species,
mainly eucaliptus. © X O’Reilly
Cycropia grapes (or sacha uva) and orito bananas, finally back at our rainforest home. © X O’Reilly
Hallowe'en at Timburi Cocha: baby tapir Rachel, pussycat Ronnie,
lion king Xaali, and statue of rainforestry Tamara. © X O’Reilly

(5) November 2012

Minga gringa - keeping the grass down, kichwa-style! © X O’Reilly
From Julyish to January, the sun rises at 6 AM and sets at 6 PM; February till Junish, 7 AM - 7 PM. © X O’Reilly
Baby arboreal tarantula. © X O’Reilly, 2012
The stairs up to the dorm broke with me on them – this is my leg. Ended up needing stitches. © X O'Reilly
My parents showed up in Payamino by surprise the day before my 21st birthday. © J Berkeley

(6) December 2012

Parasitic isopod crawling out of a fish some students had sliced to gut. They didn't eat the fish. © X O'Reilly
Dried and de-husked coffee beans from the station's trees. © X O'Reilly
Payamino river. © X O'Reilly
On the way out of Payamino on the 'ranchera'. © X O'Reilly
I wasn't allowed stay in the jungle on my own, so I spent Christmas in Ireland for the first time in 16 years.© X O'Reilly

(7) January 2013

Biodiversity Group initiation... Though I don't think they knew spiders are my favourite group of animals! © C Houin
Máximo with a big stripy catfish he caught. © X O'Reilly
One morning I woke up to find branches sticking into my dorm... © X O'Reilly
Rachel and Gabe gutting fish. © X O'Reilly
Claudio's bar in Payamino village. © X O'Reilly

(8) February 2013

At the beginning of February I went to the Galápagos Islands to see best friend Alicia Bertolotti, here on the right.
I have restrained myself to just two photos from the Galápagos and thought one should include Alicia,
so here's the other, a sea turtle I swam after. © X O'Reilly
Upon return to the jungle, I found out we had a couple of film-makers, Hugh and Helen, staying at the station
filming for a documentary, here interviewing local shaman Ernesto Jipa. © X O'Reilly
Local kids in a wheelbarrow. © X O'Reilly
Canoe from upriver down to the station. The station's community coordinator, Claudio Jipa, at the front. © X O'Reilly

(9) March 2013

Compare this to the photo from July 2012. Same river, about 2-3 m higher! © X O’Reilly 
Phylomedusa tomopterna. © X O’Reilly
A jumping stick (Proscopiidae). Despite appearances, it is not what is typically referred to as "stick insect" (though it is an insect that looks like a stick), these guys are actually orthopterans, like crickets and grasshoppers. © X O’Reilly
Big ass snail! © X O’Reilly

An Anolis flashing his dewlap on the roof of the kitchen hut. © X O’Reilly

(10) April 2013

Bob Beavertail, Urocentron flaviceps (tropical thornytail iguana). © X O'Reilly
No tarantulas were harmed in this frying pan. © X O'Reilly
Blue-headed parrot, Pionus menstruus. © X O’Reilly
For world tapir day (27th April) I made a baby tapir cake. Gimme some credit,
this was made in the jungle and without an oven! © X O’Reilly
A threatening wandering spider. © X O’Reilly

(11) May 2013

Lizard at Carachupa. © X O'Reilly 
View of the Amazon Rainforest from the highest point in Payamino. We walked 14 hours that day. © X O'Reilly
The dragonfly Orthemis biolleyi, Stuart Anderson's study subject. © X O'Reilly 
One of many dances the local kids put on in the village for Mother's Day. © X O'Reilly
Top o' the mornin', middle of the world. © X O'Reilly

(12) June 2013

Garry the kitchen gecko licking his eye. © X O'Reilly

An interesting beetle! © X O'Reilly
 Bromeliad flower bracts at Puluhuala crater. © X O'Reilly

Back at Bellavista Cloudforest on in the West Andes for University of Manchester's field course this year. © X O'Reilly

Orchids at the Bellavista Cloudforest Reserve. © X O'Reilly

(13) July 2013

Okay, so for my last month in Payamino, I've included more than 5 photos, because there are a lot of people photos to choose from too! July 2013 was possibly the most emotional month of my LIFE, for several reasons I won't bore you with.

Culture day in the community for the UoM field course. © X O'Reilly
Some scenes and people from the UoM field course. © X O'Reilly

Boa constrictor (left) and Bothrops (pit viper; right).

Last few days in Payamino.

The summer 2013 jungle crew (left to right): Sallie, Ross, Xaali, Lucas, Emily, Chloe, Rachel, and Nathalie.
Xaali Jipa and Xaali O'Reilly (left); my last glimpse of the station and its
new residents (top right); and the state of my feet when at the station.

I packed up the camera traps (top left), went to Coca (top right) to get the bus to
Quito (bottom left), from where I got a plane back to Barcelona, Spain.
All I can say now is – I'LL BE BACK! Someday, for sure.


  1. It´s lovely.. Me, Sal, Emily and Chloe just read it in Loreto and thoroughly enjoyed it! You´re a crackin photographer. Can´t wait to have as great a time as you did xxx

    1. Thanks! And you will have a grand ol' time, I'm sure of it :)

  2. I absolutely love this. However it's made me a bit sad, can't believe you're not here any more!

    1. I know Rach! sure I still can't believe that's it, living in Europe again... Take care, jungle buddy!

  3. Lovely documentation of what was clearly a wonderful and life-changing year. You tell a beautiful story that clearly shows your attachment to this place. Keep it up, Inchi-puma :)

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