Huskies experience Ecuador and the Galapagos

This summer, 16 Flint Hill students embarked on a three-week trip to Ecuador with Upper School and third grade science teacher Fred Atwood. The itinerary was comprised of one week in the Amazon Basin, one week in the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains, and finally, one week in the Galapagos Islands.

Atwood described the excursion as an “ecological study trip with an emphasis on nature photography.”

As Atwood’s tenth trip to Ecuador with students, one would expect that he had seen all that nature has to offer. However, during this trip, Atwood said he saw his first tapir, an animal that is a cross between a pig and a hippopotamus. In addition, the group saw seven different species of monkeys, giant otters, freshwater dolphins, and even swam alongside penguins, sea lions, stingrays, manta rays, and hammerhead sharks.

Senior Matt Middleton said he enjoyed the Galapagos Islands the most.

“I got a moment of swimming with a sea turtle last time I went to the Galapagos, but it was nothing compared to this time around,” he said. “We went snorkeling in an area with tons of turtles swimming around eating jellyfish. Despite getting stung a lot, I enjoyed this day a lot.”

Atwood explained that the Galapagos is intentionally planned as the final destination because it is the highlight of the trip for many.

“You get so close to the wildlife and it’s so easy to see [the animals],” said Atwood.

Junior Tyler Nightingale attended the trip because of his love of nature and desire to visit the Amazon Rainforest.

“I can honestly say it was an experience I will never forget,” he said.

The students had the opportunity to stay at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, which is a research center used by college students.

“About eight hours into the Amazon Rainforest, the biodiversity station was extremely remote and completely surrounded by nature,” said Nightingale. “You would be walking around on the paths and then leaves would fall down in front of you and you would look up and there would be a group of monkeys swinging through the trees.” 

Atwood’s presence, knowledge, and guidance throughout the trip enhanced the students’ experience.

“He always inspired through his passion and love of nature,” Middleton said.

Nightingale agreed, saying that Atwood’s knowledge was vital in experiencing the wildlife of Ecuador.

“I felt that Mr. Atwood’s presence was extremely helpful to our navigation of Ecuador. I still can’t believe it! If Mr. Atwood was not on our trip, it would have been an entirely different experience,” said Nightingale.

The appeal and beauty of Ecuador lies in its diversity of wildlife and the nation’s ability to make it accessible to tourists.

“There is so much diversity in such a small area,” Atwood said. “As the years have gone along, they’ve gotten even better for tourism: great lodges, great food, superb locations with excellent guides…the country is itself is very friendly, so it is easy to travel.”

With an increase in tourism, the threat of the destruction of wildlife always looms. However, Atwood explains that Ecuador does not face this grim future:

“In the Galapagos, they do a very good job of limiting the number of tourists that are there. On the land, it looks pretty much the same as when I started going there in 1983.”

Flint Hill even contributed to preserving the land and wildlife in Ecuador by partaking in a Vertebrate-a-thon, an event in which students pledged to donate $2 for every vertebrate they encountered. In total, the Huskies raised over $1,000 and saw over 500 different species of vertebrates. With this money, Flint Hill bought ten acres of land in the cloud forest of the Andes to devote to conservation efforts.

Although these Huskies enjoyed their three-week immersion into the wildlife of Ecuador, this excursion is not suited for everyone.

“I would recommend this trip to kids who are truly interested in nature and enjoy learning about different cultures. However, you must be dedicated to the true purpose of the trip because there are long hikes, early wakeup calls, and other demanding experiences,” Nightingale said.


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