Open-mindedness: The Most Crucial Travel Buddy in Colombia

Hannah Vance is a student at Colorado State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Hannah is currently studying abroad with ISA in Barranquilla, Colombia.

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Tití Monkey

I am taking a class here called Las Aves del Caribe Colombiano (The Birds of the Colombian Caribbean). I decided to take the class because I study animal science and I love birds, so it seemed appealing. I had no idea just how phenomenal of an experience it would prove to be.

We spend a lot of time learning about birds and their biology and physiology and behavior and so forth, which is interesting to me, but the best part is our field trips. Our field trips are essentially bird watching trips. We have to get up really early so we can see the birds in action, as their peak time is between 5 and 9 in the morning.

Our first trip was just around campus at UniNorte. After I got the hang of my binoculars, and drenched myself in bug spray, it was pretty cool. The birds here are much different from the ones in Colorado (obviously) so if nothing else, aside from thinking of them as scientific specimens, they’re just plain fun to watch. After that, class continued normally for 2 more weeks until this past weekend when we had our second of three field trips.

I was very less-than-excited to go on this field trip for many reasons. First and foremost it required that I wake up at 4:00am on Saturday morning, not my cup of tea. Next, the night before (Friday) my friends were going to a really cool salsa club, and I couldn’t go due to the fact that I had to get up so early the next morning. What’s more is that Saturday afternoon we were leaving for Cartagena, and I wasn’t going to have a break between the field trip and getting on a bus. Lastly, I was nervous about taking a 2 hour bus ride to the middle of I-have-no-idea-where with professors and students that I know, but not well, and can only kind of communicate with.

All this aside, I set my alarm for 4:00 am and prepared myself for what I thought was going to be just another field trip. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. It was by far the most amazing thing I have done in my entire life. We all gathered at school and hopped in a private van. Our teacher put on David Attenborough’s “Life of Birds” documentary (which happens to be one of my favorite documentaries of all times) in the van, and honestly I fell straight asleep. I woke up as we were pulling into a driveway to what seemed like a small farm.

Turns out, we were in a place that is dedicated to the conservation of the Cotton Topped Tamarins (Tití Cabeciblanca). It is a private area dedicated to research and development of the population of Tití monkeys that are endemic to Colombia. We began to walk, and the sweat began to pour. We were walking, and walking, and walking for what felt like forever. I was honestly not into it at this point, I really just wanted to be sleeping, and I had started to sweat….like really sweat. We finally came upon a tree covered in tiny fruits called Mamon. My professor told me to eat one, and I was really nervous about eating fruit off of a random tree in the Colombian wilderness, but I decided to go for it and it was delicious! I ate basically a million, and then we continued walking.

Not long after the Mamon tree, we came to the entrance to the jungle. I was immediately stupefied with the landscape that was surrounding me. I couldn’t even walk, I was just standing looking around. We began essentially bushwhacking our way through the jungle, encountering bugs that I don’t even want to discuss, and spiders bigger than I really even want to think about. I was amazed, but also creeped out by the disgusting insects that reside amongst all the beauty of the plant life that I was seeing. We found a snake and a turtle and various other creepy-crawlies, and of course birds. We were observing something when our guide suddenly told everyone to be quiet and pointed up straight above us. Sitting there was the most amazing and beautiful little Tití monkey. I was overcome with joy seeing him perched there, hanging out, watching us. I whipped out my camera and started clicking away photos while trying not to shriek with excitement.

We watched him until he decided to continue on with his monkey life, and then we continued deeper into the jungle. At this point I had fully sweat through both shirts that I was wearing, my hair was wet, and sweat kept getting into my eyes as it ran off my forehead; I was in paradise. I never ever would have imagined that I would get to do anything like this. As we began to circle around to leave the jungle we encountered a few more Titís, each just as breathtaking as the ones before, and we also got to see a MASSIVE tree that is over 50 meters tall and is the ‘wishing tree’ for the researchers to wish for the Titís population to be able to thrive again.

We exited the jungle and we were back out on the farmland/regular forest again. As we were walking back to the bus we saw many more species of birds, raccoon footprints, cows, a random peacock (what?!) but there was one thing that was just the icing on the cake. I got to see a small flock of eight Scarlet Macaws perched in a tree across a field. As I admired them through my binoculars, I was about to cry with how overwhelmingly beautiful they are.

We returned to the van, covered in mud, sweat, bugs, bug spray and who even knows what else. David Attenborough played in the background on the way back as I sat and played the experience to myself. I was so mad at myself for being so closed-minded before coming on the trip, because I should know that anything I do here is going to be amazing.

That, my friends, is my moral of this story. Live with an open mind. I need to remember this as I complete my last few days here, and begin my next adventures, because without an open mind, many experiences can be lost.

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