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Destination: Ecuador and Galapagos Islands
Course: VDPAM 496
“I learned so much!”
This class is usually reserved for vet students but the class had a few vacant spots so they opened it up to undergraduates. When I heard
about it, I knew I had to do it because I love traveling, especially to tropical places and I knew I would learn so much going there with the vet students. The objectives for this trip were to experience veterinary medicine for exotic animals and to learn how it differs from America. We definitely met the objectives; I learned so much!
Ecuador is beautiful! It is right on the equator and you can see so many different environments like mountains, rainforest and the ocean. And the Galapagos Islands are a must see for everyone! Going on this trip helped me see how big and beautiful the world is. It also allowed me to discover that traveling is definitely a passion of mine.
I tried not to let myself have too many expectations going into it, but in the end, the trip was much better, more fun and exciting then I imagined it would be. I didn’t expect to have so many awesome hands-on opportunities.
I hadn’t anticipated the freedom, and the way we were kind-of tossed into the experience. I knew we were going to be working with exotic animals in zoos and doing a couple spay and neuter clinics, but they literally let us do anything we wanted to and we were in charge of what we got out of the experience.
I learned that I am capable of doing things I didn’t think I would be capable of doing, like waterfall rappelling or doing neuter and spay surgeries without electricity. I think the trip influenced and changed me because it showed me that I am capable of achieving my goals for the future. It gave me confidence to try new things, dive into new experiences and not let fear or doubt get in the way. This, I’m sure, will help me in all areas of my life—personally, academically and professionally.
“We had so much fun!”
In Ecuador we spent two weeks interacting with the natives, gaining experience at the various facilities and doing hands-on work. The people I went with were great; we had so much fun! I think going to the zoos and helping out behind the scenes was great (how many people can say they’ve helped do dental work on a puma or use a blow dart on a peccary?). Snorkeling in the Galapagos was another favorite of mine because I had never done it and was totally surprised by the other world you can find underwater.
“It was one of the most memorable moments of my life”
Before we went on the trip we had the option to choose between horseback riding and waterfall rappelling to do on our “adventure day.” I chose
waterfall rappelling. Our group was picked up by our rappelling tour guides and driven to the bottom of a mountain. We changed into our rappelling gear and started to follow our guide…up the mountain where we rappelled down the raging waterfall below us. It was awesome and terrifying at the same time. I made it down three different waterfalls. When we reached the bottom, we were greeted by locals who gave us homemade, hot cinnamon-sugar tea and entertained us by juggling fruit while we sat by a fire to warm up. It was definitely one of those ‘Oh my gosh, where am I and what am I doing’ moments but it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.
One day we spent in the Galapagos spaying and neutering pets brought in by pet-owners for free surgery. We also had people out catching strays that needed spayed and neutered. We practiced spaying and neutering on the mainland once before so by the time we were in the Galapagos we all had it down pretty well. This place, however, did not have electricity and we were relying on our English speaking tour guide (who knew nothing about surgery) to translate what the Spanish veterinarians were saying. We all worked in pairs and were given a dog or cat to perform surgery on.
My partner, Alex and I were working on a cat (it was my turn to lead the surgery while he assisted) and it was going very well. The cat was sedated; we cleaned the area; the incision was good; I found the uterus right away to remove it and there was hardly any blood. As I was stitching up the incision, I was thinking about how awesome it went and how proud I was. Suddenly, the cat started to twitch and convulse and her intestines started forcing its way out of the small opening to the incision I was sewing up. I thought I had done something really wrong and was killing this poor cat. Shocked, my partner and I started yelling for the vet and backed away from the table the cat was lying on. A vet ran over, talking super fast in Spanish, and quickly flipped the cat over off her back. She started vomiting, which is a side effect from the sedation medicine. Usually they throw up before they fall asleep but in this case, the cat didn’t and that’s what was causing the stomach convulsions. At this point, most of the cat’s intestines were out of its body. The vet just looked at us and told us to always stay calm (in Spanish). Then he just told us to put the intestines back in and continue! By this time we were laughing from disbelief but I jumped in and did what the veterinarian said. Everything went smoothly from there; I finished sewing up the incision and put the cat on her side to recover. I’ll always remember this as the first time I did an entire spay surgery by myself.
Caitlin’s advice if you’re thinking about this destination or any other…
Don’t even think about it, just do it! Why would you not want to see what the rest of the world has to offer? Anything you’re worried about will disappear once you start exploring.