The Jardín Botánico las Orquídeas in Puyo is a magical place. It is lush, teeming with life, and until you look closely, it is hard to see that this is a created landscape. And once you realize that, it fills you with a new sense of wonder. Orchids are hidden everywhere, and during each walk I took I noticed new and beautiful things.

With a background in botany and ecology, combined with a love for photography, I felt very at home at the garden. While I participated in daily tasks, such as garden and trail maintenance, transplanting orchids and planting seeds, and even giving a tour of the garden in Spanish to a group of preschoolers(!), I also got to develop a couple of independent projects. These included photographing insects and blooming flowers, co-initiating an observational study of orchid pollinators (along with Matt, the coordinator at the garden) and collecting literature for it, and putting together a powerpoint that describes the importance of pollinators, and that over time, the garden has begun to attract a great number of life forms from frogs to spiders to monkeys. An island of biodiversity with extensive acreage being cleared around it for development and farmland, it demonstrates how a garden managed with the whole ecosystem in mind can benefit a wide variety of beings.

I came to Puyo after I’d been traveling in South America for several months. The city itself is not an international tourist attraction such as Mindo, Otavalo or Vilcabamba, therefore, you get a truer sense of what a typical Ecuadorian city is. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the greater area, from overnight jungle trips into Shuar territory, to the baths and vistas of the city of Baños (whose volcano blew while I was there! – exciting!), to shorter but spectacular day hikes only a short bus ride away. And I don’t know if this happens year round, but the thunderstorms were amazing. Omar and his family were extremely welcoming, and Omar’s excitement about the place was contagious. Even though he was busy directing the construction of the educational center at the time, he always took time to share little things with me and tell me about the history of the garden or about certain insects. Matt was also supportive and friendly, giving me suggestions on places to go, helping me to decide on achievable volunteer projects, and orienting me to the town.

Overall I had a great experience at the garden, and hope to return someday to see what other forms of life have found their way in.

                                                  Natalie Pyrooz.

                                                        Washington state, USA