The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Twenty-Two — The Amazon and Yasuní National Park by Zach Friederichs

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Twenty-Two — The Amazon and Yasuní National Park by Zach Friederichs

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Ecuador is one of the most diverse countries that I have ever traveled to. Although it is one of smaller countries in South America and comparable in size to the state of Wyoming with an area of around 283,000 km¬¬¬2, it contains a wide variety of terrain as well as plant and animal life. It is composed of four major regions from the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific, western coastal area, the central mountainous sierra, and the forest-filled orient to the eastern border. Fortunately, I was privileged enough to make it out east with my class recently and got to spend a few days in the Amazon rainforest.

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We took a 250km flight out of Quito very early in the morning to arrive not but 30 minutes later in the small town of Nuevo Loja and the site of the Lago Agrio oil field located in the north eastern part of the country. As I took my first step out of the small plane I was greeted by an immense humidity and realized what I was in for as the sweat beads began to form and roll down my face. Lucky for me, I was in the Amazon and couldn’t have had another care in the world, because, I mean, how often will I be in the Amazon?

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Unfortunately we began our trip viewing some oil extraction sites and I learned that Nuevo Loja was actually founded by Texaco (now owned by Chevron); we were standing in the middle of a town founded for the sole purpose of oil exploitation. Although it was fairly disturbing, I did enjoy the revealing behind-the-scenes view of the oil industry and what it was all about. As we advanced it wasn’t difficult to see either – every road was lined with miles of pipes and tubes, gigantic oil pumps and flaming towers that burned off the excess gas produced by the pumps.

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Our local guide even took us further behind-the-scenes than I imagined we would go and we managed to take a machete-led hike through the forest leading us to things such as leaking pipes, exhaust tubes and the oil waste pool as shown below. It wasn’t abnormal to see dead animals or plants near these contaminating objects.

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We were all glad to end our day in a town called Coca, located a few hours south, where it began to rain and finally cool down. There, we awaited our trip down the Napo River where we could finally enter the Yasuní National Park, where I hoped to leave behind the disturbing images created by the oil extraction sites. We passed our time waiting by swimming in our hotel pool and my personal favorite, eating grilled and skewered grubs and fish wrapped in banana leaf. We encountered these delicious treats, which apparently are very common for the area, while walking through a street filled with different food vendors.

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The next morning we made our way down the Napo River in a long and narrow gas powered boat to the entrance of the 9800 km¬¬¬2  backwards C-shaped Yasuní National Park, which to my surprise had a security system similar to an airport. We had to show our passports, proof of yellow fever vaccination, pass our belongings through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector.

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The security check was followed by a 2 hour-long ride in a steaming hot van to the Catholic University Science Station where we would spend our next few days. The station was shockingly accommodating for being in the middle of nowhere and we were all so excited to see air conditioners in our bunk styled rooms.

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Our time spent at the station consisted of several mile long hikes, led by biology students and experts, throughout the beautiful forest at each time of day – early morning, afternoon and late at night – to try and catch a glimpse of as many different species as possible. As you could imagine, mammals weren’t the highlight of our hikes and were very rare to encounter. But nonetheless, we managed to see many different species of plants, insects, reptiles and birds. The small area that is the Yasuní actually has a larger amount of insects and amphibians than all of North America and is known as one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. It’s still difficult to imagine that such a small area can be home to so many different species. Yasuní is also home to two voluntarily isolated indigenous groups, known as the Huaorani, who live in a nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place.

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In contrast to the amazing beauty and biodiversity in Yasuní, and much to my own dismay, oil exploitation has also become a prevalent plague within the national park. It wasn’t quite as potent as it was in Nueva Loja, but still couldn’t go unnoticed. On our way to the science station we passed new oil transport tubes still under construction as well as a Chevron oil camp. To my understanding, a lot of this oil extraction was meant to be untapped and non-existent, but the government eventually collapsed to economic coercion leading to the current situation. It’s such a shame to see economic systems prevail over the natural environment. As disappointing as it was to see, we had a way to combat it: fútbol. Some classmates and myself, along with some of the biologists took a van ride to the petrol camp to take on the petroleros (oil field workers) in a game of soccer. But to our disadvantage they had the home field and took the win. Apparently we need to work on our skills if we want to save the environment.

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For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see

For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see

The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to our collaborative program. 

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world.  We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 7, Fall, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

14 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Twenty-Two — The Amazon and Yasuní National Park by Zach Friederichs

    • Maria Nowak

      Thank you so much for sharing your adventures that you had on this journey! I am jealous of all the beautiful sights you were able to see, all the food you got to try, and all the memories you created in these wondrous areas. I think your point was excellent to bring up how you were so awestruck by the new places, the fun surrounding, but you still were able to see what kind of an impact economic prosperities had on the land. It seems that any place, no matter how natural or beautiful it may be, cannot go untouched, for humans have a fear of missing out on economic prosperities – like the drilling for oil. It seems humans do make a consumer commodity out of everything. Did you learn a lot from the native people there?

  1. Brandon Torres

    This is a really good insight into where the fuel we use actually comes from. Definitely eye-opening to what we feed into as consumers.

  2. Brianna Curtis

    I love nature, but I don’t know if I could particularly eat the things available within the Amazon. Also, it is interesting the things that are not discussed within the media even though it has the ability to actually give us real-life news and problems. I have had no clue about problems with oil extractions and such! I would love to travel and learn abroad.

  3. Kirsten Olsen

    It is very discouraging to hear about all of the oil rigs in the National Park, and sad to see that even though it is protected from hunting and building the government still allows oil rigs to drill. But other then the “plague” of oil drilling the many experiences that the author described makes me believe that this national park is still in good condition and is thriving.

  4. This was a very interesting read. Your description of the pollution being caused by oil drilling is disturbing but your visit to the petrol camp to play futbol with the petroleros gave me hope of a new generation of naturalists/ environmentalist who are able to see all the people in the big picture.

  5. I’m intrigued by the level of security found at the national park. Would love to look further into this.

    Echoing Brandon’s comment, it is easy to point fingers at the oil companies and countries that allow this to occur. However, if there was no demand (initiated by us, the producers), there would be no efforts to tap the supply.

  6. Ashley Svihel

    Your attitude with the whole experience was very positive and uplifting even though it was hot and some of the sites you were not impressed with. It was very surprising to read about the security at the national park. They obviously care a lot about this national park and it defiantly shows from your experience you shared.

  7. Samantha Roettger

    Wow what an extraordinary experience! It is so sad to see damage from oil on nature. I would love to know how many other towns in the world have been created based on oil extraction.

  8. daniela rojas

    It is sad learning that towns are created for the purpose of oil extraction, but at the same time it is now a reality we live in. We depend so much on oil that we would do anything to get it. Really nice article and it was nice seeing all the pictures of the amazon and the national park.

  9. Tommy Traaholt

    Very good article. It is sad to read about all of the bad things in the amazon like the oil extraction, and how it affects the animals. It seems as though oil extraction is a good thing and a bad thing over there. It is always good to see the bad sides of things, but also see the pleasant sides too.

  10. Karn Pederstuen

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, I really enjoyed reading your article. I especially found interesting your experiences with the oil exploitation industry.

  11. Megan Gonrowski

    Very interesting article and great photos! I have studied the oil extraction disaster in Ecuador and it is great to hear your opinion on the matter and your first hand experience of the environmental damage. I wonder if you have heard or seen anything about the indigenous populations response to this environmental pollution. It is to my understanding that many indigenous people live in the areas effected by the environmental damage. It was also interesting to hear about the Yasuní park. There seems to be an interesting balance of environmental beauty and disaster in Ecuador.

  12. Tessa Lowry

    this was a very interesting article to read and the photos really helped with your story! I have never read about the oil extraction disaster in Ecuador so it sparked my interest. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the issue.

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