Tag Archives: Amazon

A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Amazonas: The Open Border – by Laura Blasena. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Amazonas: The Open Border – by Laura Blasena. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports


(Capybara in Spanish is chiguiro. The nature reserve threw their food waste into the same area every evening, and a family of chiguiros would stop by to eat the scraps in the morning.)

I was really surprised when I told the professors at my university that I was going to visit Amazonas before returning home for Christmas and the only response I got was “Why wouldn’t you want to go to the coast for your vacation time?”


When I was actually in Amazonas, a lot of tour guides and various individuals that we met during our ten day trip asked us the same question: “Why do foreigners always want to visit the Amazon?” I’m not really sure what the answer is, but I know that from my personal experience that I grew up learning about the Amazon as a mythical, majestic, wonderful place. I played Amazon Trail for hours on the computer in elementary school, and in science classes throughout my education we would learn with awe about the wonders of the Amazon.

In Colombia, it’s a little less awe-inspiring for a very specific reason.

I and several friends of mine in the Fulbright program spent, all together, ten days in Amazonas, the region in the south of Colombia that shares a part of the Amazon rain forest that also extends into Peru and Brazil. It’s an open-border area, which means that throughout our travels we spent several days in Peru and Brazil, but we were never required to present a passport. We were only required to declare if we were bringing more than two products of another country back into Colombia due to economic sanctions in the area.

Our first two days were spent at a nature reserve in Peru. We hiked, napped in hammocks, fished, kayaked, hung out with capybaras, and searched for caimans (alligators) at night. At the end of our two days, we returned to Leticia, the capital of Amazonas in Colombia, and stayed at a hotel from which we made two additional overnight excursions into Peru and Brazil, as well as a few different day trips into Brazil. We were only once required to exchange pesos for reales (the currency of Brazil), and it was to pay for a lunch that we bought in Tabatinga. Tabatinga and Leticia are more or less the same city, but they are divided by a political boundary on maps and a series of small signs that we accidentally missed the first time we entered Brazil.

Our guide that stayed with us for our ten days in Amazonas explained that while she was a Colombian citizen, she chose to live in Brazil because rent was cheaper. There was no paperwork to fill out. There was no citizenship to apply for. She simply paid her rent each month and crossed the border whenever she wanted to go in to Leticia, which is quite often because she does most of her grocery shopping there.

It was very interesting seeing how the three countries were so fluid in this area. Of course, in the jungle there was no way to tell if you were in a Peruvian river or a Colombian river, but even in the cities there was very little to alert you to the fact that you had entered another country. In Brazil, the signs are all in Portuguese, but Portuguese and Spanish are such similar languages that I often found myself reading the signs and wondering why the Spanish had been spelled so strangely.


(Is this a Peruvian, Colombia, or Brazilian river? I have no idea. I also have no idea how the guides remembered where to go in the different branches of the river, especially since the landscape changes so drastically depending on the season.)

Back to the question: Why is the Amazon not quite so awe-inspiring to Colombians?

Amazonas is the place that many high schoolers visit on their end-of-the-year-trip. At many of the nature reserves that hosted visitors, we were confused about the sheer number of beds, showering facilities, and hammocks that existed until our guide would explain that each location often hosted large groups of high schoolers from international or private schools throughout Colombia.


(They’re not actually called river grapes, but I like to call them Amazonian River Grapes. Unlike other grapes, they grow on trees and the best way to get them down is to hit the tree with a stick (very scientific). You have to peel the skin off the outside of the grape before you eat it or else you risk getting abrasions on the inside of your mouth because the skin is like sandpaper.)

At the first nature reserve that we stayed at there were three school groups also there. One group was from Cali, a city on the Atlantic coast of Colombia. The other two groups were from Bogota–like us! The first night that we stayed at the reserve there were only the five of us, but on the second night the 120 bed facility was nearly full! Another group of high school students also stopped by in the middle of the day.


About our special correspondent Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.

I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.

While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.

I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five semesters we have published 200 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. We are sponsored by St. Scholastica’s Department of History and Politics and by the scholarly Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies (http://theMiddleGroundJournal.org).

For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu


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

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 https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/

For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see http://www2.css.edu/app/depts/HIS/historyjournal/index.cfm?cat=10

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