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The health and safety of participants in our programs is of primary concern, and we take every precaution to ensure that the potential for accidents is minimized. You will be living and travelling in an environment that may feel unfamiliar, however, it is up to each individual to exercise caution, good judgment and common sense. The following information is provided to enhance your safety and enjoyment during your semester abroad.
Participants and staff in the TCS 2021 Special Session will live and travel together as a self-contained cohort, to minimize the risk of Covid-19 exposure. Students must obtain a PCR test within 10 days prior to arrival to Ecuador, and show proof of a negative test result upon arrival, as per Ecuadorian government orders (but be advised these orders may change, and must be monitored). Once in the country, contact with people outside the group will be curtailed as thoroughly as possible. Participants will live together in field stations, and hotels, and will not be permitted (unfortunately) to leave the facilities on their own. Contact with hotel and field station staff will be limited as much as possible, and mask use will be required during all such interactions. Visits to conservation sites or communities with which Ceiba collaborate will be structured carefully, taking place outdoors and at a safe distance, and mask use will be required. Within the country, we will travel on chartered buses; the only air travel will be a two-hour flight to/from the Galapagos. Mask use will be required at all times during these journeys. When the group is living, studying, and working together, however, we will rely on our protocols to allow us to interact normally, without masks or distance, as long as the entire group remains healthy. You can still handle tarantulas, crush and smell leaves, scoop up beetles, and dissect flowers!
If anyone in the program, either students or staff, show symptoms of Covid-19, then a testing and isolation protocol will be enacted. PCR tests are readily available in Ecuador, and we will require any student showing symptoms to be tested (at their own expense; current cost ranges from $120-180). Until the test results are returned, the student or staff member will be isolated from the rest of the group, at the hotel or field station, and required to wear a mask. If a student, they will be permitted to attend lectures, but at a safe distance and while wearing a mask, until the test result is returned. If the test is positive, the student or staff must remain isolated from the group for 14 days, until the transmission risk has abated. If any student exhibits more pronounced symptoms, there are excellent hospital facilities available in Quito, not more than an 8-hour drive from even our most distant field site (2-hour flight from Galapagos). If necessary, a student can be evacuated to the USA by plane in less than 24 hours to receive additional care.
The city of Quito is at 9,350 feet (2850 m) of elevation, and some field sites we visit are as high as 14,500 feet. Altitude sickness, your body’s response to lower oxygen concentration at high altitudes, can affect anyone and is characterized by headache, fatigue, dizziness, trouble sleeping and occasionally stomach upset. If you know you are prone to altitude sickness, consult your physician. Prescription drugs now are available that mitigate the negative effects of altitude when taken before traveling to high elevation. In any case, you can minimize the symptoms of altitude sickness by drinking plenty of water before and after your arrival, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, taking aspirin and iron supplements, and avoiding overexertion.
The best way to prevent the most serious illnesses is by getting vaccinated prior to traveling to Ecuador. It is mandatory that you obtain a yellow fever vaccine prior to arriving in Ecuador (you will be required to show proof of this vaccine in order to travel to TBS). Yellow fever vaccinations last for 10 years. You should check that your vaccinations against tetanus, typhoid fever and hepatitis A and B are up to date.
It is recommended that you take anti-malaria pills for your visit to the Amazonian region of Ecuador. Tablets are taken once a week and must be started 2 weeks prior to your departure and continued for 4 weeks after your return. Anti-malaria pills (Lariam-mefloquine only) are readily available at pharmacies in Ecuador, and are much less expensive than in the U.S., so you may want to make your purchase once you arrive. Malaria, dengue and leishmaniasis — all insect-borne illnesses — have been known to occur in Ecuador. The simplest way to avoid contracting these illnesses is to avoid contact with the insects that transmit them: wear long pants and sleeves, apply insect repellent and sleep under a good mosquito net.
For any and all medical advice, please consult your doctor or public health service for the most recent information regarding vaccinations for travel to Ecuador.
During the cruise of the Galapagos, we sleep and eat aboard ship for a week. Because of the lengthy travel between islands, you will spend a considerable amount of time on the ship. If you know, or even suspect, that you are prone to seasickness, please bring a supply of anti-motion-sickness tablets (or other remedy). This is extremely important: you do not want your Galapagos experience spoiled by preventable motion sickness, so be sure to come prepared.
Although Ecuador is part of the developing world, you will find Quito to be surprisingly modern. While Quito has a lower crime rate than most comparable cities in the US, like any large urban area (now over 2 million people) there is some street crime. Being alert and exercising common sense is essential.
Travel after dark only in groups, avoid poorly-lit or isolated areas, don’t display large amounts of cash or jewelry, take care with cameras and backpacks, and do not accept invitations of any kind from strangers. If you feel endangered, enter the nearest business and ask them to call a taxi, or the police. Familiarize yourself with the city, ask course staff or your host family about the safety of unknown neighborhoods, and let a friend know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Pick pocketing is the most common form of crime, so when traveling on buses and other public transportation, do not let your possessions out of your sight, or better yet, keep them on your person.
These are all precautions that any seasoned traveler, or resident of any large US cities, will already have adopted. This advice is not intended to scare you; Quito is a wonderful city full of warm, generous and honest people; the Ecuadorian countryside also is a terrific place to travel, and you will find the locals you meet everywhere are friendly and polite. However, as in your own city or town, knowing the risks and how to manage them is the first step to staying safe.
All participants in Ceiba study abroad programs are required by the University of Wisconsin to have active medical insurance that covers them during their travel and stay overseas. Fortunately, enrollment through UW guarantees you access to the excellent CISI (Cultural Insurance Services International) insurance program which provides coverage for international healthcare and medical assistance. CISI also partners with Assist America to provide worldwide 24/7 assistance through their Team Assist Plan (TAP). Enrollment in the CISI program is provided for all study abroad participants, and the cost is included in your program fees.
Study abroad programs are designed to take you out of your comfort zone, and often to far-flung locales that may lack the high standards of health and safety that we enjoy in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, there are certain ailments which are more common in developing tropical countries, against which one must be prepared. If basic precautions are followed, however, you will have a safe and healthy study abroad experience.