01/20/2012 09:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

PHOTOS: Biodiversity

Global Citizen Year is a global bridge year program designed to unleash the potential of high school students as leaders and effective agents of change.

I've been waiting to encounter the famed biodiversity of the Amazon. I have pictures of the yellow-green butterfly I picked nearly dead off the highway, and of the green frogs that hopped in when it rained too hard for too long. The carpenter ants never stop marching. The tarantula that lives in my brother's bedroom has been the highlight so far, considering that however weird the pig may be, he's still just a pig.

And so I was delighted to be immediately robbed by a miniature Capuchin monkey when I stepped off the bus in the famed eco-tourism hub of Misahualli. My job brought me here to observe community presentations, but I am entranced by a butterfly -- giant, iridescent blue and black; it flutters by, flitting in and out the Internet cafes and the general stores, like a wish that someone has made.

After the workshop on contamination, I'm invited to the river. I am given a freshly split half of cocoa bean (think chocolate) to eat the fruit and spit out the seeds (and there goes the chocolate). I feel a bite on my toe, stinging and sharp. With a gasp, I kick off the nasty animal, a giant spider/ant-looking creature, all black, that had attached itself to me... the pain swipes in excruciating bursts through the toe, till it starts to swell and grow, and it dawns on me that the pain is not going to stop. "It's a conga," my friend says. "It'll pass after 10 minutes."

"10 Minutes?!" I step on my own toe, whimpering until they make me put on some sandals. I take off down the path to find the blasted river, sucking hard on some sort of distracting mango-lemon fruit. Perhaps the physical pain is preferable to and more therapeutic than emotional torments.

And three hours later, the pain has receded from my calf and heel to a burning, gnawing sensation within the bitten toe. The soreness fades to a point where I can fall asleep. This is real pain. At least Andy shows me satisfying pity, "A conga? That has the venom to kill a baby!" And then, my brother asks me if I would like to go ahead and touch a tarantula, as its bite feels exactly the same. "No thank you," I tell him. "I've had my encounter with wildlife for today -- suficiente."