March 18 – 28 2011
Canoe gods do not like me
Returning from Tena, Celine made the joke that the canoe would be late as I was with them. She had no idea how right she was. Not only was it late, it never showed up. We even called and asked them to double check if we had been forgotten, and apparently the canoe had just left. We had arrived at 3.30pm and around 5pm we were able to hitch a ride with Remiggio (the head boss) who was passing by. As we were heading towards the refuge we saw the canoe (that had left for us at 3.30pm) speeding past to pick up tourists. It turns out the canoe had left but the driver had decided to stop for a beer and make only one trip to pick us and the tourists up. got to love the thought processes here.
Tilapia is a very tasty fish originally from Africa but is now found all over South America and Asia. It has a very light white meat and is not fishy at all. One of our Kichwa volunteers, Freddy, was leaving and all he had been dreaming of since he arrived was catching the tilapia in the caimen pond. So for his fairwell our manager, very out of character, agreed to let us catch some and have a good old fireside get together.
Freddy and the cooks had cleaned the fish, stuffed them with palmetto stem and wrapped them in banana leaves. We then roasted them over a roaring fire and when they were all ready sat around with good friends and unfolded this spectacular feast, it went great with beer.
When it rains, it pours and pours
One of our volunteers from Germany, Toki, who is staying for almost a year at the refuge is known for a severe dislike of leading tours. So when she insisted on leading one instead of me we were all surprised. There might have even been a joke about it starting to snow. About 3minutes after she left to start the tour, the sky turned black, thunder rolled and the worst torrential downpour I have ever seen started. It lasted well into the afternoon, and meant we were all soaked through. It also started a week long rainstorm, that had us all scrambling to find some form of dry clothes and dry underwear.
Note to self: never let Toki voluntarily take tours.
Who would have thunk it
Just as I was debating whether or not to change my clothes and risk wasting a pair of perfectly dry underwear, a new group arrived. No one would have believed it, but it was a group of South African students on exchange. It was fantastic talking to them. A great bunch of kids and in true South African fashion we were soon discussing rugby, the recent FIfa world cup and biltong.
They were from a highschool in Kimberly and were a great mix of English, Afrikaans and Zulu speakers. Its funny how comfortable you feel when you are around folks from your home country. Wish I had taken a picture of the group, was just so surprised to have them there.
Our insomniac, narcoleptic kinkajou
We have a group of kinkajous, a type of possum/raccoon family, and for the most part they are nocturnal. Meaning they sleep during the day, which makes cleaning the enclosure much easier for us. However, there is one particular female who is a bit of an insomniac and comes out during the day. She tends to hang on the cage upside down and hiss at us but then fall asleep (hence the narcoleptic). She is too funny but can also be very dangerous. On this particular day I was teaching our new volunteer from Spain, Victor, big tour. When we got to the kinkajou cage all were sleeping, so I had him clean the main feeding area and I went in with the broom, for protection, to clean the ponds. I barely got through one pond when she woke up and started heading straight at me. I moved rapidly out of the way and into the safety of the feeding cage. We decided to clean the pools the next day.
The discovery of Kathy’s Coconut Delights
While doing the major kitchen clean, I had discovered a half bag of coconut and decided to experiment with Sarah’s Jungle Chip Cookie recipe and see if I could make something different. So adding the coconut and some oats, putting the dough in a flat pan vs small balls and dribbling melted chocolate over the top, my new creation was created and assured my name would go down in Jungle Cookie history.
The recipe goes something like this:
Kathy’s Coconut Delights
1 cup butter – beat it
2 eggs – beat it
1 teaspoon vanilla – beat it
1 cup brown sugar – beat it
1 cup white sugar – beat it
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup flour
1 cup oats
1 cup coconut
(continue to add the last 3 until reaching a consistency you are happy with)
Mix all together, spread a think layer in pan and bake at about 200C for about 15min, continue baking until center seems cooked, beware of burning. Dribble melted chocolate over top.
Capuchin monkeys and onion addictions
For some reason Capuchin monkeys love onion peels. They used them to squeeze some of the onion juice out and then rub it all over their bodies, almost like an onion bath. We suspect it might have something to do with it creating a barrier against insects, but then again they just might like the smell.
A tour with Luis
With my last week rapidly zooming to a close, I decided to do a tour with one of the guides who bring tourists. It is always a bit sketchy going with these guys as they seem to spend most of their time trying to convince you to go dancing with them, or do a “private” tour. As it turned out the guide I had hoped to go with, Pedro, was not around to ask and so I ended up going with Luis. He had led a couple of hte others on a tour and they assured me he was a good guy.
Heading off we went up river for almost 30min, love a good canoe ride. Finally pulling in at a small inlet. We hid the fuel and gear box in some bushes and then started climbing up from the bank. About 10minutes into the hike we reached a particularly high, slippery rock that Luis just scampered up. Me on the other hand would have had to be dragged up as there was no way I could figure out how to get up. So Luis decided on an alternate route and we headed back to the canoe. A bit further up river we pulled in again and started hiking, straight up a very muddy bank. Luis kept turning around and asking me “complication?” every time I fell behind. But in the end made it to the top and had a great 3hr hike through the primary forest. He showed me all different plants and told me their properties, we saw a few birds, some very cool insects and near the end he showed me the fruit used for ceremonial face painting. We always laughed at the tourists who arrived with face paint and here I was getting myself decorated with it.
Back in the canoe he picked 2 orchids for me and helped me put them in my hair and then took a couple of pics. After that we headed to a pretty cool swimming spot where 2 rivers converge and there is a great place to sit on the rocks. He stripped down to his undies and jumped in and then commented on why I was still wearing shorts. For some reason wearing shorts just seemed appropriate, and I was right. He tried to get all lovey dovey with me. I kept saying “No LUIS!” and he kept mumbling something in Spanish along the lines of “it doesn’t mean anything”. This was indeed a “complication”. Finally he got the hint and we ended up heading back about 15minutes later (much to his disappointment). I could have kept the tour going longer and seen some other things but I was kind of over it after that, and so paid him the $30, and had him drop me off at Liana Lodge, as I had a date with a much more gentlemanly man, a monk saki monkey. When I got to the lodge Angelika asked if I had survived my tour with Luis, apparently I wasn’t given all the information I should have been…
Walking the monkey
No this is not a euphemism for something, it is in fact what I got to do on my day off. As I had mentioned in the previous blog, Angelika (the owner) was raising a young monk saki monkey and needed a volunteer to take him out for an hour or so to climb the trees and get some sun. Having a day off meant I was a prime candidate to do this.
Heading over to Liana Lodge on a canoe heading that way, I walked to the house and was handed the monkey. She told me to just walk around and make him climb in the trees, but be careful because he sometimes climbs too high and he hasn’t learnt to come down yet. Well that didn’t make me nervous at all, the prospect of losing her pride and joy up a tree. Also if the dog tried to attack him I had to protect him. Yup no pressure there at all.
He huddled on my shoulder making the little chirping noises and every time I tried to put him in a tree he started screaming and then would look so pathetic and reach up to me. Eventually after about 15minutes he felt confident enough to start exploring and then I had a mad dash to get him before he went to high into the tree. I decided to focus on palms as he could climb quite high and when I needed to get him I could bend the palm and collect him. It was super cute but when he sat on my shoulder it felt like I was wearing a fur muffler and it was a scorching day.
My biggest surprise was to realise he was toilet trained, as he would reach for a branch, climb onto it and then pee. He never once pee’d on me. When the hour was up I headed back to the house and have never seen him happier, he bounded inside and up the stairs past the huge cat that gave him the evil eye, making chirping sounds all the way up.
My forest guard
Heading back from Liana Lodge I decided to walk. Luka the lodge dog decided to walk with me and nothing I did would persuade him otherwise. It was kind of neat having him walk with me and when we got back to the house he headed straight upstairs and to my room. I think he likes me…
But in the end I had to get a canoe to come pick him up and take him back. That night there was a crazy storm and he was back at the house waiting for me o let him in to my room where he curled up next to my bed and promptly fell asleep.
Enrichment with Tamarins part 2
Since the raisins in the leaf package was such a hit I decided to try a similar trick hiding them inside the shell of a passion fruit (granadilla). It was hysterical watching them. Mia could smell them but took about 5minutes to figureo ut how to get them out and Kiwi was doing cartwheels and yelling for one. They really are my favorite of the animals.
Just being happy
the male capuchin monkeys are always, how should I put it, “happy to see you” when tours come around. This often leads to nervous laughter and the occasional awkward moment when a child says “look he is waving at us with out hands”. On one particular tour, I had a mixed group of adults from around the world and this amused them to no end. As we ended the tour and we got back to the bar, one American hippie in his 60’s, leant over and whispered “I am happy to see you right now”. I didn’t know whether to be shocked or fall on the ground laughing. Too funny the characters you meet while working in the jungle.
A day from hell
After 4/5 days being solid downpour and not having enough clothes to constantly switch into something dry, I woke up feeling like death warmed up. I could barely talk and had a ghost of a headache forming. We started preparing food and almost as soon as we headed out a German and English tour arrived, taking 2 of the 4 older volunteers and leaving me with 2 brand new kichwa volunteers. I had to finish front tour with Ivan, then head out and do big tour with him. When I realised I had forgotten the keys I went back to get them and found Rene standing there looking very nervous about feeding the capibaras (who were waiting inside the feeding cage). Turns out Nora had to take a tour and the only people left to complete all the feeding were the 2 new kichwas and me. Oh happy days. I told Rene to follow and we completed big tour and most of monkey tour. Then as we were cleaning up I was called to lead a tour. Joelle (manager) had been taking the tour but had been called to a meeting with the big boss, she introduced me as “this is Kathy, please be gentle with her as she is sick”. It turned out to be a great tour and having to put on my tour guide personality let me take the focus off feeling crappy.
After lunch I felt much better, and even found my sense of humor. We were planning to go to Angelika and Remiggio’s house around 6pm, so I made some roasted peanuts to go with the cookies I had made and headed down early to get dinner started for us.
Drinks with the boss
Sarah, head volunteer, had been planning to have all the volunteers visit Angelika and Remiggio at least once a month to create a better bond and experience for all. The pair of them have so much knowledge and stories between them that it was a great opportunity to pick their brains. I had baked some cookies and roasted some peanuts to take over and at 5.30pm we all gathered to get going. At that precise moment, Ivan (kichwa volunteer) sauntered past in a towel heading for the showers. We all groaned and told him to hurry. Got to love Ecuadorian time. Eventually we got going and headed out arriving precisely on time.
Angelika handed us all frosted glasses with white wine and ice. I think we were all more excited about the frosted glasses than anything else, and there were more than one of us holding it to our faces. It was a great evening and we learnt all about how the place got started, the issues and the experiences. When she first moved in with Remiggio and his family they lived in a traditional hut, it took 3weeks to get to Quito (now only 8hrs), they had to take a canoe to get everywhere and they lived on local fair (which is very different to Switzerland). When they were trying to decide what to do someone mentioned the need for a wildlife refuge, almost the instant they decided to do that people started showing up with boatloads of animals. So it was straight into the fire when they got started. But after 18yrs of learn as you go, they have set up this amazing place.
If you are interested in learning more about the foundation or the refuge look at this site: http://www.selvaviva.ec/selvaviva/ . They are always in need of volunteers and financial support. I learnt so much working there and would do it over again if I ever have the opportunity.
At the end of the night Remiggio offered to take us back in his canoe, which made everyone’s night. It was the best canoe ride ever, in complete darkness, speeding down the river. Somehow he knew exactly where to pull in and managed a perfectly landing. I can see why she fell for him.
Tilapia round 2
Michael the manager was in a fantastic frame of mind this week and allowed us a second round of tilapia for dinner. This time we needed to catch quite a few and so lowered the level of the pond, Eddison and Ivan (both Kichwa) did the catching, using circular nets. Considering we knew there were hundreds of fish in the pond, it appears as if they hide very well and it took over 2 hours to catch 65 (half the number we hoped for). But all in all it was a good catch. The fish were cleaned and wrapped in preparation for the big party in honor of Toki’s birthday and a fairwell for a few of us.
This time our Kichwa chef was Ivan, the volunteer who replaced Freddy. He prepared the fire and was super excited to be cooking the fish, which of course was amazing and delicious. Once we had all eaten we gathered for a group photo and then the party games began. For some reason at some point of being manager, Michael created a game where you have to make it all the way around a table without touching the ground. For the select few that posses monkey blood it was no problem at all. For the rest of us it was a good laugh and a bruise or two. At the end of the night when the young’ens decided to blast electronica music most of us old folks headed to bed. It was a great evening and I can never get enough of tilapia wrapped in banana leaves roasted over a wood fire.
Sorting for departure, hammock accidents and cakes
During the day I had made sure all my monkey clothes were washed. This involved hand washing them in the laundry room and then hanging them on the lines outside my room. But at least it meant the others could use them after I left.
2 nights before my departure we were all sitting relaxing in the living room and reminiscing about the table game from the night before. At some point Yvonne (Germany), said she used to be able to spin herself in the hammock. There was a moment silence and then the game was on. This is what happens when you leave volunteers to their own resources. Yvonne managed it with little effort, followed by Nora (Germany), Nicola (Italy), Victor (Spain) and Leo (Switzerland). Then all eyes turned to me as I was trying desperately to meld with the shadows. I am not a fan of heights and even though it does not seem very high, when you are wrapped up inside a hammock facing the floor it can be intimidating. I managed to get myself half way over and then started laughing (and crying) out of nerves and the ridiculousness of the situation. At this point Leo and Nicola decided to lend me a hand, great to know you can depend on your friends. They got me flipped over and facing the floor but we were all laughing so hard that they took a 5sec break on that with me trapped inside the hammock. That was all it needed for the small rip to become a big rip. With a very loud rippppinnnnngggg sound I was deposited unceremoniously on the floor, curled in the fetal position laughing and crying all at the same time.
Everyone was laughing so hard that no one noticed that I wasn’t moving, eventually through their laughter someone said “is she ok?”, I managed to raise my hand and say “I’m ok…owww”. But I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t move, breathe or even have sound come out. After about 5minutes I was eventually able to uncurl and become the butt of numerous jokes, all in good fun. I also had a stunning bruise that lasted for 2 weeks as souvenir. Oh what fun is had with bored volunteers.
On my last night we built a fire, I was asked to bake cookies and my wonderful lead volunteer, Sarah, baked a lemon cake. Nora made pizza, at my request, and we played a game called lobo loco (crazy wolf) until midnight. In the game everyone is giving a card which designates either a citizen, wolf, or someone with a special power. After each round the wolves kill someone and the rest have to guess who it is. Usually I am terrible at the game and am almost always killed in the first round by everyone saying I am a wolf, and I am nearly always a citizen. Reasons given range from:
“She isn’t talking enough”
“She is too still”
to “Just because”
But on this round either everyone was giving me a fairwell break, or the new volunteers looked more suspicious. I even managed to win 2 rounds.
I have always hated farewells for as long as I can remember. They are so depressing and make you want to never travel. But the key downside to travel is that you have to leave. Even with all the ups and downs I had experienced the last few weeks had been great and I was tempted to stay a few more weeks. At the farewell I looked at Sarah and she read my mind and said “you can’t have 2 farewells so don’t even go there or I will throw you in a canoe right now, there is a reason for the saying go while the goings good!” She was right as usual.
As the time drew near I wanted to walk round and take some more pictures but at the same time I didn’t want to say farewell to all the amazing animals I had worked with. At the designated hour, everyone gathered at the canoe landing and with much hugging said farewell. Sarah threatened to throw me in the river if I cried, so I waited till I was in the canoe. She also gave me the secret to the river, and why she never swims in it. Lets just say it has something to do with the location of the quarantine clean up for the sick animals (just up river). Mmmmm oh well, the water is brown anyway.
After a tearful farewell, I rode off into the sunset (well not quite) and never looked back (thats a lie). I will truly miss that place and the fabulous people and animals I worked with. And if my bug bites ever heal there is a good chance I may go back.
Thanks for everything AmaZOOnico, its been fun!