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Tena to Baños – Day 81-82 – Farewells cont.

March 28 – 29 2011

The final hitch
As I stepped out of the canoe, the only one that had arrived on time and even early for me in 2mths, realisation that my time in the jungle was over set in. New adventures await but some adventures you wish could last longer.

Nora and Yvonne (Germany) had managed to get the day off and so were coming with me to Tena for my last night. We hoped to get hitch a ride but it was not to be. The only car that past was a small truck, these are always filled with stuff and so we didn’t even try. Go figure this time it was empty and by the look on the guys face he would have stopped for us. Oh well. The bus arrived after an hour and a half and we headed into Tena, for my last time.

Laundry Lady
For the last 2mths I have dropped my laundry off at the same lady. She even learnt my name by the 2nd load, much to the annoyance of a volunteer who had been going there for the past 5mths. On this occasion we showed up and she immediately admonished me for not showing up last week. (I had not come into Tena for my last 2weeks). She said she was worried something was wrong but was glad to see me back again. Then I had to explain that this would be my last load with her and thanked her profusely for her great service. She was very sad to hear that and gave me a hug goodbye. I do love living in an area where you get to know people to this point.

My old lady store
After checking into the hostel, A Welcome Break, and breaking the news to the owner that I would be leaving from tomorrow we headed down to have the traditional pizza and fanta. After dinner we headed up to pick up the weekly bottle of water and to do a final browse of the candy counter at my favorite little hole in the wall store. The Old Lady who runs it immediately gave me grief for not showing up last week, she was also worried something had happened. I explained that I had not come out of the jungle for 2 weeks and this was my last night in Tena. She threw up her hands in despair came out from behind the counter and gave me a huge hug. Then she took my hands and pronounced to everyone the following (luckily my friend was there to translate for me):
“This girl is so loving and caring and kind, she is beautiful and has a kind heart and I want her to marry my son”. Then she gave me another huge hug. Its times like this you wish you lived in this place. And to think all I did was buy 2 small bottles of water and browse the candy counter once a week. Imagine the farewell if I lived and visited her everyday.

We then headed for a final look at tradition, or rather drink of tradition. CocoRon is nectar from the gods and a weekly ritual for any and all AmaZOOnico volunteers. Essentially it is a coconut milkshake with rum in it and it is pure heaven. Its right up there on the top 5 things I will miss about being in the jungle, along with canoe rides, great friends, cool animals and relaxing in hammocks.

Final breakfast at Tortuga Cafe
Another regular stop during visits to Tena is the Tortuga Cafe (tortoise cafe). It is run by a woman from Switzerland and they have fantastic grub at decent prices (which is Ecuadorian speak for slightly expensive but ridiculously cheap by western standards). I will definately miss the yogurt, granola and fruit bowls that became a regular part of my morning routine.

Mail Glorious Mail
Friends and family had timed their mail perfectly. As I had received a package full of fantastical goodies from my mate, Deb, in Australia 3 days before leaving. There was also a package waiting for me at the post office that needed my ID. Deb’s package had been full of yummy goodies, a hand crank torch (perfect as my other one had just broken), a stubby cooler for my beer (ever practical for the hot forest) and many more goodies. I couldn’t wait to see who had sent and what had been sent.

When we got to the post office the lady found a package or letter for almost every other volunteer except me and I started to fear that my mystery package would lay in wait for ever. But luckily the regular showed up and found it almost immediately. Due to its weight I had to pay an extra $5. It turns out it was my easter package from my mummy. And it was full of the most delectable goodies. She had also modified a polar bear card so that it appeared the bear was wearing bunny ears, I think it was the best part of the package. I so love my mummy and I owe her lots of coffee and floor cleaning when I return for all her help and support during this trip.

Baños bound
So for those of you who don’t speak Spanish, the word Baños means bathrooms. So I was essentially heading for the town of bathrooms. But the name really exists because of the natural hot springs located in the area, and the healing properties found there. Then again saying you are heading to the bathrooms is kind of amusing too.

Of course, when you are heading to a new location it means you have to say farewell to the present location and the friends found within. This meant an emotional farewell to 2 of the most amazing girls I have met, Nora and Yvonne. Nora always had a calmness about her in crazy times and made the best jungle pizza ever. Yvonne was like a younger version of me and at times we wanted to kill each other, but her fun lookout on life also helped to make light of things when it was pissing with rain, hot and everyone was grumpy. I will miss both of them very much.

Police checks, ewwww and a great hostel
The bus ride from Tena to Baños was around 3hrs and half way through we had a police check. Everyone had to deboard, stand in a line and produce ID. I am rather certain one young gentleman did not have ID on him and could tell the cops were giving him a bit of a hard time, but in the end let him back on the bus with a warning or something along those lines.

Pulling into Baños around 6pm, feeling quite drained, I got my bag and discovered the one time I didn’t zip the straps up (have a cover that zips them up and protects them), they were lying in some foul smelling liquid and stank so bad. the only good thing is that I could tell it wasn’t some kind of human or animal waste. Just most likely very stagnant water. But the ewwwww factor was there in high levels.

As I was adjusting straps and trying not to purge the contents of my stomach due to the smell, about 10 cabs drove past. As I stood up and moved to the curb its like they could smell my bag and all fled the scene. Luckily the info sheet I had on the hostel had directions, so I headed towards the general vicinity and hoped to come upon it. People were very helpful and most of them knew exactly which hostel I was most likely heading for. Eventually after walking almost 10 blocks with my huge bag (guess I am stronger after lugging buckets of yukka around the jungle), I found Hostel Plantas y Blanca (Hostel of plants and white). It is a fantastic hostel with great staff and a roof top terrace and morning cafe. The bed was comfy and as soon as I had consumed a dinner of bland, but good, quesedillas and nachos I past out for the night.

Till midnight when new people were brought to the room and the night staff put the lights on, then realised I was there so switched it off, but the girl behind him switched it on, then suddenly off, then her friend did the same. Eventually I just moaned “just leave it on will ya!”

Ahhh the joy of hostel living again…

Random pics from Tena:

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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AmaZOOnico – its a wrap

Deciding to volunteer in the jungle of Ecuador was more of an afterthought that an actual plan. In fact the entire decision to visit South America was an afterthought when plans to volunteer in Botswana fell through. A friend reminded me of a work mate I knew in Peru, and then my mom found an article about volunteering in Ecuador. Well Ecuador was right above Peru, sounded like a perfect fit.

I spoke no Spanish, had never been to South America, was not a fan of rice and beans and yet here I was merrily buying a ticket for my first leg of a year of travel and heading down south. And I will never regret it for a moment. it has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life and volunteering at AmaZOOnico has made me stronger and (not to sound corny) a wee bit wiser. Here are a few shots from my life there and some of the amazing animals I worked with:

VIDEO: My lodgings – The Volunteer House

VIDEO: Toucans – the one trying to get into the compost bucket is the one who had a vendetta against my boots

Blue and Yellow Macaw with Amazon Parrot - they mate for life



VIDEO: Dobbie showing his intelligence

VIDEO: Enrichment with Tamarin monkeys











 
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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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AmaZOOnico Day 71 – 81 – week 8 In the Jungle

March 18 – 28 2011

Week 8

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!!!!
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 wiggled”
“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.

Final Farewells
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!

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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AmaZOOnico Day 64 – 70 – Week 7 in the Jungle

March 11 – 17 2011

Week 7

The Making of a Great Lunch
For the longest time the other volunteers have visibly flinched every time I was on the dinner roster and I had been trying to take a back seat on dinner prep. Usually, out in the real world, I am a pretty good cook, but with limited and unfamiliar ingredients I found myself holding back on spicing things up. However, after Nora made the most amazing pizza sauce for dinner last night I decided to make a veggie pasta sauce for everyones lunch and use her left overs as the base. I managed to scrounge up some eggplant, green pepper, onions, lots of garlic, tomatoes and anything else that looked vegetable like, sauteed them and then added them to the sauce. Pour over spaghetti and everyone refused to believe that I had made it. Not only that, but when the folks on dinner failed miserably there was still an excellent backup left over from lunch. Woohoo, there is hope for my jungle cooking skills yet.

Mail Glorious Mail
Nothing brightens your day in the jungle than getting mail from friends, especially mail filled with chocolate. At the Monday morning reunion Angelika, the big boss, handed over a card from Australia (thanks Deb) and a package from Chile (thanks Cathleen). She looked very confused and asked if I really was from South Africa since I was getting packages and letters from all over. When everyone saw what was in the package they didn’t believe that I had only met Cathleen 2mths prior and we had only travelled for a week. You meet great friends while you are exploring and I am forever grateful for that…and the chocolate that was sent.

Canoe Rides
I can honestly say my favorite part of being in the jungle were the canoe rides. There is nothing quite like speeding down the river in a small canoe, with huge trees passing by you and the occasional monkey seen leaping from limb to limb. It’s fantastic and awfully refreshing, kind of jungle air conditioning if you would. On a day off it turned out there were no tours going from Liana Lodge that I was interested in, so I decided to ride the canoes. Leo (Switzerland) was heading to Tena so I caught a ride with him, then back to the lodge. About 30minutes later they needed to take the canoe out again so got to ride it back and forth again. Think I managed a good 3 or 4 times in the canoe, was great fun.

Meeting kitties and an awfully cute monkey
During my canoe forays back and forth I took some time to visit Angelika and meet her cats. She loves all animals but has a special soft spot for cats. The biggest and most beautiful is her pride and joy, by the name of Puma. And that he is with the biggest set of yellow eyes that are pure judgement when they look at you. He is the king and he knows it. Then I got to meet the cutest thing in the world, a 6mth old monk saki monkey. It looks like a 90 year old man and it is all fur. When she passed him to me it headed straight for my shoulder and started making little purring chirping noises and when I chirped back he would respond. Angelika mentioned she hoped to have a volunteer take him for a “walk” now and then and I let her know I am sure we could work something out in the future for people with days off, as we didn’t have enough volunteers to “walk” him on our days on.

Sometimes all you need is a nap
Continuing with my day off, I had planned to spend a couple of hours at the school, but decided to take a quick 30min nap as I was exhausted. 5 hrs later, about 3hrs after school ended, I woke up. It was the kind of sleep where you wake up in the position you lay down in and find that you drooled all over your pillow. Guess I needed a good couple hours sleep, work catches up with you and days off often have us comatose. Just a little bummed I slept through school. Hopefully I will get the chance to visit them before I leave, which is only a week and a half away.

My largest group yet / did you really just say that?
With us down to barely 4 volunteers it means that the work load triples for all of us and it is almost impossible to split up a group if it comes in. So when a group of 25 medical students from Indiana University came I stepped up to take it, mainly as I had the most group handling experience and the loudest voice. Once we had them all paid up the easiest way to get their attention was to stand on a stool and give them the introduction. A pretty cool group in all, a variety of medical fields all doing volunteer work as part of their studies at Indiana. Quite impressive actually.As we walked through and I explained about the animals and the conservation efforts, they asked me numerous questions about the area and the project. Then the real question came up, it went something like this:
“why did you family decide to leave South Africa”.
“My parents didn’t agree with apartheid and wanted us to grow up somewhere where people were more equal”.
“Whats apartheid?”
I just kind of looked at the questioner and sighed saying something like “the american education system”
He replied with “we could make up words to”.
I explained “Apartheid was the political system set in place to keep black and white separated in South Africa”
As the light bulb went off he exclaimed “ahhhhh you mean the movie, Invictus!!”
All his friends moaned, I mumbled something about the education system again and proceeded to the next animal.
It was all rather amusing in the long run, but it does make you concerned when medical students refer to a movie when talking about something like Apartheid.

Enriching the lives of a pair of Saddleback Tamarins
For this weeks enrichment I chose the 2 tamarin monkeys. I hid some raisens in a leaf package and placed it in the enclosure. Mia, the adult, went absolutely crazy for it, and was trying to chew through the leaves to get to them, but I had chosen a nice thick leaf and she had to figure out other ways to get into it. Finally she got hold of one and was blissfully happy for the next 30seconds while she ate it. Kiwi, the immature male (I mean that in the physical sense), spent the whole time jumping up and down and around the feeding platform trying to get a raisin, or rather hoping Mia would give him one (she is a fairly giving tamarin except when it comes to food), the whole time yelling “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” at the top of his lungs. Finally he figured out how to get one. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen. Guess that would class as enrichment.

Dobbie discovers how to open the gate – in other words “Oh Sh!t”
In most cases when we clean the animal cages we get them out of the feeding section and lock the door so that we can clean and feed in relative safely, this works pretty much all the time. On this particular day every thing went as normal with all the cages on big tour and then we got to our final cage, the capuchin monkeys. The smartest of the capuchins I have dubbed Dobbie, as he is in constant need of attention and will actively position himself in front of anyones camera to make sure that he is in the photo and none of the others. He is the skinniest of the lot and usually sits sucking his thumb. Today he decided to hang out in the feeding cage while we tried to coax them out with food. He just hung out there sucking his thumb and stairing at us. Then he pulled as much of the rope into the feeding cage as he could (we use it to pull the door closed and this meant you have to pull a lot of rope to get it closed giving them more time to get back into the cage). Luckily I was able to yank the rope fast enough to get the door closed before they could get back in, once they are closed one person holds onto the rope with all her weight while the other tries to lock the door. Usually the monkeys are trying to open them. Once the door is locked we can clean in safety.

Today however, Dobbie was in prime form and in the middle of cleaning Celine and I hear a “click”. We both turn around to see a very surprised Dobbie holding the door open. He didn’t realise he could do it either. That split second gave me enough time to leap at the door and pull it closed, just as two others leapt onto it. While they tried to open it and or bite my fingers I yelled at Celine to “get the rope, get the damn rope”. She wanted to lock it at first and then realised that would be useless, this whole time I am rapidly shifting my fingers up and down the door and watching the other door in the hope that Dobbie won’t realise if he can open one then he can open the other.

Finally, with Celine holding the ropes it was safe for me to relock the doors and finish cleaning, keeping her on the ropes. That whole episode certainly got the adrenalin going, and I was wide awake after that. Its scary to think what they might have done had they got into the cage with us, they have had a history of violence and considering they think you are in their territory it could have been ugly.

The fastest hitched ride ever
After 5 days of scorching heat, I was looking forward to a relaxing day off in Tena. Celine (France), Toki (Germany) and I were heading to Tena and hoped to catch a ride in as it was a 2hr wait till the bus. As usual the canoe was late, I have very bad canoe Karma. But as we made it to Puerto Barantilla Celina ran up the bank and managed to flag down a truck. Usually it takes a good hour and a half by bus, an hour by car if you are lucky. We made it in 40min. To say he was going above the speed limit would be an understatement. The American traffic police would match their quota in about 20min if they came down here. Speeds are purely a matter of suggestion.

Stay tuned for my last week of volunteering in this amazing place.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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AmaZOOnico day 37-49 – week 4 in the Jungle

Feb 17 – 23 2011

Week 4 in the jungle

Routine keeps you sane!
After only 4 weeks here in the jungle I have started developing routines, especially when coming to Tena on my day off. It goes something like this:
Arrive in Tena and drop off laundry
Check in at hostel and have a WARM shower
Go have hawaiian pizza and fanta
Go to the little old lady store pick up a bottle of water and choose some sweets from the candy case
Go back to hostel, relax and check internet then sleep

I once tried to alter the route by eating dinner somewhere else and when I returned to AmaZOOnico it just didn’t feel like I had had a proper day off. Routine and friendly faces at regular stops definately keep you sane and grounded. It also let you feel a bit more like a local than a short termer.

Road accident…It had to happen sometime
On my return trip to Puerto Barantilla to pick up the canoe the bus had an accident. Or perhaps it was more like a car hit us as it came screaming round a blind corner on the wrong side of the road. The bus hit it broadside and it slid off the road. Then the screaming match began and finally the driver just jumped in the car and drove off, much to the annoyance of the bus driver who ran down the road after him. Since the only speed limits in South America seems to be FAST and EXTRA FAST, I am surprised it didn’t happen sooner. Even after standing in the road looking befuddled for 20min the bus driver still managed to get me to my stop on time, but am fairly certain he was just going fast this time.

The tail’s tale continues
I have started helping with the cleaning and medicating of Francisco for his tail. It looks ok, but there are concerns of infection and healing correctly, there also appears to be a small piece of bone that is sticking out as the sutures did not hold correctly and the wound is healing with a gap. It takes 4 people to clean the wound as 1 person has to hold the head, 1 person has to hold the feet and hands, 1 person has to hold the tail and the final person cleans and rebandages. The whole time Francisco is screaming, its quite stressful. We have to abrade, reopen scabs, the area every day to make sure that there is no puss or infection and I can only imagine how painful that must be. But it is too dangerous to constantly medicate him to keep him calm, not to mention the lack of adequate medications. On one cleaning I was helping Michael, manager, with cleaning and then he handed me the convenia injection, antibiotic, and told me to give it subcutaneous. I have officially injected cats, dogs, lizards, snakes and now a wooley monkey. Not to bad a list if I say so myself, although a wee bit stressful trying to find a good location on Francisco with 3 pairs of eyes watching my every move.

Cooking duty on a Thursday
Our human food arrives on a friday morning and by Thursday we have VERY limited options which forces people on cooking duty to get creative. Sometimes food is almost finished by wednesday depending on the number of people to feed. On this week Flavio, Kichwa volunteer (Kichwa = people from this region), and I were the designated drivers and there was pretty much nothing left on the shelves. So we did what we could and came up with a hodge podge that actually worked reasonably well:
Rice
Mash potato with lots of butter
Tuna with fried onion and garlic
Coleslaw (cabbage and carrots with mayonaise and raisens)
and finally fruit salad for dessert.

Not too bad considering the limited supplies and that most of the stuff was starting to rot in the humidity.

Enriching the life of Felix the Jaguarundi
One of our weekly tasks is to design an enrichment activity for one of the animals, so that they are challenged and do not become too bored with living in a cage. I have had a number of successful enrichments and so I decided to try something for Felix the jaguarundi. I got permission to use raw eggs and soaked them in as much blood as I could find from the meat for afternoon feeding. The plan was as follows:
Hide the eggs and he would search them out and then play with them and finally figure out how to eat them. Jaguarundi’s have been known to pilfer from birds nests so this seemed like an easy plan.

One factor to note though, is that Felix was raised by humans and does not have much wild instinct. In truth he is not the smartest jaguarundi but we love him anyway.

Turns out the enrichments went a little like this:
Get Felix in smaller cage to lock door and enter main cage.
Hide eggs near fence where I can observe.
Release him, and watch as he searches for his afternoon meat. (due to meat shortage the eggs were his afternoon feeding).
He found the eggs pretty quickly and licked them with enthusiasm, but once all the blood was off he looked at me confused and released a terrifying “Meow?”.
Get him back in small cage and return to egg site where I cracked 1 completely, 1 slightly and let the last untouched. (Assuming he would figure out that there was yummy stuff inside all of them).
Released him, he enthusiastically lapped up the egg that was open and licked the egg that cracked, then once again looked at me and said “meow?” (and I am not kidding with the ? either, he was definately confused).
In the end we had to crack all 3 of them as he just couldn’t figure out what to do with them.
Maybe he is actually smarter and realises we will do the work for him…

Fairwells and alcohol
We always try have a party of sorts for people’s fairwells and when Genesis left it was no exception. Its tradition for everyone to make a dessert of some kind and we usually end up having those for dinner. We also end up playing games that involve alcohol. This time we had some limited rum, so our head volunteer made these amazing rum drinks (rum, sugar, lemon and water). Amazing! When the rum ran out we turned to the locally made stuff. Its called agua chiente (spelling?) and I am fairly certain you can use it to strip paint. In South Africa we would call it witblitz (white lightning) and in the states moonshine. Its made from maize I believe and the trick is to not smell it before you drink it. However mix it with something and you barely taste it, which can be very very dangerous.

Rainy season in the rainforest
When you talk about the rainforest you assume there are daily showers and that it always feels hot and humid. However make it rainy season and you can rapidly run out of dry clothing. One one particularly intense day it rained cats and dogs, torrential downpour would be an understatement. The kind of rain where rain jeckets and ponchos do no good. I had big tour with 2 of the girls and we were saturated almost immediately. Followed immediately by 2 tours. Giving me only 10min for lunch before afternoon feeding, it was still raining, where I was volunteered for big tour. They love deciding who does what in Spanish and leaving out a couple of us who don’t realise they have decided. But it was all good and I was wet anyway, whats another gallon of rain down your pants.

Beata strikes again
On Sunday I headed down to clean the bathrooms and have a quick shower before our volunteer meeting. When I went into my side of the house all doors were closed. When I came out the other living room door was open. This could mean only one thing and I found Beata (spider monkey) sitting on Sarah’s shelves. I tried to coax her out but she decided she wanted to roam around a little and climbed over the top of the wall into Sara’s (Spain) room, she was away and it was padlocked so I couldn’t get in, but I could hear her searching for things. Finally Beata reemerged in Sarah’s room but then promptly climbed back into Sara’s and then over into Lukas’ room. This was continued for about 20minutes, with me yelling for help every 5minutes. Finally someone came and we continued to try get her out. Ever since she bit me I have been a bit more cautious around her. After about 25minutes of chasing her from room to room and just as Lukas was about to come save the day she put her arms out and let me pick her up as if that was all I had had to do from the very beginning. Locking doors became a mission for me after that.

Martin
That afternoon we decided to return Martin the wooley monkey to the cage he shared with Herman. His wound on his shoulder had healed nicely and we figured he would be ok in the cage. That night around 9pm, while we were relaxing in the living room, Lukas came down and said I was needed in the vet room. He had been counting kinkajous when Martin had been attacked by something again, but had passed out when he tried to help (he is a very sensitive guy). So up I went in the pouring rain, and what a sorry sight I found. We think that something got him through the fence. He had 3 large gashes on his head, his right thumb was split almost in half, he had bite wounds on every appendage and a large chunk missing from his tail. He was screaming bitterly and we all trying to figure out exactly what and how we were going to treat him. It was finally decided to use only local anesthetic and stitch the wounds. We only finished about 2hrs later and when Martin resembled the monkey version of frankenstein. He now faces another few weeks of daily cleanings and treatments until his wounds heal and we have figured out the problem with keeping him safe in the cage. The best solution is to put chicken wire over the whole cage, but its $500 (US) for just the supplies, more for labor.

A long week ends
Due to the delicate nature of days off this week has been 7 days straight on, and I think I am ready to drop. My knees are starting to kill me and I end up in bed by 7.30pm almost every night. Can I really feel this old at 33?? Luckily I have 2days off in Tena, which means a whole lot of sleeping, eating and warm showers would should hopefully help me recover before returning.

Freddy, Monica and Flavio (Kichwa volunteers) have the day off too so we all headed into town together and went out for pizza. I veered away from my usual fanta and had a beer instead, and it was a good change with company. Then I returned to the hostel and remained comatose for about the next 12hrs.

Join me as I start my 2nd and last month of volunteering in my next post…

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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AmaZoonico: Days 36-42 – Week 3 in the Jungle

The management wish to apologize for any delays you might have experienced with updates. Due to technical difficulties involving internet access in the jungle we are a little behind.

April 10th to 16th 2011

Week 3 in the Jungle

The joys of things that bite in the night
In the morning I woke up at the hostel covered in small red bites. Having previously managed a hostel my first thoughts were bed bugs. But the owner assured me they had no such issue and it was most likely the beastly sand flies and mosquitoes who got me. in the end I believed him as the bites did appear more sand fly like in nature. I went back to sort out some things and suddenly his mother appeared (she is the most darling old lady ever and always calls me “mi amor”). She indicated for me to put my feet up on the side table and then proceeded to smear a green liquid that smelled like menthol all over my legs, feet and arms. Needless to say, that afternoon I went on the hunt for some of this amazing stuff.
I permanently carry a small tin of mentol chino with me when I do tours and this was like a liquid form of it. Mentol chino is about the only thing, other than copious amounts of cortizone cream, that helps the itchiness… speaking of which where the heck is my tin, ahhhh I hate sand flies!!!!

My very own room
When I got back to AmaZoonico I found out that none of the others wanted the newly available single room that was recently vacated. So I immediately started moving. It has 2 lovely windows, a shelf and a bed side “table”. Fantastic! However it is above the kitchen (which can get very noisy) and its wain wall by the bed is the one facing the popular lounge, which means talking to all hours of the night and cigarette smoke. But hey, its my own room!

A tale of a tail
When a group of woolly monkeys were due to be released we realised that one of them had an injured tail. After close inspection (involving 4 people holding him down and one looking at it) we realised it was most likely broken but as there was still blood flow we decided to bandage it and see how it healed. We believe he was sitting with his tail outside his cage when another wild monkey came up and broke it right below the part they use to grip things with (prehensile). After an initial check I headed off to do a tour and Michael (the manager) headed off to Tena for his weekend off.

Shortly after my tour ended I was called to help with Francisco again, it turns out he had started chewing on the injured section and was now causing severe damage. We bandaged it up again and called the vet in Quito we work with. His suggestion was to amputate the section before infection set in. We then called Michael to tell him his weekend off had come to an end. He returned the next day and preparations were made. We still had no vet, the vet from Quito was unable to come and so it was up to Michael to do the deed. Upto this point the only amputations he had made were on necropsies (autopsy on an animal), so this was going to prove interesting.

With limited equipment I became the monitoring machine with my stethoscope and watch. I made up a monitoring sheet to keep things in order and then we were on our way. It was really difficult cutting through tendons and moving the skin and hair away from the bone and then came the decision of where to cut. If we cut too high it would mean a redo and the wound wouldn’t heal well. If we cut too low we would remove part of his healthy tail. Luckily Michael’s guess seemed well aimed and the cut was clean. As we were starting to close up, Francisco decided to start waking up which lead to mild panic as we tried to turn up the anesthetic and hold him down at the same time. In the end the surgery appeared to be a success, Francisco woke up without problems and appeared to be leaving his tail alone. Michael was so impressed by how well it went he bought us all a soda.

Volunteer Dynamics
It is inevitable to find the occasional issue when you take a large bunch of people of different ages and cultures and push them together. At present the majority of volunteers were female and under 22 from Europe. Its never a good idea when there are too many girls barely out of highschool in a group together and they proved this when they called me into a room and sat me down and proceeded to tell me that I wasn’t working hard enough. This was a bit of a shock as I was barely on my 2nd week and still didn’t know everything, they named a few instances from that (all of which turned out to be when I was in surgery). When our head volunteer arrived she looked fairly concerned at this apparent gang up. So it turns out that I am back in highschool, and still not popular. It really took its toll on me and I seriously started considering leaving. Working with a bunch of youngsters who refuse to speak anything but spanish (great for immersion but you need someone to give you the occasional translation) and who treat you like someone who isn’t worth being there was not my idea of fun. But after chatting with Sarah I decided to stick it out and just focused on myself instead of trying to be part of the group. In the end I am very thankful to her advice, as groups change and so do the dynamics.

Tours in foreign languages
Today during fruit delivery we had a Belgium group arrive for a tour. Lukas, from Holland, could have done the tour but he is much more useful with the fruit carrying than I am. So I got to do my first tour in Afrikaans (a form of Dutch spoken in South Africa). It was a lot of fun and the most amusing part is that every time I said something they all got this look on their faces and said “oh how cute”. I switched to English after the 5th time they said this. It was all rather amusing and great practice for my Spanish.

Happy Valentines
I spent my valentines in Tena with my usual pizza and fanta. Turns out I have 2 days in a row off. the down side is that it is only 1 day after my last day off and means I will most likely have to work 7 days straight, but on the upside I really need a couple days to myself and away from the highschool atmosphere.

Stay tuned to see if I survive repeating highschool and how dynamics start changing

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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AmaZoonico: Days 32- 35 – week 2 in the Jungle

Feb 6th to 9th 2011

Week 2 in the jungle
After the mammoth party the night before, that rivaled the nightly party at the local Kichwa community across the river (we regularly go to bed listening to dance beats thumping through the forest), the revelers rolled out of bed and put on their gum boots. Today I repeated front tour in the hopes that I would have it memorized and able to do it alone on the next round.

English tours
As my main language is English and there isn’t much call for Korean or Afrikaans tours, there are often days when I never have tour. Then again there are days where I have tours back to back. My first tour went off rather well and I was feeling really good about myself…until I went for lunch and one of the volunteers told me all my info was incorrect. I explained I had followed the information we had been given and she said well that was wrong too. Apparently since we change animals so often the booklet often gets out of date, but the information about the general animal is not wrong its just the story about that precise animal that might be different. Other volunteers just laughed and told me it was fine as long as the biological info I was giving was correct.

Danger Will Robinson Danger
Sarah, the head volunteer, had a little intro with me, much more in depth and useful compared to my initial one. She told me about all the different duties and chores we have as volunteers (such as basura/trash and cleaning banos/bathrooms), she also gave me more info on the tours and day to day life. Then we got down to the nitty gritty and the dangers of life in the jungle. These included the following:
– try not to scratch itchy bites as they could become infected
– if you get diarrhea let it run its course but if it continues past 2 weeks tell management
– beware of scorpions, always check your shoes
– tarantulas are scary but not dangerous
– and finally beware of snakes, especially the Eckies, but never fear you have at least 7hrs to live if you are bitten and the hospital is only 2hrs away… Why does that not instill confidence in me??

Sunday Meetings
Our schedule is 7am to 5pm 7 days a week, even on Sundays, although it would be nice to have an early day off. Oh well one of the joys of volunteering. As it was Sunday it was also the “Volunteer Reunion”. Our weekly meeting to decide on duties and days off. At 5.15pm we all filtered in (I had tried to quickly jump in the shower and was still changing when my name was yelled – oops late for the first meeting). Then we went through all the happenings of the week, any problems, any news and finally the list of duties. Sarah calls them out and we all raise our hands quickly if we want it or look in the other direction hoping we aren’t made to do it. Finally days off rolled around, we start with special requests and then from one side of the table we name off a preference, it then returns back to name your second preference. Sometime you are lucky and it works out, sometimes you get stuck with 2 weeks of days off close together and 7 days on or the like.

Monday Meetings
On mondays we have a 7am AmaZoonico meeting with the volunteers, teachers, the trail guides and the big boss (Remigio). This is all done in Spanish and so I spent most of it looking like I was watching tennis as the conversations flew over me at great speed. I had been warned I would have to give an introduction in Spanish and I had been practicing my lines for 2 days. All of a sudden I realised everyone was looking at me expectantly and my introduction was due, caught off guard I sputtered out something resembling Spanish which included my name, age and where I was from. Then the meeting continued. Afterwards Sarah gave me the headlines which took 2minutes after an hour long meeting.

Mono Tour (aka Monkey Tour)
Today I start learning the ropes, so to speak, of Mono tour (Mono is monkey in spanish). The tour includes:
Small monkey table – (where all the wild squirrel monkeys and Beata and such eat) clean, wash and place new food
Big monkey table – same as above but bigger in size.
Aves 1 (bird cage 1) – clean and feed and try avoid being buzzed by the blue headed parrots
Capibaras (worlds largest rodent) – toss in new food

Herman (woolly monkey) and Lyria (agouti) – pull door closed (Herman has women issues) clean and feed


Johan and Mea (spider monkeys) – pull door closed (Johan has male monkey aggression and tries to get out to kill any other male monkey) feed and clean

It is one of the shortest tours and the easiest. It usually means you get to clean the bodega, food prep room, when you are done but that is all good.

Dehydration
Dehydration is a big problem when you are working in the heat and humidity and I got an up close and personal introduction to it during this week. I had been drinking all morning but then had 2 tours back to back, followed by food prep and a feeding. The sun had come out and that is when it becomes blisteringly hot and all the sweat dries so you don’t even realise you are losing moisture.
At the end of the feeding I felt like I was on the verge of collapse, a headache was thumping, I just wanted to tear off my clothes and stand under a cold shower (I never WANT to have a cold shower) and I was beginning to feel like I was going to throw up. Toki took one look at me and told me to go rest. I ended up curled up under my mosquito net all day drinking electrolyte water and trying to avoid the urge to cleanse my system.
The next day it appeared that everyone had known how sick I was and were asking how I was feeling.

Note to self: always carry a bottle of water and drink from it continuously.

Martin
Poor little Martin! He is a woolly monkey that has a neurological problem, his right side doesn’t work too well and he acts just like a human 2yr old in that he puts everything in his mouth. This often results in him being sick and having diarrhea. On this day Lukas and I had noticed him huddled in a corner acting very strange so we had reported it to management. Alejandra (a local biologist who works at the center) called me to help check him out. Since he lives with Herman (the one with women issues) we had to be very careful, but luckily there were no problems and we got Martin out the cage before Herman showed any interest.

He was in poor shape, with a large gash on his shoulder and severe diarrhea. It didn’t help that it had been pouring with rain all day and so he was soaked to the bone and very cold. We had to try shave the area which even in his weakened state, he still managed to squirm and wiggle. Then lidocaine and finally stitching. He was not very happy and screamed most of the time, its too dangerous to put him under anesthetic for a simple procedure, but I think he would have preferred it. Eventually we got it all stitched up and settled him in to one of the cages at the bodega with a nice hot water bottle to keep him company.

So this is the rainy season
Well you never would have guessed but it rains a lot in the rainforest. Usually there is a shift in the wind and you can almost count it off as a sudden deluge of water falls from the heavens. During this week it appeared as if the rainy season had hit with some intensity. A large tree had fallen on the laundry area and involved much pulling and hauling to remove it and left us all soaked to the bone. Also a piece of bamboo had fallen like a javelin and almost pierced the front cage that houses Kinti and Tamien (woolly monkeys), all very exciting, in a manner of speaking. Doing feeding tours in the rain is one thing but then you also have to lead tourists around in the rain…thats when you know you are committed and very wet. At one point you consider going to change but you are going to be drenched within 5minutes anyway (even a rain jacket/poncho doesn’t help as you sweat so much its like its raining inside) that you end up weighing being comfortable for 5minutes and wasting a pair of clean dry underwear. Usually we just end up sitting it out in soggy clothes and praying for 5pm to arrive so we can dry off.

Beata and biting
I had been told many times that Beata, the spider monkey, did not have any teeth so it was ok if she tried to bite you when you had to shoo her away or pull her off someone. We don’t want to encourage her to get too used to hanging onto people, as it could be dangerous. So when I came out with my tour and found Beata draped around one of the guides (who I had just told not to touch Beata) I did as I was told. You grab her hand and unwind her from the person. Her reaction to this was equivalent to a 5yr old being caught with candy and being made to give it up. She creamed blue bloody murder and bit me on my hand and hip. Turns out she does have teeth, just not very big ones. Luckily it didn’t pierce the skin but I did have a fairly cool bruise on my hip for a week. My tour looked quite shocked at this, but being the professional I am… I was able to remain calm and explain the reasonings (meanwhile I was cursing inside and sayings some fairly unpleasant things to all those who said she didn’t have teeth).

Ending the week in Tena
My week ended with another trip to Tena. I was absolutely exhausted and just went and checked in, showered and had dinner. Part of me wanted to be social and there was even a group of fairly good looking English lads, but consideration was as far as it got. Flirt with the boys or bed, screw that bring on the bed and sleep!!

Stay tuned for more adventures and more poop!

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Tena to AmaZoonico: Days 27 to 31 – Week 1 Jungle Time

Feb 1st – 5th, 2011

Getting there
At the appointed time on the appointed day I headed out to find my bus. Turned out to take me a lot quicker than I had thought and gave me a 40min wait till departure. When the bus arrived I jumped in and was thrilled to see that I could get the seats at the door, what a score, air and I can see where I was going. 5minutes later I noticed two very confused looking Ecuadorians behind me looking at their tickets. What do you know, we have assigned seats! I apologised profusely and made my way near the back to seat 18 aisle. no air and no way of seeing where I was going. Well I waited and sweated a young boy came through selling some kind of frozen popsicle, the best 10cents I ever spent!

Baby Monkey
Surprisingly the bus left at precisely 2.30pm and we were soon on our way at top speed (which I think is the only speed). I had seen a few people with boxes of chicks getting on the bus and was not surprised by the cheeping sound coming from the family next to me. I did feel sorry for the poor, strange looking black chick that the young boy had a vice like grip on. It was particularly strange that it appeared to have a long tail… I then realised it was not a chick at all but a baby monkey.
The family saw my reaction and let me hold it, for the entire bus ride. He was tiny, barely the size of my palm, it sounded like he was only 15 days old and his eyes were just open. He clung to me and made cheeping sounds looking for safety.

I have since found out that it is a Chichico monkey or Tamarin monkey. They are the 2nd smallest monkies in South America. This was a Saddleback Tamarin. Black with a white moustache. Too cute and so in need of its mother and mothers milk. At one point it made its way up my shoulder and under my hair where it clung to me for dear life.

As the trip progressed I tried to convince the family to let me take the baby to the refuge with me, but through broken Spanish I was able to get from them that it was their sons pet and they couldn’t take it away from him… $30! Number 1 I didnt want to encourage the selling of wildlife and 2 I didnt have $30 on me. So unfortunately at the designated sign of Puerto Rio Barantilla I had to return the poor thing back to the family knowing, full well, that it would unlikely survive. A very sad start to my volunteering. I wish I could have done more.

Arrival
Moving on to happier topics, I found the very big sign announcing I was at the location, went through the big metal gates and down the bank to the left to find my canoe…not waiting there for me.

Mmmm what to do, sit and wait was all I could think of. It was quite pleasant at the river but after 15min I started getting concerned.

Then low and behold a canoe appeared, woohoo, I grabbed my bag and set off to the waters edge, just as the canoe pulled up, the kids got out and told me they were off duty. Ok then guess thats not my canoe! As they were walking away another canoe appeared coming from the opposite direction and they pointed at that one. Ok then here we go this must be my canoe, I shouted : AmaZoonico: and they stared at me as they motored past… But luckily there seemed to be mutual agreement that the gringo (foreigner) looked quite pathetic and they came and picked me up. This wasnt the tourist canoe but a work canoe and no one jumped out to help me put my bags in. Eventually one realized they might be there forever if they left it up to me and took one of them. Then we were motoring down the river, me balanced precariously on the edge of the boat (it was full of bamboo so nowhere to sit).

When I arrived at the “dock” to AmaZoonico I was met by one of the long term volunteers. Pascal is from Germany and has been here for almost 6mths, he will stay for a year. He showed me to my room and gave me a debriefing in the kitchen. When he handed me the keys he said the short one was for the kitchen the other for the bar/curio shop (it took me over a week to realise the key lengths were the same but very tops of the keys were different lengths). When he gave me my sheets, stating “I think they are clean”, that was the end of the briefing and I left to settle in my room a little bewildered. My roommate is Karyn from Germany and is very quiet but has a lovely personality and is a very hard worker. She will leave in 2 weeks.

I wasn’t feeling so well and by the time dinner arrived I had a splitting headache and had already thrown up once. By the time I went to bed, unable to eat the pizza they had made, I had thrown up twice more. Brought on by dehydration with a touch of stress added into it.

Day 1
Waking at 6am, feeling much better, I got dressed and wondered what to do. There was some fresh bread for breakfast and someone gave me some jam (we have personal stashes of food that become very important). Then I went upstairs (a total of 75) looking for Celine (France) who had already gone upstairs to start.

Finally finding her she showed me where the Bodega (food prep room) was and had me start cutting up choritos (small bananas) and platanas (plantains). It was all very confusing and there was no set system really. To start off I was following “Big Tour”, what a way to start, you have at least 6 buckets full of food (which is difficult when there is only 2 of you, luckily with me there was 3), and you walk the majority of the loop through the refuge, up and down numerous stairs. My biggest problem (other than the weight of the buckets) was that due to my height the buckets kept hitting the stairs as I walked, needless to say I have an array of interesting bruises.

Big Tour includes:
-Peccaries (wild pigs) that get lots of yucca
-Aves 2 (bird cage with macaws and parrots) that get lots of fruit. One of the macaws tried to redo my hair with its beak.
-Kinkajou cage 1 involves cleaning in the morning, food in the afternoon
-Jaguarundi (a feline that can jump 4m to catch a bird) feed meat and clean cage
-Kinkajou and agouti cage – clean and feed
-Pond – feed tilapia and turtles
-Capucin monkeys – clean and feed while they yell insults at you
-Ocelot cage (felines) – walk to check perimeter and check electric fencing in the morning, lob pieces of meat over fence in the afternoon.

All very exhausting at the end of it and in the heat and humidity even more so.

Our day lasts from 7am till 5pm, there is a lunch at noon, but we have to stay up in the general area in case a tour comes in. This makes for a very long day in sweaty, dirty clothes trying to avoid being bitten by the sand flies. But all in all its great fun.

Day 2
On big tour again, new people do each tour at least 2 days in a row. Today was also “bebidas”, which means we have to take the empty bottles down to the canoe in preparation for new drinks arriving the next day. This is exhausting work, going up and down stairs with cases of empty bottles. At least I thought so until it was up and down with cases of full bottles.

Beata
Today I managed much better and dare say, may even be getting used to the heat a little. It was much like yesterday with chopping of fruit, cleaning of cages and feeding of animals. I did get to meet Beata, a spider monkey that lives at the center. It was quite a memorable introduction as she managed to get into the kitchen and we had to try get her out before she got into the food. She has an injury or deformity and is so used to humans that she will never be released, so she lives with us here. But it is very important that we don’t hand feed her or try and get her to sit with us, in fact we have to discourage her seeking attention as much as possible as it could cause potential problems with tourists.

Strings
I have hit a popular note with the volunteers due to my strings and making of bracelets (thank you hippies in Coffee Bay, South Africa, who taught me). I am even making some to donate to the shop to sell for the center. When I pulled them out I immediately had numerous orders and after a week am still trying to catch up on everyones. I even sold a couple of my fancier ones ($5 plus a bar of chocolate) to them.

Day 3 (the dreaded thursday)
On thursdays and mondays we have fruit delivery. This means lugging huge bunches of bananas, platanas, bags of papayas (pawpaws) and a variety of other fruit from the canoes to the Bodega and up the 75 stairs. My first attempt was a bunch of bananas and by the time I reached stair 68 I was seeing stars and battling to breathe. Toki (germany) luckily came along and grabbed it from me. I crumpled into a pile on and found myself shaking and crying. Note to self, start small. I managed another 2 trips with smaller bags of fruit and then focused on tidying the bodega.

Front Tour
It was also the day I started learning a new tour. Front tour is much shorter and has more variety. It includes:
– toucans – clean and feed avoiding the one that likes to bite your rubber boots
– Kinti and Tamien (baby woolly monkeys) need to have their enclosure cleaned and disinfected, all the time avoiding tamien who likes to pee on people
– Tamarin monkey is one of my favorites, she is super cute and does great acrobatics for you when you bring the food.
– Mono Loco (crazy monkey) is a capucin with rather severe mental issues and is kept alone, which doesn’t help his nervous behavior. We hope to neuter him and introduce him to the other capucin cage (we hope this will make him less aggressive)
– Barizo (squirrel monkey) – clean and feed, also super cute.
– Paca – walk up steep hill and throw food in, we are not sure if he is there but something eats it so we feed.

Day 4
Am very excited as I get to go to Tena today, but first I have to survive another front tour and today is also Comida (human food delivery). Another day of lugging heavy, bulky things up the stairs from the boats up to the kitchen, really wish there was another way.

Tena
I was told I could leave at 3.30pm and get ready and the canoe would pick us up at 4.15pm. I got down and the others going said it would be there at 3.45pm….ahhh communication issues. Tossed on clean clothes (no time to shower), grabbed my stuff and went to get the canoe. It came at 4pm (go figure). When we got to the bus stop there was virtually no traffic and no bus coming from the direction we needed so we started walking. After an hour and 3km (didn’t matter missing the shower anymore) we were finally able to hitchhike and squished the bunch of us with another family in the back of a tiny pickup. It sounded like there was road issues a way back and everyone was help up, so we were very lucky to get this guy.

As I have been told hitchhiking is very safe here and the biggest danger is being killed in a car accident. Considering the speed limit is a suggestion, and extra fast is the only way with the cars usually driving in the middle of the road and honking as they come around the bend, I once again became fairly religious. But we made it to Tena about the same time the bus would have got there had it been on time.

Dinner, shower, sleep
There was a major festival going on in Tena with loud party music and fireworks. But Karyn, who had joined me, and I were only concerned with dinner and then shower. Afterwards I skyped the parents and then, both exhausted we went to bed, my bed being hard as a rock and hers being soft as a feather, we both assume the top bunk must have been just right.

Errands
the next day we ran errands, picked up supplies, checked emails (I didn’t get a chance to update blogs unfortunatley), and general administrative stuff. Turns out the late night entry into our room was Sara (canada) our head volunteer. She headed back early that morning.
While we were in the store we bumped into Lukas (Holland) who had come to town for the day to pick up supplies. Later on we got our tickets for the bus, picked up our wonderfully clean laundry and hung out till it was time to leave.

Party all night long
When we returned on the bus we got to canoe point and discovered there was no canoe… this seems to be a trend. Victor who lives there and usually takes us back was no where to be found, luckily Lukas had a phone and called in an emergency pick up from Liana Lodge, much to our appreciation as we did not favor hacking through the bush to get to the center.
Tonight was a huge fairwell party for 3 of the volunteers, and the music blared until 3am. I was in bed at midnight. Another exhausting day over and new one starting in a few hours.

Stay tuned for next week!

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Lima to Quito – The written version

Jan 26th to 28th 2011

I survived!!!

It really does amaze me what we put ourselves through in the name of travel and volunteering. Before I arrived in Peru my longest bus trip was a whopping 3hrs. In preparation for my long haul to Ecuador I did 2 trips of 6hrs each in the span of 3 days from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and back.

Finally the day arrived to bus to Ecuador, it was an estimated 30 to 48 hrs (give or take a day I guess). My friend Fernando, from Lima, and I had looked at all the options and came up with 2 possibilities for the trip.
(A) take a bus that will run the entire distance (the downside is that it was a less known company and bus quality was a question)
or
(B) take a well known bus co. to Tumbes (Peru border town), get picked up by a shuttle and go through the border then dropped off at the Ecuador bus station. (This allowed some time to stretch and at least the first half guaranteed of a good bus).

We opted for option two… it might have been better to go with option 1!!!
Leaving at 4.30pm I had planned to go on the super first class section, with seats that go almost all the way down. Unfortunately this wasn’t an option but luckily I got the 2nd level seat at the very front for a panoramic view of the trip. I had no seat mate so I was able to “stretch” out and get some sleep. We were even given a small meal and a drink.

Section 1 on the comfy bus with the panoramic view took 20hrs and I pulled into the border town of Tumbes around noon to be accosted by hundreds of taxi drivers.
WTF
This is when things went downhill. There was supposed to be someone to meet me and shuttle me across the Peru and Ecuador border immigration depositing me at the Panamerica bus station for the next leg. Turns out there was no one to meet me, the phone number I had went to voicemail and the taxi drivers at the bus terminal were aggressive to say the least. Eventually the bus station clerk told me my ride was here, a taxi driver hired by the company. He said that his job was to take me through Peru immigration and then leave me at the border to take a taxi alone… Mmm this was the exact thing I had been hoping to avoid, as I had heard taxi drivers regularly take advantage of travelers.
Calling for help
Calling a friend in Peru he explained what i had already guessed from the driver but said the driver was willing to come with me if I was scared about crossing alone. I decided to take him up on his offer, not only to prevent being scammed but also because he was happy to carry my big bag. Peru immigration was a breeze and Ecuador wasn’t much different, just a longer wait. My Peru cabby left me at the bus station after he had got me checked in and made sure I knew where a good place to eat was. I gave him a tip and thanked him profusely.
Panamerica
With a 2hr wait I twiddled my thumbs and caught up with my diary. Finally it was boarding time and it turned out the good bus was being saved for special occasions. Our bus was cleaned with air freshner, am fairly certain had at least one roach and during the following 18 hr trip its bathroom was locked.

But I had no seat mate so I made the best of it and tried to sleep. Finally only 1hr from Quito at about 2am in the morning I started to relax and think it was almost over. Then we stopped! A landslide had blocked our way. Our choices were an 8hr detour or parking and sleeping it out. As no one spoke English I had to muddle my way through and I guessed when we pulled over that option 2 was decided upon. I started to cry and then realised I was too tired to even do that and just made myself as comfy as possible.
Quito, I could kiss you
We finally pulled in at 8am, I caught a taxi to my friends and finally was able to crash out. But first things first I had had to pee for the last 3hrs.

I have spent the last 2 days in Quito and after another 5hr bus trip (this one coming with complimentary S bends numbering in the 1000’s I am sure), I am in Tena. Tomorrow I will attempt to find the bus and head into the jungle. All I hope is that my canoe is there waiting for me.

Now the jungle adventures begin with biting sand flies, monkeys and wild tourists!

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Lime to Quito Day 21 ->23 – A photo diary

Jan 26th 2011

Luckily I had the front window seat on the 2nd level so you get a panoramic view:

leaving Lima


Heading on the highway


Dinner: rice, chicken and some kind of drink


A view of the coastline


Driving along the coast


End of day 1 (total of 8hrs - 4pm to midnight)

Jan 27th 2011

Another 12hrs at least of driving today, before reaching the border town of Tumbes.

waking up from a decidedly strange angle


Breakfast....I think


rolling rolling rolling


rolling rolling rolling somewhere around hour 17


Pulling into Tumbes. Section 1 lasted a total of 20hrs

You are now entering Ecuador

waiting in the Ecuador Panamerica bus station


No panoramic seat this time, trying to get comfy


Entering the banana fields


the mountains, around hour 30 of trip


My bed for night 2

end of day 2

Jan 28th 2011
A landslide detained us a further 3hrs when we were only an hour from Quito…

I survived! Barely! total trip 42hrs!

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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