I recently heard that our sweet and beautiful Tulan, wooly monkey, died from parasites and complications 2 weeks ago. She was raised by humans and could never adjust to living in the wild, no matter how hard we tried. When she took poorly due to a particularly nasty parasite she became our office monkey and a constant companion during our break times.
Tag Archives: South America
April 1st 2011
The Transport gods’ April Fools Joke
As much as I loved Baños and as much as Asef tried to convince me to stay, mainly to be his paparazzi on a bungee jump, I headed off on the 11.15am bus to Rio Bamba, a 3 hour drive. The plan was to meet up with Flavio and Iho (Kichwa volunteers from AmaZOOnico) at the bus station, hang out for the afternoon and then take the overnight bus to Guayaquil and onto Puerto Lopez.
The Transport gods apparently have a great sense of humor, for when I got to the station they all said there was no bus at that time and the next one only left at noon. Please note I had double checked the times yesterday. So I bought my ticket, found an internet cafe and sent a message. Then I wondered around watching the candy makers pulling their taffy type candy and picking up a few delicious treats. One guy even gave me a taste of the hot gooey taffy he was pulling.
Finally it was time to board and as the bus pulled away I figured out I had scored and got a row to myself. Even if the guy in front had reclined his seat so far I could almost see his middle parting. Before we got out of the parking lot though, 3 people jumped on and wouldn’t you know it one sat next to me. I must admit that even though the Transport gods seem to be having a blast they did give me a little compensation this time, as my seat mate turned out to be a very handsome young backpacker from Israel. He made me guess his home and was very impressed when I guessed correctly. Then we mulled away the time talking about everything from travel writing and volunteering to the political situation in Israel. You never know who you are going to meet and what interesting conversations the meetings may lead to.
All to soon the bus pulled into Rio Bamba and I was deposited on the sidewalk. I figured waiting inside the bus station was the best option but after an hour of waiting I became concerned. Eventually I saw Flavio walking up. Turns out there are 2 bus stations in Rio Bamba and the initial bus I was supposed to be on went to the other bus station. This day just keeps on getting better and better.
It was great hanging out with Flavio all day, we walked around, went to a small craft market and then met up with his friends in time to see the parade celebrating the city’s anniversary. It was fantastic fun with dancers performing all forms of traditional and modern dancing.
At the end of the parade we went and had pizza and beer and then headed back to the bus station. My bus only left in 3hrs but I didn’t mind waiting and they had some others to meet up with. The ticket lady allowed me to come in the back and I was able to squeeze in a quick nap.
Now this is where the true April Fool’s Joke was performed, courtesy of a deity with a great sense of humor. I had been told by friends that the trip was 15hrs and so, in my great wisdom, I bought 2 seats allowing me to sleep. However, they overstuffed the bus and I wasn’t going to make the little old lady sit on the floor, I also, however, was not going to let her pay for her ticket as I had already bought that seat. She tried to pay me but I said to keep it. Then the trip turned out to be only 6hrs and the driver did it 4hrs, leaving me at the Guayaquil bus station at 2.30am…
Luckily my good karma with the old lady’s seat guided me towards two other foreigners. But again, the sense of humor of the powers that be prevailed, they were from Spain and spoke only Spanish… At least we were able to make ourselves understood and had company.
March 30th to 31st 2011
Detox Steam Bath
At the hostel you could get what was termed a relaxing detox steam bath for only $2.75, so I figured what the heck after 2mths of jungle grime build up that sounded downright fantastic. Little did I know what exactly it entailed:
– strip to swim suit
– have strange guy in just swim trunks place you in large wooden box
– box lid is slid closed exposing just your neck
(due to a failure in height this involved a bit of neck stretching and my feet didn’t touch the ground properly)
– steam was pumped in for at least 5minutes
– guy frees you and you follow a precise routine of dousing yourself with towel soaked in cold water (following circulation pattern)
– repeat hot box
– repeat towel soak
– repeat hot box
– sit in shallow pool and massage your stomach clockwise while guy splashes freezing cold water over you
– repeat hot box
– repeat towel
– repeat hot box
– get doused with bowl of cold water
– then walk to other room and have guy hose you down with high pressure hose.
Absolutely hilarious, invigorating and fantastic. The hardest part was when he hosed down the under side of my feet, I am very ticklish and nearly collapsed in a pile of giggles.
I felt so good after I went out to explore, got as far as buying an alpaca sweater/jersey/jumper (had nothing warm after being in the jungle) and having a cup of coffee. Almost as soon as I finished the coffee I felt an overwhelming need for sleep and spent the rest of the day in bed. There is a certain point where the body just realises it needs a vacation and it decides to take it.
After a good 5hr nap I was able to function enough to explore some of the surrounding adventure offices and find an activity for the following day. I was leaning towards horse riding as it has been many years since I had the opportunity. I decided on one that had a very friendly lady and offered it for $30 for 4 hrs. Sounded perfect (I would suffer later).
Airline screw up, it had to happen sometime
Then up to the roof top terrace of the hostel to try and figure out the screw up with my ticket home. I had decided to surprise my parents for easter weekend and had purchased 2 tickets on Allegiant air about 2weeks ago during one of my trips to Tena. I am anal retentive when it comes to confirming these and made sure the 2 one way tickets were correct before clicking the yes button. I didn’t have time to check the email confirmations until I had arrived in Baños and thats when I discovered the screw up. Instead of one way from San Fran to Eugene and then Eugene to LA, I some how had 2 one way tickets from Eugene to LA on the same day, same flight. I tried to email, no response, tried the online live chat, no help, finally I loaded up my skype account and called. The best they could do was to change the one ticket, but I would have to pay a change fee… luckily it was only $10 so I decided to grin and bare it.
New Friends and Local Baths
During the process of fixing my ticket I had an audience/peanut gallery. Asef, Israel, gave an amusing commentary the entire time I was trying to change my ticket and helped lighten the moment. Shortly after sorting it out his mate, Rob from England, showed up and we decided to head out to the local baths.
The baths are located at the end of town and cost $3 to get into. You put your gear in a tub and hand it in, have a rinsing shower and then head to the pool. Everyone getting in is grimacing and acting in pain and you assume that this pool must be the freezing cold one. It was in fact boiling hot, just short of bubbles. I think I could have poached a nice piece of fish in there. Once you finally slide in it feels good, almost. Eventually though it is time to get out and try a dip in the cold water. The heat makes you not feel the cold as bad, if you get in quickly, then the numbing cold makes you not feel the heat as bad. It ends up working out well, but you can only do it for so long and I headed out after about 3 hot and 3 cold dips. The others were going to meet up for dinner later.
Dinner involved very cheap pizza (edible, barely), then sitting on the terrace playing card games and drinking rum and coke. When it reached the magic hour of heading to the bar (about 10.30pm) I went to bed. I think I am getting to old for bar hopping…
A Horse Named Maria
The following morning I was driven to the horses and introduced to my mare, Maria. It turned out this little sassy lassy was a perfect fit for me and also exceptionally stubborn. She liked to be in the lead and kept walking in a wavy line to prevent my guide’s horse, Benito, from getting ahead of her. We headed out of town and up into the hills. Renee (my guide) gave me the option of 2 routes and I said which ever she preferred. She decided since I appeared to have experience we would take a less used route. This involved steep inclines and declines and rough terrain. It was fantastic but I feared my knees and rear may never forgive me. At one point we had to get off and walk down and a long decline as my knees did protest too much.
The best thing about Renee was that she loved the fact that I was traveling alone and wasn’t attached. She herself was divorced and had 3 kids. Her philosophy was to do something you love, have kids but try avoid acquiring a husband as long as possible, they were more trouble than they were worth.
I had to walk the 10minutes back to town and after a nice hot shower I discovered that sitting was quite a challenge. It appeared as if all the trotting and up and down had bruised my sitz bones which created quite the problem. The solution was to lie down and have a nap, a perfect solution if I say so myself.
Vegetarian Lasagne at Casa Hood
For dinner I finally got to go to the famous Casa Hood. It has a fantastic backpacker hippy feel and the food was incredible. I wish it had been open every night I was there, as I would have loved to work my way through the menu.
Returning to the hostel for another rum and coke evening with Asef and Rob and a jenga challenge. After collapsing the tower numerous times the game turned into a block building challenge to see who could make the tallest tower. A great way to spend the evening. When they headed to the bars I headed to bed.
Tomorrow I head to meet up with friends in Riobamba and then the bus towards Puerto Lopez…
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.
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.
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…
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
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!
March 11 – 17 2011
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.
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”.
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.