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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 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 58 – 63 – Week 6 in the Jungle

March 5-10 2011

Week 6

What the???
Our volunteer house is 2 separate living areas connected by a walkway and the bathroom, as Murphy’s Law dictates, is on the other side of the walkway. Add to this the copious amounts of water we drink during the day to stay hydrated and that equals midnight runs to the bathroom. On this particular night there was one of our typical mammoth storms with rain, thunder, lightening and much rain. As I headed out on my usual 1am potty run I opened the door to see a large furry shape sitting on the walkway. Once I recovered from a mild heart attack, I realised it was just Luka the Liana Lodge dog. He ended up sleeping in my room that night and then took a liking to it and often showed up around once a week after that. The best part is that Liana Lodge would send a canoe to pick him up, so there is also the chance he just liked the free ride.

Carnival
Carnival is a 4 day national holiday all over South America. It involves lots of fiesta, drinking, eating and general merry making. For us at AmaZOOnico it means hundreds of visitors a day, mostly Ecuadorians. The first day was reasonably quiet, but from Sunday we were swamped. A tour almost every 30minutes. Mostly it was Spanish speakers which left the volunteers who could not cover tours to do the feeding and cleaning. But even though it means more work, it also means a much needed influx of money for the refuge.

The Tuesday of Carnival we got to go enjoy it. We headed out around 5.30pm after work and caught a canoe to Ahnu (15min up the river). Iho, one of our Kichwa volunteers, lived in Ahnu and his grandfather had agreed to let us sleep in his house (which was a mansion by local standards). Then we headed up one of the 2 streets located in town to the main fiesta site. Within a few minutes we had been doused with canned foam, covered in powdered paint and flour and it didn’t take long before we were all sprayed with beer.

We danced, ate and drank all night and had a blast. It felt great to be out with everyone away from the refuge and being covered in powder and foam to the point of not recognizing each other just made it all that much better. It also turns out that I am fairly good dancer when it comes to Latin music and had a fair number of people to dance with. Around 12.30am Sarah and I headed back to the house and the others followed an hour later. At some point someone put a blanket over us. At 6.30am we had to wake up and try get a canoe back in time to start work at 7am. We pulled in at 7.05am, brushed our teeth and went straight to work. I spent all my tours saying “I am sorry for the purple hair and skin, but we were at carnival”. It took 3 days to get the paint off my skin and 2 weeks to get the purple out of my hair.

Tena bound
I might have had to work the day after Carnival but I also got to finish early and head to Tena. I took 3 warm showers and still was covered in paint. The combination of yellow and purple around my neck made it look like someone had tried to throttle me. It would take many more showers before the color came out. And I would repeat the experience in a heartbeat.

Stay tuned for more adventures in the jungle

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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AmaZOOnico Day 50 – 57 – Week 5 in the Jungle

Feb 24 – March 4 2011

Week 4 in the jungle

Thunder and lightening very very frightening
After 7days on the week before I was able to enjoy 2 days off in Tena. the second day there was blisteringly hot and just thinking of running errands made you feel quite exhausted. But I had promised numerous people to bring back essentials like chocolate and cigarettes. I also need to pick up a large amount of vet supplies with all the injuries we had to clean. After running a few errands the heat started to turn into a humidity and a storm was building. This caused internet to be a bit spotty at the hostel so I headed to Cafe Tortuga and worked on email as a fantastically wild intense storm moved in. I have always loved storms and this one was a doozy.

MEAT!
I had been craving a steak for a few weeks now and decided to veer away from my usual pizza and try a meat platter at the place attached to the hostel. It was good, although the 1/4inch thick steak was like old shoe leather and the sausages had a weird flavor. When my plates were collected she commented on why I didn’t want the salad, I just smiled sheepishly. But next time I will return to the pizza. The steak can wait till I can find a decent steakhouse somewhere, most likely San Francisco.

Return and first swim in the river
After finally reaching the point of recovery it was time to return to the refuge. When I arrived it was perfect timing for a swim in the river with one of the teachers at the school. We put on our bikinis and headed down the path 15min along the bank to where we could jump in and float down the river. Due to all the rain the river was very high and it was a little nerve racking trying to get into it. But once in you just floated with the current, keeping a sharp eye out for the exit otherwise you might float all the way down. It’s also great exercise as you can swim against the currnet but you don’t actually get anywhere. The water is constantly brown from all the sediment, but as far as everyone knows there is nothing dangerous in it. A few of the locals use dynamite to fish and that has limited the number of things that bite. the best part was that when I went to take my cold shower, it almost felt warm because my body temperature had been lowered by the river swim. This is an important thing to remember in order to survive the last 4weeks of cold showers.

Dealing with monkeys
Tamia, one of our young wooley monkeys, is often a real pain in the you know what. He got his name, which means rain from above, because he has a delightful habit of peeing on you when you are cleaning his cage (luckily I have avoided this priviledge, so far). He was raised by humans his first few months and has a considerable attraction to children. For this reason he remains in his cage until after the school has let out. However, on this particular day, I had a group with a large number of American teenagers and they were exactly what Tamia wanted. I had to constantly pick him up and throw him a short distance away, he usually beat me back. On more than one occasion there was a concerned “Kathy, Kathy”, as he attached himself to a students leg. Its really hard when you have to get aggressive with him, but if you are too soft then thinks it is a game. Luckily we got through the tour without anyone freaking out and in the end they loved it. But Tamia had to go back in his cage, much to his very vocal disapproval.

Discovering my cookie power
Upto this point there is a lot of groaning when I attempt to make bread or even when I make dinner. Usually I am a fairly good cook, but for some reason bread from scratch is not my forte and I am nervous of over spicing the food. On a day off I decided to make cookies and discovered I have the power. Sarah (Canada) gave me her fool proof recipe and boy did I get a lot of “moi rico” (very delicious) comments. After that volunteers started requesting cookies from me. Muwhahahaha so good to discover a niche that you are good at. Please see recipe below (note this is part of the reason I didn’t loose as much weight as I hoped).

Sarah’s Jungle Chip Cookies
1 cup butter – beat it
2 eggs – combine and beat
1 teaspoon vanilla – combine and beat
2-3 cups sugar (white and or brown) – combine and beat
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flour

Mix all together and add lots of chocolate chunks. Bake at around 200 C for 15min.

New Volunteers
Woohoo I am no longer the newby. 2 girls from Germany arrived with a friend of theirs. It is great to get new blood and to have people who are happy to speak English. Yvonne doesn’t speak much Spanish so we started practicing together. Nora is pretty fluent in Spanish so she will have no problem. Nicole, their friend, is just staying for a few days but we got on immediately.

Isla Anaconda
Monday is my day off and also my 1month anniversary here at the refuge (can’t believe how quickly it goes). So after the 7am meeting I asked about tours at Liana Lodge (volunteers get them free). There was one leaving in an hour and I had to hurry to get there as it was at least a 15min walk through the jungle to the lodge. I made certain of instructions and even got a few different versions of the same thing (I have a habit of getting lost). Then headed down to get ready and see if Nicole wanted to join.

We headed into the jungle and started walking, the trail was reasonably well marked but there are few sketchy spots where logs don’t quite form bridges and rivers overflowing paths. At one river the path split and for the life of me I could not remember which way. So I sent Nicole to the left along the river and I went right. After about 10 min I realised my path was most likely the wrong path and headed back. It turned out Nicole had been calling me for 5min as she had met someone who pointed her on the right path. The jungle truly absorbs all sound. We made it to Liana lodge just in time and then had to wait almost an hour for the tourists to get ready, Murphy’s law.

Isla Anaconda is the island just across the river and takes about 2min by canoe. We were tacking onto a group of Swiss school kids and it was quite amusing to watch them in the jungle. Our guide showed us yukka fields, and papaya groves, and many other things that make up island life. We ended the tour at one of the houses where we were given a demonstration of how they make yukka chicha. Chicha is a kind of drink that the locals make out of a variety of different fruit and vegetables and if left to ferment becomes a fairly potent alcohol.
Then the kids were able to practice their blowgun skills and we were all treated to ripe cacao, tastes a lot like candy (if only it tasted like chocolate).

We were able to hitch a ride back to AmaZOOnico on the canoe rather than walking. When I got back I had to admit I almost got us lost, and Michael (Manager) said “I told you to follow the river”. Oops, well I won’t get lost again.

Baby surprises
As one of the long term volunteers, part of my job is to train new volunteers. So it was on a bright Monday morning that I took Yvonne and Nora on big tour lugging the heavy buckets on the long trail. Our final stop is the capuchin monkey cage, Yvonne and I watched the monkeys as Nora ran back to get another bucket for compost. I noticed that one of them had something around its neck, at first I thought it was a piece of debris, then I suddenly realised what it was… “Is that a baby??”. Indeed it was, still with its umbilical cord. I ran up to the office and said we had a baby in the capuchin cage, Sarah (head volunteer) and Joelle (manager), both sounded surprised, Michael (manager) just said “yes yes” and went back to work.

The hard part was the decision of what to do. We really only had 2 options to remove or to leave but both came with serious consequences.

To remove – involved risking us and the baby in trying to catch the mother, the males can be aggressive. Even if we were able to remove them there was a high chance she would reject the little one.

To leave – meant the risk of the mother not knowing how to feed or raise (she was brought up by humans) or the males attacking and killing the baby.

We decided the lower risk was to leave the baby, it was also the more natural option we had to choose from.

The upside is that it appeared the alpha male, dubbed Stompie for his lack of tail, was the father and this meant extra protection for the baby.

Being the only native English speaker
As our volunteer numbers have dwindled it suddenly ended up with me being the only native English speaker and therefore the main person to do such tours. Of course this also meant a whole lot of English tours arriving. I was in the process of sorting out a group of 25kids into 2 groups when a group of 19 adults arrived. In the end I had to take the adults and the kids had to have Spanish as they were actually an English Language school and so understood Spanish. We usually try cap the number of people in a group to 15, but without any options I was going to have to manage the larger group. I realised this wouldn’t be too much of a problem when I was gathering everyone inside for the intro and asked a couple smoking outside to join us. The one replied “don’t worry you have a loud voice we can here you from out here”…

Couches, being shushed and fairwells
Lukas (Holland) had made us a very impressive looking couch over the past week and was installing it as it was his last day. I was heading to Tena so went to hang out a bit. We were discussing the couch when Michael (manager) came in and asked Lukas to round the edges of the one arm as “the drunk people will break themselves”, I tried to say we could wait and see but he turned to me and said “shhhh, I, am talking now”. All I could think to do was sit down on the couch and say “yes sir”. 2minutes after he left Lukas and I nearly wet ourselves laughing.

I truly hate goodbyes, especially when it is someone you have become good friends with. Lukas was always there with a supportive word in the first month and I was really going to miss him. But that is part of the double edged sword of travel, you meet great people but you have to say goodbye.

Stay tuned to hear about our adventures with the 4 day national holiday, Carnival, which is really 4 days of partying.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2011 in 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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