The Rain Forest

Trip Start Sep 17, 2012
Trip End Dec 06, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, November 27, 2012

From Banos we took a bus about four hours down toward the rain forest in Ecuador's Amazon Basin.  We arrived in the areas main port, the small city of Tena.

Our group spent a couple of hours exploring the city of Tena as we waited for our next bus that would take us into the rain forest. During this time we bought supplies for our upcoming kidīs camp.

Then we finally escaped the rain fall and got onto what was debatably the most crowded bus we have yet endured.  As we drove, we passed by a progression of rural villages for an hour into the jungle. Arriving in another rain storm, we swarmed off the bus to a small bus stop, with a four person bench, covered by a couple of trees as shelter.

We all followed our local director, Miguel, down a road to lead us to the center gathering place of the village Campo Cocha. Cacao Trees, Yuka plants, and orange trees fenced the houses along the unpaved road. Miguel had mentioned in Tena that a child had passed away the previous day from pneumonia. As we continued to walk, we noticed a meter long casket with candles and people surrounding it. We reached the center of the village as soon as the rain stopped.   Here we met Darrien, the seventeen year old guy who would also be helping us out in Campo Cocha, and Arturo, the local counterpart of the Peace Corp volunteer in Campo Cocha.  We also met our host families for the next week!

The purpose of this portion of the trip was to really assimilate into the community and with our host families. Our main responsibilities during the day were to live as our families did.

In the jungle, the copious amount of rainfall and abundance of sunlight enables farming to be a major income for most of the families. Therefore, all of us spent much of our time farming yucca, cacao, bananas, and rice. We all got very friendly with the machete, now knowing some of the many uses it brings as a universal tool; including weeding and as a peeler for yucca.

The families knew a lot about where they lived, especially about the plants and their uses. It is said that all pharmaceutical drugs were derived from the plants of the jungle, and for members of this village, the jungle was what they originally resorted to. The majority of the families drank guayusa as an energy source and insect repellent before they would head out to work in the morning. They would also use the plants as cooking materials and for building materials, including to thatch their roofs.

In the afternoons we executed our plans for the kid's camp for the children of Campo Cocha. We organized different days for cookie decorating, sports, science, music, and crafts! After lunch with our families we ventured out to la cancha and played with all of the children after their school day. One day, we even got to thirty kids! All of us loved getting time to organize our own plans and being able to see how it ended up.

On a Saturday, the community all came together to have a traditional South American Minga. Minga is essentially a barn raising. Every member of the community comes together and contributes to the project being worked on. On this occasion, they were building a church for the community and needed to start hauling the materials, such as sand, over to the site. Some members of the community prepared lunch for all of the helpers as their contribution!

We all had wonderful opportunities doing extraordinary activities with our families.  Saying goodbye was difficult for all. We all had our last, typical meal with two different types of banana, yucca, and rice, and discussing more words in the local language of Quechua. We said goodbye and hopped onto a boat and headed up river for our next adventure!

After saying goodbyes to our host families in Campo Cocha, we went 15 minutes up the river to the Arajuno Jungle Lodge, the home of environmental conservationist, Tom Larson.  For many years Tom was the person who trained US Peace Corps volunteers when they first entered Ecuador.  Now he runs this rain forest reserve.  We were greeted warmly and given a tour and orientation of his cabin and surrounding property, which hosts several manmade ponds. The ponds house fish and two endangered species of turtles; the yellow spotted turtle and the giant river turtle. Our project was centered on helping reintroduce the yellow spotted turtle by building the sand beaches on which they lay eggs and thereby reproduce.

We learned a lot about Tom and his conservation efforts here in the rainforest. In the orientation at his lodge, he told us about his efforts to persuade the local communities to stop dynamite fishing, a cost effective but highly destructive technique of feeding families. In order to do so, he taught locals how to raise their own fish by building individual ponds by their homes – something that he himself had developed on his property. These fish farms have generally been effective in both generating food and funds, although there still exists a large problem of dynamite fishing in the area.

In addition, we were impressed with Tomīs ecofriendly lifestyle, which consisted of making the "smallest footprint possible," in his words. Every morning, we woke up to solar-powered TV broadcasts of CNN, a luxury that we surely enjoyed after a week of being cut off from the world outside. We were also careful in taking short showers – some of us even skipping out on those to bathe in the river.  And, we ate dinner by candlelight at night. Some days we found ourselves unable to charge our respective electronic devices because it was cloudy outside. All in all, we learned the significance of Tomīs practice, and will be bringing some of his knowledge and techniques back home with us.

As for the actual project, every day we worked from 9 in the morning to 1:30 in the afternoon. Breakfast was served at 8 by our incredible cooks, Christian and Chari.  Chari is an Ecuadorian Buddhist vegetarian and Tomīs lovely wife. Lunch was at 2, served with dessert, and dinner at 7, also served with dessert! We very quickly fell into this routine, along with waking up early to watch CNN and drinking Guayusa tea to ready ourselves for the work of the day.

The first full day at Tomīs, we worked on hauling fine sand from a beach across the river to the small banks around Tomīs ponds, as a way of providing reproduction grounds for the turtles. The work was hard and exhausting, but many were enthusiastic, hauling two bags on their shoulders at a time. We were rewarded for our hard work in the afternoon with a showing of The Last Waltz, a concert performed in 1976 by The Band, from which many songs have come during our late night jam sessions.

Days 2 and 3 consisted of building a medicinal garden in the center of Campo Cocha for the local communityīs benefit. Some of us worked on building the fence, others on digging raised beds and carrying bags of fertile soil, and still others on falling bamboo trees for framing the beds. For some, it was also a nice way of contacting their host families one last time before leaving the rain forest. The finished product looked kilometers better than the trash-filled yard it had been before.

Also on the second day, our group took a little trip down the river to the animal sanctuary, Amazoonico. Our guide happened to be from Washington state, which made the Washingtonians (and Spanish beginners) among us very happy. We were fascinated with the wildlife presented in the sanctuary, which consisted of different species of birds, monkeys, peccaries (wild pigs), rodents, ocelots, fish, and reptiles. Many of us made good friends with Martin, a brain damaged Wooly monkey.

The garden was finished early on the third day, which gave us plenty of time to chillax and celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Our feast consisted of maito – a local dish of fish cooked in a banana leaf over a fire, rice, plantains, salad, and a delectable dessert of pumpkin pie!!! The rest of the day we had to ourselves, which we used to watch the movie True Grit and read and play cards and play music.

The fourth and fifth days were once again filled with hauling bags of sand to Tomīs. We worked extra hard and extra enthusiastically so as to finish the project early and allow the next day to be free to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the birth of John Robert Edward Healy, our magnificent friend and companion and voyageur. His day began with a midnight wake-up “Happy Birthday” song, much to his dismay. At lunchtime, our brilliant cooks had scrapped together a carrot cake in his honor, decorated with the words “Happy Birthday” and a smiley face. That afternoon, we went tubing down the river, a relaxing adventure for the whole group. We ended the day with a showing of Avatar, an appropriate summation of the theme of environmental preservation, and very entertaining.

The next day – our day of departure – we woke up early to eat and say goodbye to our dear friend Tom. Though we couldīve done without the mosquitoes and ultra humidity, it was sad to have to leave this jungle paradise.

But we are all ready for our next adventure – the GALAPAGOS!!!! yay

-Margaret, Noah, Hannah
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