Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Saturday mid-morning we went to the Feria, or market in Otavalo. Oh. My. Goodness. Talk about overwhelming! There was soo much stuff! From scarves to blankets to bags to hats to jewelry—they had it all. And a lot of the stands/tents had the same things—it was just a matter of where you could get the best price. I pretty much went crazy (buying gifts of course) and it was definitely good that we only had a 2.5-hour time allotment scheduled. I was addicted! After the market we went to the house of a family who still practices a traditional form of weaving (by hand). The couple (85 and 87 years old!) demonstrated how the process works; we were able to watch them prepare the wool, spin it into thread, and begin the weaving of a scarf. Very cool! In the afternoon/evening some members of our group went to the Assembly—where there were people from all the surrounding communities representing different groups/ issues—women, youth, city planning, environment, water, education, and health, among others. There were table discussions where they debated the issues and made decisions regarding laws and activities. I didn’t participate in this, but afterwards I really wished I would have! I instead went to Parque Condor where we saw a bunch of endangered birds (including an owl that MAY have played one of the parts of Hedwig in Harry Potter J). I discovered I’m not really into birds, but there were some AMAZING views from up on the hill where we were.
Sunday we went to Lake Cuicocha, which is a beautiful natural lake with islands in the middle. We took a boat ride around the lake and heard about the history of Mama Cotacachi y Papa Imbabura (the two volcanoes near by). We also received a talk from an indigenous woman regarding the Asamblea and had a “desystemization” session with the tour organization that sets up the home stays.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Highlights:We went on a hike/walk through mangrove forests—what an amazing unique ecosystem! We also went through a "tunnel" of mangroves via boat. I don’t know too much about the mangroves, but they are trees with huuge roots sticking out of the ground that can grow in the water. They are home to many creatures, crabs being one, and are a large part of the afro-ecuadorian communities in Ecuador. There are major problems right now in Olmeda and all throughout Esmeraldas with shrimp companies clearing out the mangrove forests to put in shrimp pools. It’s a constant fight for the people.
I had crazy mixed feelings throughout the trip, changing from intrusive, obnoxiously out of place to integrated, overwhelmed, sad, and excited. And really, all at the same time! The community was full of so much Love. It was really an amazing experience to be a part of. Needless to say, I was ready to get back to my comfortable routine in Quito. But it did really make me think about the opportunities I have and how lucky I am. I’m counting my blessings every day! Thank you mom and dad for making this possible!! J
Monday, October 19, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
I think the theme of our weekend was walking and re-walking (we got lost numerous times or just ended up taking the same routes over and over again, which wasn’t hard to do because Mindo is not very big). Friday we explored the area all around Mindo, walking out of town a ways towards the butterfly gardens and water falls that Mindo is known for. We took a hike through the woods, got completely turned around on some of the paths, sweat off about 5 pounds, gained it back in the dirt that stuck to our skin, and ended up at the entrance to the falls. We paid $3 to enter and descended for about 20 minutes before reaching the falls. It was pretty cool, but it was packed with people! (holiday weekend) Here you can jump off the waterfalls and swim around, but we just walked around and put our feet in—the sky had become pretty overcast and the water was freezing! We hiked our way back to town (taking a magillion pictures) and stopped for a fresh fruit juice at a fabulous little shop where we soon became regulars. I tried everything from banana to wild blackberry to exotic fruits that I’m not even sure how to explain. (fresh fruit on ice cream was also amazing). By the time we reached our hostel I was exhausted. Not only did we walk for hours, but if it was Oregon Trail, we would definitely be on the “grueling pace” setting. Remember how long that lasted before everyone went kaput? But, I recovered with a hot shower, a delicious vegetable pasta dish at a “bio foods” restaurant next to our hostel and a delectable cookie from ChocolArte (where we also became known by name). We crawled into bed pretty early, and soon I was sawing logs, dreaming about waterfalls made of fruit juice.
Saturday we woke up early and headed off for the zip lines through the canopies. This was definitely my favorite activity of the weekend. We slid down 13 cables (3500 meters) of forest for 2 hours, flying in positions from the butterfly (upside down, spread eagle) to superwoman. It was exhilarating. We had some pretty funny guides and a good group as well (a couple guys from England- haa love the accents). After the zip lining we took a tour of a small coffee plantation right on the edge of Mindo. I don’t like coffee, but oh how I love the smell! We (surprisingly) walked quite a bit more and delighted our taste buds with another juice. We had plans to rent bicycles, but the rain and language confusion foiled these plans. Some time later we found ourselves in the deserted streets while the town was huddled around every tv in the country watching the Ecuador vs Uruguay soccer game. We ate at El Nomad, a pizzeria with very good pizza/pasta. After another desert at ChocolArte we ended up back at the hostel.
Sunday morning we went to “Nathaly (pronounced like my name) butterfly, hummingbird, and orchid garden. This was so cool! The hummingbirds were so quick, and noisy! There were hammocks and we relaxed to the dull humming, watching these beautiful creatures dart around. The butterflies were also a sight to see. They were so pretty! And so many of them. This was definitely worth the $3. We did more exploring outside of Mindo and then caught the bus back to Quito.
The whole town promoted “green” and “environmentally sustainable” activities—it was quite hippyish (in an Ecuadorian sense). There were hostels all over, and they all seemed to be pretty nice and unique. I loved Mindo and I would definitely like to return before I leave! (Mom & Kursten- Michael- who’s it going to be?? :)
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Salida de Campo- Yasuni
We left early Friday morning and flew from Quito to Coca, a small, post-oil exploited town (only a half hour flight or 10 hour drive). One of the first things I noticed when we stepped off the plane was the humidity! Argh- I had forgotten what that was like after getting accustomed to dry Quito. From Coca we took a “barco” (small motorized boat) on the Napo River about 45 minutes and then a 1.5-hour van ride until we reached our final destination. We stayed at a scientific research center associated with the Catholic University in Quito, but researchers from all over the world also come and stay here to do research for a couple months at a time (plants and monkeys are the biggest interests, but non science areas are investigated as well). I met a young female biologist from the University of Texas doing an internship at Yasuni between undergrad/masters program. It was nice to be able to talk to her about what she was researching and where she had been since graduating college. (Her advice- definitely go for a higher degree, but take some time off!) The station was great. We had good food (they accommodated to my newly found vegetarian-ism…fresh fruit and veggies-yum!) and the rooms were comfortable. We slept 4 to a room (air conditioned- each having 2 bunk beds) and we had running water (hot showers!) as well. Our group was separated into two smaller groups, each having a chaperone and a guide. Upon arrival (after eating), my group went for a 45 minute “caminata” to get our first taste of the rainforest. It was beautiful! So many trees and plant species that I had never seen before…and the sounds! Try sleeping with those every night ;) Sadly, my camera didn’t work very well in the midst of the jungle (with the lighting), but I don’t think pictures would have done it justice. It’s something everyone needs to experience (yes, even the not-so-nature-types). We were advised to wear long sleeves and quick-drying pants (I was definitely prepared- thanks mom!), and black rubber boots were a necessity. Walking through the sloppy, sticky mud was a bit hard to get used to- and I fell (the first and only time) on this walk. Wildlife was a bit harder to find, we had to be really looking to pick things out. But once I started looking, I sometimes wished I hadn’t! (See day 2 below). After the walk, we had a little down time to explore before dinner. I mostly settled in my stuff and took some pictures around the station. We had another walk that night following dinner, and the rainforest turned into a total different place when the sun went down! Still very pretty, but definitely creepy; I wouldn’t want to be stuck out there alone! We saw some toads, spiders, other insects, and a tiny little tree snake. My headlight came in quite handy for this! This 2-hour walk was followed by a quick shower and some journaling before the power was shut off at ~10:30. I then hit the sack- early morning ahead!
Day 2So 5 am actually wasn’t too bad to wake up to- except I spent the night tossing and turning. The noises of the forest were crazy loud! I’ve done my fair share of camping, but I swear there were hundreds of different species right outside my window. We got an early start (5:30) in order to try and catch some of the birds at their peak timing. It was just getting to be light out as we left, but the woods were a bit darker. We hacked through the trees for a couple hours, stopping every now and then to hear about certain trees and other species. Our guide told us that after staying out in the open in the rainforest for 5 days straight, the ants would have eaten all your clothes off! Yikes, don’t want to be stranded there! We were headed for a 32-meter (~120 ft) tower. Here, half of us stayed at the bottom and ate breakfast while the other half geared up (helmets, harnesses, clips, gloves) for the ascent. I’m not usually afraid of heights, but this got me a bit! My arms got super tired, but I made it without problems ;) The view from the top was surreal. It was a total different perspective- being among the treetops and looking out- trees on all sides as far as you could see. After an hour or so we started trekking back towards the station and stopped at the Tiputini River to take a swim. The rest of the day was filled with eating and a tour of REPSOL-the petrolera in Yasuni. The tour was very…interesting to say the least. Everything was really strange feeling- it was a very private/secured area, and it seemed pretty obvious they didn’t want any outsiders there. It was also hard to listen to the men talk about a process that goes against everything I believe in and what they’re doing to exploit the local indigenous people and the environment. The really sad part is that they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. It’s all about the money, honey. But, that’s an argument that can be had another time. It was informative and eye opening to see the other side of the fight to save the rainforest. We did another night trek after dinner, and this time we played a game to see which team could find the most wildlife. Well, guess who won? The whole time I was thinking I didn’t really want to look and REALLY didn’t want to see a snake. And low and behold, near the end I was just kind of walking, scanning the area around our path with my headlight and BAM-snake. I stifled my scream and started calling “serpiente, serpiente!” to my guide, while turning away in disgust. (If you didn’t know or haven’t gathered by now, I’m pretty much deathly afraid of snakes). The guide came running and said, “ohh, it’s the equis! (X)” I knew what this meant, he had just told us earlier today that it was the second most poisonous snake in all of Ecuador! Go figure, I would be the one to find this. It was just a tiny guy, too! Once I found this out, my fright turned into a bit of pride and I ran to find the rest of the group to show off my findings. Everyone [carefully] crowded around and admired (or almost vomited in my case) at the sight. Nasty snake aside, it ended up being quite the hike. And again, I exhaustingly crawled into bed (without shower this time, because it was after 10:30. But wait, who am I kidding, I probably wouldn’t have showered if I could ;).
Day 3So if we thought the snake and tower was an adventure, we didn’t even know what we had coming. We took off from the station at about 8 am in a motorized “canoa” or canoe, with our guide and a driver. Things were going well…cruising down the Taputini River at a nice leisurely pace…wind in my hair…the view was great. We saw quite a few birds, turtles, and butterflies. All of a sudden, after about an hour, the motor started to sputter. The driver (or Jungle Man as we called him) kept trying to yank on the cord of the motor to restart it…and then it broke off. I saw his face, and if definitely looked like he was thnking, “Ohh crap.” (I know I was). Before we knew it he ran up the side of the canoe from behind where he was stationed (don’t ask me how he did this) and belly flopped/dove off the front with the rope to pull us to shore. We were close to a muddy/sandy small bank, so we decided to do a little swimming while the “men” decided what to do. It ended up that they were going to cut down two large branches to use as 2 paddles/pushers to go up river to a bridge that we had passed about 45 minutes back. In the meantime, we had 3 people get stung by some unidentified- hurts-worse-than-a-bee-sting- insect, and one of those girls got a bunch of thorns in her foot. Whew, we were ready to get out of there! We began the journey with enthusiasm and excitement, it was as if we were on a Gondola ride in Florence! As time went on, the sun got hotter, the canoe got smaller, our stomachs got hungrier, and the conversation got stranger and stranger. Our guide and Jungle man were working their tails off to push us, dodge rocks/logs, and avoid the strong current. We just had to sit back and watch our lethargic pace, wishing there was something else we could do to help. A couple people tried to take the place of our guide to give him a break, but we found it was a very difficult task to maneuver those sticks. After about four and a half hours of this…we were soo relieved to see the bridge! From here it was about a 45-minute walk back to the station. When we pulled up to the bridge, we saw another canoe with a working engine. Jungle man said it was a “family members” so we decided we would just switch the motors and he’d bring us back to the station via canoa. We did a little more swimming during the switch, and once it was done jungle man started it up for a test run. He went for about 4 seconds until the engine flew off the back with a huge noise and plunked right into the river, sinking to the bottom. Noooo! Our faces were all aghast as we watched this happen, in the meantime a pack of about 5 wild dogs came flying down the hillside barking like crazy at the noise. We felt so bad for jungle man as well! They don’t just have a boat motor store down the road…and those things aren’t cheap! He said he could find it at the bottom and was going to get some people to help him pull it out, and there was nothing else we would be able to do. We trudged up the hill to the top of the bridge and luckily found someone from the station there with a pickup. We all hopped in, exhausted and famished, and raced back to the station. I ate and hardly had time to relax before I headed off again to the tower to watch the sun set. This time I didn’t use the gear, only gloves, and I made it okay. The sunset was definitely worth it- and I’m not one to miss out on a possible adventure! I figured I might only be here once J We stayed up there for about an hour, headed back to eat, and then I had a pretty calm night playing bananagram (speed scrabble) and chatting.
Day 4/return home
Monday we woke up pretty early to eat and head back to Coca. The trip went smoothly, nothing crazy (luckily). On my way out I reflected on everything I had experienced. I watched the trees pass by out the van window, thinking about all the possibilities ahead of me. I’d really like to come back some day, to do research or just visit, as well as travel to many other places in this vast world. You’ve done it mom, the travel bug has definitely rubbed off! I had mixed feelings about returning to Quito—time to get back to “normal” life, as I’ve become accustomed to in the past month. Time seems to be flying by, and I still have a long list of journeys waiting to be discovered. This was just another chapter in my time here, and only a couple pages in the grand book of life. J
Chulla vida! (meaning we only have one life- ya gotta be willing to live it up)