A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

Letters From The Amazon - Part Four


Hola! So this is where I am, Jatun Sacha means 'Óld Forest' in Quichua - the language spoken by the indigenous people of this region. Its about an hour away from the nearest town which is Tena, so its pretty remote but really magical and I feel the extreme change in climate from Quito being very sweaty and humid.


Check out the map - this is where I am!

Jatun Sacha is a biological station to protect and promote the conservation of the tropical rainforest ecosystem. I´m north of the Napo River in 2,200 hectares of the Amazon Rainforest and the diversity of birds, butterfies and insects are spectacular.....except the vultures ha!

I´m living in a wooden cabana with a bed, mosquito net, shelves and a table and thats it! Other volunteers are the same and its pretty cool hearing all the sounds of the forest at night (the first night is weird, you wake up alarmed wondering what was that noise!?!?! as they are pretty strange...Darth Vadar noise is my favorite so far).


The Simple Life.....

The Simple Life.....

It's a really chilled out environment here - the air is mega clean as all the trees and huge leaves make huge amount of oxygen, so there´s no healthier place on earth! its also mega humid and you get really sweaty out in the hot sun so theres nothing like a cold shower after a hard days work. The rangers and cooks speak Spanish at the station, so its pretty funny being lost in translation most of the time and using the art of charades or sign language.

I have to wake up at 6am every morning, one day I do kitchen duty where I have to work at the station all day cleaning with the kitchen staff shouting ´Senorita, Washy Washy!´ at me, as if I am Cindarella who shall not go to the ball - its quite funny, we always see the funny side of things in the jungle. Its hard physical labour - I have to take the compost through the jungle and dump it in the Organic Garden in the reserve where a flock of black vultures descend on me as if it were from Hitchcocks ´The Birds´ or something. Your first night in the rainforest fills you with real wonder and excitement though. I have to use a small torch so I can see my way through the jungle to your cabana otherwise you will struggle BIG TIME to get anywhere in the Jungle as its pitch black. And you go to keep an eye on your feet - you never know what you might step on! The weird thing is though, your senses are really sharpened with the weird, cool and strange noises really close to you.


There is always danger in the Amazon Rainforest but it is rare and always not what you would think of as danger. But it is true what they say about it being the most biodiverse place on Earth. There are so many plants and vegetation and thousands of butterflies and bugs - which you get used to, not to mention all the bird calls you hear in their natural environment, even saw a cute little humming bird mmmmmmmmmm and baby tarantulas. I´ve also seen some really cute saddleback tamarin monkeys whilst having breakfast hoping to grab my banana haha! they are sooo cute though swinging around. If you like animals, this is the place to be. Seriously, it is truly amazing - its kind of weird because you are so cut off from the world and its like you´re living in a microcosm where the world´s turning without you in a way - kinda strange, but a really unique experience.

So, living in the rainforest - well when I´m not working in the kitchen or getting attacked by my vulture friends haha! we have to go work out in the Amazon Rainforest armed with machetes and gloves - so far we´ve cut bamboo to help make a bridge and we´ve also been smartening up areas and clearing them to make areas to plant more plants and the like - it is really hot and humid so you get really sweaty and dirty out here in the jungle - nice!. I ride on the back of a guy named Edison´s motorcycle through the jungle to the site Centro de Conservacion Plantas Amazonicas where we are working at. The head ranger, Sergio talks about the medicine plants we are helping to preserve which are really wacky (theres even a no pregnancy tree would you believe! and many hallucionation ´drugas´plants) so he tends to describe them using really funny sign language - also the fact he screams and runs away when he sees a bug or insect is just as hilarious! One time we had a random class of cute local school children show up and are obsessed with knowing your name - they find mine particularly hilarous as Sal means ´salt´ in spanish so they say Í will put you in my soup!´haha. I´ve also been helping to to make learning posters for the volunteers teaching in the local schools.


Centro de Conservacion Plantas Amazonicas

An interesting thing we have done, is visit a real Amazonian Shaman. My foot was pretty bad still and any cuts and scratches take twice as long to heal out here, so we hitchiked along the road leading through the jungle to a local Shamans house. I was half expecting him to have the Papa Shango look of bones round his neck and paint marks over his face with a bubbling cauldron but he looked pretty normal with his baseball cap and Popeye T-Shirt. He lived at the Rio (river) in a wooden house on stilts with no windows or four walls. We managed to hitch on a pick up truck or anybody who would pick up some Gringos (what they call White person here) to the forest where we had to walk for quite a bit to reach his house surrounded by loads of medicine plants and his kids running around chasing their puppy shouting Sal! Sal! and then throwing themselves of the cliff edge (5 year olds have no fear). My friend who is much better at Spanish than me, asked him if he could treat my foot with any medical plants. He went off into the forest to find something and came back with a crushed stem of a plant called Úcucha Ztecta´ which stops bleeding and heals wounds so I´m giving it a try to see if this stuff really is any good - after all, the foundations of medicines of the world are all right here!

pic_67_23_1_.jpgSangre de Drago

Sangre de Drago

Today, I was out in the fields cutting down Bananas and carrying them to the roadside (which are really heavy!) in the hope we could hitchhike a ride back to the station with them. We also have had to pull out Yucca trees and cut off the roots to eat which has been hard, sweaty work especially in the hot Amazon sun. We also discovered the tree ´Sagre de Drago´ which when you cut it, it bleeds! and you can treat Tuberclosis, Bronchitis and Cancer with it, its pretty cool. Then we took an adventurous walk through the jungle up a tributory of the Napo River in knee deep water and getting my bum bitten by ants - now my bums big! Not good when you´re trying to layering Tiger Balm on your naked body when there´s wildlife photographers walking around my cabaña!


Anyway, thats pretty much whats been happening in my first week in the Amazon - its just started to rain so I´m going to chill in a hammock and watch the Rainforest life go by.......;D

Hasta Luego! (See you later)


Posted by SalBolton82 09:54 Archived in Ecuador Tagged trees animals rainforest wildlife south america amazon ecuador medicines Comments (0)

Letters From The Amazon - Part Five



I´ve just been picked up by a police car and taken in to the local town of Tena would you believe! not for a bad reason I assure you! well, this morning I´ve been attempting to make a bracelet with Josephina who´s a Quichua Arts lady who comes to the station everyweek - of course I go and pick the most complicated braclet but pretty one to make and then can´t do more than doing 5 minutes of the thing, so I paid her $5 to finish it for me haha!.

Well Hitchhiking here has become a very normal thing. Last week I had an attempt of hitchiking on the roadside outside the station. After waiting 30 minutes in the stifling heat for a bus that was just not coming. I noticed a white pickup truck heading down the road towards me so decided to stick out my thumb and try my chances. To my surprise the truck slowed down and I approached the window to ask the chubby driver if he was going to Tena and he said yeah!. I went to jump in the back with the bananas but he shouted to me to get in the ´carro´ (car) and lifted up his little boy that looked about 4 or 5 years old, out of the passenger seat as I got in and then he sat on my lap reading a map of the world - he was so cute and Michael Jackson was blaring out of the radio which was pretty sweet!. Another couple were in the back holding a small baby as the wind sped through the window on the way to Tena through the jungle - I paid him a dollar for the ride which pretty much is the norm or sometime they don´t ask for anything. Apparently hitchiking is what you do here to get around in the Amazon. Tena´s a pretty interesting Jungle town with a huge volcanoe looming over the jungle about 50 km away. The funny thing is that there is no sense of 'Health and Safety' - they were constructing a new road but they won´t let cars go on it but will let you walk straight through the construction site around the bulldozers and builders!!?!? its crazy!!

0085C5F82219AC6817762A76F2D80DF2.jpgFreaky Manacins!!!

Freaky Manacins!!!

A Natural High - Above the Tree Tops

Quite 'Amazing' isn't it?

At the station we have an observation tower deep in the forest which is about 30 metres high above the Amazon canopy. You need a harness to climb it with two clips that you´re supposed to clip yourself to the tower as you ascend higher through the canopy. When you reach the top, theres a small platform big enough for three people - the view over the Amazon skyline is really breathtaking of the 2,200 hectares of the rainforest and the Napo River, its the peacefullness place on earth. We were really lucky to see a Many Banded Aracari Toucan and a Blue Swallow Tanager which was really cool to see in the fruiting trees - and then a bee stung my foot and I´m jumping around this tiny platform swaying 30 metres above the canopy shouting Óuch!!!!!! - there´s some right little buggers out here - the worst are the Conga Ants who are giant ants (about 6 inches long) that bite nasty if you lean against them on a tree or something, pain can last 6 hours so I'm told. Living in Amazonia certainly tunes on your awareness for your environment.


The 2nd November was ´Dia De Los Muertos´which means ´Day of The Dead´and its a national holiday where everyone goes to the cementries to celebrate the dead and feast. It´s quite surreal, flocks of people come the cementry and decorate the wall space (the dead in Ecuador are put into the wall :/) so some of them look gorgeous. They also eat ´Pan de Wawa´ which is Quitchua for ´Bread of Baby´which is like baby shaped bread decorated with colour flavourings. Surveying the local retailers is pretty interesting, especially the manacins, they are really scary! especially the child ones - freaky!.


I´ve also done some Yoga here in the forest (I know) with the cleaner of the station which was pretty hilarious (my juvenile sense of humour kicking in). The main project we´ve been doing is constructing a footbridge in the reserve out of Bamboo - so attempting to cut this stuff is quite a challenge (really its not that easy) we were using every sharp tool we could think of and then resorting to a machete and then jumping on it! Then I got stung by the bamboo spikes which are sooooooo painful, you have to relieve the sting by rubbing it in your hair which is weird. We then have to carry it to the river which is really hard work. Constructing the bridge is a pretty interesting task to see - you´re kind of lost in translation with all the rapid spanish bantering back and forth, but doing the best I can by pointing and saying ´Si?´everythings quite slow here and nothing is planned and always improvised most of the time. The bridge looks awesome though, at least you can walk on it. I was then invited to go and play football with a local community - being the only girl on the team. A sign of an outer influence from the isolation of the forest. I was pretty chuffed we won 4 - 1 against Latin American players and the fact that I scored a goal made it a whole lot better aswell as playing in a late afternoon lighting storm - pretty cool. Sometimes we´ll go dancing in Tena and find ourselves salsa dancing (or attempting to) with the locals who are just really good. I´m finding my way around by using a children´s colouring book I´ve been given of the area that I use to ask directions haha!


There´s lots of animals here in Ecuador and I mean everywhere! We have a crab spider living in our bathroom at the station who we have named 'Matilda' - she only comes out at night as she´s pretty shy but she keeps loosing her antennas so we kind of feel she´s our pet. On one of my adventures into Tena, on the streetside, there is always a man selling guinea pigs, ducks and PUPPIES in cages. He tried to get me to buy all three and started pulling them out through a small hole in the cage and handed me three ADORABLE puppies. I really wanted to take them coz they were in such cruel conditions. Then I got on the bus back to Jactun Sacha after cleverly outwitting a vendor who couldn´t read the price tag on a bag I wanted and convinced them it was $10 haha! on the bus I ended up sitting next to a little girl holding another puppy! it was so cute jumping on me I had to help the little girl to stop the puppy jumping out the window!

Some of our local creepy crawlies.....no joke I used to be scared of these things as a kid....


Our Crab Spider Matilda....she's a cutie...

Well, thats all for now, maybe i´ll go and find another police car for a ride haha!



Posted by SalBolton82 14:47 Archived in Ecuador Tagged trees animals rainforest wildlife south america amazon medicine ecuador tena Comments (0)

Letters From The Amazon - Part Six


Hola mi amigos! (Hello my friends)

This part of my adventures here in the Amazon are all about the discovering the cool medicinal plants out here and getting up close and personal to the beasts that roam the jungles of this vast country, well....not exactly roam, some sit in trees and slither around but I've discovered a few new ones to tick off in my 'I Spy Book' . :)

Not far from the reserve there is a well known Amazon Animal Rehabilatation Centre called 'AmaZOOnico' and is a 1,500 hectare reserve on the Rio Arajuno - a narrow tributary branching off the Napo River which we decided to embark on an adventure up river to check out. It cares for displaced or homeless animals who´s habitats have been destroyed or ones that have been sold for quick cash by illegal traffickers. We managed to hitchike on two vehicles from the road outside the Jatun Sacha reserve to the Porte de Ahuano where we haggled one of the boat men (not with my spanish but by a very gifted American volunteer) and convinced him for a good price to take us in a canoe half an hour down the Napo River and into the Rio Arajuno deeper into the swamps and darker jungles of the Amazon - trusting our boat man knew where he was going and wasn't going to run out of fuel leaving us stranded!

22445_2293..756390_n_1_.jpg22445_2293..763374_n_1_.jpgCruising deeper into the tanning tributuries of the Amazon....

Cruising deeper into the tanning tributuries of the Amazon....

I was told the entire Amazonia region which spreads right across South America, is the central network of more than over a thousand rivers and tributuries which contains about 20% of the planet's fresh water resource - mmm and I was cruising right along on it but precious water.
It was amazing just seeing nothing but jungle and river straight ahead..... It was also really interesting to see the riverside life of the Amazon, other boats motoring past us saluting us with a friendly wave and call, people fishing, bathing and washing their clothes - the weather is really tempramental, when we boarded the canoe it was blazing sunshine and then when we passed under a cloud it was a rain storm and then blazing sunshine again! was really cool to experience though.

The animal centre lay on a sort of island only accessible by boat and run by a Swiss couple who had a soft spot for Amazonian animals. At the beginning of the centre we had a ´briefing´about the squirrel monkeys that roam around - locking everything we had away and given instructions to how to get them off if they decide to jump on you haha! they will make off with a thing or two y´know those crazy little critters. They took us around the centre (fortunetely speaking english) and was amazing to have the opportunity to get really close to these exotic animals - the Toucans are my favourite. Some of the monkey species like the spider monkey and wooley and howler monkey are close to extinction and some of them are just too tame to be released back into the forest (we were even told about how one of the Jaguars escaped and actually came back!) its a jungle out there........but the Toucans were White Throated species and the red scarlet macaws and Amazonia parrots make a horrendous amount of noise and scream ´Hola!´ to you which is really funny. The couple actually found a baby anaconda on the road having bee injured and took it in to their centre, it was kept in a tank and are pretty much gigantic water snakes so not to sure what they're going to do when it grows up! they can each up to nine metres long!. Turtles were about too aswell as mini Jaguars called Ocelots which were dead cute and came right up to us. Its quite funny with some of them as the Álpha Male´ Collared Pig came running over to our guide and let her open its mouth to show us his teeth like he wanted us to see.....we also had a really sweet little fluffy bird called a 'Trumpa' which would run after us and stand in the middle of us for attention.

Check them out....


After giving a donation to the reserve for all their hard work, we had to find our boat driver who thankfully had waited for us being in a really remote part of the jungle - we hopped back on the boat again and back up the Napo. Paying the driver $30 at the port, we then decided to walk towards the main road ahead of the bus on the dirt track and through the farm land which we had hitchiked down previously - knowing our luck, the bus never came by and we ended up walking nearly the entire way home, fighting our way through the dusty sand that cars going back in the other direction would leave, rubber neckin´us gringos like they´d never seen a white person here before! Eventually we made it back on to the main road and THEN we got picked up by the bus just to ride 2 minutes down the road back to the reserve where there was no electricity and in great need for it to rain so we could have water (every place in the Amazon relies heavily on the rainfall for their water supply). Thankfully we had a mama of a thunderstorm and sat on the steps of the cabañas watching the lightning storms (you can´t hear A THING when it rains as its so intense when it falls) but the forest gets watered thats for sure - so its great when it rains!

Big Amazon Leaves - great substitutes for umbrellas!

Big Amazon Leaves - great substitutes for umbrellas!


Well I'm a sucker for animals and being in the richest biodiverse place on the planet, I took the bus into Tena later in the week and went to visit the 'La Isla Parque Amazonico' across the river on island paying a girl a whopping $2 on the bridge to enter.....

The centre was busy with construction going on for new animal housing as I walked around checking out the garden of precious medicinal plants that embed the natural pharmacy of the rainforest. All the cures for pretty much any body dysfunctions are out here.....here's some secrets

'Ayahuasca' - a bejuco made from it's vines is the main ingredient for a potion prepared by Shaman's to go into mental trances to see the past, present and future and to detect illnesses in bodies, practiced in sacred ceremonies.

'Cruz Caspi' - natural contreceptive, also to treat menstrual cramps and kidney and stomach problems

'Chonta' - they call this palm tree the 'sun's fiancee' with it's red fruit producing protein and Vitamin A

'Chugriyuyo' - it's leaves have penicilin and is used to relieve throat pain!

'Una de Gato' - Used to fight diseases like asma, ulcers and diabetes

'Cola de Pavo Real' - you rub these leaves on yourself to help with low energy and stomach aches, they turn to brown to show the energy is out!

'Papa Culebrina' - used as an antidote for snake bite

'Maria Panga' - Excellent to treat skin tumours

'Sarzaparrilla' - cause anti inflammatory effects and also protects the liver...

'Guayusa' - works well as a natural energiser and also prevent decay from its flourine

and that's only some of them out here..... who needs a doctor!

Then I saw a monkey bounding towards me....it was a cute little squirrel monkey!


and some other characters too....


Any zoologists dream!



Posted by SalBolton82 13:16 Archived in Ecuador Tagged trees animals rainforest rivers wildlife plants south america amazon medicine ecuador tena Comments (0)

Letters From The Amazon - Part Seven



Hola! Ok, the electricity has been off here in the forest for a looonng time,so here´s a nice big chunks of my adventures in the Amazon.....

The beginning of the week was pretty interesting. While working out in the forest a tree branch hit me and grazed my forehead - we have to clear some areas by pulling out the trees which often results in being thrown backwards when it eventually pops out! I´d been to the local market and bought a small bottle of some 'Sagre de Drago' lotion which looks like real blood which is sap from the tree's truck; you lather it on and hey presto all is healed! It's brilliant, no plasters, nothing.

This is why rainforest deforestation has gotta stop.

Coming back from work from the Centro de Conservacion Plantas Amazonica, we caught a ride from the head ranger Sergio (the guy who is scared of bugs) in his car - so 8 of us had to squeeze in his little cream Fiat Uno - S thats 15 years old - so I had to practically lean out the door window....but the drive is beautiful check out the views.....


Squeezing in to this little beast...


After work in the heat of the afternoon we tend to go and play in the Napo River which was a 15 minute walk through the jungle (in board shorts and flip flops by the way) and accompanied by Spike our neighbours fluffy dog that comes to visit us at the reserve. Spike leads us the whole way to the river where we were met by confused locals on the otherside who were panning for gold and washing their clothes, looking at all these 'gringos' jumping in the Napo aswell as Spike following us right into the water to come play. The current was pretty rapid and on occasions found ourselves drifting downstream - riding the river or chasing our football that had drifted away. Playing in rivers is so exhilirating!


The Rio Napo.....

At the Centro de Conservacion Plantas Amazonica 'CCPA' at the Jatun Sacha reserve, there is quite a few medicine plants which I´m reading up on and writing about them. One night by candlelight in my cabana, I was writing up my notes when I looked down and the teeny tinest caterpillar that ever existed came crawling up my thumb and out onto my pen - the insects tend to stick on me alot here. I think the animals like me, even Spike likes to walk and hitchhike with us to the CCPA and then be a nuisance to us by lying in the plant beds that we´re trying to turn to the point where we have to shut him out and put a log across the door - he always seems to find a way back in which we can´t work out. Don't underestimate the animals out here....but that's the beauty of them.

Anyway, onto something different a change of scene....well sort of

Mid week, another volunteer and I left the reserve and trekked for 3 hours with a couple of the rangers through the jungle to 'Cabaña Arajuno´ which is in the middle of a clearing in the jungle near the river Arajuno with an organic garden. The rangers stay during the week to patrol the forest to make sure there are no naughty people illegally cutting down the forest. The amount of sweat that poured out of my skin I didn´t think was possible - something new I´ve discovered about myself....I sweat alot and what comes with sweat....it's insects! thirsty for the precious salt from my skin. Not that it wasn´t an uneventful walk - we had to climb over barbed wire quite a bit which is slightly thought provoking and gave an edgy rebelliousness to our act. The rainforest is spoilt for thrilling quanties of fungi which we stopped to look at numerous times aswell as admiring the webs and bodies of spiders in between having to bend over and mimic a tortoise every now and again to relieve myself from my heavy backpack. Funny enough when we were standing under a tree, I felt a huge thud on my head and this mother of a lemon had fallen out the tree and hit me! ahhhhh


Once we finally emerged out of the jungle and into the clearing to the Cabaña, we went to bathe in the nearby Rio Aranjuno where we had to wade across the river to reach the sand where we swam across the river, rode logs and jumped off the big rocks into a plunge pool - which wasn´t so funny when my bikini top flew off!. We then attempted to learn Amazonian calls using our hands from Elibar one of the forest guides which was pretty cool ( I stress the word attempted but sounded more like a dying bird).


Bathing in a Rio Amazonia.....like no other, very refreshing

Anacondas are in the Amazonia Rivers, but they are pretty rare to see, in fact even the natives rarely see them (and they can grow up to 10 metres long) and your best bet is seeing them in a zoo. The sound of thunder sparked us to start making our way back to the cabana as a storm was approaching...try this - wading through a River who´s current is rapidly increasing at a snails pace, cutting your feet on the rocks (yep second time in my trip to Ecuador) while hearing the crashes of thunder up above you - yep not easy, but made it across the river before the storm came.

You know with the amount of rainfall the Amazon gets - a river can raise 7 metres in one night!. Yow!

After I finally made it across the river, two ladies and a little girl came along - one jumped in a canoe that was tied up on the bank and canoed to the other side in like 10 seconds (damn it, I needed that 10 seconds ago!) and the other lady and little girl followed me through the jungle with their dog Minerva to the Cabaña to eat with us.....I then spent one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life frantically itching my legs covered in lumpy bites from the river flies ahhh there were so many it looked like a join-the-dots map!


The next day at the Cabaña Arajuno and relieved by bites had soothed, we embarked on a 6 HOUR trek through the rainforest patrolling the circumrance of the area around the Rio Arajuno for illegal deforestation. We trudged through the forest floor sludge and having Elibar (or ´Gato´ as we call him which means Cat as he has cat eyes - weird ) led the way as we macheted through the thicket of the jungle and getting COVERED in irritating bites - quite an adventure. 'Gato' would stop and tell us about interesting plants, many of which are medicinal plants and if you know what they look like they are everywhere and have multiple uses in treating illnesses and conditions. Fortunetely I wasn´t totally lost in translation - a german girl with me translated a bit, so I wasn´t totally clueless. Many plant leaves are used for shaman rituals treating sores and bleeding wounds. One root 'Shia' its called is used as a remedy for gum infections when chewed and a tree 'Leche de Oyea' (Milk Tree) when you cut the bark bleeds a milk like sap to treat stomach aches and another plant 'Cola de Pato' meaning 'Tail of Duck' when crushed you can use for shampoo - very cool!

We walked along the River and met an indigenous family canoeing and gold panning (they even found some grains of gold in the river when we there). The wood they use to build canoes out of is extremely durable and can last up to 20 years on the water. We also walked along the river through a housing unit of one of the men on the river who borrowed my binoculars to spy on the people cleaning fish on the other side. It was quite funny as at the same time, this young girl with a baby wrapped on her back came running out and down the hill screaming in Quitchua and her husband and grabbed a canoe to go after him - I don´t quite know what she was screaming about but she seemes pretty mad from my point of view. Over the 6 exhausting hours, I did get to see spectacular views of the Amazon which a camera can´t ever replicate AND I got to see a teeny weeny Rainforest frog on a leaf (which are poisonous). It´s really weird walking through the Amazon coz every noise catches your attention - we even had random people running through the forest carrying fish in their shigra bags which is pretty startling when your in the forest. A popular way to fish in the Amazon is dynamite fishing where you will hear sounds of explosions every now and again of boats throwing dynamite into the river to poison the fish. Halfway through the patrol, we did find a HUGE tree which you could have got a few people around that had been illegally cut down ;( but it looked like the wood was too soft for them to use anyway so it was a absolute waste. It really is shocking to see a tree that's hundreds of years old, home to many nutrients and habitats pointlessly destroyed...it sucks.


The main problem with rainforest deforestation is the farmers chopping down horrendous amounts of rainforest, trees and plants so they can clear it for grazing land for their cattle - but then after 3-5 years the fertility quality of the soil drops by 30% or so and then new forests are cleared for new soil. What is needed is research into finding alternative ways of farming to make it more sustainable and prevent more destruction of the rainforests

At some point we did think we heard a chainsaw but turned out it was just the motor of the boat on the river - the rangers come out to do this pretty much everyday and they live at the cabaña over night - pretty dedicated. The weather also decided to pour down with rain so we had to shelter under a fallen tree trunk - this made the ground SO sludgy and muddy and irritating as you would get stuck in the mud literally like quick sand. A exciting thing did happen though while we were crossing a fallen tree over a river - my boot slipped off the side of it while I was balancing along the trunk and my leg slid off the trunk which caused a few screams as I was half hanging off! ahhh Lara Croft eat your heart out....

But this good feeling wasn't to last as I've now tried Amazon Medicinal Plants a third time here as I awoke the next day with a headache and painful stomach cramps - Gato picked some leaves from the forest called 'Verdolago', 'Culantro' and 'Pumu Panga' and boiled them into a tea for me to drink which was pretty bitter but all the best medicines taste awful right?

Trekking back to the reserve through the forest - I even got to see some monkeys again which is pretty rare so was very lucky!!

Next blog....the Tena 15 Noviembre Fiesta



Posted by SalBolton82 10:01 Archived in Ecuador Tagged trees rainforest rivers wildlife south america amazon ecuador logging medicines Comments (0)

Letters From The Amazon - Part Eight


Hola Mi Amigos!

Lucky to be in Tena at this time of the year! - the 12 - 15 November is pretty special. Alot of the roads here have names after certain dates and months of the year so there is some significant meaning there.

15 Noviembre is the main day of celebration in Tena as it marks the date of it's foundation - its a big party 'Fiesta' where many people from Ecuador come to the jungle town to join in with live music and community events. Of course we couldn't let the opportunity pass so we ventured into town by hitchiking from the jungle with these two nice men that we paid a dollar or two for the ride in their jeep.

The town of Tena always tends to be sooooooo much hotter than the jungle but upon arriving, we wandered around the hub of the town centre and the bustling market when we saw a poster for a bullfight (torros) happening at 3pm. I was pretty resilient to going at first as I remember back in Quito refusing an invitation to go watch a bull fight in the collesuem because of my dislike in seeing the bull being killed for entertainment. Bull fights in small towns in Ecuador are known as ´pueblo´ (small town) bullfights and a popular source of entertainment for families in South America just as much as families in the UK going to see a local football game or families in the USA going to see a local baseball game or the rodeo - this is their entertainment......I was just hoping the bull would not be killed

With this in mind, I took a chance to witness this opportunity when we asked a guy selling 5 cent yoghurts where it was and sort of understanding his directions, raced through the streets to find the arena, which was a wooden rotunda bustling with people outside. As we neared closer, they were congragated around a mobile stall selling sunglasses ha! We bought a ticket for $5 from this one lady behind a little thatched window - and it was more like pushing to get to the front first which was the ticket queue. I was a still a little curious about the bull fight though as we entered the arena. I hate the ones in Spain where they stick sharp poles in the bulls and then kill them, so I was still a little apprehensive, pleading in my mind ´Please don´t kill the bull! Please don´t kill the bull!´ as we waited for it to start. Looking around, absorbing the atmosphere as the crowds gathered in the stands, the chatter of Spanish voices drowning everything around me, the arena was totally made out of wood and iron and you had a really good view. There´s no maintenance in the bull fight arenas, all the stands are made from old wood and bound together with wire so it was quite an adventure finding a stable seat. They even had a guy balancing on the stands selling panama hats, donots and balloons!


Of course when they say it starts at 3pm they actually mean 4.30pm in Ecuador time (after an hour and a half of a guy on the microphone doing a ´soundcheck´ of ´hola, hola, once, dos, tres, hola hola' about three trillion times) they opened up the big iron doors and let the bull out into the ring.....

Ok, bullfights are CRAZY, CRAZY, CRAZY - the local bullfighters or 'matadors' as they are correctly known as take it in turns to tempt the bull which was more of a young bull with their pink and red cloths to charge at them and try and touch it with coloured wooden pegs to score points - its pretty extreme. The crowd would gasp in thrilling excitment as the bull charged towards them and I couldn't help but feel a little pleasure, when the bull got it's own back for being tormented rapping the matadors and sometimes getting pitched in the air and trampled on by the young bull (and I probably would rap them too of I were the bull) but its quite funny when the bull chases them around the arena and the crowd just screams!. It just has that teasing edginess to it which makes it entertaining for crowd.
Mimicing the protocal of 'sports events' in the western world, they also have their half time entertainment where a girl comes in and starts to sing and salsa dance in the middle of the bull ring with all the bull poo everywhere. haha! They also have these MENTAL clowns that come in and do an act with the bull by jumping over it and all sorts, they are CRAZY and even went as far as getting booted right up the bum with its horns! You do feel for the bull after a while though as it gets really ticked off - but even random people from the audience were jumping down into the ring to provoke the bull and kids were running across it, no one cares its just mental to see! Only in South America.

Later we went to the main plaza where there was a big street party ´Fiesta´to mark 15th Noviembre. We passed the sign again for the Bull fight and piecing together the spanish words, realised it had said all along that the bull is not hurt in the event - they aren´t in ´pueblos´bullfights anyway. The fiesta was a huge gathering in the plaza with tables everwhere selling drinks, food, you name it. Colourful bunting surrounded us and drew the attention to the huge stage set up for an Ecuadorian band belting out some Ecuardorian party track, so we felt the urge to get up and dance in the square amongst all the Ecuadorians who seemed to just stare at us! We did get the attention of two old men who were really drunk by like 9pm and would copy any dance move we would do - it was hilarous but good fun. The Latinos know how to party.

Earlier in the week, I felt like I was in the Army, I had the job of sorting out all the random boots in the reserve into pairs and sizes and washing them in the river, quite a task. I was feeling maybe I will build up a phobia about Wellington Boots being surrounded by so many!
As the station is on the main road in the rainforest you get a lot of road kill. The boys were coming back from the fields and found a dead horse (full grown) on the road - it took six of them to drag it up the road until they could find a place in the forest they could leave it - its nasty, its in open view of the road side so we see it slowly decaying everyday and then you just have the black vultures feasting on it - its nasty! Within a week the horse was merely a skeleton, with not an ounce of meat left on the bones shudder.....


Speaking of more animals, freaky thing happened the other night.....we had a power cut in the station so were hanging out in the hammocks in the pitch black underneath our thatched roof. One of the guys came over to talk with me and noticed something on the inside of the roof above my head - when he shon his torch on to it, it revealed (no joke) a metre and a half long Boa snake! ahhhhhhh!!!!!!!! it gave me quite a startle but after a while it was cool to see a wild snake, just happily hanging out with us sheltering from the rain. I think the way to stop being fearful of something, like I've found with large insects, snakes and spiders, is just to innocently see them for what they really are, they're just creatures after all with they're own kinda beauty. Some of the guys tried to poke it down with a stick but it displayed how strong in all its monstrosity when it held on to the stick and took it off them! was awesome to see but sooooo freaky to see actually how long some of these snake are. The Boa isn´t one of the poisonous snakes of the Amazon, there´s about 53 species and only 8 of them are venemous. We've named the Boa Cynthia and pretty sure we'll see her again.

Cynthia......our new boa snake in the roof

Cynthia......our new boa snake in the roof

I didn´t escape the animal fest and they like the dark, so when the powers out - out they come. A fruit bat got into the station and couldn´t find its way out so we were ducking and diving at it was flying around our heads! You are never short of excitement in the jungle, thats why I love it! oh and did I mention the stars are BEAUTIFUL out here, you can see everyone........we like to chill out away from the canopy lie in the middle of the road in front of the station and then rolling out the way when a car comes haha! c'mon you've got to have some adventure sometimes....



Posted by SalBolton82 06:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged trees animals rainforest rivers wildlife south america amazon medicine ecuador tena Comments (0)

Letters From The Amazon - Part Nine


Ok I´m sick with a cold but no worries I have the worlds medicine's a stones throw away! so just drunk some tea of boiled bark off a Cat Claw tree for my cold and eaten in a restaurant in Tena with a sloth living in the roof how cute! but here´s some more stuff thats been going on with more of my adventures in the Amazon....

Working at the 'Centro Conservacion Plantas Amazonica', a lady came into the garden inquiring about the 'Cruz Caspi' tree we have - its a natural contreceptive ´no more babies tree´ where women could drink when they don´t want children anymore. She seemed quite serious about the no more children arguement which was kind of nice having her kids standing next to her when she said it! This gave Sergio, the head ranger the idea of finding 100 stems of the 'Cruz Caspi' tree to pluck out and sell them for $1 at the centre, thats like 50p for this medicine that stops you having babies - think we need the same idea in Britain mmmmm.

Speaking of children (niños) the only time I have actually felt like I was putting something into the rainforest was visiting a local school 'Chicicu Rami´where we took some 'Íshpingo' plants for them to make their own garden. It kind of involved us going into the classroom with them all staring at us and having to introduce myself as

´Soy (I am)....Sal.....en la sopa´ (in the soup) where they all just abrupted with sniggers and giggles. Sigh.


Then the other volunteers did this presentation where I kind of recognised a few of the words about how they wanted the children to make the garden and allocated them tasks including macheting the grass down, watching 8/9 years old with machetes are quite a sight - they are really good!. Then they planted the trees in their new cleared garden which was sweet with the exisiting rainforest towering in the background.....and then play time! The kids took a particular shine to me and the amount of them trying to climb my legs like a tree were causing my trousers to fall down! I attempted to play from what I gathered was cat and mouse but obviously there was going to be a few accidents when they insist on doing it on the concrete! I love the kids though, it was particularly fun lifting them up with their basketball so they could reach the hoop - was so cute. They work really hard, really good kids.

Back at the reserve, I walked through the jungle to the bathroom when a found a small bird was caught flying around the place trying to get out, so I was entertained with a broom trying to usher it out with not much success while it was squaking at the top of its voice. Also in the reserve, I came across a small black wiggling thing on the ground.....then it rolled over to reveal it had bright fluroscent orange bands - a baby poisonous coral snake! very rare to see but generally when you see bright colours - stay away!. Also when I was working in the Organic Garden, we were planting new beans and cutting down some purple bananas.....little did I know that the bunch I was carrying was the home of a tarantula! but I got over it by munching on some sugar cane, its yummy...grows all around, just strip it away and suck...

The Organic Garden

The Organic Garden

You wanna know something? read on......

As the reserve is so big at 2,200 hectares you can do a self guided tour through the rainforest with a book. I decided to go it alone armed with a machete and the book and headed into the jungle to learn a bit more.

It's amazing walking through the jungle alone, having the rainforest to myself - but I hadn't been this deep in the jungle all by myself before so after I got over the initial feeling of being vulnerable and getting totally freaked out at the same time as the noises are so weird out here. I slowed my pace down and stopped in my path to see tiny little cutter ants carrying leaves one behind the other in a straight line across the forest floor up over tree trunks and off into the forest - very cute


I absorbed the feeling of being engulfed in what they call the ´primary forest´which is where the canopy is really thick and humid with the reserve being 70% of this and 30% 'secondary forest' where there's more crowding among the shorter plants and the canopy is more open. What really annoyed me though are the amount of spider webs that choose to be right in the path and parallel to the height of your face! egrghhhhh - I was forever pulling them off and they stick really bad aswell as having a thousand things to trip over, stones, bumps and tree roots ha!

For a millenium the South American Indigenous people found in the forest shelter, food and medicine provisions for their survival and their spirtual life. The Spirit of the Forest is very deep and rich where the indigenous people believe trees and animals have souls and their spirits can take on human forms. They prefoundly respect the forest and its inhabitants, asking permission from the spirits of the forest to extract something, to cut a tree or hunt. In addition, they follow specific rituals when collecting medicinal plants and their stories of the forest spirits have been passed down by generations by word of mouth


The trees are what I find amazing in the rainforest.....there's 246 species of trees in one hectare! many of them in the Amazon have roots which are visible above the soil, supporting the trees to allow them grow really tall without having deep roots penetrating the earth...hence why they blow over easily in storms. But it also allows them to lean towards the sunlight when their roots die to catch any sunlight penetrating through the canopy. Clever hey! There's two types....

Stilt Roots which are found in palms and used to build rustic lodges or parquet floors

Stilt Roots which are found in palms and used to build rustic lodges or parquet floors

Buttress Roots are solid, flat and vertical where native people would strike them to communicate

Buttress Roots are solid, flat and vertical where native people would strike them to communicate

I came across these MAHOOOSIVE Trees which are like the tallest, thickest trees in the rainforest called 'Camatuhua' trees in Quichua- their fruit drops off and are taken by animals and rodents who eat them and then bury some of them do that they regrow in other parts of the forest - kinda sweet helping eachother out. Vines grow on top of the trees to obtain the light they need - they are awesome though!!!!!


There are some really obscure plants out there - the really large leaves are shaped with a point on thr tip to steer water. My favourite are the 'Labios de mujer' ´hot lips´they are bright red flowers in the shape of huge puckered lips on leaves - really cool. There's also Cacao trees which are the raw chocolate where Aztecs considered it a sacred plant and used it's seeds for money - chocolate for money mmmmmmmmm

Labios de mujer "hot lips"

Labios de mujer "hot lips"




Y'know rainforests have tea coloured streams that run through the jungle which is from the leaf protein which leach into the water from the decompsing litter surrounding it mmmmmm. A smart move I made was to not bring a torch so I had to find my way through the forest before the sunset because when its the dead of night - it is so dark, you cannot see your own hand in front of your face. It's super thrilling

Restoring my zen in the tranquility of the forest, I could hear the soft buzzing of wings and there was a hummingbird right in front of me.....dead cute, they're attracted by the bright colours of the plants. They are so mesmerising and only stick around for seconds....so pumas and jaguars next time..... BUT, one night I was going to brush my teeth and I noticed something jump as I was brushing and saw it was one of those teeny weeney green tree frogs that you never ever see - so I was running back through the forest to get my camera with the toothpaste still burning my mouth - you NEVER get to see those little dudes, I was lucky.

Ok lesson over.....leaving you here in the jungle.....hasta luego!



Posted by SalBolton82 14:35 Archived in Ecuador Tagged trees animals rainforest rivers wildlife plants south america amazon medicine ecuador tena Comments (0)

Letters From The Amazon - Part Ten


Buenas Dias! (Good day)

I've been one month in the Amazon and I feel sometimes the symptons of 'Jungle Fever' coming over me.....oooo sounds crazy doesn't it? most night's I am having the same reoccuring dream..... where I'm waking up on the forest floor, barefoot and surrounded by darkness.....or maybe its these malaria pills I'm taking......either way it wakes me up to relief of still being inside my mosquito net and in the cabana. It's a right party out there in the rainforest in the night.

But things for me have got more exciting and made me far happier out here keeping me busy.....I bought a pig!

It was suggested we have a piglet at the station to eat our left over food in the compost, so me and Sergio headed into Tena in search of a ´Chanchita´. We showed up at Tena Market asking the locals where we could buy one, but recieved no positive response except for the shake of the head and ´no´ pointing us in the direction for ´Senor Busca´or ´Senor Martinez´somewhere else in town - we even drove around stopping to ask a women grilling pork on the roadside! (we were looking for a live pig by the way and it was sure she certaintly didn't have one!) Our search continued out of Tena prompted by various directions from people on the street out into some rural areas looking out for signs for ´Chancho´but every farm we came across, the farmers would just grunt (funny enough like pigs) and mutter they had no piglets. We tried one last time asking this lady outside her house on the roadside leading into Tena and success! She told us she knew ´Senor Rodriguez´ who bred most animals including piglets! only thing was though it was in the town of Contundo, a 45 minute drive out of town and Sergios petrol was very low, so I offered to pay for his petrol for a wallet breaking $5! haha. The game was afoot!


We drove towards Contundo stopping at the petrol station of course and admired the splendid views of the surrounding rainforest. Upon reaching Contundo, there was a mass of school children blocking the road and market stalls spilling out onto the streets, so Sergio made good use of his horn stopping to ask passersby about the whereabouts of ´Senor Rodriguez´. following the directions of fingers pointing off into the distance. After passing a GIGANTIC rock with two children sitting on top of it, we came to a house where we were greeted by two very loud dogs who came running towards us - a lady followed them out and Sergio asked for Senor Rodriguez. She said he was not home but she was Senora Rodriguez and yes she had some piglets ´round back´. Yes!!!We were shown the pigs pen which was kind of inbetween the cows who were in quite small conditions with bulging eyes and tongues sticking out, groaning loudly and the place smelling of dampened straw and manure. Sergio wanted to get two pigs but Senora would only let us have one for $50, so I picked the girl piglet with black spots and Senora plucked her up by her back legs which freaked the piglet out as she stuffed her in a grain sack and handed her to me. I felt really sorry for it as it was so scared and was making so much noise!! wriggling around the bag. I handed Senora Rodriguez my $50 notes and quickly got her in the car as she squirmed and shrieked (I would have been scared too if they had just happened to me) and started to drive off with the piglet at my feet. We had to stop twice as she was so naughty and ended up biting her way through the sack and was jumping about the car while i´m trying to think of the Spanish words to yell to Sergio for help! it was soo funny, but I thought I had chosen a real troublesome piglet. After two attempts to keep her still, it resulted in me having to lock her between my knees and hold her down with both hands! (she´s proven to be one strong little piglet) where she eventually fell asleep!. Once we arrived back at the reserve, it took three of us to hold her while we took her to the ´pig pen area´ right at the bottom of the station, nearly knocking us off the bridge and into the river in the process as she was struggling so much. When you first get a pig - its so stressful!


We put her temporarily in the chicken pen so we could fix the door of the cement pig house - when we came back for her later she had escaped! I was convinced she was dead and wouldn´t survive a night in the rainforest......but the next morning.......the kitchen ladies had spotted her in the kitchen having smelt the food and chased her back to the pen - I couldn´t believe she was alive! for a young piglet she´s really tough, so tough infact that even when we put her in the CEMENT pig pen she found a way to escape again! that time I had doubted we would ever see her again, but the next morning I had a speck of hope and went to the area in the reserve where we keep her and low and behold she was sleeping in a bowl in the chicken pen! she came back! Well now we have heightened security (literally we made a wall) so she can´t jump out. I´ve named her Lady Oinksalot as Sergio is a real fan of Lady Gaga she´s a lady and is a real talker. She´s really good now, I adore her. I feed her food scraps and fetch her clean water from the river everyday. She´s really sociable so I go and play with her when I´m not working - she´s like a puppy, she doesn´t leave your side and runs with you nearly tripping me over half the time. She´s become really obedient, but she makes ALOT of noise when she sees you and jumps up, she hates it when you leave her - pigs are sociable creatures so don't cope very well on their own, so I try and spend as much time with her. I´m really sad I can´t take her with me - she´s a cutie!


Last weekend we ventured to 'The Caves of Jumandy' in the Oriente Region, and it was quite an adventure getting there. First we hitchiked from the station to Tena in a pick up truck that was being pulled along by a truck with a piece of rope with a guy sitting in the pickup merely steering it. Seeing as there were no more vehicles passing by, we had to run after the pickup and help eachother get into the back as it was being pulled along by the truck ahead which was pretty good fun. However, three times the rope broke off and we had to get off and push the pickup towards the truck that had driven off! ha!
The only concern we had was when we were going up a steep hill and praying the rope wouldn´t break coz we would have rolled straight back down the hill - ahh the danger... we didn´t even make it into Tena as the rope broke again (fortunetly on the flat road phew!) so we paid $1 to a taxi driver who happened to pass to take us into Tena. From there, I had to step over a homeless dog who really was just skin and bones with people nudging it to see if it was still alive. Getting a seat on the right bus, which always have a character of their own, I had to step over another dog who´s nose was poking out of a grain sack on the floor - kind of an odd way to transport a dog. Anyway, once we were about to leave, an older man got on with a shoulder bag and started shouting in Spanish which was inaudible, then he put on a headset and turned on a speaker to talk which was still just as inaudible and got out diagrams of eyes and started pointing to his own eyes, mimicking some sort of eye disorder- really funny to watch but he failed to get our custom.


When we reached ´Cuevas de Jumandy´ lying in the heart of Cotundo and about 4km north of Archidona, we paid a cool dude named Ramon to take us down into the caves for a couple of hours. We all needed to take headtorches as we descended deeper into the caves passing visitors coming out of the caves covered in mud - yes!. The caves are very impressive- they were formed by volcanic activity and named after 'Jumandy', an Amazonian hero. Today, shaman rituals are still active in the caves and are home to really odd rock formations, huge staglamites, minerals and crystals, quite a few things to bang your head on. The caves are also home to crab spiders and small coves you can explore - we had to crawl on our fronts into these small caves with Ramon and when he shon his light to the ceiling......it revealed an army of false vampire bats! of course the bats went crazy and attempted to shoot of the cave in a panicked flurry one proper whacking me and rickashading off the side of my face! ahhh (good thing they were just false vampire bats ay?) . The caves were awesome though, and huge, having to wade through waist deep water, but my knees took quite a knocking. The coolest thing was seeing an underground waterfall. Ramon pointed to a part of the plunge pool, held his breath, jumped in and disappeared! thinking he was going to shoot out from elsewhere in the cave, we were looking around until he resurfaced out the same spot and scared the living daylights out of us! haha


The adventures didn´t stop there as we took a bus ride the next day to the ´Cascadas de la Umbri´some reknowned waterfalls in the Oriente Region. They told us a hike to the big waterfall would take 30 minutes but never trust that! we had to pass a natutal waterslide which was so slippery, I was halfway sliding in before I had to be helped up - that would have sent me halfway down the springs! After much sludging and sliding in the mud, we reached this amazing waterfall - one of the boys flip flops broke so he had to do the jungle trekking bare foot oh yeah! but jumping into the plunge pool and actually experiencing being under a waterfall is amazing. The waters so strong it feels like your´re being thumped repeatingly, but its in a real theraputic way - seize it if you ever get the chance....

Cascadas de la Umbri

Cascadas de la Umbri

We left just before the sunset and hadn´t thought of a way to get home - so we had to walk the way back to Tena hoping we could hitchike a ride.....we didn´t. Noone wanted to pick us up so we walked for a good hour through the forest and little indigenous communites who would call out ´Buenas Tardes!´ they´re really friendly out here in the forest. Dogs were coming up to us, snapping at us - children played in the road and stared at us curiously, while some families sat on the street side with a television set and looking up to say ´Buenas Noches´. and probably wandering what a bunch of gringos were doing walking around at dusk. Fortunetly as the light was about to die (and it is pitch black in the forest) and none of us had torches, a bus pulled up behind us allowing us to sit on the floor for a well earned rest back in town.......guardian angel there again.

Ok thats all for now, onto the next adventure! It' now creeping into the Christmas season here so kinda weird seeing Christmas trees in the windows with this humidity of a climate - but tis the season!



Posted by SalBolton82 07:39 Archived in Ecuador Tagged animals rainforest caves plants south waterfall america amazon pig ecuador tena cotundo Comments (0)