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Letters From The Amazon - Part Six

PART SIX: THE JEWELS OF AMAZONIA

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!

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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....

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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!


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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

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'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.

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

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

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

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

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'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!

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and some other characters too....

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Any zoologists dream!

Adios!

Sal.

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

PART SEVEN : PATROLLING AT CABANA ARAJUNO

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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.....

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Squeezing in to this little beast...

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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!

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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

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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

Adios!

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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

PART EIGHT: 15 NOVIEMBRE FIESTA AND OUR NEW PET SNAKE

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!

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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.....

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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....

Adios!

Sal.

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

PART NINE: BACK TO SCHOOL AND DEEP LESSONS IN THE RAINFOREST

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.

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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

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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

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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!!!!!

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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"


Cacao

Cacao

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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!

Sal.

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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 Twelve

PART TWELVE: JOURNEY TO MISHUALLI

Hola! Really long blog this one is gonna be as I've had quite an adventure recently....

Well I'm not your average English girl, quite an adventurous girl actually if you've not come to that conclusion yet from following the last parts of this blog. Anyway, I'm one to tire of routine and sameness and having been at the reserve for over a month, really wanted to explore the Amazon further, so I decided to pack my bag and go it alone.......well sort of.

Giving a call to a jungle lodge in a nearby town called Misahualli for the weekend. Their office was in Quito, so I spoke to this guy called Luis who told me I could join a group and be taken deeper into the forest and have an english translator - yes!
So.....having made arrangements, I got up early to catch a 6:45am bus outside the reserve, and sods law awoke to the foreboding sounds of horrendous crashing and rumbling on the roof of my cabaña and realised I had to get up and head into the jungle in a thunder storm. As I waited on the main road getting soaked, Francisco, an old man who is the handyman at the reserve, came out dressed in a white poncho and mumbled to me asking where I was going to. I told him I was heading to Misahualli down river and he was thrilled to tell me his house was there and that I could come with him (good news for someone not entirely sure where they were going). The bus came soaring down the road screeching to a halt past us and then reversing back to pick us up, very funny. The bus in the early morning was packed and I had to wedge myself between people while Francisco sat on the step. A few moments later, he yelled for me to get off the bus and stepped out onto the dirt track with a corroded sign saying ´Beinvenidos a Puerto Misahualli´.

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The dirt track led into the forest which was smouldering with the 7am clouds as we started to trudge through the rain down the path greeting morning passerbys. The rain carried on until we came to a huge bridge across the Rio Napo leading into the small town of Misahualli. Francisco knew of the hotel 'Él Albergue Español' where my port of call was and walked me up a small hill to the hotel where we were met by this young girl who was slightly confused why I was there. It turned out, there was no group at the lodge and that her husband Pier - the english translator was sick.....great

So I really was taking a solo adventure two hours up river on a canoe which I had to wait an hour for. I hung around Mishaualli playing with the hotel dogs until I was called down to the bank. She had arranged for a canoe to take me to the lodge an hour and a half away up river and I helped push the canoe out into the river after some ´technical problem´with the motor and off down river we went away from the Port of Mishualli. I sat on the side of the canoe, leaning over and sticking my hand into the water, spraying it up and watching the riverside life go by.... men fishing, ladies panning for gold and washing little kids racing canoes. The clouds hovering above the forest canopy in a dream like illusion was spectacular to cruise into as I headed on my solo voyage further into the Amazon.

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After a couple of hours, my driver slowed the canoe down and pulled up to the bankside where a guy was standing waving. He got on board and introduced himself as Ramon (another Ramon) and was my tour guide for the weekend! however....Ramon spoke no english - oh the fun to come! (I thought to myself this would be good for me, character building, no english speaking in the middle of the jungle all weekend). A short river ride further up, we pulled up to the bankside again to some steps, which you wouldn´t even have noticed if Ramon hasn't have revealed, very secret.
I jumped off the canoe and bounded up the stairs amongst maize fields till I reached this beautiful lodge. The lodge had room for 40 guests and I was the only one staying there! so I had this beautiful lodge all to myself in the calmness of Amazonia. After picking a room, spoilt for choice and dumping my bag. Ramon invited me to lunch in the restaurant where they gave me soooo much to eat! it was like three full courses. Around the lodge, birds were lingering - two green parrots and this huge Scarlet MaCaw named Miguel who tried to bite my boots, not the most friendliest of parrots - he clambered down his perch and walked off along the restaurant when he was bored with you!..charming......

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After lunch, Ramon took me in the canoe down river where we had to hold on to a table that they were carrying in the canoe. We pulled up to the side of a bank to the ´Jaguar Reserve´where we had to clamber up the mud and into the reserve. Ramon was armed with a machete and we made our way through the vines, bugs and bushes - whenever Ramon saw something of interest, he would stop and try to explain to me what it was and I tried to understand the best I could (this is where I needed that damn English Translator!) but it was quite funny having to use body language and nodding along answering 'Si' ha. I actually felt privaledged in a way that I wasn't tagging along with a big tourist group struggling to hear what Ramon would be saying. Here I was having a very unique experience, having my own private ranger under no stresses or strict schedule or the forest being drowned out by many voices. Despite my lost in translation, Ramon and I had some fun in the forest.

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Further into the reserve, we came across some vines of a 500 year old tree - it was the biggest tree I had ever seen in my life! Ramon gestured that I should swing on the vines but I had to hold on tight - I jumped (literally) at the chance and as I swung out like Tarzan the vines propelling me away and I looked down to realise I had swung out over a ravine!! ahhhhhhh!!!!! my grip started to slip slightly but fortunetely I swung back into the forest towards Ramon and we both started to climbing the roots of this mother of a tree - seriously they were GIGANTIC - but good fun. New leader in my tree climbing conquests.

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Blending in with the wildlife...

After exploring more of the forest, discovering animal traps, lots of fungi and medicinal plants of the Amazon, we took the canoe further down the river to visit the indigenous family and a shaman. We pulled up to the pebbled shore where a young girl no older than about 12 or 13 was laying out clothes to dry in the hot sun. She seemed shy and walked ahead of us through the cocoa and corn fields as we shook hands with ladies coming through them. At the end of the path, we came to a clearing with a wooden house one storey high with clothes hung everywhere with chickens, puppies and kittens running around aswell as excited kids rushing to greet Ramon and I. Not being able to understand half of what was being said - I held a kitten and looked around their basic but simple home as we sheltered from the rainstorm that came shortly afterwards

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We were then gestured to come upstairs into the house where a lady was lying on the floorboards moaning and asked if she was sick. I observed that a huge fireplace centred the house and the young girl we saw earlier sat with a baby wrapped around her wondering if it was actually hers. A much older, shorter, fatter man who looked in his 80´s was the head of the house and his son told me he was the shaman of the community and asked me if I wanted to be cleansed by him in a ritual. I agreed and was told all bad spirits and enegy would be exorcised from me and then positive energy put in me. What a once in a lifetime oppurtunity!

The room was dark and he sat me down on a stool, closing my eyes - he started to softly sing and whistle to me shaking 'Shu Panga' leaves (leaves that are noisy) over my head and draping them over me. Amazonian Shamans use these in religous ceremonies to ritually remove bad spirits from a person. I know it sounds weird but I felt like I was being lifted off the ground and things being sucked out of me. After a short while, the Shaman took my head and put his lips to it and started blowing for 10 breaths. It was a pretty unique experience - when I opened my eyes, it was really strange - I never felt better! Before leaving, I attempted to ask questions and managed to find out there were about 10 people in one house which was probably the size of my living and dining room at home - pretty close family! but not much privacy, y'know to do all your 'private stuff' I suppose they were spoilt for space with the countless acres of virgin forest they had surrounding them for a toilet anyhow! The son of the Shaman asked if I wanted to try some medicinal concoctions of a plant that helps stomach aches - I took a sip and wahooooohhh!!! what a stopper!! extremely strong!

I thanked the family and the shaman for his work and we headed back to the shore but not before trying some panning for gold! what most women are busy doing on the river bank. We collected some dirt and a load of small rocks in a large wooden disc and carried it to the river, the process is to add water and appear to swish it around emptying the rocks until you get the dirt - we then tipped the dish with the dirt left and looking closely, we saw we had caught some grains of gold! really cool!. But such a long process that these people do everyday here, but it is gold after all..... We rode back to the lodge down the river with the sunsetting over the River and Amazon and attempted to push the table on the canoe up the stairs! very bizarre

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After my weekend was up, I took the canoe back down the Rio Napo taking in the scenery - I ported back in Misahualli and crossed over the bridge back to the dirt track which was bone dry from the heat of the sun. Armed with my backpack and rubber boots, I trudged down the dirt track aligned with lushious greenery you will ever see and stopped to look at birds and monkey´s high in the tree tops. I was then startled by a jogger passing me with ´Buenas Tardes Señorita!´and carried on running. I was passed many times by cars who wouldn´t give me a ride but thought it would be funny to wave at me speeding away. Reaching the end of the dirt track onto the main road, a house was opposite with 4 dogs who came charging towards me barking angrily ahhhhhh!!!! now I love dogs but wasn´t so keen to hang around and play so I decided to walk back from Misahualli which I calculated would be about an hour - it was great! like a lone walker finding their way home. Pick ups would stop to give me a ride but I decided I was enjoying my walk back too much - you miss so much when you´re speeding by in a car. Along my journey, I encountered a few people and children bidding ´Buenas Tardes´and asking where I was going and replying 'Jatun Sacha' regardless whether or not they knew where it was, but they smiled and nodded anyhow. I walked past many homes that were the same wooden shacks plastered with posters of local political figures holding their thumbs up saying ´Vote for Me!´ It was nice to see a vote for Lisa too for the women (I´d vote for Lisa) - women are second best in South America unfortunetely. Eventually, I reached the school 'Chichaca Rumi' where we planted the Ishpingo Trees so I had a little look to see how they were doing. Actually, a couple of the kids who I recognised from the school were playing marbles in the road and then running out the way when the bus came (They came up asking my name even though they´d seen me before and of course laughing at the response of Sal hehe I thought they´d remember!)

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I noticed passing a sign saying ´Bienvendas Kamakmake´ which unless you were told was an animal centre where the animals just roam around you never would have known what it was. I reached the 'Centro Conservacion Plantas de Amazonica' I knew I was close to Jatun Sacha passing the dead horse with its totally decayed skelton with a few black vultures flying out as I approached. The sun was now setting over the canopy and the clouds were like pink smears across the sky - really pretty! and I even saw some parrots squaking and little black monkeys jabbering in a tree - cute!. The birds nests are really weird here they look like shigra bags hanging from trees.......I did make it back to the reserve by dark, just as well - I had no torch ha! but so pleased with myself that I took the plunge and did this on my own and I truly did end up coping on my own and having an unforgettable experience- what a ride!

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Well the next day, we took the 30 minute walk back to Kamakmake - it was a real plush reserve and the first thing I saw was this cute little Amazon Pig running along with some children who I recognised again from the school dressed in typical Amazonian attire and showing us this cute little monkey that clambered on one of the boys shoulder and held on tight. Totally up for having a monkey on my shoulder, we managed to get him to clamber on me...then he wouldn´t let go. He was tightly clinging on and then even had the decency to pee on me!. Having the novelty of ha monkey on you slowly wearing off. One of the boys got a stick in an attempt to coax him off me which worked but then he clambered back on him again - it was so funny!!! Now that´s monkey business for ya.......

Signing off here at Jatun Sacha

Adios!

Sal.

Posted by SalBolton82 08:48 Archived in Ecuador Tagged trees animals rivers wildlife plants south america amazon ecuador tena medicines Comments (0)

Letters From The Amazon - Part Thirteen

PART THIRTEEN: STRANDED ON TELEFORIQO, MOUNT COTOPAXI AND THE BREAD LADY WITH A CROWN OF STARS

Hola! mi amigos

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The time has come for me to be saying my final 'Adios' to the Jatun Sacha reserve and my adventures here in the rainforest after 6 eventful weeks of living in this utopia of the Amazon (and thank you for still reading them)

It is the month of Christmas and I plan to leave Ecuador within the next few days so I finally spread my wings and forced myself to leave the magic of the rainforest a changed person. Saying a pain stakingly goodbye to my piglet, from the reserve I decided to go to the school again with the other volunteers one last time, but we´d forgotten the teacher had told us the school would be closed that day so of course we were met by an empty classroom. Oh well - nice end to my time in the Amazon. Adam, another volunteer was heading back to Quito also and managed to hail down a bus for us to jump on taking us out of the jungle. Slipping through the pretty cramped bus with our backpacks, I was met by this little voice below me saying ´Buenas Dias´and it was this little boy wearing a Santa Claus hat - how cute! We endured the cramped conditions in the bus to Tena for an hour and once squeezing off it, wandered around the markets buying a shoulder bag and belts all by myself (so proud) until we bought a $6 ticket in the dusty bus terminal from a guy screaming 'Quitoooo!!!!!!' ushering us on to a ´Flota Pelileo´bus. The piece of paper reading 'Quito' on the windscreen was always a comfort to see before I started choking on a piece of chocolate Adam gave me haha!. We headed back to the high altitude of Quito, Ecuadors capital city which lies nearly 3,000 metres above sea level so going from the jungle is pretty tough with the altitude. Anyway, the buses from the Amazon head through the cloud forest (so you literally driving throught the clouds) and the Andean Mountains. It was funny, coz on the bus they actually put on a film that had sound and funny enough it was my childhood hero Indiana Jones in Spanish.

Back in Quito

Back in Quito

I reached back to the Mountains of Quito a very speedy (they drive buses sooooo fast here) 5 hours later after sitting next to lady who openly was breast feeding her baby as it kept kicking me with its little feet. I immediately started having withdrawal symptons of the jungle, surrounded by the chugging buses, dirty streets and cluttered housing, I longed for the peace of mind of the Amazon. Rita had kindly agreed to house Adam and I at her apartment again so we caught a taxi in the late afternoon before it got dark. Heading towards the East of the city to Rita´s apartment I looked behind me and saw we had arrived at the right time as a mammoth storm was chasing us back into the centre and of course the seat belts don´t work......welcome back to Quito. Rita was happy to have me back and welcomed Adam into her home. The first night back in the city, we had a women wrapped up in Andean clothes seating out on the pavement right outside my window wailing and crying and then lying helplessly in the road, it makes me really sad when I can´t do anything about that, she was pretty sad and kept us up most of the night......

The next morning, seeing as I missed out last time - I wanted to go up Teleforiqo, a multi million dollar sky tram that takes passengers on a 2.5 km ride up the flanks of Volcan Pinchincha to the top of Cruz Loma which was the picturesque view that you could behold on top of Rita's balcony. Adam agreed to go with me and we hailed down a $4 taxi to the base of the tram which is really steep! (well it is on the side of a mountain) but people live and work on that incline so I reckon they are pretty fit walking around there everyday. When you actually get into the cable car after a 100 year wait, it takes nearly an hour to reach the top but looking out you can see how stretched out the city of Quito is as it lies in the valley. When you eventually get to the top you´re at 4,100 metres and your breathing gets a little bit tougher but you just have to acclimitize to that altitude, but the view was sooooo cool .....

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but the adventure of it happened coming down........

Well, we got in the cable car which took a century to come around for us to get in to again - Adam and I jumped in with two japanese men and an ecuadorian man who was speaking to them in English who looked like their escort or tour guide or something, sat talking on his blue tooth mobile. At the last moment, an ecuadorian lady came scurrying in to catch the last tram going down - oh how lucky she was. We started to descend and the view of Quito and the bottom drew closer.......we must have been about 20 metres from the end when we heard a strange noise and the momentum of the cable car came to a stop.....

the power had gone.....and we were stuck only 20 metres from the end noooooo!!!!!

The cable car in front of us had just made it off so I guess god wanted us to marvel at the view a little longer of the disembarkment point - at least being stuck at the top you had a nice view. We sat in silence for a while and the Ecuadorian guy sneezed a couple of times and broke the silence by suggesting to the Japanese man sitting in the middle that he knew a really nice Peruvian restaurant that they should go eat at - then the Japanese man translated to the other Japanese man who translated it back with ´No´and then he translated back as ´No´ to the ecuadorian guide - it was so funny to watch!. The ecuadorian lady on the other hand provided us with some musical entertainment by playing this really funny ecuadorian music from her mobile phone to fill the silence.......
After waiting 30 minutes rocking silently in the cable car with still the same view of the disembarkment point just 20 metres away, the power was not coming back on and it was then decided we would have to be rescued via ladder! ha!

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Having been living in the tropic humidity of the Amazon, I decided to get myself on a really good trekking tour up the second highest active volcano in Ecuador near Latacunga - Cotopaxi which means ´Neck of the Moon´ because the moon can be seen just above the peak. Cotopaxi stands at a snowcapped 5,897 metres surrounded by paramo (Andean Grassland that looks like those 80's troll toys). The guide took us to 4,500 metres in a truck up the volcano and kitted out in Andean clothing, we slowly hiked up Cotopaxi - the air was the freshest I have ever breathed in my life! but your breathing becomes a lot harder due to the extreme altitude. The view of the park is a very baron due to the volcanic rock and dirt everwhere (the volcano had been know to erupt in the past) our aim was to hike 300 metres to the refuge base where it starts to get more cold and icy. The strangest thing for me looking across the volcano was to see a group of school children literally crawling up the side, must have been a school trip or really harsh punishment!

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Reaching the refuge base at 4,800 metres, we stopped to eat and throw snowballs off the side until a few of us opted to go up to 5,000 metres to see the glacier (right up to the snowcapped bit) which was AMAZING - I looked up to the peak and could see tiny figures of mountaineers heading to the summit and the active crater at the top. At 5,000 metres you´re pretty much in the clouds so its a crazy experience, its probably the highest I have been on top of the world I´ve ever been - its awesome. Coming back down is a hell of a lot more fun - you pretty much have to slide! how often do you get to slide down a volcano?!?! Reaching the 4,500 mark again, we could feel a storm was a brewing but that didn´t stop the second half of our tour which was to bike down to the lake on mountain bikes! now that was intense! especially when you´re riding down with lightning bolts all around you! Having survived Cotopaxi and proud of myself that I didn't come off my mountain bike over the rough terrain- we drove to a sweet little farmhouse in the Andes called ´PapaGayo´ where they gave us chocolate cake and made the discovery of a hole under a tree where the farm dog lived with all her puppies running out of the hole! awwwww how much of a better day could I have had!

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Adam left to fly back to the USA a few days before me so an Australian guy called Nathan moved in to Rita's spare room so we´ve been out and about around town. There´s this really cool church on a high hill on the north eastern side of the old town in Quito called La Basilica, its really gothic and instead of gargoyles, there are iguanas, reptiles and monkeys on the side of the church. You pay $2 to scale the spiral staircase and over a rickety wooden plank and ladders to the top of the clock towers - pretty cool.

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Nathan and I then decided to head to the south of town to the 'Little Bread Loaf' hill 'Él Panecillo´ which also translates into 'The Bagel' where stands a huge statue of La Virgen de Quito a lady with a crown of stars, eagles wings and a chained dragon looking down over her kingdom of Quito down in the valley. We had to get a taxi up there as its right in the south of the city where the working class are so it isn´t exactly the safest part of town. It´s cool when you get to the top, you can go to the top of the statue for the views across Quito and the mountains - and there were even some some really sweet Llamas up there too munching on the grass :)

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The only problem was getting down........we started to walk a little down the hill back to town when we came across a pack of dogs lying on the side of the road.....we nearly passed them until they got up, started barking angrily and started chasing us back up the hill!!! we were absoulutely petrified! we couldn´t walk down the stairs down the hill after that or even if we did it wasn´t safe due to muggings and hold ups so were practically stuck on the top of the hill with the statue! Well what safer company than the religious statue herself.

Luckily, the statues charm paid off and our guardian angel returned, finally managing to flag down this car with a guy and his little boy riding with him and kindly giving us a ride down back into town phew!!! see not all the people in Quito are bad! Getting back into town we went for a nosy around a crafts market looking for a Panama hat for Nathan which are a very popular style of hat here in Ecuador. The markets are huge and we were caught up in a group of people on their banjos and ladies bringing bread and this soup thing in a cup to all the vendors. One of the ladies actually offered us a cup and muttered something we couldn´t understand so we took the cup and took a sip....it was DISGUSTING..... I don´t know what it was but it tasted like thick nicotene, but being polite we had to smile and be like mmmmmmmmm ha! then quickly dashed away to give it to someone else! haha!

Well, the sun is slowly setting on my time here in Ecuador and I am due to be on a plane soon back to Atlanta for a 12 hour stopover and then homeward bound to London where my new acquired Spanish will seize to exist. It's probably been one of the most challenging things I've ever done in my life which has been unforgettable - will make a great story hey!

So....do you want to buy an acre of the rainforest?

After my experience in the most biodiverse utopia on planet earth, I made a donation to the Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve and bought an acre of the Ecuadorian Rainforest to contribute to the ongoing battle to preserve and protect this most endangered landscape on the planet.

One acre is the same size as 16 tennis courts or one football pitch! - and contains up to 86 different species of tree, with the amphibians, birds, insects and mammals that depend on them.

Here's a number of ways you can do it..

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With The Rainforest Foundation UK 'Protect An Acre' scheme - you can buy an acre for just £25 to last a lifetime! extras include a certificate, photo card and information about your acre

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With UK based The World Land Trust patroned by Sir David Attenborough you can buy 1/4 acre for £25, 1/2 acre for £50 or a full one acre of £100 in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico

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Rainforest Concern
is a Registered Charity in the UK where you can buy one acre in Sri Lanka, Panama, Costa Rica and all over South America for £50

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WWF Sky Rainforest Rescue
offers you to sponsor an acre from just £3 a month of buy one for £36.

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Cool Earth lets you buy 1/2 acre in the Ashaninka region of the Peruvian Amazon for £30 and 1/2 acre in the Awacachi Corridor of the Ecuadorean rainforest for £50. You also get an online account where you can view your plot.

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It costs just $15 (12 Euro/£9.50) to purchase and protect an acre with Conservation International to save this threatened habitat and its wildlife from destruction.

Check them out. You'd be amazed what you can do to help.

Now off to soak up my last moments in South America....adios mi amigos....see you again sometime

Mucho Gracias por leer! (Thank You very much for reading)

Sal.

Posted by SalBolton82 05:01 Archived in Ecuador Tagged rainforest rivers statue volcano city cathedral south dogs america amazon help quito cotopaxi ecuador tena acre Comments (0)

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