Jatun Sacha – Conservation project week 2

So, my second week (and a bit) has come to an end. Starting to feel really settled into life here in the Amazon and the routine of work. Monday to Friday we work from 7:30am to 4pm. This includes a mile walk to our work from the base where we live to where we walk. We are however pretty good at hitchhiking so we frequently dont actually have to walk this distance. So far I have travelled in the back of a truck, a van, the boot of someones car, on a pile on pineapples and in a military vehicles. The Ecuadorians appear to be very happy to pick up people for a lift even if they dont have any space!

We then work to 11:30am, when we walk back to our base for lunch and a siesta (still not decided if a siesta is a good thing or not), then back to work afterwards. Work is pretty varied from planting trees, fruit and vegetables in the gardens, composting, weeding the very extensive nursery and gardens. We also spend quite a lot of time chopping down trees, im assured for the right reasons though! Most of this work is done with a machete, which I am slowly getting used to now. Last Friday one of the rangers who works at the centre took us on a hike into the rainforest, which was amazing and we saw loads of different species of plants, insects, trees.

 

I have pretty much got used to the wet here now. The humidity means that you are constantly damp, but since that becomes normal you no longer even notice! The weather is either boiling hot and very sunny or it rains. When it rains it rains. Last Thursday it rained for 24hrs solidly, the worse part about this is that once you get things wet they never get dry again! The other things I have become accustomed to is the insects. There was a tarantula above the hammock I was lying on last night and I wasnt even bothered, I suspect that this would not be the case in the UK! I continually have ant or mosquito bites all over my legs and arms, despite my best efforts.

Evenings and weekends are spent chilling out in hammocks or heading to local bars or clubs. Last Friday night we went to a club basically in the middle of nowhere except for being next to a dual carriageway. I suspect we were the only gringos who have ever been there, but by the end of the night we were getting shout outs from the DJ being shown how to salsa dance properly! The only thing about Ecuadorian clubs is that there seems to be little sense of boundaries. If you are a girl and you are not dancing then it is totally fine for an Ecuadorian guy to grab you onto the dancefloor. I have not yet found a way to refuse one of these situations!

The other volunteers here are great. There are 10 of here in total, from Ecuador, USA, UK, Canada, Germany and Sweden, so lots of variety. I am one of the oldest, which was kind of weird to start with but its amazing how quickly you forget about that kind of thing. Given how we spend every minute of every day together we have all made friends very quickly!

Jatun Sacha, Amazon conservation project – week 1

So, I safely made it to the Amazon on my own! Been here just over a week and absolutely loving it here. The centre I am volunteering at is pretty amazing, it covers around 2200 hectares of rainforest and particularly focuses on species of trees and plants that are nearing extinction due to deforestation. The work is fairly repetitive and made harder by the fact we use machetes instead of any more advanced tools for most things! Good fun though and my knowledge of tools in Spanish is now pretty impressive.

It is a truly beautiful place, which is evident where you climb up the 30m observation tower and can see only surrounding rainforest and the mountains in the distance. There are loads of different hikes to do around the centre, so I have started to explore a bit of the area.

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The other volunteers are great. A total mix of people, lots of Americans and rather a lot of 18/19 year olds, However made some good friends, cemented with rather a lot of beer in the local town as we experienced the nightlife, which was pretty good fun.

We dont work at weekends and have managed to see a few places already and have plans for a weekend trip next weekend.

Adventure week part 2

So, after an afternoon of recovering from climbing a mountain we headed off on Monday morning to do our 80km cycle ride. This was, thankfully, virtually all down hill and mainly on paved roads.

The weweather,  yet again,  was not on our side. It rained with an absolute vengence, so that after about an hour our waterproofs had let water in and we were all totally drenched.

IMG_0393 However the views along the way were really beautiful, and we did have some sunshine just as the ride came to an end!

We spent that night in a basic cabin in the rainforest,  as Tuesday was due to be our day for a trek in the jungle. Once again the weather was not on our side, so we were unable to do as was planned. We ended up having a really fun day where aAndy had his chest painted at a body paint specialist, we visited 2 conservation reserves and learnt about traditional medicine used still today.

IMG_0411 Yet another fond farewell to our guide Juan who had been with us for all of the tour. He was a brbrilliant guide, Spanish instructor and card player.  Then we headed up to Tena, the capital of rafting in Ecuador?

Wednesday was spent rafting along 27km of level 3 river. We ended up being part of a group of 24, made up mainly of a group of school boys from Kansas. This was not how we had hoped our trip would be. As it turned out the 3 boys on our raft were great. Lots of fun when it came to games which involved pushing each other out of the raft and generally nice boys. This was certainly a nice suprise!

The rafting itself was absolutely brilliant. A great balance of being scared but not at any stage thinking you would die. I think is the perfect pitch for rafting.

After rafting we headed back to Quito, back again to the same hostel, where i think we are nearly residents. Holly and Andy very kindly took me out for a lovely meal in a restaurant high up in the city with a beautful view. A perfect last night.

IMG_0416 Tearful goodbye with Holly and Andy this morning, and my first steps as a solo traveller..

 

We climbed a mountain

Our week of adventuring began with a 3 hour drive to a town called Riobamba, south of Quito. My main success of this journey was that I managed just under an hours conversation with our taxi driver, I have included pointing at things and saying the name in Spanish as conversation! So, we arrived at the office if our adventure agency to be assignee kit. This started with thermals and waterproofs ain 3 days and a well earned rest! d ended wiis  crampons, crampon boots and an ice axe. It was at this stage I began to realise how little I had read about our adventure week and I worriee what Andy had signed us up for.

We headed out on Friday morning with our guide for the week Juan and we were met by a second guy called Leanardo who had a horse who carried our kit. The first days hiking was around 6 hours through landscape that looks incredibly similar to Scotland! We hiked up to 5000m, which was pretty tough with altitude, however we were aided by the drinking of coca tea, which has magic properties

IMG_0382Except perhaps for the mini llamas, called vecuneas.

Our guide Juan spoke pretty decent English and was able to help me with my Spanish a huge amount. Instead of letting me say it in English,  he would make me say things in Spanish,  then correct all of the made up words I used!

We spent the night in a refugio, which is a really basic cabin up in the mountains. As it turned out our guide is training to be a chef, so over the next few days we ate very well!

We spent Saturday morning hiking to the next refugio, where we arrived for lunch. After 2 days with Leanardo i had tried and failed to speak to him. He speaks Spanish but a slightly different dialect and my Spanish with a high number of made up words did not help. However, Saturday afternoon was my break through. I had just eaten an apple and tried to feed the core to Leanardos horse, called Conohito. This is the translation of our conversation.

Me: Your horse doesnt like apples?

Leanardo: no

Me: does your horse like carrots?

Leanardo:no

Me: in England, horses like apples and carrots

Leanardo: my horse doesnt like apples or carrots, he likes grass.

The bizarre thing is that i was really proud of this conversation!

So, the next day was the tough day. We went to bed early, ready to get up at 2am and leave at 3am. This meant the first 3 hours was hiking in the dark with head torches. This was pretty tough going as it was uneven ground and the dark means the view is fairly limited to 2m in front of you. At anout 6.30am it got light and we put on our crampons. It is worth noting by this stage the few flakes of snow that had begun as we left had become a full on blizzard. The crampon boots we had to wear i would liken to ski boots, so not the most comfy footwear.

We arrived at the summit at 7.30am, where we were met with driving snow, so we quickly began to descend to get out of the snow. If im totally honest i was not really enjoying this day at all. I was cold, wet, tired. On arrival at the summit i started crying, which actually is pretty impressive at that altitude! As we began the descend down, Leanardo took hold of my hand to walk me down, i had to actually convince him i was ok before he would ket go of my hand. I get the impression that people from his culture are a little more tough!

IMG_0386 we made it off the mountain eventually, well by 10am actually, after 7 hours trekking. From my side there was a lot of relief in not having to walk in driving snow any longer. I have realised that i am more of a fair weather hiker, definitely not a hardcore one!

So, we got all packed up and had a very fond farewell to Leanardo and his horse Conohito, then back to our hostel for our first shower in 3 days and a well earned rest.

 

Otavalo

We have just arrived back into Quito from 3 days in a town 2 hours north called Otavalo. Otavalo is renowned for its textile markets, so we decided to invest an afternoon picking up some locally produced items. The market is in this square,  which is like a maze of colour.

IMG_0362 All of us have come back with armfuls of things, i had to be slightly more restrained unfortunately as i have the joy of carrying my rucksack for a further 5 months yet!

We managed to find 2 absolute gems in Otavalo, firstly a great bar which played some classic old school tunes and this amazing pie shop that sold the best blackberry pie ever. It became awkward how many times we went to both of these places!

On Tuesday we decided to take a hike around a nearby lake called Cuicocha, which formed in a crater of an extinct volcano. We had an amazing walk, with beautiful weather and the most amazing views. IMG_0359

Afterwards we headed into a nearby town called Cotacatchi, which is famous for its leather. We had a look round and had a well earned coffee, then headed back home.

We had a fantastic supper on Tuesday evening as we found that each evening there are various food stalls out selling freshly cooked local food. We weren’t totally sure what we were eating, but it tasted amazing! Afterwards, we headed down to our local bar for a quiet drink, a game of cards and an early night.

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This did not happen, 4 Ecuadorians sat at the next table ststarted chatting to us. They offered for us to join them for the biggest tequila shots I’ve ever done. This led to salsa lessons, much more tequila and us managing to request our own music from the bar staff. I recall Andy being very pleased with himself after requesting a drum and base tune!

Wednesday was a less positive start, as the effects of the night before were on show. We headed to the food and spice market which turned out to be challenging, especially at the meat stalls whIch have the full cacarcass on show, including insides. Nice!

Headed back to Quito, and now back in the hostel packing. Tomorrow we start our week of hiking, biking and rafting.