08.25.2014 - 08.30.2014
Amo a Ecuador! This country and its people have stolen my heart without a doubt and I am sad to be leaving, no matter how much I am looking forward to exploring Portugal. My first introduction to the graciousness of Ecuadorian people was with my extended family who picked me up from the airport, and as I traveled to Sacha Yacu, my love grew. Sacha Yacu Animal Center is about an hour outside of Puyo, Ecuador. Our duties included preparing and gathering the food for the animals, feeding the animals, cleaning the cages, creating new cages, maintaining pathways to the animal areas, helping to repair the cages, maintaining the house, and so forth. We got up at 8 AM, worked for perhaps 3-4 hours depending on the assigned duties, had lunch break and rest until 1430, then worked until approximately 1700 before preparing for dinner. It was hard physical labor that left me feeling exhausted and satisfied with what I had worked on that day.
Once at Sacha Yacu, I got to know each of my fellow volunteers and the owning family quite well although my stay was short.
Flavio, our fearless leader who understands the awesome responsibility upon his shoulders to maintain quality care for each of these animals in need of care and rehabilitation.
Julio, Flavio's younger brother with a mischievous smile and a quick laugh. With his limited English and my limited Spanish, we gave each other a difficult time with limited words. (Note to self: never forget that Julio es loco.)
David, Julio's quiet friend who lived nearby. A more serious figure, I was able to get a few good laughs from him before my days at Sacha Yacu were up. Muy guapo and muy graves!
Franziska, a German girl who is experienced in the ways of Sacha Yacu and immediately took me under her wing to explain the intricacies of my new home. Franzis was blunt, open and completely approachable.
Maria, my musically inclined Ecuadorian roommate with effortless beauty in a jungle climate.
Merit, an explorer by nature and vegan by choice, she was preparing for university in Germany and improving her Spanish-skills each day.
Luca, a jungle man from Switzerland who enjoyed yielding a machete and creating door handles & hooks from the local tree branches.
Julie, a fierce Swiss miss who saved me from a poisonous frog in the shower and matched the artistic nature of her man Luca by adding quirky paintings to the Sacha Yacu bathrooms.
Left to Right Top Row: Julio, me, Maria, Franziska, Julie
Left to Right Bottom Row: David, Raul, Flavio, Luca, Merit
Below are notes from my journal and some of my photos during my time there.
8/25/14 at 2006 (Quito time)
Quito -> taxi to Quitumbe Station in Quito (1 hour) -> bus to Puyo (5 hours) -> bus to kilometer 35 (1 hour) -> hike approximately 20 minutes in the jungle to Sacha Yacu Animal Center
- don't take an open air shower in the jungle late at night with the light on
- after 8 hours of travel, use the bano before the tour of the grounds
- when the first taxi guy tries to swindle you, don't think the second taxi guy will try to swindle you any less
- although you have no idea what it is, taste the gelatinous purple drink. It's grape. And it goes amazing with fried fish, plantains, an orange fruit that tastes like lime, a side of white rice, and vegetables doused in mayo
- people who warn you about snakes in the toilet and rats in the room are good friends
In Puyo, I met up with Raul and Andrea who were part of the Sacha Yacu family. They helped me with the transfer to a second bus terminal and guided me in buying a small packet of street food, which from what I gather was different stewed beans covered in a mildly spicy sauce with various peppers. Raul spoke to the bus driver so that they would know to stop at the 35 km mark so I may disembark.
I was met by Armando on the side of the rode with his grandson Anderson. Armando spoke no English and my limited Spanish made for a quick introduction, then he helped me with my bag and we started our way into the foliage.
While making the trek to Sacha Yacu, suddenly the trees cleared and there was a small white dot amongst the green, so small and far off I wouldn't have known if 10 year old Anderson had not pointed it out, "Aqui, aqui!" He said something about a discoteca, which I have yet to discover.
As I did my best to maintain pace with Anderson's abuelo and not fall down the steep rocky steps, the following thoughts were going through my head:
"Holy shit, I'm hiking in the jungle. Holy shit, holy shit. He's going fast, they both are. They must know the stones by name. Holy SHIT, I'm actually hiking in the jungle. I'm so glad I have that suitcase that converts to a backpack. Best EVER! Holy shit, this is happening. Amazing . . . it's so gorgeous. I'm here. I'm really here. Whoa, I can't see them anymore, I better take these steps a little faster. I'm alone in the jungle. Holy shit, I'm alone in the jungle."
My room and what would eventually become my boots.
The grounds are beautiful and simple, with large dorm style rooms and a main house/kitchen area. Two bathrooms, two shower facilities, and everything is open air. The lights are on at this time, as they are for 2 hours each night.
There is a young German girl, about 18 years old who has been here for 2 months and will be here longer. Another German girl said it is her 4th time here and she showed me the grounds, including tidbits of important information like throw the toilet paper in the trash can and not the toilet, but also make sure to lock up the bathroom when you're done because the pig on site likes to eat it. There is a Swiss couple, who have been here for one week so far and are traveling all around South America. There is a girl from Ecuador, who like myself, arrived today. Her name is Maria, she is my roommate and she plays contemporary piano.
Flavio is the son of Armando and our main ringleader. His brother Julio is here as well.
Julie enhancing our bathrooms with some of her excellent artwork.
Once at Sacha Yacu, I took a quick shower to rinse away the sweat and grime of the journey, was accosted by several large insects to my breast and face, laughing as I did the necessary flapping-freakout and knocked my conditioner through the open air window to who-knnows-what on the other side. "Well . . . guess I'll get that in the morning."
Dinner was simple, fried salty bits of flatbread, white rice, pasta in a simple sauce, and a vegetable salad mix. My roomies kept my plate warm while I battled bugs in the shower. The lights will be going off soon and Flavio is preparing his laptop for us to watch Oblivion. Candles in beer bottles with dripped wax from many nights are ready to be lit. I'm enjoying being the new kid, the quiet kid. In about 3 minutes they say the generator will turn off and we'll start our movie night.
- *correction: it ended up being Elysium with Matt Damon. It was in Spanish and I think I got the basics down.
Remembering the bus from Quito to Puyo:
I had been told, "Go with San Francisco bus company, it is least likely to have a drunk driver." I had been told, "It's 5, maybe 6 hours. It is long, tedious." $5.20 for a 5 hour bus ride and the ticket seller even let me borrow her cell to call Raul from Sacha Yacu to let him know what time I would be arriving in Puyo. I had purchased a bottle of water and settled in at a window seat with my backpack, ready for a little sightseeing. I was not expecting to love the bus ride, to see it as a succinct vision of Ecuador and its people. "DJ Hits Caliente" played in the background while our driver and ticket taker worked the road. The driver was young, perhaps mid-twenties and traveled at the advanced speed of one who knew the curves and bumps of the road well. The ticket taker was of gentleman age with slicked back hair and a comb in his shirt pocket. He broke his business demeanor occasionally to laugh with the boys or to help a toddler down from the tall passenger seats in the front. The neighborhoods evolved along the trip, starting with graffiti ranging in talent and ending with stretches of lush green, tall mountains, small waterfalls, and men walking down the street with machetes. I was impressed by the artistic nature within the Ecuadorian cities we passed through. Large scale murals covered many buildings. Men worked on a sculpture of parrots and jungle greenery approximately 20 feet tall. Several wood carvings flashed by as we drove through the towns. Homes and businesses were anything from concrete with pealing teal paint, wooden with tiki-influences, and modern with blue glass over the balconies. Even when surrounded by nature, most homes had potted plants and vegetables growing on patios. While the lively Latin music continued to play, we sped through rock tunnels as water dripped on the windshield and occasionally slowed enough for a vendor to jump on or off the bus. The vendors walk down the aisles, selling water and bottled sodas, fruit cups topped with whipped cream, small bags of unknown proteins, fried potatoes and more. I kept my window open until the cold air made my face numb. The wind brought in smells of smoke and char, fresh fruits and the smell of earth.
8/26/14 at 1153 (Quito time)
Title: Sewing Fail
Turtle cage: 1
I would like to give a shoutout to betadine from Sacha Yacu, and my tetanus shot, Riverside Community Hospital purple sewing kit, bandaids, and back-up pair of pants.
Behold, the Frankenstein of all torn-pant sewing jobs. Sorry, Mom.
This morning, Flavio gave a tour of the grounds to Maria and I, which consisted of a 3 hour trek down muddy slopes, holding on to bits of branches for support, touring up and down a rocky river bed at low tide, and accepting the fact that my shirt was sopping wet and I had an unfortunate case of butt sweat.
Flavio with the younger of Sacha Yacu's two ocelots, demonstrating that the younger is tame and playful. The older is aggressive and you are not to enter the cage or face risk of injury.