Thursday, July 1, 2010

¿que pasó?

I just cannot seem to find spare moments to write this blog.

So much has happened since my last post and I sent all my photos home with my parents (they came to visit for two weeks by the way) so this will be a wall of text, unfortunately. But I´ll try to just touch on a few of the highlights and milestones to keep it from becoming excessively overwhelming.

I finished up my La Hesperia work and responsibilities about three weeks ago. But a managed to cash in my last few vacation days I had saved for a excursion down the east slope to the Tena area in the foothills. I ended up mostly visiting other volunteer projects, which I really should have been doing months ago befor finishing my work as coordinator of a volunteer program.

One, El Arca (like Noah´s Arc) was an animal rescue center with all sorts of caged Amazon animals the proprietor had rescued from indigenous digestive systems by exchanging fish and chicken for what in many cases were pretty special animals (i.e. nocturnal currasows, macaws, an ornate hawk-eagle, monkeys, an American Crocodile, etc.). The volunteer program was barely off the ground and the friendly owner was very excited with the prospect that I might somehow bring her lots of volunteers.

The other, Jatun Sacha (meaning big forest) is one of the oldest private reserves and volunteer programs in Ecuador. La Hesperia up until last year used to in fact exist under the Jatun Sacha Foundation´s umbrella. The most remarkable thing about my visit, other than the insanely precarious canopy tower that made for some splendid bird-watching, was the derth of volunteers present. Other than a couple confused gap-year girls fresh of the boat from New Brunkswick, the place was dead. Given this, I am impressed that La Hesperia has been able to maintain such a decent-sized (8 to 18) volunteer population during my tenure. I have heard that the San Cristobal, Galapagos Jatun Sacha Reserve usually has 25 to 30 volunteers.

On the way back toward Quito I met up with "Colorado" and "Komandatey" in Tena and managed to blagger my way into a rafting trip with them for less than half the dvertised price. This was my first ever serious rafting trip and the river was super-high (it´s name, Jatun Yacu, meaning "big water" was very approprite), so I found the intense sections and biggest towering waves thouroughly exhillerating. And when I was knocked overboard I found myself laughing maniacally. With 8 people in our boat we had 8 nationalities represented (though not all had qualified for the world cup - see Poland and Austria).

Speaking of la copa mundial,...after watching the US fortuitously tie against England with a crew of volunteers in Quito I went back to the east slope to check out some legendary birding spots that I had skipped out on to go rafting. I rushed back from Cordillera de los Guacamayos, one of the Ecuadors best bird watching locales, to meet my parents at the airport.

I took them straight away to La Hesperia so they could see what I had been up to for the previous 5 months first-hand. We all kept insisting that they had chosen the perfect time to come, the "dry season," despite the fact that it rained all afternoon all three days. "Komandatey" and the directors threw me a surprise going-away party one night. Somebody bought me a machete and everyone signed the blade. "El Vaquero" made me an awesome leather sheath for it as well.

I think just being at La Hesperia and seeing all the work and maintenance everywhere that needed to be done exhausted my parents. Luckily they had signed us all up for a comparatively luxurious cruise around the Galapagos. Despite the archapelago´s exalted reputation, the visit really exceeded all expectations. The wildlife was all rediculously tame and abundant. The hardest part was avoiding stepping on a camophlaged marine iguana or nesting booby. Our little (20-passenger) boat´s staff really made the trip special though. It wasn´t long before we were all repeating our favorite naturalist guide´s catch-phrase exclaimations in genuine or mock-enthusiasm (and unfortunately the Ecuadorian accent doesn´t translate into text): "Oh my goodness!"..."Take a Picture!"..."Come Quickly!"

It was sad to see my folks go, and not just because of the dramatic increase in food and accomodation budget. At least they didn´t have to leave me on the side the road with my thumb in the air like they did in northern New South Wales.

Nevertheless I started to feel oddly homesick the day of their departure, so I blitzed out of Quito for Mitad del Mundo for a change of scenery. It´s about as close as you can come to tourist-trap in Ecuador with indigenous displays of questionable accuracy and gimick demnstartions designed to prove the magic of the ecuator robed in speudoscientific explanations such as the Earth´s oblate spheroid shape and the coriolis effect. It was reasonably entertaining to pick these apart in my head. A couple Australian girls were blown away, but I thought it better to let them believe in magic than to reveal to them that the tooth fairy isn´t real.

I had read about a nearby crater, Pululahua, that had been made into a national park, so I hoped a local bus and then hiked up a long deserted road to the entrance. The park warden encouraged me to stay the night at the hostal. Not quite understanding the implications of this advice I wandered over the mirador. Several hundred meters below lay a patchwork quilt of farmland. If it were not walled in by shear mountains it could have passed for somewhere in rural America.

I estimated it would take the better part of an hour to descend the steep winding trail down from the rim, and then more for the return. At this point it was already 4 pm, so I heeded the warden´s advice, provisioned myself for a night´s stay, ditched my large pack in his office and started my steep decent.

It turned out that one of the owners of the hostal at the bottom is a bird guide. He didn´t offer to take me out anywhere, but he did give me some advice on what trails to cover the next day. He´s got a pretty nice Ecuadorian Bird Blog:

After a tiring trek out of Pululahua, I road a series of buses to Otavalo, the most prosperous indigenous population center in all of South America. It is most famous for its markets, though for me at this point in my travels, I´m not exactly looking to pick up a thick wool tapestry to lug all the way down to Peru.

I considered trying to sign up for some sort of tour to one of the nearby high altitude lakes or the raptor rescue center, but when the recommended travel agency had not opened by 10:30 I decided to move on. I will be making my way back to similar highland environements later and these sort of things are best booked with a group anyway.

So I took a bus to Ibarra and then straight downhill toward the coast. The decent was stunning with the andes seeming to never end. Finally, I arrived this afternoon at the remote mangrove outpost of San Lorenzo. It was only recently opened to overland transportation and is a world apart from everything else I have previously seen in Ecuador. I may as well be in a different country.

Tomorrow I plan to hop a ferry through the mangrove archipelago to La Tola where I should be able to visit the tallest mangrove forest in the world.

Congratulations if you made it this far and doubly so if you are still awake.

I promise pictures will be featured next time around.

1 comment:

BobDad said...

Wow, you don't let the grass grow under you. Sorry about the travel budget after we left, but thanks for again being such a wonderful host and guide. I wish we could've provided the travel budget longer. and I hope to copy your pix to my computer this weekend.