I leave Ecuador tomorrow evening for Peru. I have spent almost an entire month in Ecuador, while it has its charms, I liked Colombia much better. Other people I have talked to say the same thing…People in Ecuador are more distant, mostly polite, and with few exceptions it is rare to be invited to someone’s house. While nearly everyone seems to have a pet (usually a dog) they do not seem to take good care of it…I saw a paralyzed dog wearing a diaper using only its front paws to walk in one city…If someone cared enough about the dog to put it in a diaper and change the diaper wouldn’t you think they would also care about its well being and take it to a vet? People routinely hit and throw things at dogs without reason, and no one seems to have heard of spaying of neutering the animals…which is sad to me…There are also so many street animals that sometimes it is hard to watch…
Ecuador has amazing natural resources–plants, animals, ecosystems not seen anywhere else in the world. Yet they don’t seem to care about them. I think some efforts are being made [eco-transport in Quito, SocioBosque on the coast, preservation of the Galapagos], but it is clearly not enough. And that is sad…
My favourite cities in Ecuador are Puerto Lopez (by the beach), Cuenca (3rd largest city in Ecuador), and Loja…I think if you were to take Greenville and move it to South America, it would be Loja…It has a river that runs through it, it is surronded by mountains, they focus a lot on keeping the city clean (unlike many cities), and they have free entertainment on Thursday and Friday downtown. And also this is the first place that I have seen more than one (or one at all) animal doctors…people seem to treat their pets a lot nicer here than in other parts of Ecuador…and with that it is good bye Eduador…
Tabuga is a small town with 75 families located on the northern coast of Ecuador, in the province Manabí. Manabí is the poorest and most illiterate province in Ecuador. There are no conventional phones; there is no cell phone signal nor television signal. There are two stores. They sell basic things like canned tuna, rice, sugar, soda, beer and Caña Manabita. Caña Manabita is a sugar cane alcohol that compares to everclear in the states and is sold for only $1.20 a bottle, a beer costs $1 and doesn’t get you to the point of falling over drunk sleeping in the dirt road. Given the choice, the men in Tabuga chose the cane alcohol and some don’t make it home until Sunday night… if they leave on Friday. (Women do not usually drink alcohol.)
The majority of people live in traditional wood houses and many live in even more traditional flattened bamboo (called caña) homes. The majority of the income in Tabuga comes from machete work done for other large owners. In addition, many families have small parcels of land where they grow bananas, passion fruits, java beans and yuca. The machete workers earn $5-7 per day. The average number of kids per family is 6 and their diets are almost solely plantains and rice. Plantains are a starchy, chewy, banana look-a-like that has almost no nutritional value. I don’t understand why plantains are so popular when Ecuador is the banana capital of the world. The more well off families buy eggs and chicken.
My volunteer experience here is very different than my time at El Pahuma or what it will be like in the Galapagos. Lalo Loor Forest is located about 2 km from Tabagua, but since I am the only volunteer and they don’t want to completely isolate me, I will split my time working at the reserve and then helping out a former Peace Corps volunteer with various community projects. I will still stay at the reserve as that is really the only place in town for visitors. (No hotel or guest houses in Tabuga). The volunteer house is a bamboo and palm frond creation that can house up to 25 at a time. When there are more volunteers, there is a cook too. When there is only 1–no cook, but I do get to go to Perdenales to shop for my breakfast and weekend food. I get to eat lunch and dinner in town. In the forest, I monitor animal behavior, go for hikes, search out birds, snakes, and insects. I am also helping to construct a staircase on one of the closed trails. I call it La Escalera de Michelle
It’s been a rough day. A bonanza of modes of transportation in one day, and me with my giant backpack, little backpack, and plastic shopping bag with my rubber boots. Up at 3:30 to leave Mindo for the coast. Caught the early bus to Quito. Arrive in Quito and transfer to the trole station so that I can get to the OTHER bus terminal where the bus to the coast leave from. At 5:45am I am on the electric trole that runs through downtown Quito stopping every 2000 feet or so to pick up more people.
Three troles later, I arrive in Quitumbe terminal to wait for the bus to Pedernales. The bus to Pedernales is a regular bus which is great beacause we are decsending through the Andes montains. Brakes are a good thing to have when you are decending from 10,000 ft all the way to sea level. At Pedernales, I transfer to a local bus–much less comfortable and much more crowded–so crowded in fact that I can’t get off at my stop and it takes 1km before I can get the driver to stop so that I can get off. Luckily for me a very nice girl offered to bring me back to my stop on her motorcycle. So its her doing the driving and me with my two backpacks and sack on the road. I’m sure it was a funny sight to see. Amazingly enough, we did not crash and I safely made it to the welcome center of the forest where I´ll be for the next week or so.
Some of the highlights of my new lodgings:
What they call it What I call it Description
- Ecological toilet out house A very large hole in the ground with a toilet seat attached to a built up concrete platfom.
- Environmental shower no hot water shower Rain collected from the rainy season reused in the shower
- Candlelit evenings citronella chic because the mosquitoes will eat you alive and take your bloody carcass to their liar (This province hasn’t had a single documented case of malaria in YEARS, but I still plan douse myselft in 80% DEET when I am in the woods. Wait, what am I talking about, I’ll be living in the woods
- no electricity no electricity the house is constructed from bamboo so there are gaps in the walls, the roof is tin and palm thatches, also gaps in it, and birds and things can just fly through. Glad to have the mosquito nets, and glad that the cabin is elevated off of the ground.
This is the meaning of roughing it?
But in exchange I get 3 meals a day, a bed with mosquito nets, and a chance to do conservation education in a place that is just starting its conservation efforts. And I found out today that there is the chance that I will be able to go to the Galapogas Islands for a week for next to nothing–which would be awesome because tours to the islands are around $1000, which is definitely not in the budget.
–and by the line I mean the Equator–what divides North from South. I have done it 8 times so far, and most of them I didn’t even realize I did it. The first (and second) time I was on a plane and didn’t realize that I had crossed the equator. The third time I was on a bus and slept through it. The forth and fifth time I knew that I would be crossing the line, but slept through it. It just so happens that Pedernales (the city with internet, food, and supplies) is in the Northern hemisphere and the reserve and Tabuga is in the Southern Hemisphere. I think it was the seventh time I crossed the line that I noticed. There was a sign–Here is the Equator– no fancy monument, no memorial nothing but a sign. Today I crossed the line with a sleeping child in my lap…one of the kids I met in Tabuga. I have to cross one more time to get back to the reserve, and after that, the next time, will be several months from now when I am close to heading home.
The sport of Indur
Indur is the name given to a type of soccer played ironically enough outdoor on a concrete basketball court. Each side has six players and theoretically it moves a lot faster than regular soccer. It does when the players are good…not so much when they are not so good. The girls of Tabuga are not so good and they were beaten soundly by the girls from Pedernales 8-0. In a community where women are rarely seen, I am just impressed that they even have sports for girls.
After the official indur match, the unofficial ones began, and at the unofficial match, I played my very first game of indur as goalkeeper defended my goal valiently as some cocky boy found out when he got my knee in his side for trying to get to fancy, and he did not even score. My team won 5-2, and I have respect on the indur floor as I was asked to play again tomorrow.
After indur and cock fighting, it was time for the movie at the festival of Tabuga. The director of the library ( a former Peace Corp Volunteer) and I organized movie night for part of the festival. The movie was to supposed to start at 8p. ( We had to get special permission to use electricity after the sun went down.) The movie for the evening was the Jungle Book–kids cartoon and all. Due to technical dificulties, it did not start until almost 10:00, which was unfortunate since most of the kids either left or fell asleep by 11:00. But the movie was shown on the big screen–a large white sheet strung up between the indoor goal posts.
After traveling around Colombia for a month, I am now in Ecuador. Ecuador is known for its natural diversity – and all the fun that accompanies it. It is the second-smallest country in South America, but its range of offerings is no less than astounding. In one day’s drive you can journey from the Amazon Basin across glaciated Andean volcanoes, down through tropical cloud forest and into the sunset for a dinner of ceviche on the balmy Pacific coast. For nature lovers Ecuador has exotic orchids and birds, bizarre jungle plants, strange insects, windswept páramo (Andean grasslands), dripping tropical forests and the fearless animals that hop, wobble and swim around the unique, unforgettable Galápagos Islands. And this is why I am here. For the next month I will volunteering with Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation. Ceiba has operations in the jungle, the Oriente, the coast, the Galapagos Islands, and the cloud forests. I will be volunteering in the cloud forest and the coast.
I had orientation today and got my suggested items list and spent the day shopping. I had a lot of the items like a headlamp, water bottle, wool socks, long-sleeved shirts, hiking shoes and pants, but I needed rubber boots, tall socks, and work gloves. I also bought a few souvenirs and shipped them back home. The cloud forest is only about 1 hour north of Quito, and I’ll be living at the Mindo Orchid Reserve. I am not sure exactly what I will be doing there. Then it is off to the coast to do some work in the dry forest. I know that I will be working in the EcoCenter for a couple of hours a day, but I am not sure what else I’ll be doing there.
Laundry, packing, dinner, and the early morning bus to Mindo.
The highest three capital cities in the world are Bogota, Colombia (8500ft), Quito, Ecuador (10,000ft), and La Paz, Bolivia (11500ft). All are destinations on my route, and each one is considerably cooler [colder] than the previous. But at least after that it should be all down hill from there (literally).
First up was Bogota. Bogota was kinda nice….very hilly though. I didn’t get short of breath walking around.
Next up was Quito. Quito didn’t seem as hilly as Bogota, but it was a lot more difficult to walk around the city.
Finally, it is La Paz. I won’t be headed there until December–after nearly 3 months on the coast. That should be interesting.
I’m off to the Cloud Forest to put my photographic skills to use…
After spending almost one month in Colombia and now a day Ecuador, I’m pretty sure that all drivers are really frustrated F1 wanna-bes. In Bogota, the driving is crazy, but I can sort of see that as there are millions of people with millions of cars, bicycles, and trying to get to different places at the same time, but what I can´t understand is the need for bus drivers to feel the need to race everyone. Yesterday was a marathon of travel–taxi, micro bus 1, micro bus 2, big bus, and another taxi.
Micro bus 1 had the toughest drive by far. There were times that we averaged 15k/hr which translates, I believe, to a whopping 9 miles per hour. But I would not have wanted to go much faster. There were switchbacks and tunnels and oh yeah a torrential downpour. I was OK with 9 miles hours. But as such our five hour journey took 7. Just to be clear the micro bus was not advertised as a “chicken bus”, but there were in fact chickens on the bus–well behaved chickens because I did not even know they were there until I saw them get off.
Big bus from Colombia to Quito had people vomiting and yelling at the driver to slow down– People who are accustomed to South American bus drivers. I thought that there was the distinct possibility that I might die, but I survived and unfortunately will do it all over again tomorrow.