Sunday, 28 December 2008

Christmas in the Jungle

A few days before Christmas we were invited to the childrens party at the local school which proved to be a sight worth seeing. The phrase "Health and Safety Nightmare" springs to mind. They had a game where all the kids had to run over to a big bowl of water at the same time, suck up as much as they could, run across the room and spit in into a bottle. The first to fill their bottle was the winner! That left the floor good and slippery for musical chairs of death, before they brought out the pinatas made of clay which fired sharp pieces all over the room. We then went outside to watch the kids attempt to climb a huge greased pole with presents at the top. The winning tactic seemed to involve standing on each others faces! The adults weren't left out either as there were drinking games and a blow dart competition.

It was at this event that we were all finally forced to partake of the local alcoholic drink, as to refuse is to deeply offend. Not such a bad thing you say? So how would you feel about drinking a big bowl of fermented root vegetable that has been repeatedly chewed up and spat out by old ladies? I kid you not! The chicha of these parts is still made that way. After the second drink with more on the way Ben and I actually ran away!!

Christmas day itself started out like any other day at the centre as we cleaned and fed all the animals. After that though we ate too much, drank too much and spent the day wearing santa hats. There was turkey and party games and it was good to be among friends. I had to keep looking around to remind myself that we were actually in the jungle after all! The night ended particularly early for Glen who was a victim of his own drinking game and we were sent to sleep to the sounds of his retching!

So apart from the brief Christmas interlude life at the centre goes on... highlights include; seeing the tortoises lounging in the sun, watching the baby woolly monkey climb her first tall tree, finding hamster remains at the bottom of the owl's cage proving she can hunt, introducing the tyras to their new enclosure, going for a jungle walk and seeing Glen fall in the river, eating the fish that Sarah caught and cooked for us and having Vanessa have the puss squeezed out of her hugely swollen hand after getting it bitten by a coati! But I get the feeling that you probably had to be there :0)

Monday, 22 December 2008

Life in the Jungle Continues...

Here's a video we've put together on life at the Rescue Centre.

Life has carried on very much as before but now at least we have a bit more of a clue about what we're doing. Although if you saw some of the things that we've helped build you may doubt that somewhat! We're almost used to the fact that the electricity and water cuts out numerous times throughout the day and forgotten what it was like to not have monkey poo under our finger nails! I'm still not very brave when it comes to the giant insects though.

Most of our promised reinforcements didn't turn up though so volunteers are still a bit thin on the ground. We have two long-term and four-short term volunteers which means there's a lot of work to do, but it hasn't stopped us enjoying it. The Dusky Titi monkey is still my favourite and she comes back to me when we let her out now. In fact she likes to sit on my shoulder and look for nits in my hair (quite worryingly she seems to find them too!) And today Ben was the only one that the baby woolly monkey would come down out of a tree to (apparently it was his Jonny Morris impression that did it!)

During our last day off we couldn't resist heading back to Banos for a bit of luxury in civilisation, and treated ourselves to a night in a relatively plush hotel. Other than going out and drinking lots of ridiculously cheap cocktails, and buying some goodies, there's really not much to report though. So now we're back in the jungle for Christmas and have stocked up with booze, food and silly hats and even have some fairy lights up. It's not the most Christmassy of settings but will be one to remember I'm sure.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Ecuador - Flor de la Amazonia Animal Rescue Centre

The Project
Flor de la Amazonia project rescues animals that have been involved in animal trafficking. Wild animals are captured in the jungle and sold illegally as pets. The conditions that the animals are kept in are inappropriate and often cruel. Baby monkeys, for example, are sold for just US$20 and kept tied up or in tiny cages in people's homes. This can become especially problematic when they grow larger and harder to handle. The project aims to rescue these animals and rehabilitate them for release back into the wild. Where release is not a viable option, because an animal is no longer capable of learning to survive in the wild, they are kept in large, stimulating enclosures and cared for appropriately. The project works closely with local communities in order to support them in developing alternatives to hunting wildlife for the illegal pet trade. For example, they have encouraged the growing of fruit, which is bought at a reasonable price, as food for the animals and supported the development of a tourist jungle adventure walk enterprise. It also hosts English Language classes, which it hopes will provide a forum for awareness raising and education about the project and further strengthen links with the local community.

The Animals
Currently the project is home to rescued; woolly, capuchin, and dusky titi monkeys, a margay (large) cat, tyras (playful but ferocious large weasel-like animals), coatis (remember them from the Costa Rica photos?), tortoises, a turtle, a toucan, macaws, parrots, parakeets, a spinx's guan (turkey-ish bird), a kinkajous (a gorgeous but extremely vicious little thing that looks like a gremlin!), collared peccaries (boar-like pigs, they're beautiful but have huge teeth!), an owl (yet to be identified), a pet/guard dog (doberman/jungle mongrel!), three pet cats, various mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and chicks (but they don't really count as they're live food for the margay and owl!), the trees are filled with semi-wild squirrel monkeys and of course there's us; the volunteers. Gloudina is the permanent project coordinator, there are a couple of long-term volunteers, a local family, with whom the centre has close ties and those of us who join for a few weeks at a time. Generally the centre has about twelve volunteers at a time but at the moment there's only a few of us here, we are promised that reinforcements are on the way though!

The centre is located in the beautiful setting of the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest at an altitude of 900 metres, with a warm wet climate. It's about an hour and a half into the jungle by bus from Puyo (the nearest town), and about a five minute walk, up hill, from the road. It is made up of wooden buildings; "the house" which has four dorm rooms and two bathrooms, the kitchen with big dining room table (and make-shift table-tennis table), the "meeting room" - seats under a roof, a couple of sheds for fruit and tools and a shelter with hammocks and a fire pit under it. The conditions are pretty basic, although we do have electricity and running water (most of the time), which is about as luxurious as it gets around here! At the moment Ben and I have a room to ourselves, but seeing as our beds are separated by a wall of mosquito net and a big gap, and the walls don't reach the ceiling, so you can hear EVERYTHING, there is absolutely no naughty business!! Spreading out from the centre, among the trees, are the enclosures which have been made for the animals.

The Work
It's hard work and a long day but I love it. Every morning we start work at 8am and clean out and feed all the animals. We're split into teams and work with the same animals every day so that they get to know us and vice versa. On my list are; the big woolly monkey, the dusky titi monkey, a coati, the tortoises, turtle and pigs. Ben's critters are; a capuchin monkey, baby woolly monkeys, another coati, the kinkajous and the tyras. We're not supposed to interact with or name the animals that are due for release but because monkeys are sociable creatures and get depressed without contact we're allowed to talk to and cuddle those that are on their own.

Once we've finished cleaning and feeding the animals it's the dull housework type jobs until lunch time. We get an hour and a quarter off for lunch then after a bit of lounging in the hammocks it's back to work. We help build enclosures and do other maintenance work, although our fixing of a table resulted in us giving it three additional legs! We collect insects to feed to the animals, which is quite a sight to see; Europeans leaping among the undergrowth with nets, wrestling grass-hoppers into pots! We pick up birds that have fallen/climbed off their perches. Also we walk the coatis, it's not ideal putting wild animals on leads but they get sick if they don't eat enough insects and they're much more effective at catching them than we are! The worst job is carrying the sacks of building materials or fruit and other heavy stuff, that has been left for us by the road at the bottom of the hill, up to the centre. The favourite job is getting some of the smaller monkeys out of their enclosures so that they can practice climbing among the bigger trees and have some company and cuddles. Then we check on all the animals and give food to those that need evening feeding before finishing work, usually tired and minging at about 6pm.

Free Time
We take it in turns to cook the evening meal and sit around chatting, listening to music, playing darts or table tennis, chilling by the fire, playing with the dog, stroking the cats etc etc. We work a full day Monday to Friday, a half day on Saturday then have Sundays off. Most people head off to Puyo, Banos or further afield for the weekend, but this week Ben and I stayed behind and enjoyed the peace (but not really quiet with all the squawking birds, buzzing insects, squirrel monkeys jumping up and down on the roof and Ricky the dog begging for attention!).

Life in the jungle...
So life in the jungle... mostly I love it. I really enjoy working with the animals and the setting is stunning. I'm not so keen on the bugs, and there are some HUGE bugs. I'm covered in mozzie bites (we can't use repellent as it's harmful to the animals) and had to take my first ever shower here whilst being dive-bombed by a moth the size of a bat! There are even some bugs which impress me though, like the grass-hoppers the size of my big finger (which I can appreciate from a distance!) and the beetle we saw with two bright glow-in-the-dark spots on it's back. I like not having to worry about what I look like and spending every day in the same dirty t-shirt, jogging bottoms and wellies, but am missing my pink wellies and am not so keen on spending most of my time smelling of a mix of my own sweat and various animals' poo! A couple of the highlights of my day are searching through the undergrowth for tortoises and watching the pigs charge at full pelt at the food I've just put out for them. I love stroking the tiny, fluffy dusky titi monkey, although last time we had her out she wouldn't come out of the tree to me until some squirrel monkeys ganged up on her! Ben is often seen with a baby woolly monkey clinging to his head or trying to teach the parrots to whistle the Linda Mcartney theme tune!!

For more photos click here

Monday, 8 December 2008

Ecuador - Puyo

Puyo is a dump! The only reason that we're here is that we're on our way to a voluntary work placement and we needed to stop off to buy wellies and mosquito nets (the obvious tourist purchases). It's really grim and we won't be in any rush to come back!

Tomorrow we head into the Amazon to join an animal rescue and rehabilitation centre for a month. Here's a link to their website so have a look...
Flor de la Amazonia

We've been on the go for what feels like a long time now and want to stop in one place for a while. We thought we'd like to do some voluntary work and found this place on the net. We're going to be there for Christmas too which has to be nicer than being in a hotel or something, at least we can cook a nice dinner and stuff.

We weren't even planning on coming to Ecuador, but the opportunity to work with animals in the jungle was not to be missed. My plan is to cuddle all the animals back to health but I'm sure there'll be be much more in the way of shovelling poo! Maybe Ben can get some animal photos if I hold them down (in a loving and rehabilitative way of course!!!)

Unfortunately I don't think we're going to get much in the way of Internet access for a while so this is bye bye for now.

Oh.... and


Sunday, 7 December 2008

Ecuador - Banos

Still loving Ecuador :0) Banos is a little jungle town and it's perfect. It's pretty and friendly, with loads of hot springs and tonnes of vegetarian restaurants - what more could a girl want?! The setting is spectacular as it's perched on the side of an active(!) volcano and surrounded by forest covered mountains.

We hired bikes to explore near-by waterfalls and found some ropey little cable-car things. They zoom from one side of the valley to the other, way above the river and even right over one of the waterfalls. We made a cheesy little video of our adventures so be sure to check it out.

As well as enjoying the scenery, relaxed atmosphere and great food we also had a go in a steam-bath. It was free in our hostel so even though we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for we gave it a go! For anyone who doesn't know... A steam-bath actually involves being shut in a wooden box with only your head sticking out the top whilst the box is filled with hot steam. Obviously you get very sweaty and I presume it's supposed to get rid of toxins or something. To be honest it felt like some sort of torture device, especially as we really weren't sure how we were supposed to get out again! Fortunately we were released by someone who then got us to sit on a big basin of freezing water whilst she threw more cold water at any bits of us that had escaped being submerged! Hmmmm... Still not convinced.

Unfortunately we only had a couple of days in Banos and would love to have stayed longer, so we may go back at some point. The only other disappointment was the fact that we didn't see any monkeys when our guide book promised us them in our hostel garden and Ben put a lot of effort into calling them :0)

Not many photos again and the ones I've got are of yet more waterfalls! I promise to take some photos of other things next time! The photos are here.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Ecuador - Quito

Quito - a breath of fresh air. As soon as we stepped off the plane the difference was noticeable. Quito is full of parks, the buildings are all finished (in Peru if you build a house you have to pay tax on it once it's finished. So they never finish them! Almost everyone lives in a building with big, ugly metal supports sticking out of the roof and surrounded by piles of rubble), the roads are clean (Peru - rubbish everywhere), the cars do not threaten to mow each other down at every opportunity and it's quiet - no car horns or desperate whistle blowing!!

It's like coming home. Only nicer! I mean it, I REALLY like Quito. It's a modern, relaxed, green, friendly, small - one million people, city, and it's got way better public transport than we do (plus it's all wheelchair accessible). I love it, I want to live here, and the food is amazing, and the people have all been really friendly and it's really cheap (well compared to home anyway). Plus we arrived in the middle of a huge fiesta so the streets have constantly been filled with parades and brass bands playing on the roofs of trucks. A boy in a suit gave me a rose and we were both forced join in and dance with costumed folk!

OK maybe I'm getting a little bit over excited, it is just a city after all and actually the old part is not as nice as we imagined it would be, but I think it just goes to show how unbelievably badly governed Peru has been as Ecuador, it's far less rich in natural resources neighbour, is clearly prospering so much more.

Having said all that... Ben has been a big fat slacker on the photography front so you're going to have to take my word for Quito's fabulousness as we don't have any pictures to prove it :0(

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Peru - La Merced

There's no rest for the wicked so after a days sight-seeing in Lima we were straight onto another night bus. The buses have surprised us in how comfortable they are, but this nine hour journey over some really high mountains on windy, windy roads wasn't the easiest on our delicate western constitutions, so I was feeling slightly poorly by the time we reached our jungle destination. Antonieta and her husband Jeremy have a house in the scenic spot of La Merced, between the highlands and cloud-forest, and we arrived at their home just in time for my vomiting and diarrhea to kick in!! So, for me, the first twenty-four hours of our stay involved running to and from the bathroom and whimpering pathetically (I am an AWFUL patient) whilst Ben, bless him, ran 'round putting wet flannels on my forehead and the like.

Fortunately for us all I was feeling much better the next day, so we were able to do a bit of exploring. We did some hiking, found a waterfall and really appreciated all the greenery. It was a welcome break to be away from the city and lovely to stay in a family home rather than a hotel / hostel. Chatting to Antonieta and Jeremy meant we got to learn a lot more about Peruvian life and politics and our brief time in La Merced showed us that had we spent more time in the jungle and smaller towns our experience in Peru would have been a very different one. We feel like we've spent a lot of time in cities and buses and not nearly enough time enjoying the countryside. We've realised that we're definitely not cut out for desert life and have both really missed greenery and vegetation. That's not to say we haven't enjoyed ourselves, because we have, and trekking the Inca Trail in particular was a wonderful experience, but we haven't come to love Peru in the same way as we did both Cuba and Costa Rica.

A few more photos can be found here