EXPEDITION ECUADOR: AMAZON RAINFOREST
29th July 2017
Leaving the Andes we set off to the Ecuadorian Amazon, a place I have been desperate to visit ever since I can remember. We got up early and onto our coach by 7:00. It was a predicted 7 to 8 hour journey, however there was a land slide so the road we were meant to take could not be used and our trip ended up being 10 hours but the views from the coach were stunning so it wasn't too bad. We arrived and had to cross a river, the local children were there to greet us with lots of tarantulas. I'm not fussed about spiders etc but I know some people were not too happy!! We got in a boat and drove down the river before being driven in pick up trucks to our camp.
We arrived at Camp Donbiki for 18:30 - just in time for dinner.
|From The Andes to The Amazon|
|Leaf or Insect?|
30th July 2017
Our first day of project work started early and I was put in a group who would be laying a path through the rainforest. The local communities had asked us to build it so that they could get through the rainforest and to market with their products or get to other communities within the Amazon. We formed a line starting in a small stream/brook to the end of the path and passed rocks and stones down it, before laying them on the path. It was tiring work in the heat but the jungle canopy shaded up and it turns out people-rock chains can be quite a lot of fun. Again, this project was fully led by local maestros. They wanted us to lay about 20metres and it seems we smashed it.
Our time was also cut a little short in the morning... Dan was in the river collecting and searching for rocks, as he bent down and looked under a bush or tree he spotted a small snake with patterns we had been warned to look out for - it turned out to be highly poisonous and if one of us had been bitten it would cause death in 24 hours. He alerted our maestro and it was sorted but we had to stop work to ensure the space was safe for us to continue.
Before lunch we came across a trail of ants. We all got pretty excited because there were so many of them and they were carrying massive chopped up leaves. We didn't see the ants at first, just massive leaves that appeared to be moving and then we noticed they were heading off to their home, so we left a gap in the path for them to continue.
|Ant, by: Sam Doherty|
|Where the path will go...|
After a day of project work we headed back to camp for dinner. Before dinner one of the local maestros taught us about their community traditions. We were located near Arajuno in the Pastaza province and like the Andes this community spoke a Kichwa dialect, their ethic group is known as the Canelo-Kichwas.
He showed us tattoos that are painted onto the body for big event, sometimes hunting and explained the meanings they all hold. In the photos 1 to 3 were traditionally male patterns and 4 to 6 were traditionally female patterns. They would be painted on the arm using a native fruit called the Jagua Fruit which turns black when the contents interacts with the air (oxidises) and stains the skin for around a week. The two patterns on the right of the photo would be painted on the forehead and down the face. The (top) 'Kuytsa' represents a crown and would be traditionally drawn onto a women, the (bottom) 'Wayna' would traditional be drawn on a man.
What do the patterns mean?
1 - Anaconda (Anacondu or Amarun), represents the quick movements and abilities of a snake to move and attack their hunt.
2 - Turtle (Tortuga or Yawati), represents the hard shell of a tortoise.
3 - Fish (Churupindo or Nachi), represents the smooth movements of a fish in water.
4 - Represents the different roles of women, traditionally in their society.
5 - Respresents the home of a women.
6 - Represents the life of a women.
31st July 2017
Early morning start because today we were going to trek through the Amazon to another camp in another community. We set off down the path we had originally been building lead by one of the guides. A little way along we came to a wooden hut which was quite open and came in for a rest. It was here that we were told that the hut used to be lived in by the locals when the community was a lot smaller and that they have since moved apart. It was a simple hut and very open, we also spotted a rather large tarantula in the roof! We then moved on out and crossed a (surprisingly stable) bridge - pictured below, we could only cross one at a time so it took a little while. Once across we were shown some of the plants which grow in the rainforest. Our guide used one plant to make a crown and stated how it was a tradition. With further trekking we found ourselves next to a river, being a warm day and lots of walking with rather large bagpacks we jumped and cooled off. It was really fun and there was one point in the river where a current was slightly faster than the others so it was fun trying to swim against it and repeatedly going down it. Break over, we continued on - it was a 4 to 5 hour trek. We saw some more beautiful trees and small wildlife whilst crossing over more bamboo bridges. However, it was devastating at one point to walk through a palm oil plantation (I'll write a blog post about the effects of it later this month). It was around 15:00 when we arrived at our next camp: Chili Urku, probably my favourite camp of the whole trip. We had a delicious lunch of lentil ragù and pasta, it was definitely the most memorable meal of the trip, for me.
|Crossing the Bridge|
|On the other side|
That afternoon we were given a tour of the camp, it was relatively new with extremely basic facilities and although we had to be conscious of our water use in other camps, this one: even more so. We had hammocks - super comfy to sleep in!! We were then taken into the community, shown the school and our projects.
|by Sam Doherty|
1st August 2017
Our third day of Amazon project work I was put in a team to build a septic tank. The community we were in had no toilet so the leader of the community asked us to build somewhere to store waste because he was aiming to build a small toilet block outside his house. At the bottom of a small hill the previous group had already dug out a hole, we spent the morning tidying up the edges to ensure it was fit for what we were about to build on top. Our maestro (local builder) led the project and they guided us in building what you can see below. Being the smallest and only girl in our group there was one point when we were hammering the planks of wood across the structure below that there was one of the boys on every corner and one below the wood and I had to crawl across it to hammer it into place. That probably broke a lot of health and safety regulations but it was all okay and a bit of a laugh. We spent the whole had working up at the house and we met a few of the family.
2nd August 2017
More project work and I returned to the septic tank in the morning with the same team, we continued building. After lunch I went down to the school and aided a few other people in painting and redecorating the main classroom. That was a very relaxing end to the trip. We also got a taste of maestro's reforestation project. Deforestation is a huge environmental concern, as I mentioned earlier there are quite a few issues with Palm Oil plantations that I will write about and deforestation, especially in the Amazon, is usually for that. We all went into the near-by rainforest in groups with our leaders and each of us planted 2 trees (thats around 64 in total). The trees were species endemic to the Amazon and important parts of the eco system, it was a really lovely experience... something I definitely want to do more of.
Our last evening within the community was a celebration with them, where they taught us about their culture and we showed them elements of our backgrounds. We went down the school and they performed beautiful dances, songs and theatre pieces for us. Children had their own performances and it carried on up to the adults. They taught us their dances and we taught them some of ours, playing them music such as 'We Will Rock You' by Queen. It was a really interesting exchange of culture and I found it so important that we understood their lives and livelihood. We then spent the rest of the evening outside learning their dances, it was so fun.
3rd August 2017
A long trip back to Quito was taken so I thought I would share some more random photos from all of our time in the Amazon below. We ended up having to wait back at Camp Donbiki for a little while due to more road delays before we could get the boat back down the river and onto the coach.
Whilst I do have photos of our last night back in the Villa at Tumbaco they are all of my group and I would rather not post them for privacy reasons. However, we had a campfire and BBQ and it was wonderful. Some of the boys wrote a song - Dan had brought his Ukulele - and it was the perfect moment.
4th August 2017
Our flight home was overnight so our leaders asked the organisation that we travelled with if we could go into Quito for the day, they said yes so we were lucky enough to explore the capital! A coach dropped us off and we walked between the old and new squares. I nipped into a supermarket and bought some food to take home for my family to try including these really nice chocolate cakes that Calum and I had been eating A LOT of and Dulche de Leche which was a spread we were having on toast some mornings, it was super sweet!! I believe it's quite popular in South America because I saw a video of Chris Pratt trying Brazilian food and saying he really liked it. I also haven't been able to find anything similar in the UK. There was one shop I remember quite well - it was clearly expensive but beautiful inside, like the jungle. We also went to a Chocolatiers and bought some Ecuadorian chocolate for our families.
|Shopping in Quito, by Sam Doherty|
|Streets of Quito, by Sam Doherty|
5th August 2017
Ecuador was most certainly a trip I will never forget, spent with some amazing people in even more amazing places. I, importantly, learnt a lot about their culture and won't be forgetting it anytime soon. I also feel super grateful that I am able to share my experience on here too. Thank you for coming along for the ride and if any of you donated when I was raising money - thank you x
My friends also made some videos of the trip which I 100% recommend you go and watch, they're stunningly edited.
Sam (thank you, thank you, thank you for letting me use some photos too): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-fBTJUDqvg