Emma in Ecuador

Written by Emma on June 24th, 2007

This is a big old email I send out to lots of people. I don´t have time to type it up again, so you get to read it copy´-pasted : ). See you soon!

First let me apologize for my typos… The keyboard is really strange, my fingers are tired and blistered, and I am trying to be somewhat quick!

So where can I start? I am at Alto Choco reserve right now, about 4 hours from Quito and 2 hours from Otovalo, which is where I am right now. There are 9 ISV people there – Eddie, Jen, Jaime, Kate, Laurissa, Anna, Cheryl, Izzie, and me. There are also a man and woman from California, a man from the USA, a man from London, a girl from Isle of Wight, and a girl from Germany. There´s also Nuno, our ´leader´, and some ladies that work at the reserve, mostly cooking for us, and two men who know their way around the reserve very well and help us with our work.

The drive there was somewhat scary, it´s way up in the Andes, so the road has sheer drops off the side as you weave through the mountains. It´s very misty often, too, so we would be driving along and suddenly another bus would materialize in front of us. We arrived Friday night, and Saturday morning Nuno gave us a tour of the reserve. Then he left to go into Otovalo, and apart from a girl who came up to cook for us, we were alone for the weekend. The reserve is very basic – we have three buildings. One is a kitchen with a covered porch where we eat by candle every night, one has 4 rooms where we all sleep and a porch with hammocks where we sit, and the other is the shed/workshop. There is no electricity at all – not even the generator they talked about. The toilets are outhouses (one for men, one for women) and the shower is behind the womens toilet. Everything´s fed with river water. The shower is crazy, sometimes it´s lovely and warm, but more often it´s freezing cold or burning hot. There´s also a sink attached to a tree. You can´t flush paper down the toilets or it´ll block up the lines, and of course we can´t drink from the sink, though it´s clean enough to brush your teeth. They boil big pots of water every day that they then pour into a big tank where we can fill water bottles and stuff. We get three meals a day cooked, and take turns doing dishes in pairs. We get a lot of rice, potatoes and pasta, and are happy when we get chicken or beef! We´ve been quite lucky as we´ve had eggs most mornings (hard boiled or scrambled) and a cow just had a calf, so we´ve had fresh milk too! (Boiled first.)

We work hard, from 9-5 with 1.5 hours for lunch, usually.

Monday we hoed and planted a garden that the local woman will use to grow a plant they get fibers from to make bags and hats called cabulla (kah-boo-yah). Then we cleared trails (essentially carving trails into the side of a hill with hoes!). Tuesday we made mud or adobe bricks with dirt we carried down the hill on our back, shredded bamboo, and water. We mixed it with our boots! Then we laid river stones into paths on some sections of trail in the ´botanical garden´ (a place they´ve planted a lot of the plants from the forest so that local children can see them). Wednesday we hiked for about 2 hours up to a corn field planted for the bears (they are vegetarian, by the way!) (planted to keep them out of the farmer´s field) and cleared a lot of brush with machetes so that a new field can be planted. Boy, that was exhausting. We carried lunch with us (rice, beans, and canned tuna) and ate in the field. Thursday we led some school children around the botanical garden and then helped to sieve ground bamboo to feed the small pieces to the worms. Yesterday we cleared plants in the botanical garden (to help the important plants grow better) and then planted trees and sieved more bamboo.

The Reserve is located about 30 minutes uphill walk from the main road, on a little track, in a valley. There was no truck to carry our bags, as we´d been promised, so that was quite a hike… very tiring! We´re in what´s called a ´cloud forest,´ and it´s very wet indeed. Nothing is ever dry! Even the toilet paper is always moist, not to mention clothes. The only way you can get something dry is to hope for a few hours of sun. Most of the time it´s quite misty-cloudy. I´m very glad I have my quick-dry clothes as they´re about the only thing that will dry. I´m also really glad I have clothes with ´´bug off´ in them, as there are some bugs here called mosquos that are worse than midgies or mosquitoes! When they bite it hurts, and they leave a purple circle with a red dot in the middle. Then about 24 hours later it starts to itch like you wouldn´t believe! So I´ve been wearing my lightweight long sleeve shirts and luckily I´ve not been bitten up too badly, and not nearly as badly as some girls. The weather is also crazy. In the afternoon it can get quite hot, but at night it´s freezing cold! For dinner I´m usually wearing two pairs of pants, a shirt, a fleece, and my rain jacket, just to stay warm!

We caught the first bus this morning (7am) to Otovalo, which means we were up at 5.30, before the sun! We left the Reserve to hike down to the road at 6.15. Then two hours on the bus to here! We´re staying in a hostel here, and it looks like I might have my own room, which is actually pretty scary, So I might switch with someone. There´s a huge festival this weekend, I think it´s called San Juan. It can get pretty violent, but don´t worry, we´re going to be safe and stick together.

So far I´ve been doing quite well. The work is hard but I´ve been keeping up and doing my part. I´ve not been too badly homesick or too badly longing for comforts like electricity and heat and indoor plumbing. I had a little stomach upset for a few hours on one day, and that really did make me a little homesick, since you realize ´if I don´t feel better tomorrow.. or the next day.. I still have to stay here.. I can´t go home and be taken care of, and I can´t even call home and say that I feel bad.´ But I got better and have been doing ok. I do miss people and I do miss keeping in touch, but the hard work and lots and lots of reading keeps me busy. Sun goes down around 6.30, you see, so there´s not much you can do after that but eat by candle light and read by candle light!

Ecuador is a very interesting place. Obviously I haven´t spent much time in the city, but the country actually reminds me some of England! The grasses in the plains are very similar, and the weather is wet and muddy. We also do a lot of walking, which is something we do a lot of in England, and I´m wearing rubber boots nearly every day, just like England!

I´m keeping a daily journal of what I´m up to, and I´m making sure I write it in such a way that I can type it up after all this and put it online, and you can all read it if you want to.

I´m not sure what else to say! Just know that I am doing ok and I am having quite a time. Sometimes it is hard and often it is different but I´m getting along. I do look forward to seeing you all, but I´ve still got so long left! We leve Alto Choco on Friday morning to go back to Quito and start the adventure tour. Then, a week in the Galapagos!

Talk to you all later!

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