Saturday, July 27, 2013

Luminescent butterflies and Achuar beer

Simon leads the way with a sharp machete to open the trail for us. He is our local Achuar guide, who speaks Spanish and Achuar. Carlos is our translator and naturalist who explains what we are encountering. They are both knowledgable and very likable. After them, our group of six proceeds. At least once a day we go for a 3 hr (or so) walk in the jungle. It's never possible to predict what we will find.... Sometimes it's fungi and birds... We have seen mammals, fascinating insects, birds, unusual amphibians, giant luminous butterflies, and always amazing plants... Every day is a day of surprises and a wonderful sense of adventure. The trail is often muddy, sometimes with deep mud or standing water. (It is after all a rain forest)... And when it is raining we go anyway with our rain gear. My two greatest surprises have been... There have been no clouds of mosquitos and the temperatures have been mostly very comfortable.

We have just returned from a an indigenous village visit, where we were received as guests. The house was open to the open air with a 6 ft. of open exposure on all sides of the house... It was built in an oval shape... About 10 yards across and about 20 yards long. There was a high thatched roof, timbers forming a strong internal scaffold. The roof was covered with a tight palm thatch. The floor of this space was earth in which chickens scratched and dogs were free to wander.The man and his wife lived here with 3 sons and a daughter.. Upon entering tradition required that we offer our thanks to the host (phonetically saying "we WAH he") almost immediately we were treated to a bowl of "CHE cha" maniac beer (the process of making it requires partial mastication before starting the fermentation) It is considered impolite not to accept -we did and responded with a polite thank you(MAK a tah), when we were served. The wife offered me one small bowl of the beverage and then she filled my bowl again when she saw that it was empty. The entire exchange was quite formal followings a certain sequence. These people are completely self sufficient, growing their food or collecting it from the forest and river. Medicines when needed also come from the forest. Their challenge is to maintain their traditional life in the face of "the outside world" encroaching on them. They made a little extra money by making pottery or sale. When we left our new friends we gave the ritual goodbye (whe AHRE hi). It was a jolly exchange.

Our life here is very pleasant with a wake up call at six, quick cup of coffee then off on a canoe expedition- morning is often the best time to spot birds, monkeys, and other critters... Back for breakfast... Then off on an often strenuous trek through the jungle, excellent late lunch (often with local foods). Time for a two hour siesta, then another activity, dinners... and usually a night time adventure. The rain forest is so addictive... We are afraid to miss any of it because we never know when something fascinating will be spotted. There is always something new to encounter. The peace that I feel in the forest is incredible! This is not a luxury resort where you come to relax, but it is a place to discover great truth about the world and about yourself.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Entering the rain forest

It's true what they say about the tropical night. Here at the equator the sun sets at 6pm (every day of the year),... And within 30 minutes it is full dark. We slept last night in our little casita that lies between a river tributary of the Amazon River and the rain forest. The music we went to sleep by was an orchestra of frogs, night birds and insects...the sweet musty smell of the rain forest enters our screened-in window. But I need to go back and start at the beginning.
Monday morning after traveling across Ecuador from the coastal lands through the mountains to the edge of the eastern region, We reached the edge of the rainforest. Here we found an airstrip with 3 small planes. Our 5 passenger plane loaded and took us on one of the greatest adventures of our lives! We flew for over an hour over the amazing unbroken rainforest... Looking down from above it was a study in biodiversity and plant dispersal. Judy and we like two happy kids writing notes to each other about what we were seeing. The roar of the engines made it impossible to speak. This rainforest has been called the "lungs of the planet" Earth, because of the enormous importance of this great forest in absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. We flew at 4000 ft until encountered clouds, then dropped to 2000 ft, which put us right above the forest. We landed on a dirt strip that had been cleared in the jungle Our welcoming committee was a group of indigenous kids that stood watching alongside the track. A more official group of local village folks from the eco-center led us to the lodge. I can't think of another time in my life when I have had a greater sense of awe and amazement than this first trek through the rainforest 'jungle'. The sounds are amazing... Birds, insects, frogs, unknown bleeps and peeps... The air is warm but pleasant. The smell of the air is that of blossoms, growth and decay coming from the forest. We have been happily surprised to encounter few mosquitos. We will live for a week in a simple "house" made of local materials built using local methods of nails are used. Inside we discovered comfortable amenities and our neighbors are "muy simpatico" our house is built on pilings that extend over a pond, an offshoot of the nearby river. There are great noisy frogs that Sing their varied songs throughout the night...One giant lives under our house! Judy and I are like two small children as we discover one amazing thing after another. To walk through the jungle is to experience a new and wonderful world.. Everything...plants, mammals, insects, birds, fungus...everything is in constant competition for living space and light, competition for getting nutrition and defenses so that they may survive. Everywhere we turn we are amazed and delighted by new and curious (to us ) forms of life. To stand alone in the jungle and be truly there is a humbling and spiritual experience. We feel a great peace in this place.
This Eco-lodge was developed to make it possible for more people to experience the great rain forest of Ecuador. It also serves as an opportunity for training indigenous people into how to provide eco-tourism which improves the life of the local people by providing employment for many without disruption of traditional life.
When the life on our planet was destroyed under the ice of past ice-ages, this region continued to thrive and evolve from ages past. The products of the rain forest are of immensely greater value than the short time profits that would go to a few if the rain forests were cut or minerals in the ground extracted. If the forest were destroyed the great genetic wealth found in the organisms of this place would be lost.
The developers of this place have turned over full management to the local indigenous people. And they are well trained and doing a fine job. This is not a luxury resort where one comes to relax... Days are filled with strenuous hikes through the remain forest, visits to indigenous villages, wildlife viewing from
"dugout" canoes, an leisurely kayak treks down small rivers Meals are gourmet if sometimes made from unfamiliar foods... They are always delicious. We feel a bit like this is summer camp for adults.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

John & Judy ...Ecuador Journal #1

Check lists completed ... house sitters in place...'mimimal' packs loaded...And we are ready to 'fly the coop'. We took the Red eye' from San Francisco to Lima. Considering that we got four hours of sleep during the flight we are doing quite well! Our first sight of South America was a flaming sunrise from 35000 ft., "as the sun slowly rose in majesty over the Andes". We have a new favorite airline... LAN is a Chilean company that provides a high level of comfort and service. In this day and age of uncertain airline food, we were served real food, well prepared. Airports are never a good place to learn about a country...certainly true of Lima... Our guide book suggests that Lima is where you go to do business, but not a good place to experience Peru. Later in our trip we return to Peru and Lima is somewhat ini the middle of our travels...a good place to start and end. On this particular day, Lima weather was identical to the summer overcast found in San Francisco. Same cold dampness. So after a three hour layover, we are once more airborne...Headed more or less north.This time our destination is Quito Ecuador which is closer to our first real destination. The geology that I see from the air is impressive... We see vast fields of lava,apparently quite recent.
Arrival in Quito...first impressions...We are staying in the traditional part of town is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO ...Many of the buildings are built of gray volcanic stone and streets are narrow in the early neighborhood of the cathedral, We are staying in the Secret Garden Hostel... The place reminds me of my travels during early 20s when I explored Europe, sleeping in youth hostels. Most of the fellow guests are under 30 in age and off on great adventures. Each evening the visitors gather in the rooftop patio (with a grand view of the entire city) We sit and share stories of our daily adventures and share useful travel information...It is a time to relax, enjoy a beer, and watch the evening shadows come on... The hostel provides a fixed price meal each night... Good basic food... Delicious... And much easier than trekking off to another restaurant.
Saturday was our first real day and we joined a small group to ride out in a van to a livestock sale in a neighboring town. Here the descendants of the Mayan indigenous people come to buy and sell their animals. Here were pigs, chickens, goats, guinea pigs, cows... Them and the local people coming together to share the events of their lives, to see friends, and sell their animals...It is a grand confusion of noise and people. Close by is the greatest once a week special market for all products ...both for the needs of the locals and products to lure the tourists.
Now Sunday morning we are attempting to meet the 25 pound limit for out trip into the rainforest... Our other luggage can be stored here until we return Ina week. We hear rumors that there may be some sort of satellite internet. We will see,,,