Sunday, September 19, 2010

A weekend at Yasuni

Every five weeks, we take a field trip/vacation from basecamp. The first five weeks we went to Hector´s Island, which is an island owned by an Ecuadorian guide, who has started a monkey reserve and set-up a small school for the kids in the area. The second five weeks we went to Yasuni National Park with Hector as our guide. I loved Hector´s Island and I think it is a great place, relaxing, beautiful, and a great monkey reserve- but I figured I would write my blog on Yasuni, since it is internationally well known as the most biodiverse hotspot on the planet. The amount of plants found in a hectare of the park, totals more than the plant population of the United States.
Packing for Yasuni takes a whole day, as it is important that we remember everything we need. It is a team effort, as lots of kitchen gear, food, and general living things need to be packed in addition to everyone´s personal items. Two staff members and 12 volunteers equaled to 2 crates filled with everything from dishsoap to candles, four big containers of water, and two massive pots. We had the option of sleeping in a tent or a jungle hammock, but everyone opted for a jungle hammock, and I can´t blame them because it is such a unique experience.
We are in the dry season of the rainforest, which is very obvious when it doesn´t rain for a whole week. Ofcourse we had been anticipating rain for a few days, because a week and half without rain is very dry. So, such is life, it would open up raining the night before we leave. And when I say it was a massive storm, Im not exaggerating in any way because I have been through some big storms, hurricanes, typhoons, etc. The thunder and lightening started about 20 minutes before the actual rain. The lightening was so bright, it let up the whole basecamp for a solid second, and allowing clear vision for at least 20 meters on a dark, electricity free, night. A group of us sat in the commedor hammocks, after all, without TV, so many things become entertainment. Once it started raining, it rained so hard on and off, but mostly on all the way up until 4.00am, which was awesome luck, as we had to be up and at the road waiting for the bus by 4.45 which means we needed to start moving gear by 4.15am, since it would take a couple trips. Also to our good fortune, the bus arrived at 5.15. Being a bus that regularly runs to the route from a local town to Coca every morning, the time of arrival by our basecamp could be anywhere from 5.15 to 6.45. Shortly after getting all loaded on the bus, it started to rain again- which was bad news to anyone who didn´t have a waterproof bag or cover, as all of our 14 large backpacks were strapped to the roof of the bus.
Once we arrived in Coca, we had a few hours and a few dollars from GVI for breakfast and lunch. This is the first time we have been with electricity, hot varieties of meat, and basic civilization in 4 weeks. So, naturally, we spend our time between internet and endless amounts of chicken. By 1pm, we meet at the boat terminal and load all of our stuff on to Hector´s motorized canoe as we head off on the 2.5/3 hr boat ride to Yasuni. We pass his island along the way, and briefly point it out to the volunteers who weren´t here for the first five weeks, but we can´t stop because we are only an hr into the boat ride. Upon near arrival at our basesite at Yasuni, due to the minimal rain the region has been getting, there is a desert-look-alike bank we need to walk across, while Hector tries to go around a back way to the dock with his canoe, and all of our stuff. After walking 10 minutes across the beached bank of an island in the river, we get to a deeper channel with a width of about 15 meters, that we need to cross to be at the base of the stairs for our campsite. Carrying our day backpacks, containing money, electronics, and passports, we start to walk through the water, which was too bad because it was only up to our knees. But, ofcourse, it was only getting deeper. There was only a section of about 1.5 meters where we couldn´t walk, which was just enough for each of us to attempt to place our bags in the area above our head and swim, failing under its weight, and dunking in, soaking all of our items, some more important than others. As we scrambled out of the water, one by one, we found nice spots of sun to dry our items, while we waited to see if Hector could find a way through with the canoe. Our stuff arrived drier than us, and we set-up camp, unpacking cooking items, and finding good spots to tie our hammocks. We spent the next couple days taking trips to local community centers, that show how local tribes live in Yasuni and learning a bit about their culture and way of survival. We took group hikes, which consisted of attempts to climb a tree in an indigenous way. We also went to parrot claylicks, where parrots fly everyday to lick clay (I bet you couldn´t have figured that part out…) with minerals to counteract the poisonous enzymes that they ingest from seeds. On a hike off from the claylicks, we saw tracks for multiple types of mammals, wooly monkeys, and hog-nosed viper. We truly enjoyed our time at Yasuni as relaxing break away from daily surveys before returning to Coca on Sunday morning for a few hours along our way back to basecamp.

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