We’ve arrived in the Amazon basin via 6 hour bus ride down the Andes from Quito, followed by a one hour ride from the town of Tena.
Before we get to present location, a follow up on Quito.Lori, symptoms now abated, and I did a bit of the tourist thing and visited the city’s main tourist
attraction trap –
|Mary in Chains, looking up her nose|
a giant statue of the Virgin Mary atop the hill overlooking the town. Aside from providing the best vantage point to get a glimpse of Quito’s layout, the statue itself was a subject of intrigue. Aside from the main mother sculpture, there were lesser constructions surrounding it. They consisted of eight triangular (isosoles) tubes, each with a large ball perched atop. They were circumnavigating Mary and leaned in toward her. Lori surmised looking at bthe statue from our hotel room window, that they were contemporary art statues of saints or lesser native deities in supplication to Madre numero uno. There also was a large six pointed star that most people on the planet associate with another religion, gracing the scene. Curious as to what that was doing there. Arriving at the summit, the figure was certainly imposing. The surprise facing us concerned itself with the surrounding sculptures and the magen david. Turns out that these were merely Christmas decorations erected to “enhance” the statue, nothing more, nothing less. The star was hung above the manger in a nod to JC’s cultural and religious origins, maybe. The statue was hollow and beckoned to be entered (unlike the original model, more on that later). For the price of a dollar, we got to climb up the inside. I asked the local ticket taker as to why there was a fee for what was to be a religious visitation. I’m glad to report that employee ennui has sucessfully crossed continents. “Look, [asshole], I’m only doing my job”. The structure from the inside proved more interesting than from the out.
We climbed onto the balcony situated at her neck and gawked for a few minutes over all of Quito. Descending, I was reminded of a similar experience at the Statue of Liberty and quickly associated the two items as major landmarks of their respective cities. Upon further review, I realized that the two were actually antithetical in a profound and fundamental way. Miss Liberty espoused a set of values which reflected universality of mankind and an unquestioning welcome. Mary personified religion, which creates an unwavering obligation to a set of tenets requiring a full suplication and suspension of reason. These sacrifices of reason in favour of blind obedience is the very personification of Mary, the poster child of Catholicism.One statue says give me your hungry, your wretched… The other says come to me healthy, I will make you hungry and wretched. I revisted the whole virgin birth thing, a sick preoccupation of non-sexuality which flies in the primal face of all living things, especially me. My take on the deal – Joseph was attending a Carpenter’s convention in Tiberius. Mary was home alone for a while and got a bit too friendly with the gardener or the pool boy; or both depending on the particular video that you’ve rented from the Vatican’s XXX video vault. So we find Mrs. Christ knocked up with some ‘splainin’ to do. Joe comes back, laden with pamphlets for a new lathe, a handful of business parchments for new contacts in Jerusalem, and finds his wife puking in the manger. “What gives?”, Joe asks. Mary, straightfaced as she appears in Raphael’s subsequent artwork, delivers the bombshell. “I was asleep, woke up nauseous, called my friend Anne (she was not yet a saint at this time), and she told me that I had been porked by God (not the kosherest of things) and was carrying his baby. And poor Joseph bought the deal. The rest, as they say, is
history mythology. But I digress. Back to Ecuador.
The bus trip was all downhill. Lori, relieved not to be hanging out at 9,000 feet any more, and I sat aboard a Podenco (Greyhound) and drove through the mountains on a road that seemed to have been constructed and paved yesterday. In actual fact, it was today. Half way down the highway new asphalt was being laid, the old road was being widened, and there were crews of surveyors and engineers and construction workers placed willy-nilly on both sides of the highway. Lori remarked to me that this was the 5th goodwill tour we’ve taken and all five coutries offered up better road conditions than we see at home. Perhaps Tony Arcurso should be freed from jail, sent to Peru, Ecuador, India, or Vietnam to learn the methods of using corruption appropriately.
Again, all connections have been fantastic. The bus to Jantu Sasha, our nature reserve and home for the next two weeks, was on time and delivered us at the front door, or front tree more appropriately, an hour ahead of schedule. The cost of the six hour bus ride – $7. The second one hour delivery – $1. I was ready to use my passport to obtain a senior citizen’s discount but found out that they only give them to locals. I was not eligible for a senor citizen’s discount.
We met up with Alejandro, the founding father of the reserve who has been in charge since its 1985 inception. He is a wise and witty hippe throwback to the sixties who has opted to do a real hippie thing and put the planet’s needs ahead of his own. After the hellos and intros, I asked how best to hook up to the internet, since this place was chosen by us based on the assurance that internet access was available. It seems that the best way to get on line is to drive back to Tena and rent time at an Internet cafe. (Lie #1 from UBELONG, our connection to the programme).So I will do my best to get back with Loretta on a somewhat regular basis to post. I apologize to any of you who have chosen to stay home, not going shopping, to school or to work, hanging on my next posting. A few Antrev work issues to deal with as a result of incommunicado, but I seem to transmorph into a less stressed, more open and receptive, and fatalistic person when on these adventures. I understand that the notion of me being even more placid than I normally am may seem hard to conceptualize for some of you but I assure you that it is true.
We were shown to our cabin; I’m certain that I’d asked for one with central A/C and a Jacuzzi, but could not find the confirmation sheet. While spartan, it does have electricity and shelves.
|Watch out for that tree|
It is also a raised wooden cabin and is like camp, without counselors. The toilets are a slight walk up the hill and to the right and also house the showers. Pressure good, hot water – not so much. Not any. No problem, the mantra to be repeated while showering is Refreshing, Refreshing, Refreshing. We unpacked, placing our new rubber boots
that we purchased and schlepped down from Quito, despite assurances from UBELONG that there were plenty on site that could be used (Lie #2). Heading back to the rec room/dining room/ activity room, we saw a bunch of great looking hammocks attached to the building. According to Allejandro, this was the gym.
I plunked down and within minutes we met our first co-worker Jacob – a very bright, witty German lad who has been here since early November, working on his thesis for university. As has been the case since our Volunteer trip one to India, an immediate endearment amongst the three of us kicked in. We discussed travel, education, life and history. One of the more interesting conversations arose from the fact that he was from Dresden. Kurt Vonnegut, one of the finest authors to breathe, had the dubious pleasure of being a POW in Dresden when it was firebombed by the allies in 1943. It was the basis for Slaughtehouse Five and moreso, for much of his subsequent view of the human condition. According to Jacob, Dresden had been, over the past few years, the gathering point of neo-Nazis. Thye have subsequently sunk back into the same slime pit that Quebecois nationalists inhabitate, but the lesson of seeing these wannabe brownshirts left a mark (euro?) on Jacob. He expalined that the skinheads’ rationale was that the incineration of Dresden was equivalent to a holocaust by bomb and was no more justifiable than what happened to the 6 million. He felt that Germany should forever bear the burden of shame. While not minimizing the seriousness of what occured, my view was that what happened in Germany was not necessarily an indictment of the German people and what took place there could have occured, and has occured, elsewhere. Jacob (like the nomenclatural irony?) was quite adament that what occured was partially a result of the psyche of the German people. I countered that it is unfair to opine on events that occur during war since man is transformed into a different belief set. He felt that the people should have realized and brought down the Nazi’s. My position was that people were exposed to a level of propaganda created by Goebels, one of the greatest perpetrators of propaganda of all time. Additionally, people feared for their jobs, family security and their lives. Then I stood back and had one of those moments. Here’s a German decrying the utter despicability of the WWII events and here’s a Jew trying to explain, not justify the occurance. Crazy world.
Yesterday evening Lori and I went to town. Literally. We took the bus to Tena with Jacob and Jonas (Honas for you non-spanish experts). Jonas is the station co-ordinator and spiritual guide for the volunteers.
There we were to meet up with the other three volunters, all guys. We had been told by UBELONG that there would be 4 volunteers in total – Lori, me and two other females. Turns out it’s Lori, me and 4 males (Lie #3).
Our first stop was at a shop to purchase towels, since the towels promised us by UBELONG did not exist (lie #4). Two bathtowels, one face-towel and $26 lighter, we headed to the bar to meet up with the others. While the towels are mostly cotton, I do not think that they are composed of the fine Egyptian kind. The propriator was only too happy to be Egyptian me.
The others were waiting for us at a bar that sat on the banks of the Tena River, one of the Amazon’s many sub-tributaries. We were warned about the boa constrictors, pythons and poisonous spiders. And that was only at the bar.
Meeting up with the rest of our new family was a treat. One more
Nazi German and a couple of Edmontonians. Beers were passed around along with another traditional South American greet treat.
|The Real Thing|
Again, the coca leaves did nothing for me as was the case in Peru. Time to step up to something more substantial, obviously. We endeared ourselves to the guys, had a few more brewskies and headed back by cab around midnight.
Awaking for 6:30 breakfast, we opened our eyes to see the sorry lot staggering back. Several hours later, we were regaled with their tales of being invited back by a few young local beauties to some home that could have been the set for any of a number of Wes Craven slasher films. “So this is where we’re going to die”, thought Bennie a part Colombian part bon vivant, one of the Albertans. Turns out that the house was owned by one of the workers in our refuge and the guys immediately felt at ease. It was difficult to get a clear picture of what went down since due to their level of alcohol consumption, their recollection of the previous night’s events were about as clear as mine; and I wasn’t even there.
Today, once the haze cleared (from their minds, the jungle is surprisingly clear) we sat around and yakked (RL) for a few hours. Lori and I are amazed to be here. We can literally watch plants grow; the change in flowers is perceptible by the hour. Tomorrow (Sunday) we will be meeting up with a native woman who is coming to show and teach local handicrafts to us. You see, it is like camp.
Assuming that I will ever get access to the net, I hope to be able to share our work experiences with you soon. Meantime keep those cards and letters coming.
|This tree actually ‘walks’ to find better sun.|