My comfort in the jungle continues to augment. I find that my eating habits are changing as is by wake/sleep schedule. Most interestingly, while never known for my voice, I find myself singing songs in key and quite resonantly if I say so myself.
As is wont to be the case, the Christmas week at a volunteer station differs from the regular. Saturday was mostly a chill day, with the 4 vols hanging out, walking through the jungle, looking for beer and catching up on reading. It is generally accepted by the group that a lack of access to wi-fi or internet is either a mixed blessing or a mixed curse, depending on one’s starting point.While contact with the outside world is limited to cell phone, and even in that case, there are few access points on the reserve where signal can be obtained. The inability to get lost in one’s own world that is tied to exterior elements forces a greater level of connectivity and contact amongst those of us here. The level of discussion transcends the weather since it is more or less the same every day. We review the workload, admire and appreciate the surroundings and delve into various forms of esoterica. The other volunteers are considerably younger than Lori and I and it is certainly refreshing to get a better understanding of the world view from those on the verge of taking over the reins.
We also use the extra time afforded us to explore the cultures and mindsets of the local Quechua.There is a level of spirituality that those of us in the west will often dismiss as primitive or based in superstition. The respect for all things animate and spiritual is palpable in their daily lives and activities. And, you know, they’ve got something special going on.
All trees, plants and shrubs seem to have uses beyond just growing and providing shade. Sanga del Drago, for example is a tree, that when cut into with a machete, yields a dark red flow of sap. If you have a cut it acts as an astringent and stops the bleeding almost instantly.Other plants provide relief for symptoms such as stomach ache, diabetes, and apparently there is zero incidence of prostate cancer here due to a particular herb that is ground into a paste, boiled in water, reduced to a syrup and ingested by the suffering individual. Another plant called Devil’s Breath, is processed into a powder. An unwary individual can be fed it in a drink or can have it rubbed on their skin via an innocent looking handshake. Within minutes the peson becomes zombified and will turn over wallet, password or will take off their clothes if asked to. I am hoarding as many of these plants that I can find.
Sunday, we were finally visited by the Artds & Crafts lady. She spent hours working on mini-macrame bracelets, teaching those interested how to create their own beaded bracelets, necklaces, etc. Jacob put together an amazing necklace that cenetered around a sloth claw. He hasn’t moved too much since wearing it. While my taste runs more toward Tiffany, there is a certain beauty and intricacy to the artwork created.
Following lunch, Jacob, Lori and I took a bus and then walked the rest of the way to the village of Misahualli. On the way we stopped at a small outpost that has recently been set up. It is run by women for women; a repeating theme that we have experienced in our travels. A short show is put on by women who appear in native costume and as is always the case, yours tuly and his bride were asked to dance and participate in a recreation of the Quechua hunting dance. The conclave is built around a huge boulder left there by the gods.
On it your can clearly see large bas relief images of animals such as toucans, jaguars, and monkeys. According to local legend, these animals enetered into the rock at the behest of the local shaman. When tapped on with a rock, certain sections of the rock produce a hollow ring. These are supposedly the door and window that allows the shaman’s spirit to enter it. I used my swipe card to no avail and then watch it melt into monkey dung before my eyes. Following the show was the requisite visit to the gift shop where carvings, jewelery, medicinal treatments, and other items, prepared by the women of the place sell. Based on Lori’s purchases, the collective probably issued a dividend.
Following the spree we headed into Misahualli proper, had a delicious lunch at Dona Gloria, and went to Tena to catch up on emails and get to the only ATM in the 30 mile radius of where we stay, then headed back.
Our fearless foreman, Jonas, has been keeping us very busy at work. While last week focused on soil prep and seedling planting, most of this week was spent, machetes in hand, clearing what feels like acres of underbrush.
As mentioned previously, the soil is very thin and does not hold, so the plants give up their positions rather easily. That said, easily is a relative term. When slashing throguh the underbrush for several hours in the tropical heat, the body does feel it. Every now and then I take off my t shirt and wring it out. Amazon Weight Watchers have a good thing going. We are soaked, from our bandanas to our work socks, which are ensconced in rubber boots. Lunch is a welcome relief although it does require a trek of 1 1/2 kilometers back to our main station. The meal is followed by a one hour siesta and then it is back to work. The PM consists of going through the recently planted seedlings, which have grown about a foot in ten days, and checking for weeds and torn potting bags. Damaged bags are replaced with new ones and the soil is packed by hand. A good nail brush is essential for any of you considering following in our muddy footsteps.
The work can be tedious and sore on the back. However, the wide variety of species that keep us company at work break up that monotony. There are freaky looking caterpillars,
the occasional tarantula,
birds, and various creatures that tease us with their calls from deeper in the jungle.
I have yet to spot the famous Ecuadorian Yumac bird, notorious for its call. Late at night you can hear it “Fuck you, Mac; Fuck you, Mac”.
I assumed and was proven correct when I questioned Jonas, that the reason behind the noises emitted constantly by the insects, birds, animals, etc. is based on mating calls. I will often stand outside my cabin at night trying to communicate with the creatures. I call back “Buy ya a drink?; Buy ya a drink?” I’ve received a few welcoming replies; don’t tell Lori.
All told, as she and I reflect on our unusual time spent together, the passions that we have developped for visiting unusual places, doing some decent work, meeting new people and expanding our horizons has been a great thing for our marriage. We share a unique love for these adventures and our relationship grows from the experiences. As new worlds show themselves to us, it adds layers to our life together. For that aspect alone, I am eternally grateful.