From 23 June 2009
Snakes! Venomous snakes! It seems the ground in front of the volunteer house is sprouting these poison-bearing serpents. If I remember correctly the run-down I got on Ecuadorian snakes, there are three poisonous snakes in the area I am currently inhabiting. Two of these snakes have already been spotted not more than a meter from where I live. But fear no more for my life (as I am sure you all were) because a machete and a trumpet bird can be your best friends.
Mike (USA) was headed to the waterfall when he noticed a snake. He was intrigued. I shouted from the confines of the bamboo living room, “Is is poisonous? Is it an equis?” Referred to in Ecuador by the X (pronounced “equis” in Spanish) on its head, the equis snake is not your average slithering reptile. It doesn’t wait to be threatened before it attacks; it just attacks. Mike was far enough away that he clearly was not asking for competition, but the equis snake, as it turned out to be, was already doing the serpent dance, head up, ready to strike, fangs bared.
When we see a snake, for both our sake and the sake of the animals, we are to go get Miguel (one of the two Swiss volunteer coordinators) or one of the Quichua maintenance workers. It was nearing dusk by the time Miguel came with his wife, Jöelle, and her friend that was visiting. Miguel’s excitement level was evident in the pubescent squeak of this grown man’s shout, “Ooooo, ziss is an equis,” in broken English. If an equis bites you, you have six hours to get the anti-venom before any permanent damage in the form of paralysis. The closest doctor is four hours away. Sorry to all you fellow animal (and especially snake) lovers out there, but these snakes had to be killed. The head is macheted off, courtesy of Miguel, and buried. The body is thrown into the river. The volunteer paparazzi flashed cameras wildly during the before and after event. Miguel proudly displayed his killing.
The next time a snake was around, Mike again spotted it. This time, it was in Trompi’s mouth. If you remember from my previous journaling, trumpet birds are excellent guards because they will elicit their trumpet call at the sight of a snake. They also find snakes a tasty treat. Trompi was pecking at an Ecuadorian coral snake, one of the deadliest snakes around because there is no anti-venom to date. While the coral snake is not aggressive like theequis and it is slow to bite so that the victim has time to react, its bite is deadly. Mike, his USA girlfriend Liz and I marvelled at this seemingly defenseless bird killing a deadly snake. We of course worried about Trompi’s safety, but she seemed to be handling the affair flawlessly. In fact, by the time help arrived, Trompi had nearly killed the snake. And she would have had Remigio not forced her to abandon the meal. A simple stomp on the snake’s head and safety was restored. At one point during Trompi’s snake-killing rampage, she did run in the direction of Liz and I with the snake in her mouth. We ladies of course booked it away from Trompi and the coral.
Let me tell you, the feeling of insecurity is one of the worst sentiments to which a human being can be subjected. You’re on edge and untrusting. Paranoia kicks in. Your heart starts racing continuously, like a hamster trapped in its wheel, doomed to sprint a never-ending one hundred meter dash. Try as you might to avoid it, your thoughts are only focused on one thing: Get me outta here. After being robbed my first day in Ecuador, I was insistent on traveling to Tena with another volunteer for my first day off. Once I arrived in Tena safe and unharmed, I quickly became less jittery and even made the trek alone a couple times. I realized that not everyone is hunting for theft. In fact, the majority of people aren’t and it was a sad shame that I was subjecting them all to such a low stereotype. After all, are the jaws of war, violence and hatred not fed by the result of these very things, stereotypes? Tena is a relatively safe town in which I am comfortable walking the streets with a bag in tow. But I hadn’t yet traveled outside of Tena.
I had to make a trip to Puyo, a two hour bus ride from Tena. I was alone and naturally stuck out like a sore thumb as the only gringo on the bus. Puyo is a city, not a town, and money isn’t nearly such a scramble for the lot of the inhabitants. That’s what made me all the more cautious. Every gringo is expected to be leaking gold coins from his or her pockets because we’re rich in Europe and the U.S. so we don’t blink an eye at a missing backpack. Oh how mistaken that thought is.
Needless to say my heart was beating wildly on my rib cage the entire bus ride to Puyo as it tried to escape from the bone-house jail. When a preppy dressed young male came and sat next to me, woowee, my heart was on overdrive as my comfort level plummeted. Of course, he struck up a conversation.
“Where are you from? What is your name? Are you single?”
We chat for a bit. He says I can stay at his house.
“No thank you, a hostel will do.”
“Don’t worry, I’m married,” he says and proceeds to show me a picture of his wife on his hi-tech cell phone.
He’s twenty-one, same as me. She’s eighteen, pregnant and a good cook. Could whip up a vegetarian meal for me.
“Don’t waste money at a hostel,” he says.
I ask him, “If you’re married, why don’t you have a ring?”
He says because they’re married according to papers, not in the church.
Then he starts asking questions about my backpack. Was it expensive?
“It looks like a tough material. Can I touch it?”
My heart was rampant like a fish out of water. Please don’t rob me of the only thing I have left.
He kept thumbing something at the top of his waistband covered by his polo shirt. It was probably just his cell phone, but I was beyond probability at this point.
Talk about the longest seventy-two minutes of my life. I insisted on staying at a hostel. When the bus stopped in Puyo, he walked me and two other girls to the central bus station. He showed me to a hostel. I thanked him, shook his hand and we parted ways. Maybe he was just your average friendly Ecuadorian with the unwelcome added bonus of hitting on the American girl. I reckon now that my instincts were false and I was just hyper-paranoid. Sometimes it’s good to have this disease of paranoia to keep you from lolligagging into harm’s way. But more often than not, perhaps this feeling of insecurity blocks you from getting to know the locals. My sister warned me to not trust the strangers in Ecuador. I know she’s right and that hopefully will save me and my second and last backpack for the remaining six weeks I have in Ecuador, three at the rescue center. But I think it’s still possible to get to know someone, to have a decent paranoia-free conversation, while at the same time not letting down your guard. I think that would save me some nauseau and let me experience a bit more of the culture. Because culture is at the heart of the people, is it not?
To end on a lighter note, before Gisela left, she chopped off about three inches of my hair. I sat on a log outside and of course, it wouldn’t be the jungle if a monkey didn’t join me. We had to keep pushing away Yuma the woolly monkey because she was trying to sit next to me. I needed an even haircut and Yuma was not helping matters. She also shouldn’t be allowed to sit next to us because then she will get too accustomed to humans and releasing her further into the jungle when she is old enough will be a nearly impossible task. But still, it was pretty cute.
I must now head back to a week without Internet which means a week with the animals. That can only mean good things because with the animals, it’s always a good time.
Until next week,