Category Archives: “My Life in the Amazon”: My Published Diary Through Ecuador

In the summer of 2009, I spent eight weeks in the Ecuadorian Amazon working at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Living and working in the jungle, I was isolated from society, surrounded instead by lush canopy, buzzing insects and the local Quechua tribe. The lifestyle was simple and primitive with much of our food coming from the Quechua across the river. Though I lived in a bamboo hut, I was lucky enough to have running water–when the pipes decided to function. Electricity was non-existent, and it in fact made my stay more meaningful than it would have been were I connected with the outside world.

This is the story of my life in the Amazon.

My Life in the Amazon: The Last of Ecuador

The Last of Ecuador

From 24 August 2009

Carolina (Ecuador) and Ane and Sophia (Denmark) became my close friends during and after our jungle days. Who knows when we’ll all be together next?

Perhaps the best way to describe my feelings upon returning home would be as such: It was good for awhile.  I wasn’t expecting to welcome the civilian modernized lifestyle with open arms for I hadn’t yearned for it while in the jungle.  I was so preoccupied about catching my connecting flight from Houston to Detroit that I neglected the fact that I was walking on U.S. ground.  I ordered a sandwich in Spanish at some Barry Bagel equivalent in the Houston airport, then quickly repeated myself in English.  It dawned on me that the airport chatter was in a language I hadn’t heard spoken natively in quite some time.  I was home!  I couldn’t wait to see my family, but I didn’t have to take even a breath to realize the cultural shock I was about to experience.

Carolina, the Ecuadorian girl I traveled with for the past two weeks, leads an upper class lifestyle so I was actually backstepping a bit into the middle class sector of my hometown.  However, there were still many things to which I had yet to re-accustom.  At the forefront of my mind was the calming feeling of being able to walk alone on the street, the freedom to strike up a conversation with a stranger without the fear of being robbed or hit on.  Soon enough, that welcomed comfort wore off as well and I began to miss the adventurous lifestyle I had been leading.  Of course, I do not wish to be ambushed by a thief in Perrysburg nor get whistled at by a car of high school boys at a stop light.  I do, however, miss Ecuador.

The highlights of my last week of traveling include my solo trip to the coast and climbing the dormant volcano Cotopaxi (at a pace slower than a tortoise).  After some miscommunication that took place outside an airline ticket station, I boarded a flight from Quito to Manta alone.  I was scared.  I was worried.  I felt vulnerable.  The coast is supposedly characterized by more robberies.  I hadn’t had exceptionally comforting experience travelling alone up to that point and I didn’t exactly have concrete plans as to where I was going or what I was doing.  Despite my anxious thoughts, I managed to calm myself enough to enjoy a relaxing time on the beach.  I met a group of three men in their forties and fifties vacationing with a seven-year-old son.  They took quite a liking to chatting with the American girl who was sitting on the sand breathing in the smell of the sea.  They paid a small token to a traveling duo of guitarrists to serenade three songs for me.  Fernando, the man who initiated the serenade, told me to remember the people of Cuenca, their native city, as “nice people who just want to be your friend.”  Finally, I though, a group of men who just wanted to laugh and joke and get to know this foreigner, to be nothing more than friends.  From a reader’s viewpoint, the serenade might not sound like a gesture of friendship but I can assure you it was.  And I was finally feeling comfortable being alone.

After a few days in Manta, I took a bus ride past a number of ghost towns to Puerto Lopez.  Words falter in describing the sheer magnificence and natural beauty of a pod of whales in the ocean.  I went whale watching on a boat with a group of about twenty tourists.  The first Humpback we saw had just its fluke sticking up out of the water, seemingly frozen in place, in time sufficient enough for the onlookers to catch more than a glance.  Not long enough, of course, for the old school, slow-working camera Carolina lent me. But long enough to have imprinted an image in my head.  I came to Puerto Lopez to see whales because it was prime whale season when the families swim through these bays once a year.  Having witnessed firsthand the enormous tail of a Humpback whale glistening with water droplets despite the overcast skies, I would have been content with just that image.  But luckily, we continued our voyage at sea.

We encountered a family of three Humpbacks swimming along, pectoral fins skimming the surface every now and then.  Underwater, their bodies looked like the blue of a robin’s egg illuminated against the stark contrast of the midnight blue sea.  The whale watching, however, didn’t stop there.  We saw another family of Humpbacks, three adults and two babies.  At this point in my writing, I do not know whether I should pour out my heart to you or hold back, but I’m taking a leap of faith and going for the foremost.  About halfway through the trip, I abandoned the camera.  It had worked whatever magic I thought it capable of and I decided I would rather take in these sights with my own eyes than through a camera lens.  Hence, I kept my eyes peeled wide open on the water’s surface, searching for water spouting up or whirling about, any sign of marine life.

And it happened.  Four times.  Something you see on a calendar page but rarely witness in real life.  The water parted as the nose of a Humpback whale emerged, on four different occasions, followed by the gigantic white belly with the pectoral fins splayed out, all accompanied by a spray of oceanwater.  Each time these creatures hit the water with a crackling belly smack that would leave any human’s stomach permanently red, I felt my own waterworks churning.  The sight of these animals and the sound of their bodies hitting the water, assurance that the experience was not just a dream, brought actual tears to my eyes.  Maybe you think it’s crazy, crying because of something you see in nature.  But just like people shed tears of happiness, I was shedding tears of pure elation.

To top it off, on our way back, we rounded a cliff and saw those birds with the blue feet, Blue-footed Boobies, native to Ecuador.  We had passed by here on our way out to sea but I only noticed the white-colored rocks and thought, Hmm, must be some very white sand.  No, no.  It was bird poop. T hese cliffs were filled with so many Blue-footed Boobies that the rocks looked snow-covered from their excrement.

When I returned to Quito, Carolina and I took a trip with three friends to Cotopaxi.  Three of the five of us (myself included) finished the climb to the refuge center.  Two hours after we began our ascent, we marveled at the expanse of mountains and greenlands visible from this vantage point.  Additionally, we congratulated ourselves on what had seemed an unnatural accomplishment.  The winds and cold we battled coupled with the steep incline and sandy terrain that didn’t offer strong footholds translated to numerous power breaks for the climbers.  Some of the gusts of wind were so powerful that they forced us backward, sometimes knocked us over so that we rolled a few feet downhill.  Losing that much ground, just a few feet, sounded like an added death trek at the time.  That small yellow building, our destination, stared us down from above. I’m pretty sure it was laughing at us.  Our descent took only 30 minutes.  When we were driving away from the mountain, we stopped to read the welcome sign.  Instantly our pride level plummeted.  We had only climbed three hundred meters… in two hours.  We were hoping for at least a mile.  Needless to say it was quite a tiring trek.

So now I sit here typing away at a computer that I can have at my fingertips whenever I want.  I sit in a room dimly lit by the natural light seeping through the blinds though the darkness is calling for the yellow shine of the lightbulb which I am holding out on.  I sleep in a bed with a metal frame instead of bamboo slats and a mattress that doesn’t feel like the entire Detroit Tigers team batted it in for twenty-four hours straight.  I walk down the sidewalk alone and in barefeet confident that I won’t be ambushed or step on broken glass. I enjoy air conditioning in this intense heat and humidity.  I could go for a run with my iPod if I wanted to but, though I thrive on music, I sometimes find the music of the busy and natural world more inspirational than any break-up-and-get-over-it love song.  I eat healthy, planned dinners instead of as-quick-and-easy-as-possible dinners thrown together by volunteers after a long, hard day of work.  I don’t have to fall asleep to the fear that tarantulas will crawl across my hair or face when I sleep.  I can play with my dog and guinea pig whenever I want.  I can drive my car and listen to English songs on the radio while singing loudly with my sister.  I am not restrained in the jungle on Sundays and thus can finally go to church in the mornings like I longed to do.  I can read a book on a couch (instead of a sand fly infested, stained hammock) while listening to the sound of Dad drumming away in the basement.  And I myself can rock out on the drums or play the piano when I feel the yearning.  I can use my cell phone.  I drink treated tap water instead of questionably filtered water from a stream in the Amazon.  And I think my intestines are back on track after two months of confusion with my rainforest diet.   Still, despite all the pleasures, the comfort, the material and non-material joys of my USA lifestyle, I can’t erase one thought from my mind: When’s my next trip back to the jungle?

It’s been a long, memorable experience that will undoubtedly live within me for the rest of my life.  I have grown immensely as a person, in my values and life choices, having finally experienced what I have long thought to be the key to happiness: simplicity.  While you may or may not agree with me, I am so very glad I could at least share my monkey stories and tarantula freak-outs with you all, whether family, friend, or stranger.  Thank you for taking time out of our busy go-go-go lives (believe me, I’m a go-go-goer) to read these lengthy paragraphs of text.  I’m not sure I would have had the patience as a reader to read every line every week, so I am thankful for any little bit that you read.  Hopefully, you enjoyed sharing this experience with me as much as I did with you.

Until my next adventure,

Stacey

My Life in the Amazon: Goodbye Amazoonico?

Goodbye Amazoonico?

From  1 August 2009

I kept thinking during my last feeding tour, with squawking macaws making me bleed from the ears and ants on my shirt from the spider monkey cage, How can I ever say goodbye to this place?  Now I’m realizing, after a week in Quito, that I don’t ever have to say goodbye.

This Scarlet Macaw is non-releasable because as an ex-pet, his wings were mutilated to prevent him from flying. Normally, if a bird’s wings are just clipped, the feathers will grow back. However, some illegal pet owners don’t want to the hassle of clipping repeatedly.

I have found myself laughing out loud in a bout of silence on a car ride when I picture Beata.  An image is embedded in my mind of her vehemently shaking her head when she doesn’t want to do something, backing away with her pink lips pursed in a perfect O as she makes a sound I can only imagine E.T. would make.  I can still hear the voices of volunteers yelling ”No!'” to the mischievous monkeys that found their way into the kitchen after someone forgot to lock the door.  The smell of ocelet pee, though not an inviting scent, is still fresh in my mind and nostrils.  I often find myself trying to perfect the trumpet call of Trompi.  I still see Gino’s face pressed up against the peccaries’ pen because, having been a pet, he adores attention.  The frustration of volunteers trying to shoo squirrel monkeys out of the bodéga (our fruit cutting and storage place) is laughable now.  I can’t possibly count the number of times ”Âh stupid barizo!” was yelled at Amazoonico.

By far, the barizos (squirrel monkeys) were the award winning thieves during feeding time.  I laugh every time I picture Huahuasupay’s face with a discolored, half-closed eye and a hairdo that prompted my nickname for him: Elvis the Pirate.  Pirate is fitting not only because of the pirate eye but because he is also a nasty booty stealer.  I’m beginning to think I might acutally miss his temper tantrums after he attacks me but is unsuccessful in gaining access to the food bucket.  While I’m still recovering from temporary hearing loss in the aviary of fifty some parrots, I’m a little nostalgic when I realize I’ll soon be back to one hundred percent hearing.

When I arrived in Quito, I was abnormally excited by the sight of grass.  I quickly discarded my sandals and ran onto a patch of green sanctity, literally feeling every blade on my overworked feet.  There’s no such thing as lawn in the jungle.  But my excitement, though still existent, is now coupled with feelings of nostalgia.  Moving from the primitive, candlelight, cold water shower lifestyle of the Amazon to the blinding city lights of Quito without time for a transition was far from overwhelming.  I happily welcomed my first actually hot shower (not just warm like Tena).  Yet after a week, I’m finding an ice cold shower–so cold that one cannot stand fully under the running water but must wash a body part at a time–isn’t that bad.  If it means living in the jungle, I’ll take it.

I still have yet to turn a TV on though there’s one in every room but two in Carolina’s house.  (Carolina is my Quiteño friend with whom I worked for a month at Amazoonico.  Did I mention her family is highly wealthy… on American standards?)  I miss dinner by candlelight, hearing the “Comiiiiiiiiiida!‘” dinner call every night, the prospect of looking forward to a free day.

I’m still accustomed to waking up with the sun, but I’ve pushed my bedtime back from 8:30 to 10:30.  (Quite an accomplishment in one week, I must say. Although I’m certainly not killing my body anymore carrying fifty kilos of carrots or two giant bunches of plantains up more than one hundred stairs.)  Sure, life in the jungle can really make you appreciate what you have.  But for some people, the jungle life shows why primitive conditions might make for a preferred lifetstyle.

Ane, my closest friend from Amazoonico, is a stylish chica accustomed to wearing dresses every day.  At first glance, you might think, “She’ll never survive two months.”  But she did!  (I recently discovered some volunteers thought that about me when I ran for help after seeing my first free-roaming tarantula.  Give me a break!  He was right outside my room!)

I think very few people “don’t have it in them” to live in the jungle.  Half the volunteers (myself included) despise tarantulas, but we made it out alive.  (I still fear their hairiness and creepy crawling legs nonetheless.)  It definitely takes some getting used to, but I swear primitive living is better than any trip to the spa .  If you really want to clear your mind and face a reality free from everyday troubles, forget for a day that you have electricity.  Cook and eat by candlelight.  Sing your own songs instead of letting the CD player do it for you.  Turn off your cell phone and ignore the emails that bog all of us down.  Make your own bread, marmalade and juice from scratch. And lay in a hammock. Seriously, folks, for one day you can relax without a hefty fee.  (I feel like I just ran an advertisement for Life in the Amazon.  But my eyes are a little slippery just from writing this.)

After the hard work at Amazoonico, I owe myself a trip to the beach to go whale watching.  We leave today, but Carolina and I aren’t planning any cruise or resort-type stay.  Keep it cheap because cheap means simple.  I guarantee I’ll enjoy myself just as much if not more than I would at any one hundred dollar a night hotel.  I’ve enjoyed my sight seeing thus far despite my craving for manual labor. (Psh.)

Carolina and I met up with Ane and Sophia for a day in Quito. We climbed to the top of La Virgen, a skyscraper-tall statue that looks out over the capital city, said to protect the inhabitants.

I enjoyed a trip to Baños where we saw waterfalls galore, thermal pools and, forever kids at heart, played with four niños on the teeter totter.  Carolina and I stopped at a zoocriadero in Fatima.  I’m not sure how to explain what all that entails but it’s a rescue center set-up but ethically more-so a zoo.  A really really under-educated, dirty zoo with small cages and only one man running the place who calls every animal “my life, my love, my dear.”  A bit of a cuckoo but a nice man.  I got to pet a tapir.  Great Aunt Sally, they are massive.

We visited an actual zoo like the Toledo Zoo but with bears in cages smaller than a front yard.  Many of the animals had stereotypies. The visitors enjoyed watching the bears pace back and forth, pausing for a moment to stand on their hind legs as if they were following a command.  Sadly, this entertainment is a sign of animal suffering in an under-enriched, small environment.

We went to a rescue center in Otávalo where I saw three birds native to North America.  There’s a sign of animal trafficking from the U.S. to Ecuador.  Many of the birds, as in Amazoonico, were rescued ex-pets.  We stopped at another animal rescue center that was beautifully landscaped and non-profit but seemed to spend more money on pathways than animal enrichment.  The volunteers were a little confused about the release part of the rescue center.  They release some animals but still pet all of them regardless of release potential.  That’s not helping the animal at all.  I got to pet an ostrich that was running in place as he tried to push through the fence. Very strong and very cool, but perhaps he was trying to tell me something?  There were two full-grown lions at this rescue center in a cage the size of two walk-in closets.  That was the worst of it.  But in all honesty, the volunteers are trying and I think doing the best they know how to do.

In the city of Mindo, I jumped twelve meters from a cliff into a waterfall.  And then I went back for more.  I’m not sure why I jumped again as I was just as scared out of my mind the second time.  I could actually feel pressure from the spray of the waterfall pushing my legs upward.  I had to fight to keep them down.   Back in Quito, Carolina, her friend Namdev and I went to an amusement park called Vulqano Park, a lovely mixture of Spanish and English in the name there.  It was no Cedar Point but we rode three rides and I screamed bloody murder on every one while simultaneously taking in the city lights of Quito.  Near Tena, we took a flashlight aided trek through an otherwise pitch black cave.  Carolina’s Shiatsu dog, Negrita, came, too.  At one point, we came across a  small waterfall with such strong pressure that it made a five meter deep hole in the rocks, the perfect width for a human body.  I jumped in and nearly drowned from the pressure of the waterfall but still enjoyed every second of it.  By the end of our hike, we were both almost as muddy as we were at the end of an Amazoonico work day, but smelling much better, of course.

Surprising yet true, I really do miss the dirty work. Even raking up a mess in the peccaries’ pen, as seen here, is an oddly fulfilling task. Cleaning poop is one of many steps in the field of conservation through animal rehab.

Without a doubt, all of this traveling is exciting.  It is a cultural eye-opener to have the comparisons between the indigenous, poor folk and the city-dwelling, rich people.  But it is very different not hearing the high-pitched puppy-like sounds of the toucans all the way at the volunteer house, or to dread the sound of a passing canoe because it either means tourists or carrying loads of food.  I am enjoying myself, but I miss my life in the Amazon.

Until next week,

Stacey

My Life in the Amazon: The Vroom Vroom Story

The Vroom Vroom Story

From 1 August 2009

My time at Amazoonico is coming to an end.  I don’t know how I will be able to get used to not having monkeys following me everywhere, jumping onto my shoulders as a platform midway between a branch and the feeding table.  I hope I can figure out a way to pack the rainforest smell in a bottle to take with me.  I will definitely not have trouble acclimating to a tarantula-free lifestlye once again.  I amaze myself with how much I can’t stand those things.  You’d think I’d get used to them after two months in the jungle where you see one every other day.  I have not and I don’t anticipate doing so anytime soon.

Feeding time for Johan and Mea means having to keep an eye out for the giant Conga ant colony. The Conga’s bite is venomous and up to three bites can be fatal… Welcome to the Amazon.

Mea, the spider monkey, was acting weirder than normal last week.  During a tour, Ane’s tourists were pointing to a jelly-like glob on the ground of Johan and Mea’s cage.  Ane had her thoughts of what it was, but she got the vet to have a look.  It was a fetus.  Mea had a miscarriage.  We thought she was pregnant because of her change in eating habits, her behavior and what may have led to the initial belief, a slightly larger than normal stomach.  It was unbelievable in the next couple days how sad she looked, sitting on the ground and not doing much.  Just like a human.

All of the volunteers got a tour of Monkey Island where the highly aggressive (like monkey killing, people attacking) monkeys go along with the rejected monkeys not accepted in a group.  Clearly it is too dangerous to go on the island, so we joined the feeding canoe that passes by every morning and throws food on the island, handing some to the monkeys that decide to reach their hands down from the branches.  I saw a white Capuchin mama with a baby on her back!

I think I have neglected to say in my past journaling that I had to abandon the bright pink rainboots my neighbor lent me and trade them in for some boring black ones.  It was those darn toucans.  Every time I fed them, they attacked my boots as if the boots, not me, were the intruders in their territory.  After a month, the toucans were successful at gashing two holes in them.  In the rainforest, you kind of need rainboots without holes in them.  (If you are reading this, Mrs. Seiwert, I will be sure to replace those lovely boots when I get back to the U.S.)

A few miles from AmaZOOnico, Maqui Sapa Alpa is one of the monkey release stations we run.  The pre-release enclosures here are more isolated and the last step before the door is opened to freedom, the most rewarding part of our work.

Huahuasupay is such a thief!  He appears out of nowhere during animal feeding time and evidently if a tourist has food as well.  While leading a group of Ecuadorians through Amazoonico, I was oblivious to the sandwich an elderly woman was munching on.  Whoops, my bad.  We were passing Herman and Martin (woolly monkeys) headed to the peccaries when I heard some commotion.

Huahuasupay, a brown tufted Capuchin, has rightfully earned the nickname “Elvis the Pirate.”

Huahuasupay had dropped unexpectedly and ever so sneakily from a tree and stolen the sandwich, plastic bag and all, right out of the lady’s hand.  When I reached for the plastic bag that he dropped, the Capuchin of course tried to attack me.  I held my ground, told him to go enjoy his sandwich and recovered the empty plastic bag.  I probably should have remembered the “no feeding the animals” part of the introduction that should really be reworded to “no food on tour or you might get ambushed by a monkey.”

Speaking of Martin and Herman, I saw them playing together for the first time. Martin is the neurologically-impaired partially paralyzed juvenile that lives with the grandfather-like but relatively boring alpha male Herman.  They were making a popcorn-stuck-in-the-throat-sound and rolling around on their food table.  I’ve never seen a monkey put food aside like that.

Fergus (England) and I entered the small cage of the kinkajous and agoutis to give the agoutis their breakfast.  The kinkajous get fed only in the afternoon because of their nocturnal lifestlye which would infer that the kinks should be sleeping at this time.  Cranky lady kinky was awake and hissing up a storm so that we couldn’t enter the big cage.  We gave her an orito to try to lure her away.  She was pleased but hissed between bites.  I think I should sit in on one of her anger management sessions because she doesn’t really seem to be getting anywhere.

Ane and I were headed to feed the ocelots during feeding time one afternoon (and by feed I mean I don’t touch the meat and Ane wraps it in a leaf because she doesn’t want to touch it either but I make her throw it in the cage).  In the middle of her tour, Sybille came running frantically and said, “There’s a tree in the ocelots’ cage! Go get Miguel!” I sprinted eight hundred meters in rubber boots up stairs and through two gates to go get Miguel.

A female ocelot inside an open-topped enclosure where she resides with two males.

If there’s a tree in the ocelots’ cage they can escape, something that has happened before but means they eat the chickens and try to get close to the humans for attention.  As ex-pets, they do not realize the potential of their sharp claws and teeth.  And if an ocelot gets territorial, ex-pet or not, watch yourself.  Miguel, naturally, feeds on adventure.  When I reach his house, I am out of breath and speaking in Spanish and English because he understands only bits of both.  He asks me if it’s a big tree.  I say I don’t know because I didn’t see it but I would assume so because Sybille made it sound like an emergency.

“Is it inside or outside?”

Again I say, “Sounded like an emergency so it must be inside.”

He asks if he should bring a machete or a “vroom vroom.”  I say probably the “vroom vroom.”  He comes running from his house with both a machete and the vroom vroom chainsaw.  We make it to the ocelots’ cage out of breath to find Ane chilling by the large branch but definitely not a tree that is outside the ocelots’ cage.

“Aw, Stacey, ziss no es for zee vroom vroom. Ziss is a pequeño.”  Sorry, Miguel, I didn’t know.  “Ziss is my free day,” he says.  I hear Friday.  I correct him and say, “It’s Saturday.”  Confusion ensues heightened by the language barrier of this Swiss animal caretaker.

Miguel machetes the branch with grunts and sweatdrops and throws it into the forest.  I apologize for the confusion about the vroom vroom, tell him to enjoy his Saturday free day, congratulate him on a job well done, and watch Ane throw the meat in with a leaf protecting her hands from the blood juice.  Just another day at Amazoonico.  It never fails to be an adventure at this animal rescue center in the middle of the Amazon.

Until next week,

Stacey

My Life in the Amazon: Money vs Time

Money vs Time

From 2 July 2009

People come and go so quickly here.  It seems as soon as a new volunteer arrives, two more are leaving.  We are struggling this week because three more volunteers left today and we only had one new volunteer arrive.  Fingers crossed, a few more are set to arrive between this week and the next.  Konny arrived Sunday from Germany.  Melu (Switzerland) and Liz and Mike (USA) have departed. Today, I gave three tours in Spanish as well as cut fruit, cleaned animal cages and fed the animals in world record timing (assuming there is such a world record book).

I got peed on by a monkey today.  During one of my morning Spanish tours, I was attempting the talk-and-walk-backward ordeal when an outburst of incomprehensible Spanish sounds interrupted my informational spiel.  I realized a bit too late that these shouts were warning cries, for my overenthusiastic gesturing resulted in my hand being doused in Amu’s urine.  We all had a hearty laugh about that.  I guess I was bound to get peed on at some point.

Amu and Flora, one-year-old orphaned woolly monkeys, are still too young to be released away from AmaZOOnico. Once they no longer rely on milk, we can evaluate them for the next step of the release process.

All the way away in Ecuador we received news of Michael Jackson’s death.  Isabel (Ecuador/Chile) came running into the kitchen and said in Spanish, “I have news from the States! Michael Jackson is dead!”  To commemorate his death, we hooked up a battery-powered stereo to an Ipod and played all Michael Jackson songs while cooking and singing in the kitchen.  Then when Ane and I walked up to the office to feed the baby anteater, we created a new version of “Beat It”: “Eat it. Just eat it.”  Because sometimes the little lady just doesn’t want to eat her termites and goop.  I don’t know why.  Sounds like a five-star meal to me.

In addition to the new turtle Sybille and I brought back on the bus a week-and-a-half ago, a family brought two birds to the rescue center.  They no longer want their Australian cockatoos as pets so we are looking into what we can do with these birds.  I don’t see them being able to be released since they are domesticated.

I have sad news.  Tomás, the kinkajou whose finger I accidentally discovered in the trash, was anesthetized at the beginning of the week.  He had starting biting himself until he eventually was ripping his skin down to the muscle, effectively destroying his entire arm, torso and leg, literally eating himself.  I have not heard back yet if the autopsy showed an infection in his brain.  The volunteers were really mellow the rest of the evening.

Beata is so beautiful and clever, she plays her cards right as a seductive trickster.  We can’t pet her, but every once in awhile, she gets caught in a momentary face-off with the people she depends on for survival.

We have had two animals escape since I have been here.  When animals are not deemed able to survive on their own and numerous attempts to release them have proved ineffective, they are kept in cages.  Ping (yes, there is another named Pong), got out of the guardería one night.  All the more power to him if he can make it on his own.  But sure enough, two nights later, he showed up on the bridge between the two volunteer huts no doubt hungry and wanting food from a place he knew he could get it.  That’s the way it goes with a lot of the animals that we try to release.  After a few days of not being able to find food or after getting into a fight with another animal, they come back to the humans they know can help them.  While in the real wild they wouldn’t get help from us, it isn’t fair to ignore these needs.  They never had the chance to live independently seeing as they were kept as pets from a young age.  It is cruel to drop into the vast greenery of the Amazon jungle an animal that has always been served its food and for the majority of its life, has only had social interactions with humans.

This is why it was so important to get Ilucu, the Great Potoo night bird, back into his cage when he escaped.  You see, no one knew Ilucu could fly because nightly attempts by volunteers to teach him had seemed futile.  It therefore didn’t seem like a big deal to leave the cage door open during feeding time, but that has certainly changed now.  One day Ilucu surprised us all by lifting his wings and flying out onto the second highest branch of a nearby tree.  One of the Quechua men, César, climbed the tree to catch the bird with a net (and Beata followed close behind), but Ilucu flew away to another tree just before we could all breathe a sigh of relief.  Luckily, César was able to watch where Ilucu flew to.  All the volunteers panned out around Amazoonico keeping an eye in that direction in case Ilucu flew away again.  This time when César climbed the tree (and Beata followed), it was successful.  Ilucu was too exhausted to fly elsewhere.  He doesn’t know how to hunt either.  We are working on either getting a volunteer to specifically work with Ilucu to teach him at night to hunt and improve his flight endurance or to send him to another rescue center with a larger cage where he would have more space to teach himself to fly.  We shall see.

Ane, Fergus (England) and I took a trek through the rainforest led by Miguel.  We were prepared for a thirty-minute round trip on more or less level ground.  After a hard day of work, I think I could handle a sight-seeing adventure.  We highly underestimated the walk. This was no time for sight-seeing because Miguel was on a mission to get to our destination and back at what I can only believe to be some steroid-enhanced speed.  One-way, the hike normally lasts forty minutes.  It took us a half hour one way because Miguel was running.  And the so-called path we followed?  Up and down, up and down, roots and rivers and rocks.  Miguel was showing us the walking route to the road so that if we missed the canoe or didn’t want to pay for the ride, we could still catch the bus to Tena.  Well I say forget Tena if I have to be drenched head to toe in sweat and then sit on a body odor infested, humid bus for two hours.  The whole point of a trip to Tena is to relax.

They say everything is bigger in the Amazon, and I’ve found that holds true. On a hike through the jungle, Ane and I made creative use of the strong vines on massive trees.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love hiking and actually quite like being muddy.  But my daily appearance exceeds the measly description of only “muddy.”  I am filthy.  So it’s nice to pretend like I’m not so dirty when I present myself to civilization once a week.

Regardless, I plan on hiking part of the trail again because it was simply magnificent.  We drank natural spring water.  We heard a wild toucan and saw pacca, agouti and peccary tracks.  The fungi we encountered were meticulously shaped and in such vibrant colors.  And the tap root tree.  Oh lordy, the tap root tree.  I cannot even put into words how awe-inspiring are the features of this massive tree.  Its roots are above ground and taller than me.  The trunk has a diameter of about five people.  And this was only the small tree. There’s another path that leads to the “Big Tree” as to which it is so humbly referred.  The pure and tranquil beauty of nature should be reason enough to urge people to protect the rainforest.  If only it was.

I have had a number of people tell me, “you’re so lucky” to be having this experience.  But I have to say, people, you can make anything happen if you put in the time and effort.  A tourist here told me, “Money comes back. Time doesn’t.”  Words well said.  I am understanding now more than ever how very true that is.  I realize no one is asking for my advice but if I had to give any, at the moment it would be this: Seek your dream and save up to make it happen.  Don’t ever think you’re too old or too young to dream or to do that thing you always wanted to do.  And know that there’s so much more to the world than the USA.  Dream a little, live a little more.

Until next week,

Stacey

My Life in the Amazon: Some Insecurities

Some Insecurities

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.

If I perfect my blow dart skills, maybe I could better protect us from the venomous snakes. Doubtful, but I’m thankful to the Quechua tribesman who taught me how to use this thing.

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?

Yuma is one of three mischievous juvenile woolly monkeys that roams freely during the day. She will soon be taken to our release station a few miles deeper into the jungle.

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,

Stacey

My Life in the Amazon: Out with the Old, In with the New

Out with the Old, In with the New

From 21 June 2009

I give so much credit to veterinarians.  This past week, two of the sick and injured animals in the infirmary didn’t pull through.  And let me tell you, I spent the rest of the day moping on both accounts.  Vets help a lot of animals, but they also see a lot die.  That really pulls at my heart strings.  We had a tortoise with a bacterial fungus under the shell that didn’t make it.  I also found one of the released   tamarins on a feeding table with a six centimeter long wound in her arm that was down to the muscle.  Your average tamarin, tail not included, sits about fifteen centimeters.  She had surgery on her broken and dislocated arm, but she had already lost a lot of blood. Two days later, I came to work in the morning and asked how the little chichico was doing only to find out she had died late in the evening the night before.

I must have some curse (or blessing?) with encountering injured animals because today I noticed a squirrel monkey wasn’t using his back leg.  We’re keeping an eye on the animal.  The other day while cleaning the guardería, I noticed Tomás, one of nine ex-pet kinkajous, dragging his right hand.  I got a close up look and mumbled a “Holy Moses!” before running to get the vet.  Tomás had a nasty week old wound on his hand that had gotten worse.  Now one of his fingers was clearly not wanting to stay connected.  It was amputated the next morning.  Tomás’s recovery is going splendidly, but the icing on the cake to this story is yet to come.  I emptied the trash in the vet room and nearly passed out from all the bloody gauze, but I noticed a small red thing on the ground that had missed its intended trash bucket.  Naturally, curiosity kicked in and I proceeded to poke the small red thing with a stick.  About fifteen seconds later, I almost threw up.  Did I mention there’s no “Biohazard Waste” or “No Longer Attached Body Part Disposal” places in this part of Ecuador?  The small red thing was Tomás’s finger.  It is buried now, but the image of it is not.
Amu stole the hose the other day. I was cleaning the toucans’ cage and saw a green thing zoom by.  A closer look revealed the mischievous monkey proudly portraying her stolen serpent in the grasp of her tail.  No worries.  We got the hose back.

The baby anteater has graduated to eating from a spoon instead of a syringe.  This is very exciting news seeing as it is so difficult to keep a baby anteater alive.  Ane (from Denmark) and I continue to sing “you will survive” to the little creature.  We also sing the song in the bodéga (where we store and cut fruit).  One day we belted out the words while dancing with broomsticks.  I don’t think you need a video recording to picture this moment.  We’re one crazy duo.

Dinner is shared over candlelight after a long, tiring work day. With horses’ appetites, we still go to bed hungry. I’m learning firsthand what it means to eat in moderation, mostly by necessity rather than choice.

I must say, I am becoming quite the cook.  All of the volunteers here take turns cooking and it’s largely from scratch, the best kind of cooking! I have decided the sign of a good cook is someone who tastes what they’re making.  I can make a mean fruit juice, salad dressing, jam or bread all from scratch.  For dinner a few nights back, Mike (a fellow American) and I cooked stuffed baked potatoes that turned out to be more delicious than I anticipated.

I have now had to say goodbye to Susanna (Austria), Jule (Germany), Meret and Gisela (Switzerland), Carolina (Ecuador) and Eve (South Africa).  It is truly a come-and-go place around here with the volunteers, but I think that makes the experience all the more interesting.  I am meeting people from all over the world and therefore learning about many more cultures than the Ecuadorian way of life.  My Swiss friend Sybille (with whom I hitchhiked to Tena this weekend) pointed out that Americans have a tendency to respond to “Thank you” with “Mmmhmm” instead of “You’re welcome.”  It was an interesting difference I would not have picked up on otherwise.

Today, Sybille (Switzerland) and I are bringing a tortoise back to the rescue center.  This is how the hand-off was described to me: “A tall, thin French man will meet you at the bus stop at 2:15.  He drives a Mazda.  He will have a box.  In the box will be a tortoise.  Put the tortoise in the cage and if anyone asks you questions, show them the piece of paper that authorizes you to transport the animal.”

Luckily, this is the end of a load of frutas the Quechua tribe brought over in a canoe across the Arajuano River. While lugging 50 kilos of carrots and yucca up more than 100 steps, I have to constantly remind myself the labor will result in “nice butt, nice thighs.”

We’re also getting two new volunteers (a couple) from London today!  We need more volunteers and another man wouldn’t be so bad either.  (Then us ladies can pawn the heavy loads of frutas off on them.)

Earlier in the week, I decided to practice my guitar playing skills by the river, so I sat on a log and dangled my feet while strumming to the only two Beatles songs I have mastered.  (I use the term “mastered” loosely.)  This created a very serene moment.  A couple days later after work, I propped my leg up on the ledge of the caiman’s pond and leaned up against a post.  I just sat for about twenty minutes and took it all in, every sound, every movement, all the brilliant colors.  It was so unreal, and yet there I was seeing, smelling (the Venzel girls have a keen sense of smell), and hearing the rainforest.  In case you were wondering, the Amazon does indeed have a distinct smell and when I return from Tena every week, I almost feel like I’m home.  I say “almost” because I still have an intense fear of tarantulas and they are EVERYWHERE in the rainforest.  When I no longer have to worry about these hairy beasts, then I’ll know I’m home.

A group of us volunteers heads to a cliff to swing off a rope into the river. The added bonus to our classy bathing suit and rubber boots look is its practicality.  And yes, that’s a monkey following us.

Four of us walked 0.2 km to a tree on the river that has a rope.  We swung from the cliff and then let the river’s current carry us back. Then we showered in the waterfall that, though cold, was more enjoyable than a showerhead.

I was feeding the capybaras the other day when, upon closing the gate, I noticed an addition to the three chubby animals.  Beata the spider monkey had climbed into the cage.  (There’s only a fence around the outside.  Capybaras are fat and slow.  They aren’t going anywhere.)  I removed Beata and went to wash the food buckets.  On my way to feed Martin and Herman, two of the woolly monkeys, I snuck a peek back at the capybaras.  In addition to Beata, Huahuasupay was also munching on corn husks sitting next to Daddy capybara.  I shooed them both out.  I’m telling you, the monkeys that are not in cages are far more sneaky than the ones in cages.

Thanks for tuning in this week.  Once again, I am thoroughly delighted to be sharing this experience with you.

Until next week,

Stacey

My Life in the Amazon: The Monkey Escapades

The Monkey Escapades

From  11 June 2009

What a week it has been!  Three monkeys in the kitchen, one in the office and two in the living room; a near death attack by the highly aggressive and relatively unpleasant female kinkajou; more loads of fruit than any human should ever have to bear; another goodbye fiesta with lots of dancing and a huge ugly hairy tarantula acting as sentry; showering in the waterfall because the water keeps going out; feeding the baby anteater; experiencing hitchhiking (don’t worry Daddy, it’s relatively safe here)… and the crazy events of my days at Amazoonico keep on truckin’.

Beata, a free roaming spider monkey, is mentally and physically disabled. However, no disability prevents her from causing trouble.

Let’s start with the monkey escapades.  I was headed to the office to feed the hormiguerro (baby anteater) when I saw Amu, one of a pair of year-old monkeys, running from the kitchen with an apple.  She dropped the apple when she saw me, knowing she was in trouble.  Then I heard Diana, one of the two Quechua women who cooks lunch for the workers during the week, trying to get the handicapped E.T.-looking spider monkey Beata out of the kitchen.  I carried Beata out (because that’s the only way to get her out) and she then crawled into the office.  I took her out again.  Someone also forgot to lock the living room door in the second volunteer house where I live.  Beata got into the living room, bathroom, upstairs and into two bedrooms.  Forget the mess, I was upset she ruined my puzzle.

That night, a tamarin monkey squeezed through the cracked door.  Ane and I were sitting in hammocks and journaling.  Ane looked up to this cute little tamarin, his arms wrapped around a cup on the table next to us.  He ran into Ane and Sophia’s room (my friends from Denmark) under the bed.  We got a broom to sweep him out but Ane found we didn’t have to use it.  The chicico was huddled in frightened ball buried in a bundle of sheets on the floor.

But the monkey stories don’t stop there.  That Beata is one sneaky girl.  I was cleaning up after breakfast when the door opened.  Again, either a very small person or a monkey.  I guessed monkey.  Sure enough, Beata tried to climb onto the table.  I ran to stop her to prevent the lit candles from setting the hut aflame.  Then I realized the water was running so I headed to the faucet to turn it off.  Simultaneously, I realized “Criminey, the door is still open” and the woolly monkey was about to get in.  I closed the door fast, turned the lock, then ran to stop Beata from climbing into the oven which she has already opened.  Thankfully the oven was not heating but the stove certainly was.  Beata ran away when I tried to grab her.  I turned off the water, reached for her and successfully carried her outside, slamming the door as I surveyed the kitchen.  For the thirty seconds that she was in the kitchen, she caused quite a ruckus.  To top off my monkey shenanigans, Huahuasupay (whose name I can only now correctly spell), accidentally bit my finger when he tried to steal an oatmeal ball from my hand. Huahuasupay is the capuchin whose appropriately chosen name means “little devil” in Quechua. (Again, Dad, the bite is nothing to worry about!)

Onto my near death attack.  During one of the feedings, we have to clean the cage of the kinkajous.  These monkey-looking-but-actually-a-type-of-bear animals are nocturnal so they are usually sleeping inside the tubes in their cage.  One female resides in this enclosure, the dominant one among the five males, and the crankiest animal I’ve ever encountered.  Always one person cleans while the other watches to see if the female pokes her head out of the tube.  If she does, the person cleaning inside (which was me) should stay still.  Since kinkajous are nocturnal, they cannot see well during the day.  If that doesn’t work and she starts to move more, you haul your butt out of there.

I was cleaning the first pool of water when I was warned with a whisper, “She’s out.”  I froze, brush and bottle of water in hand.  She then proceeded to poke her head out more which I knew meant get out and get out fast.  So with some superhuman speed that would have left Carl Lewis in the dust, I got the heck out of there.  I forgot to mention kinkajous can jump three meters.  I was about two-and-a-half meters from the door.  I don’t know how I managed this, but I closed the door as she landed on it, hissing like mad.  I am signing her up for anger management classes.  And needless to say I am steering clear of the kinkajous for awhile.  If she is awake, there is no way I’m going in there.  Looking back on my miraculous escape from death, I question why I threw the bottle but kept the brush in my hand.  Neither seem important when you’re running for you life.  (Okay, it wasn’t really a “near death attack,” but she had mauled the face of a previous volunteer.  I didn’t want my face to be her second mauling.)  After all was said and done and I survived without a scratch, I can say that was one heck of an experience.  And maybe I shouldn’t have thought twice about that Rabies shot.

Believe it or not, hitchhiking is both common and safe in Ecuador. How else am I supposed to get from the jungle to civilization? Here, Ane and I pose with two of our chauffeurs.

I have now hitchhiked to Tena twice.  Hitchhiking in Ecuador is relatively common, but you are lucky if you can bum a ride because only about two cars pass by in an hour at Puerto Rio Barantilla.  That is where the canoe drops us off to catch the bus that we always miss.  I don’t think I’d feel comfortable hitchhiking alone (and my parents, I’m sure, would prefer it if I didn’t), but I was with two other girls both times.  This second time, we rode in the back of a pick-up truck because we wanted ¨the experience.¨  It felt very illegal passing the police who just waved at us (and one whistled) while we waved back.  But then the rain came.  Fast.  And hard.  Luckily, our chaperone driver remembered about the three gringo girls in the back and stopped to let us in.  We listened to a soccer game on the radio.  Ecuador won 2-0 against Argentina.  I celebrated with a low-key victory dance.

Trompi, the trumpet bird, is one of my favorite animals here, though I’ll admit I have a lot of favorites.  She is the only one of her kind and follows the tours around as well as molests the monkeys and dogs that try to pick a fight.  But dang that girl can defend herself!  She is relatively confused as to whether she is a human, a monkey or a dog but I am pretty sure she has ruled out being a bird.  Like most trumpet birds, Trompi makes quite a good guard, making her trumpet call when there are snakes or intruders nearby.  The other day, she followed a friend and I to the waterfall, waiting on a rock for us while we showered, then followed us back to the house.  She looked like she was auditioning for Lion King on Pride Rock.  Maybe she thinks she is part lion, too.

Feeding the baby anteater is one of the highlights of what I do here.  It is very difficult to keep a baby anteater alive and Amazoonico has not yet had success.  But so far, we are beating the odds. A mixture of dog milk, cream of milk, egg yolk and mashed termites is a tasty meal for any anteater.  I, however, think it smells like old gym socks soaked in, well, eggs and milk.  It is quite a lot of work taking care of this little thing, but it is worth it.  And whenever Ane and I feed her, we sing to her (softly of course), “You will survive.  Hey!  Hey!”  Gloria Gaynor would be proud.

Lunch time in the jungle usually involves interaction with a monkey on some level.  Yuma, a woolly monkey, takes great interest in the broom while my co-workers and I are amused by the mingling of a dog, trumpet bird and monkey.

Lastly, let’s talk about the monkeys in the infirmary.  One has a broken foot and the other isn’t eating in the group.  We had to bring in the latter because she has gotten really skinny.  Martina, the broken foot monkey, would not stop jumping on my shoulders while I was cleaning.  She kept wrapping her tail around my neck, playing in my pockets, pulling off my bandanna, and picking out the (hopefully) nonexistent fleas from hair. Clearly it is a task to clean her cage.  As for the other monkey, Uspa, she is timid around humans, but that is a very good thing because it makes her hopes of release high.  She has been at one of the three monkey release stations run by Amazoonico.  She was munching away when I fed her yesterday, so I am hoping she will chubby up pretty soon.

I hope you all have enjoyed this snapshot (in written form) of my Ecuadorian excursions.  I cannot believe I am approaching one month here.  I reckon the second half of my stay will go by quite quickly.  I am glad you all can share with me what I can only call an adventure.

Until next week,

Stacey