Monday, February 7, 2011

Our week with Shane

We made only a few friends while in Colorado Springs, but the few we did make are of high quality. Shane is one of those really good friends of ours from Colorado Springs. Back in the Springs he is a manager at the chemistry lab at the city hospital. We met him originally through a game group our friend Julia is part of. This game group was made up of some super interesting characters from C.Springs and a large number of our friends were made there. So anyways Shane is this super interesting friend who we invited to join us Ecuador like a year ago when this trip was still in the planning phase. Surprisingly, he agreed to join us and met us in Quito last Saturday night. We stayed in Quito Sunday and Monday and were able to do quite a bit of sightseeing in those two days. This was good because Buffy was still recovering from a severe Ecuadorian Illness, and needed some time to rest while Shane and I explored Quito.  All three of us climbed up to the roof of a beautiful church in the old down town.  We got to see how the metal roof was attached to the cement structure of the building, and walk in between the external roof and the internal ceiling.  At the end of this gang-plank type structure was a beautiful overlook of the city from one of the church spires.  Then Buffy went back to the hotel to rest, and Shane and I walked around the Sunday artisans’ Mercado and went to an awesome Cuban food restaurant.  Monday morning we went to the Amazon Basin. We took a thirty minute flight from Quito to Lago Agrio and then a two hour bus and three hour boat ride to some cabins in Cuyubeno reserve near the border of Colombia. The boat ride was pretty spectacular we saw tons of birds along the way and were able to really see the jungle for the first time. That night it was raining quite a bit but the guide took us on another boat ride to see caiman. Caiman are a type of fresh water alligator that live in the Amazon River and its tributaries.  We saw quite a few of the alligators and got frighteningly close to a very large and angry looking one, but returned to the cabins without incident. Our boat mates were made up of two Danes, Two Australians, one German and two Slovenians. Everyone with the exception of the Slovenians turned out to be super cool. The Slovenians gave the rest of us a common cause to rally around: the Slovenians were extremely serious and didn’t want any talking at all, because it might scare the animals away, while everyone else preferred a balance between quite and socializing.  What was interesting is that the way the Slovenians handled the dispute was by insulting everyone else in the boat….which everyone else in the boat took in good humor.  Anyway, this was an ongoing interaction during the four day trip, so on to day two: we went trekking through the jungle to see trees and plants of medicinal and nutritional purposes. We also went trekking through a swamp that is part of the river in the rainy season but is only mud in the dry season (now). This was supper fun! Everyone was slipping and falling and sinking into the mud. We all got soooo dirty and wet and smelly. Veronica (the German) had really bad balance and showed us all what not to do when crossing from tree to tree but we all fell anyways. Michael the Australian (and largest of our group) kept slipping out of his boots and so would get stuck every few feet. When he would finally get himself unstuck he would have to continue floundering in the mud trying to get his boot back on. Shane served as part of the rescue crew throwing branches on the mud to provide some traction and going in after Veronica, Buffy and myself when all of us were stuck or sinking. It was actually quite hilarious. It was kind of like one of those team building exercises, like “ropes” or something…we all (except the Slovenians) struggled through the mud and we all helped each other get across, bucket-brigading backpacks, taking turns going first, forming human chains, pulling each other out of the mud. In the mud lagoon we were able to see a few toucans, parrots, cranes, frogs, caiman, and looked longingly for anacondas but found none.
 On the way back to the cabins we saw loads of birds and monkeys. That evening we went Piranha fishing.  Piranhas are carnivorous fish with a reputation that precedes them, but seems a bit outsized compared to their danger.  The Piranhas didn’t jump out of the water bearing their teeth and nipping at boat occupants…they didn’t seem so vicious.  To fish for them, we dropped fishing lines baited with little cubes of beef.  It was probably 45 minutes before Shane caught the first fish for the boat.  I caught one and two or three other folks also caught fish.  Overall, we definitely gave more meat away to the nipping Piranhas than we gained in fish caught (which, but the way, were subsequently thrown back into the river once the requisite pictures had been taken). We didn’t eat the piranha because they are reputed to have high levels of parasites; even the locals don’t eat them because they are small and bony.  Ironically, at dusk, we were in the boat headed back to camp and all sorts of fish started flying through the air trying to catch mosquitoes, and one fish landed right in the boat!  After spending almost an hour fishing and not getting a bite, this stupid thing jumps right in!  On the third day, we went to a local village. The villagers showed us how to cultivate yucca (not the same as in the south western US) and we made traditional bread.   They make their bread out of yucca.  First they shread the root up, then they dry out the shredded pieces by twisting them up in a two-sided reed-mat, then they cook them on an iron pan.  They’re pretty tasty.  We also got to play with a very nice but flea-ridden monkey. While we were in the village, a woman walked by with a monkey on her head.  She stopped and let us hold and pet the monkey.  Turns out it’s one of the smallest monkeys in the world.  After visiting the village, we went to another spot on the river where a medicine man, or Shaman, lived.  He was dressed up in his traditional Shaman robes, complete with ornate necklaces and beautiful parrot-feather head-dress.  He showed us all sorts of plants that he uses to diagnose and treat diseases.  How do you use a plant to diagnose a disease?  Well, the plant used for this purpose is a hallucinogen.  The Shaman imbibes a tea made from the leaf and concentrates on the sick person while he hallucinates.  The hallucination helps him to see the sick person’s problem and helps him to figure out the best way to treat it.  It was a pretty interesting visit and we ran into a few tourists who planned to stay the night with the shaman to try these hallucinogens.
 On the last day, we headed back to Quito, repeating our original trip but in reverse, but this time the river was very shallow and so Buffy and Shane had to get out and push the boats.  Actually, Buffy and I ended up on a boat by ourselves with the luggage and boat driver, while Shane was on another boat with a bunch of other tourists.  Shane again served as the rescue team because he was the only able bodied person on his boat, so he helped push the boat through the dry spot. Buffy served as rescue on our boat as I took pictures of her. J
Here is the animal count of our trip:
5 types of monkeys, dozens of birds including four types of Toucans, Three types of frogs, one anole (lizard), tons of spiders including three tarantulas in the dining “room”, two types of caiman, one pink river dolphin (which was grey because it was a baby), one manatee, one millipede, lemon ants (which we ate), and dozens of other types of insects including massive cockroaches in our hut that really liked our toiletry kit.
Back in Quito, we spent one day hitting the major museums and monasteries in Quito, and one day going to the equator.  The equator trip was interesting, because there were a bunch of experiments to demonstrate the oddness of the equator.  First, there was a demonstration of the Coriolis effect: a sink filled with water that had a plug in the bottom was unplugged with the plug directly over the equator, and there was no spin.  One meter to the south, the water spun clockwise, and one meter to the north, the water spun counterclockwise.  The second experiment was balancing an egg on a nail….apparently this is easier on the equator than anywhere else because gravity pulls the egg straight down onto the nail head instead of off to the side a bit, as it does if you are anywhere else, since the earth is a bit warped.  Finally, and most dubiously, we experimented with the diminished strength of people standing on the equator.  We paired up and stood to one side of the Equator.  One person interlocked their hands and held them up over head, while the other person pushed their hands down.  Repeating this experiment while standing on the Equator, the person with interlocked hands were very weak in holding their hands above their heads….it was easier for the other partner to push their hands down.  If I had just seen the experiment demonstrated, I would not believe it, but I felt it, as did Buffy and Shane. So, are any or all of these experiments valid, or good showmanship?  I need some more time with Google to find out.  In those last two days before Shane (sadly) left Ecuador, he tried Cuy (Guinea Pig) and Ceviche (fish cooked chemically rather than with heat).It was an amazing week and one of the most interesting adventures of our trip.
Our Amazon Crew

Little tiny wear on your head monkey

Shane trekking in the mud

What to take and not to take in the Jungle

Buffy pulling our boat along

Yucca bread

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