By Ellen Zimmerman
We just finished our week in the Amazon, where we stayed at the Arajuno Jungle Lodge. It was started by Tom, our contact, as a eco-tourism and conservation project inspired by his Peace Corps service. It is on the Arajuno River, a tributary of the Amazon. It is only accessible by a fifteen-minute boat ride from the nearest bridge. Our days were all structured similarly, with service work in the morning, activities in the afternoon, and free time in the evening. Our free time was mostly spent playing games, both ones we had brought and ones that Tom had at the lodge. Another favorite past-time was swimming in the river, especially right after service work, when we would immediately run in fully clothed to wash ourselves and our clothes at the same time.
On Tuesday we worked on reforestation, planting cinnamon trees, then we had the whole afternoon free to get settled in our new location and relax a bit.
The next day we helped build nesting beaches for the river turtles that Tom is rehabilitating. It was exhuasting, just carrying bags of sand from one end of the farm to the other in the hot Ecuadorian sun, so we were all excited to jump in the river when we finished. That afternoon, we had our first CDL, which is when a student teaches the rest of the group a fun/useful skill. For the CDL, as if the morning wasn’t tiring enough, I taught Irish step dancing for an hour and half. Despite the heat and exhaustion, everyone loved it and had lots of fun.
On Thursday we learned about medicinal plants, so our project was to help build a structure for dragon fruit plants, which have many medicinal properties. That afternoon we had more CDLs; Addy taught knot-tying and self-defense, and Patrick and Daphne taught swing dance. Then, that night, because it was Patrick’s birthday, we had some delicious chocolate cake.
On Friday we worked with the bamboo plants, which help prevent river bank erosion, as well as providing a good source of firewood and building material. We dug up bamboo shoots from the nursery and prepared them to be planted as part of a community reforestation project on Sunday. Then, we replanted more bamboo in the nursery to be used in future reforestation projects. The final, and most difficult aspect was that day was harvesting and carrying 3-4 meters long bamboos to be cut up for firewood. In our afternoon activity we were rewarded for all our hard work with tubing down the Arajuno river. It was incredibly fun, relaxing and amazing experience for everyone, and I’m sure we all would’ve loved to spend all day floating lazily through the Amazon. That night, as well as several other nights during the week, it rained in the night, which made the river rise, but also got some of our things wet. However, on this night there was also a huge thunderstorm that woke everyone up around 2am. Lightning lit up the sky outside our windows, then was followed by deafening cracks of thunder, louder and closer than anyone in our group had experienced before. It was a terrifying and exhilarating experience.
On Saturday, it was still raining on and off in the morning, which some people chose to work through while others took a break and went inside. Nevertheless, we spent our morning finishing up the other projects from the week and doing other miscellaneous tasks for Tom.That afternoon, after the rain had cleared up, we went on a hike into the forest led by Miguel, a local who works for conservation through a partnership with the University of Kentucky in which he hosts and teaches groups of graduate students. He had a wealth of knowledge on local ecology, culture, and environmental problems, as well as many pertinent interesting opinions and anecdotes, which he was happy to share. As part of our hike, we walked through a river, which at times was almost up to our waste. Many were apprehensive at first, but by the end we all agreed that it was a very enjoyable experience, well worth being a bit wet and uncomfortable on the hike back.
On Sunday we had a work day in the community, planting the bamboo we had dug up on Friday, as well as some cinnamon trees. After that, we walked to the center of the indigenous community, where they presented different aspects of their culture to us. We got to experience their music and dance, witness a traditional cleansing ceremony done by a Shaman, and try some of their traditional foods, including fried grubs, which were actually delicious.
We were all sad to leave on Monday, but we will not miss the plethora of bugs that would barrage us all night long. Now we have our last two nights in Quito before we leave Ecuador behind to embark on the next part of our journey.