Here begins the portion of the trip where I was volunteering. After I met with the 2 girls who were going on this part of the trip with me in Quito, we went back to the airport. It wasn’t like we were flying anywhere; it was just the rendez vous location for the organization.
We took an overnight bus to this place called Misahualli. It is a small town about 10 hours away from Quito. The closest bigger town is called Tena. It took a while to get to leave the airport. It was pretty exhausting, so thankfully we got to sleep. But has anyone ever noticed how uncomfortable sleeping on a coach bus is?
Misahualli sits on the banks of 2 rivers that are converging into 1 river. We could only swim or bath in the one river because the other river was dirty and contaminated because it passed by the larger towns. We were told that, under no circumstances, were we to pee in the water because of the penis fish. I leaned over and whispered to one of the other girls “what is a penis fish?” It turns out that a penis fish is a little fish that will be attracted to urine and it will swim up your urethra and lodge itself up there. So, not good obviously; seriously folks, no pee pee in the water, ok.
We stayed in a hostel. The water kept not working so we bathed in the river a lot. The groups were divided in 2; half of us went on a jungle trek and half of us stayed to volunteer, and we were to switch at the end of the week. I was in the group that volunteered first.
We built 2 different outhouses with septic tanks, toilets and sinks for the families. We had started a third but I don’t think it got finished; the other group finished it. It amazed me to think of living in a place where people did not even have access to a bathroom. Even the most basic apartment in Canada is going to have a bathroom, and it probably isn’t even legal to not have somewhere to relieve yourself. So I clearly saw the need to help with this infrastructure.
We had to start by digging 6 by 6 holes. Trying to dig 6 feet down and 6 feet in a square is harder than it looks, mostly because at some point we dug past the water line and the holes began flooding with ground water and we had to have people on hand to bail them out. Someone else was responsible for building the bathroom with bricks and cement; we helped make and pack on the cement.
The other thing that we did was to help teach English at the school that was down the road. It was fun; the kids thought we were really cool and they would run out to greet us with cries of “gringos, gringos”! So, apparently gringo is officially a white American, and since the majority of us were Canadian (albeit still mostly white) this is a little inaccurate. I’m also not sure if “gringo” is supposed to be offensive or not but it was said in good fun, so I guess they don’t have any negative connotations for the word there.
Before the week ended, we had seen this 300+ year old tree, we rode around in the back of a pick up truck and we went tubing. Fitting all 35 people into the back of this truck, that we all had to stand in, was the strangest experience. #1, I had to question the legality, if we crashed on this teeny tiny, narrow, twisting and gravel road we were all dead. It took us all a while to figure out how to stand up in this truck without crashing into each other. There were 2 Americans and 30+ Canadians in the truck and we were all yelling around “sorry” “I’m so sorry” “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stand on your foot” and the American thought it was hysterical because it wasn’t like we could do anything about it but we were having this massive communal apologies.
When we went tubing I accidentally flipped off my tube in the middle of the rapids, which was honestly kind of terrifying. I couldn’t get close enough to my tube to grab it and I was choking on water. So we were with these people who owned the tubing company and I was trying to yell at the person to help me because I was starting to worry I was going to get sucked into a whirl pool or be smashed into a rock that I couldn’t see. One of the other girls was yelling back for me to calm down and to just breath and put my feet forwards. I think it sounded like I was panicking more than I really was, but it did help to hear someone else’s voice and know that someone could see where I was. Finally I floated out of the rapids and could get my tube back. It was such a nice tubing experience after that.
After this week was up, we went on a jungle trek. It started with a 6-hour trek into the jungle. It was definitely hard. There were 2 choices; the easy and the hard one. I took the easier trail because I can’t even go for a 30 minute jog without an inhaler so I figured that I’d be better off there. We fell a lot in the mud. Our guide cut up the best pineapple I have ever eaten. And we still made it there last. It was so cool though because in the jungle you really couldn’t see anything but jungle and it amazed me that we weren’t getting lost. I would have had to quickly learn how to survive without our guide because I would never have gotten to the place we stayed at without him. Since our guide was also telling us all about the plants that can be medicinal…. Or poisonous… There was a good chance I would have died by eating some poisonous plant.
In the jungle we went tubing again. It was fun, it was a little calmer than round 1 and we all linked arms and floated down the river, then a boat was waiting to take us back to the place we were staying.
On another day we visited a jungle school. It was a lot of fun. We played soccer where the little children, who were all half our size, obliterated us. We brought them gifts, which they were all so excited about. A lot of the children didn’t have shoes on, and this was really hard for us to see. It actually broke my heart a little when one of the teachers was apologizing because the children didn’t wear shoes or had on dirty or torn clothes; it was because their families couldn’t afford new clothes or shoes. I thought no one should ever have to apologize for being impoverished. The dogs who lived here were all starving and sick, a few of them had infected cuts, which they probably got by running in the jungle or fighting with other dogs. It was honestly heart breaking. When we went back to Misahualli, we all donated $5 so that the leaders from VESA could go out and purchase shoes for these children. If there was left over money they promised to use it for school supplies or cloths for the community.
We also went to Amazoonico. Amazoonico is a wildlife refuge that takes in injured animals or wild animals that were held in captivity and can’t be released. They will rehabilitate these animals; if they can be released, they will go back to the wild, but about 2/3 of them stayed at Amazoonico. Many of the babies of these animals would be released.
We drove to Banos and spent a day there where I went zip lining and got a message. The zip lining was so much fun. It had 6 different ziplines ranging from 200 to 550 meters. We went on one, walked to the next and repeat. It was amazing to fly through the jungle and over ravines with rivers. We also went up to a volcano to see it. Banos is, in fact, the Spanish work for “Toilet” or “Bathroom” but I don’t think that is really what they were getting at by naming the town that, I just can’t remember what else the word could mean.
At the end of this portion of the trip we went on a 10-day trip through the Andes and onto the coast. I guess I will be making a part 3 for this trip.