Dearest Intrepid Readers, today we’ll cover week 2 of my Amazonian adventure.
Right, so I clambered into the taxi back to Sacha Yacu and met the new volunteer, a Danish woman we shall call Mary. Mary, it turns out, would be spending a month in Sacha Yacu just as Nancy had. An additional point of note is that Mary had some experience as a cook in a restaurant, experience that paid dividends in delicious gourmet food for everybody.
When we arrived back at the lodge, we unloaded the taxi and started carrying everything up to the feed shed and kitchen. One of the bags I picked up and slung over my shoulder had some weird point in it that was poking me in the back. Flavio took note of the bag I was carrying and instructed that I be careful with it. I peeked in the bag to see if it was something fragile, but it turned out to be…
AN ENTIRE COW’S HEAD
We’ll get to the reason for having a cow’s head and what was done with it a little later…
After an evening of getting to know Mary a little bit better, we had a simple meal of fried sausage with veggies, onion and rice and then briefly introduced Mary to the wonders of Puro Puyo before heading off to bed. Before I went to bed for the night, I took note of the clear skies and all the stars. I know I mentioned this before, but between all the light pollution and constant cloud cover in Lima, I don’t get to see stars anymore, so I’m always amazed at how many there are, and I had the time to just be able to sit and wonder at all the new constellations that you can’t see in the Northern hemisphere. Unpolluted, clear night skies are the best.
After sufficient star gazing and some reading, I went to sleep and woke up bright and early to start work for the second week. I made myself some breakfast and Flavio put Nicole and I on the parrot circuit for the morning while he took Mary on the tour of the property. Nicole and I had made a good team the previous week and figured out a good system in the parrot circuit, so we made our way through quickly. When we stopped at the Zongo Zongo cage, I took my turn to go in a and clean up the scraps and lay out new food, and check out the encounters I had while in there with Zongo Zongo and the Squirrel Monkey. Typically, I’m not one for selfies, but this makes for a good time to break the rule.
In the afternoon, we headed down to force feed the dumb tortoises and learned about what we would be doing with that cow head I mentioned. Yours truly was tasked with butchering the cow head so that we could feed the meat to the tortoises. Yes, that is correct. Tortoises are a natural predator to cows and demanded the sacrifice of one cow for their dining pleasure. I may not be great at catching grasshoppers and fish, but it turns out I’m actually pretty good at butchering a cow’s face. One would think that after butchering a cow’s face, one would not want to eat beef ever again. In fact, quite the opposite occurred. As it turns out, cow cheek (and forehead) looks remarkable like any other cut of beef, so I think I’ll be more inclined to try cow cheek. Who knew? Probably butchers. And chefs.
I wish I had pictures for you of this. I did take some, but many of my photos from my time at Sacha Yacu were on my phone, and shortly after returning to Lima, my phone was stolen and none of my photos from when I first got my phone a year ago were ever properly backed up. I lost a lot of photos, and I’m still bummed and angry about it, so this post will only have a select few photos that I had managed to get uploaded to Facebook before my phone my stolen. There are also some videos which I will link to.
So, after a successful and invigorating afternoon of butchering a cow head and satiating the bloodlust of tortoises, I returned to the lodge with Nicole and Mary for a relaxing evening of Chancho and getting drunk on Puro Puyo. It was also around this time that Flavio and David asked if I had any brothers and sisters, to which I gleefully told them I had one sister in the United States and two brothers in Ecuador. Man, they loved that response. We called each other “Mi Hermano” for the rest of the week. It was fantastic.
Luckily for us, the evening of Chancho and Puro Puyo was not as raucous as they were the previous week, getting up Tuesday wasn’t a difficult task. Flavio assigned me another day of the parrot circuit, and I took Mary with me to have her do the circuit with me so she could start learning the ropes. The coatis were more than eager to introduce themselves to a new friend while she cleaned their enclosure, and then we headed off to feed Zongo Zongo and the Squirrel Monkey. I let Mary into the cage to clean while I kept the Squirrel Monkey distracted with some bananas, but he eventually got bored and went to investigate the new food she was putting out. While she was laying out new food, the squirrel monkey got himself stuck in the little food bucket, so Mary tried to shake him out. Well, let me tell you, he did not like that; he freed himself from the confines of the food bucket and scrambled up Mary’s arm to give her a quick bite on the nose. Luckily, the bite was not too bad, it was a small scratch without any puncture wounds. Mary and I returned to the lodge where we cleaned the cut out and put on a small band aid. Mary took a few minutes to collect herself while I looked for Flavio or David to ask if there was anything else we should do. I couldn’t locate either of them, so Mary, being the badass trooper she is, went with me to finish up with the rest of the parrot circuit.
In the afternoon, after some much-needed hammock relaxation from the excitement of the morning, Mary and I ventured out with Nicole to catch grasshoppers again. I am embarrassed to report I was still awful at catching grasshoppers and still managed to not catch any. It remains that Nicole is an all pro grasshopper catcher, so the animals looking forward to their insect treats would not be disappointed. With grasshoppers in hand (except for me) we returned to the lodge where, that evening, Mary treated us to some delicious chili. I contributed by making some guacamole and rice (rice is hard to make…) and we all feasted before heading off to bed.
Wednesday came and went with much less excitement than the day before, though there was still some to note. Nicole and I went off to do the parrot circuit after helping to prep all the food. While working in one of the last parrot cages, a nearby cow had gotten loose and was wandering around the parrot cage. Nicole, in all her infinite farm hand wisdom, was able to lure the cow back to its pasture after a few unsuccessful attempts, avoiding any potential damage to the enclosures the wayward cow may have caused.
That afternoon Nicole, Mary and I joined David to go fishing for the Margay’s dinner and once again, I did an abysmal job at providing food for the Margay while David and the girls ran laps around me with their fish catching abilities. After I disappointed everyone while they successfully fished, Nicole, Mary and I headed back to the Margay enclosure while David took on the task of force feeding the dumb tortoises. We very quickly lured the Margay into the trap cage with some tasty fish, and while Mary and I held in a very angry jungle cat, Nicole put out the rest of the fish. Once she was done, we let the Margay out and watched in fascination as the Margay ate his dinner. I had video of this, but again, stolen phone, so I don’t have it anymore. Instead, here’s a photo of him sitting in a tree in a strange position.
Wednesday evening, we made another round of gourmet Amazon pasta sauce and had another less raucous evening of playing Chancho and pretending Puro Puyo sugar cane liquor was something we all enjoyed. Wednesday was another clear night, so I took some time to stare at the stars with a light buzz. Did you know you can get dizzy looking at the night sky while not moving? I didn’t, but there it is.
Thursday, I got to go on the monkey circuit with David, mi hermano en Ecuador. While cleaning out the Capuchin enclosure by myself, I was lucky enough to have more experience with Capuchins climbing all over me. They are adorable little jerks. They were very interested in hanging from my arm by their tails and stealing food from me, or sitting on my shoulder and screaming at the ones who weren’t sitting on my shoulder. Enjoy some of the remaining photos I have of my Capuchin experiences. I want more.
Thursday afternoon Nicole and Mary joined David and I in digging new compost holes by some of the enclosures. Nicole and Mary were tasked with digging a new hole by the kinkajou while David and I filled in an existing hole by a super aggressive capuchin and dug a new one with all the tools needed to dig holes – a too short shovel, a pick axe, and a machete. Seriously, machetes were used for everything. I used machetes to cut vines, cut sugar cane, dig holes, and, most importantly, pretend to be Wolverine, as evidenced in the photograph below.
After a rousing afternoon of hole digging, we returned to the lodge for some much-needed showers and a delicious meal of empanadas. Once the generator was turned off and the battery powered LED light starting to dim, we headed for bed, where I, you guessed it, read a little bit before going to sleep to rest for my final day of work.
Friday Mary and I were back on the parrot circuit. We stopped first at the Coatis, where I went in for my last time with them, and it was as if they realized it. They climbed all over me, and I learned that day I make an excellent tree. Below are some of the remaining photos I have of the Coatis. Also, this time around on the parrot circuit, we managed to get the squirrel monkey into the trap cage so that we could enter without any potential risk to our person. We finished up the parrot circuit without incident, and I also managed to get these two adorable videos of the blue headed parrots.
Also, this was from the previous week, but here is a video of a parrot forgetting that is, in fact, a parrot.
Friday afternoon I stayed in the hammock while everyone else went fishing as my ankle was very sore from the previous day of digging a giant composting hole. When they returned with a large amount of fish, I went to go help feed the Margay one last time before we all returned to the lodge.
I totally forget what we had for dinner that night, but Flavio and David got me rip-roaring drunk through many rounds of Chancho and way too much Puro Puyo. Still, before bed, I had enough presence of mind to down a bunch of glasses of water and stuff a lot of bread into my mouth-hole and managed to wake up with only the slightest of headaches. Before I departed that morning, I had everyone gather for a group photo. Flavio’s younger brother, Julio, was there to help with some of the chores that morning. As for me, my taxi was about 30 minutes late, so by the time I arrived at the bus stop, I had missed the direct bus to Cuenca by about 20 minutes.
Remember my first post about Ecuador where I was constant nervous wreck? Well, after successfully navigating the bus system the first time around, hearing I missed the bus did not turn me into an incompetent ball of uselessness. I recalled that the Cuenca bus had a short stop in a nearby town of Macas, about a 3-hour ride away, so I booked a ticket to Macas and was told busses for Cuenca leave every 30 minutes or so, so I figured I was in no real trouble other than a slightly longer stop in Macas with a bus transfer.
On the bus ride to Macas, I happily put my earbuds in and listened to an audiobook as the rainforest rolled by. As we got closer to Macas, more of the jungle started disappearing and was replaced with giant, shitty McMansion style homes. It was really sad to see the rainforest be clear-cut, and I learned over some internet research while waiting for my bus in Macas that a lot of American ex-pats moved to just north of Macas, purchased plots of land, then clear-cut the jungle so they could build their shitty over-sized houses without any sort of architectural soul and push out all the people that had been living happily in the forest.
My disdain for McMansions and Modern Colonialism is a separate, unrelated post.
When we arrived in Macas at around 1:30 in the afternoon, it turned out there were not busses that left for Cuenca every 30 minutes. There were two busses that left for Cuenca, one at 4 in the morning and one at 3 in the afternoon; luckily, I didn’t have to stay in Macas, but I would be waiting 90 minutes, not 30 minutes, to continue on to Cuenca. There wasn’t much to do in that bus stop other than the aforementioned internet research, and that didn’t take too much time. I was also wary of keeping my phone out too much, the bus stop wasn’t exactly a place that looked conducive to me retaining my phone if it was out.
When it was finally time, I boarded the bus and was promptly joined by an affable man next to me who seemed nice at first, but I became increasingly suspicious of. First, he wanted to know if I had a phone and what my number was. I became convinced that if I took my phone out, he would grab it and dart off the bus. These busses weren’t like my trip to Ayacucho with only one stop, that being the final destination. These busses stopped to let on anyone standing on the side of the road. So, I told him, no, I don’t have a phone, which really fucked me over because I just robbed myself of being able to listen to the audiobooks on my phone.
Then he asked if I knew the Word of God, and all I could think was “shit, this asshole is going to proselytized at me for the next 7 hours.” So quite miraculously, I forgot all my Spanish. I had heard the Word of God, and it made me forget all other words. After that, we just sat in awkward silence until he fell asleep, at which time I wondrously regained my phone and started listening to my audiobook. After about an hour after he fell asleep, he woke up while I was eating from a small package or Oreos, and he asked if he could have one. Who is this person, and who does he think he is to go around asking about my phone, and if I knew the word of God, or if I would share my Oreos. No, you dick, I do not share Oreos.
Finally, after about 2 hours into the trip, he got off the bus, but not before asking if I had 3 dollars to pay for his ticket. I do have 3 dollars, you weirdo, but I sure as hell am not presenting you with any opportunity that involves me taking out my wallet and you taking off with it, so for you I have nothing.
The bus trip continued on uneventfully after that. Shortly after the deceptively affable man got off the bus, we started ascending into the Andes and heading west towards Cuenca. The remaining 5 hours of the trip I listened to my Audiobook and watched as we wound our way through and over the Andes, past surprise waterfalls and over narrow bridges with too-small guardrails overlooking precipitous drops into the valley. It was an absolutely beautiful ride. The bus was still about an hour and half out of Cuenca when the sun set and the stars started to come out in numbers, dotting the sky with all their gaseous glory. I spent a long time watching the night sky fly by ahead of me. Oh, how I miss the stars now.
By the time we arrived in Cuenca, it was about 9:00, a mere 13 hours after I left Sacha Yacu. The distance between the two locations is roughly 210 miles, but busses going over mountains take time, and the Andes are no joke.
I happily arrived at my hotel, a 4-Star fancy pants thing that I managed to find a great deal on that was in stark contrast to the bunk room I had just vacated that morning. This is where I will leave off; I’ll tell you all about my final week in Ecuador in the next post.
Below is a collection of additional photos I took of the animals around the lodge. It should be noted that Sacha Yacu had two dogs, Luna and Cookie, and two cats, Gandalf and I never knew the other one’s name. I got the impression that the dogs were primarily for defense against Ocelots coming onto the property and eating the free parrots, and they were companion animals second. The cats served to keep the area around the lodge clear of vermin, but were otherwise just there, hanging around, though Gandalf was always hungry and crying at us; one time he even forcefully clawed an Oreo FROM MY MOUTH and ate it…
You’ll also see the free parrots and, of course, Zazu the Toucan. As I mentioned earlier, Zazu is the world’s second largest asshole and was more interested in terrorizing us while we hung in hammocks, trying to bite our butts and toes. He’d also hang around outside dorms so that in the morning, he could try and bite at us and chase us down the porch, hopping after us wildly. His wings were clipped, so he couldn’t fly, but that didn’t make him any less aggressive or dangerous. Seeing him eyeing us with one large yellow eye as we lounged in our hammocks was common. Having him use his oversized beak to try biting us was more common.