Well, at last I’ve found a place to get the internet! Hacienda Jambeli was in the middle of nowhere. Let’s update you on my Ecuadorian leg of my trip…
The flight to Miami was fine, but at Miami it went wrong and it ended up that I didn’t arrive in Quito until gone midnight. So, at last, at around one in the morning, I arrive at my beautiful little homestay and am ushered straight into bed. Here, I meet Helen and Corinne, the two other volunteers on my project. In the morning, Manilo (our homestay host) took us to the i-to-i office, where we met more volunteers and were given our tickets to Guayaquil. We flew to Guayaquil, where we met Rafaela, the owner of Jambeli. Not Jambeli the island - we were actually near Naranjal. She drove us to the project, which was a HUGE farm. We met the people that worked there - Giovanni, Monica, Justo, Ramone and Erwin, none of whom spoke English. And we were off!
We spent most of the time feeding the parrots with Monica. This involved preparing the food (and fighting off the titi monkey who had a passion for apple and banana instead of cockroach, which is what he was supposed to be eating) and cleaning out their water bowls. Nobody taught them table manners, so you can guess what we had to deal with. We also dealt a lot with the crocs. There were four pens of four ages - baby, middle, “teens” and BIG croc. We had to clean out the bird cages and scrub down the croc pens. Scrubbing down the croc pens involved brooms and hoses, and picking the little ones up by their tail and unceremoniously dumping them out of the water. They made their protests clea by squeaking and nipping our boots and brooms. The sensible ones just ran away. We then had to unplug the water and scrub. Usually we ended up drenched because it rained or Giovanni directed the hose at us instead of the pen. The slightly bigger crocs were harder to deal with - brooms and hose were employed to keep them in one corner whilst some brave person (i.e. Giovanni) picked out all the leaves by hand. The one day I did this, they had lost their appetite and I unwittingly picked up a chunk of half-rotting meat. I wonder if you heard the yell from England!? The even bigger crocs were left entirely to Giovanni, and he showed off by picking them up. We were the sensible ones and stood outside. The big croc, he was simply sprayed at with the hose. No one in their right mind went in there. Giovanni demonstrated the croc’s skills by sitting on top of the (rather unstable) fence with a stick. The croc leapt four feet into the air, inflating himself to nearly twice his size and snapped his jaws shut with an ear-splitting crack. When he hit the floor (having missed the stick) he deflated with a hydraulics-like hiss. Respect. Even more respect for our show-off demonstrator when we encountered Big Croc in a bad mood. He used his tail to launch himself up the fence, so his nose reached the top. If he’d grabbed the stick and given it a yank, it would have been show-off no more. On that day, you definitely watched him out the corner of your eye as you walked past his pen… that fence really didn’t look stable enough. We also had the opportunity to feed MoÃ±eco, the baby goat. He had bottles of milk, which you had to fight away from him before he guzzled too much and gave himself the hiccups (we usually lost the fight and had a hiccuping goat for the rest of the morning). Not only did we deal with these beasties, but we dealt with the beasties of the gross kind - mosquitoes, ticks and ants. The leafcutter ants weren’t so bad, it was the smaller, biting ones. Mozzies? Well, need I say more? I counted nineteen bites on one shoulder. And that was wearing enough DEET to sink a ship. And ticks!? Well, they were the worst. Playing football in shin-deep grass and riding the horses meant we regularly inspected and de-ticked each other.
The other part of the job was the spider monkeys. As they weren’t too impressed with us, good old Giovanni was elected to be the one to balance across the bamboo pole with food to the islands. The same morning I helped him with that was the same morning I sat on a Galapagos tortoise. Oh yea, I’ve ridden horses AND a tortoise! However, the best episode with the spider monkeys was the day one escaped… Now spider monkeys can’t go in water, as it kills them, but a very determined spider monkey can jump great disatances from one branch to another. This particular monkey that decided to leg it was from Peru, and had been in a cage on island 2 so as for the ten coastal monkeys to get used to him before putting him in their clan. He’d already been moved for being too aggressive from another reserve, but this time, when he was let out, he was the one who got a shoeing. So he left. We all piled into the grasses and shrubs with sticks (for the monkey or snakes??). But us girlies left it to the men, and went with Giovanni (not a girly, but in charge) to clean out the crocs. Just as we were reaching the pens, Ramone yelled for Giovanni. They’d found it. So off he ran, tripping over a rather startled iguana, which flipped end for end, to get the monkey. Later that night, he explained that he’d kicked the fugitive monkey because it had gotten aggressive and gone for him, and showed us the scars from another aggressive spider monkey. Yep, he was definitely the only one going over that bamboo pole! We also had some brief newcomers. A dog had given birth to eleven puppies, but over the course of three days all of them died.
As you can tell, we spent a lot of time wet - either from rain or from the hose. However, there were two times when I did not intend to get wet! One was up at the big house, when I refused to zipwire over a sludgy pond, and instead got dumped in it. The very same day, we rode up to the river, waded the horses across to the sandbank and dived in. Okay… I did intend to get wet that time! But most of the time, it was actually very hot. The hottest day was when we went up to the tilapia fields and watched them weigh the cachama (cachama being the very close cousin of the tilapia - I can’t tell the difference). We watched and boiled and ate passionfruit we’d picked on the way up. I’ve never eaten so much food! Tilapia, cachama, chicken, beef, fruit, rice, rice, rice, rice, and… rice. And every morning we’d have milk (fresh from the cow) and cheese (nearly fresh from the cow) and bread. I even tried crocodile.
In our spare time, we learnt Spanish (it’s still poor) and taught English to Monica. We played games (mainly during power cuts) of cards and monopoly and scrabble (muilt-lingual scrabble, it’s an experience). We helped Gisella take an inventory of the animals and map the cages.
The best day was Helen’s 30th birthday. We fed the parrots, and had an amazing lunch; lentil soup followed by chicken in passionfruit sauce, avocado with bacon, green peppers, onion and sweetcorn, and rice. Mid-lunch, Giovanni and Justo appear, and Giovanni bashfully hands over a bunch of freshly-picked flowers. And that was the moment we all fell in love! After lunch we played volleyball and football. As we played football, all these guys appeared out of the woodwork. The game only finished when they all had to leave to milk the cows. Oh alright then… so we milked cows. Then Helen, Monica and I went up to the lake, which is where Rafaela found us. She bungled us into her truck and drove us halfway up the nearby mountains to hot springs. We watched the sunset as we drove up, and watched the fireflies come out at dusk as we floated in the steaming hot pool. When it got dark, some local families appeared. We taught them English words as they told us we were “beautiful” because of our blonde (me) and red (Helen’s) hair and European-ness. We left with questions of whether or not we were single (the men asked, not the kids) and one of the children giving Helen a necklace for her birthday. Considering they live in shacks with barely complete walls, no electricity and no water, it was really, really sweet. The evening meal was up at the main house - tilapia and rice, lemon mousse and chocolate cake.
Our last days were spent horse-riding (Corinne and I racing round the lake) and brooming the football field. Yes, I did say brooming. Pedro, a sweet old deaf guy, was raking the freshly cut grass all by himself in the rain (they cut it a bit late, on our last day). As we were already wet and had brooms from cleaning out the crocs, we joined in. On our very last day, we said our sad goodbyes, and Monica came with us to Guayaquil. We went to the office, and had tacos for lunch (junk food!!!) and then went to Hotel Alianza, which was in the middle of a residential area, full of gospel-singing Americans, missionaries and palace-sized bathrooms with spa-pool baths. It was bizarre. Yesterday, we all parted ways, and I flew to Quito, where I checked into Hostal del Arupo. The internet cafÃ© I’m in is two minutes down the road, not even that, so I’m quite lucky. I’m just re-sending this before I attempt to find the parques nearby and the museos. Wish me luck!
This sounds so amazing! I know it was a real long time ago, but WOW!