Sunday, March 16, 2008

Posted by Bejat

The Adventure Begins
We arrived in Quito with no problems getting out of the States, what a miracle! As many of you know from our horror stories of the past we have been plagued with all sorts of issues. I could go on for days about the subject, but there is no need. We stayed in a wonderful Hostal in Quito called Alcala, but it had been some time since our last visit. We enjoyed their garden full of blooming vines and orchids alive with hummingbirds. Centered in the Mariscal District we walked around to all our old jaunts and got all our errands taken care of before we were off to the Tiputini Biodiversity Research Station (TBS). Located within the buffer zone of Yasuni National Park and known for it’s extreme biodiversity. Proving to be the most biodiverse place on Earth through the research of scientists from around the world.

Our journey began at 4 am, Wednesday, March 20th, with Shawn and I utilizing private transportation. Once we got all 400+ lbs of gear loaded into the vehicle, there was not enough room for one of us, oops. So, Shawn took the bus and I road with our driver, Walter. It was so nice to not take the bus and not have all our precious equipment on our laps with my knees locked up somewhere around my ears. Pobrecito Shawn. At least he is shorter and he didn’t have to deal with all the gear. The drive takes about ten hours to get to Coca, a growing oil town on the Napo River, traveling through the Andes Mountains down into the lowland rainforest. It is an amazing journey and along the way there is the constant reminder of oil as the pipeline runs along the side of the road above ground directly in front of homes and villages. People use the pipeline to dry their clothes on, to cross over rivers and gorges, and hang out on as if it were their front porch. Sometimes it is their front porch and it is quite disturbing to be witness to such a sight coming from our Western world society.

Excerpt from the journal of Bejat McCracken:
“Like a boa constricting the terrain, the oil pipeline spans across the mountains of Ecuador down into the heart of the lowlands, deep into the heart of Yasuni National Park. Along the way oil spills are evident and the cleanup efforts seem to consist of digging up the oil saturated earth into large plastic bags. Where it goes, I am uncertain, however, in the past it has been found that they were burying these bags. Of course in time they leak and the problem just reoccurs. It is quite sad, but a fact of this day and age due to our dependence on oil. One day, I hope in my lifetime, we will become dependant on renewable clean burning resources. Until that day comes we will continue to see such destruction. With so much invested in the oil industry and the Western world’s idea that it is somehow infinite. I fear for the future of our natural wonders.”

I must say that it is said that they do dispose of their oil properly now; however, corruption exists, therefore anything is possible. Time will verify the truth of the matter. Strangely enough Ecuador has extremely strict environmental laws. These laws are even stricter than that of the United States, however, the funding does not exist to enforce these laws. Without such funding there is no one to act as a watchdog. The companies and people just do as they wish, polluting the land because that seems to be the easy thing to do for the short term.

Once I arrived in Coca, I ran some errands and noticed how the town ha
s grown and cleaned itself up, considering it is an oil town. Our first few visits to Coca we experienced the dirt roads saturated with oil, leftovers from the oil companies. The town was just filthy and the air thick with the smell of carcinogens, sewage and rotting meat. I would not say this was a beautiful place by any means; the stench was enough to knock you to your knees, so one can only imagine the rest. Now it seems to have a different life. The roads are paved and no longer is the oil used to keep the dust down on the dirt roads. There is still the smell of sewage and rotting meat, but it seems to be contained to the market area. Buildings have been completed and there seems to be fewer beggars. I was impressed. It is still not a place I would like to live or even stay for more than one day. We stay at La Mision with all the petroleros (oil workers) and tourists. It is a little out of our price range, but it is safe and located where we need to be with all our gear to board the boat in the morning. One of the richest men in Ecuador owns this Hotel located on the Napo. His money also comes from renting barges to the oil companies at the price of $10,000-$15,000 per month.

This gentleman's mother tends the animals at La Mision and this time it was like a zoo. They had 2 coatis, 1 Saki monkey (photo at upper left), 1 kinkajou, 6 Squirrel monkeys, 10 Amazon land tortoises, 2 peacocks, 1 piping guan and 5 parakeets that had arrived from (what I believe) the black market in Pompeya Sur. This is where the indigenous sell bush meat and the babies of what they hunt. It is sad to say that most likely one third of these animals will be dead, if not more when we return to La Mision in 6 months. What is sadder is to watch them look longingly across the river into the jungle. Something so interesting occurred, however, we observed the 2 coatis grooming the Saki monkey (photo at right) and then they all fell asleep together, against one another, very strange. The poor Saki monkey seemed so lonely, and they probably got it as a baby, so it seems to have adopted the coati. The Saki never came down from the only decent tree the entire time we were there, not even to eat. So, from the second floor I reached out and placed a banana on the branches of the tree. This is not exactly what they eat, but it was all I had. The Saki monkey ate it as if it were starved. I was so happy to get on the boat and get the hell out of there.

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