Friday, October 31, 2008

View of Dayuma from the Via Auca

Posted by Bejat

We are back in the primary rainforest here at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (TBS). The forest is like a magnificent dream and the camp has this romantically rustic feel. It is magically enchanting, like I have entered a fairy tale passing thru a secret porthole known as the Rio Tiputini.

Our trip to Dayuma on the Via Auca was cut short due to the lack of Aechmea zebrina bromeliads. What is left of the forest there is mostly secondary growth with small patches of primary growth. It appears that nearly all of the emergent trees have been excavated. Shawn and I agree that all hardwood trees were removed years ago as we witnessed their enormous trunks bundled high on large semi trucks.

This area is only 20 miles from a tree Shawn climbed at the Catolica Research Station, yet there were no Aechmea zebrina bromeliads. Shawn has found a previous project where scientists pinpointed the occurrence of Aechmea zebrina and they exist all around the Via Auca in a continuous circle, but not along this road or any adjacent roads. We can only assume that the lack of habitat, whether it be the lack of trees for growth and/or humidity due to transpiration (
process by which water that is absorbed by plants, usually through the roots, is evaporated into the atmosphere from the plant surface - Riverweb Glossary) of a healthy forest has caused their extermination. Contamination, less rainfall and hotter temperatures could also potentially be at cause. The dust from the roads rises up into the existing vegetation and coats it with the fine particulates of dust choking their ability to breath, which we believe is another contributing factor.

We were witness to what one often only reads about, like excessive oil spills, rivers coated with black sludge with years of oil running through them, miles of trees fallen to the ground and burning forests. We were living in modest conditions with the colonists in Dayuma, a growing community due to the influx of oil. The people of Dayuma are extremely kind, however poor they may be, they are rich in love. They are non-judgmental and open their hearts and doors to complete strangers. Although I was shocked by our living conditions, the people inspired me to look beyond and into the lives of their existence. Our host family was welcoming, making our experience lovely. However, I must mention the slight misfortune of my sleeping conditions. When it would rain my bed would become saturated. Luckily we experience within the first few days that we could not unpack anything, that it should remain in plastic bags since half of our room leaked heavily.

Our days consisted of walking along the Via Auca and dirt roads to oil wells for 50 kilometers in the blistering heat looking for Aechemea zebrina bromeliads. We did not find even one! We found other types of bromeliads and epiphytes, but not the abundance one would find in a pristine or even disturbed forest. I did not see an abundance of orchids either. I did see a few populations of the hearty Maxillaria and Oncidium in less disturbed areas. We saw one forest mammal, an Agouti, on the road to Pindo. Otherwise it was dogs, cats, chickens, cows, horses, mules, pigs and cock-fighting roosters. Roosters so large that I feared for my safety at times when walking alone. The dogs were no better chasing us down the roads barking. We would pretend to pick up a rock or act as if we were throwing a rock at the vicious dogs and this would send them running, or at least stop the attack. Our observation of children using this technique provided the idea to adopt it as a ritual-like motion when passing the farms along these roads.

The dust rising from the roads with each passing truck, semi, bus or rancherra rose high into the air, clogging our noses and pores. The sun was so blazing hot that even with 30 plus sunscreen, hats and umbrellas we all received red skin. At the end of the day all we wanted was a cold shower at the restaurant on the other side of town. We would walk back to our rooms retrieving an ice cold coke along the way and sit on the porch watching the pigs below in the chancerra (pig pen). The wafting smell of the pigs was something less to be desired, but at least better than the bathroom. I preferred to use the forest honestly. We would then walk to the other side of town to use the shower that was shared with all the petroleras and family. Fortunately, there was a door on the shower. Then we would dress in the shower and return to our rooms. Shawn would evaluate his saved Google Earth imagery that he has over-layed with other satellite imagery to determine where we would survey the next day.

We would eat at 7pm and return to our rooms to watch season 3 and 4 of Lost on DVDs that we borrowed from fellow researchers at TBS. We would watch a few episodes and get to bed a decent hour for an early rise. In the morning we ate our breakfast at D'Davids and visited the Pandaria to pick up some bread for lunch. On our way out of town we bought fruit at a small fruit stand. Bread and fruit was our daily lunch.

Shawn's new assistant Kenny arrived from Florida. He is a riot, I can tell already that we are all going to have a wonderful adventure together. Although he does not speak Spanish, he gets by and managed to get himself to Coca. Shawn took a day and traveled to Coca to retrieve him from the airport. Alfredo and I went out looking for bromeliads on the road to Pindo. We made it to a town called Santa Rosa where we turned off the main road onto a muddy less traveled road leading us to the Rio Tiputini. We climbed up muddy hillsides looking far beyond the reaches of our binoculars across the Rio Tiputini. Even using our cameras to photograph trees, zooming in on the photos to determine the species of bromeliads. Unbelievably no Achemea zebrina. We were quite far out on this road and it was getting late so we had to walk as quickly as possible to catch transportation back to town. If not we would be returning shortly before midnight without any light. I think we caught the last ride possible with a petrolera that was exceptionally talkative. He told us about his family, his experience traveling in Spain and his work. He spoke so quickly it was very difficult to understand him and all I could do was listen intently and ask Alfredo for some translation every so often when he took a moment to breath.

After nearly being abducted by the Waorani inside the park boundaries of Dabo’s community, we felt we had the sign we needed to just move on to our next location. The oil company representative and some quick thinking on my part saved us from Waorani incarceration. This kind gentleman was from the Chinese company that is in charge of relations. We had this great idea that we would go directly to the end of the Pindo Road and access Yasuni National Park. We had hoped that we would be successful but only found that the Waorani were displeased by our entry and set a roadblock. As we were walking a representative from the oil company drove by and said that we were trespassing and the Waorani were furious We did not know about these “rules”, so the representative picked us up in the bed of his truck taking us around the corner where the roadblock was in place just for us. Wow, now we felt special. This was Kenny’s first day of work. I spoke with the Waorani and told them how Bolivar said it would be okay to visit this region and that we were friends with him, Tihue, Nambi and others along the Via Maxis. After we discussed the matter everything seemed to be okay as long as we agreed not to return. So we left.

On our final day we hiked the Puma Road where the pipelines have been removed because the wells have become unproductive. As usual I was running behind, taking photos and wandering about looking into the farms, into the lives of the people along the Via Auca. The farms along the Puma Road have been in existence for many more years than the other roads; therefore they were larger and more defined in their space. The homes were painted and landscaped, surrounded by pasture or fields. Some of these fields were on fire, burning along the landscape, filling the sky in eminent darkness. My heart sank at the sight of it and the heat rising from the fire was edging on my ebbing anger.

For lunch Alfredo picked fruit, Guayabas, along the road for us to eat. As we ate without care, Kenny noticed they were infested with worms. We immediately looked at Alfredo and remarked, "THANKS Alfredo!" I was especially pleased with my worm fruit and proceeded to give him a hard time about it. Poor Shawn probably ate about 3 or 4 of them. Ewwww, worm protein. Shawn and I ,at that point, had intestinal worms again and had to take the de-wormer once again. So the worm fruit did not go over well. Granted it’s not the same type of worms, but the thought of it was just too much.

We spent about 8 or 9 hours a day walking the road for a few weeks until Shawn said that it was hopeless and we should return to TBS. All we wanted was to find one Aechmea zebrina. It just did not seem possible that we could not find at least one. Baffling. We were uncertain at times if we were living in reality, maybe due to the sun, but also due to this inconceivable truth. We packed up or gear and returned to TBS.

Days of walking, hitch hiking and looking for the infamous bromeliads left us all dazed and confused. I had people yelling at me from afar “Hola Gringa!” This persisted day and night. A child tried to sell me his Yellow-Footed Amazon Tortoise. I explained that I was not interested that I only wanted to see them in the wild and documented the scene sneakily by taking a photo without their knowledge. I was offered beer, rides within the cabs of trucks in the air conditioning, while the guys sat in the tailgate with other hitch hikers, sometimes in the pouring rain. I appreciated riding in the cab, because the river rock roads are incredibly hard on the body.

People along the road were very kind and offered advice, directions and friendly discussion. There was no sense of urgency, only the sense of self. After 50 kilometers, which is equivalent to 31 miles, I had taken 6,000 plus photos and found the truth behind rainforest destruction, human survival.

This is the story of living along the Via AUCA:

Pipelines along the Via Auca

Pipelines leading to the PetroEcuador
central processing facility on the Via Auca.

Old pipeline capped along the Via Auca.

Horse grazing on what once was rainforest along the Via Auca.

Old pipelines along the Via Auca.

Pipelines that runs from the multitude of wells
along the Via Auca.

Shawn and Bejat take a cold beverage break
after hiking for many hours on the Via Auca.

Oil spill in front of this families home along the Via Auca.

Sign stating that it is dangerous to use or drink the water
nearby due to a reinjection well.

Alfredo and Shawn looking for
Aechmea zebrina on the Via Auca.

Contaminated ground and water
due to a previous oil spill.

Oil spill cleanup efforts have these men hard at work turning
the soil by hand to remove the contaminated dirt.

Yellow-footed Tortoise found within primary rainforest
is for sale along the Via Auca.

Billboard stating that trafficking of any species is illegal,
that the province of Orellana without Yasuni is not Orellana.

Pipelines running over a small contaminated stream
along the Via Auca.

Dust and heat rising from a gravel road leading to Pindo.

Semi truck passing Alfredo and Shawn on the road to Pindo.

Dust rising from the public transportation
bus on the road to Pindo.

Pipeline leading from a well over a small shallow stream
exhibiting the oil coated rocks beneath.

AUC well #13 leaking on the road to Pindo.

We found many other species of bromeliads,
but no Aechmea zebrina.

Pipeline running a few feet in front of this family's
home on the road to Pindo.

Cleared and recently burned pasture land
that was once rainforest as little as 30 years ago.

Oropendola nests in an open pasture along the road to Pindo.

Deforestation for bananas, coffee, yucca, guabana
and corn on the road to Pindo.

Deforestation for pastures on the Pindo Road.

Dust and emissions from this gas filled semi truck
chokes the vegetation.

Multi-directional well site on the road to Pindo.

The sun was setting as we race to get back before nightfall.

Neighbor across from our rented room looking out her kitchen window.

Summer Institute of Linguistics Evangelical missionary church in Dayuma.

Pandaria that we visited daily in Dayuma.

Our daily lunch is being delivered from the owner.

Fruit stand where we bought our lunch in Dayuma.

Argentinean owned processing facility in Pindo.

Flares burning excess natural gas and waste
from processing the heavy crude oil.

Coffee beans drying in the sun in the small town of Pindo.

Unfinished and abandoned home along the Pindo Road.

Detail of unfinished and abandoned home.

Unusual observation on the Pindo Road.

MAS? (click to enlarge any of the photos)

Pipeline, bridge and the Rio Tiputini on the Pindo Road.

Shawn looking for Aechmea zebrina.

Slash and burned rainforest on the Pindo Road near Santa Rosa.

The ground was still hot after being recently slashed and burned.

Sun setting on Dayuma.

The watermelon man gives us directions.

Oil tank rumbles through the center of Dayuma,
towering above the rooftops.

"Yes, There are cold oranges" states the sign
of the orange and juice vendor.

P29 INY/08 well leaking on an unnamed road leading to several wells.

Shawn working on his computer in our humble abode
looking for possible Aechmea zebrina locations.

Alfredo relaxing in his room after a long day.

Stairs leading to the second floor of our accommodations.

View from our balcony.

Children playing in the dirt along the Via Auca in Dayuma.

Fallen trees fronted by hybrid bananas
before entering Yasuni National Park.

Bee nest constructed of dead leaves.

Bat hanging on a barbwire fence overlooking a large Chinese oil well
inside Yasuni National Park, within Waorani territory.

Fallen tree over several pipelines
that has been planked for use by chainsaws.

Waorani clearing land within the National Park.

New house on the Pindo Road.

Sweat Bee Nest.

Children transporting produce.

Children transporting produce over a bridge with pipeline.

Emergent tree that has been taken and planked out for use.

Planked wood waiting for transport to town where it will be sold.

Several large emergent trees have been taken and planked with chainsaws.

Mule dung is a fresh commodity.

A new well is excavated at this drilling platform.

Walking through the site of the drilling platform.

The butcher, Antony, in Dayuma.

Butchering a cow for a local farmer.

Weighing each cut.

Neighbors to the right of our accommodations.

Kitchen sink.

Shawn McCracken.

Eduardo feeds his pigs below our living accommodations.

Neighbor across from us rinses her dishes.

Fresh cut bananas resting over the pipeline along the Via Auca.

Tar tank and structure for paving the Via Auca.

Runoff from the road provides water
used to wash clothes along the Via Auca.

Play set on school grounds on the Puma Road.

Established farm house surrounded by aloe vera on the Puma Road.

Boots place out to dry on the Puma Road.

Piglets nursing on the Puma Road.

Structure left from the pipeline that has been removed.

Burning fields for cow pasture.

Replenishing the soil with nutrients can only do so much
for this nutrient poor soil.

This fire will burn without limitations if left unattended.

Our shared shower.

View of our accommodations from the backside.

Diego and Alfredo.

D'David's Resturant and Hostal.

Our living accommodations from the front (street side).

Our toilet.

Tank of water used with gallon jugs to flush the toilet.

Kenny, Shawn, Eduardo, Margarita, Alfredo and Diego in front of D' David 2.

Oil spill directly behind the community of Dayuma.

Closeup of Oil spill that is floating in a swamp
visable from the road that runs through the middle of town.