Tag Archives: jungle

Doctor! Doctor! I think I swallowed a parasite

I debated whether to include this post, whether to blog about more private, gross moments of travelling. The Guardian’s advice on travel blogging is to ‘avoid tales of personal mishaps – missed buses, diarrhoea, rain – unless pertinent to the story’. I read it too late.  I have already written about my stomach grumbles on a couple of occasions. Why stop now? Realistically, not everything about travelling is to do with sunsets and social times; some parts are about being ill and weak and by yourself. This is real life, real travelling.

Roberto (yet another Roberto!), one of the guys running the show at Hostal Transilvania, Baños had said to me: ‘Go to the doctor. No drink beer. No good for stomach.’ He was concerned. ‘Tal vez proxima semana’, I told him. I could wait a week, I thought. Everyone gets tummy bugs. They pass.

I had another really rough night and was woken at 6:00 am by yet another marching band and startling fireworks. I felt weak and tired and bored of the gurgling and bloating and peeing out of my arse. I cancelled my morning meet-up and decided: it was time.

Roberto ordered a taxi and came with me to the doctors, a big, empty building with a wide view of the snowcapped Tungurahua volcano and friendly staff with a good grasp of English. Initial consultations over with nurse then doctor, I then had to…ahem… produce a sample to assess whether it was parasitical, bacterial or fungal. And, after days and days of explosive activity, it just wouldn’t happen. The irony. I gulped down water, walked around the bathroom, massaged my bloated belly, visualised. Nothing. I could hear the doctor and nurse and Roberto outside and I wanted to scream at my body ‘just work with me’.

Eventually, they were able to run some tests, and sure enough, I had picked up two loads of waterborne parasites (Quistes de Ameba histolitica and Quistes de Giardia Lamblia) and they were having a party in my gut. The doctor suggested I could have caught them when swimming in the jungle or from eating contaminated food. Unlucky.

 

Loaded up with pills and prescriptions (and drawings of the ‘funny’ parasites, thank you nurse), I paid my $23 and taxied back. ‘Tomorrow you will start to feel better’, the doctor said. I couldn’t wait.

The medicine (Metronidazole 500g) made me seriously sleepy. My mouth peeled inside and to start with I felt nauseous. But it made me better. By day three I was starting to feel back on form. Adios giardiasis. Chao amebas.

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…and search me again, military men…

It had barely been twenty minutes and we were stopped. The bus route did take us very close to the Colombian border and I should have been used to it by now, but this was a full on military operation.

We filed off of the bus, extranjeros directed one way, Ecuadorians the other, all checked before being allowed to progress to the ‘other side’. Us tourists got a more official interrogation, having to give details and sign official paperwork, and for the first time my photocopied passport wasn’t accepted. In fact, the guard was completely unamused by it, so I scrabbled about in my bag for the real one and then once I was given the nod, squeezed in among the Ecuadorians hugging the small strip of shade by the wall. The Israeli boys got a tough time but finally were let through what felt more and more like a border crossing.

The second stop came fifteen minutes later, with some guys in uniform sternly shouting everyone off as the others stood around stiffly, shortened M16 rifles slung across their chests. Males and females were split up and I got stuck behind three teenage girls who were given an intense, extended grilling. Maybe they are the most likely drug mules? I imagined being fifteen and flattered by an older guy, my moral compass not yet fully secure. It could seem exciting at that age, like the stuff of movies, and the potential repercussions would seem unimaginable, so unlikely to actually happen. Recently I read up on the women’s prison in Quito where many of the girls are in for drug trafficking. Many of them state being coerced into carrying huge stashes of drugs, putting themselves in a vulnerable situation, both legally and health-wise (think condoms crammed with coke stashed inside their bodies).

Back to the military stop and the hot sun on the road from Lago Agrio, and the girls were allowed back on to the bus. The men in uniform barely glanced at my passport this time around. It was nice to not feel suspected for once.

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Chasing cayman and other ethical dilemmas

I’m in the process of putting together an article on some of the activities and elements of the jungle experience that some people find questionable, that some people in my group objected to, that I at times found a bit of a struggle.

It’s really difficult to balance up the need to educate and promote the jungle and attract tourists (partially to help it survive the battle against felling that has already happened following the discovery of oil in the region) alongside the need to preserve the flora and fauna and protect it from human influence.

I’ll post the article on the site at some point soon.

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Sounds of the jungle

Crickets and other insects provide the constant orchestral baseline for the jungle soundtrack. The accompaniment is, however, surprisingly sparse during the day, with the odd bird, monkey or frog adding to the score (and don’t forget the ducks, yes ducks, that almost feel too familiar and domestic for a jungle setting). There is some percussion in the form of the odd splash of cayman taking to water and turtles diving in off of their basking spot and fish jumping into the air and smacking the water surface as they fall again.

The rain arrives on day three, and the constant drip drip sounds heavier on the plastic roof of the kitchen. Long after the showers have finished, water channels down through dense foliage and tricks you intothinking it  is still raining as big fat drops fall from the leaves and land in your path. Paddling the canoe in the rain is a multi-sensory experience with light sploshes to your face (the rest of your head and body protected by an oversized poncho), and the ones that miss you hit the water and ripple out and out. Walking in the rain feels great, – the jungle a grown up playground where you can jump in puddles and stomp through mud and free your wellies with a satisfying squelch.

On trips out in the canoe the engine hums at different frequencies as the driver full throttles ahead on deeper, familiar stretches of the river, or dips the engine completely to navigate the shallows. Occasionally, grinding over the riverbed in the extreme low water you can hear the crunch of breaking branches as the engine is first fully engaged, then killed. The boat holds together, gliding quietly for a moment  before the engine kicks back in. The main sound when paddling the smaller canoe is the gentle splashes of the oars dipping in and out of the water. In rare moments, – when we are all in sync, in harmony, – it is hypnotic.

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If you go down to the woods tonight…

The jungle at night is not somewhere you’d want to be by yourself, our guide told us. Scorpions, spiders and other dangerous creepy crawlies and animals make their way out of hiding when dusk falls. One wrong move could put you, at the very least, in some serious pain.

Head torches on, we walked single file and slowly through jungle pathways, flashing our lights everywhere to avoid stepping on bugs or bumping into snakes or spiders hanging from the trees. But we also walked slowly in order to spot things.

Nearly walking into a shiny spider thread, I followed it with my torch to a perfectly formed web on which sat a huge spinning spider. This was the first of many.

© Eran Samocha and Chen Cohen

Others spotted dart frogs, a cluster of rash inducing hairy caterpillars, tree frogs, a tarantula. We saw scorpions, an anaconda, giant grasshoppers and the stickest stick inset I’ve ever seen. We didn’t see any wild cats or boars but with ten of us walking in succession, it was never really an option.

Switching off our torches to listen and adjust to the natural jungle environment was a magical moment. No speaking, no shuffling, – just the buzz of the insects, a musty, earthy smell and the warm heat rising from the ground.

© Eran Samocha and Chen Cohen

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Welcome to the jungle (we got fun and games and good food)

The bus whizzed away from Lago Agrio at scary speeds past the DESPACIO sign, past the ESCUELA sign, and onwards into the jungle along a road bordered by thick, rusty oil pipes and vast vegetation.

Two hours later my group of ten arrived at El Puente where we loaded up our bags onto a motorised canoe and clambered on board. The sun beat down and the breeze was minimal and the little wooden benches were hard, but as we travelled down the Cuyabeno river I was transported to a happy headspace. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a movie – with all the varied landscape it could have been a horror, an action-adventure, an exotic romance– and then I pinched myself and thought – this is freakin’ real! – this is actually my life!

Heading down to the lodge

The journey took us past old, hairy trees with gangly, gnarly roots exposed by the low water levels of the dry season. Social yellow butterflies hung out in groups of twenty, thirty, more, and giant Blue Morpho butterflies gently fluttered by along the river banks, visible from far away as the sun caught their colourful backs.

All sorts of things stuck out of the brown, murky water and appeared to be snakes or birds or the tops of caymans’ snouts until you got closer and realised they were just, well, sticks and stones and leaves. Without our guide, Jairo, we would have missed the majority of wildlife. His keen eye, fine tuned to the jungle backdrop, sought out anacondas and yellow-headed vultures and stinky turkeys and yellow-spotted river turtles. We stopped the engine on a couple of occasions to watch squirrel monkeys, yellow-handed titi monkeys and black-mantled tamarins scramble through the trees. All this and we had yet to arrive at our destination, Samona Lodge.

Spot the monkey

After two hours I was ready to get off the boat, my clothes sweaty and my bum pretty numb. The humidity was high and the bugs and insects were starting to come out as dusk approached (although the cockroach in my bed was by far the worst I had to deal with, even more so than the baby tarantula on the hand railing). I got shown to my shared room inside a naturally vented wooden hut, and to my lower bunk bed which was surrounded by a mosquito net.

Slapping on the insect repellent and grabbing my torch, I headed to supper around a candlelit table and prepared for some days without electricity. Over a delicious quinoa soup, Jairo told us of the plans for the next few days, which included hiking, walking, fishing, swimming, and siestas. After more great food (I’m now of the opinion that yucca is so much better than potato) I swung in a hammock in the central social area, my batteries already massively recharged, and I realised that I’d fallen in love with butterflies. Who would have guessed?!

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