Sunday, October 24, 2010

NHESP 2010 Update 7

Left to right standing: Hannah, Jake, Dylan, Hakeem, Gabe, Shiram, Armin
kneeling: Michael, Tupac, Carina, Marcela, Pedro, Julia, Connor, Iyla

Dear readers,

It was tough saying our farewells to the families in Zuleta, especially to German and Antonio. They were a goofy duo who were highly amused by teasing and playing pranks on every one of us. Just as our group began to settle into the rhythm and comfort of home in Zuleta, having just unpacked our bags 4 days ago, a bus to the city of Cayambe -- the city of bizcochos -- was awaiting our departure. This nomadic pattern of 3 to 4 days here and 3 to 4 days there, was preparing us for constantly moving through the bush jungles. Hugs, shakes, and some newly acquired gestures were shared before  we set off.
With heads out the windows, as if we were dogs licking the wind, we looked back at (the not quite discovered) town of Zuleta, wondering if we would ever experience a moment of showing up again one day and seeing German artfully crafting his leather and saying, “Buenos Dias!” The bus ride to Cayambe was not much fun. Some of us had queasy stomachs due to a recent fast followed by a feast, which we undertook as a group when we took part in slaughtering a pig. In Cayambe, the buttery scent of bizcochos lit our nostrils before our “venus llanera” (Ecuadorian made boots) took us around a corner to a courtyard. Some indulged in numerous trips to the toilet.  However, we all indulged in plates of Cayambe’s traditional dish of sugary, fluffy, floury bizcochos.
Bathing in the hot springs of Oyacachi
Much to our surprise, a familiar face arrived in the courtyard where we were gorging. Francisco Dammer (Michael, Thomas and Mathias’s father) brought letters from friends and families to our crew. (Thank you all for writing!!) While letters, postcards, and memories floated around, once again it became time to go, so we relocated our meandering minds and found our space in the present. We loaded up two hired pickup trucks with packs, new supplies, and ourselves, said our goodbyes to Francisco, and were off. We went onto a gravel road. At one point, our highest elevation on the narrow winding roads reached 4,000m., a little less than Mt Pasochoa.
We soon reached the land of water and the small, isolated town of Oyacachi. Cold, fog, dense foliage, and flowers welcomed us to the stunning town, along with Carolina and Frankilins (our hospitable hosts). We settled in quickly and made our way to Oyacachi’s well known attraction: natural, volcanic hot springs. There is a rule of thumb when you bathe in Oyacachi’s volcanic springs; you have to make your way into the rumbling river 7 times after coming out of the hot pools. This is said to purify your body with minerals and strengthen your immune and nervous system by going in and out of the polar temperatures. After drying off and getting into our comforting, warm clothes, we made our way to a local restaurant where we were served trout alongside sweet onions and tomatoes for dinner. Shortly after, we called it a night.
Connor's first attempts at creating a bowl
The next morning, we woke with the sun and went right into chores helping Carolina around the house and garden and milking the cows. We had a delicious breakfast of pristinnos (doughnuts), typical at an Ecuadorian breakfast, and colada de avena, an oatmeal-like food. After washing our bowls and group dishes, we had a lengthy chunk of solo time; three hours to roam Oyacachi. People came back with adventurous tales of stalking deer, climbing mountains, crossing rivers, and meeting old wise men in the brush. After sharing our experiences, we had a brief pop quiz to review permaculture, Social Realism, Spanish, and Ecuadorian anthropology.
Bowls are taking shape
Next we started our project carving wooden bowls. We met Hector, a sculptor whose artistic career has taken him as far as Quito. He has expositions in the capital, making life-size carvings of spectacled bears, the revered animal of Oyacachi. We met Messias and Alejandro, two other sculptors, who are mute and deaf. It is said there is a bacteria in the water that often results in deformation or other disorders among the local people. The aliso tree, we would use for our bowls, was cut and then halved the day before carving. We started by drawing the basic shapes of our bowls, then used axes and axed out the shape as much as we could.  When we found the appropriate shape, we used machetes to separate each bowl from the larger piece of wood. The next step was to use a sculpting tool called an azuela to gut the bowl. Much help came from our talented teachers. The finishing step was to sand and wood-burn a design. It took us each a day and a half to make a single bowl. Messias and Alejandro said they could bang out 20 a day. We wrapped up our final night by having a wonderful dinner at Carolina’s of chieppers, onions, ice, and the remainder of the pork, we had brought from Zuleta.
Hiking through the jungle
The next morning, we had an early start, said our farewells and began to hike. We first hiked 11km out of Oyacachi, joined another trail and did another 11km. In total we hiked 14 miles, then camped on the Cedro River. Here we had a day layover, where we unsuccessfully fished, then cooked and explored the nearby cliffs. The next day, we hiked 4 ½ miles through pretty rough terrain. We crossed a few decaying bridges where we had to harness and rope up. It was a long day and we hiked for 12 hours into the night, each time descending more into jungle terrain. We slept near the Santa Maria River, ate a late dinner and had a thorough sleep. This week, we will be catarafting and kayaking down the headwaters of the Napo River and then doing a half day trek to the native jungle community of Shiwacocha. You will hear from me next when we get back to Palugo, next Thursday, after this first month-long expedition.

Hasta Luego!  Hakeem

Poem of the week
By Dylan

More than a simple forgotten walk, an adventure filled with joy exhaling out of the souls of one another. A mesmerization of wonder to see leaves as big as people and trees as tall as buildings and birds just as colorful as a painting in a museum. It was more than a trek, it was a voyage of learning.

Iyla, Hannah and Shiram ooling off

A drenched but happy Jake

Spanish 101
River: Rio
Bridge: Puente
To fish: Pescar
Jungle: Selva
Tree: Arbol
Monkey: Mono

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