The Amazon.....

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August 26th 2012
Published: September 2nd 2012
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I've been volunteering in the Amazon for over 2 months now. I've got my fair share of bites, stings and blisters, I'm exhausted from the lack of sleep, early mornings and strenuous treks, starved of any meat/cheese and generally any food that has taste or isn't beans! So, my weekend off that I returned from a few days back couldn't have come any sooner! Despite the hardships it's all been worth it though, what I've experienced in 2 months will be hard to top in my last month.

Anyway, a bit about what I'm actually doing here....

The organisation I've been volunteering with are called GVI and they have projects running in most continents, normally focusing on education and development in third world countries. This one however, is different to most (although there is still the aim of teaching English at the schools here and helping with development), they work with an Ecuadorian partner called The Yachana Foundation. Yachana was started by an American entrepreneur who built an ecolodge and bought a patch of rain forest that he was able to declare as a protected reserve. GVI study the wildlife in the reserve and also offer English lessons to the schools in nearby villages. Despite the protected status of the reserve, a road was built right through the bottom third of it about 2yrs ago and the aim of the surveys that I'm involved in each day is to get sufficient data to compare the diversity of wildlife now to before the road was built to see what kind of an effect it's had.
It's recently come to light that this road will be tarmaced and also widened, so it's important to get as much data as possible now and after to illustrate the effect the road will inevitably have on the many different species in the reserve. Tarmacing a road seems like it'd have little to no bad side affects but it's surprising how much it would do. At the moment the road is just a pile of rocks and so vehicles can't drive more than 10mph but making the road smoother will enable cars to speed up a lot more creating a lot more road kill, the road will become more popular (it's the only "road" for miles and miles) and more people on it will create more rubbish and pollution. The research camp is closing down at the end of September so we're trying to get as much research done as possible.
Base camp is set next to a wide fast moving river called the Rio Napo. The actual camp is up some 260 steps from the waters edge, so you don't actually get to see the river unless you make the long walk down to port and if you swam in it your likely to get taken far away by the current.

A typical day at camp goes as follows -

Breakfast at 6:30am (normally porridge. Brown sugar makes this bowl of tastelessness edible. A much needed coffee too!

Head out for a survey at 7:30am

Snack at 10:00am

Another survey at 10:30am

Lunch at 12:30am

Another survey at 13:30pm

Dinner at 18:00pm

Sometimes a night survey at 19:30pm

Back at 12pm, shower, hot drink....then bed!

In my first month there was 17 volunteers but 13 of them left about a month ago and 4 new ones joined making a total of 8 along with 5 staff members. The original 13 were mostly American with a few English and Australians too. It's strange them not being around anymore. We have a completely different set of people here now and it's really quiet compared to before. A typical week consists of various surveys each day Monday through to Friday, a canoe ride to the local market down river on Saturday mornings and football on Sundays at a nearby village.
We normally do 2 surveys a day, which could include setting up butterfly traps/checking them and identifying what has been caught, long walks down the road to record what birds we see which are normally huge vultures, toucans (occasionally), wood peckers, hawks, falcons and countless more that are much less known to people like me. Another type of survey we do is called a VES, which most people aren't keen on as it involves going out in the jungle at night and basically scrabbling through thick vegetation looking for frogs, snakes and lizards. The idea of a VES is to form an arrow shape using 6 people roughly 2 metres apart from each other walking at a steady pace. You have to treck quite far sometimes to reach the starting point, so you're hot before you even start. We have a time limit of 2 and a half hours to walk 500 metres and although that sounds like plenty of time and a short distance to cover, your constantly having to climb over fallen trees, dodge pit falls in the ground, avoid big spider webs, spikey trees, trees with horrible spiders/bullet ants on and other thingst8p. It can seem claustrophobic at times and battling all of these obstacles and staying in a straight line is pretty tough. To help keep on track the person leading up front checks the GPS every now and then and shouts out an updated compass bearing for us all to follow. Another obstacle that makes it hard walking through the jungle, during day time too, is all of the tree roots (I know...who'd have thought there'd be roots in the jungle) and also the vines that seem to be out to get you all of the time. I've been so pissed off at times from being tangled up in vines or being tripped over by tree roots that I spaz out and rip them down from trees or pull em out of the ground, it might take me a while sometimes but when I do rip them out I throw them as far as I can whilst simultaneously calling them a twat or other words I feel are applicable. It's definitely the toughest survey to do and it's understandable why a lot of people don't like doing it and have requested not to do them anymore but at the same time it's the best survey to do in terms of seeing amphibians/reptiles and just cool stuff in general really.

A chap I worked with before leaving for Ecuador called Neil had spent some of his working life in the forces based in tropical rain forests. He advised me to watch out for the "bastard trees", a tree covered in spikes and if grabbed results in the person shouting......ouch, you bastard!!! These kinds of trees are all too common here and unfortunately, even with a heads up from Neil I've drawn my fair share of blood from these.....bastards.

Another night time survey is a stream walk in which we all treck to a stream in the jungle and as the name suggests you walk through it, for 4hrs or so. I didn't expect it to be so cold but being in the water for that amount of time at night you're pretty much shivering when you get out. It can get chest high in some places which takes a bit of getting used to and a few weeks back we had to swim in a really deep stream and almost lost our wellies. The animals commonly sited on these surveys are again mostly frogs and snakes but also sleeping birds sometimes, which is really cool as you can get right up close to them and they haven't even got a clue. You can also find Caimen in the streams but I haven't been lucky enough to see one yet. During last month with the previous volunteers I was a bit pissed off because every other group that went out on a stream walk saw a bunch of venomous snakes and I hadn't seen any, I particularly wanted to see a Ferdelance (the snake that's killed most people in Central & South America). It came time for our last stream walk before the old volunteers left and I really didn't think I'd see one because there were less of us to keep an eye out for them and I'm just not very good at spotting wildlife at the best of times anyway. So, confident enough that I wouldn't see one I stupidly said I'd put a Tailless Whip Scorpion on my face if we did, and as I'm sure you've guessed already we ended up seeing a Ferdelance. It was a tiny one curled up on a leaf and unfortunately my camera was being a twat so I didn't get a good enough pic. I stayed quiet hoping that people had forgotten about the bet but as soon as a Whip Scorpion was spotted by Carl, he reminded everyone and I was doomed. Weirdly enough, putting these things on your face is a common occurrence here, many volunteers do it when they go on a stream walk and although they're completely harmless they do look pretty nasty.

My fear of spiders started when I was maybe 7 or 8. Me and my brother Kev were at my Nan's house in Dagenham and were playing with one of those tiny but really bouncey rubber balls in the garden. The ball went down the side of her house between 2 long hedges and I ran after it not realising that a chunky garden spider had made it's web across the hedges and was sitting smack bang in the middle of it. Needless to say I screamed like a girl when the web wrapped around my face placing the spider on my forehead. Pretty much since then I've been afraid of spiders and when growing up if I had a spider in my room I'd have to get my Dad to resolve the situation, or if he wasn't around then I'd get the hoover out with the longest attachment possible. I'm not sure how but in the last 2yrs or so I've been able to handle them a bit better, actually choosing not to kill them and occasionally catching them with the old classic glass and postcard method. Last year my cousins visited us from New York and we all went to a Butterfly park close by to my home town. They had a few exotic animals too like snakes and spiders and I ended up holding a tarantula. I think I found it easy to do because it barely moved and that's the thing I don't like about spiders, the way they move and the faster they are the more scary they are to me.
The Tailless Whip Scorpion isn't a spider or a scorpion, it's some kind of species in between the two but it looks very much like a spider and they can be quite large in size too, sometimes hand size and with 2 front legs up to 8 inches long. Having it on my face wasn't as bad as I was expecting it to be and I'm kind of proud of myself for doing it. Anyway, more on spiders later....

Everybody looks forward to market day on Saturdays because it's a chance to stock up on chocolate, eat enpanadas (melted cheese surrounded by doughnut batter), eat chicken and buy beers for later that evening, which is the only time we're aloud to drink beer. Sunday mornings we get up a lot later than usual, around 9 and eat scrambled eggs on toast which is a welcome change to porridge every day. Later that day, those who are interested can walk to the nearby village of Puerto Rico to play football. If the pitch is water logged then the locals tend not to turn up but if it's dry then we sometimes end up with quite a big game of football. As all of my friends know, football is not exactly one of my strong points (can do about 2 keepy upy's), so here I've resorted to pure defence at the back and somehow I've managed to gain the nickname of "Iron Curtain Steve" for my skill of not letting people past me or just generally being a nuisance to the opposition. Normally the pitch is too wet so we have smaller games amongst ourselves and get completely covered in mud. It's so slippery that even the skilled player is brought down to my level, it's just a lot more fun this way. Afterwards we stop by the Napo river to wash the worst of the mud off. The river is low at the edges but so fast flowing that I have to anchor my feet in the rocks to stop myself from being taken by the current, it wouldn't really be an issue if you were taken away though, it'd just mean that when you do finally get back to the bank further down river you'd have to walk all the way back to where everyone else is.
I really wanted to do some fishing here but it's not been as easy as I thought. 4 of us went about 5 weeks ago to a smaller river that runs through the reserve but we didn't catch a thing. I found some large beetle grubs in decaying trees too which should have been perfect bait but for some reason the fish weren't biting. I'll try again soon with the new volunteers and see what happens.

It's not quite as humid here as I thought it would be, in fact it's barely humid at all. During the day around camp it can get really hot sometimes and it zaps all of the energy out of you, but if you're on a survey then your likely to be in the jungle under thick canopy which blocks out all of the sun light and makes it quite a bit cooler. However, you do a lot of strenuous walking up slopes with heavy wellies on so your normally always dripping with sweat anyway. Because of my pre-departure misconceptions about the hot humid jungle, I was expecting the cold showers to be quite refreshing....oh how wrong was I. We're only allowed one shower a day due to limited running water so normally you'd have your shower in the evening after you've done all of your surveys for the day and it's surprisingly chilly here at night, making the cold showers rather uninviting. Everyone has their own way of braving the cold water, I myself like to flick water at myself so that when I take the plunge it's not so much of a shock. My friend Rosie has an amusing method where she counts down from 3 but surprises herself by going in on 2! The one time I don't mind a late night shower is after going out on a VES where you get covered in crap from the jungle. Sometimes, depending how long you stand still in dense vegetation, you get ants crawling on you and things in your hair and under your clothes and a shower afterwards is always appreciated, even a cold one.

Insects are a big part of the jungle, from huge colourful butterflies to multicoloured crickets, 4 inch cockroaches and of course no jungle is complete without mosquitos. There weren't many about during my first month here but when I came back to camp from my weekend off they were out in force and we're all covered in bites and itching all of the time. I think because we had a big downpour on the day of my return, isolated pools of water around camp have stagnated and have created the perfect environment for mosquitos to breed. During the first month a 70yr old Australian volunteer was stung by a bullet ant, which is supposed to be as painful as being shot (hence the name), although somehow I think that might be a slight exaggeration. He did find it to be quite painful and advised us all to be careful though. To top it off he was then stung by a scorpion when picking his shirt up off the floor in his dorm, he was okay after a few days which was a relief.
A while before John got stung by a scorpion I finished having a shower one night and didn't realise that I'd just shared it with a scorpion. I always shine my headtorch around to make sure there are no nasty surprises but this guy was really well camouflaged on the corner of the doorway behind me.
Before coming to Ecuador I'd heard about a venomous spider that if bitten by it, could cause nasty side effects in men. I knew it had been an issue in Brazil and I knew you could get them in Ecuador also but I just got the impression they weren't so common here. I think in total there have been around 30 of them seen, and I'd say at least half of them have been on base in peoples rooms or in the toilets/showers/kitchen. It's called the Wandering Spider because unlike most other spiders it doesn't live in a web or spin silk, it constantly wanders around until it finds prey and then chases it down. As someone who isn't too fond of spiders, these have to be the worst to come across for any arachnophobe, some of them are huge! There are 2 type that I know of that we get here on the reserve, one of them is reasonably big and generally has a big bulbous body (see pic of Carls bag with complimentary wandering spider), the other one is bigger and to me it looks like a face hugger from the Alien films, they have smallish bodies but really long legs and they're quite yellow in colour, no spider should be's just wrong. They're quite venomous, not sure how true this is but apparently a thousand people were dying in Brazil each year from the spider before they came up with an antidote. I think you're generally going to be okay if you do get bitten though, as long as you get to a hospital the same day. For some people that do get bitten though and decide not to go to hospital (maybe because they don't know what it is or what the effects are), it could be fatal and if your male then you could be in for a shitty experience. After getting bitten you get a very painful erection which can swell up with blood and if not drained with a syringe, accompanied with an antidote could render it useless for the rest of your life. Studies have shown that this effect is more common in younger men as opposed to adults, I wouldn't want to chance it though.

It's common sense to check your shoes/wellies/bag for little critters every morning but after a while you become a little complacent. Every now and then though we get a stark reminder of how easy it is to get bitten by something. Ryan, an old staff member from Barbados who has now left had 2 near misses while I was in Tena for my weekend off. The 1st was in the toilet at half 6 in the morning when it's still a bit dark, he didn't have his head torch and put his hand on a wandering spider that was sitting on top of the shit paper bin. Later that day he and Frank, another staff member, were cleaning the main eating area/commodore and put all of the benches up onto the table to sweep the floor. They spotted a huge one under one of the benches where we all sit every day and using a broom knocked it off onto the floor. It ran towards Ryan so he swept it off the floor onto the grassy area outside. Frank went to poke it with the broom to see if it would raise it's front legs in the air (a common way of identifying them, although not the safest) and it ran up the broom towards Frank's hands making him panic and throw the whole broom with spider attached back into the commodore directly at Ryan. To cut a long story short Ryan was upset at the thought of losing his penis and attempted to end it's life numerous times until finally it ceased to exist.

Another prime example of how easy it'd be to get bitten was when we were getting ready to go out mist netting for birds one day. My friend Carl collected his small backpack from the dorm, walked to the commodore and put his bag down on the table. He saw something on his bag and assumed someone had sneaked one of the fake plastic insects we stupidly have lying around the place onto his bag. He went to knock it off and it raised it's 2 front legs when his hand was a few inches from it. He had been really lucky, walking from his dorm all the way to the commodore with a large wandering spider on his tiny backpack. A few weeks ago I looked up at the rafters above my bed and saw a pretty hefty looking one but half hour later it was gone. It got to the point of having a health & safety meeting about them and the staff here in 7yrs have never needed to raise a problem like this before. Anyway, enough about spiders.

The prize for the most irritating insect here would definitely go to the sweat bee (aptly named due their attraction to sweat, they don't actually sting though luckily). If your on the move through the forest then your safe from them but when you stop still they find you and land on you and if you've got hairy arms like I do then you'd have trouble picking them out faster than they can land on you.

The toilets here are always an interesting venture. They're quite a walk to get to, down some 50 steps, so if I'm not in fit physical health before I leave here I'll be really surprised. It's always interesting to see what you find in the toilets or the showers, could be a large spider, a snake or just biting ants, which is what you normally find. We have a urinal here, which I was surprised to see when I arrived, and because some of us can't aim very well they end up pissing on the floor sometimes. Urine attracts ants, strangely enough, so most times I go there there are ants all over the floor and the urinal so you have to be quick about it or they'll start crawling over your feet and biting, which isn't painful, it's just not the sensation you want when trying to take a leak.

The sleeping arrangements aren't bad at all really, much better than I expected anyway. I decided to share a small room with another volunteer called Nigel who had already been here a month when I arrived. The other alternative was a dorm housing 6 other guys. I'm really glad I got a separate room to everyone else as I get a bit of privacy (spending day after day with the same people can grate on you sometimes), the snoring next door in the dorm would have kept me up more than it did already and the dorm didn't have any windows so it was really dark most of the time. My smaller room on the other hand has 2 windows and faces the sun most of the day. I have a small tarantula living behind my bed but I've never seen it in a different position so I don't know if it's still alive or not. Underneath my room however, on the dirt floor (all of the rooms are raised on stilts a few feet off the ground) in a hole in the ground lives lives a huge tarantula. He's sitting next to his hole almost every night but if you get too close he scurries back down it. He's nothing to worry about because his goal is to eat cockroaches and not to ruin male genetalia.
My mosquito net does a good job of putting my mind at rest when I sleep. Whenever I go on a VES (the survey that involves scrabbling around the jungle at night) later that night and sometimes for a few nights after I have a recurring nightmare. I dream that I suddenly wake up on the forest floor with insects on me and I'm crawling around desperately trying to find my way out but it's just a labyrinth of vegetation that goes on forever and I start to panic. Sometimes I wake up to find myself sitting up in bed trying to escape out of my mosquito net.
My pillow and sheets are always damp but I'm always that tired that it doesn't stop me from sleeping.

There was a game created by a staff member called the goggle game to make life around camp a bit more fun. If you imagine the hand gesture a diver makes to signal that he's okay, do that with both hands to make a goggle shape and turn it upside down and put it to your face. Now, if someone who is part of the game looks at you while your doing that then they have to do 10 press ups where they stand. If you look at someone while they are goggling but you've got your hand on your chin then your exempt from the press ups. Because you have to do the press ups where you stand, you need to be extra careful if your on a stream walk, in the river, on a muddy trail, half way down steps or have a big back pack on. The game is taken quite seriously, if your on a survey or a staff member is giving a talk etc then it comes to a stand still until someone has done their press ups. I didn't really want to be in the game and went the whole 1st month just spectating and laughing at people doing press ups in pools of mud etc. In my first weekend off in Tena I was demonstrating the game to an Australian guy who was staying at our hostel and just as I was replicating the goggle gesture, some volunteers were walking by and happened to look up at my balcony and saw me. You join the game by doing the goggle gesture and then your in it for good, or until you leave to go home that is. It can be quite fun, standing around a corner with your hands on your face waiting for someone to come into view and get goggled. We're always thinking up new ways of getting people.

As part of a communal living environment, everyone has to do a full day of camp duty per week, it's quite a full on day -

Up at 5:45 to cook porridge

Prepare snack for 10:00 (could be popcorn, porridge cakes (if too much was left over from breakfast) or if the person on cooking duty is feeling adventurous then maybe something more interesting like bread or scones.

Cook lunch for 12:30 (no meat and has to include either some kind of bean, lentils, quinwa or soya as a source of much needed protein, however I'm sceptical as to whether they give you any protein at all). You can cook pasta, rice and vegetables to go with it. If your organised enough and there's enough flour to use then you can bake bread which is always appreciated by everyone, it's probably the most tasty thing we eat.

Cook dinner for 6:00, same as above

In between all of the cooking you have other things to do like cleaning the toilets/showers, sweeping, cleaning and refilling water filters, boiling tea towels, burning rubbish and used toilet paper....hmmm nice. My personal favourite, as you might have guessed mum & dad, is washing up after all 4 meals.
There's normally 2 of you doing it all day so you can split the jobs between you. Because the ingredients here are so basic, it's quite difficult to cook something interesting that tastes good but it can be done though. My specialty dishes are bread, humus, oriental fried rice and soup. Condiments like soy sauce, tomato sauce and mayonnaise really help the food taste better, except ants ate their way through my packet of mayonnaise...bunch of idiots.

The local high school, run by Yachana, send students to work with us on base and improve their English. Kevin is a 23yr old from Coca. Coca is an oil town further north from where we are and it was originally created out of the oil boom that came from America in the 80's maybe? I'm not sure when. Kevin's English is really quite good and he's travelled to a few big cities in Ecuador so he's more adapted to the western world than Henry. Henry/Enrique is from a community further east into the Amazon where white people are hardly ever spotted. Joined onto the bottom of his community is a Quechua village and underneath that is a larger Ourani village. Quechua and Ourani are a few of the last remaining indigenous Indian tribes here in Ecuador and they've lived a traditional life in isolation for many years and are understandably protective of their land. The Ourani especially, have been known to kill people who enter their land uninvited. Henry is 21 and has lived next to both Indigenous communities his whole life. His jungle survival skills are amazing. If you have a tooth ache, stomach ache, a parasite, infection amongst many other things then Henry will know a plant that can help. He's also a brilliant craftsman, making a perfect spear in no time, he's also very accurate with it too! Henry and Kevin left a few days ago to go back to the Yachana High School to finish their studies and it's going to be quite sad not having them about as we all became good friends with them. I've never before met anyone who possess as many qualities as Henry and Kevin - They have a great sense of humour, are extremely polite and helpful and resilient to the hardships of life that would almost certainly down the average human being.
One evening Henry did a talk about his community and how it'd been growing up there. It was really interesting and eye opening as to how different his life is compared to mine. Marriage is normally done by arrangement between the 2 fathers and punishment for wrong doing is normally quite severe. There is a lot of shamanism that goes on and sometimes if someone dies in the village, even from illness, then it's thought that a shaman has instigated it in some way or another to avenge the person for something bad they've done. During his talk Henry spoke of a Quechua Shaman in his village who was thrown out because of evil practices and just generally being a nasty character. He said that the Shaman ended up in a town called Puerto Rico which happens to be only a 10min walk from our camp. Funnily enough I actually met him - .
Me, Carl and an Aussie girl called Bronte went to Puerto Rico a few weeks back to find somewhere to fish. Because it hadn't rained in quite a while there weren't many good places (the wide Rio Napo is far too fast flowing to catch anything in) and we ended up walking for an hour along the river bank. A guy approached us and started speaking Spanish and because I never really got round to learning much before I came it was pretty much a one way conversation. He asked if I spoke Quechua, if I don't speak Spanish then I sure as hell don't speak Quechua. He was particularly interested in my fishing hook, which was given to me by my Latvian friend back home in the UK (thanks Ziggy, but that Pirana jaw bone I said I'd bring you back isn't looking so good at the moment). The only words I could make out were "come to my home for a smoke and a drink and then we go fishing". I thought it was very nice of him to offer and I felt bad that I couldn't decline the offer properly in Spanish. It's against the rules set by GVI to do something like that but even if I could go I'm not sure how we would have managed with our lack of Spanish. The next day we all went to play football at Puerto Rico. Passing locals sometimes join in and a few girls normally come out of a house next to the football pitch to come and play too. Henry and Kevin were talking to a man outside the house where the girls came from and they beckoned me over. As I got closer I recognised the man as who I spoke to the day before by the river. He gave me some of his beer and then carried on chatting with Henry. He seemed like a completely different person as a lot of people are when they've been drinking and he was raising his voice quite a lot and looking at me. Turns out he was the bad Shaman who was exiled from Henrys old community and in this drunken state he didn't seem so friendly anymore. He joined in on our football game "Ecuador V todos del mundo", basically 5 Ecuadorians against me, Frank, Carl & Bronte. The Shaman was so drunk that even I could get the ball off of him.
He wants GVI to bring volunteers to his house for what I can only assume would be a talk about shamanism. The staff here are considering it but I don't think they'll go for it to be honest.

I leave in roughly 4 weeks now and GVI are also leaving the reserve then as well. The camp will become an educational centre for the students of the nearby high schools and it'll be solely run by Yachana. The 7yrs worth of scientific data that GVI have collected is currently being compiled and analysed and will eventually form a large detailed report outlining the biodiversity of the reserve and also the effects that the road has had on the wildlife here. The staff have determined that we still need a hefty portion of butterfly data before we all leave. Personally I find Butterflies rather boring and I struggle to muster up any excitement about them and I think that seems to be the general consensus amongst the other volunteers too. Due to the lack of data, there will be more and more butterfly surveys from now on. One thing I do want to do more of is mist netting, which involves fixing a really fine net maybe 10mtrs across between trees near a clearing or a stream and checking it every 30mins for tangled birds. The birds then get untangled and taken back to a covered area where we take measurements and identify them. It's the closest you can get to any wildlife here (minus insects), being able to actually hold them (and feel the wrath of their beaks when they're angry). We also catch bats in the nets if we do it at night which is really cool, we're not allowed to handle them though because of the threat of rabies, some of them have huge teeth too so you wouldn't want a bite anyway. In a few days we're going to put up some nets high into the canopy around camp and hopefully catch some bigger birds.

Last week before I left for my 2nd weekend off we were sitting around in the commodore at night when I heard Rosie shout the word twat in the distance followed by snaaake. She had been running up the stairs from the toilets and tripped up a step and discovered a snake sitting on the next step up. The snake in question was a Ferdelance which I mentioned earlier on. Me and Carl had both run up those same steps minutes before, meaning we probably ran over the top of it, all 3 of us had been lucky! Lana, a staff member who specialises in birds had never disposed of a snake from camp before so she gave it a go. She picked it up with the snake tongs and put it in the snake bin with no problem. She needed someone to help her release it just outside of camp by the road that splits through the reserve, so I came along with my camera hoping to get a few good shots. Next to the side of the road she attempted to lift off the lid of the snake bin with the tongs but in the process knocked the bin over. It rolled down a verge in slow motion for what seemed like 5mins, the lid came off half way down meaning we couldn't retrieve the bin or take any pictures of the snake as we didn't know where it was anymore. It was the perfect example of how not to release a snake and it made us both laugh all the way back to camp.

The next night I went on a VES. On the trail to find the starting point I felt something tickle my back and asked Carl to check it out. He couldn't see anything so I just put it down to paranoia. Minutes later I felt something crawling on my neck and as I was grabbing it to throw it off I felt a painful sting. Vicky, the staff member leading the VES saw where I threw it off and discovered it was a Bullet Ant. Great I thought, let the pain commence! It got more and more painful by the minute so everyone looked around for a plant called Comacho which is known to help with Bullet Ant stings in particular. I'm not sure if it was the plant or whether it just died down by itself but I soon felt okay to carry on with the survey. The VES wasn't too bad, I found quite a few frogs, normally I can't spot a single one so that was good. About 80mtrs from the end of the survey we were standing around looking up at a frog in the trees when I saw something move on Carl's arse, it was a pretty nasty looking spider. I thought it was a wandering spider at the time but maybe it wasn't, either way I wasn't going anywhere near Carl's arse so Bronte knocked it off with a stick. When we got back to I looked for some more Comacho leaf to help me sleep. The next day I felt like I'd been punched in the neck repeatedly and it was really stiff. The whole being stung by a Bullet Ant experience was painful but describing the pain as being similar to being shot was definitely an exaggeration, which is what it's known to be like.

Me and Carl had planned to go to a town called Banos for our weekend off but were advised not to by GVI because of the sudden eruption of a volcano that towers over it. Of course, this news made me and Carl want to go even more, how often do you get to see a volcano spewing out lava? We decided to go anyway but when we got there however, the activity had gone right down and it was too cloudy to even see where the volcano was. Despite not seeing the volcano we had a really good time in Banos. We went zip lining, which reminded me of when I went with a few friends to "Go Ape" back home. My 1st weekend off I spent in the jungle town of Tena where we had no hot water for showers so in Banos I made the most of it and had 3 scolding hot showers a day.

I'm back in camp now for my last month before I leave to travel Ecuador. It's gonna be a busy month so this might be the last you hear from me in a while.

Adios for now!


Cold showers = 63
Bowls of Porridge = 60
Bitten by Ants:
Small Ants = Lost count
Fire Ants = 3
Army Ants = 2
Bullet Ants = 1 (1 bite was enough for me)
Mosquito bites = 50+
Goals scored = 1
Goals saved = 3
Goggled Frank (creator of game, hardest person to get!) = 5
Wandering spiders found around camp = 32 as of yesterday
Huge tree falls heard = 5
Spikey tree grabs = 6

Additional photos below
Photos: 46, Displayed: 46


3rd September 2012
Graffiti in Banos

My Wildlife Survey - Cats spotted 3, Penis Spiders 0, Bullet Ants 0, Frogs 0
Hey Smithy! Great to be able to read another blog from you and know that you're ok and hear about what you've been up to. Took me a good 20 mins to read it all, if I was to write a blog of my last two months it would be more like a sentance. Went to work and played BF3. I'm now a Colonel 10 which should show how much I've played! I've come off all my medication now though which is awesome, still not completely better but they think my body can do the rest but should be cured by November! We have also been doing some night time wild life spotting, Oakley escaped one evening while we were relaxing outside. Luckily with my keen eyes I managed to spot him, he was at the end of the drive way meowing like a police siren. Think he scared himself, lucking Char was round, she grabbed him by the scruff and brought him back in. Speaking of Oakley he misses you very much and has been nuzzling the I Pad as I read your blog. Sounds like a very hardcore regime where you are, I can't imagine you will ever want another bowl of porridge again! The pics of the wildlife are awesome, especially being so close to birds! Obviously when you left you were not aware that you can buy a spray from Westend DIY called 'No More Spiders.' I imagine this would be most helpful :) Nothing more to report from the UK, everyone is safe and well. I'll remind you once again to take care of yourself (do not get too close to any lava you see, even if it does look really cool!!!!) Lots of hugs and purrs.. Natasha, Lewis, Oakley, Squirley and Missy! xxx
9th September 2012
Graffiti in Banos

The Amazon
Heeeey, It's really good to hear from you. Sounds like your both doing well, glad the medication is all done with now, would have been crap to be feeling tired for Christmas and not be able to drink or anything. I know, it was a fairly lengthy one wasn't it, so much more has happened that I didn't put in but I thought I should just get something written up as it's already taken me over a month to write it and upload photos etc due to being either too busy, too tired or the internet being down. Other than friends and family, I've also missed the cats and Battlefield! Natasha, I think you've probably put in more time on battlefield than I have now. In a way it kind of is a little like Bear Grylls. We have to make fires sometimes when we're netting for bats at night and getting a good fire going is more difficult than you think, even with a lighter! Most of the time everything is slightly damp so it takes ages to catch alight, so I turn to the knowledge that Bear instilled in me and I search out special trees and plants that are either semi flamable or keep dry. A little while ago an Ecuadorian guy pointed out a water vine for us to drink from, I felt like Billy from the film Predator as I slashed through it with a machete and rehydrated myself! I have an amusing picture that'll interest you Lewis, I'll post it on facebook in a few days. I love porridge back home, especially with maple syrup in it but the stuff here is made with powdered milk and just tastes of nothingness. It was you who got me into porridge actually Lewis, I had it almost every single morning before I came here...and still do but it's far from the same. It's a good job Oakley didn't get as far as the main road, silly cat eh. Are they all getting along a bit better now? Your right, it is pretty hardcore to be honest but you soon adapt to it. Thats the one thing I said to myself before coming here actually, just be adaptable. I'm not sure if that helped or whether I've just had no choice but to adapt, but it's surprising what you can put yourself through when your thrown into a strange environment. Are you working longer hours now that your feeling a bit more like yourself Natasha? You still working long hours Lewisham? Any news games out/coming out between now and Christmas? There's a spray for spiders??? Damn it, that would have helped loads, although there's so many spiders here it'd cost me a fortune on spray each one. I asked if I could lead a survey a while back and got the chance to do it the other night. I lead one of those night surveys walking through the jungle, we spotted a lot of frogs and an armadillo but not much one died while I was in charge though which is the key point here! I only have a few weeks left here before I'm finished with the volunteering, then it's 2 weeks of intense Spanish lessons up in the Andes Mountains and then 10 weeks of busing it round the country to whatever place takes my fancy. We've been doing a 24hr traffic survey today and my shift is 3am to 6am, so I better get a bit of sleep for it. It's basically sitting at the edge of the forest and marking down how much traffic we get on the road, a tad boring compared to any other survey but at least it's not strenuous work or anything. Anyway, take care you two and speak soon Smithy
4th September 2012

Wow! That was a long ass blog entry, I had to split it across two morning to read it all! It sounds like hard work doing what you're doing but you seem to be loving it! It's like some crazy Bear Grylls adventure. Loving all of the pics, some of them are are insane - like that meter long earth worm and the fruit bat lol. By the way... I have porridge everyday for breakfast, it's a great breakfast :P I look forward to reading about the next installment of your adventure, stay safe and watch out for those wandering spiders! :)

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