A Travellerspoint blog


A Migration to the Chapel of Hope and Miracles

sunny 23 °C

Andacocha is a destination for prayers of people who are subjected to inequalities so common, especially outside of the towns and cities. It used to be a place for prayers to protect animals or children from illnesses and the like but it has evolved within the last twenty years into a place to pray for safe migration to the United States or elsewhere, often illegally.

They say you have to suffer on the way to get there, and I got a good idea of what that entails. We climbed up steep rocky, muddy, swampy trails until we reached a pass between two higher mountains that is undeveloped, where a church and plaza stood. Depending on the type of suffering required for the type of prayer you are asking for, some migrants climb the slopes barefooted or even by crawling. The thought of either of those is remarkable. It was bad enough with a pair of tennis shoes.

As we climbed, we went along houses that have developed along the way now that a road leads up to the church. The church used to be a small little outpost, but now it is a grandiose building, reconstructed with the thousands upon thousands of dollars from migrants sending money back to pay homage and thanks to their miracle.

The church is home to a miracle, thus making it a miracle working place of worship. The story goes that a worker of a large hacienda found an icon of Jesus, no larger than the length of my hand, out in the middle of the páramo. The owners took the image down into the town below on three different occasions, each of which end with the image miraculously making its way back to the place it was found, close to the poor disfortunate workers of the hacienda. After the third miracle, it was decided that they would construct a chapel there, close to the indigenous people, to serve the indigenous people. Now, the less fortunate go there asking for a change in the inequalities of society here, by allowing a safe passage to the United States.

I made my own sacrifice in reaching the top, hiking the steep trails, and I had a little prayer of my own. One that the heavens above had heard many a time from where I lit my candle. I asked for my safe arrival into the United States. The church itself was lavishly decorated in stained glass windows, paid for with migrant money. They also had a museum paying homage to all the successful migrants who made it to the United States and who are making money to help their family out of debts and suppression. The room was not very big, but it was littered in photographs and plaques professing their thanks and devotion to Señor Andacocha.

Posted by kearlkozby 14:31 Archived in Ecuador Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Update on Dog

Not takin' the rabies shots

sunny 29 °C

Well the scare from near two weeks ago continued to haunt me until Saturday. Hopefully now, it will once and for all be resolved.

Over the past twelve days I have been monitoring the health of the dogs near Sayanusí where I was bit. I had a relatively precise memory of the scene that took place, remembering the exact site, the owner, and the two dogs that chased after me. The advice I heard over and over was to track the dogs, if you can find them, and if they have not died or shown signs of illness from the virus, then you are in the clear for rabies. But still you can't be too sure about anything when your life could be at stake. So I decided to pursue getting the rabies shots (10 in all, 3 more than I previously knew about) for the peace of mind of everyone back home and for myself.

Friday afternoon I went to the clinic, a little in daze, not fully aware how it was like I was walking the last mile. Narcisa and I found out some more unwelcoming news when we found a doctor to talk to. It seemed like tracking the dogs in the area was about as certain of a safety precaution as taking the shots. The doctor told me I was crazy. He basically outright refused to give me the shots at first. He said that after ten days I would have a headache and fever, some sort of personal sign of having contracted the virus. He also gave some information that I did not know about the shots. Not only are they painful, but they are risky. There is a somewhat significant risk of contracting the virus from the shots themselves. Uhh, what, huh?

So I didn't take the shots. That was Friday.

Saturday, I went early in the morning with Narcisa to check up on ol' yeller. The dog was alive. Better yet, we talked with the son of the woman owner of the two dogs and he said the dogs had their injections, something we have heard from many people, but not directly from the source. The son was much more believable than his mother. I think in part because he seemed taken back about having to bring the dogs out and maybe because he had some first-hand experiences on having that dog bite him, as well. So I feel as confident as ever about not having contracted rabies.

Now, I am taking my showers and spending time outside in the sun, proving to myself each day that I have no symptoms of rabies. I think I'm in the clear.

Posted by kearlkozby 13:37 Archived in Ecuador Tagged animal Comments (0)

Takin' a Hike

In Cajas National Park

rain 7 °C

Saturday I went to Cajas National Park with David in order to see what we could find in the polylepis forests in the páramo above the tree line. We are going to be writing a paper on the diversity within the unique forests, but our interest waned because we both knew that the paper that we are going to write is not necessarily scientific. What we really wanted to do in Cajas lay right in front of us, towering up to probably 4000 meters or so. Climb a mountain.

We looked to come around to the ridge at its lowest point and ascend to the peak from there, but when we got over the first hills, it looked a lot more difficult than we thought originally. But we kept on going. I didn't really take note of how difficult it was to breath because my adrenaline was pumping with my excitement. We took a little shortcut to a much higher elevation by climbing up a steep face on a nonexistent path. From there, we could see we were not going to make it up to the ridge. The slope was at least sixty degrees or more and we were already grabbing at our knees to stop ourselves for rest. But there was a polylepis forest right there! What good fortune!

So it was time to come down from our stunning vista, but we hadn't given up all hope of reaching the top of the mountain. So we thought we should walk around the peak at the altitude that we were already at, but we managed to trap ourselves on the way. At our height, I failed to realize before hand that it was mainly sheer cliffs down to where we started, thus our walking around the side earlier in order to find a more accessible way to reach the summit. We went down a steep little incline in order to get around on of the cliffs and at the base it became clear we had only one direction to keep moving, down. To make matters worse, it started to rain.

At long last, we managed to get down off the mountain, slowly but surely, by creeping beside the steep slopes along the bases of exposed rock faces. I would like to thank the physiology of tusset grasses for being sturdy and easy to hold on to, making the decent even possible. It was one of the most exhilarating hikes/climbs I have ever done.

Posted by kearlkozby 17:22 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Somethin' Jumped up and Bit Me

Could I have rabies?

sunny 26 °C

Tuesday could not have been a worse day for me. I came to school and locked horns with the registrar some more. I can't wait for the day they get their act together. But also, today was the day of interviews. I did not have class with Spanish because I had an interview with someone in the cultural heritage group in Cuenca to gather information on the day of the dead for a Spanish paper. The interview should not have even been made. She did not want to give me the time of day. She immediately led me to the library and told me more or less "here, find what you need." Gee thanks! I could have done this myself! Grr. A wasted morning preparing interview questions. I don't even know why I tried. The second interview was actually a reversal, I was the interviewee for the Admissions internship.

We had class for Ecology in the afternoon, however it was not in the school. We were told to go on a bus towards the mountains of Cajas in order to find this refuge site where we could see some of the endangered animals that we have been learning about in class. I wanted to take an early start and traveled off on my own before the swath of my classmates took the same bus line. I had the directions, "just before the second speed bump, on the left, down a road, over a bridge, it's the first house on the left." That couldn't be too hard. But I missed an important detail, it was the second speed bump after going through the first town we passed. Ohh, if I knew that my day could have been different.

I got off the bus, feeling slightly proud of myself for taking the initiative to go on my own to find this refuge. I started down the street on the left, and took the long, long road, crossed the bridge, and then hiked up the mountainside until I saw the first break off on the left. It was definitely a school, and not a house and there was no refuge site in sight. At that point I got the call. "Hey Zach, where are you?" I tried to figure where I was with poor knowledge because I hadn't really focused on anything but the slowdowns and bumps of the bus on the ride up. But I had to walk all the way back down and up to the main road. And I was getting really hot under the sun in my double jackets to keep myself waterproof. I considered hitch hiking the five minute walk back up the hill just to save energy, but I convinced myself I needed the exercise and energy if I ever wanted to reach the summit of any volcano, let alone Cotopaxi. So I walked up the hill again, and nearly made it to the bus when I was confronted by two dogs who were not pleased to meet me. They ran around behind me, just like every other street dog, only to bark at me from behind, or so I thought, but I felt a sharp pinch on the back of my thigh. Ohh, it stung, like closing your finger in a car door. I just hurried out of there trying to make it to the bus and safety. I checked my jeans and they weren't torn from the bite, so I figured it hadn't broken skin. Now I just concerned myself with finding the refuge. It took me another twenty minutes of going back towards Cuenca, realizing that I hadn't gone far enough, then going all the way back past the two dogs that caught my eye once again, and finally to the refuge. I checked when I got there and saw a to my dismay two dark scabs where the dog got hold of me. Now I started to worry and the pain in my thigh remained painful like the dog still clung to me.

I asked our Ecology teacher what I should do. She said "well, the best thing to do is find the dog and get the number of the owner so you can get news of any weird behavior in the next two weeks. Otherwise, if you can't find the dog, look into taking the shots." I was in no mood to go find the dog that just bit me, especially if I had no method to defend myself. Anyway, I had my phone interview with Brian in twenty minutes and I had no bars on my cell phone. My worries continued over the course of the night. When my host mom arrived, I let her know what happened and finding out about the injections made my stomach turn. If needed, I would have to get seven shots in my stomach, but with a phobia of needles even when I can avoid seeing them inject me, the thought of having it right in front of my eyes made me feel dizzy. I cleaned what I could of the wound, even though it was completely useless now seven hours after the bite, but around the scabs my skin turned a dark shade of green. I just wanted to give up right then.

The next morning, my anxiety lead me to search up symptoms and treatment of rabies. What I found didn't settle my fears. A brief synopsis of what I read: "once symptoms start, you're a goner." So after consulting with Narcisa, we decided that we should look for the dog, against my will. I had remembered precisely the place where I got bit and the probable owner, but it wasn't as easy as I would have hoped. We asked the lady if she had two dogs, as we could see one and I recognized it because it looked like a mop, but she refused. After asking her a third time she said "Oh! Maybe you mean this dog!" And out came the suspect. We asked if the dog had vaccinations but she avoided answering that as well. "No se preocupa, no se preocupa." (Don't worry yourself, don't worry yourself). But we had every reason to worry. We informed her that the bite broke skin and her calm face went pale. But after asking again she said the dog had gotten a shot. Right... I didn't believe her for a second. But we gave her a number to call us and told her we would return in fifteen days, hopefully to find that wretched dog still alive. On the way back to Narcisa's car, we asked a friendly neighbor if there was another dog that could have bit me, after all I had only the few seconds to recognize it before it bit me, and after than, I focused only ahead of me to keep my pace quick to leave that place as fast as I could. The neighbor said that that dog is the bad seed in on the street and that the probability of it being the predator was pretty high. So I found it, I think. I can rest in peace for just a little while until the second search to find the dog dead or alive.

Posted by kearlkozby 17:20 Archived in Ecuador Tagged animal Comments (0)

Wah-Wah in the Amazonian Jungle, Pt. 2

Experiences in the Oriente Jungle

sunny 29 °C

The first day in the jungle was an early start with breakfast that I could not eat. The lake reflected back a beautiful sunrise in a cloudless sky. I think one of the most unexpected parts about these entire weeks was that it never rained until our last day, as if to remind us that a return would bring us what we had expected.

We took to our canoe for a short ride to a carved out path of an old Huaorani family that settled there. The first thing that I saw was paja toquilla, the palm plant used from the coast land to make Panama Hats that I read so much about the day before. It didn't occur to me that the plant might have other uses than just providing the fiber to make hats, but it seemed like its uses were infinite. Our guide Fausto knew his stuff. Just like two days before, we could stop at any point and he'd have something to say. One of which was an enormous ant. I had heard of ants like these, only in Africa, ants, that go in hoards and encompass their prey, no matter how big and leaves just it's bones hours later. This was not quite the same. In fact the exact opposite was true. The ant had a punch to its bite, so overwhelming its prey in numbers is not necessary. In fact four or five bites from one of these ants could kill a baby human. I kept my distance. The diversity of ants never let up for a moment. Around one corner would be leaf cutter ants; another corner stood a hollowed tree that housed hundreds upon thousands on nasty little biters. Some of them gave you a good sting, others you couldn't even feel the bite. But perhaps the most peculiar of them all were the lemon ants, not called lemon ants for their association with a lemon tree, but because they in fact TASTE of lemon!

As soon as I started getting comfortable with the slow pace of our exploration, Fausto took off running. We took off after him, in fear of being lost like the two German and French couples we heard about the day before. I had to keep my head down and keep ducking this way and that to keep from running into spider webs or low hanging trees. Anything I brushed up against gave me a sneaking suspicion that I took something along with me for the ride. We ran for what seemed like fifteen minutes until we had a clearer view of the canopy and there was a colony of spider monkeys leaping from tree top to tree top. No one was in any mood to keep the chase going, though. I did a little ants-in-the-pants dance to shake off the sensation of being covered in bugs from the run.

We went back to our stroll through the jungle at which point we came upon a tree of such monstrous size that I can only compare it to a redwood, only it's base was wider than the redwoods I have seen. Hanging down to the ground were vines, reaching up to the heavens above it seemed. The first branches of this tree spread out above the canopy of all the other trees. I was in no mood to test my endurance at climbing the vines to find out that I would give out too high to simply drop back down, but others took on the challenge, not getting more than twenty feet off the ground. The indigenous, according to Fausto, used this climb to the first branches as a little test of going on past adolescence. I felt dizzy just looking up that high.

The next day was spent in similar fashion. We took a little twist in the afternoon to get in some fishing. I was a little giddy about that having already seen what some of the guide members had dredged up from this river. It was like watching Okie noodlin’, the way the boosted of their fishing technique. But the fish were far more exotic than an enormous 80 pound catfish. There were fish with spikes and armor of similar size and weight. The most frightening fact was that one in particular was apparently only a juvenile. Its adult size reaches about five or six meters long! That’s a shark if I have ever heard of any!

I found out precisely why anyone would be proud of their fishing. I was handed a clean hook on a string and given a raw slab of meat. Huh? Piranha fishing. It was possibly the hardest bit of fishing I have ever done. They would strike the meat just for you to help in their tearing off the bait while avoiding being hooked. But I got a lucky piece of bait. One with a sturdy piece of scale attached to the meat. The scale seemed somewhat familiar, probably because it was a piece of the armored catfish I saw earlier in the morning. The piranha couldn't keep from getting their mouth in the hook if they wanted the meat and so I pulled in the one and only piranha. The smallest, puny fish you'd ever seen. If it were just the foreigners fishing, we would easily have used more fish meat in bait than caught in fish. I pulled him out of the water and my knees started shaking. I had to put THIS in the boat with me? My toes had to have looked better than that stiff piece of scale and bone that the piranha had on a death hold. But it never let go of the bait, like a raccoon holding on to a piece of shiny metal.

That night, when everyone when into to wash away their accumulating jungle rot off their body in the acidic waters, the only thought on my mind was not wanting to be like that piece of bait. I did no more than splash the water on me from the deck. That was enough for me. But the adrenaline from the catch encouraged me to go another night hike, this time guided by Fausto. In the first two minutes we came across the biggest bug I have ever seen. And Fausto had never seen it before. It was a huge leaf bug, brown in color, and about the size of two hands spread out next to each other. I was convinced we found a new species, and we did nothing more than look at it for a couple of minutes and then carry on. I didn't think I would find any more than big bugs but Fausto was in to seeing much more than that. He was more interested in finding fish. Fish? In the dark? But sure enough we found one. It was swimming back in forth between the roots of trees that crept into the water. Its eyes were devilishly red. I got the chills looking at it, and standing in its water. Another reason not to swim in it. On the way back, having seen large grasshoppers everywhere and spiders of all sorts, we stumbled upon another unique sight. Well, not really stumbled on, but with Fausto's owl eyes, he spotted a snake coiled up sleeping on a leaf. It was the smallest and most lethal snake in all of the Amazon rainforest. There I was, already slightly nervous about the closet darkness of the forest, now standing in front of the most poisonous snake in the world's largest tropical rainforest supplying an enormous percentage of the Earth's fresh water, the crucial element for nearly every living and breathing animal on the planet, one of the most sobering thoughts that ever came upon me.

The next morning we saw what humanity is beginning to do to the jungle. We walked along the Rio Napo among the inhabitants of Ketchwa living there. I had a preconceived notion that they lived in harmony, only I was wrong. The western developed world had already reached these people. You could see the evidence with the hard hat hung on the wall of one of the raised houses we passed. Plots of land had been crudely chopped down for "sustainable agriculture." We finally came upon a school for the students of the area. Their classes are unlike anything you can imagine. More than forty students in the one concrete constructed building for miles and miles, without a plan of teaching, and pets of every kind, from monkeys to lizards. I am fascinated by the thought that anyone would have the idea that western ways could fit into this kind of world. But I saw how they did. We saw an oil drilling project under way, previously owned by the United States company Occidental, until the Ecuadorian government found out that the company had broke nearly every law on the contract in which it signed. And who’s the new prospective company to drill for oil here? A Chinese company.

It was a hard day to swallow, especially at the last, and I felt like a part of me would never leave or rather the jungle would never leave me. I definitely felt that way on the return trip back to civilization. Nausea and dizziness overtook me from hunger and dehydration. I pulled into the non-existent terminal of Cuenca shaky and ready to recover from a grueling test that I hope to someday encounter again.

Posted by kearlkozby 14:45 Archived in Ecuador Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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