Conservation Journal 2011 – Ecuador

Back in 2011 I decided to go and save the planet. Publishing this journal was a complete mess at the time. Now re-publishing in 2021. Like most things in my life I made a complete mess of letting the world know about this. I now realise I should have posted it all to Blogger, but I posted it to Facebook, I think. Either way I had no support, no donations. So here is the journal for what it is worth:

Justin Tuijl has had a lifetime interest in nature and the environment. First he looked at himself and how to reduce his carbon footprint, then at the world and ways in which he could help save this wonderful planet. His desire is to archive this on a not for profit basis. This website is to inform of his progress and to offer services he can provide in order to help continue this voluntary work.

(email sent to sent to the Archant Communications Manager, April 2011)

Thought this may be of interest. As you know we are having the reshaping at the print centre. Once I had an idea of the reshaping after Nick Schiller’s 2nd briefing I put in for voluntary redundancy instantly.

I have worked very hard for Archant and am happy that I have done my bit for the company and its faith in my skills. I was taken on for my experience in publishing, printing and my computer knowledge back in 1999. I know that I have given as much as I can for the rewards I have been given here.I have been frustrated that I have not been able to do more as regards to ‘saving the planet’ and I realised this was my opportunity. Simply being personally green wasn’t enough, cycling to work, saving energy,vegetarian, not buying, not wasting. Due to shift work it has been hard to volunteer. I have been part of the Norwich Greenpeace active supporters and have done my bit for that cause with my computer skills increasing their web presence. I have also created a non-profit organisation of my own to promote environmental awareness. WithArchant I have been able to put forward my ideas to the GreenChampions and Archant’s own sustainability.

Ultimately I still felt so frustrated that I could not do more and had an opportunity of helping Itapoa Rainforest Reserve in Ecuador which I could not fore-fill unless I took unpaid leave. This was simply too expensive a venture for me while I was working for Archant. Now I can see a path which involves voluntary work for Greenpeace, and the RSPB before I set off for Ecuador. After that I will probably head to India and the Himalayas and see if I can work with the Snow Leopardtrust. I have been obsessed with the Snow Leopard since I saw the sanctuary when I was in Darjeeling in 1996. I may then head over to help the Force for the Forest in Indonesia. My idea then is to use England as a base and head off to various places around the world to help with any eco projects I can.

I was also going to apply for festivals in order to play my music for free through which I attempt to spread the environmental word.This means using the redundancy money from Archant in order to glue the projects together between the unpaid voluntary work. Good for me,Archant and the planet, in spreading green!

June 2011: Date set for my redundancy: July 29th 2011. More had happened than I expected and I now have 5 jobs. Organising a gig for Norwich Greenpeace and increasing our online presence. Through my Citroen 2CV I became involved in helping look after a lot of tortoises via re-designing their website. The RSPB voluntary work up as Strumpshaw Fen has been very rewarding and increasing my knowledge. Setting up plans for the future slowly.

August 2011: booked my flight to Ecuador, 14th Sept 2011 to 14th Dec 2011 for nearly £900. Saving the planet doesnt come cheap! Raul needs voluntary work help at his bit of rainforest and I also want to report on it all and the situation in Ecuador to spread the word and make the world aware. Coz they are chopping it all down. So yes, I will add to my carbon footprint considerably but I hope it will achieve more in the long run. Its certainly not going to be a comfy holiday.

Have booked my course for a STCW licence at £1000 then apply to work on a Greenpeace ship, the redundancy training grant of £500 will help towards it.

I saw Raul in Norwich through Greenpeace 27/7/10 talk about the threats to Ecuador’s ecosystem and his own efforts to make a diference with his rainforest reserve and from then on wanted to visit in order to help as a volunteer, which I was unable to do while working. There was a reshaping at my work and I took voluntary redundancy.

Pretty soon I was on my way to Ecuador:

Set out from my mums thinking how cool my waterproof boots and waterproof bag were, just down the road the heavens open and I curse the lack of waterproof clothes. Caught the train to London and at Kings Cross where I go to Northfields Hostel.

At 4am I am outside waiting, no taxi. I phone them as they thought it was 5am I wanted picking up. They get there quickly and am at Heathrow in no time. Customs was quick and I wonder why I didn’t have more sleep.

The flight to Washington was fairly boring 8 hours. Had to do customs check and not enough time to get to the next plane, the security staff kept saying there would be enough time, not really! Ran, nearly passed out. Small personal jet to Houston. Then 737 to Quito. More mad customs. Then taxi to hostel.

A day in Quito, quite boring. Then onto Puerto Quito. Raul says that there is a German man going on the same bus. We arrive and Raul picks us up.

My first view of the house and the small forest around it.

The Choco region where I arrived to is a ecological hotspot. The area is mega diverse in plant an animal life which is due partly to the fact that there are no winters, therefore no down time in reproduction.

Palm oil and biofules

The vast areas of Afrian palm are planted to produce palm oil which is put into our food as it is cheap and makes the product seem bigger. It is not good for us.

The forest is also torn down for biofuel production and can be produced from palm oil.

Jungle Trip

We set off from home at 5am for a 1 ½ hour drive. Immediately out of Puerto Quito we see palm oil plantations and they continue for the whole journey. Passing though some grubby towns or settlements as town makes them sound nice. Most people are sitting around as palm oil doesn’t take much work, plant it, wait, harvest it. Raul says that this area used to be some of the most beautiful forest.

We reach a town and have breakfast, or a lunch as this will be the last food for sometime. Once we reach our destination we meet the mule who is to take our things to the forest. The car is left behind and with only water bottles to carry we cross a plank footbridge and enter the beginning of the forest. This is secondary forest, in that they have chopped it down but as no-one wanted it allowed it to grow up again.

One feature of the path is that it is made from mud, quite hard going. Soon a wellies are muddy and a lot of our clothes. Gradually the path makes more rises and falls and the going gets quite hard. Rain gear would have you sweating as it is a humid place. Not the thing of the films we are not covered in leeches and hacking through undergrowth. These are often used muddy paths. We stop for lunch after 3 hours and the mule catches us up. Sitting on some big leaves we eat a mixture of nuts and cereal with some chocolate. We have lollipops to keep the blood sugar up and provide some more energy. At this point half the water has gone from our bottles.

There is not much evidence of wildlife, but the sounds of strange creatures and the odd birds flying past. We enter primary forest though even then every so often we come across a clearing where some one has tried to make a go of it, growing cacao, bananas, pigs or cows. We arrive at the edge of the reserve after another hour. Still there is quite some way to go with a grueling hill to climb.

Down the hill is the house. This area was semi-cleared by the previous owners and the house was built, this has been extended by Raul. By house I mean a platform on stilts with a roof. The only room is to one side and quite small. The cooker is a box, open to the top and fueled with wood.

We go down to the nearby stream and swim, bliss after the heat and mud. Going in with wellies on and clothes in order to clean them.

Then as volunteers we help to cook and unpack. Two tents are put into the room. Crockery is taken and washed in the stream. The fire is got up and after a few hours we have a meal of rice, banana and fish. In the dark strange glowing objects drift about in a variety of colours. These turn out to be beetles with two glowing parts on the top of their shells. Pretty soon there is nothing much to do but bed and a good sleep after the long walk of the day.

Morning to the sound of the forest full of strange creatures unseen. We breakfast and then explore the reserve.

We see Ocelot and jaguar footprints. Banana Toucans and eagles. Some of the day is spent on a cleared area where the view of the surrounding jungle is better, in the jungle it is hard to see anything.

The evening we return to the house, bathing, food and sleep.

At this time my knees are hurting quite badly due to the paths, going down hill hurts the most. I am given a sport bandage which helps a lot.

Next day we track various animals, see a lot of jaguar footprints. At one point we see spider monkeys. They are killed by hunters easily as a family as they confront the humans and can be picked off with a rifle. Later we see howler monkeys who hide more and don’t confront. Looks like they may be safer for awhile in the future.

All the time we hear chainsaws in the distance and the world is closing in. The jungle is regarded as desert by the locals as it produces no product. All of the land is owned by someone. Many are waiting for the right price. Indigenous tribes often sell their land and as the chief is in charge the logging companies only need to bribe one man. Land that has been cleared costs more to buy than primary rainforest as the owner regards the clearing as work done.

The last afternoon we all relax a bit.

Next day involves the long walk back and a lot of pain from my knees.

Then we drive back through the endless palm oil plantations, here there is a lack of wildlife though occasionally you do see an exotic brightly coloured bird fly by. It seems that these are only fly catchers by the road side as the humming birds and fruit eaters have moved away, there being nothing for them to eat here.

This huge plantations are mono-cultures and there is a bug that lays its eggs in the palm which kills the tree, therefore they need to use a lot of insecticide. The old rainforest soil is poor so it needs a lot of fertilizer.

It takes two people to look after and harvest 50 hectares of palm oil. This means the workers have a lot of time on their hands in which I spend mostly drinking.

Back Puerto Quito

Other things being learnt here:

Making coffee by hand from harvesting onwards.
Making chocolate by hand from harvesting onwards.
Harvesting food from the forest.
Making rings from palm nuts.
Learning how to re-forest.
Listing and identifying wildlife.
Recording trees and growth.
Cutting back invasive plants in the secondary forest.

Cloud Forest 26-sept-11

We take a trip to a cloud forest owned by a retired chap who wants to sell some of his primary forest as he only has a small pension to live on. He seems confused at to what people would want. Seems a shame as I am sure many would pay to visit his forest if he opened up a path to its heart. But it seems that the tourists he wants from Quito want a disco by the stream. Which is not what conservation tourists would want.

The trouble with all forest land is that the soil is poor. To grow anything after the trees have gone needs a lot of fertilizer. The trees grew in such a way to cope with the poor soil


We find a frog sitting under the washing up on the sink, I call him Colin. We put him out and the big brown frog turns into a fine tree frog as he hangs from the railing outside. I look in the book and find that he is ‘Jordan’s casque-headed tree frog’ and my new favorite frog, such a cool looking amphibian.

Later Raul tells us that the frog lives here in the house and that he must now be quite sad to be living on the roof where I go and visit him every night. Colin was probably keeping the bugs and cockroaches down in the house!

I go and ‘help’ in several lessons at the school with a view to possibly teaching there. The children are young and are very nice. A lesson is quite disorganized with the children walking about and talking a lot but they do get on with their work and are not naughty or bad.

My ‘help’ is a little limited as at first my spanish is nonexistent. I do get better and there are only a few words needed to teach english. However I do need more spanish if I am first of all to help the other volunteer teacher much before I could even think of teaching myself. Learning to trust the children was a good challenge, it is certainly something I never thought I would do!

At the house we have been learning to replant forest. It is also possible to plant produce like banana trees and cacao in order to produce a product from the forest.

Puerto López

Late October and in Puerto López helping to run the Itapoa Hostel part of the main Itapoa project. Here we give the guests the option to have the chocolate from the forest as a spread or drink. Also the coffee is produced by us. It is quite intense work serving the breakfasts. After this it is a matter of getting supplies from town for the hostel. After that talking to the guests and booking them in.

Usually at 4pm I water the gardens. Water is expensive here in the dry part of the country but one of the main appeals in the hostel is that it is set in green gardens. The investment is worth it was the hostel is a nice place to stay.

I visited the Isla de la Plata, the ‘poor mans Galapagos’ and saw blue footed boobies amongst some other special wildlife in the dry forest there.


November sees me back in Puerto Quito where a Norwegian family who were at the hostel have come to volunteer here. The others are in the Jungle and Raul is soon off to the USA to do some talks. Looks like I am in charge in Puerto Quito then. There are always plenty of jobs to do here. Checking the perimeter, checking to see the poachers are not back. Watering the new plants. Harvesting cacao and coffee. Oh and for me there is work to do on the Itapoa website. Adding pictures and streamlining the code, identifying wildlife and listing it with a picture on the website. I have also added a page for the Itapoa Hostel.

I show the family the ropes here and surprise myself with how much I have learnt.

Hummingbirds: what is quite incredible here are the hummingbirds. I never realized how small they are. But it is quite something to stand there and suddenly have a hummingbird looking at you. They look incredible with their colours and with their long beaks. They are very tame and will stop less than a meter from you.

Last few weeks here we have been working in the forest. With the usual harvesting of cacao and coffee. Also preparation of the same. There are always jobs to do and many I decide from my own initiative. I have been working on the Itapoa website a lot. I have also been doing my own writing in my spare time.

I have had a trip to Mindo just to see what the eco tours and forests were like there. They have the right idea and it is a very nice place. The balance seems to have been struck between resort and a way to save the natural landscape. Being on the Quito road helps a lot.

The bird life here is amazing. Today I took the time to sit on the tower at the top of the house. All around is the sound of birds. You can see kites, eagles, vultures in the distance and sometimes overhead, in groups or alone. Now and then a squawking burst of a group of parrots flying past. The sound of humming birds which I have come to recognise. Flycatchers sitting on branches. Lots of wren type birds scouring the undergrowth. Always as you look into the trees you see them alive with life of moving birds. Woodpeckers will happily speck away while you stand very close and watch. When there are no lorries full of gravel, stones or palm oil passing by the place falls so quiet and the pervading noise is the sound of birds. If you sit for long enough you see so many your head starts to swim, and swivels round and round like the Omen. If you think you have a lot of birds in your garden: you haven’t. And that is without even mentioning what we have named as the ‘Orgasm Bird’!

I agonised about coming to Ecuador on a plane and adding to my carbon footprint but I knew that the one thing that justified it was that I could spread the word of what is happening here from my writing and talks. I feel justified now as there is no way from home I could have appreciated the wholesale destruction of the forest and the endless miles and miles of palm oil plantations. There is only 7% of the jungle left and it looks hopeless but when you witness the bird life here and the way the place is always growing and mega-diverse it gives one hope. I could not have experienced this from home continuing with my mission to save the planet there. Also the efforts at Itapoa to return forest to something closer to primary after being cleared does give one hope when you see other forest that has returned after clearing as this forest is quite dank and close to dead. The Itapoa secondary forest is not like this and shows life and healthy plants through being bought back to life carefully. This also gives one hope for the future.

Raul does not like to feel the center of the Itapoa project and declines to have to much credit on his shoulders. What I like about Itapoa is that it is one man with the help of others doing his bit to try and save what should not be lost with his desire to spread the word through the internet and by giving talks around the world. Which is very much the same as me, just an individual trying to do his bit. I have learnt a lot at the project and am really pleased that I have helped to strengthen it with my work during my time here and further work I can do ‘remotely’ for Raul’s Itapoa project and other projects with which he may become involved.

Posted in Conservation.

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