Ecuador 2011 – Part 2 – Jungle Trip

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 gruelling 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. (Note, the party is mostly volunteers: 4 or 5, Raul and two paying Belgian tourists). 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. (The Belgians lend me their walking sticks.)

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 is 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.