Sunday, August 23, 2009


Yanayacu was entirely conceived and created by Harold. He had this vision and the perseverance and focus to maintain sight of his goal. He has been successful, both as a scientist (he has published many papers), as a teacher and organizer (he has many students come for weeks to months at a time to pursue scientific projects), as a PR man (he has a great reputation and has volunteers with Earthwatch and other organizations participate in his vision). He has recently finished his PhD, and has plans to expand and collaborate with other scientists throughout Ecuador and in other countries. Eric would like to study the wrens that live in the bamboo forests, and spent much time discussing possibilities with Harold.

The research station was built section by section, is very basic and simple but serviceable. Eric, Maya and I stayed together in a room with a bunkbed and a single bed. We had wonderful thick Otavaleno blankets, which I doubled so that we each had four layers. Maya had horrible dreams about botfly infestations and bugs. At night, a sheet is set up with a light in front of it, so that it attracts insects. Kieran, the UBC student who studies social spiders, was catching small moths and other choice creatures to feed his spiders. Huge moths and beetles were attracted to the sheet, and one of the beetles had mites or lice all over its face. Maya was interested in the insects, but they became the subject of her nightmares and she was yelling and crying and fighting with them all night. I tried to calm her down several times, and held on to her for hours in an effort to comfort her. I did not sleep at all, and at 4 AM or so, I moved back to the lower bunk for a few hours and Eric took my place. Unfortunately, Eric's alarm went off at 6:30 AM and he got up with Maya. I tried to sleep a little longer, but I had to go to the bathroom, which was down the stairs and over at another building. I held on as long as I could, and then got up when I could wait no longer. There was a shower with hot water available, but no towels, and so I cleaned myself up minimally and joined the communal breakfast. Meals are everyone for himself, Tom and Eric were making oatmeal cookies, a girl from Germany was making apple pancakes and was using a sieve to get the lumps out of the batter. I found some Ecuadorian coffee and a French press, so I was able to avoid Nescafe, and the coffee was excellent.

Maya was having a wonderful time with the dogs, Beans and Rain, and with the students who came in and out of the kitchen making oatmeal, eggs, potatoes, etc. She is very friendly with everyone and her behaviour is a bit excessive. I am not sure if that is hormones or tweenage that is happening, but I keep wanting to tell her to moderate her enthusiasm, to pipe down, to be seen and not heard, but I say nothing. The scientists are discussing collaboration and encouraging the Ecuadorian scientists to participate. Harold is especially enthusiastic.

We take a walk to look for wrens and pass the San Isidro ecolodge that is known to birders. We do not hear the wrens that Eric is planning to study, but it is a wonderful sunny morning, and as we walk the mist rises over the cloud forest, and the place transforms. I imagine that this will be a place we return to.

Eric drives the wonderful truck back to Quito. His computer does not work anymore (the harddrive is finished) so Maya cannot watch Harry Potter, so we play wordgames all the way home. I sit in the front seat this time, and have a far better view of the cloud forest at 7000 feet and the changing landscape as we climb to 14000 feet. I want to pay attention to the grass paramo and the cushion paramo, so hike out a bit at the summit to find the succulent 'cushion' plants. It is so cold at the top. We can see the volcano Antisana hiding in the clouds in the distance. On our way here yesterday it was too cloudy and foggy and rainy to see anything and we did not stop because it was so inhospitable. I want to drive up to Papallacta to see the 'spectacled bears', but Eric is eager to return to Quito. We will return for a visit to the hot springs and look for bears. Tom has worked at Papallacta and a town twenty miles away quite regularly. The birds he studies live high up in the Andes, so he knows the area well. He tells met there is a place where the locals leave dead cows for he bears, and with binoculars, you can watch them come down and feed. Not exactly seeing the bears in nature, but interesting nevertheless.

The drive to Quito is all downhill from Papallacta. I try to imagine how Orrellana and Gonzales Pizarro and their men hiked up these mountains with their scores of native slaves and beasts of burden. What amazing men they were, clearly very determined and unswayed by the cold and the bears and the everchanging landscape. I wonder if they paid any attention to how incredibly beautiful the Andes are.

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