Our plan today was to watch the sunrise from the observation tower, so we ate breakfast at 5 and were off by 5:30. It was dark and a bit spooky as we sloshed through the mud on the trail. Pablo, the manager of Yasuni, drove the van to the trailhead and accompanied us. Each of us wore hardhats, harnesses and gloves. The ascent is a little unsettling because it is a simple metal ladder, which goes straight up to the sky. We had the choice to attach ourselves to the ladder with the harness, but that was complicated (to hook in with a carabiner for a few rungs, then disconnect and rehook a few rungs higher etc), so we climbed directly up. There are two platforms to rest on, which I used each time, because despite feeling reasonably calm mentally, my legs were shaking uncontrollably all the way up. I was convinced that the whole tower was shaking along with my legs, and as I felt it sway, I was sure I would make it crumble and fall. Once at the top, I sat down in the middle of the platform for a while, conquering my fear, and convincing myself I was fine. I did not move' til my legs and therefore the whole tower stopped shaking.
The view was spectacular, with trees repeating themselves over and over in each direction. The mist was rising, but unfortunately because of the cloud cover we did not see a pink sunrise as we had hoped. And we saw few birds as well. There was a toucan in the distance, and a very friendly puffbird (black and white and puffy). We resorted to an uncomfortable discussion centred around the local indigenous people and their difficulty adjusting to modern civilization. Pablo felt that they had been given many opportunities to modernize, but were not doing a good job of conserving the forest. They had hunted all the monkeys and the tapirs and peccaries (for wild bush meat, which is valuable and is sold at the weekly Saturday market at Pompeia) and have expanded from a total of 500 inhabitants when oil exploration began in the 60's to 2500 today. They are not interested in preserving the forest, they use it and abuse it and are lured by the money and the consumer goods the oil companies give them. They don't work, have many children to feed, live on handouts, are not educated, and are destroying their forest and their way of life. My feeling was that it was the oil companies who brought destruction with them and the Houarani are being destroyed along with the forest, but Pablo clearly felt that the locals were doing the destroying. It is interesting that his viewpoint is not uncommon amongst the scientists and Ecuadorians that I meet.
Debra on the Tower
We lost interest in looking for birds we could not see, and descended from the tower, arms and legs and heads intact, and trudged out of the forest. I sat on the balcony of the research station for the next few hours and saw many more birds flying about and nesting and making lots of noise.
Masked Crimson TanagerEric joined us for our walk this afternoon, when we tried to return to the Laguna trail, but were unable to get too far along since the stream we had crossed yesterday was up over a metre and the bridge we had crossed was a few feet under water. We chose another trail, where we saw ants and dragonflies and trees and a few frogs, but no vertebrates (no mammals!). We were all disappointed. Perhaps it is true that the Houarani have scared all the animals away. At one point we all smelled a wild smell, perhaps a big cat, but I am sure it was long gone by the time we tromped through its space! Yasuni is supposed to be the most biodiverse part of the planet!! But with all the oil exploration in every direction, I imagine that many of the native animals are frightened away. It is disconcerting to hear the oil pumping station a few miles away, and trucks and buses on the road outside the research station. Hardly the pristine corner of the forest!
On the other hand, the jungle is like that. It is full of life and activity, but most of it is hidden and does not reveal itself. It shows itself if it wishes to be seen, and perhaps after the rain, the animals are still hiding, and will show themselves when they are ready, perhaps not for us!