This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
17 March 2009 Staff updates
A new Ecuador Country Director was welcomed to camp at the very start of phase in the form of Karina Berg. Having lived and worked in Latin America for seven years prior to this position and then spending a period working for GVI back in the UK was eager to get stuck back into Latin American life and lingo. American Jon Escolar kicks off as the base camp manager having worked on two previous expeditions at the camp expeditio and knows the ins and outs pretty well. Matt Illes also returns to bring in some new exciting but smelly s research on dung beetles. Three interns joined at the beginning of the ten week block, two of wh were hree which EMs from the previous expedition, Hannah Urpeth (who will be staying on as an intern for a further ten weeks) and Andrew Mercer. The third intern, Chris Beirne, flew out from the UK to share his passion for amphibians. He picked everything up extremely quickly and with an abundance of enthusiasm and . proved to be a great asset to the staff team so has been offered (and accepted) a full time staff member post. Four weeks into the expedition, a new staff member Andrew Whitworth arrived and has tried to get , stuck into all aspects of the work with particular focus on the amphibian research and working with Christ to develop this research for the future. future
January. The Yachana Reserve base camp is still. The dorms are empty, the steps un-swept and an eerie swept silence sweeps through the comedor. Just then a string of swearing floats up from the steps to port. This is or. followed by the stomping of heavy feet and the loud puffing and panting of a group of people under panting severe physical strain. A loud thud breaks the silence as a backpack is flung down onto the floor of the comedor. “Welcome to your new home”, says John and there ”, is a resounding sigh of relief. The EMs had arrived. The new year kicked off with a group of 18 volunteers from England, Ireland, Germany, the US and Australia. It was a melting pot of different backgrounds but they had all come for the same reasons. The group was eager to embrace the new environment and willing to throw themselves into what o would be a unique and unforgettable experience. There were major adjustments within the first couple of days. The EMs got a taste for rice and beans which is the staple to any jungle diet. They took their first stap stream wash and mastered the art of bathing in three inch deep water. At night they had to contend with the sounds of the surrounding jungle although the volume couldn’t compare with the combined snoring of 18 EMs in their communal dorms. The day after arrival they took their first walk along one of the many trails in the reserve. There was an overall feeling of excitement. It was their first glimpse of the rustic browns of the forest floor and the dense greens of the overhead canopy. Some struggled to find their jungle legs and spectacular falls occurred. The falls and occasional breaching of the wellies were an unpleasant and unavoidable aspect of jungle life but the resulting laughter and hilarity made it all worthwhile. That evening Andy and Chris evening (two bird enthusiast interns) brought the EMs out on a bird survey upon one the many picturesque look ) out points in the reserve. The following night the group set out into the darkness to partake in a night walk. It was incredible to see how the jungle changed at night. Spiders as big as your hand could be found sitting randomly on the many different leaves, the sounds of the surrounding frogs and birds seemed amplified without any natural light and the forest floor was even trickier to tread. Luckily the group had the constant support of . Mauro, Flavio, Juan Carlos and Franklyn, the Ecuadorian students from the Yachana Technical High achana
School who came for work experience at the reserve. These boys have the amazing ability to pull EMs out of the mud with one hand while wielding a machete effortlessly in the other. That night brought a rare and brilliant sighting of a boa constrictor on the stream bank. It was an excellent start to the expedition and the weeks ahead would bring many new experiences. After a couple of days training in First Aid and experiences. an introduction to TEFL teaching and numerous introductions to the various different science areas to be covered during their time here, the group was ready and raring to go.
Having completed their first week of training and introductory walks, the staff decided the EM’s were introductory ready to take on a new challenge…satellite camp. This was going to be no easy feat however, with the satellite however torrential rain forcing the campers to make several rearrangements. Eventually the sun broke through and rearrang the first group finally set off into the wilderness to test their newly acquired jungle hammock hanging a quired skills. Arriving with just enough time to set up camp just before nightfall the group of adventurers tucked into a tasty dinner before heading out to survey the area for amphibians in the nearby stream. They n stream arrived back at base camp to enjoy a few of the home comforts such as a pot of tea and a few biscuits and good old chinwag around the fire camp. Exhausted from the night’s adventures after trawling the stream for frogs everyone headed to bed for what they assumed would be a good night’s sleep. Some however they were not so lucky and found their hammock hanging skills were somewhat lacking, w skills waking at 3am as they plummeted three feet to the damp and soggy ground. Another challenge faced by our EMs on sat camp was navigating their way in pitch black night, haunted b sounds of by yet unknown wildlife to use the jungle facilities. The next morning the EMs (some more refreshed than others) filled up others on granola and set off on the long hike back to camp via La Cascada where they enjoyed a refreshing dip and mud bath. ascada That week the EMs also took a trip down to the local school in Puerto Rico to teach a few TEFL classes. They were nervous hey at first but the infectious enthusiasm of the kids left the EMs craving for more TEFL time.
This week started off with some mist netting. This is a method of catching birds using suspended nets from the forest floor. It’s a great opportunity to see the birds up close and to take some valuable data at close quarters about the local birdlife. On the Wednesday the EMs left the reserve and took a canoe to Piter’s farm. Piter is a graduate of the Yachana technical High School. He lives on the achana Napo with his family and spends all his time out of college working on the farm. Upon arrival Piter roasted fresh cocoa beans and his mum made a delicious hot chocolate that tasted unlike anything the EMs had ever drank at EM before. He then took them on a tour around the farm and pointed out some great m birds for watching along the way. Before leaving the group was treated to an incredible dinner made by Piter’s mother. They left the farm that day with full ’s bellies and a longing for more traditional Ecuadorian cooking. onal On Friday the group took a canoe from Coca to Allpa Sumak or more commonly known as Hector’s Island. The island is owned by Hector Vargas and is put to use as a monkey reserve. The EMs spent three ned Varga days touring the island and listening to Hector talk about all the fascinating plant life and animal life he ning maintained there. Hector also imparted some of his cultural heritage and got the EMs making blow dates and everyone had a go a blowing them through the long blow pipe – at the static target of an orange on a ic post (not any wildlife!). Some of the EMs were a pretty good shot! The group partook in some trail maintenance and was well rewarded with a heart chicken soup cooked up by Hector himself. The hearty weekend was brief but highly memorable with sightings of Capuchins, Woolly Monkeys Tamarins, a memo Monkeys, Black-banded Owl and a game of footy on a nearby beach at sunset.
After a long but surprisingly comfortable ranchero ride back from Coca the EMs had a free afternoon to relax before the week ahead. Tuesday saw various activities get underway, one of which was setting up dung beetle pitfall traps in the forest. This project was set up by Matt Iles, a staff member who specialises Thi es, in entomology. One of the aims of this work is to show the presence of a healthy mammal population in . the the reserve because the beetles that feed on the faeces can act as an indicator species. Three weeks of laborious studying finally saw some EMs leading their BTEC field surveys. They involved dung beetle and amphibian surveys and needless to say they all passed with flying colours and had a lot of laughs along the way. rs The EMs were finally rewarded at the end of the week for all their hard work with the unforgettable experience of visiting a local shaman, Curandero. The healing process involved a . display of tobacco and leaves to cleanse any impurities that may have been experienced so far on the expedition.
It was the final week at the Yachana Reserve base camp before the mid-phase break and for those who phase only opted for the five week expedition it was their last few days in the jungle. The staff wanted to give expedition, the group something to remember in this last week and so a long walk to the Laguna was scheduled. However, three days of hard rain had scuppered their plans. A group of hopefuls got up at 5am two scuppered mornings in a row to set out, but ended up sitting in the comedor looking out at the torrential rain. com Despite this people kept themselves entertained with their BTEC work, yoga sessions and Spanish lessons after dinner. On the final d ay the weather took a turn for the better and the sky opened up The up. EM’s were eager to get out and stretch the legs after two days of cabin fever. They took off on a long energetic walk to the Laguna and stopped for the occasional bird watching while snacking on apples and th vanilla biscuits. The walk turned out to be one of the best they had in the five weeks and was an excellent way to say goodbye to the jungle. On Thursday the entire camp headed off to Tena for the final night together. A meal was planned for that evening and the group made the effort to scrub up for the event. It was strange to see the boys’ cleanly shaven and wearing fresh shirts while the girl put on their girls glad rags and indulged in a bit of makeup. The meal was a feast of . chicken and steak and all the luxuries the jungle had deprived them of. After a slice of cake and a rare sighting of a sloth that lived in the restaurant, the group took to the streets to join in with the local festivities. Luckily for the EMs they had arrived on the one night Tena was holding a huge festival. They blended in with the group at the town square and engaged in some dodgy dancing to the live music while sipping b and beer eating candy floss. It was a night that ended too soon and the following morning brought the heavy . hearted goodbyes to the five weekers. Although it was sad to send them off the overall feeling was one of happiness and they were wished well on their journey home. thei
On Saturday the new five-week EMs arrived at base camp. They were tired after a long day on a bumpy bus ride, motorized canoe trip and a hike up the mountains of steps to camp from port. They spent the day unpacking all their gear and were welcomed to the comedor by a huge wandering spider. d
The next day the four new EMs took their first walk into the jungle along the Bloop trail. They saw a op giant millipede and the staff talked about all the different types of forest within the Yachana Reserve and pede R what they could expect to see in the coming weeks. On Monday the First Aid training got underway. The EMs rolled around in laughter at the unintentionally hilarious video about potential accidents that would require Emergency First Response. Who knew that accide . something educational could be so funny? That evening the other ten weekers returned to camp and gave the new EMs a hearty welcome. Four of the ten weekers would not return until that weekend as they had return the opportunity to help and teach at the Yachana Technical High School for a few days. ch Tuesday was comprised of even more First Aid training. The group partook in role play scenarios (which became increasingly absurd!) to practice the techniques they had learned the previous day. In t the afternoon they constructed baffles out of wood and tarp which would be used in a preliminary test to catch amphibians. The following day brought machete training which involved hacking away some of the forest. This is always an immensely satisfying activity. acti On Thursday the new EMs were briefed on what a day of camp duty entails and luckily managed to avoid cleaning the toilets to start their TEFL training. Each of them taught a five minute lesson on whatever t they wanted ranging from how to make origami crows to how to ride a unicycle! origam Friday morning was a minga (a communal effort in completing a big community task, which is normally rewarded with a hearty feed for all participants over at the Yachana High School. All the EMs were participants) . finally reunited and those who had been based across the river at Yachana for the week and had the chance to meet the new people for the first time. That morning they all toiled away in the fields to plant yuca yuc and clear their football pitch of piles of earth and logs, in itch preparation for Saturday’s flag para parade. This is carried out annually in memory of a territory battle with Colombia on 27 February 1829. Students of colleges . and high schools across Ecuador have a similar parade where they swear allegiance to the flag and the college wear colleg had spent the week preparing the march marching ceremony. On Saturday the group crossed the river to Yachana again and congregated in the field to watch the procession. For three hours the students marched acros across the pitch in a disorderly fashion and kissed the Ecuadorian flag one at a time. The morning was long but, but for the students and their families (many of whom had travelled some distance to watch the proceedings), it was a proud day and all were well reward with a slap up meal at lunch provided by the high school. rewarded After an exhausting but exciting first week for the new EMs it was time for everyone to chill out and have a lazy Sunday. Some headed off on a leisurely walk to the Laguna while others took a well deserved day. leisu y w rest in the hammocks. It was a day to rejuvenate and prepare for the week ahead.
It was the first proper week of survey work for the new EMs or the “newbies” as the others called them. “ ” Benthic filled their days and nights. Identifying critters from the pump stream and assessing the impact of the camp upon the surrounding waters. ng On the Tuesday night the new EMs headed out to a satellite camp for the night with new staff member f ith Andy Whitworth. It was a night in the terrifying jungle with only their jungle hammocks to protect them . from the elements. Thankfully our two excellent Ecuadorian graduates, Mauro and Piter, were at hand to save the day brandishing their fire making skills and hammock stringing techniques. Unfortunately the ir pesky wasps nest on the way to sat camp caused a bit of a problem when Rachel was stung a dozen times o and reacted badly with a swollen eye and tongue. Deliriously funny till in the end Rachel remained in
high spirits and amused the others with her mutated face at the camp fire until bedtime. In the morning the campers took a tour of the Laguna and trekked through some tricky terrain. Some of them still bear the bruises of the trek but admit the effort was worthwhile. ek That weekend all the EMs took a three day trip to Yasuni National Park, the most biologically diverse Park, forest in the Ecuador and the homeland of the Huaorani tribe. There they were reunited with their o old friend and guide Hector Vargas. The canoe ride was nearly three hours long down the Napo River ri because it was particularly low due to a dry week in the area and some of the team had to jump overboard a couple of times p to push the boat out shallow waters and river bed. be Unfortunately some had the pleasure of getting soaked up to their chest as a result of it. The time at Yasuni was unforgettable with some of the highlights including: a trip to the clay licks to see the parrots feeding on the clay walls, a rare walls glimpse of the Rosari’s Spoonbill Bird, chasing a herd of peccaries through the forest at full pelt and slipping all over the place in the process and last but not least a final night’s stay on the remote and beautiful Allpa Sumak, Hector’s Island. It was a weekend of stunning sightings of wildlife and a chance for the EMs to sample some of the more remote d parts of the Amazon.
On Monday it was an early departure from the beautiful Hector’s Island and a short boat ride to the town of Coca. There the EMs spent the morning gorging on meat, pastries, chocolate and many other indulgences that they find themselves deprived of back at camp. They eventually headed back to the jungle with their bellies swollen and were primed for a week of survey work. The days that followed were packed with stream walks, night surveys and camp duties. On Saturday the new EMs took their too first trip to Agua Santa, the local market, to stock up on some , goodies. They trekked for two hours through the river of mud to make it to the road but they were duly rewarded with a lunch of traditional Ecuadorian cooking. Meanwhile back at camp the rian other EMs got together to do some maintenance work. In the o afternoon everyone was reunited and a small group took off on a little adventure to one of the trails further afield in the reserve. reserve They stopped for dinner on a slope overlooking the high canopy e and watched the sun set. As dusk breached they turned back on the trail and headed home in the darkness, always keeping an eye out for frogs and other nocturnal dark nd creatures.
Week nine was welcomed by bright sunshine. A mass of piled laundry was washed and rushed to the drying area. At last, a last real chance to dry clothes. One group of EMs was sent out to s carry out some stream exploration for suitable benthic surveying sites. After struggling past landslides and fallen trees the stream was successfully navigated up to the road. Now the fun began! Just off the ‘Bloop’ trail the stream was followed back to the road where a colony of bats was roosting llowed in a nearby tunnel. The group then navigated their way to the clear waters of ‘Stream 1’ for a refreshing swim. swim
Tuesday began with a butterfly survey. This involved setting traps high up in the trees, baited up with the rotten fish stew. The idea is to attract carrion feeding species. Whilst waiting for the traps to work some butterfly netting was enjoyed which is particularly useful for catching nectar feeding species. Wednesday involved an early start with half the group leaving for a local bird survey, whilst the other half of the group set off on one of the longest walks of the expedition, deep into the reserve following expedition ‘Stream 1’. At four in the afternoon a very tired, sweaty group returned back to base. Some of whom still b . went out that same evening to help out others on their BTEC walks! other Thursday morning involved TEFL prep and shortly after breakfast the teaching group made their way down to the local school ready to share their English powers. The youngest group had great fun learning the words for various clothes in English which involved dressing up! The older class did some geography and had a good time picking out places on a map. Following a writing exercise it became apparent that the children considered their tiny village to be a city. In the evening the Base Manager, Jon gave a talk on t Jo eco-marketing – very interesting stuff. Friday and Saturday tormented the group with torrential rain, but on Saturday morning some of the group rain did get over to the local market to fill up on supplies and treats. The last Saturday evening was full of d good food and good comedy. The group was treated to a quick sketch play by two budding actors within qui the group and then later some games were played around the table. Peachoffe pie also came as a real treat und to fill us all up! Sunday brought enough rain to spoil sat camp plans but not football at Yachana. GVI were beaten again.
Week Ten It was the final week and what better way to end the expedition than to spend a night on another sat camp, this time with a different location A small group departed for the Laguna on Monday , location. aguna morning and braved the path past the wasp nest for the last time. After setting up their jungle hammocks they went on a trek around the full Laguna and took in the beautiful sunset upon the t aguna clay mounds that overlooked the spectacular scenery. That night the group took up their torches and made their second trip down to the water in the hope of spotting caiman. They were i caim rewarded with a rare sighting of a Two-toed sloth, curled up in a little ball from high up in the canopy and a Night Monkey. At the Laguna some spotted the red beady eyes of a caiman. The night was a real treat for the campers and proved to be the perfect way to spend one of the last nights in the rainforest. On Tuesday morning the remaining EMs back at camp set off on their own hike to the Laguna to stretch the legs and catch a glimpse of some of the unique birds that can be found in the area mpse such as the White-throated Toucan and the Blue-headed Parrot. That evening interns Andy and throated Blue Chris led the final night walk into the jungle. The sky was particularly stunning and held the group standing in awe as they starred up at the blanket of stars. The EMs soaked up as much of the surroundings as they could for last time and plodded home to camp content and ready for bed. That night the sky opened up and the jungle reverberated with the crack of thunder. crack Wednesday was spent packing up and clearing away all the gear, it seemed like the weather was reflecting the mood of the EMs. It was sad to leave but a final meal in Tena left plenty of time for the EMs to reminisce on all the great moments of the past ten weeks and all the wonderful moments stories to tell their families and friends when they returned home.
Science updates Dung beetles Matt Iles has begun conducting new research on dung beetles during this phase. He intends to look at the difference in populations around the reserve after identifying all species found and then also look into their food preferences in the near future. Hopefully as an indicator of the health of the area. future. Benthic Interns Andy Mercer and Hannah and Base Manager Jon have been working on the nearby pump stream B r for the second half of the phase in particular, which has involved lots of stream mapping and getting wet. Through the use of these Benthic surveys they hope to assess any impacts on water quality caused by enthic water GVI camp and generally assess the overall health of the streams within the reserve. Amphibians Chris and Andy Whitworth have been conducting surveys also on the pump stream in conjunction with the Benthic work. They have been trialling different surveying methods including sight and encounter enthic transects and pitfall traps using baffles. It is hoped that these methods can be of future use towards a larger project incorporating looking at road or pasture effects on amphibians across the reserve. Swabbing for Chytrid fungus has also continued throughout the ten weeks when ever frogs have been encountered. Birds Point count surveys and local bird surveys have been continued throughout the phase but Jon Escolar has through plans in the pipeline for a more comprehensive and directional project to gather bird data across the er reserve, as opposed to simply increasing the list of species encountered. Community update Puerto Rico GVI has continued its quota of two hours, twice a week at the local community school of Puerto Rico. Ri They have been teaching two classes; one of approximately ten students of between the ages of 3 and 6 years old; the other of approximately 20 students between the ages of 7 and 12 years old. This has proved to be challenging as there is a lack of direction and continuity of the lessons, with the change of EMs and apparent lack of syllabus from the school. It was discovered that the school does actually have an English curriculum. However when shown the book, it was discovered that it is not the best and there is a definite need for a decent course book or syllabus to continue with this programme. est This would also make life easier for the EMs as they would have a bit more guidance of what subjects to focus on during their lessons. Karina is looking into getting hold of a suitable book here in Quito, but looking will have to see what is available. Yachana Technical High School Jon and Karina have been communicating with Marlon, the Rector of the High School, to pencil in more dates when we could potentially send EMs across for a week to participate in the high school and have a an much more formal inter-cambio. This phase’s trial seemed to be successful, but it was considered necessary to have a bit more structure to the time when the EMs are there. It was also considered useful if the EMs had some Spanish (maybe this would be a selection criteria for the next group who head over there). The EMs will always be accompanied by a Spanish speaking member of staff. T is definitely ). This an area that we want to build on and develop over the up and coming phases. nt We also hosted two pasantias, students from the high school on their work experience, Juan Carlos and Franklyn. They spent three weeks with us. Initially they were extremely shy and potentially they arrived t at the wrong time (intro week) when staff were focusing on getting the 18 strong expedition of EMs up to
speed with all aspects of camp life , EFR and TEFL, amongst others. We probably didn’t have enough . time to dedicate to the students, as we were also slightly under-staffed. The boys became more involved me with things after the first week, but we have also learned that we potentially need to have a selection criteria for these students to ensure that they have a minimum level of understanding of English in order to benefit and get the full potential out of their stay with GVI. ational Scholarship Programme Jon has modified the BTEC programme we offer to EMs in a format that can hopefully be used as an informal certification for the graduates who spend five or ten week periods with GVI on base in the reserve. After much trawling he has managed to source one book in Spanish that would assist in the course work of this and Douglas (from Yachana) found a Spanish version of A eoTropical Companion, Com unfortunately it is still in the USA and hasn’t made it in our hands yet, nor do we know when it might arrive. This is something we would like to offer to give the Ecuadorians who spend longer at base more direction to their time there and also some form of qualifying the work they have done during their time with us. This phase we have had three graduates with us; Flavio (for the first five weeks), Piter (for the second five weeks) and Mauro (more or less for the whole ten weeks). Flavio was a help on walks with his local knowledge and also giving artesania lessons. Piter (of Piter’s Farm fame) has improved massively his hi English language skills. He really threw himself into the inter-cambio from day one and it also massively in e inspired a couple of staff members, particularly Chris, and some EMs to push forward with their Spanish skills. He has been enthusiastic and helpful at all times and has imparted his knowledge on Chris on how helpful to make perfect rice in the kitchen! Mauro really came out of himself in the second five weeks – more than likely inspired by Piter. He became much more involved in all aspects of camp life and surveys in aspects a the latter part of the ten weeks.