Sunday, September 02, 2007

Volunteering in the Cloud Forest

So you ask, what exactly is a cloud forest? A cloud forest, my friends, is a forest full of clouds. Or at least that was my full knowledge of cloud forests before accepting a three week volunteer position in one.

I just came back to Quito after a week of volunteer activity to first let you all know there is NO INTERNET in the cloud forest. None what-so-ever. E-mails to the cloud forest reserve are printed in the office in Quito, then sent in daily envelope deliveries by car. Replies are hand-written and sent in envelopes back by car to be typed up and e-mailed from the main office. I decided to deliver myself to Quito's internet cafe instead. For a day, anyway. Besides, had to get my 4th rabies shot.

My volunteer experience so far has been wonderful. I have my own room in a basic hut a half hour walk uphill from the main reserve. I sleep to nothing but the sound of crickets (and sometimes mice). No blaring TVs, no car alarms, no muffler-less hotrods, no discotecas or laughing or fighting in the street. To me, after 8 months of hostel dormitories and noise-loving latinos, this is sheer heaven. I wake up every morning at 6am to a woodpecker that loves imitating jackhammers on the hut roof, and I love him, too! I work and eat with a wonderful group of about 15 Ecuadorians and Colombians who have been treating me as a part of the group and as a friend from the beginning.

My home in the woods
My "work" so far has been painting trail markers and sometimes hacking away at the vegetation clearing trails. A new volunteer from England has recently arrived and we will be working on a project to set up a garden of local medicinal plants.

My work
So far I am very happy and look forward to my next two weeks at the reserve.

Oh yeah, so what is a cloud forest? In this case it is a forest between the Andes mountains and the Pacific where the collision of the Humbolt and warmer northern ocean currents push precipitation inland, which gets kind of stuck here. Mornings are sunny and afternoons are shrouded in fog. The birds LOVE it, there are at least 20 native species of hummingbirds, and bird-loving freaks come from all over the world to see them. I have recently been trying to identify them and memorize their impossible names. The Green Violet-ear, the Tawny-bellied Hermit, and the Fawn Breasted Brilliant are just a few hummingbird names that I think I finally remember correctly. (or was is the Fawn CHESTED Brilliant...or the Violet Green-Ear??) There are tons of other birds and lots of other funky things like leaf-imitating bugs and tarantulas crossing the street. Plant life is amazing, bromeliads and orchids everywhere.

Hummingbirds: The Banded Inca (R) and Buff-Tailed Something-or-other (L)
The only downfall to the situation is that going anywhere requires a lung-busting climb or muddy toe-smashing descent, sometimes twice. I have sworn many times this week to make darn sure the next time I volunteer will be at a place with a FLAT terrain. After my second day of hiking I actually had trouble sleeping because my butt-muscles were so sore.

So I will be out of touch for the next two weeks, but alive and well, don't worry. Will get back to everyone as soon as I'm back!


Anonymous said...

Sore butt-muscles huh? After climbing Fujisan and the other altitude mountain you would think that your butt-muscles would be prepared.

Well enjoy your next two weeks. Beware of poisonus frogs, snakes, tarantulas, etc...I just heard about that stuff from Globe wasn't real parent soothing.


Shannen said...


Unfortunately butt-muscles tend to go out of shape really quickly, he he.

Don't worry about all the poisonous things, I promise I wont touch or eat any of them. (Besides, they are all more afraid of us than we are of them!).

Moe: said...

Painting signs?! I can do that! And hummingbirds!? I like hummingbirds!

OK, stay where you are, I'm coming to join you.

Shannen said...


I'm a-waiting for you! YIPPEEEEE!

Faith said...

Oh my gosh- just the sight of a tarantula would have sent me packing!!!

The rest sounds incredible!!!

Just out of curiosity, what do they serve on the menu at the cloud forest?

XO Faith

Tara said...

Oh my goodness, sounds like you are having an awesome adventure!!!! Im really glad that you didnt meet any tarantulas....eeekss. Enjoy the Galapagos. Cant wait to read more...

Shannen said...


Great to hear from you~! Hope you had a wonderful birthday!!

On the menu it's always a yummy hot soup packed with veggies followed by a rice/beans/fried banana kind of dish (and usually meat/fish/chicken but I don't do that). And fresh fruit juice. I swear I've been gaining weight since coming to Ecuador!


Great to hear from you, too! Good luck on the job hunt, and hope you are still enjoying life in Lima with Lolicito!

I'm in the Galapagos now, my heading is spinning with the excitement and from spending so long on the boat. Did you head spin this much when on the Peace Boat??

Bobbi-Jo said...

Hey Shannen,

It's Bobbi-Jo, from D.F. in February. I am so excited to see you are still on the road, your volunteering looks awesome and I bet your Spanish is amazing. I think you should go to Colombia. No question: you know where not to go I am sure and, from what I hear, you won't even be allowed places you really shouldn't be. Any chance you'll still be in South America in January? I think your story about the President of Bolivia is awesome, by the way!

Shannen said...


Great to hear from you again! Thanks for the encouragement on Colombia!

Are you still in NY? I'm going home for Christmas and will probably start off somewhere else in Jan...are you thinking of travelling to South America in Jan? Definately recommend it!

Ravioli said...

Hi Lindura; awesome aventure, I like your photos...Did You not feel scare to swim with pirañas???
I cant belive it, very nice; I like the little alligator, and your job. "Falta tecnologia no"? haha.

Anonymous said...

You've thanked people for thier encouragement on Columbia ....aren't you going to thank your DAD for his disencouragement? I've been told by several fellow parents "what a great Dad you are" for my "no" vote campaign. And when do we get to see the Galpagoses? Huh? Huh?


Tara said...

Nope, no head-spinning from the Peaceboat for me!!!! I think along with my stomach of steel, I have a head of steel too. hahaha Cant wait to see some pics of the huge turtles!!!!

Shannen said...


I didn't feel too nervous about swimming with pirañas, as long as there is no blood it's ok! Ha ha


Well, thanks for your "disencouragement"! I'll be putting up Galapagos shots today!


I wish I had that stomach of steel! Am happy to not have to take anymore Dramamine for some time. Galapagos pics coming soon!