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!