Monday, February 22, 2010

Backpacking and Bacterial Infections

I have a homework pile stretching to the moon and back right now, so this´ll be short, but I haven´t written in two weeks and a lot has happened. So here goes!

Two weekends ago (Feb 13-14) was a holiday called Carnaval in Ecuador. The idea of Carnaval is not religious based or anything. The point is just to have fun. Kids fill water balloons and have giant water fights in the streets. They spray silly string on each other and on any unfortunate passerby who gets in the way. It´s a nice break, right when you need it. (You know how the US has a huge holiday season for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but then you have to go to school for Jan, Feb, and March basically without a break? Carnaval was great for relieving that long stretch! I think the US should adopt it!)

Anyway, I´m off track. During Carnaval, if you remember, I went backpacking in the Amazon. It was AMAZING! We left Friday afternoon and drove up to a town in the mountains called Oyacachi. Oyacachi is the trailhead for a three day hike to a town called El Chaco. And right next to Oyacachi is the entrance to a national park with hot springs. We spent the first night there, sleeping by the hot springs. It was pretty sweet- there was NOBODY there (well duh. It was 8 o´clock on a Friday night before Carnaval. Who is going to go to Oyacachi?)

On Saturday morning, we met up with our guide, Pedro aka Tío. We drove the first 15 km because they are just walking along a road- boring stuff that we didn´t have time for. Then we hit the rainforest and going got a little tougher. I´ve backpacked in the desert before, but this was very different. Obviously. We were walking along the side of the mountain, not over the top and down like I´ve done on previous trips. Our path was generally about a foot and a half wide, maybe less, and when the little path ended, there was usually just a drop off that headed down the mountain. If you fell, as I did many times, there were trees to stop your fall, but you generally fell at least a little ways before coming to a stop. And the trees were prickly and the ground was muddy. Great fun.

There was a lot of mud. I´ll post the pictures when I remember to put them on my disk (meaning, you´ll probably see them when I get back to the States because I´m a little absent minded...). We had rain boots, but at one point, I stepped in a mud puddle so deep that I sank up to mid thigh. Got my foot out, but we had a nice 10 minute break while we dug my boot out!

Our guide made things interesting. Not really in a good way. On Sunday, we packed up and started hiking around 6:30 am. He told us not to worry, we´d reach the town of Santa Maria, outside of which we would spend the night, by 2 pm. We would have time to explore, bathe, buy more food if we had run out (which I had.) Around 1, we asked him ¨How much longer?¨ He told us, ¨Oh, maybe half an hour. Probably less.¨ Half an hour? That´s nothing. We could do that easily. We kept hiking.

2 o´clock. ¨Pedro, how much longer?¨ ¨Oh, an hour. That´s all. Probably less.¨ Ok. Another hour. We could do that.

4 o´clock. ¨Pedro, why haven´t we stopped yet?¨ ¨Oh, it´s only another hour. Really. Probably less.¨

We arrived at 6. Not at Santa Maria, but at the best camping spot we could find. We had half an hour to start a fire (which wouldn´t start. The wood was too wet. One of the greatest failures of my life...), cook dinner, set up tents, get water... crazy!

The others slept in tents, but I don´t like tents. I like to fall asleep breathing fresh air and I like to see the stars. They told me I was crazy, that in the RAINforest, I would get rained on. I did. My sleeping bag absorbed it and I didn´t feel a thing. They woke up with condensation in their tents dripping on their noses!

The professor told us we would have a fire, so I packed the stuff for s´mores (it´s not that heavy, and who can resist s´mores???) Turns out, the wood was too wet, so on the last night, we tried making them over a candle flame. The first boy to roast a marshmallow accidently put the candle out, and of course, we had used all of our matches. So we made s´mores with marshmallows squished between our fingers to make them malleable, chocolate, and crackers (they don´t have graham crackers here, so we used two kinds- Ritz and another called Noel. Made for interesting s´mores!)

We got back on Monday night. On Tuesday night, I realized that the water filter I had used in the mountains hadn´t been functioning and that I hadn´t been purifying my water. I got sick. Really sick. I went to the hospital Tuesday night and had to get two IVs in my arm to stop me from vomiting. Didn´t really go to school last week, which is why I didn´t write (I went on Thursday to my first class because I thought I was feeling better. But the mix of medicines I was taking made me sick again, and I ended up sitting through one class staring into space and going home before the next one started. My professor tried to ask me a question, and I kind of just stared at her. My brain wasn´t really functioning that day!)

But, everything is better now. I´m going to be a lot more cautious in the future. I had heard of bacterial infections here, but I figured I had a strong stomach and wouldn´t have problems. Famous last words. The water really is dangerous, and those of us with clean stomachs from the US and other countries really have to be careful. So learn from me and take care of yourself when you travel!

Time to go write an Education essay. This entry was longer than I thought. Hope the States are treating you all fabulously!


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