Confessions of a Jungle Girl

Two weeks can change a lot in a humans life. I travelled with my group to the Comuna of Bua in the Tsachila area near Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, spent a free weekend with them in Atacames, discovered that I can actually survive two weeks without Facebook, Gmail, Instagram and Google and that life in the jungle is the greatest: living together with indigenous, washing not only yourself but also your clothes in the river, sleeping under a mosquito net in a wooden cabin, eating rice ricerice and more rices (and bananas) and I became a happier, more relaxed person. All of this thanks to the nature which brought me litteraly more DOWN TO EARTH. Hereby I would like to share with you a summary and my diary during this wonderful jungle experience.

Thursday 3 April 2014

After picking up both LEAP groups at the airport, having orientations, check-ins, passport registrations, Spanish tests, a welcome dinner and so on, I was burned out. Never have I ever felt so stressed and nervous, unprepared and responsible in my life… But the good thing was that I had hardly time to think and realize that we were about to leave for a two week adventure in the middle of the jungle.

Fortunately, because if I would have had more time to prepare and think, I realize know that I would only get more nervous about that! And from the first day I could notice that I had a great team, 7 boys and 4 girls, and me… the leader! Break a leg…

Friday 4 April 2014

After a first breakfast we were about to start the first day of work (volunteering) in the Comuna de Búa. As a group leader I had to coordinate and especially translate a lot of things. We digged into the ground, made mountains of sand and carried all of that sand in bags to the nursery nearby. It was a really heavy job because of various reasons: climate (humid, hot, sunny) and work load (nobody was used to this type of work).

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Fortunately in the afternoon we had free time to play some football with the local people of Santo Domingo, and enjoy the river. Yes yes, I say ENJOY because surprise, surprise… I love the river. I can tell you, after a day of sweating like a pig this is the most refreshing thing you can ever wish for!

My first impressions after this day: HUNGRY! I have to get used to having less food, around 11AM I get a small headache due to a very low sugar level. There are huge spiders in the river on the raft, watching how we wash ourselves,the group atmosphere is really awesome: they are independent, work hard, don’t complain and always enjoy their selves with playing games and stuff. Love it!

Saturday 5 April 2014

Lucky as we were, it was already weekend and that means NO WORK for two days. It was a perfect timing as that first day of worked asked for some recuperation. Instead of work, Alfonso (leader of the community about who I blogged about earlier), took us on a hiking tour through the reserve and botanical garden. Again I had to translate all his explanations, which is not only quite hard to do because the vocabulary is quite specific and I have difficulties remembering more than 10 sentences to translate in one time.

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After the tour, we had a cacao workshop. We would be able to make chocolate in a few days.

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I went with 5 of my group members to the nearby city of Santo Domingo. To get there, we had to take a bus for an hour, because we were living in a very remote cultural center. The main goal of the trip was eating sugar, buying more things containing sugar (cookies, sodas, chewing gum, …), visiting the local pharmacies (as some of us already had some ‘difficulties’) and buying a birthday cake for one of the group members which birthday was next day. Unfortunately, this trip was not so relaxing as planned to be as the city is really unsafe and you constantly have to take care about each other and your belongings. So when we got back to our jungle home, we were exhausted and cooled off in the river.

I also decorated my room, which obviously just means unpacking my bag and hanging stuff up to dry (humidity…). While I wrote my diary, I noticed that the days passed by so quickly and I reflected a little bit. I noticed that every day I woke up so peacefully and that I appreciate this place and the nature a lot more than I expected. I  also felt way more relaxed then the first days when the group arrived. Moreover, I had the feeling quite fast that this place would probably be the most special of all three volunteer projects. But never say never, it  can get better!

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More impressions after this day: humid and hot climate, everywhere along the road banana trees, terrible traffic in Santo Domingo, crazy and dangerous city where you never should go if you don’t need to, the smell of burned wood, the everlasting sounds of insects in the forest, falling asleep with watching fireflies above your mosquito net, the smell of sunscreen and DEET on your skin, the continuous sweating, … It reminds me somehow of my trip in Central America and I realize this is the life I love!

Sunday 6 April 2014

Waking up in the rain is something else. You feel like you can’t go outside, but on the other hand… You are outside. And you notice that when your bed is wet due the a leak in the roof. There are only two options: remove your bed or remove your body to another side of the bed. And after that, waiting until it stops raining to cover the open gap in the roof with another leaf that you take from a tree. Life is simple!

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When it stopped raining, Don Alfonso took us out for a walk to Umpechico, the nearest by civilization. It was not impressive and the shops were not worthy to call shops, the houses were not worthy to call houses and so on. You know what I mean, or maybe you don’t. Because honestly, you have to see it before you can believe it. And then when you did that, you say: ‘Okay. Ecuador is a third world country. Still a lot of improvement to be made.’ For lots of my group members, I could notice not only the disappointment of not encountering the places they wished to find, but also the culture shock. They wanted to return fast as they felt unsafe.

In the afternoon we celebrated the birthday of one of our group members. We had bought a cake in Santo Domingo and invited the Tsáchilas (simply called Chillas by the English volunteers) to join the party. We made popcorn, played games and had fun. I feel really blessed having such a positive group!

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We finally got to know Alfonso’s wife and other community members, and even the puppy dogs came to join the celebrations.

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Here you can see the jungle party crew in front of our “house”:

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In the evening I felt really tired. I noticed that going to bed around 10PM and waking up at 6AM is giving me a minimum of sleep. I don’t know why the jungle makes me so exhausted, but it is probably also because I am constantly coordinating all the activities and schedules, organizing and planning with Alfonso and translating is probably the hardest part of work, as the communication between my group and the locals is very poor due to this language barrier. I even did a small nap in the hammock in the afternoon, which is heavenly!

I noticed that I didn’t miss anything yet of the civilized world, except from my ‘drugs’: sugar, boyfriend and cigarettes. Luckily, that last one I bought in advance so don’t really need to miss it. And I already realize that once back out of the jungle, I will have to adapt to the normal world again… Not sure if I like that idea…

Monday 7 April 2014

Now that the weekend was over, it was time to get back to work. It started to be a daily routine to wake my Leapers up at 07.15, have breakfast at 07.30, point the ‘cleaning team’ of the day at 07.45 and start working at 08.00 AM. As Don Alfonso was not available, the organisation went a little bit bad. Eventually, we started working around 9AM and today we filled up bags with the sand we carried on Friday. A local group of volunteers from Santo Domingo joined us and we managed to fill 7500 bags, which we lined up in rows of 5 bags according to size and height. In this bags will be planted seeds of trees and after 3 months they would be ready to be planted in the forest. This is what we call REFORESTATION! Quite a relaxing job to do today, and plenty of time to chat with the group and the locals during work.

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After work, Alfonso passed by with some Papaya. I asked him about a natural cure for constipation as some group members, including myself have had problems going to the toilet (called “the loo” by the English). And I don’t know if it was superstition or not, but an hour after I managed to do “it”! This practical problem is quite crazy, as most of the groups have the opposite problem in the jungle…

Impressions of the day: I feel finally relaxed enough to focus on reading a roman in the hammock, slowly got frustrated by the fact that clothes and towels never ever dry here because of the humidity, jump under my mosquito net very fast every night to avoid any more insect bites, hate to go to the toilet after dark because of frogs, snakes, spiders and insects near the road to it, got frustrated because DEET and other repellents don’t seem to work at all and got bitten anyway, washed my clothes in the river today and woke up at night due to raindrops falling on my face… Another leak in the roof! Bats and insects don’t seem to understand that my cabaña is not their house and so I decided to compromise and just share it with them and the cockroaches, the fact that I see my textile stuff getting molded, my supply of cookies and chocolate that gets less and a sudden lightning storm and thunder that wakes me up in the middle of the night… A lot of things are frustrating, but I can only accept it, live with it, take a deep breath and go on, and I feel so much more quite when I do that. PEACE.

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Tuesday 8 April 2014

At six I woke up from the pouring rain. I guess this is what they call “showers” in English. It would have been the perfect time to take a shower outside, but instead, I turned around in bed and slept some more. As it was raining so much, we could not go to work. It is very demotivating and frustrating. So after breakfast, we just waited until it stopped raining. In the meantime, I talked with Alfonso and out of nowhere I came up with a self-made quote: “En la selva la naturalezaes el jefe del trabajo.” (In the forest nature is the boss of work.)

At 9AM it finally was over, but as it was late we couldn’t do what we had planned to do for today. We supposed to go to another community to construct a “casa tipica cultural” (typical cultural house), but that plan was definitely cancelled now. Again we had to go to the nursery and fill some bags with sand. It was quite boring after two days… At 11AM everybody got very hungry, and we ate banana. Did I tell you that Ecuador has more than 5 types of bananas?!! Maduro, Banano, Verde, Platano, … And they make all different kinds of things with them.

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As one of my group members had some emergency situation, I left quickly to the city of Santo Domingo with him. I was quite happy to get out of the jungle, not because I didn’t like the place but because I could go to the bakery to eat something sweet and ‘normal’. I ordered a cheese sandwich, which I didn’t manage to finish, no matter how hungry I was. I guess your stomach gets smaller when you eat less all the times. And oh yeah, the reason why I longed for that cheese sandwich is: we don’t have a fridge in the community so that means we don’t have fresh products like milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat, … Also, a bakery is unlikely to be nearby so we hardly eat bread there.

Before it got dark, we returned to our jungle home in Búa, where it was raining again. But because we were so sweaty, we went to the river anyway. You get wet anyway so what does it matter! We ate some more banana for dinner and Alfonso visited us to repair the beds and leaks in the roof. As always, the group members enjoyed their selves in the evening playing games, listening some music and so on.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

I woke up again around 5AM because of the rain. But luckily it stopped raining by the time I had to wake up the group. We had an awesome breakfast as they finally bought more tea and yes, we had some bread! Around 8 o’clock we started to work. This time, Alfonso decided that we could make a cultural house for our own community so we didn’t have to worry about the cancelation of the other project. Well, here in the jungle time is a concept that hardly exists. Everything changes from hour to hour and from day to day. You have to be open minded, flexible and accept that. It is the only way to survive.

And as we could only start the next day with our new project, today we would clean the road from the community to the public road. It wasn’t really a nice job, but clearing the leafs we saw a lot of insects and spiders. That made it a little bit more adventurous. As my group was not really motivated to do this job, I decided to work a little bit harder to give the right example. And as always, they did what they had to do, didn’t complain too much and finish the task of the day well. I was satisfied but tired!

By lunch time, I had blisters on my hands from cleaning the road so I was happy that we didn’t have to work again in the afternoon. Instead, Alfonso demonstrated the coloring of his hair with the typical plant called ACHIOTE.

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After that, it was time for a siesta in the hammock. I love it! The worst part is getting out, you never want to leave that place once you get in… While I was chilling, I was smiling to myself. My mother should see me here, how her daughter that never ever before touched something in the garden because she was more an urban chick now slightly turned into a real Tarzan&Jane personage with green fingers, like she had never done anything else before in her life… But it is the perfect proof that it is never too late to change as a human being!

In the mean time I’ve got quite attached to my rain boots. My socks smell like a death mouse, but it didn’t matter. One day more of work, and then we had a free weekend which we would be spending on the beach. And oh, what was I happy to have some pasta (and for god sake, not RICE) as dinner. Like a culinary orgasm…

Thursday 10 April 2014

After breakfast we had a reunion with Alfonso. Yesterday in the afternoon we had made a design for some new volunteer cabins in Búa, as the current ones are obviously getting older. At 8AM we had a meeting with the Tsachilas, which I had to lead. I guess I did it quite well, involving as much people as I could, translating from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English. Alfonso was very happy with our suggestions and designs.

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At 9AM we left walking to Umpechico, the nearby village, to hike into a forest where we would be cutting huge leafs with machetes for the construction of our typical house. It was a very hard task to do, as we had to go deep in the jungle, deal with lots of insect bites and snakes hanging around. It was also very very humid and hot so we were quite exhausted by the time we could return for lunch. Luckily, a pick-up truck (camioneta) took us back, so we didn’t have to make the hour long walk again to Bua.

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Straight after lunch we had to get back to work and clean the area where we would construct the house. We cutted trees to make space, we cleared the leafs hanging around away and sorted the branches and trunks. I can tell you, I was exhausted after that and I am eating so much cookies whenever I can!

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In the night, I woke up having a nightmare that I lost the group near the beach and I had my first night trip to the eco-toilet, which included an encounter with several frogs, spiders and other ugly insects. I can tell you, going to the toilet at night is the last thing you want at night, as you have to get out of your mosquito net, take your torch light, make sure your road is cleared from animals, survive a road in the jungle towards the toilet, do some stairs in the dark and go all the way back to your wooden cabin, jumping quickly back under your mosquito net, hoping no insect had entered. A whole adventure for a simple pee! But what needs to happen, needs to happen…

Oh yeah, and we have some small ducks in the community since a few days now. Unfortunately, two of them died but one of them seems to survive well. I called it PatitoLuís (little duck Louis) and took him for the first time to the river to learn it how to swim. He loved it, the cuttie! The girls of the kitched joined me also to the river today and they took me for a ride on the raft. We smiled a lot but didn’t really talk a lot as they are very shy, but I can see that I feel good back to basics and I noticed that these girls don’t need much to live here happily.

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I thought about Tuesday, when I entered my Facebook account in the internet café and suddenly saw a mirror of my life and my friend’s lives. It was a shocking experience as it all seems so far away and different from this reality I am in now. It is like I am not the same person here, and I started to wonder if the life back there is the life I really want. Deep inside it felt like I entered a new road in life, and something in me was scared that my old life would not fit in anymore. I am following my heart and my dreams, and living outside makes you think about the outside world at home, which is something completely different. Here nobody cares about your looks or your status… I felt like the river I was in, I’ve landed in a stream of life and I’m floating in the right direction. But there are still 9 weeks left before I return to Belgium, so time enough to worry about my comeback…

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Friday 11 April 2014

Time for the weekend to begin! At 8.30AM we took a pick-up truck to Santo Domingo, which I arranged for my group. There I assisted them to buy bus tickets for the bus to Atacames, which is a vibrant beach town in the north of Ecuador in the province of Esmeraldas. And yes, that’s a dangerous party place…

Around noon we arrived there and checked in into the hotel, which I also reserved for the group. It was really even more hot here in the coastline, and I had no hot water or air-conditioning in the room. But I did have a shower, and oh god, that did so good after this long time in the jungle river…

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In the afternoon, after having lunch with the group, I went to an internet café to write my weekly reports for school, Yanapuma and The Leap, and to talk to my boyfriend, friends and family at home. At night it was time for a first night out with my group members, and like always we had a lot of fun. Going out in Atacames was a very nice but different experience as the bars are lined out next to each other on the beach and all playing reggeaton music as loud as they can. Late at night I went to sleep. Satisfied!

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Saturday 12 April 2014

Quite early in the morning I woke up from the noises around my room. Atacames is definitely not the place where you should go for a good sleep! I had a nice breakfast near the hotel and chilled a little bit around. In the afternoon I went for some fresh seafood lunch with some of the group members and I had the chance to try the famous CAMARONES ENCOCADOS. It’s a local dish of the region. Delicious!

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In the evening we all went for a pizza on the beach strip and after that we went to party again. It was a lovely time there and although the group members ask me for help, translations and other things a lot of the time, I must say I am enjoying every minute of this experience and I feel so blessed being part of this!

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I feel super even though I am quite exhausted already. I just try to go to bed on time and get enough hours of sleep  every day. So dear mother, don’t worry. I’m fine! 😉 I do miss my boyfriend a lot, but I also realize that in life you can’t have it all. As I always say to my friends: CHOOSING IS LOOSING. And I have chosen for this adventure/internship in Ecuador, and so far I got a lot of things in return for that.

Sunday 13 April 2014

The weekend in Atacames finished Sunday morning as we took the bus back to Santo Domingo. After 4 hours on the bus we arrived, had our last nice lunch in a local restaurant and then headed back with the pick-up truck to our jungle home community of Bua. Once arrived there, I realized the last 3 days were here and I am going to miss it a lot as I feel already home here…

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I was happy to be back in my quite wooden cabin, as last night had been a rough night on the beach. I had some piña colada, which had some ice cubes inside, and gave me the “D” (diarrhea). Also, there had been a fight in the club we were and some of the group members were quite drunk. But fortunately, we had danced good, partied hard, enjoyed the food and the music, and nobody got robbed or sick. I just hoped my “D” got over quickly, because going to an eco-toilet like this is not fun!

That Sunday night, you can imagine I went to bed early as I was tired from the whole weekend trip.

Monday 14 April 2014

Yesterday evening I went to bed early, hoping to enjoy some private time under my mosquito net, enjoying reading a book. That wasn’t so nice and private as hoped… While reading I saw something coming closer and closer coming out of my pillow. When I turned, I saw it was a small snake/worm from about 25cm. I jumped out of the bed, catched the animal and threw it in the first plant I saw, I was shaking. Oh my god, in my bed!!

I didn’t read one page further or another giant insect entered my room. I could hear it flying in as if it were a helicopter, that big! It settled itself cosy on the ceiling, so there was no way catching it. So, as I was done with reading now, I decided to put the light out and go to sleep. But when I wanted to close my curtain, I was so surprised. My little gecko pet was hanging in the curtain and we both were shocked. The little poor animal looked like it could jump on top of me and so I didn’t know how to turn of the lights like this. I was done, enough jungle!!! I broke… I had enough of this jungle sh*t.

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Finally I went to bed later then planned, frustrated and sad. I had to take peace all the time with the fact that all this animals entered the room without my permission and that sucked. But yeah, nothing else to do about it. Just sleep.

In the morning all animals were gone, and I enjoyed the sounds of the jungle as I woke up. When I went to the toilet, I had another “tropical surprise”. The ‘D’ had not disappeared but continued for about 3 times in the same morning. I decided to wait until noon to see if it got better. It didn’t got a lot better, but it also didn’t got worse…

And at 8AM it was time to work and construct the house. I don’t know what it was, but maybe I was weaker after the weekend and this toilet problem, but I couldn’t seem to motivate myself to work good today. Just as I thought the days were almost over and nothing could go wrong, I felt down… I had to take a lot of breaks, ask fruits to eat more in the kitchen and take enough rest. But I also had to coordinate the work of my group, so I didn’t really have time to take a day off…

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Luckily, the group worked good and hard and they seemed happy finally being able to construct a little house. In the evening, they even helped to cook some dinner in the kitchen, and I am very happy that they take some initiatives. They are lovely!

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Tuesday 15 April 2014

The penultimate day of work in the jungle! And you should think that this last days go easy and pass by, but no no, the last days were a hell for me. I didn’t have energy and had difficulties with work. But I fought with myself and continued, knowing it was the last day of work for me.

As I felt weaker, I suddenly felt a little bit down too. I had the need to talk with somebody about how I feel, because it is always me who is asking my group how they feel. And as a group leader, nobody ever asks you how you are really doing. Well yeah, they do but it is never a ‘deep’ conversation…

I just tried to keep everybody busy with work and didn’t work so hard myself, to be honest. But I kept coordinating and don’t think the group was bothered by that. When it was finally noon, I fell asleep fast in the hammock and I woke up an hour later to get back to work again. After work, we were all tired and relaxed and cooled off in the river… What a day!

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In the evening Alsonso talked to me, because he could see I was tired. He told me that I was a fantastic group leader and that he admires my enthousiasm. I really appreciated that, as it was exactly the compliment I needed to feel a bit better.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

The last full day with the Tsachilas! I had to go early in the morning at 7AM with two group members to the hospital to assist them with some medical consults. I also bought bus tickets for our return to Quito, and by noon we were back in the community.

In the afternoon we visited a local farm where the Tsachilas harvest fruits and vegetables such as yucca and maracuya.

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After getting back and going for a last time to the river, we had a goodbye celebration “la despedida” with all the community members. We evaluated our work, I translated as always what Alfonso said, coloured the hair of our boys with Achiote, bought souvenirs on the local market, made our own chocolate and had dinner all together. It was the perfect occasion to thank everybody for this wonderful experience and enjoy a last evening together.

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Thursday 17 April 2014

At 8AM we left the Tsachila, heading back to Quito. The jungle adventure is over. It was a long blog story, for which I apologize. But I hope you can see that it was an incredible and unique experience living and volunteering there for 2 weeks. I am grateful for each and every moment I shared and each and every person that was part of it. I think 2 weeks are not enough to change as a person, but at least some twinkle in my eye changed, is more relaxed and peaceful. I will never ever forget this in my life. And even though a return visit is unlikely, in my mind I will travel back often. I promise. Love you all, Tsachilas!

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From Julie with Love

2 responses to “Confessions of a Jungle Girl

  1. To the Jungle Girl Beste Julie, Ik denk dat je een fantastische tijd meemaakt en heel veel ervaring en kennis opdoet; niet alleen voor je beroep later, maar ook om te groeien als een schoon en goed mens. Als ik de beelden zo bekijk denk ik terug aan een bezoek dat ooit bracht aan een missionaris in de Filippijnen. Los van alle comfort, midden in de prachtige natuur, omringd door zeer vriendelijke mensen. Als oud-scout houd ik natuurlijk van de natuur en het eenvoudige échte leven. Ik heb mooie herinneringen aan die belevenissen uit mijn jeugd. Daarom ben ik zeer geboeid door wat je meemaakt en de ervaringen die je opdoet. Ik kijk uit naar de foto-sessies die je zult meebrengen en de fantastische verhalen die je kan vertellen. Daarom nodig ik je nu reeds uit om, samen met Karine eens op een vrije dag of op een zondag je verhaal in Daknam te komen vertellen. Nog veel vreugde en plezier in al wat je meemaakt met mensen en landen. Groetjes; Guido

    • Hey Guido, dankjewel voor de reactie. Ik heb inderdaad een fantastische tijd hier. Ik kijk er naar uit om mijn foto’s te tonen en verhalen te vertellen. Graag tot dan! Eind juni ben ik weer in het land… Groetjes, Julie

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