Travel E-Logs: Amazon Rain Forest

Travel E-Logs #6: Getting Ready to Leave for Cuyabeno

Dear Students:

Buenos dias. Today, we are in Shushufindi, an oil town one hour away from Limoncocha. (Shushu means ‘porcupine’ and findi means ‘hummingbird’ in the Secoya language.) We are here preparing for our trip to a Quichua village on the Agua Rico River known as Playas de Cuyabeno (Cuyabeno for short). The Agua Rico is a large river that flows east from the Andes Mountains through the northern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon (and through the capital of Sucumbios Province, Nueva Loja – aka Lago Agrio) till it reaches the border with Peru, where it turns south. From there, for many miles, the Agua Rico acts as the border between Peru and Ecuador, and then flows into the Napo River some ten canoe hours downriver from Limoncocha. If everything goes smoothly, we will travel later this morning via canoe down the Agua Rico, four hours to Cuyabeno.

Lilia and I traveled to Cuyabeno last year, so I’m going to include a flashback about that trip in this report. I’ll also fill you in on what we did this past week (including some piranha fishing) and include an update about Yeseña, more animal poems, more questions and answers and a math puzzler.

We will be visiting schools in Cuyabeno and one or two other communities on the Agua Rico River for the next ten days. There is no electricity (except from family owned generators) or telephones in the communities we will be visiting; therefore, we will not have access to E-mail till we get back (around Feb. 10th). We have prepared a report – all about bugs – which our team member in NY, Robin Ambrosino, will send you while we are traveling. (Be prepared to shake in your boots!) After we get back, we’ll send two more reports about our travels, including accounts of rain forest plants and animals we encounter along the way – and one more report including fish stories and stories about Yanacocha, Black Lake.

Week's Events, Photos and Piranha

On Wednesday of this past week, Lilia and Teresa visited a school in a Shuar village called Yamanuka. On Thursday, Lilia worked with high school students at the Instituto Pedagogico Intercultural Bilingual de Limoncocha and Teresa and I visited a little school (with 26 students in grades 1-6) called Jacinto Rodriguez in a village called San Jacinto. On Thursday night, Lilia and I attended a traditional music and dance festival in Limoncocha featuring Quichua and Shuar music and dance. And on Friday, Teresa went piranha fishing. She caught five altogether, plus scaled, cleaned and cooked the biggest for our dinner. Mmmm! We’re including several photos of the week’s events in this report.

Flashback: Trip to Cuyabeno (January, 2003)

I'm writing from a canoe on the Aguarico River, on our way back to Limoncocha after visiting a community called Playas de Cuyabeno -- Cuyabeno for short. (Playas in Spanish means 'beaches.') Cuyabeno is a Quichua community, though there are also Secoya, Cofan and Shuar villages along the river. (We were hoping to visit one of the Secoya communities but were not able to communicate with them in time since there is no mail or phone service where they live and their satellite Internet service was having problems.) To get to Cuyabeno, we took a four hour motorized canoe ride down the Aguarico from the point where the road ends, two hours away from Limoncocha. Besides the scattered settlements and villages along the river, where people have cut down trees to make room for houses, gardens and a few cows, the river is surrounded by pure rain forest. The river itself, which on average is about two hundred yards wide, is a muddy brown, but, depending on the angle of the sun, sometimes reflects green from the trees or blue from the sky.

Four or five hours further downstream from Cuyabeno, the Aguarico meets the border with Peru and, from there, follows the border until it empties into the Napo River, which, further down in Peru, eventually flows into the Amazon. Traveling in a canoe like the one we’re in now, it would take several days to reach the Amazon River from here -- and probably two months or more, with all the meandering, to cross the continent in the Amazon and reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Cuyabeno is a quiet little riverside village with a population of about 300, not including dogs, chickens, cats, baby river turtles, a pet wooly monkey and, of course, all the wild things. (Or, maybe I should say, it's a relatively quiet village -- if you don't consider the noise that all the wild things make!) The baby turtles, locally known as charapas, come from two different yellow-spotted Amazon River turtle species, one that is endangered and another that is considered 'vulnerable.' Since the population of the turtles has decreased drastically in recent years due to human consumption of their eggs and overhunting of the females, the community has been raising young turtles, one thousand at a time, and setting them free in nearby lakes and rivers, to give the species a better chance of long-term survival. The resident wooly monkey, named Rosa, lives under a piece of tin in the fork of a small tree in front of his owner's house. Rosa stays tied up, with a twelve foot rope, all of the time since, according to Rita, Rosa's owner, she wreaks all kinds of havoc when let loose, tearing up toilet paper rolls, throwing clothes all over the place and raiding the neighbors' kitchens.

Lilia and I stayed with Rosa and Rita and Rita's four children, Paola, Cindi, Rolando and Ritita -- and their dog, Mariposa, who, by the way, is very good friends with Rosa. (Rita's husband works in another village far from Cuyabeno. He works for thirty consecutive days, and then returns to Cuyebeno for a ten day break. He was away while we were there.)

Like most rain forest houses built along a river that floods when there are heavy rains, Rita's house is built on stilts. Except for a tin roof, it's all made of wood and is unpainted, though the clothes lines in front, strung with the family's clothing, add a splash of color. The house has a store at the front, with a large window that is boarded up when the store is closed; a big living room area with a hammock in the center, several clothes lines, a TV on one side and a row of chairs on the other; a large kitchen with several tanks of rainwater, shelves, a sink, two stoves and a freezer; a couple of storage rooms; and three small bedrooms, each equipped with a bed and a mosquito net. A narrow, railed walkway leads from the front steps to the store window and, further along, to the bathroom, where there are also more tanks of rainwater. Several fishing nets are draped over the railing and several pairs of rubber boots are wedged between the rails. In the back, under the house, are two chicken pens that currently hold about a hundred and fifty noisy chicks which Rita will raise and sell. A dozen or more adult chickens wander around the house in search of any rain forest insects they can get their beaks on. Rita also has a garden alongside the house where she grows tomatoes, cassava, sugar cane, corn, peppers and a few medicinal plants. Behind the house, there are a variety of fruit trees including papaya, uva, plantain, zapote and caimote trees. Behind the fruit trees is the rain forest and in front of the house, across from the clothes lines, of course, is Rosa's tree.

Rita and her family live just a short walk from the river in the village center, right next to the school. Alongside the school are a small playing field, a large soccer field, two turtle ponds, a large thatch-roofed community building and the teachers' houses, also thatched. At the end of the soccer field there is a large, open-air building with a tin roof and a cement floor where people play volleyball and hold community events. The rest of the village consists of a series of households along the river, all connected by a main trail. Some of the students walk to school using the trail, while others who live further up or downstream, go back and forth to school every day by canoe.

The school in Cuyabeno, called Victor Davalos, has about sixty students in its first through eighth grades, ranging from five to thirty years old! Since the school only went up to sixth grade until two years ago, some people who never had a chance to continue their education before, decided to return to school. So now some of the seventh and eighth grade students are actually parents who have children in the lower grades. One of the seventh grade students (whose son is in first grade) is thirty years old and was previously the president of the community -- and he's the most dedicated student in the whole school, even though all of his teachers, including his brother, are younger than him.

On Thursday and Friday, Lilia, the teachers and I worked with all of the classes at the same time to create artwork, picture books and a video that we will share with some of the US classes that are participating in the project. After classes on both days, the whole school went to Rita's house to watch project videos with us, since she's the only person in the village center with a television and she has a very large living room. The students and teachers were fascinated by the videos and kept asking to see more, even though it was sweltering under the house's tin roof. (I'll take a thatched roof in the rain forest any day over tin!) On Friday evening, one of the teachers and about 16 students presented a set of traditional Quichua dances in the community building. We videotaped the dances, adding them to the video we made about the school earlier in the day. When we were finished, the teachers and students wanted to see the video, so everybody trooped back over to Rita's house and we watched that video and a few others till about ten o'clock at night.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Amazon Rain Forest is truly an incredible place, with fascinating people and countless natural wonders. But traveling and living in the rain forest is not always fun and easy. Oftentimes, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the wonderful and the disgusting, kind of blend together like the waters of joining rivers. In this section, I'm going to pose a few scenarios and situations that Lilia and I have experienced while living in the rain forest. Maybe you, your teacher and your classmates can discuss how you would respond in each case.

It's so incredibly refreshing and enjoyable to escape the intense heat and the nagging humidity of a blazing Amazon afternoon by swimming in a rain forest river. You can splash around and play tag with other children; dig up some clay from the river bottom and make animal figures or paint your body; dive under the water and catch karachama, fish that make and hide in holes in the clay along the river bank; or dive off the nearby balsa raft and canoes. Just try to not to focus on the fact that anacondas, piranhas, sting rays, caiman and electric eels are swimming in the same water. Then, of course, there is the distinct possibility of acquiring a fungal growth on your hands or feet after your swim. Oh, and watch out for the cloud of sand flies waiting to bite you as soon as you step out of the water. You could go swimming later in the afternoon, when the sun is going down, to avoid the sand flies, but that's when the mosquitoes, which could be carrying malaria, yellow fever or dengue fever, come out. Ah, the water feels sooooo good!

Your hot, your thirsty, your visiting a friends house. Your friend's mother gives you a big bowl of chicha to drink. Chicha is a traditional rain forest drink made out of water and fermented cassava or chonta. In many rain forest cultures, it is very rude to refuse to drink chicha once it has been offered to you. Your friend and his or her family, especially the mother who spent hours making it, might be insulted if you don't drink it. But since chicha is fermented, it contains alcohol and, most likely, was made with water straight from the river, which, unboiled, could cause cholera or typhoid or, at least, diarrhea.

You are cruising down a wide, meandering river, draped by a hundred different kinds of rain forest trees, with parrots, toucans and other birds occasionally flying over your canoe. But, you are sitting on a hard, narrow, wooden plank without a back rest, baking in the midday sun for hours without shade.

It's really neat to hold and pet a rain forest monkey. But as you stroke her hand, perfectly adapted for climbing, you can't help but think she would be better off swinging through the rain forest trees. Plus, it's not so fun when she climbs up onto your head and proceeds to pee on you.

A family you are visiting serves you turtle eggs. Mmm! You are interested in trying new foods and they are very tasty, but you remember that the turtles that lay the eggs are endangered and you wonder if you might be contributing towards their future extinction.

Pobrecita Yeseña

Here’s an update on Yeseña:

Yeseña is now in middle school. Lilia worked with her 7th grade class to create a picture book for a partner class in the US. According to Lilia, Yeseña’s elbow seems to be fine. She’s a good artist. We are attaching a photo of Yeseña drawing.

By the way, in the first flashback about Yeseña two reports ago, I included a Quichua exclamation, U-yu-yuuuuuu! equivalent to the English Owwwwwwwwwwwww!

Quichua has several interesting exclamations. Here are a few:

Achachay! -- Said when one feels cold.

Araray! -- Said when one feels hot.

Ayayai! -- Said when one is surprised or exasperated or hurt.

Chorus of the Forest

We are excited about traveling to Cuyabeno because it is deeper in the rain forest, sparsely populated by humans and far away from the oil companies that are everpresent around Limoncocha. Most likely, we’ll encounter more wildlife in Cuyabeno than we normally do in Limoncocha.
No matter which part of the Ecuadorian Amazon we visit, though, whether Limoncocha or Cuyabeno, Lilia and I have noticed that one thing remains the same: the nighttime chorus of insects, frogs and birds. Here is a short poem I have written about rain forest frog sounds:

Peeping, popping
Beeping, bopping
Creaking, croaking
Squeaking, squawking
Tinkling, twirring
Whistling, whirring
Grunting, gurgling
Belching, burping
Clacking, clicking
Ringing, singing
In the forest
Goes the chorus
Of the frogs
All night long.


Below is a list of a few of the frog sounds I've heard, spelled the best I can! Just for fun, see if you can make the sounds.

trrrreeeeee--treegeet ....................... treeeeeeeeee--treegeet
wrrnk-wrrnk ........... wrrnk-wrrnk ........... wrrnk-wrrnk
greek .... greek .... greeeeeek ... greek ... greek .... greeeeeek
grr-grr, grr-grr, grr-grr
doodle-doodle-doweet, doodle-doodle-doweet, doodle-doodle-doweet
Bop ...... Bop .......... Bop .......... Bop
Swheeeeeeeeeet .............. Swheeeeeeeeeeeeeet

You could make up your own class frog poems if you want. First, each student can make up a frog sound and a spelling for it. Then, each student can twist his or her sound into an actual word and fit it into a line that the frog
might say. Here are a few examples using some of the sounds I listed above:

GARRRURRRK-GARRURRRK - I'm going to GORRUKING in the pond for my soul mate.
trrrreeeeee--treegeet ... treeeeeeeeee--treegeet .... I'm a tree-geek.
GARR-GARR ..... GARR-GARR ..... GARSH,it's a nice night to be fly watching.
wrrnk - wrrnk ........... wrrnk-wrrnk I wrrnk so, too.
grr-grr, grr-grr, It's grr-grreat to eat you.
Bop ...... Bop ....... Bopping by for a fly.

Once you've all got your lines, just put them together to make up the poem. Have fun!

Guess Who

Here are two more guess who animal poems taken from Amazin’ Amazon Mystery Animals. The first one consists of a whole slew of clichés each of which provides a clue or sets the scene. Guess who.

Warn Clichés

If you beat around the bush
You'd better walk on eggs
I can quickly cook your goose
And I don't mean maybe, baby

You're skating on thin ice!
I'm A-number one
A vicious circle
With a checkered career
Since I'm dressed to kill
I'm as cool as a cucumber
I've got a lean and hungry look
And I pack a wallop

I might not have a leg to stand on
But I'm armed to the teeth
And I come on like gangbusters
I'm the spitting image of the end of your rope
We're in close quarters
So put your best foot forward
I'm close on your heels
So I can sweep you off your feet
And take you to the cleaners
Yes, my friend, you're in pickle
And, to me, you're easy pickings
I send shivers down your spine
Scare you out of your wits
But it's too late now

For crying in the wilderness
You're a foregone conclusion
In a no-win situation
You can bet your boots
Like a bolt from the blue
In a twinkling of an eye
I'll be a thorn in your side
To make a long story short
Your days are numbered
So pack it in
Take your last gasp
You're in hot water

But your about to kick the bucket
And when I add my finishing touch
Like it or lump it
You will bite the dust!
That's right, my friend, you're on the brink of disaster
And I'm the bottomless pit, the deadly ____________.

Silent Thunder

We're on the rampage, a deadly swarm
Indiscriminately ravaging, like a destructive storm
Bivouacking by night, attacking by day
We plunder and pillage whatever's in our way
We may be small, but there's great strength in numbers
So we terrorize our territory--like silent thunder!

Math Puzzler

Here's the math puzzler from the last report, followed by the solution:
"OK, fellow brain-benders, here are the circumstances in which we find ourselves: our goal is to reach the moon; our method is climbing trees. We'll cut down and stack however many trees it takes to get there. If the average large rain forest tree is 80 feet tall (24 meters), how many will we need to cut down and stack up in order to reach the moon, given that the average distance between the earth and the moon is approximately 240,000 miles (385,000 kilometers)? Quite simple, you say? Well, how about this: some scientists estimate that 40 million acres (16 million hectares) of rain forest are destroyed every year around the world. If there are 500 large trees per acre (1250 per hectare), how many acres would we have to cut down to fulfill our quest, and, rounding this figure up to the nearest thousand, what percentage of the total number of acres felled in one year would this be? So, how many times could we reach the moon and back if we used all the rain forest trees that were cut down in one year? How many total miles could we travel? What other heavenly bodies could we reach if we stacked all those trees? Have fun figuring it out!"

A. There are 5,280 feet in a mile. So, at 80' per tree, it would take 66 trees to reach one mile. To reach 240,000 miles (average distance to the moon) it would take 66 X 240,000, or 15,840,000 trees.
B. 15,840,000 (trees) divided by 500 (trees per acre) = 31,680 acres.
C. 31,680 rounds up to 32,000. 32,000/40,000,000 is the fraction representing the number of acres of trees cut down to reach the moon over the total number of acres of rain forest trees cut down in one year, which equals 0.0008, which is 0.08% (less than one tenth of one percent).
D. Since it would take 2,000 acres of trees (rounded up to nearest thousand) to reach the moon, it would take 64,000 acres of trees to travel back and forth. 64,000 goes into 40,000,000 625 times. So we could travel back and forth to the moon 625 times by stacking all the trees cut down in one year on top of each other. (Note: there are several ways to come to the same answer. For example, using the percentage: 0.08 X 2 = 0.16 >>> 100/0.16 = 625. Or, the long way: 40 million (rain forest acres destroyed in one year) X 500 (large trees per acre) X 80 feet (average length of tree) divided by 5280 feet (one mile) divided by 240,000 miles (average distance to moon) divided by 2 (back and forth) = 631.31313131. Note the difference since no rounding off is used in this solution - which actually makes it a more accurate figure given the variables.)
E. 625 X 2 (back and forth) = 1250; 1250 X 240,000 (miles to the moon) = 300,000,000 total miles. Or: 40,000,000 acres X 500 trees = 20,000,000,000 X 80 (feet per tree) = 1,600,000,000 divided by 5280 (feet in a mile) = 303,030,303.03 miles. (Again, the difference is the result of not rounding off in this method.)
F. We could travel to Mars, take what's left, travel to Venus, take what's left, travel to Mercury, take what's left, travel to the sun, and still have enough trees left over to build thousands of houses.
Here's another puzzler (taken from the 'Otis Reedy's Rain Forest Puzzlers' section of the Song of the Harpy Eagle):

"This one's a tad bit simpler, friends, just in case your brain's still humming from the last one. There are a number of different armadillo species, the smallest, the dwarf armadillo, weighing less than one pound, and the largest, the giant armadillo, tipping the scale at around the same weight as a young adult human. How many fourteen ounce dwarfs would it take to equal the weight of a 131 and 1/4 pound giant?"

We’ll tell you the answers in the next report.

Questions and Answers (Taken from last year’s project.)

Here are some more answers to your questions, this time answered by 1st through 8th grade students at the Victor Davalos School in Cuyabeno.

How many hours a day do you spend in school? Five, though last year twenty-six of us also took an after-school and weekend extended classroom program during which we averaged an extra four hours of classes per day, including weekends.

What kind of clothing do you have or do you make your clothes? We have pants and shorts and shirts and blouses and dresses. For school we have two uniforms, one for gym and one for regular classes. We also make traditional clothing out of palm fibers, seeds and feathers which we use for dancing.

What is your school size and how many grades do you have in your building? Our school has sixty students in grades one through eight. We have six teachers and six classrooms. Each classroom is a separate building. The school also has a principal's office.

Do you have fast food? McDonald's or Burger King? We've never heard of those. Our fast food is fish from the river.

What is your favorite games and sports? Soccer, indoor (soccer in a smaller field), volleyball and classroom games.

Do you know of a sport called skateboarding? No.

What form of transportation do you have? Walking and canoe.

Do you go to school all year long or do you get a certain time off? We have three one or two week breaks, one in December, one in February and one in April. Then, we have a six week break starting in July.

What are some of your hobbies? Swimming, fishing, playing sports, drinking chicha and talking, going for walks and listening to adults tell stories.

How much does it rain in a week? It hasn't rained at all this week. Some weeks it can rain enough to make the river rise about a foot.

Do you ever make forts in trees? No, but our community has a large ceibo tree with a tower. The tower is built around the trunk of the tree and you can climb up to the top of the tree and look down. It's mostly for tourists.

How tall do trees grow in the rain forest? The tallest ones around us are between 100 and 130 feet.

Has anyone gotten lost in the rain forest and never come back? We don't know anyone who has but we have heard stories of people who have in the past. [Note from Paul: There is a family in Limoncocha who lost a son in the forest a few years ago. When they hear strange noises at night, the parents believe the son is calling them -- and they believe that the boy climbed up a tree and is living in a hole at the top of the tree.]

How far up in the trees do the students climb? To the tops of the fruit trees. The largest trees are impossible to climb.

Do you have physical education in school? Yes, we call it cultura fisica.

Do you have four seasons like we do? No, we have dry and rainy seasons. Lately it has been dry. In the dry season, the river gets low and in the rainy season it gets high.

Do you watch movies? Not usually, but today we watched videos from schools in the US, Africa and the Arctic, brought by Paul and Lilia. We saw students at the Indian Lake Elementary School in Indian Lake, NY. They showed us around their school and town and showed us how the leaves on the trees change colors.

Do you have any pets and if you do what are they? A lot of the families here have dogs. Some of the families have cats to catch rats. Dona Rita's family has a pet monkey. Some families have parrots, turtles and other kinds of monkeys. Sometimes when our fathers are hunting, if they kill an animal and find that it has babies they bring the babies home and we keep them as pets.

The following answers are provided by students at the Playayacu Elementary School in a small community called Playayacu.

It is a very cold winter here and we were wondering how cold it gets there or what is the coldest temperature that has occurred there? Here in the rain forest we only have two seasons - dry and rainy. The driest time of the year is December and January, when it doesn't rain for weeks and it is extremely hot. April, May and June are the rainiest months, when sometimes it goes on raining for days or it rains once or twice almost every day, and the temperature is relatively lower, around 21, or 22 degree Celsius.

What kind of fun activities do you participate in each day? Do you have favorite games or sports or books to read? We play lots of basketball, football and volleyball. We also play games like 'Topada' (Tag), and singing games like 'Agua de Limon'. We like to read books of traditional Quichua stories and animal stories.

We have heard about machetes and were wondering if you carry them. How heavy are they and how sharp are they. Who trains you to use one? We all learn how to use a machete since first grade. Some of them are bigger and heavier and some are smaller. All of them are very sharp and can be dangerous so we are taught to respect it and always use it with great care. We get punished if we aren't careful and the carelessness results in injuries. Most of us learn to use a machete from our fathers.

Do you use thermometers to test the temperature? Not for testing the air temperature. Some of the families have thermometers for testing body temperature. The health center in the community has them.

What kind of money do you use? We use US dollars.

That’s All for Now

That's all for this report. Shuj punja gama (Quichua for 'Till another day.')

Paul Hurteau/Lilia Cai/Teresa Acevedo Robinson



To read a letter from students in the rain forest to your students, go here.

To take a tour of Limoncocha, hosted by students who live there, go here.

Here is another good rain forest Web site.

Thinkquest Site Made by 5th Graders at South Guam Elementary School -- Also: same, but .org/5128/

Have fun exploring!


E-Travel Log #1: Introduction to the Project and the Adventure Team
E-Travel Log #2: Quito, Banos and Flashbacks of Christmas Celebrations in Limoncocha
E-Travel Log #3: Banos - Where the Rain Forest Begins
E-Travel Log #4: Limoncocha - A Quichua Community
E-Travel Log #5: Limoncocha and Communities Around - Traditions and Cultures
E-Travel Log #6: Getting Ready to Leave for Cuyabeno
E-Travel Log #7: Rain Forest Animals
E-Travel Log #8: Rain Forest Stories and the Mysterious Black Lake
E-Travel Log #9: Trip to Playas de Cuyabeno
E-Travel Log #10: Trip to San Pablo - a Secoya Community


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