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Journals from Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador

2010-03-04 Carnaval Backpacking and Bacterial Infections...

Hola todos! This entry is a little behind the times, the reason for which will be explained later. However, better late than never, right? February 13-14 is 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. Sometimes they throw more than silly string- a friend of mine got fish guts in her hair! But the holiday is 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, Im 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 oclock on a Friday night before Carnaval. Who is going to go to Oyacachi?) On Saturday morning, we met up with our guide, Pedro aka To. We drove the first 15 km because they are just walking along a road- boring stuff that we didnt have time for. Then we hit the rain forest and going got a little tougher. Ive 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 Ive 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. 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! (Ill try to post the picture in a minute. Its beautiful!) 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, wed 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? Thats nothing. We could do that easily. We kept hiking. 2 oclock. Pedro, how much longer? Oh, an hour. Thats all. Probably less. Ok. Another hour. We could do that. 4 oclock. Pedro, why havent we stopped yet? Oh, its 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 dont 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 didnt 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 smores (its 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 accidentaly put the candle out, and of course, we had used all of our matches. So we made smores with marshmallows squished between our fingers to make them malleable, chocolate, and crackers (they dont have graham crackers here, so we used two kinds- Ritz and another called Noel. Made for interesting smores!) We got back on Monday night. On Tuesday night, I realized that the water filter I had used in the mountains hadnt been functioning and that I hadnt 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. Didnt really go to school last week, which is why I didnt 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. Im 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 wouldnt 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! Ciao for now, Rachel

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