Being in the jungle, resources limited, you have no choice but to get creative. Sometimes, you get lucky and fly right on through by the seat of your pants, and other times.... well let´s just say you always learn from your mistakes :)
Just every little-day things that I take for granted back at home, I´ve been having to relearn or make up here. For example, Vicki and I have been doing some cooking and baking this past month. At home, on
the rare occasion that I do enter the kitchen with an apron, I have a microwave, recipies, and a plethora of ingredients at my disposal. Here: none of the above. And another obstacle is that I can only recognize what half of the ingredients even are due to their incriminating labels. But you can´t get choked up because when someone´s birthday comes around, they deserve cake right? Right, so I´ve become accustomed to just throwing mysterious ingredients in left and right (and doing lots of taste testing :)) until it tastes like it could potentially be edible. And though some of the recipies should never be repeated (i.e. mistaking amounts of salt and yeast, or accidently putting corn flour in a coffee cake), other cakes have been to die for!... Though it could just be my sweet-deprived stomach overexaggerating the delictable-ness.
Another interesting cooking experience was Vicki and I learning how to make popcorn on a stove. I would definitely say we learned the hard way. We had a strong start though- we turned the stove on high, we poured some oil and salt in a small sacue pan, and then we threw some kernals in. No problem. All we had to do was calmly wait for the kernals to heat. But a minute later and we´re diving to the floor, desperately trying to escape the oily balls of fire exploding everywhere. We scrambled to turn the stove off but we were too late. The kitchen was trashed. I imagine we´ll be finding little suprise kernals in random places for years. As we swept up the mess, we scolded ourselves for our lack of common sense. But we learned our lesson and now have a new understanding for how the tasty corn snack got its name.
Halloween at Taricaya was probably the most creative holiday I´ve ever witnessed. Everyone here is traveling lightly so it´s not like anyone brought along any gorilla suits or devil costumes or anything. Nope, we really had to scrounge to pull something together. But low and behold, they were some of the best costumes I´ve ever seen! Talcum powder and mosquito nets were a high commodity and people cleverly fashioned themselves into ghosts. Or in ways I cannot begin to explain, one volunteer named Sam shaped his mosquito net into a poisonous mushroom- it was quite clever! There was an ace bandage mummy, a machete bearing ninja, a turtle with a tub for a shell, and then some volunteers used our best resource: sticks and leaves! They were able to harness the jungle to cover their vital areas and totally transform themselves into native Amazonian people. It was hilarious and I applaud their efforts! Though I personally didn´t use the jungle in my costume, I was able to become part of the jungle by spending all of two minutes to twist and tie my yellow blanket into a Chiquita Banana! The resemblance wasn´t perfectly accurate (many thought I was a neo KKK member or an Indian woman) but I was pretty proud of my last minute resourcefulness!
The other day, Jack Hanna and his film crew were here. Jack Hanna is a famous zookeeper/zoologist and now he does a television series about different species of animals all over the world. He´s done over 400 shows and has been to every continent at least three times. He´s pretty much the animal expert. So Taricaya is pretty excited because Jack has been traveling about Peru and Chile and he decided to do a whole TV episode on Taricaya and what we do here!! The volunteers were also pretty excited to try out their acting skills. We got to tell him all about what we do here and all the different jungle animals. Though a lot of the footage was just rolling, some of it was staged a little. It was pretty hilarious and so fun to see all the behind the scenes stuff. I was very intrigued. I´m also incredibly jealous of Jack and his employee´s lives- they get paid to travel around the world and learn about all these exotic animals and meet all these crazy people. If anyone knows how to get me a job like this, please let me know!!
In the past few weeks, I´ve been learning most about the reptiles and the amphibians. The other night, Stuart taught us all about the Caiman (reptile similar to an alligator or a crocodile). We have them all around the river, though they are mostly nocturnal. The average caiman is 1-3 meters long but apparently they can grow to 7 meters long if the environment allows. So that night, after Stuart gave us the talk, we all silently piled into a boat and had to remain perfectly still and quiet. Gigo drove the boat from the light of one torch, while Stuart was on the lookout. Stuart was quick to spot multiple caiman and he fearlessly jumped out of the boat and wrestled them into his arms-- Crocodile Dundee style. He brought them into the boat and we all got to examine the creatures and their interesting features. Caiman have this nifty second eyelid that is like a natural goggle and allows them to see underwater! Caiman have been around since the prehistoric times and are so effiicient at what they do that adaptions since then have not been necessary. In the end, it was just amazing to see this creature who predates us by over 17 million years.
The other reptile of interest these past few weeks has been the turtle. Our lodge, Taricaya, is named after the yellow spotted turtle from these parts. In the months before I got here, volunteers had collected almost 50 turtle nests to preserve in our artificial beaches. This way, the eggs were safe from being eaten by illegal poachers. But it´s time and the turtles have been hatching like mad! After they hatched, we took them back to the lab and weighed, measured, and marked them. Then yesterday, on Taricaya´s 9th anniversary (Nov. 5), we took over 500 turtles and simaltaneously released them into the river! It was so cute to watch them blubbering their way towards the water! Knowing that the survival rate is less than 5%, we wished the baby turtles the best of luck as they floated away in the strong current! Only the few and the strong survive, but we already know our repopulation strategies have been helping because they´ve been seeing an increase in the population. It felt really great to be apart of this project and I would say that Taricaya had a successful anniversary!
So basically, I´m on a steep learning curve and my stupidity is finally turning into knowledge! My Spanish is improving a little and I´m learning more about the jungle everyday. Vicki and I have become some of the more experienced volunteers now and it feels good to know the ropes and be able instruct the "newbies" on what to do. We´ve recently picked up a few new French volunteers, another Australian woman, a German girl, and a girl from Japan. The Japanese girl is named Yuuri and she is now mine and Vicki´s roommate. She is very sweet but I think somewhat overwhelmed with the language and the culture shock. She will be with us for a month though, so I´m sure in a few days she´ll have picked up my "Fake it til you make it" motto that I´ve been using. While some may feel this expression comes with a negative connotation, you have to believe me that it´s really all you can do when you´re thrown into a situation like this. I may make a fool of myself along the way, but I´ll learn and I´ll come around... eventually :)
Love to all!