15. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Anaconda Part IV

A tiny frog spotted on a leaf in the forest

Tuesday, June 13th, More Lessons in Medicine and Eco-rape

After lunch and a short rest, the remaining half of us went on the two and a half hour walk with Cesar that the others had taken the day before.   Because of perpetually running out of charge or of storage space on my phone, I don’t have photos of the many  plants he pointed out, such as false garlic, false ginger, and false banana plants. 

The flowers in a false banana plant point up like the beak of a bird, and of a true banana plant, point down like the beak of a parrot. 

Ecuador is known as the natural pharmacy of the world.  There is a small region of the Amazon (País de la Canella) that boasts a special cinnamon tree.  The leaves are used as infusions for altitude sickness, and for soaking. The bark is used for making cinnamon sticks and powders. 

The juice from squashing a termite acts as a natural bug repellant! 

Even during the daytime, Cesar was able to spot a tiny frog on a leaf, and pick it up. 

We heard a few conflicting stories about oil drilling under the Yasuni National Park, a pristine Amazon rainforest UNESCO biosphere reserve, first by Americans and now by Chinese in Ecuador.  In August, 2013, the same president Raphael Correa, who had managed to obtain $200 million from the international community to make Ecuador a major pioneer in the conservation of this park, then received $3.6 billion for abandoning the plan. 

Twenty three thousand barrels of oil a day are extracted by a state company, “Petroecuador” from under the rainforest, with the government claiming that with advanced technology and strict oversight, there will be “minimal damage” to the environment. Park Drilling 

It often requires serious bending of the mind to buy into such company or government party lines.  On my visit to Passport Health before the trip, I learned that the only areas where Malaria is a risk in Ecuador is at or near the mining sites.  Mining, of course, kills frogs and other mosquito eating insects, and mosquitos carry malaria. 

We visited a native Quichuan (spelled by Francisco as Kichwan) farm and house. While waiting for other visitors to leave, we practiced blowing a really heavy and difficult dart gun, aiming for an image of an owl. I couldn’t even hold the shaft, let alone blow a dart to the owl. 

Removing our shoes, we climbed some steps and sat on simple stools on the bare open upstairs platform under a thatched roof.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo credit: Humberto Castillo

There was a hearth fire on an elevated slab, and as had been done in the community near Suchipakari, the woman of the house made and served us a ceremonial drink.  After the presentation, the woman served warm soft 100% organic chocolate on a leaf.  Cesar, polite, considerate, and environmentally conservative as ever, then collected our “plates” to give back to our host.  We took our time walking back to the lodge. 

The outpost dragonfly caught my eye, as did the colorful leaves and leaf cutter ants up close: 


Leaf cutter ants are also in Costa Rica, where I learned about the division of labor that takes place among them. The smallest (minims)  tend the underground garden and take care of the babies.  Some are the carriers.  The next in size (minors) surround the nest, are the inspectors of leaf cuttings, and will make a porter drop unsuitable cargo to go back for something more passable for food and the nests. The next to largest (mediae) are the ones who do all the work of cutting the leaves and bringing them back to the colony.  Finally, the largest (majors) are soldiers, fending off enemies, keeping the ants from wandering off the beaten path, getting lost or starting a new colony.  Majors carry the heaviest material, and help clear the path.  Which seemed to be precisely the function of our various tour guides. How very like ants we are!

(The wikipedia entry about leaf cutter ants is well worth reading in its entirety)