Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Reflections on twenty years...

With no expedition of my own to grapple with post new hip, I looked around for a summer trip. A beach holiday with Louise ?…no..she’d already made plans to go to Greece and I wasn’t invited !! Was it to be a month of DIY ? Desperation crept in as I lay awake pondering which shade of white to use. And then salvation arrived one evening in the shape of John Hegarty. The conversation turned to 1987 and the very first Ecuador expedition. I sensed that a mellow John, after a good dinner and several tins of Fosters, might be receptive to the idea of a 20 year anniversary re-union. I moved in. Who are your leaders John ? Before I got an answer I added ‘It’s 20 years since the first Ecuador expedition and do you need another leader’ John didn’t laugh. Hmm. In fact he immediately replied yes to the suggestion.
Ecuador is a beautiful country boasting high mountains, mystical cloud forests, the steamy rain forest and the Pacific Ocean in which to play. Tourists are flocking to the incredible Galapagos Islands. Small wonder that John loves Ecuador. The young people who took part in this expedition climbed high Andean peaks, mountain biked through canyons, experienced life in the rain forest, lived on the Pacific Coast and most importantly, met wonderful people.
Much has changed since my 1987 expedition. Ecuador now has the American dollar and its economy appears to be stable due to oil (and possibly drugs money laundering). The new President, Rafael Correa is a mate of the USA bete noir, Chavez of Venezuela so it will be interesting to see how the Americans react.
Ecuador is no longer at war with Peru. But it has Colombia as its northerly neighbour. On the journey to Coca, the gateway to our jungle experience, John’s instructions to the bus driver via Stephen our linguist were brief as we approached a border town; “TELL THE HALF-WIT NOT TO STOP”. Drugs and illegal migrant workers pore over the borders and we witnessed Ecuadorian jungle troops searching vehicles. Colombian troops have made forays into
Ecuador in pursuit of members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces ( FARC). This part of Ecuador is a dangerous place.
On our long bus ride to the rain forest we followed the oil pipeline as it snaked its way towards the depths of the jungle. On the River Napo, one of the tributaries of the mighty Amazon I was amazed to see barges carrying huge lorries most of which were petrol tankers. Speedboats carrying oil workers weaved their way in and out of the traffic like they were on a weekend seaside 'jolly’. The drivers had no intention of slowing down when passing our motorised dug outs. Getting these workers back on site was clearly the priority. I was informed that last year the Amazonian rain forest the size of Ecuador was cut down for soya bean production, logging and beef.
Parts of the old town of the capital Quito are now thriving where not long ago they were no go areas. Yet poverty is never far away and buildings are guarded day and night. Private security is a thriving business with guards look so young many must be on some sort of work experience programme. Armed with pump action shot guns and small arms worn in gun slinger fashion, I doubt that many have been trained in the use of firearms. But Quito is building a new airport and is definitely growing. Shopping Malls ( American style ) are springing up but they’ve yet to get a Starbuck’s, or brew decent beer.

Some things have not changed however:-

  • Old women in the villages carry ridiculous loadswhile their men amble alongside.
  • Bus drivers still overtake on blind hairpin bends.
  • There are more wild dogs than ever. Beingintercepted by a deranged canine while mountainbiking is not fun. At one point I had a pack ofmad hounds on my tail (much to John’samusement) Well aimed kicks while putting onthe gas saved the day
  • The Ecuadorians still drink Nescafe yet they export some of the finest coffee in the world!
  • A month drinking fizzy lager is not a pleasant experience for anyone save John.



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