Please enjoy the continuation of the international animal welfare experience known as the End of Summer Series.
By the time my plane landed in Quito Ecuador, I was absolutely elated to finally be in South America. Quito had a chill in its air and its altitude was sheer shock to my body. I hadn’t previously planned anywhere to stay for the night, so I whipped out my handy guidebook and chose a local backpacker hostel to stay for the night. As soon as I arrived at the hostel, I dropped off my pack and headed toward the street to assess the local street dog population. Being that it was nightfall, I was prepared to keep “one eye open” (Quito was experiencing an increase in crime at the time), but as I headed out the door I heard a deep voice say “I wouldn’t go out there alone at night.” I spun around to look for the source of the information and saw a young hostel staff member standing behind me (I later found out that my hostel friend was right, because a man was mugged near the hostel the previous night), so I headed back to my room and quickly fell asleep.
I woke up early the next morning and had a fresh cup of Colombian coffee. I was in a hurry though because I needed to assess the local street dog population then later catch a bus to a wildlife sanctuary in the rainforest. As I quickly strolled through the streets of Quito, I was surprised by the few street dogs that I found (compared to other places I had previously visited). Although I did unfortunately stumble upon a “grouchy” police dog while strolling down the street (a police officer in front of a bank must have fallen asleep while holding the chain of his patrol dog. I had the unfortunate luck of walking by and startling the officer and his napping patrol dog. Needless to say it was an eye-opening experience). I was overall relieved to see a small population of street dwelling canines, but I still felt helpless in what little I could do.
Later that day I finally arrived at the Quito bus station. I jumped on a bus toward the Ecuadorian rainforest, and like many of its neighboring countries, buses didn’t appear to have a speed limit. My bus sped through narrow mountainside roads, and boy did it make my stomach clench. The windows of the bus were open, making the ride a hair whipping experience.
On the bus ride I sat beside a nice middle-aged Ecuadorian man, but I think he thought I was lost or something because he directly asked “Are you on the right bus?” I pulled out my map and pointed to where I was going. He gave me a weird look and said, “But, why?” He also said it was unusual to see an American woman in this part of the country, and a little odd that I came all the way from the States to help build a wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the rainforest. I was going to explain my mission, but for some reason I simply replied, “I just love animals” and left it at that (plus I was a little queasy from the mountainside NASCAR race I was riding in).
When I finally arrived at my destination, I alerted the bus driver to drop me in the small, humid rainforest town. “You want me to leave you here?” he asked, and I nodded and hopped off the bus. As the enormous bus pulled away, I saw a group of young Ecuadorian men playing football (also known as soccer in the U.S.), and one of the young men ran over and greeted me in perfect English! I was stunned! Here I was in the middle of a small rainforest town, in the middle of who knows where and someone is speaking to me in English! He introduced himself as “Marco” and asked me if I was lost. I said, “Well I guess you could say that,” and he began to tell me that he went to school in Chicago to learn English and was elated to practice his skills with someone. I informed him that I was in town to work at a local wildlife sanctuary and he said, “oh okay, you’re with the animal people.” I was thrilled! I wasn’t lost after all. I did take the right bus!
Marco showed me around the incredibly small town developed by a large gasoline company, and he educated me about the vast oil exploration occurring in the country. We also chatted about American pop culture, and he was quite amused by my food scraps I had saved for the surrounding street dog population.
Although I was finally in town, I still desperately needed to get in touch with the people that ran the wildlife sanctuary. I had no idea how to get to the sanctuary itself and had no means of contacting anyone, but thankfully Marco had an idea. He told me to wait while he went to get his friend that did construction work for the sanctuary. Marco quickly reappeared with a middle-aged man who later called the lead volunteer at the sanctuary. (The lead volunteer came and met me at the trailhead that led through thick rainforest). The stars had finally aligned. I said my “goodbye” to Marco and through the forest I went.
The walk through the rainforest was absolutely magnificent. I heard nothing but insects moving about and a nearby river flowing. The rock-covered trail was a bit slippery making the experience quite entertaining (if you witnessed the amount of times I slipped on the rocky path that night, you would have been hysterically laughing at me). After an hour or so of hiking; I appeared at a beautiful developing wildlife sanctuary. I was immediately greeted with open arms by several young Europeans. We chatted for a while and I was later escorted to a magnificent wood structure. It was a beautiful three-story open-air wood building that you would have to see to believe. I learned that the man I met in town helped build it, and boy was I impressed. I was shown to my cabin-like bed and I quickly fell asleep.
The next morning I was awakened by the sound of tropical birds and rustling leaves in the nearby tropical trees. My fellow volunteers and I had a strong cup of coffee while they told me the background stories of the incoming animals, and the ugly truths behind the exotic pet trade. (Animals such as wildcats are frequently declawed and/or deformed from growing up in small cages, while monkeys have permanent hair loss around their necks from being chained down their whole lives. I unfortunately witnessed this later in Venezuela. Although the sanctuary I volunteered at didn’t have wildcats at the time, the horrific truths of the exotic pet trade still occur on a daily basis around the world).
I spent my days at the sanctuary building habitats for incoming primates and numerous wildlife friends, and the place itself was in an extended state of celebration being that the sanctuary was improving so many lives. After spending weeks at the electricity-free sanctuary, I became accustomed to the afternoon rainforest exploration treks and dips in the local waterfall. (If you want to hear a funny story one day, I will tell you about the time I slipped down a large, rocky slope into a waterfall). I was attached to the sanctuary and all of its residents, but I knew I needed to move on to my next volunteer destination. My next stop was Colombia, and my journey was just beginning.
To be continued…
Now it’s time to meet some of the wonderful pets available for adoption at the HSCAZ animal shelter, located at 812 S. McLane Road. For more information, call (928) 474-5590 or visit us online at humane societycentralaz.org.
Leah, Colin, Hannah
Leah (female), Colin (male) and Hannah (female) are 11-week-old ridgeback/shepherd mix pups who were surrendered because their previous owner had too many animals. They are a hilarious bunch!
Sneezy, Bashful, Doc
Sneezy (male), Bashful (female) and Doc (male) are 12-week-old collie/shepherd mix pups, also surrendered because their previous owner had too many pets. They are quite the wiggly group. They love toys and treats!