Chasing Ubuntu: New Website, in Beta!

Chasing Ubuntu

[Chey-sing Oo-buun-too] One human’s mission to embrace the mantra: “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

Okay so in Beta is just a joke – actually I am just a newbie webpage creator who is so dang sick of being at a computer, that I’m letting this imperfect starter stand for a few days.  Comments, suggestions, criticisms, offers to redo the entire thing, HUGELY appreciated🙂

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

the COOLEST co-op?!?

Wrote this post a while ago (january!) but never published for some reason, doing some work again with the case the last two weeks and reminded me how lucky I am to know such amazing people and support such an important battle….
So I do not know how I pulled off learning to edit movies again butttt here is my entry for the Coolest Co-op Contest at Northeastern. It is definitely not perfect – no one was around to give second opinions before submitting it, but all good and I am happy with the outcome…. conveys what I did, why I loved it, and why it was SO COOL – without being too cheesy. Maybe it’s not cheesy enough for NEU… we’ll see🙂

(p.s. won 3rd place!!)

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Asi es la visa uhh i mean vida

Asi es la vida…. (c’est la vie… that’s life…)

To start off nice and cheesey….I often wonder what it is I have actually learned after all of these years behind me.  After all of the classes, friendships, jobs, adventures and changes. Then came a SMACK in the face, and I think I learned more in two weeks then ever in my life….if you dare to read on, please be gentle…

Off I went, on the way to Quito, Ecuador, for the SECOND time. Without apprehension and without looking back, feeling more prepared than ever.  Leaving Boston, my “home” again, my last year of college, at first was an extremely hard decision. But I knew Boston and my friends would be there come January, and this important battle in Ecuador needed me more.

I needed to do this for me as well. A huge personal test.  How was this time so different than when I first shipped off to this foreign place with no guidance? Simply, this would be the FIRST time ever I would get a SECOND
chance at a challenge, a chance to right the regrets I left behind when my previous 6 months in Ecuador were finished far too quickly. This time, I would snap right in right away with no need for those awkward first months of adjusting to location, language, and culture barriers.

And I felt more than ready.   Equipped with a fresh list of mantras and all the right stuff I thought I was missing last time, right down to my firey warm ugg boots for those damp, heatless Quito nights.  I will even dorkishly admit that in my laptop was the esteemed Ecuadorian film, Que Tan Lejos (how far away) , that I was ecstatic to watch on the plane ride over to flip my brain back into thinking in Quiteño Español.  I was determined, finally, that I was doing the right thing.

Then… SMACK.  Quito did not want me. Literally, would not let me step out of the terminal onto their soil.  I don’t remember exact details from this part as it happened so fast and the altitude, and lack of nourishment and sleep had started getting to my brain.  I just remember that as I excitedly waited for my stamp to enter, the lady at immigration reviewed my passport and, without asking any questions, got up to find an officer who came over and told me that I could not come in.

HUH? Basically, what I had read and been told is that my previously renewed Visa (which I had paid 180$ for!) would still be good, even though I had left the country.  In fact, should have been even more set since I left and came back in the country. Ecuador did not seem to think so.

This started a long saga, don’t know if I will bore you with the details. I’ll try to get right to the funny-dramatic-story part.  My lovely Quito-mother Lupita who had come to pick me up called our friend/lawyer at work, to come try to talk to immigration, but no one was sympathetic to my reasoning or sorry state. We knew only money would talk, and obviously none of us had any (nor would we stoop that low, jeesh!).

The feeling in my gut at this time is not possible to describe.  Honestly, I am embarrassed to say that truthfully it felt as though my world was about to end.  Silly, because there I was, breathing and healthy, just on the verge of deportation, no más.  When finally semi-accepting defeat, now around 1 AM, I was lead by two guards and an immigration official to a room that was tucked into the corner of a blocked-off stairwell in the back of the airport.  Though it was windowless, cold and guarded, some miracle granted this little cell wireless internet, which may have semi-saved my sanity at the time.

I proceeded to contact every person I know in Quito, trying to figure out what in the world was happening, what I could do, and if anyone could help.  I do not even want to glimpse at the SOS emails I sent out begging “URGENTE, ME PUEDES AYUDAR?” (Can you help me!) I can only imagine, The Onion headline reads:  Pathetic Gringa Pleads for Savior from Deep Dark Quito Airport Cell.

Still not quite understanding what was going on or what was going to happen, I was clinging to the hope that our famous lawyers or someone would be able to fix things the next day when the ministry opened at 9am.  I knew I had to somehow evade being chucked onto a plane back to Miami at 8:30am.  This was when my kaniving, there’s-always-a-way side came out to reach past the boundaries for a solution.  What if I flew somewhere near Quito and ‘fixed’ my Visa from there? My amigo Antoine is in Peru organizing Amo Amazonía, how about a flight to Lima?  The official on duty could not give me an answer and said someone would come talk to me from the airlines at 3am.

In the meantime, my realistic and terrified side was also kicking me in the face.  I text messaged my older brother.  Matthew would not judge me, would not make fun of me when he heard my seriousness, and would take me in without question.  Plan negative Z, worst-case-scenario-ever was: get deported, find my way to Matt’s apartment in brooklyn, let life’s reality settle for a few days and then hitch over to San Francisco and find a job there.

Rash? Ridiculous? Neither. At the time, it was the only option I could imagine if a silly piece of paper sent me back to the USA.   “I am just a harmless ambitious American wanting to come help your country!! Let me in!”

As my longest night in history trickled on, 45 emails and 12 phone calls later, the lack of water and food, anxiety, unreal stress, and not to mention draining effects of high altitude made this entire scenario actually feel like a hazey nightmare, to the point where I did try closing my eyes tight a few times to see if I really was still in the dark cement room in an alley of the Quito airport.  Somehow my body gave out to sleep for a quick 40 minutes on top of my lap top’s screen.

The rest is quite complicated, boring-to-tell and a huge stressful blur.  The jist: they tried to deport me back to the USA on the 930 flight, after I begged them to not put me on the 9am (call it procrastination, I call it keeping faith…).  After hundreds of calls, pleads and attempts failed, and I just could not bring myself to use the one tool that was 99% sure to tug immigration’s heart(less) strings – cash money bribe – I sat beside the guard at the gate with my spirits below the ground, waiting to board the flight/death-sentence back to Miami.

Feeling OH so defeated, crushed and obligated to explain exactly what had happened to the guard and everyone else who came to chat with me, amused by my disaster and scrambled-looking appearance (talk about jumping quick back into the Castellaño after 3 months without a word). I told him everything and it felt good to say it all out loud.

Suddenly, characteristically at the very last minute, I somehow found myself strolling up to the desk at the gate and asking the lady at the counter what she knew about flights leaving that day to Lima.  Why keep trying? Being familiar with Ecuadorian and for that matter South American culture, it was quite obvious that most of the people I had talked to in the airport so far just could not be bothered to answer my questions nor find out if I had other options. This was suddenly clear, and I realized that I just had to ask the right person who could take a second to help me resolve my now colossal dilemma.

Success! The angel American Airlines worker informed me and my beloved guard that yes there were a couple of flights that night to Lima. But, and of course there is a huge BUT, I would have to go beyond security, and in effect, into Ecuador, in order to purchase a ticket. “No problem, I’ll escort her!” exclaimed the guard, my hero. So my pathetic Spanish story-telling had planted some sympathy in somebody.  I was almost saved.

The guard and I rushed towards security and customs, who took my passport and allowed me to pass. “Hm, that was easy.”  We rushed down towards the ticket counters and I was finally beginning to see a tiny hint of comedy in the whole drama.  It was 9am in Quito, Ecuador.  Of course, the first two airlines’ ticket counters I sprinted to had no one even nearly on time for their day job. The final ticket desk I found was tucked into a corner, a single lady hiding in the back, who only came to the window after several shouts on my part.  My name is now being called incessantly over the loudspeaker across the entire airport, and I am sweating.  The small part of my brain that is working at this point is focused on doing anything possible to buy time for Lupita, Pablo and the other five people who guaranteed they would do everything to help. So, with the swipe of a card that somehow did not deny, despite the unheard of one-way-priced ticket to Lima, I was again, almost saved.

yay.

Drama does not stop there.  Despite the extreme stress and state of limbo that amounted throughout this day in the Quito airport – waiting, waiting, hoping, begging, calling, emailing, scheming, and battling utter defeat – again, it is not so interesting to tell.  After speaking with the US Embassy, they tried to call the airport but told me my best bet was to leave and go to the embassy in Peru. No one was able to free me from the airport’s tight grasp. And things started getting worse.

A woman who just had no intention of being nice nor keeping positive would not allow me to leave the terminal to check in my bags and get my printed tickets, assured me that I would miss the flight to Peru and that I would have to spend another night in the dungeon and get on the first flight the next morning to Miami because I should not have been allowed out of the gate to buy the Lima ticket in the first place.  And either way, someone should have been guarding me the whole day. Because YES, technically, I could have walked right out into the fresh Quito air after purchasing my Lima ticket.  But NO, I was not about to put any faith in my luck of not getting caught at this point.  Obviously my luck was not present anymore.

WOW lady. No way are you stomping me down now. After a treacherous day of promises, ups, downs and final defeat of entering Ecuador, new goal was GET TO LIMA.  One grumpy lady’s power-trip gone-wrong, 12 story repetitions and about 864 smiles later, I had my ticket in-hand and found myself walking slumpishly onto the plane headed South to Lima.  “At least it wasn’t South Beach,” I thought, trying to see the bright side.

Settling into my seat – 2B – the simultaneous sense of relief, dread and utter exhaustion kept me from throwing a fit when I realized I had been placed in first class.  “Was that why it was so expensive?” I wondered.  “Fine,” I thought, “I will enjoy the smoked salmon, fancy multi-grain bread and chocolate truffles and yell at the airline later.”  So there I was, an almost deportee, fine-dining aboard a flight to Lima, Peru, trying to convince myself that the last 30 hours had actually happened and slowly noticing how every single part of me being me, the good and bad, got me to exactly where I was at that moment…..

So, yes, I actually went to Lima instead of Quito. I  had a few friends there and one really
amazing friend I actually made on a delegation to the selva with Amazon Watch was organizing a festival in Lima called Amo Amazonía (I Love the Amazon)… the first really awesome cultural festival of its kind with photo exhibits, music, conferences, workshops etc.

I tried out couchsurfing for the first time – staying with two awesome Peruvian girls who were so helpful and kind and met so many cool people who came in and out from Germany, Spain, and Greece!

Needing more distraction, I found a very cheap yoga studio that was run by one of the most lovely women ever from Australia who I am pretty sure was a huge part of me keeping my head on in the two weeks of limbo.  Naomi and I connected immediately, and her smiley spirit and awesome yoga classes kept me more than positive.  Turns out she had a similiar situation on her attempt to head back to the states to start a yoga studio. They denied her visa, and so on her layover in Lima, she decided to just stay and create a yoga studio there instead… pretty wild.  Actually, it was after an hour long dramatic story-telling and hysterical laughing session that Naomi convinced me that I just had to write it all down. 

So the festival I was helping with began for real the day I finally was able to leave Lima (it took over 2 weeks to get a new visa all settled) but I SO much wanted to stay and continue helping out in Lima. It was really amazing, the people were SO welcoming and quick to befriend me and it was just an incredible group of passionate activists. Have you ever felt like life just puts you somewhere unexpectedly and but then things just feel right?? I felt like I was meant to meet all the people I met.   It was just WOW what a wack turn of events that honestly changed my life… also great now I have attachment to two places in South America..eeks🙂

Turns out a week after me, the SAME thing happened to my previous boss Kevin (also from USA) when he was coming back to Quito with his wife from the USA. Apparently his Ecuadorian wife made a HUGE scene, exclaiming, “What kind of place is this that won’t let my own husband enter my country!” and they let him come in only with her leaving her passport and giving him 8 days to get a new visa.  He is still strugging to fix this and its been over a month.  So, its not just me who is very confused by the new visa laws…

Sooo must stop rambling but yes I somehow MADE myself be responsible and left Peru.. and now I am in Quito, trying to forget the awful and embrace the great that came from this calamity. Vowing to do and be the very best possible since I was lucky enough to even get to come back here!!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

published at last!! Chevron: The Toxic Tour

Hiya!  Recently changed an older blog post into a story about my first time in the Amazon jungle, and finally got it published on one of my FAVORITE websites – http://www.matadorchange.com    It is a little bit more descriptive and cheesy then I’m used to, and they made me take out a lot of my activist-y rants and facts, but I think it paints a pretty good picture of what it is like to visit the contaminated areas and talk with the affected people.  http://matadorchange.com/chevron-the-toxic-tour/

Photo by Antoine Bonsorte; remaining photos by author.

Chevron: The Toxic Tour

Manuel Ignacio Salinas was so proud to repeat his name when I asked him a third time.

“Manuel…Ignacio…Salinas.”

Standing just over five feet tall, the aging Señor Salinas had graying hair, a discolored left eye, and rashes visible where his tattered light-blue button-down shirt failed to cover his dark Ecuadorian skin.

We passed his ramshackle wooden home, which was held ten feet off the ground by white concrete stilts. In the backyard, a group of children were hanging clothes on a line and chasing a small, fluffy white dog. They smiled and waved before quickly returning to their tasks. It was obvious they knew what we were there to see.

I was visiting Señor Salinas with one other volunteer as part of a Toxic Tour of the polluted area in the Amazon jungle. As we entered his backyard, I began to smell the unbearable scent of crude oil. Lying before us was what looked like an abandoned sewage waste site—a 50 yard-long section of marshy land with weeds jutting out.

There were no rats or flies like I expected, perhaps because even these creatures could not stand to live near such a massive pool of stagnant oil. The area was encircled with yellow tape that read “peligro”—danger—but the side closest to Manuel Salinas’s home was left open. We walked to the edge of the area, and Señor Salinas began to talk to us.

“I bought this land 25 years ago, without knowing what was beneath the surface,” he said. “I started to clear away the trees and brush to grow coffee and fruit trees, because this was how I had planned to make a living. But then I discovered what I thought was a huge swamp and could only plant a few trees around it.

“We were unable to farm the land. We were unable to get clean water. We slid into poverty. But we had no choice but to continue drinking from the contaminated well. For a while, we had nothing, ni agua,” he said. Not even water.

As I listened, his adorable white dog scurried around our feet. Suddenly, it sprinted a little too far and hopped directly into the pool of contaminated oil-water. We screamed for it to come back, and when it finally pulled itself out of the sludge, its coat was completely black. Señor Salinas also called for the dog, but it was obvious he was not nearly as shocked as us. After all, he had lived near the backyard waste-sight for over 20 years and had seen many animals perish in it.

“I wanted to move, but who would buy this land?” he continued. “I just don’t want my family to be sick.”

Despite being threatened with “a lifetime of litigation” by Chevron attorneys, Señor Salinas is one of the 30,000 residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon who are plaintiffs in a $27.3 billion class-action lawsuit against Chevron, to remediate what has become known as the Amazon Chernobyl–the worst oil-related disaster on the planet.

Texaco, now Chevron, admitted to dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic chemicals into hundreds of waste pits throughout the jungle between 1964 and 1990. As a result, oil-polluted water and soil are spread over more than 1,500 square miles in the pristine Amazon wilderness. Environmental and medical experts believe the mess left by Texaco’s negligence has caused extremely high levels of cancer, miscarriages, birth defects and other health problems in the region.

Judging by his discolored eye and skin rashes and Señor Salinas’ tales of frequent hospital visits, it was apparent that Señor Salinas himself had been affected.

“Even the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, came to visit,” Señor Salinas said. As he spoke, the sadness in his eyes was impossible to ignore. “The president put his hand on my shoulder and he asked, ‘What can I do?’ The truth was, at this point, not much.”

His family is forced to travel seven hours by bus to Quito, the capitol, to seek medical treatment for the illnesses caused by the polluted water that they unknowingly drank and bathed in for years. I could not imagine staying near this pool for an hour, never mind a lifetime, as Señor Salinas’s children have. After just a few minutes of standing around the waste site, my nose and whole body felt infiltrated with the gross waste, and I even began to feel light-headed. Wiping my face and blowing my nose later in the car, I was appalled to find the tissue black with what appeared to be nasty petroleum particles that must have been densely polluting the air around Señor Salinas’ home.

A few days later, I traveled to Cuyabeno National Park in the heart of Ecuador’s rainforest. As we traveled slowly down a bumpy dirt path toward the river, large, untouched forests lined one side of the road. On the other, massive oil extraction stations were visibly still in operation. We passed by huge, black tanks surrounded by a maze of black and yellow tubes, fenced-off silver machinery covered in skull and crossbones signs, old unused oil barrels thrown carelessly in all directions and several shiny oil-pits with outlandishly tall and sweltering gas flares in the background that stood higher than the hundreds of tall green trees directly next to them.

We finally arrived at the Cuyabeno River, and I stepped into a canoe that would take us to our destination: a rainforest eco-lodge. Two hours later, we arrived at the lodge, surrounded by a lush canopy. Stepping off the boat onto the small wooden dock, I walked towards what looked like a pseudo-summer camp in the middle of the jungle – complete with fishing boats, small stilted straw huts, bunk-beds, hammocks, and a communal outdoor dining area.

The sound of birds singing intermingled with the pounding rain. I took a deep breath and savored the fresh jungle air. This was how the rainforest was supposed to be. As I plopped into a hammock beneath the canopy, my mind drifted back to all the things I had just seen: the incriminating pools of pollution, the countless rusting oil barrels, the massive oil stations, and the flaming gas burners with birds circling in their emissions.

Eventually, I think I could forget these images. But the one thing I will always remember is the face of Manuel Ignacio Salinas.

Community Connection:

Read more about Chevron’s acts in the Amazon here.

//

Tagged under: Amazon, Chevron, Ecuador, oil, Texaco

Leave a comment

Filed under Amazon Watch, Ecuador, Frente de defensa de la Amazonia, matadorchange

What where why how okay!!

This blog is dedicated to getting the word out about all the amazing people, places and causes I have attached myself to, expressing their stories and mine… from South America to South Africa to home in the U S of A.  Apparently, as I have come to learn, in order to be a blog, it has to be a little personal as well.  So disclaimer… this is all coming from my out there point of view and there will be smidgens of opinionated and seemingly off the radar ramblings, but thats what a blog is for, right?¿?

As a huge believer, I believe in people and in change and have little control over my often-naive faith in humanity. I am a passionate human-rights activist, listener/talker, peace-seeker, artist and athlete.  Also a student on the side, I will graduate from Northeastern University in Boston, MA in 2010 with a degree in International Affairs, minor in Sociology, Spanish and Social Entrepreneurship.

 I have spent this year working to defend the rights of the people and land of the Ecuadorian Amazon, fighting for justice  in the landmark environment lawsuit against Chevron’s abuse to the people and land of the Amazon rain forest.   Starting in January 2009, I spent 6 months in Ecuador working for the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía and Amazon Watch, a non-profit, non-governmental organization working to defend the environment and the indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin. It was an experience that is so hard to describe, but I’ve done my best here in this blog.

Just after that, I returned home and then left for a 5 week Social Entrepreneur Field Study Program in Cape Town, South Africa with 19 other students from my university. Then, I spent two weeks volunteering at a rural orphanage in the Valley of a Thousand Hills near Durban, South Africa– probably the hardest place I have ever had to leave. Really wish I could more eloquently put into words exactly how unique and amazing these 6 weeks were. Soon to come, my attempts…

Despite my hesitation on switching gears so fast from environmental and human rights activism in South America to social business in South Africa, the experiences were completely unreal both in their own ways and I was constantly comparing and contrasting the two. My only complaint is the stress and confusion that being drawn to people on two separate sides of the globe has brought! 

As for now,  I will be returning to Quito, Ecuador to work with the publicity and communications team in support of the case against ChevronTexaco. …

This blog began as just a way to keep track of the weekly emails I am sending to friends and family…if you´d like to be added to the email let me know… paz y abrazos!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Amazon Watch Rainforest Delegation and other overdue news…

First Amazon Watch Rainforest Delegation
Also exciting in March…. Amazon Watch, had a small delegation come from the US, a few people who are interested in the organization’s work and the Amazon and a few people who work for Amazon Watch in the USA.  We took them on a Toxi-Tour much like the one I did and then to an amazingggg jungle lodge near Yasuni national park. The toxic-tour was as disgusting as ever, and can you believe we went to mostly places that I didn’t go the first time?!  There is so much destruction its horrifying.  We got the pleasure of seeing a dead bird in an oil pile.

Donald the amazing and.........

Donald the amazing and.........

dead oily bird
dead oily bird

One really exciting part for me was traveling to Dureno – the once home of the indigenous Cofan people that was also home to one of the first drill sights for Texaco.  The really special part was that Emergildo Criollo, an indigenous Cofan leader who has become one of the faces of the trial came with us and told us his whole story as we stood in the middle of the jungle by the sign for what used to be his people’s village.

Emergildo and the sign for where his community, Dureno, WAS beofre Texaco came in and started drilling without any notice

Emergildo and the sign for where his community, Dureno, WAS beofre Texaco came in and started drilling without any notice

His story is very powerful, as he recounts (and did so in front of the judge during the judicial inspections – see video!) how the company came in without warning on helicopters, started drilling and made no precautionary steps for the environment or the people.  Two of his sons died directly resulting from drinking the water that oil pollution was freely dumped into.  Hearing all of this in the exact place where it happened was remarkable and depressing.  But Emergildo is doing everything he can to represent and fight for the rights of his people who have suffered so much at the hands of the ruthless oil company.

Emergildo telling us all his story

Emergildo telling us all his story

walking back from the first area Texaco trashed, the beautiful jungle sunset

walking back from the first area Texaco trashed, the beautiful jungle sunset

smelling oily earth... why are they laughing?! ;)

smelling oily earth... why are they laughing?!😉

they wanted their photo taken.... Petroecuador workers

they wanted their photo taken.... Petroecuador workers

We were visiting a NASTY huge abandoned oil pit when this guy found us in the woods and started talking to Donald, who has been there a million times but never met him.  Apparently this guy and his brothers recently bought the land all around this pit, and they only just discovered it, as their cows were getting sick and dying and they couldn't figure out why.  How could they buy land without being told that it was useless and poisonous?!?

We were visiting a NASTY huge abandoned oil pit when this guy found us in the woods and started talking to Donald, who has been there a million times but never met him. Apparently this guy and his brothers recently bought the land all around this pit, and they only just discovered it, as their cows were getting sick and dying and they couldn't figure out why. How could they buy land without being told that it was useless and poisonous?!?

pit of nasty oil, normal attire of rubber boots and machete

pit of nasty oil, normal attire of rubber boots and machete

pretty!

pretty!

As I said, we were lucky enough to go to travel down the Napo river 2.5 hours, walk 25 minutes, and then another 25 minutes in canoa to a secluded fantastic jungle lodge right by the Yasuni National Park. It is really hard to put this all into words,  so as usual check out the photos if you want a real feel for how incredible this place was.   But yeah the jungle lodge was so super duper fancy – I wasn’t going to go because it was too expensive but then someone couldn´t come and I was the luckiest person ever because this place was a jungle heaven! The nature was different than the other part of the jungle I went – much more ridiculously cool vines and humongous trees and yeah just  serene and green.  We also saw monkeys, bugs, birds, and tons and tons of parrots and yeah it was pretty neat but very different!

at times, we made for an interestingly hilarious crew

at times, we made for an interestingly hilarious crew

the walk from the riverboat to the canoes to the lodge

the walk from the riverboat to the canoes to the lodge

the boat ride to the lodge

the boat ride to the lodge

But really the best part of this for me was the incredibly interesting people on the trip. . . I had an amazing time getting to know them and have to say a little bitty about two that stood out…

Antoine came along to take professional photos and video for Amazon Watch – and his presense by far made the trip triple in excitement and laughter for everyone.  I already told a few people about him because he really had a huge impact on me … He was just seriously the happiest man ever in a completely non-annoying way.  And he is an incredible photographer… not just in the photos he takes but he also just has a way of talking to people and spreading his great energy.  His life was also beyond exciting – having grown up in Italy and France, lived in the USA and Brazil and Venezuela and now has a studio he runs out of Santa Monica… and had ridiculous stories from all of these adventures. A really great example of a truly inspired and successful artist (his record is so impressive, having done work for shows like Baywatch and 24 just to name a few of my faves😉

Antoine the hilarious
Antoine the hilarious

Now quickly on the others – my other favorite was Christy, also another perfect example of a truly inspired and amazingly successful artist, however, she was more on the wacky side.. which I loved!! She is pretty much an environmental artist which is sweet too.  She told me about her wedding and how she had people make their own bracelets and broches out of sea shells and how she made her dress out of plastic. Pretty crazy cool. Oh and she also lives in the heart of NYC, has a house in upstate NY, has has huge art installations in the city, and was also 60 though I thought the whole time she was 40ish.

Everyone else was very very cool too, there was a guy named Milan from San Francisco and his son Alex who goes to NYU who were funny and very interesting and then another other lady from NY who was so interested in learning everything and very nice.  And then two people from Amazon Watch in San Francisco who were also super super cool and great to get to know.

the group chillin on what I like to call the way up high jungle canopy tree fort!

the group chillin on what I like to call the way up high jungle canopy tree fort!

CRUDE the movie craziness has officially commenced, and I got to watch the movie finally with everyone in it at work last week.  Okay, I´m already ahead of myself. An extremely powerful documentary directed by Joe Berlinger with an inside look at this case  premeired at Sundance this January and is on its way to other festivals around the world right now!  The film explains every aspect of the case, and is also all about the people I work with, especially the two main lawyers (Pablo Fajardo in Ecuador and Steven Donziger in the USA). It also has heart-wrenching stories from some of the people who have been affected by the contamination.  What´s more, it follows Trudy Styler (Sting´s wife!) and her journey to the Amazon and how it affected her. But the important part is also that it definitely looks at both sides and there are many interviews from the Chevron lawyers.  I really encourage anyone who can to try and get to one of the festivals to see the film. At the premiere at Sundance and when it showed at the Human Rights Watch festival in London, all the sreenings were completely sold out and received standing ovations.

So now, I am in the process of helping with promotion for the Boston screening (done –  HUGE props to Tara, Tiff, Laura, Dan and Mom for making the screening:)!) and alsooo the premiere here in Quito is in less than a month.  So we are all going crazy trying to get organized, create advertising, preparing a press screening, preparing a photo exhibit for the premier, and then also for the screenings in all the other big cities in Ecuador. TONS going on.  But the funny catch is, now part of my job entails helping with a graffiti campaign! Apparently that’s a big thing here, super sweet, can´t wait to see what the designers come up with and to learn about how it works to bombard a city with propaganda!

[This has since happened…I also went to help with the premier in Guayaquil and Cuenca .. two huge cities,  news to come!]

Thanks and hooorahs at the end of the festival :)

Thanks and hooorahs at the end of the festival🙂

CRUDE's premeir in Ecuador at the edoc film festival in Quito
CRUDE’s premeir in Ecuador at the edoc film festival in Quito

–the case against ChevronTexaco is getting a lot of press attention – articles in the WSJ and WashingtonPost and NPR with titles such as ”

Pension Funds Fret as Chevron Faces Ecuador Ruling”

and

In Ecuador, High Stakes in Case Against Chevron

60 minutes is aired a program aout the Amazon Chernobyl (we’ve been waiting and frantically helping them with this!)

HERE it is, you can watch the whole 13 minute clip:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/05/01/60minutes/main4983549.shtml

We are all SOOOO pleased with how this came out. honestly, could not have gone any better.  Horrifically for Chevron, their spokeswoman wore her nerves on her face throughout each interview, and fumbled big time… even comparing the oil in the make-up on her face to the oil polluted water that comes from drilling and was dumped into the Amazon.

Random other news

–I went to my boss´s wedding which he had in my neighborhood at this beautiful restaurant called El Mirador (means the lookout – because it has a beautiful view of all of Guapulo and mountains). It was really really fun and nice to hang out with work people in such a joyful setting.

office crew at kevins wedding!  Pablo, Juanpa, Kevin, Julio, Lupita

office crew at kevins wedding! Pablo, Juanpa, Kevin, Julio, Lupita

Pablo and I at Kevin's wedding :)

Pablo and I at Kevin's wedding🙂

los abogados
los abogados

–Went to the world cup trial games… bummer though no wins for Ecuador. really fun games but yeah no one is happy.

–my neighborhood has been having a rough time – a plane crashed into two buildings.  I was in the jungle but my roommies heard it and ran the two blocks up hill and caught video of the hysterics and explosion, really really sad and unbelievable, a bunch of people died.  Super scary especially considering I can look up the hill from my balcony and see the damage.

a plane crashed into a building in the hood/on the hill where i live. really freaky.  2 months later, and it still looks like this
a plane crashed into a building in the hood/on the hill where i live. really freaky. 2 months later, and it still looks like this

Also, a hugeeee wall fell down one night, one of the most shocking things i’ve ever seen.  they were building the wall when i got here and then woops a landslide and no road – but no one got hurt so all good.

wall-slide... one of the most shocking things to see/climb over.

AND I still love my beautiful neighborhood and house…

our little orange home in Guapulo... and to the left is the Spanish embassy!
our little orange home in Guapulo… and to the left is the Spanish embassy!

–I like all of my roommates, but I really LOVE my Regina – she is such a lovely, genuine, generous and friendly loving person.  She has seriosuly been so great to me and always talks to me in her great Spanish too which is nice because she speaks English too.

-My cool neighbors moved, my two other neighbor friends went back to the US and my dutch roommates went home for a while.. sad! but I am hanging out with new people now, yay! only sucky part is things always seem to start falling together right around this point and I only have about 6 weeks left😦
indescribably enchanting Quilotoa lake (its a crater lake!)

indescribably enchanting Quilotoa lake (its a crater lake!)

-Went to the beach for Easter!!! MOST amazing setting every imaginable. small small beach, beautiful sunsets every night… and HOT water. perfect, minus the weekend madness of tons of people!
Canoa - every night is like this...

Canoa - every night is like this...

obligatory cliche palm tree sunset beach photo
obligatory cliche palm tree sunset beach photo
WOW i always end up writing way way way too much! SORRY!  If you made it this far, my deepest congrats and thanks😉 love hearing news from home… weird time right now because many people are getting back from study abroad and i’m a lil bit jealous! buttt soon enough i promise to return😉

Abrazos y besos!!  (hugs and kisses!!)
Kayla

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

last Judicial Inspections in the Amazon = ridic

So there is just so much going on that its hard to write one email figuring out what is actually interesting and thats why its taken me forever! Things here are of course pretty crazy, this was definitely the perfect time to be here working at this organization and with this case and you’ll understand why when I tell you what I’ve been up to. In one sentence – setting up US delegation to the Amazon, judicial inspections in the jungle, documentary promotion, sweet people, bits of traveling!

Quick review on the job/legal case I´m working with the lawyers and organizations who are representing the 30,000 indigenous Amazonian people who are part of the world’s biggest environmental damage case – against ChevronTexaco… it has been going on for 17 years and is being nicknamed “Amazon Chernobyl,¨ Texaco (now Chevron) is being accused of dumping over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in the rainforest. A loss for Chevron would set an international precedent, with the damage money to remediate the environment and compensate families now estimated to be $27 *Billion. Right now, things are moving quite rapid (aka Chevron is going to have to stop procrastinating soon and the judge may be able to make a decision!)…

So they FINALLY did the last judicial inspections in the case that Chevron had been putting off for months keeping with their desperate trend of delay tactics. The first week there wasn’t really anyone there filming or photographing (dumb, I should have gone..) and one of our lawyers, Julio was actually threatened by one of the Chevron lawyers… not sure of exactly what happened but turns out they were throwing around cuss-words such as gallinas (hens) which are apparently really rude and emasculating here! Press release about it if you’re interested –

http://amazonwatch.org/newsroom/view_news.php?id=1732

The second week of inspections I went with a bunch of people in my office to act as a monitor (the more people there from our side, the more Chevron´s people have to play by the rules since they can see they are being watched) , take photos, and help with anything they might need. THIS was NUTS. Llike nothing I I have ever seen before and nothing that could possibly happen in the US.. honestly a court room in the middle of the hot, sunny, sweaty jungle, and oh yeah at a loud, even hotter oil station?!?

waiting for the inspections to start

waiting for the inspections to start

SO WACK! and since the attorneys don’t get much face time with the judge, both sides used it as time to present documents to the judge, and talk talk talk, and yeah maybe take some samples of the sites, but that seemed to be secondary. The Chevron lawyer was SOOO annoying and infuriating, he literally used the delay tactic of talking sooo slow and about nothing forevrrrrr. It was a delay tactic because he did it so that the press would leave before our lawyers had a chance to present. Really ridiculous and hard to describe, check out the photos and videos on the blog it will give you a better idea of how crazy this was.

Pablo and our useless cameraman!

Pablo and our useless cameraman!

Julio keeping it short and fuerte

Julio keeping it short and fuerte

Chevron Lawyer in the middle of one of his 30 minute speeches. check out the reflection in his glasses ha!

Chevron Lawyer in the middle of one of his 30 minute speeches. check out the reflection in his glasses ha!

And to think, this was the last of over 100 inspections. This video I translated below is especially hilarious and exemplifies how the days went.. basically the Chevron lawyer is comparing taking a shower and that water going into the river to dumping waste water that results from oil extraction into the river… so funny and dumb.

ABOVE—See the Chevron lawyer ridiculously compare bathing to dumping toxic water into the Amazon. with ENGLISH subtitles🙂

But yeah the inspections were just insane and one of the most draining weeks ever… so hot all day and then all night i had to help edit videos to be sent to the press team in the US and our cameraman bailed a few times and left me with a dumb guy to edit and yeah it was quite miserable and I wasn’t able to get what they needed done and my boss had left to go prepare for his wedding so yeah somewhat disaster but now seems like its rolling out okay.

one of Chevron's technical "experts" who talked for hours

one of Chevron's technical "experts" who talked for hours

I am so lucky to have been here and to have been able to attend, it really hit me quick how dedicated, passionate and hard-working the lawyers who have been working on this case for 15 years must be…honestly after two days of all that I was so furious at the Chevron people, frustrated in general, and so angry at their lies I really didn´t know how to deal. Then I just have to think about these people fighting year after year and that helps keep me sane.

Senor Presidente (the judge)

Senor Presidente (the judge)

apparently steven's presense is not okay....

apparently steven's presense is not okay....

Anyway, everyone is happy there over and still saying probably a verdict this year!?!?! woah. the court appointed expert has 40 days to analyze the results of the inspections and then things should get rolling pretty fast. Got to hang out with Lupita, the main person on their communication team, and get to know her much more. She´s Colombian and likes to practice English and I help her with a lot of work for the case and media. I really adore her, she has such a big heart…. shes also hilarious and so so interesting and has had an incredibly ridiculous life. =… she is kind of like my madre here and also a good friend… always offering to have me over her house when I´m sick, helping me with whatever I need, and just really funny to be around.

hmm how did he get this photo of Donald.....

hmm how did he get this photo of Donald.....

On a more humorous note, check out Julio’s hat …. during the whole week of inspections he casually and cooly (as always) wore a hat that said “sunshine makes me high.” I thought this was just hilarious and so-Julio, since he´s very young, funny and chill. Watching him present in front of the judge so seriously and intelligently with this hat on was a little strange but for some reason also very fitting. Then when we were chatting in the back of a pick-up en route to lunch finally after the inspetions were DONE, we were all like WTF, when you´re looking down, all of our videos are of your ridiculous hat!! he told me that another time a Chevron lawyer had yelled at him, “WHAT ARE YOU HIGH?!?” so he saw the hat and thought it would be funny to wear. loveee how Ecuadorian this trial can be…something like that would obviously be deemed disrespectful in the USA haha

roaming through the courtroom iiii mean jungle

roaming through the courtroom iiii mean jungle

Donald - Toxi Tour master - putting on a show for Chevron :)

Donald - Toxi Tour master - putting on a show for Chevron🙂

laughing at chevron's perforrmance ... sometimes its just too hard to stop yourself

laughing at chevron's perforrmance ... sometimes its just too hard to stop yourselfmore laughs

more laughs

more laughs

truck ride with the lawyers, leaving the LAST inspections

truck ride with the lawyers, leaving the LAST inspections

celebratingggg

celebratingggg

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

News from the FINAL Judicial Inspections in the case against Chevron

WOAH the last two week….. incredible/insane.  First the Amazon Watch rainforest Delegation and then…

the LAST judicial inspections in the Chevron case . . . I’m going to post an article ….but in short it was pretty much 6 hours of testimony and long speeches and demonstrations and sample taking ALL at an oil station IN THE JUNGLE – in the HEAT with the judge present and everything OH and all in spanish.  pretty ridiculous.  Would never happen in the US.  They don’t get very much face time with the judge, so both sides took advantage of this chance – although the Chevron lawyer no joke talked slower than molasses 75% of each day.

But, everyone working on the case here is very excited this part is over, and are still saying that we expect a verdict this year!! For reals, more to come… but for now… photos and videos:

CLICK HERE for Photos from the Inspections in the Amazon!

dsc01853

Julio and Juan Pablo kickin it

Julio and Juan Pablo kickin it

http://www.texacotoxico.org/eng/node/208

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Quick Hello and photos from Coca!

Donald (Toxi-tour extroidinarire), Emergildo (Cofan leader), and Antoine(photo crazy) - smelling yucky oil swamp.

Donald (Toxi-tour extroidinarire), Emergildo (Cofan leader), and Antoine(photo crazy) - smelling yucky oil swamp.

Hi there!

In the middle of the first Amazon Watch delegation to Ecuador! Pretty sweet… helped plan the first part – a Toxi-Tour seeing the gross contamination and meeting lots of people who are affected and also those working to bring clean-up and medical help to the area.  Photos above… don’t have much time because leaving in a few minutes to go to a beautiful jungle lodge and then to see Yasuni National Park which we are fighting to keep the government from drilling for oil in!

http://www.amazonwatch.org/amazon/EC/yasuni/

Okay well that is it for now… so many stories to tell about who I’ve met and the people I am getting to know.  But for now, I’ll be “unplugged” until Saturday!  Hasta luego, abrazos!

Kayla xoxo

Emergildo - Cofan leader and Kevin - my boss!

Emergildo - Cofan leader and Kevin - my boss!

gas flare and me - really didn't know if I should smile so then I started laughing oops?!?!

gas flare and me - really didn't know if I should smile so then I started laughing oops?!?!

Donald, machete, rainforest, gas flare

Donald, machete, rainforest, gas flare

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

La Amazonia – Toxi Tour and More…

ahh!

Sorry its been foreverrrr… maybe once per week was a lot or maybe I just need to be a little more concise and just write about the most important things/people.  So here’s my first attempt at brevity.

…new room/house… love it. job… overwhelming. Amazon trip… no words …trying to find them.  crazy Americans… losing spanish, need latina friends.  Carnival….got all foamy and danced with 80 year olds.

YAY!  and thats it folks…

OKAY fine, elaboration…

See, the other stuff was easy to write about, because it wasn’t that significant more fun… because yes, I am here to WORK and LEARN, not just to travel around and meet crazy people/places.  So, here’s the hard part… describing life here in a way that does it justice.

This email focusing on the trip to Lago Agrio – where we saw exactly what I am working to fix/stop/save….

El Oriente

The Oriente (the Amazon)… I have to say I really wish I didn´t post that newspaper article, because honestly after the experience we had there, I could basically write my own personal account that is just as powerful… so I’m going to try.  (though as you know, I have major issues with brevity…sorry!)

My Travel Buddy, Nick

I have to start with a quick description of Nick  – the Australian intern who was working with the lawyers of the ChevronTexaco case.  Since we (Amazon Watch) share an office with the lawyers and the Ecuadorian organization El Frente de la Defensa de la Amazona (yeah long name), I ended up sitting at a big table across from quiet, soft-spoken, but terribly intelligent and sweet Nick. So we became friendly after a few days, since he was the only other person around my age and speaking English.  Honestly, if he wasn’t there, I would have had a pretty shitty and confusing first 3 weeks, so thanks Nick!!!!

Nick had been promised a chance to go to the Oriente to monitor some inspections that Chevron is insisting on doing for the Trial more, but they didn’t set a date so finally he just decided he was going to go his last week.  As I said before, I had nothing to do and since he was going to be doing a ¨Toxic Tour¨I thought it would be really helpful to see firsthand why I was here, even though I´d heard all the stories.  So very last minute planning ensued, and we were off!

The only photo of us in the jungle :)

The only photo of us in the jungle🙂

We were set to take an 8:45 bus ride, met at the station and somehow ended up with the front seat with was SO CLUTCH because it meant I could straighten my legs and sit like the letter L the whole 8 hours! I know, sounds silly, but with my dumb knee caps that start throbbing after 10 minutes bent it was really the best thing that could have happened.  Nick and I chatted for a while, he really is very interesting, he asks a lot of questions and is a great listener, but its a bit harder to get him to talk but I think I got the hang of it.  He is studying law and philosophy, and in Aussie its different there isn´t law school but they are soon switching to a more American style system.  He lives in the city of Melbourne where it is hot summer right now!  He actually lived in Boston till he was twoish because his dad is a doctor and worked for a UN organization.  He also lived in Switzerland for a bunch of years.  He came to Ecuador on a global internship program with his school and actually was hooked up with the case I´m working on because his good family friend is the main US lawyer working on the case (Steven Donziger, more on him later).

Back to the bus ride . . though its a developing country and we were on the way to a tiny, run-down oil town, yes they indeed did have a movie on the bus!!  Ha okay actually, calling it a movie may not be quite the right word.  It was called ¨Justice in the Streets,¨and let me tell you, the name does not do justice to the extremely ancient, cheesy, yet, trying to be serious drama.  I´ll just say it involved guys on motorbikes doing coke and killing half a family and then the dad going out ¨to the streets¨ to revenge the heinous crimes.  I had to stop watching or I would have ruined it for everyone else by hysterically laughing for 2 hours straight.

Okay real, attempted-profesh, over-descriptive story time…rough start but its unedited and will have to do for now…

As we drove out of the bustling city of Quito and quickly reached the part of the route that we were told was worth the 8 hour trek, it was difficult to peel my forehead from the thin-glass window.  The endless shades of greens and distant blue clouds captivated me into the moment as I slowly fell deeper into the realization that I was really going to the Amazon.  The Amazon?  El Oriente?  The rain forest? Whatever the name, it was a place that seemed so foreign, yet we were just driving onward, in the massive bus that was so out of place in this beautifully natural scene.  My friend Nick beside me had closed his eyes for a while, but I had to knudge him awake when suddenly we were turning slowly about 10 feets distance from a plunging, gorgeous waterfall.  Completely unreal.

About halfway to our destination, my face still glued to the glass staring out at the landscape, I noticed that a large, rusty tube had entered the picture and was following the same path we were down the windy road towards the middle of the jungle. I turned to Nick and asked, ¨Hey, do you think that is the oil pipeline?¨ We weren’t sure.

View from bus - Beautiful sky, rainforest, tree, oh and....

View from bus - Beautiful sky, rainforest, tree, oh and....

What a dumb question it was. There are two pipelines that run the 300 miles from the Oriente to the coast, and we soon were well aware that beside the road was one of them.  From then on, it was almost impossible to keep myself from following the pipe´s path, as it sometimes ducked under the road, switched sides, and appeared and disappeared.  Even more ironic was the fact that the few times there were metal guard rails beside the bus (something I have come to truly appreciate, ahemmmm, after the infamous roadtrip to Clemson), it was merely to protect the pipeline when it was dangerously close to the road.

LOVE guardrails!!

LOVE guardrails!!

We finally arrived in Lago Agrio, which literally means ¨sour lake,¨ by no mistake – it was named by the oil workers of Texaco in the 1960s after Sour Lake, Texas. Stepping off the bus, the eerie atmosphere is something very difficult to describe. But I can say that it was immediately clear why our coworkers said to stay off the streets at night. We walked down the main road trying to find our hotel, feeling extremely uneasy and stared at. After walking back and forth and asking a few people, we finally stumbled upon Hotel D´Marrio – the cheapest beds in town (alhtough at 15$, it was the most I had paid in Ecaudor).  The rooms were very well-equipped, however, with private bathrooms, air conditioning and TV.  We ate dinner in the restaurant attached to the hotel (I had a slimey chicken crepe, the first of 4 icky meals in the hotel) and prepared ourselves for the next days adventure.

This was actually the same day that news came of the devastating fires in Australia, which were happening in the same state that Nick is from.  Thankfully, he lives in Melbourne and doesn´t have any friends or family in Victoria, but it was still a lot to take in especially since we were so far away in such a strange place where no one would be able to contact us. Needless to say, he was pretty quiet the rest of the night and we went to bed early.

Day 2 in th.e jungle – we didn´t really know how things were going to work out but somehow Pablo Fajardo, the main Ecuadorian lawyer who is always interviewed and pictured in the press and also won the Goldman environmental prize and the CNN Hero award, showed up at our hotel at 8 to meet us. So we had desayuno (breakfast) with him and chatted a bit, thought it was difficult in Spanish but we managed.  He is over-the-top warm, welcoming, and seriously friendly despite the countless years he has put into this endless legal battle.
Donald arrived soon after – he is one of the other 3 people that work for the Ecuadorian non-profit indigenous organization I mentioned before, El Frente.  He was going to be taking us on our ¨Toxi-Tour.¨

When we arrived in Lago, one of the strange things we noticed was the taxis and that many were trucks or off-roading type vehicles.  We soon learned why as we hopped in an öff-roading,¨yellow taxi with Donald and a driver on our way to the outskirts of Lago Agrio.  The road was rocky, bumpy, and harsh.  Yet, we were still passing huts, houses, and shacks along the way.

We arrived to a lake and the driver parked the car on the banks.  We got out and were able really see the beauty of the forest around us.  Apparently, we were waiting for a barge to cross the river and take us and the car across, but we passed the time throwing rocks at gas line that crossed the river high above us.  Obviously my throws came nowhere near and i nearly pulled a shoulder muscle trying (it was REALLY high!), but Donald was able to hit it a few times in a row, pretty impressive.

Donald - who brought us on the Toxic Tour - throwing rocks at gas line

Donald - who brought us on the Toxic Tour - throwing rocks at gas line

It took him well over 25 throws to actually hit it once, and I couldn´t help comparing his endurance, patience and consistency to the struggle for justice he has stayed loyal to over the last 15 years. (ok corny, but really I promise its written on his face)

The barge was finally fixed and ready to transport us across the river. Another truck pulled up next to us to get on the barge and it had barrels in its back, with the marking of Texaco on them. This was a surprising and strange sight, because Texaco has actually been out of Ecaudor for 20 years.  But it was not the last time we would see the remainders of Texaco´s damage left behind.

After driving another couple hours, we reached a clearing and got out of the truck again. There wasn´t quite a path, and Donald (our “guide”) used a machete to smack away the brush that was in the way as we slowly went down towards a small swamp.  Halfway, we stopped and Donald pointed upwards from where we had come and asked if we noticed anything.  There sticking right out of the side of the hill was half a rusty old pipe about a foot in diameter, impossible to blend in once pointed out.

look closely!

look closely!

Looking down the hill directly under it, it was clear what had once been spewing out of it.

A the swamp below, it looked like a normal forest, but Donald took a big stick and swished around in it for a minute, then pulled out the stick and asked us to smell the residue.  It was if he had stuck the stick in a pool of gas.  Disgusting. (see photos)

Donald and Nick

Donald and Nick

the "soil"

the "soil"

But this was only the beginning.  Our next stop, we only walked down a few meters when Donald pointed to our left and said, ¨Mira.¨ (look… see photo)  In Spanish, they call the the pits where oil companies (Texaco) dump their waste ¨piscinas,¨ meaning pools.  Well that is exactly what this massive land looked like – a pool of dirty, thick, black oil.

this is real.

this is real.

In terms that I most relate to, it was almost like an enormous vat of shiny brownie batter with some leaves and twigs thrown in the mix.  (see photo). Except the smell of the 30-year old oil was enough to keep me from feasting or even getting too close… Check out this video its quick:

Really didn’t think things could get worse, until Shushufundi 38.

Manuel Ignacio Salinas, was so proud to repeat his name when I asked him. The aged man who barely stood above 5 feet could not have stood prouder nor spoken with more passion.  about the lovely pool behind his house………….

As we stepped about 10 feet from his house and approached the indescribable scene in front of us, the thousands of hows, whys, whos  became so scrambled in my brain that it was impossible to form sentences.  Thankfully, Senor Salinas passionately told story after story about how it was discovered and the suffering it has brought him and his family.

He bought the house 25 years ago, before he knew what exactly what was lying beneath the surface in his backyard.  Soon after purchasing, he started clearing some land to make room to grow coffee and fruits.  That is when they discovered the pool of what they assumed was just a swamp, but obviously unsuitable land to grow on.  So they proceeded to plant coffee trees around it.

Soon after, his family began to find bodies of dogs, cats, cows and other animals in the waste pit. Realizing this was more than just a nasty swamp, they knew their well-water could not be safe to drink either.  The family became very poor, without any resources to grow their own food nor drink their own well water.  Senor Salinas recanted that “for a while, we had nothing, ni agua.” This is supposed to be a funny expression that my host grandmother would say to me if I refused a meal, “No quieres nada, ni agua?”  However, in this instant, its double meaning was hard to laugh at.
Manuel Ignacio Salinas in front of Shushufundi 38

Manuel Ignacio Salinas in front of Shushufundi 38

As we were talking, or should I say as Senor Salinas talked and I listened and took in the surroundings with a dropped-jaw, his pure-white dog scurried around our feet. It then scurried a little too far and hopped right into the pool of contaminated water.  There was nothing we could do – except scream for it to come back… which it did, however, with its coat now completely black.

:(

😦

Telling this story back at my office, I was told the dog would probably not live very much longer.

As the case that the Ecuadorian indigenous groups are taking against Texaco gained more attention with the uncovering of more and more obvious pollution, finally Senor Salinas was able to get some attention to his home.
Video – Senor Salinas telling us about what has been happening:
People tried to get him to move, but who would buy his land? Its worthless.  And Texaco would not pay to remediate the area nor relocate the family. Their appaling backyard, which they could neither sell nor leave, finally brought President Correa to see the damage,  Salinas described the occasion with more than sadness in his eyes.  He said, “the President put his hand on my shoulder and asked, what can I do?”  But the truth is, not much.  And he has yet to do much.

Donald and Salinas and la piscina de petroleo

Donald and Salinas and la piscina de petroleo

Sr. Salina's backyard
Fortunatley, El Frente has helped the family purchase a large tank they can use in which the rainwater goes through a filtering process. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that there is a oil pool behind their house.  And, needless to say, the smell in the area was overpowering.  I could not imagine staying near the pool for an hour, nevermind a lifetime.

The face of Manuel Ignacio Salinas as he described the experience is the main image I will take away from the experience.  Not the incriminating pools of pollultion, nor the site of a recently “remidiated” pool that we visited after, nor the flaming gas burners plopped right in the middle of the rainforest, with birds circling its hot emissions.

dsc09968

"remediated" oil pit

"remediated" oil pit

another nasty open air waste pit

another nasty open air waste pit

dsc09947 - flowers and trash

After the Toxic Tour

The 2 hour ride back to our hotel in Lago Agrio was more than somber, and almuerzo (late lunch) at the hotel with our guide Donald and the driver as well.  We could barely put our thoughts into words in English, and minimizing them into questions in Spanish didn’t seem plausable either.  So I ate quietly, trying to piece together how I would ever retell this burdening experience.  I don’t want to get too technical (unless requests are made for more info…) but I think its important to note that it isn’t as if Texaco dumped straight petroleum into the rain forest.  We saw a number of “water of formation” station wells also.

"water of formation" pump

"water of formation" pump

When oil is extracted from the Earth, it takes a great deal of water to do this, which in the process becomes contaminated with some of the most dangerous known chemicals, including benzene, toluene, and Policyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs).  It needs to be deposited somewhere, and Texaco chose to do so in the Amazon rather than the accepted pracitice of drilling it deep into the earth.


Switching gears – to tourists visiting la selva (the jungle)Realizing it was important (and of course would be enjoyable) to see both sides of the spectrum – Nick and I got a last minute deal to go to the Cuyabeno National Park with a tour agency called Samoaa.  We actually just thought it would be a lodge in the middle of the jungle that we could hang out at.  But actually, it was a whole regimented trip with activities at most moments and huge delicious amounts of food included.It was pretty much what I now understand to be your semi-typical jungle tour.
We drove 2 hours from Lago Agrio in a bus where our hilariously weird Spanish guide spoke to all of us in English, pointing out certain sights along the way.  Then arriving at the entrance to the park, they had brought along “bag lunches,” which were actually in tupperwares (yay recycling!). Then it started to POUR, so we waited and waited, then finally piled into small motorized canoes, thick rubber panchos in hand, ready for the next downpour, which came about an hour into our 2.5 hour canoe ride down the river to the Samona Lodge/Camp.

Check out photos of this place – it was basically like being at summer camp, but way prettier and more serene!

Samona Lodge

Samona Lodge

The dock where we left the boat connected to a large, almost boardwalk type construction, where all the huts were connected by the circular dock that we remained on… it was as if there were water or lava under us!  There was a kitchen/eating area on one end and also a huge hut of hammocks in the middle! Really neat place with no electricity!

Snuggles my roommate in the jungle!

OOH and PS there was a tarantula bigger than my hand that lived in the roof under OUR cabin… I named him Snuggles and tried not to think of him as I crawled into bed…

Snuggles my roommate in the jungle!

So we did the normal jungle tour stuff – night trek to check out bugs (huge spiders!!), day trek to see more flora y fauna and trying to find animals.  I found that every outing had a main goal of seeing some bird or animal – which I wasn’t really too concerned with.. I just loved being around all the beautiful trees and tranquilo atmosphere.

took lots of shots of sweet creepy trees for you Matthew!

took lots of shots of sweet creepy trees for you Matthew!

Lenny our Guide and the driver who looks possessed!!! oh and a caiman

Although, it was easy to get caught up in the excitement of, “YEAH lets catch some piranhas and find a caiman (alligator)!!”
The one thing that was unforuntate was the rain – I know its the rainforest – but it was supposed to be the dry season! And they said it was sunny up until we arrived – bummer because we went on a special canoe ride to see the sunrise in this huge lagoon. . . definitely didn’t get a glimpse of it… next time!  Our guide, Lenny, ws great to talk to, I made him talk to me in Spanish. But he was a hilariously weird nature dude as well, and the sounds he made to the birds were just ridiculous.

Photos of all of this speak much louder, so check them all out.  Got shots of all the cool stuff we saw such as an alligator, snake, piranhas, birds, tarantuals, frogs, sloth, oh and all the amazing trees!

Lenny searching for a snake!

Lenny searching for a snake!

Piranha! look at them teeth!

Piranha! look at them teeth!

One last crazy thing about the trip – Nick ran into a friend from Austrailia at the lodge!!?!  If we were playing the dollar game, he should have won a thousand, because seriously this place was beyond remote.  And whats more, there are tons of different jungle tours, agencies, and places you can go in Ecuador.  Yet he happened to run into a friend from across the world? Whack!

Video -Driving away in motorized canoe:


Okay I’m going stop for now, even though I’ve said nothing about my new Quito life. This is just way too long. Here’s what to come, perhaps I’ll blog post and you can check that out there.

Roomies/Amigas/os!
Regina, Jasper, Marion, Kristin, David, BU kids, Pamela the Great!

More on the job and Adventuras! The BIG trial again ChevronTexaco and how its playing out, the role of everyone here, other random cool stuff (Daryll Hannah and Sting?), Spanish troubles, Carnival, Ambato, exploring Quito

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized