2012 Amazon Expedition: Adventurous Humanitarianism in Ecuador

2012 Amazon Expedition

By 25743 Stacey Litjens Cusan, Expedition Leader

From the 12th of August until the 27th of August, the RMCC Expedition Club’s 2012 Amazon Expedition team set off to Ecuador on a trip unlike any other. The team worked with VESA (Volunteer Eco Students Abroad) and devoted one week for humanitarian aid in a community of indigenous Quichua people, and then used the second week for adventure training in the jungle and in the Ecuadorian Andes. This expedition also offered accreditation for research projects through the Politics and Economics Department, in line with the Expedition Club’s mandate of offering cadets adventure, cultural and academic opportunities.

My name is Stacey Litjens Cusan from Oakville, Ontario. I had the opportunity of being the Expedition Leader for the team of 16 individuals from RMC that were in Ecuador. Personally, I believe that travelling allows people to develop different perspectives on life because it can help you appreciate all of the things that many of us take for granted. I have never been to a third world country until this summer, so I think it’s fair to say that the entire experience was like a brick wall…. hitting me right in the face.

I was asked to write this article to talk about the things that we learned as a group, the amazing adventures we took part in, the cultural exposures, the people we met, the leadership development along the way, and all of the experiences that I thought were useful to me as member of the Canadian Forces. However, I find myself not being able to properly communicate these things in the simple format of an article. The experiences and emotions were so powerful that I think the best way to express myself is to try to guide you through a few of the best moments and memories that I have of Ecuador.

On the first day of work in the community of Kachiwañushka we each carried a full sand bag on our shoulders through a path in the jungle leading to a construction site. This path was muddy, very narrow, heavily vegetated, and spanned over the distance of an entire kilometer. About halfway through the path, the mud reached up to my knees. I pulled my foot out of the mud and saw that I had lost my shoe. I spent the next 15 minutes swimming in mud trying to find that darn shoe.

On the second day I was walking through the village to get more construction supplies. A little girl named Maria grabbed my hand and pulled me towards her house to show me a 12 day old puppy that she was trying to take care of. Looking down at the puppy, Maria smiled the most beautiful smile I have ever seen.

On the last day at work in the community we distributed a de-worming medication to every child in the village over the age of two. This medication is used to destroy parasites that live inside peoples’ stomachs that usually appear to look very bloated.

As all of the children formed into a line to receive the medication, one little boy instantly caught my eye. Not only was his stomach huge (full of parasites), but his head was also cut open at the back. It was infested with maggot eggs.

After the first night of the exhausting six hour jungle trek we were all about to slip into our sleeping bags and drift off to a well-deserved sleep, until we turned on our flashlights and saw the one thing that no one would ever want to see in the jungle. There was a tarantula in the tent.

On the second day of the jungle trek we were required to cut down massive Balsa trees using machetes. The trees were to be used for the construction of river rafts, that we required for the next day’s journey down river. After 45 minutes of cutting and chopping, our first tree came crashing down through the jungle canopy. We were so excited, and the jungle guides were also very proud of us. Then they told us we needed 23 more trees.

On the fifth, and last, day of the jungle trek we were all exhausted, hungry, and incredibly thirsty. Nevertheless, we still had to be 100% focused on our footing and on what branches we were grabbing with our hands for support. The golden rule was: if you don’t know what is on the branch or if you don’t look at the branch before grabbing it, THEN DON’T TOUCH IT! This is simply because there could be snakes or other poisonous insects on it. This rule helped me justify why an individual on the team decided not to grab a branch when she was about to lose her balance. By the time she had lost her balance she had no time left to check for safe branches to grab. Face plant.

After the jungle trek experience, the team set off to Baños for a day of extreme activities, shopping, and site seeing. The highlight of the day was definitely the bridge jump (it’s a similar concept to that of a bungee jump). After everything that we had already done in the past two weeks, this activity just seemed to be another experience that would be added to the list. I didn’t even feel very nervous to jump. However, as my toes edged forward on the platform, I had something else on my mind. Stacey, don’t drop the video recorder.

On the very last day of the expedition, we had hiked up to the refuge camp of the Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second highest summit reaching a height of 5897 m. We spent the night at the refuge camp, woke up at 0600 hrs, climbed to the glacier, headed back down to the base camp, and then got dropped off at the airport to come back home. Having come straight out of the jungle, none of us were acclimatized to the altitude. Altitude sickness soon took its toll on almost every single one of us. That was the worst night ever.

These moments are only a few of many that I will remember forever. The two-week trip in Ecuador taught me how to appreciate the very basics of happiness and it also taught me that school isn’t the only place to find an education. I feel very fortunate to have had this experience, but I also feel very lucky have been able to share it with 15 other people from RMC.

In the next couple of weeks there will be more articles being published from other members of the team. These articles will explain in detail what happened during the expedition. Thank you for all those who supported the team and helped us to get to our final destination!