Wednesday, 26 March 2014

18) Sorting out the paperwork

I'd awoken with what I thought was plenty of time (15 mins) and was stood outside the room taking advantage of the wifi. Someone said something in Spanish and I automatically replied "Buenas" as is custom before returning my attention to facebook. I felt like a mug when what was in fact Alejandra then said "Are you Tom", and apologised for being so rude.
We hastily got ready and settled on heading to Chipotle for some breakfast. On the way Alejandra told us about herself; 35 and trying to get into the UK to begin her PhD on the paramo wetlands of Ecuador under Paul Ramsay at Plymouth, but currently having some difficulty with the English exam. I don't think she was particularily impressed with Chipotle and I could appreciate that as it was food aimed at gringos, so we agreed to go to the market for lunch. We sat and drank coffee and discussed plans. Essentially she was as clueless as we were with regards to us being able to work in "El Cajas" National Park in the nearby mountains, but shortly after that very conversation she had an excited phonecall. We were to meet a couple of guys from the park authorities to discuss what we could do and where. The park is owned by ETAPA; a company that seems to pretty much run Cuenca (I don't know if they are nationwide). They control the communications, electricity and water supply to the city and surrounding areas, their main source of water is the park, and we were to meet them at their Cuenca HQ at 11am.
We found our way there with quite some ease and went up some ten flights of stairs to a posh looking office to wait for Jose and Pablo. Alejandra explained that Ecuador has a notorious reputation for pointless bureaucracy, sometimes as a cover for corruption, but that ETAPA are a good egg. Jose showed up and we went to a meeting room to thrash out the details in Spanish that was entirely beyond my comprehension, though what I did get was that they would rather have Alejandra map three different areas of the park than three different wetlands in Ecuador. I could see where they were coming from as the park is huge and has all sorts of variations in geography and influences of weather, altitude and the pacific ocean but it was dragging the meeting out. They eventually caved and we agreed to meet Pablo again at 2pm to decide on some possible paramo sites to check out.
Alejandra took us to the bustling market for lunch, and persuaded me to try "Tomales". I don't know whether these are strictly Mexican, but they are meat and ground corn wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. They weren't particularly overwhelming but certainly different. It wasn't long before we were on our way back to ETAPA and sat at the top of the stairs waiting for their arrival. Alejandra went on to explain that time keeping isn't big on the average Ecuadorean's agenda, and it isn't uncommon to meet up to an hour past the time agreed. 30 minutes later and we were in Pablo's rather nice office looking at a satellite view of the park. He was layering all sorts of things onto it including weather and altitude, and after quite some time and a fair bit of yawning on my part, we'd ended up with a paper map with several circles indicating potential wetlands (or "humidals") to hike to when we hit Cajas. There was also some talk of continuing Puya work, and Pablo told us he was undertaking a PhD and he'd take us to his university to meet the experienced botanist that was his supervisor to gain more insight.
We followed him to his suprisingly expensive 4x4 and drove the short distance to the Universidad de Azuay just outside of the new town. I kept my eyes peeled but no sign of an SU to get plastered in, and the place had more of a secondary school feel than a uni. We headed upstairs to the Herbarium, which was pretty cool actually - Plymouth doesn't have a Herbarium that I'm aware of! We wandered through the aisles randomly opening lockers and checking out the handi work of students such as the few girls in the main part that were preparing new reference samples. Pablo introduced us to his professor who looked remarkably similar to a friend back home, if a few shades darker. He sat and talked for thousands of years about every last plant that you would find in Cajas, and then Pablo got out his laptop and showed us a paper of Paul Ramsays from 1985. It was funny to see, with pencil drawings of the crew and refuge, and I was surprised that Paul had lead the expedition in question aged 21, just a few months older than me!
After flicking through the paper we were dropped back near the hostel and went to a small cafe to eat our final meal before our mission to the park the following morning.

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