I've dropped some hints and made some references on LJ, and I've talked about it to a few people in person, but only as a maybe. But I've bought my non-refundable plane tickets, and my check for the trip fee is in the mail, so I guess it's real, and I guess I should write something about it.
I'm going to Ecuador!
Yes, that's right, boring old Phil, who's never traveled anywhere farther than San Diego or anywhere more exotic than Texas (I've been to Winnipeg and Toronto, but I think Texas is weirder) will be spending 9 days on another continent in a country where they don't speak English, 6 of them in a place so remote that it's two hours by riverboat from the nearest road, in the Amazon jungle with no electricity, telephone, or computers.
Almost 500 years ago, the Spanish discovered a small amount of gold on an obscure bit of river in a very out of the way place in what is today eastern Ecuador. Being 16-century Spaniards, they brought in some African slaves to mine the gold. The slaves revolted and killed their masters, and they were in such a remote location that they weren't immediately put down by more and better armed Spaniards. But they were also in such a remote location that they had no way to return home, and any route back to Africa would involve passing through a lot more Spaniards. So they settled down where they were.
Fast forward a few hundred years, and their descendants are living more or less like the native tribes, and treated by the government as if they were. And they see that the other tribes around them, living in slightly less inaccessible locations, viciously exploited by Western corporations who come in, chop down the trees, and leave the natives with no way of life. Perhaps being wiser than their neighbors, or perhaps just benefiting from more examples of the "benefits" of Western civilization, they decided that they didn't want this to happen to their tribal land, and with the help of the Earthways Foundation, designated their land the Playa de Oro Reserva de Tigrillos, a nature reserve dedicated to the margay, ocelot, and other small feline species.
The Feline Conservation Federation, which I'm a member of, adopted their project as a focus of their own conservation activities. Playa de Oro supports itself by bringing in western money with eco-tourism, and FCF organizes tours 2-3 times a year, which is how I heard about it and learned what a wonderful place it is to visit. And because the US side of the tours are run on a volunteer basis, the package is amazingly inexpensive, putting it in the range of things that normally financially ultra-conservative Phil would consider doing; over a year ago, I started promising myself that I would go on this trip some day. A couple of months ago, the announcement came down the FCF email list that the next tour was coming up April 1-9, and this tour was being led by a professional photographer. My interest in photography of late, combined with the fact that I don't have a job right now to object to my leaving the country for 10 days, made this the almost perfect opportunity, except of course that it conflicts with FilKONtario. When I posted to the list bemoaning this fact, I got a private reply from Tracy who organizes the tours that there was in fact a second tour right after the first, being led by the same guide -- she just wasn't advertising it at this point because she wanted to fill the first one.
As soon as I heard that, I pretty much decided I wanted to go, but it's taken the pressure of looming deadlines to actually get me to do concrete things like getting my passport application in, getting the plane tickets, and actually paying for the trip. The tour was almost canceled due to too few people signing up, but Tracy assured me that the guide was going anyway, and I've now actually spent the money for the trip. I still have a bunch to work out in terms of what camera equipment I'll be taking (I'm planning on significantly upgrading my kit, but I haven't figured out exactly what with) and lots of other details, but I'M GOING TO ECUADOR!