Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Field Trip Of DEATH.

When perusing the course catalogue for USFQ at the beginning of the semester, Medicinal Plants caught my eye. I thought it sounded like an interesting class, maybe even  one that would count toward my unfulfilled lab science requirement. Either way, i had high hopes for Medicinal Plants; maybe sort of cosmic, maybe moderately spiritual, but relaxing at least and hopefully not too difficult. I had grand aspirations of learning a thing or two about the immensely diverse flora of Ecuador, maybe even coming home with a few tricks up my sleeve: an infusion of manzanilla for a stomach ache? Tea of flor de iso for a cough, perhaps? Alas, how was I to know that not only would my hopes and dreams for Plantas Medicinales fall flat on their pathetic faces, but rather that i would be dragged down to the river of Hades along with them. 

This past weekend I had my first salida del campo (field trip) with Medicinal Plants, led by the one and only Zak Vlastimil, lovingly dubbed "Vlasti" by the Ecuadorian students. Let me just tell you a few things about Profe. Vlasti: he is a leather-faced, yellow-toothed, gaunt, wrinkled, chain smoking lunatic. He carries a machete in one hand, a lighter in the other, and normally has a marlboro hanging off his chapped bottom lip. (Our friend Laura immediately dropped the class after realizing his stark resemblance to the stereotypical sexual predator.)  Don't get me wrong, he's a nice enough guy i suppose, but i'm just trying to paint the picture for you. 
Bear with me a moment: you know how they say people tend to look like their dogs? This might be a stretch, but if our field trip could be personified, it would reincarnate as this crazy, emphysematic botanist. Let me explain:
1. Our ghetto ass bus, complete with ample thunder cats stickers and playboy bunny decals (though no bathroom), looked like it may or may not have been in Hiroshima when the A-bomb was dropped. 
2. The destination of our field trip was unknown. It's not that Vlasti didn't know where we were going, just that it didn't have a NAME. That's right, we were going to a location so remote, so deep in the forbidden forest, that no one had bothered to name it. 
3. After 2 or 3 hours of nauseating  bus ride, driving along one-lane mountain "roads" continually threatening of crumbling beneath us into deadly mudslides, we came to a strike. No mudslide, a strike. 7 workers who were pissed off that threw a log in the middle of the road and lit it on fire. So we proceeded to attempt an 80 point turn, the back wheel threatening to slip off the muddy cliff and, though my eyes were squeezed shut in fear, the image of us crashing down the cliff to our deaths in the unforgiving rapids below played repeatedly in my mind's eye!
4. Right, so we turn around, backtrack the 3 hours and drive another 6 into the darkness of night when one of the tires of the hiroshima bus explodes. We get off the bus to let the bus driver figure out how to fix it, sans jack, only to find that the ground outside wasn't ground at all but pure COW POOP. right. so now there's cow poop in my hiking boots and i'm standing outside at midnight in some unknown region of ecuador.
5. Fastforward, finally show up at this god forsaken place: 3 shacks in the middle of the woods without electricity and only a trickle of running water. Know what they had plenty of though? NATURAL GAS. Some freaking pipe was leaking gas into our shack that we shared with our class of 20 all night and i was sure the chain smoker was going to blow us all up. Lord.
6. Day 2: We are forced to cross a coursing river (with all the force of a great typhoon) 50 feet below on a PIPE WITH A 6 INCH DIAMETER.  Jesus lord. Get me a freaking bridge. Vlasti flew across like he does this in his spare time, while kels and i were inching across, shaking with terror, one mile an hour, picturing our untimely demise. 
7. We get to the other side to find our classmates cringing in pain, coughing up blood. Vlasti thought it would be a funny joke to feed them some plant that practically killed them. GOOD.
8. Drive home: long, miserable, and the lack of bathroom on the bus proved it self continually problematic. Thanks, God, for inventing Immodium. 

Ok, ok, long story short worst field trip ever; yet, at the same time, it was totally, authentically Ecuador. Somehow my constant mantra of "this is a law suit waiting to happen" didn't hold the same weight here as it does at home. Moral of the story-plantas medicinales = death by plants. 



  1. But did you learn any nifty tidbits about plants?

  2. 1. "with all the force of a great typhoon" - I really really hope you're referring to "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan

    2. At least you had a kick-ass knife with you to, y'know, cut stuff with.

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  4. I know what you're talking about when you describe the buses and the roads. Peruvian buses and roads are exactly the same. On this one trip up into a remote village I had to get out and walk part of the way because the van couldn't make it up the hill. On another trip there had recently been an earthslide that covered a good bit of the road in rocks.