Imagine zooming along winding mountain roads in a rickety old bus, feasting your eyes on the changing scenery heading south from Quito. Imagine chatting away with an amicable Ecuadorian who points out various sights: a famous waterfall, a deep ravine, a bridge with bungee jumping, a good discoteca, his own family restaurant. Imagine being dropped off the bus in an unknown town without an address for your destination and being guided by friendly locals until, across the street from your hosts’ house, an elderly neighbour shouts at you from her second-story window that no one is home. Imagine being walked back the way you just came from by the neighbour’s friend, presumably to the home of your hosts’ employee, only to discover that Guido is in Puyo…
Just off the beaten path, Mera is a small town of approximately 600 inhabitants. It’s an hour from Baños and half an hour from Puyo, situated on the Rio Pastaza. Here, on the edge of the Andes and the Amazonian Basin, you’ll find Merazonia, an animal rescue centre still under construction. Frank Weijand and Jennifer Green, the Dutch and American travelers who founded the refuge, have been working on the project for about three years now and hope to be able to start accepting animals soon.
While I was talking to Guido’s relatives, trying to figure out what to do, Frank showed up to take me back to the house. Apparently, the elderly neighbour hadn’t seen Frank and Jen return home, but sent them after me as soon as she realised her mistake. When we arrived, I was introduced to David, another volunteer who’d arrived shortly before I had.
Early to bed and early to rise, we were ready for a hard day’s work. After a 10 to 15 minute ride in a collectivo, we alighted at the mouth of the one kilometer trail that would lead us to the center. The path, made of uneven, mossy rocks, occasional slippery wooden boards, and deep, sticky mud holes, crossed by multiple small streams, is challenging but manageable. A covered bridge over the Rio Tigre admits you to Merazonia, where a volunteer house, a bathroom and shower building, a kitchen with running water, and a lounging area are already built.
The current main project is the aviary, but other small tasks are abundant as well. My three weeks at Merazonia were spent searching for fallen wood in the rainforest; measuring, sawing, planing, and nailing wood; gathering rocks with Monty the workhorse; shovelling sand in the river; lugging buckets of sand or water to various work areas; painting and varnishing; and mixing cement. Amongst other things, we built a small bridge over a tiny creek, fashioned drawers to put beneath the future volunteers’ beds, built and raised the scaffolding for work on the aviary, spruced up the kitchen counter and cabinets, laid the foundation for the animal-proof dry-waste bin, drilled holes in the metal tubes which form the frame of the aviary, and protected the bottom of the house against termites.