We arrived in the capital, Quito, after a 23-hour journey.
Expedition leader Colonel John Bashford and Project Manager Yoli were already there and had met the President of the Cofan district where we would be based. They had also bought supplies and got maps of the area - not as easy as it sounds, as they cannot be bought, only borrowed from the military.
After a night's rest, the others organised all the stores for the trip and got the last of the medical supplies, while those of us in the water team met Carlos and Walter from AgroConsultares, a company contracted by Just a Drop to provide materials for the installation.
They would be coming with us to Zabalo as part of the team. Almost everything was ready: the filtration system (eight filters in total, six in two sets of three to be run in parallel to enable maintenance without disrupting the system). One of these filters was activated carbon to ensure that any hydrocarbons in the water would be removed.
The next day we set off for Lago Agria, an oil town about 10 hours east of Quito. We drove through the Andes then followed rivers down through the cloud forests to the Amazon (El Oriente). An oil pipeline ran along part of the route and you could see the corridors that had been cut into the forest to accommodate it. One area we passed had pools of oil which had been taped off. Impacted soil lay in piles mixed with straw under black plastic, the remnants of a spillage being cleaned.
We stayed overnight at Lago Agria and met the chief of Zabalo before leaving early the next day to drive to Choriza, where we loaded ourselves and all our gear into four large motorised canoes and headed up the Rio Aguarico into Cofan territory.
It was incredibly hot and muggy and everyone sweltered as we stopped at three villages en route to hand out school and medical supplies. We arrived at Zabalo and were warmly welcomed by the Cofan. It took two hours, with much help from the locals, (including women and small children) to unload the canoes and sort the stores before we could pitch camp and take in our surroundings.
Zabalo was beautiful. The tribe had cut a clearing in the forest and at one end built four eco-tourism huts and a meeting hut with a kitchen. At the other was a school, teacher’s hut and between these the new water tower provided by the local mayor. Beyond the school, the village comprised large one and two storey huts on stilts.
There were several ponds for a turtle-breeding programme, which over the past 10 years has successfully reintroduced turtles to the area. Another pond housed a scary looking caiman and a fenced area housed several peccaries.
Hungry looking dogs wandered around listlessly, and fruit and cocoa trees grew throughout the village to such an extent that you often thought you were in the jungle when you were in someone’s garden! Our campsite was an open field that we shared with a happy horse that liked to roll on his back and lots of little hen families.
Read the first part of Olivia's blog here