After what had been a huge high the day before. The next morning was the ultimate low. To hear that Liz was alive and had been seen close, was such fantastic news. I thought, maybe naively, that we’d have her back that afternoon. After a day of traipsing around the park with no luck, we weren’t disheartened because it was a noisy busy day. It seemed much more likely she’d reappear in the evening. We had got permission to move our camper inside the park gates and stay there, so we were only a matter of metres away from where she had been seen. We hoped by bringing the van this close that even though we hadn’t found her in the day, she might find us in the night instead.
To add to the list of van disasters, our short 500m drive to the park was an eventful one. Some time ago, we had place a long wooden plank under the van in the hope of drying it our to use as firewood. The weather however had been so appalling that we had never got around to burning it and it remained under there. When we came to move to the park, we drove out a couple of metres out of the car park before Lee said the oil light was on. We drove up to the entrance with it flickering and then permanently on, before hastily pulling over and killing the engine. I got out and went to check where we’d park up before waving Lee around to the other side of that gate. At this point I noticed the long line of oil up the road and the thin stream still pouring from the van as he drove inside. So there was me running up behind him waving my arms to shut off the engine. We left a long rainbow colour trail in the road behind us. It was easy to see that the problem was the oil cooler, the radiator still pouring the remains of the sump onto the floor. It appeared of future firewood had stuck a hole right through it when we drove off.
Fortunately, our additional oil cooler system is fitted between the stock filter and mounting point using a sandwich plate. While I took off the filter and isolated the system, Lee began chucking buckets of water down the road in an attempt to clean up our huge mess. With the oil cooler isolated, we could now drive again. The amount of oil we had lost though was an issue, we no longer had enough to pressurise the system. I had been chatting to the guard as I fixed our latest problem, coincidentally the same one whose car we had helped to jump. I asked him if one of his colleagues would mind bringing us a litre of oil in the morning when they came to work, as this would save us spending $10 on a taxi, just to go get oil. He was quite obliging, and with that sorted, we once again began our search for Liz. This time in the dark and quiet of the now closed park.
Saturday was a miserable day. A grey drizzle that never lifted. I sulked in the van. Lee wandered around aimlessly calling for Lizzy. We were both in a foul mood. After the highs of the day before, the passing of 24hrs without seeing her still was a blow that was began to test not only our faith in finding her but also our relationship. We went to bed hungry and sad, after a rather large fight, not looking forward to tomorrow – the busiest day of the week.
The arrival of Sunday and marginally better weather, brought the crowds. It also brought the gardener from the park. I’m not sure how he knew about it, but he told us that for the last two nights there had been a cat sleeping on top of the coffee machine in the cafeteria. Armed with a fresh set of posters, we went down to the cafe. We asked to stick a poster on the wall and said we wanted to come back in the night and put a camera there to see if a cat did turn up. No one seemed to have a problem with this and so we set up my old iphone that night alongside some at biscuits and went to sleep nervously anticipating the morning.
By 6.30am the next day we were walking back to check our footage. There were muddy paw prints on the counter and the raw chicken we had put out (Lizzy’s favourite) had gone. Back at the camper we checked through the footage. There had indeed been a cat, it just wasn’t our one. Again, our hopes were shattered.
It was around this point, we were virtually introduced to Shannon Jay. A retired policeman from the US who was now something of an expert in finding lost cats. Lee had been posting updates on the hunt for Liz on our facebook page and we were put into contact with him via Dorothy, a lady who ran a cat sanctuary in the nearby town of Cotacachi. In a bid to cover all possible options, we had also posted about Lizzy being missing on locals pages as well as putting up posters in the local vets. This led to us hearing from Dorothy who recommended Shannon. After chatting to him, he gave us some more information. He had once been involved in retrieving a cat at a crater lake too, taking 122 days to safely locate and trap it. It was nice to have a few more pointers from a ‘professional’. He told us that after this long, she would be in ‘survival mode’. Anything and everything would be a threat, even us. He said she would most likely be completely nocturnal and that now our only real way to proceed was by using cameras and food stations in which to find her and then ultimately trap her.
He was happy to send us some trail cameras to do this. Specialist motion sensor, infra red cameras. Unfortunately, in a country like this, you can’t just pop them in the post. Sending them by a courier, paying the import and then sending them back would cost more than just buying some. The cheapest ones on Amazon were about $60 each. We didn’t have the budget for it. It seemed that Dorothy did though, and she very kindly ordered three cameras for us to borrow. The only downside was that they would take a week to arrive. In the meantime, we did as best we could with what we had.
On Shannon’s instructions, we set up food stations. We soaked rags in the juice from canned tuna and hung these above a bowl of biscuits. Then we positioned our cameras and lights as best we could. We set them at the office, cafe and local restaurant in between the two, while we remained camped in the park. We then realised the challenges we were facing. The first was the equipment. As we only had regular cameras, to record at night we needed to light the area. We needed battery powered lights that would last for 12 hours. We also needed SD cards big enough to continuously record for 12 hours. We had many a failed attempt, both on the lighting and on the camera side of things. When we did get it to work, all we saw was the local stray dogs destroying everything we had put down and the occasional mouse or bird. We needed to move the food higher, and get better equipment. That meant another trip to town.
Although we were trying not to drive, we decided to pack up our things and go to Otavalo. It was a bit further than Cotacahi and by taking the van we could also refill our water. The park staff were kindly letting us use the hosepipe, but this wasn’t potable as we found out the hard way one morning after drinking it the night before. We also decided that we would move back out of the park. We didn’t want to annoy the staff by overstaying our welcome and we felt we could unpack the van and relax more in the free spot just down the road rather than in their car park.
The drive to Otavalo is not a hard one, but nevertheless I couldn’t relax. The van sounded horrific. We made it though and parked up on the street. We walked around a few shops, before purchasing a new power block and a much bigger SD card. Then we refilled our drinking water and went to the supermarket before slowly rattling our way back to the laguna. We still needed more oil in the engine, which now nearly overheated on the hill back up. It seemed that driving without the oil cooler did make a big difference. Still, we had made it back successfully and now we were ready to try and have a better go at recording.
That night we repositioned our food stations and set up our cameras again. Now we could just about record in three locations for the night. All our efforts were to no avail. The dogs came, the wrong cat returned and we had yet to spot Liz. We had been advised to leave the stations between 5-7 days, before moving on if we had no luck. We tried to formulate a plan of where to put them but it wasn’t the easiest. They had to be out of sight, as it was a public park. They had to be accessible to a cat, but not a dog. They had to be waterproof and lit. This is not an easy feat. We even resorted to candles at one point, before the local husky came and trashed our latest attempt.
To make matters worse, we had annoyed the cafe. It was probably stupid of us to leave the cat food and camera there, but we had thought they were shut. Most of the time we headed into the park in the week it was pretty abandoned. However, apparently they were there on a Wednesday and so the took our things away. When we went back the following night the guard told us we didn’t have permission and that we needed to ask the owner of the restaurant. He did give us back our things though, although it looked like someone had to tried to prise the screen of my phone and I wasn’t best pleased.
We didn’t really want the agro of speaking to the owner, but we didn’t feel we could rule out the cafe and so we went back. We spoke to him and apologised. We had thought it was ok, we had asked several other people after all. Including security in the restaurant. He said we had to ask the owners of the cafe, as he just rented it to them. We knew they weren’t going to be nice, we had heard them on the video recording when they had found the phone. Still, we went back again and spoke to a very angry lady. It mainly seemed to boil down to the fact that we had used one of her plates. In the end, she grudgingly gave us permission and also told us that the cat we had seen had actually been there 6 months. After that palaver, we went back to setting up a camera that was only there in the dark and no one would see anyway. As my phone couldn’t be used anymore, we were down to two devices as well. After looking at it properly, it seemed that setting it to continuously record for 11 hours had caused the battery to expand and push off the screen. So now using a different camera we went back. and, yet again, we recorded the same cat. After two more nights, we moved on.
On our daily walks to the park we were now joined by one of the local stray dogs. He had taken up residence outside the camper, and could be heard snoring outside throughout the night. We named him Tom, he was the happiest dog ever. All he wanted was a bit of attention. We gave him a pat on the head and some biscuits and that was it, it seemed like he’d never leave. We were also joined daily by the rather gross black Shaggy Dog. He would come, demolish the biscuits we put down and then leave. Tom however, was after more than just biscuits.
Tom wanted to be part of the family. While Aimee would fly out of the camper in an uncontrollable rage and the mere whiff of Shaggy Dog, she was pretty unbothered by Tom. He stayed with us for about 4 days. We even bought him some wet food as he seemed to have a lot of bad teeth and struggled to eat the dry biscuits.
Despite the fact that there are no pets allowed in the park, he followed us in every day. As we didn’t have a lead, there wasn’t much we could do to stop him. After several days though, the staff had clearly had enough. The loaded him into the back of a truck and drove off with him. They did stop and ask if he was ours, but as lovely as he was, we just weren’t in a position to say yes. We assumed they dropped him off in one of the local towns to stop him coming into the park, but we never saw him again. Maybe it was for the best, it would be hard to say goodbye if he stayed with us for the full two weeks, but to take him with us would be a big, expensive commitment we couldn’t make.
While we felt that our efforts on the whole were pretty incompetent, it at least gave us something to do. It was an hour round trip to set up the cameras, twice a day. Then we had to charge everything in the van; lights, cameras, power banks, before we could go again the next evening. Even with all this, we still only recorded at night. Who knew what went on in the day. Even though we couldn’t monitor them, we set up other food stations. We figured that if the food repeatedly disappeared then we would monitor them. If nothing ate them, then it wasn’t worth the efforts in the future when we got the good cameras. That day was rapidly approaching. Then we started seeing just how many foxes there were, and also how good they were at climbing.
Ah you poor thing.. What a story all the more diffucult as it described the awful hell you were going through. Well written and painted a vivid picture of a very stressed time… Chin up and positive hugs.
Best wishes Dave
Yeah it took me a while to post it, didn’t want to re-read what I wrote but it’s still part of our story and it belongs here.
Now we start a more positive chapter!