A final two weeks at the laguna

We kept moving our deadline. Perhaps because leaving felt so final and staying was easier. We had said that once we went to renew our visas we wouldn’t return. Part of me certainly didnt want to and it seemed like Ruby shared that sentiment as she howled of the hilly landscape on the way back again. To her credit, she kept going and before we knew it we were back in our old spot.

We had moved camp to the shelter as it had rained so much we though we could use the extra dry space. We also planned to use the roof to collect rain water. However, since we’d been there it hadn’t rained at all. I would take the slight inconvenience of lugging all our water down 500m from the park to filter and then boil it, to have the sun though. It was hard to be positive sometimes, but even more difficult when sitting in the rain. While we had enjoyed such lovely weather, our return to the spot and the start of February marked its end.

It was another reason to leave. To draw a line under this unpleasant experience and move on. But. We had only had the trail cameras a week, not nearly enough time to get good use out of them. Could we really leave and honestly tell ourselves, “Well, we did all we could.” I didn’t think so. After this long, neither of us expected to find her. What we were doing now was a process in self-validation. We both agreed that when we left we needed to feel like we had done everything we could, otherwise how did we live with that decision? I suppose I thought that we would work our way through the park and surrounding landscape until we had covered it all and then we would be ‘done’. The reality was that there was no way to ever be done and it was hard to process the realisation that we’d never be able to say we did all we could. There was always something else you could do, but at the end of the day, at some point, you have to draw a line. And so we picked a date. We said that if she wasn’t seen by the 25th of February, we would leave.

Aimee enjoying a break from the rain

With the deteriorating weather and the lack of any good news, we were both starting to go a little crazy. It was at least something to pick a deadline. Something to remind yourself every time we got stuck in the endless cycle of unknown questions and every time we over analysed the night she left for the millioneth time. Was she hit by the one car? But if she was, where was the body? Did the fox eat her? The locals loved to tell us that one, but the foxes don’t really eat animals that size, especially not fellow predators… Did she go towards the farmhouse? Did she go towards the park? Did they really see her? Was it the other cat? Do they just want the reward money? But what else looks like a cat to mistake it for really? It was a tedious and pointless cycle which we got stuck in time and time again and one which we would never have the answers too.

This would have been the time to occupy oneself with other things, but as the weather was now so poor, we didn’t have enough power to run the internet. This too was a bit of a viscous circle. On a bad day, it’s a good time to get out the laptop and do some stuff online. But powering the laptop and internet takes a fair bit of battery. We couldn’t run our engine for power because the starter battery was so knackered it was dragging everything out of the alternator. And so we checked our cameras, and moped around.

To break the rather gloomy cycle, we decided that each Saturday we would pay for a taxi into town to buy a few more bits and get a drink or two. A microbrewery called Athena Homebrew had reached out to us and offered a free drink if we popped in. Who could say no to that?

Aimee joined us as she was in need of her yearly vaccinations and we headed out to meet the Canadian owners in the nice their little brewery. Before we headed there, we also treated ourselves to a nice lunch at the local curry house. We certainly seemed to be finding more of these in Ecuador, and good ones at that. Not only was the curry delicious, but they were happy enough for to let Aimee in too.

They were very sympathetic to our predicament, having been in exactly the same situation. Their brewery was even named after one of their late cats. It was nice to have the escapism, and for a second we could forget about it all and enjoy the afternoon sun that is so often present in the town, but not at the laguna.

With one final week to go, the weather actually got worse. While I couldn’t wait too leave, at the same time I dread the approaching deadline. While we realised we would never to be able to say we did everything, we were getting to the point that we were more depressed in living in this cold perpetual rain cloud with nothing to do, than we were sad in losing Lizzy. I suppose that was the ultimate tipping point. But, we committed to the final week, and went to move around our cameras again, to their penultimate positions. We even stopped putting down food, as all we seemed to do was increase the presence of foxes. We felt like we had brought great numbers of them into the park that weren’t previously there and it seemed like we were making things worse rather than better.

As we walked in to the park, one of the guards beckoned us over. We were well known to them by now. He warned us that this weekend was carnival and that they would get over 10,000 visitors to the park. He said we might want to take out our cameras as they might get stolen, with this huge volume of people. We thanked him, before heading up to check on our first camera, only to find that it had already been stolen. Someone must have seen us set it up, as it wasn’t visible from the road, but nevertheless, it was gone.

Not only will we never know what it recorded, but now we only had two left. Morale slipped even further. At least tomorrow was Saturday, our weekly pick me up.

We also had a nice evening when we saw Adam again. The engine in his van was now fixed and he came and camped with us for the night. We had a nice campfire and couldn’t resist taking a bunch of photos of our twin vans together, Ruby’s Latin American sister. It was nice to have company for a night.

We had decided to leave the following Friday.

The last location for our cameras was an abandoned building, somewhere we had never really checked before. I began packing away the night before, as after living permanently in one spot for two weeks, stuff tends to accumulate. We decided we would go to a camp site in Otavalo and spend a few days trying to wrap our heads around leaving. We didn’t fancy being social just yet and so we’d give ourselves a couple of days to process it before hitting Quito and the garage. Even that morning, as Lee went to collect the cameras I couldn’t help imagining her showing herself just at that final moment. Needless to say, she didn’t. And so it was for the final time that we walked into the park. We gave a poster with our number in case she was seen in the future. They had taken down our other posters long ago. And then we walked to the van. Started it up, and, for the final time, put the laguna in the rear view mirror.

While I had spent the previous day being a complete mess, I managed to hold myself together now. We were going to meet Dorothy in town and give her back the cameras so some self control was needed. Ruby clattered her way into Cotacachi and we went to pick up my (still) un-repaired phone. Then we met Dorothy for a coffee and a slice of cake and gave her back the two remaining cameras. She refused our attempts to pay for the stolen one, and was about to pay for the coffee too before we jumped in. What a lovely, kind women. With all the loose ends tied up in Cotacachi, we left for Otavalo and our first new camping spot of 2023, it was certainly a bittersweet moment.

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