We caught the ConQuito van at 7:15 (super early) on the morning of Thursday the 23rd and rode to “La factoría de conocimientos” (the factory of knowledge) or ConQuito headquarters to meet up with Luchito and Luis Roman (the other Luchito) who would be our agro-engineers for this last project. On our way to the site, we stopped at a bioferria, which are the markets held on Thursdays at designated locations for the people from other ConQuito projects to see their produce and other goods. It was the first one we had been to and it was similar to American farmer’s markets, except way less expensive! One woman gave us a gift of frutillas, tiny strawberries, before we made our way to the project site.
Our final site is located in the neighborhood of San Jose de Monjas. We are now working with a community garden that is maintained mostly by 2 men, Don Luis (whose mother-in-law owns the land) and Don Jorge (who is a neighbor and friend of Don Luis). This garden is beautiful! The plants are huge, cabbages that are the size of a beach ball, and to top it off are 100% organic already! I am incredibly impressed with this garden as well as the people who own and maintain it. I can’t wait to build our greenhouse here and learn more about this communities individual aspirations for their future with conquito and organic farming in general!
This project is different than all the others have been because it will be directly affecting/benefiting a small unit (basically one large family and their neighbors). The work has gone so quickly because as Alicia says, we are now “experts” at building greenhouses. After the first day, we already had the post holes dug, the main support posts for the structure firmly planted in the ground, the wires framing the location of the beds and in place for the tomatoes to grow to and to cling to wrapped around the beams, the ground leveled and the beds mapped out. Unlike our previous projects, nobody ever stopped working (except for at lunchtime). The men who are now the owners of the greenhouse were like sponges to the knowledge of constructing and maintaining greenhouses and creating a sustainable agricultural business shared by the 2 Luchitos. Don Luis never stopped asking questions about each step of the process because he already has plans for his second greenhouse and other future greenhouses on land his family has located just outside of the city.
Day 2 brought the plastic. It was an unbelievably windy day, and being atop a hill (maybe it could be categorized as a mountain, I’m not sure) we had zero protection from the powerful gusts. Being as there were only Brianna, Adrian and I as volunteers, and Don Luis, Don Jose and his son Kevin as the community members and the Luchitos as engineers, we needed all the help we could get to cover the greenhouse with the heavy-duty plastic. Don Luis called up his wife, son and friends to grab some plastic and hold it down snugly so that Luchito could nail it securely to the frame. After a finger-achingly long time, we had successfully covered the greenhouse in plastic and were ready to dig out the beds. Inside another hot and sweaty greenhouse Bri, Adrian, Kevin and I took turns switching between hoes and shovels digging out the beds. The work is hard, but in a way relaxing and fun. It didn’t take us long to have all the beds dug to the proper depth (around 18 inches), and we finished just in time for the end of the day.
Day 3 was filled with abono, lots and lots of abono (guinea pig poop). Since we had the pre-dug beds from the day before, we simply added yerba, (basically weeds without their roots) then added the abono and mixed it all together. Then we built up the beds with the extra dirt that was over-filling the sides and back of the greenhouse and cleaned the soil with organic fertilizers. The next step was the drip irrigation/creating a way for water to reach the greenhouse which was atop a hill with no water source. The men created a hose/pvc piping system that connected the water from the garden below with the greenhouse up on the hill with a hanging hose, a long pvc pipe and a nozzle right outside of the greenhouse. Putting the small black tubing (pre-cut with the holes for the drip system) in place took twice as long as before because instead of just getting the job done, we were teaching the men how to do it, showing them then having them do it, because it was an important skill they would need for their future greenhouses. The only thing we had left to do at the end of the day was actually plant the seedlings, a task we saved for the final day.
Day 4 was our last day. It is unbelievable that a plot of land can be transformed in just 3 days from barren to yielding a greatly important structure such as a greenhouse! If we can build one in basically 3 days, imagine how many projects could be completed with a solid flow of educated volunteers and constant funding! Ok so our last day was more of a symbolic day than anything else. We took our time planting the seedlings while chatting with the friends and family that had gathered for the occasion. Don Luis hung a ceremonial ribbon and he and I cut it, marking the new opportunities that are to come with this greenhouse. We then cut the ribbon into pieces, giving each person who was present a piece of the ribbon and a share in the greenhouse. The irrigation system was testing (it passed) and the efficiency of drip irrigation was discussed. It is super efficient! Within 5 minutes, the water had reached a depth of nearly a foot. When the seedlings are plants with their roots reaching deep into the earth, this system will ensure that they are getting the nutrients and water they need to grow tall and produce healthy and delicious tomatoes!
Don Luis then invited us to a celebration! All of the agro-engineers and other administrators from ConQuito joined us at the site along with the neighbors, friends and family of Don Luis and Don Jose to drink champagne, sing songs, eat food, make speaches and share in the celebration of their greenhouse and our final project in Ecuador. We were touched by the speached made by Alex from ConQuito, telling us that we were their greatest volunteers yet and offering us a place in Quito if ever we were to return. We had become part of this community, that of both San Jose de Monjas (the site of the project) and of ConQuito.
After an amazing first project and a relaxing but demanding project at Machalilla National Park, we returned to Quito with good tans, burns in some cases, a great appreciation and much respect for the amazing people at ConQuito who we’ve collaborated and worked with so far, and an extreme craving for Crepes and Waffles (probably the most gringo restaurant we could possibly find here). After talking about eating there for over a day, we hopped in a cab and stuffed ourselves with salads the size of our faces, crepes with delicious fillings and of course ice cream. As usual, we arrived home a little after 9 and all proceeded to pass out. We’re such a rowdy group!
We had planned on starting the second project on Tuesday, the 21st but were delayed 2 days. I guess I’ll have to backtrack a bit to explain why we were held back. So Triple Salto and ConQuito work pretty often with volunteers from the UK. These volunteers are usually high school students who are partaking in their “trek” which is an adventure trip that is required by many schools there. Arranged by an adventure trekking company, these volunteers can do any number of projects, but in working with Triple Salto and ConQuito, their project is a greenhouse, garden and mural, just like ours. So while we left for the coast, 2 groups of 16 English high school girls, along with their teachers and guides, had started their projects. Both groups spoke much less Spanish than our group and were having difficulty communicating with their engineers but were also just cutting it close to their deadline for finishing their projects. In order for us to begin our second project in the neighborhood of San Jose de Monjas, we needed the tools and of course the agro-engineers that the girls from the UK were occupying. That being said, we split into 2 groups and went to their sites to help in any way that we could.
It ended up being Adrian and I, and Bri and Renata, then Bri and Chris the second day. The morning of the 21st, we headed out to meet up with the groups we were going to be working with not knowing what to expect. Adrian and I were met by a group of kind, smiling 16 and 17 year olds, their 2 super sweet teachers and their male trekking guide from the company they are doing their trip with. He had a sort of sour demeanor and he seemed to not be looking at his situation with this group in the most positive of ways, telling Adrian and I when we asked him if he was a teacher from the school or a parent, or what his association was (because we had no idea who he was at first) that he wasn’t a teacher or a father and that “he would never sign up for this if he wasn’t getting paid!” This tipped us off that communication was going to be the main issue of the day.
We chatted with the teachers and the girls, who were all really interested in their project, but just sort of confused on everything that was going on. They hadn’t been able to really communicate well with their engineer so far, they were receiving little instruction and couldn’t see the big picture of their project and they wanted jobs to do, but just didn’t know what. That was where Adrian and I came in. Although we had only built 1 greenhouse, our project had been at a slower pace and we had taken part in every step of the process so we knew the order of things to be done and more importantly why certain things had to be done at certain times and in certain ways. This I think was the key to everything for our group, knowing the purpose of all the little jobs they had to do and seeing the big picture of the greenhouse.
When we arrived on site, a primary school really far in the south and partway up into the hills/mountains, I’m not sure what to call them, we went straight to work. We introduced ourselves to the crew, asked what the jobs that needed to be done were, and took over as translators between the agro-engineers and the girls and everything seemed to go pretty smoothly. At times we just took the project into our own hands, figured out what jobs needed to be done next, asked the engineers and got approval and just started them on our own. I think that sometimes projects can get overwhelming for everyone and people get focused on their task forgetting that there are 20 people standing around, willing and ready to work but just waiting for instructions.
Halfway through the day, Alicia came by the site to check on everything with Alex, Maria and Angelito from Conquito. Our project seemed to be moving along, so they stole me away to go on a mission: buy gineau pig compost. It was cool to talk with everyone from Conquito about my expectations and impressions of their organization and the projects, but I could have done without the gineau pig poop. We drove for about a half hour up into the hills in South Quito and came across a house with a small “abono de cuye” or gineau pig compost business. We were invited into the yard by the husband of the woman who raises the gineau pigs and shown the animals before we got down to business. We had the lovely job of transferring every 3 small bags into 1 big bag or compost. This involved getting up close and personal with some rank smelling stuff, I am a little nauseous writing things now because I feel like I smell the compost while thinking and writing about it…gross!
After transferring the poop and getting a lovely layer of it all over my pants, shoes and sadly, hands, we headed back to the site to drop it off and continue working. By the end of the day, we had 3 walls completed, trenches dug for burying the plastic of the walls to make them tight, beds dug, filled with compost and rebuilt and everything in place to finish the following day. We finally made it home around 6, ate dinner, and got ready to do the same thing the next day.
So we decided to switch projects sites for the next day in order to see as many different sites as possible. The other site was at an orphanage for abandoned children. It’s a really cool place because instead of having dorm-style rooms for the children, instead they have around 12 houses that each have a “mom” who lives there with 10 or so children. It’s a really interesting way of organizing an orphanage that I think is amazing because it does its best to mimic a normal family style life for the children. The group of girls that we worked with at this site needed a little more motivation than the other group, but I think it was just because they weren’t used to doing physical labor/volunteer work. After another long day of work, their project was in a good place and all they had to do the next day was plant the tomatoes!
I think the determining factors for each project has been the intrinsic motivation of the workers and the relationship they build with their agro-engineers and crew from ConQuito. Working closely with such wonderful people like Luchito and Diana who are amazing leaders, who care about everyone they are working with and who get the job done well and in a timely manner has strengthened our experience here!
After our second (and final) day helping out the girls from the UK, Chris left us to return home to the states. The next day, Renata headed back to the states as well leaving Brianna, Adrian and myself to start and complete our second official project!
It has been awhile since we last posted because we have been busy with work and fun. We finished up the first project and it was great to see the greenhouse with irrigation, weeded garden, wormery, and mural all complete. A bunch of supporters of the project from Conquito and the community came for a presentation of diplomas to all of us as well as all of the kids we worked with and the engineers. We received many thanks and so much appreciation. There is a great community behing this project that assure us they will keep it sustained. At the end of the ceremony was a guitar performance by a son of one of the teachers and Luchito, our favorite engineer. Then, we sat down to an awesome meal of salads and beans and corn and fresh juice with produce from the garden. After lunch we played futbol and then basketball. Ecuador dominated in futbol, but we came back to win 10-9 in our basketball game. The games were a fun goodbye, but it is sad to think that we may never see these people again.
With the first project finished we headed to the coast. When we arrived at the airport we were greeted by Alicia’s teacher from UNC, Jeff, and his family, including; Tanya (his wife); Claudia (his 6 year old daughter; and Rowen (his 3 year old son) From the airport, two rangers from the national park who we would be working with drove us two hours two Puerto Lopez.
Puerto Lopez is a small fishing town on the coast of Ecuador, southeast of Quito. As such, I think we were all expecting a tropical coastline, with a constant temperature of about 100 degrees. What we found was a bit different; the landscape was beautiful, but could hardly be called tropical. The climate was warm, but never reached more than 85 degrees, and the coast line was studded with cacti and very dry trees, with little to no moisture apart from the beautiful ocean.
Because our stomachs were yelling to us in Spanish and English for food, Tachi took us to a restaurant on the beach that is known throughout Ecuador for its seafood. We ordered and by the time the food reached our table over an hour later, we were more than ready to fully appreciate the display of delicious in front of us. Garlic shrimp, grilled fish, and patacones (a fried banana side). As I could not appreciate the shellfish due to my allergy, I opted for pulpo, octopus, in a spicy garlic sauce. Satisfied we all walked across the street to the sand and spashed around with Jeff’s kids, Rowen and Claudia, as the sun set a brillant pink over the water. We then made our way over to some beach chairs around a huge bonfire.
After waking up to the rooster next to the hostel at 5am, Marie and I ran bright and early as the masses of fisherman were coming to shore with their morning catch. Then we met up at the national park office to head to our worksite which turned out to be steps to a lookout point over a beautiful beach. We drove to the project site with a few of the park rangers that we would be working with. Our project was to build stairs on a half mile trail that led up from a beach to a look-out point at the end of a tall cliff. While most of the stairs were already in place, many were rotting or simply needed replacing. The work consisted of carrying about 75 boards down approximately a half mile of beach to the base of the trail, digging out the boards that made up the old stairs, and replacing them with the new boards. We secured all of the boards in place by hammering wooden stakes, cut from the surrounding trees, into the ground on the down-hill side of the board, and filling in the area behind the board with dirt. Even with the help of the park rangers, the work was some of the hardest that we’ve had in Ecuador so far, and the heat and humidity definitely took their toll. Jeff and Tanya traded off watching their children on the beach so that they could help out building steps too, and their younger daughter Claudia even lent a hand for a while. After getting our tools taken away from us by national park men multiple times, we realized that we were going to have to prove to these machisto men that women can work as well. By the end of the day they had realized that at least these gringo women can get the job done right.
Back in Puerto Lopez, Tachi took us to yet another awesome restaurant, a Colombian restaurant owned by a friend of hers. The restaurant specialized in patacones pisa’os. These giant plates of fried banana were filled with your choice of seafood, meat, race, beans, cheese. Others opted for arepas, a Colombian specialty that consists of a white corn patty with your toppings of choice. After another satisfying meal, followed by the beach, we all went to bed early to prepare for the next days work.
Our second and final day of work went by surprisingly quickly!! We had an extra set of hands because Charlie had made it out to the coast and we powered through the steps! We made a system of Chris and Marie knocking out the old, termite eaten steps and cleaning the step area of the rotten wood, then Jeff, Adrian and I coming in with the new steps and stakes and securing them in. Charlie and Tachi were making new stakes by cutting branches and chopping the ends with machettis to make a point. Our system was working wonderfully, and then the men from the state park showed up. It was frustrating to have our tools taken away and be “shown” again how to do everything when clearly we knew because we’d been doing it already for over an hour, but we sucked up our pride and went along with their ways. After a quick morning of strenuous labor, be finished the steps to the Mirador by lunchtime. Tuna sandwitches and banana in our bellies, we suited up and cooled off in the refreshing ocean waves. We body surfed and then crashed on the sand for a bit of a nap.
Back in Puerto Lopez we cleaned up and then hung on the beach for awhile before deciding to return to Colombian for dinner, then returned to the hostel and fell asleep under an interestingly red sky. I woke up to the room shaking at 3:30am, unsure whether I was still dreaming. A few seconds later I was fully awake and sure that it was an earthquake. I heard Tachi talking and went outside to meet up with Charlie and her. I think earthquakes make people a little frantic and nervous, because there was a man shouting that we all needed to run to the mountains because in 3 hours a tsunami was coming that would wipe us out. Luckily it never came but unluckily there was little hope for more sleep!
After a wonderful day with the children we returned home and got our gear together for our weekend adventure to Mindo. After an early night to bed for some of us and an early morning to bed for others we woke up bright and early. Marie and I made her famous cinnamon rolls to the great appreciation of our host mother. She kept telling us how skilled we were, what experts. A few hours of bus time and we were transported to another reality. Mindo, with its single main streets lined with wooden restaurants and shops surrounded by deep green cloud forest mountains, only two and a half hours on bus from Quito seemed like another world. We walked down the dirt road to our hostel where Norma, the host, greeted us and introduced us to her adorable 2 year old son Andres. Pure wood, high ceiling, and an big, open attic room for us at the top with great views of the forest and town. Not to mention plenty of hammocks to go around. We lunched and then got picked up for a river adventure. A bit apprehensive to pay $5 dollars to float down the river, we wanted to be in the water and forked over the bills nonetheless and soon had no regrets. What we thought was a gentle glide down an easy flowing river was actually a rafting adveture on giant innertubes tied together. Life vests, helmets, and river guides accompanied us on a great ride through the jungle. Hopefully we can post some video and some point. After the adventure some retired to the hostel to read and nap and lounge in the hammocks watching hummingbirds. Marie and I went to the butterfly and hummingbird sanctuary where we saw the biggest butterflies we have ever seen and they were everywhere. We also got to check out some butterflys with see-through wings and some other-worldly caterpillars. In the hummingbird area the birds hummed themselves around, zipping back and forth and pausing to drink just long enough for us to appreciate their beautiful colors.
As we walked back down the street to the hostel we decided to check for the cake shop Tachi had told us to check out. We asked for a pasteleria and were lead to the top of a hill where the wonderful aroma of baking chocolate wafted through the air. We were invited to a demonstration of the chocolate making process. We got to taste cocoa seeds which are covered in a sweet and slightly tangy fruit, then lead up to see where the seeds are fermented and then dried. Next, crushed and roasted in a giant roaster. The nibs, little bits of roasted cocoa, are then sent through a vegetable juicer until the cocoa butter is crushed out and mixed with the cocoa to make a choclately substance. That bitter, but great flavored liquid is then poured into molds to use as baking chocolate or mixed with sugar, vanilla, and a little milk to make the best dark chocolate I have ever tasted. The couple has just recently started making chocolate instead of only roasting coffee, but right now they use it to make ice cream, hot cocoa, and the most amazing, melt in your mouth brownies. If we could bring one back for everyone we would, but they arent producing at a very high rate right now and they would go bad before we return.
We met up with all and went to a great dinner of trout and steak and hamburgers and then out dancing at the only bar in Mindo, which the raft guides had told us about. We had a great time learning to salsa dance. Some of us excelled, others struggled with rhythm, but no one was judging and all had fun. We got up bright and early, some of us to the sunrise over the cloud forest which was a beautiful wash of pink and orange low clouds. The mornings in Mindo are clear and bright and low clouds move in as the afternoon rolls around. After breakfast at the hostel we set out on our hike to the waterfalls. To reach the falls you hike 7km, then ride a trolley across the jungle valley, then hike some more. The falls were beautiful and the water cold, but extremely refreshing. After two of the falls we had to turn back so that we could get back, refuel and then bus. Eight miles later and back in town we were very hungry and some of us treated ourselves to burgers while others opted for more traditional Ecuadorian satisfaction of arepas, corn cake patties with cheese and honey. We all fell asleep on the bus, a great feat for some of us and woke up close to Quito. We reached the house just before it started getting dark, perfect timing.
Back at the project today the last strokes were painted on the mural. We finished planting the trees, planted the tomato seedlings with the television news crew filming and interviewing as we went. Then, as our drip system dropped the first soak of water, we sprinkled a mixture of flour, sugar, and a bacteria that fight dangerous insects around the plants. The greenhosue is now complete. We started the bricks and spackling of the wormeries today, which we will finish tomorrow and then project numer one will be done. We receive our diplomas tomorrow and say goodbye to the highschoolers and their staff. Wednesday we leave to explore the coast and build 300 steps for Manchalilla National Park. We´ll let you know how fun, and how much work, it was when we get back.
SO last Friday we took a break from our regular work site and traveled to another project site in South Quito. The site is an indigenous day care for children in the neighborhood. We brought abuot 10 of the boys from the colegio where our first project is to help us out. We had to begin the first steps of a volunteer group from England´s greenhouse because tey only have 1 week to complete their project instead of 2.
We arrived just after 9, but our boys from the high school and Luchito had already begun leveling the hillside that will serve as the site for the next greenhouse. We were welcomed by around 30 children, many of whom showered us with hugs, kisses and handshakes. They were all adorable, sweet and very petite. Once we were settled and had worked for a few minutes, a large group of children came down to say hello and after all introducing ourselves we decided to split into 2 groups. 1 for working and the other for playing! Brianna, Bridget, Julia and myself decided to play first. We walked to a cement patio and after a few minutes of deliberating, decided to play duck duck goose, or “raton, raton, gato” (rat and cat) The kids ranged in age from 2 years to 14 years, but everyone joined in and we played a huge game for about 30 minutes. We then decided to get a lot of their energy out, and took all the kids across the street to a huge dirt soccer field to play blob tag, red light, green ligh (luz rojo, luz verde) and Simon says (simon dice). They were all very patient with us and loving and gave us lots of suggestions for what simon should say. It was nice to get away from our daily routine of working with the teenagers to experience another culture and age group. Of course I am completely biased because I work in a daycare back home and absolutely love playing games with kids so Friday was extra exciting for me. I am thoroughly jealous of the British students who get to work there for a whole week. I am already plotting ways to convince Alicia to let us return for a day or 2.
After about 2 hours of fun and games, we had to switch with the boys and Renata. Before heading down to actually help with the greenhouse, we were offered a drink, and here you never decline food or drink. Tachi has taught us that even if people have nothing, they will somehow find something to offer you, usually the best things they have, so we went to try chicha and avena. Chica is a drink made from fermented corn and cinnamon and avena is an oatmeal drink. We were pleasantly suprised because both were delicious! After our warm drinks, we finally went to help out with digging post holes and securing the posts for the greenhouse.
Just our luck, about 15 minutes after heading down to help out, it started to rain, hard, so we all ran inside along with all the kids. There was another group of volunteers who were from Maine helping out at the daycare. They were a high school group traveling with their Spanish teacher who had secured a $4000 grant to travel to South America and volunteer for 3 weeks to teach English. Although none of us believe that 3 weeks is anywhere near enough time to teach and learn another language, we were happy to help them out. In the large cafeteria room, we all sat down with a few children and read them books. I was sitting with Elsa, a tiny young girl who was around 7 years old, on my lap. She was so excited to show me what she had learned in English. She sang “head, shoulders, knees and toes, knes and toes” and counted to 11. We then went over the numbers that come after 11, and read a book in Spanish about a circus elephant and his parrot friend 3 times. Sadly, the rain stopped and we had to get back to work.
When we finished at 1, we had leveled the hillside for the greenhouse floor, dug post holes and put all of the posts in place for the greenhosue structure. Along with our boys from the high school, we went back upstairs to the cafeteria and were treated to a huge, delicious lunch! We were given quinoa soup and then a plate of salad, rice, potatoes and garbanzo beans! It was all deliciously seasoned and we were so stuffed afterwards. Laura, the coordinator of the school, then talked to us about the indigenous calender for the year, which revolves around the planting seasons for their crops. It was so intersting to see and understand the partnership between the earth, the animals and the times of the year for planting and harvesting crops. They have a dual relationship with the earth and have immense knowledge of the land and all the animals and creatures that assist in the process.
We were soo sad to leave after our day playing and working with the children. We said our goodbyes to probably the cutest kids I have ever seen, and headed home to get some rest before our weekend in Mindo!
I feel like we are getting a very diverse experience here in Ecuador. The projects we are working on range in age groups from small children to high school students to adults. We are getting to work in a variety of settings from schools to neighborhoods to a national park. I really thank our partners in Ecuador, Triple Salto and ConQuito, for enabling us to work in so many places on so many projects! We are going to try to post pictures soon. it´s just been challenging!
Much has happened since the last blog entry, so we will try to get everyone caught up. Last Tuesday, the day before we started the project, we all went with Alicia to the headquarters of Conquito, a corporation of the local government that works to bring together many different actors in the society to accomplish development goals. The building is full of job search opportunites, offices, and meeting rooms that all provide opportunites for development and business ideas to be realized. We met in a conference room to hear the basis of the Conquito agricultural development ideas and how they relate to the projects we will be working on with Triple Salto. It was great for us all to hear the ideals behind the projects and be presented with the long term and widespread affects our work and the work of other similar groups will have.
Wednesday we began the project. The seven of us are working with two engineers from Conquito, Luchito and Diana, who will lead us in the structural aspects of the greenhouse and some of the high school staff, as well as high school students who have decided to come to the school even though it is their break because they want to work on the project. There was no hesitation in starting and from the first post holes we have been working extremely efficiently. By the end of the first day we had the main greenhouse frame up and the ground weeded. We have made a great impression because we have all been efficient workers motivated by our own excitement to be here doing this.
The project continued well through the rest of last week. The greenhouse has continued to develop quickly. There are so many pieces and details that all come together to create a solid structure. We placed beams and cables and wrapped the junctions with cloth like injured appendages for reinforcement, then wrapped long beams of bamboo with plastic and climbed up on our wooden frame structure to bend them across as the roof. Yesterday was a big day in terms of the appearance of the house because we wrapped it all in plastic. Lead by Luchito, we measured and cut the heavy sheets of plastic. It took the whole crew to get the sheets held in place while we took turns hammering them and pulling them taught against the frame. Today everyone got a chance to sweat inside the humidity of the now fully sealed house. We measured out the beds with strings and dug out the trenches, then filled them with grass that will compost and provide nutrients to the plants, and of course caca de cuye (guinea pig manure) as fertilizer, covered by soil. Tomorrow the tomatoe seedlings are going to be delivered along with trees to plant outside. Meanwhile everyone has done their share of weeding the existing beds of veggies and a bench is being constructed.
On the more creative side of the project we have designed and now nearly finished the mural, which has become an awesome piece of artwork step by step. Hopefully we will be able to upload photos of it soon, but we will assure you it is beautiful. A greenhouse, beds of tomatoes, flowers, a river, a broccoli forest, a orange slice sun, with a big tree in the middle and Quito mountain range as the backdrop, the continents of the world outlined by a bright blue sky, bordered by fruits and veggies.
Work has been great, but we have been also been having fun exploring. For the most part when we get back on the bus from work we are all tired and ready to relax, but we have been going to the market to pick up all sorts of delicious fruits and veggies and other foods to make dinners. We carry our things up the hill to the house which is a great climb. Because we have been tired we have not been going out much at night but we have been hanging around the house reading, journaling, visiting, but some of us went to an Ecuadorian ballet last week and we went out for Mexican food last night as a group with Tachi and Alicia.
This past Friday we took a great trip to Otavalo. After a friendly, but competitive game of fútbol after work with the students and some of the adults we work with in which Ecuador won 7-4 to the United States we took a 2 hour bus ride from Quito and arrived in Otavalo around 4. We found our beautiful hotel, Hotel Otavalo, which is a colonial house that has been converted into a hotel. We were given our rooms and surprised to find that we had been given one room with 2 beds for Julia and Bridget, one room with 6 beds for Renata, Marie, and I, and another 6 bed room for Chris and Adrian. We went to ask the woman if it was a mistake, but she smiled a big grin at us and told us those were the rooms she had available and so we could all sleep in two beds if we needed. After showering off the workday dirt and grime we went out to dinner. We went to a small restaurant called Restaurante Otavalito. An excellent band of indigenous men played some awesome Andean music with flutes, guitars with at least 16 stings, drums, pig hoof shakers, and violin. We all really enjoyed the music and bought a cd as a group from them. The food was traditional Ecuadorian food and all were satisfied, but pulled ourselves away from the music to walk in search of a pie shop that Tachi had told us we must go to. Thanks to Julia’s excellent map work we found the shop just as it was about to close. Mora, an Ecuadorian fruit similar to blackberries but more purple, was the pie of choice, but there was some apple and blueberry had as well. Bellies full and happy, we went to bed.
We woke up to a bustling Otavalo Saturday morning, almost forgetting it was Independence Day in the U.S.. First stop was the animal market. A huge crowd of people all observing and purchasing all sorts of animals from bags of guinea pigs and chickens, cages of rabbits and chicks and ducklings, puppies, kittens and even a turkey. After the animals, we ventured on to markets that line nearly all of the streets. Vendors selling everything from indigenous handicrafts, to pig heads, to fresh pineapple on sticks, to knock-off Abercrombie and Hollister sweatshirts were expanding from the full center plaza outwards through the town.
After we had explored as many of the streets as we could handle we returned to the hotel for lunch and then headed off with Fernando and Tachi to Lago Cuicucha which is a beautiful crater lake about thirty minutes from Otavalo with high green mountains with foggy mist capping them, even though it was sunny and warm in the town. Some of us took a boat ride that circled around the mountain in the center of the crater.
On Sunday morning we woke up early to head to La Cascada Peguche, a waterfall a short bus ride from Quito and gentle walk outside of an indigenous village. Not only was the initial view of the falls beautiful, but we also got nice and misty adventuring above and into a cave that lead us to an awesome open cavern with another fall on the backside. After the fall we followed a lovely little stream and found some awesome meadows. We all boarded the bus with red bites from mosquito-like critters that make you bleed, but no worries, not malaria in the area.
After a long and crowded bus ride we arrived back in Quito around 4pm and some us went to call our parents in “Gringoland”, which is newer Quito where the white tourists generally stay and we can use internet and phones. Back at the house we all crashed, tired after the fun and games of the trip, but woke up ready to get back to the project and have been working just as efficiently as we started off, surprising all with our attitudes and motivation. So we find ourselves now being lazy around the house reading, emailing, napping, laying low so that we will be up for going out with Tachi and her friends this evening. Tomorrow at the project we are going to have a paper workshop put on by a friend of Alicia’s who makes paper from recycled produce and garbage, so we’ll let you all know when all of this first project is complete and we head to the coast at Machalilla National park to work on a reforestation and conservation project.
Our group is almost complete and we are ready to get going! Over the past week we have been arriving, myself and Chris being the first to come last Thursday/basically Friday. We were welcomed to this strange place in the warmest of fashions. Alicia, the founder of our partner non-proft “Triple Salto” and Tachi, her sister and our project leader, were standing in the entrance with a big sign and even bigger smiles.
Even after months of planning and preparation, it is hard to believe that our project is about to begin. We have been talking about what we need to do at each site, learning the city and the routes of buses we will need take to our sites, but it hadn´t felt like we were here for more than tourism until yesterday.
Alicia, Renata and myself woke at 6:30 to start the day. We took the trolley to the South side of the city. Even the bus and trolley system astounds me. They pack the them so full of people that there is a person whose job it is at some stops to squish the people in and slam the doors shut! after an hour of travel, we arrived at “ConQuito” headquarters. Conquito is a government funded program that is partnering with us on our project. With ConQuito, Alicia and others have done hundreds of projects similar to ours in various parts of the city, but predominantly in the poorer South side of Quito.
At ConQuito, we met our experienced partner, Luis, or Luchito as Alicia calls him because everyone here has nickname. After introducing ourselves, we were off to our first stop, the lunber yard. For the greenhouses we will be building, we are not using steel frames but are instead constructing them out of wood. This serves many important purposes. The wood is inexpensive and although it has to be changed every 4 years or so, it is durable. The metal frames that are often used for these types of structures have to be specially ordered, and if there are problems with the structure it is a much more difficult process to repair. After over an hour of negociating with Gonzalo, the owner of the lumber yard, to get the supplies needed for both of our project sites, we had bought our wood. One really interesting relationship that was born from our meeting Gonzal was a mutual understanding for the importance of conservation. As the owner of a lumber yard, Gonzalo could be c0nsidered by some to be furthering the problems of deforestation and overall pollution, but as long as their is a demand for wood (which as far as I can see there always will be) someone will need to provide it. He is a lumber yard owner by trade, but a conservationist at heart. With out even a grade school education, he has grown to know his trade and the terrain of his land. On his property that is about an hour from Quito, Gonzalo has trees that are over 300 years old. Although he has to cut the trees he sells as lumber, he refuses to even consider cutting these ancient trees because although he would profit in the short run, it will take another 300 years and many generations of people who care for the environment to preserve them. Out of this relationship we may possibly take part in a small project with Gonzalo on his property plating more native trees to nourish the soil and aid in the re-growth of Quito´s agriculture.
After buying the lumber, we went to the hardware store to buy our tools and other supplies for the project. It is scary how fast the money we have spent the last 8 to 10 months raising is spent! Once we has walked at least 2 miles up and down and up and down and up and down the isles of the store, we were off to check out our work sites.
The site of our first greenhouse and garden project is a colegio, or high school. We were shocked by the progress the school has already made to begin their garden, but there is a lot of work to be done. The land designated for our project is as long as a football field and has some structure and plant beds in place but is in no way being utlized for its potential. It is also very unwelcoming. There is a barbed wire fence and very little color or personal touches that invite the students to enter, work and learn in the area. We have lots of ideas for ways to engage the kids, brighten up their garden and inspire them to eat right and take care of their bodies and their land.
Our second site is in a neighborhood and is run by an 80 year old man, but supported by 4 or 5 other neighbors. This site was very well cultivated for the resources that the people have. Like the school, this site has so much potential. We will be putting in a much needed drip irrigation system, building a greenhouse and planting native plants in the upper part of the garden that is completely untouched.
It is always hard to come in and initiate projects because most people do not accept change with open arms. I think that the nature of our project, giving the people not only what they want and need but also giving it to them under their terms, will really help to break those barriers. Also, the manner that our projects operate is not charity. We are not simply giving these gardens and greenhouses to people that have requested and need them. We are working together with the recipients to build their gardens their way, to share the labor and to share in meals with them using the products of theirs and our hard work.
I have so much more to say, but I can´t make Adrian wait any longer for me at the cybercafe! We´ll add pictures soon from our work sites and adventures thus far. We all miss our friends and families at home so much, but our family we are building here in Quito is so wonderful and loving that it is impossible to get too home sick!