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Nourish International

Isla de la plata aka poor man’s galapagos

January 26, 2012 | Posted in 2009, Ecuador, Stanford, UC-Davis | By

After completing our national park project in 2 short days, we indulged ourselves in a whale watching island adventure.  About 20 miles off the coast from Puerto Lopez there is a small island, around 3 miles long, named “isla de la plata” that is better known as the poor man’s galapagos.  On this island you can see blue footed boobies, sea lions, masked boobies, and many other interesting species.  We were lucky to be led on this journey by 2 of the park rangers from Machalilla, one of whom served as our guide once on the island.

We departed from the beach right when the fishermen were finishing up their morning exchanges.  We hopped onboard and we very unprepared for the nausea that was to come, especially on my part.  The waves were powerful, smacking the boat.

A Verbal Sketch of la Cuidad de Quito

January 26, 2012 | Posted in 2009, Ecuador, Stanford, UC-Davis | By

A typical day in the Old Town area of Quito involves passing by Romanesque churches with towering arches and intricate rose windows, juxtaposed with small shops and helado venders, occasional cobble street roads, and narrow paved streets flowing through a tall valley of multistory edificios.  Spanish-Franco architecture elegantly blankets the tiendas with pastel hues of peach and sky blue, finished with adorned balconies.  A typical day involves taking numerous taxis, which are just about as common here as in New York.  It also includes witnessing black clouds of smoke that offend the lungs, perpetually exhaused by sardine packed buses, underneath the perpetually creamy white clouds that blanket the Andes verdes.  Taking the bus this morning blasting Michael Jackson’s eighties hit “Beat It”–bus rides are always an interesting experience, involving passing vendors, guitarists, and the occassional beggar–I pondered all the curiosities of a city affected by the amenities and conformities of globalization.  Here, American music and culture (food, fashion, language, you name it) is what is in.  And I mean all of it: including the fast-food that we begrudgingly look down upon as the disease of the American multinational corporation infecting the entire world.  And the white-washed overpriced taste of Hollister and Abercrombie.  Yep.  Dancing at a bar we listend to numerous American techno hits.  Learning English is the road to success here.  Talking to Tatchi about my apathy towards foreign language studies in high school presented a stark contrast between my situation of already speaking English and the grave importance of the American economy and language for Latin American countries: it is more of a necessity for students, accounting for the extra drive.

But then then there are certain things that are uniquely and distinctively American that have not been adopted.  One of them includes excessive apologies and unnecessary politeness.  “Don’t be sorry,” Alicia tells me with confidence.  “That’s very American.”  Another thing is the need to plan ahead, to organize our lives and the world around us.  Busses don’t have any schedules, and plane flights are impossible to arrange far in advance.  Also the weather is unpredictable.  I wanted to know how the weather would be like for the weekend, and that was simply not forecasted in Ecuador.  There is no Ecuadorian weather station–the vicissitudes of nature’s variable moods are deemed beyond human measurement.  And that makes sense in a place where there are only two seasons per year, yet four seasons in one day! (Quote from Luchito, our excellent invernadero-builder :)  Political instability is prevalent in Ecuador tambien.  Ecuador has had eight Presidents in the last ten years, governance changing almost as erratically as the weather.  As a result, political activism is ferfent and strong.  I asked how old you have to be to vote and was very surprised to discover that you only need to be sixteen to vote (and only 18 to drink, of course), making me ashamed that I was one month too young to vote for Obama in ’08.  The importance of politics is readily visible when walking anywhere in the city, for nearly all the street names are dedicated to historical events and important people.  There is even one

“Trapped in Paradise”

January 26, 2012 | Posted in 2009, Ecuador, Stanford, UC-Davis | By

Trapped in Paradise

Prose inspired by la Cascada de Peguche, Otavalo

Standing in the mouth

of river sculpted hollows

We watch the outpouring

of momentous froth;

A tongue of unrelenting roar

Pounding and pounding to form

ripples upon the cavern floor

And drips of saliva mist along

the moist, padded walls of moss.

We are at the mercy of nature’s

will and wonder, power and grace

We are at the hands of her care

and the hospitality of her

Humble abode’s dreams and dangers alike.

We are small, powerless;

We are nothing in comparison to

this grand mouth within which we are enclosed

To be consumed, mesmerized, and entranced

while consuming, with each and every

one of the senses wide awake

No one with a human heart

could resist being partially consumed

Stretched to bit of bias before this

impeccable performance—

To see the mystical and precious power that

the passivity of nature provides

And the grace of which none can deny.

We are Jonas trapped within

the mouth of the whale

Much bigger and grander and

more forgiving than us,

 this mouthful of wonder

shows us both beauty benevolent

and the price of bounties burned.

Week 4: Mini Vacation!

June 16, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Ecuador, NC State, UC-Davis, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest | By

Saturday June 11th
Today started our other mini-vacation to the coast of Ecuador in Puerto Lopez. Did I mention it looks amazing. The beaches are magnificent. When we arrived we had one of the most exquisite breakfast at Paticon Pisao. The owner: Jaibel, a friend of our advisor: Alicia, was awesome! Because of him, today we went SURFING at Las Tunas beach, where there are usually surfing competitions but the waves during the summer months are usually smaller waves than the normal 15-20 footers! It was one of the best experiences ever. Out of the three of us, I (Harsh) caught the first wave! It was phenomenal! Haha. But we all surfed a ton of waves and got beat up by a ton as well. Did I mention the waves were like 6-8 ft high. Pretty sweet right? Afterwards for dinner, we went to a restaurant called Carmittas….omg the seafood was beyond excellent; basically our taste buds were going nuts. For dessert, we went to this small bakery and had delicious chocolate cheesecake and a brownie. Btw all this costed roughly between 5-8 dollars total. Jealous much?

Sunday June 12th
Oh so totally forgot to mention, our hotel is like 50 meters from the beach. So you walk out, cross the street and hit sand and the Habanas. Today we went on a tour to Isla de la plata and saw like a thousand birds indigenous to Ecuador and the island. We were probably less than 5 ft from most birds and the birds just continued with whatever they were doing, Then went snorkeling near a coral reef by the shore of the island. The last and by far the greatest sight of the trip was seeing Humpback whales! They were like less than 50 meters away from us! There were so many, in the distance some were playing by jumping and splashing. Simply amazing. Ironically for dinner, we went to the restaurant Whale cafe. No, they do not serve whale…it’s just the name. But the food here was just as exquisite! The fish, shrimp, and squid was excellently prepared. Lastly, to end the night we chilled in a habana by the beach in hammocks and beach lounge chairs.

Monday June 13th

Wow so today probably goes down as one of the most hellish experiences we all agreed have had…today we decided to go biking to las Frailes (a national park Beach); quite honestly, one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever been too, and Agua Blanca. Agua Blanca is another national park that has a crater lake with sulfur water and a museum. Now you may be wondering what made this so called biking experience hellish? Well continue reading…We biked about 32 km total and me and Binoy literally got lost in Agua Blanca’s single lane forest trail when we continued while Jaibel and Kunal tried to fix their flat tires. And before Binoy and I decided to continue we were all attacked by hundreds of wasps and Mosquitos that seemed to be resistant to Repel with 40% Deet… Oh and like 5 min into the trail a part of the trail gave out and  Binoy fell in a huge thorny nest and got ridiculously scratched up…and if that wasn’t the worst of it, it was about 90+ degrees Fahrenheit all day with no clouds in sight for miles when the day before it was 100% cloudy. Taking the temperature into consideration our guide Jaibel said the 32 km translate to more like 60+ km. Oh and lastly, we ran out of water about half way through the trail. Once we finally reached the museum we called a transport back to Puerto Lopez. We got back and cooled off at the pool .in which our luck went south again. When I jumped in my glasses fell off and sunk to the bottom of a 9 ft pool. It took us about 30-45 min to find them because we couldn’t see underwater and it was too dark in the pool to see from above. For dinner we went to Jaibel’s restaurant and had the special Paticon Pisao with seafood/fish. Again the food was excellent as expected. We were thinking about going to have a second dinner at the italian restaurant Bellitalia but after the first dinner we were done. Lol. So we went to our friend Boris’s habana and chilled for the rest of the night.

Tuesday June 14th

We headed back to Quito and said our farewells to Puerto Lopez. A great trip overall besides our little mishaps I think we’ll live. haha. When we returned we went to “”gringoland;” which is their main tourist plaza, for a late lunch/dinner. We had a craving for some mexican food so ate at Mexicali and had burritos! Then basically called it a night since we were exhausted from our trip.

Week 3: Final touches

June 16, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Ecuador, NC State, UC-Davis, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest | By

So after building the structure of the greenhouse to near completion all that remained was place the plastic as well as securing it and planting the flowers.  Our job was almost done. After checking over all of the bamboo pieces to make sure that none of them compromised the structure we began the initial process of taking the plastic top and measuring it.  Once again requiring ourselves and our leader Luchito to ascend to the top of the structure so that each and every measurement could be absolutely precise.  After figuring out the dimensions we began to cut the necessary length of the plastic to be placed directly on the top part of the structure.  As soon as this process was done we made a few quick trimmings in certain locations and began a VERY TEDIOUS AND DIFFICULT process of stretching the plastic to its greatest tension and then taking wooden poles to nail down the plastic.  We did this so that any bad weather wouldn’t destroy the greenhouse by placing air pockets in the flaps and causing a rip in the plastic; which, in effect would destroy our entire project.  So a few days went by and this securing process was done over and over again to each and every side of the greenhouse and multiple times.  Along with the roof we also secured plastic to the foundation as well as the mid-piece of the greenhouse (the space in between the ground of the greenhouse and the roof). After many long arduous hours we finally finished this task and all was complete.  All that remained in the greenhouse was building and securing a doorway and forming the actually garden for the tomato plants.

In our eyes, this was probably the worst part of the project we had faced yet.  Kunal and I (Binoy) had to first form a ditch for the irrigation pipes and also to begin forming mounds on which the tomato plants would lie.  After placing the main irrigation pipe within a water ditch we began the tilling process.  This had to be the most difficult part of the project because this was the first time that a language barrier between us and Luchito took a toll on us.  After an hour of back and forth movements and arguing with Luchito, we finally understood exactly how he wanted us to build the mounds.  3 hours into the project and we had finally finished the base for the garden in the scorching hot greenhouse.  As soon as we stepped outside into the normal atmosphere we felt a huge cold wave come over us.  Even though it was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside it felt like we stepped into a cooler.  As soon as this was done we had to move to the next part of the project, which was making a mural.

Harsh began a detailed drawing of the mural, a soccer goal that was very detailed…almost too detailed.  While he did that, myself and Kunal began finishing the door and its supports (so that it wouldn’t fly open in the event of a windy/rainy day) and also planting all of the tomato plants (which totaled to around 140 plants).  After putting down the small irrigation pipes for each and every tomato, me and Kunal finished planting all of the plants and we also finished the structure of the door.  All of this work combined exhausted us.  The heat of the greenhouse was nothing to play with, and we learned that the hard way.  By the end of the day, a small drawing of the mural was done…we had so much to do and we worried that we wouldn’t finish because it was completely ridiculous to make a drawing so detailed.  We simply didn’t have the time.  But I went in the next day knowing I would have to take control and get this mural done.

On our final day of work we finally began the mural.  The curtains for the greenhouse were completed by Kunal and Luchito and me and Harsh began the mural.  Quickly I employed the help of all of the school children, allowing them to paint everywhere that I had guided them.  Within no time, the entire sky, and soccer field were done and all that remained were the two players (a tomato and banana I decided) and a scoreboard.  Before lunch however, the entire school, its leaders, principles, nurses, all wanted to congratulate us on the work we had completed.  All of the friends we had made, the kids, the adults all were there to hold a celebration for what we had done.  Feeling honored and like celebrities we were rushed by the school children for autographs.  Wow, I never knew something so small could blow up so huge.  For lunch, we got a special treat.  GUINEA PIGS! Me and Kunal had been craving this the whole trip because it is a delicacy here in Ecuador.  After a few weird and new tastes we decided this was an experience in itself.  After lunch, I jumped right into action with my Bon Ice in my mouth (best icepops ever).  After saying goodbyes to our young friends (it was a heartfelt moment, the last time we’d see the boys and girls) we finished the tomato and the banana and the scoreboard.  And finally at 3PM we finished the entire project.  The mural was complete.   Now all we had to look forward to was a well deserved vacation in Puerto Lopez (a beach side resort on the West Coast of Ecuador).

Week 2: The project

June 16, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Ecuador, NC State, UC-Davis, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest | By

Wednesday June 1, 2011

So today was pretty epic building the greenhouse. Binoy and I (Harsh) were on 2 pieces of wood on top of the greenhouse frame. At first when Luchito randomly found some planks of wood, I looked at Binoy and was like I think he expects us to get up on top of the whole thing…and of course we had to in order to put on the top wood at the top of the greenhouse. Both of us were extremely skeptical on whether the planks were safe to stand on but when we got up there it was pretty cool. So next we lift up the log and nail it down, Luchito looks at it….and it’s too high. Now we had to un-nail the log, rest it across the structure then use the hand saw to saw off about 8 inches off both sides of the middle pillars. Believe me when I say this process was extremely arduous. To be up so high and cut a log sideways on unstable planks….definitely an experience and I’m not talking about a fun one. Afterwards, we took the machete and hammer and split 20 bamboo sticks to allow them to bend and flex properly. Next, we needed plastic wrap and some tools so we had to go to Quicentro Sur Mall to go buy stuff. Afterwards, we went back to the site and wrapped 20 bamboo sticks in the plastic and afterwards called it a day. Later when we got back home, Tachi (Alicia’s sister) took us to the crystal palace at ITCHIMBIA. The view there was amazing; we could see every part of Quito. The crystal palace was nice but the view around it is definitely worth the trip. Then, we went out for coffee in “Gringoland” at Republic de Coco. This coffee and chocolate was probably some of the best we’ve ever had.

Thursday June 2, 2011

We took the bamboo that we wrapped up and started putting it across the whole structure in order to create the roof. It was very strenuous trying to bend bamboo against the poles; it literally took all the strength we could muster up in order to hold it down while someone tried to drill holes then nail it down. Some of the bamboo had ends that were too thick and the tension across the whole bamboo after one side was nailed down was too much that some cracked. For instance, Kunal was bending one of the bamboos that he straight broke it in half essentially; it was pretty sweet! But for the ones (3) we cracked, we had to replace them with newly wrapped bamboo sticks.And in order to get the bamboo over the top log Binoy and I put up; I (Harsh) had to get up to the very top and hold the bamboo, drill it and nail it in making sure there was enough arc on both sides to create a semi-circle for the top of the greenhouse. Not to mention the middle posts of the structure were lacking proper support and were shaking the whole time I was up there trying to nail and what not…lol. Finally when we finish that we took metal wire and ran it across the greenhouse for the tomato plants to attach to.Then after that was done we wrapped around 20 wooden sticks in plastic with help of the school kids.

Friday June 3, 2011

Today was baller….literally speaking. Yesterday, the kids had made us promise we’d play basketball with them so today they dragged us to the basketball courts. J As soon as we got to the court, the kids swarmed us wanting to play with us. Most of them wanted to be on my (Harsh) team but we had to get everyone a fair time at playing. Haha. Anyway, it was Binoy’s team verses my team first… the result: my team won.  Oh and mid-game like while Binoy’s team had the ball before I got to react I was swarmed by little kids on the court asking for autographs. As soon as the first game ended we all got swarmed for autographs and phone numbers lol. The 2nd game was Kunal’s team verses my team; the same result as the first game occurred. J Even during this game we were all bombarded with little kids asking for autographs after autographs…haha what can I say? We were kind of famous. The last game we played was me, Binoy, Kunal and one of the kids that was at our height for his age against all the other kids in one massive game. But, due to so many younger kids coming up to us asking for autographs we just ended the game. At one point, our little kids (the ones that always came to the garden where we were building the greenhouse to help or ask questions and what not) started acting like our bodyguards telling kids no more etc. It was hilarious and pretty awesome! Lastly, we painted half of a wall white for the base of the mural we are going to paint.

Saturday June 4, 2011

After our first heavy week of work, we decided we needed to relax so we went to hot springs with the whole Guzman family and Suka: a golden retriever. It was amazing; the water was geo-thermally heated and natural. Also, right beside the hot springs ran a river from the mountain that was literally Ice cold! And there was a pool that the river water was routed to for the people who couldn’t go into the river since the rocks were slippery and became dangerous. But, the three of us went into the river twice! We were also told to go from the hot water and then go into the cold water then back to the hot water because apparently that’s really good for your skin and body so we did that several times. It felt weird but good at the same time because it was the Icy Hot feeling and tingling sensation at the same time. For lunch, we had trout for the first time and it was the whole fish! The head, skin, tail and bones were all in there…it was delicious! When we got back to Quito, we had some of the creamiest ice cream ever and the flavors were all so different than what we find in the US!

Sunday June 5, 2011

We went to Anna’s (Alicia’s sister) Capoeira class; which is dance martial arts. It was stupendous; the teacher was doing flips and kicks so gracefully. It was just phenomenal watching, we thought about trying but we acknowledged we would probably have hurt ourselves more than doing anything properly. Lol. Also today was Alicia’s birthday, so when she returned from her hiking trip we all celebrated with cake and relaxed.

Week 1: Introduction to a New World

May 31, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Ecuador, NC State, UC-Davis, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest | By

After a long trip on an airplane we finally arrived in Quito, Ecuador.  The drastically different altitude immediately took an effect on our body.  We knew right then that the low levels of oxygen would be difficult to get used to.  After meeting our host family, we retired to our rooms and immediately went to sleep.

Our first day in Quito allowed us to realize the challenges we would face.  Simply traveling around the Old City and viewing the monuments we got tired from walking as well as assimilating ourselves into a place where English is not the primary language.  However, the trip was definitely worthwhile because we got a helping handful of the culture.  We visited Palacio de Gobierno, La Iglesia de Santa Domingo, El Catedral, and the Plaza de la Independencia.  The beautiful architecture taught us the Spanish and Indigenous influences that are prominent in this city.  From Catholic structures and depictions of holy figures to the modern protests that occur in the Plaza, we dove right into our progress on becoming residents of this beautiful country.  And of course, we had to try the amazing coffee that is such an integral part that makes the locals function.  The fresh tastes, the strong flavors…the coffee was definitely the best part of the day due to its relaxing touches and quick energy boost.  The catch: dehydration and a higher susceptibility to the altitude.  After a struggle, we finally made it back to the comfort of home-cooked Ecuadorian cuisine: a platter containing celery and mozzarella soup, cooked vegetables, and seasoned beef; ALL FRESH.  What better way to top off the night with a good night’s rest.

The next day, we got down to the nitty-gritty part of our trip.  After making a squished voyage on a trolley bus trying to prevent the theft of our belongings we made it to El Factoria del Conocimiento, also known as ConQuito (a municipal center set out to help the citizens of Quito establish a better way of living, in financial, healthful, and a well-rounded life).  After meeting Luchito, the leader of our project, we got a crash course on our reason for carrying out the building of a Greenhouse.  Not only to create a sustainable structure we also were working on this project in order to establish a “fresh” lifestyle in the children and adults of the community.  By teaching them the importance of growing crops and the necessity of maintaining a nutritional diet we hope to cure the impoverished and lacking lifestyles so evident in many parts of Quito.  Along with the nutritional benefits, we hope to create a financial standard for these people.  By selling any excess crops, the community will be able to use profitable moneys to further enhance their lifestyles.  Once the work was done, playtime began.  Making a trip across the city we landed at the Centro del Culturidad to learn some breakdancing (a type of dance that is very popular among the youth of Quito).  We still hadn’t adjusted to the altitude but we made due of our abilities and learned a routine; but more importantly, we made many friends that exposed us to the youthful side of Quito.

T-G-I-F! The weekend started on Friday due to a holiday and we took the opportunity to travel around the city and experience a little bit of what people do on a daily basis.  We traveled to malls, we saw movies (granted with Spanish subtitles), we even got a small taste of the pastries that are so sought out by tourists.  Saturday came and we got to leave the city and visit the indigenous and natural landmarks of Ecuador.  After wading through the markets at Ota Valo and purchasing goods for our friends and family back at home we got to visit a crater…yes, a full crater that is filled now and is a natural lake.  Although the rain prevented us from taking a boat ride around the crater we got to witness the beauty, the real reason why we even came to visit this tourist site.  A long drive through the mountainous terrain and we made it back home to our beds and our dreams.

After a slow Sunday, Monday arrived and our first real day of work.  We met with Luchito and quickly traveled to the school to map out our plan of action.  After creating a blueprint and determining our supplies, we got to work.  Quickly, we made holes for the foundation and overall structure of the greenhouse.  After getting a jumpstart on our project, we departed and were ready for the intensive side of the job to begin.  On Tuesday, after finally getting past the traffic (which took around 1.5 hours) we quickly went to work, using our blueprint to lay down the posts that would create the outside wall and roof of our structure.  After a long 6 hours, we finally finished for the day.  I would give more details on this process, but words can’t really describe the event-filled day that we had.  Pictures will follow!

Pre-Trip Thoughts

April 29, 2011 | Posted in 2011, Ecuador, NC State, UC-Davis, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest | By

The first thing that comes to mind when volunteering in Ecuador is definitely the immersion into a foreign environment.  All the unique people and places we will meet and see sound enticing when you hear Ecuador.  I believe I can attest for the whole group in that we can’t wait to board our flight to Ecuador.  Food, culture, traditions, lifestyle; those are the words that jump right out at me when I think of Ecuador.  A South American country that is filled with lush scenery, bordered by towering mountains, and filled with bustling alleys and streets. If that doesn’t seem interesting to someone I don’t know what is.  After thinking about all the perks, the true goal of the project settles in.  Journeying to another country in order to help its inhabitants with agricultural production is as humane as it gets.  It makes me feel like I’ve contributed to helping a part of the world better itself and by creating one tiny change I know that I will be generating a shockwave or more acts of good will in the community.  In terms of packing and prepping for the trip, everything is smooth sailing.  Besides the tedious efforts of gathering the right clothes or small materials that might make life comfortable, I’m excited to bring the bare essentials and learn to adapt to this new environment. Of course, I’ll have my trusty Spanish-English dictionary handy. I guess that’s all I have to say for pre-trip information.  Can’t wait to make my first post once we’re in Ecuador.  But for now…I got to finish with these final exams.

-Binoy Kapadia

The end is just the beginning

June 27, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Ecuador, UC-Davis | By

**Note: The little boy in my first blog’s name is Andres. The new Shakira song confused me during the weekend**

Fresh fish. Cervasa. Rice and fries. The teary-eyed conversation with the school principle. A kiss on the cheek from 3-year-old Andres. Our final day at the project was a special one, as the parents of the children treated us to an amazing meal at a rural outdoor reception oasis 30 minutes from the school by foot. We spent the day hanging out with the children that we have grown so close with over the past two weeks, fishing for our meals, falling down the slide, and of course, playing futbol.

Before I knew it, we were at the end of our stay and had to say our final goodbyes. It was difficult to accept that these were the last minutes that I would see Jessica, Michael, Alex, Andres, and the rest of the children. The truth is, they have given me more than I was able to given them, being able to witness first-hand the pure joy and curiosity that filled their days, no matter what complications life had provided them.

The gratitude that these families showed us will stick with me as I move forward. They understood the opportunities that will arise from this project. The true beauty of the situation is that while the greenhouse was built in the elementary school, the entire community felt a part of the process and their appreciation proved that a tremendous amount of effort will go into ensuring the full realization of the greenhouse’s potential. In the end, the lesson that stands out most clearly for me is that so long as we work together, there’s no problem we as a world can’t overcome.

A typical day in Ecuador…

June 26, 2010 | Posted in 2010, Ecuador, UC-Davis | By

A typical day…

Many people have been asking what a typical day is like for us here in Quito, so I thought I’d give you the play-by-play of what a day at the project site looks like. First, we’re out of bed by 6:45 am each morning (if you know me, you know how painfully early this is for me, especially without coffee!). We’re up early because the van that takes us to the project site leaves at 7:15. After hitting the snooze a few times, I’m out the door and headed down the block to a little corner store to buy breakfast; for a whopping 50 cents I get more than enough bananas and bread to fill me up. We then begin our 90 minute drive to the school, which is far outside Quito in the rural mountains below Cotopaxi, the 2nd-highest mountain in Ecuador (over 19,000 feet!). We typically sleep or read during the long van ride, and I also take pictures of the gorgeous Andes mountains that we pass through.

Once we arrive at the project site around 9 am, we start working on the greenhouse. We have 9 student volunteers (3 from UC Davis, 6 from the University of Viriginia) and we divide up the various tasks. Very few of us have knowledge about organic agriculture or how to build a greenhouse, but thankfully we work with 2 agroengineers, who assist with the project as part of Triple Salto’s partnership with Conquito, which is part of Quito’s municipal agency on economic development. Our agriengineers are Luchito and Edgar, both of whom are friendly and enthusiastic about the project and provide us with direction on how to construct the greenhouse.

We typically spend 3 hours working on the project in the mornings (either building the greenhouse or painting the mural) and then eat lunch around noon. The mothers of the schoolchildren prepare our meals each day, typically some sort of soup, rice, or potatoes, with a little bit of meat or vegetables. My favorite parts of the meals were the papas fritas (sooooo fresh and way better than any American French fry!) and the jugo de tomato de arbol, which is a sweet juice made out of tree tomatoes and a lot of sugar :-) After lunch we return to work on the project for another 2 or 3 hours before heading home for the day. Most of us fall asleep within 5 minutes of getting in the van – manual labor at 10,000 feet is no easy task!

When we get back to our home in Quito, we shower (we’re always covered in dirt and paint when we return from the project site!) and usually nap again before heading out to explore the city and try new restaurants for dinner. Then it’s back home, Skype with the family, and off to bed to rest up for another day building the greenhouse!

Our first step in building the greenhouse was to clear the land for the greenhouse; this was a back-breaking job involving lots of hoeing, digging, and weeding. Then, we built the outer frame of the greenhouse – the exoskeleton, if you will. This required precise measurements and lots of sawing, drilling, and hammering. I’ve improved my hammer-wielding skills while here, although I think my weight-lifting coaches would be disappointed at how long it takes me to get a nail through the wood…!

After completing the exoskeleton of the greenhouse, we attached the outer plastic walls, which we attached to long pieces of bamboo wood which are wrapped tightly in plastic to protect the wood from the elements. The plastic walls are preferred over glass walls because they are much cheaper and also easier to replace if damaged. Finally, once the plastic walls and roof were in place, we assembled the door. After many hours of tough manual labor, our carpentry skills were greatly improved and our greenhouse was complete!

Upon finishing the greenhouse, we then prepared the interior for planting, making raised beds in which we planted tomato seedlings. Our greenhouse will be used to grow tomatoes, which will supplement the school’s garden, in which they already grow carrots, radishes, various types of lettuce, etc. The garden and the greenhouse will provide fresh produce for the children’s school lunches, improving the nutritional quality of the meals. Any surplus tomato crops will either be sold (with the profits going back to the school) or the surplus will be sent home with kids to be consumed by their families. While the greenhouse is directly affiliated with the school, it also directly benefits the families and the surrounding community. The enthusiasm from the school principal, the mothers of the kids, and the kids themselves make me confident that the greenhouse will be a great addition to this school and will be a sustainable venture, improving nutrition in the community for many years to come.
Ok, I’m up way past my bedtime and we’re up early for a trip to Otovalo to visit the indigenous market and buy souvenirs. 😉 Have a great weekend! ~Kaitlin