Hello again from Ecuador… here are some updates on our project, as well as some thoughts about poverty and wealth… hope you enjoy! Sorry in advance for the lengthy post!
This week marks our second week at La Escuela Fiscal Mixta Luciano Coral, the rural school where we are building our greenhouse. Today’s weather was wonderful, a clear gorgeous day that allowed us to get a lot of work done while enjoying the beautiful surrounding views of snow-capped mountains and lush green hills. Much of last week was cloudy and rainy, so today was a welcome respite.
The thing I love most about our project is getting to interact with the school kids. They are sooo excited to see us every day, always eager to take pictures with us “gringas,” play soccer with us, or most importantly, paint! Part of our project is to paint a mural on one of the classroom walls, and the kids just love it. I seem to have taken on the role of master painter, and both this week and last I’ve been spending a lot of the workday painting the mural with the kids. Although I don’t get to spend as much time working on the greenhouse, I do get to spend most of my day with the kids, which is wonderful. A bit stressful at times, as EVERYONE wants to paint – I’m constantly responding to ten different kids yelling “¡Yo quiero pintar!” (“I want to paint!”) which makes for a rather chaotic scene, especially with my less-than-perfect Spanish… but in the end I really love it, and painting with the kids has by far been the highlight of the project for me. The mural is turning out really nice, and we hope to finish it tomorrow. I’ll post pictures soon!
Being at the school and seeing the environment in which the children live, study, and grow makes me realize that despite South America’s relative success in terms of economic growth and development, and despite the fact that Ecuador is classified as a middle-income country (as opposed to a low-income country), there is still widespread poverty, especially in the rural areas… Being down here I see the need firsthand, see the poverty and lack of opportunity and see what the future holds for the little girls I’ve met like Jessica, Gisella, and Mercedes. Through my time at the project, I recognize the value of what Nourish and Triple Salto are doing at this school. The greenhouse will enable the children to have a much healthier diet, moving beyond the rice, beans, and watered down chicken broth we’ve eaten with the children while at the school site. And hopefully, the mural we are painting will serve as a cross-cultural exchange that these kids will remember as something meaningful to them.
I know that for me, my time here in Ecuador is incredibly meaningful, and part of a life-shaping experience. I’ve talked about poverty, studied it, read about it, debated it, fundraised for it, etc… but until this trip I hadn’t really seen it firsthand. And without actually being on the ground, how can you expect to formulate development policies and programs for poverty alleviation until you’ve actually been there, talked with the people for whom this is their daily life, shared meals with them, hacked weeds with them, and a built a greenhouse together? Until you’ve done all that, how can you say that you know what’s best for someone, and what development should look like in their community? My hope is students who are passionate about poverty alleviation will participate in projects like this one; and hopefully, with more experiences abroad, an expanded worldview, additional cross-cultural exchanges, and further training and schooling, students will gain a greater understanding for how to help people help themselves.
Ok, time to go grab some food! ¡Hasta luego! –Kaitlin
If the saying is true, then every man should move to Ecuador. I think I have seen more dogs around Quito than people. It is quite amazing to just drive to our work site everyday (1 1/2 hours away) and just look at the window at this massive city.
This blog post will be more about my general impressions and thus I will not go too deeply into the background of our project because Kaitlin has already done so. For those of you who don’t know, we are building a greenhouse at a rural elementary school to teach the children how to live a healthier, more nutritious lifestyle. This is part of the greater goal of the non-profit we are partnered with, Triple Salto, to promote a better life for the next generation (as some of the greenhouses are in schools for learning purposes and some are built in communities and transformed into a business for a group of locals to feed their families both through the produce and the income generated from selling the goods). This is the general overview that I have heard about our project over the past two years, but it is so much more interesting to personally witness the movement we are involved with.
The children at our school are amazing. Alicia said something that really struck me when looking into these kids eyes: calling people poor is often just a misunderstanding, for while the school we are helping does not have pencil sharpeners or soap, the children are still happy and hopeful for every day. Their current economic state does not affect their outlook on life. Most are eager to help or learn at any given opportunity – painting, splitting wood for the roof, even picking up a hammer. It is obvious that they will become experts in some craft to make the most of their given opportunities.
This is where my beliefs fit in so closely with the work of Triple Salto (meaning Triple Jump – helping people get out of the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental hardship). What we are doing with this greenhouse and the larger picture of the Triple Salto movement is expanding these children’s opportunities. The apparent curiosity over our building will make these children excited about the end product, which significantly increases the likelihood that they will take the lessons of food security, proper nutritional values, and how to plant self-sustainable vegetables with them forever. Growing up with this new-found information (not to mention more substantial meals during developmental stages) will allow them to make decisions they otherwise might have made differently. Unfortunately, we are not here long enough to build a greenhouse for a community, although this side of Triple Salto is also extremely important. However, since we are not involved with this process, I will get back to more exciting personal experiences…
There is a little boy, Alejandro, who I have fallen for more than any of the other children. He can’t be more than 3 years old, 3 feet tall and 40 pounds. Since his mother works at the school, Alejandro sticks around after the other kids leave and it allows me to observe him a little more. He walks around with his little jean zipper undone, searching for any cup/bottle top to fill up so he can drink water from the spout too high for him to stick his head under. Some of my favorite moments with him include miniature water fights to cool off, chasing him around to tickle his armpits, picking him up after he trips during our chase and letting him be a little airplane horizontal to the ground on top of my arms until he stops crying, and simply how little his hand is when he puts it into my open fist. The really awesome thing about Alejandro is when Kaitlin asked him if he wanted to paint on Thursday afternoon. He was so excited and took his job of filling in a green circle very seriously. You could tell that given the chance, Alejandro wanted to make sure he made the most of it. That attitude is the symbolic message that I have taken from this trip so far.
There are plenty of other stories to tell, including talking about our trip to the coast of Ecuador this weekend (amazing to have the beach and a tropical forest right next to one another), but alas, I shall end this first long blog post. Happy Father’s Day to my pops and I hope everything is going well for everyone in the states.
We’re here — finally, all members of the UC Davis team (me, Tyler, and Lelia) have arrived in Quito! Tyler and I arrived in Quito on Monday. I won’t speak for Tyler, but I was exhausted and a little jet-lagged after a whirlwind week filled with final exams, commencement, and graduation parties. I participated in the Letters & Science commencement on Saturday morning, celebrated with family and friends that afternoon, and packed and flew out of Sacramento on Sunday night – busy!! 4 flights later (Sac to LAX to El Salvador to Costa Rica to Ecuador) we got to Quito. Lelia unfortunately had to deal with plane mechanical errors that delayed her arrival by a day, but she got in late Tuesday night. After 2 years of doing Nourish work on campus, we are so excited to finally see the fruits of our labor and come to Ecuador to volunteer on the project!
After we arrived at the airport, Tyler and I went to the home of Alicia Guzman, the head of our nonprofit partner, Triple Salto, and our host while we’re in Quito. We chatted with Alicia about the status of the project – we are partnering with the Nourish chapter at the University of Virginia (UVA), and UVA’s student volunteers have been here working on the project for a few weeks. Our specific project is to build organic greenhouses at various sites around Quito. In Ecuador, malnutrition is a significant problem, and the aim of our project is to build community greenhouses to improve food security by increasing access to nutritious food, specifically organic fruits and vegetables. For me, issues of hunger and malnutrition are near and dear to my heart — between my work with Nourish and my honors thesis (in which I studied the relationship between women and food security), I’ve become very passionate about finding solutions to hunger and malnourishment. While our Nourish project is just a small 2-week project, Nourish students from colleges around the country are putting on projects across Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, and slowly but surely I believe that we’re making a difference.
The two greenhouses that UCD and UVA are funding are located at school sites outside of Quito. The site that Tyler, Lelia, and I are working on is located about an hour drive outside of Quito at a rural elementary school. Tuesday was our first day on site, and it was certainly a learning experience! I have absolutely no background in agriculture, let alone have any clue how to build a greenhouse – but thankfully we have hired an agro-engineer who knows what he’s doing Also, the UVA kids already completed one greenhouse before the UCD team arrived, so they have some background. We spent the day building the skeleton of the greenhouse, inserting posts into the ground and drilling and nailing the frame together. Tyler and I spent a good part of the day clearing land of grass, weeds, and roots – work that really requires you to put your back into it! I’ve never done much gardening or manual labor, and boy is it hard work! By the end of the day, I was covered in dirt, and later, as it started to rain, mud. Despite the rain we made a lot of progress, and I’m proud of what we accomplished today. Tomorrow we’re back to the school to continue assembling the greenhouse frame and also start work on the mural that we’re painting on the wall of one of the school classrooms.
It’s been 3 years since I was last in Latin America, and I haven’t used my Spanish much since then. The first two days I’ve been a little rusty, but thankfully my language skills are coming back better than I expected. I still need to ask people to slow down a bit, but I feel pretty comfortable conversing with the school kids, and we had a good laugh today when I dug up some creepy looking bugs (they looked like larvae of some type) and the boys chased the girls around the playground with them, haha. Thankfully Lelia has excellent Spanish language skills, so she’s able to talk and joke with just about everyone and Tyler is learning! Hopefully by the end of the trip we’ll all be more comfortable conversing in Spanish!
The trip and the project are off to a great start — we’ll try to keep you updated as best we can!
It’s Sunday night, and Tyler, Lelia, and I are headed to the airport en route to Quito, Ecuador! Today begins our 2+ week adventure in Quito, where we will be working with Triple Salto, a Quito-based nonprofit, to put on an agricultural development and nutrition education project. Our chapter worked with Triple Salto last summer, along with some volunteers from the Stanford Nourish chapter. This summer, we are continuing our partnership with Triple Salto and also working with student volunteers from the University of Virginia. During our time in Quito, we’ll be building organic greenhouses at school sites in and around Quito. We’re so excited to begin the project!
Check back here for regular blog and photo updates — we’ll be trying to post as often as we can, so that you can follow our project and hear how things are going! We may have limited access to internet, but we’ll do our best.
Many thanks to all those who have put in so much time and effort to make this Nourish project possible. The UC Davis chapter has worked incredibly hard throughout the year to make this project possible — special thanks to the Exec Board, who consistently went above and beyond to make our chapter successful!
Time to board my flight to LAX, then to Costa Rica and finally to Quito — adios!
Quito is absolutely beautiful! The airport is situated right next to the city, so you get a good feel for it as soon as you land. It’s awesome how houses and buildings line the mountainside, with active volcanoes surrounding the area and white snowy peaks in the distance. We’re at 10,000 feet now, but luckily, none of us have gotten altitude sickness..
The day we arrived, we settled into our apartments, which are very nice, especially for Ecuador standards. The women in charge of the organization (Alicia, Triple Salto’s president, and Tachi, Triple Salto’s project coordinator) are sisters and live in the house right in front of our apts. They are wonderful! They’ve been showing us around and giving us advice on places to go and everything. Tachi gave us a tour around the neighborhood and city, so that we could get to know the area.
Yesterday, we were invited to a delicious breakfast in their home. Afterwards, we all went to the Ecuadorian government’s economic development agency (ConQuito) to learn about the urban agriculture projects the government has been coordinating, with Triple Salto as the facilitator. Then, we were able to visit one of the agriculture projects that had been implemented recently with a local school. It was hidden away from the main road, on a mountainside, with two plateaus of vegetable gardens and two large greenhouses filled mainly with tomato plants. All of the plants looked almost perfect. It was amazing how productive such a small space could be!
We also visited the famous Old Town, which includes government buildings and churches, all of a unique architecture. One of the women working with Triple Salto, Avivanna, was our unofficial tour guide, and took us to all the best spots.
Today, Ivan and I went with Alicia and some ConQuito staff members to buy the construction supplies for the greenhouses and wormeries and the painting supplies for the school murals. Molly and Cathy went on an adventure to find a bank that would exchange large bills for smaller ones, since the majority of places here only take 5’s, 1’s, and change.
The food here is great and surprisingly varied. Already, we’ve had traditional dishes, seafood, Indian, and French. No worries, we are eating well!
The public transportation system in Quito is very convenient. Trolley buses run north and south through the city, come every 2 minutes, and only cost 25 cents, for whatever distance. When using this type of transportation, we have to be careful and alert though because unfortunately, a culture of theft exists. Luckily, taxis here are much cheaper than the U.S., so we’ve been utilizing those as much as possible!
Will write again soon!
Love from Ecuador,
Hello friends and family,
The packing has commenced, the excitement is building, and the first few UVAers are preparing themselves for the long trip to Quito Wednesday.
We will be living in the heart of the city, in an apartment supplied by Alicia, the director of Triple Salto (our partner organization). We will have access to internet and will be bringing a couple computers, so we will be able to answer your emails and skype. Just be sure to check this blog! We will likely update it every few days.
The plan is to work on two urban projects at public schools in Quito; constructing greenhouses, planting orchards, and teaching children the importance of agriculture and nutrition.
Our free time on the weekends will be spent immersing ourselves in the culture, traveling in and around the city, and experiencing what Ecuador has to offer.
Thank you so much for your support of Nourish International in the past and the future!
Off we go!!!
-Lauren (Project Leader)
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.