Wednesday, September 29, 2010

ill

Was really sick for the last 3 days. Stayed in bed the whole time, really sore throat, upset tummy and a high fever. Wasn't sure what it was. Was ready to see a doctor today, but woke up feeling better, so now all is well. Everyone took really good care of me. Lots of soup and bananas. Excited to walk around now, and on Friday im going to cut sugarcane and finally start cooking Panela!!! More later...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Poem: Seeking the Light

People don't have mades out here
they have dark thoughts deep in the night
they creep up on you like insects under the door
seeking the light by which you fold the corner of your page

they do the work themselves
coaxing dirt from clothing onto the cold stone
rubbing legs together like grasshoppers seeking mates
a lone note in a cachophany of sound which fills the night

we cannot hear each beat
only the master strokes of the conductor
blowing clouds like steam into the night
overpassing families and fogging windows

busy hands seek the stillness of solace
as outside fireflies unite and find release
the deadened light leaves those trapped inside
to buzz against fogged windows and corrugated tin
where restless futures wait for sleep

Pics

flowers in Tulipe
They put talons on the chickens with wax and tape
Cockfight
Sunset through the clouds
Clouds after sunset
Brian in full Yumbo costume (yes thats a loinclothe)

Lunch in Tulipe, Fried tilapia and etc. Muy RIco
Me and very happy baby (in my room) (not my baby)

Rocks and Logs and a Cockfight

Had a couple of pretty eventful days.
Two days on the Finca. First day we were hauling rocks to build the base of a water tank for the panela. This involves going down to the river (about a mile down the mountain) and making a bunch of stacks of big rocks. Then you fill sacks with them, and load them onto the mules. Kick the mules all the way up to the top of the mountain, and empty the sacks. Repeat four times, eat lunch, and pass out immiediatly. Wake up after an hour, and drive a motorcycle back to town.
Day two. Go back to the Finca, via motorcycle. Going there is scarier then coming back, as its all downhill on the way there, and its alot of hairpin turns on rocky roads after long downhills. Where day 1 was stone, day 2 was wood. I felt kind of like I was playing age of empires, I just wondered where the gold was. Find every fallen tree, hack it up into ten foot chunks with chainsaw and machete, and then tie a couple of logs to the mules. Chase them up the mountain to the Fabrica (where the panela is made, aka the high point of altitude and the low point of energy). Repeat five times. Be exhausted, eat lunch, and pass out. After half an hour go to the place where we built bridges before, to meet a group of peace corps volunteers who are in town for 3 days. There are about 15 of them. Hike down the mountain and over the trail which seems painfully familiar (after I carried a bajillion pounds of bamboo over it). Get to the campsite, and go swimming in the river, which is cold, but awesome. Climb back up the mountain, and then get on a tourbus of all things (I didn't realize they could even make it out here), and ride back to town, but not before drinking some Naranjia (lulo) juice and downing a couple of fried mashed-potato pancakes.
Today I just bummed around the village. The peace corp people had a meeting which I went to the first hour of, and was insanely boring, and then I basically spent the day working in the artisans shop with Mariana and Rene, and swooning over the new volunteer they have, who is Austrian, not Australian. Her name is Nina and she is pretty much the most awesome person I have ever met.
Tonight there is some kind of Yumbo dance which I am looking forward too, as Brian is apparantly to dance in some kind of loincloth made of chicken feathers, and a matching headband. Should be hilarious. Tomorrow is some kind of tourist town or something. We shall see.

Last night was the Yumbo Dance. Brian was in full loincloth and headband, and nothing else, and a group of other kids in costume did this dance. There was also "El nino de mosq" or the mosquito kid, in a full body furry mosquito costume. The dance was very cool, on the volleyball court under lights surrounded by thousands of moths and butterflies.
Didn't do the tourist thingy. It was 16 bucks, and though I don't really mind paying that, I imagine that something which you are paying for is a touristy version of what I do for real every day, and holds little appeal for me. Instead, I went back to sleep till 10 (awesome!) and had some crazy lucid dreams. Afterwards I walked an hour and a half to Tulipe with Nina, which is a town nearby. Beautiful views all the way, and plenty of wild raspberries and sugarcane to munch on. There is a Yumbo museum in Tulipe which was simple but nice. There is a path about a kilometer to a nearby giant yumbo pool, which was pretty awesome, and then right by the museum there are a bunch of other smaller pools together connected by a simple aquaduct system. From what I got from the museums spanish information boards, the Yumbo's believed that the water purified them, and shamans would do rituals by the pools while the people bathed in the holy water. The pools were built at an even grade so that rain water from nearby terraced hills ran naturally into the pools. They believed that the purification ritual was important in bringing them to clarity so that they could go to another world as immortals when they died.
After the Museum we went to lunch in an amazing little restaurant, we saw the woman who is the only doctor in the village sitting there, so we went to say hello, and decided to stay for lunch. The couple she was with were the proprieters, and when we explained we wanted lunch they got up and cooked for us. Fish or Chicken? We went with fish. It was fried tilapia, with a big plate of rice, beans, patacones, and avocado. While we waited the guy went out to pick cherry tomatoes by the side of the road. The food was amazing, the fish really crispy, and by the time we left the family had practically adopted us. They gave us all kinds of hugs and candy and told us to come back every day. The nurse who works in the village 2 days a week then showed us her house, and afterwards we started to walk back to the village.
It's all downhill on the way there, and all uphill on the way back, but after five minutes of walking a bus passed us and we waved it down (all buses pick up everyone here, as there is only one road so they are going your direction anyway) and it happened to be filled with people from Las Tolas, so we got a free ride back (a trip which goes up 150meters in elevation) which was awesome. Worked in the artisans shop for a bit and now I am going to study some Spanish until boredom puts me into deep napping state.
-------------------------------
Walked to Tulipe, a nearby town, about an hour away yesterday. Very pretty, saw the Yumbo museum and walked to the nearby Yumbo pools where people went to purify themselves. Also saw a Yumbo dance the night before that, and yes, Brians costume was hilarious.
Wen't a cockfight last night (a legal one) with Nina and Mecias. Watched a whole bunch of chickens kill eat other while people gambled and drank beer. Alot of fun. There is an arena for it and it is clearly the only type of facility for sports in the village. I made a five dollar bet which I should have won, but I got gyped. Figures at a cockfight. I didn't lose my money however, which was good. Very violent. Got some good videos which I will post next time i'm in Quito. Off to the Finca tomorrow for hopefully the rest of the Panela making process, although based on the last couple weeks, I need to do a ton more backbreaking labor before we are ready.
In San Miguel de los Bancos in an internet cafe. Internets been impossible but a bunch of blog posts and poems coming soon.

Monday, September 20, 2010

In Quito today, gonna catch the bus to LT this afternoon, after a weekend in the Highlands. Got in on thursday morning and spent a lazy day uploading pictures and hanging out. Then at night I went out with Sisimac to a rediculous club for a friend of her's graduation party. Oh, important note, before that I had a Poliburger, a famous burger joint next to Sisi's university. This consists of a burger of ambiguous meat, three pieces of bread, french fries, deep fried suasage, lettuce, cheese, a fried egg, slices of hotdog, hotsauce and mayo all served in a greasy pile in a plastic bag. Unbelieveably awesome. Everyone was sure I would get sick, I felt great all day (alcohol kills the parasites). Also tried Mora Canelaso, the cinnamon/carrot soup with sugarcane grain alcohol I was describing earlier, delicious, but the classic is better. The Disco was alot of fun. Danced nonstop with all kinds of ladies, drank about 25 rum and cokes (Abuelo rum, "Grandfather rum" good stuff) and had a good time. The club was filled with lazers and dancing lights, and our party had a private room up top, so we split our time dancing up top and going down to the main floor. Got home at 3:30am.
Up to go to Riobamba (the province) and Chacha (the town) at 8 am. Threw my stuff into a bag and hopped in the car with Luis Felipe, his wife, and a couple who are friends of theres. Drove about four hours to get there, stopping once or twice for pictures. Five people in the car, and I was in the back of course, my knees were killing me (nothing compared to the way back where I sat in the middle, because both of the ladies weren't feeling well). The house in Chacha was unbelievably georgous. It's filled with pictures of Luis Felipe Duchicela's family and their history, as he is the highest in the line of surviving Inca Kings. (Direct descendant of Atahualpa).

Had a delicious lunch of pork chops, rice, potato soup, and a cold salad of brocoli and carrots, as well as Lulo juice, which here in ecuador is called Naranjia, and is orange, instead of the white or green I was used to in Colombia. Took an epic nap in a hammock, and then had dinner. Afterwards sat by the fireplace and sipped on some Zacapa rum, which is without question the best rum in the world.

Baby Hawk on one of Sisi's tree (I'm proud of this picture)
The Next day we were off to see the mountain where Sisimac is doing her thesis on a special kind of tree which grows above altitudes of 4000m, it is the only tree in the world which does so. The house in Chacha was at 3220m, about 10500 feet, after driving for about an hour we got to Sisi's area, and took a dirt road to a path to go see her, which was at 4250m, more then 15000feet. Hiked fifteen minutes with Luis to were her trees were through freezing cold and the most powerful wind I have ever encountered. Everyone else waited in the car. We got to Sisi and said hello, took some pictures of a baby hawk that happened to be right by us (Sisi said she had never seen one close before, so this was a treat), and then headed back because we were totally numb.
Me and Sisi at 4250m

Me in Front of Chimborazo
Wild Vicuna (Bicunya)
Mmmmmm Cuyes (and some rabits and chickens)
On the way back we took pictures of wild Vicunas, as well as many pictures of Chimborazo, which is the point on earth furthest from the center (higher then everest). On the way back home we stopped in Ambato, a small city, and I had my first Cuye!!! (Guinea Pig). It was delicious. Like half pig half chicken, with super crunchy skin, served on a bed of potatoes. Yummy.
Drove back home, I sat in the middle because the ladies were ill and my knees were literally destroyed. I had to drag them out of the car with my hands when we got there. Walked for a minute or two and it was fine. Ivan in Ecuador signing out.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More pictures

yet another view

Orchidia
Food on the Finca, Beans, Soup, Fish
Adrian the Adoraable in front of Chicks
Cloud forest forage
Cloudy with a chance of why do they call it meatball
cooking on the Finca
The Lechero, the milk truck you ride to the Finca in
The fam on the Finca
The Artisans workshop, Mariana on the left

Picturgasm

The house in Las Tolas

Another view from the Finca

Elvirea is thrilled to be doing laundry
The view from the street
The House on the Finca
Me standing in a giant latrine we just dug
This is a bamboo bridge I carried hundreds and hundreds of pounds of crap over
View on the Walk to the Finca
Flower by the house

Poem: Alone in a Spanish Speaking Country

I'm trying to build a casa with engine partes
Trabajando with wrenches and sparkplugs
Making gutters con exhaust pipes
Tratando to fit central heating into an engine block
"What the diablo are you doing?"
"No idea." I hablo.
Estan a house I can sleep y eat en
Perro it's cold, metal, and the wind whips through
as nada fits together right
Los pieces yearn to move
to burn gasolina and cover kilometers
to move la gente and help todos
instead ellos sit awkwardly tied together
as the people are mirando
but each day a persona bring a piece of lenia
or a nail or ladrillos
to rellanar la holes
to cerrar el wind
and todos dias es un poco mas warm
es un poco mas hogoreƱo
and una dia el casa will be completo
y llenado de amor y familia
una casa nosotros contruimos juntos.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger...

Today I am strong. I am a man of iron. But we'll get there in a moment.
Just got back from a 3 day stint on the Finca. Everyone is excited because this year, for the first time, we will be making Panela (some kind of sugar brick) directly on the farm, instead of selling the sugar-cane directly. This involves a ton of preparation. How does sugar get from a farm in the cloud forests of the Andean mountains to your table, you may ask? (well A, it probably doesn't, it probably comes from the midwest and Haiti, but thats besides the point) First you grow sugar cane. It looks like a cross between corn and bamboo, grows to seven or eight feet tall, falls over, and then grows more. It goes from green to reddish in color at the base, and is delicious snack, when peeled, chewed, and the pulp spit out. Next the cane is harvested, using a machete each stalk is cut at the base, the leafy top removed, and stacked in piles. The piles are tied to mules or other animals, and dragged to a machine that looks like an archaic torture device. It probably is in some settings. Its go a big wheel which is turned, which in turn turns three rollers which crush the cane into juice, pushing out the leftover matter, which is discarded for fed to nearby pigs. The cane juice is delicious. Filled with a fair amount of pulp, dirt, and moss (from the cane). The first couple gallons come out brown, until the machine gets a bit cleaner, and then it is a light yellow color.
Next you need an oven. This was my task on Day 1. For starters one (that means me and one other dude here) digs a trench, fifteen feet long, five feet wide, and going from 8 inches deep at the top to four feet at the bottom. WIth a shovel and a pickaxe, this was some serious labor. Less bad after chewing about ten feet of sugar cane. Following this you take ten fifty-kilo sacks of empty glass bottles (of every kind) and smash them, carefully, with a hammer, machete, brick, or wrench. This was the easy, fun, and highly dangerous part. When you have a pile of glass three feet tall and five feet wide, your done. This took one morning.
That afternoon we started on the oven. Mix bags of concrete with fifty percent dirt and a bunc h of water (which is dragged, via mule, from a solid two kilometers down the mountain from the fish farm). Painstakingly place bricks into the trench, between strips of broken glass, and build an oven, six feet tall, and a few paces shorter then the trench. Fill the top of the trench with concrete on top of broken glass. It took us the rest of day 1 to build half the oven.
On to day two. I plan on completey ignoring the rest of the Panela making process until my next trip to the finca, as making the oven was as far as i got. After working on the oven in the morning, I went with Elvirea to "buy plaintains". Sounds like fun...So you walk an hour and a half up and down a mountainous dirt road (where I passed some German student's who were counting how many leaves leaf-carrier ants carry per day....huh) until you come to some dudes farm. Wait fifteen minutes for the dude (Mirado) to show up, wait for him to feed the chickens, and follow him down a serious mountain to a cornfield. Leave the mules a quarter-mile from the place where you pick corn (so they don't munch out), and fill several fifty-kilo sacks with corn. Now this part had me pissed off. There were three of us, me, Elvirea, and Mirado, and three hundred plus pound sacks of corn. They made me carry all of them, the quarter mile to the mules. My back was destroyed. I didn't find this very amusing (not a word of complaint, thus its probably my fault. Tie the sacks to the mule (which is actually a Macho, which I think is a mule, but there are also burros, mulos, caballos, Machedos, all of which are some kind of donkey, so I have no idea). and then follow it back up the huge mountain to the farm. Elvirea (who rode to the farm on the mule, though she offered to let me ride) let the mule pull her up, in addition to the corn, but holding firmly onto it's tail and smacking it on the but. I didn't think this was very nice for the poor animal, which was stumbling all over the place trying to climb near verticle mudbanks in the middle of the jungle. When we got back to the farm, we went to get plantains. Cut down a banana tree, grab the bananas, throw em in a sack. You guessed it, fifty kilos. You guessed it, I carried it. back up the damn mountain to the mule, who I'm starting to understand now that I've carried everything which it is carrying. Tie the plantains to the mule, and walk another hour and a half, mostly uphill (Elvirea holding the tail for every uphill), back to the finca. Then walk another mile from the road to the finca. I then ate a huge pile of rice beans and a small fried tilapia, and passed out. Pronto.
An hour later I got up, and went to continue working on the oven for the Panela. This was a tough day, the first day I've been pissed off (I didn't say a word). This was cake compared to the next day. One more thing about day 2. I ate several of these delicious fruit called Pirapingas (I think) which grow on cactuses. I ate four, and later had some of the worst diarrea of my life. Everyone laughed about this, explaining that Pirapingas are a natural laxative. No kidding. I ate four, and it was like drinking a liter of ipikak for the ass. I shat for hours. Everyone thought this was hilarious. I would have appreciated a warning after the first two. Nevertheless, some of the most delicious fruit I've ever tasted.
Day 3. 6 am, get up, eat breakfast (two eggs, bread from yesterday), and go to another Finca. Theres one person waiting, and after fifteen minutes about 15 others have showed up, half on motorcycles, all with various tools, machetes, a chainsaw, picks and shovels. Someone tells me we are going to build bridges. I really hope that means some neighborly community building okeley dokeley bs. It doesn't.
Walk down another giant mountain (a solid mile at a serious decline) to a path, which they explain has been built by volunteers and the volunteer organization (who are the people I am with) for bicyclists to go to a campsite, which is also being built. The path is crumpled in places, and needs serious maintenance and five or six bridges. half the people go off to cut down seventy stalks of ten foot long six inch wide bamboo (wadua). I, and 3 others, go off with picks and shovels to do path maintenance. This involves moving serious amounts of earth. I won't go into the details, but we dug, picked, scraped, hauled, and worked our buts off for four hours. Then we went to get the cut bamboo, each piece weighing fifty plus pounds because its filled with water, and walk three quarters of a mile down the path with it, over several pre-bridges made of two pieces of bamboo spanning large gaps, to the campsite, where we dump it. Break an hour for lunch, by the river, very pleasant, everyone shared fruit with me, and then go back to work. Haul bamboo for a couple hours (I must have moved more then a thousand pounds over the course of the day), and then go to dig a latrine at the campsite (which is beautiful, on the river, nestled in the rainforest). This hole has to be seven feet long, four feet wide, and three meters deep. As in nine feet. Are you kidding me? We worked on it for hours. It was four feet deep by the time we left. Every muscle in my body was destroyed. Very glad for all the hours in the gym this summer. FInish movng the seventy stalks of bamboo, see the two bridges which have been built of bamboo which I was digging the giant hole, and then walk a mile, up a mountain, back to the house. Wait twenty minutes for an empty lechero (milk truck), and get in. Oh, and it's raining at this point, lightly. It never really rains hard here. Stand in the open back of the truck, no seats, and drive back to LT. By the time I get there my hands are numb and I'm soaked, but so is everyone else.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and after the last couple of days, I am an iron man. I haven't yet slept past 8 on this trip, tomorrow I'm shooting for 10 at the earliest.
After all that complaining, I'm still glad I did it. It was a great workout, I got a ton of stuff done, and met a bunch of great people. Still looking forward to a couple days in LT to heal up before I'm off to figure out the second half of the Panela making process.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The family on the Finca
Another view from Las Tolas

In an internet cafe, trying to post photos...

The view from my window in Las Tolas
Me and Mecias by the Waterfall on the finca

Teaching English and Making Bread

Yesterday I went to a school in Sant Elena to teach English. I left at 7 am with Cecillia, the schools teacher, from LT. The school has 18 kids, but its pretty nice (for here of course). Its got 3  rooms, and is of ourse nestled in the most beautiful mountains you've ever seen. After roll call and a quick stretch Cecillia put me into a classroom, and told me to teach English. I started out with the younger kids (they range from 4 to about 9 I think), a group of 5. This was tough as I had no idea what I was doing and don't really speak any Spanish, and they spoke absolutely 0 english, but I managed to do ok. The younger kids were tough. I basically got through how to say hello and how are you (ow har oo) with the little ones.
The older kids were much easier. They knew hello, some of the numbers, and some colors, so I reviewed greetings, then we did numbers. We did colors by walking around and pointing at various things, and then body parts with Eyes, fingers, knees, and toes (The kids loved that, except I forgot the ears mouth head and nose part, or whatever it is). Afterwards I tought them about commons animals. What animals do you guys like to eat? First two answers were Pig and Guinea Pig. I explained that Guinea pigs were only for pets in the US, and everyone laughed (I don't think they believed me).
The kids kept giving me oranges and mandarins all day. I ate at least five and I left with a bag of 20 or so. (that might just be how they pay the teachers however, as Cecillia left with at least fifty). Friday is Phys Ed day, so after lunch, which is communal, and was pork rice and cucumbers, the kids played ball for a bit and then we walked down to the river. Its a fifteen minute walk through cane fields, and the spot for playing is no more then 2 feet deep, and most of its only a few inches. Everybody swims in their undies, and the kids built little dams with rocks to make deeper pools. We went back to the school, got our stuff, and I went back to LT (15 mins in the back of a pickup truck).

Today I went with Elvirea to learn to make bread. Apparantly no one in the village knows how to make bread, so they had a special teacher come and about 12 women, an elderly man, and me, listened as he taught us to make bread, ecuador-style. This involves making a small mountain of flour, pouring sugar and salt on top, making a hole thus turning it into a volcano, and then adding yeast to the hole. Then one adds water and lets the volcano settle for five minutes, before kneading voraciously for as long as you can. We went to have lunch while it levened, and then came back for the baking. This was alot of fun. We brought the only two ovens in LT (both are Gas, I carried one a quarter mile by myself to give you an idea of their size, and they use rocks to stabilize temperature) into the place where we were learning. We made hundreds of little rolls with cheese and all the village children were running in and out, eating bread and having a jolly old time. It was great. On the walk back we gave bread to everyone we passed, and there is still a big bowl of buns for dinner. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Finca

Just got back from two days on the finca (farm). Holy baca. These people are hardcore. The trip up was in the back of a bus loaded with canisters of milk and what I think was whey (it just looked like dirty milk). That, and a four foot long chainsaw. No seats until I laid a log across the back, and then there were seats. Took about 40 minutes, stopping to pick up and drop off various people along the way. It seems like the general rule of thumb here is pick up anyone who's on the side of the road, because there is only one road so if their going your direction you might as well take them there. This trip was very, very bumpy (but nothing compared to my most recent trip...we'll get there). I have learned over the past two days how to survive very bumpy rides. Here is a quick tutorial.
If you have a seat, plant your feet solidly apart and loosen your shoulders. Let your body sway with the jerks. Due to basic principles of movement, if you are jerked to one side, you will soon be jerked to the other, so you might as well not fight it, and just let yourself go with the flow. If you are standing it is much the same. Use both hands (preferaby one on the metal side bars and one on the bamboo ceiling bars) and keep your feet well apart. When the bumps force you to jump, go up on your toes and land on your toes, they absorb the impact much better. Things that are good to sit on in loaded trucks: Bags of concrete, bags or oranges, other bags of fruit. Things that are bad to sit on: Crates of recycled bottles, broken glass, chainsaws, milk-barrels, whey (maybe) barrels, bottles of gasoline, and recently welded metal. Moving on.
The truck dropped us off at what seemed to be a random stretch of road, where Elvirea's father (my grandpa now) and a couple of uncles and aunts were waiting. All are super friendly and welcoming. Naturally, none speak English. We loaded up some mules with whey from the truck and hiked to the Finca, which was about a mile away along a path with some of the most beautiful views I've ever seen. The Finca is very sparse. There is an open building for cooking and eating, and another for sleeping. No Electricity, no running water, no cell phone signal, no potable water (its all gotta be boiled), no shops for thirty k, not a whole heck of alot. What they do have is alot of machetes, and serious balls. I met Jadyra and Tania for the first time. Eliverea's pop exlained to me that all the farms around belong to his children, which means basically the whole mountain is his. All of the food is local.
When we got there we started with breakfast. Baked flatbread, tea, and boiled eggs. There are animals all around, chickens and maybe 50 chicks, a small structure filled with Guinea pigs (Para comida? Si.), and a handful of dogs, cats, turkeys, and other critters (Para comida? Si.) After breakfast I went with Grandpa to work. I told him I liked to ride so he saddled up a packhorse for me. By saddled up, I mean 3 blankets, a home-made wooden saddle, a rope around the neck as a bridle, and a blanket on top of the sadle. Not the most prime riding horse in the world, you can tell they are used almost exclusively for cargo.
Our first task was getting Bamboo. Unfortunately every part of the finca is on mountainside, so everything is about 4 times as hard as it should be. The bamboo is thirty feet or taller, and has a diameter of more then six inches. You hack it down with a machete, and then hack off its branches, and then cut down the tree which its stuck in when it falls. Then you tie two twenty food pieces to a horse and send it off. Next we got wood. Likewise, you tie a couple hundred pounds of it too a Macho (which I'm fairly confident is a mule) and send it off. Then we went to gather beans. All kinds of food grows naturally on the Finca. Yuca plants are intertwined with beans and some hot peppers and other items. We filled half of a fifty kilo sack with the beans, not sure what kind they were, but the shells were red, green, white, or brown, (all the same species however), and the beans in side are veined and every color of the rainbow. We also gathered some wild yuca and some other vegetable which is similar to a potato but I have no idea what it is.
After that was lunch, fried baby river fish again (these are clearly a staple, I've had them 60% of my meals here, along with beef soup), and rice and boiled yuca. Afterwards we went to the river to take a dip. We climbed down the mountainside, past a small fish farm (tilapia) and came to the river. It's beautiful and crystal clear, but a bit cold. Ditch the clothes and take a dip. Its shallow except for one spot and surrounded by rapids. They brought soap as  the river is the only place to bathe on the finca. While swimming one of the Tio's ran off to fish with a piece of bamboo (in his undies). He caught 2 more small river fish. While we were there we fed some cows that were around with salt and molasses. After the swim we went on a trek, which ended at a beautiful waterfall. Thirty meters tall and gushing water, it was awesome. I scrambled over moss covered rocks to take pictures.
On the trek back I got to spend some time with Mecias for the first real time. He showed me many different plants, six different types of banana tree in a twenty meter area, a flower called MiraMelinda, natural growing coffee (arabica and normal), natural growing chili peppers, and a host of other plants. I gnawed on some fresh sugar cane while we hiked.
This finca is also home to the kid with the most adorable demeanor I've ever seen. He's either three or four (his dad wasn't sure...lol) and he's crazy. I have a videa I'll post when I have internet. His playground is the cloudforest, and he's constantly at odds with all the animals, his name is Adrian (Adrian G, if you're reading this, he is way cooler then you).
After that was dinner. They always feed me first, and have special water for me as everyone else just drinks whatever. Dinner was Cock soup (yep, the cock was running around about an hour before), with Yuca and hot sauce from local peppers, delicious but not very spicy. No one else eats more then a tiny dash of the hot sauce, its clear they made it just for me. They give me huge portions of everything. I'm always stuffed but I feel bad not finishing it because it a waste, so I end up overeating at every meal, and having to fight to turn down seconds. There is plenty of food for everyone, but it is always very simple and homely. Bed time is about 7:30. The sun goes down and there is no more light. The cooking is done by woodfire, and when that goes out it is darker then you can possibly imagine.
I was up at 6:40, and I was the last one up. Breakfast was cheese empanadas, delicious. Good with sugar or with salt. Afterwards we went off to work. Our task was to seed a field with stalks of grass so it would regrow to be ready for cows in a couple of months. This is a rediculous amount of work. First you climb down the mountain and rip up about two thousand pieces of three foot grass by the roots. You bind it all together, tie most of it to a mule, and carry the rest to another field, up a mountain, over several barbed wire fences. Then, using a machete (I guess they don't have shovels, oh, and only spoons on the finca as well), you stab the ground, pull down to create a hole, shove a piece of grass in, and close it with your foot or hand. Repeat 2000 times, on a forty degree slope, with limited oxygen, over an area of 2 or 3 acres. This was really, really difficult. I didn't want to take a break, as no one else did, so we worked nonstop, from collecting the grass, to replanting the hillside, from 7 untill noon. Then we had lunch. (Fish, rice, beans, leftover soup).
After making a wooden mule cargo saddle by hand, and cutting wood into beams with a chainsaw, I was off for the day to visit the town of Pacto, which everyone describes as the place where they make sugar-cane into Panila (some kind of sugar-brick I think). A thirty minute motorcycle ride back to Las Tolas, and then a trip in the back of an equally bumpy truck to pacto (less bumpy when it turned to a paved road after 20 km.) We wandered around pacto for a bit, then went to visit some people who I guess are famiy, although I never even learned their names, and collected several fifty kilo sacks of oranges, mandarins, and papayas from their backyard. Fresh ripe papaya off the tree is one of the most awesome things ever. Likewise the oranges are great. Lemons here are orange, and sour. There are also green lemons which are sweet, and green oranges which are more sweet. No one pays for any of them, as they grow all over the place. We filled the truck with bags of concrete, oranges, and recycled bottles, and some giant metal bins which are used in the sugar harvesting process somehow, and headed back to LT.
After two days my hands are ripped up. Three cuts and blisters everywhere, but they are already getting stronger. Things I am very glad I brought: Neosporin, bandaids (I don't have enough), and a leatherman. Now I'm back in LT waiting for dinner. Tomorrow I'm off to the local school to teach some English (or learn some Spanish I guess). I am astounded at the quality of the people here. They are strong, hard workers, and they have nothing but are happy. Everyone works hard, from the kids to the elderly. This place is truly eye-opening.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day 1, part 2

What a day. Today was made of high points and low points (granted none were really that low, considering I'm more then 2000 meters above sea level). High point was definitely the motorcycle thing. Learing how to do something awesome in the most beautiful place in the world is hard to beat. Doing it on a rocky dirt road, seeing the clouds churn over the mountains, definitely something I will never forget.
The low point is tied to "what technology did I miss most today", a segment I am starting on this blog which I never plan to return to. My liquid cooled core i7 computer perhaps? No...The electric turkey knife? Definitely not...how about a particle accelerator? wrong again. No, the correct answer would be the washing machine. Allow me to explain why washing machines are so awesome. You don't have to wash your clothes by hand. I don't know if any person reading this has ever had to wash clothes by hand, let alone with a bar of soap on a slab of stone surrounded by clouds deep in the Andes, but it's a puta (thats my clever way of cursing without being offensive, if your bilingual well then fuck it). Let me give you the quick lowdown. Theres a big bucket of water, and another bucket with your clothes in it. Theres a table with a big slab of stone, and another piece for you to stand on so your feet don't get wet, except they do, of course. You take each article of clothing, one by one, and place it on the stone. Then you rub it with soap. Then you fold it and rub it against itself. Then you rinse it. Then you scrub it. Then you rinse it. Then you scrub it. Then you rub it with a brush. Then you rinse it. Then you cut yourself (down the highway). Then you rinse it. Rinse again. Then you hang it up on a piece of wire. Wash again if blood is interfering with the cleaning process. I had less then ten articles of clothing to wash today. It took me forty-five minutes. I gave up on the process with my socks and just kind of mashed them into a ball with a bunch of soap and rinsed em. Whatever.
Fortunately this was followed by a high point. After lunch (beef rib soup with potatoes, the beef hacked off a large chunk with a machete in the backyard, and rice and some kind of fried unidentified meat which was the best part of the meal) I went to the local artisans coop, which is actually just the house of a couple who lives across the street (granted thats a third of the way across the town). Mariana was the only one their when I got their, and she explained how the coop had been formed years ago when her husbend Rene decided that the life of a logger was destructive to the forest, and that he needed to use local ingredients to make art which didn't hurt the ecosystem. That being said, they aren't crazy hippies, just really down to earth, awesome people. They have a bunch of powertools, and I basically went in their and right away went to work. I did some wood-burning on Tago or Tagua seeds (google images if your unfamiliar), carved a flute out of bamboo (no idea where the bamboo came from, i haven't seen any) and took a whole bunch of pictures of art for Mariana. Mariana and Rene speak the most English of anyone I've encountered here yet, he knew how to say "how much" and "We going to how" (still working on that one, but I nodded and said claro). I'm getting by better in Spanish every day though, so it shouldn't be a problem for long.
 Cecillia told me they have a female Australian volunteer coming to stay with them in a week, so of course I am fantasing about a georgous girl with a sexy accent living across the street from me (Who might even speak my language!). Since I'm excited about it she will probably have been in a horrific toxic waste accident as a child, and will be missing three quarters of her epidermis, but hey, maybe she has super-powers (like English-speakingness).
I also went for a long walk with Brian today, into the cloud forest. I can't describe how beautiful it is everywhere here. Every turn unfolds another view of breathtaking mountains and trees reaching into clouds like twisted ancient moss encrusted fingers. There are ferns here seven meters tall. I saw the most beautiful green bird I've ever seen, and a brown hummingbird that sat watching us for thirty seconds. We found a massive patch of wild blackberries, much smaller then the US variety, and I held brain up so we could pick the choicest berries. It seems like the diet here is about a quarter foraged ingredients. The tea which is the drink every day is made from various grasses or herbs picked in the forest, the fruit is whatever was found that day, and everything else is potatoes, beef, and eggs (which I found out today the store doesn't even refridgerate, which is interesting...). It rained on part of our walk, while we were literally walking through clouds. As in, the clouds that were raining on us, we were walking through. Pretty awesome. I raced Brian and won, granted I've got two feet on the kid, but I was pretty seriously outa breath afterwards. Only notice the altitude when I'm excersizing, at all other times I just enjoy the amazing air. It smells like green and flowers and awesomeness here. Everyone is super nice and friendly. There is no theft, I left my computer on my bed in the open house all day. This village is awesome. Break for dinner.
Just had dinner. Beef soup, again, except this time Elvirea made me some homemade hotsauce by request, which made it alot better. Also, some fried river fish which look like smelts, I ate all the bones before I saw Brian and Elvirea deboning them. Whatever, they were delicious. Speaking of dinner, as an indication of the economic status of Las Tolas, you should know my family doesn't have forks. Or knives. In fact they only have spoons, and only tablespoons, and they are kept in an empty pepsi cub on the kitchen table. Likewise, they only have bowls. Still, it's hard to complain when a family insists you have seconds on something when theres almost none left and they haven't had any. These people share everything. They have big hearts.
Tomorrow I'm off to the finca, to do what every describes as "Mucho trabajo". Awesome. In truth I'm looking forward to it. Its 40 minutes away by car or motorcycle, and even though I'm taking a car to get there, Mecias promised me I could drive back on the bike, and a forty minute ride through the most beautiful mountains in the world is something to get excited about.

Also my mind is boggled...

Also, my mind is boggled by the fact that I am literally in a cloud, in the cloud forest, in a 3 room dirt-poor hovel 75 kilometers from the nearest city, 10 from the nearest paved road, and I have the internet (albeit verrrry limited). Technology is nuts.

First Morning in Las Tolas

Las Tolas, Day 1
Ok, lets talk awesome. Woke up today at 5:55 to what I thought was the sound of children screaming in Jubilation. It turned out to be about a thousand roosters crowing at dawn. Pretty awesome. It was cold in the morning, but its not even 8 now and the temperature if perfect (hace fresco). What was the first thing I did? Even before breakfast? Learned to ride a motorcycle, on a dirt road, in the cloud forest. I don't think I can convey how awesome this was. Mecias, the father, took me in front, started the bike, said some stuff in Spanish which I didn't get, and then told me to drive. This didn't work. So he took off, with me on the back, and we drove up this very rocky mountain road (the only kind they have here) into the cloud forest. You can see the clouds burning off the mountain peaks and settling into the lowlands in the morning (Speaking of which, I am actually in a cloud right now, you can't see ten meters off the mountainside, it's all white). Then we stopped, and he showed me, with a great amount of gesture, and a lot of Spanish I didn't follow, how you start and ride a manual motorcycle. It took me a couple of tries, but I learned. He then let me drive off, alone, along dirt roads into the cloud forest. This is the most beautiful place Ive ever seen. Trees overhang mountaintops shrouded in trees. Everywhere you look are views from postcards. Motorcycles pass every few minutes.
After learning to ride a motorcycle, we went back to the house and had breakfast. Homemade fried cheese empanadas and boiled eggs. The eggs here are a little strange, that might be because they spend their time sitting on top of the fridge, but I'm not too worried about it. Today I am supposed to fill out some kind of paper with a woman at noon for the organization, and tomorrow I am going to the finca, some kind of farm/home base where the organization is run. Until then, I am relaxing I guess, studying up on my Spanish. Thank god my mother made me bring a dictionary. Good call mom. I have internet kind of right now, so i am going to try to post this and last nights before I lose it.

First night in Las Tolas

Today I got the village. It didn't really strike me how crazy what I am doing was until I got on the bus, alone. The bus ride took 3 hours, but it was insanely beautiful. A much nicer bus then I expected, no animals as passengers either. I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen through a gap in the mountains on the drive. The winding road along the mountain side was incredible, hues of pink and orange and purple lining the clouds as they appeared through gaps in forest shrouded peaks. Truly incredible.
I wasn't sure what bus stop to get off at, so I just waited till the last stop, and that turned out to be right. I was afraid my family wouldn't be there, but Elvirea was waiting around the corner and came over as soon as I got off. No one here speaks any English. None. Zero. Their house is 3 rooms, the ceiling is corrugated metal, and the walls are stucco. Their son Brian is a champ. He speaks the most English (which is none, except he knew how to say his age in English), he's eleven and seems like a cool kid. We went for a walk and looked around.
I have never seen stars like I saw today. Not in the colored canyon in Egypt, or in the wilderness of Minesota, nothing can compare to the stars I saw tonight. The milky way looked like a cloud of dust strewn across the sky. Every constellation was perfect. I could see for billions of lightyears. The forest looked beautiful but it was too late to really see it. I will look tomorrow.
We passed a volleyball court which seems like the villages main attaction. These kids were playing serious volleyball. They would have kicked the asses of the marines I played with in Rwanda. There are bugs around all the lights but it seems like only moths and some beatles. The moths range from a quarter inch in size to a three incher I saw on the outside of the window pane.
These people are really poor, and it blows my mind how well they have treated me. Of the three rooms there is a kitchen/common area and two bedrooms, and a bathroom. I have on of the bedrooms, and the nicest bed (which isn't nice). The mother, father, and son I think are sharing the second room. The two daughters are elsewhere, I am not sure specifically, but it was discussed and I just had no idea what was being said. Despite that, I managed to carry on a half-decent conversation. I expect my spanish to progress rapidly here. My room has a wooden shef, a window, and a small bedside table, with a gaudy plastic pink lamp which must have one day belonged to a daughter. There is a lightbult, but its hanging from a cord and is uncovered. The family decided I needed a chair, so they brought one of the several logs which are sitting outside for that purpose. Elvirea, the mother, put a little woven napkin on it to make it a seat. I was touched.
I gave everyone (except the daughters who are elsewhere) their gifts. They seemed very appreciative. I had to help Brian set his watch, and it took me a while to explain that it had a stopwatch and a alarm, and that I hadn't set the time to 00:00:00. He seems thrilled however.
As soon as I arrived we had dinner. It was simple beef soup, two chunks of tough beef, little noodles and potatoes, and some piece of egg I think. Similar to the common breakfast soup in Colombia. (Btw I take back the thing about the moth. There is a solid 7 incher smashing into the outside of my window. Black, loud, and slightly intimidating. I had to turn off the ceiling light to stop the bugs from smashing the outside of my window). The drink was a tea made from some kind of grass which they explained they picked from outside. As far as I can tell they only drink tea for safely, but there is a pot of water which is filtered to use for tooth brushing and etc.
I don't know if my internet stick will work out here, but as I have cell phone signal in some places it should. Photos will have to wait until I get back to Quito, but I will hopefully be able to post this. Those people who I should be emailing please take blog updates instead, as even being able to access my blog is iffy. Mom, if your reading this, youll be happy to know the village has no cars, only motorcycles, which i plan on learning to ride very soon.
I don't know how to explain how I feel right now. I am completely lost and alone in a world I don't understand, but at the same time I have a new family that has given me everything they have in order to make me feel welcome, and I don't even have enough language to properly thank them. I don't know what I am going to be doing, but I imagine I will start to find out tomorrow. These are the simplest surroundings I have ever been in, and I will be in them for months, and yet I am super excited. I have already seen a world I couldn't possibly have imagined, and I haven't even been here for half of a day. I'm gonna go to sleep, as I imagine I have a big day tomorrow (though in truth I have no idea). I'll keep you all posted as best I can.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

and I also miss my cat.

Spike!!!!

Last afternoon in Quito

Leaving for the bus for the village in an hour. Thought I'd post a few pics while I still have capable internet.

One more night in Quito

Tonight was awesome. I didn't make it to the bus today as it took far longer then expected to get a cell phone and internet stick, but I called my family and told them I would arrive tomorrow, and its no big deal. It turned out to be well worth it.
After an Ecuadorian lunch of roasted and fried pig, and the cell phone debaucle, I returned to the house, where I met Shiram, Sisima's sister. She invited me to join her and a friend on a trip to Guapolo, a very historic area which turns into party-central at night. It was thundering when we left, but stopped within a half hour, before we got to Guapolo. After parking we walked less then two hundred meters and stumbled upon a giant concert in the middle of a square in front of a beautiful famous church (which is a famous landmark of Guapolo, which may actually be Guapola). There was a full twenty person band, all in blue zoot-suits playing spanish brass ensemble music with a little bit of a faster beat. In front of the band were hundreds of people dancing around. Before we even got there three people in full gorilla costumes passed us. I saw a fellow in a Guy Fox mask later on, as well as various other costumes. There was a sculpture of a cow which shot plumes of indiscriminate sparks onto the crowd in every direction which several men were carrying dancing around. It was basicaly paper-mache covered with fireworks, I don't know how it didn't go up in flames, although later on I saw one catch on fire.
Behind the crowd of a few hundred (which grew to around a thousand around midnight) were various stands selling food. Miguel, a friend with us bought an ear of roasted corn dipped in cheese, which was delicous. We wen't to climb up a hill to a bar, but decided it was too far and ended up in a dingy little joint with Bob Marley, Sublime, and Dylan posters right next to the square. This turned out to be a great decision as the party in the square turned out to have three successive giant towers, which appeared to be built of exclusively fireworks and paint. Each one at least 40 feet tall, they shot sparklers and fireworks into the air (and into the crowd, and I mean actual fire works shooting directly into people). I got a small burn a solid forty feet away, so I have no idea how the people dancing directly around the tower survived, but I guess it was ok because they were all drunk.
After a few beers I got some roasted pork, straight off a whole pig, with some fried mashed potato pancakes and boiled corn (2$), as well as some cheese filled sugar crusted giant empanadas (2 for 50c). All this was delicious. There was a very popular drink which I tried but i am blanking on the name of, which is basically grain alcohol and cinnamon lemon-soup. I saw some guys in the back of the bar pouring this soup into empty beer bottles and adding booze, and I gave em a big thumbs up. The pot of soup had carrots and cinnamon in it and who knows what else. I didn't look too closely, but it was served warm (and its chilly, 8 degrees C when we left) and is delicious.  After the third tower shot its last sparks and the final third degree burns were administered, we finished our beers and headed back into the city, with a backdrop of lights sparkling over the hillsides of Quito. Pretty great.
wasn't safe to bring a camera, sorry no pictures. I'll post some soon.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Quito!!!

Arrived in Quito today at 6:30 local time. Didn't sleep before my flight last night, but caught a couple hours on the floor at Miami international, before the second leg of my flight. 25 minute delay for hurricane Earl, but no big deal. Accidentally rented a bus instead of a taxi, and overpayed as a result, that being said, 12 bucks to go all the way across the city isn't half bad, especially when you consider the driver let me use his cell phone to call Sisima.
Got to the Duchicela's house around 7:30, where I met Sisi and her boyfriend Miguel, both are really awesome people and speak good English (partially because they are taking the GREs in English very soon, I told them I would probably resign myself to a career at McDonalds if I had to take the GREs in Spanish). Sisi is working on her doctoral thesis in biology, on a special kind of tree which grows at high altitudes (more on that later), however several of her friends had just graduated, so we basically went out right after I arrived to see some friends.
Took the public bus down to a hopping area, the bus costs 25c, including transfers. We started off with some food and a cup of Pepsi (which was crucial for my night). There is a famous hot-dog stand/restaurant in Quito called Zona (The Zone), which I learned is in reference to the Amazon, although apparently only about ten people know that and the rest are just in happy oblivion. For two double foot long hot dogs, loaded up, 3 soda's, and what was basically a double quarter pounder, the total came to under 8$.
Next we went to meet the graduates and various friends at a bar nearby, a kind of grungy, very down to earth place, but really pleasant in its lack of pretentiousness. Our group kept growing and sucking up tables like an Amoeba, and after a beer (Club Verde, quite good) we went to a dance club nearby called Lark. It took a minute for people to start moving, but the dancing was alot of fun. The DJs were terrible, but they did manage to play a few goodies, Stevie Wonder's superstition was the highlight, followed by Daft Punk and a lil bit of James Brown. The use of Blind Melon, Franz Ferdinand, and Sublime caught me a little off guard, but the crowd seemed ok with it, although the dancing waxed and waned depending on the music. Very open, a lot of fun, the dancing started in a circle (another Amoeba) which soon broke up into various smaller Protozoa. Miguel winced when we heard that Tequila shots were 5 dollars, so of course I bought a round, half to spite Adams Morgan and their 20 dollar drinks, and half because I wanted Tequila! Didn't have any other drinks in order to make sure I can acclimatize myself to the altitude, although so far I haven't even noticed it.
Tomorrow I will sleep late. After that I will probably have Lunch with Sisi (trying to eat very traditional, I'll try to take pictures), and then hopefully buy a cell phone and internet key. After that I hop on the bus from Ofelia station (which is conveniently very close) and am off to Las Tolas, where I hope my family will be waiting for me.
As far as gifts go, got Remy Martin VSOP for the Duchicela's, and a boxed bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label for the father in Las Tolas. I'll keep you posted on reactions.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What gifts are appropriate?


One of my last remaining projects before I go is figuring out what gifts are appropriate to bring my host family. I want to bring something really nice and that I put personal care into, but not too flashy or rich as money isn't exactly flowing around Las Tolas. My family has 3 kids, 10 year old boy, 12 year old girl, and 16 year old girl. I ended up getting a watch for the boy, nothing crazy but a solid Casio that's waterproof and has plenty of funky gadget. For the father I plan to get a bottle of nice whiskey at the duty free, as thats an easy way to go and a nice gift. For the sisters and mother, after deliberating over pendants (I didn't want to do earrings because I don't know if they have pierced ears) I ended up going with pearls. Flashy? Yes, but I strung them in a way that wasn't obnoxious. And the fact that I made the necklaces myself makes them more personal. I got pink pearls for the little girl, purple for the older, and a big strand of wild white pearls for the mom. I hope they like them, and that it isn't too much, but I imagine this will be a nice thing that this family will have for many years. I want them to be able to remember me fondly many years down the line when they have a chance to wear their pearls on some occasion.