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.