Hello again from Ecuador! I have already been here for a month, and I cannot believe it. These last weeks have passed very quickly and I am very excited for you to know what I have been up to!
For the entire month of August, I have lived a pretty much “no impact” lifestyle. Let me tell you, it is something totally different from the way we live in the United States. I have been living and working on an organic farm in the cloud forest, 2 hours northwest of Quito, the capital, and about 40 minutes from even the closest town, Mindo.
The day after I flew into Ecuador, I hopped on a bus and rode it from Quito to Mindo, where I was supposed to meet the couple that owns the farm. I had found their farm from WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming) Ecuador and e-mailed them about two months ago to ask if I could come work for about a month before my study abroad program starts and they agreed! I met them around noon at a restaurant called “Pauly.” I did not expect the couple that came to pick me up. The man, Ingo, is a 40-year-old, 6’9’’ tall German ex-millionaire with a beard halfway down his chest and his wife, Genny, is a slender, beautiful, light-skinned Ecuadorian woman. They brought their precious two-year-old daughter, Laia, with them. We had a relaxed lunch at Pauly’s, visited one of their friends in Mindo, walked around in some of the shops, went to look for a male cat at the animal shelter so that they could have kittens with one of their female cats, and stopped by a neighbor’s farm to help him shell some coffee. All in all, it took about 4 or 5 hours – indicative of the Ecuadorians’ sense of time.
As a side note, their sense of time is one of my favorite things about Ecuadorian culture so far. I very much do not belong in the developed western world for my sense of time. I am the type of person who is late for many of the things that I have to do because I get so caught up in the things that I do or the people that I am with, that I quite honestly just lose track of the time. I believe that I fit in much better here in Ecuador because the people here are just like that. Genny and Ingo love to go where the wind blows them and invest quickly in wherever that is, so a trip to Mindo generally takes all day for them. I love it! (Also, we would have ciestas after lunch each day, which consisted of about an hour and a half of readingor sleeping in the hammocks.) Don’t get me wrong, I also like productivity and appreciate hard work very much, but I think that for me, this slower way of life allows me to enjoy it much more.
Anyway, back to my “no impact” life this month… When we finally get to the house, I am very excited because they had been telling me all day what their farm is like and why they decided to live this way. Both of them lived extravagant adult lives, Ingo in Germany and Genny in France and then Spain. They met in Barcelona about 5 years ago and as they decided to get serious with one another and get married, they sold everything that they had and moved to Ecuador with their daughter, Laia, and Genny’s other two daughters, Emily and Elisa. They were tired of living so far from their natural environment and tired of living consciously wasteful lives. In the last 4 years they created, outgrew and moved from a small farm in the suburbs of Quito, to their home now that I have been living in. With the help of many other WWOOFers like me in the past year, they have grown this finca (Spanish word for the type of farm that they have) from a totally wild piece of property with a single story home with two rooms to a two story home with two greenhouses, lots of crops, bees, and tons of animals! They use a compost toilet, cook the food straight from their land over fire in the outdoor kitchen, have a gas powered warm-water shower, running water from a natural spring source, and electricity that comes from solar panels on the roof of the house. With all of this, they only produce one bag of trash every two weeks! It is actually a pretty sophisticated self-sustainable farm, but I know that it has taken a lot of work to get it to this point.
There is no typical day on the farm because I did something different everyday. However, each day started at 6:30 am with feeding the animals. I first fed the pigs all of the organic waste/compost from the day before plus their regular food and gave them water. From there, I would make two bottles of warm milk for the baby sheep, collect a container of fish food for the two ponds full of tilapia, fill a bucket with sweet corn for all 80-ish chickens and grab a strand of rope to fight off the angry and macho goat, Marcus, to go down the hill to feed all those animals. After all of the animals were fed, I would do an egg hunt to look around for any fresh eggs that the chickens may have laid overnight and then head back up to the house for breakfast. The rest of the day’s activities would be a mystery to me until around 5:00 pm when I would have to feed the animals again to finish off the work day.
There have been days that I have spent many hours with Ingo in our bulky white bee-suits (complete with the mesh hat and all) at the beehives checking to make sure that all the bees are working well, that the hive is healthy and listening to him explain all of the ins and outs of beekeeping. We introduced new queens to the hives to strengthen them and the hives accepted the new queens! Also, in my last night on the farm, Ingo and I harvested the honey from the hives and they gave me a jar of it! I got to witness the entire process of beekeeping and I learned very much about the value of bees to the environment and to human health too. I think I would really like to have bees of my own some day!
Another day, Ingo and I went to a neighbor’s property to check on some bees that we put there because he has a lot of land and tons of flowers that the bees can get pollen from. After checking the bees, he and I went to the bottom of the property with machetes and chopped down about 20 bamboo trees and stripped them of the branches in order to use them for building. That was such a cool experience because it is what the Ecuadorian farmers do to get their building materials. It was so primitive, but it worked! We got only what materials we needed and we did not leave a mess in our wake. Needless to say, after all that machete work I slept really well that night!
Another great project that I had the opportunity to do was make the signs for their new store. The day that the couple picked me up in Mindo, they signed the contract for a two-year lease of a store on the main road. They are planning to open the second week of October and it will be a store with nice handicrafts and a café in the back. We have had a lot of fun designing the signs and coming up with ideas of things to sell in the store. Ingo will sell his chicken eggs, vegetables, Genny’s DELICIOUS bread, bee honey and more. Ingo left making the signs to me, so I got to use my jigsaw and painting skills to make them.
Another type of highlight experience of this month was going into town with the family about once a week. I would have one day a week off and would ride into Mindo in the roof rack of the family’s Montero and walk around and relax in a café. One day in particular of going into town was actually an extra day of the week that we got to go. Therefore, I had to work still. My work that day, however, was just walking the dogs around town on leashes. Ingo and Genny have two GIGANTIC Great Danes named Dozer (as in bulldozer) and Tank (as in the weapon used by the army). They pretty much live up to their names – at a little less than a year old, they are taller than me when they stand ontheir hind legs. Anyway, this day was a Sunday, a weekend day when many of the rich Ecuadorian tourists from Quito come to Mindo. You would think that these people had never seen a dog before. They gawked from their fancy cars in the streets and hung out of their windows with cameras to catch a snapshot of these dogs the size of small horses. I was stopped over and over again for pictures and conversations with countless strangers about Tank and Dozer. You bet I learned a lot of Spanish vocabulary about dogs from this particular visit to Mindo! The poor dogs were stir crazy from being constrained by the leashes all day so as soon as we got out of town, the dogs ran the rest of the way behind the Montero up the mountain to the finca!
I learned from this trip and many others into town that the Ecuadorian people are so friendly and open. No matter how affluent or not they are, they welcome you into their home or shop and usually give you a cup of coffee or a fresh juice with some little snack over a nice conversation. It is much like living in the south of the United States where everyone says hello, nods or waves on streets and in shops. It has made me feel very at home, even in a land as far away from my real home as Ecuador. Plus, they have been very patient with me as I stumble through my Spanish to communicate what I want to say. I really have appreciated this very much about the culture here.
Genny, Ingo and their daughters have also been a big help in making me feel welcome to this country and informing me of many of the Ecuadorian customs. I have asked them countless numbers of questions about everything from Spanish words to Ecuadorian politics. I think they like it though, and have really been open with me about family business, their pasts, and allow me to use anything in the house that is theirs. By about halfway through the month, the family really began to trust me and would leave me at the finca alone some days when theyneeded to do lots of things in town. They left me at home alone for four days in my third week there in order to do some business down in Cuenca, in the south of Ecuador, and in Quito. I couldn’t believe that they trusted me so much after such a short time with them, but it shows just how close you can get to people by living with them for a few weeks. It is making me excited about my homestay family that I will live with in Quito starting in September. I am sure that I will become very close with them and learn much more about the Ecuadorian way of life in the city too.
So that was a little bit about my “no impact” life this past month. I was really inspired by Genny and Ingo in the sacrifices that they made from their old lives in order to live this new one that is much more environmentally aware and responsible – the way that it is supposed to be. I learned a lot about organic farming and self-sustainability and I would really like to implement much of what I learned when I get back into the States and am preparing to establish my own life after college. I don’t think that it necessarily means that I have to move to Ecuador – it can be done right on US soil – but it surely does take sacrifice of many western conveniences. However, I think that it is entirely worth it to steward our resources well because there are billions of other people that have to use them too. I don’t know of anyone who puts it better than one of my favorite bands, Jenny & Tyler, in one of their songs, “There is plenty on this earth to suit our needs, but there will never ever be enough to satisfy our greed.” It is cool that there are people in this country that are working models of what it looks like to live right at your means, taking from the land only what they need, and who are spreading the word so that Ecuador doesn’t have to take such difficult measures to develop this way of life, but rather, it can happen naturally. I have been greatly encouraged by this time in Ecuador so far!