Tuesday, October 10, 2017

First Days in Ecuador

Our First Days at Palugo

        The night we left for Logan Airport, we woke up at 2:30 in the morning. By the time we got to Boston the sun was just beginning to come up, creating a light glow along with the city lights. We took a short detour to have breakfast on the bay, sitting in a circle on the rocks and listening to the light lapping of the waves. The teachers asked us to spread out along the shore and take a couple moments to say goodbye to the place we were leaving.

Griffin and Zoe, working on their knitting projects at the airport
Classtime at the airport

        When we stepped out of the airport in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, the air felt warm and smelled different. Although it was very late at night and we were all exhausted from travel, excitement rose as we took in this unfamiliar place that we would all be forming a connection with over the next couple of months.
        After loading our luggage in the back of one of the farm trucks, we hopped into the van. We rode for a little while on the highway, driving fast, turning this way and that, until we reached a small dirt road protected by a gate. The road was very bumpy and we went up at a steep incline that seemed to last forever. Huge eucalyptus trees lined the road, making the air smell strongly of their scent. Finally we arrived at the stables and the milking room, the head of the farm. Before going to bed, Hyim said, “I love arriving to new places in the nighttime, because when you wake up you get to see everything differently in the light.” I believe that in some way, we all had this feeling as we went to sleep.
        In the morning, we woke to a delicious breakfast of papaya, pears, bananas, passion fruit, pineapple, oatmeal, and homemade tostadas (little flat breads). This meal was made for us by Tupak, Cathy, and Yuriana. Tupak is our new leader, and Cathy and Yuriana are two Ecuadorian girls that have joined our group. They spent the week before we arrived learning to do chores, studying English, trekking through the mountains on a short expedition, and making their own backpacks. All three of them are kind and welcoming, and have taught us many things. In the short time that we’ve been here, it feels they are fully a part of the group.

Katy and Yuriana, our newest semester mates!
That first day we explored the farm. As we walked, we looked out at the huge rolling mountains surrounding us in every direction. Small villages and cities sprinkle the land here and there, set within the hills. Mathias explained that the reason we can see so far all around, is because we are on a plateau in the channel between the highlands to the west, and the coast mountains to the east. On our walk we passed the calves lying in the fields together, some of them newly born, and by the huge mama cows grazing by the spring. We then visited each of the three families’ houses. Mathias and Nicole’s have a trapeze and a swing hanging from the ceiling, Thomas and Marcea’s have a small forest in the center, and Michael and Marcela have a little balcony that looks out at the coast mountains. They are all very beautiful. After visiting with each of the families, we took a small trail through the trees out into the gardens. There, rows and rows of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruit grow.

Nica and her horses

        On one of our first couple nights, Adela and Francisco, who are Mathias, Thomas, and Michael’s parents, had us over to their house for dinner, which is down the hill and across the road from the main land of the farm. We sat in the their small living room drinking lemon verbena tea, crowded around Francisco, who told us stories about the farm. A warm fire was going on the hearth, and it was raining outside. He talked about his cows, the importance of wanting to help the community and the earth, and how he has learned so much from his sons and their families. Earlier on, Mathias had shown us around the house, the land where he had grown up. When he showed us the gardens, surrounded by a solid stone wall covered in vines, he told us they used to be a bullfighting ring. Before we went inside, he picked up little “Quito coconuts” that had fallen from the tree, and cracked them, giving them to us to suck the fruit out.

Katy, preparing lunch for the day
        That night we had a delicious feast made by Adela. She made a chicken soup and a potato soup, which are both very popular in Ecuador. For dessert we had blueberry sauce on “cimbolitos,”, which are fluffy cakes wrapped in husks. And then, because it was Hyim’s birthday, we had a second dessert: chocolate fudge. While walked back up the hill, the lights from the cities turned the night sky a faint orange, making the silhouettes of the eucalyptus trees dark.

Tikko, singing to the calves

        The first few days of being here, most everyone felt the effects of the change in altitude. Because we are up so much higher, there is less oxygen in the air. Simply walking for a little while left us out of breath, and mealtimes were a lot quieter than usual. But, running and exploring the farm, biking through the cities, and chores every day have made our bodies stronger and more accustomed to the air.

Nica and Yuriana

        Last week we spent a day out in the small city of Pifo, which is right below Palugo farm. A couple days later, we explored the city of Quito. Hannah wrote all about our experiences.
A Day in Pifo, Un Día en Pifo
        After breakfast, we packed our backpacks with a sun hat, a bottle of water, and a rain jacket. We left Palugo, walking down the path to the main road. From the main road, we continued walking up the hill to the bus stop. The sun was hot, beating down on our backs while waited. On the road, there was a lot of traffic and many cars rushed by us.
        On the bus, we weaved our way through small, dirt roads and sped over hills. No one in our group knew where exactly we were going, but we all were excited to see the town outside of Palugo. The houses we passed filled the streets with rich colors - a warm welcome.
        The bus came to a stop in front of a market, it was our stop. Inside the market, aisles were lined with numerous fruits and vegetables. Many of them were familiar to us, many were new to us. We were all in awe.
        In order to practice Spanish, we separated into groups of three and each group got a little bit of money. We also received a task from Tupak to find a specific fruit or vegetable. The groups set off in different directions to look around the market. My group had to find tree tomatoes and avocados. We asked many vendors for each one, trying to find the best and most fresh.
        Outside of the market, we all purchased rain boots. Rain boots are one of Ecuador’s largest exports. We will use the rain boots in Palugo, for our day to day work, and also on our expeditions in the mountains with the wet terrain. After buying boots, we went to a restaurant on the street and bought our lunch. For the first time, our group got to try cevichochos and tortillas de tiesto.

        Pifo is a great place to explore and observe the way that people live in Ecuador. It was special for us to see the town outside of our Palugo community.

Aisha and Nica, impressed by the penco plants!
        Después del desayuno, empacamos nuestras mochilas con una gorra del sol, una botella de agua, y una chompa de lluvia. Salimos de Palugo y caminamos por el sendero a la carretera. En la carretera, continuamos caminando a la parada del autobus. El sol estaba muy fuerte sobre nuestras cabezas mientras nosotros estábamos esperando. Había mucho tráfico en la carretera y muchos carros estaban pasando con prisa.
        En el bus fuimos por calles pequeñas y sobre colinas. Nadie sabía donde íbamos, pero estábamos entusiasmados de ver los poblados alrededor de Palugo. Las casas llenaban las calles con colores ricos - una bienvenida agradable.
        El bus paró delante del mercado, esta era nuestra parada. Los pasillos del mercado estaban alineados con numerosas frutas y vegetales. Muchos eran conocidos,  muchos eran nuevos para nosotros. Estábamos asombrados.
        Para practicar español, nos separamos en grupos de tres y cada grupo recibió un poco de dinero. También recibimos la tarea de encontrar una fruta o vegetal específico. Los grupos fueron a buscar por el mercado. Mi grupo tuvo que encontrar tomates de árbol y aguacates. Yo pregunte a muchos vendedores por estas cosas y trate de encontrar lo mejor.
        Afuera del mercado compramos botas de caucho. Las botas de caucho son una exportación popular e importante para Ecuador. Vamos a usar las botas de caucho en Palugo y también en nuestras expediciones en las montañas. Después de comprarlas fuimos a un restaurante de la calle para almorzar. Fue la primera vez que probamos cevichochos y tortillas de tiesto.
        Pifo es una buen lugar para explorar y observar el modo en que las personas viven en Ecuador. Fue especial mirar los pueblos fuera de nuestra comunidad de Palugo.
Resting in the park

Exploring Quito, Explorando a Quito
        On Sunday, we visited Quito, the capital of Ecuador. On the way, Nicole told us about the geography of Ecuador in relation to the mountains. The east corridor and the west corridor create the long valley that Quito sits in, and the city lays at the feet of Pichincha, a large mountain towering over the city.
        We arrived at Carolina Park, a beautiful park with walking and biking trails carved throughout. Lots of kids were running around the park and many vendors were selling sweets on the sides of the paths. We went to the bike park and attempted to complete the different courses there. Bouncing over the ramps and getting to know our new bikes was an exciting way to start the morning.
        We began our bike ride out of the park and into the busy city. On Sunday’s in Quito, the city closes one of the main avenues from cars for only bikers and walkers. The road closure spans over 30 kilometers, almost the length of Quito. On the avenue, there were hundreds of bikers, young and old, passing us leisurely and some racing each other.
        During the first ten minutes of our ride on the road, three people got flat tires, including me! It was a great day to test the bicycles we will be using on our upcoming expedition.
        After Jule and Mathias repaired the flat tires, we started to explore the city. We traveled south down the main road in the direction of Old Quito. Before we arrived in Old Quito, the city was full of modern architecture and large murals covered some of the street corners.  When we reached Old Quito, the architecture transformed around us. The style of the buildings changed to Latin American colonial architecture and the buildings were a mix of bright colors with oriental details. Old Quito is known for being one of the most well-preserved old cities in the world.
        We biked through the cobblestone streets of Old Quito. First, we went to the Theater Plaza, a beautiful plaza with live music filling the air. After, we made our way towards the statue of the virgin, a tall and overarching statue built into the mountain, protecting the city of Quito.
        After awhile, we left our bikes to explore the city by foot. We arrived at the Plaza Grande and over a thousand other people were there with us as well. I learned that the Plaza Grande has been for years, and still continues to be an important home to social activism in Ecuador.
        We walked to the church of the Compañía de Jesús, an incredible cathedral that took 163 years to construct fully. The inside was magical with almost all of the intricate details and decorations carved out of wood. We continued to walk around the streets, passing  markets, stores, other churches, and of course, endless amounts of people. Our day ended at a museum of Andean art. There, we learned about the history and culture of Ecuador and South America.
        El domingo, fuimos a Quito, la capital del Ecuador. En el camino, Nicole nos contó acerca de la geografía del Ecuador en relación a las montañas. La cordillera oriental y la cordillera occidental crean el valle de Quito, y ciudad está a los pies de la montaña del Pichincha.
        Llegamos al parque de la Carolina, un gran parque con muchos senderos para caminar y andar en bicicletas. Muchos niños estaban corriendo por el parque y habían diferentes vendedores ofreciendo dulces. Fuimos a la pista de bicicletas a practicar y  nos divertimos mucho saltando y bajando las rampas para completar la ruta.
        Empezamos a andar en bicicletas afuera del parque y en la ciudad. Los domingos la ciudad cierra una avenida principal solamente para andar en bicicletas o a pie. En la ciclovía habían cientos de personas en bicicletas, jóvenes y viejos, moviéndose rápido o despacio.
        Durante los primeros diez minutos, tres personas tuvieron llantas bajas, ¡incluso yo! Fue un buen día para probar las bicicletas y prepararlas para la expedición.
        Después de que Jule y Mathias repararon las llantas comenzamos a explorar la ciudad. Fuimos hacia el sur en dirección a Quito viejo. Antes de llegar a Quito viejo, la ciudad estaba llena con arquitectura moderna, grandes murales cubrían algunas esquinas. Cuando llegamos a Quito viejo toda la arquitectura se volvió colonial y cada edificio mostraba muchos colores y detalles. La ciudad vieja de Quito es considerada  una de las ciudades mejor preservadas en el mundo.
        Después de que Jule y Mathias repararon las llantas comenzamos a explorar la ciudad. Fuimos hacia el sur en dirección a Quito viejo. Antes de llegar a Quito viejo, la ciudad estaba llena con arquitectura moderna, grandes murales cubrían algunas esquinas. Cuando llegamos a Quito viejo toda la arquitectura se volvió colonial y cada edificio mostraba muchos colores y detalles. La ciudad vieja de Quito es considerada  una de las ciudades mejor preservadas en el mundo.
        Recorrimos en bicicletas las calles de piedra de Quito viejo. Primero, fuimos a la Plaza del Teatro, una plaza bonita con música en vivo. Después, fuimos hacia la Virgen del Panecillo,  la estatua protectora de la ciudad, muy alta y grande observando desde la montaña.
        Después de almorzar, llegamos a la Plaza Grande que estaba llena de  personas. Aprendí que la Plaza Grande ha sido un lugar importante de activismo social en Ecuador.
        Caminamos hacia la iglesia de Compañía de Jesús, una iglesia increíble que tomó 163 años para construir. El interior fue mágico con infinidad de detalles esculpidos en la madera. Continuamos caminando alrededor de las calles, pasamos muchos mercados, tiendas, otras iglesias, y por supuesto muchas personas. Terminamos nuestro día en un museo de arte Andina. Allí, aprendimos sobre la historia y cultura de Ecuador y Suramérica.
Bryony working with Michael 

        Here is a passage written by Zoe on our knife-making project with Michael:
        “Starting soon after our arrival were knife crafting classes. Michael started teaching us, first we were taught the different uses of a knife: a tool, a weapon, and a symbol of power. He read a passage from made by hand that helped us understand the place of craftsmanship in our own lives and the way it can connect us to others. Gathering inspiration from the impressive display of handmade knives splayed on the table we began mentally designing our own knives, not knowing how far away we were. The first day just involved making wooden sheaths for our knives to prevent injury while we roughly worked with them later. Not having been able to even touch our burls on that first day we eagerly returned the next morning. On the second day we got to envision our knives a bit more, we sketched our handle ideas onto our burls and chose a position for the blades. With much drilling and scratching from small hand tools we readied our knives for the epoxy stage. After frantically stirring the epoxy and stuffing it into the handle we ended the day with something that could at least be held to cut. During the next two classes we rasped the handles to their lovely forms and obsessively sanded them till they were silky smooth. In the final class we made our leather sheaths, some chose a carved wooden base while some went leather only. Having pulled needles through leather with pliers, stones and strong fingers most of us ended the day with lovely knives safely sheathed ready for action on our upcoming expedition.

Katy, contemplating the shape of her knife handle

Hannah, Harry, and Whitley

Shaping the burl
Time to make the sheath
The finished product

Bryony wrote about lessons we have had with guest teachers:
        “During our past two weeks in Palugo, we’ve had a few different classes with other instructors. Thomas has taught two permaculture classes. We walked around Palugo, talking about the soil quality and how it is cultivated and managed. The second class was centered around working on the farm; spreading bokachi (a mixture of cow manure, molasses, sawdust and straw used to fertilize) on rows of potatoes, collecting bags of sola (an aquatic plant harvested from the irrigation system used as a source of microorganisms for animal feed), and picking up the hay piles in the field and loading them into the wagon. After seeing the different farming techniques in New Hampshire, it was really interesting to learn about the different aspects at Palugo and how they work together.

Classtime in the chozon
        Marcea taught us about some of the different herbs at Palugo and their uses. After we walked around part of the farm, we made salves in the kitchen. We put in lavender to make the salve smell good and to add calming properties. I hadn’t realized how many herbs grow around our dwelling until Marcea pointed them out and taught us about their uses.
        We spent a morning with Michael learning about the geography of Ecuador and the Andes mountain range. He taught us that the combination of the Andes dropping on either side to tropical jungles and coasts gives Ecuador the highest biodiversity in South America. During our class, Michael showed us different regions in Ecuador on a map. This made it much easier for me to visualize our expedition routes and what terrain we would be traversing.”

        One morning, we hopped on our bikes and rode through Pifo to a cliff naturally formed by lava flow. Mathias, Nicole, and Ayra met us there with rock climbing gear. We spent the entire day learning from them and inching up the massive face of rock. Here is a poem Luke wrote about our experiences:
        We muscled up the Ecuadorian hills
        With hopes of finding thrills
        Our eyes looked up and down the wall
        Praying that none of us would fall
        Mathias made sure our harnesses were tight
        Then told there is “no room for fright”
        To loud shouts of  “on belay”
        We leapt up the wall without delay
        On the rocks our hands held strong
        Above us the climb still looked long
        Nicole’s morning yoga sure helped out
        Because we could climb any route
        After the climb we biked back to the farm
        All 15 of us safe from harm

Harry enjoys a moment of rest at the climbing wall
Luke, enjoying the climb

Hannah- showing her strength on the wall

        During our adventures through Quito, Nicole told us about “Apu,” which is a word in Kichwa (the native Ecuadorian language). In Ecuadorian culture, each person has their own Apu, a mountain in which they are spiritually connected to. Nicole described it as a mountain god or goddess who protects and guides you. In a couple of days we leave on our month long expedition of biking, trekking and paddling. Although we don’t have Apus since we’re not native to this land, we all look forward to finding our own connection with these beautiful mountains we have admired from afar every day.

Chef Jule!

Coming Home

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