Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Coming Home

How many semester students can you fit in a truck?

Our last days at Palugo were spent by celebrating one another and the beautiful place we had gotten to know. There were a lot of academics to finish up, and there was work to do to close the Bodega project—planting gardens, creating rock sculptures, water management, and planning out the roof structure for the bridge. Almost every single night was spent staying up and celebrating by cooking yummy things in the oven (cookies, cake, bread, brownies, pie, etc.).

Construction of the roof for the bodega bridge

One night we all got dressed up to go dancing in Quito. We pooled our group money to rent a bus, which ended up being a giant public bus that we had to ourselves. It was very luxurious. That day happened to be Quito’s anniversary, so the streets were absolutely packed. We spent the entire night dancing to electronic reggae and traditional Andean music in outdoor plazas. At one concert, half the crowd was turned towards us rather than the band; filming, smiling, and pointing. We got some of them to join in. When it was time to go home, we reluctantly began to leave the park. But once we hit the street, the band started playing another groovy song and we couldn’t help but to break out dancing once again. We got many pedestrians to join in. It kind of felt like a flash-mob.

Nora, helping Luke finish his portfolio

Nica, in the tunnel!

The night we left Palugo to fly back to New Hampshire, we watched the sunset in a high field together during the graduation celebration. The children of Palugo were playing in the deep grass all around us.

Our last circle with Katy and Yuri was filled with dancing, singing, and eating cake to celebrate Jule’s 19th birthday. We said our goodbyes and they left with their families. They told us if we happened to be in Ecuador again, their doors would always be open.

Later on, as we prepared to head off to the airport, we had our last circle with Nicole, Matias, and Ayra. It felt extremely strange to be leaving the people we had grown to think of as family and the place that had become a new home. When it was time for Ayra to go to bed, she and Matias said their farewells and walked off into the night. Ayra was on top of his shoulders, waving behind to us. We all knew that image would be ingrained in our minds, for most likely the rest of our lives.

The cold clean air that filled our lungs when we stepped out of the airport was shocking. We took deep breaths, experiencing the considerable amount of oxygen in the air. As we drove back to Kroka, more and more snow gathered on the ground and the trees.
They quickly put us right to work!

We entered a winter wonderland as we got out of the van upon arriving at Kroka. Everything was sparkling and white, and the trees made black silhouettes against the dark blue winter sky. It was beautiful.

Wintery woodyard

A fun minga with the Kroka staff to wrap up our semester!


Charly Sperling

Friday, December 8, 2017

Climbing the Volcano

Mountains and the mist

On our final expedition, we made our way from Palugo, through the wet páramo of the eastern Andes on the edge of the Amazon basin. We made it all the way to the glacier of the inactive volcano, Antisana. From there we left in two groups on solos, navigating the tricky maze of the páramo on our own. This post will consist of tips and tricks and a couple stories from our last expedition together.

Goals in sight
Cowboy encounters

Charly and Hannah in the paja 
The crew

Top 10 Tips for Hiking in the Páramo
1.   When taking a short break, it may be wise to resist sitting down in the paja. It might be more comfortable than a bed, and could make you never want to stand up again.

2.    Don’t be fooled by the vegetation. Underneath there may be a mud pit that when stepped in goes up to your thighs.

3.    Although you may think it’s a good idea to bring sneakers for comfort, don’t. Rain boots—no matter how clunky—are the way to go. Even if they make you twist an ankle.

4.    When resting, don’t be still too long, for the Condors (massive birds of prey that are three meters in wing-span), may mistake you for a dead animal.

5.    Always, always, set up your tent on high ground, for a storm may come in the night, and you could wake up in a puddle.

6.     If you get cold, move. It’s never a good idea to plunk yourself down wearing wet clothes in below freezing weather and wait for a rescue that’s not coming.

7.    Get creative with the tarp setup. It’s worth having a communal dry place for cooking and eating, no matter how low the tarp is—sometimes creating a little bit of pressure on your now wet head. Use trekking poles, or any branches you can find (good luck with that).

8.    If you get cold in the night, it is perfectly reasonable to jam pack five people on one side of a four-person tent. You may not get any sleep, but you will be warm.

9.     Bring plenty of hot cocoa mix and herbs for tea. Hot drinks are much appreciated at night. Be sure to boil the water that is most times gathered from stagnant pools in areas where cows graze.

10.   Be supportive of one another—lend an extra layer, let someone put their cold feet on your stomach to warm up, take some weight from someone’s pack if they’re struggling. Be warmth and joy for the people around you.

Charlie and Whitley- making peace with the rain
Windblown Tikko!

During the second night of our trek, an unexpected massive storm hit. The ground we had picked for camp was a little damp, but no one thought anything of it. It had been sprinkling on and off all day. After we settled down to sleep, it started pouring so hard that water fell from the roof of the tent. Eventually we were able to fall asleep.

A couple hours later, Hannah and Hyim discovered they were sleeping in a puddle. They moved to the left side of the tent, where Bryony and I were, which was on higher ground. We lay awake, not able to sleep from the adrenaline and from thoughts of others who we knew had set up their tents on even lower ground.

All of a sudden, we realized all sides of the tent were being pressed down from the outside, as if four people lay on the walls. Slowly, Hyim reached his hand out of the tent. A couple of inches of slushy snow lay piled. The walls of the tent were frozen solid. And it was still raining.

A little while later, we saw headlamps outside. Whitley’s voice appeared to inform us that the tent she shared with Zoe, Tikko, and Katy, had turned into a lake. She asked if we had room for more people and we said yes right away. Zoe and Tikko burst in, completely soaked and violently shivering. We soon realized only five people would fit squashed to one side. Zoe volunteered to run to the boys’ tent, who we had just heard were completely dry and on high ground. She ran out of the tent in bare feet.

That night we didn’t sleep much. We were all extremely warm, due to the many bodies in a very small space. But the constant close breathing on your face and the cramping of your legs, your back, and your arms, was not the most relaxing.

The next morning, it was still raining. Everyone was cold, wet, and tired. Five of us had sleeping bags that were soaked through. We gathered together and decided that we wanted to evacuate back to Palugo and dry our things, then head to Antisana by car. This decision was based on utter discomfort, which was preventing us all from seeing the bigger picture. As we began to pack up camp, the sun started to come out. Two condors flew over a nearby ridge. It seemed they were telling us something. We called a meeting again and after much discussion, decided that we would push on.


        As we hiked, the sky became more and more clear. We climbed across a beautiful ridge that looked out across the swamps, the paja, and the mountains. People hung their wet clothes and sleeping bags from their backpacks, and by the end of the day, all of our belongings had almost completely dried. It seemed the condors had been right.

Katy and Griffin- feeling the warmth of the sun.
Jule and Mathias- enjoying a little rest and laughter!

        At the foot of Antisana’s glacier, we set up our base camp. It consisted of many colorful tents. Looking down from the glacier, it reminded us of a small circus.

In awe...
Either on the moon or somewhere in Ecuador...
        We spent a couple of days partaking in “glacier school.” Using crampons, ice picks, and belay systems, we learned to climb up vertical ice walls. We got used to walking in crampons, and learned different techniques for climbing on ice. One day we did a exercise in self-arrest. We slid down the glacier (as if we had fallen in an accident) on our stomachs and backs—sometimes head first. We held our ice picks in our hands, and to stop we plunged them into the snow. We did this over and over again, and when the end of the day came around and it was time to go back down to base camp, we did not not want to leave.

Glacier bound
Glacier studies
Whitley, enjoying the ice
Ice exploration
Nica- looking stylish!
Practicing ice axe skills
Our fearless leader Nora
Working in rope teams
Glacier school

        One afternoon we got back from the glacier and the sky was completely clear. The sun began to set and Antisana started to glow. The sunset made the sky turn colors of aqua, making it look like an ocean over the mountains to the west. We were on the same level as the clouds, which were huge and puffy, so it seemed as if we could just walk up them like stairs.

Attacking Thomas with a group hug!

        After we had completed glacier school, it was time for “The Big Push.” We planned to wake up at 10:30 in the night and go as far up the glacier as we could. We needed to leave at this time so the glacier would stay cold while we were on it—when the sun starts to hit, the ice can start to shift which is potentially very dangerous. After Hyim mistakenly woke us up at 9:00 PM, he realized his horrible wrongdoing. We hiked up to the glacier together, a half moon hanging in the sky directly above us, and stars all around.

        Climbing up the glacier was very difficult. As we got higher and higher in altitude, the wind got stronger, all of our energy began to diminish, and people went a little crazy (this often times happens in extremely high altitudes, due to the lack of oxygen). Hannah and Nica started yelling every pop song they knew and called themselves a radio.

Zoe and Katy- bathed in the blue hue of the ice
Jule- climbing high
Hyim- on top rope

        When we had made it to around just over 5,000 meters, we came upon an avalanche site. Thomas and Matias concluded that the avalanche had occurred within the last day. Not wanting to risk it, we decided it was time to head back down. On our way, both Jule and Zoe dropped their water bottles. We watched the bottles slide down the ice, eventually falling into 60 meter crevices.


At one point we all stopped to watch the sunrise. The light slowly changed, making everyone shine dimly against the contrast of the stark white snow. We watched the colors of the land appear--the blues, greens, browns, yellows, grays, and blacks of the mountains, the fields, and the lakes. The sunrise reflected oranges and yellows off the land. We could see the great mountain Sincholagua clearly, our end goal for group solos in the days to come.

Tupac teaching us the ropes (and the knots!)
To Be Continued...

Looking silly with beautiful Cotopaxi in the background
Aisha! Showing off her ice climbing skills.
Evening walk
Class by the stream
Mountain inspirations

Friday, December 1, 2017

Off to the Mountains

Upon returning to Palugo after our month-long expedition, we jumped right into working on group projects. Hannah, Whitley, Aisha, and Zoe made a beautiful new dishwashing station for the kitchen with Tupak. At the end, they crafted a spiral mosaic into the surface. The rest of us worked on an ongoing project consisting of making an entrance to the upstairs of the Bodega (one of the main buildings on the farm), that is wheel chair accessible. We cleared out thorny bushes, built a weaving path, and made a bridge leading to the entrance.

Women at work

Whitley at work!

Putting tile into the new sink

Ayra working in the garden
Yuri in the garden
Jule- master bike mechanic!

A couple of days after we got back, we had a “Tupari.” A Tupari is a time when the instructors give us space to have a meeting independently. Every time we have one, a lot of important things are said, we work through issues as a group, and afterward the energy feels clearer. During this particular Tupari, the instructors left before dinner, which is earlier than usual. We were eating in a circle around Harry, who was lying on the couches and not feeling well, when Whitley exclaimed, “What is that?!” She had spied on old keyboard on a top shelf. She proceeded to take it down, plug it in, and turn it on. All of a sudden, a song started playing—one of those little recorded riffs that are always on electric keyboards. Because we hadn’t heard recorded music in so long, it sounded like the funkiest thing we had ever heard. Everyone started dancing, and for the rest of the night, we played songs from the keyboard with the volume blasted. It was an epic dance party. And for dessert, we had fried pineapple with warm chocolate sauce.

Experimenting in the kitchen

Handmade pan bread

In the beginning of our second week back, we went out on our solos. Each of us were led to a spot on the farm. We brought only a sleeping pad, a small tarp, and our water bottles (some of us wore most all of our warm layers). For two and a half days we sat watching the circles of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Sometimes we were still and listened to the silence, other times we sang and talked to ourselves. At the end of the time, we came back and gathered together. Everyone looked different. Everyone was shining with a magical energy.

Here is a poem by Griffin, representing his feelings and experiences during his solo:
It’s essential to develop balance in life.
Balance between doing and just being,
Balance between being alone and being with others,
Balance between feeling hungry and satisfied.
Productivity is as valuable as stillness,
Solitude is as fulfilling as community living,
Fasting is healing just as eating good food.
Through life, we find balance between all things.

Griffin working on his pants
Big smiles from Nica!
At Tatoo- learning to make quick dry pants
Fancy pants!

A poem Hyim wrote while we were on our paddling expedition. I watched him write it while sitting on the rocky shore of the river:
Fast rushing slowly flowing
The essential essence of our being
Every caving memory into time
Having only one goal
The quickest most direct route
From source to sea
That’s where you will rest
Hyim and Zoe acting out their modern heroes 

        Here is a little story I wrote during my solo, when I was up late at night and thought I saw something large moving through the trees:

        It was a dark windy night. One of the eucalyptus trees started to sway back and forth, its leaves shimmering. It stretched its trunk, reached its branches up to the sky, and stomped its roots. It had turned into a eucalyptus tree giant. It snuck around the outskirts of the farm, hidden in the shadows, until it reached the place it had grown from. There, it spread its roots once again. No one ever knew.
Right now, we are preparing to leave on our last expedition together in a couple days, spending two weeks climbing in the beautiful mountains. We look forward to sharing with you about this experience when we return!

Theatre class with Marcela

Theatre class!
Tupac- getting ready to teach flute making class

Flute making

Hannah doing the detail work

Tupac assisting

Coming Home

How many semester students can you fit in a truck? Our last days at Palugo were spent by celebrating one another and the beautiful pl...