I woke up this morning and had to wait for the cows to be milked in order to get something to put on my porridge with homemade blackberry jam that we made ourselves last week. Last night I wandered through the garden, looking for vegtables to cook for dinner, and had to pick off slugs before throwing the lettuce into the stirfry. A kind of lettuce, mind you, I don´t even recognize.
I´m definitely not in Guayaquil anymore.
Last week, I had some time off school. While some folks went to the Galapagos, and some folks went to Peru, I took the week to go first to Banos, and then to a farm, Picalqui, to learn about organic agriculture and work on an honest to goodness farm.
Banos is a touristy little town in the Andes Mountains that caters to the exciting-outdoors lovers. Somewhat randomly, a distant cousin of mine, Susie, is traveling through South America right now, and our schedules matched up, so I spent the weekend with her. We stayed in her incredible spa hotel--a far cry from my usual $5 hostal. It was a weekend so...it just didn´t feel real. I spent Friday night sitting in a hottub sipping wine and gorging on delicious food. I spent Saturday rock climbing, bungee jumping (ish...it´s a little different, but same general idea...pictures to come) off a bridge, and biking through the Andes to see waterfalls. I spent Sunday riverrafting through the rainforest and hiking, with a homemade blackberry juice waiting for me at the summit. We partied with our outdoor guides, I made friends from Guayaquil and plans to meet when I return, and we met a somewhat odd Canadian who decided to buy a waterfall and some land after a messy divorce and make it into a ¨Garden of Eden.¨ How did I get here?
What was perhaps most interesting about the weekend (besides getting absolutely stoned on adrenaline) was the tourist industry here. A common complaint of the place is how touristy it is. Which is true--most menus have English translations, there are outdoor adventure companies on every corner, and there are more hostals than grocery stores. However, almost all of the tour companies are Ecuadorian owned. Guides make far more than the average Ecuadorian income. The town is relatively well-off. Certainly the wealth is not destributed equally, and Banos has its problems. But what is the alternative? The town tapped into an important source of money--this is a valid and successful form of development. Yes, it caters to gringos, but Ecuadorians made it so. Tourism isn´t the only option, but tourists shouldn´t feel guilty, and Banos shouldn´t be shunned for it´s particular response to globalization.
Then Monday, my friend Kyle and I spent the day on buses heading north, to get to Picalqui, the farm where I´ve spent the past week. Though the website is slightly misleading in this respect, Picalqui is a part of a Ecuadorian-run foundation that´s been working on development projects on four different sites for about 70 years. The particular part of the farm where I´m working is owned by Stuart, a rough little Englishman and his girlfriend. They decided to make their life here in ruralish Ecuador, growing organic produce for personal consumption and sale. He gets volunteers to pay a little for an agricultural education, which helps fund his work, and the work of the foundation. Volunteers stay together in the volunteer house. It´s a beautiful example of communal living--we cook together, work together, live together. Last week there was Alex, a dramatic, tragic American who is spending a year here ¨getting away from the FUCKING rat race, man¨; Paul, a German working off his obligatory military service for a year on the farm; Jenny, a 28 year old from Colorado working on her Spanish with 2.5 months in Ecuador before starting nursing school; Wendy, a soft-spoken woman working on the farm while her fiance works in a legal help for refugees office in Quito (the capital, about two hours away); and Simon, a 24 year old Brit, who was also a development studies major and is traveling around the world, working on different agriculture and environmental projects. And Kyle and me, two study abroad university students with a week to burn.
What an incredibly different paced life. We get up early, cook breakfast, work in the garden weeding or shoveling manure and compost, cook lunch, work some more, cook dinner, hang out, read about permaculture, talk about why the world is going to shit and what we want to do to fix it, have a little campfire, some mint tea from the garden, and go to bed. I´ve learned so much--from Stuart, from my fellow volunteers, from just being on the farm. It´s just been so pleasant, and so important to my overall education. Outdoor work is going to factor into my future career, and agriculture is essential to development. I´ve had a perfect week, and I can´t wait to move into my co-op at Berkeley and start an organic garden.
Here´s where I get to admit my own folly. Where I fall victim to my youth. (Maybe you don´t have to send this one to Grandpa, Mom.) I´m staying another week. School starts tomorrow, but I´m still here at the farm (well, actually in Tabacundo, a tiny town a 15 minute busride away). I´m not going back yet. Next weekend is Dia de los Muertos and my Guayaquil friends as well as my Picalqui friends are all going to Cuenca (a beautiful, rich city in the mountains) for the celebration. That´s where I´ll switch lives. But I´m not ready to go back to unsatisfactory classes, an extremely difficult job that is not what I want to do with my life, and a big city. I have been loving life in Guayaquil, but I just need to be here for one more week. I need to be outdoors, eating fresh vegetables. I need to be in this place where a night out consists of me in my badass hiker pants (plastic built in clip belt included) and tevas walking along a dark trail to hitch a ride with the local fruit seller to a little town´s independence fair, drinking hot alcoholic beverages from street vendors in front of a very poorly controlled bonfire, followed by dancing in the town´s only discoteca and singing the only English karaoke of the night. What will I remember in a year, five years, ten years? A week of class, or this beautiful little break on a farm?
I´m happy, I´m satisfied, I´m learning, I´m growing. I miss home, I miss you, but there is no way I´m coming back any time soon.