A NEW Journey

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Since my time in Ecuador I have finished my master’s degree and have decided to continue my adventures in traveling. Having had the opportunity to journey around Ecuador with just a small backpack at times helped me realize that I am very capable of traveling around and creating beautiful relationships with other people. Therefore, my husband and I have started on a road trip around the USA. I have started a new blog specific to that adventure which has already begun!

The blog is titled FUNK TO FOREST and can be found here. Enjoy!

I'm ready to present my master's thesis!

Here I am with my Ecuador hat getting ready for my thesis presentation, completed in December 2013.

Minimalism

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Something I found very interesting, and something which I knew I’d encounter in a so-called “third world country,” is the lack of stuff. Now when I say stuff, I am also referring to the random crap that people own. Minimalism is the reality in Ecuador, and while many of the various luxury items are missing, it still feels very full of all the things that a person needs to live.

I’ve been thinking a lot about minimalism in the last year, especially as I meet more people that are traveling around both the US and the world. When you travel, you carry your needs on your back (or you stuff it in/on whatever mode of transportation you have). This fascinates me, because it’s amazing how little people need to survive. I’m on the path to becoming a hippy gypsy, ha ha, if I’m not one already. So, I’m becoming forced to re-evaluate my life and my stuff. When I packed for 2.5 months in Ecuador, I knew that when I came back to my packed apartment that I would feel very differently about a lot of things there. I knew that if I could live without something, and probably forget that I even owned it, that it no longer served me on my gypsy journey.

The value of consumption in Western industrial culture is appalling! As far as I know it started in the US during the 1950’s. The buying and selling of stuff became important in order to fuel a depressed economy. (What is a depressed economy exactly anyway??) It was even known that things were made to break quickly in order to provide the need to buy more. If you are interested in seeing a cute, short animated video on this interesting time period and its relation to “stuff”, see The Story of Stuff. (There are also a lot of other great little videos on this site too.) There is also a great website I found about people’s stories of becoming minimalists.

Anyway, here in Ecuador I’m living mostly out of a bag and am very content. I can’t think of anything I wish I had brought with me to make my life all that much better, except a guitar (sigh).

Let me discuss some of what I see missing (or not missing as it may be) in my Ecuadorian life. The refrigerator is small, and there is no freezer. This is an interesting concept, because, as I previously mentioned, many things are refrigerated in the US, and they also don’t necessarily need to be. The fear of disease in the US is a bit on the freak-out side of life, and that creates the need to buy more in order to feel more protected and insulated from the outside world. This, of course, is an illusion, because you are never separate from anything outside yourself, even when locked inside a closet.

Also, I’ve been cutting potatoes with the same knife for 1.5 months now, and it serves perfectly well. In fact every time I cut something, I immediately wash the knife which means it’s ready for the next cutting adventure. There are no dishwashers here, and there really needn’t be dishwashers. Without dishwashers, people don’t need to own so many dishes, and there is a bit of a bonding time in the kitchen as people all help to take care of their used dishes.

There are also no heaters or air conditioners, and the buildings are usually made out of cement. That takes out a whole lot more stuff from daily life. While being cold in the mountains is a pain in the butt, people here adjust and learn to live closer with the elements and the changing seasons. There may be a few extra blankets in the home, but that is a far cry from the mass production of other stuff which it replaces. It is also part of our natural evolution to live closely with the changing seasons.

What else? There are not a lot of fences here, and nor are there barns for animals. The farm animals get to live out in the elements just like everyone else, and they are often staked to an area in order to control their wandering and grazing. The nice thing about a lack of fences is that it invites your neighbors to say hello. People aren’t walled shut from each other, and this provides a greater sense of community. The lack of stuff seems to create more community, especially when people need to borrow items from others because not everyone owns everything they will need to live on a farm.

There aren’t clothes dryers, and many people don’t have washing machines. I also haven’t seen walls covered with hangings or televisions in every home. Simplicity seems to be the answer here. Of course one could argue that a lack of money is the problem, and that may very well be the case, but do we really need money just to buy all this stuff? If we buy less then we don’t need to work as much. Wouldn’t that be nice?!

I’ve often been curious as to what people think when they watch movies created in the US (which are of course dubbed over in Spanish). Homes are often pristine and filled to the brim with various unnecessary things. Does this illusion of what people could have make them want more? How is the culture of the US influencing the way that people live through the use of media?

The other day I was talking to a lady about holidays, and we figured out that both cultures celebrate Christmas. I asked, “Does Santa come here too?” To which she replied with a bit of a laugh, “No, no Santa doesn’t visit here.” This made me feel bad, but at the same time it made me reevaluate. Why does Santa visit the US? Every Christmas the tree is stuff with packages of stuff, much of which none of us really need. I’m not saying I don’t love to open presents just as much as everyone else, but perhaps a present wrapped with an adventure the family can take together would be a more valuable experience. (*hint hint*)

Another interesting thing happened. I went to a graduation party for a young man that finished high school. I brought a bottle of soda, because what else would I get him? I had no idea what he would like. Anyway, I was the only one that brought a present. A couple other people brought food to share among the guests, because there was going to be a big feast and then a dance for all the attendees. This again made me think. Why do we always give gifts in the US to people for celebrations? I know that a gift is meant to say “I love you,” but can we just have a big celebration with a feast and a dance instead? Or in my case, I’d rather have everyone huddle around a fire with guitars. Ha ha.

A trinket won’t last as long as a memory of shared experiences and that is what I am getting at with this lack of stuff concept. There is an assumption that people NEED things, but what we really need is each other and memorable time spent together. When we are old and on our way out the door, it will be our experiences that we treasure the most, not the trinket we got at our 6th birthday party.

20 More Interesting Facts about Ecuador

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  1. It is believed that before people die their souls return to visit every place on earth they’ve been.
  2. You don’t pump your own gas.
  3. People often warp everything, including children, in blankets and carry them on their backs. This is most often done in the rural areas.
  4. Diesel costs less than regular gas.
  5. People enter busses and try to sell things or ask for money. Hence, you might get the chance to see some one dressed as a clown selling chocolate. (It was tasty!)
  6. Shop owners often sit outside their shop and wait for people to come.
  7. Every week the president gives a public announcement on what he did that week.
  8. There doesn’t seem to be any original movies here. Everything is burned, which often includes music, and it may cost a $1 for 5 burned movies on one disk.
  9. The country used to be roughly twice the size but Colombia and Peru have warred with Ecuador over land and have won many times. The war with Peru dates back to Incan times.
  10. Electric showers are popular.
  11. When a female has a child, she is then referred to as Mrs. (aka Senora) not when she gets married. Until then she is Miss (aka Senorita).
  12. The city of Vilcabamba (in the south near the border of Peru) is claimed to have the oldest people in the world.
  13. The country has its own sport called Equa-Volley which is like volleyball but with a raised net, and a soccer ball is used instead of a volleyball.
  14. Drinking gaseous water is popular, and it comes from the volcanoes.
  15. The country is building a highway that reaches from north to south which is also being done to connect all the countries in Latin America. It is referred to as the PanAmerican Highway.
  16. When people have a college degree, they are often referred to by that degree. Instead of saying some one’s name, they are simply called “Engineer” or “Architect.”
  17. The whole country has one time zone.
  18. Busses may have a bathroom, but people aren’t allowed to use it.
  19. The top exports for the country are oil and bananas.
  20. The country boasts the largest volcano in the world, Cotopaxi (which I can see out my front door!).
The volcano Cotopaxi can be seen above my neighbor's house.

The volcano Cotopaxi can be seen above my neighbor’s house behind the mountain.

The volcano Cotopaxi is on the left.

The volcano Cotopaxi is on the left.

What should I have done?

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I hit upon a big predicament recently…

I visited a small rural pueblo, much like many I’ve seen before, for two days. On the trip over I spoke with a gentleman about having a farm in the very place I was going. My curiosity always gets the best of me, and thus I asked him how he cultivates his plants. His answer that he chemically fumigates didn’t come as a surprise me to; although, it was a sad realization to know that “all the farms do it.”

When I arrived to the farm I’d be living at I couldn’t help but ask the same question, and of course I got the same answer back. Now I knew I was going to be living among chemical fields.

I spoke to the mother of the home who turned out to be younger than me about chemicals. I tried my best to practice reflective listening and open-ended questions so as to not judge. I was probably moderately successful. Anyway, what I got from the short discussion is that this young mother doesn’t believe that when she eats food that has been sprayed with chemicals that she is, in fact, digesting chemicals. She believed this because the chemicals are sprayed (with protective gear on) “only twice”: when planting the seeds and just before harvesting. Two chemical sprays doesn’t register to her as being harmful, especially when one is just before ingestion.

Well, I gave up the conversation quickly because the last thing I want to do is critisize my host. That is until we went to the chemical bean fields, and I helped harvest for a couple hours.

All the while I harvested with bare hands I cringed. I literally wanted to just walk away. Perhaps I was being a bit dramatic, but I’m not oblivious to the results of chemical exposure. What got me most stressed out was seeing young children run through this field and also seeing this young mother plop down in the middle of the field and breastfeed her four month old baby.

This was one of those times where you’re dammed if you do and you’re dammed if you don’t. How could I critisize this way of life? How could I allow myself to be put at risk? How could I allow children to be put at risk? At what point is enough enough?

In the middle of harvesting the young mother asked me if I thought it was hard to harvest beans. Should I have explained how I felt from a physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual perspective? None would have been short, easy to digest answers. As it was I simply agreed that the task was easy. Luckily harvesting eventually ended and I survived!

That night at dinner I had a conversation with the husband of the home. He stated that due to climate change there is less rain in their pueblo causing droubts, and at times there is simply no water. I couldn’t help put throw my two cents in and state that I was pretty sure chemicals (not any specific chemical use, mind you) was certainly a culprit. There was no response regarding my comment.

Where my thought process took me afterward is to all the skeletons in my own closet. Thoughts and actions don’t always line up for everybody which is where the trouble lies. For example, even though I am a self-proclaimed environmentalist how many times have I chosen the easier route in spite of the environment by driving a car to the corner market, using the laundry or dishwasher when it wasn’t full, knowingly dropped something on the ground and not picked it up, etc?

Another question to us all is this: at what point do we stand up for our values of a cleaner, liveable world in spite of how it might be perceived by others? Should I have said “no” regarding harvesting beans to protect myself, especially when it is the livelihood of others I was helping to ensure? Should I have kept probing the issues of chemical exposure with the young family? Should I have strapped myself to a wrecking ball and stopped the demolition? … oh, wrong event, lol.

Eventually that evening the thoughts stopped swirling in my head and I was able to get a chilly nights sleep.

The next day there was no more harvesting. Phew! We were informed in the mid-morning, though, that one of the people who helped harvest beans with us had awoken feeling ill to the stomach. Wow! I worried the whole time I harvested that I would have rashes and possibly be sick. Nothing happened to me that I could register at that time, but we weren’t all outwardly so lucky…. I guess only time will tell for the rest of us.

To make the trip all that much better, for lunch on the second day I got to help de-pod the very beans we harvested and then was served a heaping plate of beans for lunch. I tried my hardest to remember all the times I didn’t buy organic food and survived after eating it. However, now I’m an even more committed organic food consumer since when I buy non-organic I know I’m supporting infants being raised in chemical fields.

This experience has left more questions than answers. I want to ask us all how far we are willing to go, especially on a daily basis, to walk our talk of wanting to save the planet and more specifically ourselves (since I believe the planet will survive long after we are gone)? We clearly aren’t doing enough yet! What will we stand up for? What comfort will we leave behind? I read somewhere that this generation, or even this time period, will have to learn to live with less in order to survive. Does that also mean living with less chemicals? I certainly believe it does, along with a whole lot of other poor environmental habits. I, for one, don’t want skeletons lurking around in my closets.

Cuyabeno National Reserve

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The photo I took which crossed every photography category!

The photo I took which crossed every photography category!

For a moment in time I was breathing with the lungs of the planet! At least that is what I’ve heard the Amazon rainforest called as it is the largest forested body on the entire planet. In terms of my intuition categories of photography, I crossed every single one at the same time while I was on a canoe making my way into the heart of the jungle. My breath felt taken away, and there was a moment of wanting to cry with joy for all the beauty!! I know there is a deep physical, mental, and spiritual connection that every species has with the Amazon, and it was a beautiful moment of being able to connect with that part of myself and that part of the larger ecological world.

A mamma monkey with a baby on her back seen on the canoe trip to the lodge.

A mamma monkey with a baby on her back seen on the canoe trip to the lodge.

The trip from home to the canoe port lasted 11.5 hours by bus!! The visitor’s port is very small and is mostly a docking station to pick up travelers, as all the lodging is located in the jungle. After the aforementioned amazing 2 hour boat ride, which included seeing two types of monkeys, a bunch of butterflies, and a moderate amount of birds, I landed on hard ground.

Aug 19 177I took the trip into the jungle with a master’s level ecotourism class, and the tour was geared toward education which was perfectly fine with me. We ate and then took a walk into the jungle. I figured the jungle would be comprised of thick vegetation with animals all around, but I was under false pretenses. It was moderately easy to walk around, especially since the same path had been used countless times, and I didn’t see one animal. Bummer! Still, I was introduced to various vegetation and their cultural uses which was really cool.

Lago Grande

Lago Grande

After the short 20 minute walk and another boat ride, everyone ended up in the middle of Lago Grande (Giant Lake) and had the opportunity to swim. I’m amazed that very few people took the chance to swim in the lake. I was the first one into the water in my group of 10 and the last one out! I got to swim for a whole 30 minutes in the jungle lake while the sun was setting all around me. It was truly amazing!!! Apparently the giant lake dries up during the dry season as do many of the rivers.

That night we headed to bed around 10:30pm as everyone was super tired.

The cabin I shared with others for two nights.

The cabin I shared with others for two nights.

At 5:30am the next morning we woke and were on our way back out to the boats by 6:00am. This time we took a 4 hour boat ride (each way) to reach the newest development in the rainforest called Playa de Cuyabeno (Cuyabeno Beach). Unfortunately this is when my heart began to break…..

The oil company has long been pumping oil from inside the rainforest, and there has been on and off damage as a result. One example is of the aforementioned giant lake where oil is found when it dries up (and I was swimming in that!). Anyway, various foreigners, including North Americans, built temporary shelters in the Amazon to create accommodations for the people who are employed by the oil companies. Well, the native Amazon communities saw how structurally secure the homes of these foreigners were and asked the government of Ecuador to provide them with structurally secure housing. Previously, the indigenous people would go deep into the jungle to find the best type of wood for their homes, but inevitably it would crumble due to termites. Finally, the government agreed to give the indigenous people what they asked for, but it came with a price.

Playa de Cuyabeno track housing for the indigenous communities.

Playa de Cuyabeno track housing for the indigenous communities.

The majority of the 15 communities that live in the heart of Ecuador’s jungle work for the oil companies! The oil company is required to give 12% of its annual income toward the developmental benefits of the surrounding communities. This means that there was sufficient funding to create 68 stock homes in the jungle which also come with a basketball court, a cemetery, and more. Each home is free to the various communities of indigenous people who will be moving in sometime at the end of 2014; however, they will now be required to pay for utilities. Each home is stocked with 2-3 bedrooms and a kitchen. The homes are made from metal, concrete, and aluminum, and each is two stories with the bottom story only having a bathroom; they can’t do any sort of remodel. Each home is also stocked with a land line phone, a cell phone, a television, and a cable for the internet. The price of utilities will be roughly $100 a year, and the money is earned from the oil companies. To me it sounds like a situation of colonialism.

Playa de Cuyabeno track home

Playa de Cuyabeno track home

Anyway, the tour of the new little city was given by the president of the indigenous communities, and he was elated at all that the communities would now have. What they mostly wanted, aside from structurally secure housing, was a center for education and public health. They also didn’t like walking in huge mud puddles from all the rain the Amazon gets. Well, they received much more than that but at the same time will be losing so much more.

There seemed to be a general consensus among classmates that the project will cause the communities to lose their culture. Previously families ate together in a giant open space, but now they would be confined to smaller spaces and will be eating only among family members. The housing has been set up to accommodate the nuclear family. Additionally, previously the cemetery was located far from the homes, and it took about a 25 minute boat ride to get to the cemetery. Now the cemetery is just a few feet away from the nearest homes. Everything is changing! In just one to two generations, there may be no memory of how the communities used to live in an ecological manner with the earth.

The president of the community doesn’t seem completely oblivious to these slight changes. He noted that there are now swarms of insects and birds that hover over the new city, and that was never a problem before in the jungle where huge strips of trees hadn’t gone missing. He failed to realize, as far as I know, that the mud puddles they suffered from are still going to be a problem. Where does he think the rain and the surrounding land will go during the wet seasons?

There are other things I noticed about the project. The plants that were placed in front of the homes to create a look of beauty are not all native. Also, the houses are bright white and do not blend into the surrounding forest. Additionally, the homes are all placed in a line which doesn’t allow for any social connections at the home space thus forcing people apart or forcing them to create another form of communal space. There is just so much that is un-realized with this project, and it seems the president of the indigenous people has been mesmerized into believing that this way of life will be everything they ever wanted…. until they forget who they are.

Everyone in the class left on a saddened note at seeing colonialism at its best and realizing that the community will only grow as the new generations are given the opportunity to apply for their own housing too, so long as they give their lives to the oil companies….. The next stop on our tour at the community San Victoriano made all the difference.

San Victoriano (the community is playing soccer)

San Victoriano (the community is playing soccer)

San Victoriano started 80 years ago. The father of the president of the small community used to be a nomad in the jungle, but eventually he stopped and claimed land to farm on. Hence, San Victoriano is a farming community. They have 180,000 hectares of land that they claim, even though they use very little of it. There is a governmental program in Ecuador called Socio Bosque which gives $30 a year per hectare of land that a community is willing to protect, so San Victoriano plans to start in 2014 by giving 80,000 hectares of land to the project. They are required to protect the land for 20 years, and if they withdraw from the program before the time is up then they owe all the money back to the government. Anyway, this small community doesn’t feel that the oil company project intents to protect land, so San Victoriano is not interested in being part of the project. They are perfectly content with their farming, jewelry making, and their chance to be a big part of the ecotourism movement in the country. When visitors come they will pay $3 to learn about the community and stay for the night.

San Victoriano jewelry for sale

San Victoriano jewelry for sale

After leaving San Victoriano and having taken the 4 hour boat ride back to the lodge, we all ate dinner and then had a discussion with a gentleman from the Ministry of Environment who oversees Cuyabeno. He doesn’t seem to be in agreement with the Play de Cuyabeno project and knows that he can’t do anything since the government makes all the decisions. It seems the oil companies somewhat own the government of Ecuador. However, he seems to love Cuyabeno and hopes to keep doing all he can to protect it.

San Victoriano plant and me with my new necklace I bought to support the community's focus on conservation.

San Victoriano plant and me with my new necklace I bought to support the community’s focus on conservation.

As a general reference, Cuyabeno has 500 species of birds, 184 species of fish, 81 species of amphibians, 54 species of reptiles, and 473 species of trees. Tourism began in 1980, and the largest issues that the reserve faces is the oil company and illegal tree extraction.

Another long night ended at 11:30pm, and we were all up at 5:30am the next day to begin our trek home. We took our last 2 hour boat ride back to the original docks, and we rode for 11.5 hours by bus in order to be home by 10:30pm. Phew! My butt was sore, sore, sore.

All in all it was an amazing experience to see the Amazon and have such an immediate connection to it. It was also heartbreaking to learn of the changes that are occurring inside due to the oil companies and their model of colonialism. However, I am hopeful that the future will bring promising ecological changes as more and more communities join the Socio Bosque program and decide to protect the land, especially since it seems at least part of the government is on the side of conservation.

Everything you wanted to know about Ecuadorian Food

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The culture of food is alive and well in Ecuador! It might just be too alive and well, really. There is often an overabundance of food, and I think that there may still be a very hardcore mentally here about eating as much as you can in case the next meal doesn’t come for quite some time. That would be an overdue viewpoint, in my opinion, since each meal is full to the brim, and people never leave hungry. Being overweight here is somewhat mocked at but at the same time it is somewhat respected since it means the person likes to eat.

Here’s what I’ve often seen for meals in the high mountains, which may differ depending on the region of the country and the family’s tradition. Sorry it’s a bit long, but I hope you enjoy it!

BREAKFAST (desayuno): I tend to eat eggs everyday. They are sold individually or in giant packs, and they are usually organic; although, there is industrial chicken farming here as well. Machica is a popular breakfast food too, and it is a powder made from wheat. I find it a bit boring, but I’ve heard of other people from the USA that have loved it, and it is usually put in with some sort of drink. The one drink I’ve come to love is called Morocho. It has milk, water, wheat, and sometimes raisins. While it’s a bit plain, with some sugar it becomes quite delicious. Speaking of sugar, I’ve been encouraged at every meal to add sugar to my drinks, and sugar is everywhere! It does seem to add some excitement to the drinks, that’s for sure. Lastly, I’m often given bread with cheese melted inside for breakfast too. The bread here is all very delicious and comes as rolls of bread with the average price of 6-10 rolls for a dollar.

Fried eggs, ham, cheese, and tomatoes all cooked in the bowl over a flame.

Fried eggs, ham, cheese, and tomatoes all cooked in the bowl over a flame.

LUNCH (almuerzo): This is the biggest meal of the day, and when I say big I mean it. The meal is often split into a wet lunch and a dry lunch. The wet lunch always comes with a full bowl of soup. The soup is usually the same, albeit somewhat varied mixture, of whole potatoes, minced white onions, minced carrots, and maybe rice or quinoa. They might come with some sort of meat in the form of shreds or more often in the form of a chicken leg. When eating out the meat is usually included, but my family doesn’t often serve meat at lunch (and this might be because I don’t eat it.) Then comes the dry lunch which is usually a whole oval shaped plate filled to the brim with more soft potatoes, plain white rice, meat, french fries, corn bits, fried green bananas, and more. I tend to try and not eat all the soup before being served the dry plate, because eating a heaping plate of white rice is much more exciting when placed in a wet soup.

A typical lunch with soupy noodles, rice, salad, dry noodles, and potatoes

Soup with fried pig's blood
Soup with fried pig’s blood
Trucha frita

Fried trout with french fries, white rice, and fried bananas (not the kind of banana you can eat raw)

DINNER (merienda): This meal is a touch and go meal. It might be served quite late in the night and consist of left-overs from lunch. There might be a whole meal here too, or it might be a small snack. I’ve had an assortment of dishes with this meal including swiss chard relleno (similar to the Mexican style chile relleno), potatoes relleno, tallarin (or noodles), a rice mixture, empanadas/postales which are cooked flour filled with cheese or meat, and fried fish with the tails on.

Swiss Chard Relleno (fill swiss chard with food, wrap, dunk in eggs, and fry)

Swiss Chard Relleno (swiss chard is filled with food, wrapped up tight, dunked in eggs, and fried)

Dry rice with spinach mixed in and potatoes mixed with tuna fish

Dry rice with spinach mixed in and potatoes mixed with tuna fish

Llapingacho is a traditional lunch with fried potatoes, eggs, a bit of salad, and a bit of meat.

Llapingacho is a traditional meal of the city of Ambato and includes fried potatoes, eggs, a bit of salad, and a bit of meat.

JUICES (jugos): Juice is popular here! Every lunch is often accompanied with some sort of juice, and people might drink juice throughout the day. My favorite juice is made from tomate de arbol (tomato tree tomato). It is peeled, placed in a blender with water, filtered, and then served straight. It is a bit like tomatoes found in the USA but not quite (sorry that’s my best explanation). Juices are also often made from blackberry, pineapple, or other native fruits only found in Ecuador. There are also batidos which are fruits mixed with milk. I’ve been told that this can hurt your stomach because of the milk and fruit combo, but I’ve never had a problem. I love bananas and milk mixed together.

Tomate de Arbol Juice (tomato tree fruit)

Tomate de Arbol Juice (tomato tree fruit)

SNACKS: I’ve come to love eating melted cheese inside both bread rolls and bananas. I recommend you try the banana idea. There are also many great fruits here, my favorite of which is granadilla. There are also a ton of mandarins, but they are always grown with heavy chemicals so don’t get too fond of those. Coffee is a popular snack item, but it is always served as dissolvable coffee with tons of sugar, and it is nothing like coffee in the USA which I rather miss! Popcorn is popular and so are fried corn seeds.

Cane sugar is cut into small bits and sucked on.

Cane sugar is cut into small bits and sucked on.

Granadilla, a fruit

Granadilla, a fruit

Taxo, a bitter fruit

Taxo, a bitter fruit

10 FOOD RULES AND MORE:

  1. If you don’t eat your whole plate (and at times if you eat only one full plate) people assume you don’t like the food, and you will be encouraged multiple times to continue eating.
  2. Potatoes are always peeled as is most everything. The skin of veges are rarely eaten.
  3. Eggs, milk, and cheese are often not refrigerated which may be partly because people either don’t have a fridge or it is very small. Food both in and out of the fridge may not be covered either.
  4. You might be given only a spoon to eat everything, so be creative.
  5. When you visit any place you will likely be served bread and agua aromatica (or boiled herb water). If you don’t eat and drink, then it is considered rude behavior. My advice is to leave the house hungry if you plan to visit many places, because you will come home stuffed. If you leave the house having eaten first, then tough luck!
  6. Add sugar to everything, or know that you will be asked to add sugar to everything.
  7. You can’t drink the water, so people only drink bottled water or boiled water. When water is boiled and left to cool, it is referred to agua de vida (or life water).
  8. Aji (which is the only spicy pepper in Ecuador) is not very spicy but has been known to upset peoples’ stomachs, especially mine. (I’m so glad I finally figured out what my problem was!) Anyway, if you eat it, eat very little, which really equated to almost nothing, so it might not be worth eating in the first place, especially if you like things spicy. Lol
  9. People don’t understand vegetarians here, so if you don’t eat meat be prepared to explain what that means and how people can accommodate for that since it’s not inherently known. You will also be asked various times if you want meat.
  10. To-go drinks come in a bag tied at the top, so when you want to take a drink you bite a hole into the corner and then must drink it all.

Permaculture at its best

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How do I describe permaculture? It is a way of interacting with the world in a manner that utilizes the way nature already works. Instead of doing things that may be against nature’s rhythmic flow, everything is done in such a way that encourages nature to do most of the work.

Snake-like pattern on a hillside

Snake-like pattern on a hillside

Let me describe what I see in the mountains of Ecuador to make this random logic sensible, and please know that my descriptions represent an accumulation of actions and not necessarily a completely sustainable cycle undertaken by every farm…. First let’s assume that each family has a farm with plants and animals.

For starters, when the farm is located on an incline, the plants are planted on the uphill portion of a back and forth pattern that may look like a snake slithering down the hill. When it’s time to water the plants, water is able to flow down this back and forth pattern until it reaches the bottom, and since the plants are planted on the uphill part of the pattern, they are soaked down through their roots easily. The downhill part of the pattern also gets plenty of water, but the uphill portion clearly gets the most. This type of planting keeps in mind what nature will already do, which is to soak the uphill part of the pattern while still flowing down the snake toward the bottom. It also doesn’t water unnecessary parts of the soil.

Organic farm on flat land

Organic farm on flat land

When the farm is on flat land, water doesn’t move as easily around a back and forth pattern. In this case, the plants are planted in rows like what is often used in the United States. There is little help from nature on flat land, unfortunately, so people must do what they can to provide water to the plants. This often includes using some sort of sprinkler system.

When it comes to water, there is also another great system occurring. The water comes from the mountain tops, where the land is saturated from being so high up in the clouds. Cement channels have been created all along the mountains from the top to the bottom which carries water down the hill. Each farm is allotted either a half hour or an hour, depending on their land size, to access the water that naturally flows past their land. This way, no electricity is needed to provide water, except for areas that have flat lands. Furthermore, in order to allow water onto the farm, the farmer digs out the mass of soil that is placed at the opening to the channel which acts as a plug, and it is easily filled back in when someone’s turn to water is over. It’s actually quite a brilliant environmentally friendly way to farm, and it is based on a shared system of water that moves naturally downhill.

Water flows through the channels and is allowed in through the hole in the channel which is otherwise blocked with soil

Water flows through the channels and is allowed in through the hole in the channel which is otherwise blocked with soil

To be even more permaculture-like, the food cycle is very ecologically friendly. Food is harvested from the farm, so there is no need to travel to ensure a food source. All left-overs are given to the dogs and pigs, so nothing goes to waste.

Plus, the pigs are eventually eaten creating a closed looped cycle of food processing. (I’ll discuss food more in another blog).

Organic farm on flat land

Organic farm on flat land

For times when there is yard waste, the vegetation is often given to cows, rabbits, or cuye (see the blog on cuye to learn about them), who are also eventually eaten. For the times when the vegetation is unsuitable for these animals to eat, it is thrown into a compost pile to help create nutrient dense soil for the next round of plants. Also, vegetable eating animals are rotated around the property in order to clear out spaces that are ready to be farmed again.

There is almost no packaged food that comes through the countryside (although the amount of plastic bags is a whole other topic) and there is equally very little trash that leaves the country side. Each family is able to support its needs in an ecological manner that utilizes a closed-loop system of food. This is truly a permaculture system, if ever I have seen one!