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09 August 2009 @ 05:47 pm
If you read the last entry, you will understand why I strategically drank no water before taking the overnight bus back to Quito from Azogues. One 3am bathroom adventure was enough for me.

The very next night, Kate came! Paul and I took the last bus to the airport, which meant arriving there at about 10:30pm for her 1:30am arrival time. There´s only so much walking around, listening to music, and playing category games you can do before cold and fatigue set in, so you can imagine how delighted we were to see her come through customs at 3:00am!

It´s been fun to have Kate here. We spent 1 day with Germania and Paul here in Quito, specifically at the equator site, before crossing back into the northern hemisphere to the beaches and Don Dima´s house. Poor Kate, I´ve made her sit on so many busses. To kill time, we buy as many empanadas as we can from the vendors who jump on the busses at each stop. It´s a good game.

So we tried to head directly from Quito to a small beach town called Mompiche, but we ran out of busses and daylight before we got there, and ended up spending the night in a bigger town along the way. We found a hotel and got really excited about taking showers, but when Kate went into the bathroom and turned the handle, no water came out. It was a pretty standard hotel. We paid $8 per person per night, private bathroom, no hot water because it´s the hot coast and you don´t need it, but there should be some water. So I went down to ask the guy, and he said, "Of course, let me just go turn the water on!" And he did! So we strolled the boardwalk-like strip, ate dinner, walked on the beach, sipped pina coladas, and went to bed pretty early.

The bus to Mompiche came around 7 the next morning, and we hopped on and kept our eyes peeled for empanada vendors. There were no empanadas on the first bus, just a lot of gangster rap piped through the sound system, but when we changed busses at la Y, jackpot! Pastelitos of chicken and pineapple, and yuca con queso. Mompiche was not far down the road, past a few dusty clusters of houses, clothes lines, walls painted with political propaganda, people hanging out watching the street, and the requisite chickens, pigs, cows, dogs.

Mompiche was not much bigger than my little Estero de Platano, but it is something of a tourist destination. When we got off the bus we were followed by a cluster of young boys who tried to help us find a hotel. We declined their help and found one on our own. It was the second floor of a restaurant, 8 rooms, bathroom down the hall. We were shown one with two beds and a mosquito net, a working lightbulb and some candles, told that it would be $5 per person for the night, and we took it. We went right away to walk on the beach, which was beautiful. We walked away from the town, toward the rocky part where there were surfers, and stayed out until we got hungry. Lunch was shrimp with rice, lentils, patacones (fried green plantains) and salad. Oh, and at the comedor where we ate, the mom washed our shrimp in a basin of water, and then the daughter came along with the baby, who she bathed in said basin. Really good food, actually. By then the clouds had cleared a little and the temperature had heated up, so we grabbed our swimsuits and a juice-filled coconut and went back to the beach. The water is so warm and easy to get into!

Imagine if you will what had happened since the last shower: bug spray, sweat, sunblock, sweat, sunblock, bug spray, sweat, sunblock, sea water, sweat. So then you get back from the beach, grab your shampoo (which you now use as soap also, since your last thing of soap ran out and now it just seems excessive to carry two things to the shower), walk down the hall, close the bathroom door by attaching the little string on the door to the nail on the wall, undress, turn the lever on the shower, and then no water comes out. Imagine the feeling! Hehe. So you re-dress, give your sister the news, and walk downstairs to the kitchen where you tell them that either you haven´t figured out how to turn the water on, or there isn´t any. And then imagine waiting for a few minutes while the lady who is cooking goes to find the guy who knows about the water. And then he comes and you follow him back up to the bathroom and he does exactly what you did and announces that the water tank on the roof of the building must be empty. Just imagine! It´s fun!

Basically, I was told to wait while the tank filled up again, and then I could shower. So I waited a while, tried again, found no water, and gave up. But then the electricity went out. Which, I guess, is why the candles were there. So, dark and dirty, we had a candlelit dinner at a restaurant where the only other people eating were the family who got up from their meal to make ours. Then they served us and went back to their dinner. They explained that the electricty goes out for about an hour every night at 7pm. Ah. It was funny. My cleanliness scale has certainly been recalibrated since I got here. But everything was back on and running the next morning and we left for Don Dima´s house clean and full of breakfast and tree tomato juice.

More later,
09 August 2009 @ 04:50 pm
The week in Azogues was excellent. I really hadn´t planned to spend more than a night or two with the folks in Quito, and as much time in Azogues, if they could stand it, but they were so welcoming and fun and, well, I´m still with the family!

We took an overnight bus on Friday night, which was mostly fine except for the 40 minutes I spent stuck in the bathroom between 3 and 4 am. I locked the door, used the bathroom (which is not easy to do while bouncing and lurching along a bumpy, windy mountain road) and then tried to unlock the door. The latch wouldn´t turn back as far as it should have and the door wouldn´t open, and because it was the middle of the night, I didn´t want to bang on the door and wake people up. But someone must have heard me trying to open the door, because soon there were people outside the door shouting instructions to me, and then someone went to get the key from the driver, which still didn´t work, and then the bus stopped and the driver himself had to come get me out. Didn´t get much sleep that night.

Anyhow, Don Carlos and 10 year old Edwin met us at the train station and took us to the house of Mama Lola and Nube, where Angel and his brothers and sisters grew up. It was pretty neat to meet people and see places that, until then, had existed only in stories of the past. Because of an upset stomach (or fatigue or altitude or the suddenly cold climate), however, it was hard to appreciate any of it until I took a nap. But they were very concerned and took wonderful care of me, even made me aguas de manzanilla and anis.

The whole week was wonderful. On Sunday we went to mass en famille and then took a picnic up to the cerro Cojitambo, on Monday we spent the day in Cuenca and visited a cool museo de etnografia (and even had a video chat with the family in the US), on Tuesday we visited Ingapirca (a site of Inca ruins), and on Wednesday we cooked guinea pigs. That was really neat. We cooked at the house of Belgica and Gloria (aunts) and by the time I got there, the guinea pigs and chicken had already been killed, and were being prepared for cooking. You know how you stick a marshmellow on the end of the stick and roast it over hot embers? Well, with a slightly stronger stick you can do the same thing with a guinea pig! It was really good, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the chicken soup! Everything, actually, every meal, was hearty and delicious. In fact, one day they made a crab soup that would give any Baltimore chef a run for his money!

It´s hard now to remember exactly what happened each day, but I know they were spent with great people. Belgica, who is also a teacher, and I talked a lot about school in our respective countries. Javier and his cousins, who know more about American music than I ever will, always had their mp3 players with them and asked me to translate lots of song lyrics. I learned from Gloria, who cooks for the school, what a feat it must be for one person to cook lunch for just under 200 people every day. And I leared from all the women about helping fussy babies using raw eggs and matches. Mostly I learned that even when divided between two countries, even separated by many years and many more miles, there there is little in this world that is stronger than family.

On the last day there, we decided to visit some thermal baths. After LOTS of discussion with family and bus drivers about time, distance, money, and swine flu, we ended up taking a truck to a place called Yanayacu (man, now I can´t remember if that was it or not). In any case, it was about 3 hours from Azogues, toward the coast. The ride in the back of the pick-up was long (they´re repaving some roads) and more or less comfortable, but lots of fun. It´s amazing what a little Zhumir can do to help pass the time!

I had left my bathing suit at the house in Quito, not thinking that I would need it in the mountains. I had been told that I could probably buy one at the baths, but when we went to the little shop, it turned out that they didn´t have any. That is not to say, however, that they did not have swimwear. There are just a lot of people here who bathe in shorts and t-shirts. In fact, when I was living on the coast and did wear a bathing suit to swim in, I felt very exposed. So the little shop offered something like spandex shorts and tank tops for women, and that is what I swam in. First, though, we ate lunch. We had brought a picnic of rice with mote (big corn) and sausage, and some chicken (which, for the first time since I got there, I declined to eat, much to the consternation of the aunts. I had just reached - surpassed, really - my meat limit. I mean, I ate the rice, corn, and sausage. Don´t worry, Mom.)

Right, then we got in the baths, which were wonderfully warm and smelled slightly sulfuric, and swam and played and jumped and dived for hours and hours. Even the babies enjoyed the water. There were several different pools: one that was like a hot tub, one with some big rocks in the middle, one with slightly cooler water, and the one we spent the most time in, with really warm water and a gradual slope down to a depth of about 5 feet (being the American giant that I am, I was one of the few people who could stand at that depth).

Now, I have to qualify what I am about to write by saying that although these folks are definitely looking out for me and what must seem like my excessive water-drinking needs, there usually isn´t much drinkable water around, and well, I get thirsty. Especially swimming in hot water, you can imagine. So there wasn´t water, but there was definitely a lot of beer, and some Zhumir (aguardiente, or a very strong alcohol made of sugar cane), and suffice it to say that the ride home was really fun, a little blurry, and passed much more quickly than the ride there! When we got back to Azogues, we went up to the town fiesta and where we hung around for a while eating, dancing, and watching fireworks. It was an excellent day.
03 August 2009 @ 03:25 pm
I think the last time I wrote was about the great shoe mix-up, and yes Mom, I did bring Don Israel's shoes back to him. It was an epic journey.

Anyhow, safely back in Quito, I spent a few days with Germania and Paul, and unfortunately we had to put the birthday cake on hold because we got home too late to make it that day, and then left for a few days of countryside hiking early the next morning.

Paul and I decided to follow Lonely Planet's suggestion and travel the Quilotoa loop, as they call it, which is a bus/truck/hiking/whatever-else-you-can-find trip that you can start and finish in a city about 2 hours south of Quito called Latacunga. So that´s where we went first. And just to give you an idea of the size of Quito itself, it took us just as long (or longer, really) to cross Quito in a serious of buses and the metro as it did to get from the Quito bus terminal to Latacunga.

We didn´t really have a plan, but we knew that we wanted to go to the Laguna Quilotoa, which is a greenish, sometimes glowing, crater lake high up in the mountains about halfway along the loop. So in Latacunga we asked how to get there and were surprised when a few people directed us to a corner where we could wait for any number of buses to come along and take us there. Lonely planet, you see, made it sound far away and difficult to get to. So along came a bus, we asked if it was going to the Laguna, the driver said yes, and we hopped on. Well, no more than 10 minutes later, still well in the city of Latacunga, the driver nodded his head toward a city park with a small lake, and told us we were there. Who knew there were two lagunas around? False start.

We went back to the bus station, and it turns out that Lonely Planet was right after all. We´d first have to take a bus to a town called Pujili, and then go from there. We got to Pujili, where the weekly Wednesday market was in full swing, walked around there for a while, and then decided to climb the unending blue and yellow staircase that lead to a lookout point on a hill high above the city. Altitude, man, is a killer. And of course, I´m walking with a guy who is 19, and accustomed not only to the altitude, but to army exercise and activity at altitude. Anyhow, it´s good exercise, and the view from the top was of course, awesome.

But we wanted to reach the Laguna before night, so headed back down the bus stop, where as always, there was lots of discussion about what time the bus would come, why it hadn´t come yet, what might have happened, etc. I´ve learned that it´s really not worthwhile to ask what time buses will come. You can ask 3 different people at the same stop about the same bus, and you´ll get 3 different answers, all with the authority and confidence of the driver himself. But then, of course, the bus will come when it comes, and each of those 3 people will come up with some reason to justify their inaccuracy. It´s pretty funny, and makes for good bus stop conversation. But with all that in mind, when a pick up truck pulled up to the bus stop and the driver said "Quilotoa?" we hopped in the back.

The drive was definitely a highlight of the trip. We wound our way up into the mountains, crowded into the covered back of the truck with an old, be-hatted, be-ponchoed man and his rice sacks, an old lady wrapped in layers and layers of blankets and her rice sacks, another guy and his rice sacks, and some kids who were perched on the back edge of the truck. Our company changed along the way as people got on and off, most of them Quichua speakers, but the scenery was stunning from start to finish. The mountains were a patchwork of fields in shades of brown and green, at times dotted with the brightly-colored forms of of the people farming them, or llamas grazing, or houses both of concrete and grass. On the road we passed herds of llamas and sheep, lots of dogs out for a stroll, and people carrying loads on their backs I´m not sure I could even lift. In fact, we left the main road at one point to drop of a lady, her kids, and her rice sacks. I tried to help pass some of the sacks out of the truck, and was shocked at how heavy they were. There was one I could barely budge. The lady, however, who was probably my age, with a few kids, half my height and twice my width, swung it on her back, tied it on with a blanket, and marched off down the road with no problem at all.

The road was unpaved and the ride was bumpy and got colder and colder as we ascended the mountains, but the hours passed quickly and every change in the light, the clouds, the sun, the mountains made a new, spectacular pictures. It was dusk when we arrived in the tiny town of Quilotoa, which is not much more than a few hotels and little stores. The guidebook said that those have only sprung up recently in response to hiking tourists. We got a room in one of the hostels ($8 for the night, shared bathroom, with dinner and breakfast) and went to have a quick look at the lake before dinner. It was really cool and gloomy in the darkness, but it was also freezing at 3,800 meters or something, so we didn´t linger too long. There were two other guests at the hotel that night (a couple from Germany) and we ate soup and rice and meat with them in the cozy common room, heated really effectively by a nice fire. There was another fire in our room, the water in the shower was hot, and the blankets were many and heavy, so the cold was not unbearable.

After a 7:30am breakfast the next morning, we started walking and didn´t stop until about 3:00 that afternoon. We walked first down the crater to the lake at the bottom, and then back up, and then along the rim of the crater for a while, and then down a path to a small town, past the town, down a canyon, across a river (where the bridge had been washed out), back up the other side, and then finally along the road to the next town. Small town. We had some basic instructions from the guide book (walk along the rim of the canyon until the 3rd sandy spot, take the path just west of north, follow the row of eucalyptus trees, turn left at the graveyard, etc), but they didn´t always work for us and more than a few times we lost and refound the trail. Also, we neglected to bring snacks with us, but despite the hunger and altitude and fatigue and "off-roading" I couldn´t have been happier, or maybe it was because of all that. It was just such a beautiful place to walk and we really had a good time.

We didn´t really plan to spend the next night in Chugchilan (the town we walked to from Quilotoa), but when we got there and asked around, it turned out that there were no more buses out of the town that day. We could have asked someone to take us in a truck, but it would have been really expensive, so we stayed. There were quite a few other travelers in this hostel, which was funny, because Paul said he had no idea all these Gringos (they were all European except me, but apparently we´re all Gringos) were coming to Ecuador. And even funnier is the stereotype he now has of Gringos: we´re all tall, skinny, backpack-weilding vegetarians.

We got up for the 6:00 bus, which came around 7:00, and took us back along our route through Quilotoa to Zumbaruhua (I forget how to spell that one), where we got another bus back through Pujili to Latacunga, where we got another bus back to Quito, and then some more buses and the metro back to Germania and Paul´s house in Quito. That night we would take an overnight bus to Azogues where they grew up and where their family still lives.

More later.
Love, Gen.
21 July 2009 @ 11:33 am
Thanks to all for your concerns about safety. Everything turned out pretty well, and whether you call it drama or an exercise in intercultural communication, it´s over. Anyhow, what´s an international volunteer project without at least a little blood, sweat, and tears.

But here´s a funny story about some shoes.

Don Israel, well-digger extraordinaire, decided that it would be too hard to dig through the few meters of rock that separate the current depth of the hole from the water that surely lies beneath. The well, my friends, has been abandoned. We nailed a few boards on top, packed up the hammer and chisel, and marched solemnly down the hill. They´re going to try again during winter, which is the rainy season, in hopes that the earth will be softer than.

That was a Wednesday, and since the two other volunteers and I would all be leaving on Friday morning, Don Dima thought that we should all take Thursday off and enjoy the beach. Which we did. We went in the morning, and when we came back around noon to make lunch, we learned that Don Isreal had already left. He had taken an early bus back to his home in Cristobal Colon. Without even saying goodbye! He had been feeling sick since the previous day, and I guess neither the piece of string tied around his big toe, nor the cross drawn on the sole of the other foot with the burned end of a corn cob had done the trick. So off he went.

The next morning, as I was packing my backpack, I couldn´t find my hiking boots. A few items of clothing had gone missing from the clothesline during the previous weeks, and I can do without my khaki shorts...but seriously, I was sad about the hiking boots. So I mentioned it to Don Dima, who looked around the pile of shoes by the door, and lo and behold, there were Don Israel´s shoes (which, incidentally, he wore only once during his three weeks in Estero de Platano - for a picture with me, so that the American girls at home wouldn´t think that men from Manabi never wear shoes).

It turned out that Don Israel had gone to the bus stop, as always, shoeless. When Don Dima realized that his brother didn´t have his shoes, he went back for them. Unfortunately, though, he picked up mine instead, put them in a bucket, put the bucket under the bus, and off they went. And since I really have nothing more pressing to do this month than track down a pair of shoes, I decided to follow them.

I knew the name of the man who had my shoes, and the name of the town he lived in, and that seemed like enough. It took a few busses, a truck, and about 6 hours to get to the town. One other lady got off the bus when we did, and there was no one else in sight. (Bus stop = side of the road near a farm and a house). She lived in the town, but, alas, did not know Don Israel Espinosa. We walked toward the town and the next fellow we asked said he wasn´t from there. Eventually we got to something a little more promising, with a comedor and a store, and the folks in the comedor said that Don Israels house was a ways down the road, but that the man himself was just down the road making a phone call! They were pretty amused by the shoe business.

We walked over to the cabinas and sure enough, there he was, looking awfully confused to see us. I think he thought that Laura had decided to take him up on his insistent offers to marry her and let her work on his farm, after all. Sadly, we were only there for the shoes. He found a guy with a motorcycle who went back to his house to retrieve them. We had an hour or so before the next bus came, so we ate at the comedor, and Don Israel kept trying to convince Laura to marry him, to no avail. Poor guy.

We got back to Mindo really late that night, and took the bus to Quito the next afternoon. I´m still in Quito, staying with Angel´s sister, brother, and his sister´s baby. They have been so welcoming, and have helped me with so much - not the least of which was the first hot shower I´ve had and the first real bed I´ve slept in since I arrived. Germania has been cooking delicious food, and will hardly even let me help with dishes. I offered to make a 1-2-3-4 cake for Paul´s birthday tomorrow...here´s hoping it will measure up!

I hope all is well on the homefront.
Until next time,
13 July 2009 @ 03:21 pm
It´s been a dramatic week. I tried to update livejournal on Tuesday of last week from the nearby town, but they lost their internet connection while I was there and I couldn´t send any messages.

I should start by saying that a couple of factors have contributed to the drama of the week. First, I speak decent Spanish. Second, I love to talk to people. Third, I´m here to learn and I learn by asking questions. Finally, if I learn something that I think is unjust, how can I not say anything about it. Also, M., the director of the project, established himself early on as a untrustworthy person, and G., the guy who works for M. here at the coastal site just frustrates me because he is so controlling and arrogant. G. had left Estero de Platano for the weekend, and was supposed to return on Monday, but didn´t. That night I had a long talk with Don Dima and his brother. He told me that M. doesn´t pay him for having volunteers stay at his house. This brought up a lot of skepticism that both of us had about the project. Similar ideas have since come up in conversations with other people in the town. Here are some things I learned:

1. M. said that the volunteers wanted to move from the original cabana by the river because it was always full of pigs, chickens, and dogs, and because the site on the top of the hill was more scenic. People here say that they had to move because one of the four brothers who owned the land didn´t want them there. This of course raises the question of how the house got built in the first place.

2. M. never talked with the townspeople about his project or gave them any opportunity for input or participation. The big question is what is the goal of the project. Ostensibly it is to increase the environmental consciousness of the people in the town, thereby cleaning and protecting their living space, to teach them about sustainable, organic agriculture, and to bring Don Dima a bit of income, all by way of the farm/trail/chocolate/restaurant project. Most of the people I´ve talked with have no idea about that, and think M.´s resources would be better spent on education-related projects.

3. This all relates to the general lack of communication with the townspeople. One family I talked with couldn´t understand why the volunteers would stay hidden away on Don Dima´s land and not interact with the people they were ostensibly there to work with. I asked G. about it and he said that it was better not to talk with them. Well, he said that that was what M. had said and that he agreed because, he said, they basically don´t know what´s best for them. He asked Don Dima about the junta parroquial and he said that whenever they get money together for some project it disappears mysteriously. This, apparently, was support for the idea that they don´t know how to organize anything about shouldn´t be consulted about the project. The people here say that the vast majority of the volunteers don´t speak Spanish.

4. Don Dima houses, feeds, teaches, and generally looks after the volunteers. He does not get paid. He thinks he should earn just a minimal mount per volunteer per night, and I agree. He won´t say anything to M. about it. He feels that M. is taking advantage of him and people in the town agree. M. gives him no notice as to when volunteers are coming or going, decides what work they will do without planning with Don Dima, and has started projects that were left unfinished when volunteers left, sometimes leaving Dima to clean up the undone work, which, in one case, required him to pay people to carry pieces of giant bamboo up the big hill.

5. I have a problem with the house on the hill anyway. Don Dima was in the middle of building his own house there when M. came along and asked if he could put his there, without compensating Dima, and did.

6. This is not surprising to the townspeople. They have seen other volunteer groups come and do nothing but work and live in isolated places, sometimes in really really basic accomodation. My own accomodation is of little concern to me, but one woman in the town that it was shocking that volunteers would spend all day working, sleep on the floor, and eat basically rice and bananas all the time when they come to experience a new culture, to learn, and to exchange ideas with people. She was so proud of the way she rescured a different volunteer group from their disaster of a project (they were left to sleep on the beach) with her clean home, proper beds, good cooking, and entertaining family. She said that in that case, the volunteers got together and went to the president of the foundation and fired the local leader who had left them on the beach.

7. Finally, after a food shopping trip to Tonchigue last week, I leared that food is really cheap. G. came back from his weekend with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, coffee, and toilet paper - not really sufficient for the week. So we went on Tuesday afternoon to fill in the holes. Eight lbs of potatoes, a big bag of carrots, one of peppers, a melon, soap, and some other things came to $5.95. The big question that Don Dima, the volunteers, and some townspeople have is where does the $250 that each volunteer pays per month goes. Don Dima says that M. has bought some materials, but so has he, and so have previously volunteers (who were asked by M. to pitch in). M. told Dima that the money also goes to the volunteers´ transporation, but in my case and in the case of the 4 other volunteers I have met, that has not been true. We paid our own ways here. People here are very suspect of volunteer projects. Well, not of the volunteers themselves, but of the organization.

So yes, the project, for more than just the reasons I mentioned here, seems thrown together haphazardly and carried out ineffectively, but I would be happy to chalk it up to cultural differences in planning, organization, and work if it weren´t for the dissatisfaction of the people in the pueblo, principally Don Dima.

On Thursday, things got even more dramatic. Don Dima came to talk with me privately as we were picking coffee beans. He asked me what question I had asked G. that had upset him so much. I had no idea. I ask so many! And G. is not a man who likes to be questioned about anything. Oh well. I can´t help it. Dima said he wanted to know because G. told him he was going to call M. and ask him to come on the weekend and take me to work at another site. Don Dima figured that it was either because I was asking too many questions and talking to too many people, or because G. was in love with me and was jealous that I was talking so much to Don Dima. Ha! Anyhow, he asked me not to leave, even if M. wanted me to work elsewhere, and I said I´d stay.

My life has never been so like a soap opera. Everybody has an agenda, there are so many secrets, so much gossip, and so many people who tell you something and then tell you not to tell anyone else.

Then on Friday, things got even more dramatic! One of the neighbor girls called us in from our morning of cacao picking because Don Dima´s daughter had arrived from Quito. She was there with her husband, daughter, 2 ¨spiritual sisters¨ (turns out they were all Jehovah´s witnesses, which is a crazy story by itself, but that will have to wait for another time) and another family friend. She knew that her father had been working with a volunteer group and wanted to have a look for herself. She asked why we were here, like, what was the goal of the project, and I had to say that I didn´t really know, which of course we all thought was strange. I told her everything I had learned and had questions about. I gave her my name and contact information, as well as M.´s and she gave me hers. She intends to talk to M. directly, which I feel great about. Don Dima has so many doubts, but is afraid of upsetting M. I think he could use an advocate. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about the bible, the ¨true¨ cause of cancer, the origin of male ear piercing, etc. with the Jehovah´s witnesses, and then just as they were about to leave G. came back, and as he represents the project, he found himself right in the line of fire. I felt bad about this at first, but he answered all of the daughter´s questions with such baseless arrogance and condesencion that I didn´t really mind.

Then on Saturday, things got even more dramatic! M. arrived with two more volunteers. He and G. had spoken briefly on the phone so he knew a little about what had happened. I told him what happened, and I certainly don´t feel bad about it. If he has legitimate answers to the daughter´s questions, then he can tell her, and if he doesn´t then Dima can pull himself out of the project. It was a bit awkward, but fine. And then I went dancing.

You might think that all that drama wouldn´t leave much time for work, but really we´ve managed to continue working on the well, clear some land for planting, pick and sell cacao, avocados and coffee, and dig a worm bed/compost heap, and finish the roof on the house on the hill.

Oh. I was cutting wire to attach the dried leaves to the bamboo frame of the roof, and sliced the top of my finger with the machete I was using. It was kind of crazy. I just called out that I had cut myself and ran down the hill. The girl I was working with said she followed the trail of blood drops down the hill. G. and Don Dima thought it was much worse than it was and looked for the top of my finger (which was really quite attached and in tact) before running down themselves. The neighbor grandmother came over, told me not to go to the dispensario, and put something hot pink on my finger. I´ve just been keeping in clean and changing the dressing regularly. About a million children come to watch each time I do that. It´s getting better. I mean, I´m typing this just fine. They won´t let me work in the well, though, because it´s so dirty and dusty, and they don´t want me to wash my clothes anymore because it will get wet in the dirty river.

So basically, the experience is GREAT, in spite of the project itself. And Kate, I´ve already asked Don Dima if I could bring you to visit him when you come. He wouldn´t even hear of you being in the country and not coming to see him!

There´s SO much more I´d love to write, but my time is up. Love to all, Gen.
05 July 2009 @ 11:41 am
I think the last time I wrote Gonzalo and I were making a trail from the river where the houses are up the the top of a big hil/cliff where future volunteers will live and farm crops. Well, since then we finished the trail and have started on a well, in order to have water at the top the hill. For the first few days, the man whose house we stayed in was gone. He had gone to a town a few hours away where his brother lives, in order to bring him back to Estero de Platano to dig with well. It turns out that Don Israel (the brother) is an expert well digger. His first order of business, after we had lugged our tools (and actually I think I now know more names of tools in Spanish than I do English), like hoes, pick axes, shovels, and of course a few machetes, up the hill, was to find the right spot to start digging. To do this, he pulled from his pocket a small glass bottle that dangles from a string. He walk all around the hill, dangling the bottle until it started to spin in circles. There, he said, was the spot. I´m still not sure what was in the bottle. So we started digging. We made two smallish holes and inserted a piece of giant bamboo into one of them, and the trunk of a small tree to the other. We tied another piece of giant bamboo across the top, as a cross bar, and Don Israel brought out the bottle to double check the spot in between the two posts. Sure enough there would be water. So using two sticks and a a piece of rope as you would a compass, he drew a a circle in the dirt between the posts and we started digging. We´ve been digging for 3 days, and have a hole that is about 2 meters deep. We were able to use a shovel at first, because the earth was soft enough, but eventually we got to something more like sandy rock, and for the past 2 days have been using a hammer and a chisel. So we´re making progress, but slowly.

It´s been pretty peaceful work, though. There are four of us, but since being efficient is not exactly a priority, or much of a concern at all, really, we take turns work. Each one (Don Dima, 65 years old and owner of the house and farm where live, Don Israel, his 70 year old brother and well digging expert, Gonzalo, leader of the project at this coastal site, and me) takes a turn digging, or chipping away, at the hole for about 45 minutes or so, and then comes up to rest while the others take their turns. So there´s a lot of time to sit and chat, and the site is beautiful. It´s at the top of a big hill, well, more like a cliff, that drops down to the ocean. It´s always warm and breezy, and each morning between about 10 and noon, some whales swim by. We can see their tails flip and the water they blow out of their holes. The project has a pair of binoculars that we bring sometimes. If we get hungry, we can grab some mandarinas from a tree, or something, or sometimes I go back down to the house and make juice or bring water or something.

I think things will change again next week, though. On Friday evening, Milton (co-leader of the whole project) arrived with the two new volunteers. We are thinking about moving from Don Dima´s house to a hut that was inhabited buy the last group of volunteers who were here. It was recommended that we stay with Don Dima in the first place because there were too many chickens, pigs, and children coming into the other hut, but now that there are three of us, it´s a bit tight. Also, with more of us, we´ll have to divide up and not all sit around watching the well. I think we´re going clear an area that will later be used for agriculture at the top of the hill.
29 June 2009 @ 03:10 pm
I have moved from Mindo, the main site of the project, to a small village called Estero de Platano. It´s a very small fishing village right on the coast, and I´m staying up the river a little bit in the house of a guy named Don Dimo. There are a few houses clustered there together, and a bunch of little kids who are pretty fun.

Kate, do you remember the little house we visited when we stayed in the jungle? We went there one evening on the boat...it´s the place where we were told to maybe bring a few things (pens, etc) to the children there. This place is very much like that.

The Biomindo group is working with the people here to protect the forest and maybe bring a little local tourism to the area, mostly to raise awareness of the importance of conservation. They haven´t had volunteers here for a few months. The last group that came started building small house at the top of a hill with a stunning view of both the vast Pacific on one side, and the little town on the other. They also started to build something like a nature trail. The idea is that people, local school groups, etc, could walk along it, stopping to read or listen to information about the flora and fauna along the way. So for this next group of volunteers (just me for now, but there will be two more coming probably sometime this week), the plan is to finish the house atop the hill and move in there (it´s getting a little crowded at Don Dima´s) to make a trail through the forest that leads up to the house (which is what Gonzalo - the guy in charge of this site for Biomindo - and I have been working on, and then to build a bridge across the river. That´s another thing. In order to get from the road to Don Dima´s farm, and then up to the Biomindo house above, you have to cross a river. In the afternoon it´s easy enough to wade through, but in the morning when the water is higher people have to take their pants off to cross. It´s kind of fun to watch the schoolchildren on their way to the school.

Anyhow, that´s the work part of things. And I guess that´s mostly what´s been going on. Aside from making the trail through the forest, we pretty much make food and talk with people. I think Uma would have a bit of a fit in the kitchen. (I´ll post pictures somewhere and let you know where they are.) Oh, and they´re doing construction on the the road, and have cut the water every now and then. So sometimes we have water, and sometimes we don´t. There were some other fun things, too, like the trip here in the first place. We left Mindo at about 5:30 on Friday morning so that we wouldn´t be driving during the hottest part of the day. Milton (of the couple in charge of the project) just bought a jeep, which takes a bit of coddling to get started, and maxes out at about 30 or 40 miles an hour. So it took most of the day to get to the coast, and we didn´t even come directly to Estero de Platano. We spent the night in a beach town called Atacames. It was really misty in the morning and almost impossible to see through the windshield, so we had to put it down, which meant that we just got really wet. We picked up some kids on the way to school and dropped them in the next town, we visited people Milton knew along the way, including a lady who makes chocolate from the cacao plants at her farm (they´d like to include chocolate-making at the site in Estero de Platano, so we had to learn how), we picked up a motorcycle that doesn´t work yet, so the Estero site could have a vehicle, things like that. Oh and the next morning we bought some fish from the fishermen who were just coming in at another town between Atacames and Estero de Platano. They went right in the back of the jeep with the motorcycle, backpacks, and sleeping bags, and are now safely stowed in someone´s refrigerator (Don Dima doesn´t have one).

So, the people are really friendly. One of the neighbor ladies has brought over fruit a couple of times, and we play with the kids. The work is good, too. I´m getting callouses on my hands. The earth is pretty hard up on the hill and Gonzalo asked me this morning as we worked on the trail if the earth was hard like that where I live, or softer. Good question, right? I´m speaking only Spanish, and learning lots of vocabulary - fruits, tools, words related to agriculture, etc. And when nothing else is happening, like in the evenings, people just hang around, talk, listen to the radio.

I´ll try to post some pictures now.
25 June 2009 @ 03:59 pm
I learned how to use a machete today. We cleared tall cow-grazing grass from a section of the reserve. My machete skills are still, of course, a bit lacking, but I think I will have plenty of time to improve.

This morning we made empanadas de queso for breakfast. Barbara used flour, eggs, baking powder, salt, hot water, and oil to make a dough, which we formed into balls and flattened into small circles. We filled the little circles with cheese, closed them, and fried them in oil. When they were cooked we sprinkled sugar on top and ate them with hot chocolate.

I used the new shower today for the first time. The water-heating system is modeled after a sunflower. There is a long coil of black tubing that sits on top of a platform made of bamboo strips that can be turned to face the sun at various time of the day. The water in the black tubes gets warm, and is then pumped to the shower. And since we had to move all the pipes yesterday in order to serve the new shower (which was created to have a more effective waste water filtration system) I learned a (very) little about plumbing, and a bit of plumbing vocabulary.

The other 2 volunteers who where here when I arrived have gone. One went to do something like research for the reserve, taking pictures at another project somewhere, and the other has continued on with his travels through South America. Tomorrow I will go with Milton and Gonzalo (from the reserve) to another location they have on the coast, somewhere near Atacama. The town is a fishing village - not so much fishing as an industry, but fishing to eat, and there is more agriculture at that site than here. I´ll probably stay there for another week or two.
24 June 2009 @ 02:42 am
Mindo is gorgeous. It´s a small town of dirt roads, mostly contructed houses and very friendly people surrounded by green mountains and often covered in clouds.

The reserve itself is really neat. It´s run privately by a couple (half-German, half-Ecuadorian) that is working to protect an area called El Bosque Protector Mindo Nambillo. The forest itself is not inhabited, but an area surrounding it is and most of the revenue in the region comes from tourism. This project aims ensure that that tourism happens in a responsible way. They say that for the most part people come for specific activities (canotaje, pescado deportivo, repelling, bird-watching, studying butterflies, etc) and that they would like to have more interconnection between the things that bring people here. For example, one project involves making an inventory of the biodiveristy in the region of Choco, so that, for example, the guides who take people tubing can know something about the birds, or so that those who come to study the butterflies have more knowledge of the plants that sustain them.

There is also a lot of work to do at the site where we live. The building are mostly made of organic materials like bamboo, adobe, and leaves and the water and sanitation systems are self-contained and sustainable. So there is plenty to do to maintain these things. For example, this morning the two other volunteers (from Germany and Israel) were working on a new shower building. I went to work on a bamboo house in the town.

We take turns cooking. Last night we had rice, cooked vegetables and salad, this morning we had left-over rice and vegetables plus pancakes, and for lunch we had rice and salad. There are containers of drinkable water, which I have been advised to drink for the first few days, but they say that after a little while everybody gets used to the water from the tap that runs through their filtration system.

I´ll post pictures on facebook in a few days. The have a site on the coast, and we´re going there tomorrow, so I´ll post again when I can.
22 February 2007 @ 10:36 pm
Some of my best conversations so far have been with taxi drivers.

Taxis seem to be the best way to get around Lima. There's no subway, and I've seen no signs of public buses. Anyone who writes the word "taxi" on his car, though, is a taxi driver. There are secure taxis which are regulated and significantly more expensive than others, regular taxis, of which some driver are legit and others not, and ticos, which are about the size of a toaster and apparently as safe as being wrapped in tin foil if you end up in a crash.

Surprisingly, I have seen no such tragedies. The Lonely Planet guide uses the word "frenetic" several times over to describe the streets of Lima, and I absolutely know why. From about 7am on, horns and car alarms provide a constant background to the cars and trucks that careen around corners, change lanes without warning, and threaten to flatten any pedestrians who can't jump out of the way fast enough. Especially those in so called crosswalks. The combis drive up and down their designated routes, a worker inside hanging out the window yelling and waving to get people to hop on. These combis are large vans or small buses, usually privately owned, that tend to run up and down the big streets all day long. Wherever you happen to be along the street, just wave your hand and for 1 sol ($.30), you hop on, and hop off again wherever you like. Cheap, slow, unreliable, and apparently very unsafe. I have been advised never, ever to take one.

One of the gap students I live and work with, in all his 18-year-old-fresh-out-of-school-never-lived-alone-or-traveled-abroad wonder, took a video of our taxi ride home yesterday. He's from a small town in Australia and wanted to show the folks at home just how exciteing an afternoon commute can be. I was sitting in the front seat talking with the driver. When the taxi attempted to make a right turn from the left lane and nearly collided with a combi turning left from the right lane, the driver turned to me and said, "See, that's Lima. I looked and saw him, and he looked and saw me, but we didn't stop. We kept going but we didn't hit. Everybody is like that in Lima.

The driver today wanted to know, as everyone does, what I'm doing here, where I'm from, how long I'm staying, and the like. I'm getting quite good at answering those questions now that I've done it a few times, but when the conversation turned to his 4 year old daughter learning English, American hip-hop culture, and why the Australian in the back seat wasn't saying anything, I had to work a bit harder. People tend to be patient, though. They don't mind saying something twice, and usually slow down the second time, and they never (unlike the French I'm so fond of) correct my communicative attempts. This is good for me, and gives me the confidence I need to speak more and more. If only I could feel that same confidence each time I cross a street.