May 7th, 2017
After spending a couple of days in Quito (the capital city of Ecuador), then descending into a crater while laying eyes on a breathtaking volcanic lake close to Latacunga, and then standing at the foot of the active and snow-covered volcano Cotopaxi, I decided that it was time to go and give something back to this land of wonders. I found a volunteering placement on a finca north of Quito, where I would suppposedly learn all about organic agriculture. While making my way over suicidal roads and through villages that are non-existing according to Google Maps, guided by nothing but some rather vague indications on which busses to take, little did I expect to arrive to what in the first place was a meditation centre more than a farm. But so I was.
The 70 year old running the centre and its surrounding farm (its only purpose lying in feeding us, lucky volunteers, it seemed) soon showed to be an endlessly fascinating and strongly opiniated woman with – it must be admitted – one foot still in the eighties. A bottomless well of incredible stories, she did not fail to share with us the many miraculous events that had taken place during the centre’s glory days (like, for example, an instance of miraculous food multiplication closely resembling the biblical feeding of the 5000 – be it in this case ‘only’ a hundred mouths to feed with four ample cups of rice and one chicken, and the one responsable for the miracle being the saint depicted on a stamp glued to the kitchen cabin). Other unbelievable stories were about the three years she lived in an ashram in India and about mysterious things happening that she attributed to the indigenous ancestors that used to live in this region. On a sidenote: during my stay here in Ecuador, and also in Colombia, I have found that believing in higher powers and/or the spiritual presence of former generations and, more in general, to have any faith at all, is much more common and accepted than it is in Europe. One of the farm’s working men that gave me a ride back to Quito by the end of my stay, shared with me a comparable amount of unimaginable things that had happened around the time that he and his family were cutting their way to the jungle in order to build their farm up in the mountains (think: voices coming out of the forest, phantome men in the dark that vanish as you approach them, rambling earth that leaves the house shaking on foudations). In most cases the acknowledgement of such supernatural powers effortlessly goes side by side with a devote catholicism – the one does not exlude the other.
During my two week stay not only did I learn about local agriculture and a variety of typical South American crops, also I had the luxury to come to a much desired rest. I had the opportunity to search within myself, challenge my body physically and find my zen (yup, I am turning into the traveller’s cliché) – meanwhile eating the most amazing food coming straight and fresh from the land, prepared by magical hands (I think I gained at least five pounds during the first week). Two weeks to feel like the luckiest person in the world (I realise that I belong to the lucky few who get this opportunity). I only had to look out of the window to see two rivers (one crystal clear blue and the other one brown) come together in front of the house in a unique swirl of colours, got to paint my very own future hut up in the country (that’s where I’ll live when I come back, duhh), spontaneously took a swing over a canyon, got to wash my work sweat off in a magically hidden waterfall canyon down the road, woke up with yoga and meditation to the sound of he river every morning (at 5:30!) with my volunteer besties, got attacked by a thousand wasps while picking oranges (result: watermelon head for a couple of days), and saw a handful of snakes in only a couple of days without panicking. All in all another great experience – nothing at all like I expected, but way better.
As I write this, I am on my way to another workaway that is closer to the coast. The landscape is once again wonderful and the mountainsides are covered in trees – it’s comforting to see that amidst all deforestation there’s still also some sites like this (Ecuador is one of the most deforested countries in the world, they say that only 1-2% of the oroginal forest remains). The next two weeks are supposed to be all about permaculture, organic agriculture, and a reforestation project. But hey – you never know what happens (I might end up restoring a meditation centre in the middle of the jungle).
May 13th, 2017
Well, that sure all went different than planned again. I left the finca this morning one week earlier than planned, for it wasn’t all quite as I hoped for. The only thing I want to say about it: I hope I will never and up being so disillusioned and bitter in the bush for following my dreams. For now I have decided to take a beach break for a couple of days to kick back, get my head around a couple of things, and get some sun (my belly is still light in the dark after all these months, and that simply won’t do any longer). Despite it’s slightly bitter ending (the host silenced me for an entire day after I gave my early severance), this week also offered me some unforgettable experiences: I could hear monkeys howling over breakfast, had super healthy food coming directly from the land (lost my five extra pounds again), lost my irrational fear of frogs and totes (I found a tote in my boot two times), and saw three big fat tarantulas in only two days (of which one in my bedroom). Main revelation of this week: I am absolutely utterly unimpressed when facing a spider.
Now, if you’ll excuse me – I am going to lie on the balcony with my fresh coconut water, for the first time in my life being able to tap it straight from the source.
May 19th, 2017
Summary of my week a la playa: learned to drive a motorcycle, danced salsa on the beach, made many new friends, on antibiotics for an infected burn mark (woops), galoped down the beach on a bloody fast horse, fresh seafood every day. Next stop: Cuenca. From Monday onwards I’ll be working on a farm near Vilcabamba – very excited.