Month: April 2013

Bringing the ART into arthritis

I still have trouble believing it myself, but today was quite cold. It was drizzling when I woke up and it was pounding by the time I was well on my way. The bus ride from Tena to the little village of San Francisco, of which I am growing very fond, takes about thirty minutes. During the ride up there, I could see the streets becoming substitute rivers and I was glad that I had decided no to put on my sandals today (all though I did have them with me, in case the sun would come out. It didn’t).

I arrived early in San Francisco, so none of the artisans I would be meeting up with were around when I crossed the bridge. In fact, the whole town looked deserted, which gave me the chance to take some pictures without making anyone feel uncomfortable. This is what a gloomy day in San Francisco de Cotundo looks like:

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The rain here really does get under your skin. This actually happens quite literally, as many of the locals here have symptoms of arthritis revealing themselves at quite an early age. Cecilia, one of the artesanas, was telling me about a pain she had in her foot and I could see it was quite swollen inside her worn out flip flops. At first I thought she had been stung by some nasty jungle bug, but apparently it was “just arthritis”. After she had told me this, I noticed that her elbows and knees looked a bit out of proportion as well.

Apparently, arthritis is quite a common ailment in these parts of Ecuador. All though I believe there is a genetic factor playing a role here, the weather apparently influences those who are prone to it as well. Studies have shone that high humidity levels seem to make the disease manifest itself more aggressively, as does the cold. Which pretty much sums up today’s weather, even though what is considered “cold” here would be warm by the standards of other countries.

Anyway, Cecilia is such an amazingly sweet soul. She is actually quite new to the whole artesanía thing but she is very passionate about learning more and being involved. She is quite open, especially for kichwa standards and I really feel for her. I can tell her bones hurt when she stands up and some of the crafts she is learning are so demanding and require such precise hand work, that it must be hard for her to keep up. But she is and I applaud her for it. Well done Cecilia, bring the art into your arthritis….

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Stuff Ecuadorians do with corn

During my first couple of weeks I have noticed Ecuadorians do some pretty interesting stuff with corn.

Popcorn! That’s not unusual at all…. until you notice the small bowl that was brought to you during lunch was actually meant to go into your soup, sort of like croutons…. Like this:

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It tasted nice. The popcorn was salted, so it gave some extra flavor to the soup but I’m not sure if it’s something I will applying at home, even though I love popcorn! Maybe that’s exactly why I don’t want it floating in my soup…. just because it tastes better on its own. And now that I come to think of it, I’m just not really a soup-lover.

And then they makes these scary looking technicolor popcorn balls that they sell on the street. I haven’t had them yet but I’ve seen some messy, sticky, colorful kids munching away at them in the bus. Again, not the best way to fully appreciate popcorn in my opinion, but interesting in its own way…

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They also have popcorn that isn’t actually popped, it’s just toasted. I kind of like it but not in large amounts at a time. Vendors sell them on street corners or hop on the bus with a basket of little bags to sell to passengers and I’ve bought a packet  a couple of times (all though I prefer toasted “habas” or Fava beans, if they have them) and I like the saltiness of them, but they tend to be kind of dry as well, so if I don’t have enough water with me it’s not a good idea… This is what it looks like:

They eat regular corn off the cob a lot as well, and there is usually a couple of pieces of corncob in your soup during lunchtime, which you eat with your hands after you’ve finished the broth it has been swimming in.

And then, last but not least I must mention CHICHA! Everyone who has travelled through South America knows the stuff and I can’t really think of any gringo (besides maybe my dad) that actually likes the stuff. I guess it’s kind of like our Dutch drop, now that I come to think of it. You love it if you’ve grown up with it, you don’t get it if you taste it for the first time later on in life.

For those of you who have not been to this lovely continent and/or have not had the pleasure of being introduced to this (usually) alcoholic beverage, this is how it traditionally offered to you:

In the more tropical areas, like where I am now, chicha is often also made of the yucca-plant, which is a root that is one of the staple foods around here. I haven’t really compared the different varieties yet so I can’t really say if corn chicha is very different from yucca chicha. What I can say is that people can get extremely drunk, extremely quickly and that guayusa-tea seems to be the preferred hangover-reliever around here.

I really want to dedicate a blog to guayusa sometime soon, because it is such an interesting plant and it is so intertwined with the culture and traditions here that writing about the leaf, will clarify many other things about the region as well. The story is brewing in my head, I just have to learn a little bit more about it to feel confident enough to do it justice. Hope to see you then!

Kawsankichu?

… which is the Kichwa equivalent of “Hey, wassup?”, to which the proper response would be: “Kawsanimi, kikinka?”, meaning something along the lines of “I’m good, how about yourself?”, at least according to the Kichwa guide that is lying around here somewhere at the house. I’ll try it on some locals one of these days, probably sending them into a fit of laughter that they won’t recover from for days, but hey, I live to entertain…

Today I went to Parque Amazonico, which is on an island in the middle of the Tena river. You are supposed to get there by canoe, but when I got to the spot it was supposed to leave from, I could see it lying lazily on the opposite riverbank, with no one around to row it across to pick me up. The canoe-thing is actually temporary, since they are building a walking bridge at the moment that will make crossing easier (and more boring).

While I was sitting there, trying to mentally force the boat towards me, an Ecuadorian family arrived on my side of the riverbank and started yelling and whistling at the empty canoe. That didn’t work either… And then I saw that the people at the bridge construction sight had a wobbly looking cable cart on a thick wire stretching across the river and I jokingly said we should ask if we could cross on that thing… And of course they thought it was a genius idea…

The construction workers on the other side had already been whistling and “Hey baby, good morrrrning”-ing me when I walked past the first time so they were super excited to see us coming back towards their rivercrossing-thingy-me-jig. As we arrived they were just unloading a pile of logs and agreed to let us pass after they were done unloading. I thought we would be crossing two or three at a time but construction people are obviously not the most patient type of people and told us to all get on the cable cart and get it over with. All five adults. If I wouldn’t have been so apprehensive about the thing, I would have taken a couple of pictures because it really didn’t go very fast. I might go back tomorrow just to take some quick snapshots of the thing.

Anyway, the parque amazonico was nice, but nothing spectacular. It was beautiful, just like everything outside of the parque, with the main difference being that here the trees had signs telling you their names. There were also a couple of birds in cages, some wild jungle pigs and an ocelot, which was the highlight of the place. There are supposedly monkeys walking around in the park as well, but they didn’t show. I think they will improve the park once the bridge is up and more people will be making the walk across on a daily basis. After that I had lunch somewhere and went out to find some of the materials I will be needing to ship things back and forth to Quito. It went OK but at some point I just got tired of feeling sticky and icky and walked back home.

One of the things I really need to learn is to slow down. I haven’t been in a hurry to get anywhere these last couple of weeks but I just can’t seem to bring my pace down to South American standards. It’s ridiculous really because in Quito, at almost 3.000 meters it makes absolutely no sense to walk quickly, especially if you just arrived from sea-level. And then, here in Tena, walking at a normal pace (for European standards) just makes you sweat like crazy and then feel disgusting for the rest of the day…  But I will learn… just as I will learn some Kichwa and how to eat chontacuros.

Oh, I’m sorry… you don’t know what chontacuro is? A small tutorial on how to prepare chontacuro, just for you:

The new tenant in Tena

I travelled to the Napo-province last Wednesday and have settled down here in the home Runa has for its volunteers here in Tena. It’s a lovely place to be able to call home, with just the right amount of foreigners coming in and out to not be constantly stared at but not so many that the locals have lost their spontaneity with us gringos.

I met the people at Runa on Wednesday and went up to Alto Tena with them on Thursday to meet one of the communities there and shoot some footage for a promotional video one of the interns is making. Friday I went up to two different communities near Cotundo to meet the artisan groups there and introduce myself to them. It was great to get to know them and I am definitely going to do my best to learn some Kichwa, which I will be needing to keep up with the local gossip. I’ll tell you guys more about the stuff they make in a future post (when I actually understand more of it myself) but I can tell you right now that they make some really beautiful products just from the stuff they have growing in their gardens.

Artisans in San Francisco de Cotundo IMG_4734

The main goal at the moment is for the artisans to build their stock of seeds and pita-string so they can get straight to producing once the final designs have been chosen and ordered by the Andean Collection. I will be helping them through this phase and am excited for it all to take flight. I’m positive I will be learning tons from these women the following weeks.