Month: May 2013

Global whutting?

Last Monday we visited San Francisco de Cotundo for the first environmental education class, led by Natalia, working for Andean Collection with the assistance of Lindsay from Runa Foundation and myself, who works for both. The class discussed the phenomenon of climate change and global warming in very general terms, as well as what different factors play a role in the growth process of plants and how this fits into the larger ecosystem. Most of the information being presented seemed to be new to them, all though the younger girls clearly did have some vague idea of what some of the terms entailed, as they have probably been discussed at some point in their education. The idea of processes on the other side of the world influencing the weather here and vice versa, seemed quite mind boggling to the artisans and it was only when I explained how my country might disappear for a great part if the icecaps melted, that some lightbulbs seem to light up. Additionally, they felt sorry for me and advised me to go get my family and move to Ecuador asap… Funnily enough though, their greatest fear for us was not that we would drown, but that we would be eaten by boas. I tried to explain to them that we don’t have boas, but they decided I just hadn’t seen them (yet) but that there is no such thing as “no boas”.

The second community we visited was San Pedro de Chimbiyacu. Most of the information seemed to be familiar to the artisans, all though not all could explain it in their own words. It was clear however that there had been classes like ours here before, as they knew all about organic pesticides (aji with water i.e.) and fertilizers. Also, they became very enthusiastic when they saw that Lindsay had brought a bag of dirt with earthworms, because they knew the value of these little creatures for the quality of the ground. Lindsay’s earthworms additionally taught me two things: 1) All though people from Napo eat fat, white grubs (alive) without thinking about it twice, they are terrified of earthworms…. 2) There is a rumor going round that we (gringos) eat earthworms ourselves and that they grow to be the size of snakes… I’m telling you, these snakes (boas) are everywhere!

“Slimy yet satisfying”, according to Timon. “Tastes like chicken” according to Pumba. I say, “tastes more like bacon.” and “one is enough, thankyou”

On Tuesday it was the turn of the ladies from Nueva Esperanza. I think this class was the most interesting one for Natalia, as there was quite a lot of interaction. Also, because most of the people present knew so much already, we got to go discuss the topics a little more in depth. It is incredible how big the differences between communities can be, even though they are practically neighbors and also how much one dedicated person can influence the atmosphere in a group of people. The presidenta of the artisans of Nueva Esperanza is such an inspiring person who grabs every opportunity that comes along with both hands and has shown the ladies around her what empowerment really is. If Kichwa people weren’t so fond of their private space (as I am as well, I must say) I would give her a hug.

General de Sucre FTW!

If you travel around Ecuador for a while, you will soon realize someone named Sucre must have been a pretty important figure. Every town has at least one main street or plaza named after this guy and before they started using the US dollar as the main currency, they had sucres. Quito’s beautiful theatre was named after this man as well, which looks like this:

Even though his name keeps popping up everywhere I never actually took the time to look into this guy’s legacy until today. And why today? Today is the 24th of May, which means it is a public holiday here in Ecuador to commemorate the Battle of Pichincha. Pichincha is another recurring name here. It is first of all, a volcano just outside Quito (which I hiked… sort of). It is also a province, a canton, a town, a large bank and a school, among others.

Let’s focus on the battle though, since it is what we owe this day off to! The battle of Pichincha took place in 1822 on the slopes of said volcano led by none other than our favorite general, Antonio José de Sucre. According to a children’s history book, this is how the final battle went down:

Sooo after a long battle, the Spanish were forced to retreat, sadly leaving Abdón Calderón, nicknamed the child hero, critically wounded. On May 25, 1822, Sucre entered with his army in the city of Quito, where he accepted the surrender of all the Spanish forces then based in what the Colombian government called the “Department of Quito”, considered by that Government as an integral part of the Republic of Colombia since its creation on December 17, 1819. So there you have it, the battle of Pichincha in a very small nutshell.

Looking into his life a little further I am a bit ashamed I did not remember more about General de Sucre from my Latin American history classes (sorry prof. Silva). This guy was the great Simon Bolivar‘s bff, whom he succeeded as president of Bolivia in 1825 but only after haven been president of Peru for a couple of months as well. Some life this guy had!

So today, I honor this man who fought for the independence of this beautiful continent and tried to keep it unified until his dying day (he was killed…). Que viva el general de Sucre! Que viva Ecuador!

Ecuatime #2

As a follow up to my previous post, here are some more things I have been doing the last couple of weeks:

Playing with the local kids!

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A visit to Zoologico el Arca in Cotundo:

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Also, went rafting, which I didn’t make pictures of but you probably catch my drift! It was really awesome and I must say that the food the prepared was definitely a highlight as well! I see that someone else DID make pictures of the lunch served by the guys at River People :
Photocredit: Nicola Fletcher

The intense satisfaction that I felt after this meal really proved that good food does not need to be complicated. at all. I must say that our lunch included home made (guayusa) ice tea which is obviously even better than what is on this picture above.

Happy days!

PS I LOVE LOVE LOVE the pineapple here in Ecuador!

PPS: I just remembered (couple of days after I first posted this) that our lunch also included home made bread!! *drool*


To my own astonishment, I haven’t posted a blog in more than two weeks! How did that happen? What have I been doing? What kind of mystic Ecuamonster gobbled up time? The evidence on my camera’s SD-card suggests that I have been doing stuff, so let’s just follow those clues…

I went to Salinas de Guaranda! Look:

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There is sooo much I can say about that place, I don’t even know where to begin. Salinas is a little mountain town in the Bolivar province where they have created a system of cooperatives that together form the “economía solidaria” that moves this incredible community forward. I was amazed beyond belief by all they had accomplished and how different the attitude of the people was here than elsewhere. Some history:

Salinas de Guaranda, in the central part of the Ecuadorian Andes, was one of the various communities of poor mountaineers whose only means of support was salt extraction from a mine owned by a big landowner of Colombian descent. The people of Salinas lived in poor conditions in a life of servitude and hard labor. In 1970 a group of Salesian priests arrived. They helped develop the region and taught the people to improve and develop their agricultural resources such as milk and cheese, which, till then had been used as self-sustenance. Through a system of micro credits they developed a great variety of small businesses that radically changed the history of these people. The economy in Salinas de Guaranda is based on the national and international selling of all sorts of high quality products, varyting from cheese, to sweaters, dried mushrooms, chocolate, essential oils and spicy sausages.
All of these businesses are run through cooperatives, that together form the “economy of solidarity” that characterizes this mountain town. All the products are sold under the fair trade brand “El Salinerito”, whose earnings flow back to the communities involved and help develop new initiatives and sustain those in need. Thanks to the hard work of the people and their community spirit, the salaries in Salinas are twice the national standard in all the communities spread around the mountains and the valley. There are schools and medical facilities that were built from their own savings, without support from the Ecuadorian government.

So we went there with about twenty members of the various guayusa producing communities that Runa works with to witness and learn from the forty years of experience Salinas has, working with cooperatives and helping their people forward. I could go on about this place forever, but I guess I’ll just leave it at this. Feel free to ask questions if you want to know more about this place and if you ever have the chance, I definitely recommend everyone to go have a look for themselves! More pictures of the area, the salisian priest that still lives there and the businesses of Salinas can be found here.

In the same week as the Salinas trip I had a couple of days of workshops with the artisans in the Cotundo area. They were very interesting, very intense days that taught me a bunch about their craft and maybe more about the dynamics within these groups and between them. I got to know all the ladies individually, their families and their life stories. It was intense, it was tiring, it was fun and useful.

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I visited the communities numerous times after the workshops, which I think is mainly what has been eating away at my time. All though I love visiting the artisans the biggest challenge over the last week or so has been dealing with the accounting. I have been highly frustrated with their envy towards eachother and petty issues that seem to get in the way of useful progress at times. Their is a lot of gossip and some old grudges that are hard nuts for me to crack. Luckily there are lots of moment of fun, laughter and generosity that make all the hard work worthwhile. It is a pity it wasn’t this group of people that made the trip to Salinas, though. The lessons of working together, learning from passed mistakes and keeping an open mind were so visible there and would truly be an eye opener for these women. I hope they get the chance to make this trip someday and see the value of truly working together and how it can help an entire community forward.



My House of Spirits

Today I discovered that if you click on the “New Post”-icon on WordPress it offers to help you out if you are looking for inspiration. I already had an idea of what I wanted to write about but I clicked on “Inspire me” anyway, just to see what would happen…

WordPress came up with the following:

Italo Calvino said: The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts. Describe the ghosts that live in this house

This threw all the writing plans I had straight out the window, because the house I am living in at the moment is definitely also housing some friendly jungle spirits that are worth mentioning. And when I say “straight out the window” I don’t mean the kind of windows that have to be opened and closed for anything to enter or leave. The windows in this house don’t really have glass panes but just gauze, which means whatever the weather is like outside it pretty much is inside as well. If it’s windy outside, it’s windy inside as well and if you are sitting in the wrong spot, you get wet when it rains. You get the picture. The gauze has some holes here and there so bugs and frogs always find a way in if they’re determined enough.

IMG_4750All though this house pretty much felt like home the minute I walked in, it has its quirks and peculiarities as well. The living room area has a crazy echo that, depending on where you are sitting, makes whatever is happening outside (and there is always something chirping, singing, screeching, scratching and rustling around here) sound like it’s happening right beside you. In the daytime this is very interesting, but it kind of looses its entertainment value at night…

And then there’s all the different beings living in the woodwork. I swear there must be a family of rodents living above the front door, which I am used to now but freaked me out in the beginning because it sounded like something/-one was constantly trying to get in.

So I guess they’re not really spirits or ghosts but actually creepy crawlies and crazy acoustics, but it’s still nice to think of this house as enlightened and protected by magical jungle spirits…