Category: Ecuador

Tenacity of Tena City

All though I have been trying to deny it, it is time to face the reality of the fact that my time in Napo has run out. I postponed my departure a couple of times but tomorrow morning I really do believe I will be sitting on a bus back to Quito, where I will spend a couple of more days before I fly back “home”. Home between parenthesis because, as big ol’ Pumba once said, “Home is where the rump rests”, and Tena has become a place where my rump has become very comfortable doing just that. But that’s not all it has done! Hiking, running, jumping, swimming, swinging, rafting, cycling are all things I have done here as well and there is still so much left to see and do!!

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If I look back at the goals I wrote down at the beginning of this adventure, I see that my first goal was to create a network for myself that would help me forward in some way. I feel I have definitely succeeded in this. The people I have met here at Runa are people I have come to think very highly of and I am sure that they would let me pick their brains about anything they have stored up there at any given time. There is an incredible amount of know-how walking around in that little office in Archidona and I feel proud and happy that I can call them my friends.

Another goal I wrote down was to learn a bit of Kichwa. I feel I could have done more in this area but the little words that I did learn and applied, were definitely appreciated by the people I set them loose on. These too are people I have grown very fond of and I will miss them dearly. With a little help from the world wide web I might be able to stay in touch with some of them but I definitely wish the very best for them and I will cherish all the memories I built with the mamacitas in those beautiful villages by the river.

This brings me to the next goal I wrote down, which was to take a lot of nice pictures. I’m not sure if I took any pictures that I will be hanging on my walls but they definitely captured a lot of nice moments. It makes me happy to think I can take their smiling faces with me and show them to my friends in Holland. I will tell them how the mamacitas in San Pedro de Chimbiyacu made fun of me all the time because of how lousy I was at the work that I was supposed to be supervising them in. They laughed at how little I knew about housekeeping, raising children and food. The teasing lightened up my trips to these communities, all though it did make me realize the necessity of goal nr 2 on my list. I’m sure I missed at least half of the jokes that were made at my expense, all though it was always in good fun.

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Making fun of the gringa, FUN!

 

The next goals I wrote down were just goofy fillers I jotted down to fill up the page a bit at the time, like “learn to use the word chevere” and “take nothing for granted”. To my own delight I did succeed in the first one and I will make sure to introduce it back home; who knows it might catch on… As far as the sappy second one goes, it is actually surprisingly easy to get used to all the greenness, the incredible landscapes and the many gorgeous rivers, waterfalls and beaches that this area possesses. The fact that just looking at a seed here makes it start to sprout has almost become a nuisance and all the birds and insects that fill the evening air have become normal background noises that I hardly pay attention to (except the roosters… if only they would fade into the background). So it was actually not a bad one to mention in the end and writing this has made me realize that it’s time to use my 5 senses again to appreciate what is going on around me.

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Thank you Runa for focusing my energy in such a positive way.

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The Almighty Boa

Living in Ecuador these past couple of months has meant answering the same questions every day, starting with the inevitable “Where are you from?”. I have wondered how often un-Dutch-looking people get asked that in the Netherlands… Not very often, I’m guessing… And I’m not saying that is a good thing! There is some genuine interest in “the other” that stems from that question and it makes room for conversation. I think we Dutchies are missing out by overprotecting our personal space that way…

I’m from Holland. Where are you from?

The second most frequent question I get asked is probably “How are you liking Ecuador so far”, followed by (after me saying that I love it here) “Are you married?”. The fastest way to stop a conversation like that, would probably be saying that I am married and very happily so…. but I just can’t do it… I am a bad liar and I think that’s kind of a good thing…

Anyway, the marriage question has sometimes led to questions about religion and it has forced me to put into words what I do and don’t believe. I think the first time the topic arose, I just kind mumbled something about being “spiritual” but not religious, even though people that call themselves “spiritual” have always made me kind of itchy… So when confronted with the question again by Bertila, the most outspoken Kichwa woman I have met so far, I decided to formulate a more accurate answer.

I am definitely not religious, all though I went through a phase of admiration as a kid. My parents read the children’s bible to me as a bedtime storybook and I attended church on various Sundays with friends. As I was talking to Bertila the other day however, I came to the conclusion that I think being a good person is very important but I don’t need to be threatened into good behaviour by someone who claims to hold some special truth they have learned from some cryptic scripture. I want to be a good person and I think that is better motivation than whatever any cleric of any religion can demand of me. If at the end of all of this, some deity turns up to judge me, I think I will be OK…

All though some of Bertila’s friends gasped when I said the words “I do not believe in god”, Bertila nodded eagerly and said that she agreed with me completely because she knew some priests that were sinners themselves and the hypocrisy had always bothered her. On a sidenote though, I must say that I kind of like this new pope! I know I am not the target group and it is quite paradoxical for someone like me to be talking about what is good for an institution I have consciously chosen not to be a part of, but I really do think he is genuine and that he could make a positive contribution to the world, which I am very much part of!

But I am completely steering off topic here… I was trying to build some sort of bridge to another anecdote Bertila told me about an enormous boulder that sits beside the road, just outside the village of Cotundo. She told me there is a legend that this boulder holds two enormous boa constrictors captive beneath it, after they were trapped there by smart villagers. These two boas had been tormenting the area and legend goes that on judgment day, these two boas will return as apocalyptical creatures with seven heads to takes all sinners down to hell with them.

Source: http://www.victorianweb.org/

After hearing this, I realized that boas are a major part of the culture in this region. I hear boa metaphors here almost weekly and practically all the kids I have met are terrified of riversides, deep pits, wells and caverns because of the possibility of being eaten by a boa. I doubt this actually happens as often as their parents would like them to believe, as boas seem to be used as some sort of “boogeyman”-threat to keep kids away from dangerous places. Also, I have heard stories about people being swept away by the river and drowned but in many cases, people were convinced the deceased were attacked by a boa first, because “they would never have drowned otherwise”…

I think this is very interesting and I can’t really explain why boas are perceived as such an enormous threat, even though they are rarely spotted in the wild. I wonder if this fear of boas is pre-columbian or if it is something the colonizing Catholics created and nurtured, as there are some convenient biblical serpents to link the local ones to. If I had more time, I would look into it, but my time here on the equator is starting to run out…… *gulp*….

 

Daily Prompt: In good faith

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:

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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:

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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 :

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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*

Ecuatime

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…

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….

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: