Zooming in on my hometown

The other day I walked through Leiden, the town I live in, and tried to look at my surroundings from a different perspective. I noticed the many plaques that adorn all sorts of old buildings and tell its history. Here are some of the things I saw:

As you can see, the two red keys are a recurring theme. This is because the coat of arms of Leiden depicts two red keys, crossed in an X-shape on a white background. These keys are a reference to St.Peter, who guards the entry way to heaven and after whom a large church in the city center is named. Because of this coat of arms, Leiden is referred to as the “Sleutelstad” (“the key city”).

The Green Heart of Holland

Just to get things out of the way and clear, I suggest you watch this little video first.

We Dutchies have become very accustomed to calling our country Holland. It is easier and faster to pronounce than the Netherlands and even though some die-hard people who live outside of the provinces North and South Holland may sometimes object, when our national football team plays, we all chant “Holland! Holland!” and never “Nederland! Nederland!”.

Anyway, my home country is very small. It is about half the size of the state of Maine (or half the size of the British mainland) and barely visible on most world maps  and globes I’ve seen. It is quite densely populated but we still manage to grow a lot of our own food. Our land provides us with enough vegetables that we can even export a great deal and recently our milk has come in even higher demand than it already was (especially since the 2008 Chinese milk scandal) so we need some meadows for our champion cow to stomp around in as well.

So, our cities are pretty crammed and our houses are not very big (especially compared to U.S. standards) and you can imagine we have very little space left for nature to just be… actually I’m not sure if we have any of that at all.  We are a well organized people and we expect our flora and fauna to be the same. Trees may grow, but not mess with our side walks. Water may flow, but only where and how we instruct it to (doesn’t always work). We have hares, rabbits and other undergrond critters sign contracts making them promise to not mess up our dykes.

All though we don’t have any real wilderness, we do have rural areas. Our most urban areas are in North and South Holland, as explained in the video above, but even there we do have some open spots. This area, in the middle of our nation, is usually referred to as the Green Heart.


It is an area where the inhabitants of our biggest cities as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague can escape to, to breathe in some fresh air, ride a bike, sail a boat, sniff a tulip, spot a bird… You know, the stuff we Dutchies like to do…

The green heart is special. It feels like the countryside, all though you can always see some big city’s skyline on the horizon. You can see swans, geese and ducks flying by almost as often as planes on their way to Schiphol airport. At night, you can’t see the stars, because of the many greenhouses and big towns around.

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The farmers in the green heart are often of the intellectual type, compared to the ones in the real countryside. They are the ones that experiment with new potato species and experimental cowfeeding machines. They often have some business on the side, and provide tours for tourists that rush through our country in one or two days.

The green heart is also mentioned in most political parties’ programs. On the one side there are the parties that want to conserve and protect the area and fight against further expansion of houses and businesses into the green heart. On the other side the green heart is seen as an area of opportunies, where modern towns could grow, sustainable energy programs can be set up and our airport can expand into.

The green heart is an extremely compact chunk of Dutchness.

Lest we forget our souvenirs

A few weeks ago I went to visit my big brother in Paris. He is living there with his family in a cute appartment right by the Place de Saint Sulpice, which is what you see on this pic on the left. He will be there for the coming year and I intend to visit him as often as I can, as it is really not so far from where I live in the Netherlands and the drive there is lovely too. I had taken the toll-road on the way there and, since I wasn’t in a hurry, I decided to take the long way up and enjoy the landscape a bit more on my way back.

En route, I kept seeing signs pointing in certain directions saying “Circuit du Souvenir”. And I kept thinking, “How nice, there’s a whole route you can take to buy souvenirs!” I may not have been in a hurry, but I didn’t have much time to stray off my path either, so I told myself I would take this road on my next trip to France and see what kind of nice artifacts and delicious foods they were selling on what I imagined would be a cute road, with lovely panoramic views, passing by traditional cheesemakers, wineries, charcuterie- and pastry shops.

I had decided not to drive back in one go, but spread it out over 2 days, so I had to find a place to spend the night. I stopped in a town called Peronne, where I was told there would be several hotels charging decent prices. I arrived after sundown, but did manage to find a hotel with an available room and even found a place to get a bite to eat before hitting the bed.

PeronneI saw there was a big old fortress in the village that I wanted to check out for a bit in the morning, before driving the last stretch back home. So that’s what I did. I walked over to the fortress in the morning and saw the town was quite a bit more touristy than I had initially thought, and I was especially surprised by the amount of Englilsh and Australian flags, which I thought was odd… But it soon became clear to me (and made me feel quite foolish for not realizing sooner)…

The fortress of Peronne was not just any fortress. It had been renovated in 1992 and now included a new section, which was a Museum of the Great War… and then pieces started to fall into place… I had seen some military graveyards along the way, but for some reason had associated this with the second world war only… Somewhere in the back of my mind I did know this area had played a big role in the First Wold War, but my history was clearly hazy.

So, for your information, here follows a small pinch of history. For more about Peronne and the region’s history, please look here.

For almost the whole of the war, the town of Péronne was occupied by German troops. It was finally liberated on the 2nd September 1918 by Australian troops. Life under German rule deeply affected the inhabitants of Péronne and the town suffered heavily with bombardments, fire and destruction. Between 1914 and 1918, almost 30% of the town’s inhabitants became civilian victims of the war! Everyday, the bells of the Town Hall ring out “La Madelon”, a popular French song from the Great War.

So…… then I finally got my brain going and it suddenly hit me, souvenir means “to remember” in French… so the Circuit de Souvenir wasn’t this awesome route of artsy fartsy food and drinks I had imagined, but was actually a remembrance trail passing war monuments and military burial sites… hence all the British and Australian flags everywhere…. d’oh!

Last Sunday was remembrance Sunday in Great Britain and I suspect some activities must have taken place in Peronne and surroundings as well. In the Netherlands it was an ordinary day, with the only reminder being the poppies pinned on the dresses of British celebrities on TV (which to most will probably have gone unnoticed). We Dutchies played no role in the great war whatsoever, as we had declared ourselves neutral as soon as trouble started brewing. So I guess that is why we don’t commemorate the victims of this war and hardly discuss it in our history classes at all.  :-S

And this year was special too, because it’s a full century after the Great war started, so I did my best to catch up on my lack of knowledge and payed respects in my own way, and do so again by sharing this story with you.

A blog that especially moved me was by a fellow blogger, Dean Richards, who emphasized we should remember, but not glorify war. I leave you with a quote from his blog, to read and chew on for a bit…

We say lest we forget, but we have already forgotten. In fact, we have never known it in the first place. We see only heroes and glory, but forget the death and the destruction, the complete futility of war that takes so many victims for so little reason. War doesn’t solve problems, it never has, yet here we are, not pitying its victims, but glorifying them, as if their victimhood is something to be desired.

Hitch East

Hitch hiking is something I really love the idea of but have never really found the courage to actually do.

A friend of mine, with the biggest balls a woman can possibly have, has embarked on a hitchiking adventure I can only tip my hat to.

She’s keeping track of her travels through a blog as well, and I recommend you take a peak at it HERE.

It’s interesting, it’s witty, it’s educational and inspiring.

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.

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.


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

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:


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*