Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring break in the garden

After Duke's spring break group returned from Baños, we got our hands dirty with our partner organization, Fundación Añamisi.  Here to share is Mateen!

Slashing at the gnarled weeds, dodging the hundreds of bugs, and digging into the tough ground, we were fighting a battle in Fundación Añamisi's organic garden. In only three days, the garden would be completely planted, and we would have helped move Christian Añamisi's dream forward.  With his partner, Laura Araujo, Christian has been able to create an organic farming business (De la Mata a la Olla, roughly translated as “from the ground to the table”) through which local organic gardens are able to distribute their products to the people of Quito and its surrounding areas over the internet. They both also utilize the knowledge they have gained from this venture to teach other people in the area about organic farming through their organization.

When we arrived at the garden Wednesday morning we were greeted by Christian, Laura, and their two crazy dogs Lupita and Tommy. Christian gave us a quick overview of his projects and proudly showed us some of the many products he sells.   We were all amazed by how Christian and Laura were able to create such a sustainable organic farming business while also giving so much back to the community. It was surprising that organic products would be so popular, especially over the internet in a country where only small percentage of the population own computers. Our work over the week was to clear several plots of land, plant new crops, and harvest corn. When we first arrived, the garden was overrun with tangled weeds, grass, and hundreds (only a slight exaggeration) of spiders. With the guidance of Christian and Laura, we dug our tools into the ground.  Two days and several tarantula encounters later, we had finally conquered the garden. During the last week of work, we planted lettuce, beets, chard, Japanese lettuce and ahí (chili peppers), and it felt good to be able to see the product of all our hard work.

With the garden work finished, we had the opportunity to help Christian with the English class he teaches at the local university.  He had his students record videos with questions in English for us and we recorded answers.  We had so much fun with the videos we decided to send back our own questions for the students to answer.  My time at the garden was definitely one of the highlights of the trip and I hope I have the opportunity to help them more in the future.

The Duke crew in Añamisi's garden
Mateen and Kia working together!
Angela and Miranda listening to one of Christian's student's English questions
Aging chard in the beds we completed weeding!
Beds freshly planted with lettuce and chard

Friday, March 11, 2011

Duke Spring Break in Baños

After a weekend on the beach in Montañita, Ashley, Jack, Sam, and I returned to the sierras Sunday night to meet our first two spring break groups.  While Ashley and Jack took the group from Vanderbilt University out to our partner organization, FEVI, in the valley north of us, Sam and I met up with our group of six from Duke University and brought them back to the valley with us.  Seeing as Monday and Tuesday were holidays in Ecuador celebrating Carnaval (what we know as Mardi Gras in the States), we took off for our overnight trip bright and early Monday morning, to Baños.  Here to give a snapshot of our time together is one of our spring breakers from Duke: Jake!

After a long and bumpy ride to Baños, we were welcomed with espuma (foam) and buckets of water by the locals.  It was Carnaval, and the festivities were wild; a major part of the celebrating involved spraying foam on everyone and everything.  Once I dried off, the town was amazing.  We checked into a hostel (which only cost $7.50 a night), and then decided to go repelling down 5 of the local waterfalls.  We had a blast – the experience was well worth the blisters and rope burns on our hands.  After we dried off (again), we caught a chivas (essentially a party bus) and went to party on top of a volcano.  The party consisted of fire-jugglers and comedy shows, but the real highlight of the night was the view.  We could see over all of Baños, and the mountain scenery was incredible.  When we returned to the town, we quickly learned that the celebrating during the day was nothing compared to the celebrating at night.  We all were so tired after the adventurous day that we turned in a little early so we would be ready for the next day’s events.  

We started the next day with a rooftop breakfast before renting bikes and embarking on a 27 kilometer ride to a huge waterfall (I know, there are a lot of waterfalls on this trip).  The ride was exciting for two reasons: the incredible views that we saw on our path and the water balloons that we had to dodge (the Carnival activities also included water balloon pelting).  About half way through the ride, we stopped to go on a one kilometer zip line (it was the longest zip line I have ever seen).  I can honestly say it was one of the coolest experiences of my life.  We finished the bike ride and snapped a few Kodak pictures of the waterfall before returning to our hostel and leaving Baños.  A few pointers for those of you planning on being in Baños for Carnaval: get the Mega Grill burger (it’s delicious) at the burger stand off the plaza, go zip lining (it’s exhilarating), and bring a bathing suit (it’s wet)!  

A performer with fire on top of the volcano
Jake concentrating in preparation for a 1km zipline.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Family visiting means plenty of travel

In absencia, since she´s in the Galápagos with her family right now, Becky writes about having family from the States visit her and Manna in Ecuador.  

Two Thursdays ago, my brother arrived in Quito.  I was excited for him to visit and see all the cool stuff I have been doing since July.  The day after he arrived, I brought him to Zoë`s and my cooking class for the Aliñambi nutrition program.  The program has started out very successfully and we’ve made some delicious and nutritious food.  In class that Friday we made a cream of spinach and lentil stew along with fruit salad, for which the kids brought all the fruit to class from home.  We also made some great jugo de mora (blackberry juice).  The kids really enjoyed this week`s recipes and even asked for them so that they could make it again at home.  Alex enjoyed helping with the class and trying to talk to the kids.

Two weekends ago, I took my brother to Tena, a town right inside the jungle.  There, we went on a daylong whitewater rafting trip, which was really cool.  It was a great way to get inside and experience the jungle.  Unfortunately, we both got food poisoning during the weekend (which is expected every now and then in Ecuador, especially for newcomers).  We missed hiking the caves outside of Tena in the morning, but the sickness passed pretty quickly and we were on our way back to Sangolquí the next afternoon.

My parents also arrived last week to visit.  They, along with my brother, visited the Manna Centro to see me at work.  They really enjoyed taking a tour of the Centro and looking in on the children’s art class.
I`ve been super excited to show my family around Ecuador.  Last weekend, we spent a lot of time in Old Town seeing the old churches and visiting museums.  We also went to the artisan market and Mitad del Mundo (where the equatorial line is located).  As you read this we are heading back from the Galápagos for a five-day cruise around the islands!

It’s really awesome having my family around to visit.  They get to see where I live and work and be a part of the great experience I am having here in Ecuador.  A feel that a lot of the time, while the people you love back home definitely support you, they do not exactly know or understand the work you are doing.  It’s nice sharing with my family a glimpse into my life here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Retreating to Baños

Last weekend MPI Ecuador took its second retreat of the year to Baños.  It was a first trip for all of us (except Bibi), and we loved it.  Situated on the western side of the Sierras in the zone where mountains transition into Amazonian jungle, Baños is warm and beautiful and full of fun things to do.  We arrived on Sunday morning, dropped off our things at the hostel, ate a delicious lunch, and immediately set out to cross activities off of our list. 

As with many tourist towns in Ecuador, the streets of Baños are lined with tourism agencies from which you can rent equipment and guides to take advantage of local adventure opportunities.  We rented bicycles for one of the local trails and set off for the hills and waterfalls surrounding the small town.  First, however, we stopped at the San Francisco bridge to check out something we’d been talking about for weeks in anticipation: puenting.  “Puenting” is a shamelessly Spanglish term (puente means bridge, so it was “bridge-ing”...?)  referring to the activity of jumping off of a bridge attached to a rope and swinging underneath.  We pedaled up to the bridge to find a line of folks watching as a girl stood on the platform psyching herself up to jump.  She tried for 15 or 20 minutes, but eventually she stepped down, unable to bring herself to actually go over the edge.  I don’t blame her; I wasn’t able to do it either.  But everyone else in our group did! 
Hannah puenting off of Puente San Francisco!
The bike ride continued to be beautiful and was followed by dinner and a nighttime chivas bus ride (the same kind of bus that hosted Chet’s birthday on the streets of Quito back in July) up to the lip of Tungurahua volcano overlooking the town. 

Before we returned home the following afternoon, PDs split off for multiple activities in our remaining hours.  I for one, as the house’s early riser, went at 6:30am to take advantage of the thermal baths that Baños is known for, its full name being Baños de Agua Santa, or “baths of sacred water,” the town having developed around the site of an appearance of the Virgin Mary near a waterfall.  It was spectacular to sit in steaming waters underneath a cliff of greenery and right next to an enormous waterfall in the first hours of the daylight.  Other PDs throughout the morning and early afternoon also went to the baths, rented go-carts, got massages, and explored the small, lovely town before catching the bus back up the Pan-American highway to Sangolquí.

Overall the retreat turned out to be the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation, and we all came back refreshed and ready for the week.  I personally loved Baños and am really excited that I get to go back in just a few days with one of our first spring break volunteer groups, from Duke, for Carnaval.

Becky and Ashley getting ready for our bike ride.  Note the go-cart... 
Brock on his rented ATV.
One of the many cascadas surrounding Baños.
The cascada overlooking the thermal baths.
Keep a lookout for posts from spring break groups over the next two weeks!  We’re extremely excited to be hosting four fantastic groups of volunteers from Duke, Vanderbilt, the University of Georgia, and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.  Duke and Vanderbilt arrive this coming Sunday, and we can’t wait!