Despite our good times in Colombia, we did not exactly feel the love whilst there. In 3 short weeks we visited multiple towns and parts of the country searching for the spark. That spark returned in Ecuador! Our travels have been revived and the short time there has allowed us to have so many different types of experiences. We regret having to have left so soon.
We arrived in Quito, a city that we had heard tales of dangers, and, are happy to report that we made it out unscathed. In fact, we really enjoyed Quito and felt completely safe. The old Colonial town had many good markets (food and handicraft) and huge beautiful parks that get utilized! One day we took the TeleferiQo (cable cars) up to 4100 meters and had a gorgeous view overlooking the city and the surrounding mountain ranges. At that altitude it was difficult to walk without huffing and puffing, but the sites made it worth while. We stayed at a place called Community Hostel, and it was just that. We met a handful of really great people and one night we joined them in a night out where we hit a couple bars and then had PIZZA CONES. You read that correctly… pizza shaped and eaten like an ice cream cone. Delish! We also trekked out to the Mitad Del Mundo…aka, the center of the world. We visited the monument dedicated to the 18th century discovery of the center of the world… and then walk down the road to the museum that has the actual GPS coordinates of 0 longitude and 0 latitude. We watched the water drain straight down, counter clockwise and clockwise, balanced an egg on a nail, and felt drunk whilst trying to walk a straight line on the equator and got to see a real shrunken head… naturally.
Due to lack of time (shakes fist at being “stuck” in Colombia) we had to hightail it out of Quito and skip our original WWOOFing (world wide organization of organic farms) destination of Vilcabamba and instead found a yoga eco farm to volunteer at a more accessible location in the Amazon outside of a town called Tena. After several hours of beautiful lush scenery full of trees, mountains, animals and waterfalls over the course of several buses (one with a rooster riding as a passenger) we were dropped off at the side of the road. As we proceeded through the woods, we could hear the Hare Krishna chants growing stronger. Yes, the eco farm was a Hare Krishna commune! What an experience! The majority of the people on the farm were more hippies than devotees, and the “farm” was more of a lot of land with really awesome plants, but no rhyme or reason to their farming. The land grew papaya, cocoa, bananas, plantains, lulos, sugarcane, and so many other things that I can’t even name. But, for as plentiful, colorful and impressive as the vegetation was, the bugs were equally so! We stared into the eyes of supersized flies and were “attacked” by secadas that sang like birds, saw huge moths and butterflies with brilliant colors, neon crickets, a pink snake with some kind of binary code on its skin, and again, things that we had no idea what they were! The toilets were dry compost toilets and we got to pee into tunnels and poop onto banana leaves (TMI?) and could not wear shoes. We had 3 huge vegetarian meals a day each time with several courses and usually tea made from the garden herbs or yogurty drinks made from the local cows (raw milk now banned in most of the US) and nothing could be taste tested…but was still decent. Needless to say, what we thought would be a cleanse, turned out to be a food fest! We worked on compost (food waste, not human) for a couple days, we learned and then taught school children how to make paper from recycled paper, leaves and tumeric root, planted saplings, and Rachelle’s personal favourite farm task was refining her machete skills and getting to chop down banana and sugar cane! We got to see the MilkyWay and the big dipper in a different place in the sky. Lowlights were Rachelle falling down a flight of stairs and on a separate occasion, breaking a lens. BUT, the ultimate highlight for both of us was when we made chocolate! from bean to bar. Here are the stages of making chocolate:
Gather cocoa pods from the trees.
Open pods and suck off the beans (there is a sweet delicious layer of …something).
Let beans ferment for days, weeks?
Dry beans in sun.
Roast beans until they pop like popcorn.
Spend hours and hours getting blisters removing the beans from their shells. (occasionally eating some just to taste the most bitter form of cocoa possible!)
Grind beans into powder with old timey grinder.
Put cocoa powder into a juicer with cocoa butter. (it separates into fine and super fine… the fine stuff gets re “juiced until all is super fine)
Simultaneously, melt down panela (dried sugar cane) until caramely liquidy.
Combine liquid chocolate and panela.
Add extra ingredients. In our case we had ground nuts, mint from the garden, and vanilla beans from the pod (did you know the pods glisten like a disco ball? we had no idea!)
We began this after a huge dinner complete with dessert, made by cake master tommy (who was also building a house from bamboo in the forest) and as we were pouring the chocolate into molds, we were eating it like soup, until we had bellyaches. It was amazing how everyone came together and worked so efficiently. Definitely a highlight of not only the farm or Ecuador, but probably my life.
We hardly slept that night due to the caffiein and woke up with a chocolate hangover. Sadly we had to miss morning yoga (that we did everyday as the sun rose over the palms) and breakfast, but we did grab enough chocolate to serve as our breakfast and lunch that day. oye!
We made it to the site… scroll through a stack of photos and you can see our mugs elated from chocolate making http://wisdomforest.org.4go.to/english/Welcome.html
We walked in the morning heat for about an hour before hitching a ride on the back of a truck into town, like real locals, and took several buses totalling 13 hours taking us to our last Ecuadorian location; Cuenca.
We love Cuenca! We happened to arrive on the weekend of a Cuenca founding holiday which meant the parks were packed with food and vendors and live music.
We went to markets, museums, parks and the many huge beautiful churches, and enjoyed a couple meals out . It was a perfect place for the things we like to do in little colonial towns.
Sadly, after a few days… we had to move on to make it through Peru to meet our Inca Trail/Machu Pichu dates.