I love Ecuador. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the times when I simply cannot believe that I am here, doing all of this.
At this very moment, it's late Saturday morning, and I'm sitting in bed, recollecting all of the great and not so great times that I've had over the past few weeks...meanwhile, there is salsa music in the air, and my host sister's husband is in the yard playing with their son, who sounds quite happy. It's the weekend leading into Carnaval, so everyone's spirits are probably just a little more heightened than usual.
I just returned from my tech trip, which comprised a five-day visit to the coastal province of Esmeraldas. Along the way, we stopped in Yunguilla, a small community/reserve in the mountains dedicated to ecotourism and sustainable business practices. It was inspiring to listen to the story of how the reserve was founded, and how proud the people are of their accomplishments. Indeed, they are doing an amazing job reforesting the area and educating about the importance of conservation. They make fresh cheese and marmalades out of local, organically grown fruit, including some that grow naturally in the area. I wish I could remember the name of the fruit that we tried...perhaps one of the other volunteers that happens to read this can fill me in, haha.
Unfortunately, all was not well for me that day...shortly after arriving, I took a nasty spill on some wet stairs and came down hard on my arm. I'm fortunate that it wasn't worse than it was. Still, it took me out of several of the activities that were planned over the next few days.
I'm developing quite a reputation for being accident-prone and sickly in general, since I've basically been struggling with one thing or another since day one of training...a broken toe, stomach issues, respiratory infections, slips, trips and falls, banging my head on literally everything...it's only a matter of time before I step in a spike pit or slice my leg off with a machete. Haha, hopefully I'm just getting all this misfortune out of the way now, so that I don't have to deal with it later...
Anyway...following our charla (lesson) in Yunguilla, we proceeded to our destination for the next four days - a small fishing community called Tonchigue. We got in just in time to grab a quick bite and go to sleep, then it was off to learn about sustainable cacao production. We visited a small facility dedicated to teaching and helping local farmers produce in a more sustainable manner and get higher prices for their cacao. Later, we visited a finca (farm) dedicated to these practices. We were able to taste fresh cacao picked straight from the trees, which was unlike anything we could have imagined. Fresh cacao seeds are surrounded by a sweet/tart exterior, which you can't really eat, but it's great to suck on. This exterior is what ferments and imparts flavor and aroma into the cacao during later stages of preparation. Interesting stuff all around.
Day three was definitely the most challenging of the trip. We visited a site where we learned about watershed management techniques. The humidity and the mosquitos were intense. We spent the morning hacking through dense vegetation and climbing slick, muddy embankments, all the while building dams and terraces to improve the watershed. Of course, my right arm was useless, so I couldn't hardly help or do anything. I was also having stomach issues, so all in all, I felt like a total sack of crap. The others were persevering gallantly in spite of the heat and dehydration we were all experiencing, but yeah, it definitely wasn't much fun. It was highly educational though. Afterward, we walked down to the beach, which was beautiful, and made up for things slightly. We finished the day by collecting a few sacks of trash off the beach and playing in a waterfall.
The next day, we had our much anticipated charla in front of some local youth. My group talked about marine conservation in Ecuador. I talked about mangroves and habitat loss...definitely a little dry and depressing for the kids, but hey, they need to know these things! Afterward, we visited the headquarters of the marine reserve in the area. It is the only other marine reserve in Ecuador besides Galapagos, and apparently, has some of the highest biodiversity in the world. It's only been around for four years, so they're still getting it up off the ground...we were distinguished guests apparently, deserving of an amazing fried fish lunch and generous amounts of Club, the premium beer of Ecuador. Can't complain about that! Apparently one of us will be stationed there to help with operations. Chances are it won't be me, but you never know, I do have somewhat of a marine science background...just not nearly as strong as my competition, unfortunately. Haha, oh well, I'm hopeful I'll still get a coastal site somewhere, and I'll be happy with that. We find out in a week or two where exactly we will be placed, so there's a lot of anxious anticipation.
On Friday, we ended our tech trip with a brief visit to Atacames, which is a larger, more tourist-friendly coastal town...it had wild times written all over it. I'll definitely have to go back at some point, haha. Following a long bus ride back to Quito, and another short one back to Tumbaco, we were finally free to relax and maybe catch up on some sleep.
So that's what I'm currently doing now...relaxing. My belly is full of something tasty that my family made for lunch, which resembled jambalaya, but that they insisted was Chinese food. I'm not sure what's going on this weekend, but since my host brother isn't here, most likely there won't be any visits to the local dance clubs. That's fine with me though, I need a little break. It's tiring having to fend off the swarms of females every time I get my reggaeton dance moves on, and with this injured arm, well...I just don't know what I'd do. Haaa......right. ;p
Oh, and the next update will definitely be in Spanish, I promise.