A very long day

Today has truly been one of the longest days of my life. ‘Last night’ was our last night together as a full group – we had a final group reflection and then all piled into one room to hang out until people slowly drifted off to bed. By the time we woke up in the morning, several of the group had left for the airport already for early morning flights, and thus began the very very long day.


We woke up in the hotel in Quito, and got ready to go walking. First we went to see the change of the Guard at the President’s house. There were lots of men in uniform playing brass instruments – their music set was pretty epic. We saw President Correa standing atop the presidential house/balcony. Next we went to an extremely intricate and sort of overwhelmingly decorated church. The walls were covered in gold plate and each wall panel displayed a different mural. Many of the images were extremely harsh, and we spent a while as a group looking at one particular mural depicting the outcomes of sinners in hell – quite violent.


After the church we went out for ice cream and had the largest ice creams of our lives. Immediately following ice cream, we had lunch. Nobody was hungry, which was good, because it was probably the worst lunch of our lives and nobody was able to eat it. Good. After lunch we just laid low in the hotel for a bit/napped etc., and then went out to dinner, which was really awesome. The restaurant was definitely weird (its history was that a man was found dead in its walls), but it had character. Jack, Sarah, Lauren and myself ate downstairs in the kitchen, so were able to watch the cooking process. After dinner, we returned to the hotel, hung for a bit, then grabbed our stuff and left for the airport.


We flew from Quito to Miami. Then all flights to NYC were canceled because of a storm, so we got split up and ultimately I became stuck in Miami with Claire and Sarah for two days. The three of us remained fairly positive – trying to make a ‘girl’s weekend’ out of it, but it is definitely frustrating and I really would like to get back to Ithaca. Right now we are in an airport hotel watching ‘Juno’ – great movie, but I forgot how intense it is. We are about to order Chinese food, and then I think sleep for a really really long time. I can’t believe that we saw President Correa in Quito this morning. Wow.

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Today was our first full day back at Nangulvi. Funny how this place is starting to feel a bit like home because we have spent the most time here – right now I’m journaling on a rock by the river and Preciosa just jumped up to snuggle with me while I write. That dog.


This morning we woke up with no real plan, and after breakfast we simply headed to Apuela to the AACRI headquarters to see if we could quickly formulate a plan. We did not have a plan prior to this because of difficultly reaching our practitioner. Accordingly, we showed up at the office and (as expected), everyone there was very surprised to see us! But we talked to the president and pitched the idea of making a (bio)swale over at the nursery, and he pretty much told us to go crazy and do it. So off we sped to the nursery (stopping only briefly at Nangulvi along the way to get food and Preciosa). Another fun aspect of the day was that Sarah joined our coffee group today – she rolled her ankle in Junin so our activities were better suited for her than hiking with the Conservation group!


When we arrived at the nursery, we saw two of the practitioners who we have gotten to know over the past week. They were busy, but it was nice to say hello! We then got to work. First we found 3 pieces of wood/strong sticks, and bound them together with wire to make an A-frame. Next, a rock was hung from the top cross. Materials were limited, so we had to get crafty (e.g., we needed stakes later on, so we whittled some with a picket knife and then tied plastic string around the tops).


Next, we proceeded to the ‘site’ : a highly eroded plot with no crops. Using the A-frame, we measured the contours of the slope and placed stakes at the locations measured. Then we began digging. We dug 2 smaller swales today, and are hoping to do 1-2 larger ones tomorrow. The point of the swales is to enhance water drainage on the slope.


All in all, it was pretty fun and I learned a lot. It was also cool to provide AACRI with a standard agricultural practice that could be hugely beneficial if implemented correctly. Unfortunately, we do not have time to teach farmers and practitioners how to create and use the swales, so I do fear that this project may not have significant effects. Perhaps in the future another group of students could follow up with this idea.

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Taking a Break

Just got back to Nangulvi – been at Junin for the weekend. Now will remain here at Nangulvi for the next week or so (to finish our projects) and then we will stop by Otavalo for half a day and then a final couple days in Quito before heading home!

Backing up a little…on Thursday we went with the conservation group to a tree planing “Minga” (work party) and spent the first half of the day planting young trees on a steep deforested slope with community members. The goal is to bring water back to the community, which has disappeared from enormous deforestation. It was very hard work – first we had to carry heavy crates of trees up a mountain, and then community members dug holes while we filled them in. It was also very hot!

In the later afternoon, the whole gang (we were joined by the Handicrafts group) went to visit some local ruins. The ruins were cool, but more amazing was the stunning walk. Amazing view, and also green beans growing on all sides.

The next morning (spent the night in Nangulvi) we went to Junin. In Junin we stayed at an ecotourism lodge. It really is the epitome of ecotourism too – not at all a money making machine or anything – they are truly trying to use it to bring money to Junin. I found out my last few minutes there that the people who served us all weekend (food and household cleaning) were actually forefront people in the fight against mining. Amazing! The lodge was gorgeous – hammocks everywhere, all wood, and many bunk beds. Very natural setting (required a 5 minute hike to get there). We heard a moving talk by an activist, who told us about her personal as well as the collective fight against mining in Junin. For such an impassioned person, she was very small.

Much of the weekend was R+R, which was welcomed. We hung in the hammocks, explored the river, read books and just hung out. We also went for a hike on Saturday (split into two groups – one group went for a more strenuous hike) and participated in a ‘drop-off.’ This entailed each person getting spaced out along the path such that none could see another. In our spots we remained for ~1 hour and could do whatever we wished. It was encouraged to interact with the forest – touch, smell, dig, listen, look, crawl, etc.

We have now returned to Nangulvi, and will return to work tomorrow.

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Exploring Farms

Yesterday we worked on a farm with an awesome family. We arrived super early (left Nangulvi at 6am) and the woman of the farm (eeep! don’t remember their names) served us freshly baked bread for breakfast. It was delicious, and I had probably 4 or 5 pieces – it reminded me a lot of Challah bread actually! We were also served fresh coffee, yum!

After breakfast, we made some mulch. The mulch was comprised of so many layers – organic soil layer, molasses, corn hull, fermented molasses, carbon and more, x many layers. We made a huge mountain of this stuff – very smelly – and then mixed it up with shovels. Next we bagged it up and then ‘carried’ (loose term – had to put the sacks on our backs, and then stumble and fall down the hillside) the mulch to the coffee plants. Once we reached the plants, we were instructed to place 3 handfuls of the mulch on the uphill side of the coffee. This proved to be challenging, because the coffee grew on an extremely steep incline, and the bag of mulch was as heavy as I was (ok, not really, but it was heavy!) Consequently, it pulled me down the slope several times. Getting back up the slope at the end was also a challenge because it was so steep – more falling occurred. But it was fun! I also had the chance to talk in Spanish with one of the farm hands while working, which was really cool for me.

Then it was lunch time…and man, did I need it. It was a huge lunch too – Jamie did not think I would finish it, but I proved him wrong! We each polished off large plates of eggs, beans, rice and plantains. Also around this time Jamie started to feel better (he had been sick earlier in the morning…along with just about everyone else in the group – the Conservation group did not even make it out this day, as most of their team was ill). As lunch came to a close, it began to rain, so we had to stay inside. Shortly thereafter the family’s daughter (Lily) came home, and then all of us played a card game. It was a pretty terrible game, but it did not matter. Everyone had fun and laughed a lot and it was a really great time.

Finally it was time to leave. For the drive back, I sat in the front cab-part of the truck with Casey, while poor Jamie and Julio stood in the back and got soaked. It was a really great ride for me, because I was able to talk with the bus driver for the whole drive in Spanish. Of course, it was somewhat broken Spanish, but pretty passable, I think! It’s funny how progressively through the day my Spanish seems to get better.

That night back in Nangulvi we heard the tales of all the sick people that day and I felt really badly for those who were stuck in bed. But amazingly spirits were still high – we have a pretty awesome group here. Martin arrived too, which helped everyone relax and worry less about the sickness. After dinner we had a group reflection, and discussed that we were at kind of a low point. But that is ok – sometimes low points are reached.

Today (1/8/14) we all had breakfast together and then the coffee group left for Apuela where we met with Joanna at AACRI headquarters. Then we set off with Joanna to see the farms. The 3 farms we saw today were very different than those we saw previously. These were more flat and as such it seems the trees could grow larger. Felt like walking through a forest of coffee and bananas. Joanna pointed out leaves and beans infected by fungi and pests. The farmers were all very friendly and welcoming. We met the president of AACRI at the last farm and also met a guy who was filming for Lonely Planet. He was from Montreal and hoped to make a film about people’s connection to the earth/soil. Very cool. He was filming an elderly woman who lived at the farm.

All in all a good day. Beautiful people, cute dogs, vibrant plants. Hoping the rest of the crew gets over their sicknesses soon, so they can leave their rooms and start enjoying their time again!

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Zooming In.

Every system is comprised of smaller working parts. These working parts, in turn, can be divided into additional units. The systems we have been exposed to so far in Ecuador are no different, and the past few days at Nangulvi I have been thinking about these smaller units, and their roles in the greater environment in which I am living and working in right now.

The first example is the colorful buildings which we see everywhere. Reds, yellows and oranges are the dominant colors in Nangulvi and Apuela – very warm colors. My room is an orangy-yellow color and it is very nice! It is evident that persons here have taken care to decorate their homes with these colors. However upon closer inspection, it is also clear that despite the warm colors, there is also an underlying layer of dirt/dust in most of the places we have been. It is interesting, because it is almost like ‘dirt’ is not considered ‘dirty’…and neither are bugs or chipped paint. These are things that in the US are a sign of neglect, but here are not only commonplace but also not even slightly looked down upon. Nangulvi, which seems to be a very highly regarded/wealthy place to stay has this same feel. I think this reflects the greater environment in Ecuador so far – less focused on superficial items, more emphasis on practical ones. This likely arose from necessity too, because I do not think it would be possible to keep a facility to the same levels of cleanliness (e.g., white linens, no dirt, and definitely no bugs) as a top hotel in the US.

The footbridge at Nangulvi is another item that is comprised of several working parts. This footbridge is wild – it is relatively long, very thin, and sways as you walk across it. It is located on the far end of Nangulvi, and is made of wood and cables. As you cross, the river roars below you and you receive a fair amount of water spray. All bridges are a pretty amazing engineering feat, but this one in particular really strikes me. It seems so unstable, so rickety, with just a few cables anchoring it to the ground. Yet at the same time, it is certainly safe, and a really cool structure to appreciate and walk on.

The past couple days we have been fortunate enough to work with one of the technicians at AACRI (Joanna). This experience, more than any, has really gotten at the ‘small units,’ as we have been looking at microorganisms and fungi that are beneficial to the coffee plants. AACRI has a lab that cultivates several strains of beneficial fungi, and we had a chance to examine these different strains.

Finally, I have been thinking about small units in terms of my own body. I have gained several sweet new bruises, more bug bites than I even want to count, and have some sore muscles. I often amuse myself by thinking about what my body is doing when it experiences strains like this on the cellular level. Bruises are burst blood cells, so new red blood cells must be coming in to replace old ones…itchy bug bites are the result of histamines released into the blood stream, initiating a full inflammatory response, and sore muscles are working to heal themselves (and get bigger!) from thousands of small tears…lots going on!

Generally, I am a big picture thinker; nonetheless it is important to keep an eye out for the smaller pieces because they can provide important insight to the larger whole.

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The Farm – Nangulvi

Vibrant. Everything here is so vibrant! We have spent the past few days at Martin’s farm, and it was really wonderful. Definitely feeling pampered (probably my only negative comment is that we are a little too pampered on this trip! But I can’t complain about that too much!) Martin, when home, lives with his mom and dad and several dogs. There are also a handful of staff who garden, cook, clean, etc. All seem very nice, however we had very few interactions with them and spent most of the time with just our group.


Yesterday we went on a 5-hour walk through the rainforest, which was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Things just feel fresher here! It was wild to walk amongst hundred foot vines and bleeding trees; and when we broke the treeline every now and then, the view quite literally took my breath away (ha plus the altitude didn’t really help I guess). I was definitely amused that Phoebe partook in the hike – major flashbacks to when I was little and my parents signed me up for hikes that were way too rigorous…but she was totally a trooper.


Aside from the hike, we had several other cool experiences. One day our coffee group (minus Casey – she got sick!) went to Pepe’s coffee farm. Pepe used to e the president of AACRI, and his farm holds the highest markings from AACRI. He gave us a tour of his stunning property, discussed his fertilizer system with us, and how he intercrops (bananas, guavas, and other fruit trees.) We stopped mid tour to meet Mary-Elena (who actually gave us a talk about Ecuador’s history the following day) and then Pepe put us to work clearing out the base of the coffee plants for him to later fertilize. Language was definitely a barrier for me, but Martin came along and helped out with the translation.


Another awesome experience was our night search for the Olinguito. Although we never found the elusive mammal, walking silently through the cloud forest at night was an experience I will not soon forget  -particularly peaceful was when we were told to turn off our lights. We also saw the Cock of the Rock on the way back o the farm.


So that was Martin’s farm in a nut shell! – nature walks, and friendly people. Also great food, some hilarious telephone pictionary, guitar playing and the occasional food poisoning incident.


Today we left for the Nangulvi Hot Springs. The ride was pretty fun – we traveled in the Safari-like bus with no doors and benches. It was a very bouncy ride, but very beautiful! Nangulvi seems cool – there are pools heated with thermal gas (I think) but we haven’t tried them yet. So far we have just been hanging out and trying ot set our schedules for the rest of the week. We also just did a quick review of our coffee soil manual because we are meeting with Jose Cueva tomorrow. Definitely looking forward to that – it will be SO nice to be able to speak with him in person (as opposed to our previously poor internet communication). The conservation group and Jim are also here too, so we still have a pretty good gang here. This is double fun because we will get to hear daily updates from thh conservation group too! I think that everyone is excited to get rolling tomorrow, and also happy to have a lazy day today.

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Group Dynamics

Since arriving at the airport in NYC, our group has undergone several iterations. Accordingly, the past week has been a good one for observing different group dynamics and how individuals respond to different group settings. Four prime examples of this arise from our experiences 1) flying from JFK to Quito, 2) celebrating NYE in Otavalo, 3) working on the shop, and 4) our first night Intag!


Traveling from JFK to Quito was a pretty good time, as far as a long travel day goes! We began very early, meeting in JFK for a 7:20AM flight. The 1st leg (JFK – Miami) consisted of Rufus, Dan, Sarah, Casey and myself; for the second leg (Miami-Quito) we were joined by Claire and Gem. The group dynamic was friendly and easy – everyone was looking forward to the trip, but also slightly nervous about how little we knew about it. I also found the flight especially nice because it allowed me to get to know my travel-mates. Previously I did not know many of these people, and the travel day was a very good ice-breaker. Surprisingly, as comfortable and great as the flying crew was, it was a really great feeling to meet up with the rest of the gang when we finally reached the hostel in Otavalo at the end of the day. It felt like the whole family was coming home, and we were ready for the trip to begin officially.


New Years Eve was the pinnacle of this “family” feeling. Although given the option to split into our 3 project groups, we opted to stay together the entire night so as to welcome in the new year together. We even all stopped for Rufus and Jackson to buy wigs 😉 And so it was that together as a full group, we welcomed the new year, ate our 12 grapes, burned an effigy, and observed the chaos of the Ecuadorian New Year around us. It was a pretty neat moment to share with a group.


The next morning we finished up working on the shop. Here, another group dynamic arose, as it was our first task and tensions arose as people were given power positions. Our task was to increase the efficiency and aesthetic appeal of a shop which sells several Intag products. As we broke into teams of Interior Design, Exterior Design, back wall blackboard painting etc., different individuals assumed leadership positions. All in all, the project was pretty successful and after 2 days working at the shop we accomplished a heck of a lot. We managed to fill in the holes in the walls (spackle), paint the walls, put a mural on a window, rearrange indoor furniture, paint a blackboard, make a metal backing for the stove, and sand and stain the front sign. I attribute our success to the eagerness fo the group to help and the adaptability of everyone to do a job that he/she was previously unfamiliar with (e.g., we gained many new spacklers). However, some leadership tensions caused unnecessary hold-ups and frustrations, and these are areas to work on in the future when working as a group. Overall though it was a good job, and when we left I think everyone was pleased.


After finishing up at the shop, we proceeded on to Intag and Martin’s farm. The first night we all had dinner together family style, but soon we shall break up into our project groups and begin our work in our individual teams. I look forward to seeing how the group dynamics flow in the individual groups (yay coffee team!) and hope that the whole group will remain close too!

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