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Life's Journey Having fun, exploring new places and cultures, volunteering, learning & reflecting.


ECUADOR | Wednesday, 31 October 2007 | Views [973]

The kids at the Rio Muchacho school.  The mother of this little girl worked in the kithchen at the farm.

The kids at the Rio Muchacho school. The mother of this little girl worked in the kithchen at the farm.

Nigel Writes:

Rio Muchacho is an organic farm that practices permaculture and other beneficial techniques. (Organic farming being a method of feeding the soil (eg. via compost), in order to produce higher quality fruit and veg in the absence of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insectacides, fungacides etc., instead finding more natural solutions to agricultural problems. Permaculture being a system designed by Bill Mollison from Tasmania.

As well as having gardens for farming fruit & veg, from where we picked and ate fresh and tasty organic produce daily, it also has farm animals such as chickens, pigs, horses, guinea pigs, cows and a couple of dogs.

Laura and I chose not only to take classes to understand the practices they employed there, but also to volunteer. This meant we were exposed to and experienced a great variety of things.

A typical day would have us up before sunrise to prepare food and feed the animals and clean out their house / pen etc. The early starts, strong spells and sometimes physically demanding work was quite confronting to us city dwellers at first, but we got used to it and felt some kind of satisfaction from our early morning routine and connection with the animals and nature... After seeing to the animals, we would look forward to our own beakfast, of fresh tropical fruit and granola, (a type of museli).

Later we would either do volunteer work or go to the outdoor classroom (pergola) for some lessons. Volunteer work consisted of digging trenches for water pipes or drainage, hoeing to plant food for the horses, weeding, cutting back the grass with a mechette, carrying river rocks for cementing around bamboo pillars for protection, or splitting and cleaning bamboo for building also with a mechette.

In the lessons we appreciated the role, structure and composition of soil, 4 different types of composting, benefits of planting more than 1 type of plant in close proximity to each other (poly culture instead of monoculture), companion planting, types of plant diseases (presented by a guest speaker), factors influencing plant growth including natural cycles like seasons and the moon, living sustainably and permaculture priciples (also presented by a guest speaker) and the benefits of seed saving amongst many other things! We had some practical time also making a few types of compost, planting lettuce and cabbage.

Food was of course from the organically grown food on the farm with fresh fruit juice. In accordance with permaculture and trying to use everything produced, we used a composting loo, which was used to fertilise plants, (but not the vegies, for our peace of mind).

We watch some DVDs at night which had a HUGE impact on us. The first we saw was called "Power of Community", which looks at what the world faces as world oil prices rise due to peak oil and how Cuba has handled a oil / energy crisis due to the US blockade. The second was called "Biodynamics" which for simplicity's sake is a system similar to permaculture.

We also enjoyed swimming in the river, searching for shrimp, making chocolate (Mm mmm!), coffee and cheese and crafting seeds known as tagua (about the size of a small egg) into necklace pieces or carving mate into natural spoons from the rich supply-house of nature.

Wow - what a time!!!

Laura writes:

The Rio Muchacho farm was a special experience, not only did we get to eat healthy organic food everyday, but the volunteer work we did kept us fit and feeling alive as well as doing something worthwhile for that particular community.

I still remember spending the weekends at the beach in Canoa which we all looked forward to so much after spending Monday to Friday at the farm studying and working. It was a real treat, and even though the weather was always less than favourable (it was overcast up until the last few days of our stay), it did not deter us from getting into the water, especially some of us who were fanatical about surfing!

It was difficult to leave the farm after spending 3 weeks there, especially when we were getting so used to the peace and tranquility, as well as being in such close contact with other people. We did feel the loneliness when we left to continue on our own.

We decided to go to Quito (the capital of Ecuador) where we ended up bumping into quite a few of those that had been with us on the farm. It felt great to see them again and to share experiences and thoughts about our time in Rio Muchacho. There was one particular guy that we had more in common with that we ended up spending most of our time with while we were there.

Our stay in Quito ended up taking 2 weeks instead of a few days as we first thought or planned. This was due to the visa process for Cuba, as that was our next destination. While we were trying to get our tourist visas organised, one of the organisers of the brigade send us an e-mail to let us know that our special brigade visas had already been processed. We didn't need a tourist visa after all. This simplified things for us, as we would have had to change the tourist visas for A6 visas once we were in Cuba as all the brigade participants had these visas. The reason why our case was different, was because we were the only two people that were not arriving in Cuba with the rest of the group.

While we were in Quito, we ended up going on trips to other places and leaving our bags at the hotel we kept coming back to. We ended up going to Otavalo (2 hours north of Quito) as well as Banos (3 or 4 hours south of Quito) which we especially liked. It had been recommended to us by other people at the farm and we were definetely not disappointed. Here we got to experience hot springs which were everywhere around this area, as well as the incredible scenery of mountains and volcanoes. It was the Cotopaxi volcano that we got to see in all its glory as it was active while we were there, throwing a dark volcanic ash that we got to see from a lookout on a mountain ridge. The view was awesome! and we could actually hear it rumbling in the distance, and even more so with an ear to the ground. This area also had lush vegetation due to the fertility of the volcanic soil which is supposed to be of good quality for plant growth.

After picking up our visas from the Cuban consulate, we had to travel back south for our flight to Venezuela out of Lima. Yes, it was back to Lima again by bus! This trip takes around 24 hours, however, we ended up staying in other towns on the way down, not only so that we could get to visti more places, but also because we didn't want to arrive in Lima too early after our previous experience there. Anyway, Lima was not such an exciting city from our point of view, plus, overcast conditions are very, very common there with incredibly thick cloud cover.

Our idea was to take our time getting to Lima, but unfortunately it did not work out that way when we realised we really did not have as much time as we had first thought. We ended up staying in a couple of places, but Riobamba was the place where we had wanted to spend more time and ended up doing so. Riobamba is also the place where you can take the very popular train ride to Nariz del Diablo which is one of the activities we did not want to miss out on.

The ride to Nariz del Diablo was an interesting experience. The province of Riobamba is where most of the indigenous population resides. On this 5 hour trip, we saw a lot of natural beauty, as well as idigenous people working on the fields dressed in their traditional clothing, which were very colourful and really stood out. We also had so many people waving, that our arms almost dropped off waving back. They were very friendly. What we saw, was very unique to us as well as strange to see how in other parts of the world, civilization seems very far away. It gave me a strong feeling of remoteness. This scene did not seem quite real to me, and I can remember thinking that it was like watching a film on T.V or a play in a theatre. What made it seem more real, was that these people were interacting with us. Perhaps they were as curious about us with our cameras and Western clothes as we were about them. I wonder how we might look from their point of view...these Western people travelling on a train and taking photos of them going about their daily routines. I guess it might seem pretty strange and perhaps even a little intimidating. I suppose if I was in their shoes I would be quite annoyed, however, I am a Westerner after all no matter how much I dislike that fact and perhaps we see things differently to these more humble people, due to the kind of environment we live in which is more individualistic and selfish.

Another highlight on our way to Nariz del Diablo, was the stops the train made in some towns. At two of the train stops, we got out and had the opportunity to check out the very colourful crafts, weavings, alpaca clothing such as jumpers, gloves, hats, scarfs etc. and to buy straight from the indigenous people selling them. These markets were quite a unique sight as well, with local people everywhere buying from the markets as well as the tourists.

Our arrival in Nariz del Diablo was perhaps a little disapointing for me. Perhaps due to the lack of green and lush vegetation that I might have expected to see at this location, especially after having travelled to places with better mountain views than what this area provided (eg. Switzerland), however, the altitute of these mountains were pretty incredible and especially getting to see it from a train at the very top.

To get back to Riobamba, we were given the option of taking the train back which meant another 5 or 6 hours, or exsiting the train at one of the towns and catching a local bus which only took between 1 and 2 hours. We took the second option, as by that stage we were a little tiered and the train ride back was more expensive than the bus.

The bus ride was also interesting as the bus was packed with indigenous people and there were only us and another couple that were foreigners.

The next day after our trip to Nariz del Diablo we booked a trip to the Chimborazo volcano which included a drive up to around 4,000m in altitute (to the top of the volcano it is around 6,000m) and then biking downhill. It was a freezing experience to say the least, with very low temperatures and snow. We had to take short breaks from the bike riding to warm ourselves in the car with the heater, as our hands and feet were totally frozen! It was an interesting experience anyway, and as Nigel and I were the only ones booked on this trip, we also got to know our Ecuadorian guide and had some interesting and informative conversations. We learned things from him and he from us.

Even though we were supposed to get back in daylight, we ended up arriving back at our hotel at night, as due to the conditions and the long conversations, we had taken longer breaks than what had been planned for our biking. Also, our guide lost his binoculars at one of the villages where he had dropped us off to do part of our riding where we also crossed paths with many indigenous people, including kids riding donkeys. When our guide realised that his binoculars were no longer in the car, we had to back track to find them. It was lucky that he remembered the spot where he thought he had last used them, and it was around that area that we found them, even though it did not prove to be an easy task, as by this stage, it was pitch black. Our guide had been quite worried as with so many locals passing through the area, he feared someone would have found them first.

The next day after our bike trip, we took the bus and continued on our journey back south. We passed a few towns on the way out of Ecuador and I felt a little disappointed that we had not had more time to explore Ecuador a little more. It was however an interesting bus trip out of Riobamba with awesome views, especially passing through the Andean mountain ranges. When we finally crossed over the border into Peru, it felt kind of strange to be back after spending 4 or 5 weeks in Ecuador as this had been the first time we had back tracked in this way to catch a flight.

Tags: adventures

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