Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Our last days in Ecuador

Closing week on the farm has been bittersweet and a little nostalgic. Upon leaving tomorrow, there is seemingly a lot to reflect on since our last post. We dabbled in making salves, have come to understand the historical context of the city of Quito through the Catholic Churches there, and went through a guided meditaion to find our power animals in a sweat lodge.

With one of our hosts, Marcea, we made medicinal salve. We combined collengella, chamomile, plantain, and essence of lavender, for fragrance, with melted beeswax to create a soothing balm. Marcea then showed us the various other products that can be produced from from these beneficial herbs. These products included: face creams, calming tea, muscle rubs, and tinctures.Then later that night, Marcea led a knitting circle. The day was calm, which we were thankful for, considering we had just returned from jungle. These craft making activities created a space for us to further consolidate our relationships.

The following day we prepared ourselves for our trip to Quito. We readied our day packs and set out. The ride was long and bumpy. But thankfully, as opposed to the last trip to Quito, we took a chartered bus and  it took us less than two hours. It didn't take us long to feel the vibrance and passion in architecture of the Historical District. On every block we saw elaborate churches, ordained with pounds of gold. In fact, our guide in the city mentioned that if Quito's churches were to sell all their gold, they would have enough money to pay off the national debt, twice. Nonetheless the churches were magnificent, and upon entering one could feel the power of the church reaching through time. In the Grand Plaza, across from the Presidential Palace, we saw two opposing demonstrations taking place. One group for the president, and one against. They vehemently argued each other in the plaza, demonstrating their right to outwardly protest, a right that isn't so apparent in the United States. We ended the day with a nice dinner in the oldest hotel in the city. Dinner was delicious, but we faced a dilemma of sustainability: We were served water in individual plastic bottles, which made us all cringe. Our time, though short, has changed our perspectives.

Yesterday, our second to last day, started at four in the morning. We were to spend the day, isolated in various locations around the farm. We were told to bring the minimum, consisting of water, a blanket, a notebook, and headlamps. There, we fasted all day, left to meditate on the events of the past three weeks. Spending twelve hours alone was no easy feat, especially after having spent every waking hour (and sleeping hour) together. After our time was over, Thomas, collected us to begin our time in the sweat lodge. We spent two hours inside, each half hour hot rocks were added, rasing the temperature with each addition. Kristen, our professor, led us through in meditation. We began by thanking the East, South, West, and North. As well as thanking the four directions, we thanked our ancestors by speaking their names aloud and sent good inentions to those in need. We then repeated mantras and the guided vision began. By the end of the second hour the heat was nearly unbearable, and all of us were drenched in sweat. Upon stepping out of the sweat lodge we bathed ourselves in the stream nearby, a shock to our overheated bodies. We gathered in a circle and broke our fasts. Dinner consisted of fruits and vegetables. We recounted and analyzed our visions of our spirit animals as we sipped tea quietly around the meal. It was quite a powerful experience.

These last three and a half weeks have been enlightening. We have all gained so much knowledge, theoretical and practical, individual and communal. Many of us have voiced apprehension about returning. How our friends and family will react to the changes we have undergone. How we will react to temptation of returning to our routines. And how we will implement the knowledge and skills we have gained throughout this course. But we all keep these words in our minds: "Sabiduria que no se comparte, no existe." "Wisdom that is not shared, does not exist."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Welcome to the Jungle! 1/21/2012

(Ryan L.) We woke up at 5 AM to get an early start to the jungle. We were headed to a small village called Shiwakocha. During the bus ride the change in temperature became more and more appearant. By the time the bus finally stopped, I was covered in sweat. We started our trek by crossing a large river. I quickly realized wearing no boots was a bad idea. The rocks slipped beneath my feet as I struggled to find my bearing. We grapped each other by the shoulder to find leverage through the rapid current. Fast forward two hours later and we are really deep in the amazon. To describe the Amazon as green would be a drastic understatement. It is ALIVE in every sense of the word. Between the trees, canopies, humidity, bugs, and heat, your are uncertain where your attention should be directed. The humidity was something I never got use to. I felt like I was trapped in a buuble of hot steam. The actual hike was intense. It lasted about 4 hours, and when we finally started seeing signs of civilization (huts & farms) I could not have been more relieved. We were all warmly welcomed by the people of Shiwakocha with cinnamon tea and bananas. We ended the day with a much needed swim in the local river. It felt so refreshing to my overheated body. I think the river lifted all of our tired spirits.

That night was an interesting experience. We all slept near each other in mosquito netted areas. I was exhausted, so falling asleep was easy. But sometime during the night I was awaken by a wing flapping near my face. I quickly realized bats were over head. I could hear them chirping. I could hear the insects humming, and not too far away I could hear the monkeys screaching. This was the real deal. Some people pay to have these noises in their bedroom so they can sleep at night, I was really there. I awoke the next morning with the sun. I laid there for a while wondering if I had dreamt the previous day. Breakfast was fried plaintians, served with yucca and rice. We spent the afternoon foreaging for peanuts, peppers, and cacao. Before lunch we prepared the cacao by splitting open the hard outer shell, sucking out the juice, and using our teeth to open the inner shell.

(Missy M.) All of our meals had included a cup of tea. When I say a cup, a bowl would probably be more appropiate. Shapes ranging from a pear, to a small gord, to a bowl that covered my face- all decorated with carvings and intricate designs. To start we had to collect pilches, a green fruit about the size of a mango. About five of the older local men sat and sawed the fruit in half, the women then showed us how to scrape the fruit out and boil the half dome shaped shells. After about 3 days, the bowls would be dry, brown, and ready to use. In the meantime we had a chnace to bathe. All half dressed were bathing in the amazon: how could anyone forget Gringos using biodegradable shampoo. All squeaky clean we ran from the sand flies. In the sanctuary of our hald open wooden house we had dinner with some traditional dance. The women gracefully whipped their hair at the men, who circled playing a drum. When it was our chance to dance, the women looked more like bull charging prey, while simultaneously whipping their hair back and forth, as if it was on fire.

After accepting our inability to dance in an acceptable manner, we went to cool off in the river and go fishing. We went to the river armed with nets and headlights. The brave men went into the deep tides, holding the net on both sides while the rest of us either sat in the canoe, or stumbled along the rocks. The night was magical, the moon was bright, the clouds were patchy, and the water was perfect. But as all good things come to an end, we left the river with 2 bags of fish and tired eyes. The last morning of the jungle came and went in a blur. We woke to a downpour of rain. As the rain calmed, in midday we headed back to the river, where 18 of us climbed into a large canoe that had a mini motor. A 20 minute rocky canoe ride, a 40 minute hike, and a 2nd canoe ride stood between us and where we were trying to catch our bus. After a 40 minute wait and deliberation about how to handle the 5 miles that stood between us and the bus, we found pick-up taxis that took us through the muddy construction to the bus that eventually got us back to the farm. Hot and sticky with tired eyes, and empty stomachs, it was bitter sweet return to the farm. We would itch our bug bites and reminisce an experience that affected us all more than we can describe.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Adventures in Ecuador continued 01/17-01/19

Thursday January 17th. In the morning we all woke up early and started our pie time (daily chores), Claire and I (Sunnee) were the firewood people Thursday-Saturday, which was followed by a breakfast of oats and nuts. In the afternoon we ventured to Palugo farms underground water tunnels. The tunnels were 3-6 feet tall, challenging our flexibility to maneuver throughout the tight spaces. Our legs were knee deep in Titanic like water and at times reaching our chests. We were dressed in rubber boots, long pants, and a shirt. Preferably those in which would dry quickly because we do not have a dryer here on the farm and a select amount of clothes to wear. After maneuvering through the tunnels and the Indiana Jones like jungle, we came to an underwater hole in which most of our classmates were brave enough to swim through with the help of our guides. Unfortunately Claire and I were unable to make it through, leaving both of us with a few bumps and bruises. I managed to mess my head up on a rock, which resembles that of a stick figure or as some say, a running man. After the tunnels and a satisfying lunch we journeyed on a bumpy hour bus ride to a natural hotsprings. These springs consisted of multiple pools icy, cool, warm, and hot in which our group all relaxed and enjoyed our time socializing after a long day trudging along in the icy water in the tunnels. Our day ended with a dinner out at this little restaurant where we were served fish, rice, and French fries. We returned to the farm at 11:00 pm and all immediately crashed out of exhaustion.

Friday January 18th. In the morning we all awoke with great difficulty and stomach pain. Some of the group could not even leave their beds for the day. The day started like any other, minus a few participants, with pie time. Next we had breakfast and a meeting. In the afternoon some of the group went to catch and kill a chicken for dinner while the others sheared an alpaca as well as helping with the feeding of the baby cows. The shearing of an alpaca is a bit of a complicated process. We had to first separate the male from the rest of the pack since he was the one we were going to shear. Once he was in the other pen we were told to hold his legs and tie them together while laying him down on his side in order to complete the process. Our next action was to cut off the wool. Using the scissors we took turns shearing the wool off of him. After the two tasks were done we returned to the Chozon for dinner. Part of this meal consisted of the chickens caught earlier in the day. After dinner it was time for dinner and sleep, Goodnight!

Saturday January 19th. In the morning, just like every other day, we had pie time. Following pie time we had a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese, a special treat for all of us. After a delicious breakfast we had our classroom time and prepared for our midterm.We also had a discussion of permaculture as a group. Following this we went on an irrigation walk and talk. To our surprise this walk was more of a treasure hunt for the irrigation source. We were separated into two groups with different tasks. One was digging trenches and watering trees while the other was sent on a mission to find the irrigation source and clog up that source to put in the fertilizer for the plants in the garden. The irrigation source group ended up getting lost on the property and having to re-trace their steps to their original starting space. Finally they were able to find their way and completed their task. The other team thought they were just going to water plants; however they had to dig ditches along the rows of trees. After the irrigation journey we all returned to the farm and had dinner. After dinner we studied for our midterm, while very exhausted from our irrigation walk.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Greetings Earthlings!

Ready to hear the next adventure from "los gringitos quien se pueden" en Ecuador? Your guides for this next entry/journey will be Caitlin or Catalina la chiquita bonita and Carlos, who recently received some stunning cornrows. This week's post is a bit different because we traveled off of the farm for a few days and experienced life in an indigenous farming community in the high Andes. In order to get there we had to take a bus, which for many of us was a culture shock. At Palugo Farm, we are primarily with other SMC students and English speakers which separates us from recognizing we are in fact in Ecuador. The bus contained all Ecuadorian natives apart from us so the stares were quite apparent. However, the scenery was breathtaking. We're talking fertile farmland, volcanoes rising above the clouds, large glistening bodies of water tucked away in deep green valleys streaked with perilous gorges. The first leg of our journey to the indigenous community of San Clemente included a stop to Otavalo. Otavalo has the largest outdoor indigenous craft market in the world. Needless to say, we splurged. We bought jewelry, scarves, shawls, masks, fanny packs, and instruments, all of which were handmade.This also gave us an opportunity to practice our Spanish and learn how to properly bargain (not as easy as it sounds). The one embarrassing bit of all this was the majority of us wearing our worker rain boots to make space in our backpacks. Nothing screams "a bunch of American tourists" like that, but who knows it might become a trend....nope. The last leg of our journey included a ride in the back of a pick up truck (which we adore). We watched Ibarra fade into the distance as we assented 11,000 feet to San Clemente. Upon arriving, we were greeted by several families with beaming faces who welcomed us into their homes. We then split up between three houses: 4 girls, 4 girls, and all 3 boys.

I was in Rosa's household. Rosa was a very sweet woman who had a little girl, Kalin, and a son who I sadly do not know the name of. Rosa was a fantastic cook and took very very good care of us. We ate all sorts of native Ecuadorian fruits and vegetables. One night at the dinner table Rosa's husband spoke to us in Spanish about the indigenous struggle in terms of language. Their native tongue is Quechua but in school her husband was forced to speak Spanish and penalized for speaking his language. This triggered a serious talk among us about the indigenous struggle and how much it should be brought up and spoken about. Despite the frustration we felt with the Ecuadorian government we learned a Quechua phrase that brought a smile to our faces. We asked how to say "Te amo" or "I love you" in Quechua. We learned it to be "Canda monnanie," doesn't that just bring a smile to your face? The other group of girls shared with me such stories as playing a game with their family called "Jungle Speed," helping cook, and mating llamas outside of their bedroom. Needless to say it was a good time for all.

The boys (Carlos, Ryan, and Ryan) stayed with a lovely woman named Maria. She was exceptionally warm and made amazing meals. The one downside to their home stay was a silly rooster that lived just outside their room that seemed to lack an understanding of time. It would shout out and cock-a-doodle-doo at 10pm and insisted it was time to start a new day. This shenanigans went on until the early morning hours. The lack of sleep seemed to have slipped away in the presence of everything else we were all experiencing: new foods, new languages, new landscapes, and new ideologies.

While in San Clemente we completed Mingas which were essentially community service. We planted pine trees on the side of a hill to diversify the land and prevent erosion so that future crops could grow there. We also planted potatoes and beans elsewhere which the people of San Clemente would later harvest. It felt so incredibly good to help these people and to see a glimpse into their lives. In order to reach these areas however we had to scale up the side of the mountain. Forty year old women would walk up these mountain with food or children strapped to their back without getting winded. But for us Americans we would be completely winded and exhausted walking up this hill with only a water bottle in hand. Quite the motivation to whip our butts into shape. Despite our body exhaustion our spirits perked up at the end of the night. The girls in our group were all presented with traditional wear and got to dress up for a mini celebration. We danced to music played by the indigenous families with which we stayed. We had a blast dancing traditional dance and laughing a bunch. The next day we were able to plow a field with an Ox which was quite difficult and provided us with more motivation. Overall we had an incredible time and are looking forward to our next indigenous trip to the jungle.

Stay tuned for our next post!

-Caitlin & Carlos xoxo

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hola from Ecuador! January Term 181 arrived in Ecuador about four days ago. We are all super excited to have finally arrived. The first day we arrived in Quito, January 8, we were greeted by Tomas and family, our hosts here at Palugo Farm. Once we got to the farm, it was as if we landed in paradise. Everything around us was green and full of life. After, having a delicious snack we gathered together as a group and went over some house rules. What we first noticed about Palugo Farm were the kitchen, classrooms, bathrooms, and bunkers. Soon, we were informed that everything around us were built with sustainable materials. Using sustainable materials means using natural resources to maintain life while at the same time conserving the environment from depletion. After settling in, we all went to a hike around the farm. Our day ended with an amazing dinner made with freshly grown
vegetables cultivated in the farm.

The second day at Palugo, January 9, we started our day with class after breakfast. During class we were introduced to the idea of permaculture. After class Thomas took us on a wonderful hike around the farm. Thomas showed us the garden were all the vegetables, fruit, and herbs are grown, where cattles are raised, and two other houses in which both of his brothers and family live in. Thomas allowed us to go into his home, which he built by using natural resources found around the farm. In Palugo farm there are many different types of animals that can be found inclusing cows, alpacas, guinea pigs, and rabbits. Once we were done hiking, we harvested vegetables from the garden and prepared our own lunch as a group. Once we were done with our lunch, we were given time to rest, since we were still extremely exhausted from the previous day. That evening, we had an amazing dinner of vegetable stir fry. The vegetables in Palugo Farm are the best that one could ever eat since, grown organically and natural. As soon as dinner ended, we all helped clean we gathered together for a meeting. During the meeting, Tomas went over some of the jobs that we were going to perform while being here on the farm. After a long day, we went to sleep so as to rest for the next day's work.

My Pie Time job is called Hormigas, meanings ants. The reason why we are given this name is because ants go around picking up little scraps after everyone. What this means is that my partner Ryan, and I are responsible for making sure that the compostable bathroom for use. Our responsibilities also include making sure that the kitchen is swept in the morning, the chuzon (classroom) is clean, the compostable bucket is emptied out, and that our bunkers are clean. The most important job for Hormigas is the compostable bathroom. The reason being is because all of the waste is emptied out to a bigger compose section on the farm. Thus, after a while the compost turns into soil and is used around the farm. My job is done for four days then we rotate to another job. We will keep you posted about what these jobs are in future blogs but it is quite difficult to blog since we only have two computers and limited time to be on.  So check for future blogs!
Best wishes from Ecuador,
Jacquelin Escobar                                                              

Thursday, January 10th began bright and early at 6:30 a.m. for the first day of Pie Time, a time when students are assigned specific chores for four days, then rotate. Pie Time chores include: woodworkers who chop wood for the stove fir; gardeners who harvest vegetables for meals; hormigas who clean the compostable toilet, kitchen, and classroom; milkers who milk cows at  4:00 a.m. in the morning; and cooks who prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for everyone. After breakfast, a resident of Palugo farms, Marcela, talked to the group about social permaculture, the communities and human relationships of our world. Followed by class time, we discussed the indigenous struggle in Ecuador and the basics of permaculture, a holistic, sustainable approach to agriculture as well as a way of life. After a delicious lunch, Tomas took us on an exciting tractor ride to his parent's farm across the street to gather alfalfa for the cows. At the farm, we were also introduced to the livestock of the farm - chickens, horses, and the pig we will slaughter and process for meat. After filling the trailer with alfalfa, we hopped back into the trailer for a sing-a-long hayride back to the farm to feed the cows.

On Friday, January 11th, we took a day trip to Quito after lunch. Four public buses later, we arrived in the bustling and beautiful city of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We began our visit to Quito with a trip to the house and museum of Guayasamin (1919-1999), a famous Ecuadorian artist. Guayasamin's house is filled with a combination of his own artwork and his personal collections, including Catholic religious art, exquisite woodwork, paintings by friend Pablo Picasso, and erotic Mexican sculptures. Separate to the house was a museum of Guayasamin's artwork known as The Chapel of Man. Adorned with gigantic impressionist art, The Chapel of Man is dedicated to the indigenous struggle of the past, present, and future. Afterwards, we traveled to Gringolandia, a popular attraction for tourists visiting from the United States and Europe. We dined at local restaurant and cafe, CACTUS, and munched on traditional Ecuadorian dishes. After an adventurous day in Quito, we traveled back to Palugo farms to rest for the next day's work.

On Saturday, January 12th, we worked in the garden here at Palugo farm. The garden provides fresh produce including lettuce, spinach, onions, turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, and many other delicious vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Garden duties included: laying straw on the terrances of the garden, placing mulch on top of garden beds, and weeding. As the sun went down on Palugo farm, it was time to call it quits for the day. That evening, we enjoyed dinner and a discussion with Francisco, the owner of Palugo farm, who conveyed the history of Palugo. 

For Pie Time, I have been assigned cook duty with two other classmates. Everyday, the other cooks and I prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for fifteen people. Breakfast dishes have included eggs, toast, homemade cheese and yogurt, oatmeal, zucchini bread, and fresh fruit along with coffee and tea. For lunch and dinner, cooks prepare fresh, colorful salads, quesadillas, homemade guacamole and salsa, chicken, garlic mashed potatoes among mny other delicious dishes. We eat good on Palugo Farm! My favorite memory of preparing dinner has been watching Caitlin and Kristina cut a whole chicken with a machete. The best part of cooking is using an outdoor kitchen, a stove heated by fire, preparing meals with fresh ingredients, and chatting with Marcia, Tomas' wife.  

Check this coming week for Jan Term 181's next blog update!

Maggie Powers '14

Monday, January 7, 2013

On January 7, we will depart from our Moraga, California campus for a month of off-the-grid living on a sustainable farm near Quito, Ecuador!

 Check back soon for updates from our travels.

 Our site:

Just 25 miles from Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, Nahual is easily accessible but is truly a world away. Nahual sits on Palugo Farm, a working organic farm with numerous free-grazing animals, dairy production, and extensive food production. Nahual promotes the importance of organic produce cultivation with a Community Supported Agriculture project that feeds 30 families every week.
Our Homebase ~ Nahual Education Center at Palugo Farm

 In addition, residents of Nahual keep bees, produce cheese, wildcraft herbal teas and other plant medicine, create ceramics and functional pottery, and practice sustainable building and living techniques. Nahual supports the local and native economies with employment, job training, education, and community-building activities.

Nahual is an education center whose mission is to “re-enforce the connection between human beings and their environment. This connection allows us to make appropriate decisions about the future and the coming generations, so that we may once again coexist in harmony with our planet earth.” Nahual’s website is included below.

Nahual’s facilities include a 16-person bunkhouse, “el chozon” (a large classroom and attached indoor/outdoor kitchen including wood fire adobe oven), and an ecological bathroom including solar shower and composting toilets.

Course Information: 
Immersed in a month of living close to the land, students will explore the connections between people, place, and the natural world in the foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes. Applying permaculture design principles that have evolved largely out of traditional practices, students will learn to grow and harvest their own food, cook their own meals, compost their own waste, use animal products and medicinal plants, felt wool, and build with adobe and other natural materials. Sustainable living and ecological land use will guide our daily interactions with the surroundings while study of the history and culture of people Indigenous to the region forms the basis of our academic inquiry.

This course is design to give students an understanding of the basis of sustainability: Water, Food, Shelter and companionship. Students will experiment with conscious ways of interacting with the ecosystem based on the well-being of the land and on human health. Through the utilization of local materials students will participate projects that bring ancient skills and modern ways together and pursue a positive impact on the earth.