Later this morning we leave Atahualpa. We have been welcomed here with such generosity and kindness, a brief glimpse into another life. What a privilege! I definitely won’t miss the bus that honks and roars passed my window every morning at 5am and then again at 6, nor the many barking dogs that run after me as I walk by, but I am somewhat sad to be leaving these mountains, the fog, the click of the crickets in the evenings and the fresh fruit juices every morning with breakfast. And yet there is so much more to come. I feel ready to be moving on.
It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote. What have I been up to? The students built tables for the vivero (greenhouse) that we also helped to build. The plan is to use the greenhouse to grow trees to reforest the hillsides and medicinal plants to introduce this cultural practice back to the community. It was a big moment when I taught a couple of the young women how to hold and use a hammer. I think Karelle maybe went through 15 nails before she was able to hammer one in completely. In the moment I don’t think she was too happy with me when I continued to give her nail after nail but in the end, knowing how to use a hammer is a valuable skill. The students have finished their seminars about the environment and natural resources. The last few were especially interesting to me, and a good introduction to the students who hadn’t thought much about such topics as gender, race and class and how they pertain to environmental justice.
Last weekend I went to a town called Mindo with my fellow program leader Kayce. The students were off for the weekend travelling on their own for the first time so we took the opportunity to explore as well. Mindo is a small tourist town in the cloud forest, and despite the tourists it was muy tranquilo y a lot of diversity. We went on a five hour bird watching tour where we saw three varieties of toucans, parrots, tanegers, hawks, woodpeckers and many more whose names I can’t quite remember.
We went on a frog walk and saw a poison dart frog the size of my thumbnail, a robber frog (named this because of the black bank around its eyes), a stick bug, horn toad, katydid, a glow in the dark log (the endophytes (microorganisms) in the log help it decay and in the process actually glow in the dark – I think this was possibly the coolest thing I saw), a crystal frog, wolf spider and some kind of possum. We also saw beautiful butterflies and hummingbirds. Went on a chocolate making tour at this small farm where we saw the entire process for making chocolate – pretty tasty. The farm was a work in progress but really interesting to see the mix of coffee bushes, fruit trees, animals and vegetables. So much food off of a small plot of land. And for the first time in weeks, a really good cup of espresso!
Every night, just after I’ve turned the light off to go to sleep, I draw back the curtains and look out at the night to remind myself of the extraordinary. It was Robin (founder/CEO of TBB) that reminded us before leaving for this trip of how quickly the extraordinary will become ordinary. And I look out the window each night to remind myself of how extraordinary the ordinary is. The lights of the nearest town flickering on a distant hillside, the hazy yellow light from the street lamp shining through clouds now completely covering our very existence, to remind myself that yes, I am here in this quiet small village that most in the world know nothing about, high up in the Andes. This privilege can’t be overstated. Mary Oliver (one of my favorite poets) writes in her poem Mindful: “Every day – I see or hear – something – that more or less – kills me – with delight, – that leave me – like a needle – in the haystack – of light. – It was what I was born for – to look, to listen – to lose myself – inside this soft world – to instruct myself – over and over – in joy – and acclamation. – Nor am I talking – about the exceptional – the fearful, the dreadful, – the very extravagant – but of the ordinary, – the common, the very drab, – the daily presentations…”
I’m a bit tired. Definitely starting to miss the freedoms of my life back home and the ease of being with my friends, however the group is doing well and I’m content. Living with some gastro issues for a few days but I think it has passed and I’m in the clear, ready to trek the Inca Trail. This weekend we’re in Quito, visiting USAID this afternoon, a hike on Saturday and some free time on Sunday. I should have internet access through Sunday if you want to connect. I leave for Peru on Monday and will be on the trail from November 2 – 5th. Will definitely send photos and an update as soon as I can when I return.
I hope this finds you all well, loving, laughing, working and playing hard. I’m thinking about woodstoves and pumpkin bread, a good beer and hike in the cool crisp autumn air. Please keep in touch. I love to hear how you are all doing and of course you know how much I like a good story.