Ecuador - Part 2
I can’t express what a relief it was for me to walk down the winding gravel path into Wisdom forest, lined with colorful tropical plants. The smells were earthy and clean, a great contrast to the pungent smells of fumes, garbage and dirty water that haunt the cities. As much as cities fascinate me, I am much more comfortable and at home in nature, and the Amazonian jungle is spectacular in its beauty.
The bus ride was quite long, and even though we hadn’t done much else that day, we were exhausted. When the pathway opened up to a colorful open air house, it was a very welcoming sight. Several people were busy preparing food in the kitchen, and we were greeted warmly.
There were four other volunteers staying at the guesthouse, from various parts of the world. Daniel was from Minnesota, Irena from Italy, Han Han from China, and Marcus from Germany. Daniel had been there the longest, so he took us on a quick tour of the main part of the grounds. I was delighted to see a dipping pool outside of a sweat lodge, and there were other cool features like a natural building project, a treehouse, and a workshop. It was getting dark, so we didn’t explore extensively.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner, the best we’d had since coming to Ecuador. We were given a large room with a double bed and bunk beds, and we went to bed fairly early. Yoga was scheduled for 5:30 am, in the school, which was a big building up the hill that we hadn’t visited yet.
With Laura and the girls still sleeping, I headed up the hill. Laura and I had to take turns going to yoga, because the kids couldn’t have sat through it, and we couldn’t leave them to wake up alone, even though they were quite comfortable in such a setting. There were many similarities between Wisdom Forest and Tacotal, the ecovillage where we lived in Costa Rica. The girls particularly loved the hammocks, which had berth to swing wide, and they used them as swings, in spite of our warnings to take it easy and not swing so high.
The yoga was led by Bhaga, who also ran the ecovillage. When we showed up to the yoga deck, he was playing a harmonium and singing kirtan mantras. We did a short kirtan, followed by a talk about Ashtanga yoga. Then we did an intense hour plus yoga session, which had me sweating and breathing heavy by the end. I learned some new asanas though, and it was very invigorating.
I was hoping to get to talk to Bhaga more, but he was very busy, and he didn’t come around to the volunteer house very much. Our activities were coordinated by a guy named Gopal, who was from Columbia. Gopal was friendly and energetic, and though he spoke little English, he was accustomed to speaking Spanish with foreigners, and it was very easy for me to understand him.
All of the other volunteers spoke Spanish fairly well, and many of our conversations were in Spanish. I felt I reached a new plateau of comprehension, and I enjoyed taking part in conversations about economics, geopolitics, and permaculture, all in Spanish.
With Gopal we made a plan for what we would do over the week, and he explained the basic structure of their time at Wisdom Forest. There is always work to do around a permaculture farm, and five days a week are spent on different projects. The ecovillage had a relationship with a school in the next town over, where they went one day a week to play games and teach the kids about ecological awareness. Saturdays were for going on adventures, and Sundays were free. Our fast schedule for visiting six countries in two months didn’t allow us much time at Wisdom Forest, which was dismaying, because I quickly came to like the energy and pace of the people and place, but we planned to stay at least three nights, which would allow us time to participate in several activities.
On the first day we planted papaya seeds, which involved digging holes and moving compost. The girls contended themselves with exploring the food forest, which was extensive. The work was hard and we were really tired by the time we finished filling eleven holes with compost and planting them with papaya seeds. Our next task was to prune the cacao trees and cut away dead banana leaves. During this work we also harvested some pineapples, bananas, and naranjilas. When we finished, I was thankful for the dipping pool, and I went for a nice long soak. The day wasn’t scorching hot, but it was humid, and I was going through shirts and socks fast.
That afternoon Gopal gave a great introductory talk to permaculture, which I was pleased to be able to understand, even though it was in Spanish. The others were not as familiar with permaculture, and I appreciated Gopal’s explanation, which was a good overview with clear examples of different ways in which permaculture can be applied. I videoed the entire talk, and at some point I will edit it for length so I can post the highlights, for all my Spanish speaking friends who are interested in permaculture.
The second day we went on a long walk through the jungle with a friend of Gopal’s, for the purpose of collecting seeds of native trees for a reforestation project that Wisdom Forest was creating. Gopal suggested we all wear the gumboots that the denizens of the jungle prefer, and though there were many pairs for volunteers to borrow, none of us chose to wear them. I had gotten a blister on my toes from the pair I wore the day before, so I preferred my hiking shoes.
We all piled into a small SUV, which could only take us so far. The rest of the way we were ferried on a dirt bike by a young guy who I learned was our guide’s son. Laura, Eva and Gaia all climbed on the back of the motorcycle and drove off, leaving us to start walking. I went next with Lila, and then the rest of the group was picked up in turn. It was a bit scary riding the motorcycle over a bumpy rode with Lila on my back, but she loved it, and everything turned out fine.
Once we got out into the jungle, I could see why they had suggested the boots. We had to cross several streams and low rivers, and in places the path was deep with mud. Our guide waited patiently while all us gringos took off our shoes and then slowly put them back on after every impassable area. Several people got their shoes and socks wet.
The hike was longer than we anticipated, and though it was through a beautiful pristine jungle along a rushing clean river, our girls found it boring and spent most of the time complaining. We found only about four or five varieties of trees with seeds on the ground, but we collected lots of seeds from them. At one point we came to a convergence of rivers, where there was a cable car for getting across. The smaller river was low enough to ford, but Han Han decided to take the cable car. We were now on our guides family land, which was only accessible by the route we had taken. We stopped at a small cabin up on stilts, which was not occupied. He told us his father had once lived there, but eventually the remote location became too difficult and so they moved to town. Now they use it as a vacation cabin sometimes. It was situated right next to larger river, which was rushing by over massive boulders. I was really tempted me to get in, but the guide said there would be a better swimming hole in the other river.
We walked on a much less traveled trail, following our guide as he swung his machete to clear the way. The girls were complaining a lot, but we were well rewarded when we got to the swimming hole. It was a beautiful spot, with a towering cliff covered with tropical vegetation that dripped into the deep spot where a seasonal waterfall meets the river. The river was generally quite shallow, but against the cliffs it was around ten feet, and the water was a perfect temperature.
We swam for perhaps an hour, enjoying the tranquil, private spot. I took a little climb up into the ravine from which the waterfall sometimes flows, amazed by the beautiful plants and the glowing drops of water that were illuminated by the sun beyond the trees.
The hike back went much quicker, and Eva and Gaia were thrilled to get to ride the gondola. I took a video of it, but I had to help with the pulling, so I think the footage was rather shaky.
Our guide’s son once again ferried us back to where we were dropped off, and against all odds, we found a cab to take us all back to the ecovillage. The girls loved that we got to sit in the bed of the truck. We were exhausted, once again, when we made it home. That evening we had a few more arrivals, including another family with a five year old girl. They were very interesting people, and I had a good talk with Mahakala (I think I got that name right…) who was definitely a kindred spirit.
For our final day at the ecovillage, we went to the school to work with the kids. The night before a few of us put together some cards for a memory game about recycling, which we would use in a memory game. I took the girls with me to the school, though they complained once again about the walk. Their blond hair was most fascinating to the local kids, and they played along with the games a little bit, though Eva was feeling kind of sick and Lila was being standoffish. We played a relay game, a game similar to sharks and minnows, and then we did the memory game and sang some songs.
The kids were rambunctious and full of energy, and several of them were off doing their own thing throughout our time there. They liked the sharks and minnows game, and they were very interested in our cameras. They really wanted to take pictures, and I let a few of them take some pictures, though it soon became a distraction and I had to put the camera away.
We were fortunate to get a ride back up the hill to Wisdom Forest from a Korean couple who spoke decent Spanish. Eva was feeling worse, and she ended up sleeping for much of the rest of the day.
This was actually Gaia’s birthday, and we had a wonderful taco lunch with a delicious fruit salad. We sang happy birthday in eight languages, which was really cool, I thought. That afternoon we made chocolate, though we had to get on the road to Tena before the chocolate could cool and solidify. We at least got to taste it, and it was cool to actually make some chocolate from scratch, with cocoa beans harvested from the land.
We took a local bus into Tena, where we got a hostel. We are still here as I write, preparing to get another regional bus to a town called Baños, where there are hot springs. It was a hard night, as we all suddenly started feeling the bug bites that I guess we had been getting, and Laura discovered that she had a full body rash of some kind. I didn’t get bitten much at all for the first two days in the jungle, but on our last night at the ecovillage it rained, and I guess that brought the blood suckers out. Poor Laura was barely able to sleep, and she used up almost all of the clay she brought for skin irritation. I went to town this morning to see if I could find some, and the lady at the pharmacy told me she didn’t think anyone would be selling it. If I wanted clay, I would have to go into the mountains and dig some up.
Maybe at Baños…
More updates on our adventures to come. I will also be posting more videos, as I have time to upload them, along with more articles pertaining to the larger vision of creating a new society and opening up opportunities for counter-economic careers. I’ve been talking about my vision with just about everybody I meet, and I’m getting lots of good feedback. I’m very much looking forward to having conversations with folks at Anarchapulco about the possibility of creating a company that will facilitate such pursuits. Blessings to all!