EVS in the country of the four worlds, Ecuador
Located in the middle of the world, in Ecuador we can take a step from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere. It is possible in one day to walk along the beautiful Pacific coast, the imposing Andes mountain range and the secret Amazon rainforest. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean are the splendid Galapagos Islands, with its incredible marine and terrestrial heritage.
Ecuador has the largest diversity of animals and plants per square kilometer of the world, and it is possible in this small country to visit several ecosystems of the planet.
With all this biological wealth, there could only be a spectacular variety of fruit like this. Exotic fruits such as Granadilla – of soft taste and strange sticky texture, and Pitahaya – too good, but unfortunately also with too much laxative effect.
When talking about Ecuadorian fruits, I could not fail to mention bananas, especially Verde, probably the main food in this region. Here, the bananas are eaten green or ripe, cooked or raw. There are bananas of all sizes and shapes – even red-colored bananas, made in 1001 ways. And all are delicious.
As for the vegetables, I could not fail to mention the Yuca, which is used in several traditional dishes and makes a wonderful bread, which was a treat with which we were welcomed on our arrival in Puyo. All these products, in their diversity, have magnificent colors and odors, which makes local markets very good to visit.
One month for the various regions of the country:
In my first month of living in Ecuador, I had the opportunity to get to know a little of the three main regions – the coast, the mountains and the east. I also knew a little of its people, who are everywhere friendly, hospitable and humble.
On the coast, one feels a more festive and relaxed atmosphere. The population is more liberal and vibrant.
I went down the coast from Esmeralda to Montañita in comical buses that vary between reggeaton music – yes, reggeaton is the most heard in this country – and violent films about fighting. This part – the reggeaton and violent films – is the same in all the areas of the country, however in the coast, the volume is higher. I dived into the warm waters of the beautiful and alternative beach of Mompiche, and savored their fish and fruit. I met quiet and pleasant fishing villages such as Puerto Lopéz, which is also the gateway to Machalilla National Park, which protects 50km of beaches – among them the beautiful beach of Los Frailes – and 40,000 hectares of forest.
I crossed the mythical Andes mountain range, where volcanoes rise more than five thousand meters high with perpetual snow. I descended to the Lagoon of Quilotoa, a magical place where a lagoon forms inside the crater of an extinct volcano, at almost 4000 meters of altitude. I verified something curious I was told that it always rains at 12:00 a.m.
Along the mountain range I saw amazing valleys and picturesque settlements. The population of the mountain range is more picturesque, all in their characteristic costumes, and convey a quiet, almost mystical deep that blends in with a landscape.
Here, in addition to reggingaton always present throughout the country, you can also hear the characteristic Andean pan flute. There are three types of pan flute, siku, antara and rondador. It is believed that the rondador pan flute originated in Ecuador and southern Colombia.
I walked along trails in the east, where the Amazon rainforest is located. In Mera, I dived into the cold waters of the Tigre River and admired the power of the Pastaza River, which with its course forms the border between the province of Pastaza and the province of Morona Santiago.
I was struck by the beauty of the Laguna Azul in Tena, which in reality corresponds to a series of natural pools formed by a tributary of the Jatunyacu River and surrounded by forest.
I have seen and heard beautiful exotic animals, such as the Red Macaw, the Green Snake and the Tarantula. I have known a little about the people and the natural medicine of this region.
And it is here in the East that I am doing my European Volunteer Service (EVS). Here, in the mysterious Amazon region, more specifically in Puyo.
Puyo is the main city in the province of Pastaza. This is the largest province in the country, but it is also the least populated. However, it is extremely culturally diverse. Only in this province, in Pastanza, are present seven indigenous nationalities, which are: Achuar, Andoa, Shuar, Kichwa, Shiwiar, Waorani and Zapara.
An indigenous nationality refers to an age-old communities and previous to the State of Ecuador, each with its own language and culture. It is also relevant to mention the existence of communities without contact with the national society.
Although the official language of this country is Spanish, more specifically Castilian, there is a percentage of the population that does not speak this language. There are many children in school who have difficulties with Castilian and who are ashamed of their language and indigenous origin, as there is a lot of discrimination and association of indigenous peoples with poverty and delinquency. On the other hand, there are people and movements working for the recovery and conservation of these identities.
One month of EVS:
Besides being culturally diverse, this region is also very biologically diverse. Everything here has life. Biological processes occur more quickly due to the high temperatures and high humidity in the air … here “life transpires”! My volunteer project is associated with organic farming. It is very interesting work with the soil in a place where there is so much life. Plants grow faster, just like pests.
It is curious see a tarantula walking the football pitch, and no one to worry about it because, contrary to what I thought, it is not such a dangerous animal because its poison does not kill, it is only painful. It is very pleasant to wake up to the sound of a blue Macaw lodged in a cable of electricity in front of my room.
I’m living in a rural community. Neighbors, children and dogs have a hard life here. Children live in a free way and are, therefore, more independent … dogs beg for food with their bones coming out through the skin. The province of Pastaza is the poorest of all Ecuadorian provinces. People live in a very simple way and they seem to be happy with that.
I spend most of my days here in the La Libertad community. The children go to school in the morning and come back for lunch, anxiously waiting for my fellow volunteers to open the library. I’m sometimes in the library planning things, other times I’m in the greenhouse working on agriculture and, especially in the last few days, working with the compost that is being made here for the first time. This compost will be used to fertilize the soil of the greenhouse, and this help produce food for the community.
One of the goals of this project is to encourage the community to produce their food, and to produce it in a healthy way for them and the environment. It aims to promote environmental sustainability and self-sufficiency, in order to alleviate the local poverty.
Sometimes, in these my farming jobs, I have the cheerful help of the children. On Tuesday we have the Minga, which is a community work that tries to involve the neighboring communities in this project. During three weeks, in Minga, an interesting workshop was held with a professional in permaculture, who helped us and guided us immensely in this hard work of agriculture in such an intense climate.
On Mondays we have had the presence of some dear Ecuadorian ladies who have teach us how to cook traditional Ecuadorian dishes, with my favorites being Bolones de Verde and Seco de Pollo.
For me, this experience has been a journey … travel through different and beautiful places and people, and more than that, it has been a Time travel. I have the impression that there are some resemblances between the present reality here and the reality of my country 50 years ago.
Etymologically, travel English derives from the French travail, which in turn originates in the Latin term tripalium, which designates an instrument of torture. To travel is to go to the unknown and, in this way, “lose innocence”, lose our comfort and our references.
The journey forces us to assume the discomfort, the loneliness and to interrupt the life to which we are accustomed in a certain place. To travel is essentially to discover, to discover ourselves and the reflection of our life in the stages of the journey, as well as discover the other without the comfort of the references that are immediate to us. It is not only important what is seen, but how it is seen and the process of mental transformation that occurs and transforms us.