The journey from Calama, Chile to Tres Cerritos, Ecuador was the longest and most tiring yet. We traveled the 2,100 miles by bus in 4 days, spending 1 day and night in Lima, Peru to break up the trip. We were nearly robbed, royally screwed over by one bus company crossing the Chile/Peru border, watched a family of Peruvians get arrested on our bus, saw numerous bad action films dubbed in Spanish, dealt with “party hostel” BS in Lima, got hardly any sleep the whole time and were mostly delirious, cranky and at times angry. But after all, our last bus dropped us off in Tres Cerritos, Ecuador after a very easy border crossing. We were on our way to work on an organic farm for a few days, something I’d arranged through WWOOF.org. Even though the bus was hours late, we had a motorcycle taxi waiting to take us the extra 20 kilometers to Finca Monoloco. The driver threw Chris’ huge backpack up front so it was resting on the handle bars, had him hop in the middle and me jump on back, keeping my backpack on. The first few kilometers were beautiful- the air was hot and thick, a symphony of insects chirped around us and fireflies lit up the rice fields as we chugged past. But as we bumped along the dirt road, through mud puddles and over humps, it began to hurt like hell. I was happy when we finally arrived, 45 minutes, wet feet and a bruised butt later.
We spent the next 4 days working with our hands- digging beds for a native tree garden, weeding and spreading compost on baby coffee plants, tearing apart the cabaña walls to expose bats (and heaps of guano), making a bat house for the bats to live (in hopes that they’d leave the cabañas for good), and trimming a whole field using machetes. The work was difficult but it felt good to sweat and be productive. It also taught me to appreciate the gas powered tools we have access to in the US- one should never complain about using a lawn mower or weed whacker until they’ve tried doing the same work with a machete- it’s not as easy as those with years of experience make it seem.
The Ecuadorian caregivers that lived and worked at Monoloco were kind, even if we struggled to communicate. Sandra cooked up 3 delicious meals a day (always with white rice and freshly squeezed limeade), took care of their 3 kids and also worked around the farm. She’s only 21 but has the experience of someone much older- she began to grow up earlier than me or anyone I personally know. Now her daughter, at 8, is taking care of the 5 month old girl, helping her mom cook and work around the farm. Seeing this, it’s easier to understand how a girl may be (more) ready to get married and have kids at 13, which is normal in a lot of Ecuador. What were we doing at 8? Most likely watching cartoons and riding bikes. At 13? Going to school dances and hanging out with friends, not raising children and building a home. Culturally, we live worlds apart, but still were able to connect in a basic, human way.
The farm itself was surrounded by jungle, we heard howler monkeys screaming all day/night, watched the toads come out by the dozens to munch bugs at night, and were personally munched on by the most aggressive mosquitos I’ve ever seen- I’ve never had so many bites in my life (from the mosquitos and from the fire ants that attacked and stung like bees).
What amazed me most was the amount of life that surrounded us. With every shovel full of dirt came a new strange insect, a pile of ants or wiggling worms- the entire mound of earth I was digging was moving, crawling with life. Dragonflies, butterflies, giant bees and colorful birds flew all around, swarming and chirping melodies. Besides for the pesty, biting life, it was beautiful. It grounded me and restored my faith in and love for the world after nearly giving it all up in the previous hellish days.
These are the ups and downs of traveling, of life in general I suppose. I left the farm feeling much more balanced than I had in a while, ready for lazy days on the coast.
Delicious Ceviche in Lima
Newly planted native tree garden in the bed we dug