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What I learned in Ecuador, Pt 1

by Daniel Alexander

Day 1

As I was traveling on my two flights to Ecuador, I started to really think about why I wanted to travel here. I didn’t pick this trip… I didn’t really know a lot about it because of the fast change of plans… but then I realized that’s why I was so excited. Because we were initially going to Bolivia, I had spent hours upon hours since May preparing and learning about the culture, customs, and general area and service we were doing. However, since I only had a little over a month to prepare for everything, all of the excitement was held in the unknown. I could not wait to see what Ecuador had to offer me.

Our first day in Ecuador was an exhausting, fun-filled day filled with tourism and introductions. We landed in Quito around 5:00 in the morning and got to watch the sunrise on the mountains. Our local guide, Bibi, her wife (Lucia), brother-in-law (Lenin), and nephew (Brandon) picked us up from the airport, introduced themselves, and then spent the day traveling down the mountain of Quito to the valley of San Miguel Los Bancos. Throughout the day, we visited two museums explaining the science behind finding the equator, visited local stores, went on a hike, and had dinner while chatting. Spending the day touring some of Ecuador’s greatest gifts was a nice way to start off the trip and get to know everyone.

Day 2

Today was a very full day. We started with breakfast followed by a presentation on Ecuador’s culture. Our presenter, Marta, was a family member of those who hosted our trip. She discussed a large variety of Ecuadorian traditions, past, and future. Although I am not much of a history nerd, this presentation was very interesting. Marta touched on a lot of topics we had briefly discussed in class, but then took it to a deeper level. One of the most interesting parts of the presentation was the topic of dollarizing the Ecuadorian Sucre in 2000; she also talked about the importance of agriculture and its impact on the economy.

After lunch , we headed to the Nido de Vida farm where we would be spending the next ten days working. Their mission at Nido de Vida is to live from the land with minimal environmental impact. During our initial introduction, Lenin explained to us that their motto is that if something is there, it is meant to be there; if something does not succeed it was not meant to be there. They truly believe that the land will provide. This way of thinking is something that really resonated with me, and not something that is a common theme here in the States. As a Natural Resource and Environmental Science (NRES) major, I found their ways very respectable and inspiring– something I wanted to bring back to the United States.

Overall the Ecuadorian way of life is simple, yet well-thought-out. They take what they need, and no more; they live from the land; they trust the land to provide. After today’s introduction, I knew I had been brought to the right place and I was more than excited to start working.

Day 3

Starting bright and early this morning, neighbor, Don Roman, began harvesting sugar cane to demonstrate how panela is made. At 5 AM, he began juicing the sugar cane by rolling it through a manual machine. Once multiple liters of the juice has been extracted, it is then heated in a large copper basin. Over hours of heat, it begins to form into a caramel consistency, where it is then poured into molds, or made into candy.

A common theme I had noticed in the Ecuadorian culture was the presence of hard work. Despite the hours of strenuous work, Don Roman and his wife made very little off of each batch of panela, and business was not very steady. However, another common theme I had picked up on was the presence of happiness and gratefulness. Although they may not be living a luxurious life in an American’s eyes, Ecuadorians are beyond grateful for what has been provided to them. This will forever be something I hold on to because of the beauty and power this way of life holds. I found this way of life both respectable, and eye-opening. We tend to lose sight of what really matters in life and the Ecuadorian culture truly made me see this again- kind of like a reality check. In the end, it does not matter whether you are rich or poor, have a mansion or a shack, educated or uneducated– what really counts is your happiness; it is the immeasurable things that matter.

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