Sunday, October 24, 2010

NHESP 2010 Update 7

Left to right standing: Hannah, Jake, Dylan, Hakeem, Gabe, Shiram, Armin
kneeling: Michael, Tupac, Carina, Marcela, Pedro, Julia, Connor, Iyla

Dear readers,

It was tough saying our farewells to the families in Zuleta, especially to German and Antonio. They were a goofy duo who were highly amused by teasing and playing pranks on every one of us. Just as our group began to settle into the rhythm and comfort of home in Zuleta, having just unpacked our bags 4 days ago, a bus to the city of Cayambe -- the city of bizcochos -- was awaiting our departure. This nomadic pattern of 3 to 4 days here and 3 to 4 days there, was preparing us for constantly moving through the bush jungles. Hugs, shakes, and some newly acquired gestures were shared before  we set off.
With heads out the windows, as if we were dogs licking the wind, we looked back at (the not quite discovered) town of Zuleta, wondering if we would ever experience a moment of showing up again one day and seeing German artfully crafting his leather and saying, “Buenos Dias!” The bus ride to Cayambe was not much fun. Some of us had queasy stomachs due to a recent fast followed by a feast, which we undertook as a group when we took part in slaughtering a pig. In Cayambe, the buttery scent of bizcochos lit our nostrils before our “venus llanera” (Ecuadorian made boots) took us around a corner to a courtyard. Some indulged in numerous trips to the toilet.  However, we all indulged in plates of Cayambe’s traditional dish of sugary, fluffy, floury bizcochos.
Bathing in the hot springs of Oyacachi
Much to our surprise, a familiar face arrived in the courtyard where we were gorging. Francisco Dammer (Michael, Thomas and Mathias’s father) brought letters from friends and families to our crew. (Thank you all for writing!!) While letters, postcards, and memories floated around, once again it became time to go, so we relocated our meandering minds and found our space in the present. We loaded up two hired pickup trucks with packs, new supplies, and ourselves, said our goodbyes to Francisco, and were off. We went onto a gravel road. At one point, our highest elevation on the narrow winding roads reached 4,000m., a little less than Mt Pasochoa.
We soon reached the land of water and the small, isolated town of Oyacachi. Cold, fog, dense foliage, and flowers welcomed us to the stunning town, along with Carolina and Frankilins (our hospitable hosts). We settled in quickly and made our way to Oyacachi’s well known attraction: natural, volcanic hot springs. There is a rule of thumb when you bathe in Oyacachi’s volcanic springs; you have to make your way into the rumbling river 7 times after coming out of the hot pools. This is said to purify your body with minerals and strengthen your immune and nervous system by going in and out of the polar temperatures. After drying off and getting into our comforting, warm clothes, we made our way to a local restaurant where we were served trout alongside sweet onions and tomatoes for dinner. Shortly after, we called it a night.
Connor's first attempts at creating a bowl
The next morning, we woke with the sun and went right into chores helping Carolina around the house and garden and milking the cows. We had a delicious breakfast of pristinnos (doughnuts), typical at an Ecuadorian breakfast, and colada de avena, an oatmeal-like food. After washing our bowls and group dishes, we had a lengthy chunk of solo time; three hours to roam Oyacachi. People came back with adventurous tales of stalking deer, climbing mountains, crossing rivers, and meeting old wise men in the brush. After sharing our experiences, we had a brief pop quiz to review permaculture, Social Realism, Spanish, and Ecuadorian anthropology.
Bowls are taking shape
Next we started our project carving wooden bowls. We met Hector, a sculptor whose artistic career has taken him as far as Quito. He has expositions in the capital, making life-size carvings of spectacled bears, the revered animal of Oyacachi. We met Messias and Alejandro, two other sculptors, who are mute and deaf. It is said there is a bacteria in the water that often results in deformation or other disorders among the local people. The aliso tree, we would use for our bowls, was cut and then halved the day before carving. We started by drawing the basic shapes of our bowls, then used axes and axed out the shape as much as we could.  When we found the appropriate shape, we used machetes to separate each bowl from the larger piece of wood. The next step was to use a sculpting tool called an azuela to gut the bowl. Much help came from our talented teachers. The finishing step was to sand and wood-burn a design. It took us each a day and a half to make a single bowl. Messias and Alejandro said they could bang out 20 a day. We wrapped up our final night by having a wonderful dinner at Carolina’s of chieppers, onions, ice, and the remainder of the pork, we had brought from Zuleta.
Hiking through the jungle
The next morning, we had an early start, said our farewells and began to hike. We first hiked 11km out of Oyacachi, joined another trail and did another 11km. In total we hiked 14 miles, then camped on the Cedro River. Here we had a day layover, where we unsuccessfully fished, then cooked and explored the nearby cliffs. The next day, we hiked 4 ½ miles through pretty rough terrain. We crossed a few decaying bridges where we had to harness and rope up. It was a long day and we hiked for 12 hours into the night, each time descending more into jungle terrain. We slept near the Santa Maria River, ate a late dinner and had a thorough sleep. This week, we will be catarafting and kayaking down the headwaters of the Napo River and then doing a half day trek to the native jungle community of Shiwacocha. You will hear from me next when we get back to Palugo, next Thursday, after this first month-long expedition.

Hasta Luego!  Hakeem

Poem of the week
By Dylan

More than a simple forgotten walk, an adventure filled with joy exhaling out of the souls of one another. A mesmerization of wonder to see leaves as big as people and trees as tall as buildings and birds just as colorful as a painting in a museum. It was more than a trek, it was a voyage of learning.

Iyla, Hannah and Shiram ooling off

A drenched but happy Jake

Spanish 101
River: Rio
Bridge: Puente
To fish: Pescar
Jungle: Selva
Tree: Arbol
Monkey: Mono

Friday, October 15, 2010

NHESP 2010 Update 6

Proudly showing our leatherwork in Zuleta

Dear readers,
More than a week ago we packed our bags and started our expedition.  San Clemente seems long ago, but I know our group has preserved the teachings, emotions, and feelings of enlightenment that we all experienced.   When we arrived, we split up into groups of two, and one group of three, and each group joined a family.   San Clemente is a beautiful place hugged by the extinct volcano Imbabura.

Embroidering in San Clemente's Community Center

            Every meal was rich, and we were served like kings and queens, superior to any five-star restaurant in New York City.  To give you a taste of some of the divine food we all indulged in here is a description of a typical San Clementian breakfast we were served:  deep fried empanadas, queso (cheese), scrambled eggs with onions and leeks, warm leche (milk) coffee, tea, arepas(flat bread) with marmalade and butter, and a colorful fruit salad made up of bananas, melón, pina, and mango.
Construction of the adobe house
We talked about the equinox and solstice, and when it’s best to plant and harvest.  We moved a huge rock that was originally carried from the mountains by four men.  It took our whole group and a few more to move it to a garden as a table.  The next project was to construct an adobe house for a 105 year-old woman.  Pigs, scorpions, dogs, and chickens roamed the cobbled roads and green fields of San Clemente. Michael and Iyla had an intense match of mud wrestling, and soon we all were involved.   We saw Tupac´s beautiful house and met his mom, dad, and brothers.  The local women showed us their embroideries on tablecloths, scarves, and shirts.  After some brief lessons, we got started on our own detailed shirts.  At one point while we were embroidering,  Kichwa (the native tongue), Spanish, German, and English were all being spoken at once.  You can imagine the atmosphere.
Jake and Tupac ploughing
The next day, we worked a field with two oxen, and played a huge soccer game down at the local school with family and friends.  Dylan and Gabe scouted some future Ecuadorian National team players and started to train them.  We then ended our day with a delicious dinner of creamy soup with queso, papas (potatoes), peas, and sweet tree tomatoes for dessert.  We went to bed to the loud talk of the sapos (tree frogs.)
Our finished leather work: machete sheaths, book covers
and handbags
Marcela, Michael, and Carina then said farewell and we went on a group solo hike up half of the mighty Imbabura and up to Cubiche --  a mostly vertical climb.  After two hours of hard climbing,  we reached the summit and our eyes were presented with four sapphire lakes.   We cooked, had rhyme sessions, played hackey sack, swam, and watched the sunset all atop of a volcano crater.  The next day, we hiked close to three hours down the face of Cubiche, to a neighbouring town called Zuleta.  Here we met the infamous Herman, a master leatherworker and skilled musician.  He crafts horse saddles, pants, belts, and pretty much anything you can make out of cuero (leather.)  We´ve been learning to use leather to make main lesson books for our graduation and machete sheaths for the jungle.  Working with leather is very intrícate and difficult.  As Herman says “the patience is the art.”  We bought a four-month old, red and white pig from some local farmers and then learned how to properly slaughter a pig from a 75 year-old farmer and his wife.  We decided to fast from the time it was killed to the festivities.  It takes a little more than a day to thoroughly cook a pig in a clay and cob oven.   
Iyla modeling Herman's artwork
Later this week we will be venturing into a remote town called Oyacachi to make bowls, to fish, and to go to some natural hot springs.  You´ll hear from me next as we prepare to cataraft down the Rio Napo.

Working with Herman

Happy Birthday Mom-Connor
Happy Birthday Dad-Dylan


Pedro and Hakeem studying the art of embroidery


-An acrostic poem by Dylan H.D.

"On the road again... "

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NHESP 2010 Update 5

On top of Mt. Pasochoa; le to rt standing: Gabe, Dylan, Armin, Tupac, Hannah, Connor, Marcela, Pedro; sitting: Michael, Hakeem, Julia, Shiram, Lisl 

Hakeem leaping over a fence

Shiram, Armin, Gabe and Jake with Mt. Pasochoa in the background

Dear Readers,

We started off the week “cocinando con Adelita” (cooking with Adela), who is Michael, Thomas, and Mathias’ mother. Adelita showed us how to make “locro de papa” (potato soup) and “quimbolitos,” a dessert native to Ecuador. Although the preparations for the meal were somewhat chaotic, we had a delicious, authentic dinner with dessert and learned much from Adelita.
Our new knives
On Tuesday, we finally completed making our knives and had a geography lesson with Michael. We learned about stratovolcanoes, riolithic formations and Neolithic eruptions, Cotopaxi’s last eruption in 1880 (and its tendency to erupt every 100 to 120 years!), and how Ecuador is divided into four geographical areas: the coast, Andes mountains, Amazon basin, and the Galapagos Islands.
On Wednesday, we started construction and carpentry projects on the farm. We assembled into groups and began to build stairs for our dwellings, repair the clay and cob oven, build windows in El Chozon, and make a tool-box for our equipment. Additionally, Marcela taught a lesson on Ecuadorian literature.
Thursday we ascended the 13,000-foot mountain Pasochoa, about an hour away from Palugo. Our bus driver, Carlos, and Marcea, Thomas’s partner, came with us. Pasochoa mountain was once a volcano and now it is half a crater, surrounded by lush forest that inhabit spectacled bears, hawks (gavilanes), deer, and wolves. “The gavilanes welcomed us in and out of the mountain.” –Pedro. It was a strenuous and scenic walk. Unfortunately, Iyla and Jake were unable to summit because of altitude sickness and waited for the return of the group under Carina's care about 1,000 feet lower. In the end, we had a great time. This experience was good preparation for what’s to come. As we were descending, Michael, Jake, and a few others spotted a clandestine black wolf that was never spotted again.
Pizza night in El Chozon
Friday was our official workday. We split up into groups of twos; each group read a short story by a South American author. In our groups, we discussed the reading, and then wrote and drew academic pages to add to the semester book. 
Finally, on Saturday, the knowledgeable herbalist, Marcea, engrossed us. We went around the farm and attempted to absorb all the information she had to offer. Marcea showed us the following herbs and told us about their healing properties: wild sage, deadly nightshade, muscara, alfalfa, red clover, iso, eucalyptus, elder, borage, mint, lemon balm, sorrel, black walnut, calendula, rosemary, yellow dock, stinging nettle, horse tail, and chinchin. For the highlight of the day, we made a salve out of herbal oils (6oz. calendula, 4oz. plantain, 3oz. chamomile, 2oz. rosemary, 1oz. lavender), and 4oz. of beeswax (to bind the oil together). We learned so much from Marcea; she has so much wisdom to offer. Later that afternoon and night, we made chulpi, various breads, granola, and cookies for our month-long expedition. We finished the day with many delicious pizzas made from scratch. Thank you Marcea for a fun filled day!


Marcea pouring our salves

Environmental tip of the week: stinging nettle stimulates your nerves. Whipping yourself on an achy part of your body can revitalize your muscles and nerves. Nettle is also a super food that contains copious amounts of vitamins and minerals. Cook it with a little butter and garlic!

Spanish words of the week:

Recipe of the week from our cooking/Spanish lesson: Locro de Papa: chop onions and fry. Add half of the potatoes (about 20) and add water until covered. Add salt and let it cook until they are soft. Then add the rest of the potatoes with milk and cheese (queso crème Gonzalez). Let it boil until it thickens. Picar cebollas y freir. Aumentar la mitad de las papas y aumentar agua hasta que les tape. Poner sal y dejar cocinar hasta que esten suaves. Luego aumentar el resto de las papas leche y queso, dejar hervir hasta que espece. Y disfrutar!
Concert in El Chozon with Armin, Dylan and Dario, a boy who works on the farm
Ingredients for Quimbolitos: Mix four oz. of flour, two oz. of corn starch, eight oz. of butter, eight oz. of sugar, eight oz. of cheese, one cup of lemon, four oz. of raisins, one cup of cognac, and twenty leaves of achira (a local tree). Whip butter and sugar, then add the grated cheese. Add the yolks and whip until snow like or until you can turn the bowl upside down and they will not fall out. Little by little, add the flour mixed with corn-starch and baking powder. Next step is to add the lemon juice and cognac . Mix well so that the dough is fluffy. Then add the whipped egg whites. Wrap the mix in achira leaves and add raisins. Put them in a pot to cook in a steam bath. 

Mt. Pinchinca in the background
Connor at the rim of Pasochoa's crater