Friday, May 25, 2007

Vilcabamba, Ecuador

The last minute decision to go to Vilcabamba for a week of WWOOFing turned out to be one of the best experiences thus far. I felt a feeling of peace and contentment wash over me as I entered Vilcabamba for the first time and saw a beautiful full rainbow. It was a sign of good things to come!

Vilcabamba is on the west side of the Andean corridor in southern Ecuador. The combination farm/restaurant/guest cabins are located right on the edge of Podocarpus National Park, which is named for Ecuador´s only native conifer. A beautiful, awe-inspiring place to be!

The volunteer situation was ideal: 4 hours of work 5 days a week in exchange for free housing and access to a kitchen. In the volunteer house we were 6, a mix of 3 Germans, an Austrian, a French, and me. The housemates were all so generous, innovative and creative, down to earth, and environmentally aware. After breakfast we all headed over to chat with the interesting and friendly owners and their kids, and to work a bit too. My main project was turning an area overgrown with weeds and bushes and small trees into a viable vegetable garden. It was rewarding. There were many places to hike to in the afternoons, and trips to town provided us with plenty of good wheat bread and natural yogurt and book exchanges. We made delicious dinners every night and thouroughly enjoyed the peaceful way of life.

Friday evening we went to a sweat with about half locals and half visitors. It was so enjoyable and purifying! One Peruvian artisan we met that night had us over to his place later that weekend, and I met some awesome people - accomplished musicians, protest organizers, artisans, and people with spark from different parts of the world. I also went on a wonderful hike with Regina, another volunteer, in which we stayed overnight at a mountain refuge. It makes the blisters worthwhile! All in all Vilcabamba was incredible and I left feeling centered and more
focused on what is important in life...

I am now traveling in Peru, and will write more when I get the chance. Take care everyone!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Montañita, Ecuador

It´s been a few weeks since I´ve last updated the blog, and it feels like ages has passed since being in Baños. I will try to summarize (briefly) my travels accompanied by tantalizing photos for your visual enjoyment.

Upon leaving Quito for Montañita, Andy magically appeared on the same bus. As i´ve now learned, even when traveling ¨on my own¨ I rarely find I am truly by myself! Acquaintances are always popping up in the most unlikely of places. But as companion-oriented as I am, I do not mind one bit.

We arrived to Surfing Inn Hostal in Montañita early on Sunday April 29th to find our dear quirky Johan awakening from his slumber. Meanwhile Andy immediately fell sick (with what we are still not sure) and suffered from horrible headaches and general weakness for the better part of a week. He bacame well acquainted with the local hospital´s staff who declared he did NOT have Dengue nor Meningitis. But the tentative diagnosis of Salomanilla poisoning never made any sense either. ´Tis a mystery, but he is alive and well and after a week he took off for Argentina.

The people I met in Montañita were a diverse group in terms of ages and personalities. Señora Maria Perla was the kind and motherly owner of the hostal, and she kept us in line and made sure we cleaned up after ourselves in the kitchen. She also invited us into her own home and laughingly watched Borat with us. Brett was the only other boarder at the hostal, a charismatic Australian surfer arranging to buy land and live near the town. Greg, Brett´s spontaneous and crazy Aussie traveling partner crashed back into Montañita toward the end of the first week after a whirlwind trip to Peru with a Peruana. Lastly, in my core group of acquantainces was Jimmy. Jimmy is an intelligent and wonderfully alive guy from the U.S. in his 60´s who touts the attitude of a 25-year-old. Jimmy is living out his retirement in a very different way than most older Americans I know. He is a musician and retired professor, who surfs and body boards, and likes to chat over a good cup of coffee about the peculiarities of life and politics. An admirable role model.

My loose routine in Montañita was to wake up by 7 am, get a newspaper, make a fresh batch of coffee straight from the Colombian sierra, and greet Johan and Brett as they lazily arose for a morning swim/surf. I spent the afternoons reading or swimming or walking, and the evenings almost always included a swim right before sunset and good food whipped-up with Chef Johan´s direction, or when we felt lazy, good pasta and wine at a local Italian´s restaurant.

Once we took an enjoyable day trip up the coast to different surfing spots, including Ayampe, Las Tunas, Puerto Lopez, and Puerto Cayo with a local acqaintance. We had just as much fun talking and watching the scenery pass by from the back of the pickup as we did surfing!

Another highlight was scuba-diving at Isla de la Plata, or as they commonly refer to it as ¨Poor Man´s Galapagos¨. With Johan as my diving partner, we saw many eels, large marine turtles, big schools of brightly colored tropical fish, a blow fish, rays, and beautiful corals among other things.

At the end of a prolonged stay of 2 weeks, I resistingly packed up my things and headed for Vilcabamba, Ecuador to volunteer on a WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) farm.