La Sierra: A Week in Our Life
We spent our first 4 days in Ecuador at Learnaya farm in Cuenca. Groups of students worked on farm projects with the workers Juanti, Carmen, and Mauro. Along with dogs Bark, Jorge, and Polaca, the groups planted rosemary plants, smoothed the ground to make garden beds, cleared trails in the labyrinth, and transplanted eucalyptus trees. Some volunteers also helped in the kitchen along with the farm owner, Fanny and her family, using their own grown ingredients.
After taking a written assessment our first morning in Guayaquil, students were placed into two different groups for Spanish classes. One group had 2 hours of class in the morning while the other group worked on the farm, then the groups switched places. Along with grammar, we learned about Ecuadorian culture and traditions. The 2 national volunteers took English classes, with the same time of 2 hours. These classes were mostly practical with a little bit of theory regarding pronunciation and conjugation. They helped us prepare and refine linguistic ability to communicate with more confidence and fluidity throughout the rest of our time here in Ecuador!
Before the hike to the waterfall, we learned from a professional in the science of solar cooking. He explained the process using his personal solar cooking device. He talked about how he came up with the idea of a device solely dedicated to cooking using the sunlight as its main source. He mentioned how the product wasn’t accepted in the beginning since it was too complicated to install, and there were other similar devices that use sunlight as their source of energy – and those were far smaller and easier to use. It was a very interesting class and some volunteers asked him questions about how the product was made and where they could use it.
During our time at the farm, at night, our group participated in assemblies where we reflected on our day and created goals for the upcoming days. We have had very fun activities at night including playing foosball and other games. Our group spent a lot of time playing heated tournaments. We also played Chanton and other fun icebreakers. Additionally, we had some night time training where we talked about rules, guidelines, emotional, and physical wellbeing. One highlight of the trip was our night time bonfire. It was such a great time to connect with the group and roast marshmallows!
On Sunday afternoon, after the solar cooking workshop, we prepared ourselves to take a hike to a nearby waterfall. Everyone participated including, students, supervisors, farm workers, and pets. Although the hike was short at around 40 minutes each way, it was steep and muddy. Everyone went at their own safe pace, and after a slippery downhill rope climb where some people might have slid instead of walked, we finally arrived at the waterfall (cascada). While some people chose to take the rocks, others decided to walk through the freezing water. We sat and enjoyed the scenery while taking pictures. We thought that hike was hard, but little did we know, we would be trekking much farther the very next day. After a nourishing breakfast of fruit, granola, yogurt, and coffee, we hurried to prepare for our next endeavor. The farm staff prepared us packed lunches and we were on our way. The hike was steep and treacherous on narrow, weed-filled trails, but we all persevered. After a three-hour climb, we were exhausted and satisfied with our achievement. We rested at the peak and took in the beautiful views of Cuenca before they were covered with mist and rain.
After a 30 minute bus ride from the farm to Sayausí on Monday, we arrived at the building where we united with our host families. Two or three people were assigned to each family. All of the host families have been so kind and generous by welcoming each of us into their homes. We have spent time playing with our host siblings, playing games with our families, and getting to know each other through sharing stories.
For the first day in Sayausí, we reunited at a church and then went to a store called Sisay Pacha, which means blooming in quechua, the Ecuadorian native language. We did an ancient ritual called chacana, which involves the 4 elements. First, we wrote our goals for this program on small papers. Then, we threw them into the fire to purify us and make our wishes come true. After the ritual, we had a tour of the store, where we saw their vault of seeds and went to greenhouses to do some planting work. Two volunteers offered to do some extra work at the store. On the next day, we went back to one of the greenhouses, where we cleared the trail and planted some lettuce by installing the seedlings in plastic cups.