Halfway home: life at the Equator

Abe and Michael here, writing from the village of San Ramón, 4 km away from the farm we’ve been working at for the past week. We’ll start off with some trip stats we’ve compiled and later fill you in on our travels from Guayaquil.

Stats so far:

  • 8 spokes broken (all Abe)
  • 17 flat tires: Abe 3, Michael 4 (including one exploded), Levi 7, Matthew 3
  • 1 new tire for Michael (after that explosion)
  • 10 bananas minimum purchased and eaten per day biking in Ecuador
  • 15 Goshen faces seen along the way: Martin and Sarah Hofkamp, Lynn Longenecker, Lane Wyse, Justin Yoder, Emily Kraybill, Nikita Zook, Kelly Miller, Kendall Friesen, Hannah Bachman, Jane and Jerrell Richer, Hans Weaver, David Shenk, CJ Hague
  • 5855 km biked, according to Abe’s bike computer
  • 5 sick days
  • 38 other bike tourists encountered
  • 5 tourists from the Basque region of Spain encountered, 3 of whom were on bike, of the 2,193,000 Basques in the world
  • 10 bolivianos: price of the cheapest lunch found, including soup, juice, entree and rice for the equivalent of $1.45
  • 2 soles: price of the cheapest plate of ceviche, chopped raw fish with vegetables, for the equivalent of $0.72 in Piura, Peru
  • 12 oranges given to us in 1 day (in the orange-filled lowlands of Ecuador, including those thrown down from an open window by a woman in Pichincha)
  • 79 km/h: maximum speed on Abe’s bike computer (down the hills entering Quito)
  • 4 crashes, none serious
  • 9 days including rain, but often just periods of wetness, and those for never more than 20 minutes
  • 4800 m: highest pass crossed (Ticlio, Peru)–sea level is our lowest
  • 25 degrees of latitude passed from Asución, Paraguay

We took Levi’s advice to bike the coast of Ecuador after Guayaquil. The biking was indeed beautiful: a 10-km bike path brought us straight to the waves. Michael attempted to go gluten-free in solidarity with Abe, but fell victim to the sweet smells coming from the panaderías in Quito about a week later. On the shore, we sometimes had trouble covering ground because of the abundant street food we had to try: grilled plantains with cheese; fried plantains mashed and embedded with pork; pan de yuca with fruit yogurt; encebollada, a tomato-y fish soup; and even a homemade fruit salad with papaya and strawberries.

We made a brief stop at the surfing capital of Ecuador, Montañita, but spent the night at the friendly town of Puerto López futher north. After camping on the beach, we opted for a tour of the nearby Isla de la Plata, known as the poor man’s Galápagos. En route to the island we saw the smooth surfacing of humpback whales, watched green sea turtles and snorkeled among fluorescent fish of bright greens, blues, oranges and purples. The hike on the island with the other passengers, Europeans and tourists from Quito, led us past one-of-a-kind wildlife. Algarrobo trees gave off a pungent, cologne-like smell. Blue-footed boobies waddled and danced in courtship along the trail, only to stay with their partners for a matter of months before choosing another. A special treat was seeing a male frigate expand his bright red chest and then beat on it with his beak, making a sound like a woodpecker. On the way back, a humpback whale shot up out of the water in a display to find a mate, even though the season was late and most whales had already paired up.

That night in Puerto López we decided to try making a lentil-based Ecuadorian favorite, menestra, while waiting to hear from the fire chief whether we could sleep in the station. We thought we would do this experiment on our own, but a crowd of locals joined in to help us cook on the street next to the beach. Randolph, a tour guide who lived across the street, gave us spices, cheese, plantains and oil to add to our rice and lentils–everything in order to make the dish right. His wife even came out to taste-test the quality before we served the meal to any of the group who hadn’t yet eaten, including three Argentinian musicians hitching their way north. The Argentinians offered a bit of leftover rice, and Randolph’s wife also brought out a soup from that lunch. What started out with uncertainty about whether there would be enough food for all who gathered ended in full stomachs and plenty left over, reminding Abe of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. We loved this night of spontaneous food and fellowship–ending with a good night’s sleep on the roof of the fire station.

After a hot fish breakfast at the market in Puerto López, we turned inland. In Portoviejo we knocked on the door of a random Alliance church, looking for a place to stay. As it turned out, this church’s youth pastor, Percy, had worked with Brent Frederick, our previous host in Trujillo, Peru. This unexpected stay made us acutely appreciate God’s provision through church connections. The following night led us to a Catholic church with Padre Joshi, who shared his faith journey from being a lawyer in the Kerala region of India to taking his priestly call to live among the poor in Pichincha, Ecuador. He said he invited us in because Jesus said to welcome the stranger. His commitment to taking Jesus’ word seriously was an inspiration.

We still had the western cordillera of the Andes to cross, a geographic and cultural boundary between the Ecuadorian coast and mountains. The road between Quevedo and Latacunga was beautifully paved, but with suspiciously little traffic. We soon learned why: a landslide that had killed two people rendered a section impassable, leaving only a donkey trail that took us two hours to hike with our fully-loaded bikes in tow. This road passed through some of the friendliest villages: in one, an older couple invited us to come closer to their house for conversation after we pulled up at the town’s soccer court. They opened their home that night for us to eat, sleep, and talk as if we were their own children. The pace of life was slow in this little town of El Palmar, but the pace of basketball that night was a tad quicker. An 8-hour day of pure climbing only accounted for 44 km: we have found the hills to be steeper in Ecuador than in Peru or Bolivia.

A stunning view of Ecuador’s Volcano Alley greeted us from the top of the cordilleraCotopaxi, the still-active, 5900-m high volcano, dominates the skyline. It is at the base of this volcano that we have been working at Hacienda Ilitío, a connection we made through Worldwide Opportunites on Organic Farms (WWOOF). The day begins for us at 6 with fresh milk and oatmeal, after which we join workers Marcelo, Pato, Marcos, David and Karina to work into the afternoon. The farm is a wildlife rescue center to rehabilitate animals illegally kept in captivity, and so part of the work is feeding deer, condors and even a small black bear. We also herd the horses, llamas, alpacas and goats, move sprinklers and build fences. Our coworkers’ sense of humor makes the work light, and Marcelo’s shout of ‘Very good!’ (about the only English he knows) keeps us smiling. With the help of Spanish conversations (and instructions) on the farm, reinforced by textbooks and speaking mainly Spanish to each other, we also hope to improve our Spanish over the next several weeks.

Last weekend we biked to Quito and reunited with Levi after two months and two countries spent apart. All three of us just couldn’t stop smiling. Levi showed us around the city on the impressive system of bike lanes and paths, including BiciQ, a $25-per-year bike share with stations all over the city. We talked to a bike shop owner who designs his own frames, including the BiciQ design. This proud Ecuadorian bike community has been great to discover, and we look forward to spending more weekends on the bike trails in Quito.

Our host in Quito was David Shenk, a Goshen grad who now works with MCC assisting Colombian refugees. Attending Quito Mennonite Church on Sunday morning meant friendly new faces (many of whom were Colombians as part of this refugee program), David Shenk preaching about carrying the cross, and a worship style that reminded us of both of our upbringings in US-American urban Mennonite churches. It was striking to hear such an emphasis on peace and social justice coming from the pulpit and from members at Sunday school after many services where personal salvation was the focus.

Internet access is limited on the farm and we don’t anticipate blogging much, but as always, keep in touch!


3 responses to “Halfway home: life at the Equator

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