After seven weeks at Hacienda Ilitío, the day has come to pack up our belongings and shift identities from Ecuadorian farm workers to bike tourists. While at the farm we have greatly enjoyed settling down into one place. We haven’t had to explain our trip five times a day, we’ve been able to develop longer term relationships with the workers here, every night we know where we will sleep, and daily routines have been comfortable. The change in exercise has tempered the imbalance between our muscular legs and puny arms. Our hands, once accustomed to the soft touch of handlebar tape, are now worn and callused from bending wire, chopping down eucalyptus trees with machetes, and pulling reeds. Running has been another change in exercise; Abe, with the shoes of David Shenk, has explored surrounding roads through eucalyptus and pine forests both up and down the mountain. The hacienda has felt like home, and we are settling into an awareness that soon it will be just a good memory.
Apart from the daily routines of rotating sprinklers, herding the sheep and goats, and feeding the cuyes, we have worked on other projects. Two of the most fun have been constructing chozas (traditional thatched-roof huts) for the deer and diverting the river in a nearby canyon. Michael has taken a liking to pulling weeds and hoeing in the garden.
During our time we hoped to learn more about organic farming and sustainable living, and here are a few things we’ve taken away:
- We appreciated the cycle of organic waste. Our compost in the kitchen went to the pigs, the poop of which we shoveled into wheelbarrows for the compost (one morning was spent shoveling the feces of cuyes, sheep, goats, cows, and horses into a layered cake of compost). Over time the fertilized soil was taken to the garden to grow onions, lettuce, cauliflower, and whatnot.
- Quite a bit of the work can be done by the hands of multiple people instead of machines. A roto-tiller has been replaced with five guys with hoes. We hauled loads of cargo in wheelbarrows or by shoulder. We’ve dug countless holes and trenches with a post digger and shovel.
- Domestically, we washed clothes by hand with the fresh Cotopaxi water, obviating the need for a washing machine. We know it’s possible to live without many electricity-hungry appliances, notably without a refrigerator these past weeks. We now look at dishwashers, toasters, mixers, freezers, and home heating and cooling not as necessities but as choices. The climate here allows for some of this flexibility (heating and cooling is necessary in other climates), and there have been disadvantages. Washing clothes by hand takes time, and so does cooking for almost every meal. We have to be more intentional about how much we cook and how quickly we use perishable items like milk and eggs.
- The farm doesn’t use any artificial fertilizer or pesticides, but instead we payed more attention to weeding.
- Smaller animals such as guinea pigs, rabbits and goats, consume less grass, water and land area and can still be tasty sources of meat, though they do require lots of daily chores.
- Farm living means having work and family in the same location, which saves resources on transportation. Going into town is a weekly thing for the family on the farm at Hacienda Ilitio.
- It’s a small thing, but nobody buys plastic garbage bags here on the farm, instead reusing grocery and feed sacks.
Other than the family who lives here to take care of the farm, there are three other paid workers. Here are a few profiles if people we’ve gotten to know here.
- Patricio, nicknamed Pato, which means ‘duck,’ is a wiry worker who talks fast and smiles constantly. He supports his seven kids by working here on the farm. His easygoing jokes make working fun.
Ever since Michael said, Me gusta Pato the first week, unintentionally meaning he was attracted to him, the two have jokingly played out a bro-mance.
- Marco, nicknamed Gato, or ‘cat,’ is a wide-eyed, soft-spoken thirty-year-old who trains and tends the horses. He also has bulls that he rents out for festivals. We know him by his short, soft commands: ‘templalo,’ ‘jalalo,’ ‘Abrahán, muy mal.’
- Narcisa, unwantingly nicknamed Mama Nacha, is the strong mother figure on the farm with a sun-beaten, kind face. She is the caretaker for the chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs, and heads out daily with a wheelbarrow and hand sickle to gather fresh grass for the animals. When she walks across the farm with a bucket of corn feed and a trail of squawking chickens behind, she resembles the woman in Mary Poppins who feeds the pigeons.
- Marcelo has spent the most time with us and is a loud jokester who acts like a father figure some of the time and a kid most of the time. We won’t soon forget his shouts of “Veeeery goot!” or “good morning!” at 6 am. He busts into our kitchen occasionally and mimics the bear stealing our food. In time he hopes to buy his own land and house for his retirement.
When we signed up to work here, we knew that we would be speaking Spanish the majority of the time. We tried to only speak Spanish with each other, too, while on the farm. It has been an excellent opportunity to practice oral Spanish, and Michael has enjoyed having the kitchen with resources to sit and read Spanish.
Experimenting in this same kitchen has been a lot of fun, and some of our food creations have included bean-flour banana pancakes and a beet stir fry. A real treat was using the wood-fired brick oven to make corn-crust pizza. We used so much oatmeal for granola, cookies, and baked oatmeal that Marcelo told us to stop taking the oatmeal that came from the endangered bear’s stock of food.
Michael is now more comfortable around animals, although Abe is less so with donkeys. One day while petting a sad-looking donkey on the neck, the mule suddenly let out a bray, showed its teeth, and bit him on the chest. After a few punches the donkey finally let go, and Abe stumbled away clutching his chest. There was some blood and quite a bit of pain, but thankfully no rabid diseases were contracted. Today there is nothing but a scar of the bite mark. Apparently, the same donkey had bitten two other volunteers and Pato, but no one had warned us.
We have had the weekends free to travel, often to Quito and Riobamba, where Mennonite churches are. In Riobamba we felt a warm welcome from Colombians Luz Marina and William Valencia. William is the pastor at Riobamba Mennonite Church, and knows Michael’s family through Central Plains Mennonite Conference’s relationship with the Mennonite church in Ecuador. Michael’s uncle and aunt, Don and Shirley Kempf, are well-known for leading groups to these churches, and Michael loved hearing stories from Ecuadorians who have visited the Kempf farm in Nebraska and Crooked Creek Christian Camp in Iowa. The Valencias are passionate about peace work, and we helped pass out leaflets on the street for International Day of Peace, September 21.
Another weekend we traveled to the town of Baños with Levi to soak in the hot springs and see the waterfalls. The best way to see the waterfalls is on bike, but unfortunately, we were unable to take our bikes so had the bizarre experience of renting them. Michael even got a flat and so without our tools we were stranded until a Chilean tourist on bike helped us out.
We loved visiting Levi and Mennonite Mission Network worker David Shenk many weekends in Quito. Salsa dancing at a club downtown with Quito Mennonite church members was lots of fun. We loved plugging in to Quito’s lively bike community through meeting people on the bike trails and visiting La Cleta, a bike-themed bar. We have been hosted by César and Patricia Moya, pastors of Quito Mennonite Church and parents of Goshen students Daniel, Juan and Andrea. The two are passionate about Anabaptist theology and recently started a course within the church studying the subject. Our other hosts have been David Shenk and his girlfriend Eliana with her energetic little son, Caleth. They just visited the farm this last Saturday and we hiked up into the thin air Cotopaxi as a group, which was a blast.