Notes from the Cloud Forest

2013-02-24T22:06:00+00:00 February 24th, 2013|Ecuador, South America, Travel Diary|2 Comments
It’s been a week of hard work, scrapes and bruises, a tonne of mud and rain, a horrendous amount of mosquito bites and a lot of early mornings, but its probably been one of the best weeks of my life.

I left off on a bit of a cliffhanger as to whether I was even going to make it to my next stop – but luckily I did, albeit through a slightly alternative route: the last Mindo bus left about 20 minutes before I arrived at the bus terminal (I’ll blame the traffic), so I asked around and there was another bus which stopped in a town fairly close, which I then took and got a taxi the rest of the way. Admittedly I could have saved myself a lot of stress had I got the right bus (I didn’t know where to get off, I had my bag in the middle of the aisle getting in people’s way etc) but the upside is that I made it to the meeting place in the nick of time, so although I paid excessively over the odds for a taxi I guess it was worth it – and lesson learnt. 

The place I was staying was about 40 minutes drive away from Mindo up a rough track, pretty much in the middle of nowhere and I couldn’t wait. To briefly explain, I found the place through a website called help exchange (www.helpx.org), which pairs up hosts in various guises with volunteers who work in whatever capacity in exchange for free accommodation and food. This particular placement was on an organic farm, which as it turned out also took volunteers through Wwoofing, a purely organic farming work exchange organisation, which meant there was about 12 volunteers by the time I got there. Having had this week of experience I would definitely a million per cent do Wwoofing again – I genuinely had the most incredible time. 

As hinted at in the title, the farm was smack bang in the middle of the Ecuadorian cloud forest, so it was an amazing place to be living in. Ingo and Genny (the couple who owned and were in charge of the farm) pretty much built the place up from pretty much nothing, including a lot of the house itself (which was constructed out of planks), and they now have several fields of animals – cows, horses, goats, alpacas, a donkey, chickens, sheep and pigs; a greenhouse, a hot shower, and a wood-fired hot tub (I KNOW!) amongst other things.

In an effort not to make this post too long-winded, I’ll do a bullet-point list of all the cool (and not so cool) things I did in the time I was there:

  • Helped construct a window shutter with the use of a jigsaw
  • Wielded a machete on multiple occasions, to mark out lengths of logs and to help clear out an area to plant blackberries in (and I have a machete-induced blister as a memento) 
  • Moved the pig pen on the first day (ripping my trousers in the process)
  • Helped to milk a cow 
  • Carried and stacked innumerable logs on multiple occasion, by myself and with others, anywhere from 1.2m to 6m (I have a lovely bruise on my shoulder as a result)
  • Bore witness to the process of killing, skinning and preparing a calf for meat (we all ate the final product for lunch and dinner)
  • Baked some kinda disgusting cookies to use up leftover porridge (trust me its difficult to make watery porridge taste good, but there weren’t many complaints)
  • Led a horse down from the highest field (during the process of which it went the wrong way, forcing me to follow it and calm it down; very chuffed at my success on that front)
  • Weeded pretty much the entire greenhouse (and no mum that does not mean I will be weeding your allotment when I get back)
  • Started building a fence – digging all the rocks out of the holes we made for the fence posts was so satisfying; a very proud moment was when Ashton and I managed to excavate one twice the size of my head
And that’s just the work. The people on the farm were all awesome, and there were so many nationalities it was insane: Canadian, Swiss, Austrian, German, Argentinian, Colombian and Swedish just to name a few. Ingo and Genny both spoke English and Spanish and German pretty much interchangeably, and their daughter Laia (who was 2) was already understanding the basics of all three. Then there was the food: cooking for 15 people is no mean feat (not that I was ever in charge of it) but every meal still managed to be genuinely delicious – probably partly because we were all working up such an appetite. Even the downtime was awesome; I could never get over the reality of the fact that I was sitting in a hammock with a view of a freaking rainforest; I still can’t quite believe it now.

The highlight for me definitely had to be hot tub day; we’d spent hours and hours up at the very upper field (and trust me it is difficult to carry a machete and other supplies up a steep and ridiculously muddy track for a kilometre or so), carrying logs from one place to another, and we were all knackered and aching and sweaty, and there is no better antidote to that than having a shower and some dinner and getting into a hot tub, with the clouds descended around you, fireflies sparking at the edge of the forest, and the moon lighting the whole area through a gap in the clouds overhead. It was somewhat crowded with thirteen people in there but it was just so bloody fantastic that it didn’t matter one jot. We stayed in there probably an hour or more just chatting and relaxing, and to top it all off we saw a shooting star through the parted clouds. It felt like we had been written into a cheesy clichéd film script or something, but it didn’t stop a lot being magical.

I definitely could happily have stayed for another week or another month, but I got the opprtunity to leave a bit earlier than I’d planned originally, and I took the chance because it meant I would get to have a bit more time in Quito and a bit more time adjusting to the reality of life in South America before properly starting on my epically long journey for real. 

So it was slightly wistfully that I packed up my stuff, with the exception of my ‘work’ clothes, which were no longer worth having and would be much more appreciated by current and future volunteers (for them to wear and ruin just as I did), and woke up at half 4 in the morning all ready for the drive back to Quito, for which I sat wedged in the backseat amongst bags and roughly a quarter of the baby cow that we’d consumed a lot of the day before.

It was so sad to leave, especially the other volunteers, but I’m just going to look ahead at all the other cool things I’m going to be doing (climbing the inca trail comes to mind) and try to focus on that. 

It’s going to be brilliant.

2 Comments

  1. phil powell February 26, 2013 at 3:29 PM

    spent my free reading these, good job smells 😉
    p.s. bring me back a llama
    p.p.s. fucking jealous of that hot tub

  2. […] personally spent a bit of time in Ecuador working on an organic farm which was listed on both WWOOFing and HelpXchange, and it was honestly one of the most interesting […]

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