Marie and I arried in the peacefull community of El Airo a week ago. We took a 9 hour bus ride from the coastal city of Guayaquil to Loja – twisting and climbing higher into the Andes mountain range. Then eventually we started descending to the valley where the city of Loja is nestled in. Loja is known to be the capital of music and coffee in Ecuador. We spent a pleasant night in Loja getting some pizza and meeting some Ecuadoreans to chat with. The next day we took another long bus ride, this one 5 hours, climbing back up into the mountains to the community of El Airo. The bus kept on going up until we thought that it could go no higher, but the daring driver persevered and we left the paved road and went up a narrow dirt road that zig-zagged higher and higher. Finally we arrived and had some empanadas and coffee to welcome us to the community. We met our host families and got settled in.
I brought a little backpackers guitar with me and that was a hit with the kids.
Marie and I had the opportunity to help with the planting of a field of coffee. This essentially entails digging a lot of holes. It is the rainy season here in El Airo and so we have been getting rained on a lot! After planting the coffee we went to another farm and ground some sugar cane to make juice. The scenic beauty of the landscape is impressive. We hung out at the farm and smoked some tobacco that they had grown and drank some fresh coffee. Then we walked a section of farm they had planted with Yuca. As we left they gave us a present: an organic pineapple right from their farm. For dinner we had empanadas with a few more cups of coffee.
We visited a waterfall the other day, and got to eat soe wild blackberries too. It was very beautiful and the sun even came out after a full day of rain. There was a little pool to swim in under the water fall and it felt like a very spiritual site. The people here live very simply. Everybody has enough to eat and lives a relatiely comfortable life. Still they do not have much money to spare. The going rate for a day of work is $5. Many families live in houses with the rough ground as their floor and ceilings that drip in the rainy season.
I wake up around 7:00 in the morning and eat a hearty breakfast of rice, beans and fried plantain. Then we go to work with a farmer in the area. Today we worked with a farmer named Efren and planted some Misfero (a small fruit tree.) Then we walked to some primary forest in the middle of his farm that has a little waterfall running through it.
Efren (the coffee farmer) explained a little bit about his ideology of farming. He said that his fathers generation practiced slash and burn style agriculture, but that takes all the nutrients out of the soil. Now he justs cuts some of the forest foliage and lets it decompose so the soil is better. He also leaves a certain amount of native plants to attract birds and leave the eco-system for intact.Then we break for lunch which consists of a hearty soup followed by a heaping plate of rice, tomatoe, egg and meat.
Often Canadians complain about winter, but a long rainy season is psychologically difficult as well. People here do not have heating in their houses so when its chilly there is not much releif except an extra sweater. But okay – what have I been learning about coffee cultivation? First of all that it is a lot of work! Farmers have to plant the coffee plants and then wait three years for them to start producing. Then if all goes well, and one of the many diseases that devastates coffee plants does not come, then you have to go out and hand pick the ripe berries. Then you have to go to the market to bring your beans.Each coffee plant, under good conditions, produces 1 pound of coffee a year. That is a tough way to make a buck! So when you drink your coffee at home, take a second to appreciate the farmer who grew it!
It was sunny today! For breakfast we had some banana tortillas with rice and beans. Marrie arrived from the farm where she is staying and we had some coffee. Then we went with my host familly to harvest some Guava. If you do not know, Guava is grown on a tree and comes in long green bean-like pods. You have to climb the tree and then knock the Guava down with a stick. It was a nice walk and Marie and I talked while the kids played in the stream. We climbed back up to the house and had some lunch. After lunch it was brilliantly sunny and I took advantage of that to do my laundry and hang it out to dry. From up on the roof where we hand laundry to dry I was struck by the natural beauty of the town and the surrounding moutains.