By Renee Noordzij

Hello friends, family, and other random readers! This past week our Inti family has been lodging, learning, and volunteering at la Finca Mono Verde (The Green Monkey Farm), in the small coastal town of Tobuga.

We arrived at the farm Saturday evening after an eventful day at the beach. After a tearful goodbye to Juan Carlos and his wife Chari, we settled into our new home. That night we had an amazing dinner of ginger rice and fresh vegetables. Then we relaxed and reflected on the past week, getting ready for the new experiences to come with the new week.

On Sunday morning, we had a brief introductory meeting about permaculture before we headed out into the fields. As we walked around, it was fascinating to listen to our teachers Diego and Daniel talk about the uses of different plants, as well as the careful placement of leaves, trees, and water. Each shrub, flower, and bug has a purpose to rebuild the land into a healthy forest. The main rationale behind permaculture is to design landscapes that mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature. However, this method also produces an abundance of organic food and energy for the local community. La Finca Mono Verde harvests coffee beans to make delicious ground coffee for their local community, and they also grow other food for themselves to be self-sustainable. It is also interesting to compare la Finca Mono Verde to our experience last week at Las Delicias. Las Delicias utilizes monocropping, which has very different effects and purposes than permaculture. They are less concerned with their effect on the environment, and more focused on producing as many aesthetically pleasing bananas as possible for export to the U.S.

After our tour of the fields, we headed over to a beautiful and secluded beach. We spent the afternoon running around, swimming, and burying Julian and Josh in the sand. Chris braved the waves and did some surfing, while Will learned Jujitsu from Diego before joining a few others in a handstand contest. After we had completely tired ourselves out, we headed back home for the night.

On Monday morning we took a long, grueling “one hour” hike up to la Finca Martinez. After 30 minutes we made it to the house, which had almost no furniture in it, and is owned by the family of Vicko, one of the women who stayed with us and cooked us delicious food. At la Finca Martinez, we went out into the deep, lush forest on a walk. We noticed that the forest at this farm was much denser than at la Finca Mono Verde. This was due to the slight change in elevation between the two. Once we were back, Diego gave a presentation on natural farming principles and meditation. Then, we had an afternoon of free time to collect ourselves before we did a Spanish debate activity to get our Spanish practice in.

Tuesday was a big day because our new family members Cole and Claire arrived! In the morning we split up into two groups to do some work in the fields. Matt, Naomi, Will, Miki, Brian, and Josh stirred up the dirt in one of the terraces and liberated a mango sapling while Lauren, Christian, Dana, Chris, Anya, and I trimmed some trees and picked seeds off of the coffee trees. Then we switched jobs until noon. After working in the fields, we went inside to have a cooking lesson. We made a traditional Ecuadorian fish and yuca soup. The rest of the evening was spent in anticipation for Cole and Claire to arrive, whose trip to Cuba got canceled due to the recent hurricanes. It was so much fun to welcome them into our family, and we are so happy to spend the rest of the trip with them!

During Wednesday morning, we got ready to spend the day building two biofilters. Diego and Daniel taught us the reasoning behind them and instructed us on how they are built. Then we split into our groups from the previous day and went to work on the biofilters. For lunch, we drove down the road to another farm. We had a delicious, traditional lunch of rice, chicken, lentils, and a fried plantain. After lunch, we went back to the house to finish our biofilters. Once we were finished, we hung out at the house, working out and playing games, until another wonderful dinner of veggie burgers.

Thursday morning was spent at the Lalo Loor conservation forest. We took a “three-hour” hike into the dry, semi-deciduous forest. We observed its beauty first-hand, crunching through the dry leaves and looking up at the leafy branches above. We even saw a family of monkeys! After one hour of hiking, we were back at the starting point and went back to la Finca Mono Verde for another delicious lunch. Then two women from the local women’s association came and taught us how to screen print indigenous pictures on bags. Expect presents soon! Later that night we had a group meeting to talk about our experiences from the past two weeks. We compared permaculture and monocropping, and analyzed how our habits back home affect life and production in Ecuador. After all, it is only because we want tropical fruits in the non-tropical climate of the US that the exportation business exists in Ecuador.

Friday was our last full day at la Finca Mono Verde. In the morning, we went to Don Hernesto’s farm and explored his huge, successful permaculture farm. Over the course of the morning, we ate more passion fruits, limes, coconuts, and aloe than was probably necessary. Then, we headed over to Cafe Tabuga where all the coffee beans grown in Tobuga are processed and bagged for exportation. In the afternoon, we drove over to Samvara, a lovely cabana paradise. We spent the afternoon swimming at the beach, drinking smoothies by the pool, and finished the evening with a delicious dinner. That night we packed for the travel day to come.

Today, Saturday, we woke up to our last breakfast with our permaculture friends. After another sad good-bye, we piled into a bus to take us to our next destination, Banos. Next week we will be staying with host families. We will also take more Spanish classes and volunteer as English teachers. Here’s to another amazing week in Ecuador!