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Brittany: Into the Amazon

October 8, 2010

I’ve ended the general part of my classes and started the “track” portion where we specialize in education, public health, microfinance, or the environment. I’m in the latter and last week we went on a four-day observation trip.

We traveled three hours to Archidona, a small 15,000-person town southwest of Quito in the Oriente/Amazon part of the country. In Archidona we slept at an organic farm owned by Nelson and his family, friends of our professor. It was located in the jungle on a hill and couldn’t be accessed by car. It was a 15-minute hike through the trees to the farm. There was no electricity or running water—a choice made by Nelson’s family. So that meant candles were our only means of light at night and our “shower” was the nearby river. It felt a lot like camping, and we spent most of the time being pretty gross. Our cabin was a 15-minute hike from the main house. Every night after dinner we had to walk back to our cabin along a trail that cut through the forest in total darkness. We used candles and flashlights to light our way. We also had to sleep with mosquito netting. Over the four days we learned a lot about agriculture in the region, which honestly isn’t that interesting to me. (Seriously, how much can you learn about yuca?) So some highlights I did enjoy:

Trip to a former mine in a community outside of town: The rocks there were mined for a couple of uses, but one of them was oil. It wasn’t the kind of oil used for gasoline, but still valuable and still destructive. After the mining started contaminating the nearby river and kids downstream developed skin problems, the community demanded that activity stop. After some time and the involvement of Ecuadorian police and military, the community basically won. However, our professor said that as recently as a month ago the company has returned periodically and tried to resume mining.

THE PHOTOS ABOVE: 1) Walking down into the mine. 2) Listening…lots of listening this trip. 3) Oil. 4) More oil. 5) Down in the mine. Nelson and our bus driver are just barely visible at the top.

Trek through the Amazon: On Friday, Nelson took us on a three-hour walk through the jungle. It was a little long, but we saw some really cool things. For example, he showed us different medicinal plants including one that numbed everyone’s tongue. We played with a millipede, drank water from a bamboo tree, and walked through caves.

My potential internship site: the indigenous community Waira Churis is in Archidona. When we arrived they performed a traditional dance, which was honestly kind of awkward. It felt very much like they were exploiting themselves for our benefit, or at least representing themselves in the way they thought we wanted them to be represented. They also prepared us a big lunch of fish (complete with head and tail), yuca and papaya, which Nelson told us was imported from Hawaii. Afterward a bunch of people all played soccer together in the dirt plaza area.

 

Getting our faces painted.

 

I met my would-be host family and everyone was very nice, but I am not certain if I want to do this internship or not. In theory, it is what I want: slightly isolated, a tight-knit small community, indigenous, in the Amazon, and I could learn about the impacts of oil. The community had some electricity, but no indoor plumbing. There was limited to no cell service and Archidona (a loooong walk away) is a very small town. I knew about most of these challenges in advance, but now I’m not sure if I actually want to deal with them or not.  I have one week to decide…

Runa: Also in Archidona, we met some guys from the US that started Runa, a guyusa business. Guyusa is plant found only in Ecuador that is used to make tea. It sounds like a good income/job creation program for the community. Their tea just got picked up by Whole Foods. Check them out.

We also swam in some rivers and under a waterfall, and one night we made s’mores. We couldn’t find all the ingredients exactly—flavored marshmallows instead of plain, vanilla cookies instead of graham crackers—but they were still delicious.

Overall it was really interesting to see the high Amazon…although more humid than I could stand at times.

–Brittany Libra

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