Our third and final volunteer experience was the most relaxing and least beneficial.
At Planet Drum in Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, we learned about the importance of having diverse habitats near urban areas. At Suzie and Harold’s farm in El Bolson, Argentina, we learned about how a couple sustains themselves.
At the Tungurahua Tea Room in Banos, Ecuador, we learned a little about a few plants and fruits and incorporated them into our diet. That’s about it.
There was no goal at the Tea Room – outside of maintaining one gringo’s oasis.
Mario, the volunteer leader/sage, was more willing to lead us on hours-long hikes than tend to the few vegetables in the flower garden.
Carol, the Canadian owner, didn’t even lead us on a tour much less teach us any gardening lessons or sustainability principles.
The amplification of this came when I opened the refrigerator to find Carol’s grocery-store-bought bag of lettuce – one of the few edible things we had in the five-acre garden.
The opportunity to learn about sustainability became one of our goals on this six-month journey. We want to lead more environmentally conscious lives, and we joined Willing Workers on Organic Farms to achieve that.
Before the trip, Pessa heard that WWOOFing held the promise of something akin to the “civil rights movement.” Meaning that this organization has the potential to be a literal grassroots effort in more sustainable living.
The volunteers at the Tea Room had few resources to be sustainable, but we did the best we could with the potatoes, lettuce, green onion, cabbage, mandarins, spinach, avocados, guabas, tomato trees, cactus fruits, limes and other herbs.
For WWOOFing to become an impactful movement, leaders must be willing to pass on their environmental knowledge to the next generation. We might be short-time volunteers, but we come from around the world eager to be influenced, eager to learn.
Mario passed on his knowledge in Spanish, but my drawback was I couldn’t understand it fluently.
Carol gave us an impromptu lesson on using wild ginger but little else. She was hospitable with a free tent on a gorgeous landscape. We had a view of the active volcano outside our tent screen, an outdoor kitchen with all the essentials and luxurious hammocks to relax in.
I’m grateful to Carol for welcoming us into her garden, but I left wanting more knowledge.
During our trip to the capital to renew our visas, I witnessed a dichotomy of Ecuadorian men – or did I?
Their machisimo locked unwavering eye-contact onto Pessa as if she were a target. I was right next to her, but they didn’t even notice me. Sometimes I would stare back at them, but when they briefly glanced at me, it was without even a heightened eyebrow.
On the other half, two men, on separate occasions, spoke to us in English and helped us find our way to the bus station.
But then again, they were men, and maybe they just wanted to be around Pessa longer.
Social vs. Capital
I always question readers who say certain newspapers are liberally biased. As a journalist, I strive for objectivity, and I want them to give me examples. Often, they can’t.
Now the tables have turned. I’m charging bias – and I have examples.
In two stories on consecutive days, The Miami Herald International Edition, and it’s wires, criticized socialism in Venezuela and communism in Cuba with vigor. In other stories about financially struggling European countries, there weren´t critizisms of capitalism.
The system is the problem in socialist and communist countries, while the recession is the problem in capitalist countries, they wrote.
Kyle, a Tea Room volunteer from Trinidad with an MBA degree in Chicago, summed this up like this:
“In how it’s taught, they [capitalists] are infallible.”
Wait a second
In Argentina, the joke was that people would walk down the street, see a line and say, “Hey, there’s a line. Why don’t we stand in it?”
It was used to describe how Argentines often subject themselves to suffering.
In Ecuador, its more like, “Hey, there’s a line. How can I get to the front of it without waiting?”
It happens in grocery stores, buying bus tickets, everywhere.
I bet if a surgeon were operating on you, an Ecuadorian would have no trouble saying, “Hey, Doc, can you take a look at this?”
Technology vs. Environment
IPads and the Kindle are hyped as great modern technological advances.
They shouldn’t be.
With the world´s population set to rise an estimated 50 percent to more than 9 billion by 2040, advances such as dry toilets and solar-powered water purification systems are vastly more important.
Pessa and I were discussing the increasing pervasiveness of technology as we sat in the outdoor kitchen at the Tea Room.
Pessa mentioned this Cree Indian Proverb: ¨Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.¨
“So much of the world isn’t real, and we are ignoring what is around us,” she said.
We believe that people should put down the devices and get into the natural world.
A tangent: Often what’s around Pessa is a collection of insects, including spiders, beetles and an occasional mouse.
As she talked about reconnecting with the natural world, the sound of scurrying varmints provided background noise on the roof.
“Hey buddies,” she said in a quote she never would have uttered five months ago.
I began to think about her progress on this trip. How she has overcome fears to learn more about herself.
Then, a bug nestled into her hair, and she was the one scurrying across the kitchen — with a large knife in her right hand.
My 5: Waterfalls
RUTA DE LA CASCADAS, Ecuador
Pessa, Kyle and I rented bikes for a eight-mile jaunt down the route of waterfalls into the Pastaza River east of Banos. Here are My 5 favorite photos:
A short cable car ride brought me into the river valley and a suspension bridge to the Maxto de Novia falls.
Before posing for a photo, Pessa caught this candid laugh between Kyle and I.
The way to the Pailon de Diablo falls was not for the claustrophobic. We had to worm our way through a narrow , damp and dark passage.
A wet finish underneath the falls.