Friday, October 28, 2011

Traveling on...

Nothing lasts forever.
We pack up at the beach and head to the big city of Quito tomorrow.

Cal crosses his fingers that mototaxis will still abound.

Photos from la Hosteria Mandala

View of the beach

We are staying in the Hammerhead Shark cabin
One of the many snails in our path to breakfast each morning.
Cal in front of our cabin.  Pretty sweet digs! 
This is the game and music room in the main house.  The owner is an artist and sadly isn't around now because it is low season.  We wished we could have met him.  We've been so inspired by this place.
Twister painted on the floor!
Building cities
Cal plays some pretty fierce soccer on the beach.  Harper is easily distracted by the paparazzi!
The beach was empty except for us! 
The town of Puerto Lopez is in the background.

Boa constrictor in the tree at the main house!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy family

Yesterday I had one of those moments when I felt a wave of all the grateful, happy and at-peace energy I had rushing over me.  I found myself smiling a smile a mile wide and taking big sighing breathes feeling so great about our travels.  Sure I've been enjoying each day so far, but yesterday on the beach as I looked at my kids splashing and running wildly, and at my husband kicking around the soccer ball, I felt glad to be alive.  And glad to be living.  At that moment it kind of all came together for me.  I love my kids. I love my spouse.  I love that we are spending this time so tight and interconnected to each other.
We are a lucky bunch.

Puerto Lopez

We are staying in the coastal town of Puerto Lopez at a great hosteria on the beach.  The main house has a huge music/play room full of instruments, books, blocks, and games and we've been unable to pull ourselves away this morning.  Seeing that it is overcast and misting slightly we're  happy as clams.  I think Cal and Harper feel like we are back at preschool; they both have built city after city with the blocks.

Yesterday we took a trip out to the island of Isla de la Plata.  We all got drugged up on dramamine for the wavy ride and no one was overcome with seasickness.  Harper was a little nervous about the boat ride but after a bit she settled in and bounced around smiling with Cal.  Almost to the island the driver slowed the boat to look for whales and Danny and I both saw a whale's spray.  When we came in closer we couldn't locate it but it was exciting to know a whale was in our midst.

On the island we hiked and witnessed the quirky ways of the blue-fotted booby birds. (And sorry about the video quality.  I didn't even realize I was taking it.)  They have no fear of humans so we could walk right up past them and the kids got a kick out of their painted feet and silly mating dances.  The birds nest right on the sandy ground so we saw their eggs and lots of young boobies in various stages of development.  We also saw frigate birds and vultures, as well as a couple lizards.  The island is a dry forest with only a few green plants, therefore most of the flora was brown and bone dry.  We were told in the rainy season it all greens up.

On the beach before our hike

Harper hiking the loop

Crazy cactus plant that has a trunk like a deciduous tree

I carried Cal most of the way.  He enjoyed it despite the sourpuss face

Blue-footed booby pair

Dry forest covering the island
Back on the boat we had lunch and Danny snorkeled.  He saw parrot fish, sargeant fish and others he couldn't identify.  It was a cool afternoon so the kids and I opted to stay in the boat and eat fruit.  It was too bad we had such an overcast day, but I guess for the hike and book ride it was better than blazing sun.
Tortuga eating lechuga

Danny snorkeling in the cove around the coral reef
Happy Cal on the way back to town

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ciao Rio Muchacho

We've left the farm and have moved down the coast.  We had a great time at Rio Muchacho and it has been comforting to know that we will come back through to visit one last time when Danny's sister, Shari, and her husband, John, come to visit us at the end of November.  Knowing we'd be back made saying our goodbyes much easier.  Although all the same volunteers won't be there when we return, a core group of interns that absolutely loved-up our kids will be around to welcome them back.  And Harper and Cal have already picked out the fun stuff that they will show their aunt and uncle.

So the next couple of posts are the rest of our Rio Muchacho thoughts.  After that we'll start posting about our new location.

Top Tens

Top Ten Things We Will Miss Most about Rio Muchacho:
10. Eating directly from the garden
9. All the kids for our kids to play with (and bonus they all spoke some Spanish together!)
8. Doing the transformations for some of our common foods
7. Fresh fruit with granola every morning
6.  Playing soccer in the dusty road
5.  Garden work, especially weeding with the matchete
4.  Baking soda cookies from the tienda next to the school
3. All the kind adults who played soccer, drew pictures, gave hammock rides, shot marbles, taught Spanish, told knock-knock jokes, served lunch, tickled, and read with our kids.
2.  Sharing travel stories with other volunteers over communal meals
1.  The smiles on our kids’ faces each day here
Laura reads to the kids
Manny shoots marbles with Cal
Norita sets the table for dinner
Dinner time

Top Ten Things We Won’t Miss about Rio Muchacho:
10.  Our nightly ritual of killing the crickets that jumped from the wall to our bed
9. The world’s most uncomfortable bed
8. Canned tuna served for dinner
7. Harper’s teacher’s two-week absence from work
6.  Tick, flea and mystery bug bites
5. Massive overusage of vegetable oil in the kitchen
4.  Charito, the largest, most aggressive and scariest pig on the farm (she actually brought me to tears one morning)
3.  Termite poop all over our beds at the end of each day
2. No dessert!
1.  Mildew, mildew, mildew

She stands and bellows for breakfast.  Yikes!

Good Stuff

Some Ideas, Traditions, Things, and General Good Stuff we’d like to bring back with us from Rio Muchacho:
-Eat rolls with chocolate sauce for breakfast
-Drink chocoláte con leche for breakfast (even in the summer, adds Harper)
-Make muffin top soda cookies (drizzled in chocolate, of course!)
-Make homemade pineapple and watermelon juice
-Find a way to hang a hammock for each person in our family
-Start making homemade marmalade 
-Start making homemade cheese
-Create a daily chore routine for Cal and Harper
-Start my garden indoors each year
-Appreciate pineapples (it takes a year to grow one!) peanuts, coffee, chocolate (all three take lots of labor for just a small amount), and bananas (one banana tree produces just only one group and then dies)
-Make our own tea from fruits (and veggies)
-Chop cabbage and shred carrots for salad instead of greens (this never occurs to me)
-Grow lemongrass (if we can)
-Get walking!  Cal and Harper walked two mile each day at Rio Muchacho so get ready Sadie!
-Make more homemade granola bars instead of buying them
-Make ají (Ecuadorian salsa) for our beans and rice
-Find Maria cookies at home
-Write more letters (especially to the kids at Rio Muchacho)
-Collect our own seeds to replant the next year (this seems too tough but we’d like to try)
-Eat parts of the vegetables we didn’t think to eat before- the flowering parts of broccoli, the hard peel of the pineapple to make tea, blending plantains to make a broth base for soup
-Get some baby pigs (Harper’s addition but vetoed)
-Speak more Spanish

Our future penpals
Harper fed the baby pigs each day and fell in love
Banana tree
Walking, walking walking

Baby pineapple
We know it is an ambitious list but hopefully we can try to incorporate most of these new ideas into our good old life.


Each week during the afternoon work time a group of volunteers is assigned to “transformations.”  This week we were lucky enough to be a part of this process for a number of products from the farm: coffee, peanuts, cheese, chocolate and tumeric.  Here are a few little notes about the process for each food and some photos:

First the beans are removed from the coffee fruit and dried for many days. (I think over a week but I can't remember if that is for coffee or cacao.)
Harper and Cal help remove the coffee beans from the solar drier shelves.
Next the beans are picked thorugh to remove the old ones.  The beans that are cracked and dusty don't get roasted.  
Laura finished picking through the coffee beans
Next we put the beans through a lose grinder to remove the skins.  The grinder was on a bike and I took a spin on the bike to separate the light papery skins from the heavier beans.  After this Oscar shook the bowl and blew into it so that the skins sailed into the air and the beans remained in the bowl.  I wish I got a picture of this step.  It was beautiful watching all the dusty skins flying around in the sunlight.

The beans were roasted in a clay pot over the fire and at the end of the roasting sugar is added to caramelize them a bit.

Anya roasts the coffee beans over the fire until they are richly browned.

A small scoop of sugar is added to the coffee beans.
Next to the grinder and then COFFEE!  Yum. Yum.

Laura and Anya grind the beans.
The smell is so strong!

First they were dried and roasted.  Next we had to remove all the blackened skins.  And presto! Peanuts!
Harper picks through the roasted peanuts for a snack.

The remenants of the peanut skins on the table after Harper, Cal and rubbed them all off. 

Starting with 2 liters of fresh cow milk we added lemon juice, salt, and the cultures.  Paul mixed it in and we waited 15 minutes for "the blob"to form.

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Next we broke up "the blob"with our hands.  The curds and the whey separated.

We pushed all the curds to one side to make a big mass of cheese.
Cal salts the cheese.
Next we moved the cheese to the bowl and salted it.  Ecuadorians heavy salt their cheese (we found this out after ordering an inedible cheese sandwich in Canoa!) so we had to convince the señoras to let the kids stop salting it after a couple pinches.

Harper has a turn adding salt.
Last the cheese is moved to a form to remove the rest of the whey.
A big rock weighs the cheese down to press out the last bit of whey and form its shape. 
And finally we all had a taste!  The cheese was really mild in flavor.  You could still taste a bit of lemon and the salt.  It wasn't all that dense; tt was more spongy in texture and not very creamy.  It tasted really good!  To our surprise, Harper even tried it but she didn't like it much.  Later that night it was served in our garlicky noodles and she unknowingly ate it up!

Tumeric and Ginger-
No photos but the root is harvested and then chopped into small slices.  Harper loved the tumeric transformation because she could dye her fingers and face with its gold juice!  After chopping it is moved to the solar drier.  Last it is ground into a powder.  Easy-peasy.

Going through each step has definitely deepened my appreciation of these foods.  I’m glad to have a little more knowledge about their transformation process from fruit, root, cows milk or legume into the common foods we take for granted at home.  Making cheese is something I have been interested in trying for a while now I will definitely try it back at my house.  I can’t wait to get some raw milk from Sustainable Settings and the cultures from the Cheese Lady (my book club knows the reference) and make some mozzerella!