“Ariba, el cielo.
Abajo, la tierra.
Y yo estoy aquí.”
~”Above me, the sky.
Below me, the Earth,
And I am here.”
Hola familias y amigos. Estamos en Ecuador! Me llamo Bridget, el escritor nuevo de nuestro grupo. Estoy muy emocionada por tomarte en nuestra aventura. (My name is Bridget, the new scribe of our group. I am very excited to take you on our adventure!)
Sunday, September 24, 2023: Ocean to Airplane
Twelve groggy students wake up in the Kroka boathouse on September 24, 2023 knowing that today everything changes, after weeks of community building through backpack making, meals, tears, hugs, late night swims, canoeing, passing along “the plague” (just a cold, don’t worry mom), arguing about whose poop is the biggest, and simply walking together through this beautiful time in our lives under a magnificent New England sky. At Kroka we created a home–our feet coated with the soil and stained by the grass– but we know there is so much more out there. We step into the van ready to take on our next grand adventure.
I help Nathan navigate the roads into Boston, and we find ourselves on a beautiful ocean beach (eventually… I swear, the U-turn was completely– and by completely I mean about 95%– necessary!). Arriving at the coast was like magic. Exclamations filled the van, including, “This is my first time ever seeing the Atlantic!” (Willow). There, next to the roaring waves we passed around yogurt, granola, quesadillas, and hard boiled eggs. Yes, we get hungry even just sitting in a van.
We sing: “There is so much magnificence in the ocean./The waves are coming in, /The waves are coming in and out…” We let out some bursts of energy with a round of tag and YEEHAW (our favorite game) in the grass before loading once more into the van for the final leg of our journey in New England.
Now, picture this: You are going on a typical business trip from Boston to wherever, when you see 14 gorgeous humans with messy hair and foot fungus come into the airport carrying numerous duffel bags. They sit down to wait for their bags to be checked and take out a guitar. As one plays the rest sing along, harmonies filling the sterile environment. How would you feel? We got a lot of weird looks, but to me, it was a sacred moment.
We board the first flight, a box of PB&J wraps in hand. (“If they ask you about it, say ‘it’s my really old computer that I decided to spread peanut butter on.’”-Tashi). We tell the flight attendants to follow our blog (Hi flight attendants! We hope you’re there!) after they curiously watched us pass around our lunch. We take off and begin a new assignment from Jack: reading an article entitled “Decolonizing the Imaginary”, which explores the idea that the entire way we think and act is influenced by colonization and the structures we consider “normal” in our world. As we anticipate entering a completely different continent of people we have never encountered before, people who think so differently about the world and family and the earth, these seeds of thought in our heads were invaluable.
We land in Houston, Texas (YEEHAW!) three hours later. Thinking we are late we rush to our next gate to find our flight to Quito is delayed. We place our backpacks in a corner and embark on the scariest challenge of all– interacting with strangers. We meander around the airport looking for a kind face to sit down with and ask:
- What’s your name?
- Where are you from? Where are you going?
- What is something that brings you joy?
We get some interesting and heartfelt responses.
Finally, we step off US land for the last time in the next 3 months. We are on our way to Quito, and although it is already 10PM (WAYYYY past our bedtime) our spirits are high. We were dispersed amongst the plane on this flight, sitting beside strangers. Luckily, I had Ian in front of me to help with take-off nerves. His words of wisdom are: “You’re going to die, but not today.”
We had complementary dinner and could even watch a movie or listen to music. However, after just an hour of Encanto (I had to get through We Don’t Talk About Bruno, obviously) I was so exhausted that I could barely keep my eyes open.
BLOG BONUS NUMBER 1
Question:What movie did you watch on the plane?
Verena: I started Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hobbit but didn’t finish either.
Mollie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Eamon: Spiderman Across the Spiderverse
Julian: I started Dune and it was tiring so I stopped.
Skyler: The new Mario movie
Jasmine: Les Mis, I cried like four times.
Tashi: No movie, I was so tired I didn’t even take the earbuds.
Izabo: Three Identical Strangers
Willow: The Office and Blue Crush *giggles*
Anders: I can’t tell you…
Ian: Talladega Nights, The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Happy Gilmore, and Shrek! *giggles*
We get off the flight in a daze; it is 2AM in Ecuador. Through customs, bag collection, and out the door, we fill Tupack’s pickup truck with our luggage and file into a small bus. We are here (Estamos aquí) in South America (Sudamerica), far away from all that is familiar.
But there is no reason to feel lost. The moment we enter Palugo Farm our sleepy faces are greeted by Fernanda (Tupack’s wife and a wonderful human) as well as Atreyu and Angela (our fellow semester students from Ecuador). They stayed up so late just to meet us! We pass around hot soup (a decadent 2AM snack) and with warm stomachs and content hearts, go to our dwellings. The dwellings have these things called… what are they?… Mattresses! We squeal with excitement at such luxury before snuggling into our sleeping bags, which still smell of the New England breeze, and drift to sleep.
Monday, September 25: Estamos Aquí
Estamos en Ecuador!
We sleep until 9:30, a much needed recovery from the day prior. In the cabana, where Iris, Verena, Angela, Mollie, Izabo, Jasmine, Willow, and I sleep, the sun pours through a beautiful square window (ventana) at the peak of our ceiling. Finally we all rise.
Breakfast is yogurt, fruit, granola, and eggs. We meet Peuke, el hijo de Tupack. He is one year old and I am honored to get to hold him during our first blessing here. He wraps his little hand tightly around Eamon’s pointer finger as we sing. We sit in a circle in the chozón (community center) and eat. We get a farm tour in the morning. Palugo is a certified organic farm situated on a lava flow, so the ground beneath us is rocky as we walk from place to place. We see the garden, greet the animals, and meet the people.
BLOG BONUS NUMBER 2
Cuy= guinea pig
Gallina (mi favorito)= chicken
I cannot emphasize enough what a magical place Palugo is. Four families live here on the farm, meaning there are loving mothers and fathers to reassure us, breastfeeding children strapped to their parents’ backs and others running or biking from place to place between their homeschooling lessons, energetic dogs that greet us throughout the day (or at 4AM), rolling hills where strong handmade homes sit, and towering mountains that encase all this beauty. Palugo is filled to the brim with life, energy, and love.
This first day we have tostada (fried corn) which will become a staple in our diet here in Ecuador. Then we have siesta, a rest. Many of us wrap ourselves once again in our sleeping bags to enjoy a solid 10-15 minute nap before an unwanted awakening.
Next we unpack: clothes are placed in cubbies, journals on bedside tables, books and letters wedged between headboards; we plant our first seeds to make this place home.
We have a meeting with Marcella. She tells us, “When you fly somewhere the body gets there before the soul”– which rings true for many of us; we baffle at the beauty of our surroundings while wondering: “Am I really here?” She then discusses the concept of guilt with us. Ecuador has a lot of poverty, and here we are, travelers that have burned tons of fossil fuels to ride bikes and see views. But Marcella takes a different perspective, telling us: “We are the messengers.” We are the ones who must take what we learn and experience here–the smiles we exchange, the new words we memorize with our eyes closed, the vibrant culture we had no idea existed– and we must share it.
We shower in stone showers that flash between warm and cold, and are refreshed from our flight.
As evening rises we are assigned to Llankays (chores) for the morning. These include:
- Gallinas: Chickens
- Lleñe: Firewood
- Vuelta: Garden
- Hormigas: Cleaning
- Ordeña : Milking
September 26, 2023: Llankays and Knives
These days at basecamp follow a similar schedule: Llankays, sitspot, morning meeting, class, morning block (either fitness/food prep or knife making), lunch, siesta, afternoon block (what you didn’t do in the morning), journaling, dinner, evening meeting. Yet each day feels so special, unique, something to cherish always.
On this fine day we completed our first round of Llankays. Our lovely milkers (Jasmine and Julian) got up at 4:45AM to complete their duties, but were able to sleep as the rest of us rose at 7:00 AM. My chore (gallinas) was with Willow and Atreyu; we feed them and clean their water buckets. Unfortunately some of them die during the night, and we place them atop one of the coops to attract the hawks so as the live chickens do not get eaten.
This morning Marcella joins us in the chozon to teach a class on the history of Ecuador, from the indigenous people who migrated here to the present day (oil, gas, globalization).
Fitness brings our bodies much needed movement. We run… walk (altitude!)… around the rocky paths of the farm and loop to the pond. Here many of us learn a new phrase– estoy frio (I’m cold!). Atreyu laughs at us gringos splashing around yelling over and over “I’m cold! I’m cold! I’m cold!” He then wins the race (carrera) that ensues.
We start our knives with Roberto and Tupack. We choose a blade and burl of wood each and write our initials on it. We randomly pick another’s burl from a box. Eventually (after many days of designing, observing our companion’s hand, shaving, and sanding) this block of wood will become a knife for our semester mate.
September 27, 2023: Herbs are people too!
The treat of today is class with Marcea in the garden. Under the gorgeous and strong sun she explains the use of a variety of herbs: dandelion (soon to become my savior– this will make sense later), eucalyptus, california poppy, lavender, rosemary, artichoke, sage, red clover, plantain… The passion and true connection Marcea has with the plants is infectious– we all end the lesson with questions, discoveries, and a sense that we know our earth just a bit better.
September 28, 2023: I will never eat garbanzo beans again
This day was a new adventure. For me, it began at about 12AM when a Puke Party ensued outside the main dwelling. Willow, Julian, and I all spent a large chunk of the night breathing in the delectable smells of the composting toilets between episodes of vomiting. Even as Julian lay on the porch of the dwelling with a bucket awaiting his next wave, he managed to make us all giggle (which hurt) as he called into the night sky “WORST! CASE! SCENARIO!”– a term originally used by Ian and Izabo as they raced down a rocky rapid backwards.
This became the catchphrase of the day. It ends up that the invitations to our Barfing Ball was about as exclusive as anything can be on a Kroka semester, and by that I mean not exclusive at all. As the morning came it was uncovered that about half our group had had a Nauseous Night. During Llankays the infected gathered on the porch together, bonding over our intense discomfort as we endure The Plague Part 2. Personally, I fell asleep on a rock, which can accurately demonstrate the fatigue of our group.
Honestly, I can’t tell you much about this day because I spent the majority of it sleeping. However, I can tell you how much the love and bonds of this group emanated and healed me. I was surrounded by check-ins, hugs, tea deliveries, and people who would simply sit with me so I wasn’t alone. Usually I can’t bear to think back on a day I was sick, but my mind can’t stop revisiting the feeling of safety and love I felt envelop me on this day.
Best sick distractions:
- Willow giving me a flower to look at
- Ian telling me funny poop stories
- Eamon singing “Baby” by Justin Bieber (rap and all)
- Izabo watercoloring next to me
September 29, 2023: We are still alive
Many of us feel much more alive today, and are able to join Matias for a class about Permaculture. I have never met a man so passionate about poop. The class is incredible; we learn about water sources and get to mix compost (the smell is not the most enjoyable for those of us recovering from The Plague Part 2).
Much of the rest of the day is spent finishing our knives. We measure and draw out the sheaths before cutting them into leather, making holes, and sewing them together. We are additionally able to add a small design to our sheath– many choose a sun, moon, star, or flower. Willow draws me a chicken and Julian makes Skyler a snail (AKA “a slug with a house”).
In the evening we have a ceremony to present each other with our finished knives. After many days of thinking of one person’s needs and hand size and thumb placement we share an appreciation for this human. They are all heartfelt and soulful, but only one contains a karate move (thanks Skyler).
September 30, 2023: Pack out pressure
Packout day! Tomorrow we will leave for our biking expedition. We gather at the barn to split into our big jobs and get to work. Willow and Ian (gear managers) fit people on bikes, Anders and Iris (food managers) spend the day in the food room, Atreyu (navigator) works with maps, Angela and Jasmine (Camp managers) practice putting up tents, Eamon (energy manager) charges headlamps and gathers fuel, Skyler (hygiene manager) prepares toiletries and other necessities, Mollie (water manager) packs out filters, Verena (sewing and repairs) makes us a new cloth toothbrush holder, Izabo (Public Relations and Recycling) prepares bags for recycling. I write…
For this expedition we will be using Nalgene containers as bowls, and our wonderful kitchen manager Julian decides to decorate each one with nail polish to tell them apart. He is an inspired artist, and attempts to paint them each with a different sign and suit from a deck of cards. However, nail polish is not an ideal medium, and eventually everything from the Jack of Spades to the Queen of Diamonds simply becomes the Blob of Blobs. Nonetheless, we cherish our chosen Nalgene once we have determined an alternate way to differentiate them.
Once finished with our big job tasks we rush to finish a Book of Wisdom page about something we have learned in the last few days. This proves difficult when Julian decides to bless us with his impersonations, and then proceeds to use “The Joy of Cooking” as his source to write about mint (“This type of mint works well in a fruit cup with cream cheese and apple”, “This type of mint is best when dried to a crisp”). Nonetheless, we end the day with many beautiful and nearly finished pages. Our Book of Wisdom will surely be a masterpiece.
October 1, 2023: Expedition Day 1: One kilometer is hard enough
We wake up at 6:00 AM to clean, cook, and pack out lunch. We have created a beautiful community and home at Palugo, and are prepared to experience more of Ecuador, knowing that soon we shall return. After packing our gear onto bikes we have one last breakfast of yogurt, granola, eggs, and bread.
Iris, still affected by The Plague Part 2, stays behind as the rest of us leave at 9:45 AM, within our time range of 9-10! There we are, fierce adventurers about to take on the world… We make it a whopping one kilometer before Atreyu’s tire goes flat and we pull to the side of the road. Music is blasting from a nearby restaurant as we pull out snacks and find ways to entertain ourselves as gear managers bend over Atreyu’s bike. Skyler and Jasmine compare flexibilities (Verena wins).
We determine that Atreyu needs a new bike; Michael picks him up and we wave goodbye for now. We continue down winding roads, our eyes zipping from one side to another attempting to take in each color, shape, figure, and sign. We encounter hundreds of dogs pacing and barking, soccer games in the street, parks full of people, and wafts of food smelling so delicious we can almost taste it.
After passing through many towns we reach a less inhabited dirt path. We still see the occasional car and motorcycle, but mostly it is us and the pedestrians. We are exhilarated as we enter a dark tunnel that twists this way and that– we can’t see the other side and can hear bats twittering about above us. Most of us dismount our bikes to carefully walk through, but Ian pedals hard and yells with excitement.
We cross a bridge over a busy road and meet Atreyu. Our group is complete once again as we traverse the last few miles until lunch, which consists of eggs, potatoes, and tomatoes. Tupack buys us Ecuadorian soda that we pass around.
BLOG BONUS NUMBER 3
Takes on the soda:
- Skyler: It tastes like twizzlers.
- Verena: I’ve had something like this before.
- Ian: I don’t know if I like it, but I just keep drinking it!
- Eamon: No thank you.
We continue– six kilometers to go! The next stretch is new and exciting– we follow a sandy old railroad track and dust flies into our eyes. We create more space between us so we can shoot down steep hills, one of which leads to a small but beautiful waterfall (cascada).
One more paved downhill leads to our campsite, which is an avocado orchard owned by Niki’s father. Matias, Iris, Fernanda, and Peuke meet us here. This is where I climb into an avocado tree and write this part of the blog, while watching a Mama chicken and chicks hop around below me.
A classic Kroka dinner of Rababu is enriched by stories Matias tells us about his life, childhood, climbing accidents, and more. We eagerly listen as he goes on and on until Niki jabs him in the ribs– it’s time for bed.
October 2, 2023: Expedition Day 2: 40 KMs in one short day
After a night full of rooster crows and dogs barking we are awoken early at 6:00 AM, and the organized chaos of our expedition mornings ensues. We pack, change, test bikes, and prepare meals. We gather for a stretch circle before breakfast, and I learn that there is no word for Downwards Dog in Spanish. Jackie teaches us some of their best dance moves, which must be shared when we return home.
Our numerous post-Plague Part 2 stomachs question the corn polenta we shovel down for breakfast, but we are all so hungry. Before we leave, Matias talks to us about observing without thinking, prompting us to sit in an avocado tree and simply be.
We take off back up the hill we flew down yesterday. We make it a whopping two kilometers (one more than yesterday) before our first extended break due to stomach sickness.
We make it make on trail and through a dark tunnel once again, we hoot and holler to greet the new day and daunting 40 kilometers ahead of us. The morning goes by fast, full of snacks and crackling gear changes and dust coating our faces– we all look like Les Miserables characters (if they had sporty glasses during the French Revolution).
We come across a truck full of water stuck in the mud. The driver is frantically unloading their jugs to reduce weight. We offer help assembly-line style for both unloading and reloading. We pass the precious water precariously, holding it like a child. Accordingly, many of us offer advice and guidance to each jug that goes by.
BLOG BONUS NUMBER 4:
Advice we gave the water:
- You are loved
- You will be free
- You are special
- I hope someone pees you out in a pretty place
- Don’t be toilet water
The driver offers us a water refill, which we take gratefully. We then hop back on our bikes for a few more kilometers before we find a somewhat shady spot on the side of the trail for lunch. There are additionally some small caves that we pile into to escape the sun. Not far down the trail we can see some sheep and a cow tied up.
We take a brief siesta, during which my cave group discussed what we would name our kids.
BLOG BONUS NUMBER 5
What would you name your kids?
Anders: Something that’s never been heard before like Bagerkus
Julian: Fire Machine Gun Ghengis Khan… or Max
We pass around sunscreen that mixes with the dirt to turn our faces purple, and we’re off once again. During this stretch we enter a narrow single track on a cliffside that is enveloped with thorns. For about 20 minutes straight they scratch fiercely at our exposed arms and legs, drawing blood for many. Afterwards, the day passes quickly with a few more thorns, many tiring uphills, exhilarating downhills, enthralling views of Quito and the mountains, a number of sketchy ditches, and somehow no flat tires. We reach a main road as dusk begins, and strap our headlamps to the back of our helmets before taking off. On this road we cross the equator from the Southern to Northern hemisphere minutes before reaching our campsite in the dark.
We are in Guachala, which is apparent from the Hollywood-like lettering that embroiders the mountain across from our campsite. We clean ourselves, eat quinoa soup, and crawl into our tents.
October 4, 2023: Expedition day 4: Six M&Ms deep
Expedition can be tiring, especially when you are up every day at 6:00 AM. Our group manages to keep it interesting, though. For example, this morning Ian decides to see how many M&Ms will fit into his larger than average belly button. One after the other the colorful chocolates squeeze in, ending with six in total. They were subsequently consumed.
Before heading off on our journey for today, Fernando (the son of the man who owns the campsite) shows us around a museum about the history of Guachala: the meaningful constellations, legends, lessons… We walk to the top of the Guachala hill where Fernando gives us glasses with which we can look directly at the sun.
This becomes quite the history-filled day when after just a few kilometers of biking we stop once again at a museum on the equator. We point out our different homes on big maps and are told about the history of this location and the politics of globes and the earth as a whole. Next all the necessary on-the-equator activities ensue: arm wrestles, cartwheels, & our favorite dance Salamander Grace (who else can say they got their tail going in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere?).
We leave, ready for the day ahead. Today consisted of many long uphills. We stop for delicious and buttery Bizcocho, and get to go to the back of the restaurant to see it being made. We have lunch under a bus stop near a school. Bagels with pesto, cheese, and Salami (for non-vegetarians). We take a brief siesta before more hills!
The climbs feel completely worth it when a downhill yields the most breathtaking view of Cayumbe (“DESKTOP BACKGROUND!” -Julian.)
We stop at the tomb of an indigenous activist and Tupack tells us her story. She was the first indigenous woman to speak against the hacienda system, which was life changing for so many colonized indigenous groups in the region.
Our campsite is a small plot beside a building on a side street. Chickens hop around as we set up our tents and separate group and personal gear.
October 4, 2023: Expedition Day 4
BLOG BONUS NUMBER 6
Morning animal adventures…
“This morning I got up and looked at Cayumbe and it was so pink and then I turned around and saw a cow make a big steamy poo right outside the tent where Tashi was sleeping and I couldn’t stop thinking about Tashi sleeping in there…” -Willow
“I saw the Mama chicken and I was like ‘why does she have so many legs?’, and then all the chicks popped out” -Mollie
“I heard a rooster this morning and it sounded so human that I thought it was Tashi trying to wake us up” -Julian
“I heard that too! I even looked outside the tent to make sure!” – Ian
“I guess Tashi just sounds like a rooster.”
This morning, after our morning adventures, we walk with Fernanda to her agave plants. With a large ladle she reaches into the heart of the plant and takes out a pool of beautiful light green syrup. We pass it around and each take a taste– our taste buds are instantly flooded with a sweet almost bubbly sensation. We marvel at the fact that this is agave syrup, which you can simply buy in a jar in the United States. We then take turns ladling the syrup out of her eight agave plants into a bucket.
After snack prep and a quick breakfast prepared by Tupack we are back on our bikes, our butts burning. Luckily today we will spend most of the time on our pedals, butts off the seat, going downhill. We cheer as we fly down hill after hill, losing about 300 meters of elevation throughout the day.
Tupack gets us a large watermelon from a street vendor and we stop under a pavilion to enjoy it. We have gone about 25 kilometers and have about four to go.
The remaining kilometers are extreme uphills; our breath gets heavier and some of us choose to walk our bikes. Each time we think it’s over there’s another daunting stretch. We enter San Clemente, baffle at its beauty, wave to the people, and stop for lunch. Even after our PB&J wraps and granola bars, we have two more grueling uphills to endure with our bellies full. They are all worth it, however, when at the top of the last uphill we are met by our new families, all dressed in colorful traditional clothing. We park our bikes and join a circle with them around an Andean cross made with corn on the ground. They are mostly women– our new “Mamas”, they tell us. Tashi goes through the list, introducing us to our Mama, and shy smiles are exchanged from across the circle. Willow and I are staying with Matilde, and we move to be next to her. I ask her “Hay otras personas en nuestra familia?” (Are there other people in our family?). And she replies “Mi esposo Edwin y dos hijas, pero ahora yo tengo dos mas hijas.” (My husband Edwin and two daughters, but now I have two more daughters).
We separate from our families to clean our bikes and work on our big jobs. Once we reconvene we walk with our Mamas to our different houses, some of us conversing freely, some awkwardly, and some with hand gestures and minimal words. Matilde warms me and Willow some water in a bucket to bathe, and makes us a delicious dinner and dessert.
At this moment I sit on the floor of mine and Willow’s room in Matilde and Edwin’s house, typing away. The walls are red and blue, and the beds are packed with a suffocating amount of blankets. We are going to be quite spoiled these 11 days. I can’t wait to meet with the rest of my group for class this morning and hear about their evenings.
With warmth, happiness, and stronger stomachs than ever,
Bridget and the 2023 Ecuador Semester