Posts Tagged ‘Ohio EMG Adventure Ecuador 2013’

Final Day in Ecuador for OSU Extension MGs

Monday, February 25th, 2013

This is my next to the last post on our EMG Ecuador work/vacation trip!  Be sure to read the final post in a couple of days to hear comments from the volunteers and their personal thoughts as well as learn how you can take your EMGs on this trip!

Packing Up and Final Market Day

We had a little time to relax and sleep in on our last day before leaving for the airport but there were a few troopers who decided to hit the market in be one last time.  I am so glad we did.  This time we went to the area of the fruit, vegetable, and meat market – what an experience.  The colors of all of the different types of fruits, vegetables, and other wares were spectacular.  The varieties of fruit available included dragon fruit (don’t eat too much as it will cause diarrhea), babaco, grenadine, grapes, apples, laudia, mora, avacado, clementines,  banana passion fruit, and tree tomato.

Now, if any Family and Consumer Science Educators are reading this blog (Carol Miller!) you should probably skip this part.  The meat market was quite interesting as well as fascinating but not up to our standards of food safety.  Check out the photo below and I’ll just leave it at that.

The colors in the Otavalo market are spectacular!


 An Amazing Private Garden – Pachakuna – WOW!

Poinsettias are used regularly in the landscape in Ecuador

We left Otavalo and headed to a private garden called Pachakuna to visit the garden and eat lunch. Dr. Claus Egger, the owner of the garden, has big plans for this area.  He has worked for 30 years to develop the garden and land.  He is currently in the process of developing this into a retirement center for 3rd agers (senior citizens).  It has beautiful one and two bedroom condos situated among the gardens.  It will have health care facilities and a grocery store in the future.  Claus is quite the salesman because as we toured the gardens, he was also selling the homes!  Apparently a lot of Americans retire to Ecuador because of the low cost of living and of course, the climate.


Learning about the gardens from our gracious host, Claus Egger


After a fantastic lunch hosted by Claus and his wife, a marvelous cook, we headed to the equator.  We really wanted more time in the garden but the equator closes at 6:00 pm.  Not the equator of course, but the location and the building for all of the tourist stuff.  We made it too late as they closed the equator early!  However, we saw the concrete stone that was erected to indicate the center of the earth.  And, we learned that it’s not actually on the true center of the earth!  It’s off slightly but visitors don’t really know this.  Ecuadorians who know this chuckle at all of the photos taken with people standing with one foot on either side of the (false) line!

The center of the world that is not really on the center coordinates!

Off to a great dinner in Quito and then to the airport.  We sailed through customs except for a few glitches.  In the Quito airport, they randomly select a few travelers per plane to inspect their checked baggage and three of us were selected.  We all groaned as they led us to the bowels of the airport to stand and watch as they unpacked our jam-packed suitcases.  I’ll have to say, the guy that re-packed mine did a better job and I did.   Apparently he has plenty of experience.  We all passed and boarded for home.

Wow- what a trip.  I can’t tell you how exciting it’s been to be in Ecuador with 18 EMGs from Ohio this past week.  We accomplished a great deal and helped the communities in the Ucinqui Organization.

Next blog, hear from the volunteers about their personal feelings regarding this trip and learn how you can organize one.

Nature is life – care for it – La naturaleza es vida – cuidela

Pam Bennett, State EMG Coordinator for OSU Extension and very proud to represent our volunteers


Final Ecuadorian Work Day and Celebration

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Planting Trees the Ecuadorian Way

On Thursday, we all headed back up the mountain to the vivero in order to plant the seedlings that we collected on Wednesday.  After a gracious welcome from Matias we received our directions for the day.  The first group was sent to the northeast side (or prevailing wind side) of the vivero to plant 40 Acacia trees in the holes that were dug on Sunday.  In the US, when we plant trees, other than digging a hole, it’s generally pretty easy.  In this location, the EMGs had to work really hard to dig holes in and around all of the other shrubs and trees and their associated roots.  It’s kind of hard to explain but let me just say, it was a real challenge to dig.

The trees are not planted the same as we do either.  In fact, it goes against everything we learn as EMGs!  We all just about died when Alfredo showed us how to plant trees at the school on Monday.  In fact, you could hear a collective gasp when he said to dig the holes 1′ and plant the trees at least 6″ below the top level of the hole.  Then you place the seedling in the hole (these seedlings are about 8″ tall) and fill with soil, covering the trunk a good 4-6″.  They don’t have any issues with drainage as we discovered when planting these trees.  It had rained the entire night before and we had no problems digging in this wonderfully rich volcanic soil.  The depth of the hole is used to collect water to hopefully keep the trees moist during a dry spell.  Apparently they don’t have any problems doing it this way as I asked staff member Aaron to find out from Matias why they do it.  He said that the depth of the hole and the tree allows for water to collect as much as possible when it rains and for the humidity level to be a little higher around the tree.  As they say, “When in Rome!”

Dirt Baggers and Much More!

The rest of the group spilt up  into dirt baggers, tree sorters, planters, and ditch diggers (I got the lucky job of ditch digging!).  Matias showed us how to fill the bags with soil that he prepared earlier (no bags of soilless media!).  He uses native soil and adds sand.  We then divided the seedlings into small, medium and large so that he could group these together.  As we took some of the seedlings out of the bags, we noticed that when Matias collected seedlings, he didn’t use empty soda bottles cut in half.  He would collect a handful of seedlings, take a very large, sort of oval leaf, wrap it around the roots, and then tie it with pieces of long grasses and other plants like clover.  Next, the beds were flooded with water to moisten the soil.  The planters poked a hole (we are bringing a dibble the next time) in the soil and stuck the seedling.

Transplanting the seedlings into the plastic liner pots in the nursery

Three of us took the large,heavy hoes that are used for everything (planting trees, weeding the garden, etc.) and worked on repairing the drainage ditch from the greenhouse to the open ground.  It was basically a ditch with plastic over the soil that had become full of grass and was no longer effective.  You can’t believe how excited we got when we tested it with a bucket of water and it worked!  I won’t share the video (yes, we actually filmed the water making it’s way down hill) as you  might think it a little crazy!

Success with our drainage ditch!

I am not really sure how to describe the extreme difference in the way things are done in in Ecuador and how we do things.  In the US we have resources at our fingertips and these jobs come easy.  In Ecuador, with limited resources, these tasks were quite an accomplishment!  We still can’t imagine Matias doing all of this by  himself.  I have no doubt, however, that he would have, though it would have taken much more time.  He wouldn’t have complained one iota.  And to Matias, well one muchas gracias was never enough!


After we finished our work, the UCINQUI President and Director for Education came for a presentation and to tell us muchas gracias as well.   UCINQUI is the name of the organization that works to better the communities.  I listed the communties below in case you are interested.  The President is elected from the representatives of each of the 23 communities.  Anna Taft, founder of the Tandana Foundation, presented a letter telling President Carlos about all of the great work that has occurred at the vivero as a result of  Matias.  In addition, we presented several gifts to Carols and Matias.  I gave Matias an OSU ball cap and made him take off his native hat and put it on.  He grinned from ear to ear.  He didn’t keep it on long, however, as he quickly went back to his hat.

Education Director Elizabeth, Nursery Manager Matias, Pam, and UCINQUI President Carlos recieve their gifts


Being from OSU, it wouldn’t be appropriate to go anywhere without getting our clasic photo of four people posing for O-H-I-O.  We had our new friends do it and then several others joined in.  We had to do a final one for the bus driver.  As we were preparing for a group photo,  and everyone was standing waiting while we staged the photo, I saw the bus driver of the corner of my eye stamding on the end of the row, holding his hands up in the O shape.  I got the biggest kick out of this!  He wanted to be a Buckeye!  (Who doesn’t??? – a little editorial privilege!)

Buckeyes can't go anywhere without our traditional O-H-I-O (Hope, Aaron, Cathie and our bus driver)

OSU EMGs Are Very Generous!

Before the trip, I challenged OSU EMGs to donate money to help with supplies and boy did the county programs come through!  We raised over $1,200 and purchased tools and other supplies.  In addition, we had some money left over and presented a check to the Tandana Foundation to help with the irrigation tank.  Currently Matias has to run up the hill to turn the water on and the irrigation tank would be much closer to the vivero.  We presented a certificate for this money as well.  Overall, we have been so touched by this project that we have plans to raise more money to finish the water tank.  Our goal is $4,000 and I have no doubt we can do this!

Meeting a Healer

After a great picnic lunch, we said goodby to the vivero and headed to meet Anna’s  host grandma, or abuelita.  She is well-known in the area as a healer.  She is so well-known in fact, that anyone who gets into a cab in Otavalo and requests her house will be taken directly there.  This 92 year old woman was thrilled to have visitors and we were the first group ever that the Foundation brought to visit her that was invited to visit the garden.  Gardening is truly a universal language.  She  provided us with some medicinal plant recipes, including one for prostate that consisted of about 10 different plants!  Don’t worry, we aren’t bringing this home for use!  This cultural experience touched us even more than you can imagine.

Anna Taft's host grandma or abuelita

Preparing Our Own Authentic Dinner

Finally, we were treated to an authentic Otavaleno meal, that we had to prepare the authentic way!  We went up into the hills a short way to Claudia’s home.  She has worked to develop a cooking school in which visitors can experience the full Otavaleno culture. When Anna first came to Ecuador in 1998, she taught Claudia in 7th grade.  Since then, Claudia has gone on to become one of the many Tandana Foundation’s success stories.  She has future plans to build cabanas and house visitors, continue the cooking school, and start a museum for her culture.

Preparing the meal was a blast.  We divided into groups and half toured the garden while the others started to peel potatoes (with large knives, no peelers), cut vegetables, washed corn leaves (for the dessert), made salsa, sauce for the meat and aji (a great hot sauce), and cut the meat.  The main dish was carne colorado.  The second group came in and cooked the meat over an open fire, mashed the potatoes for the llapingachos (like a potato pancake), cleaned and smashed the berries for the mora (an incredible juice, berries look like giant raspberries), and mixed the batter and prepared the dessert.  The dessert was my favorite is called llamachacki.  It’s a mixture of butter, vanilla, sugar, cane, flour, baking soda,  and egg yolks.  The beaten egg whites are then folded into the batter.  I’ll never forget my expression when Claudia handed me the egg whites and said whip to “snow.”  I knew she meant to stiff peaks and said ok – and then she handed me a fork.  I exclaimed with a fork?????  Yes, and it was definitely a team effort!  I forget to mention the best part of the meal – at least to the Otavalenos.  They have cui only on special occasions such as graduations, birthdays, and weddings.  I figured since I was fully immersed in the culture, I might as well try some cui or guinea pig!  Tastes similar to chicken but a little more greasy.

Ummm- getting ready to make the dessert llamacachki - it's fantastic

After enjoying this wonderful meal prepared by our own hands, we headed back down the hill with flashlights and back to the hotel.  We are leaving Friday morning so we packed and hit the sack – that’s why this one is a little late!  Tomorrow, I’ll post the last blog of the trip, sharing our last day at an incredible private garden, giving you a sense of how the EMGs felt about the experience, and telling you how you can get your state EMGs involved.

(Communities in the UCINQUI organization include Muenala, Motilon Chupa, S. J. de Inguicho, Larcacunga, San Francisco, Taminanga, Urcusiqui, Asilla Grande, Yambiro, La Banda, Moraspungo, Guachinguero, Perugachi, Tangali, Agualongo, S. A. Cambugan, Huayrapungo, Cutambi, Achupallas, Minas Chupa, Panecillo, and Padre Chupa.)

Pam Bennett, State EMG Coordinator for OSUE and just overwhelmed with emotions about this trip!

Ecuador EMG Adventure – Still Going Strong – Sort Of!!

Thursday, February 14th, 2013




Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener volunteers are tough!  We are on day 5 and still going very strong.  We had an exciting day today that started with our bus ride up the mountain with the sole purpose of gathering Alnus alcuminata  or Andean  alder seedlings to replace ALL of the 2000 Oreopanax ecuadoriensis (Puma’s Paw) seedlings that we moved yesterday.  We went up to about 10,000 feet high and worked our way down the mountain alongside the road.  Matias showed us the size he wanted, about finger size, and how to gently tease the roots out of the soil.  We used empty water bottles cut in half to collect the seedlings.


Matias shows us how to collect the seedlings

Matias shows us how to collect the seedlings

Getting Up Close to Native Plants of Ecuador

This was certainly a highlight for me as we really got up close and personal with the native plants of Ecuador.  We saw many familiar plants but didn’t necessarily know the species.

Some of the plants we recognized were cleome, hydrangea, fuschia, many ferns, wandering jew, persicaria, rhododendron, salvia, bromilead, a plant that looked like pokeweed, and much more.  We also saw some really cool mosses and lichens and some saw hummingbirds.  The views were spectacular.  We had fun taking our time moving down the hillside finding alder trees and the seedlings nearby.  It was a bit of a challenge at first  as we had to get our eyes adjusted to what we were hunting for.  It was sort of like hunting for mushrooms – once you saw one, you found a bunch!

Collecting seedlings of the Andean alder

Collecting seedlings of the Andean alder

The altitude kind of got to many today.  We have normally been at about 7,000 feet and most have gotten used to this.  It was a little harder to go up the hill at the higher altitude without a shortness of breath.  We were really glad the bus came down the hill to pick us up.  The weather all morning was sunny and very comfortable. As we headed down the hil the clouds started rolling in and the views were even more beautiful with the cotton candy clouds.

views from 10,000 feet up

Views from 10,000 feet up


After this, we came back to the hotel, which is called the La Posade del Quinde (the house of the hummingbird) and had a great picnic lunch on the terrace.  The hotel  is quite lovely and the courtyard is nicely landscaped.

Labeling Hotel Courtyard Plants to Teach Visitors About Local Plants

One of our projects this week was to identify and label the plants in the courtyard in order to teach visitors about the local plants.  One of the plants in the courtyard was  Solanum betaceum or tree tomato.  The fruit of this plant is used quite a bit in juices and sauces.  The plants can get around 8′ tall and have somewhat large, fuzzy sliver-green leaves that have a purple cast when they emerge.  We saw quite a few vegetable plots around town that included the tree tomatoes.  One of the plants that the EMGs were especially interested in was the New Guinea impatiens or Impatiens hawkerii.  Of course, down here, these plants are about 3-4′ tall and have stems that are about 2″ in diameter.

This is the first day that the sun was out fully and it was quite warm.  At this high altitude, you burn pretty quickly.  We have all been wearing sunscreen and hats all week but it’s been overcast.  Once the sun came out we commented that it’s a good thing it’s been overcast.


We headed to the town of Cotacachi in order to visit an ethnobotany garden that was  started by students as a community project.  The purpose of the garden is to teach people about native medicinal, fruit, and vegetable plants.  The garden is somewhat overrun at this point and in need of some work.   Our EMGs spent a little time weeding the pathways and then it started raining.  So, we headed into town for more SHOPPING!  Cotacachi is know for it’s leather goods and there were quite a few places to visit.  The “feel” of the town was very different from Otavalo.  There are a lot of expatriates (someone living in this country that is not a citizen) and apparently, this is a retirement area for Americans.  some of the shops seemed a little more modern and even had clothes with name brands from the US.  Dinner was in Cotacachi and then back  home for some much-needed rest.

church in the Cotacachi town square

Church in the Cotacachi town square

Tomorrow is our last day at the vivero (nursery) and we will be potting up the seedlings and finishing up some odd jobs.  Three of us started to repair a drainage ditch on Tuesday and will finish this as well.

I am a very tired Pam Bennett but still thoroughly enjoying Ecuador (EMG State Coordinator, Ohio State University Extension)


Ecuador EMG Adventure – DAY 4 and Carnaval

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013


Another fantastic day in Otavalo but boy am I tired!  We left the hotel at 8:00 am and headed up to the vivero (nursery), about a 40 minute bus trip up a very rugged road with many ditches, gullies, and holes.

Moving Seedlings to Growing Beds

We had a big task on hand today.  We were picking up small seedlings that had started rooting in the nursery bed, pruning the roots and then  taking the seedlings down the hill to the growing beds.   This job may sound easy but it was really hard work.  We got all of the trees out of the bed in short order but getting them down the hill was another story.

The top of the hill was about 2 football fields away from the planting bed.  This wasn’t quite so bad.  The worse part was the 45 degree hill which was very irregular and rough and also full of cow patties.  Unfortunately I got a little on my boots!  In addition, we had 2000 seedlings to move.  Keep in mind we have no transportation, no plastic flats, or anything else that would have made this job easy.  We certainly don’t have the comforts or luxury of our home gardening tools.

Creating a Fire Line to Move Seedlings Down the Hill

The first effort to move them was to create a fire line of about 21 people and hand 3 seedlings to each other to end up about halfway down the hill.  After that, we took a break, drank some water, and then started to haul them the rest of the way in pairs of volunteers carrying plastic tablecloths and  old pieces of plastic and grocery bags.

Video of our fireline down the first half of the hill

It truly was a challenge to do this type of work without any of our modern conveniences.  It was a humbling experience.  We felt so good though, helping Matias.  I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would have taken Matias to get these down the hill – 6 at a time is all he can carry.  When staff member Aaron asked him if this would have taken at least a month, he exclaimed, “more!”  Once the seedlings get a little larger, the trees will be sold to the Province of Imbaburra and then given to the communities to plant in order to prevent erosion,


We also had guests with us today.  Marguerite and Christina, who are friends of one of the staff members, rode the bus and helped  us work in the nursery.  They were incredibly sweet and loved to talk on the microphone on the bus once they got started.  They didn’t speak English (maybe just a little) and Aaron translated for them.  Marguerite is one of only 3 indigenous people at her university.   She is studying accounting and will come back to her community to open a business.  The Tandana Foundation has helped provide her with a scholarship to attend college.  After finishing at the vivero and getting on the bus for the trip to Cotacachi, I pulled out a package of Twizzlers Pull N Peel and asked, “how do you say, who wants candy?” to the girls.  Without missing a beat Marguerite shouted “I do!”   I think she knows more English than she let on – or at least she knew candy!   The girl truly enjoyed the candy.

Marguerite and Christina enjoy the candy


We then went to Cotacachi Cayapas which is considered an ecological reserve.  We would call this a preserve.  We really didn’t get to hike or walk the trails because of rain.  Fortunately we have had pretty good weather to work in the nursery and school but this afternoon rained quite a bit.   Christina entertained us with the history of the area as well as introduced us to some of the plants.  One of the stories she tells about Lake Cuicocha comes from her grandparents and has been passed down for generations.  The story is that if a young lady went under the rainbow at the lake, she would become pregnant, but would give birth to water.  If a rainbow showed up, they would bang pots and pans together to scare away the rainbow.


Lake Cuicocha


We had a bit of time to rest this afternoon so 4 of us went to one of the local weavers in Peguche to see his wares.  He supplies our hotel with all of the wall hangings and we wanted to see his shop.  After negotiating the taxi ride and almost ending up back at the eco-park Cotacachi (the weavers last name was Cotacachi), we finally got to his showroom. He had beautiful wall hangings, alpaca scarves and blankets and much more.  Unlike Miguel, who I talked about yesterday, Jose Cotacachi used a loom.  Instead of calling a taxi, he brought us back to the hotel!  On the way back, we found out that he has a son that lives in Akron, Ohio!  It truly is a small world.

Danae and Scott Wolfe (from Akron, OH) along with weaver Jose Cotacachi

Danae and Scott Wolfe (from Akron, OH) along with weaver Jose Cotacachi

We are all pretty exhausted tonight so I look for everyone to hit the bed early.  More tomorrow!

I am still Pam Bennett who is incredibly fortunate to have this wonderful group of EMGs in Ecuador doing great work (and the OSU Extension State EMG Coordinator).

More on the Ohio EMGs Outreach Trip to Ecuador

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Our group of 19 EMGs didn’t think it could get much better after working at the vivero (nursery) on Sunday but we were completely wrong.  We got up early this morning (Monday) and headed back on the bus and up the hill (not quite so high this time) to the Quichinche school to work with 7th graders (10-11 years) to plant trees.

First of all, you have to realize that the kids are out of school this week because it’s Carnaval which is similar to Mardi Gras.  However, the staff from the Tandana foundation worked out a deal that the teacher, Alfredo Flores couldn’t pass  up.  The deal was that we would help plant trees and do a plant science lesson if he could get the kids to come to the school to meet us on their day off.   He absolutely loved the idea and had 47 kids show up.

Everyone who planted trees

Everyone who helped plant trees



The school yard and ground (approximately 5 acres) had very few trees on the grounds.  They are very focused on planting trees to protect the soil and for the environment.  The trees came from Matias and the vivero and were small seedlings.  If you know EMGS, and many readers of the eXtension EMG blog do, we knocked  this project out in no time.  Twenty-one adults, 47 kids and 200 trees!   It was hard work as we had to dodge pigs, cows, chickens, cow patties, and holes in the pasture but I  can’t tell you how much fun we had.  We went around almost the entire perimeter of the school yard in a little over an hour and a half.  The kids really enjoyed taking pictures with our cameras.  They also loved our soil knives but of course, we had to have an adult monitor with them!  The adults and kids alike had a blast but I can tell you this, the adults were overwhelmed with joy and enthusiasm for these kids and the project.

EMG and her Andean partner planting a tree - job well done!


After the tree planting we went into the classrooms to teach. We had divided up into 4 groups and each group prepared a plant-based lesson.  The kids were really pretty sharp and understood the value of trees.   The EMGs were totally blown away by how good the kids were and how excited they were to learn.   I heard nothing but positive comments.

Young man learning how to use a hand lens - cool!


The trip is set up for us to work in the morning and tour and learn the culture in the afternoon.  We took the bus to a master weaver, Miguel, who is the last remaining weaver who does textiles by hand in Ecuador.  Everyone else does it with machines.  He is hoping to start a school in order to teach his craft, otherwise, 4 generations of art will be lost.

We had a lesson in weaving that started with the dirty sheared wool, to washing with agave sap made into a soap, to carving, to spinning and finally to weaving the intricate designs.  Wow, the merchandise was beautiful and of course, we spent some money here!

Pam Bennett and Miguel Andrango


Our final trip of the day was to the Condor Parque to see the 2 Andean condors and other raptors, including a bald eagle.  The park was developed to take in any raptors that are hurt or damaged and help them heal.   Most of the raptors are released but some cannot be released into the wild.  Once they get used  to used to humans, they see them as an easy food source.  Therefore, they would go into cities and near people, searching for this easy food source.   The most incredible site at the raptor park, next to the view, is a pair of Andean condors held  in captivity.  These birds are the largest flying raptors and have a wingspan of about 10′.  It is suspected that there are about 50 remaining in the wild in Ecuador; and the species is endangered.  They hope that these 2 might mate in order to perpetuate the species.   The view from the park was spectacular as well.

Oh yes, early this morning we got up and were able to see Mount Cotacachi with snow on top.  We had quite a bit of rain last night and high in the mountain tops there was snow.  However, it quickly melts during the day and most of the time, it’s behind the clouds.


Mount Cotacachi with snow on top

Tomorrow, it’s back to the vivero for more work and then to Lake Cuicocha.

I am Pam Bennett, OSU Extension State EMG Coordinator and STILL having a wonderful time in Otavalo, Ecuador with 19 EMGs from Ohio!


Ohio State University Extension EMGs Volunteer Vacation to Ecuador

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) from Ohio State University Extension are spending this week in Otavalo Ecuador assisting 23 communities protect their water supply by collecting seedlings and seeds, planting trees, weeding and other gardening activities.  We are working with the Tandana Foundation (more on them later in the week) to help the communities grow trees for planting in order to prevent erosion and therefore protecting their water supply.  The staff at the foundation has worked diligently over the last several years  to develop relationships in this area and to work with the communities to develop projects that will help to improve the quality of life for the indigenous Andean people.

Arrival Begins with an Earthquake!

I am going to share our adventure with you this week as we will be here until Friday Feb. 15th.  Nineteen of us left Ohio on Friday and arrived in  Quito, Ecuador at 11:30 pm.  After the 2 hour bus ride, and check in at the La Posada Del Quinde in Otavalo, it was about 3:00 am before we got in bed.  At 6:00 am the rooster crowed, dogs barked and our day began!  And boy did it begin with a rumble – we experienced the 6.9 earthquake that hit in Columbia, about 3 hours north of us.  It was quite an experience to be eating breakfast and feel the floor roll and watch the hanging pots shake.  It lasted for about 7-8 minutes and then subsided.  We heard reports that no one was hurt, thank goodness!

Next, Visiting the Largest Market in Ecudor

EMGs in Ecudor market

EMGS at Market Day in Otavalo (Click photo to enlarge)

Saturday was an easy day before the work began.  We had a chance to experience the largest market in Ecuador and savor all of the colors and sights.  It was almost overwhelming at first but don’t worry, we got the hang of spending money and had a blast doing so!  The colors in the market are brilliant and can be found in clothing (the children’s outfits were absolutely adorable), scarves, alpaca wraps, hats, and so much more.  Before dinner we had a quick Spanish lesson to help us learn a few necessary phrases.  I used my favorite at the market several times – quanto valle, how much is it worth?????  After that, well, I had to get out the note pad and write the price!  We had dinner and almost all were in bed by 9:00 pm.

Up the Mountain to Work and Learn at the Vivero (Nursery)

On Sunday, we got up early, had a great breakfast (food is plentiful and good) and got on our bus to go up the mountain to the vivero (nursery).  This nursery was developed by all of the communities and Tandana volunteers to grow the trees.  Matias is the proud manager of the nursery and couldn’t wait until we got there.

After receiving an overview of the nursery and the purpose, 19  EMGs went to work.The foundation kind of thought that maybe we would be bored with our work and it wouldn’t meet our expectations.  What they learned was that  EMGs don’t mind a little weeding – in fact, we love to weed and work outside.  For us, it was such a pleasure to work in the “garden,” something we haven’t done in  few months.  After our morning work session we had a picnic and headed back to the bus.

Matias (red jacket) and Aaron (green, staff) teach about the trees they have planted

Matias (red jacket) and Aaron (green, staff) teach about the trees they have planted (Click photo to enlarge)

EMGs weeding planting bed (Click photo to enlarge)

When one volunteer asked Matias what he thought about our work, she said she didn’t need an intrepreter!  He said gracias so many times and smiled the entire walk up the hill.  What we did in 2 hours would have taken him more than 2-3 days.   In addition we brought along one of our favorite tools, the soil knife.  The staff and Matias loved these!  We are leaving these, gloves, kneeling pads, and some other supplies for the nursery.

One of my highlights of the day was teaching Matias how to use a hand lens.  When he brought a large grub up to his lens and saw the mouthparts he was estatic.  We practiced with a few more insects until he got the hang of it and when I gave him the lens to keep, once again, he was so very grateful.  The EMGs loved weeding, digging a few holes to plant a windbreak, cleaning out the side of the  hill and the general camaraderie of many hands making fast work.

After Work, Some Fun in San Antonio, and Preparing for a School Trip Tomorrow

After this we went to San Antonio, a town known for it’s wood carvings.  They were having an International Chain Saw competition in the square along with a festival and parade.  This week is carnaval which is similar to Mardi Gras.  The kids go around the town spraying everyone with a foamy soap that looks kind of like shaving cream.  Several of us got it!

Tomorrow it’s off to school where we will be teaching 6th graders about plants and then planting 80 trees with the kids.  Then we will go to the Condor Park and to see a master weaver.  Later in the week we will be working again in the nursery and taking a cooking lesson.  I’ll  be posting periodically this week and sharing our adventure with you.

–I am Pam Bennett, State EMG Coordinator for OSU Extension and having an incredible time in Otavalo, Ecuador!