"Wow?" Is that the word to explain and express such intense feelings of inspiration, awe, and love for the country of Ecuador? We are overwelmed. We are joyous. We are happy. We could be working behind a desk in a cubicle for a company whose priciples tell you to screw over your fellow human being in order that they can produce a dollar profit...but it's a "real job." It has benefits. What benefits? Health insurance? You still have to pay incredible co-pays, prescription fees for medicines whose side effects may include insomnia, depression, suicidal thoughts, skin rash. You get one week vacation a year so you can rationalize not killing yourself. But it's a "real job!" What kind of sick, dimented culture have we created. We call ourselves civilized yet we take harmful drugs, destroy our environment, distrust our neighbors, create wars over oil. It's civilized! I choose this life any day of the week. It's not even a question.
Since leaving Colombia and entering Ecuador, we've spent three weeks in an indigenous community volunteering at a local primary school run by a German foundation. We've experienced medicinal ceremonies of ayahuasca, san pedro, and peyote giving thanks to the Great Spirit and Mother Earth with Quechua shamans and a grandmother holy woman from Mexico. We've visited a biological reserve tucked away in the Andean mountain cloud forest. We spent Christmas and New Years in Ecuador's capital, Quito, where I fell violently ill, shit my pants (two years in the Peace Corps in Senegal and nothing but three months in South America and I get my Peace Corps merit badge and now my pack is a couple ounces lighter) but rang in 2012 with love pouring in and out of our hearts. We couch surfed with an amazing and inspiring Italian couple, Cecilia and Francesco, who are building a sustainable house out of cob and bamboo in Tumbaco (follow their story at www.ilalocobproject.info/posts/blog_home), outside of Quito. We spent a week at the beach (finally!) in Canoa watching the sun roll over the western horizon of the Pacific ocean, hike to secret beaches, learn to surf (or begin the process at least), pick up over 100 lbs of trash off the beach in exchange for good vibrations and free frozen cocktails and meet some amazing fellow travelers and locals alike. All of which leads us to now, present, mid January, an hour from Canoa and the beach, in a town called Tosagua volunteering for an amazing non-profit organism (it's alive and constantly growing, changing, learning, becoming better) called Eden's Rose Foundation (www.Edensrosefoundation.org) working with community women and children creating self empowerment projects of macrame jewelry (http://macramebracelets.com) and organic chocolate production (best chocolate I've ever tasted...and made by hand from Cacao bean to melted chocolate bar in my stomach) to be sold back in the states come music festival season and everywhere else Kara and I wander to. Last years money brought back from the sales in the states directly funded the construction of a community center to create space for more community projects. We have been here staying with llocal families, learning how to make macrame jewelry (something we've been striving to learn since seeing Argentinian backpackers/vagabonds selling them throughout Colombia and Ecuador. We've learned how to roast cacao beans, shell them, grind them to create pure organic unsweetened chocolate, mix and pulverize sugar into powdered sugar, mixing the cacao and sugar together, tempering it so it doesn't melt in this 100% humidity, pour it into some plastic molds, throw it in the fridge or freezer and you have delicious, hommade chocolate bars thirty minutes later. It's been great because the chocolate project is new, and the perfect formula of tempering (how long & at what temperature) hasn't been perfected for this climate (some has melted faster than others) so we've just been making alot of chocolate and eating it. If I didn't have a sweet tooth before this experience, I do now. Speaking of which, I'm going to go grab some chocolate.
(5 minutes later) O.K. so where was I, oh yeah, this organization is awesome. So Kara, Jess, and I have been discussing possible markets for this jewelry and we decided that there are alot of gringos in Canoa...and the beach is sweet...so why not live the perfect life, for a week at least, and go BACK to the beach (any complaints? Didn't think so) and see if the vacationing gringos who hang out around the gringo restaurant and bar (which will be playing the Ravens/Patriots game on Sunday) and see if they like the product, want to buy some for themselves or their kids or friend or whatnot. Best case scenario is that the bracelets sell well, the bar sees this, and they buy a bunch of the jewelry wholesale, jack-up the price for them (what gringos do best. Capitalism) and sell them inside their bar. While doing so, we'd be spreading the word about Eden's Rose Foundation, an hour and a half bus ride from Canoa, where people can come visit, see the projects and learn macrame for themselves! Canoa is going to be a pilot marketing program this week. If it goes well, then some of the women themselves can come down once a week or so (weekends when it's busy?) and sell their own product directly, from the hands that made them to the hands that wear them. We've discussed if we have a good week in Canoa, which is a small tranquillo beach town, then we'll road trip it down the coast to the really touristy, party beach town of Montanita and sell like madmen.
Kara, Jess, and I have already joined on the fundraising bandwagon when we get back to the states this summer (talk about the perfect summer job...) and travel from music festival to music festival, then follow the big fall music tours of Furthur (remaining members of the Grateful Dead) and some other big shows, setting up vendor's tents and spreading the good word of Eden's Rose while selling macrame which is exactly how we found ourselves here. Jessica met Gregory the founder of Eden's Rose last summer at the All Good Music Festival in West Virginia. His organization happened to be in Ecuador and we happened to be traveling to Ecuador. "Boom goes the dynamite." Get it? We'll also be traveling around visiting university campuses, the beaches of Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware, and of course Canada Lake.
We also met a ethnobotonist who works as a consultant with Eden's Rose who has connections to the Shuar indigenous tribes of the Amazon where we'll end up whenever we decide to leave the coast. Our plan, if it's possible that we have a plan when our plans change day to day, is to take a boat through the Amazon to cross the border into Peru at the end of February when our visa is up...or buy a canoe and paddle into Peru but you never know!