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An Exciting Trip to A Mountain Town

This morning we were awakened (again) by our friendly rooster. Funny thing about our friend, he continues to crow until each one of us makes an appearance. Today we bid Samuel goodbye but Anita is accompanying us to Salinas de Guarando.

We started the trip by stopping by Samuel’s chocolate shop in Quevedo. We each bought chocolate bars to take home and we picked up some cacao for Miriam to use when we make truffles with her in a couple of days.

Tasting Jenny's favorite fish soup (ensevollado) in Quevedo

While we were in Quevedo, Jenny treated us each to her favorite local dish “fish soup.” It was a stew containing albacore, potatoes and a delicious broth. We ate and waited at a mechanic while the horn on our van was repaired.

Traveling without a horn is dangerous business in South America. It’s the complete opposite from places like Kauai where horn-honking frowned upon. Here the horn seems to be an extension of the driver’s hand – like the steering wheel itself – warning oncoming busses that we intend to pass – regardless of who is in the “right.”

While we were parked, Anita took the opportunity to administer a tetanus shot to Joni. A wise choice considering her machete injury. She will have quite the story to tell the doctor in the states who removes her stitches. So we traveled from the tropics back into the mountains. The drive took about ten hours but the scenery was magnificent and we found ways to amuse ourselves even when we took a “shortcut.” And weren’t quite sure if it was all that short.

As we continued on our way, the tropical heat gave way to an arid mountain climate. Joni has been our resident bug-attractor and even in the confines of the van, she didn’t disappoint. She was bitten by a lot of bugs out in the field yesterday and today, as we drove along, it appeared that her bites were becoming worse. Fernando (our fearless driver) heard this and quickly pulled over. Joni applied some more bug spray but Fernando insisted that she also put fresh lime on her bites. It came as no surprise to me that almost instantly, this natural remedy worked. I am told that the Ecuadorian people believe in natural remedies versus traditional western medicine. Recalling my episode of Incan Revenge last year – and the oregano tea that was provided – I am a believer.

So, after a long (but never boring) drive, we arrived in Salinas de Gauranda just in time for dinner. Together, we enjoyed a fine meal of chicken soup, fried rice, pork chop, salad and tea. After dinner we were honored to meet one of the founding fathers (literally, an Italian priest) Padre Antonio Polo of the Salnias de Guaranda community enterprise.

The Padre has a magnetic personality. He speaks quickly and his speech pattern is mesmerizing. It reminded me a lot of when I heard Frank Abagnale (the con-man that the movie Catch Me If You Can was based on). His voice was musical and the history he shared with us was astounding.

Thirty years ago, a Bishop sent he and a group of priests to work on a community-based project. This eventually led to the Italian brotherhood purchasing the salt mines (land and mineral rights) from the Patrones (people in power) and ultimately freeing the indigenous people who were enslaved. Father said that once the land was purchased and the people were free – they began to work as one to formulate a plan related to helping develop a co-operative that would support the entire community.

A Swiss gentleman came to visit and loved the area so much that he helped teach the people how to make queso (cheese) which has become the number one product that is distributed and sold by the co-operative throughout Ecuador. Since that time, the co-op has expanded into chocolate, textiles, coffee and carnivores (meat/sausage).

The Padre stressed that the community works as one – with the same intent: to work hard together and earn a fair wage. He indicated that none of this would be possible if the people were not like-minded. This co-op model isn’t new however, the approach is refreshing. Instead of a “take no prisoners” model, almost all of their distribution is focused on Ecuador. And to that end, they opened four retail operations, that funnel even more touristas.

They are also planning festivals related to each product that they currently market – to engage the local youth and increase tourist interest. The Padre is a beautifully humble soul. A person who throughout the course of our dialogue continued to remind us that he wasn’t the “expert” and the sense I got was that he sees himself as a conduit of sorts. The person who, along with a group of thoughtful priests many years ago combined his divine abilities and resources to help one small mountain town succeed. This collaborative approach appears to be a consistent theme among the entrepreneurs that we have met. It’s an approach I think we could all learn a lot from.