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
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.
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!