Let me clarify –
There are also things in Ecuador that are very, very different than my old life in the United States. For example, over the weekend I was walking with my host brothers to the soccer field to practice for my Ecuadorian football debut on Thursday. On the way, we spotted a small dead garden snake on the side of the road. I pointed it out to ask if there were any larger snakes in the area. “Oh yeah! I spotted one at the finca once that was six feet long.” My host brother eagerly shared.
“The same finca where we camped last weekend? Where you left me alone in my own tent?”
“Don’t worry, they’re more scared of people than you are of them. Besides, back in Tena I found a ten foot long one.” My 19-year-old host brother, Angel, is a college student studying ecosystems in the Amazonian city of Tena about 2.5 hours away. Because we’re on the transition zone, the weather here is fairly temperate. Tena is more tropical with greater biodiversity of fruits, monkeys, and apparently, snakes. Regardless, I was not comforted by the promise that even bigger snakes means I shouldn’t worry at all. Future camping trips might not be in my future.
Another interesting aspect of my site is the Reventador Volcano, pictured from my walk home from work above. It’s an active volcano just 20 miles away from my house. On a clear day (which isn’t often, due to our rainforest climate) I can keep an eye on it in hopes of spotting an ash plume. The volcano has been actively erupting since July 2008, and spews ash on an hourly basis. If your daily commute doesn’t include a not-so-distant exploding volcano, let me assure you that it’s a beautiful sight to behold. I’d pick it over smokestacks from a neighboring factory any day.
Finally, preparing food is a much more involved process than I’m used to. Goodbye Tony’s Delta Sigma cooking (my mouth is salivating at just the memory of his tofu steaks, or tacos, or garlic bread…I’d even settle for his pork chop night, honestly), or even Crossroads. There’s no microwave or oven for me here.
Instead, I’m blessed with a cornucopia of fresh produce. At the market on Sunday, I picked up 8 green peppers, 5 papayas, 6 cloves of garlic, a box of cherry tomatoes, 24 bananas and a little mint plant (personal goal: learn to make Philz mint mojito lattes from scratch) for just $7. Even better, my host family grows and roasts their own coffee in our farm. I can see the coffee beans laid out on the roof to dry out of the corner of my eye now. If I want free-range chicken or eggs with lunch, I don’t need to look further than my own backyard.
My favorite Amazonian meal is their specialty, maito. I prepared it for the first time fully farm-to-table a few weeks ago. At my counterpart’s family farm, I helped his brother and mother pull a net through their tilapia pond to gather out a bucketful of perfectly-sized fish. They taught me how to kill and clean the fish next, methodically slicing them in half to replace the insides with salt. We picked out large, green leaves to fold the fish inside like a Christmas present. Instead of shining ribbon, we tied it all together with stalks. In the time all of that took the fire had died down to shimmering red embers. We carefully laid each package across the fire and left to collect cinnamon leaves for the tea.
When it was cooked just right, we feasted.