Good things comes in small packages

Trip Start Dec 17, 2011
Trip End Feb 20, 2012

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Where I stayed

Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

 Without really having much of a destination, Josh and I headed north from Puerto Lopez on the first bus available. We had heard that there was a bit of surf all along the Ecuadorian coastline and as we started to head through greener and more lush vegetation, we felt like going a bit further. Three bus rides, endless pot holes, and a million watermelon sellers later, we ended up in the little lovely town of Canoa. Think flip-flops, surf, and piņa coladas but without resorts, high rises, and small kid families.

 Bathtub warm waters and a tropical climate is the result of two currents meeting in the Pacific right outside Canoa. A little slice of heaven where pajama-pant-clad Argentinians work on their tan alongside fishermen mending their nets while local kids kick ball on the beach at sundown. A mellow place where sunbathers and surfers share kilometers of white sandy beaches lined with little snack and fruity drink shacks. And did I mention there are no families here? Just pure grown-up fun (well, throw in a few 20-somethings in there too).

 Canoa is so laid back that it is hard to find a hostel. After heading from one empty front desk to another, we finally found a place where the manager was awake. Ocean view and a hammock on the deck. Pretty hard to beat. The following days we ate fabulous food and worked on our tans. Well, I don't know if you can call it a tan but another shade of pink might be a better description. Josh rented a surfboard and enjoyed some action on the waves while I got a hold of a stand up paddle board (SUP) that I paddled up and down the river watching tropical birds nesting and fish jumping. So cool! My fear of the waves was braved by a few lessons on the surfboard by Josh in between the sunbathing and SUP-ing.

 After a couple of days on the beach I had finally worked up to a faint tan line but got bored by the sun-worshipping and headed to the jungle for a tour of Rio Muchacho Organic Farm. This amazing place was founded by a New Zealand/ Ecuadorian couple that wanted to spread sustainable farming consciousness to the area and beyond. People from all over the world come to Rio Muchacho to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty while learning about permaculture, composting and sustainable living. And most important of all: how to make chocolate!

Rachel, an American volunteer from the east coast, greets me and hands me something that looks like a gourd with black coffee in it. I don't really drink coffee but can't resist this amazing top quality Ecuadorian roast topped off with some thick, frothy, fresh milk. And I mean fresh from the udder, this is a real farm after all! High on my caffeine buzz I learn about everything under the permaculture sun. From solar, to the diversity in different eco-systems, from agroforestry to sustainable development and finally about composting in any shape or form possible. I am blow away by this place and it's people. Rio Muchacho Farm has been nominated as one of National Geographic's top pick destinations in Ecuador, and now I know why.

 By the time lunch is served, my brain is fried. I want to remember everything I just learned and tell the world about it! So many beautiful ways to work with Mother Nature and not against her. Chatting with the volunteers over a delicious vegetarian meal, I find out that Rio Muchacho is proactive in the community and have built a school that teaches children about reforestation and waste-management along with their ABC's. A brilliant way to engage the native population and spread the knowledge. A hammock swings me to sleep to the sound of colorful tropical birds for a post-lunch siesta. What a magical place.

Rested and re-freshed I head out on a lovely little hike to a gigantic Banyan tree. She is simply majestic and I remember a sign that I saw a sign on my way to the farm reading; "Trees are the closest we get to Mother Earth". What a true statement. I lingered around this beauty as long as I could stand the carpenter ants and other bugs feasting on my flesh. Well back at the farm it was time to test my abilities as a chocolatier extraordinarie. As you all might know, I'm a bit of a disaster in the kitchen or should I say domestically disabled. But who can resist a chance to create a piece of a girls best friend- xocolātl, (Aztec for chocolate).

 The earliest record of using chocolate dates back as far as 1100 BC. The substance was used as a bitter tasting drink, mainly during ceremonial events. By the 15th century (1400-hundreds) the Aztecs adopted cacao into their culture where it was spiced with vanilla and chile pepper and used to fight fatigue (also used during the Spanish conquest by the soldiers for that same purpose) as well as an offering to the fertility Goddess Xochiquetzal and, at times, as a currency. One turkey cost one hundred cacao beans, an avocado three beans and so on.

 The process, to make a long story short, is as follows: the cacao beans gets cleaned and dried in the sun followed by a three day fermentation process. The fermented beans gets roasted, peeled and finally ground into a fine powder. The powder can be mixed with spices, butter, milk etc and gets sweetened with sugar or any other sweet substance and cooked into a delicious mass. And voila- you've made chocolate! Even a novice cook like me can feel victorious in the kitchen.

 On my drive back to Canoa I feel like a million bucks with a full belly and on a chocolate high. The warm air touches my skin as we criss cross between potholes on the small dirt road. The tuk-tuk passes pigs, cows and beautiful trees painted with soft afternoon sunglow. This is how I love to live, this is what makes every cell in my body leap of joy; on the move in a foreign country, with the wind in my hair and on my way to explore new places, new faces and new costumes. This is what makes me feel creative and truly alive!

 That evening Josh and I share our stories for the day over a delicious enconcado and a few cold Pilseners while taking turns on scratching each others bugbites on our backs. Reggaeton beats in the distance. In the morning we're off on yet another bus ride to Guayaquil where we'll jump on a plane back to Lima, Peru. I am far from ready to leave Ecuador, but a serious miscommunication between me and an Indian sales representative for our airline has left me to decide between paying $1500 to change the departure date or go home together with Josh. As $1500 seems a bit steep I decided to go with the flow and head back, I do know the Universe has a plan and I'll find out why I should head back sooner than anticipated.

 Ecuador has exceeded our expectations on all levels and I can't wait to return and explore it's deep jungle, beautiful colonial cities and mountains. We have a saying in Swedish, "Liten men naggande god" Kind of like "good things come in small packages" and that is how I like to describe Ecuador. A small diverse place with endless possibilities. If you are seeking adventure, wildlife, culture or beautiful beaches- Ecuador will deliver on all points. With natural wonders like the Galapagos Islands, Andean valleys, volcanoes and world class waves; Ecuador will leave your muscles soar from exploring and your mind open from it's diversity. A must-see on my top travel list.

Peace, Love & Chocolate 
the Swedish Vagabond

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