The Mighty Jungle: Ecuador wks. 7-8

10:19 CacaoTree

Cacao tree, with red unripe pods. Can be split open to nibble the fruit around the beans, which has a zesty flavor.

“It’s the second day in the Amazon and I’m using bug spray as deodorant.” -Anonymous

As usual with excursions, there’s too much to cover in one post. It was a gastronomic adventure, very different from anything I’ve experienced thus far: I ate the fruit of cacao, chirimoya, guava and guavilla, crunched on baked ants the size of bumblebees, and ingested rice beyond belief. It was on this trip that I finally understood – rice is a way of life. It has become part of my spirit, my essence. At breakfast, lunch and dinner, an unvarying mountain of it would appear on my plate. I became an expert at ratios: how much rice I should eat for every one bean, every bite of plantain, every sliver of egg, so no food would outlast any other. The more I ate, the more my powers of eating grew, until I could plow through everything with no problem. It helped that our host mother was a very good cook.

Plantain grove

Plantain grove

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel misplaced. The life and the people were quite different from anything I’ve ever experienced, and we stayed around the house all day (since there were no classes). It’s not a place where tall white girls show up as a matter of course, so we were something of an oddity. Things could be stilted at times, and I also felt a little guilty that we were sleeping in two of the house’s three rooms.

10:19 B&W treeofLife

This tree has such charisma. Think Avatar, but full of tiny monkeys.

That said, experience was utterly unique, and undoubtedly good practice for the final project. A little context: this trip is essentially a practice run for the final month of the program, in which everyone conducts independent research all over Ecuador. For now, students were paired off to stay with Amazonian families and learn about the host culture, documenting everything in a work journal. Fantastic experiences included using a machete to clear brush on the family’s plantain farm, seeing a group of squirrel-sized monkeys darting around in a tree, and sitting in a hammock with three giggling children piled on top of me. My rain boots also earned their credentials during a long, squelchy hike along an Amazonian mountainside. The mud was so deep, I almost lost my left boot. It took two of us to heave it out.

After a week, we regrouped in a hostel, where I made the acquaintances of several sassy macaws, planted a mahogany tree and swam in the rainwater pool. In the daytime, we visited a nearby cooperative that makes The Best Chocolate In The World, and got instantly intoxicated by the smell of roasting cacao beans. The cooperative uses only non-GMO chocolate; the modified version, “CCN-51,” is bigger and more disease resistant, but tastes like hooey. Most chocolate companies mix the two, or add flavoring to disguise the rankness of the GMO flavor. There are no words for corruption like that.

10:14 BlueMacawI bought several bricks of the raw ground-up nibs, possibly even more than I can give away – it’s completely unsweetened, but still ambrosia. With luck, it will last me until my senior exams, when I predict I will be eating it by the pound. Stronger than coffee and better for the soul.


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