Chocolate Making — our first activity!
Upon our arrival in Mindo, we jumped into activities with a chocolate making tour. We gathered around the fire while the music of drums beating around us filled the air. We threw the cacao beans into a clay pot that had been heating up over the fire and each took turns mixing them around in order to toast them to perfection. When it was ready, the cacao started to pop just like popcorn! We sat down at the tables and peeled the cacao. Then the real work began — it was time to grind the cacao beans. With a small round rock and a large rocky surface, each one of us took a turn hand grinding freshly roasted beans and turning them into a shiny paste. It took us a while, and everyone had to do some of the work! Finally we made a hot chocolate drink that mixed our paste with hot water and some cinnamon. It was bitter without any sugar, so we had to add some honey and even some hot pepper flakes. Don’t worry though – we got our sugar fill when we had the chance to taste the brownies at the end too!
We just arrived back from our five day stay in the Mashpi community. It was incredible, yet we’re thrilled to be out of the humidity and away from the biting insects! The small village of just about 150 people alongside the Mashpi river welcomed us into their farms and their homes as we stayed at a farm dedicated to education. We started our first day with getting to know some new fruits — ask us about Salak or Chicle, some of our new favorites. We can now tell you what these fruit trees look like and how to grow them. Our new friends Oliver, Mari and Arturo greeted us on our first day and helped us to get oriented to all the new plants and animals surrounding us.
Our activities throughout our trip varied quite a bit from learning about the agro ecology system set up by our new friends to harvesting and making our own meals. Each morning we’d come to breakfast and be served a delicious meal including coffee from nearby farms, guayusa tea (a tea grown in Ecuador that is said to be energizing) and fruit salad with multiple varieties of banana, pineapple and sometimes even jackfruit!
After breakfast we’d head out for activities. Day one involved getting to know the food forest surrounding us. Our friends at Mashpi have created a trail called the Ecological Restoration Trail that connects four farms in the area that are practicing sustainable agriculture. The farms, however, don’t look like what you might think of as a normal farm. They are forests filled with cardamom plants, banana trees, palms, jackfruit, and many other varieties that we’d never heard of. It was fascinating to see the way that food production can look so much like a forest, and so different from what we imagine it to be in the US. At the end of our sweaty morning hike, we had the chance to jump in the river and cool off.
Day two was filled with a particularly special activity in which we were sent out in the field to harvest and then tasked with the activity of creating a meal. Each of our three groups had a task to complete: a salad, a dessert, or a juice. We harvested so many foods — palm hearts, a fruit called borojo, more salak and chicle, stinging nettle, four different types of cacao and more. When we returned, each group shared what we had harvested with the others and then the real work began; converting this bountiful harvest into a meal! The salad group prepared a fruit style salad topped with edible flower petals, the juice group made papaya banana juice, a borojo health juice and some lemongrass tea, and the dessert group made a delicious chocolate banana mixture. While eating we had the chance to reflect on how much work had gone into creating just one meal! Imagine how much effort typically goes into a cup of coffee or one chocolate bar.
One of the most meaningful activities we were invited to participate in was the women’s circle. Not too long ago, a woman came into the Mashpi community to help some of the locals to develop a system for women’s empowerment and connecting with each other. Now, the women meet every Monday — the same day that TTS35 also has community meetings. We passed a ball of yarn around to each other, sharing our names and a little bit about ourselves. Many of us used this chance to try out our Spanish in front of the group, too! The women from Mashpi also shared about themselves and how the women’s group has allowed them to get to know each other, connect, and face problems in their lives with more support.
In our final days, we had the chance to work with the local forest school that our friend Mari runs. She is a teacher at the local school, and also brings the students to their farm to cook, explore the native forests, and create art projects twice a week. Each of the 35 students in the local school then has the chance to connect with nature and gain an understanding and appreciation of the incredible rainforest they live in! We got to participate in their regular activities and were blown away by the ease with which they ran through the steep, muddy trails while we slid, crawled, sat, and carefully worked our way through the mud. One group even saw toucans and a sloth along the way!
After our final day, we headed back to Mindo for some much needed relief from the humidity and a chance to do laundry. It’s so magical to have clean clothes again! Our last day in Mindo we went out to go “canyoning” or rappelling ourselves down a GIANT waterfall. It was not an easy feat, but with all the other students cheering us on from the bottom it made the jump a little bit easier and we made it through.
We’re looking forward to some upcoming museum time, exploring graffiti art within the cities of Ecuador and some public bus transport!