Remember my French friend Fanny from Couchsurfing in Quito? Well, by the time I made it to her end of Ecuador, she’d started her internship, and I got an invitation to stay with her host family for a week at their house in Machala.
Fanny and her coworker Paolo worked for an agroforestry business that taught local farmers responsible practices. They’d give workshops to the farmers, who would be gathered around someone’s living room. Having nowhere else to go, I tagged along for a few of them.
This was real-deal farm life: one day, as I was just about to be bored, I looked out the window and saw a dead pig lying on a table. A couple of men came up and started rinsing it with steaming water. They started to shave off all its hair, and all of a sudden I saw it no longer had a head (I’m glad they were standing in the way of my view!) Then they brought out machetes and hammers, reducing the pig to a pile of meat you’d find at any butcher shop, and fired up the grill. I like bacon as much as the next person, but it was pretty grisly to see actually happening.
(I don’t have a picture of that, but I do have a picture of this monstrous grasshopper, which is scary in its own right. Hand is included for scale.)
Luckily, the squeamishness had passed by the time Rosa, the owner of the house that held the meeting, invited us to go out back and help ourselves to fruit from her arazá tree. Arazá is soft and yellow and looks a little like a passion fruit, but it has the consistency of a peach and slippery seeds embedded all through it. When we came in with piles of fruit, she made a cocktail out of it for us, blending it with ice, homemade cane alcohol (most definitely moonshine – kept in a big jug under the sink!), regular milk, condensed milk, brown sugar and vanilla. It tasted a little like melted ice cream. YUM.
From Machala we were further invited to Paolo’s family’s farm for the weekend. They have a big place with cows, pigs, chickens, banana trees and cacao plants, one of those places where so many members of the family are milling around that you can’t even tell for sure who lives there. I love those. We spent the afternoon at a volleyball game (volleyball is huge in Ecuador). This was the place to be – it seemed like the whole town turned out to see the game. A brass band played cumbia music in the background, stray dogs wandered onto the field and had to be chased off, roosters crowed from the hills where people watched the action on the court from their front porches.
On the way back we passed by a cockfight – a circle of men yelling and cheering, roosters in the ring kicking up clouds of dust and more in cages stacked along the sides.
That night there was an outdoor dance held on the same volleyball court where we’d watched the game earlier. The whole town was dressed up and dancing to a live cumbia band that had come in from Peru. Fanny and I were a little out of place in our grungy hiking shoes but we did the best we could. I was practicing my best steps with one of the local guys, trying to copy the girls on stage with the tall white boots, when I heard a voice over the loudspeakers, announcing that there were visitors from France and the US that night. It was nice yet embarrassing…everyone turned around and stared at us, asking what in the world we were doing!
The band (apologies for the horrible quality of both of these photos, btw!)
The next day I went with Fanny and Paolo to another of their workshops, getting a chance this time to talk to some people there. People were asking us everything. Their nosy questions were hilarious – I’m surprised they didn’t ask my bra size or if there were any abnormalities in my medical history! Here are some I remember:
-What country were your pants made in? (What? Um…China?)
-Have you gained or lost weight since you arrive in Ecuador? (Gained, unfortunately. Gringas love fried, sugar coated cheese empanadas.)
-Wow, how tall ARE you? (Five nine. I know that’s freakishly tall for a woman in this country.)
-Is your hair color natural or is it dyed? (Dyed long ago.)
-You believe in God, the Virgin and the Baby Jesus, don’t you? (My answer was yes, out of convenience. People stress over the state of your immortal soul if they hear that you’re not particularly religious.)
-Is that the Bible you’re reading? (Why would it be the Bible?? Uhh, I mean, I left my Bible at home.)[/box]
Then there was the part where we rode horses and milked cows and hiked to the glorious waterfall above, which I suppose you shouldn’t leave a farm without doing.
I got laughed at for my milking skills