A long time coming...

0 degrees fahrenheit. No heat, no lights, solid block of drinking water, exploded beer, frozen ketchup and it's only 8pm. After all that, we still had each other and we still had our determination to realize our vision. Despite the circulating perceptions that this maniacal way of life would inevitably lead to a divorce, we are pleased to say that you were wrong! We are as happy as ever and every frozen bone was well worth it! After 4 years of living together in our 21ft RV, we managed to pay off our debts, Kirsten complete graduate school, Seth become a certified arborist, both work multiple jobs and manage to save up enough money to travel. So here we go. We hope that you can come along for the ride.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

La Vida en el Campo

Hour after hour passed at the Quito airport, as passersby glanced suspiciously at our cardboard sign, made out of the lid of our pizza box that simply said, ¨Gonzalo.¨ Yet, it wasn´t Gonzalo who picked us up, but his wife Jasmin that greeted us with a hug and smile and proceeded to inform us that the truck was parked three blocks away. With 4 boxes full of bike parts and all of our gear, the three of us managed to ¨borrow¨the luggage cart from the airport and lift it up and down curbs, over cobblestone streets and between people waiting in line at the bus stops. After loading our boxes and ourselves into the bed of the truck, which was already loaded with flowers, we waited our turn to drop off the flowers at the exportation grounds of the airport and head out.

We turned onto the main road and there it was. Proud and omniprescent, volcan Cotopaxi was lapped in a pastel sunset as it towered over the city. We had a splendid view of the snow-capped beast as we looked toward it from the back of the truck. We took in all of the sights, sounds and smells of Quito as it was dinnertime and rush hour. Buses, cars, trucks, bikes and people flowed freely in some kind of organized madness that was unveiling itself before our eyes. We were soon climbing steep inclines as the moon and stars rose into the crisp, chilly sky above. Before long, we were looking down on the clouds below us and the 2 of us marveled at what a different kind of world we landed ourselves in. We continued to climb and climb, until the paved road turned to dirt and the straight bends tightened. We could see that we hovered along the edge of a cliff, but in the dark, we could see little of our surroundings and anxiously awaited morning to see what kind of landsacape we were going to be putting our feet on. Fortunately or not, we´re in the land of ¨not needing an alarm clock¨due to the excessive quantity of roosters in the neighborhood. Morning found us in lush, dense vegetation in a cloud forest in the mountains of the Andes. Every day since, we´ve been woken before 6 am often by 5:30 and have been off to work at the farm before 7.

For 1 and a half weeks so far, our adopted home has been Yunguilla, a small village of 300 poeple perched on the edge of a cliff-no flat land in sight! Therefore, houses, roads, and farms are carved precariously out of the landscape and require frequent descending and climbing the steep hills through the low clouds that often pass over the village leaving it washed in white. Our adopted family is the Colluguazo-Flores family-Gonzalo, Jasmin and their four children Katerine (17), Cecibel (15), Mirella (13), Kevin (10) their dog, Fluke (age unknown) and many other members of their extended family (which is a lot) and handfuls of neighbors. It is always an active home, bustling with laughter, futbol, laundry, cooking, cleaning, making cheese and business deals. This family has something to say about work ethic. The older girls are extremely disciplined. They make a neater bed than I ever could in a lifetime and do more household chores than we could do with a machine. When Seth said one day to Mirella that she works a lot, she responded ¨Es la vida cuando eres pobre¨-That´s life when you´re poor. Nonetheless, the entire family is extremely generous in every way imaginable and are really fun to hang out with. The food here is to die for. Our favorites thus far have been fried bananas, fried yucca, fresh juice and moladas (warm fruit smoothies) soup of every kind with potatoes and fresh bread.

The kids are really funny and entertaining. We´ve played games and exchanged our own versions of slug bug, spin the bottle and some kind of revised version of hot potato. There is a constant sound of laughter and the kids take kindly and warmly to us strangers in their house. Last week was Jasmin´s birthday and we attempted to make a cake with Mirella, Ceci, Kate (another volunteer) and ourselves. It was a total disaster as the cake rose, spilled, burned, and broke into a dozen pieces. We cried from laughter so intense and still the warped cake with runny frosting tasted fantastic.

The pickup leaves for the farm at 10 til 7 with at least a dozen people standing in the bed holding tightly onto the metal railing as our hands become numb in the cold morning air and we duck to avoid overhead vines. The farm lies about a 5 minute truck ride from town, down in a deep valley. Ten regular employees work there, in addition to the kids and volunteers. Fields of sloped calla lillies fill the mountain sides along with vegetables that feed the workers at the farm, the family and some that get sold at market. Lunch is prepared for everyone at the farm, with food that is harvested there and staples brought from above. The meal is usually soup with potatoes, veggies and occasionally meat. Every meal has been fantastic. At the farm, we have peeled potatoes ( a lot of them), picked beans, peas, planted calla lilles, weeded, prepped soil for transplants, mixed compost and prepped flowers for export three days a week. Seth gets (or has) to drive the tractor a lot. He´s not sure whether his tractor-driving experience has been a blessing or a curse, since the boys are always wanting to ride along or worse yet-drive! The lily farm is certified organic so we get to use lots of smelly manure and compost. The work is physically hard most days and we´re relieved whenever we get a break from the monotony of the tasks here. One day, we were taken with a grandfather to his strawberry patch-it was to die for! We were both in heaven. It was a gigantic, terraced piece of mountain side with huge organic plants. We spent hours harvesting them and were nearly full from eating the half-rotten ones, which aren´t to market standards. Some of the harvest Jasmin made into mermelada and the rest went to market to sell for 50 cents a pound.

Last week, the girls taught Kirsten how to make cheese from the milk they get each day from their cows. It was really fun, probably because it was the first time. The novelty probably wears off when it´s your chore every other day of the week. Just as our bikes, tent and other things are a novelty for them. Kevin told Seth that our bikes were from ¨another world¨. Still, the kids are quite well-versed in western culture as they like to say ¨hasta la vista¨and Mirella yelled out ¨No woman no Cry¨to her brother when he started crying. They know Spongebob and a host of other Hollywood movies and music videos.

This weekend, we´re in Quito to 1) get a essential bike part for Seth´s bike 2)Celebrate our 4th anniversary and 3)Get a break from farm life. Quito is pretty much like any other big South American city and we´ll return to the farm on Sunday afternoon and stay until probably Thursday morning. Our next destination will be Otavalo, an indigenous community just north of Quito. Our Spanish is coming along, which is to say we´re learning many things everyday. We haven´t been stopped in our tracks so far because of any miscommunication, although some times we feel more confident than others, depending on who we´re talking to and the content of the conversation.

We hope that all of you that we love dearly are doing great and this finds you in good spirits. Hasta la Proxima!
Kirsten & Seth

Finishing up North America

Our last weekend in Nova Scotia was incredibly relaxing and filled our bellies with lots of excellent North American favorites before the trip down south. Seth´s dad, Bill, flew up to Halifax to meet us for the weekend and we had a great time. It was fun to share our stories about our travels thus far and hear about the exciting work he´s doing in Tennessee producing a high-tech part for CT machines. Evidently, it´s revolutionary work he´s doing! We drove up the coast north of Halifax and found this really cute country inn run by another German woman and her Canadian husband. Their hospitality was over the top. We were served complimentary brownies over coffee and cribbage, late night oreo cookies and a great more-than continental breakfast. The inn was situated on a river that had a fantastic patio view of the water and amazing sunsets to admire over a glass of wine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Live From South America

We made it! We´re really tired after long days of travel, but other than that we´re good. Everything went very smoothly, no problems at customs, changing planes, etc. Gonzalo from the organic flower farm is picking us up and introducing us to life on the farm for the next two weeks. There is no internet access close by there, so we will probably be out of touch for awhile...that means we´ll have a lot to report after we get settled into Ecuadoran life. I wanted to drop all of you anxious family members a line to let you know that we got in ok. We love you all. Kirsten & Seth

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wrapping up Canada

Well, we're going out with a bang. We didn't want to regret anything in the unlikely event that our plane nose-dived on the way to Quito. But, our motto recently has been to live for today, so we do.

In the last week, we have tooled around the coast south of Halifax, waking most mornings to early fog before it burns off around 10am. Canada has a great trail network, called "Rails to Trails" which converted old railroad tracks to running and biking trails. They are great to ride, hard-packed and completely flat. We rode through about 70 kilometers of spectacularly stunning lakes, rivers and waterfalls, most of which empty into the ocean. In this stretch, we met a handful of cycle tourers from Quebec, Germany and Nova Scotia. Power in numbers-There's a lot of us out there! We were invited by a local, Paul, to go sailing with him, but unfortunately we had to head back in the direction of Halifax-otherwise we definitely would have taken him up on his offer. We can't emphasize enough how outgoing and genuinely friendly these Canadian folks are.

We've hit up the pizza joints, a French bakery, an I rish pub(with the best sweet potato fries on the planet) and a local cafe. I think we are trying to get in all the food we can possibly cram into our stomachs before flying to the unknown. After a half-day of easy riding, we stumbled into The Trellis Cafe for wine and dessert-absolutely delectable! Thursday night was local jam session night and as we sat and played cribbage as one instrument after another started filtering into this brightly colored, art-filled, eclectic cafe. Three musicians quickly turned into a dozen and they were completely unabashed and fantastic entertainers. We heard from guitars, banjo, ukelele, accordian-like instrument, harmonica, drums and a lot of beautiful voices. They played everything from sea-faring ballads to Simon and Garfunkel to Elton John, the Beatles and traditional folk songs. They were loud, rowdy and having just a fantastically fun evening, as were we. Seth and I could have stayed there all night!

This morning we arrived back in Halifax and are eagerly awaiting for the arrival of Bill, Seth's dad tomorrow. We'll be hitting up some good Nova Scotian fun this weekend and then fly out to Quito on Tuesday. Woo Hoo! We love y'all.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Back to the Mainland

Martha Stewart would be proud. This particulary outhouse was likely better decorated than anything she had in prison. It must have been heart-breaking for her to live without all of these toiletry luxuries...magazines racks, a calendar (on the right month), a mirrored vanity, air freshener, a posting of upcoming community events, a poster on the history of toilets and sanitation, a Canadian flag, a black and white tinted print, cushy foam toilet seat and of course, the guestbook. Outhouse-shy people...no need to fear. This is a home away from home, although it would be adivsable to wash well after signing the guestbook! We found this upper-class hole-in-the-ground at a community park that was maintained by a community gardening organization. The remains of Canada Day festivities abound, as the gazebos where still adorned this red and white banners whipping in the wind and Canadian flags staked into the ground.

The unrelenting wind drove us back to the mainland. PEI was in no doubt beautiful, rural and friendly. We were able to criss-cross the island in one morning or afternoon and awed at the contrast between the bright green potato fields against the rich, red hue of freshly tilled soil. We ventured to Charlottetown, the capital, for the Canada Day celebration, but were a little disappointed-no parade. We arrived early and was entertained mostly by the young children playing around as we glanced up from our books we were reading in the grass. There was music playing all day and lots of greasy food options to choose from, but it would be a very long day if we stayed for the fireworks and it would be even more difficult and dangerous to leave town in the dark on our bikes. So, we broke out of the mellow celebrations early and headed out of town, which became rural very quickly. That evening we heard maybe 5 fireworks, but nothing else. No raucous revelrie was taking place on this island. People don't seem to drink or party much here. They probably have to get up too early to plow the fields of hay. As this island is so established and settled, we did not find too many places to easily camp and the mosquitoes were the most horrendous we have ever experienced in our lives. No amount of insect repellant could keep those monsters at bay. They existed in a large grey cloud, like an 20-year cyclical infestation of locusts or moths. We had to run back and forth from our bikes to the tent and throw things inside. We had to run around the grass while making dinner and we ate it inside the refuge of the tent. With that said, we soon decided to take the ferry back to Nova Scotia.

We have been having a great couple of days here on the mainland. We battled some more intense headwinds, but we found that listening to our music took our mind off the road and wind. We have camped the last two nights on a river, which we have enthusiastically swam in. We are now headed near Halifax to do some side trips, but primarily base ourselves out of this region for the next week. Seth's dad, Bill, is flying out next weekend to hang out with us for our last weekend here in Canada. We are very excited. We did not celebrate a proper 4th of July, so hopefully some of you made up for our lack of participation. We love you all and miss you. Kirst and Seth