During the fall semester, I joined with Kroka Expeditions, a farm and school based in New England, for a work-study program to Ecuador. Initially, we lived and worked on the domestic farm studying ecology, practicing Spanish, and preparing our expedition skills while forming friendships within the group. After a month and two expeditions – one by mountain bike and the other by canoes – we departed for Ecuador. Through travel and upon arrival, we were immersed among Spanish speakers who helped my Spanish comprehension flourish quickly. After only one week living on the farm in Ecuador, I told one of the Ecuadorian students that I’d learned more in the week than during three years in Spanish class (yo aprendi mas aqui que en tres anos de escuela) – although studying Spanish in school surely helped.
Despite a fair amount of botany, ecology and literature assignments, we spent much of our time working on the farm – in the gardens, working with cows, horses and cuyes (Guinea pigs) to create our livelihoods. The farm is designed to use permaculture (permanent agriculture) principles that mirror the requirements for Organic farming. We studied permaculture throughout the duration of the program, observing the practices used at all the farms we worked on and applying the principles to other aspects of human life.
As we traveled between farms and throughout Ecuador, we got to witness the diverse cultures, landscapes and ecosystems present there. We biked on ridge lines, down valleys and through cities. We hiked through rainforest and tall grass lands. We climbed up cliff faces, rocky mountains and snowy glaciers. And we paddled down ever flowing and changing rivers. Whether at one of the several farms we stayed or on an expedition, food overarched everything else – it created our community while nourishing our bodies. Through food we found a great connectivity to the Earth we traveled and the people we encountered.
Connectivity was the core aspect I took away from the experience. I discovered connections between global communities and across languages. I studied the connections between human activities and climate change. Especially, I felt the connection between myself and the Earth; through planting corn and beans with bare hands and feet, harvesting and preparing fresh ingredients from the gardens, eating and excreting, and composting the waste that returned minerals to the Earth. I observed similar natural cycles reflected in the cosmological understandings of the Ecuadorian Quichua people. Their agricultural calendar defines the flow of life, correlating with the cycles of the moon, of the seasons and of the harvest.
To travel opens opportunities to develop understanding, awareness and empathy for others – for their struggles, their livelihoods and their world views. Developing those feelings bridges gaps, making the world more united and the individual more fulfilled. To travel is the most powerful way to learn.
Below is an online slideshow of pictures from the experience: