I grew up in the Dairy State, but now IĀ“m REALLY the DAIRY QUEEN

Published: March 29th 2008
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It was time for me to move onward and upward, to the La Hesperia reserve in the Andes highlands of Ecuador! It was a very different experience than my coastal volunteering, mostly in the respect that it didnĀ“t feel so much like a slave labor camp 😊 but also in the fact that we were isolated from the world and living on an 800 hectare cloud forest rainforest reserve (with horizontal rain, new and exciting!) and working dairy farm! There were a few major projects in the works as I arrived, and I was able to participate in whatever interested me at the time! The projects included reforestation, maintenance of an organic garden (with plans to share information learned with the local community as well as a book, as it is very different when trying to grow tomatoes and peppers in a rainforest climate and altitude!), and the beginnings of a adult education community center (which we spent many days painting!) In addition to these projects, we also did many domestic and dairy farm activities like milking cows, making homemade pasta and lasagne, making bread twice a week, and making butter and yogurt! My favorite thing about this reserve was the awesome people that I was able to work with an meet here! We had an amazing group, most from germany, and a few from canada and UK as well. Again its one of those intense bonding experiences, and IĀ“m looking forward to taking trips to Newfoundland and Cologne to visit Angie and Samson very soon!

My first domesticated experience was the bread making. I knew I wouldnĀ“t jump right out of the gates and be able to bake, but i thought IĀ“d give it a try on my first day anyways! We made a cinnamon sugar, a choco-caramel, and a lemon pudding loaf. Gotta be creative when your ingredients are limited! Anyways, my cinnamon sugar bread really turned into a cinnamon sugar biscotti, but honestly, I blame the people that baked it! (Although having a bunch of sugar all over the bottom of the pan and not letting the yeast rise may have also contributed....) IĀ“m happy to say that the following week Samson and I nailed the bread making with a new crowd favorite garden fresh spring onion and garlic bread! I wanted to make it with cheese as well, but the kictchen told me we were out of cheese (which was a lie, because the next day I made the lasagne and yucca bread with 4 different kinds of cheese!) I think itĀ“s best we didnĀ“t have the cheese because the people wouldnĀ“t have been able to stand its awesomeness!

The next day was really well spend in the garden, as I was coronated the new Garden Princess! yay! I went through the garden with Kate, who had spent 6 weeks cultivated and organizing our new gardening log and planting processes. I learned SO MUCH in the couple of hours with her about composting (fresh manure is best, thanks Samson!), companion planting, and crop rotations! I had a great week in the garden weeding, making new beds, moving plants out of the greenhouse, and harvesting carrots, onions, and peppers! It was so rewarding to eat the actual fruits of my labor! Also we discovered a huge orchard behind the goat pen that had about 50 lemon-orange trees (one kind of fruit, a type of really sour orange that made great juices!) and we were set for limonada for the rest of our lives! In addition to the garden duties, there was also the feeding of horses and goats, the cutting of their grass with - you guessed it - machetes, collection of eggs from the hen house, and many other random activities....like milking cows! It was an optional activity every morning, and we could see the farmhands roll their eyes when they saw us coming! They would get about 7 buckets from 5 cows in the time it took 5 of us to fill half a bucket! Oh, the technique! It was incredible to watch them! I guess its like anything else, practice makes perfect!

The first weekend we had off we went into the cool town of Otovalo. Its in the shadows of a volcano and famous for its HUGE market on the weekends. It was miles of people selling everything from ponchos to hats to fly swatters...well, those are the things I bought anyways! It was a great weekend of food and drink, until I checked my email and found out about BrettsĀ“retirement! Lucky I was with my new amazing friends and they were able to talk me off of the roof, about to jump into the pile of vegetables for sale on the corner! Our ride back to the reserve was a long interesting bus ride, especially when it was dark and they turned out ALL the lights on the bus and I couldnĀ“t even see my hand in front of my face! As we are rocketing through the andes swinging back and forth in the pouring rain, we are wondering if the bus driver will even remember our random stop in the middle of nowhere! OK, not nowhere, Km marker 58 please! Lucky for us, he screeched to a halt and through our bags into the mud, and next we had a 30 minute walk up the HILL in the pouring rain. Thank God for the Germans who are always prepared and Samson had a flashlight! It wouldĀ“ve been pretty easy to walk off the side of the cliffs in the pitch black dark!

The following week was a blur of butter and pasta making, machete jobs, reforestation in the hills, and fun fun times! I also found out that our goats and cows loved techno music...as I would bring my speakers to the dining area they would very enthusiastically moo and baa to the music! There was one cow in particular, Moodini, who would continue to astonish us by escaping EVERY fence and field he was in! We would chase him through the garden, down the road, and even out of the bathroom area at our cabins! We also finished the painting of the new education center, which was a hoot! The place is built ecuadorian style, so there were rotting boards, water stained wood, and many creepy crawly bugs and webs everywhere...but we just painted over it all! I kept thinking how dad would have a cow if he saw us painting over the bugs and dirt, but there really was no choice....clean is such a relative term here!

We had some bonfires too (it must be near the end of the rainy season finally!) and sat around burning anything we could find that was dry, clothes that had been left behind, socks that had no hope of surviving any more mud torture, random magazines from years ago, and of course all of our toilet paper. Nice! We would sing songs to the guitar and bongos, although finding songs that people from 3 generations and 4 countries all knew was quite difficult! But we had the good times anyways! On Friday we did the waterfall hike which was CRAZY! Most of the time we were hiking up a cascading river or scaling the sides of overgrown rocks lining the canyon of this river. We got to the end and discovered an amazing huge powerful waterfall with FREEZING cold water...but we came all this way...so decided to jump in! Ray had to help boost all of us over the 2m falls on the bottom to get to the really huge cool fall above and be able to frolic and discover more bugs and creepy crawly things! It was an awesome reward! then we hiked STRAIGHT UP slipping and sliding on the mud, using jungle vines and tree roots to pull ourselves up, for at least 30-40 minutes and came out in the field where we grow sugar cane! So awesome!

Then that weekend, Samson, Angie, Richard, and I decided we would go into town during the day, then camp up the hill and hike up to the highest point of the reserve at sunrise. We had a hard time finding a bus that would pick us up, but eventually a nice guy in a pickup truck pulled over and let us hop in the back to the town we were going to! On the way we saw a semi truck that had rolled over, spilling its contents all over the 2 lane highway. Its contents? EGGS! And they were salvaging some of them as well! So great! It was an exciting ride into town, and as we were looking for laundry, they directed us the home of a lady. She invited us in and as Angie was dealing with the laundry thing, Samson and I discovered a swing set and see saw on the roof! Awesome! Come to find out, the lady didnĀ“t do laundry, she was just going to let us use the laundry stone in her house, so nice and random, but not what we need! We made it back to the reserve safely, and got packed up for our camping and hike! It was SUCH a BLAST we brought our dinner up there and had a bonfire and amazing views of our humble home in the valley of the rainforest as well as great stars that night! Sleeping on treeroots was not as fun as predicted, and Richard (unknowingly) took up about half of our tent, which left the other half for the other three of us! Needless to say, I didnĀ“t sleep much and was actually quite glad for 5am to come and our hike to begin! OK, I wasnĀ“t that glad, because the boys got up first and as soon as they left, I suddenly had room to snuggle and sleep and was like....hmmmm...maybe I should stay here!? But glad I got up and we hiked about 2 hours to the highest point for great morning views with the cows! We were on the highest point by ourselves until SpyCow came and checked us out for about 5 minutes. Then he went to the edge, MOOOOOed really loud twice, and 2 minutes later the entire herd joined us for breakfast! It was awesome!

Leaving this reserve was a very different kind of sad....I was not ready to stop discovering my hidden talents of butter and cheese making...and I was super not ready to leave my new friends behind! It also marked a very heart wrenching fact that I am coming home in ONE MONTH! My experiences are getting richer by the day, and if i wasnĀ“t moving to Belize, I KNOW IĀ“d be buying a ticket to Japan and hitting the northern hemisphere of this planet for the summer! My blogs may be slow to fruitation or even non existent from here on out, because I meet up with Megan in Peru tonight and after she leaves me I only have 4 more days in Chile! WOWOWOWOWOWOW, love you all, SEE YOU SOON! xxxx wandke

Additional photos below
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Sorry F.  Your pants have surrenderedSorry F.  Your pants have surrendered
Sorry F. Your pants have surrendered

But they will live on, as they were cut into strips and used to mark the reforestation trails in the cloud forests of Ecuador! Awesome!
After hiking to 2104m at sunrise!After hiking to 2104m at sunrise!
After hiking to 2104m at sunrise!

After no sleep...someone was hogging the tent and it might have been the tall guy RICHARD!

30th March 2008

Wandke, So great to read about your experiences and sad that the trip is coming to an end...but not your adventures. You are only just beginning and can't wait to keep reading about it. Higgins
30th March 2008

hey girl! A month to go? I'm amazed that you are still enjoying living out of a 'suitcase'!. So, ecuadorian living has taught you that you like being muddy and smelly better than las vegas? wow, it must be incredibly satisfying for you. and I don't think you ever did get to count frogs, did you? I can't wait to read the book you'll write after all this : )
2nd April 2008

You are so unbelievable. Your adventures are amazing. Thanks for making the world a better place. I can't wait for you to come home but you seem to have found something you really love so maybe you are already home. Miss you much. Lin
2nd April 2008

hi from norway
thanks for days in Galapagos. Great fun. Kjell and I are no back in Norway. We were looking for Samson at he flight from Quito but didn't find him. hehe..Have some wonderful days in Peru? and maybe we see you some day in Belize. we like beer as you do!!!! greetings from Norway

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