Santa Lucia and Nanegal, 23rd July – 13th August
I have just returned from one of the most beautiful and peaceful (some of the time) places on earth and I’m seriously considering packing in life as I knew it and setting up home in the clouds.
Before I write this entry I want to apologise for the length of it and there will be much talk of stuff that is only interesting to me but I need to record every last bit of it for posterity.
I left Quito on the Monday after a mad dash to book my Galapagos tickets. I made it to the bus dept with no drama and sat on the right hand side of the bus as instructed. On leaving Quito the bus was empty but not for long. And it was only when I had to get off the bus (‘just ask the driver to stop 100 metres after the peach coloured house about 2 and a half hours into the journey’) with all my luggage that i realised how full it was. I literally had to climb over the top of people, including what looked like an entire school full of children. Most found the site of an oversized (vastly for Ecuador) gringo, squealing at the driver in French, as my Spanish had escaped me in the panic, most amusing. I managed it nevertheless and arrived at La Delicia, the office and reception for Santa Lucia, based in the little town of Nanegal.
I soon found out that week there was also a party of 8 Birmingham University students volunteering, plus a Kiwi girl and American lady.
Many of the uni group were really lovely individually but I had forgotten how loud 8 18 – 21 year olds can be and how much they can talk about GCSEs, A-levels, University, food and sex…. The last two subjects i wasn’t bad at, but I must admit I was thankful for Jo (kiwi girl) in this first week.
The week was spent working in the nursery – both looking after the kids and helping build a playground. After one day looking after 20 3-6 year olds my admiration for mothers and teachers went off the scale and I escaped to the playground. Hard labour is really much more my thing. In the evening I and three of the others gave english lessons. Though I’m not sure how good we were at it as the week started with 6 people and by the Thursday we were down to two: 2 pupils and 4 teachers. They seemed most grateful for the undivided attention however.
At the end of the week’s work we all descended upon the one bar in town. There are basically no opening hours. The first people to get there just knock on the door of the bar to open it and it stays open until the last person stumbles home…which for us was a bit of an effort being 2 miles up hill. Nights in the bar are always a fairly drunken affair as there is a system whereby you buy a large bottle of beer and get given one glass, which you then pour beer into and pass around to people. You cannot refuse the proffered beer nor can you delay in drinking it, as the glass has to be hastily passed back for a refill.
One other thing that happen that weekend was two other longer term volunteers returned from a week away, Jen (from California) and Madelaine (from Australia). Two of the funniest, most beautiful women ever, and a life saver as Jo left on the Saturday morning.
On the Sunday morning we all left to go on a hike down to the lodge up in Santa Lucia. My first introduction to the beauty of the place that is Santa Lucia.
The Bosque Nublado (cloud forest) of Santa Lucia is a true community based conservation and eco-tourism effort, located in the mountain cloud forest of the Choco-Andean bio region of northwestern Ecuador.
It is centred around an ecolodge which is a beautiful wooden construction set atop a hill with stunning views all round (some pictures below of sunset, sunrise and other times of day). There is no electricity and the evenings are lit by candle light. Every thing stops at 9pm for bed however, as mornings are very early and the days are pretty hard work.
The work consisted of a number of things from path maintenance, basically hacking a new path out of the earth with a spade; tree planting, on a very steep slope which I spent most of the time falling down; wood carrying for various costructions, sign making plus other construction/hard labour based tasks. I actually really enjoyed it and am quite a mean path maker. Though I’m not so good at/too old for being a subordinate and issued with orders, at least not when the instuctions given are not clear and then contradicted later, which I told Julio, our boss for much of the time, on the first day.
One way of winding down at the end of the day was to play football. I am not the world’s best player but found I served some purpose in goal where I managed to save more than i let in..though any crediblity I had built up was dashed when I tripped over the ball and scored an own goal. The opposing team’s winning goal in turned out, after 2 hours of playing in the rain. I swear it was a fix.
The food was also out of this world, prepared by the wonderful Rosario, Anita and Marguarita, and after such hard graft it was certainly very welcome.
At the end of the first week there was a big party at the lodge to say fairwell to the Birmingham university group which, unsurprisingly, turned into a rather a drunken affair involving copious amounts of rum and coke. The following morning we then headed back to Nanegal for the weekend. This requires a rather long and extremely steep walk down to the road where you are met by a car to take you to the town. This is normally pretty straightforward. However with one invalid (Maddy had fallen and really quite badly sprained her ankle the day before) and two hungover ladies (me and Jen) it was a bit of a mission. We did had Edison (one of the guides and nicknamed the perfect man for obvious reasons) to accompany us however, which helped keep our minds off the walk.
Saturday night was one of the many fiesta’s in Nanegal and we managed to drag ourselves out of the house after much persuasion. We hit the road with beer bottles in hand and started the hike into town only to be offered a lift 2 minutes later by the local police van. Not saomething I was expecting.
The fiesta was in the football ground and started off with a beauty pageant. There were 3 contestants who seriously looked like they had been dragged up there kicking and screaming as they did not smile once through their three rounds, which consisted of dancing, evening wear and the ‘world peace’ section. The prettiest though most grumpy one won and was crowned Miss Nanegal. She still didn’t smile.
On the sunday Maddy, Jen and I had decided to invite everyone from the lodge and who worked in Nanegal for Santa Lucia, over for a Mexican night. THis turned into a bit of a marathon effort and resulted in us cooking all day. We made home made tortillas (despite buying 6 bags of the wrong sort of flour), a spicey chicken dish, salsa, guacamole, refreid beans and rice, followed by bananas cooked in butter with chocolate cream. Quite a feast. We had invited in total about 10 people and were panicing about not having enough food. We then started panicing about having too much food when we thought no one would turn up.
Needless to say we needn’t have worried as everyone came plus a few extras to make up a band to play for us! We had said to Pancho (the bossman), we’ll provide the food if you bring the music, meaning, a few CDs. Well he turned up with two guitars, a pipe and drum. After we had eaten they played and sang to us for 3 hours. The three of us were totally overwhelmed. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my whole trip.
They all seemed to enjoy in too, though most of them ended up with the runs as I think we made the food a bit too spicey!!
The final week at the lodge was the most special as we had the peace and tranquility that you would hope for in the middle of no where. On my last night in the lodge Anita, Marguarita and Wilson presented me with a cake with an iced message saying thank you. I found it rather hard to hold back the tears I have to say.
The Saturday night in Nanegal was a drunken affair as I had learnt to expect though started off with a wonderful party at Maria’s (the lady who looks after us in Nanegal and Wilson’s Mum) house for Wilson’s 18th birthday. We (Madelaine, Jen, Yasmin, a new volunteer, and I) were so touched to be invited and had a grand old time dancing around the living room, something which parties in Westbourne Terrace trained me very well for.
From there we left for the bar and finally to the weekly fiesta, this time at the volley ball court. The girls had left at a respectable hour but I decided to stay on as my salsa dancing seemed to be getting better as the night wore on. A decision that I regretted rather as I stumbled home with a very drunk Edison plus brother and uncles at 5 in the morning. Even with all my path making and tree planting I was not strong enough to carry any of them, despite protestations.
I finally left on the 6am bus on Monday. Very sad and swearing I would return one day. I hope I do.
Thank you to all the special people at Santa Lucia and Nanegal who made my time there so amazing.
Pancho: The boss
Edwardo and Rosario: Lodge manager and head cook
Edison: Guide and perfect man (son of E&R)
Wilson: sometimes cook, sometimes mule runner and worker
Giggles/Ronaldo: sometimes cook, sometimes (very bad!) mule runner and worker
Maria: cook in Nanegal (Wilson’s mum)