When I signed up for two weeks of volunteering on a farm in the Ecuadorian highlands, I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d gotten myself into. I told myself I’d be sleeping outside, I’d be freezing, I’d be doing hard work all day, there wouldn’t be much food and I wouldn’t particularly enjoy it. I hoped it might be character-building and educational, but I wasn’t promising myself anything else.
As it turns out, Hacienda Ilitio is possibly the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been. It’s right in the shadow of Mt. Cotopaxi. There are fields and fields of grass, a herd of alpacas and burros, and some nice, sparsely furnished cabins with running water. We’re literally in the middle of nowhere, and I can go for long walks with mountains in the background and feel so incredibly pastoral that I don’t even mind the lack of internet.
Getting here was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Maybe challenging isn’t the best word, but I’ve never done anything else requiring as much blind faith in the goodwill and knowledge of other people, not to mention my Spanish skills. The directions I had for getting to the farm were essentially this: take a bus going towards Latacunga from Quito. You’ll go through a town called Lasso, and then there’s an intersection with a stoplight. Then after about a kilometer, there’s another intersection with no light that goes to another town. Get off the bus here, cross the highway and have a taxi take you up the road to the farm.
I figured as long as I didn’t screw up the getting off the bus part, I would be ok. I explained these directions to the bus assistant (not the driver, but the guy in charge of opening the door and collecting fares and such), who said he’d tell me when to get off. He did, in a place I suspected was too far down the road, but I listened to him. And thus, I found myself stranded on the side of a major highway in Ecuador with all my stuff and no idea where I was, nor how to get where I was going. After a five minute explanation to the police officer who (thank god) was stationed at the bus stop, he called me a cab, who arrived twenty minutes later and said he knew where the farm was. I got in the car with him and drove in what I thought was the completely opposite direction for almost a half hour, until magically, I arrived at the gates of Hacienda Ilitio. So now, although I have no idea where the hell I am, I am also here.
I’m cooking for myself for two weeks, and I suspect I’m going to lose a lot of weight, since all I packed was peanut butter, bread, jelly, lentils, quinoa, walnuts, Grape Nuts, oatmeal and dried beans. Plus, we’re over 10,000 feet above sea level and I’m going to be doing manual labor starting on Monday. However, the farm generously supplies volunteers with fresh milk and vegetables. So yeah, I had raw alpaca milk for dinner. Suck on that, foodies.