05.01.2012 - 06.01.2012 20 °C
It is 7:30pm, and night has fallen. Darkness envelops everything and the stars remain illusive, hidden behind winter’s cloudy mantel. Rain comes at night, to wash away the heat of the day and offer its serenade of pitter-patter’s on our metal roof. It is so loud at times that we can barely hear each other speak! But tonight, no rain. The forest is alive with the song of bullfrogs and nocturnal insects, the counterpart to the melodious banter of the many birds that inhabit the garden during the day. The air is humid, heavy with the scent of decaying plants, but fresh.
Today, everyone worked hard on the construction of a cacao dryer: a 5m x 3.5m bamboo structure, covered by a plastic tarp, in which cacao beans will be laid to dry once harvested. The area in which the structure was to built was covered with brush and rocks, so yesterday, we cleared the area with machetes (Alain was blown away by Marianela’s technique!) and by hand. Today, in the humid heat, we dug holes and planted 12 cement tubes that will serve as the dryer’s foundation: sounds simple, but forming a perfect square in this difficult terrain took all day, and every ounce of everyone’s strength. So tonight, we rest… Alain is playing cards with the girls, the Saavedra’s are watching TV, and Marianela never rests, fretting over what she will serve for dinner.
It is rewarding to feel that our labour – as inexperienced with this life as it may be – is proving useful to the family. Since our arrival, we’ve contributed to a number of projects and household chores:
- Planting: cutting up dried leaves with machetes and mixing them into clean soil (from which we removed weeds and rocks) with a shovel, filling over a hundred small bags with this mixture, and planting cacao beans in each bag.
- Harvesting: we harvested cacao pods, emptied them and carried 106 lbs of beans from the mountain to the farm… these were then dried in the sun, and sold for a grand total of 63$ (for approx.. 40 hours of labour). We also harvested various fruit for our breakfast: oranges, mandarins, starfruit (carambola), passion fruit (maracuja) and a few others whose name I can’t recall – but oh so yummy!!
- Road building: Pedro definitely has an Inca gene and is fixated on paving his (long!) driveway with large river stones... We have a renewed respect for the Incas and Romans who built thousands of kilometers of such roads across their respective territories!! It took four adults, working non-stop for 3-4 hours per day, 3 days to “pave” 15 square meters. Phew!!
- Carpentry: during down times or when it rains, Alain helps Pedro with various projects in the main house. Together, they completed the last wall of the master bedroom, thus giving this loving couple a bit of well-deserved intimacy! We also hope to help the family finish the cacao dryer before we leave.
- Laundry: we sit in the river to wash our laundry in its clear waters, using polished stones as washboards (this, it turns out, is the girls’ favourite chore and they have demonstrated great skill at salvaging dirty socks!). Then, we hang our clothes to dry in the hopes that sufficient sun will reach them before the rain returns or run the risk of everything smelling of mold until the next round of laundry.
- Cooking and cleaning: I invested in a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves so I could take over the dishes for out little clan! Marianela, lady of the house, never seems to stop. She works in the fields with us, and then rushes back to cook delicious meals for 10 people. I help out in any way I can, and am learning the 101 ways in which one can serve bananas and plantains! Baked, broiled, fried, pureed, bbq’d, with freshly roasted and ground peanuts… and all delicious!
This, of course, allows us to fully appreciate some of the things we take for granted at home… I do love my washer and dryer!! I can only imagine how much time and energy Marianela would save if this part of her work could be automated! And while the food is delicious, the fact that the family does not have a refrigerator limits the variety and quantity of food they can stock: bananas and rice are a staple (the latter being served at almost every meal). Meat, dairy and vegetables are available on the days where we go to the nearby pueblo to run errands, and otherwise, replaced by yuka (a root vegetable not unlike a potato), lentils and peanuts. A slight humidity permeates everything and while it is not overwhelming, it is sufficient to irritate my eczema-prone skin. On the other hand, Alain and I seem to be blessed by a natural mosquito-repellent – contrary to the girls, who are waging a constant battle against bites and itches! And Alain does miss his comfy chair at home and his top-notch tools…
But it is not all work and no play in the Saavedra house! Once the day’s work is done, everyone takes a (cold!!) shower and refuels at Marianela’s table (usually around 3:30pm). Then, it is time for personal projects and games:
- Pedro plays his bamboo flutes and is teaching Alain how to make them
- Alain’s Casino opens for endless games of Blackjack and Texas Hold’Em
- Marianela teaches us how to braid different types of bracelets and necklaces
- The kids explore the endless possibilities for fun offered by the Nantel iPad
- The four hammocks work overtime as we take turns just hanging out in them with a good book (or the iPad)
- Marianela taught me how to make serving spoons out of the shell of the “mate” fruit
- People pile into Fran and Carlo’s room to watch the evening news or a movie
- Pedro built bamboo bows and arrows for the girls, with real feathers plucked for their chickens!
- The family’s three dogs – Bella, Maille and Idefix – and Mati, the pet parakeet (whom they found as a baby and raised), get their daily dose of attention, with Chloee taking multiple photos of them in every state of play and rest (although Arianne wasn’t as lucky, and had two close encounters with an angry Idefix)
- We run to the rio to splash around and heal our mosquito bites in its fresh waters
Not to mention the wonderful fiestas that we organized for Christmas and New Year’s Eve! In both cases, we donned our party clothes (and the girls were delighted to put on make-up with Stephanie!) and Marianela treated us to a wonderful parilla (bbq). The iPods rocked and we danced into the wee hours of the night. To partake in a local New Year’s tradition, the girls and I bought a papier mache mask to build a “muneca del ano viejo” – a life size paper and tinder doll, representing the old year, that people burn on the stroke of midnight to throw out the old and ring in the new. Our muneca was a not quite life size little dog, which we cobbled together from old magazines and Christmas wrapping paper, but it was very cute! We invited everyone to write a message of “adios 2011”, which we then inserted in a tiny paper mail box and we burnt the whole thing in the bbq at 11pm (thus celebrating the New Year with New Brunswick!).
And yesterday, as a special treat for all, Pedro drove us to the Playa… With a recently built highway, the coast is now only 2.5 hours away (“before and after” signs along this highway show the impact of the government’s investment in this infrastructure – from bumpy dirt road to paved highway). We left at 7am and drove to the town of Pedernales, where spent the morning as we waited for the sky to clear. People here live with the Pacific at their back door, and despite the light rain, families were playing soccer on the beach and frolicking in the waves. We then headed towards Cojimies (40km away) and just before arriving to the village, pulled into an unmarked driveway that wound through an enormous grove of coco palms. Among the palms were a few small houses, chickens and dogs… and a gate that opened onto 46km of virgin beach.
The sky was still gray, the sand was gray, and the sea was gray – but it all shone with a silvery light, and the Pacific, in all its gray glory, beckoned. We were completely alone, and ran into the waves with glee! We spent a few hours there, playing in the surf and hunting seashells and crystals – I wish I knew the names of these stones, and that I had room in my bags to carry them home! In shades of jade, amethysts, quartz, emerald, ruby, ochre… It was if someone had spilled a bag of semi-precious stones along the shore. And the seashells were just as beautiful: pink, red, purple, white, like a garden of spring blossoms on the dark sand.
And then the sky darkened enough to entice us to leave this paradise and head to Cojimies for fresh fish in a small, family-owned restaurant. At $2.50 a plate, this was a feast for our famished stomachs!
Now, it’s time for bed… We have another long day ahead of us tomorrow to get the “secador” ready in time for the next harvest of cacao! And it looks like the rain may hold off, allowing the night’s symphony to unfold in all its magical majesty…