Week Six: ¡Al Campo! Otra Vez

14 07 2011
10 July, 2011
Hostal América, Loja
This week we returned to the field, but this time with Teams Impacto and Oportunidad switched: Team Impacto was in Riobamba enjoying Chimborazo, and we hope that pizza restaurant we in Team Oportunidad all loved so much while we’re there, while we’re in Loja, with what Team Impacto promised us would be the most hectic week yet.  Loja is a city of 125,000 inhabitants located about 205 km south of Cuenca in a province named after itself.  It’s still in the Sierra, though a bit lower than Cuenca, at an altitude of about  6724, making it slightly warmer than Cuenca, though the rain we had much of this week certainly cooled it off some.  Many of Ecuador’s most famous musicians come from here, but I think what most of us were most excited about was the coffee–reputed to be the best in all of Ecaudor.
We got off the bus to a start of the week that was as hectice as promised–after a quick lunch at a Mexican restaurant and a brief orientation, we spent the rest of our 4th of July planning our APF Consultations (or Charlas) for the next week (Fortunately, we were able to spend the 4th of July working in América: conveniently the name of our Hostal).  Our next Charla was Tuesday with a group of women weavers from a community about 2 hours away from Loja in La Era covering Estrategias de Publicidad y Marketing, and Comptabiliad Básica   While we were able to largely adapt a similar Charla from the previous week´s Marketing Strategies Charla for the first half of the content, all of us were suprised about how complicated it is to make Accounting basic; not only did we spend the rest of the day creating an appropriate accounting system for our friends at La Era, but work continued the next morning, bright and early, and some of us were even making the final copies of our handouts after lunch while others were at the Bus station buying the tickets.  On the plus side, it went rather well, and I think we can say with confidence that it was probably our most successful APFpresentation yet–the practice activity with fake money à la Monopoly was especially popular.
We were ready to go Wednesday morning to catch a bus San Pedro de Vilcabamba for a marketing campaign in preparation for our PSB Campaña Saturday.  San Pedro de Vilcabamba is a smaller pueblo about a 10 minute taxi ride from the tourist hotspot of Vilcabamba.  We waited for and then split up going door to door, making do with our sometimes-limited Spanish, and explaining who we were and what work we’d be doing on Saturday.  After our Marketing was completed, we met with a lady from the Asociaciòn 23 de Junio, a group of women who make various products with beautiful flower designs all from recycled paper to do research for GSGW.  We left not only with the knowledge of the remarkably lengthy process it takes to make their paper, but with our wallets quite a bit lighter and carrying an assortment of frames, journals, and scrapbook materials.  All in all, quite a popular stop.
The next day, we went to a branch of the famed Grameen bank to give a Charla to some of their members.  Half of our group did accounting again (though this time with a group of about 30 people), and the other half talked about client services.  Afterwards, the President of the branch treated us to to Empanadas and Coffee (which, even as a non-coffee drinker, I must admit was superb) while she spoke to us about the bank and their work, which despite all the negative press Grameen has been recently accumulating in the Eastern Hemisphere, was pretty impressive.
The next morning, Friday, we left at 6:40 am to take the bus to our last 2 charlas of the week in the nearby Zamora-Chichepe Province, but unfortunately when we got off the bus to Zamora, we found out that there had been a mix up and the organization we were supposed to be meeting was unaware that we were coming!  Of course, these types of mixups is so much the nature of this work and this country, though we were sad to miss out on a fun activity that was rumored to involve throwing sugar.  On the bright side, we made our own “fun activity” playing with monkeys at the Zamora Rescue Shelter, and saw everything from snapping turtles and parrots, to boa constrictors and owls.
After a successful PSB Campaña yesterday in San Pedro, we had the rest of the weekend for a well-deserved break, and walked the 25 minutes from San Pedro de Vilcabamba to Vilcabamba, a famed town which, to quote my enthusiastic guidebook, “is synomous with longevity throughout Ecuador,” especially after a Reader’s Digest special on its centarian residents.  While we didn’t see anyone who looked anywhere near 100, it certainly was a popular get-away location; I don’t think any of us had seen so many Gringos in one place since we left the States.  Saturday we went Ziplining and most of us stayed the night, waking up bright and early to eat at a wonderful breakfast place called Sugar and Spice before going on a horsback ride through the mountains and even fording a river.
Tomorrow, we leave for Yanzatza, in Zamora-Chinchipe Province, which is in the only part of Ecuador we haven’t visited : the Oriente.  While the rainforest promises to be beautiful, and we’re looking forward to the warmer weather, we’ve all been stocking up on bugspray.  Until next week!
(Shane Hunt)
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