Friday, November 21, 2008

Viva Rio Muchacho Organic Farm!

Upon a recommendation from some good friends, the Stricklers, Joo and I headed to the Ecuadorian coast for a unique and INTENSIVE visit to an organic farm. We started off in a small village, and then took a boat, a car, and finally a pickup truck to reach the remote farm. All the animals in the road along the way gave me flashbacks of India...

Upon arriving, we first had a tour around the farm to see some of the ways they are working to help protect the rich environment of Ecuador. There were lots of animals on the farm, and yet most of the workers were vegetarian (no meat) or vegan (no animal products including eggs and cheese). Can you guess the primary purpose served by all these animals? Here's a clue...

Poop! That's right... they didn't care about meat, milk, eggs, leather, anything like that... only the animals' poo. They used it for composting in a sophisticated series of ways and levels (for instance, the highest quality poo is bat poo, followed by guineau pig poo, and then chicken and pig poo. Human poo, which they collected through dry composting toilets was at the very bottom of the list... don't you feel ashamed?) Troughs like the ones above were filled with worms to expedite the composting process and produce rich fertilizer for all the luscious fruits and vegetables on the farm. Next, Joo and I were taken to our private abode near Benjamin the Donkey for the three days...

One of the most exciting parts of the visit for me was getting to participate in the entire process of making mouthwatering organic chocolate. It started with extracting cocoa beans from the cocoa pod (the yellowish thing Jefferson is holding below). They're covered in a sweet edible slime, which is precisely why Jefferson is holding the pod.

Then the seeds are dried out for five to six days in a solar oven...

After which they are roasted over a wood fire until the shells are brittle enough to crack open and reveal the actual seeds. We then put these seeds into a grinder, along with some sugarcane mixture. Finally, we took the resulting powder and heated it in a pan along with some milk to make an ever-so-succulent delight!

The next day we went on a hike into the transition forest which is a forest that contains both tropical and temperate vegetation. I was particularly attracted to the trees with long roots that our guide Etgar demonstrated were quite climbable. Here's me at the top, just before I attempt my long firepole style descent...

Joo, on the other hand, was fascinated by the thorny tree which, again upon Etgar's prodding, she used to pierce her ear...

It seemed like every plant served a purpose. We found some squishy seeds along the path and asked Etgar if we could eat them. He said no, but that we could use them as soap. They actually foam up and disinfect just like soap and so Rio Muchacho uses them to make biodegradable soap so that they can recycle the water from all their wash stations.
Another interesting activity on the second day was going shrimp fishing. As Joo and I were both surprised to discover, shrimp can also live in rivers. It was a laborious process though only resulting in 11 shrimp after an hour of hunting.

Not as laborious however as making yucca cakes. Pulling up the trees wasn't too bad, nor was removing the skins of the yucca, but shredding them turned out to be a long and tiring process...
Aside from our official guide Etgar, and our semi-official guide Jefferson, we also had a third helper, Crystal who showed us how we could use the yucca leaves to feed the pigs. She gave extra to the males because their waste contains the methane that provides gas for the entire farm.
We also got a chance to make some cheese. The plain variety wasn't too incredible, but the one where we added garlic and curry turned out quite nicely!

Speaking of food, the cuisine at the farm was unbelievable, meal after meal. At least half of the ingredients were plants or vegetables I had never even seen before. With such lovely produce, the male owner of the farm, Dario, had made a decision to be a raw-foodist, which is several steps more extreme than vegetarians or vegans. Raw-foodists don't eat ANYTHING cooked or even heated, including tea, coffee, etc. Dario made this choice because he said he felt an enormous difference within his body depending on the food he ingested. Cooked food, even vegetables, just felt dead to him, but raw food felt fresh and filled him with energy. Interestingly, he said it wasn't too hard to get his protein thanks to avocados and legumes, but the challenge was to get a sufficient intake of carbohydrates.
On the third day came the activity that Joo had been quite nervous about since she had never really done it before... horse-riding. She had good reason to be nervous too since it was nothing like a walk around the ring you might do at an American fair. We were going up and down fairly steep slopes, weaving through other animals, and the horses would often trot or even canter with little notice. But the worst part was when I was passing her and my horse suddenly reached over and bit her leaving nice big teethmarks! Still with all of this, the euphoria of riding alone through the peaceful countryside made the horse-ride Joo's overall favorite activity.
The horses first led us to the house of Mama Jovita, who is 96 years old and has been stubbornly holding onto her 40 hectare plot of forest her whole life despite offers of all kinds and significant sums of money to use it for slash and burn agriculture. She said that if anyone cut down her trees, her howler monkeys would go away and she wouldn't have any friends left in the world... I had to get her in the background of the picture, because she was a bit nervous about me carrying her away in my camera to America. She didn't think she would like it there...
Next, we rode the horses to some isolated waterfalls where we splashed around and enjoyed the tropical and romantic scenery... moments like these are ones that make our non-conventional honeymoon so precious!
And of course, the trip wouldn't have been complete without a nice clay facemask for Joo and me... just what Joo needed to rub some of the pollution out of her pours lingering from all the times we've been covered in exhaust fumes from buses passing us in the cities.
Since this entry is already long enough, I won't go into detail about all our other activities, but we made rings out of palm nuts, bowls and spoons out of mate gourds, planted a tree, went through the whole coffee-making process from bean to drink (similar to making chocolate), carved necklaces out of a stone-like plant, went on walks through strange and amazing trees, sliced and heated banana leaves to make them pliable enough to pack food into, played on playgrounds made entirely of plants and recycled materials, and several other exciting mini-adventures.
We were exhausted but happy at the end of the three days. In talking with the owners, Nikola and Dario, as well as several of the workers, we were also inspired for various recycling, composting, cooking and gardening projects for when we eventually get our own place. There was a really positive energy to see how everything was interconnected and how everyone worked towards creating a lifestyle that would be sustainable and healthy for years to come.


  1. Joo, watch out for those people-biting horses! That 3 day experience on the organic farm is something I would have enjoyed! Dennis

  2. Did you get to see them making paper? Mom

  3. Sounds like an adventuresome three days! Art and I would have enjoyed that too. Would you believe Art just got 1,000 worms to start an indoor compost box for consuming our garbage.....Quite a small project compared to what you saw. Mary