Ten dollars took me six hours south of Cuenca to Loja, and then an hour south of Loja to Vilacabamba, and just outside of Vilacabamba is Rumi Wilco, an ecolodge and nature preserve and my home for the next month.
I had been stalking weather.com for updates on Loja weather, hoping for a change from the daily thunderstorms predicted. The actual weather however, has been quite nice. The sun rises over the valley relatively late in the morning. My little window faces west and so I’ve slept to the unheard of late hour of 7am. Then clouds tend to fill the sky for the day before it clears again for sunset. We’ve had only one day of rain in the past week.
Rainy season is thus coming to a close, though I still appreciate my new boots which protect my feet from the morning dew. The mountains are green and butterflies rise up in every direction. And spiders appear everywhere to join the feast. I step over dozens of ant highways a day, each focused and busy. In the evening, dragonflies fill the valley with movement.
I arrived the same day as five other travelers. Couples from Germany and Argentina and a lone kid from Holland. We fell quickly in sync and have been hiking together, cooking up big meals and playing games in three different languages. Last night our dinner table grew to fifteen and we feasted on a fantastically fresh vegetable curry with rice. Germany and Argentina still dominate in numbers, but also present is France, Holland, Malta, Sweden, and the U.S. (claro).
I am here as a volunteer at Rumi Wilco and my work began in earnest on Monday. In my first week I was coffee picker, coffee drier, coffee grinder, coffee deliverer, invasive plant killer, plant sign washer, plant photographer, shop keeper, information giver, bed maker and website consultant. My second week promises more of the same and then some. I am joined by Sarah from France who is also volunteering this next week, improving my Spanish as her Spanish is better than her English.
Through my time in the Rumi Wilco shop, I meet a lot of the newer visitors. I met a couple from Juneau in this way, on holiday for a couple of weeks and looking at property to buy in the valley. They laughed heartily when they heard my plan to arrive in Alaska for January 1st in order to qualify for that year’s PFD and then took out their Alaskan Airlines plastic to extoll the virtues of the mileage program. Oh Alaskans.
The ice cream here isn’t homemade as in Guamote but there is frozen yogurt which I continue to treat myself to daily. The shops only run the machine on weekends, and for the rest of the week the freezer beside the machine is full of dixie cup swirls of the stuff. The older men appreciate my good taste as we sit in the main plaza together, me with sweet ice cream dripping down my fingers.
I am always happy to skip a shower but my feet I wash every night, a ritual begun in Delhi. My feet, living in sandals, in boots, and running shoes are peeling like mad. I fantasize about how nice a soak would be in a tub full of little fish to eat all the grubby dead skin.
My mentors in this agricultural adventure are OF and AF, partners in life and parents to Rumi Wilco which they started together many years ago. They live simply in a wooden house along the river and have poured their life into the preserve, which now reflects their devotion and idiosyncrasies.
On Friday, I joined AF on a four hour tour of the trail system, going quite high up the mountain side, to help maintain the hundreds of signs that identify the many different species of plant (More plant species than Galapagos, AF remarked).
AF is a biologist through and through. Her every step was littered with exclamations and love. I thought of my Gram with every passing blossom and how happy she would be to see me walking these paths.