All Work and No Play

After spending our monthly budget in only two weeks on the Galapagos, it was time to buckle down and work off our deficit with another work-exchange. Workaways always include free lodging, but they’ve varied tremendously in regards to meals. We heard that Shawn and Lindsey, the American couple who own a farm in Cotacachi, would provide all meals and that they were delicious; as one reviewer stated, “We ate like kings.”

So, looking forward to not only delicious food, but also the chance of not spending any money for two weeks, we arrived with good intentions and an eagerness to work. After our first day, it was evident that the food would indeed be great, but I could barely hold my fork and lift any of it to my mouth. I felt like my arms were going to fall off!

If you’ve never dug a large hole with a shovel before (and by large I mean 8x8x8 feet), you can’t possibly understand how incredibly fatiguing it is. Even with a very active imagination, and though I’ve read the book Holes, by Louis Sachar, which goes into great detail about the trials of digging, I was not expecting the varied, excruciating pains that eventually imprint themselves on your muscles. I’ll just say that I have a great respect for diggers now… and that the tractor was a beautiful invention.

Craig is so tired he doesn’t even care that a cat is two feet away from him on his bed.

When I eventually got over the large aches and pains of digging (since we finally finished the hole), I was still left with the small aches and pains associated with both working on a farm and doing construction work. At one point, I even asked Shawn, “So… does your back just always hurt?” But what doesn’t kill you just builds character, right? And at least I could start enjoying the food without wincing every time I took a bite. (Craig is convinced he’s gotten more muscles in his arms. I humor him.)

Craig and I didn’t take any pictures of the hole (I think if we were trying to repress the memory of it), but here’s the stone path that we were making, which was a lot easier than digging.

Life on the farm is pretty uneventful and isolated. I wondered sometimes about the sanity of Lindsey, so far from her North Dakota roots, stuck in the middle of nowhere in Ecuador with a 9-month-old baby as her primary company. Her favorite part of the day seemed to be when the girl next door came to take Gus for an hour, and she got to shower and then sit outside drying her hair in peace. Craig and I have discovered that, despite enjoying small towns and their quaintness, we really prefer large cities. I don’t think I could ever live so far from civilization, despite romantic notions of retiring to the cliffs of Isle of Skye, Scotland, which has a ratio of sheep to people of 12:1. I have a sinking feeling that I’d go crazy within a year.

Luckily, there were lots of other volunteers on the farm to break the solitude. Yandrec (Polish) and his wife Elisa (Italian) made for an interesting international mix. Elisa told me many things that made me wonder about the authenticity of Italian restaurants in America. She had never heard of Alfredo sauce and said that ricotta was never used in lasagna (just bechamel), but didn’t seem bothered by the cannibalization of her cuisine in other countries. In fact, Elisa was so easy-going that I wondered about that whole “hot-blooded Italian” stereotype. She remained unruffled even in the midst of an argument about the increasingly toxic anti-vaccine controversy. Impressive!

Yandrec was also a chef, so here follows various food pictures:

Turns out, baking pizza in an actual pizza oven really makes a difference. Yandrec approved of the dough that Craig made, to his great relief. Yandrec even has a “pizza certification”. Go Craig!

Gnocchi in the making! With bechamel sauce and vegetables. Craig and I are quite proud that we’ve learned how to make so many sauces on this trip from scratch–it really isn’t difficult at all, and better than buying jars with preservatives in them. I’ll still eat my Flaming Hot Cheetos, though, thank you very much. And I could REALLY go for some nacho cheese from a can right now…

Craig and I actually made these gyozas ourselves, and we made the wrappers from scratch as well (not as hard as you’d think, unless you’re making eighty of them… then it gets a bit tiring). Nothing cheers the spirit like some potstickers!

A lot of our meals included bacon or sausage that Shawn had made himself from his pigs, which was great. I think we were in between slaughter seasons, so we unfortunately didn’t get to try any fresh meat, but after considering it, I’m not sure I actually do want to know what’s involved in my meat consumption. All I really care about is that the meat here tastes way better (and is a LOT cheaper) than in the States. I suppose there’s something to be said for buying fresh, local meat, so Rain Shadow Meats in Seattle can expect to get a lot of our business when we eventually return, although it will, sadly, not be cheaper.

Animals on a farm are quite fascinating… I spent several minutes being mesmerized by the sight of thousands of chickens one morning, and the pigs were so large and snuffly that I was never very comfortable around them. The farm used to have cows, but not anymore, so that just left… PETS! Abundant and adorably cute, the dogs made working difficult (it’s hard to dig out from under a 150-lb half-mastiff) and the cats made sleeping warmer. I miss them already.

It’s a Little Cat! She was just so tiny and perfect, you hardly minded when she climbed up your leg with her razor-sharp claws.

Whenever I got close to Miley, she would immediately flop on her back and assume the maximum stomach scratching position. I couldn’t resist, and usually spent several minutes trying to appease her. Sarah is in the background.

Cat trio, before their peace was disrupted by Little Cat. They are on Craig’s bed, of course.

Eiisa observing five of the seven dogs while Tony attempts to steal Miley’s caresses away.

All in all, it was a nice interlude to our trip. I got some more knitting done, we made some new friends, and learned some new recipes. Still, we were happy to leave, if only so that our backs could finally recover. We are now in Baños, slightly lower in elevation but still surrounded by the Andes, and are looking forward to several days of exploring the beautiful landscape and enjoying our own private bathroom again!

One last Little Cat picture since she’s just too cute not to.


2 thoughts on “All Work and No Play

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