As we settle in for a month in our new home-away-from-home in Ecuador, I realize how much we like our routines. Since leaving our stay in Thailand in February, we were pretty much living out of suitcases as we toured through Phuket and Borneo, and across the ocean to Quito and the Galapagos. Not a hardship, I realize, but it was so comforting driving up through the beautiful northern highlands of Ecuador knowing that we were going to have a whole month to really get to know this part of the world. Tony’s sister Katie and our nephew Jack were traveling with us for another week and we were really looking forward to showing them the life we had lived for most of our journey around the world.
We arrived at our farm in the dark and couldn’t fully appreciate the property but when we opened the door to our rental house we felt we were home. It was spacious and beautifully decorated with all the amenities.
The property, San Juan de la Vega, is a new venture for our hosts, Janine and David, who are renovating four dilapidated houses and are building up their working farm. It’s close to the tourist attractions of Otavalo and the surrounding area but far enough away that we can just enjoy the fresh mountain air and country life.
After exploring all the nooks and crannies of our new home we got ourselves set-up.
It’s the same routine: after deciding who’s going to sleep where, we unpack everything from our suitcases and put them all away – clothes, toiletries, coats, shoes, games, books, electronics, camera gear, files, papers, school supplies, kitchen utensils and food stuffs. It’s amazing how much we can pack into 100 kilos of luggage!
Then Tony and I go through the kitchen, cupboard by cupboard, to see where everything is, rearranging it to suit us. Tony, chief cook (I’m the bottle washer) travels with a kitchen kit with all the essential tools he can’t live without but finds here that he only needed his good knife. To our delight, this kitchen came with a fully stocked pantry that uses the honour system. Anything we use up we replace – great idea!
Next, I figure out where our school space will be. Usually someplace that has a table, plugs for computers and some sort of shelf for the kids books and binders, art supplies, and my teaching materials. After plugging in all our electronics, seeing where in the house we get the best internet signal, turning on and off all the light switches, testing the comfy chairs and checking for games (lots of puzzles), books (mostly Spanish) and other novelties (skipping ropes, bike helmets, sparklers, ten pairs of rubber boots), we head outdoors.
To me, there’s nothing more invigorating than clumping around in a pair of rubber boots, exploring a farm property. We follow the cow paths, climb hills, squeeze through fences and peer into dark barns greeting a menagerie of animals along the way. On this farm we met dairy cows with their calves, horses, 2 dogs and a puppy, a few sheep and goats, one lone turkey and his friend the goose.
At every farm, Tony and I spend a lot of time exploring the gardens. Here, there is a huge new vegetable garden, designed in curving flower petal shapes, filled mainly with cabbages, lettuces and broccoli. Janine and David are learning all about permaculture and work with an expert in the area to get the garden going. She’s full of great ideas and passes them onto the chief caretaker of the property, Maestro Lucho, who is quick to make her dreams a reality – raised beds, a rotating compost circle, a chicken coop – whatever needs to be done.
Once settled in, our days start to follow a pattern. Up at around 7:00 and 3 hours of home-schooling in the morning. The afternoon is a combination of helping out on the farm (in this case milking the cows, transplanting seedlings, pulling weeds, building the chicken coop), playing with the dogs (Melissa), filing pictures and working on proposals (Tony), researching and planning ahead (Linda), playing a video game (Chris), social networking (all) or touring the area.
So far we’ve hiked down to the waterfall at the end of the valley, visited the local rose farm, toured the towns searching for artisan leatherwork, embroidery and woodworking and attended the Saturday morning animal market (more about that in a future post)! In the evening, Tony usually cooks up an amazing meal using what’s available on the farm and locally. Then we settle in to play cards or Risk, read a book or watch a movie and talk about what we’ll do the next day.
In many ways our routine is a modified version of our life in Toronto: the kids go to school and Tony and I work (mostly) from home. We shop locally and love to cook, entertain and hang out as a family. Striving for some familiarity in our routine is what keeps us grounded. It is much easier to face the challenges of travel in another country when you have a ‘home’ to return to at night.
On this trip we’ve learn to be flexible. We don’t always have electricity, the Internet is slow or non-existent and hot water is a luxury. The food is different from what the kids are used to (and not what Tony is used to cooking). Our senses are bombarded with the new sights, smells and languages that envelop us whenever we step outside.
Of course we don’t always maintain our routines. Letting go of their firm grip is what has brought wonder to this trip. How else would we benefit from our journey if we didn’t stray off the path and get lost (which happens often)?
But when we’ve discovered enough new things for the day, when we’re tired and want the familiar, it is our routines that guide us home. Wherever in this world we may be.
The small photos in this blog post are from Tony’s Instagram account. Follow @tonyarmstrong on Instagram or watch for fresh Instagram photos on our homepage under “Some recent pics”. You can click on a picture to enlarge it in a separate window.