The last two weeks while staying with a Kichwa farmers’ family, in the Loma Wasi Village in Tunibamba (pop. 300), in the Ecuadorian Andes, I have been feeling like a time traveler. Tunibamba is at about 9000 feet altitude, at the end of a dirt road about two miles from the next closest town, Cotacachi.
During the last week, the road was closed so that the city could start resurfacing it, a project that is estimated to take three months. The locals contend that it usually takes twice as long. Hence one of my options to get to town is to walk through the muddy construction site strewn with heavy machinery engaged in the roadwork. My other option is a long bus or taxi ride that makes a wide loop on a cobblestone, narrow road through several villages. The views on this longer tour to town are breathtaking, but so are the deep canyons next to unprotected roadsides.
My most exciting daily experience entails the meeting of two buses on a narrow mountain road next to a steep dropping slope. Therefore, tomorrow I will move to an Airbnb on the outskirts of the town.
The roadwork is a bigger nuisance for the family, although they grow much of their food on their farm, and they don’t have to reach the town daily.
My landlady Doña Mercedes and I in front of the bedrooms
The family belongs to the Kichwa-tribe. Their language is totally incomprehensible to me. Luckily all family members speak Spanish with an accent that I can decipher to some extent.
The family consists of the 64-year mother, Mercedes, the father Mario of about the same age, a grown up daughter Isabel, and her husband Cesar as well as their 7-year old son. Isabel’s older brother, Rolando lives in town with his wife and three kids, and her younger sister has also moved out.
Mercedes built the family house (this was before Mario came into the picture) with the help of the local community about 30 years ago. It is made of locally burned clay like all the houses in the neighborhood. This is the way houses are still being built; on my way down the mountainside, I see tens of ovens where bricks are being burned. The cooperative approach to house building requires naturally that when another villager wants to build a house, others will contribute.
Clay bricks are burnt for 48 hours.
The family works mainly in agriculture, animal husbandry, and hosting guests who book their stays on several internet platforms. Mercedes is the one who cleans the rooms, and cooks for the guests, while Rolando takes care of marketing, bookings, and informs Mercedes about upcoming guests. But Mercedes’ main job is to take care of the animals: cows, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and numerous guinea pigs – that are raised for food.
My favorite pig greets me daily, when I return to my lodging.
Mercedes gets up at five every morning and starts the day milking the cow(s), moving them to another pasture and feeding the rest of the animals. Then she joins Mario for whatever needs to be done in the fields. This means plowing up fields, sowing seeds, watering and fertilizing fields, pulling up weeds and finally harvesting the crops as well as cutting grass for the animals.
The family grows different types of maize, beans, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, quinoa and rice. From the fruit and kitchen garden they also pick avocados, guavas, grapes, lemons, mandarins, oranges, peaches, passion fruit and tomatoes, and moreover, they gather broccoli, cabbage, carrots, coriander, lettuce, mangold, pepper, onions and red beets.
If this is not enough, the family grows medicinal plants like cedar, chamomile, lemon grass and some others that I don’t recognize. One of them is called “the tongue of a cow” and can be used to treat infections and remove toxins from the body, and another is “great plantain” that should help against several types of infections, eye- and skin irritations and even against hemorrhoids.
Environmentally-friendly dishwashing and laundry place outdoors.
The way work is done on the farm reminds me of my grandparents’ farm in Finland in the 60s. Cows are milked by hand, dogs and cats stay outdoors doing their jobs. Laundry is done outdoors rubbing the dirty clothes, sheets and towels against a rough concrete surface. In my bedroom there is an antique Singer sewing machine that resembles the one my Grandmother had. Even I learned to sow on such a Singer machine where you had to treadle a foot pedal to keep it running.
The memorable Singer sewing machine.
In between her farm work, Mercedes comes in to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for the family and for the guests who want to eat with the family. I have eaten all my breakfasts and dinners at Loma Wasi and enjoyed Mercedes’ traditional cooking. A typical breakfast starts with a plate of different fruits cut in pieces and sometimes strawberries that grow early in the season in January. Then comes some dish with eggs, like an omelet with greens, followed by either home baked bagels or cornmeal tortillas cooked in a clay bowl. To drink we get fresh fruit juice and coffee or tea.
Lunch and dinner vary from day to day, but they always start with a soup, some days with clear stock, others with a milk-based stock. Popcorn is often served with the soup! A plate with chicken or some other meat or fish, quinoa, rice, wheat or spaghetti and some vegetables or greens follow the soup. The meal ends with a cup of lemon grass tea.
Combined kitchen/dining room.
Sunday mornings, Mercedes goes to the local market to sell her organic products. On weekends, Mario may travel to Quito, the capital, to sell his artisanal work. The son-in-law, Isabel’s husband, is a tile setter, and during my stay he has spent the weeks working in Quito, and just coming to the family home on weekends. Isabel, the daughter, works in a fruit company at a 20 minutes walk from home but travels to a bigger city, Ibarra, every now and then to sell fruit. Finally, the grandchild Ali, takes a school bus to an elementary school five days a week. If he could choose, he would rather play football with his friends, like many small boys all over the world.