Ecuador in September: Part 2 - Simple Joys in Life

Ecuador in September: Part 2 - Simple Joys in Life

Picture it: the five of us, in an Ecuadorian restaurant, listening to none other than Alan Jackson. Legendary. This day made me appreciate the simple things in life that are often all too easy to take for granted.

September 21:

06:15 Ecuador is in the Central Time Zone. No matter how adamant Shane is that we’ll be able to “sleep in” a little some days, not a single day will go by where I wake up after 06:30. This often meant that Shane and I were the only two people awake for a little while each morning. Of course, he was already up and working before I ever even opened my eyes.

I enjoyed those mornings. They were spent discussing the day ahead and the day that had just passed. As I said in Part 1, the itinerary had flown out the window; Shane was planning the rest of this trip day-by-day. These morning discussions helped me plan out my goals and made the transition into the impending nonstop rush of the day a little easier.

In the lulls of conversation that first morning in Zaruma, I was able to walk around and finally take in where I was. I’d been in the city for nearly 12 hours and had yet to actually see it. Arturo’s home reminded me a lot of my grandparents’ home in Cataula, Georgia when I was a child. It was more colorful than theirs, but it felt the same—it felt like a place where its inhabitants’ lives and those of their family had been treasured. Each item was so clearly a memory, or a keepsake, and everything had its own place to be actually seen. Things were of value, not because of what they were, but because of the memory attached or perhaps simply because of who they belonged to.

Walking over to the window, I take in one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. There’s a silvery mist that’s settled in the ridges of the mountainside overnight. The sun is a color I’ve never seen it be, somewhere between yellow and orange, and incredibly, though it’s not even 07:00 yet, it’s already risen entirely. The clouds are not reflecting any reds or oranges. Everything, other than the sun, exists in shades of blue and white. The essence of tranquility.

07:30 Arturo and Max have both gotten up. Arturo’s wife, Anita, brews coffee and makes what is hands down the best mocha I’ve ever had. Her hospitality was truly unmatched during our stay. After breakfast, Arturo takes us down to the Z Beans Chocolate Factory to show us the process and explain some other projects he’s been working on. 

When we get back to the house, Arturo allows us to try some dehydrated and marinated fruits of various sorts that he’s made. Max tries one, in particular, before Arturo explains what it actually is. Arturo takes this opportunity to convince Max he’s just eaten a bug. It was, in fact, a starfruit. Absolutely hilarious.

09:10 Gerrardo meets us at Arturo’s house. Shane, Max, Arturo, and I ride with him to Portovelo to see a greenhouse belonging to a close friend of Arturo. 

09:40 When we get there, the three of us venture off to explore the grounds while Arturo and Gerrardo stay near the saplings and Arturo works on watering them. There’s a small park by the river, and Shane swings on the swingset. The birds are singing, and the sound of the water mingles with them to create a very calming and peaceful experience.

As we walk around, I continue to lag behind, taking pictures of everything I see. It’s all so simply beautiful. Mandarin orange trees, palm trees, bananas, cacti, flowers I’ve never seen before—it’s wild and disorganized, yet perfectly designed. I think I could’ve stayed there for hours just taking everything in.

10:00 We make our way over to the cacao trees that take up a large portion of the property. Shane shows Max and me the inside of the cacao pods. After breaking open a pod on a nearby rock, he explains the white “nibs” that contain the cacao beans. These are comparable to coffee cherries in their purpose and would be removed in the early stages of processing the cacao before making chocolate. For several minutes after this lesson, Shane and Max take turns throwing these nibs at me…or more like, in my general vicinity. They have terrible aim. Or maybe, because I know they'll eventually read this, the nibs just aren't aerodynamic.

Arturo eventually makes his way over to us and starts cutting some cacao pods from the trees. Max and Shane take the opportunity to use one of these pods as a football, a game that Arturo and Gerrardo find very amusing.

10:30 On the way to Piñas, we stop at a few places in Portovelo to learn more about the city: two sculptures erected to recognize the city’s rich mining culture and a small church situated on a lookout over the city. The architecture of Ecuador is something that time and time again completely fascinates me. In the States, most churches are either red brick or white wood, beautiful but typically minimalist or almost medieval in nature. In Ecuador, they’re brightly colored and adorned with not just stained glass windows, but with wire sculptures, bells, and ornate crosses—arches and different shaped windows. And it’s not an architectural feat reserved for only big churches. Every single one, no matter how small, is unique in this way. In every town, the church stands out amongst the other buildings and brings life to its surroundings, or, like this one, it stands alone on the mountainside, a bright yellow beacon against the backdrop of the Andes.

12:00 Arturo and Gerrardo drop us off at the Processing Facility in Piñas where Max and I are able to meet Marie and Fabricio Paredes, the owners and operators. Marie’s father and uncles built the facility in the early 1900’s, and it has been a crucial step in several coffee farmers’ supply chain ever since—they’ve been partnered with Z Beans since 2017. 

One of the first things that strikes me is how much Marie and Fabricio seem like total opposites in personality. Fabricio doesn’t talk much whereas Marie is telling stories and laughing for a majority of the visit—both of them kind and easygoing. It’s very clear how much they care about each other. As individuals, they are also both extremely knowledgeable in the coffee industry; in fact, when Fabricio did speak, it was usually about coffee. Coffee is something that he’s very passionate about, getting excited as he had us try different blends he’d roasted—going into detail about the importance of each step in the process, from growing to roasting to brewing. Some people say it takes 10,000 hours for a person to become an expert on something; I get the feeling he’s put in those hours. Marie, too, could likely recite the entirety of the process with relative ease having grown up in the coffee world. 

While we’re at the facility, we walk across the lot to Caffé Marie, the small café that Marie and Fabricio own and sell their coffee out of. Max and Shane help Marie to fill and package a fairly large order of coffee. 

13:00 Around this time, I start to feel sick which means I really need to eat before I get worse. Shane immediately tells Marie that we will be back after lunch and asks if they’d like us to bring anything back for them. I feel like we’re being rude, and I express as much to Shane. He tells me that he’s already explained to everyone my health concerns before we even arrived. They understand. It occurs to me that this may also be why Arturo and Ramiro kept checking on me as we practically hiked up Ramiro’s coffee farm. I once again find myself feeling incredibly thankful for this team. I’m very stubborn and often push myself too much because I hate feeling like I’m holding anyone back, but at this moment, it finally dawns on me that they’ve never, not once, given me any reason to feel that way.

Shane, Max, and I walk up the road to find a restaurant. Shane orders for us after some discussion, and even after hearing it in English, it is still not what I expect. I think I’m getting chicken soup. Instead, I get chicken soup…chicken...rice...and beans—there’s absolutely no way I’m eating all of this. And I'm definitely not eating the chicken foot. Luckily, the guys have good appetites.

14:00 When we get back to the Processing Facility, Shane takes us on a tour of the building, explaining its history and how the coffee is actually processed. The equipment is largely made by hand or antiquated by nature of its use; Fabricio even built the roaster they use for the coffee at Caffé Marie. I’m amazed by how much tradition and hard work is put into every quintal of coffee we purchase. I’ve already a believer in our mission of supporting the farmers and people of Ecuador, but this experience makes me truly appreciate our product as well. 

Shane and Max finish helping Marie fulfill her order, and after about an hour or so, Marie offers us pizza from her brother’s restaurant, El Patio Pizzeria, located on the same lot as the processing facility and Caffé Marie. It’s easily one of the best looking and best tasting pizzas I’ve ever had, not something I ever expected to come across in Ecuador. The rest of our visit is spent in simple conversation.

16:00 Fabricio offers to drive us into Piñas to see some of the city and get pictures for our website and social media. When we get into town, we park on the side of the road by the city square, and Marie and I get out for her to give me a photo tour. At this point, I’ve caught on to enough Spanish to understand what she’s telling me about the area and respond well enough to keep the conversation going. Marie tells me about the older homes in the city center that were built in the 19th century—wooden, almost ship-like structures that are now sandwiched between vibrant stucco buildings. It’s a stark contrast. When we get to the middle of the park, Marie points to a building across the street and tells me her mother lives there. She makes a phone call, and pretty soon, I’m waving and yelling hello to her mother who has appeared in an upstairs window.

As we walk back across the park, I ask Marie how to say “selfie” in Spanish (a question I do not remember the answer to now), and we each take one together on our phones. Back in the car, I’m sitting in the backseat between Max and Marie, so Marie and I are able to keep up a slight conversation for the remainder of our time in Piñas. She several times jokes to me that Fabricio needs to slow down driving—a statement I find absolutely hilarious having ridden with Gerrardo and Arturo. We make a quick pit stop at a lookout over Piñas, and the view is absolutely incredible. From the streets, buildings appear stacked on top of each other without any sort of plan, but from above, everything looks perfectly organized.

17:00 We arrive back at Arturo’s home, and Max and Shane immediately get on their computers for a sales meeting. Doc and I take this opportunity to discuss how we each spent the day, how life here differs from life back home, and how incredible everything has been. I'm shocked to hear of the neighbor's parrot who has evidently been screaming throughout the day at the rooster.

19:00 After spending a couple of hours with everyone at the house, Shane, Max, Doc, and I venture out to explore Zaruma as it will be our last night staying with Arturo. When Rosangela, Arturo’s daughter, gets off work where she’s a dance instructor, she meets up with us as well, and we get dinner at a small dive bar. The server makes the mistake of allowing Shane to control the music.

Picture it: the five of us, in an Ecuadorian restaurant, listening to none other than Alan Jackson. Legendary. This day made me appreciate the simple things in life that are often all too easy to take for granted.

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