Tropics and Mountains

The second story of this building is our "house."

We arrived at this little tropical town in the Amazon Basin jungle on October 20, exactly four years to the day after moving onto our Florida off-grid homestead in 2011. Little did we know then the Lord would be moving us so soon. Living off the grid in a tiny house, growing sugarcane and perennial vegetables, making soap and meals from seasonal produce, learning to thrive with less…all were preparing us for this season of life. So far the adjustment to this new country has been relatively smooth.

We are temporarily living in the second story of an old boarding school, owned by SIFAT, the faith-based organization we are partnering with to set up a demonstration sustainable homestead. We’re helping maintain the grounds and improve fencing and places for guests to stay. SIFAT owns another property of 50 hectares (125 acres) in the country where we hope to help demonstrate rotational grazing of cattle. We are looking to purchase land for our own homestead to be available for teaching sustainable agriculture techniques.

We live at the far end of this lane.

Our neighbor's house on the other side of the lane.

Grass grows fast in the rainy season, requiring hours of weed-eating each week.

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy install new gates on the SIFAT property.

This river runs through the jungle on the SIFAT property.

The language difference is diminishing as we learn to communicate in Spanish and get around on our own, making necessary purchases and arrangements. A room below us is rented out for sewing classes, bringing interesting people to us. We trust a growing number of merchants and small shops in town to give us fair prices on groceries and other items. In our search for land we meet other campesinos (small farmers) with experience living off the land. The small country church we attend has preaching and singing in Spanish, attended by a mixture of nationals and Gringos (white folks like us) who have lived here many years.

These sewing class girls came back to practice painting and English with Blossom and Evensong.

Exchanging English and Spanish lessons with Rossmary, a teacher who lives at SIFAT.

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy help with a house raising; all lumber used was from the land cut free-hand with a chainsaw.

Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, we celebrated at the little country church with other Gringos. This building is also made with hand-cut lumber.

Playing volleyball after church and the fellowship meal on Sunday.

We’ve started plants to prepare for our homestead, as well to provide food for us now, or that will benefit the compound here. We planted a small herb garden, and are clearing an old garden space to plant annual vegetables. The chicks we purchased are growing and should start laying eggs in about two months.

Clearing an abandoned and overgrown garden plot created by a former ECHO intern at SIFAT.

Hoeing the beds in the same plot to prepare to plant veggies that will grow during the rainy season.

The young herb garden we planted around the front steps leading up to our house.

Finding good soil near the front gate to prepare pots for young moringa and mulberry trees.

A new hedge of chaya we planted from cuttings; soon to be animal fodder and nutrient dense spinach substitute for us.

Our flock of young fancy criollo chickens who will hopefully soon be providing us with eggs.

Pods from the cacao trees on this property.

Friends with dairy cows come into town every week and deliver raw milk, cheese, cream, and butter to our door. We feel pretty spoiled about that, but realize soon we will once again have our own dairy goats and possibly a cow. Eggs are delivered weekly by old colony Mennonite friends an hour away. We also enjoy mangos, limes, figs, bananas, coconuts and lots of star fruit growing here on this property. Blossom has been experimenting with making chocolate from cacao beans, as well as our own coconut oil.

Our grocery list is really simple, hopefully getting shorter and shorter as we grow our own. Here is the typical weekly list:

Plantains (big green bananas)
Yucca (cassava root)
Bananas (if we don’t have any)
Flour (till our grain mill arrives in our container)
Raw sugar
Occasionally we buy a whole chicken (including feet and head) from local farmers. It’s amazing the delicious meals coming from such a basic list. We buy rice in larger quantities and eat lots of it. Numerous friends grow their own, which we hope to do once we get land.

This beautiful farm is owned by friends we buy butter from.

These girls from the other end of our lane sold us cane juice from sugarcane grown on their land out in the country.

Their family lives in this house in town so they can go to school. Notice the cacao beans drying in the sun.

Transportation has been an adjustment, although not difficult. With our vehicle budget we purchased three motorcycles, and a family sized three-wheeled motocar. At first we borrowed a pick-up truck, and soon learned that the rough roads are very hard on vehicles, and it is slow going. The townspeople use mostly motorcycles (called motos), and for good reason. It’s common to see whole families on one moto, with three or four little children stuck in between and in front of their mama and daddy. Our motocar is useful for the farm, to sell produce in town, and offer rides to others going where we are. Distance travel is much more cost effective in a low cost taxi or bus. The hardest thing about motorcycles was teaching this middle-aged woman to ride, proving quite nerve racking at first. Now I’m actually enjoying it.

Our family vehicle, a red three wheeled motocar.

Silver Oak added a roof for rainy season.

We encountered a tree across the road one Sunday on our way home from church after a windy rain. This time we were prepared with an ax...

...because the first time it happened Silver Oak had to saw the tree with his Leatherman Wave.

Another time it happened with a huge tree way out in the country and we borrowed a chain saw from a nearby friend. A taxi load of guys helped remove the debris so we could all pass through.

With the motocar we helped deliver five huge bags of rice to town for our friend Ramon on our way home from church one evening. He grew it in his rice chaco (field).

Silver Oak and I went three hours to the next big town on his moto one day. We had to cross this river on a ferry.

Here's an example of a family of four on one moto.

And here's a family of five...the mother is holding a baby on her other arm. Could you call this "moto-pooling?" At any rate, the fuel emmissions rate per person is rather low around here.

The worst thing here is chiggers! They make awful itchy bites, in most perturbing places! We had them in Florida till we got guinea fowl who ate them up. Eight young guineas are ordered from a neighboring farmer as soon as they are old enough. We hope to rid ourselves of this malady soon! We’ve learned to manage with rubbing alcohol and ionic silver, greatly easing the bites when used daily. Mosquitoes are not as bad as in Florida, especially closer to the mountains. There are calm bug-eating tarantulas, not dangerous as we grew up believing. Cockroaches are the same as in Florida, but more sluggish. There is a huge creepy type of roach which I loathe, fairly easy to kill and not as common.

The weather is warm, but the nearby mountains usually bring coolness at night and even chilly air with rain, even in the middle of summer, which is the current season here. When we first arrived it was the end of dry season, and terribly hot and dusty for a few weeks. Since then it has been much more pleasant than Florida summers, for which we are thankful.

Mountains on our way to church.

Near the SIFAT land.

The winding road through the jungle.

Besides the new friends who’ve made us feel so welcome here, I love most the breathtaking scenery of the jungle and mountains, clear rocky rivers and streams, bright blue sky, huge butterflies, large colorful birds, and the vivid green meadows. So far it feels like home!

This rocky mountain stream runs through a friend's property.

Before snapping this picture a flock of bright red and blue macaws flew noisily from one far tall tree to another.

A winding country creek.

To receive future posts about life in the Southern Hemisphere click here, or sign up in the column on the right.


A Week at ECHO

Note: My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

PS. Enjoy the following scenes captured locally, as well as from a recent trip to the big city in the mountains.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Enjoying the creek in Ms. Fannie's yard.

Ms. Fannie's quaint little cottage.

Another friend's gate

Mountains and river

Traveling through the mountains at dusk

A steep mountain road with a river in the canyon far below

Mountains and blue, blue sky