From time to time we are inclined to take a journey between our village and the next, to gaze at the wandering expanse of farmlands and rural life. Although the scenery is unique to this province, the route often reminds us of those that we frequently came across between the small towns of the rural Midwest back in the USA. To some, it isn’t much to see the rolling acreage that fills the gaps between civilizations, but for us it’s a glimpse at simplicity that is infinitely appealing. We may not be the farming type, but we are country folks at heart. We appreciate the clean, sweeping fields of seeds tucked neatly beneath the soil; the scent of a fresh, raw life; and the warm, glowing faces of the people who call the land their home.
On many warm afternoons, we have idled past the perfectly combed rows of crops and pondered what was growing there. We would squint our eyes and sniff the air, trying to decipher the unfamiliar green, tentacles dancing in the breeze. On our last venture past, my husband made an abrupt turn onto the bumpy, dirt road that snakes through the fields. I peered at him from beneath my glasses, as I quietly glanced sidelong at the handful of men working in the field.
I knew exactly what he was up to, but I nervously clutched my camera as I listened to the sound of a creaky, old truck roll up behind us. I held my breath, waiting for a string of profanities and a machete to poke out from the dusty window, expecting this farmer to object to our intrusion upon his land. Instead, we were greeted by a toothy smile beaming from a sun wrinkled face peering beneath a faded, old hat. He didn’t say much at all, but a few warm words rolled from his tongue, as he opened his arms to the air, in a gesture of welcome and amusement.
My husband nudged me from the car, prodding me to explore, while he and the kids watched from the car. I just stood there for a moment, awkward and shy as ever, and still a little nervous over our trespassing. A few yards away, the engine of the farm truck rumbled to stop, and I was suddenly engulfed in the silence of the landscape and nearly knocked to my knees with the undeniable scent of onions. The farmer stood nearby, rummaging through a sack on the ground, glanced up at me and once again motioned me to come for a closer look. I nearly tripped over my own toes, and I think he noticed my nervousness, for he smiled a bit before he turned and trudged off in the opposite direction.
I began to explore the parcel, making notes of the simple irrigation system, the lack of tractors and machinery, and of just a few men tiptoeing through the crops. It appeared to be a small operation, just a tiny, family farm, likely supplying purple onions and green peppers to the surrounding communities.
A few of the workers were bent over the small plants, apparently weeding or pruning, and another was gliding between the empty spaces, spraying mist from a blue pack on his back. Step by step, plant by plant, into the endless green abyss. As I watched, I recalled an article I had read earlier, about the use of organic pesticides in Ecuador, with concoctions made of garlic and mint to keep the pests at bay. I couldn’t help but wonder if those were the ingredients inside the tank. Then, I noted the apparent boundaries set by the dry mountainside and the towering palm trees, with only barbed wire lining the farthest edge along the highway.
As I turned to head back to my family, I noticed a smaller field of neglected drooping plants. I knelt to peer beneath the leaves to see small bulbs of ripening green peppers. The farmer watched me from afar, and trotted over to the open window of the car, explaining to my husband, that these peppers were not fit for consumption. We didn’t quite understand why, as there weren’t any apparent pests, and nothing other than the lackluster leaves, to give indication of a problem. Either way, it was interesting to see the sense of pride, even a tinge of embarrassment, as the farmer felt obliged to explain any imperfection that was previously unnoticed by me.
I followed the tracks in the powdery farm path, back to where my family waited. As my husband continued to chat, I snapped a few more photos, of the raised bamboo building that seemed to serve as hearth to the overseer. A quaint hut nestled next to a banana tree, with hammocks dangling from the palapa eaves, appeared to be the perfect place for reprieve to the laborers. Their bicycles leaning against the beams, tell the story of a rural life much removed from the cornfields of Iowa. I couldn’t tell you, if it’s better or harder, or even comparable, but there is no doubt about it, we are a long way from home and a world away from modern. But, something about it is simple and peaceful and rewarding, and I’m so glad we stopped by to intrude on the daily life of cropping in Ecuador.