Ecuador · Education · Family · Perspective

Madrigal de Podocarpus

I was hesitant to book this Airbnb since it is located in a remote area seven kilometers from Loja down a bumpy dirt road. I was worried about getting to and from the city, but I’m glad I took the chance. This place is exactly what I was hoping it would be. We’re staying on a 300 hectare nature preserve that backs up to a national park. The land was bought twelve years ago by eight siblings. Their intention was to have a quiet, green place with clean, fresh air to leave to the next generation of the family.
One of the sisters started a school and it was moved out here a year after they bought the land. The boys get to enjoy the school playground and even borrow toys and books from it’s library. There are hiking trails leading all over the mountain right outside our front door and an enormous variety of flora and fauna due to the different microclimates in these mountains. As I hike up the mountain I love to stop and investigate the amazing variety of lichens and bromeliads that make their home in the trees. Several varieties of endangered birds reside onsite and recently a biologist discovered a previously unknown species of frog that is endemic to only one side of the mountain.


It is the goal of the siblings to preserve the the primary forest and reforest the areas that were originally used for pastureland as well as to promote ecological awareness to future generations. They have achieved this by planting thousands of native plants and trees on the preserve and they are teaching children to be stewards of nature at the school located onsite. To the schoolchildren, nature is an integral part of their education. The students often have the opportunity to accompany scientists that frequently come to the preserve to perform experiments, they get to watch the scientific method in action!
One of the brothers lives onsite and cares for the place and three of the sisters work at the school. My worry about the $7 taxi ride to the preserve was unfounded since the family allows us to use the school bus as it returns back to town in the morning and we can hitch a ride again upon their return to the park in the afternoon.
Just a few weeks ago, a wildfire spread to the property and damaged as much as 10% of the land here. As you hike the odor from the fresh ashes wafts in on a breeze, you can smell the devastation before you can see it. It smells like campfire, tinged with loss. Next week, Hugo, the brother that lives onsite will lead students from the university in planting thousands of native plants and trees in the area affected by the fire. I hope we’ll get the opportunity to help as well.
Living with a Latin American family is such a treat, there is so much warmth that they spread all around. The concept of family is completely different here than in the States. At home we differentiate between nuclear family and extended family, in Latin America there is simply family. Many siblings in the U.S. grow up, leave home and rarely see each other as adults. When I was young I would relish the time that my siblings came over to visit with my nieces and nephews and I always wanted to be a part of a close-knit family that frequently gets together and truly enjoys each other’s company. I hope that we’re raising our boys to love and care for each other throughout their lives, that they enjoy being together as adults and not just to tolerate each other on major holidays. The whole point of having siblings it seems to me, is to have lifelong friends. 



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