la cuchara más grande del mundo / the biggest wooden spoon in the world

Annika Kapp - Ecuador


September 29, 2019

 

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When we embark on a new adventure, there are stories we expect to be telling. How we tried new food for the first time maybe, or how we got lost with public transportation. And then there are stories that are so weird that we could have never imagined them to happen. This is the story of how I ended up living in the city with the largest wooden spoon on earth: Paute. 

 

Paute is a calm town in the Andes mountains, located on an altitude of 2200 m, circa 45 minutes east of Cuenca, and my new home for the next seven months. Now you might be wondering why on earth this small town in Ecuador holds a Guinness World Record.  Funnily enough, the certificate for the gigantic spoon can actually be found in the restaurant owned by my host family. This restaurant, together with the Instituto Superior Tecnológico American College made the spoon become a reality. The aim of this project is to promote local artisan crafts and create environmental awareness. For the 30 trees that were used for the construction of the spoon, 300 new ones were planted in the Paute region. 

 

I would get to know the wooden spoon on my very first day in Paute. After we spent an intense week of “Country Launch” in Quito and Cuenca, I suddenly found myself sitting in the back of a pickup-truck, holding a water filter, a smoke detector and a tiny plant on my lap. My heartbeat quickened with every fellow we dropped off, until it was finally my turn. If you think about it, the whole concept of a host family is a little weird, if not at least scary. You get dropped off with some people you have never met before, but you know you’ll be living with them for seven months. (I realised that is the longest time I’ve ever stayed in one place in the last two years, so for me, seven months is a commitment). But somehow, all my anxiety faded the moment we actually pulled up in front of the restaurant, and I was greeted by my new family: Patrico, Ruth and their daughter Carla. As I would find out later, my host family is bigger than I thought! I also have a host brother, Daniel, who works in the restaurant, another host sister, Fernanda, who also helps out in the restaurant, and another host brother, Xavier, who lives in Spain.
 
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My host family and I, five minutes after we met for the first time

 

The entrance to their apartment came as a little bit of a surprise to me, as in order to get there, you have to pass by the kitchen and the storage hall (and watch out for your head, because the ceiling is very low…) After a delicious meal in the restaurant, we drove out of town, a little up the mountain, to visit the spoon. It is indeed really big, and you can walk on it, which is a lot of fun. They also introduced me to their other projects. As if running a big restaurant isn’t enough, my family also constructed two sustainable houses  (powered by the first solar panels in Paute), which they rent out to tourists and foreigners. Furthermore, they own a company that produces herbs made from plants in the region. They showed me their little “factory”, in which they also offer cooking classes, where a part of the profit goes towards sterilising stray dogs in Paute. I was and still am incredibly impressed by everything they have built up for themselves and their community here, and I’m very excited to live with and learn from these inspiring people in the next seven months. 

 

It’s been three weeks now since my first day here, and it feels like much more time has passed. From the very beginning, Patricio, Ruth, Carla and Dani made me feel like I am a totally natural part of their family, not just a visiting guest. Whenever they would go out to do something – and I soon discovered that this family always has some exciting event to go to – they would take me with them. That’s how I ended up in very interesting places in my very first month in Ecuador: We did go to Cuenca a lot, which is the next biggest city from Paute. Often for shopping trips, where we would buy gigantic loads of groceries for the restaurant and a lot of salt for the herbs factory. But there were also more unusual trips: One evening my host dad spontaneously invited me to join him and my host brother for a TV-interview in a restaurant in Cuenca, and so my host sister and I ended up eating dinner while the other two were being interviewed on live-TV for an hour. (That’s also how I made it onto Ecuadorian TV for the first time :’D The lifestream-people filmed the restaurant, which included me and my host sister eating and trying not to look awkward xD). 

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My host brother and host father being interviewed by Ecuadorian TV about the restaurant

 

On another occasion, we drove to Cuenca to attend “Killa Raymi”, which is the festival of the moon, celebrated by the indigenous Cañari people. My host dad was present as a judge for the best food of the festival, and my host mom and I came along to enjoy the festivities. It was incredibly interesting and inspiring to see this celebration of culture, and to listen to the speeches during the traditional ceremony, reminding us that we all have to stand together to protect our resources and the environment. I also tried “cuy” (guinea pig) for the first time! Cuy is a delicacy in Ecuador, and even though I’m vegetarian, I wanted to taste it as a part of my cultural experience. Apart from the fact that my stomach can’t really take meat anymore, it tasted really good!
 
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Ceremony for Killa Raymi in Cuenca

 

Last week, I skipped work for a day and joined my host mother, her cousin and my host sister for a trip to Guayaquil. This city, located near the coast, is the economic center of Ecuador and very different from the “Sierra”, the Andes mountains region which I am used to. I might dedicate a separate blogpost to this adventure though. 😉 

 

The fact that I was always included in everything and that we experienced so much together in such a short time made it much easier for me to adapt to this new environment – I felt at home very quickly. Especially in the beginning, when I didn’t work yet, we spent many evenings sitting together after dinner, talking about Germany, Ecuador, politics, traveling, and just our views on life. But what I loved most about these first days was how much we laughed together. Because we laughed a lot. I actually managed to make jokes with my broken Spanish, and they loved it. 

 

Even though I am still far from fluency, my Spanish has improved a lot since I arrived. Before coming to Ecuador, I had spend a few hours on Rosetta Stone, our GCY language learning program. But other than that, I literally did not speak or know Spanish. However, I have the advantage of knowing Italian and French.  I also honestly think that my life so far has perfectly prepared me for this experience. I have learned four other languages before this one, so I am used now to just throwing myself into the process. There is no sense of embarrassment anymore, no overthinking of which words I should use. I just speak, I make mistakes, I let the people around me correct me, and I learn. But not only am I learning Spanish, my host family actually asks me to teach them some German from time to time! My host mother started learning German on duolingo, which I find incredibly cute. I already managed to sneak some German vocabulary into our everyday life –  for example, I taught them to say “Gesundheit” when someone sneezes. Sometimes my host mom will also greet me with “Guten Morgen” when I stumble out of my room in the morning. I absolutely love how open and interested my host family are in my culture and my country, and it makes me very happy to share this part of me with them. 

 

Another thing I can’t leave out of this blog post is the fact that I literally live in (or more under) a restaurant. This is a luxury I am slowly getting used to. Almost all our meals come directly from the restaurant’s kitchen, freshly prepared and “delivered” down to our apartment. So food is definitely not a topic I can complain about. The fact that I’m vegetarian (which I worried about a lot before coming to Ecuador) is also not a problem, since my host mother has a lot of dietary restrictions, and they are used to cater for special food needs. My new reality is coming home after work and greeting my host brother who works as a chef in the kitchen, who will then get me some delicious lunch. He always asks what I want to eat and I honestly never know what to say, so he often ends up making me pasta, which I absolutely love. Sometimes I sit in the beautiful backyard of the restaurant, where tropical flowers bloom and hummingbirds are flying around. It’s literally a little paradise, and my favourite place to just watch the birds, write, or study Spanish grammar. 
 
I also started my work two weeks ago! I work in a school for children with special needs here in Paute. Currently, I’m helping out in one of the seven classrooms, which means that I’m looking after the youngest students. There are five students in my class, and my daily tasks include going to the bathroom with them, helping them to paint/draw/use scissors/eat, or running after one of them and stopping her from putting things into her mouth or destroying something. It’s exhausting work, but the majority of the kids are incredibly sweet. I also have a lot of respect for my colleagues, who always manage to stay calm and kind, no matter how annoying or problematic the behaviour of a child is. I started this job with no previous experience in special needs education, which means that I have a lot to learn. But that’s also why I’m very excited for the next months!
 
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My school on the national day of the Ecuadorian flag

 

As you can see, my life here is filled with everyday adventures and new experiences. I’m slowly learning how to navigate the public transport system, I’m discovering new parts of Cuenca everytime I visit (which I do a lot), I try new fruits whose names I can’t pronounce, I try to say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible, and for a month now, I’ve just been genuinely happy. <3

 

 

 

Annika Kapp