“To move is to travel. To be moved is to open one’s heart… The landscape, re-envisioned through travel, is transferred to become a moving personal commitment of love. Traveling ideas often stimulate us in just this way”
“We see the landscapes we know in relation to other places; we are moved to change how we think at both local and global scales”
“Social movements – including movements to preserve rural landscapes – grow from traveling forms of activism as well as the transformation of consciousness”
Anna Tsing, Friction, Ch. 6: Movements.
I began traveling in Ecuador during the summer of 2010. Throughout my time volunteering, I was based at the cusp of the Amazon Basin and the Andes Mountains. On the way there, I passed through three different ecosystems; clouded highland pastures, luscious forestry with waterfalls streaming down from cliffs into valleys, the deep green fullness of the horizon after the last turn on the mountain. During my stay, I claimed the top bunk with a view of the river where I bathed everyday with the villagers. I found myself collecting plants and food most days in the old growth forest that surrounds the community. This landscape was not the one I imagined when I read about dams in Brazil or the oil pits in Ecuador; this landscape is a community, a respected resource, a way of life.
The sign reads “Comunidad Campo Cocha 500 meters” with an arrow pointing to the left and a painting of a palm tree, the river and a home. I arrive following my weekend reporting back to my friends and family in New York and meeting fellow travelers in the area. After an hour of curvy dirt roads on a bus, I am relieved to move a bit and to see who is walking along the pathway. Usually a family or two go by, individuals; children by themselves or with siblings join me on my walk, even if they were heading the other way. I am greeted with open right hands, no shaking, no grasp. “Alli Punga”, “Alli Tuta” “Alli Shishi.” I am laughed at if I confuse the time of day. I approach the court in front of the school, always my first stop when I get back. Either the children pull me to the river or I am asked to join a game of frisbee or basketball. I prefer swimming and join the children often after thinking about how much sleep I need before I hike to my host family’s finca or join the other volunteers who will be collecting cacao.
After a long day harvesting cacao with Don Louis, I waded into the water. The sand transitioned into smooth rocks; the rippling drift felt good on my sticky skin. It had rained earlier on our way to the finca, and the rest of the day was humid and invited a variation of insects. I felt relieved to rinse myself of sweat and nectar as I fully submerged in the river. Don Louis had brought me to the convergence of the Arajuno and Napo Rivers. He described the characteristics of the water, the Arajuno, where we had come from as murky, shallow and warm. The Napo River that connects to the Amazon River was cold, wide and deep. I sat in the water, floated my arms, and felt the rivers collide. With the warmth and coolness of both rivers, converging on my body, I breathed in the air, listened to the rustling of the water, and felt peace. I began to feel myself connecting to this place. I felt alive in my surroundings. I felt the connection that the Kichwa people have with their land, the embrace of Pachamama, belonging to the earth, a feeling of respect and gratitude, of fullness. I turned to Don Louis who was lounging on the bank playing with sand crickets and smiling. I was thankful that he shared this place where I could feel the spirit of the earth and that he welcomed me to experience his home.
Living within this beautiful landscape, among communal resources, spaces, and experiences made me feel connected while I was there. Traveling to Ecuador and this landscape created in me a “personal commitment of love.” To experience a place that is vulnerable to exploitation and to witness the everyday life of a community that has a story of struggle does not conjure feelings of disgust and anger; instead, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to respect and understand a place that has opened my heart. I am also moved to participate in building the capacity of communities, including Campo Cocha, to develop environmentally sustainable economies through global networks that are weaved together by activism and hope.
While Campo Cocha is a rural landscape with a localized culture and way of life, it is also a space of global interactions. As a sociology student, my awareness of globalization allows me to observe how the community is connected at a global scale; non-government organizations, environmental conservation projects; sustainable tourism; even the use of facebook by the youths in Campo Cocha and methods of communication are interdependent with alter-globalization—a social movement that depends upon interaction. These are examples of a shifting paradigm, a “transformation of consciousness,” towards sustainable development and alternative global relations and policies; mobilized by those who enter the landscape of moving ideas with open hearts, activism and the ambition to travel.