By Lisha Yakub ’12
Arriving at the ecolodge Casa Mojanda on a late March evening was the start to a revolutionizing experience. My anticipated gain from Hofstra Law’s spring-break field study program in Otavalo, Ecuador, was to get a peek into some environmental law issues and enjoy a break from the cold New York weather. However, what I left with was an overwhelming connection to our environment and a full understanding of the importance of making the most of nature around us.
The full immersion into the Ecuadorian lifestyle highlighted some major differences between how Americans and Ecuadorians perceive nature. In the classroom we were instructed that the Western view is that nature is something to fight against and that we must prepare ourselves for it. However, the Ecuadorians view nature as something that must be respected and worked with. Learning this philosophy in Ecuador really drove the point home. I could see firsthand how the people of Ecuador truly embrace the good and bad of nature and make it part of their everyday lives.
In addition to time in the classroom, each day we had access to many ancillary activities which gave meaning to everything we had been learning. Exploring the ecolodge, created by BEttI SacHS ’78, was one of the most valuable experiences. Ms. Sachs took great pride in every part of the lodge, and that was evident in every inch.
I was most drawn to the stables. Ms. Sachs has created a wonderful environment for her horses, where they are free to live outside and roam the hillside. While staying at Casa Mojanda, we had the opportunity to take the horses out and explore the surrounding mountainside. I had the rare opportunity of riding a paso horse. This breed is native to the Andean region, and they thrive in the high altitude and climate of Otavalo.
Riding through the neighboring farms and seeing which crops provided the best livelihood for the local Ecuadorians was invaluable. The crops stayed true to the native produce, mostly maize, avocados and tree tomatoes. We could also see a type of turnover farming which rotated areas of use so that all of the land was not in the same phase of farming at one time. One piece may have just been harvested, while the other was recently planted. This puts less of a strain on the environment by conserving resources. Growing native produce also reduces the strain on the environment by not introducing foreign species into the ecosystem. Seeing firsthand how the Ecuadorians lived off the land was a good reminder of how important the land is to Ecuadorians and that it must be used in ways that ensure its conservation.
After a week of exploring Ecuador, on horseback and in the classroom, the lesson was clear — make the most of resources naturally occurring in one area, and resist the urge to combat natural surroundings by importing items that are not native to the area.