While working on assignment in Ecuador for three weeks, the base of operations for the National Geographic Bat Echo team was the Ferbola Organic Farm, Susudel in the Andes of southern Ecuador. Upon our arrival, we were greeted enthusiastically by Maria and Rodrigo Moscoso who help run the farm, along with their son Fernando and daughter-in-law Ximena. The young couple have a happy little guy named Yaku, the Quechua word for “water.”
Fernando and Ximena have a production facility on the farm where produce is preserved by canning, pickling and drying. They market their products to supermarkets, restaurants, and mail order through their website http://www.susudelorganico.com/en/were-organic. At mealtimes, jars of curiosities were always present for us to sample and enjoy. Merlin’s favorite was pickled agave flower buds, one of many bat-pollinated plants. Ralph and I passed the aji (pepper) sauce back and forth, the hotter the better.
Fernando emptied one of their storage rooms for us to set up our portable studio where the bats were kept for photographing. They even brought in a gas-burning stove to keep our bats nice and toasty. Our hosts were exceptionally accommodating, planning meals around our unusual and unpredictable schedule, at the mercy of bats and flowers. I’m celiac and have to stay away from gluten and wheat. Thoughtful Maria adapted many of her recipes to be gluten-free, by using corn and yucca flour rather than wheat. I never had to resort to my survival bag of gluten-free power bars. The food was always delicious and nutritious.
One night we had a power outage, just as Maria and Rodrigo were about to prepare dinner. Rodrigo lit a kerosene lantern, donned a headlamp and assembled a hand-crank grinder to make homemade corn tortillas. We took turns grinding choclo and queso fresco into a pulp. Choclo was served at every meal, in some form or fashion. It’s a colorful, large-kernel Andean corn that’s chewy and not as sweet as the corn we eat in the States. (Maria and Rodrigo told us they feed our corn to their animals) The batter was ladled onto a piping hot skillet, creating small disks of golden, scrumptious tortillas!
“I have experienced a wide variety of accommodations in dozens of countries over the past 40 years, but never have I been more satisfied with extraordinary hospitality than during our recent 18-day stay at the Ferbola Grania Organica in Susudel, Ecuador. On assignment for National Geographic, my team of four were treated with friendship and assistance far beyond the call of duty by the entire Moscoso family.
“We kept an extremely irregular and unpredictable schedule, but they prepared and served delicious and healthy meals at all hours with nothing but smiles, including popcorn in our studio at one in the morning. They also were unbeatable at solving unexpected problems with our equipment. This is a family we will not forget, and we unconditionally recommend their special hospitality.”–Merlin Tuttle
Our first day at the farm, we went out to look for cactus with buds along the nearby Rio Leon. We noticed a farm along the river with a little banana grove. This was perfect nectar bat territory. We found the owners, Luis Fernando Salazar and Stephanie Sokol, at home and explained what we were doing and asked if we could set up mist nets in their banana grove to try and catch some bats. Both Luis and Stephanie couldn’t have been more hospitable. They even offered Merlin, exhausted from pulling an all-nighter photographing bats, a bed in which to take a nap, while Ralph, Nery and I netted for bats in their banana grove. We caught our first three nectar bats in their grove, two species (Anoura geoffroyi and Glossaphaga soricina).
Luis guided us to all of our best locations for finding the Old Man cactus plants (Espostoa frutescens) in bloom. One of the first things we noticed was that this rare cactus had lost much of its habitat due to agricultural expansion. When we pointed this out to Luis and Stephanie, they enthusiastically took the cuttings from our photography and planted them in an ideal protected area on their property. Now that’s what I call a happy ending to a project–¡Gracias, Amigos!