So if you ever have to choose between "green banana ball" and "chicken" for your first lunch course in Ecuador, definately go for the local tradition. To call my Spanish "sketchy" would be a gross overexaggeration, so I'm not exactly sure what it was I ate. Let's just say it was a delicious surprise.
Which sort of typified our trip. It seemed like at every turn there was a little something pleasantly unexpected. We stayed at a great hostel with small cabanas run by a Belgian woman who was married to a local indigenous man. She turned out to be a wonderfully hospitable French cook! We were well fed and healthy which was great for all of us, but especially for Gayle who had anticipated primarily eating Luna bars. The only down side was the traveling "local news" broadcast every morning at 6:00 am over a bull horn from a village pickup truck.
Our travelling companions, Liisa (the Finnish college professor who has been researching the area for a decade and is writing a book on the region) and Jason (the grad student-translator-driver who we wanted to just put in our pocket and take home with us) were invaluable. Liisa's relationships with the producers allowed us immediate access to the people we needed to talk with. I was utterly flaborgasted at what we saw and who we met. Who knew that there would be functioning jeans producing workshops with industrious, creative, ingenuous people at the helm! They have an association of the registered producers who we were fortunate enough to meet with. Their collaborative competition was a new take on capitalism for us and was a welcomed surprise. Most everyone is related in some way and so no matter how much they are in competition, they really seem to be looking out for one another. After meeting at length with producers and visiting the workshops it became apparent that they are already doing fair trade. Subsequently, their prices are higher and therefore cannot compete in the US with (sweatshop?) jeans offered at significantly lower prices. Also, input from a US designer (Gayle), was invaluable to them. I was afraid they might eat her with a spoon. It was great.
So what now? We were not exactly anticipating the quality, productive capabilities, fair trade bent and willingness to export that we found. We've got a whole new set of questions to answer. In addition to pow-wowing with the World Next Door team and researching the next level of detail, we're going to need to start looking for investors if this thing is going to be a go. We're looking forward to exploring the next steps!