A few days ago, I was telling another volunteer about my plans to venture deep into the very rural Intag Valley.  I know that it is easy to take a bus into the valley from the north.  But I wanted to see if it was possible to take a bus and explore the valley from the south.  After an exhausting amount of research, I only knew the names of a few pueblos I wanted to visit, but I wasn’t able to locate them on a map, nor was I able to confirm any actual bus routes.  So, in reality, I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know how I was going to get there, and I certainly had no reservations for sleeping accommodations since I didn’t know where I would end up.  And my Spanish is barely passable.  But in my heart, I knew it was going to be beautiful and worth the effort.  
She said, “You’re very brave.”
I responded, “I have to trust that the Universe is watching out for me.  I’ll be OK.” 
“I don’t believe in the Universe,” she retorted.
And for the first time in this crazy journey, I realized that I do.  After all that has happened to me in the past two years of my life, I have to believe that I’m here for a purpose and that I’ll come out the other end richer for the experience, a little bruised and bug bitten, but smiling just the same.
The Universe was definitely on my side during this adventure.  Here is my story.
6:30 am – I took the bus from Mindo and reminded the driver three times that I wanted to get off at Nanagalito.  He remembered, and I was dropped off onto a much more busy thoroughfare than I expected.  I bought some “recharge” for my phone data (which ended up doing me no good since there is no service available in all of Intag Valley), some water, a bread roll and asked a policeman about the bus to Nanegal.  
7:30 am – After standing at the bus stop for a few minutes, a vendor pushing his cart of eggs stopped and asked the various people at the stop where they were going.  He got on his phone, yelled at someone to hurry, and in 2 minutes a “taxi” showed up and ushered all of us into it.  Apparently, we were sharing the cost of the ride to Nanegal.  The other passengers were dropped off within minutes, and it was just me and the driver, Enrique.  As he drove the windy road down into the valley, he answered all my questions about the sugar cane industry, the forests, and the climate of the cloud forest.  He also assured me that there was definitely a bus from Nanegal onto the next town, Garcia Moreno, at 1:00pm.
8:00 am – I pay my $5.00 and thank Enrique for the ride, then turn my attention on this sweet, but little dusty town of Nanegal.  Immediately, a man says in perfect English “Where are you from?”.  He’s as surprised to see another Gringo as I am.  Turns out, he’s a retired ex-pat from Germany and after chatting awhile, he agrees that I can complete my bus trip, but it will be “complicated”.  The first problem is getting out of this town.  He walks me across the street and proceeds to ask 5 guys sitting on a park bench for the time of the bus. 
Two said 3:00 pm.
One said 3:30 pm.
Two more said 5:00 pm.
I ask if there are any hotel accommodations in Garcia Moreno.  “Maybe.”
So there’s my answer.  
Then he introduces me to Sylvia, a restaurant owner, who is happy to make me a yummy breakfast of eggs, patacones (fried bananas), and juice.  Over breakfast, they tell me I should spend my day at the Piragua Waterfall nearby and Sylvia is happy to store my big backpack for me while I go off and explore. 
I ask Sylvia what time the bus comes.  4:00 pm.  Definitely.
So, I spend the day at the beautiful waterfall. Watch many families swim and enjoy their time together.  I talk to a few of them.  I study my Spanish vocabulary.  I take a nap.  Finally, it’s time to return to town.
2:00 pm – Sylvia serves me a great lunch of vegetable soup, an unrecognizable protein, rice, salad and more juice.  We chat for an hour.  No bus.
3:30 pm- A bus pulls up and I ask the driver.  No, he’s not going on to Garcia Moreno.  I have to wait longer.
So, I sit in the park, and have a wonderful discussion with an old-timer of the village.
5:00 pm- I’m finally on the bus to Garcia Moreno.  It’s dark here by 6:30, so now I’m rolling into the next town in the dark, with only a slight hope that there will be a bed waiting for me there.
7:30 pm- The bus takes its final turn into the town of Garcia Moreno and smack into the middle of a volleyball game and dance on a big stage with pounding music.  It’s a festival, which means I can hide into the crowd and stick out as the only Gringa in town all at the same time.  I stood for a moment watching the volleyball game, before I realized I was the only woman doing so.  It’s good to heed these cultural signs, so I slowly backed away and went into a bread store to ask a woman about accommodations.  Turns out, the family next door runs a boarding house, and yes, she has one single bed left for one night.  5 more minutes later, I was eating yummy pizza in their makeshift pizza stand in the plaza and enjoying a conversation with the whole family.
The Universe. 
For my $10, the room came with clean sheets, and the music speaker blasting across the entire plaza was only 15 feet from my head.  Bonus!  It was especially great when the music started again at 6:00 am!
In the morning, as I was surveying the plaza in the daylight, I noticed a road sign pointing to El Rosal.  That’s one of the pueblos I wanted to find!  How far away is it?  15 minutes by taxi!  It’s so close!  So the woman at the boarding house agrees to stow my big backpack for the day and her husband rustles a kid with a car out of bed and tells him to drive me up there. 
The Universe.
El Rosal is a tiny community of 19 families isolated high in this hills of the Intag Valley.  Years ago, the women formed their own cooperative to make natural soaps and shampoos.  The men of the community rightly figured out that life was a lot better when their wives were equal partners, and they decided to support the women’s efforts as well as start their own coffee cooperative, which now is highly acclaimed across international markets.  This amazing community model has gotten the attention of others, and now they welcome guests for eco-tourist tours and overnight stays in their homes.  
I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived without reservations at 8:30 in the morning.  As luck would have it, many of the community members were standing in the road saying goodbye to a group of tourists who had spent the previous night.  So when I arrived and introduced myself, they welcomed me to their village and decided that a few of them could make the time that day to give me a private tour.  And as long as I’m here, would I like to have breakfast with them?  
The Universe.
After an amazing breakfast, Franklin and Mery took me off to their house to show me how they lived from the land.  Franklin is very interested in living sustainably with the land and he takes great joy in propagating fruit trees and orchids of all varieties to add to the biodiversity of his space on Earth.  Luckily words like epiphytes and sustainability are latin based and similar in both English and Spanish.  I fully understood and enjoyed my conversation with him and I loved spending the morning on his farm.
Franklin welcomed me with a smile
Franklin and Mery’s land
They had three pens of cuys to eat and sell. 
Maize is an important food source for the families and the chickens
Then, Franklin took me to meet Rameo, and teach me about their coffee cooperative.  Soon, I had a bucket around my waist and was picking ripe berries from the coffee tree.  We washed them, picked through them, broke the bean out of the shell in a mill, and laid them out in their plastic greenhouse to dry.  Just like in a cooking show, they already had other beans in various stages of drying so we used them and continued the process of making coffee. 

First we sorted the best quality beans and roasted them in a little hand roaster 
on the stove.  
Finally, we ground the beans and put them into a modern 4-cup coffee maker.  
As it was dripping, they turned to me and asked if I drink coffee.  (If you know me well, you’ll know I was wilting about now.  No.  I hate coffee.  I’ve commonly equated it to black sludge.  It’s too bitter.  I need up to 5 teaspoons of sugar to get it down my throat.  But, I just made coffee fresh from a tree.  Ofcourse I have to try it!)
I say, “I don’t drink coffee very often.  But I’d like to try it.”
And it was delicious.  Sweet.  Nutty.  Fresh.  No sugar needed.  No bitterness.  Amazing!
Next, Germania joined us and took me off to the field to harvest some aloe.  Then we went to the beautiful new “laboratory” of their soap cooperative where she told me all about how the women of the community started this project.     

We filleted the skin off the aloe, and boiled it
on the stove with other natural ingredients.

She strained it.
And we poured it into molds.  Then I had to buy some!

By this time, everyone was gathering for lunch together and I met some more of the community members over some chicken soup and a plato of beans and rice made by Leonila.

45 minutes later, I paid them for my tour and was walking back down the road toward Garcia Moreno with hands full of goodies, some bought, some bestowed.  I promised them I’d return someday soon and bring more friends with me.  I’m so lucky I found them.  
The Universe. 
Two hours later, I did catch a bus out of Garcia Moreno heading into the more populated parts of the valley in the north.  One last night at a hot springs to swim under the stars rounded out my latest adventure in Intag Valley- my most favorite part of Ecuador!