Return To Guayaquil

Traveling The Panama Canal Part 14

A Ceiba tree. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

With my husband, Fred Rowland, I traveled on a cruise ship through the Panama Canal with many stops along the way. The 15-day cruise ended in San Antonio, Chile. We worked our way by bus, plane and car to Cuenca, Ecuador where we spent over two weeks. This installment picks up on our second day in Guayaquil.

The reason for our return to Guayaquil, the city we flew in to and where we spent a night on our way to Cuenca, was to visit a beautiful farm and distillery owned by the company that is the global leader in essential oils, Young Living. We waited until the company reopened tours after a long holiday break and went back to Guayaquil, only to learn the tours were cancelled due to thick mud caused by heavy rains the day before.

Shady, a young Ecuadorian woman who sat beside me on a flight 18 days earlier on her way to visit her parents in Guayaquil, had offered to show us around if we returned to the city and if the timing was right. After receiving an email from me, Shady called early the second and last day of our brief visit to her city. A little while later, she picked us up in her father’s car and we set out to the essential oils company office, which was located inside the city. I bought a bottle of peppermint oil and told the woman who waited on me how disappointed we were after traveling thousands of miles, only to find the tours were canceled. She made a call and arranged for us to have a private tour. We were ecstatic as we set off for the drive to the farm. My husband is the one who got us involved in the essential oils and uses about one and a half times as many as I do, so he was looking forward to the tour as much as I was. Shady had lived most of her life in Guayaquil and had never heard of the company and knew nothing about essential oils, but that was about to change.

The company always locates their farms away from the pollution of cities, so we had a bit of a ride to the rural community of Chongon. As we got closer to our destination, we turned onto a dirt road where we met a man who was driving a grader and who was scraping the muddy road in an attempt to make it passable. We could see he had been working for quite a while and later realized he was with the company we were on our way to visit.

We had been watching for the Young Living Academy, a school started by D. Gary Young, the company’s founder. Building a school became a priority after he saw children hanging around a small one-story building, which he learned was a makeshift school with a volunteer teaching the children. It was exciting to actually see the school Gary had been so passionate about and which had a 100 percent graduation rate. Our final destination was a few miles down the road.

The view from the top. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

When we reached the 2,000-acre property, a man at the gate told us we had a ten-minute drive on the freshly scraped driveway. Shady was careful to stay to the right of a muddy ridge that went down the middle of the very long dirt stretch. We now understood why the tours had been canceled.

We were greeted by Angel Cambas, a medical assistant at the company’s Nova Vita Health Spa, who was a graduate of the first class at the Academy which had just 12 students. He answered my questions about the school saying there are 24 students in the current senior class. The Academy has a total enrollment of 400 students from Pre-K through twelfth grade. Each student receives an organic breakfast and lunch with the price based on an amount the parents can afford.

Angel showed us to the distillery, which had been moved there from Cuenca in 2008, where it had been operated with two 500-liter cookers. Today this particular Young Living distillery houses three 15,000-liter cookers and five 500-liter cookers. They also have a gas chromatograph machine in the lab to test the purity of the oils. Pressure is applied to plants causing them to sweat and condensate. A portion of the oil is sent upstairs to the lab and then to a lab in Utah. Ylang ylang was distilled on the day we visited and we were able to put our hands in the perfume water leftover from the process.

Ylang ylang is harvested year-round by female workers. Each worker harvests 9-10 kilos of the small lily-shaped flower per day, which is where the essential oil is taken. It has a wonderful fragrance, but the main purpose of the oil is not for the smell. It is for the benefit one gets when using it.

Besides ylang ylang and palo santo, oregano, lemongrass, Doral azul, eucalyptus, both blue and globulus and ocotea are grown there. The company currently buys ocotea from the Amazon region, but is trying to grow it on the Chongon Farm. There are 158 employees at this location with 11 at the spa.

A large tree house built in a Ceiba tree in Chongon, Ecuador. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

We learned it takes 35 years to get oil from a Palo Santo tree, because the tree cannot be cut. It must drop naturally and is left to lay on the ground for four to five years until it is completely dry. It is then chopped and distilled.

As we walked the grounds with Angel, we learned he is currently pursuing an education in medicine, with the goal of becoming a researcher after becoming a medical doctor. We passed the low ylang ylang trees with their drooping branches. He took us past a zipline platform next to a huge treehouse built in a Ceiba tree. On close inspection we saw the tree was covered with thorns.

We were told the thorns start as 3 to 4-centimeter spikes when the tree is young. It was one of the founder’s favorite trees, therefore the students of the Academy planted one in the school yard after he passed away last year.

We climbed the wide stairs leading to the treehouse to find an amazing living space at the top with water, electricity and a flush toilet. The medium-size rooms included a full kitchen, a living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom.

Our tour concluded with a visit to Nova Vita where we were given a glass of green juice made from spinach, celery and cucumber. We spoke with an American business man who was being treated for a medical condition that was hampering him from running his business. He was very excited at the progress he had made since his arrival to the facility a few days earlier.

One of many iguanas found at Parque Seminario in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

As we drove the ten minutes back, over the long driveway, Shady commented that her mother would love the farm and the natural products produced there. We returned to the road where we’d passed the Academy and watched for the tiny building Angel had told us about, the one that had served as a place to gather for the students and the volunteer teacher. We understood why Young felt compelled to build a large building and provide teachers and healthy meals for the students of the rural village.

When we returned to Guayaquil, we had a late lunch and then walked around the Riverwalk area, which consisted of a boardwalk and gardens. Our last stop was at Parque Seminario, or what most refer to as the iguana park. Shady drove into a parking area that was actually a barricaded street. As she approached the only open spot, a spot that was too short for her father’s small car, a lot attendant got into one of the cars, put it into neutral and moved it ahead a few inches, allowing Shady to park behind it. She tipped the man and we were on our way to the park.

The park is located in the middle of city life, but is home to many land iguanas. It was getting dusky, so the spiky animals were hunkered down for the night on and between tree roots, on tree limbs and on the ledge of the pool that held various sizes of turtles and fish. The people of the city embrace the iguanas therefore we were ignored as we walked among them.

When we were about to leave for the airport the next morning, we discovered we had no money for a tip for the maid. I went to the desk to see if they could break a large bill. They could not, so the maid took the money to the bank a few doors down the street as we waited for our taxi. It’s a good idea to carry an envelope of dollar bills when traveling and we each had one when we left home.

Our taxi was prompt, arriving at 12:15, the time we had arranged with the girl at the desk for pick up.

We noticed there was a little more security leaving Guayaquil than when we left Santiago, Chile a few weeks earlier. The $38 flight to Quito took well under an hour.

To be continued.


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