DAY 509 - THE DAMMER FAMILY
Day 509 - Pagulo, Equador - 10152 km
This is perhaps the most inspiring family I have ever met on my travels. The three Ecuadorian Dammer brothers live with their families on a large plot of land just outside of Quito, Ecuadors capital, managing a permaculture farm, an adventure outdoor school and maintain an ultra sustainable way of living. I visited the farm for a day and spend time with the families and their students.
I’m a few days in Quito to rest, so I’m taking a bus to get through the urban sprawl, then a taxi. The driver has a hard time finding the farm but after some calls we are on the right dirt road. Michael Dammer welcomes me. He is known in the bike packing scene for having explored the vast landscapes of the remote Ecuadorian Andes and beyond by bicycle. His brothers are seasoned cyclists as well, but don’t bother much with social media, through which is how I got to know Michael. Many of the mountain bike routes on bikepacking.com are discovered and mapped out by them. Reading about their exceptional way of living I was even more interested to visit their place. They were just preparing for a 3-week expedition in the mountains with their 18 students, who are on the farm for a semester. Before they would take off, I was invited to do a Q&A with the students about my travels.
Father Francisco Dammer (German) settled in Ecuador about 40 years ago and bought the farm, back then a regular corn and dairy farm. Michael, Mathias and Wouter have all been born and grown up on the farm, but have meanwhile lived and studied abroad. Michael has worked as mountain guide in Vancouver. Through the years the farm has been developed to an organic and permaculture farm, trying to be as efficient and thoughtful as possible regarding the use of resources, fertilisation, waste treatment and minimising carbon footprint. Not only as a way of farming, but also a way of living.
It looks like they could completely live from the resources of the farm. Cows, horses, chickens, sheep and alpacas roam and graze freely around the various fields. From the milk they make cheese and butter, Matias keeps bees from which they have honey and bees wax, to wax their self made leather goods. They also make their own cutlery and knives, mostly for outdoor use.
It’s all family employed and managed. There’s other Ecuadorian families working on the farm that have been there for generations. The experience and knowledge of the land is shared and respected.
Michael shows me around. Via a narrow cobble stone path we walk towards the first house where brother Mathias lives with his partner Marcea and 6 year old daughter. They all have their own piece of land where they have built their own house and workshop.
Mathias welcomes me with a big smile. He wears a long thin beard and a Bolivian hat. The house is exceptional. Everything is custom made from wood and stone and bamboo from the land nearby. A true work of art, crafted with the utmost love and care. In the middle of the living room is a swing. A wooden staircase that looks like a tree that has been there forever, spirals up to the first floor. No corner is straight. For 6 years they have lived in a tent, also self made, while they built the house and worked on the farm.
We walk further over the hills to Michaels home. His partner Marcela is taking the youngest out of the bath. They have two children and are slowly growing out of their house. It was the first house built on the farm, in a time when there were no family plans yet. All of the houses are a similar style, with their own unique, personal features. It seems like all of the three brothers are equally talented and gifted.
Michael pours me coffee while we talk about bikes and far journeys. On the porch the little toddler tries to catch a big spider, right on the edge of the platform. I ask Michael if he’s not afraid that he would fall off the edge. “No, he knows already he shouldn’t fall,” Mathias answers without looking up. On the sofa two children are reading a book together, I keep mixing up who are who’s children. They participate in everything; the work on the farm, the bicycle trips, they meet the students and travellers that come from all over the world and visit. You can imagine how much further ahead they are from their peers at school who see the world through tv and tablets.
I wonder how it is to live together, so close-knit as families. How much privacy is there? Michael tells me it has a lot of advantages. All of the families have more than enough space for themselves, the houses are about 10 minutes walking from each other. At the same time they can take care of each others children if they want to travel or visit the city. There seems to be a very healthy social balance and collaboration.
As a way of sharing their style of living they set up an outdoor adventure school some years ago. Currently they have a group of 18 students at the farm for a semester, where they learn the permaculture style of living and surviving in the outdoors with the resources locally available. Accomodation and all of the required gear is available on the farm, including bicycles, kayaks, climbing gear, backpacks and cooking equipment.
Today they are preparing for a 3-week adventure through the Andes — hiking, biking, rafting and camping. The past weeks they have learned about growing their food and dehydrate it, which makes it lightweight so they can pack healthy food for many days. They’ve also made their own knives and spoons. Proudly they show off their hand crafted tools to me. And it doesn’t stop there, even their clothes for the journey they had to make themselves. The school has a longterm relation with Tatoo, one of the largest outdoor brand in Ecuador. This gives them the opportunity for the students to work on their own clothing line in the factory, where they learned to sew and stitch the garments. All in all a highly versatile and varied education program with a healthy dose of fun and adventure.
It’s an incredibly eager and dedicated group of young people (age 16-18), which shows in an incident where a few of the group had let themselves go a bit with alcohol on one of the nights (haven’t we all been there). As a ‘punishment’ they had to spends three days and nights alone in a place in the forest with only a sleeping bag and water, no food. This sounded a bit cruel to me at first, but Michael explained that they actually liked the idea of doing this and wanted to do it. Michael has done it himself as well and explained that your body is going through some interesting stages. You become much more aware of what’s happening around you. I was there when the 4 students returned from their ‘purgatory’. They were welcomed and hugged by the entire group and to me looked somehow exceptionally rested and relieved.
“Our main objective is to offer our children and students a space to experience and learn through permaculture, adventure sports, and wilderness living, and it is our hope that they may take us by the hand and help us, and themselves, expand our potential as human beings.”
In the evening I showed my film “One Year on a Bike” to the students. We talked for hours about long term travelling, cycling, camping — they couldn’t stop asking questions. Before 10 all of us went to bed. Breakfast preparation and daily chores would start at 6. I slept in a guest room above the cow milking room. At dawn it was crisp and sunny when I arrived at the communal building. The students were gathered in a circle in the outdoor kitchen, singing a ritual song in a language I didn’t understand, as a way of being thankful for the food. Breakfast was served: fresh fruit, yoghurt, pancakes with jam and peanut butter, the latter locally made which got scooped from a big white bucket.
After Michael and the group left for their expedition I had a chat and some tea with Nicole, Thomas’ partner, in their beautiful house. She shows me her own medicinal product line which she sells in shops in Ecuador. I just couldn’t stop being surprised and inspired of the versatility of this place and the people, in what they make and do and how they creating a living together. A minimalist style of living, but at the same time such an abundance of joy in creating beautiful things.