CREATIVE TRAVEL TIP: Volunteer your services at a local cafe for a day, or maybe not…
It seemed like a brilliant idea at first. I would volunteer to work a shift at the famous Sambuca Cafe in Vilcabamba Ecuador! I would craft healthy, green juices for famous raw foodies like David Wolfe and Matt Monarch. I would gracefully take orders sporting my Ecuadorian apron with a glitter in my smile and a gleam in my eye. There was a clear vision of myself prepping a massive meal for 20–peaceful, calm and filling my food creations with love. The day would be rich with experience, and you would love me for taking on a day of grunt work while on my extended vacation–for the purpose of guerilla journalism. Here is what led up to my plan…
1. Sambuca Cafe has brought me good luck. Many synchronicities occurred here during the month we’ve spent in Vilcabamba. The most notable was landing a fairy cottage rental on our first day in town. We happened to meet just the right people there who offered us a great home that I appreciate every day.
2. Sambuca Cafe has fed me well. My first wholesome Vilcabamba meal happened here. I also purchased my first bit of organic produce at their little neighboring storefront that sells the bounty from their very own organic garden.
3. Sambuca Cafe’s owners, Raul and Ismar, are cool and down to earth. We warmed up to Raul quickly and he invited us to visit his farm. Raul actually picked up our whole family plus our neighbors and took us to tour his superb, meticulous organic farm. I interviewed him on camera and will be posting the video of his farm soon. A restaurant that serves food from its own organic farm is definitely my kind of place!
4. Sambuca Cafe is centrally located making it a good meeting place in Vilcabamba. The cafe is situated on a prominent corner of the town square, a stone’s throw from the central church. It also hosted a slew of raw food rockstars during the recent Raw Food Gathering earlier this year (2010) which hoisted it’s reputation to that of legend (at least if you are looking through the lens of raw food internet research).
5. John and I just sold our restaurant, The Tango Tea Room, in Texas and perhaps I was feeling a bit nostalgic. I never really worked too much in our own restaurant (as I ran the retail side of the business), but I enjoy being around the restaurant industry–a throwback to college days, I guess. Here in Vilcabamba I thought, “What the heck, let’s experience the underbelly of the Ecuadorian cafe–run by a Mexican ex-pat”. That’s not something you do everyday.
I like this restaurant, but I’m not trying to imply that Sambuca Cafe is the best restaurant in the world or anything. This is not really some kind of traveler’s review. I just appreciate healthy, organic food in a place where I can meet up with friends and simultaneously support kind people who are trying to make a difference in their community.
After our trip to Raul’s farm, he kindly allowed me to volunteer to work a shift the next day for my very important journalism purposes. Poor Raul. He thought I was doing him some sort of favor…
MY PARTY FOULS WHILE WORKING AT SAMBUCA CAFE
It’s 11:30AM and I arrive at the restaurant eager to be the assistant of Diana, a young Ecuadorian girl who has been working there over a year. I wipe tables, set out menus, then wash dishes. I become paranoid that I might break a plate which, of course, leads me to…break a plate! Party foul #1.
I peel potatoes and I dice garlic. I take an order from my gringo friends and promptly offer to the kitchen staff to make the guacamole. With Mexican blood pulsing through my veins, I am capable of making some killer guac. Of course, I have to follow their recipe, not mine, (too bad for them ) but the customers are quite satisfied with my avocado creation.
I take another order. Party foul #2. I swear they said two pizzas. They only want one. Crap. Raul offers me the mistake pizza which is fine with me because I have worked up quite an appetite after working a whole hour of strenuous labor. I sit down to eat the yummy cheese bread with my gringo friends.
Time to get back to work. Ooooh. Another guacamole order. “I’ll do it!” I think I’m getting the hang of this. I cut the avocado. I scoop out the meat and mash it up with the bits of tomato I just cut. Hmmm. Let’s add more tomato…
I reach into a wooden crate, snatch my tomato, and as I am bringing my hand up I deeply pierce the outside of my thumb into a nail facing downwards on the lip of the crate. I pull my hand up to examine the damage and blood spurts out from the punctured vein in my thumb. My brain remembers that this is the type of scenario that usually causes me to faint. I drop my tomato. ”SHIT!”
I sit there holding my finger like an idiot waiting to be rescued. I’m simultaneously tripping out over the severity of my wound and the fact that I just got blood on the kitchen floor (which I find extremely offensive in any kitchen). Fortunately, Raul and his wife whisk in like super heroes bringing me a napkin, some alcohol, and a bit of comfort to help my dazed self walk to a chair.
Being the conscious (former) restaurant owner, I try to be discreet in front of the customers. I keep my hands down while slinking through the diners. As I emerge from the restaurant with bloody hands, there is my sweet husband, video camera in hand and pointed straight at me filming, as I wobble out and fling myself on a chair. Before I went to work that morning I had asked him to stop by mid-shift to document my Ecuadorian restaurant adventures. It was at this moment that he scored the money shot.
“TURN IT OFF, I’m serious, turn that camera off!” I growled under my breath as I giggled at my predicament. It took him a while to notice that there was blood all over my hands. Then everyone fawned over me and I felt much better. :)
“YOU BEEN HERE TWO HOURS! NO PAY, JUST GO!”
“I broke a plate, I wasted a pizza, and I got blood on your floor!” I whined. “Do you want me to pay for it?”
Raul asked if I needed to go to the hospital and then suggested I just go ahead and go home. I don’t blame him. He told me not to worry about that stuff. I wanted to be a trooper and stay, but as I looked down at the bloody napkin I kinda had to agree. I apologized profusely, but Raul and Ismar, just kindly scoffed at me and said they were sorry that I injured myself. I ran inside and cleaned up the evidence of my battle wounds. I said goodbye to the kitchen staff. I wondered if they were glad that I was out of there.
All in all, I guess the basic premise of any restaurant is to do right by the customers and get their good food out in a timely manner. I’m sorry to say that there was nothing romantic for me about working at an organic restaurant in Ecuador. It’s still the same old the restaurant industry, and apparently I really suck at it now. I’m glad I did it, but I think the universe it telling me to try another profession. When it comes to cafes, my most useful role is being that customer that camps out for hours nursing cold coffee and sucking up free wi-fi.
I greatly appreciate Raul and Ismar for allowing this elephant into their china shop. If you ever find yourself in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, I urge you to stop by and tell them I sent you! You can be confident that the produce comes from an immaculate garden and will nourish you well. And as long as I avoid working there, their kitchen should be relatively sanitary to inspire confidence. I will do Sambuca a greater service if I return as a customer for more of their yummy Mexican and organic cuisine and not offer to do them any more favors!
My final favor to Sambuca Cafe: Look for the mini-documentary with Raul from Sambuca Cafe in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He will show you his fantastic organic garden wonderland–Coming Soon.
TALK TO ME! Do you like this story? Do you disagree? I over-reacted, didn’t I?
Here’s a map of Vilcabamba, Ecuador. Have Fun!