Neverland Farm is property located in southern Ecuador in the Andes near the tiny village of Tumianuma, a half hour drive from the quaint town of Vilcabamba. I am not sure where to even begin with this particular experience, so I have sectioned it off. This is for travelers alike, so they can get an idea of Neverland before they commit. There is so much potential at Neverland Farm but my experience was not good I’m afraid.
From the coast, it was a 17 hour journey and 4 buses, including an overnight one to get to the town of Vilcabamba. From there, it was one more bus, about half hour to the tiny village of Tumianuma and then a 45 minute hike to get to Neverland Farm. I was in the Andes Mountains again and the scenery was spectacular. I trekked very slowly uphill to the farm hauling my two backpacks, at least 15 kilos on my back feeling exhilarated. I felt privileged to be following this tiny path amidst the jungle, surrounded by luscious green mountains all by myself – such solitude, such freedom.
I found Neverland Farm on a volunteering website called HelpX, as well as online at Neverlandfarm.org. It is described as an egalitarian intentional community implementing organic biodynamic farming practices. This is exactly the opportunity I was looking for. I was eager at the prospect of working within such a community, learning new skills and being surrounded by people with similar visions. My expectations were high for the farm since the website described it as such a magical sustainable community.
A woman named Tina, originally from Virginia runs Neverland Farm. She came to Neverland in 1999. Tina is an interesting person to say the least, she is rather peculiar. She is an intense person, and I got a weird vibe from her. She is constantly telling stories. Myself along with the other volunteers caught her in several senseless lies, so I found myself not trusting her. I am certain she doesn’t even know what the truth is anymore, her reality is completely obscured. Tina herself does not have good energy, such that you would hope to find at an intentional community.
I arrived to find three other volunteers, who welcomed me – Leslie, Sandy (from USA) and Stefan (from Germany). They were fantastic. I met Tina briefly at her house; I didn’t receive much of a run-down of the farm from Tina nor was I shown around at all. I found my accommodation thanks to Stefan. Luckily he had been there for a month and could answer all my questions as Tina wasn’t present.
Neverland farm is a beautiful piece of land but only with a few crops growing – corn and some herbs. There is no coffee or tobacco crops that I was made aware of. It is barely a farm, and certainly not a biodynamic farm as it states. Biodynamic farming “strives to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself.” There is no effort to employ these concepts. There isn’t really much going on in regards to farming. It was the contrary actually. Health was an issue as there was dog and chicken shit everywhere in the common areas. The garden was a mess and hadn’t been attended to in months. There are four goats but no milk. Two horses and a donkey that are used to carry cargo from the village, which is great. There are countless chickens but no eggs. There are definitely no cows like the website states.
Neverland Farm implies that it is an egalitarian intentional community. The intentional community consists of whatever volunteers happen to be there and Tina and Carlos, a long-term Ecuadorian volunteer. There are two paid Ecuadorian workers but they don’t live there. Egalitarianism is “equal access to resources and to decision-making power”. This is not the case at Neverland. Tina tells the volunteers what is for breakfast and dinner, tells them how to cook it even. She is very good at giving orders for the day’s work with little explanation and no tools or gloves given, and even yelling at time at the younger volunteers. Then she goes back to her house. One night her and Carlos actually stood and ate dinner in the kitchen without any acknowledgement while we were all eating right outside at the table. What kind of community is that?
The land itself is gorgeous with fresh water running through it and fruit trees are plentiful – avocados, limes, lemons, oranges as well as others foreign to me. The land that Neverland lies on was originally owned by a man named Johnny Lovewisdom. There are contradicting tales as to what happened after he passed away in 2000. Tina claims to own the land but many say that she does not and she has been simply squatting on the land since 1999. This is one of many stories that seem to surround Tina.
On Neverland’s website it states clearly that “we eat very well”. The diet is full of starch and carbs with very little vegetables. Breakfast is either plain porridge or pancakes (with no egg). Then lunch and dinner is either rice or pasta. Each time we cooked we were told by Tina we made too much, even though leftovers were always eaten. As I said there were plenty of chickens but no eggs as claimed, can’t figure out why. Neverland is trying to have 70% of the food homegrown apparently, but have no idea how as there are barely any crops. Only the fruit and herbs were from the farm, so maybe 20% and that’s pushing it. The food hygiene was bismal as there was chicken shit on the communal kitchen table. My last day I actually got sick, first time I was sick in Ecuador. It was definitely time to leave, even just for self-preservation.
I was expecting to learn about farming and organics and preserving the land. One day I helped tile Tina’s house along with other volunteers, while others organized Tina’s books in her house. Another day I was instructed to plant some beans in the garden but the garden was out of control with weeds and certainly not ready for any planting. This is basic gardening, why would I plant before the garden has had even some basic preparation? So I weeded and cultivated instead. The website mentions such projects as a ‘Brewing Hope’ cafe, an internet place in Tumianuma and teaching at a local school, none of these were prevalent.
There are several different basic dwellings to choose from to sleep in. They are all run-down and filthy. My accommodation had three beds but only one could be used as there was stuff piled up on the others, old dirty blankets, and pillows that seemed to have been there for ages. The mattresses were old, dingy and in bad shape. There was no effort whatsoever to clean or tidy the rooms until Tina was forced to as there were more volunteers coming, and she had to make room. Even then, clean sheets weren’t even used. I was thankful that I at least had my own mosquito net. Tina charges $50/week for “clean linens, candles, gas, food”. This charge is too high in my opinion for the condition of the farm and the food provided, that’s $7/day! You can eat at an Ecuadorian restaurant for that price. I realize it’s supposed to be a donation but again where is the money going when everything is so run-down and disorganzied!?
The composting toilet wasn’t being used. The ‘normal’ toilet only had half a structure around it, so there was no privacy when going to the bathroom. I asked Tina about it and she blamed someone in the past for it, which made no sense. We, the volunteers had a system of whistling while on the loo to signal it was busy. And again that was filthy too.
The kitchen was its own dwelling and nice enough with space to prepare food. It had gas burners to cook on. Again though, it was really dirty until one of us cleaned it. The level of hygiene was appalling, and I am not one to be fussy but it was definitely unsanitary. The shower is outdoor with a nice stone wall around it and it’s nice and hot. However, it had’t been cleaned either in ages and there was rubbish in it. It was also quite low so I had to crouch (as I’m quite tall, 5’11) to get any privacy.
THE ‘FIELD TRIP’
I arrived on a Thursday and was told by Tina, there was a field trip the next day. The four volunteers and then four Ecuadorians (one of them who worked for Neverland) were going to see a ‘curadero’, a bone healer as Stefan needed his arm looked at. It was a great experience.
We rode in the back of the pick up to a small town then walked for a while following this trail along the river to come to this modest but lovely home of the curadero.
We were showed around the land by the curadero’s brother, all the different crops and fruit trees. It was a clear time of day and the scenery was spectacular.
The curadero, looked at Stefan’s wrist. He put cream on it, readjusted it, twirled it, shifted it, slapped it. It was a unique thing to witness. Stefan’s wrist did feel better after the fact – amazing. We stopped for a late lunch. Us volunteers were told firmly by Tina that we were to pay for the taxi all day as well as for everyone’s lunch. I am not sure why this was necessary when two of the Ecuadorians were seeking the healer as well. We felt like it was perpetuating the fact that locals think Gringos have tons of money, when in fact we, the volunteers don’t. It was no big deal but unnecessary for sure.
The ‘field trip’ was wonderful. The three volunteers I mentioned were fantastic. Hanging with them made my experience worthwhile and tolerable. We laughed a lot! And it was not just me with these feelings about Neverland Farm; we were all on the same page with Tina and Neverland.
The surroundings were beautiful. The stars were sensational. Birds were everywhere. The dogs were adorable. It was a great experience to ‘live’ that remote and basic amidst the jungle in the Andes, even for the short time. I was glad to be at Neverland over the weekend of Carnaval and had enough time away from the farm to enjoy Carnaval, and even then I had had enough after 6 days. I had to leave due to self-preservation, originally I planned to stay for at least two weeks.