A year ago today I left on a journey of a lifetime to a country I have only dreamed years of visiting. I boarded a plane in Boston with 12 others and jetted off to Ecuador. Our professor had told us over and over throughout the semester this trip would change our lives and he couldn’t have been more right. Although I have wanted to travel to Ecuador since seventh grade this trip lived up to all my expectations and more.
After a full day of traveling, we finally made it to Quito, Ecuador where we grabbed our bags and loaded the bus to our first stop to the hacienda Pachamama where we got a tour of the hacienda and got to sleep after a long day of traveling.
The next morning we began our first official day in Ecuador. After waking up to a traditional Ecuadorian breakfast we had the opportunity to explore the hacienda and ride the horses the family owned. After an eventful morning at the hacienda, we loaded the busses to Laguna de Quilotoa.
However, on the way, our buss got stuck behind a traditional Ecuadorian Parade. After waiting for the parade, which seemed like forever, our tour guides let us get off the bus and join in the parade. This was our first taste of the culture. It was incredible to be part of their tradition and how we got to interact with the locals who were beyond welcoming and friendly wanting us to join in their celebration. They were dressed in colorful ponchos as they crowding the street, all laughing, drinking and dancing, while others had guitars and drums.
After walking about a mile with the parade we jumped back on the bus and headed to our destination, which was right up the road. Once we arrived at Laguna de Quilotoa, which is one of the many volcanos in Ecuador, we had a quick snack to fuel us before our journey up the volcano. The catch was in order to climb the volcano we first had to climb down it, which took about thirty minutes walking down: the very steep volcano. The view from the top was absolutely beautiful. Once we got to the bottom we took a breather before making the journey to the top.
Laguna de Quilotoa.
While others decided to rent donkeys to the top some of us chose to walk up the volcano. This was honestly one of the most physically and mentally demanding challenges I have ever decided to accomplish. Since the air was so thin and the volcano was so steep it was very hard to climb. Most of the journey up I had to walk sideways because you physically could not walk straight up. At times I thought I was going to pass out or puke and I took more breaks then expected, but I made it! It was such an accomplishment to say, “I climbed a volcano!” Once at the top we were given lots of water, fresh juice and a nice dinner that overlooked the volcano.
After the dinner we boarded the bus and began a four-hour ride to Angamarca, which is where we stayed for the rest of our trip. Angamarca is located in between two mountains in the Andes at the very bottom in the valley. The ride started great, we were at the top of a volcano, in the clouds looking at a beautiful sunset and then all of a sudden we were on gravel, but not just gravel a winding gravel road with twists and turns and bumps heading down a huge volcano. Now let me be honest IT WAS TERRIFYING! So terrifying that half way down I had a panic attack and started to cry. I knew once we got to the bottom I could relax and look forward to the next day, but all I could do in that two hours down the volcano was panic all I thought was this bus is going to flip over and roll down the volcano.
After my dramatic episode we arrived at our second hacienda, in Anagamarca, which was Aburlita’s hacienda, which was the cutest Spanish looking house where we would be spending the next five nights. After each of us picked out our beds we all feel asleep and woke up bright and early to roosters! Yes, roosters at 3 a.m. yes, each day.
Since it was so dark when we arrived waking up in the morning to see the two mountains on both sides of us was the most breath taking moment of the trip. All I could think is I was dreaming. I wanted to go to Ecuador for so long and I was finally there.
After taking in the view, we had breakfast, which was similar to they day before and everyday after, which was okay with me because everything was homemade and fresh!
After breakfast we made our way up the mountain to the school called Escuela Quilalo where we spent the next five days volunteering with the children and local workers of the village. Each day the journey up the mountain got easier and easier; to the point where we only made one rest stop on the last day. But, I didn’t mind the stops it gave me time to think and take in the breath taking views.
When we reached the top it was awkward meeting the students for the first time their was very little interaction and myself not being good with kids made it even more awkward. But as each day went it became less and less awkward. Instead of things being awkward we became attached. So attached that I cried leaving the school and all the kids on our last day. It was beautiful the connects that we made. Although we spoke little Spanish and they spoke little English we connected through movement and games, which grew and flourished our relationships over the week.
This is where I learned the most on the trip I did things I normally don’t do like play with kids, and teach kids, which I learned they are actually fun! I also learned what manual labor really is. Here in North America we are spoiled with having tools to help us build things. In South American that’s a little different we didn’t have machines to help us. Something that could’ve been accomplished in a day here took us the full five days we were at the school. But guess what, I enjoyed it. I gained appreciation for the small things and the gratification of knowing I did that myself with the help of a few others, look what we did feeling!
Each day at the school was different. The lay out of the day was the same we: worked for four hours, had lunch for an hour and then worked for another two hours. But the tasks each day were different. Some days we were teaching and other days we would build or paint. It kept things different and gave us all the opportunity to try something different.
Here are some of the tasks we completed during our time at the school in Anagamarca:
- Painted the exterior of the school
- Painted a playground
- Built a playground, which included monkey bars, swings and soccer field
- Cleaned a well
- Taught English to the students
- Taught students about the environment and how to be sustainable
- Fed the students lunch
- Donated books and shoes to the students
- Assisted with basic hygiene tasks such as hair cuts and teaching how to bush teeth
By the end of the five days spent with the students myself as well as other students in my group realized what an impact we made on the school and students. Although it was only a week we helped them accomplish things they couldn’t accomplish without our help. Not only did we make an impact, but also we made relationship with the students, locals, and members of our group. Those relationships we formed helped in giving back to such a needy school and community.
This was really shown on our last day when they threw us a send off party with dancing and a band with traditional Ecuadorian music. I can honestly say I don’t think one of us has ever cried more than having to say goodbye to such a wonderful group of people.
The last day of our journey we loaded the bus for the last time and made the drive back up the mountain to five hours to Quito. In Quito we had the opportunity to shop around, walk around Quito and enjoy a fancy dinner on a rooftop restaurant looking over the beautiful city of Quito. I don’t think I’ve spent a week anywhere as beautiful as Ecuador.
Dinner looking over Quito, Ecuador.
After dinner was hard it was time to say goodbye to or tour guides who we built some great relationships and memories with and goodbye to the country of Ecuador not knowing when or if we would ever return. After goodbyes were said we drove off the airport for our 11-hour trip back to Boston.
This trip one hundred percent changed my life, made me look at life in a different way and made me realize my love for Ecuador and South America. I am beyond thrilled for my return and next adventure to South American one day.
Bottom of the volcano.