I said goodbye to my home in DC and flew to Miami ready to embark on the new and exciting adventure ahead of me. I got lost a few times, as it was my first time traveling alone, but I eventually found the group. After awkwardly sitting in a circle and having the expected uncomfortable small talk with the group, we all gathered to check our bags for the flight to Ecuador. We arrived in Mindo to start orientation on our future work projects and discuss possible situations we might face throughout the trip. Since the Ecuador unit focused on the environment, it was only appropriate that we stayed in a beautiful eco lodge. In seminar we went over what to expect in our travels, such as cultural etiquette as well as an introduction to environmental issues. Orientation wasn’t all work though, we did have a chance to go ziplining through the jungle, take an intense hike to a waterfall, participate in a community zumba class, and visit a butterfly sanctuary.
Soon, two weeks of orientation was over and we travelled to Quito, the capitol of Ecuador. We spent the week mostly as tourist, exploring the rich history and beautiful architecture of the city. As some of you might have seen in the news, the volcano Cotopaxi was active while we were there. During one of our hikes up a mountain, we were able to see the volcano smoking in the distance; it was pretty scary. I tried bone marrow and guinea pig for the first time. We visited several churches and cathedrals while trying local cuisine in the restaurants. We also went to the US embassy to talk with diplomats who deal with the political side of environmental relations between the US and Ecuador. They explained their jobs and explained the process of becoming a diplomat for those who were interested. It definitely convinced me to want to pursue a career in international relations. On our way to the host families in Bua, we took a stop at the equator.
We drove deep into the jungle and were dropped off in a remote village to live with an indigenous tribe, called the Tshachilla. I don’t speak Spanish and although the few lessons were helpful, I was nowhere near proficient. Luckily my roommate Erin was basically fluent, so we were able to communicate with our host family and get to know them. Ecuador struggles with indigenous rights ever since they were colonized. Alfonso, my host dad and one of the leaders of the tribe, explained that their farming land was taken over and destroyed by over farming cash crops. Our work project focused on planting trees in order to reintroduce diverse plant species and enable the community to live off their land. It was so amazing to see firsthand the struggle of indigenous tribes while learning about their cultures. In seminars we discussed the struggles that our families were facing as well as problems throughout the world due to environmental issues. We looked at the effects of production and consumption systems on the environment in order to examine possible solutions. The program encourages independent student travel so a small group of girls and I decided to go to Mompiche, a cute beach town on the coast. It was a quite hippy beach area so we spent the weekend taking surf lessons and drinking pineapple smoothies by the beach.
After our weekend away we headed back to Bua to finish up the work project and say goodbye to our families. The day before we left, the whole community threw us a traditional Tshachilla celebration called a despedida. We all dressed in traditional clothes, helped prepare and eat traditional foods and play traditional games. It was a fun way to say goodbye but difficult to leave our first host families that we had become so close with from our 6-week stay.