Expedition Leader program - Blog Post #3- June 24th, 2019
By: The Expedition Leader Program Team
Blindfolded trust games to create inclusive space; breathlessness climbing the pastel streets of Ecuador’s high altitude capital; billowing smoke rising from vendors’ barbecued meat skewers; sunrise over the sprawling city brightening our intentions for the journey ahead; immersing ourselves in the political history of the country while traversing churches and parliament buildings; poring over mind-bending travel logistics; sharing stories and traits and vulnerabilities over 750ml cervezas and karaoke. Eleven global citizens blasted into a single trajectory for a memorable chunk of space and time.
Bulging packs loaded in vehicles for a winding journey down the mountains to the Oriente. Whiteout mist and shooting waterfalls characterising the high Andes; squealing and swallowing fat grubs in food markets; settling only for hostels with numerous quality hammocks; long and difficult conversations critiquing international development; bartering and questionable taxi drivers all part of the learning journey of travelling 101; slippery hikes to dreamy waterfalls; basic dinners brought to life with laughter and inviting strangers to join our tight knit family.
We were gifted a unique volunteering opportunity in a jungle community at the confluence of two rivers; an Irish-Ecuadorian family introduced us to the community effort at tourism in Sinchi Pura; falling in love rapidly with the eager children and jungle atmosphere; basic community living complete with mud brick houses, subsistence farming and countless dogs; sleeping peacefully in cabañas sans mosquitos, the roaring of the raging river taking us to wild places in our dreams. Hauling logs through mud and sweat; hands in the dirt pulling weeds and placing rocks; sweeping and painting and concocting plans for the volunteer groups that follow; communicating with smiles and games and light touches; tearing open cocoa plants and sucking on their sweet flesh; digging lluca from the back garden with kitchen knives and sharing cooking and meals; space for reflection and connection; nighttime fires, competitive card games and even a regional fiesta. Swimming away our worries in the Illa Coline as an afternoon ritual. We came here to serve and learn; both parties got ample doses of each.
We floated over the Pacific to another world where sea lions act like domestic dogs; marine iguanas can’t be ushered off the walking tracks; birds would let you push them out of the trees and gigantic land tortoises mate in front of you because humans are simply flies on the wall.
The Galapagos. The volcanic islands have a painful history of human and animal exploitation, yet the 30,000 Ecuadorian inhabitants have recognised the natural value and gained World Heritage Listing for Charles Darwin’s iconic playground. Following our charming, caramel skinned guide Danny through the days, we explored San Cristobal high and low; diving deep with Pacific green turtles around kicker rock; rocking one whole day on our personal catamaran; deserted, glaring white beaches daily; feasting on lip smacking lemony ceviches and the staple banana chips. Workshops on environmental awareness; calculating how many trees we would need to plant to dissolve our carbon footprint. Walking pristine beaches sans micro plastics that seem to be home to the majority of wildlife in our precious world; frigate birds with a bulging red ballon instead of a throat; majestic blue footed boobie parents hanging with their awkward and vulnerable fluffball teenage chicks; sea lions better described as obese otters with a prawn tail, dog whiskers and puss-in-boots liquid black eyes; it feels impossible to resist the pull of nature and succumb to your deeper ecological identity. There is hope for the world yet.
We are a reflective unit of travellers; sharing insights and learnings from everything we do. Our group experienced a turbulent week of stomach bugs and fevers; unaccustomed bodies struggling to find an equilibrium under constant change and movement. We are supporting each other through it all; the highs are higher than that the lows.
Back to the humdrum of airports and powerful technology, we are stopping in Quito for a final farewell to Ecuador before moving to our next project in Peru.