Volunteering in Salasaka, Ecuador – Katitawa School

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http://katitawa.blogspot.com/

I have arrived four days ago to a big spacious volunteer house where I am sharing a room with a French and a Swedish nicest girls and the rest of the house with a girl from Portland, a guy from Germany and from Ecuador and Robert.

ROBERT: Let me tell you about Robert because when I grow up I want to be like him. When I was in contact with him through e-mail I thought he was 40, when I met him in-person, I thought he was 60, but when he told me he was 80, I almost fell on the ground. He is probably one of the very few elder Americans I know who keeps going and doing good no matter what.

He gets up at 5:30am, makes oatmeal for the whole house, leaves to school before 7, teaches at least 2 classes, helps with the library, and fixes whatever needs to be fixed including solar power panels and water pipes. He gets home by 8pm. We normally cook dinner but if not, a bowl of pop-corn makes Robert happy.

He is not one of those volunteer coordinators that make s profit out of having foreigners to work for him. He is one of those leaders who says “Let’s do it together” and is always there if we need him to cover. He is fully present in conversations and knows what he is talking about. He walks faster than I do and you should see him working with a shovel on a roof. He is truly awesome!

SCHOOL: I haven’t taught at the school yet as the children are on vacation but from what I have seen it seems great. There are two solar panels (one needs to be fixed and we are actually raising money) and two water pipes (one has to be fixed as well and we are also raising money). Here is the link if you are interested in helping. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/193328. Anything starting at $1 is greatly appreciated. The school was build about 8 years ago and has 6 classrooms, a garden and a cafeteria. I can’t wait to work there.

WORKING WITH KIDS: Because of the vacation we have been working in the library that was also organized by Robert. It has WI-Fi, four computers; quiet a big collection of books a few classrooms as well. I have been mostly teaching Math and Algebra which I love!! However, the indigenous kids are hugely lucking the discipline. I have been pretty strict.  I am pretty sure some of them are terrified of me and probably dislike me; but on the other hand, I believe the most important they can get out of the education is being a respectful and responsible citizens and be able to learn and work.

FOOD: Is absolutely horrible. When I arrived I heard five people killing two pigs. They suffered for about 3 minutes but the sound was heartbreaking. Then, those two pigs spent a night on a library table with the blood dripping on the floor. The next morning, the whole community, or 120 people got together to fix a community center roof and celebrated the finished work with the pigs baked in a dirt whole. That day I pilled about 30kg of potatoes but couldn’t eat anything because everything smelled like pig. A few days later we went out to eat where for $1.75 we got a soup with a piece of pig and rice with beans, potatoes, salad and a big piece of a P-I-G!!!! I couldn’t eat anything and had to stuff myself with bread from a nearby bakery. At the house we don’t eat meat, and from now on, NO PORK FOR ME PLEASE.

WEATHER: You would think that being a few kilometers from Equator would make this place the hottest on Earth. We are freezing cold here. You almost get burned on the sun during the day but at night you have to put every single winter warm cloth you have on. We don’t have hot water in the house either. Showers and laundry with cold water and cold air become a daily challenge. I think the last time I took a shower was three days ago.

OVERALL: I love it!!! The people who I am staying with are great! Most of us are in our mid-20s, business majors who quit our jobs and went on a year quest to help others and learn ourselves. We make dinners together, drink lots of tea, listen to music and play games. We are also grateful to live in a huge house with a beautiful view of Chimborazo (The closest mountain on Earth to the Sun) and have Robert as a boss. And, of course, it’s great to know we are doing not much, but what we can to help the local community.

Cheers!

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Go Climb a Mountain – Climbing Cotopaxi, Ecuador

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Go climb a mountain. For courage, for respect, for adventure, for yourself, for others or just do it!

Climbing Cotopaxi was challenging, encouraging and refining. 5.897 meters or 19347 feet, 2 meters higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was intense!

We left the refuge at midnight and started uphill. Ice-picking vertical snow walls, jumping over deep snow cracks in the ground and using crampons wasn’t something I had ever done. On top, climbing above 4900 meters was a new experience that definitely added a bit of headache to the climb.

It was not about competition, making it first to the top or making it there at all. It was all about the process and the beauty. “Just one step at a time,” was going through my head. “Relax and enjoy.”

The guide was pretty awesome. We hardly spoke along the way but having the harness and the rope helped him to feel my pace. I think I was stopping every single 30 seconds to take a minute break; yet we got to the top in 5 hours and were first to see the sunrise.

When we finally reached to the top and started to climb down, the beauty of the nature was something I can’t express in a few words. Here are a few pictures but if you really want to understand what I experienced, I would highly encourage you to climb a mountain.

GUIDE: I went with Jason Lara and loved him. However, a few other friends really disliked him. It’s up to you.

BOOKING: I booked through http://hostaltiana.com/chapters/view/9 They were awesome at helping and encouraging you to do it!

Quilotoa Loop

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Quilotoa loop is a 20-40km hike that takes about three to four days. It goes along small villages, beautiful mountains, rivers, and fields.

The tree day hike with as a solo female traveler was a pretty sketchy idea. I really wanted to do it to get some acclimatization before the Cotopaxi climb and asked almost every single person in the hostel if they would join me. One of the guys volunteered to explain the map and the rout and after a few minutes of talking, he said “Fine, I will do it again.” I think I looked pretty terrified.

The next morning, after a light two-pieces-of-bread breakfast, we left with a little backpack, stir hiking boots, and a white Sheep beanie. In two days we visited a volcano crater, walked about 27km up and downhill, walked along a few villages, met a few kids that we had to pay to take a picture with, ate a lot of street food, stayed in a few hostels, helped to bake bread, bought fruits on a market and took lots of pictures with our Cow and Sheep beanies next to cows and sheep.

There were no tourists in the places we went, we were moving from place to place every day not knowing what where we were going to stay and what we were going to eat. I finally got a feel of the local culture.

The people are not as friendly here as in Colombia and they are not at all curious about meeting foreigners and learning about the rest of the world. I shouldn’t generalize as we have had really great experiences with a few hostel owners but overall, I am not feeling as welcomed as I was in Colombia. The personal hygiene is very basic or almost absent here and I am grateful I haven’t had any stomach problems as yet (knock on wood).

Tomorrow we are leaving to climb Cotopaxy. Only 50% of the people make it to the top and hopefully we are going to be ones of the 50%. (It’s not deadly dangerous, it’s only physically and mentally very challenging).

WHERE TO STAY: you will figure it out. Get a map from your local hostel and from there, good luck! One hostel to stay is  TAITA CRISTOBAL! It was nice.

Pick pocketing

Michael got robbed today and is heading back to Quito to get a new passport. It was very awkward. A tall black guy with a very crispy voice got on the bus, started checking tickets and told him to put his backpack on the floor or on the top shelf. I gave him a bad look. Michael did it and then started napping. When we got off the bus, the backpack was open and the passport, cards and money were stolen.

Moral: Keep everything to yourself and don’t sleep on the bus. A good lesson to me as well.
That means that the hikes and Cotopaxi climb were put aside. Today I met another Michael in the hostel and am heading with him on a three-day hike around small villages to get some acclimatization.
Will be back in three days!!!

ECUADOR: FIRST IMPRESSION

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On the bus to Quito the atmosphere changed. A lot of indigenous people, chickens on the bus, and traditional music.

At the terminal of Quito we took a taxi and went through three hostels before we found a spot. Everything was booked.

People get robbed here a lot. You just here it here and there, and I sure start feeling as I don’t look like everyone else and am much taller than other people.

We are staying in a nice, quiet hostel that seems to attract older people. Nobody drinks, plays domino at night and does to bed before 11pm.
Yesterday, Michael and I climbed to Pichincha at 4969 meters (15406 feet) and a day before I crossed the Equator.

Three days in Quito was just enough and tomorrow we are heading south to Latacunga to do more hiking and climbing as in a few days we want to climb the highest active volcano on Earth – Cotopaxi. (5.897 meters or 19,347 ft).