These past three weeks have taken us on a remarkable journey through Ecuador’s amazingly diverse regions. In Otavalo we rose early for a brisk walk across the city just after sunrise and right in time to arrive at the bustling animal market. After a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and chocolate pancakes, the girls set off again, this time to visit Otavalo’s most renowned market, a bazaar of colorful hand-woven scarves and sweaters, intricately carved and painted works of art, and a wealth of other goods from across the country and region. Under the expert guidance of their intensive Spanish instructors, the girls practiced bargaining in Spanish for the best deals on recuerdos to take home for family and friends. Later in the day, the history class set off to tour the traditional main plaza while Math Concepts students went to the fruit and vegetable market and bought lunch for our whole group. As a mid-afternoon rainstorm caught both groups by surprise, we huddled together under the awning of the best coffee and hot chocolate shop in all of Otavalo, happy for a reason to sample some of Ecuador’s most esteemed exports, cacao and café. Continuing on with the market theme, we spent the late afternoon touring a very small, family-run factory that produces many of the traditional clothing items sold in los mercados throughout the country. The girls were amazed to see the complexity of the weaving process. TJ students recorded the intricacies of the process, noting the differences between the traditional looms still employed and the newer electric machines. At the end of our personalized factory tour given by a member of one of the Agualongo host stay families, Allie, Courtney, and Susannah began a new TTS23 fashion trend with their purchase of eccentrically colored Ecuadorian comfy pants. (pics coming) Our action-packed day was brought to a perfect end as we enjoyed a special dinner out in town with our small mentor groups.
With deepened Spanish skills and Otavalan souvenirs stowed away in even fuller packs, we hopped on Humberto’s bus ready to exchange the fun but chaotic sights and sounds of the city for the tranquility and calmness of the Yunguilla cloud forest. A very windy road led us high into the Andes once again. Rain began falling gently and the characteristic cloud forest fog began to appear as if in greeting. Daisy and Guillindo greeted our group and spent the afternoon showing us around the community. Charlotte, Lindsay, and Feyza did a fantastic job translating for our group as we visited the cheese and marmalade factories, the organic farm and greenhouse, the tree nursery, and the handicrafts workshop. Throughout the week the students took turns working in each of the community projects, and it was a special treat to have cheese and jam made by the students at meal time. Rebecca, Kate, and Allie visited the local school and helped teach children about water and hygiene as part of Project WET. On our last day in Yunguilla we enjoyed one of the most memorable hikes of the trip to date, and learned a great deal about the Paramao, Andes, and the cloud forest plants and animals. On our way back, we hiked the secret camino first made by Pre-Incan peoples and used for centuries by merchants and the occasional contraband traders. As we stopped to look in awe at the bamboo, the meandering streams, and the incredibly vast views, we could not help but feel the history of the place. We bid goodbye to Yunguilla with a campfire and s’more sendoff.
After a seven hour bus ride south, made complete by a refreshing stop at the local hot springs, the coolness of the cloud forest gave way to the warm and sunny Amazon rainforest. Carnival was in full swing upon our arrival in Tena, and the girls had a blast. Heather and Beth playfully ambushed the students, spraying them with foam and colors as the girls descended from a lookout tower. Alizah became the carnival queen by receiving the most water balloons and paint attention from the local children. Upon our return to our stylish jungle cabins, the girls enjoyed a rinse off in the river. After a day of classes, we set off down the Napo on a rainforest adventure. We visited an indigenous women’s community and learned about how they were working together in tourism to sustain their families. We toured a yucca, plantain, and cacao farm and learned to make chocolate from scratch! We sampled our roasted chocolate with some freshly picked bananas. . .a satisfying morning snack. Later in the day, as we traveled down the river on canoes, we made stops to visit a local trap museum and see artists making pottery from the clay found in the Amazon riverbed. The highlight for many of the girls, came after lunch when we had the incredible opportunity to float down the river in lifejackets, letting the current carry us peacefully downstream.
Tomorrow, the girls are looking forward to white water rafting. Then it is off to Guayaquil to meet the first parent trip and our much-awaited Galapagos adventure.