Adventure To Ecuador Volunteering Overseas (VESA)

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I embarked on my adventure of a lifetime with a backpack on my back and passport in my hand.

I left Melbourne with 20 strangers who would soon become life long friends. 15 hours to L.A where we transferred to Houston (5 hours) where we then travelled to Quito (3 hours) and finally a 6 hour bus ride because apparently we hadn’t been travelling enough.

I will always remember my first thought as we arrived in Mishualli at 5:30am with jet lag hindering my ability to function, where the hell are we? We hopped out of the bus and immediately told that we couldn’t put down anything that the monkeys could steal. (This was a immediate culture shock). So we sat down and was briefed on what was coming up, and given a plate of banana pancakes, as much as I wanted this, I just didn’t want to eat anymore that’s all I had been doing for 24 hours (sitting and eating), so we went to our rooms and by the time we got there BAM it was light so naturally I couldn’t sleep… even though I hadn’t really slept for 24 hours already. So we walked around the village (all of 5 mins), went to a interesting “restaurant” if you like where they obviously only spoke SPANISH… awkward for us we couldn’t understand anything on the menu so we pointed and prayed it would come out at least edible. Fortunate for us it was just chicken (BEST CHICKEN I’VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE!) and steak… and we didn’t get food poisoning which was a possibility looking at the place and the hygiene of the entire place.

We then found the WIFI which we thought would probably be a good idea to tell everyone we were actually alive. The wifi was at a juice bar where we had the best juices for $2 and the most amazing papa frittas (chips) for $2. So naturally this is where you found us at 4pm every night on the first week whilst we were volunteering.

Volunteering Week

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To get to the location of the village (Puca chicta) where we would be teaching children and constructing a bathroom for the week we had to take a 5 minute “motorised” canoe ride on the Amazon river, then we got dropped off and walked through the jungle for 15 minutes where we had to cross a river. Everyone got their feet wet the rocks were just too slippery!

I volunteered teaching on the first day where we taught a group of reception (5 year olds) to make a fish out of a paper plate. Now I paired with Ashlan and our kids fish replicated our relationship with the kid which was “we have no idea what each other mean so lets just pretend this looks like a fish!” At that stage all I could say was “Olay, Commes de Amos” but not very well and not confidently because I only learnt it as we were walking into the classroom.

Our next class were 8 year olds, we taught them how to say their name, colours, numbers (1-20) even body parts. Unfortunately these children only get taught english when we come in to volunteer. These kids need english for when they leave the village for high school to go to the other village which only teaches in english.

In the afternoon we started digging our hole, to make a bathroom. This hole needed to be 2m by 2m and at the beginning it looked like it would take us awhile to do.

Going home from volunteering you don’t have to walk, we get a truck where we pile everyone into and you just stand while the truck bumps and tilts slightly on the uneven and gravel roads. The big tree that you see on the first day is so big my camera couldn’t fit even half of it in it’s picture.

The second day I got to teach again but this time I taught 5 and 10 year olds. The 5 year olds couldn’t speak any english at all (fair enough) they are already taught Spanish and their local language. As I entered the classroom a 5 year old girl ran up to me and just wouldn’t let me go, she was the most adorable thing and it made me sad because she just wouldn’t get the opportunities like I got. She even taught me Spanish as she was pointing to pictures (Pineapple= Pina) and learnt what up meant because she loved being seeing everything from my height then hers. At recess time the kids would climb to the top of the gym building and sit there or just climb anything possible. At one point I was carrying two kids one on the front and one on my back as I was running around.

We then went into a classroom with 10 year olds where we played musical chairs but you have to do some dance thing before the music stops and another game where you hold a tomato between two peoples foreheads and do a certain dance. My tomato broke and was also resting in my eye (luckily before it broke!)

In the afternoon we went tubing. Now I thought it was going to be lazy river style… but no it had rapids and tubes (or donuts)  don’t exactly look that stable. Especially when your tour leader says “Oh guys theres a whirl pool more at the end so just stay to the right”.  Well… me and my friends were like ok we will stick together so we got in at the same time and the current decided to take me a lot quicker then anyone else. The first rapids were the scariest because you had no idea what your in for. Luckily it looked a lot worse then it was. So I was all calm for the second lot of rapids and then I see this wave that is barrelling (IN THE RIVER) so naturally my tube wants to head straight for it and not go around it! So my tube went one way, and my body went the other way. That was the worst part defiantly and the only time I fell out, surprisingly.

The 3rd day we went to Tena, due to it raining to heavily to be able to teach and dig. I really wasn’t a big fan of Tena it was a big city and the people just seemed unfriendly and judgemental.

On the weekend I did construction all day which was pretty rewarding when the final day we finish our hole.

On the saturday we went to a gorgeous waterfall, to get there though you have to walk 30 minutes in mud slightly up so by this stage don’t even worry about your shoes. However the waterfall was breathtaking. i just dived straight in and it was the freshest most pure water I had felt (even made my hair look salon worthy/ clean without even using shampoo and conditioner). Going under the waterfall (not easy) and coming up on the other side made me feel like I was in a secret area because although it was loud and everyone was shouting at each other it felt calming and secluded. I also jumped off the waterfall which was a pretty cool even if it was only a couple of metres high. Then walking back to the truck was the most hilarious part because the mud was so slippery people were doing the splits and completely getting covered in mud.

Ecuador has this rule which I personally didn’t even know existed around the world. You can’t drink in public or buy alcohol on sundays. Unfortunately we were going to celebrate Australia day with Australia on the sunday so we had to go out and buy all our alcohol on the saturday. I bought a litre of watermelon vodka for $10 and it was hands down the best alcohol i’ve ever had… imagine drinking watermelon starburst! They have a club called disco Teca which only opens on saturdays so we went and everyone dances with a partner and spanish style even in a club.

Jungle Week

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So we were divided into two canoes therefore walking 2 different paths for 6 hours to our jungle lodge. Now personally I HATE walking I think it’s just stupid so I can quite happily say I was not looking forward to this. So we started the walk in my little gumboots and I immediately started sweating (Thanks humidity) however, it was also raining (Lightly luckily). I can happily say I ACTUALLY enjoyed myself, who knew cause I sure didn’t. You would think after 6 hours of walking up then back down then up again then back down in squelching mud that you would just want to sit down and curl into a ball and never use your feet again. But NO! I actually would of been happy to just keep walking. The jungle lodge where you stay for 4 nights is amazing but very basic (because you are in the Amazon after all). So they are just wooded planked rooms with 2 bunk beds and a single bed in each room. There is no electricity and obviously reception but I think this was a blessing. To be able to fully emerge and enjoy yourself without the need of technology became one of the reasons why I loved it.

Don’t worry for the party animals the jungle is definitely the place to be with it’s own little bar and… moonshine. YUMMMM who doesn’t like drinking 90% alcohol…. me. It is like putting death in your body and your body is just trying to tell you “And why did you do that?” Oh well… no regrets it was a experience that I don’t exactly want to go through again.

In the Jungle you go on a medicine walk where you find out how the locals use various plants. As well as going to another community and playing soccer with the Ecuadorian mums (They are pretty dam good!) and seeing the kids in their school.

Don’t worry to get home you don’t have to walk back we took a canoe ride where we went to see a local lady do pottery (actually interesting), and went to the zoo where we saw a Anaconda, Toucan and heaps of other animals… that I can’t remember the name of.

The last day on your jungle trek you go white water rafting. Now I personally had never been before but it looked pretty darn scary and it was actually cold that day. We formed a group of just girls and we told our leader that we didn’t want to flip. Well… lucky for us we got the blind guy. He ran into I think every single rock possible, to the point he even hit one, jumped off and waved at us as were still going down. The best part was when we somehow went sideways down the rapids and everyone in the boat fell out except for Shirleah, the guide and myself. So as were like ummm what do we do were still going down the rapids were trying to rescue everyone bobbing in the water in the rapids. After 3 hours of white water rafting I was exhausted!!!

The last part of this section we went to Banos, which is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was a bit colder but the views were breathtaking. We went to the top of a mountain to see a volcano in a party bus, went out and had shots that were on fire, I went bridge jumping and the swing at the edge of the world, and went into hot springs.

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Overall, if I could I would put on the rewind button and experience everything all over again. The vast experiences and people I met along the way throughout Aus and New Zealand became my Ecuador family.

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