Sorry I’ve skipped a week of writing, but illnesses have been getting the best of us here in Ecuador! The spiralling wheel of sickness started with everyone’s favorite vegan, Luisa, who was diagnosed with a parasite on our first day here in the Andes. Tori was the next victim a few days later with a stomach bug, followed by Eden and James. After some antibiotics and a few days of cabin fever, they were all happily back on their feet! The rest of us, though nothing quite as serious, have suffered in one way or another with adjusting our stomachs to the new cuisine up here at 9,000 feet above sea level. 

Let me tell you about some of the more exciting aspects of the Andes now (not to downplay the absolute thrill of parasites and stomach infections!).

We all got assigned to our host families on our first day, and I think that’s been my favorite part of living in the mountains. Staying with local families has allowed us to truly immerse ourselves into their culture as opposed to just being tourists. I’m in a house with Hannah and Sarah, and we could not have asked for a better host family! From making us tea whenever we feel ill, to teaching us how to play some Ecuadorian instruments, to having some good laughs playing charades to understand what the other is trying to say, we couldn’t have envisioned a more welcoming group of people. Although every group’s family is different from one another, we all have grown to truly feel like the newest members of our families and have nothing but positive stories to share! 

Most days, we stick to a routine that starts with waking up for an early breakfast with our host families before heading into the community center for volunteering. We’ve completed a number of different projects in the Agato community, a few of which include hoeing a potato patch in the community center, weeding the doctor’s medicine garden, adding stones to stabilize one of the roads, making a volleyball court for the kids in town, and picking grass to help prepare for a new roof that’s being made.

After volunteering, we usually walk back to our houses to help prepare lunch. Some families are only a couple of minutes away, whereas others, such as Eden and Olivia’s, are a strenuous 25 minute walk uphill. After a few hours of downtime at home, we gather again for our daily Spanish lessons. We are divided into three groups: Advanced (Jack, James, Eden, Rhian, and Tori), Intermediate (Chris and Emma), and Beginner, where the rest of us are. When we finish our lessons, we usually have a few hours of free time before we need to be home for dinner. Sometimes, we all just lazily lounge in the community center and catch up with our friends in other houses. Other times, when we feel a little more energetic, we take a walk down the hill to play a game of volleyball.

Agato is such a charming town, and a huge difference from the scenery in the jungle. No matter which direction you turn, you see breathtaking mountains, clouds, and miles of cornfields. I think we all are also enjoying the less frequent rain and minimal mosquito bites! One thing that a lot of us weren’t quite prepared for was the cooler climate. To make up for it, we all have invested in some Ecuadorian sweaters from the famous Otavalo market to get us through the colder evenings.

Aside from a weekend of exploring Otavalo, we’ve gotten the chance to see an abundance of gorgeous places around the area. From visiting a giant waterfall to swimming in a natural hot spring, though both incredible, neither compared to a bumpy hour-long ride squished in the back of a truck. I know it may not seem ideal, but the second we stepped out of the truck and saw the stunning views from 11,000 feet high, it was completely worth it.

Tomorrow is our last full day in the Andes, so we are having a big goodbye party in the evening. As part of a tradition here in Agato, each family is preparing some type of performance. I know in our household, we’ve spent the past week learning a few Ecuadorian instruments for a musical ensemble with the whole family. I’ve heard talk that we’ll be seeing a very interesting dance from Andrew, Chris, and John’s household, and Eden will finally be breaking out her guitar that she’s lugged all the way from home! Aside from the performances, the 17 of us have also decided to make a western dessert (“rocky road”) for our families to try after we try one of their traditional dishes for dinner: guinea pig.

Just as I was writing this, our little brother, Chas, came barging into our room to drag the three of us out of bed. He rushed us to the closest window, and we watched under the glowing street lights as a music parade marched right past our house. It’s the little moments with our host families like that which I’m going to miss the most.

The sheer hospitality and kindness that the Agato community is something that I think we’ll all remember as we continue our journey through Ecuador. I’m already dreading the sad goodbyes that will be exchanged with the host families soon, but we’re excited for an adrenaline filled adventure week that awaits us. From mountain biking to bungee jumping, I’ll be sure to fill you all in on our latest excursions next week! Wish us luck as we take a huge “leap” outside of our comfort zones during these adventurous days ahead!

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