Sorry about my lack of communication thus far, I´d love to say that I´ve been splayed out across a beach getting a tan, but I have been BUSY!
So, week one in Ecuador has been exhausting, bemusing, at times hilarious and at times stressful, but all in all it´s felt like a hell of a lot longer than a week. Staying in Madrid was a lovely way to start the trip; I spent the night in a pretty swanky hotel and explored the city via its incredibly confusing Metro system. Madrid is actually such a gorgeous city and made me re-evaluate my attitude that all of Spain universally sucks. Getting up and getting to the airport at half six the next morning was not so much fun, and the airport itself was actually unbelievably stressful: my flight was in a terminal building completely separate from the rest of the airport and I spent about an hour walking around looking for the right place. When I did find my check-in desk, however, I had the lovely surprise of bumping into some of my fellow volunteers, who (you´ll be relieved to know) are all absolutely lovely. The flight itself was hellish, and Sarah and I started to question whether we were actually moving at all after spending out tenth hour with nothing outside of the window other than the sea. I was VERY glad to have stolen my Dad´s Kindle for the trip and spent most of the journey engrossed in ´The Hunger Games´ which may have made me cry. I don´t want to talk about it.
When we did land in Quito, we were greeted by one of our team leaders, Jenny who took us back to the ´Hostel´ which was far more like a hotel, with a beautiful Latin garden and the most accommodating owners. Quito is a bizarre city – nestled into the side of a cluster of mountains, it´s a blend of new and old, with some parts that look almost Soviet and some very typically Latin elements. We spent the first day getting acclimatised (it´s also 2500 meters above sea level, so I had the lovely experience of altitude sickness again), being introduced to the organisation that looks after us here on behalf of The Leap (Yanapuma) and exploring our new digs. The Leap are a very hands on organisation, and it´s become increasingly obvious that we don´t have too much time left thinking, “what the hell do I do now?”, making a stark contrast to my previous experience in Nepal. Jenny, one of our group leaders took us to some hot-spots including a market (where I had to exercise some serious self-restraint) and a park where Sarah and I managed to rent the only broken boat and nearly capsized.
We spent our second full day travelling from Quito to Otavalo, which is a more rural town a bit further North of Quito, where we´re doing our first stint of volunteering. We had Spanish class, which is now a daily torture, and it transpires I can´t actually speak Spanish (who knew?) and our teacher is absolutely mental. She seems to believe that the best way to teach Spanish is to gesticulate wildly, draw hugely inaccurate pictures and hope for the best!
Thursday and Friday were taken up by Spanish class in the afternoon and volunteering in the morning. We´re volunteering in a tiny community outside of Otavalo and at the moment we´re painting a school which is a lot of fun, mainly because I´m not actually painting, feeling that my abilities are better spent petting their manic dog called Ghandi and entertaining the children with my endless childcare skills. The village is actually very reminiscent of the Nepali villages I visited, with the obvious exception being that NO ONE speaks English. We´re actually really lucky in that we have three people in the group who can speak good Spanish and our group leader for this phase (a brilliant Yanapuma intern called Lara, who is incredible) is more or less fluent, because otherwise we´d be totally stuck. Indeed, it´s fair to say that I´m drawing a lot of comparisons between here and Nepal, and find myself constantly starting sentences with “Ooh, when I was in Nepal…” I´m probably driving everyone cracked. Friday was Good Friday (obviously) and the village had an amazing parade, acting out the Stations of the Cross and whipping a guy playing Christ. The recovering Catholic in me was loving it.
Over the weekend we have free time, and decided to spend yesterday morning looking around one of the biggest indigenous craft markets in South America at which point my self control snapped and I spent a ludicrous amount of money on clothes and bracelets. I also discovered that I am an amazing haggler, and am now in possession of some incredibly cheap hippy outfits. In the afternoon we went to a waterfall, the likes of which I´ve never really seen before, and standing in front of it was an awe-inspiring experience. We came back to our Otavalon hostel soaking wet after an insane cab drive ready for hot showers and a nice night in, where myself and Catherine made beef burgers from scratch, which were pretty good even if I say so myself.
Today, we´ve had a nice free afternoon after choosing to spend the morning in an animal sanctuary. I hated every minute of it, which I should have expected, but some how I´d convinced myself that it´d be humane. Unsurprisingly it wasn´t. There were Leopard cubs and fully grown lions in enclosures no bigger than my bedroom with nothing more than a slab of concrete to sleep on and a dirty pool to drink out of. I understand that they´re rescued from trade and that it´s better than the alternative, but I feel like this can´t be the best alternative. The sanctuary seemed to have barely made an effort to make them comfortable, and it was heartbreaking to watch them – they seemed so sad and so lonely. The monkeys were poking their hands out of the cages, not for food, but to hold our hands. I felt like crying. We had to hike down from the sanctuary, and it was pouring with rain so we all nearly went arse over tit down the side of a mountain caked in mud. Indeed some of us did end up sliding down the path (miraculously I managed to stay vertical).
A long entry for a long week. All in all, I´m having a brilliant time, and have managed to avoid hospital or incarceration, so I´m putting this part of the trip down as a success! I hope everyone´s doing well in England and I can´t wait to see you all in June or July!