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Austin Prep School Ecuador 2019

February 16, 2019

After a long day of travel, our group of 14 finally made it to Quito! We were welcomed by Annie with the cutest Austin Prep sign at the airport. From there, we met Edi, our bus driver for the next few days. We got on the bus and started connecting with Annie. We drove to our first spot, Airport Garden, around 1AM. We talked about things to expect for the next day, and then went to bed to get up for 8am.

We ate a lovely breakfast of fruit, bread, and cheese and had the best hot chocolate. We took pictures on the swings, climbed the tree house, and played some fútbol. We got our things together and got back on the bus with Edi. I played music on my speaker while we drove to Otavalo for the Saturday Market. We sang, laughed, and slept the whole time. The views of the mountains were gorgeous.

We finally made it to the markets and started our bargaining. We had a goal to understand one word in the indigenous language of Quechua. My word was “maki” (mah-kee) meaning hand. Once we got a word, Annie rewarded us with little llama keychains. We were asked to stay in groups of three for safety reasons. We all had a blast buying bracelets, scrunchies, rings, ponchos, and little knick knacks. We had so much fun surrounded by a completely different culture. Then we visited the church and hung out in the Plaza. There, in the Plaza, is where Matt decided to play with the kids and we got attacked with water guns and silly string.

Then we got back on the bus and headed for the crater lake, Lago Cuicocha. We passed through some small towns and waved to all the locals. We continued playing music, singing, and having fun on the bus ride. We made it to the crater lake hotel where we admired the view and got settled into our rooms around 4PM. We ate a lovely “trucha” dinner and talked about plans for the rest of the trip. We discussed our “palabras del día” (words of the day) and bonded throughout the evening. Me, Liv, Deebs, Lindsay, and Paige had a mini dance party before washing up and getting to bed!

Written by Ava L.

February 17, 2019

This morning we woke up very early, breakfast was at 7AM. We got all of our hiking gear together and packed our packs. For breakfast there was pineapple juice, eggs, and bread with super yummy raspberry jam. The we met our guide, Antonio. Next, we set off on our hike around Lago Cuicocha, which is a crater lake with two large islands in the middle. This lake is the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. We asked if we could swim in it but were told that the water is slightly acidic and inhabitable for animal and plant life. Right from the start we knew it was going to be tough. I mean, I don’t think there is such a thing as a 9 mile hike that’s easy! Antonio spoke Spanish and Quechua but no English, so speaking with him really put my Spanish to the test. I learned new Quechua words like puma maki (puma paw tree) and various names for native flowers and plants. I asked Antonio his favorite word in Quechua and he said it was the word for “thank you from my heart.” I spoke a ton of Spanish today and had some interesting conversations with Antonio. He mentioned that some days he hikes the trail twice with visitors which stunned us all. I learned how to say “cool beans” in Spanish (frijoles chéveres) and used it way more than I should have. We took six hours to make it all the way around the lake; lots of stairs, steep walkways, and the sun was not our friend. Antonio told us he could do the hike in two hours by himself. All of our leg muscles were burning (never skip leg day!) and we will probably be sore all over tomorrow. The views, though, were spectacular. Such a happy and peaceful place.

We got back to the hotel in the afternoon and ate lunch; fried chicken, pasta salad, papas fritas, and avocado. It was so yummy and probably one of my favorite meals so far. Then we had free time to hang out around the Mirador hotel. Some of us sat and talked and others took in the vista. I took a shower and ate a snack, then I went downstairs and played “Ochos Locos” (or Crazy Eights) with Molly, Kate, Grace, Katie, Lizzie, and our new friend Emilio. He was super cute, and him and his papa Ernesto taught us how to play. They also taught us words in Spanish that we could use to play cards!

The group had a meeting before dinner to talk about the next few days, do some homestay skits, and share our “palabras del día.” Then Antonio’s band came and played some traditional music for us with drums, a violin, a mandolin, a guitar, and two pan flutes. They were really good! Then four young girls danced a few traditional dances for us. We danced along with them and laughed and smiled. Next we played a silly game that we learned that the community plays at funerals to lighten the mood. We said goodbye to Antonio and his friends and headed off to bed, we are all exhausted from the long day! Tomorrow we will arrive at the homestay community and get acclimated. I am tired and a little nervous, but excited for the upcoming events! Adios 🙂

Written by Paige B.

February 18, 2019

The day started bright and early at 7:30AM, where we all finished packing and got ready for breakfast. When we gathered for breakfast we had pan (bread) with mermelada de piña (pineapple marmalade). Then we were served eggs, coffee with warm milk and hot cocoa. Following breakfast we collected our things and began to load onto the bus to head to Mitad del Mundo. Before departing we said a sad goodbye to our new puppy pals and our new friends Elena and Emilio at the Mirador Hotel. We embarked on the two hour scenic drive that consisted of many mountains and valleys, towns and wildlife.

Upon arrival at the equator it began to drizzle so we got suited up to enter the museum. The first thing we did there was take a group photo at the yellow painted line symbolizing the equator. After this we split up and took photos, walked around, explored, and shopped in the little tiendas (stores). Some of us bought cute fluffy llamas, keychains, and other bits and bobs. To finish off this cool activity we took one last group photo and headed up the mountain to Yunguilla. Yunguilla is the self-sustaining community where we will be doing our service work and homestays. Driving up was super cool, and a little scary but nothing our awesome driver Edi couldn’t handle. When we got to our destination we grabbed our luggage and put it in the communal lodge, Tahuallullo. This building was really neat with a fireplace and wooden loft. For lunch we walked up the hill and ate at the community restaurant. Here we had jugo de piña (pineapple juice), and then to start, sopa de zucchini with popcorn in it (an Ecuadorian specialty!). Then for our main course we had some tasty beef, mashed potatoes, root vegetable salad, and sweet plantains. Dessert was a yummy carrot bread with fruit. We learned that most of our meal had come directly from the organic community garden just above the restaurant! After lunch, Galindo took us on a tour of community garden which was incredible. Then we headed down to the greenhouse through the cloud forest where we got to see various species of orchids, ferns, and other native plants. When we got to the greenhouse we tried uvillas (gooseberries) which were small and sour berries that we all loved. We then hiked back up to Tahuallullo where we learned more about the local orchid project, and saw the spider, tiger, and clown-faced orchids. Next we were shown the cheese and marmalade houses where we would start our service tomorrow. To finish off the tour, we went on this amazing swing that offered an incredible view of The Valley as you went up super high.

After this we finally met our families! We went to our houses, dropped our luggage, and met back up at the church field for a partido de fútbol with some of the local community members. The final score was 8-7 and it was so much fun and full of laughs (the many dogs around had fun too!). We all went back to our houses, had dinner with our families, hung out, and went to bed early to prepare for our first day of service tomorrow.

Written by Matthew D.

February 19, 2019

Today was our first day of service. We started our morning at 6:45AM and woke up to a breakfast of bread, hot chocolate, and fruits (it was delicious!). Our (Molly and my) homestay madre is names Olympia and she loves cook, especially over her wood stove. After eating we got ready for the day. We said goodbye to our padres and and set off for our walk to Tahuallullo at 8AM. Once at the lodge we waiting for others to gather. When we were all there, we went over our palabra del día which was merienda (that means dinner). After that we split into groups for our projects! I was with Deebs, Gina, Katie, Eric, and Ms. Siciliano. We peeled habas (beans) to make snacks for the tienda and had lots of laughs at the fabrica de marmeladas. After a few hours of working we switched and hiked up to the organic garden where we moved piles of compost. It smelled really bad, but it was super interesting how they made the compost from local organic waste and used it to grow more food.

After that we went back home and ate lunch. For lunch we had this amazing dish with rice with rice, lettuce, potatoes, pork, and beans with lemonade that Olympia made from scratch. Guillermo (our padre) was there and we asked if in the morning we could go milk the cows with him and he said yes! Later on we went back to the lodge to do our second part of service (after warming up by the fireplace, of course). This time our group went to the tree nursery (el vivero). There we weeded plants, but not for long because it started to pour rain and there were lots of weird spiders.

We went down to the soccer field to play with a group of local kids. It was so much fun! We also went to the community tienda and tried various Ecuadorian dulces (candies). It was different but so tasty. After that we had a small catch-up session about our day and went back to our houses for dinner. For dinner, we had some kind of delicious beef soup. Olympia helped cool food for another volunteer because her host family was away for the night. Her name is PB and she is from New Zealand. We talked for a while and she was really nice. I can’t wait for tomorrow and our second day of service. Adios! 🙂

Written by Grace B.
February 20, 2019

We started our day as our homestay mom knocked on our door to wake us up around 7:30. We rolled over in our beds and were so excited to see that the skies up in Yunguilla were clear for the first time since we’ve been here! Sophia and I got dressed and packed all that we needed for our second day of service: work gloves, raincoat, sunscreen, water, etc. Once we were ready we made our way across the house and into the cocina (kitchen) where our host mom, sister, and grandmother were waiting to eat with us. We had egg omelettes with papas (potatoes) and a delicious tea to give us energy for the day. Once we finished that, we went outside and met up with a few of our friends with homestays near us. With them, we wound our way over to the communal lodge, Tauhallullo, to see what service work we would do for the day. For the morning, we spent the time cleaning up a few hiking trails around the finca (farm). The trails were flowing with bright green and exotic plants we’ve never seen before. All of the vegetation around us was so lush and healthy because of all of the moisture and rain up here in Yunguilla. After raking and grooming the trails, we had worked up an appetite to go home and have lunch with our homestay families. Sophia and I enjoyed chicken, radishes, rice, and corn along with jugo de uvilla (gooseberry juice). By the time we finished lunch it was pouring rain. Everything worked out well, though, because our next project was painting rocks to make trail signage for the very same trails we had just worked to clean up! We learned a few different Spanish phrases that would lead hikers along the trails. Lyndsay and I painted the words “Sendero al Rio” (Trail to the River) along with a picture of a river and a green fern that is native to Yunguilla. We were really proud of how well the signs turned out, and we were laughing and having fun while painting them. Next, we had another soccer game with the locals. It didn’t matter that it was still raining because we were able to play under the giant roof next to the grass field and community tienda (store). We then came home to a delicious sopa (soup) for dinner and our 10 and 5 year old sisters were so excited to play a few rounds of “Uno,” which Sophia for them as a gift for hosting us. In this game, the language barrier didn’t matter and we had tons of fun before tucking into bed for the night.

– Written by Sophia F and Olivia C