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Ecuador: Galapagos & Andean Service Adventure 2023

July 20, 2023

Hello all! We have all made it through day 1 of our cultural experience and excursion in Quito!
Today at 8 am we started our day with a fruitful breakfast starting with fresh cut pineapple, watermelon, and papaya with a side of freshly squeezed watermelon juice. We then made our way via bus to a fresh produce and meat market where we learned about hundreds of different fruits that we even got to try, such as a pink banana, and other fruits very similar to passionfruit. After walking through this colorful market with prices so staggeringly low you would be shocked, we made our way to the shopping markets where we used some of our Spanish to purchase souvenirs and even bargained down the prices with newly learned vocab and slang. But our journey did not stop there. We then traveled to the Basilica Del Voto Nacional where we all made the effort to climb to the top to see the stunning view. After this we all then made our way to a three course lunch, consisting of freshly made ceviche with all the seasonal ingredients to start, followed by a fried chicken with cheese and salad, and a raspberry tart to finish it off. Just after we started to believe we were finally full we embarked through the historical district of Quito to a chocolate shop named Yumbo. There we learned all about the cacao exports in Ecuador and even were lucky enough to try some of the chocolate ourselves. From the bitter 100% cacao chocolate to the sweet 60% cacao, they were pretty yummy to say the least. After buying out the chocolate shops’ delicious products we made our way to one of the most stunning views many of us have ever seen at the Virgen de El Panecillo. There as our eyes took in the beauty we got pictures and made memories as a group. Then we made our way back to the hotel for some chill time where we all got to know each other better. We also took time to make a group contract on how we all want the trip to go. To top off we got into groups and created dances and chants to help break the ice a little more. Right after this we all headed to a local empanada place where we watched soccer and had a good rap up to the night. Safe to say this trip is going to be a great one!

~ Jesse G.

July 21, 2023

¡Bienvenidos amigos y familia!
We began our day with a wonderful breakfast of watermelon, papaya, and pineapple with homemade whipped cream, accompanied with eggs. After an hour-long bus ride with a playlist created by everyone, we arrived at a volcanic crater. From the viewpoint, we took pictures and observed the homes of people living down in the crater. It was a gorgeous view. From there, we took the bus, with our fantastic driver, Carlos, to the center of the world! Our tour guide proceeded to educate us on all of the indigenous people of the Amazon and their culture. We learned they couldn’t use venom to hunt because it wouldn’t be edible, so they had to get creative with how they hunted and killed their food. We then walked down to a thick red line that we later learned to be the equator. We learned about the Coriolis effect, which causes storms to rotate one way in the Northern hemisphere, and another in the Southern. After increasing our physics knowledge at the equator, Carlos drove us over to our lunch restaurant, where we dined on pork empanadas, potatoes, nuts, vegetables, and a delicious fruit sorbet. We made the trek back to the hotel, then walked over to a local supermarket where we were stunned at the prices. We purchased some snacks and headed back to the hotel where we had some free time. Between nap time, card games, and deep conversations, there’s never a dull moment in free time. We began a lecture on the homestay experience, then dined on cheeseburgers and fries. We concluded our lesson and gained confidence for the homestay, then tucked in to bed to get ready for another great day.

-Gus M. and Taylor B.

July 22, 2023
¡Bienvenidos amigos y familia!
We started our third day with a great breakfast which included fruit, eggs and toast. We then packed our things and engaged in a Spanish lesson delivered by Jorge. We then set off on our two hour long expedition to the biggest market in South America. The hustle and bustle of the market was off the charts. Many of us came out of the market with totally rad items such as paintings, necklaces, etc. After the market, we indulge in a very fancy lunch. During lunch we stuffed our faces with all kinds of delicioso food, including the Ecuadorian delicacy guinea pig. We wrapped up lunch with a yummy guanabana and blackberry sorbet. We checked in to our next home for the night in the town of Cotacachi, and then headed to the alpaca farm. We loaded up in four different trucks operated by different locals. As we trucked our way through the dusty and rocky mountains of Ecuador. Some of us had a more difficult time than others getting up the hills, but it was a great experience nonetheless. The alpacas were funky! We tried to catch one of them but they all escaped from their backyard. They all rushed to the water station to hydrate themselves, and one of them even spit on someone, who shan’t be named. Then, we escorted them to their bedroom, and prepared one of them for their haircut performed by the owner of the farm; Don Angelito. We then had a roller coaster of a ride back down to the community center of our homestay families. We were then introduced to our new moms and got paired with our new siblings for the week. After indulging in their home cooked meal of empanadas and gooseberry juice. After saying goodbye to the fam, we headed back to the hotel and competed in an intense game of Uno which was of course won by Carmella. We then threw a bunch of amazing pizzas down the hatches. The record for the most pizzas consumed is held by the one and only Brady, who scarfed down a whopping six slices of pizza. All washed down by a lukewarm 3 liter bottle of Coca-Cola. Then it was time to lay our heads down for a good night’s sleep.

Brady y Carmella

July 23, 2023

We started our day in our hotel in Cotacachi. We had a delicious breakfast consisting of a variety of fresh fruits, eggs, juice, and coffee. We then packed up and jumped into some trucks which took us to the community center. This is where we prepared for our community service for the day. We grabbed tools and paint as we headed down to the playground next to the soccer field. We spent the next few hours hard at work. First we dug holes and sanded down the playground equipment. Then we planted the trees and repainted the playground. We were lucky to be provided entertainment from a soccer game while we worked. For lunch, we ate with our host families and then all met back up in the afternoon. We regrouped on the community center and helped some of the locals make some delicious strawberry jelly. After making the jelly we headed down to the soccer field for a game with some of the local kids. The game was a lot of fun for everyone on both sides. After everyone was nice and tired from their match we walked back with the sunset. Once we had said good night to our fellow students we went back to home stays for dinner. My dinner was an amazing chicken and corn soup with cauliflower. After dinner and a lot of Uno we headed to bed with full stomachs ready to begin another day.

Kiran and Rafa

July 24, 2023

!Buenos dias North American Readers!
Thanks for checking back in. After crashing at the house of our local homestay families, we woke up to a delicious array of different breakfast foods including omelets, fruit, and freshly baked bread. We then voyaged to a local farm that housed bulls and cows and observed a traditional method of plowing the soil. Some of us even attempted this practice, but ended up being dragged by the bulls with a mouth full of dust. After journeying to the local elementary school, we began to grind in various tasks including sanding the bathrooms and walls, and working on the plumbing (but without the degree in mechanics). After reappearing as smurfs due to the sanding, we began to paint all the walls of the bathroom and the inside of the bathroom as well. While our clothes were completely covered in paint, we lucked out with the water-based so it should come out… eventually? After scurrying back to our homestays, some of us tried to shower and remove the paint before grudgingly realizing the water was shut off until 6. However, our moods were salvaged by the buffet of food that was prepared for us for lunch including potato soup, corn on the cob, and meat prepared in almost every way you can imagine. We then took off our smurf suits (clothes from earlier) and spent quality time with our families, finding creative ways to breach the language barrier. After heading back to the community center, half the group (attempted) to make their very own traditional leather wallets, while the other group spent time with women from the community learning how to make beaded bracelets. We then parted ways and headed to our families. After FEASTING on traditional, unique to each family dinners, our host families dressed us up like barbies with the traditional Ecuadorian clothing. Looking dapper as ever, we went to a gathering center where we celebrated Ecuadorian culture. This included live dancing and street games that ended up getting very heated amongst group members. After practically sleeping walking home, we took off the clothing, and went night night in preparation for the busy day ahead.

Signing out… Nora y Libby

July 25, 2023

The day started with an 8am breakfast, soon to be followed with service at the nearby school. Along with some of the kids hanging out at the school for summer camp we finished painting the bathrooms and brightened up the hopscotch games in the court yard. We ended around 12:30 and headed back to our home stays for lunch. After a filling lunch of rice chicken and veggies we headed down to make bracelets in a workshop with some local women. We spent time carefully threading beads onto string before a small group of us headed down for the field to play soccer and frisbee. Some other students went to make leather wallets. Both artesanal crafts were fun and challenging and helped us appreciate all the time that goes into creating this items that are sent to local markets. After dinner at our home stays a few of us attended another cultural night at the community center. This time there was a traditional band. We listened to music, watched girls from the town dance, and played some traditional games like lighting candles while trying to balance on top of empty bottles. Then we tucked ourselves into bed ready for the next day!

Gus and Henry

July 26, 2023

On day 7 Ava and Sophia ate ramen for breakfast with our host family. After that we met at the community center and got on a very loud bus with the local elementary school kids participating in a summer camp. We drove about 20 minutes to the Cuicocha Crater Lake. We all took pictures in front of the beautiful view and then began planting small trees along the trail. We separated into small groups on the roughly hour-long hike and ended up planting over 200 trees! Once we got back to the community we ate lunch and got to work creating thank you cards for our host families. In our free time before dinner we visited the newborn puppies and walked around the community. Sophia and I then helped our host mom make banana empanadas and cheese empanadas for the pot luck, or as the locals call it, la pampamesa. All of the students and families gathered in the community center for the pampamesa. We put all the food that everyone brought (which included rice, chicken, potatoes, corn, vegetables, beans, and empanadas) on the center of the table directly on the table cloth. All the food was piled on top of each other and we served ourselves with plastic spoons. After dinner we took turns reading our thank you cards aloud to our families (in Spanish!) and then made a bonfire. We roasted s’mores with the locals who had never tried them before but really liked them! And then we went to bed!

Sophia and Ava

July 27, 2023

Que tal, mis dudes.

Today after a delicious breakfast we said goodbye to our homestay families. I said adios to Anita, Luis, Ale, and Heidi. Before we left, the community gave us a last gift: handmade bracelets with our names on them (mine is green and purple)! After a few hours of driving we arrived at the airport hotel where we would be staying for the night. It was actually really pretty, a green lawn with different buildings strewn about. I sat in the shade and read until lunch, others played frisbee and football, or laid out in the sun.

Next we took a long bus-ride through the mountains to some natural hot springs. The hot springs we went to were surprisingly nice, they had a touristy feel to them as if we were going to a water park in comparison to the rest of the trip so far. The pools themselves had little to none of the sulfuric smell that tends to spite most hot springs, likely due to the high altitude and windy weather. Many of the boys challenged themselves against others in the freezing cold pools, testing each other on how long they could last against one another. The heated pools were superb, it wasn’t crowded either so along with the mountain view it was a majestic experience. The walls decor of the hot springs were covered in foliage and plants, enhancing the sort of… “Natural” feel the place gave off. While the heated water themselves were actually much higher up the mountain it did feel like we were there at the source. The cafe in the midst of the place was also raided by tourists (us). The cakes were sold out and the ice cream and snacks seemed to vanish in a matter of 20 minutes. After the rain began to pour down after a long 2 hours of relaxation we packed up and got in the bus for the long road back to our hotel for the night.

Grace and Peter

July 28, 2023 

After a short night of sleep, the 4:30 am wake up was a difficult one. The bus ride to the airport was calm and quiet. When we were told we had a layover with a 2.5 hour flight followed up with another 1 hour flight we were frustrated. In reality it was a 45 minute flight followed by a 1.5 hour flight. We arrived in the Galapagos starving. The weather was overcast yet warm from the humidity. On the way to lunch the the rain begins to sprinkle. We took a pit stop to view a giant sink hole created by a volcano millions of years ago. We all leaned over a wooden fence to peer into the crater below. After the caerse we all went to lunch where we are chicken fish and pasta. Then we all gathered and put on boots to go see giant tortoises. As we walked it started to rain and mud was everywhere. We learned that tortoise have rings on their shells that disappear as they grew older and that they can live to 150 years old because they move so slowly. We then walked through a lava cave. Next we got on the bus and drove to the hotel where we took a break for an hour before going to the beach. The beach was very rocky (lava rock!) but the water was beautiful. While some people swam others called home. We went home and showered and then went to dinner where we are pasta fish and chicken. After dinner we walked around town and looked at shops. We went to bed pretty early because we knew we had another early day ahead.

Nate and Eliza

July 29, 2023

This morning we woke up at 5:30 am to the crisp Galapagos air after a quiet, restful seven hours of sleep, ready to begin our adventure to Isabela island. We hopped on the bus ready to embark on a two hour boat ride. We boarded the boat and discovered that the ride was going to be very hot. That combined with the rough made a lot of us very nauseous- it was a rough trip! We finally arrived arrived at the island and took an open bus with Galapagos animals painted on the sides to the campground for lunch. The campground was beautiful, covered in many plants, gardens, flowers, palm trees, and hammocks. After lunch at the campground we headed for a two hour hike. The hike started on a beautiful white beach with volcanic rock covered in Iguanas. The iguanas are practically the same color as the volcanic rock and it was hard not to step ok them because of their camouflage. After continuing on our hike we saw a lava tunnel, a cute floating penguin, and more beautiful white beaches. We had a quick stop at a beautiful blue mangrove river that we waded through to look for birds. We saw some huge pelicans cleaning themselves on branches and in the water. After the river most of the group headed for the beach while a select few went with Fabricio for an 8 kilometer hike further into the nature preserve. The beach group stayed until sunset and swam in the sparkling blue water. We also played some ultimate frisbee in the sand and watched the sunset from the water. After the beach we came back to our campsite and had rice salad lentils and garlic shrimp for dinner before hanging out in the hammocks before bed.

-Addy and David

July 30, 2023

After a misty morning breakfast at Campo Duro, we all packed to head to the Sierra Negra Volcano. As we arrived to the bottom of the immense mountain, we could feel small droplets of rain moving above us. We began climbing the muddy trail, and eventually stopped at the first view point 2.5 miles up the mountain. There, we could see small windows of the Caldera (big crater) below us. A large blanket of fog covered the Caldera, which spanned 9 kilometers east to west. We then continued to climb another kilometer to the next view point before beginning our descent back down. When we reached our open air bus once again, we dug into our bagged lunches as we headed to snorkeling. When we arrived, we walked down a bridge covered in iguanas and sea lions through a mangrove forest to the end of the dock. Then we geared up into our snorkeling masks and got into the water. Right as we began, we saw fish of all colors of the rainbow. Further into the swim we saw 2 sting rays skating on the sand. And right now next to us across the clear green water, there were 2 sea turtles completely chill with all 21 of us freaking out and taking photos!! After swimming in the BEAUTIFUL open ware we moved single-file into a channel hoping to see sharks resting below and saw a small black tipped reef shark navigating the small channel. Finally, we ended the day with ice cream at the beach and fighting to get into the showers first before bed.

-Charlie S and Scout R

July 31, 2023

Today was Nate’s birthday. At breakfast we sang to him (we would end up singing to a total of 18 times throughout the day). After breakfast we left the campsite for the docks. We took a boat out to some lava rock formations where we got ready for snorkeling. We snorkeled for about an hour during which time we saw a family of sea turtles, a sea lion, a massive sting ray, and a small shark. When we got back on the boat we were taken to a small island where we saw some more saltwater iguanas- including some babies! We also saw more sharks, crabs, and sea lions… and our first sighting of blue footed boobies and Nasca boobies (named after the Nasca tectonic plate). Apparently there are penguins on that island also but we didn’t see any. On the boat ride back our boat saw a blue footed boobie and the other boat was more lucky and saw four. Then we docked and went to lunch where we had pizza and pasta with birthday cake. After lunch I explored the town with Kiran and Jesse while the rest of the group spent time on the beach. Then we went back to the campsite and we took a tour of the property seeing a massive 250 year old tree and lots of bamboo and fruit trees. Then we did service work helping to rake grass in what I think was a giant tortoise enclosure. After that, some of us played ultimate frisbee in the yard. Dinner was chicken and rice and beans followed by roasted marshmallows and the last of the happy birthday singing. Then we chilled in the hammocks and went to bed.


Aug 1, 2023

Hola amigos-

We woke up from a colder night in the tents at our ecolodge, Campo Duro. Today we would leave the Island of Isabela to head back to Santa Cruz. We all dragged bags to the bus and loaded up on Dramamine. We wanted to ensure that no one would be sick in this boat ride to the other island. Thankfully, the Dramamine knocked us out. It felt as though the boat ride lasted 10 minutes rather than two and a half hours. After docking, we got breakfast. I had fruit and yogurt. Then we took the bus to the Charles Darwin Research Station!!! It was literally my dream come true. Our amazing guide, Frederico, showd us lava lizards, a medium ground finch and some saddle-backed turtles as we walked through the property. We went into a climate controlled room and saw Lonesome George in his fully preserved skin and shell. They have to keep the room 19 degrees Celsius. After some free time at they hotel where I got to peacefully read my book outside we headed to lunch downtown. I had some delicious ribs and rice! The brownie and ice cream for dessert was great too. With our swimsuits on beneath our clothes we took the bus to Tortuga Bay. First, we had to walk a good 40 minutes on a cobblestone path. The trees and vegetation in the surrounding area was so pretty. I kept spotting lava lizards everywhere. We made it to the most gorgeous beach I have ever seen. The sun was out and you could see the beautiful blue water and just how clear it was. We took kayaks out in the bay. It was a whole lot of capsizing one another’s kayaks and stealing boats from each other. I saw a couple sea turtles heard while out there too. The water was so nice. We had some beach time and then had to leave because the beach was closing. The evening consisted of a nice dinner and shopping for souvenirs downtown. It was a wonderful day but I am starting to miss home. I’m definitely coming back here one day. It’s such a magical place. Unreal.

-Taylor B.