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Millennium H.S. Ecuador

February 19, 2023

Dear friends and families,

We miss you all already but we must say we are already quite immersed in Ecuadorian life. This morning we arrived in Quito after a layover in Panama. After an early morning departure and two flights, in which we all struggled to sleep consistently, we were revitalized by a portion of airplane churros with caramel, which we all agreed were fantastic. After finally making it through customs, we met our guides Jorge and Fabricio, who are very friendly and welcoming. The weather was perfect, not too hot or too cold and we were all overjoyed to get to take some deep breaths of real summer air, here in the Southern hemisphere.

We then hopped on a bus with bus driver Carlos who deftly executed a very complicated maneuver,  and headed out for lunch. On the drive we saw many beautiful views and aspects of Ecuadorian life, taking in scenery and cities. Our lunch was a hearty welcome to Ecuador. We got to choose between a variety of local fruit juices in beautiful colors that all tasted amazing. We then were treated to an empanada starter, followed by an incredibly stimulating plate of hominy, roasted pork, plantains, avocado, and sweet potato fritters. All these flavors blended together to create an immensely satisfying meal. We were then served a blackberry soursop sorbet.

After finishing our amazing lunch, we then headed to La Mitad del Mundo, or the Middle of the World. While there, we learned a lot about the different indigenous cultures that live in Ecuador, and many of their traditions. Perhaps what stood out the most was learning about the shrunken heads. We even got to see a real shrunken head of a 12 year old warrior, which was a very interesting experience. We also learned about the different houses the indigenous cultures lived in, their lifestyle, habits, and beliefs. It was interesting to learn about the various indigenous communities across different regions of Ecuador, such as in the Andes and Amazon. We also learned about the indigenous flag, which we spotted across the area as we traveled by bus.

We then visited the equator itself, and participated in many different activities, such as trying to balance an egg on a nail, or trying to walk in a straight line with our eyes closed across the equator line. It was very disorienting, because being on the equator, we learned, subjected us to a variation in gravitational pull. We also learned that Ecuador is less prone to typhoons, tornadoes, and hurricanes because the centrifugal force pulls away from the equator and towards the poles. We felt the intense sun heat on our faces and realized it is because of how close we are to the sun.

We then left El Mitad del Mundo, and arrived at the hotel. After having some time to settle in, we ate dinner, which was a lovely pair of tacos, along with a side of watermelon juice. After eating dinner, we had a talk with Fabricio and the rest of the group about our hopes and expectations for the trip, as well as basic expectations for rules and behaviors. That leads us to where we are now, and we can’t wait to catch you guys up more tomorrow! We will be taking a cable car ride next to a volcano tomorrow and exploring Quito.

By Vera & John

February 20, 2023

Hi from Ecuador,
Our first full day was quite eventful. While some chose to go on an early morning run, others enjoyed sleeping in until 7:30 followed by a breakfast of huevos fritos o huevos revueltos (fried or scrambled eggs). At 8:30 en punto we piled onto the bus, said hi to our driver Carlos and headed off.
Our first stop was TeléferiQo, a cable car ride which took us from an already high altitude of 10,000 feet, to an even higher 13,000 feet on Pichincha, Quito’s friendly neighborhood volcano. The ride was very enjoyable; as we sailed through the clouds we watched a host of animals, plants and even some brave hikers taking the ascent by foot. Due to the change in elevation we were all a little short of breath when we reached the top, but our lungs soon acclimated as we began a short walk to reach a scenic overlook. At the overlook we were met not only by breathtaking views of Quito below and the views of mountains and ice caps ahead but also by a swing overlooking the city. After swinging through the clouds, we took a stop at a cafe/shop where we bought lattes, chais, other drinks and souvenirs. We then descended back down the mountain and boarded the bus to go to the local market where we tried new fruits and explored. Our last stop before lunch was a beautiful gothic cathedral called La Basilica del Voto Nacional. We explored the architecture and learned about the history of the cathedral.
Lunch was so good. We ate at a delicious restaurant in the old town and indulged in another traditional meal of sausage (or veggie sausage), potato pancakes (llapingachos), eggs and vegetables. We enjoyed a delicious, refreshing lime drink with our meal and then headed out to continue exploring el centro histórico. We were met outside by the locals celebrating Carnaval and a variety of celebratory traditions including face fulls of dyed flour and spritzes of foamy soap. We had a great time moving through the city and almost all of us had faces full of purple, blue, and red as well as soapy clothes by the time we arrived at the chocolateria.
Upon arrival, we learned about the process of cultivating the chocolate, while also trying a variety of different types including a variety of cocoa percentages and incorporating flavors such as ginger, orange, lemon grass, and coffee. We shopped around the chocolateria and then boarded the bus and headed to Quito’s famous estatua de la Virgen del Panecillo. After a quick look and a few photos we headed back to our hotel for rest time. Some decided to explore the area surrounding the hotel, while others read, showered, or just relaxed in their rooms.
After a delicious dinner of french fries, empanadas and beautiful fruit drinks, we returned to our hotel. We hung out, tried some of our fruits, played cards and then hit the hay. Tomorrow we’re headed to Cotacachi where we’ll be for the next four days!

By Margot, Sasha and Ronit

February 21, 2023
Greetings from Cotacachi!

This morning, a few of us woke up early and took a taxi down to the local park for a thirty minute walk/run. We then took the taxis back to the hotel and joined everyone else for a delicious breakfast of eggs, a croissant, and some fresh and juicy pineapple and mango. After that, we got on our bus and took a two hour scenic drive through the mountains on our way to Cotacachi. We played some games and read and slept while we were on the bus. We stopped at a cute little rest stop on the way that had a cafe and local handmade souvenirs. Before we got off the bus, our guide, Jorge, explained to us how we were on the Pan-American highway, the longest highway of the Americas. It is about 15,000 miles long, and stretches from Alaska all the way to Argentina. We got off the bus and bought some things, took pictures of the beautiful views from our location, and said hi to the alpacas that were right next door. When we were finished, some women from one of the local indigenous groups joined us on the bus. They talked to us about their traditional clothing and sang us three songs in Kichwa, the primary indigenous language spoken in Ecuador. They then showed us some of their handmade scarves and bracelets.

Then a new tour guide named Jose Antonio, who belongs to one of the indigenous groups in Cotacachi, joined our journey on the bus to hike in Parque Nacional Cotacachi Cayapas. He informed us of the importance of maintaining traditions through every generation. One important aspect of his indigenous heritage includes growing their hair out and keeping it long, which connects them to their roots. This connection to culture is vastly important, yet has been disrupted in recent years due to the migration to big cities, where youth are losing parts of their heritage.

Once we arrived at the base of the trail, Antonio started explaining what the hike would consist of, including very interesting information about the altitude and overall history. We were then able to start the hike which began with a log staircase leading up to the first viewing area. The scenery was gorgeous, as everyone was able to see the crater lake which spanned across a huge distance. The entire group then continued on the trail leading to more marvelous views but decided to turn back once it started pouring. It was the perfect opportunity to dry off at our new hotel Jora Continental in Cotacachi and get ready for lunch at La Marqueza. Our bus driver Carlos, who had been such an angel, would unfortunately be driving us for the last time until we returned to Quito, so it was a departure filled with sad goodbyes before lunch.

When we finished our delicious meal, we were given the opportunity to have structured free time where we were able to walk around some streets of Cotacachi and get some amazing souvenirs. We explored the shops with wonderful owners who described their lives and how their businesses came to be. During our walks around Cotacachi, we were able to visit Cotacachi’s Central Park. There was beautiful scenery and we were able to feel like we were right back at home in New York City. We then stumbled into a coffee shop with amazing drinks and treats and were able to relax after a long day and read the books the cafe offered. We then had a beautiful walk back to the hotel where we were able to rest and then had an amazing dinner at the restaurant next door to the hotel with cucumbers, rice, and lots of more delicious foods.

Tomorrow, we start our community service that we are so excited for!

Maeve, Isabelle, and Baila

February 22, 2023

¡Hola readers!
Rachel and Orla here. Sit back, grab a glass of wonderful water, and enjoy the blog.
Our morning started bright and early with a feast of a breakfast at 7:30 AM. Our lovely hosts here at Jora Continental treated us to eggs, dragon fruit, bread with cheese, and a special fruit claudia (small yellow plums). We then took off in our new ride, a perfect miniature replica of our old bus, but yellow and driven by Efren, our new driver for the rest of the week.

We rode to La Calera, the beautiful indigenous community where we will be working over the next few days. We were welcomed at the school with an opening ceremony where Julio, a leader of the community, helped us prepare for our work. We stood in a circle, introduced ourselves, then Julio individually cleansed each of our energies and our work began.

After an hour and a half of sanding, scraping, and dusting, we took a snack/rest/sunblock break. We had a potluck of snacks, shared with the kiddos at the school and were joined by a never-ending stream of dogs looking for some love and attention. It began to rain lightly during our break, so we huddled under the awnings until it was time to get back to work. We broke into two groups, artists repainting parts of a mural, while the beige wall painters got speckled, splashed, and startled by the amount of beige paint on our clothes, faces, and hair.

Once we wrapped up our painting and surveyed the damage to our clothes, we headed across the street to a beautiful lunch prepared for us by community members. We enjoyed zucchini and chicken soup (or vegetarian zucchini soup), chicken, potatoes, rice, salad, and babaco, an Ecuadorian fruit, for dessert.

After lunch we divided ourselves once again, into those who would go to make leather wallets and those who would go make jewelry. The jewelry makers, including both of your wonderful blog writers today, visited Sumak Muyo, an indigenous women´s cooperative who make intricate jewelry from natural materials including beads and seeds from throughout Ecuador, including the Amazon and the coast. We saw their beautiful designs, and took inspiration to create our own with a lot of help from the wonderful, patient, and kind women of Sumak Muyo. Once we finished our beading, we walked among many delighful stray dogs to recover our lost half. We discovered the other group feverishly working away on the wallets they had made out of leather, with the help of a local artisan, German. While waiting for them to finish, some of us wandered out to the street where we spent some quality bonding time with a pig and a rooster. As the pig made a daring escape squeezing through his fence, we worried we could be considered accessories to his crime.

Once everyone was more or less finished, we had a peaceful bus ride back to our hotel where we had an hour of rest, relaxation, and paint recovery before dinner. We were swept off our feet by a scruptious dinner of sea bass, rice, plantains, and veggies, followed by lemonade.

After dinner there were threats of a Riff-Off, and your faithful blog writers were grateful for the excuse of updating our lovely family and friends. Hope you´re all doing well, but doubt as well as us!

Stay bloggy out there and see you soon,
Orla and Rachel

-Rachel and Orla

February 23, 2023

Hello from Ecuador!

Today, we continued community service work at La Calera, the indigenous community in which we are making repairs to a local school in need of improvements. We began by painting a first layer of blue, green, and beige paints inside buildings as well as outside the school on the outer wall. As we worked in the blistering sun, we were able to socialize and meet some of the La Calera community members. We spent the first four hours of our day doing so, and were able to complete a first layer of paint on almost every surface we needed to, with enough progress that we will hopefully be done with our work by tomorrow. In addition to painting, we sanded down the walls so that fresh paint would stick correctly, and were able to sand every surface with the combined efforts of the group.

After we were done, we took a short stroll to the community center, in which we sat down for lunch. The lunch was a delicious two course meal, starting with a chicken soup as an appetizer and a beef, quinoa, potato, and avocado food plate as the main course. After this delicious meal, we created delicious jams with local members of the community. We made two different flavors: pineapple and guava passion fruit, both of which were extremely delicious and fun to make. Some of us purchased jars of said jam, which we will bring back to New York for friends and family to try.
During the jam making, Mrs. Fletcher taught us bachata, which most people practiced with partners while we were waiting for the jam to cool. After a fun half an hour of dancing and laughter, a community member named Luis taught us an indigenous dance in which we danced in a circle in the middle of the room. It was very interesting to learn about local culture and traditions such as this dance, and we all had a great time practicing both bachata and the indigenous dance.

After making jam, we headed down to the soccer field at the bottom of the hill to play a game with some local children. The field was large and covered in fresh grass, and from it we could see massive mountains and other beautiful scenery all around. As we waited to start our game, community members herded cows and llamas around the fence. To start the game, two captains chose a mix of local children, MBHS students, and chaperones/tour leaders. In the first half of the game, the score was looking very even, with a tied game of two points each. The teams were working very well together, with masterful ball distribution and positioning from both teams. Even though some of us had only just met each other, communication in both teams was very strong and both were able to hold their own against each other. After an exciting second half with some serious golazos, the game ended at a four four tie. But our Global Works leader, Fabricio, decided to continue the game to determine a victor, with a final score of six to four in extra time. It was a meaningful and truly Ecuadorian experience playing soccer on a field among the hills with the Imbabura Volcano in the background and llamas trying to join the game.

After this exhilarating game, we returned back to the community center with the local children to drink some coladas (hot sweet fruit juice) and eat empanadas prepared by the community members. Certain members attempted to pet the llamas on our path but the llamas quickly ran away with repulsion for all but a few. Then we arrived at the community center and several people began playing a game of truth or dare with the same kids from the soccer field. A bottle was spun and members of the game were dared to do goofy things including dancing and hugging people.

Eventually we sadly had to leave on our bus and returned to a hearty meal of pizza slices. Good night.

– Nic & Cid

February 24, 2023

¡Hola a todos!

Today we got up and prepared for our work day in La Calera. At 8, we came down and had eggs and fruit and queso fresco for breakfast. We made sure to ask for mas queso fresco. After our meal, we got on the bus and said good morning to our driver Efren. When we got to La Calera, the sun was high in the sky. Today, we finished painting the walls of the school, and dug holes, mixed cement, and installed a swing set and seesaw for the yard. We also finished the mural that we had been working on. It was hard to work in the heat, but we managed. Some of us reapplied our sunscreen every 20 minutes, while others almost roasted like corn nuts. During the work, the village dogs came by and kept us company, constantly trying to steal our plantain chips.

After the hard work in the sun, we had a pampamesa, a traditional potluck feast, with the community. Before the meal, we learned that this meal is traditionally eaten on a white sheet on the ground so that you can be closer to and receive energy from Mother Earth. The meal is about sharing food with others, showing gratitude for your community, and being close to nature. The feast consisted of corn, beans, rice, chicken, greens, and of course, more queso fresco. At the meal, we were joined by many of the children from the school who told us they were four years old, and throughout the meal we heard their shouts of “mamá quiero agua!”

When the meal ended, we painted our hands in various colors (verde, rojo, amarillo, and naranja) and pressed them onto our newly painted wall. We took many pictures to show the success of our three days of hard work. After that, we had some free time. Some people tanned in the sun, while others read, and still others played cards.

At 3, we split into two groups. One group went to make jewelry with an indigenous women’s organization in the community Sumak Muyo, while the other group went to make wallets with the local leather artisan. At the leather shop, we got to see all of the different shoes that German, the leather craftsman, made, and we got to pick our own patterns for wallets. Some people made wallets with embroidered patterns on them, and others went for a more minimalist look. We could choose from many colors, including green, chocolate, honey, and blanco. The leather pieces were already cut out for us, but we glued them and nailed holes in them before carefully hand stitching the leather. It was difficult and time consuming, but we were all successful and left the shop with our own hand-made leather wallets. While some people were finishing their wallets, others bought popsicles and sat on the curb observing the everyday joys of La Calera. We heard dogs barking, roosters making way too much noise, and dads carrying their kids home on their motorcycles. When the last of the wallet makers were finished, we got back on the bus and said buenas tardes to Efren and drove back to our hotel in Cotacachi. We watched the fog in the mountains and saw the sun set into the trees. When we arrived at the hotel, we froze to death in our showers made from dribbles of snow melt from the Andes and had a meal of chicken and fries (us vegetarians had lentils, luckily they were gluten free).

We finished the day with a briefing of the plan for tomorrow and some free time, before hanging out on the chaperones’ balcony.

-Maya and Lola

February 25, 2023

¡Hola a todos (from Quito again)!

The morning in Cotacachi started with a delicious meal of papaya, banana, jelly, pineapple, eggs, and bread from 7:30-8:30, our typical Ecuadorian breakfast. Following this, we did some speedy packing for our long trip back to Quito. At a little after 8:30, we headed out to La Calera for the final time of this trip. We began with this an unplanned game of soccer after a demanded rematch with a few of the children from the community, who absolutely were the most skillful, talented players on each team. The teams were swapped around though, so no one can quite tell who the reigning champion is.

Following the game, we walked back to the school for a beautiful closing ceremony. Different age groups of people of La Calera performed a series of traditional dances for us, including many shy little kids curling into each other as their older friends stumbled over the steps that one day they will perfect. Their older counterparts did mesmerizing dances with long pieces of fabric that covered their skirts. Afterwards, they brought us in to dance with them, and, surprisingly enough, we didn’t feel like outsiders in disguise, but a part of their world, a similar feeling to when people rubbed colored flour on our faces for Carnaval being celebrated on the streets of Quito. For some, the dancing was the best part of the whole trip because that belonging felt like the moment they had been waiting for. Afterwards, we decided that instead of putting our names on our handprints, we wanted the kids’ handprints to join ours instead, following Global Works´ model of working with, not for. The adults were happy to oblige and many photos were taken of Millenium kids with their newly found little friends.

Following this, we headed back to the community center to pick up some jarred jelly to take home to our family members. We were initially offered pineapple and guava passionfruit, but we were given a third option of mortiño, and many of us chose to get it as well. The lovely ladies at the community center served us a final meal of pineapple juice, soup with chicken, guinea pig (a traditional Ecuadorian dish), potatoes, and some very well-seasoned chicken followed by some jellied strawberries. We exchanged firm handshakes paired with bittersweet goodbyes and boarded our bus.

We were all happy to see Carlos, our bus driver, again. We took a half-hour ride to the Otavalo market, which was so much bigger than any of us could have ever imagined. We broke off into groups of three to purchase clothing, jewelry, cutlery, belts, and bags. As we waited for everyone to finish shopping so we could take the bus back to Quito, we tried on each others’ clothes, flashed jewelry, and exchanged our best haggling stories while we reapplied sunblock. On the bus, we pulled out music, books, knitting, and neck pillows for our two-and-a-half-hour drive, which was wonderfully paired with views of Ecuador´s mountainous landscape.

Back at the Andino Hotel, we all got an hour to stretch our legs and take showers before our dinner with seven different choices of pizza toppings, including some new options such as shrimp and tuna. We wrapped up the night by rearranging tables in the communal area into a circle and huddling close to discuss the best parts of the trip. For all of us, our only regret was that we couldn’t be there to do more, however, we were all thrilled with the progress we made and learned the value of teamwork. Ms. Scrivner commented on how we all found our niche as we were working. Talented artists, paint-chippers, and wall-painters were discovered as we worked and we all drifted to where we accomplished the most. We laughed over the funny bits and leaned in for the personal bits as we discovered what this trip meant to each of us. Then, we said goodnight and headed off to our rooms for the evening.

Hugs from Quito,
Hazel and Caroline

February 26, 2023

Early in the morning, before departing from the lovely Hotel Andino, we enjoyed a great breakfast of eggs and croissants. Afterwards, we finished packing our bags and headed to our bus where we said good morning to Carlos once again. Then, we loaded onto the bus for a two hour drive to the Papallacta Hot Springs. On the road, Jorge informed us that we reached the highest altitude that we would reach throughout the entire trip, approximately 14,000 ft!

The drive to the hot springs and our first sights of it were absolutely gorgeous! Honestly, the hot springs were indescribable, with breathtaking mountain views and vibrant foliage. It was really interesting to see the vegetation that grows at these extreme altitudes. Another interesting fact we learned from Jorge was that we were also getting close to the Amazon rainforest zones of Ecuador.

At the hot springs, we got to experience a great day of rest where we mostly relaxed in the warm water. Some of us really leaned into the relaxation aspect of the day with some light reading and snacks, whereas others decided to challenge themselves with a dip into the colder pools (cold is an understatement, freezing is more like it). While it was crowded, many of us enjoyed being around so many people; it made us feel alive.

After exploring the various temperature baths that the hot springs had to offer, we headed down to the Papallacta restaurant around 2pm. At the restaurant, we were given the choices of having chicken, beef, or a local Ecuadorian delicacy: freshwater trout (trucha). Many of us opted to try the delicious trout. After devouring a plate of rice, beans, crispy fries, and our choice of meat, we were given a delightful slice of chocolate cake that was plated with a blackberry jam.

Once we finished munching, we headed out to take one of our final group photos in front of the wondrous greenery of the hot spring. Despite some nerves for those not comfortable in water, the trip to the hot springs was filled to the brim with great vibes, great experiences, and most importantly, great food.

Carlos then returned to pick us up and bring us to our airport adjacent hotel, Hosteria Airport Garden Quito, which was our final hotel destination of the trip. On the way to the hotel, many of us partook in a collective siesta session (or siesta fiesta, if you will). Upon arrival, we said our last goodbyes to one of our guides, the amazing Jorge. Next, room keys were distributed and we got to situate ourselves and explore our unique hotel, which has small cabanas, larger hotel rooms, a game room, a soccer field, and a combined basketball and volleyball court. Many of us got the chance to admire the lovely mountainous views that encompassed the hotel.

By 6:45pm, we all headed down to the spacious open area where we engaged in our last group reflection. We all discussed the things that we would take away from this trip and on behalf of the chaperones, Mrs. Fletcher gave individual affirmations to everyone. Overall, the last group reflection was very beautiful and sentimental, and it gave us a way to genuinely appreciate the essence of the trip! We then ended the night with a scrumptious dinner of roasted chicken, baby potatoes, a handful of rice and a salad on the side. But many of us agreed that the best part was the blackberry mousse that we had for dessert.

Tonight there was no curfew as we all had to be ready to leave by 1am to head to the airport so that we could board our plane on time. Ultimately, this trip has been an eye-opening, unforgettable experience in which long lasting memories and friendships were created along the way. This once in a lifetime experience is one we will carry with us forever.

Stay lit, see you later,
Melissa, Aleena, and Alexia