Volunteering in The Andes + Otavalo Weekend

After a successful adventure week it was time to get back to work. Together with my group, I left Quito to Otavalo, and after some ‘camioneta’-rides later we arrived in Chilcapamba. Here we would stay 2 weeks to work on a community project, providing water to the local houses. The free weekend was spend discovering the markets of Otavalo and discovering Laguna de Cuicocha. Enjoy the story!

The Andes Otavalo The Leap

My Leap Group with Don Alfonso in Otavalo

It had been a shocking night and nobody felt really in the mood to leave to the next community, as we only had a few hours of sleep and a traumatic experience (see blog post Riobamba). But we survived a 5 hour trip from Quito to Otavalo to Quiroga to Chilcapamba, somewhere deep in the valleys of the Andes… The first day was spend dividing rooms, eating and doing siestas. We got a quick introduction by our project host Alfonso Morales, the leader of the Chilcapamba community and many others in the area. Quite early we went to sleep, preparing ourselves for some hard work the next weeks.

The Andes Chilcapamba Welcome

Welcome to Chilcapamba

Chilcapamba is one of Yanapuma’s sustainable community development projects in the Andes. Located in the north of Quito, near the famous market town of Otavalo, this population lives by farming and the production of various crafts. Our involvement with this community consisted in carrying out a water project, helping in the local school and other tasks related to agriculture. In the afternoon my Leapers enjoyed Spanish classes, which meant that I had some time off every day to relax or do some paperwork in the internet cafe. We lived in a volunteer house with an indigenous family, and explored the local environment and culture.

The first morning I enjoyed a hot shower around 6.30AM and woke the rest of the group up around 7.30AM. During breakfast we divided our daily tasks in a democratic way (everyday 2 persons helping in the school and 2 cleaning team + the rest worked on the project). We started our work after walking around 15 minutes to a road nearby, where two local men pointed us a place to start digging holes. The aim: finding the water pipe lines, opening them to put an extra segment to provide water to the houses nearby.

The Andes Chilcapamba

Water pipe line

This work we did every day from 8.30AM until 1PM. I can garantee you that I have discovered muscle parts in my body of which I did not know they excisted and it was quite a work out for all of us! But we were giving freedom to work at own pace, as the local men just dropped us at our work spots every day. We digged an average of 2 holes per 4 persons a day, so 4 holes a day. And that during a week. So our contribution as volunteers was giving 20 families in Chilcapamba water!

The Andes chilcapamba

One of my Leapers and I working hard 😛

In the afternoons I usually went to the internetcafe, which was a 20 minute walk up the hill from the volunteer house. I had a few hours free every day while my group members had their Spanish courses. Sometimes I just stayed home and did a siesta or read a book. But I loved the walk through the fields, admiring the surrounding mountains and corn fields. It had a very quiet atmosphere and made me feel closer to myself. Like a meditation walk…

 The Andes Fields

Views on my way to the internet café…

The evenings we spend playing card games, Maffia, having someone’s birthday party, playing ‘Would you rather…’ in the room, watching the stars on the rooftop terrace and playing football next door with the local kids. Days passed by quickly like this, even though it was a more boring experience living the farm life then the jungle life (Tsachila) or the island life (Galapagos)…

The food in the Andes was OK, but nothing more then that. And after a few days, your body is craving for proteins, which it doesn’t get a lot here. Breakfast was usually the best of the day, as they brought us fresh bread with jam and hot chocolate milk. The locals ate rice, eggs and beans. For lunch we always got a fresh juice and soup with potatoe and corn in it, followed by rice, some vegetables, beans and more rice. Dinner was the same. We hardly got any meat, which was no problem for me as I am almost vegetarian. But having only rice, two times a day for two weeks was a though diet. There were hardly fruits either, so it was not really a balanced diet either. But exactly that is one of the problems of the Kichwa people that live in this community. There is a lot of malnutrition, and people need to eat more carbohydrates because of the altitude.

food sierra

Typical dishes in the Andes (Sierra)

On Wednesday the Spanish courses were cancelled, and we got to finish work early because we were invited by the Ministerio del Ambiente (Ministry of Environment) to participate in a congress. We got a V.I.P. pick-up service (read: camioneta) from Chilcapamba to Otavalo, and were assisted by our project leader Don Alfonso the whole time. We saw him making a speech, signing a contract about God-knows-what, enjoyed some free-style Ecuadorian entertainment and sweet food afterwards during the reception. Although the group did not understand a word of what was going on (and I could impossibly translate because we had to be quiet the whole time), it was a great experience and I felt very thankful to be invited in this event. It was the first time that volunteers from abroad were recognised by the Ministry to participate in this kind of events, so it was really a valuable experience! Late in the evening we went back to the community for dinner by camioneta…

The Andes Ministerio del AMbiente

Ministerio del Ambiente – Pretty Building in Otavalo

 The next days were a little difficult on personal level. I had a fight with my boyfriend, things were all going so great here in Ecuador with my internship and The Leap, but at the homefront nothing seemed to be going well: bad communication, plans that did not work out, … I felt like I never wanted to return back home, and every day walking in the mountains to the internet cafe I was thinking more and more about how I would love to disappear and go somewhere else on this earth. I felt happy and in the same time lost. As if I was not the same person anymore and wanted to start a new life somewhere else in this world, gone from all negativity, continuing this positive vibe I was living here with my projects. And I wondered: am I just becoming a different person or is this place just a different world? I had no idea about who I was and what I wanted in life, and that was so funny, because all I every tried to convince my group from was ‘finding theirselves’ during their Gap Year. But to be honest: once you find yourself, you’re fucked up and more lost then ever because your whole life does not fit in the person that you have found there and then! Or maybe life was just perfect the way it was, but people are constantly looking for issues? I didn’t know, I just felt like something was about to change…

Anyway, before I knew it, it was Friday – yep, thank God it’s Friday! I participated in a fun Spanish class where the Leapers had to taste typical Ecuadorian fruits and had a lot of fun! And because we were leaving for the weekend in the afternoon, there was no MINGA (community work) planned for today, just the Spanish classes in the morning. I enjoyed the sun, the fruits, called some camionetas, made reservations, made sure the rooms were left clean before the weekend and then we left…

The Andes Spanish classes

Fruit games during Spanish classes in the Volunteer House 

When we arrived in Otavalo, checked in at the hostel (Flying Donkey, very recommendable BTW), we walked around in the shopping street and enjoyed a descent dinner together. I enjoyed my lasagna so much after a week of rice! 😉 You can imagine… After my favourite cocktail – Piña Colada – it was time to head to bed and prepare for  a sweet day…

Otavalo has hosted one of the most important markets in the Andes for hundreds of years, and is therefor one of the main tourist attractions in Ecuador. In the colorful open-air marketplace, vendors hawk everything from handmade traditional crafts to imported (table)clothes. Packs of tourists from around the globe hunt for bargains here, and go home with loads of souvenirs.

The Otavaleños are indigenous people who are known for their animal trading on the early morning markets, and their exquisite weavings. They are the wealthiest and most commercially successful indígena people in Ecuador, which makes that most of them live in more comfort than other Ecuadorians.

Saturday morning, I woke up at 6AM and managed to wake up not even half of my group to go to the animal market. There we have seen screaming piglets, bags of guinea pigs and many cows. The market is actually not nice at all seeing all this animals suffering, but the atmosphere is unbeatable and the chaos has something cool!

The Andes Animal Market

Feria de Animales, Otavalo

After the animal market, we woke the rest of the group up in the hostal and went for breakfast together. Then it was time for the other market: the crafts market! This market is located at Plaza de Ponchos, and this is where the real action happens every Saturday, because then the market swells into adjacent roads and around half of the town center is a sea of brightly dyed carpets, clothings and other trinkets then. You can buy so many things there: woolen goods such as rugs, tapestries, blankets, ponchos, sweaters, scarves, gloves and hats, as well as blouses, hammocks, carvings, beads, paintings, woven mats, jewelry and so on. I spent more or less 100 USD on souvenirs there, and I managed to bargain for another 100 USD. After one whole day you get to know the skills to do it!

The Andes Otavalo crafts market

Shopping at Otavalo’s Crafts Market

The afternoon was spent watching football by the boys, and I took the girls to the Cascadas de Peguche. We took a taxi just outside of town, and were dropped off near a trail leading to the waterfalls. These falls are sacred to the locals and are very impressive. Entrance is free so another reason more to visit!

The Andes Cascadas de Peguche

Cascadas de Peguche

In the evening we went out all together for pizza in Otavalo, and had some pre-drinking games in the hostal room before going out. I stayed in, tired from the busy day, and the others came back before I closed my eyes because they did not find a club. Lol, that was funny! 😛

Sunday morning we left after breakfast to drop off our luggage and many souvenirs in the volunteer house, and took the same camionetas to head further to La Laguna de Cuicocha, which was around 20 minutes from our community in Chilcapamba. It is a lagoon cradled in a collapsed volcanic crater some 3 km wide and 200m deep and it features two mounded islands that shot up in later eruptions. The islands look like the backs of two guinea pigs, hence the name “cuicocha” means ‘guinea pig lake’ in Kichwa.

The Andes Laguna de Cuicocha

Me and my boys!

We did not hike the trail nor did the boat trip because none of us felt like doing a lot of excercise, due to busy last days. In stead, we enjoyed the views from the view point and had a nice lunch in Restaurante El Mirador…

In the late afternoon we went back to Chilcapamba, where some of us did a siesta and I headed to the horse races in Quiroga to socialize with the locals. It was also a good walk, 20 minutes down and 30 minutes back up hill.

The Andes Horse races Quiroga

Horse Races in Quiroga

Monday it was back to work! Today I was on schedule to work with the kids and help out a hand in the kitchen, together with one of my boys. The others were picking corn in a field, to have some variation on the never ending digging water pipe holes. It was a good day! After I translated the instructions from one of the Kichwa women, we started to help in the kitchen making breads (donuts?) for the kids. Then afterwards, we got to bring them to the nursery of the community.

The Andes Kichwa woman

Helping a Kicha woman in the kitchen

In the nursery, we gave the kids hot banana milk, the donuts that we made and played with them. We teached them how to count and some letters of the alphabet. They all called us “TURISTA” which was a little bit discriminating I thought, but in the same time cute and sweet of them. They made some dances for us and we sang a song.

We went back to the kitchen to prepare lunch and went back to feed them. Then we played with them outside, and finally it was time for us too to have lunch with the other volunteers. A nice experience!

The Andes kids kichwa

Kichwa Kids

After lunch, the others had Spanish classes and I went to the internet cafe for my daily portion of walking in the nature and connecting with the World Wide Web. In the evening we enjoyed a quiz, organized by one of my group members and it was very difficult!! I blamed it on the fact that I was the only one not being from the U.K., but honestly… I really sucked hahaha. I ended up being last in the game. Grrrffhmmmgfhhhfd!!

The next days we worked further on digging our water holes, and closing some of them that were ready again. We also cleared the roads and equalized the levels. The afternoons were spend the same and I organized a story telling night and question round with Don Alfonso for my volunteers. That was probably one of the highlights of this week, as we got to know much more about his background, the history of the community, the importance of our volunteering and many more facts and figures.

The Andes Volunteering Chilcapamba

Digging holes as deep as my body!

The last days were spend equally and we got adapted to our routine just before we left again. After two heavy weeks with lots of work and lots of fun, lots of personal challenges and physical ones, it was time to head back to Quiroga, Otavalo and Quito. The next weekend was going to be spend in Mindo… I’ll post it in the next blog post.

goodbye alfonso morales chilcapamba

Goodbye, Don Alfonso!

Happy reading!

Julie

 

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