Ruta del Sol & a YOLO mistake

The last week of the 10 week program with The Leap was pretty intense. Not only did we do the Ruta del Sol (Itinerary of the Sun) – Guayaquil, Montañita, Puerto Lopez – and party hard every night of the week, we also came to the final moment in which we had to say goodbye to each other. Many tears flooded and emotions were strong. We’ve had a great team and nobody wanted this journey ever to end, I guess. Last but not least, I will reveal some YOLO story in this post… So keep reading and find it out!

montanita

The Ruta del Sol could better have been called Ruta del Alcohol, because to be honest we’ve seen more alcohol than sun that week. I do not really have much more to tell in this blog post then that we ate, slept, drank and partied. We started our itinerary in Quito, after returning from Mindo, and woke up at 3AM to catch a bus early in the morning towards Guayaquil.

With almost 4 million people, Guayaquil is the largest and most populous city in Ecuador. Located on the coast, it is as well the nation’s main port. The Malécon 2000 is the symbolic center of the city, with much green and many shops in the area. We only had a few looks from out of the bus, driving along the city to the bus terminal. So we did not spend much time there, just a quick hop to catch the next bus to Montañita, and had lunch in Mc Donalds!!! What a fancy bus terminal they had there!

guayaquil

Malecon 2000, Guayaquil (Ecuador)

We arrived around dinner time in Montañita and enjoyed our first night out partying as it should. Montañita is a small coastal town in the south coast of Ecuador. It is translated as ‘little hill’ because it became famous so slowly. It is a place for surfing and used to be a rustic fishermen town. In 1960, some hippies settled in Montañita and now it is a popular destination for surfers from around the world. Moreover, it is considered one of the best beaches in Ecuador, and it has a great nightlife! We enjoyed the sunset and left for our first party night out!

montanita sunset

Sunset in Montañita

Montañita is one of the few beaches in Ecuador where (European) women frequently go topless, according to Wikipedia. However, I am European but I did not do it… 😉 There was one night in which I wanted to go “skinny-dipping”, but eventually that did not happen. Guess we were not drunk enough… 😛

Another Wikipedia fact is that Montañita is the only place in Ecuador where marijuana is smoked freely. Marijuana is illegal in Ecuador, but you can smell and see it in the Streets every single day.

montanita party night 1

Montañita – Party Night N°1

It is very common to hear reggea and reggeaton music on street corners, to see banners of peace symbols and hippies who hang around. Gay travellers should also very comfortable here, as walking holding hands is freely accepted.

The Streets of Montañita are filled with international bars, restaurants and cafés. Our favourite street was ‘Cocktail Alley’ where cocktails were freshly blended for $4,00 a cup. A cheap and eficient way to get our nights started!

montanita party night 2

Montañita – Party Night N°2

The second day the other Leap group that was travelling through Ecuador in a different sequence, also arrived in this party town and joined our group for the daily celebrations. We had the whole hostel for ourselves, as we were 25 persons in total. The atmosphere was insane! ❤

montanita party night

Montañita – Party Night N°3

I was happy to have the other (Dutch) group leader around for the next days, as most of the group members spent the daytime sleeping… We usually went out with them to party, but came back at a more descent time (as we were still on duty here!! Remember… Group leading IS an actual JOB). So during daylight we enjoyed food, drinks and terraces (paid by the company) and wandered around town… And at night we joined the groups for dinner and pre-drinking games.

montanita last dinner

Montañita – Party Night N°4

The last night we planned a dinner with both groups together in the same restaurant and we bought some huge beertaps for all. Food and drinks were great, as usually here in Montañita, and we went out for a last – and of course even more crazy – night out. I think what happened in Montañita should definetely stay in Montañita, and that Montañita was a YOLO town more then any other place in Ecuador. We all had great fun, crazy memories and an incredible experience!

However, it was pretty hard to wake up all 23 group members to leave to the next ‘Ruta del Sol’ destination the day after. With some pretty sweet hangovers and a big lack of descent sleep, we left by public bus to Puerto Lopez. This is a a small fishing village set in an arched bay on the Pacific coast in the Ecuadorian Manabí Province.

On the streets near the beach you can find restaurants and beach bars with hammocks, while the other streets have some travel agencies where you can book a tour for whalewatching or fishing. Amberjack, dolphins, wahoos, marlins and tunas are many of the different species that you can see just off the coast. Of course, we only did the laid back activities and didn’t go whalewatching due to our time limit.

Puerto Lopez

Puerto Lopez – City views

After a night bus back to Quito, our final day had come. I held a global evaluation session with the group and they filled in a survey. It was an emotional moment, and the results of the questionnaire were amazing. I got to read amazing comments and Yanapuma was very happy with this final results. They gave me 94% for my internship! Some examples of comments:

“Julie was like a friend but also led us really well, always making me feel safe. Did not distance herself from us but joined in with everything we did while still being responsible”

“Julie was brilliant throughout, very laid back but was strict and purposeful in the situations where it was needed. Even though she was our leader, it still felt like she was one of us in the group and that´s definitely a good thing”

“Julie has been an excellent leader. I have absolutely no complaints. She was extremely approachable, and dealt brilliantly when she had to take people to the hospital, for example. Being so close to us in age was imperative”

julie group leader

Survey Result – Thank you, Leapers!!! 

After a very last goodbye dinner, goodbye speech and goodbye breakfast, it was time to say GOODBYE – which was really hard. Of course there were many tears, more then I expected, but after all… It were tears of gratitude. This had been one of the most life changing experiences for each and everyone of us. For me, this had been the biggest carreer jump so far, and even though I had not find myself yet in this whole wide world, I came so much closer to myself, to what I feel as where I am born for. I felt truly blessed for this opportunity, for having such a great group and seeing such a beautiful country. There were no words to describe the feeling!

despedida yanapuma the leap april ecuador

“La despedida” – Goodbye Picture Leap Group B

The YOLO Mistake….

I kept it a secret for quite a long time, but now it’s time to tell it…. Where do I start…

I ended up buying a T-shirt saying “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, Montañita – Ecuador”. The whole group laughed at my for that, but that was not the YOLO mistake I was planning to reveal. YOLO, in our case was You Only Leap Once. But that’s a mistake: I’m going to Leap twice!!! Yep, you hear it well, I am off this summer to be a Group Leader again. The Leap offered me a job in Cambodia, a country of which I did not even know the capital city before now. But I looked at the program, saw it was great, booked my tickets and gone am I again the end of June. I am super excited for this new experience and I feel this is a perfect kind of synchronity in my life, as I was feeling my life needed a change. Thanks for the opportunities to The Leap, one of the greatest companies I know, just because they believe in young people who are motivated to gain experience and discover new horizons in life! #feelingblessed!

yolo

Hello Cambodia July 2014 ‘Summer Program’ 

The Cloud Forest of Mindo

After working hard for two weeks in the Andes, we were rewarded by a free weekend to enjoy the cloud forest of Mindo. We travelled about half of the day, and arrived in the afternoon in the tiny but beautiful village of Mindo.

With its breathtaking settings surrounded by cloud forest on all sides, the small village of Mindo has become a backpackers favourite in Ecuador the latest years. It lives and breathes tourism, and it is conveniently located just off the main road between Quito and Esmeraldas.

Mindo is a paradise for birdwatchers, hikers and adventurers as there are loads of activities to do: butterfly farms, zip lines over the treetops, mountain-biking, tubing, orchid collections, and so on… Me and my group opted for a visit to the chocolate factory on Saturday, tubing on Sunday and a waterfall tour on Monday.

Mindo The Leap

Leap Team B in Mindo

Saturday 31/05/14: Chocolate Factory

Straight after our arrival in Mindo, we booked a tour to El Quetzal, the Chocolate Factory of Mindo. It has a wonderful laid-back coffee shop and the real reason to visit it is to try the locally famous brownie, the American owner’s proud specialty, according to Lonely Planet. And so we did!

We got a tour to see the whole chocolate making process, where they grew the cacao tree, how they roasted the beans, how they mixed the chocolate and so on. But the highlight of our tour was of course the tasting workshop, where we tried various types of chocolate (very pure and healthy) with sirops, herbs and spices. It was quite an experience, and the brownie was indeed unforgettably delicious!

Mindo Chocolate Factory

Brownies at El Quetzal

Saturday evening it was time to discover Mindo’s nightlife, and we ended up chilling in a treehouse bar zipping pinneaple daiquiris and other cocktails. It was a good night, hanging around as one big family team! 🙂

Sunday 01/06/14: Tubing

After quite an early breakfast, we had to postphone our tour of the day to the afternoon as it was raining. Not that it was a problem, because Sunday is usually a lazy day and nobody felt like moving. I wandered around in town, worked on the computer and in the afternoon the group went tubing. Tubing the rapids of Rio Mindo is a very popular activity, but can be also dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Therefor, it is always guided. Cost? $6. Not bad!

Mindo TubingTubing Activity

The evening was spend more relaxed and laid-back, having dinner at Biohostal and going to bed early for tomorrow’s trip.

Monday 02/06/14: Waterfall Tour

After an early breakfast we left for another tour, my favourite one in Mindo! The Tarabita, a unique hand-powered cable car, took us soaring across the lush river basin over the tick cloud forest to the Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo, where you can find lots of waterfalls along the hiking trail.

The perfectly safe wirte basked on steel cables glides 152m above the ground and, though certainly not for people who are afraid of heights, it is a superb way to get above the forest and enjoy incredible views!

Mindo TarabitaEnjoying the Tarabita views

Cascada Nambillo was the closest waterfall on our map and trail, and took us more or less 15 minutes walking to get there. It was a nice hike with impressive views along the way. In order to get to the waterfalls, we had to do a hell of a rock climb – which I was absolutely not planning to do – but took us to a magical place, where the boys found their paradise and encountered their inner Tarzans! 😛

They used the tubes, the water slide, the ropes, the rocks, the water, and everything else you can imagine to make some waterfall fun!

Mindo WaterfallsRock climbing at Cascada Nambillo

We headed back to Mindo town around lunch time, I bought bus tickets, made invoices, arranged a place for lunch and so on, and then we took the bus to Quito, where we arrived around dinner time. It was a nice and calm but still very enjoyable last weekend of our Leap program.

Next on schedule:

The Ruta del Sol, the last week of The Leap!

Oh my god… Time flies when you’re having fun!!!

x x x

Julie

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

 

An Adventurous Week in Ecuador – Riobamba

10 May 2014 – 17 May 2014

The Adventure Week AKA Ruta de los Volcanes

The Leap promised its Leapers an “a week of adventure and expedition, taking the famous “Ruta de los Volcanes” (Volcanic Route), biking to waterfalls, white-water raft, climb Chimborazo volcano and kayak over Quilotoa crater lake”, but it was much more than that, exceeding all of our expectations. It was a crazy week, finally getting EVERYONE out of their comfort zone, with loads of unforgettable memories, and loads of work for me as a leader! Here follows a great story, enjoy the ride! (Part 3)

Adventure Week Chimborazo Cycling

RIOBAMBA

In the afternoon we left Baños for Riobamba, where I had to go to the hospital with some of my group straight after lunch. I ended up spending the whole afternoon in the emergency room and got back to the hostel to meet my other Leapers to have diner again. So I didn’t do anything special regarding sightseeing in the city, but it didn’t matter because I had been there before in March already.

Now, Riobamba means ‘river’ and ‘valley’ in Spanish and Kichwa, reffering to the topography of the area. On Saturdays there is a great indigenous market, but we were there during week days, and had other (read: more adventurous) plans!

Thanks to Riobamba’s proximity to the Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest peak, there are a lot of options to do excursions. We left on the next morning to do a one-day mountain-biking trip, where we did a downhill descent from the refuge of Chimborazo!

Adventure Week chimborazo

Road from Riobamba to Chimborazo

The CHIMBORAZO DOWNHILL day tour was awesome! We got to enjoy the beauty of Ecuador’s highest mountain in an active way and hiked from the first refuge to the second, reaching an altitude of 5000m. Well, to be honest, I did not make the second refuge due to altitude sickness. I had a terrible headache as if my brains were going to explode and my heart beat was so fast that I thought I would die. I did not feel sick at all, but I was worried enough to decide to go back to 4800m (first refuge). There I enjoyed a Coca Tea, which has medicinal effects for altitude sickness. And did I already mention it was freeeeezing cooooollddd up there!

Adventure Week Refuge 4800m

Drinking Coca Tea at 4800m

The distance between the Carrel refuge (4800m) and the Whymper refuge (5000m) was only 1 kilometer, but because of the thin air at this altitude, everyone had to walk slowly and it took almost an hour before they were back to have a hot coca-tea.

We prepared ourselves and our mountain bikes for descending from 4800m to the lower hut, where we had no visibility at all. That first part of 8 km on a dirt road was crazy! I decided to take it slowly and easy because it was very hard to control your bike having that much speech without being to see 5 m in front of you, passing to a lot of corners and bumps in the road. It was super cold and I passed some people who went to fast and crashed!

Adventure Week Downhill Ride

Start of the downhill ride from 4800m

After that first part on the dirt road, we checked our bikes and continued descending from 4800m to 2900 m altitude, over a distance of 37 km on an asphalted road. It definetely sounds harder then it was, because downhill means no need to put loads of effort in your biking as your bike takes you.

Adventure Week mountain bike

Me descending the Chimborazo

I had the feeling I was flying over the landscape, fast as I went. At certain moments I went so fast that I passed cars and it felt like 75 km/hour (which isn’t of course). After +/- 2 hours we arrived at San Juan village, where we met the staff at the church. It was pretty cool, because we were followed by the guides and supported by vehicles all the time. Like real cyclers, felt like ‘Tour de France’ but in Ecuador. 😛

Anyway, here’s a movie of our CHIMBORAZO DOWNHILL adventure, made by our travel agency guides:

The next day it was time to head back to Quito, spend some nights there and go to the next and last community to do some more volunteering in the Andes.

But that last weekend in Quito turned out to be at least as adventurous as the Adventure Week itself, because while we went out for someones Birthday dinner and a cocktail in the Irish Pub in the Mariscal, we got followed by strange people that tried to be “our friends”, but turned out to have other plans as they didn’t stop following us. I had to stop the police to make the situation come to an end, but the police did not do anything, and before we were able to ran away from them, they got us again and started to beat me up because I stopped the police for them… Horrible story and had to run for my life to a taxi while they were hitting on the car!

Later turned out that a friend of mine was robbed that very same night in the same area, by the same people. Guess we were lucky, and Thank God the hostal had some ice to put on my beaten up face… I have a good guardian angel ! ❤

Adventure Week Alpaca

Vicuñas (look-a-like llamas) in the Chimborazo Reserve

From Julie with Love

xxx

An Adventurous Week in Ecuador – Baños

10 May 2014 – 17 May 2014

The Adventure Week AKA Ruta de los Volcanes

The Leap promised its Leapers an “a week of adventure and expedition, taking the famous “Ruta de los Volcanes” (Volcanic Route), biking to waterfalls, white-water raft, climb Chimborazo volcano and kayak over Quilotoa crater lake”, but it was much more than that, exceeding all of our expectations. It was a crazy week, finally getting EVERYONE out of their comfort zone, with loads of unforgettable memories, and loads of work for me as a leader! Here follows a great story, enjoy the ride! (Part 2)

Banos white water rafting

BAÑOS

After exploring the lake of Quilotoa (see former blog post), it was time to head further to Baños. This was definetely one of the highlights on the program and everyone had a lot of adventurous expectations: white water rafting, bridge jumping, paragliding, the end of the world swing, canyoning, … It was all on the planning for Leap Group B!

Baños is an adrenaline junkie’s paradise caught between the Andes and the Amazon in a magical little valley complete with its own waterfall and numourous natural springs. It is also the most popular backpacker spot in the Central Highlands of Ecuador, so you’ll never really alone in Baños and tourists mean… Good food, good bars!

The afternoon we arrived was spend bridgejumping by the boys, enjoying the thermal pools by the girls and me exploring this new town. I had never been in Baños before and it was quite an interesting touristy place. I went for a coffee, checked out restaurants and enjoyed the views on the roof top terrace of our lovely Hostal Plantas y Blanco. In the evening we had dinner with all of us together, and by bedtime I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body for next days Rafting excursion!

Adventure Week banos hostal plantas y blanco

Rooftop terrace in Hostal Plantas y Blanco

Baños is a mixture of amazing settings such as waterfalls, lush forests and steaming thermal springs. The town itself is not so nice when it comes to architecture (as most Ecuadorian towns), but there are many tour operators, travel agencies, bars, restaurants and hostals who contribute to its backpacker-ghetto atmosphere.

Early in the morning we left to the Pastaza River where we would go white water rafting. After a 45 minute ride to that river, we (no, especially me) were nervous for the briefing and security check. I could not focus on what was said by our instructor/guide because of nerves, and honestly wanted to quit before I even was on this river. But I did not want to be the Pussy of the group and decided to hold on…

Rafting Banos

Strategically I placed myself in the middle of our raft, and with a lifejacket and a wetsuit I felt more ready to do it! There we went…. Only 1 hour of rafting, but so much fun… The first 30 minutes I was probably more screaming than paddling, but the further we got and the wilder it got, the more I started to enjoy the adventure!

My biggest fear was to fell out of the boat, or even worse: being pushed by another team member and fell out of the boat on purpose. Luckily, none of that happened to me, and straight after arrival I felt disappointed: was this it? Was this the reason why I had been so scared? Oh baby…. 😛

After we had lunch together with the team and our guides, we headed back to Baños where we were given some pictures of our tour. Great memories! Viva la aventura!

rafting pastaza river

While the rest of the group went to rent quad bikes in the afternoon, I decided to take it easy and slow. I went for another strawl around town, visited the thermal pools (baños) of Baños, and went to see the ‘holy’ waterfall from nearby. I went inside the impressive church, did some souvenir shopping, looked for a restaurant that night, and finally enjoyed a pinneaple juice on a terrace. The group came back pretty late from their quad bike trip, but we still enjoyed a good late night dinner together!

Oh yeah, and what is my job in the middle of this relaxed text: participating in activities, guiding the group from the one activity to another, arranging lunch and dinners in restaurants, buying bus tickets, helping to find and buy tours, … and being my lovely self enjoying it all with them! Life is good!

Adventure Week Banos waterfall

The waterfall in Baños

The next day I planned to go to La Casa del Arbol with some of my group members. The weather was not how we expected it to be that morning, but the clouds gave a mystical feeling to the experience. La Casa del Arbol means Tree House, and it is mostly famous for its “End of the world swing”. It is located about 20 minutes up the hill from Baños, and by good weather you can have a spectaculour view overlooking the town, the forest and the mountains.

Adventure Week Casa del Arbol

Me at the “End of the World Swing”, Casa del Arbol

Next it was time to go Puenting (think bungee jumping without the bounce). It crudely translates as ‘bridging’, but it’s really swinging, in this case along a rope tethered to two bridges. I’m not sure whether it was for budget reasons or fear, but I decided to skip this activity and just how the others having their adrenaline portion of the day!

Adventure Week puenting

One of my Team Members “Puenting” in Baños 

After lunch, the boys went for paragliding, an activity that I really wanted to do myself too, but it was expensive ($60) and all places were booked. So in stead, I went for a relaxing full body massage at Chakra, one of the massage spots in town, where I forgot all my worries for an hour… (And that was still wayyyy less expensive than the paragliding)!

paragliding banos

Impression of Paragliding in Baños

In the evening we were all ready for some descent Mexican food and chilled further until bedtime on the rooftop terrace. It was a lovely last night in Baños, and I guess we all achieved our goals in this thrill town, ready to leave for the next adventure…

Adventure Week banos

NEXT POST / STOP: RIOBAMBA

With love,

Julie

An Adventurous Week in Ecuador – Quilotoa

10 May 2014 – 17 May 2014

The Adventure Week AKA Ruta de los Volcanes

The Leap promised its Leapers an “a week of adventure and expedition, taking the famous “Ruta de los Volcanes” (Volcanic Route), biking to waterfalls, white-water raft, climb Chimborazo volcano and kayak over Quilotoa crater lake”, but it was much more than that, exceeding all of our expectations. It was a crazy week, finally getting EVERYONE out of their comfort zone, with loads of unforgettable memories, and loads of work for me as a leader! Here follows a great story, enjoy the ride!

Adventure Week Quilotoa The Leap Group

LAGUNA DE QUILOTOA

After having breakfast in Quito and giving my group an orientation about this week, we left by private bus to Quilotoa. It was a horrible temparature shock going straight from the warm Galapagos Islands to the cold Laguna de Quilotoa. I felt quite calm, although I knew I could expect a crazy week when it came to organizing, leading, transporting, arranging meals and making many many invoices in hotels, travel agencies and restaurants. But I was more ready then ever before and started to feel more and more comfortable with my job and the group.

The Quilotoa Loop is a bumpy, ring-shaped road that travels from the Panamericana far into the backcountry of Cotopaxi province. Along the way tourists encounter colorful indigenous markets, a crystal-blue lake that the locals believe has no bottom (!!!), and ancient trails that meander in the shadow of snowcapped volcanoes. The isolated location brought us in contact with Kichwa-speaking indigenous people and some lamas.

Adventure Week Quilotoa

After paying a 2$ entrance fee to Quilotoa, it was not hard to find our hostel as there were only a handful in town. We had a typical lunch, warmed up near the fire place where we met other travellers and watched how the clouds got ticker and ticker, until we could not see the end of the road anymore and finally watched how it started to rain. We felt quite stuck in the building, went to our room and collected wood for the fires at night. It got colder and colder, so freezing I had never felt before!

I went souvenir shopping in my raincoat with the girls as real fashionistas, we bought some drinks and food to keep us warm and strong, and spend the night making fire and more fire until we finally had de-frozen our fingers and toes, played “never have I ever” (my all-time favourite game!) and finally got to sleep. Some alone, some together… To keep each other “warm”?!

Well yeah, it was a lovely evening even though I was really disappointed in the fact that we did not managed to hike down the lake because of the weather. We agreed on having breakfast at 6h30 in order to leave for the hike early in the morning at 7h30 because usually it does not rain in the mornings.

And oh yeah, I woke up and the sky was bright blue and clear. We were very lucky and because there were no clouds, the reflection of the sun showed all kinds of colours of blue and green. We enjoyed the lookout on the top where we had stunning views of the mirror-green lake about 400m below and the snowcapped peaks of the Cotopaxi volcano in the distance.

Adventure Week Quilotoa

When you ask the locals how deep it is, they always say it has no bottom at all, they said in the Lonely Planet. So I did the test and asked some locals. Some could not even reply to my Spanish, because they only spoke Kichwa, and does who did speak Spanish confirmed: no bottom. Well, geologists say 250m…

After an hour going down, we rented kayaks to see more of the lakes surroundings. The alkaline lake water is not potable, and I assume it is too cold for swimming, even though it was clearly warmer near the lake then in the village during the day.

Adventure Week Quilotoa

With an altitude of 3914m, it is really hard to hike around the volcanic-crater lake of Laguna Quilotoa. You have no air in your longs, and it literally feels as if you had just smoked a package of cigarettes in 5 minutes. Impossible to walk back up, was what I said after giving it a try for 30 meters. I stopped a local, and continued by horse (or was it a donkey?!)

Adventure Week Quilotoa

I felt really sorry for my ‘animal’ which did not only suffer itself from the hike up carrying my weight, but apart from that he had some serious diarrhea and stopped every once in a while, refusing to walk further. Pobrecito,  I will never do that again but I have to admit it was way easier and enjoyable to get up like this.

Some of my group members took the challenge and hiked all the way up, arriving sweaty and tired, while I was already chilling up there for half an hour. Because of that, we were a little bit late for our private transfer to Baños, but it was definetely worth the delay and we had been so lucky with the weather after all.

If you ever plan on going to Ecuador, make sure you do not skip Quilotoa. Truly recommendable and one of the most beautiful places in the whole country, in my opinion.

Adventure Week quilotoa

Then it was time to head further to Baños, another 4 hours by bus away. Everybody slept as a baby during the transfer, preparing for “the thrill town” of Ecuador!! And every now and then I opened my eyes to enjoy the amazing views along the road. The Andes is fascinating!

Adventure Week the andes road

NEXT POST / STOP: BAÑOS

Hasta pronto,

Julie

My Galápagos Dream Journey – 7: San Cristobal

7: SAN CRISTOBAL

After taking a 2 hour boat ride from Isabela to Santa Cruz, and another one from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal, I had finally arrived back at the island where my Leap group was volunteering.

Islas de Galapagos san cristobal

View from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, capital of Galapagos

During my stopover in Santa Cruz, I had the best fruit bowl with granola for breakfast ever, and visited the Charles Darwin Research Center, as it is not so far walking from the peer and it is a must-see in the islands, I was told. However, it did not really impress me a lot. After the death of Lonesome George, I do not think that there is that much more to see in the station. Or at least not things you can’t see anywhere else on the islands, such as iguanas and tortoises.

Islas de Galapagos tortoise

Tortoises in Charles Darwin Research Center, Santa Cruz

So I walked back quite quickly, went to the internetcafe to do some work for school, had a salad for lunch (yes, a healthy day) and bought some last souvenirs on the avenue. Then it was time to board the next ferry, which would bring me in another two hours to San Cristobal.

I did not have a reservation or a fixed plan, but I was not planning to return to Hacienda Tranquila because I wanted my two last nights to be spent as a holiday. So when I arrived at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, I went to a hostel called Leon Dormido and asked if they had a room. They tried to sell it for $30 a night, but I got it down to $20, convincing them that I did not have more budget. I got a very nice room with airconditioning and hot water, and I had to walk 2 steps to be on the main street. And there was WiFi, even in the room. Perfect!

After putting my laundry in the shop, I met my group by coincidence in town. We had a drink together and decided to meet for dinner in a restaurant. It was really nice to spend that evening together with them again and I enjoyed a chicken burger. We watched the sea lions playing on the beach at night and then we headed back seperately to our accommodations.

Islas de Galapagos san cristbal sea lion

Sea lion in San Cristobal

Thursday 8th of May it was my last full day on the islands, and I had a free day to do whatever I felt like doing. I slept later then my usual 6 o`clock, had a good breakfast and was planning to go searching for `Fundacion Nueva Era` as Yanapuma was interested in a collaboration with them. It felt like a great coincidence, because while I was eating breakfast on a terrace, some poster crossed my eye and that was it! Right there was the foundation. So I went inside, explained myself and 5 minutes later I had an appointment with the boss for the next morning. Great because that ment work for today was done…

I went for a walk in town, bought some souvenir, had a freshly squeezed juice and did some reflection on my time in the Galapagos. It had definetely been a great journey so far. And to give myself some last sun rays before heading back to Quito, I headed to the beach. I walked via the coast to Playa Mann, which was surprisingly relaxed. There was a beach bar, again some sea lions and some trees to look for shadow when the sun is too hot.

Islas de Galapagos playa mann

Beach bar at Playa Mann, San Cristobal

I also visited the opposite Interpretaton Center of San Cristobal, which was the most interesting museum of the Galapagos Islands, to my opinion. After traveling a lot, I felt like all the pieces fell together and I got answers to questions I did not think about. It was free entrance and I have learned a lot of things about the history of the island and the income generation of tourism for example.

Islas de Galapagos interpretaton center san cristobal

The most interesting information of all… – Interpretation Center

After the cultural visit I went back to the beach and watched sunset. Enjoying to the fullest my very last moments here. I went to the hostel for a shower, and had something small for dinner. As the Galapagos came to an end, it means that another Phase with my Leap volunteers was coming soon. Tomorrow I would meet them at the airport to fly back to Quito and start the Adventure Week. I was definetely nervous for that, but come on up… Break a leg!

Islas de Galapagos sunset playa mann

Last Sunset on San Cristobal

Well, that was it. The end of my Galapagos Dream Journey. I had spend 3 weeks on the islands, felt like the luckiest girl on earth for having this amazing opportunity to visit the islands on a budget and was absolutely sure about never ever ever forgetting this in my life. I had seen the most amazing animals on earth, met great people, found new volunteer projects and did some volunteer work myself as well, was more tanned then ever before, spend too much money but oh so well spend so I could not care, I felt great because life was good and with loads of energy I was heading back to Ecuador`s mainland, ready to give the best of myself for another 4 weeks with The Leap.

Bless you all!

From Julie with Love