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

 

Let’s take THE LEAP!

The time has finally come… The Leapers (group of volunteers from the company The Leap) have arrived… This means that from now on I am officially Group Leader for 11 youngsters, including 7 boys and 4 girls from the United Kingdom. After one month of hard work, explorations, reservations and organisation, I am happy to present my program for the next 10 weeks with this group.

However, this also means that I will not be able to write so much as before anymore, because there will be not always access to the internet in the volunteer projects. Therefore, I apologize and promise to do my best to write and post something every once in a while…

the leapWhat is THE LEAP?

Volunteering with The Leap is unique because every Volunteer Leap combines a unique mix of projects – so they will help with conservation, community and eco-tourism development over the course of 10 weeks overseas. Even better these projects are located in different places around the country of choice, with the Leap team moving around every few weeks. The result is a massively diverse, enjoyable mix of challenges, cultures and environments.

What is THE LEAP program in Ecuador?

ECUADOR: Jungle + Galapagos + Adventure Week + Andes

  • Jungle (Tsachila): 3 April – 18 April
  • Galapagos (San Cristobal): 20 April – 9 May
  • Adventure Week (Quilotoa, Baños, Riobamba): 10 May – 16 May
  • Andes (Chilcapamba, Mindo): 18 May – 2 June
  • Ruta del Sol (Guayaquil, Montañita): 4 June – 7 June

Between these dates, my home base will stay Quito, where I will return with the group to wash clothes, buy stuff and give orientations about the different destinations and volunteer projects. As you could see, I’ve already visited and posted about 2 of the voluntuur  projects that we are going to (Tsachila and Chilcapamba). I will also go with the group to a volunteer project in the Galapagos Islands, where I will have some time off of being Group Leader to discover the islands on my own. This is without a doubt one of my biggest dreams coming true. Thank God for all this wonderful opportunities and let’s pray that everything is going well with my Leapers throughout the 10 weeks! We are going to work hard and travel harder! 😛

As you can see, this group leading will take almost all of my time in Ecuador. And when this program is done and the group members travel further or back to the UK, I will be finishing lots of administration in the office of Yanapuma (the operating agent for The Leap in Ecuador). Then I only have a few days left until I fly back to Belgium on the 19th of June. Time will fly, as you might be able to imagine, and before you know, I’m reunited with my love, my friends, my family and my cats. ❤

If you’re interested, you can check out the program on the website: http://www.theleap.co.uk/volunteering-in-ecuador.html

do one thing that scares you

And let’s especially remember…

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!”

Let’s take THE LEAP! I am ready to take off…

Julie

Chilling in Chilcapamba!

After spending Monday and Tuesday in Tsachila, I left on Wednesday to the next project: Chilcapamba. I will go to this project with my group in May for two weeks. I was happy that I could go and visit this project with my fellow leader Michel, so I didn’t have to travel on my own again.

We met each other at 10 o’clock in the bus terminal in the south of Quito, and took a bus to Otavalo there. After two hours we reached our destination. Otavalo is a small indigenous city surrounded by volcanoes. The Otavaleños (locals) are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool, which are sold at the famous Saturday market. Unfortunately, it was Wednesday so we couldn’t visit it (and we also came here for professional matters, and not to behave as a tourist 😉 ), but we figured out we would have plenty of time when returning with the groups.

otavalo market

From Otavalo, we took a local bus heading towards Quiroga, a small but nice looking village in the ‘Sierra’ (highlands) of Ecuador. Once we arrived there, we had to take a taxi to bring us to the community. And 10 minutes later we arrived at the volunteer house. Just like in Tsachila, the leader of the project was called Alfonso. But both men were very different, obviously as one was from the jungle-mentality and this the other from the mountain-mentality. It was interesting to notice the cultural differences between the various regions in Ecuador.

quiroga

When we arrived around 1PM at the house however, there was no Alfonso to be found. We did encounter Francesca, his wife, and she showed us our room. In comparison to Tsachila we had quite some luxury here, with a private bathroom and very comfortable beds.

Chilcapamba 001

Francesca left us in the room and went cooking, so we had some time to explore the surrounding areas. I didn’t know exactly whether I had to call it a garden or a farm or a field, as the whole community was one big terrain with plants and animals. It was nice to check it out, but after half an hour we were already quite bored and with hungry stomachs we returned to the house, where lunch was waiting for us.

Chilcapamba garden farm

In the family kitchen we met the children: Tupac, Victor and Consuelo, who just arrived from school in their uniforms. I felt like an invader there, because it just seemed such a pieceful local family and me being this ‘gringa’ in the kitchen was like interrupting their lives. But they didn’t seem to mind at all. After a while Alfonso, our host, entered the building and after he had dinner we finally get to talk to him.

It was around 3PM that we left to visit the other volunteer house, which was completely newly build and looked somewhat too fancy for a community, but anyway… I didn’t complain about that!

Chilcapamba house volunteers

After seeing the local school, and Alfonso explaining us that our volunteers will help painting the walls and floors, he took us to the surrounding forest.

He dropped me, Michel, Francesca and Tupac at the end of the road, and from there we would walk to see the big project: water supply for the community, sourcing from a waterfall nearby.

Chilcapamba Alfonso

What was intentionally ment to be a small exploring walk, turned out in a huge hiking trip. We decided to walk all the way to the source of the water.

We had to walk more than an hour to get there, and on our way we crossed rivers and small paths in bushes. It was a very adventurous experience for me, as I am more a city-person. 😉

Chilcapamba francesca and tupac forest

But the views were amazing every now and then…

Chilcapamba landscape view

On our way I got very motivated and entertained by Tupac, the youngest son of Alfonso and Francesca, who was very intelligent and enthusiastic for his age. He looked like a little Tarzan, and I noticed that it was so much better to let children play in nature, than to play Candy Crush games on their mobile devices all day… THIS WAS LIFE!

Chilcapamba landscape view

You might be thinking right now… What the **** Tupac? Well, Tupac’s name does absolutely not refer to the famous Afro-American rapper, but is an old and traditional Inca name of Andean origin. The name means “royal” in the Quechua language, and Tupac Amaru was also the last Inca ruler of the empire.

revolta-de-tupac-amaru-1780

Don Tupac Amaru 

After hiking an hour through the forest, we finally reached the waterfall. To be honest, it was not really impressive, but I did feel proud to have reached the destination. And I was happy to finally return.

Chilcapamba me

On our way back I realized it was really special and courageous how those people could have built this water supply road, thanks to the help of many volunteers in many different periods. I realized that the work of Yanapuma really was worthwhile!

Chilcapamba Michel Me

Michel and I, Yanapuma Group Leaders

As we got hungry again after so much walking, Tupac picked some fruits in the forest for us. It was nice to be all into this nature-things.

Chilcapamba Tupac

Once back in the house, I noticed that Tupac did have an iPod. And I felt quite disappointed. Maybe in the end, we people are all the same, and this Tarzan-people are also quite developed already?

in the end

As exciting as the afternoon was, as more boring the evening got. We were hungry and the food didn’t seem to get ready. The hours seemed days, and Alfonso was again nowhere to be found. We even started to question ourselves things like: “Who has written the Bible?” and other weird things out of pure desperation.

Just when we decided to go to bed, he showed up and very late we had to hold our meeting about the program and volunteer schedule for our groups. As my group would arrive in May, there was not even real clarity about what they would be doing. Alfonso just promised me there would always be plenty of work in Chilcapamba. And to keep us motivated, a wise Indian quote:

solo cuando quote indian

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

Late at night, we got to sleep, and woke up early to have breakfast and make the trip HOME again. Yes, dear friends, after one month in Ecuador, Quito is really starting to feel like HOME. ❤

From Julie with Love, from Ecuador

 

¡Bienvenida a la Fundación Yanapuma!

Welcome to the Yanapuma Foundation “Sustainable Community Development in Ecuador”. This is a non-governmental organization is working together with local and international partners to bring about lasting change for the marginalized and indigenous people of Ecuador. And this is the reason why I came to Ecuador, to be part of a bigger project. To be the change I want to see in the world, as Mahatma Gandhi would say…

YanapumaThe Yanapuma Foundation office in Quito

All the projects Yanapuma works with form components of the integrated approach, which focuses on the interconnectedness of the social and environmental reality affecting rural indigenous and marginalized Ecuadorian communities. The aim is always to work to create and maintain active partnerships between Yanapuma, its funders, and the communities that they serve. I will be mainly working around 3 of their projects whilst traveling with groups: the Tsachila, Chilcapamba and Hacienda Tranquila.

TsachilaCommunity of the Tsáchilas, ethnicity of Ecuador

My position in the company as an intern is “VOLUNTEER GROUP LEADER FOR COMMUNITIES IN ECUADOR” because one important resource for the foundation are international volunteers and groups for short or long term periods (1 week to 6 months) to assist the communities with their goals. Yanapuma receives the groups of volunteers a number of times a year, and for this reason, they need people who are willing and able to motivate, manage and lead these groups of 10 to 15 volunteers in different locations around Ecuador. In the communities volunteer work will be done in construction, education, environment, and other areas.

My responsabilities will be:

– Learn about the local culture and previous projects in the different communities

– Prepare for the group’s arrival by setting up accommodation, food, transport, project work, and budget. This might include visiting the local community where the project is to organize with them the details of the work and accommodation

– Greet the group upon arrival and be their leader throughout their time with Yanapuma in Ecuador. This includes traveling with the group to coordinate and oversee their transport, project work, and additional activities.

– Introduce the group members to the community and vice versa

– Coordinate daily activities with the contact person in the community

– Explain the norms of living and working in a community to the volunteers and make sure they are being implemented

– Motivate and support the volunteers with their daily activities

– Organize activities during free time and weekends in coordination with the community

– Participate with the volunteer work

– Oversee the health and wellbeing of the group during their time with Yanapuma

– Be the point-of-contact between the group and the Yanapuma office in case of problems or concerns

– Maintain email communication with the contact person in the group (teacher, representative) to organize the logistics and project

My group will arrive the 1st of April 2014. Most group members will be aged 18-21 years old, and coming from the United Kingdom through a travel agency that offers gap year programs. They will stay for 10 weeks, until the 9th of June.

But for now I am working in the office preparing their trip together with Cristina Lopez, the volunteer and intern coordinator of Yanapuma.

Yanapuma 003The office

Also, I obviously need time to get used to the country and its culture ànd to the company. Therefore, I am staying one month in a host family. And until now I can say that I feel really blessed them around me because they have helped me a lot during my first days. They care about me as if I were their own hija (child) and I don’t know what I would do without them.    Gracias Ana Maria y Francisco!!!

ComedorDining area in the host family house

I have no idea how I will manage to become a real GROUP LEADER in one month, but there is no way back. Only forward… So I’ll keep my head up high, hoping for the best! I can do this!!!

head up

By the way: I already have a small idea of my 10 week itinerary but I’m not telling you yet… Surprise for the next blog post?!