Confessions of a Jungle Girl

Two weeks can change a lot in a humans life. I travelled with my group to the Comuna of Bua in the Tsachila area near Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, spent a free weekend with them in Atacames, discovered that I can actually survive two weeks without Facebook, Gmail, Instagram and Google and that life in the jungle is the greatest: living together with indigenous, washing not only yourself but also your clothes in the river, sleeping under a mosquito net in a wooden cabin, eating rice ricerice and more rices (and bananas) and I became a happier, more relaxed person. All of this thanks to the nature which brought me litteraly more DOWN TO EARTH. Hereby I would like to share with you a summary and my diary during this wonderful jungle experience.

Thursday 3 April 2014

After picking up both LEAP groups at the airport, having orientations, check-ins, passport registrations, Spanish tests, a welcome dinner and so on, I was burned out. Never have I ever felt so stressed and nervous, unprepared and responsible in my life… But the good thing was that I had hardly time to think and realize that we were about to leave for a two week adventure in the middle of the jungle.

Fortunately, because if I would have had more time to prepare and think, I realize know that I would only get more nervous about that! And from the first day I could notice that I had a great team, 7 boys and 4 girls, and me… the leader! Break a leg…

Friday 4 April 2014

After a first breakfast we were about to start the first day of work (volunteering) in the Comuna de Búa. As a group leader I had to coordinate and especially translate a lot of things. We digged into the ground, made mountains of sand and carried all of that sand in bags to the nursery nearby. It was a really heavy job because of various reasons: climate (humid, hot, sunny) and work load (nobody was used to this type of work).

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Fortunately in the afternoon we had free time to play some football with the local people of Santo Domingo, and enjoy the river. Yes yes, I say ENJOY because surprise, surprise… I love the river. I can tell you, after a day of sweating like a pig this is the most refreshing thing you can ever wish for!

My first impressions after this day: HUNGRY! I have to get used to having less food, around 11AM I get a small headache due to a very low sugar level. There are huge spiders in the river on the raft, watching how we wash ourselves,the group atmosphere is really awesome: they are independent, work hard, don’t complain and always enjoy their selves with playing games and stuff. Love it!

Saturday 5 April 2014

Lucky as we were, it was already weekend and that means NO WORK for two days. It was a perfect timing as that first day of worked asked for some recuperation. Instead of work, Alfonso (leader of the community about who I blogged about earlier), took us on a hiking tour through the reserve and botanical garden. Again I had to translate all his explanations, which is not only quite hard to do because the vocabulary is quite specific and I have difficulties remembering more than 10 sentences to translate in one time.

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After the tour, we had a cacao workshop. We would be able to make chocolate in a few days.

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I went with 5 of my group members to the nearby city of Santo Domingo. To get there, we had to take a bus for an hour, because we were living in a very remote cultural center. The main goal of the trip was eating sugar, buying more things containing sugar (cookies, sodas, chewing gum, …), visiting the local pharmacies (as some of us already had some ‘difficulties’) and buying a birthday cake for one of the group members which birthday was next day. Unfortunately, this trip was not so relaxing as planned to be as the city is really unsafe and you constantly have to take care about each other and your belongings. So when we got back to our jungle home, we were exhausted and cooled off in the river.

I also decorated my room, which obviously just means unpacking my bag and hanging stuff up to dry (humidity…). While I wrote my diary, I noticed that the days passed by so quickly and I reflected a little bit. I noticed that every day I woke up so peacefully and that I appreciate this place and the nature a lot more than I expected. I  also felt way more relaxed then the first days when the group arrived. Moreover, I had the feeling quite fast that this place would probably be the most special of all three volunteer projects. But never say never, it  can get better!

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More impressions after this day: humid and hot climate, everywhere along the road banana trees, terrible traffic in Santo Domingo, crazy and dangerous city where you never should go if you don’t need to, the smell of burned wood, the everlasting sounds of insects in the forest, falling asleep with watching fireflies above your mosquito net, the smell of sunscreen and DEET on your skin, the continuous sweating, … It reminds me somehow of my trip in Central America and I realize this is the life I love!

Sunday 6 April 2014

Waking up in the rain is something else. You feel like you can’t go outside, but on the other hand… You are outside. And you notice that when your bed is wet due the a leak in the roof. There are only two options: remove your bed or remove your body to another side of the bed. And after that, waiting until it stops raining to cover the open gap in the roof with another leaf that you take from a tree. Life is simple!

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When it stopped raining, Don Alfonso took us out for a walk to Umpechico, the nearest by civilization. It was not impressive and the shops were not worthy to call shops, the houses were not worthy to call houses and so on. You know what I mean, or maybe you don’t. Because honestly, you have to see it before you can believe it. And then when you did that, you say: ‘Okay. Ecuador is a third world country. Still a lot of improvement to be made.’ For lots of my group members, I could notice not only the disappointment of not encountering the places they wished to find, but also the culture shock. They wanted to return fast as they felt unsafe.

In the afternoon we celebrated the birthday of one of our group members. We had bought a cake in Santo Domingo and invited the Tsáchilas (simply called Chillas by the English volunteers) to join the party. We made popcorn, played games and had fun. I feel really blessed having such a positive group!

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We finally got to know Alfonso’s wife and other community members, and even the puppy dogs came to join the celebrations.

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Here you can see the jungle party crew in front of our “house”:

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In the evening I felt really tired. I noticed that going to bed around 10PM and waking up at 6AM is giving me a minimum of sleep. I don’t know why the jungle makes me so exhausted, but it is probably also because I am constantly coordinating all the activities and schedules, organizing and planning with Alfonso and translating is probably the hardest part of work, as the communication between my group and the locals is very poor due to this language barrier. I even did a small nap in the hammock in the afternoon, which is heavenly!

I noticed that I didn’t miss anything yet of the civilized world, except from my ‘drugs’: sugar, boyfriend and cigarettes. Luckily, that last one I bought in advance so don’t really need to miss it. And I already realize that once back out of the jungle, I will have to adapt to the normal world again… Not sure if I like that idea…

Monday 7 April 2014

Now that the weekend was over, it was time to get back to work. It started to be a daily routine to wake my Leapers up at 07.15, have breakfast at 07.30, point the ‘cleaning team’ of the day at 07.45 and start working at 08.00 AM. As Don Alfonso was not available, the organisation went a little bit bad. Eventually, we started working around 9AM and today we filled up bags with the sand we carried on Friday. A local group of volunteers from Santo Domingo joined us and we managed to fill 7500 bags, which we lined up in rows of 5 bags according to size and height. In this bags will be planted seeds of trees and after 3 months they would be ready to be planted in the forest. This is what we call REFORESTATION! Quite a relaxing job to do today, and plenty of time to chat with the group and the locals during work.

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After work, Alfonso passed by with some Papaya. I asked him about a natural cure for constipation as some group members, including myself have had problems going to the toilet (called “the loo” by the English). And I don’t know if it was superstition or not, but an hour after I managed to do “it”! This practical problem is quite crazy, as most of the groups have the opposite problem in the jungle…

Impressions of the day: I feel finally relaxed enough to focus on reading a roman in the hammock, slowly got frustrated by the fact that clothes and towels never ever dry here because of the humidity, jump under my mosquito net very fast every night to avoid any more insect bites, hate to go to the toilet after dark because of frogs, snakes, spiders and insects near the road to it, got frustrated because DEET and other repellents don’t seem to work at all and got bitten anyway, washed my clothes in the river today and woke up at night due to raindrops falling on my face… Another leak in the roof! Bats and insects don’t seem to understand that my cabaña is not their house and so I decided to compromise and just share it with them and the cockroaches, the fact that I see my textile stuff getting molded, my supply of cookies and chocolate that gets less and a sudden lightning storm and thunder that wakes me up in the middle of the night… A lot of things are frustrating, but I can only accept it, live with it, take a deep breath and go on, and I feel so much more quite when I do that. PEACE.

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Tuesday 8 April 2014

At six I woke up from the pouring rain. I guess this is what they call “showers” in English. It would have been the perfect time to take a shower outside, but instead, I turned around in bed and slept some more. As it was raining so much, we could not go to work. It is very demotivating and frustrating. So after breakfast, we just waited until it stopped raining. In the meantime, I talked with Alfonso and out of nowhere I came up with a self-made quote: “En la selva la naturalezaes el jefe del trabajo.” (In the forest nature is the boss of work.)

At 9AM it finally was over, but as it was late we couldn’t do what we had planned to do for today. We supposed to go to another community to construct a “casa tipica cultural” (typical cultural house), but that plan was definitely cancelled now. Again we had to go to the nursery and fill some bags with sand. It was quite boring after two days… At 11AM everybody got very hungry, and we ate banana. Did I tell you that Ecuador has more than 5 types of bananas?!! Maduro, Banano, Verde, Platano, … And they make all different kinds of things with them.

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As one of my group members had some emergency situation, I left quickly to the city of Santo Domingo with him. I was quite happy to get out of the jungle, not because I didn’t like the place but because I could go to the bakery to eat something sweet and ‘normal’. I ordered a cheese sandwich, which I didn’t manage to finish, no matter how hungry I was. I guess your stomach gets smaller when you eat less all the times. And oh yeah, the reason why I longed for that cheese sandwich is: we don’t have a fridge in the community so that means we don’t have fresh products like milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat, … Also, a bakery is unlikely to be nearby so we hardly eat bread there.

Before it got dark, we returned to our jungle home in Búa, where it was raining again. But because we were so sweaty, we went to the river anyway. You get wet anyway so what does it matter! We ate some more banana for dinner and Alfonso visited us to repair the beds and leaks in the roof. As always, the group members enjoyed their selves in the evening playing games, listening some music and so on.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

I woke up again around 5AM because of the rain. But luckily it stopped raining by the time I had to wake up the group. We had an awesome breakfast as they finally bought more tea and yes, we had some bread! Around 8 o’clock we started to work. This time, Alfonso decided that we could make a cultural house for our own community so we didn’t have to worry about the cancelation of the other project. Well, here in the jungle time is a concept that hardly exists. Everything changes from hour to hour and from day to day. You have to be open minded, flexible and accept that. It is the only way to survive.

And as we could only start the next day with our new project, today we would clean the road from the community to the public road. It wasn’t really a nice job, but clearing the leafs we saw a lot of insects and spiders. That made it a little bit more adventurous. As my group was not really motivated to do this job, I decided to work a little bit harder to give the right example. And as always, they did what they had to do, didn’t complain too much and finish the task of the day well. I was satisfied but tired!

By lunch time, I had blisters on my hands from cleaning the road so I was happy that we didn’t have to work again in the afternoon. Instead, Alfonso demonstrated the coloring of his hair with the typical plant called ACHIOTE.

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After that, it was time for a siesta in the hammock. I love it! The worst part is getting out, you never want to leave that place once you get in… While I was chilling, I was smiling to myself. My mother should see me here, how her daughter that never ever before touched something in the garden because she was more an urban chick now slightly turned into a real Tarzan&Jane personage with green fingers, like she had never done anything else before in her life… But it is the perfect proof that it is never too late to change as a human being!

In the mean time I’ve got quite attached to my rain boots. My socks smell like a death mouse, but it didn’t matter. One day more of work, and then we had a free weekend which we would be spending on the beach. And oh, what was I happy to have some pasta (and for god sake, not RICE) as dinner. Like a culinary orgasm…

Thursday 10 April 2014

After breakfast we had a reunion with Alfonso. Yesterday in the afternoon we had made a design for some new volunteer cabins in Búa, as the current ones are obviously getting older. At 8AM we had a meeting with the Tsachilas, which I had to lead. I guess I did it quite well, involving as much people as I could, translating from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English. Alfonso was very happy with our suggestions and designs.

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At 9AM we left walking to Umpechico, the nearby village, to hike into a forest where we would be cutting huge leafs with machetes for the construction of our typical house. It was a very hard task to do, as we had to go deep in the jungle, deal with lots of insect bites and snakes hanging around. It was also very very humid and hot so we were quite exhausted by the time we could return for lunch. Luckily, a pick-up truck (camioneta) took us back, so we didn’t have to make the hour long walk again to Bua.

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Straight after lunch we had to get back to work and clean the area where we would construct the house. We cutted trees to make space, we cleared the leafs hanging around away and sorted the branches and trunks. I can tell you, I was exhausted after that and I am eating so much cookies whenever I can!

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In the night, I woke up having a nightmare that I lost the group near the beach and I had my first night trip to the eco-toilet, which included an encounter with several frogs, spiders and other ugly insects. I can tell you, going to the toilet at night is the last thing you want at night, as you have to get out of your mosquito net, take your torch light, make sure your road is cleared from animals, survive a road in the jungle towards the toilet, do some stairs in the dark and go all the way back to your wooden cabin, jumping quickly back under your mosquito net, hoping no insect had entered. A whole adventure for a simple pee! But what needs to happen, needs to happen…

Oh yeah, and we have some small ducks in the community since a few days now. Unfortunately, two of them died but one of them seems to survive well. I called it PatitoLuís (little duck Louis) and took him for the first time to the river to learn it how to swim. He loved it, the cuttie! The girls of the kitched joined me also to the river today and they took me for a ride on the raft. We smiled a lot but didn’t really talk a lot as they are very shy, but I can see that I feel good back to basics and I noticed that these girls don’t need much to live here happily.

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I thought about Tuesday, when I entered my Facebook account in the internet café and suddenly saw a mirror of my life and my friend’s lives. It was a shocking experience as it all seems so far away and different from this reality I am in now. It is like I am not the same person here, and I started to wonder if the life back there is the life I really want. Deep inside it felt like I entered a new road in life, and something in me was scared that my old life would not fit in anymore. I am following my heart and my dreams, and living outside makes you think about the outside world at home, which is something completely different. Here nobody cares about your looks or your status… I felt like the river I was in, I’ve landed in a stream of life and I’m floating in the right direction. But there are still 9 weeks left before I return to Belgium, so time enough to worry about my comeback…

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Friday 11 April 2014

Time for the weekend to begin! At 8.30AM we took a pick-up truck to Santo Domingo, which I arranged for my group. There I assisted them to buy bus tickets for the bus to Atacames, which is a vibrant beach town in the north of Ecuador in the province of Esmeraldas. And yes, that’s a dangerous party place…

Around noon we arrived there and checked in into the hotel, which I also reserved for the group. It was really even more hot here in the coastline, and I had no hot water or air-conditioning in the room. But I did have a shower, and oh god, that did so good after this long time in the jungle river…

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In the afternoon, after having lunch with the group, I went to an internet café to write my weekly reports for school, Yanapuma and The Leap, and to talk to my boyfriend, friends and family at home. At night it was time for a first night out with my group members, and like always we had a lot of fun. Going out in Atacames was a very nice but different experience as the bars are lined out next to each other on the beach and all playing reggeaton music as loud as they can. Late at night I went to sleep. Satisfied!

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Saturday 12 April 2014

Quite early in the morning I woke up from the noises around my room. Atacames is definitely not the place where you should go for a good sleep! I had a nice breakfast near the hotel and chilled a little bit around. In the afternoon I went for some fresh seafood lunch with some of the group members and I had the chance to try the famous CAMARONES ENCOCADOS. It’s a local dish of the region. Delicious!

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In the evening we all went for a pizza on the beach strip and after that we went to party again. It was a lovely time there and although the group members ask me for help, translations and other things a lot of the time, I must say I am enjoying every minute of this experience and I feel so blessed being part of this!

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I feel super even though I am quite exhausted already. I just try to go to bed on time and get enough hours of sleep  every day. So dear mother, don’t worry. I’m fine! 😉 I do miss my boyfriend a lot, but I also realize that in life you can’t have it all. As I always say to my friends: CHOOSING IS LOOSING. And I have chosen for this adventure/internship in Ecuador, and so far I got a lot of things in return for that.

Sunday 13 April 2014

The weekend in Atacames finished Sunday morning as we took the bus back to Santo Domingo. After 4 hours on the bus we arrived, had our last nice lunch in a local restaurant and then headed back with the pick-up truck to our jungle home community of Bua. Once arrived there, I realized the last 3 days were here and I am going to miss it a lot as I feel already home here…

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I was happy to be back in my quite wooden cabin, as last night had been a rough night on the beach. I had some piña colada, which had some ice cubes inside, and gave me the “D” (diarrhea). Also, there had been a fight in the club we were and some of the group members were quite drunk. But fortunately, we had danced good, partied hard, enjoyed the food and the music, and nobody got robbed or sick. I just hoped my “D” got over quickly, because going to an eco-toilet like this is not fun!

That Sunday night, you can imagine I went to bed early as I was tired from the whole weekend trip.

Monday 14 April 2014

Yesterday evening I went to bed early, hoping to enjoy some private time under my mosquito net, enjoying reading a book. That wasn’t so nice and private as hoped… While reading I saw something coming closer and closer coming out of my pillow. When I turned, I saw it was a small snake/worm from about 25cm. I jumped out of the bed, catched the animal and threw it in the first plant I saw, I was shaking. Oh my god, in my bed!!

I didn’t read one page further or another giant insect entered my room. I could hear it flying in as if it were a helicopter, that big! It settled itself cosy on the ceiling, so there was no way catching it. So, as I was done with reading now, I decided to put the light out and go to sleep. But when I wanted to close my curtain, I was so surprised. My little gecko pet was hanging in the curtain and we both were shocked. The little poor animal looked like it could jump on top of me and so I didn’t know how to turn of the lights like this. I was done, enough jungle!!! I broke… I had enough of this jungle sh*t.

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Finally I went to bed later then planned, frustrated and sad. I had to take peace all the time with the fact that all this animals entered the room without my permission and that sucked. But yeah, nothing else to do about it. Just sleep.

In the morning all animals were gone, and I enjoyed the sounds of the jungle as I woke up. When I went to the toilet, I had another “tropical surprise”. The ‘D’ had not disappeared but continued for about 3 times in the same morning. I decided to wait until noon to see if it got better. It didn’t got a lot better, but it also didn’t got worse…

And at 8AM it was time to work and construct the house. I don’t know what it was, but maybe I was weaker after the weekend and this toilet problem, but I couldn’t seem to motivate myself to work good today. Just as I thought the days were almost over and nothing could go wrong, I felt down… I had to take a lot of breaks, ask fruits to eat more in the kitchen and take enough rest. But I also had to coordinate the work of my group, so I didn’t really have time to take a day off…

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Luckily, the group worked good and hard and they seemed happy finally being able to construct a little house. In the evening, they even helped to cook some dinner in the kitchen, and I am very happy that they take some initiatives. They are lovely!

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Tuesday 15 April 2014

The penultimate day of work in the jungle! And you should think that this last days go easy and pass by, but no no, the last days were a hell for me. I didn’t have energy and had difficulties with work. But I fought with myself and continued, knowing it was the last day of work for me.

As I felt weaker, I suddenly felt a little bit down too. I had the need to talk with somebody about how I feel, because it is always me who is asking my group how they feel. And as a group leader, nobody ever asks you how you are really doing. Well yeah, they do but it is never a ‘deep’ conversation…

I just tried to keep everybody busy with work and didn’t work so hard myself, to be honest. But I kept coordinating and don’t think the group was bothered by that. When it was finally noon, I fell asleep fast in the hammock and I woke up an hour later to get back to work again. After work, we were all tired and relaxed and cooled off in the river… What a day!

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In the evening Alsonso talked to me, because he could see I was tired. He told me that I was a fantastic group leader and that he admires my enthousiasm. I really appreciated that, as it was exactly the compliment I needed to feel a bit better.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

The last full day with the Tsachilas! I had to go early in the morning at 7AM with two group members to the hospital to assist them with some medical consults. I also bought bus tickets for our return to Quito, and by noon we were back in the community.

In the afternoon we visited a local farm where the Tsachilas harvest fruits and vegetables such as yucca and maracuya.

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After getting back and going for a last time to the river, we had a goodbye celebration “la despedida” with all the community members. We evaluated our work, I translated as always what Alfonso said, coloured the hair of our boys with Achiote, bought souvenirs on the local market, made our own chocolate and had dinner all together. It was the perfect occasion to thank everybody for this wonderful experience and enjoy a last evening together.

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Thursday 17 April 2014

At 8AM we left the Tsachila, heading back to Quito. The jungle adventure is over. It was a long blog story, for which I apologize. But I hope you can see that it was an incredible and unique experience living and volunteering there for 2 weeks. I am grateful for each and every moment I shared and each and every person that was part of it. I think 2 weeks are not enough to change as a person, but at least some twinkle in my eye changed, is more relaxed and peaceful. I will never ever forget this in my life. And even though a return visit is unlikely, in my mind I will travel back often. I promise. Love you all, Tsachilas!

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From Julie with Love

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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. 😉

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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

 

Volunteering in Quito – Spread the Wor(L)d !

The second week of my internship in Ecuador flew by. Before I knew it, it was Friday evening (while I’m writing this). I feel already ‘home’ at the Yanapuma office and more work and responsibilities are coming my way as the days pass by… But I wouldn’t like to talk about what I did at work, I would like to talk about what I experienced as a human being… Because I was sent to visit some of the volunteer projects of Yanapuma near Quito. And doing this, did make quite a movement in my heart and mind. So while reading this… Please consider volunteering at least one time in your life. Spread the word through the world, because your help is more than welcome!

The experience of volunteering is often one of the highlights of any traveler’s journey, and Ecuador offers some great opportunities for connecting with communities and worthwhile projects. And even though I didn’t come to volunteer myself, I got the chance to taste from this wonderful world of CARING and GIVING. And I start to understand it…

“Volunteers are not paid – not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

Boy in Conocoto

Or as Martin Luther King Jr once said:

“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

And so I started my journey to one of the first projects: CAMP HOPE, or in Spanish: Fundación Esperanza, a day-school for disabled and underprivileged children in the northern area of Carcelen in Quito. Every day the local staff and volunteers take care of medical attention, rehabilitation, vocational training and recreational activities for these kids.

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For me it was an eye-opening experience, as I felt so warmly welcomed by the local director. I still try to understand how these people keep smiling no matter how poor their life conditions are. Everybody, no matter in what circumstance they were living, was smiling. And the children loved to touch and hold me. I could feel they had so much love to give, and even though I felt uncomfortable being so much more ‘normal’ then them – almost feeling guilty for it – I smiled every second of the time I spend there.

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It just demands so much courage and emotional stability to be working and / or living in Camp Hope. And so I figured out where they got the name from… On the website of the project (http://www.camphopeecuador.org/ ) I encountered a video which is definitely worth to take a look at:

After the story, you get some information about the project itself…

Unfortunately I was not allowed to take close up pictures, and the pictures I did take were only allowed for promoting volunteers to come and help them out. So I would like to announce via this blog also to collaborate and volunteer. For more information:  http://www.yanapuma.org/en/volunteer-CampHope.php

And what we can all learn from this is maybe that the only disability in life is a bad attitude, or like Fundación Esperanza says: “prohibido decir no puedo” (forbidden to say I can’t…)

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The long hour traveling on the bus was definitely worth the ride, and I had some time to meditate about it on my way back. And God, if feels so good doing something that does make a difference!

The next day it was time to go to Conocoto Public School (“Escuela Fiscal Amable Arauz” in Spanish), also located about an hour away by bus from Quito center. In this project volunteers can teach (English) in the busy primary and elementary school.

There are more than 1400 children, as I was informed and most of them come from the nearby neighborhoods in Quito. As it is a public school, parents don’t have to pay BUT it also means that there is not so much budget and the classes are too full (I counted an average of 40 students in one class room).

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Although the project is a little bit far from Quito, it is worth the travelling. During the bus trip I had some amazing views over a valley in the Andes! (Why didn’t I make pictures of that?) And the town of Conocoto is also really nice: there is a small ‘plaza’ park with a beautiful little church. Right next to it is the school.

Inside the school you also have beautiful views over the surrounding mountains, but what was definitely the most impressive is the people themselves here. I met a wonderful English teacher, Lorena, who loved to talk with me about the school.

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Then I got the chance to enter some of the class rooms and the children were amazingly excited to see “LA GRINGAAAA” with a camera. (My job was to make pictures of the projects for the website, and to discuss information about the project with the director).

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All the teachers were also very friendly and warmly welcomed me to enter and interrupt their classes. I felt like some of them had never seen a camera before and tried to take as many pictures as I could of the children, and showed them afterwards to them.

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The happiness and purity in the faces of these young human beings, which is so far away from western lifestyle, is very confronting. Even though these people have so much less than we do in Europe, in my opinion they had so much more to give. And that’s what it was all about for me. Trying to give things which are not evident for me, not to have… but to be.

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I realized that as most of these children will never get the opportunity to continue higher studies or will never manage to speak good English, it is important as a further developed human being to try to help out the weaker amongst us. And we should realize that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. See it like this:

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” – Muhammad Ali

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“When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.”

If you would like to volunteer in the Conocoto Public School of Quito, please surf to: http://www.yanapuma.org/en/volunteer-conocoto.php for more details.

And… SPREAD THE WOR(L)D ! 😉

¡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!!!

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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?!

 

Ecuador: Meeting the Family!

After travelling for 23 hours from Brussels to Amsterdam to Quito, I finally reached my destination. Was it because I was sleepy or wasn’t I realizing what was all happening to me? I just said goodbye for 3,5 months to my boyfriend, cats, family and best friend… Again I left for a new adventure, all alone in the unknown. For the first time it made me feel uncomfortable without stressing me out. I just decided to go with the flow and take this time to live life and see how life can surprise people.

Arriving in Quito, about 2850 meters above the sea level was an unforgettable experience. Right after the airplane came out of the clouds, there was this amazing landscape that took my breath away… The aerial views over the Andes were anything like what I expected. The mountains, rivers, villages and nature had something magical and I felt immediately that this country was really special.

Aereal view Quito 1

Then secondly, after I came out of the airport’s arrival hall (to smoke my first cigarette in hours) I was overwhelmed by the typical smell of Latin America. Just smelling the air made me feel like coming home again somehow someway. I guess I just love the air in this part of the world. It is very distinct from our air in Europe.

After another taxi ride of 1 hour, I finally reached my guest family house. It was raining and already becoming dark, I was kind of exhausted and the pressure of being so high in the mountains gave me a small headache. But I put myself together, met the wonderful and very hospitable family members, had a first dinner with them and talked a little in Spanish. I feel like I have to fresh up my language skills again, but it goes surprisingly well already. No English, por favor!

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The guest house in area Mariscal Sucre

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Family hosts: Francisco Jiron & Ana Maria Ziritt

As I expected from the pictures they had sent me, the house was very nice and clean. My room was rather small, but really a good quality from Ecuadorian norms. There is a little noise from the traffic in the streets around, but overall I am happy with the place. I unpacked my bags, and around 9 PM local time (3 AM in Belgium) I finally got to bed… Tired but satisfied. I decided to take it easy as he next day is a Sunday, and there is no need to rush things as I am here for a long time.

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Hasta pronto!

Un beso,

Julie

KEEP CALM and STUDY ON.

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My Erasmus time is about half. I do not know where to start, but I decide to write about what the past 3 months did to me… Even in my head there is no structure in it, I can only say that it was a crazy period, undoubtedly one of the best in my life. I have to admit to myself: the (good) life is like a (good) wine … It gets better as it ages. Until recently I thought I had found the best already, that I had found heaven on earth: I found my passion in traveling the past years, I met a soul mate in Roatan (Honduras), I went back to Central America because of him, and ultimately it didn’t lead to the love of my life but to the best backpack trip ever through Honduras, Belize and Guatemala. A new world opened up for me, I met different people with open minds and crossed my own boundaries, shifted my limitation-level.

Mijn Erasmus-tijd is over de helft. Ik weet niet waar te beginnen, maar ik besluit om wat te schrijven over wat de voorbije 3 maanden met mij deden… Zelfs in mijn hoofd is er geen structuur in te vinden, ik kan alleen maar zeggen dat het een knotsgekke periode was, ongetwijfeld één van de leukste in mijn leven. Ik moet het toegeven aan mezelf: het (goede) leven is als een (goede) wijn… Het wordt met de jaren beter. Tot voor kort dacht ik dat ik het beste al had gehad, dat ik de hemel op aarde al had gevonden. Ik vond mijn passie de voorbije jaren in het reizen, ontmoette een zielsverwant in Roatan (Honduras), ging door hem terug naar Centraal-Amerika en dat leidde uiteindelijk niet tot de liefde van mijn leven maar wel tot de beste rondreis ooit, door Honduras, Belize en Guatemala. Een nieuwe wereld ging voor me open, ik ontmoette open geesten en verlegde mijn eigen grenzen.

BIG TRIP (3) 301Apart from that, I started a lot of studying during recent years. Time flies and the second year of my bachelor study in ‘Tourism and Recreation Management “is almost over. I am more motivated than ever to go for it, and I discovered while doing it all that the ‘journey’ is more important to me than the ‘goal’. That is to say, the more I get to know myself better, the less I know what I want to do by profession.  I just feel that the life I lead and the path I walk, is undoubtedly the correct one. The past few months here in Spain are proof of that. So, do I study to graduate as soon as possible and find the best job (read: best paid) as possible? No, I’m studying and I want to make full use of this student time, and along the way enjoy … And so I came in recent months mainly to a new spiritual insight that I already knew before, but not so much appeared to penetrate in my mind …

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

(where did it all started again?)

Life is a journey, not a destination, so enjoy the ride.

(do I need to have a goal?)

Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.

(is this my destiny?)

Los daarvan ben ik de laatste jaren ook flink aan het studeren gegaan. De tijd vliegt voorbij en het tweede jaar van mijn Bachelor-studie ‘Toerisme- en Recreatie Management’ zit er alweer bijna op. Ik ben meer dan ooit gemotiveerd om ervoor te gaan, en heb al gaande en al doende ontdekt dat de ‘weg’ voor mij belangrijker is dan het ‘doel’. Het is te zeggen, hoe meer ik mezelf beter leer kennen, hoe minder goed ik weet wat ik bijvoorbeeld exact wil doen van beroep. Ik voel gewoon dat het leven dat ik leid en het pad dat ik bewandel, ongetwijfeld het juiste is. De voorbije maanden hier in Spanje hebben daar uiteraard hun aandeel in. Studeer ik om zo snel mogelijk een diploma te behalen en een zo goed mogelijk (lees: betaalde) job te hebben? Nee, ik studeer en wil deze studententijd ten volle benutten, er gaandeweg van genieten… En zo kwam ik de voorbije maanden vooral tot een nieuw spiritueel inzicht, dat me eerder al wel bekend was, maar niet zozeer bleek door te dringen…

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

(waar begon het ook alweer?)

Life is a journey, not a destination, so enjoy the ride.

(moet ik dan een doel hebben?)

Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.

(is dit mijn lot?)

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In October I become 22 years old. And although here on Erasmus I undoubtedly act more than ever like a real student, I realize that I get older, I will never be 18 again. And I realize that this time here is passing too, and that adulthood imposes itself inside me. I notice that in my environment too: old friends are starting to graduate, to find work, to think about children, and oh yes … of course … Many have been in a relationship for certain time already. The stability which I mirror myself to gives me a strange feeling of instability… I mean, my life is far from stable, and I would do everything to keep it like that, so it seems … Do I want to graduate? Do I want a fixed job? Do I want to think of children? Do I want to commit myself in a relationship? Or shortly said: do I look like I am fascinated by this stability? The answer is an obvious NO. I crave more of my current lifestyle, and it feels more like I have fear of commitment… I want to get out, on the road, on track, … and gradually, I secretly hope to find my place, my position, my destiny in this world. Because no, I still don’t have any idea where or what that might be. And I realize that with every step I take, I hope to be one step closer to my “home”, a place or a person or I-know-not-much-what where I can “come home”. That home does not seem to be in Belgium, that is one thing we can all agree about already… And may it also be clear by now: on Erasmus in Gandia (Spain) I have not found it either. So … Now I can tell you one thing for sure though: my Spanish prince on the white horse didn’t canter around here. 😉

In oktober word ik 22 jaar. En hoewel ik hier op Erasmus ongetwijfeld meer dan ooit als een echte student tekeer ga, besef ik dat ik ouder word, dat ik nooit meer 18 zal zijn. En dat ook deze tijd hier voorbijgaand is, en dat de volwassenheid zich in mezelf opdringt. Ik merk dat ook aan mijn omgeving: oude kennissen beginnen stilaan af te studeren, vast werk te vinden, aan kinderen te denken, en oh ja… natuurlijk… Velen hebben inmiddels een relatie van enige tijd. De stabiliteit waaraan ik me spiegel doet me een vreemd gevoel van instabiliteit geven… Ik bedoel: mijn leven is verre van stabiel, en ik zou er dan ook alles aan doen om het zo te houden, zo lijkt het… Wil ik al afstuderen? Wil ik al vast werken? Wil ik al aan kinderen denken? Wil ik al een vaste relatie? Of kortom: ben ik gefascineerd door die stabiliteit? Het antwoord is een stevige NEE. Ik hunker naar meer van mijn huidige leven, en het voelt eerder alsof ik bindingsangst heb… Ik wil weg, op weg, onderweg, … en gaandeweg, hoop ik stiekem mijn plekje, mijn functie, mijn lotsbestemming op deze wereld te vinden. Want nee, ik ben er nog helemaal niet uit waar of wat dat moge zijn. En ik besef heel goed dat ik bij elke stap die ik zet, hoop om een stapje dichter bij mijn “thuis” te zijn, een plek of een persoon of ik-weet-niet-veel-wat waar ik kan “thuiskomen”. Mijn thuis is niet in België, dat heeft iedereen inmiddels al wel door… En moge het bij deze ook duidelijk zijn: op Erasmus in Gandia (Spanje) heb ik ze ook niet gevonden. Dus… Bij deze kan ik jullie al één ding verklappen: mijn Spaanse prins op het witte paard is niet voorbij gegaloppeerd. 😉

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Anyway, even if life is all the more out of the journey itself, and the less about the destination … I would not be me if I did not continue indefinitely planning, searching and thinking ahead. I live in ‘the now’, try to take only the best of the past, but the future … That, to me is an art: the art of always thinking 5 steps forward, always have a plan A, B and C, and not mind to throw all those plans suddenly over completely just because you’re fickle by nature/character … It might be the secret of my success. 😉

Enfin, ook al bestaat het leven des te meer uit de reis, en des te minder uit het reisdoel… Ik zou ik niet zijn als ik niet tot in het oneindige bleef plannen, zoeken en vooruit denken. Ik leef in ‘het nu’, probeer van het verleden alleen het beste mee te pakken, maar de toekomst… Die is voor mij een kunst: de kunst van altijd 5 stappen vooruit te denken, steeds een plan A, B en C te hebben, en het niet erg vinden om onderweg al die plannen plots helemaal om te gooien, gewoonweg omdat je wispelturig van aard bent… Dat is denk ik het geheim van mijn succes. 😉

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How do I see the future? Beautiful … Of course. And challenging … That especially! The recent months might be flown so fast that I even almost forget what I did exactly and with whom, but a little voice in my head is so inspired and motivated, that a lot fantasies are growing up to work out as new ideas and opportunities … So it is becoming clearer in my head how the coming years should look like: I will return to Belgium in July, as it must, and because there is some money to be earned. That’s part and parcel of life. Then I continue my studies Bachelor of Tourism and Leisure Management in Belgium, for the last year already. This means that academic year 2013-2014 will be my graduation year, normally. The first semester I stay in Belgium, but the second semester I ‘must’ do an internship. And as my specialization is ‘Hospitality Management, Hotel & Tourist guide‘, I opted for an internship abroad. This does not surprise  you anymore, naturally… I have not received confirmation of my internship destination yet, but I know that it will be for a period of four months (March – June 2014). The permission for my projects will be offered in July, as the conversation with my coordinators can only take place after my Erasmus time here in Spain.

Hoe zie ik de toekomst? Mooi… Uiteraard. En uitdagend… Dat vooral! De voorbije maanden mogen dan wel voorbij gevlogen zijn, zo snel zelfs dat ik bijna vergeet wanneer ik juist wat heb gedaan en met wie, maar een stemmetje in mijn hoofd is zodanig geïnspireerd en gemotiveerd geworden dat er heel wat hersenspinsels aan het werk zijn gegaan met nieuwe ideeën en mogelijkheden… Zo wordt het stilaan duidelijker in mijn hoofd hoe de komende jaren eruit moeten zien: ik keer in juli terug naar België, omdat het moet, en omdat er wat geld verdiend moet worden. Dat hoort nu eenmaal bij het leven. Dan zet ik mijn studie Bachelor in Toerisme- en Recreatie Management voort in België, het laatste jaar. Dit wil zeggen dat academiejaar 2013-2014 mijn afstudeerjaar is, normaalgezien. De eerste semester blijf ik in België, maar de tweede semester ‘moet’ ik verplicht op stage. Gezien mijn afstudeerrichting ‘Hospitality Management, Logies, Gids & Reisleiding’ wordt, heb ik voor een buitenlandse stage geopteerd. Dit verbaasd jullie natuurlijk niet meer. Ik heb nog geen confirmatie van mijn stagebestemming gekregen, maar weet wel dat het voor een periode van 4 maanden zal zijn (maart – juni 2014). De toestemming voor mijn aangeboden projecten zal er pas in juli zijn, gezien het gesprek met mijn coördinatoren pas plaats kan vinden na mijn Erasmus-tijd hier in Spanje.

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I have proposed 3 choices: my first choice is Yanapuma in Ecuador. I quote a web page for this: “It is an NGO (non-governmental organization) and is to be carried out in urban and rural communities throughout Ecuador with sustainable development as an aim. It will mainly help the local communities so that they can develop conservation and protection of their natural environment and their cultural heritage. Yanapuma helps with technical assistance, experience, knowledge and both national and international connections in order to ensure in these communities sustainability in the future. They work on different themes: health, criminology, education, nature, water, agriculture, … and it is also active in tourism. “Community-based tourism” is a more social form of ecotourism in local communities and aims the community and tourists to be aware of the natural and cultural value of the area (and the community) and to ensure that the benefits will continue within the community. ” http://www.yanapuma.org/

Ik heb 3 keuzes mogen opgeven: eerste keuze is Yanapuma in Ecuador. Ik citeer hiervoor even een internet-pagina: “Het is een NGO (non-gouvernementele organisatie) en heeft als doel duurzame ontwikkeling te verrichten in stedelijke en landelijke gemeenschappen in heel Ecuador. Men wil voornamelijk de lokale gemeenschappen helpen zodat zij zelfstandig kunnen ontwikkelen met behoud en bescherming van hun natuurlijke omgeving en hun cultureel erfgoed. Yanapuma helpt met technische hulp, ervaring, kennis en zowel nationale als internationale connecties om zo duurzaamheid in de toekomst te verzekeren in deze gemeenschappen. Men werkt rond verschillende thema’s: gezondheidszorg, criminologie, onderwijs, natuurbescherming, watervoorziening, landbouw,… en men is natuurlijk ook actief in het toerisme. “Community-based tourism” is een meer sociale vorm van ecotoerisme in lokale gemeenschappen en heeft als doel de gemeenschap en de toerist bewuster te maken van de natuurlijke en culturele waarde van het gebied (en de gemeenschap) en ervoor te zorgen dat de voordelen binnen de gemeenschap blijven.” http://www.yanapuma.org/

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Of course I hope to be selected for my first choice by my university, but I also selected a nice second choice: Het Andere Reizen (The Different Traveling) in Peru. Again, I quote here: “In Cusco you can go to a travel agency or a tour operator that focuses primarily on adventure travel. The travel agents are small in size and you will work with two or three other employees. Volunteers may travel guide, arrange airport pick ups, provide information or work in the marketing field. The tasks depend on the season. ” http://www.hetanderereizen.nl/latijns-amerika/peru/diverse-reisbureaus-en-touroperators

Uiteraard hoop ik voor mijn eerste keuze geselecteerd te worden door mijn universiteit, maar ik heb ook nog een leuke tweede keuze: Het Andere Reizen in Peru. Ook hiervoor citeer ik even: “In Cusco kun je terecht op een reisbureau of bij een touroperator die zich hoofdzakelijk richt op avontuurlijke reizen. De reisbureaus zijn klein van omvang en je zult met 2 of 3 andere medewerkers samenwerken. Vrijwilligers kunnen reizen begeleiden, airport pick ups regelen, informatie geven of werkzaam zijn in de marketing. De taken zijn afhankelijk van het seizoen.” http://www.hetanderereizen.nl/latijns-amerika/peru/diverse-reisbureaus-en-touroperators

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And as a third choice, I gave Living Stone Dialogue NGO. This organization’s mission is to use tourism as a tool for sustainable development. As an intern you will then go to the Via Via Travelers cafes. These are “meeting places for world travelers.” I quote: “You can go there to work with others and to rinse away the dust of your journey. Food and drink, music and art, artistic and cultural projects, trips and courses are bringing people and cultures together in a spirit of openness, respect and wonder. In most ViaVia’s you can also spend the night. ViaVia Joker Traveler cafés are oases of travel information. Through their local roots and involvement with the local environment, they add value to your discovery of country, culture and people. ViaVia encourages travel, explore and broaden your horizons ” The selection is done by JOKER TOURS, they send you – depending on your profile – to a destination. In my case, that will be a Spanish speaking country anyway, making these destinations options: Argentina (Buenos Aires), Chile (Valparaiso), Peru (Ayacucho), Ecuador (Tonsupa), Honduras (Copan) or Nicaragua (Leon). Read more: http://www.viaviacafe.com/

En als derde keuze, heb ik Living Stone Dialoog vzw opgegeven. Deze organisatie heeft als missie het inzetten van toerisme als hefboom voor duurzame ontwikkeling. Als stagiaire kom je dan terecht bij de Via Via reiscafés. Dit zijn “ ontmoetingsplaatsen voor wereldreizigers”. Ik citeer: “Je kan er terecht om samen met anderen het stof van je reis weg te spoelen. Eten en drinken, muziek en kunst, artisitieke en culturele projecten, trips en cursussen brengen er mensen en culturen samen in een geest van openheid, respect en verwondering. In de meeste ViaVia’s kan je ook overnachten. ViaVia Joker Reiscafés zijn oases van reisinformatie. Door hun lokale inbedding en betrokkenheid met de plaatselijke omgeving, zijn ze een meerwaarde bij je ontdekking van land, cultuur en bevolking. ViaVia zet aan tot reizen, ontdekken en het verruimen van je horizon.” De selectie gebeurt door JOKER REIZEN, zij sturen je – afhankelijk van je profiel naar een bestemming. In mijn geval zou dat sowieso Spaanstalig worden waardoor volgende bestemmingen opties zijn: Argentinië (Buenos Aires), Chile (Valparaíso), Peru (Ayacucho), Ecuador (Tonsupa), Honduras (Copán) of Nicaragua (León).  Meer lezen: http://www.viaviacafe.com

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Anyway, 2014 promises to be a spectacular year so… But there will be also hard work to be done: final projects and exams are also ahead! The purpose is to complete by the end of June the final stretch of the bachelor’s degree and then graduate to get the diploma. (I now realize that it is the first time that I think about it like that and describe it. Maybe that’s a good thing to do!).

Bon, 2014 belooft dus een spetterend jaar te worden… Maar er zal ook hard gewerkt moeten worden: afstudeerprojecten en eindexamens staan ook voor de boeg! De bedoeling is immers om eind juni de laatste loodjes van het bachelor-diploma te voltooien en vervolgens het diploma in handen te krijgen. (Ik besef nu dat het de eerste keer is dat ik dit zo uitvoerig bedenk en beschrijf. Misschien is dat wel goed om even te doen?!).

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Basically, I will be graduated from mid 2014, ready to revoke the wide world or in less philosophical terms: to sign a permanent contract and get to work. Forever. Until my retirement. And you hear it, that idea alone depresses me desperately! And I would not be me if I was not already dreaming about some other, new future perspectives … I explain it here: before my Erasmus period I secretly dreamed of starting a master study after the bachelor. For this I saw two possibilities: a Master in Tourism, or a Master in Anthropology.

In principe ben ik dus vanaf midden 2014 afgestudeerd, klaar om de weide wereld in te trekken, of minder filosofisch uitgedrukt: een vast contract te ondertekenen en aan het werk te gaan. Voor eeuwig. Tot het pensioen. En je hoort het al, dat idee alleen al deprimeert me mateloos! En ik zou ik niet zijn als ik alweer aan het dromen was over andere, nieuwe toekomstperspectieven… Ik leg het even uit: voor mijn Erasmus-periode droomde ik er stiekem van om na de bachelor een master-studie te beginnen. Hiervoor zag ik 2 mogelijkheden: een Master in Toerisme, of een Master in Antropologie.

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The Master in Tourism lasts one year, but requires a bridging semester, and takes place as well in Bruges as in Leuven. I could start with the program in September 2014 and thus ending around January 2016. I quote here: “The emphasis is on sector-specific marketing studies, including competitive analysis. Besides the economic aspect, however there are still many aspects that focus on the behavior and impacts on environment and society. This means that the social, geographical and cultural disciplines will enrich the offer into a coherent program that the multidimensional nature of tourism fully addresses and that the aspect of sustainability presupposes ” You can read more about it at: http://aow.kuleuven.be/geografie/masterinhettoerisme/index.html

De Master in Toerisme duurt 1 jaar, maar vereist een schakelprogramma van een semester, en gaat door in Brugge en Leuven. De opleiding zou ik kunnen starten in september 2014 en dus beëindigen rond januari 2016. Ik citeer ook hier even: “Het accent ligt op sectorspecifieke marketingstudies, inclusief concurrentieanalyses. Naast het economische zijn er echter nog vele aspecten die vooral gericht zijn op het gedragspatroon en de impacten op ruimte en samenleving. Dit betekent dat ook de sociale, geografische en culturele disciplines het aanbod komen verrijken in een coherent programma dat het multidimensionele karakter van toerisme ten volle aan bod laat komen en het aspect duurzaamheid voorop stelt.” Je kan er meer over lezen op: http://aow.kuleuven.be/geografie/masterinhettoerisme/index.html

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The Master in Social and Cultural Anthropology is a different kettle of fish, it would be throwing my whole career on a different track… Or at least highlight it from a different, new perspective: “Anthropology is the scientific study of human history in its biological, linguistic and social aspects “. I quote this as the K.U. Leuven describes the program: “What makes anthropology unique is not so much what she studies, but the way and the position from which she approaches the human condition. Anthropology focuses on what divides people as to what binds them.

De Master in de Sociale en Culturele Antropologie is een andere koek, het zou mijn hele carrière over een andere boeg gooien… Of op zijn minst vanuit een ander, nieuw perspectief belichten: “antropologie is de wetenschappelijke studie van de menselijke geschiedenis in haar biologische, taalkundige en sociale aspecten”. Ik citeer hiervoor even de K.U. Leuven om de opleiding te beschrijven: “Wat de antropologie uniek maakt, is niet zozeer wat ze bestudeert, maar de manier waarop en het standpunt van waaruit ze de menselijke conditie benadert. Daarbij richt de antropologie zich zowel op wat mensen verdeelt als op wat hen bindt.

As an anthropologist you study problems of identity, globalization, the relationship between man and nature, colonization or ethnicity. You do this from the perspective of those who are involved in it. The focus is on the experience of the ordinary man or woman. For example, given the political discourse on globalization, ecology or migration an extra dimension, which often yields surprising insights. ” This field of study actually excites me a lot, and would give my tourism-world a whole new digression to other domains. But the full course lasts 2 years, and there must be followed a bridging program of one year for bachelor students like me. In addition, you must be accepted for enrollment. As mentioned above, the program takes place in Leuven. Read more: http://www.kuleuven.be/toekomstigestudenten/studiekeuzebegeleiders/nwsbrf/0910/13/antropologie.html and http://onderwijsaanbod.kuleuven.be/opleidingen/n/CQ_50268970.htm

Als antropoloog bestudeer je problemen als identiteitsvorming, globalisering, de relatie mens-natuur, kolonisatie of etniciteit. Je doet dit vanuit het perspectief van de betrokkenen. De focus ligt hierbij op de ervaring van de gewone vrouw of man. Zo krijgt bijvoorbeeld het politieke discours over globalisering, ecologie of migratie een extra dimensie, wat vaak verrassende inzichten oplevert.” Dit studiedomein boeit me eigenlijk enorm, en zou mijn toerismewereld op haar manier een hele uitwijding geven naar andere domeinen. De volledige opleiding duurt wel 2 jaar, en er moet een schakelprogramma van 1 jaar gevolgd worden voor bachelor-studenten zoals ik. Bovendien moet je ook geaccepteerd worden om te kunnen inschrijven. Zoals hierboven vermeld, gaat de opleiding door in Leuven. Meer lezen: http://www.kuleuven.be/toekomstigestudenten/studiekeuzebegeleiders/nwsbrf/0910/13/antropologie.html en http://onderwijsaanbod.kuleuven.be/opleidingen/n/CQ_50268970.htm

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If I would pick the hard way, I would choose the Anthropology Master, but I also realize that it could be a disappointment, and that it will not be possible then to go back to the Master in Tourism. A safer choice would thus be Tourism, which program is also just half as long to complete. Of course this master is also less valuable than the Anthropology one, but on the other hand the tourism industry offers more jobs … On the other hand it is often said that Masters degrees in Tourism do not earn more than Bachelor degrees in Tourism, so it raises the question whether it is really worth the investment to take the Master if you stay in the tourism industry anyway? Many question marks in the head so …

Als ik voor de moeilijke weg ging, zou ik voor de Antropologie kiezen, maar ik besef ook dat het wel eens zou kunnen tegenvallen, en dat er dan moeilijk nog een weg terug is naar de Master in Toerisme. Een veiligere keuze zou dus Toerisme zijn, welke opleiding ook maar half zo lang in beslag neemt. Uiteraard is ze ook wel minder waardevol dan de antropologie, maar toerisme biedt dan weer meer werkgelegenheid… Anderzijds wordt er vaak gezegd dat Masters in Toerisme niet meer verdienen dan Bachelors in Toerisme, dus is het dan ook de vraag of het werkelijk de investering waard is om die master te volgen als je toch besluit binnen de toeristische sector te blijven? Veel vraagtekens in het hoofd dus…

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And then there was ERASMUS! Some time for not too much thinking about this, and to lead the good life and to be inspired by the multiculturalism and so on, as previously mentioned. And how could it be otherwise, I really do not believe in “coincidence”, ERASMUS MUNDUS became discussed, here in Gandia one day. I had previously never heard of it, but it did immediately ring a bell in my head. Ahaa!

Erasmus Mundus is a program of the European Commission. The aim is to increase higher education level, promote it around the world and cooperate with non-EU countries. Some European higher education institutions give an Erasmus Mundus Masters Course form and go into partnership with institutions in the rest of the world. Students from the rest of the world then come to study at such a master by at least three European institutions ” Read more: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/erasmus_mundus/

En toen was er ERASMUS! Even tijd om daar niet teveel aan te denken, en om het goede leven te leiden, en om zoals eerder al gezegd, geïnspireerd te worden door de multiculturaliteit enzovoorts. En hoe kan het ook anders, ik geloof echt niet in “toeval”, kwam ERASMUS MUNDUS op een dag ter sprake, hier in Gandia. Ik had hier voorheen nog nooit van gehoord, maar het deed meteen een belletje rinkelen in mijn hoofd. Ahaa!

Erasmus Mundus is een programma van de Europese Commissie. Doel is de kwaliteit van het Europese hoger onderwijs te bevorderen, het over de gehele wereld te promoten en de samenwerking met landen buiten de EU te bevorderen. Enkele Europese hogeronderwijsinstellingen geven een Erasmus Mundusmasteropleiding vorm en gaan een partnerschap aan met instellingen in de rest van de wereld. Studenten uit de rest van de wereld kunnen zo in Europa studeren aan zo’n masteropleiding die door minstens drie Europese instellingen samen wordt vormgegeven.” Meer lezen: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/erasmus_mundus/

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As soon as I heard this, I quickly searched which ones were the different masters offered, and unbelievable but true: “European Master in Tourism Management” consists in the list of master programs! The program takes two years to complete: there are thus four semesters: the first semester takes place in Denmark, the second in Slovenia, the third in Spain and the fourth – last – semester is dedicated to writing the master’s thesis, and you choose one of these three destinations / universities for this last semester. Good to know is that each university has its own specialty, for example, focus on economy, sustainability, policy, … So you get offered within a program “the best of both worlds”. This degree, I do not have to tell you, is one of the best degrees you can find. Cost? Well, IF you are selected and IF you get a scholarship, nothing … How do you get accepted? With a bachelor’s degree in which you obtained at least 70%, so if you graduate with distinction. Of course I just counted how far I am in my second year, and yes, I got so far 77% on average. It may therefore still be possible! I also have to be able to submit proof of English language proficiency at the excellence level because the master courses are offered in English. For this, I could take evening courses and I could do an examination at an official institution. Just another challenge! Furthermore, there are some other requirements, too many to mention here. Read it yourself if you want at: http://www.emtmmaster.net/

Zo gauw ik dit vernam, zocht ik de verschillende mogelijke masteropleidingen op, en jawel hoor: “European Master in Tourism Management” bestaat hierin! De opleiding neemt 2 jaar in beslag: er zijn dus 4 semesters: de eerste semester gaat door in Denemarken, de tweede in Slovenië, de derde in Spanje en de vierde – laatste – semester wordt gewijd aan het schrijven van de master-thesis, en daarvoor kies je één van deze drie bestemmingen/universiteiten. Goed om weten is ook dat elke universiteit zijn eigen specialiteit heeft, bijvoorbeeld focus op economie, duurzaamheid, beleid, … Zo krijg je binnen één opleiding “the best of both worlds” aangeboden. Deze opleiding, ik hoef het je niet te vertellen, is één van de beste opleidingen die je kan vinden. Kostprijs? Wel, ALS je geselecteerd wordt en ALS je een beurs te pakken krijgt, niets… Hoe geraak je er binnen? Met een bachelor-diploma waarin je minimum 70% behaalde, onderscheiding dus. Heb ik natuurlijk even gerekend hoever ik nu zit in mijn tweede jaar, en jawel, ik behaalde tot nu toe 77% gemiddeld. Het kan dus nog! Ook moet ik een bewijs van Engelse taalvaardigheid op excellentie-niveau kunnen voorleggen, de master is uiteraard in het Engels aangeboden. Hiervoor zou ik avondschool kunnen volgen en een examen kunnen afleggen aan een officiële instelling. Slechts een uitdaging! Voorts zijn er nog enkele andere vereisten, te veel om hier op te noemen. Lees het zelf maar even na op: http://www.emtmmaster.net/

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So, now there are thus three possibilities to continue studying and I have a good view on it. I believe in it! And no, you do not hear me speaking about quitting studies soon. The student life is way too good for that! I think I will go to work the day I’m tired of studying, or the day that I ‘bump into’ the job of my life: something with travel, tourism, culture, writing, photography, … I’m not there yet, but as I said, I do not worry about that job, practice makes perfect. And I enjoy my “journey” …

Zo, inmiddels zijn er dus 3 mogelijkheden om verder te studeren en ik heb er een goed oog op. Ik geloof erin! En nee, je hoort mij nog niet snel over ophouden met studeren spreken. Het studentenleven is daar veel te goed voor! Ik denk dat ik zal gaan werken de dag dat ik het studeren moe ben, of de dag dat de job van mijn leven mij ‘overvalt’: iets met reizen, toerisme, culturen, schrijven, fotograferen, … Ik ben er nog niet uit, maar zoals ik al zei: ik maar me er niet druk om, al doende leert men. En ik geniet van mijn “journey”…

beauty-dreams-future-quote-text-Favim.com-355712And oh yes … For those for whom it all seems a bit much: if I have completed the bachelor and master, I will be about 25 years. So eventually… all not so bad, right?! Enough time to settle down, LATER ……;-)

En oh ja… Voor diegenen voor wie het allemaal wat veel lijkt: als ik de bachelor en de master voltooid heb, zal ik ongeveer 25 jaar zijn. Dus helemaal nog niet zo slecht, toch?! Tijd genoeg om te settelen, LATER…… 😉

20121012-210008So to conclude this whole story… For now…. A GOOD MOTIVATION!!!  😉

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