Ever dream of traveling? Me too. In fact, before experiencing Ecuador, I had never even ventured outside of North America. Hadn’t been in a plane before, either. And then this exceptional journey happened. I was so affected by my experiences in Ecuador that I am all too eager to detail out my journey here.
The group of us who were traveling to Ecuador consisted of myself and 26 other Canadians. Most of us were from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Our mission: to join with three missionary couples stationed in three different locations throughout Ecuador and help them with their respective areas of mission work. We had 19 days and 6 destinations. Bring it on.
Our journey began at 6 a.m. on Saturday, July the 14th. The sun was shining. We had paid. We had immunized. We had bought traveler’s insurance. We had packed. And we were ready.
Shortly after, our aircraft had lifted off of the ground below and we began to be weightless underneath of the wind. We were going to Ecuador!
DESTINATION GUAYAQUIL: We arrived in Panama City at 10:20pm for a brief stop before reaching Guayaquil 2 hours later. After a short night at Hotel De Alborado we ventured off the next morning for our first outing – Bastion. Here we made our first friends in Ecuador. The people we met were very poor, living in very small and basic houses made of wood. But they had good community spirit and welcomed us “gringos.” The kids were fascinated at seeing themselves inside of the small screen of a team members’ camcorder. They waved and laughed, knowing they were being “watched” although I doubt they had ever seen such a technology before. The Bastion children had a love for soccer, and their antique-looking ball provided hours of entertainment. The families of bastion were kind enough to provide our entire group with a delicious meal of chicken and rice. This was a large sacrifice for them, and an immensely kind gesture.
The beauty of the kindness of the people was not the only welcoming surprise we received. The scenery of the different locations we visited was also awe-inspiring, as we were soon to see.
DESTINATION RIOBAMBA: After Guayaquil, we headed for the city of Riobamba, home of Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain peak. Riobamba’s altitude is over 2700 meters (Peterborough’s is 195 meters). But the scenery was fantastic. I took a multitude of snapshots on this long bus trip to Riobamba.
In Riobamba we met up with the second missionary couple (originally from Peterborough, Ontario themselves) who ran an orphanage for young, orphaned babies. Our job there was simply to cuddle, hold, and play with the young ones and show them the love that they needed. A few years later, one of our own team members’ returned to Riobamba to witness an explosion that shattered the windows in that very orphanage (for video footage, see YouTube:
The workers in that orphanage did a fantastic job of providing a home for these precious children, and I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to have been there, albeit for only 2 days total.
DESTINATION BAÃ‘OS, SHELL, & TENA: During the few days we traveled extensively. Our first stop after Riobamba was BaÃ±os. As short as our stop at BaÃ±os was, none of us failed to notice the spectacular sight of Tungurahua. Tungurahua is an active volcano, in the heart of BaÃ±os. While our team was visiting, the volcano was on “orange” alert, meaning that it was showing activity. This was evidenced by the thick, dark cloud of smoke escaping from its peak. While at the time I thought this exciting, Tungurahua proved to live up to its threats later in August of 2006 when it exploded, raining hot lava and ash to the villages nearby (see CNN report at http://theworldnow.wordpress.com/2006/08/18/cnn-ecuador-volcano-destroys-villages/). Leaving BaÃ±os, we traveled on the roads through the mountains by bus to Shell. The road at certain parts was just inches from the edge of the mountainside – without any guard rails, of course! It was at this point that I had to just tell myself not to look down. Yet, once again, the scenery itself was breath-taking. As we drove up the mountain, we pushed through uncondensed clouds that were “hanging” in the sky at the same level as we were. Simultaneously we drove right over waterfalls that cascaded below us.
Shell was by a long shot my favorite place that we visited. Its rainforest climate greeted us with an appropriate rainfall upon our arrival. We unloaded the bus and trudged through the mud right straight across – believe it or not – a long suspension bridge. Now if you ask me, it wasn’t anywhere near safe. But on the other side lay or next lodging spot so onward and over I went!
Our “hotel” in Shell was a group of rooms made entirely of wood – Balsa wood. It was carved into the neatest shapes. As for our beds, each one had a mosquito net to protect us from being bitten by spiders or malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Here in Shell, I saw such colorful and wonderful wildlife: monkeys, spiders (some as big as your hand), parrots, and more. I curiously listened to the chirping crickets and buzzing insects at night along with the soft rainfall on the large-spanning leaves and greenery. It was truly an amazing combination of sight and sound.
Next we traveled almost 7 hours, with stops, to my second-favorite spot: beautiful Tena. Here we encountered more rainforest and wildlife including monkeys and parrots along with leaf-cutter ants, termites, and plenty of other bugs (oh my)! Our hotel was wonderful, but did not match up to our quarters made of Balsa wood. The food at this hotel included meals such as red cabbage, green banana soup, potatoes and beats, chicken, fruit salad, fried yucca and lots and lots of rice; there was always rice. The parrots in the vicinity of the hotel were so tame that during breakfast we hand-fed them bananas!
The next day we took a break from traveling (as we all sighed our relief!) and headed a relatively short distance away to the MisahuallÃ River, where we strapped on lifejackets and rafted downstream in inner tubes. The water wasn’t clear, but it was an adventure to ride downstream in this tributary of the Amazon River! We also had a chance to visit some Quechua Indians where we brought face-paint and balloons for the children. They, needless to say, loved it! All of the children wanted to have their faces painted.
DESTINATION QUITO: We endured one more extraordinarily long bus trip. From Tena we were scheduled to go straight to Quito, which is northwest of Tena. However, for some reason or another (perhaps mud) we had to re-route and head south to Riobamba and then start going north again and continue to Quito. It was a grueling 12-hour trip in a bus. This was not a bus with a television or any special features other than, thankfully, a tiny bathroom at the back of the vehicle. But somehow we all survived and arrived in Quito, where we stayed for the remaining 8 days of our lives in Ecuador. Eight days was the longest we had spent in one place up to that time, and it was refreshing to know that we could settle into our hotel. Since Quito is a well-populated and well-developed city compared to the other places we visited, the hotel we stayed at here was much closer to what we expected of a hotel. In Quito, we met up with the third missionary couple we were scheduled to work together with. This couple housed many orphans in their own home and adopted them as their own children (how amazing is that?!). Our team’s mission here in Quito was to help these missionaries organize a Vacation Bible School, or VBS, for a group of school kids. It was yet another great experience. Our team helped paint the school and then helped organize activities for the kids such as crafts, games, and songs. We learned a Bible verse in Spanish with the kids, which was as much of a challenge to us as them! We felt that the kids enjoyed the VBS and learned a lot, which made our work joyful and fulfilling.
The people of Ecuador, along with the scenery and wildlife, make visiting an adventure that I do not believe I will ever forget. And that is why I am glad to have had this opportunity to share it with you. But don’t let it stop here. I encourage you to plan to one day see it for yourself!
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