Traveling is always an exciting experience, especially when it’s somewhere foreign. Just recently, I spent 10 days exploring and volunteering in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands in South America. Not only was this trip unique because of its location, but it was a school service trip, without my parents. I traveled with 2 adults and 6 students and although we didn’t know each other very well, we became a family.
In the days leading up to the trip, we received an itinerary, a packing list, and other helpful information from the organizers. These things are supposed to make life easier, but it made me more nervous. Not only did the itinerary show that we were going to do things I feared, but ‘what-if’ questions started racing through my mind. For example, before Ecuador, I’d never get on any type of motor boat. So, when I saw we had to take a lengthy boat ride to Santa Cruz Island, imagine my nerves. ‘What-if we ran out of gas in the middle of the ocean? What-if I get seasick?’ This is one reason I didn’t go to Ecuador with a completely open-mind.
The trip was completely eye-opening. We traveled to Quito and explored historic areas of the city. The next morning, we drove 9 hours, visited the equator, and then headed to the Andes Mountains for our service project with “Free the Children.” We spent 3 days in the Chimborazo Province, building a school and interacting with the indigenous people. It amazed me that kids, no more than 9 years old, were responsible for their baby siblings, at such a young age. I met an older woman who was growing and selling 100 pounds of potatoes, by herself, for only $10. This really made me think about all the things I am accustomed to and take for granted.
For 3 days, while doing the service project, we didn’t have wi-fi, another luxury I take for granted. At first, we were all kind of on edge, but I enjoyed it way more than I would’ve if I was able to use my phone regularly. After we successfully completed the project, we traveled to Guayaquil and went to Mall del Sol, a fantastic shopping mall. The final and my favorite part of the trip was visiting the Galapagos Islands for three days. Our days were extremely long and the 72 hours were packed with activities.The highlights were visiting a Charles Darwin Research Farm – giant tortoise breeding center, swimming in a natural pool called ‘Las Grietas,’ trying new foods, going to several beaches, and taking boat rides.
I was in awe of the many differences in their lifestyle. Ecuadorians drive on the opposite side of the road, and even put popcorn in soup. Most surprisingly, used toilet paper is thrown in a waste basket and not the toilet. Still, Ecuador was truly a beautiful country. The view of the Andes Mountains were breath-taking because of the different colors of grass from the different methods of farming that the indigenous people used.
In conclusion, I enjoyed myself more than words can describe. If I were to do it again, I’d go in with an open mind and pay more attention to the differences in the way Ecuadorians and Americans live. I’d have fun, while being more grateful for the everyday blessings we have in America. Traveling to a foreign a place like Ecuador was an exhilarating experience and I’m sure other visitors would say the same.