Yesterday I got asked if I was Chinese, before being told I looked 17 years old. I then proceeded to find myself in the middle of a teenager´s birthday party. This could only mean one thing – I’ve started volunteering in a local junior school (on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador). And so far it´s been great – I’ve already fallen in love with the kids and am venturing off on a school trip to a swimming pool tomorrow – it’s like regressing twenty years. Given that I find myself repeating the words for various pets, colours and numbers twenty times a day it’s also been pretty good for the old Spanish (and it’s rather humbling (/humiliating) when I realise six year old kids are learning the equivalent of what I learnt back in BA just a few months ago).
I dined on my first Ecuadorian school dinner – consisting of rice and a nondescript meat (a suspected pig skin according to a volunteer, which is admittedly probably not much different to our old school dinners in the pre’Jamie O days), participated in a game of football (something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before) and attempted to navigate my way around some rather complicated bus routes – all fairly worthy achievements in my opinion.
I’m staying with a host family in the north of the city and the kindness and warmth they’ve shown me after just a couple of days seems a fair testament to the culture here. I’ve already eaten my own body weight in local specialities cooked by my temporary mother (for fear of being rude and turning it down, of course…) and have consumed so much soup I think I might turn into one soon…
It’s somewhat of a contrast to where I was just a few days ago – Montanita, a beach town that some have described as the Magaluf of Ecuador… I had an absolute blast partying on the aptly named ‘cocktail alley’ (with every type of colada imaginable available for a max $3 – heaven), surfing the impressive waves (slash struggling not to drown) and flying over it all on a paragliding trip – which turned out to be one of the most relaxing things I’ve done so far. But given the sheer amount of gringos I found myself surrounded by, I didn’t get too much of a feel for the Ecuadorian culture and being in a local home here has been great (and a fair bit more insightful).
Puerto Lopez, a 40 minute bus ride away from Montanita, was a lot calmer with a quaint harbour and relatively empty beach. I took a whale watching trip out to sea and was lucky enough to see about ten of the mammoth creatures darting in and out of the water. It’s definitely worth the 20 or so dollars (as with everything here, variable depending on how good at bargaining you are…)
Prior to Montanita I spent two days Baños, the adventure capital of Ecuador that’s set among lush, emerald green mountains and long, rushing rivers. I found myself scrambling down waterfalls in the form of canyoning at Rio Blanco and it was incredible. We also went white water rafting over some fairly rough rapids – another trip I’d recommend that only takes half a day and is set among some really stunning scenery. I checked out the hot springs, where temperatures reach a scorching 50 degrees, and found myself staring up into the sky and admiring a huge, towering waterfall that overlooks the baths and makes the whole experience a tad more unique than some of the other springs I’ve swum in.
Before Baños I stopped off at Cuenca, a colonial city and UNESCO site in the south of Ecuador with beautiful architecture, a pleasant riverside walk and a viewpoint (Turi) well worth checking out – although one day there seemed enough.
All in all Ecuador so far has been great and I’m looking forward to carrying on with the volunteering and bolstering my portfolio of funny stories. Hopefully I’ll have some more to recount over the coming days – for now it’s time to sample some more home cooked food -hasta lluego.