I was scrolling through facebook the other day and a memory popped up on my feed saying it had been 1 full year since I had left to go volunteer in Ecuador for 3 weeks. This trip was one of the most incredible experiences of my entire life so I thought a blog post about it would be a good idea for anyone who is interested in volunteering in the future and also for me to relive such an amazing trip.
I found out about the volunteer company through my local college and immediately fell in love with the opportunity and I knew it was what I needed to do. The company was called VESA for those interested, they have about 4 different locations they volunteer in and each one is an incredible experience depending on what you are looking for. What made me drawn to Ecuador was that I have always had this fascination with the Amazon Rainforest and all of its beautiful creatures within. Being vegan myself and knowing the horrors of the destruction in the amazon rainforest from animal agriculture and grazing, I knew that I needed to see it with my own eyes before there is no rainforest left. That and I have always wanted to go to South America and experience the culture, the food and all of its beautiful landscapes. The original trip was 2 weeks long, one spent volunteering and the other spent traveling to a few different cities and adventuring around. There was an option to extend it for an additional week, and I knew that 2 weeks wouldn't be long enough so I went for the full 3 week adventure. This was my first solo trip as well so at first I was nervous but I soon fell in love with the freedom and responsibility of travel and navigating my ways.
The first week of volunteering was both amazing and extremely tiring. We were split up in 2 groups (there was 30 of us total) and half were put on hole digging duty, and the others on teaching english to the young children in the small village we were in. I started out with digging holes, we had to dig 6 foot deep x 6 foot wide holes with half broken shovels, heavy rains and intense 40 degree C. rainforest heat in order to build bathrooms in this community. The volunteer company has been helping to bring more sanitation to the locals to avoid illness due to bacteria by building these small bathrooms for each family. We worked the entire day, and they provided us meals throughout (thankfully they offered vegan options for me) and at the end of the day we often went to explore the community and get to know each other. On the days where I taught english to the kids it was such a heartwarming feeling seeing them beyond excited to learn from us. These kids showed up wearing no shoes and had nothing in there possession but frankly they were the happiest kids I have ever seen in my life. That goes to show what is truly most important in life, I think everyone could learn a few lessons from these kids. We did arts and crafts (which ended up being a day of face painting) and practices both numbers and letters with them. When we were back on the hole digging days, the kids were so excited that we were there they were offering to help by pushing the wheelbarrows and grabbing us snacks and water when we needed it. Even though it was hot, sweaty, muddy and cramped being stuck in a 6 foot deep hole with a group of people I had only met a few days earlier, it was one of the funnest experiences i've had, even though I fell in the mud countless times...this did result in very smooth skin though from the amazonian clay we dug through.....haha. It was sad to say goodbye to this community we grew so close to but at the end of the week I was pretty excited to start traveling around more and seeing some of the beautiful sights around the country. We were still split in two groups at this point, half of the group went to do a week in the jungle and stay in a jungle lodge so now it was out turn. We had an 8 hour hike through the amazon rainforest which was both absolutely incredible and terrifying at the same time. We had to ensure we were covered head to toe as around every corner there is something that is either poisonous or will leave you sick for days if it bites you! We got to see some beautiful insects and animals from bright blue butterflies to toucans flying high above us. The guides who were leading the way by cutting through the trees taught us all about the medicinal uses of the jungle plants and the healing benefits they provide. Once we got to the lodge after 8 hours of intense hiking in the heat, we all jumped in the river and enjoyed the water. We had a huge bonfire, spent the night cocooned in bug nets, scared of being poisoned and enjoyed each others company and the fact that we were completely and 100% off the grid. We got to experience being cleansed by a shaman, got to make chocolate from fresh cacao beans, went on a nighttime river cruise to watch the creatures in the river, went tubing down the amazon river and saw some pretty huge spiders lurking in the trees. I probably still have toxic residue from the amount of bug spray we used to keep the bugs away.....lol.
When the jungle trek was over we piled up into a small van and drove to one of Ecuador's larger cities which is called Banos. We stayed at a beautiful hostel which was set right at the bottom of a waterfall and hd 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains. At this point the weather was a bit colder due to the higher altitude. This city holds so many memories for me, I took the brave leap and decided to go bridge jumping...probably never again....but i'm so glad I did it, I got my first tattoo along with some of the other volunteers, I went swinging off the famous "Swing Off The Edge Of The World", I ate some incredible Ecuadorian plant based cuisine , and explored all the local shops and landmarks around town.
The food itself deserves a whole blog post but ill keep it short, one of my favourite foods we ate there most were plantains. We ate them fried, as chips, mashed, made into patties...you name it! I have always loved plantains but this trip I fell in love with them on a whole other level. I also ate a lot of lentils, avocado, salad, incredible sweet fruit and fruit juices (the one below was fresh papaya orange juice-so good), and popcorn soup! (which apparently is very common there).
It was a sad goodbye for those who weren't coming on the extension week of the trip, I had made some amazing friends those first two weeks and it was hard knowing they weren't coming the extra week of the trip. This did however leave us with a smaller group which was easier to bond with each other and was a bit less chaotic at times.
We left the hostel in a smaller van and set off for our last week of adventures. We had a pretty full schedule and were staying somewhere new each night which really made you feel like a true backpacker at times. We visited the Quilotoa crater first, hiked down to the lake which took about an hour and went kayaking once we reach the bottom. Kayaking in the middle of a crater was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, the lake was so still and such a bright teal colour it almost didn't seem real. We ended up riding donkeys on the way back up since it would have been another few hours of hiking to get back up.
Our next day was spent a bit higher up in altitude, which for some made for an unpleasant experience but thankfully I was prepared with all the natural remedies I could bring ranging from oregano oil to ginger capsules to help with nausea so I felt fine. Being that there was no hot water though was a bit tough now that it was get colder the higher up we went. We then made it to go visit the Cotopaxi Volcano. We were staying at a beautiful hostel again called The Secret Garden Cotopaxi which almost looked like a scene from Lord Of The Rings. There were gardens everywhere and small hobbit houses set inside the mountain sides. We hiked around the area to go see some waterfalls and then spent the next day hiking up the volcano. This was incredible but SO COLD! The wind was so strong, it was both raining and hailing and it felt like my feet were numb the whole way up, by the time we got to the top, most of us couldn't breathe due to the high altitude and we were 100% drenched head to toe, even though I was wearing 3 pairs of pants! We were greeted at the top with hot chocolate (vegan of course) and couldn't wait to go back down to change our soaked clothes. We weren't too happy at the time but once we dried off we couldn't believe that we had just hiked up an active volcano. We then left and were on the road again to go to Ecuador's capital city which is called Quito. We stayed at another beautiful hostel, met some other travellers, and explored what the city had to offer. We toured the president's house, ate delicious food, explored the churches and at night enjoyed a rooftop dinner overlooking the city. We also got to visit the actual equator line and stand exactly in the middle of the world, which was pretty cool. The gravitational pulls are in opposite directions on each side of the line so being able to see that right before your eyes was unbelievable!
Our last few days were spent driving out to the coast of Ecuador. We stayed right by the beach and took a boat ride out to The Silver Island to go see the famous blue footed booby birds native to Ecuador. The boat ride itself was very bumpy but once we got to the small island and hiked around it, the views were worth it. We then got to go snorkelling and look at all of the colourful ocean life around the island. After a few hours of that, we headed back in search of whales, we ended seeing a few passing by which was amazing to see. On our very last day, I woke up early walked along the beach once more, collected some shells and we hopped back on the bus for a full day of driving to get back to the airport and fly home.
This trip will always hold a special place in my heart. It was both scary and daunting to go off on my own but what I learned from it was worth it 100%, this country is absolutely beautiful and I hope to go back one day to explore even more of it and I highly encourage you to do so as well. Good things always come from stepping outside of your comfort zone and this trip definitely proved that and much more.
I hope you all enjoyed reading my experience there, feel free to comment below with any questions about volunteering you may have xx