Netherlands, Ecuador · 12 Days · 25 Moments · February 2018

TDS excursion to ECUADOR

15 February 2018

Day 11: Although we’ve had a program, big enough to fill a whole month, time flies and the end of the field trip has arrived. For some of us it meant to fly back to Germany but for a big part of the group this was the start for their own individual adventures in South America. The last day consisted of an extended feedback round to reflect the last part of our trip in the Amazon Rainforest and to talk about our opinions concerning the whole field trip in Ecuador. After some last few hours of free time in Quito some of us had to go to the airport to catch their flight, which would bring us back to Germany. This way we ended our field trip and said goodbye Ecuador.

14 February 2018

After lunch, we entered the bus to climb the Andes once again and leave the beautiful Ecuadorian rainforest. For most of us, the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve has been a highlight if not THE highlight of the whole field trip. Throughout the bus ride we had enough time to recap all the impressions. But we also had enough time to think about the fact that the rainforest in Ecuador is heavily endangered by the oil industry and ask ourselves if tourism might represent an alternative to prevent the forest from being destroyed. Of course, the bus ride also gave us enough time to just do nothing and relax.
Day 10: The last full day of our trip through Ecuador started a little earlier. Before breakfast we went searching especially for birds, because they are more active throughout this time of the day. We also looked for everything else that might cross our way through the jungle on the boats. At around 9.30 am we left Jamu Lodge to start the long journey back to Quito. But the Amazon Rainforest would not be the Amazon Rainforest letting us leave easily. Even the boat ride back to the place, where we would enter the bus, was an adventure. Due to a very low water level caused by weeks without rain, we had to jump into the river and push the boat several times. In particular for one group this was torture. (Which is maybe why they now call themselves 'Amazonian warriors'.) Their boat’s draught was the lowest and moreover, they carried the food for our lunch, which made the boat heavier. But even they made it and we all got to have lunch before saying goodbye to the jungle.

13 February 2018

After dinner, the day ended with a longer feedback session, discussing the experiences of the past days. A big subject throughout this session was the aspect of authenticity. What does this term actually mean to us and how ‘authentic’ were experiences like meeting the indigenous family? Another important subject were the different touristic concepts we got to know. Tourism in Ecuador is still small and consequently the question arises: How will tourism develop in the places we have been to? In connection to this, sustainability played a role throughout the discussion as well. After such an exciting day, we all fell asleep quite fast with the sounds of the jungle in our ears.
The hikes through the jungle were mainly about getting to know the flora of the rainforest and its smaller inhabitants, like insects. Whatever our guide discovered, he or she showed to us and told us about its characteristics, medical application by the indigenous people or even about personal experiences. Although some of the persons guiding us were not living in the wildlife reserve anymore, but in the next bigger city Lago Agrio, they were all born and raised in the local communities nearby. After going for a quick swim in the lagoon, we went back to Jamu Lodge for lunch and a few hours of siesta. Around 5 pm we left the lodge again for a swim in the lagoon enjoying the sunset. Afterwards, we left the lagoon for the night activities like searching for caimans or hiking through the forest at night time.
At the community, the other group was welcomed by Gloria - the only inhabitant present on this day. After the fire was lit, we went to the community's fields to harvest manioc roots and process them to flour. Therefore, we grated them and wringed them out with original, handmade tools. The flatbread Gloria prepared over the fire was shared and eaten with tuna salad. Optionally, a dark, spicy paste made from manioc juice could be added or we could just eat the flavourless bread with jam. After this delicious meal, we asked the guide about the living conditions in the communities and the partnership with the lodges. We found out that tourism provides the communities with money and thus, prevents them from working for the oil companies or selling the land to wood industry or farmers who shoot pumas and make use of brand-clearings. Furthermore, awareness for nature is created. At the end, Gloria received the money directly from every individual of the group.
Day 9: Today was the one full day we spent in the jungle. After breakfast in the lodge, two groups went for different hikes through the rainforest and one group visited a local community. On the way to the places where we left the boats to start our hikes, the jungle experience already started. Our guides took as much time as needed to enjoy the wildlife that crossed our way during the boat ride and gave us as much information as they could on all the different animals. We saw e.g. Amazon (pink) river dolphins and a huge group of squirrel monkeys. Luckily, there was no fixed schedule, so we could enjoy the wildlife at our leisure. After the last few days with a high pace of activities this gave us the chance to relax and fully dive into experiencing the Amazon rainforest.

12 February 2018

Day 8: After 7 hours of bus driving, we arrived in Lago Agrio at around 7 am To make our trip even more adventurous we were stopped by the police because of a missing tourist license of the bus driver. After misguided communication the bus was allowed to go on. At the bridge we changed our medium of transportation and went further into the jungle with canoes. The first animals could be discovered on our way and after 2 hours we arrived safely at the ‘Jamu Lodge’, located 30 kilometers inside the Cuyabeno National Park in the Amazon region. Moreover, we enjoyed a late lunch and got further information referring to the program of the upcoming days. At 5 pm we went by canoe to the big lagoon, went swimming and enjoyed the first sunset in the jungle. On the way back to the lodge, we were looking for caimans and snakes in the darkness with our flashlights. After a long day, we all fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle.

11 February 2018

In the afternoon, we were warmly welcomed by friends of Astrid in Jacaranda Cumbaya which is a gated community, also called the spring valley of Quito. We had a delicious BBQ, played volleyball, and enjoyed typical Ecuadorian carnival with water bombs which was a fun and wet experience for all of us. We had a nice evening with our kind hosts and were all looking forward to our pick-up to the jungle adventure.
Day 7: Our first destination of the day was the crater Pululahua. A village was built inside the crater because of the fertile soil and good climate conditions. Because of the location inside a volcanic crater the inhabitants are confronted with the risk of eruption every day. Afterwards, we went further to the 'Mitad del Mundo' which included two main attractions around the 0 latitude: firstly, the French monument and secondly, the ‘Museo de Intiñan’. The French Monument is located where the French first calculated the equator line with help of the Andean mountains. We could gain information about the technical issues and the physical interrelations. The second one is located at the GPS-calculated equator line and shows how indigenous people lived and provides insights into their traditions.

10 February 2018

Day 6: In the morning we took a look at two of Otavalo's markets. First, we went to the animal market, were the locals were selling and buying all kinds of animals, from big farm animals like cows and pigs to small ones like guinea pigs and rabbits. Then, we could take a look at one of the biggest indigenous textile markets in South America and were able shop till we drop. Around mid-day we drove to Cotacachi, a village that is dominated by its leather production. We could take a look around the shops and see parts of a specialized tourism industry.

9 February 2018

Day 5: We had a free day in Baños. The city is well known among tourists for various forms of adventure sports. Therefore, everyone was able to try something different in order to have a thrilling experience. We did zip lining, mountain biking, river rafting and horseback riding. All activities had something in common: breathtaking views of the beautiful nature surrounding the volcano Tungurahua.

8 February 2018

In Chugchilan we met with a representative of the local tourist information office. Afterwards, we had the chance to visit one hotel and one hostel, while getting input about the tourism development plan in the area.
Afterwards we arrived at the 'Quilotoa Lagoon' located in a dormant volcano. From the top of the crater there was a steep sandy path leading towards the lake. Because the way in general was challenging some of us preferred to take a mule on the way up. To serve tourist needs, locals started building a village and selling tourism products like food, drinks and souvenirs. At the moment the village looks like a construction site with mainly restaurants and hotels, which needs further development and planning from a tourism organization.
Day 4: Due to the amazing weather we made a further stop at the ‘Canyon del Río Toachi’ to take a few pictures.
Day 4: We started the day early. Our first stop was in Saquisili where we visited the local market area for groceries. Afterwards we visited an indigenous family, who lives in the countryside in traditional huts without running water. They gave us a warm welcome and showed us their way of living, for example living together with many guinea pigs. These are sold by the family on the market and represent their main source of income. To say thank you, we gave them groceries, for example rice, corn, sugar, potatoes and lentils, which we bought on the market before.
Also the ‘Limpiopungo Lagoon’ was on our list and we could enjoy a very nice view with the lake in front and a mountain panorama in the back. We finished our adventurous day with a nice dinner at the 'Hosteria Papagayo'.
After a quick lunch break, we went on a mountain bike tour. We had a lot of fun together and saw alpacas and wild horses on the way.
Day 3: We went to the ‘Cotopaxi National Park’ with the goal to climb the volcano up to 4864 meters. After an exhausting walk we reached the refuge ‘José Rivas’ at the snow line. To help our bodies adapt to the altitude, Astrid recommended us to eat a lot of bananas and chocolate and drink cola. The street up the volcano was a washed out gravel road, which led to an adventurous and uncomfortable ride. Later we had a lively discussion about this road and if the roads in the national park should be improved to accommodate larger tourist numbers.

6 February 2018

View on Virgin Mary in Quito
Day 2: The day started with a visit of the Santa Clara Mercado, a local market for grocery shopping. Our task was to buy an unknown fruit, while not spending more than 50 pence. Later we had a fruit tasting with explanations from our local tour guide. Afterwards, we made a city tour, visiting several churches and the most important sights. Most impressive was the visit of the bell tower of the ’Basilica del Voto Nacional’. Even though climbing the tower was a little tricky, the view was more than worth it. We also visited the statue “La Virgen del Panecillo”, representing the Holy Mary with wings. There we had a panoramic view of Quito.
This was followed by a visit at the project ’Sinsoluka’, which is a volunteer project helping children coming from the streets to gain access to a save environment and education. Afterwards the group went to the street ‘La Ronda’, where artisanal shops are located. We learned about the production of chocolate, honey and spinning tops. Those shops are partially funded by Quito's tourism organization to support traditional crafts. The final meeting of the day was held at ‘Colorful Ecuador Travels’, which is a tour operator located in Quito that also operates a Spanish school and volunteering platforms. We got to learn about the development of the company and were told about different volunteer projects in the tourism sector.

5 February 2018

Day 1: After partly sleepless nights before, 16 hours of traveling and some lost luggage we arrived in Quito. All of us were happy to finally get to our hostel ’The Yellow House’ in the touristic centre of Quito. After a short refreshment time and meeting the others who had already arrived a day before, we visited the restaurant ’Fried Bananas’ and got a great first culinary impression of the country.

4 February 2018

Let‘s Go!