Outstanding day of volunteering and volcanoes

Volcano Cotopaxi – 19,347 feet, the second highest in Ecuador

It was another beautiful day in Ecuador, not just because the weather was ideal but rather because of the 22 good will ambassadors we have traveling with us on this trip.

Today we watched as our students peeled potatoes, cut squash, read stories, sang songs, made friendship bracelets, danced and colored with 40 people from Baños at the elderly center where we volunteered for almost four hours. It was perhaps the most rewarding way to end our trip as we watched our students interact with the local residents as they helped prepare their lunch and led activities to get to know them.

Each day Monday through Friday about 40 or 50 elderly people from Baños arrive at the center and are served lunch. We helped peel and clean the potatoes, cut up vegetables and prepare some fruit along with the señora who prepares their meals each day. On Tuesday we collected almost $100 so that Luis and Guillermo could go to the store to buy rice and non-perishable goods to donate. We stopped by the store to pick up the food this morning on our way to the center to donate, in addition to the items we brought from home to donate.

Some of us helped in the kitchen while others drew on the paper we brought so that the local residents could color once they arrived. Around 10:30 a.m., while some of us were helping in the kitchen, some of the local residents began to arrive. They sat next to our students to color using the colored pencils and crayons we brought from home. We also helped them make friendship bracelets using materials that Zoe brought from home.

I wish that I could capture in words how beautiful it was to watch our students interacting with the elderly residents as they helped them color and make bracelets. They used their Spanish to chat with the men and women while getting to learn more about them. They were amazing good-will ambassadors. The senior citizen center needed our help and we were so glad to help by giving our time to serve them.

Around 12:30, we spent 30 minutes entertaining them. Our guide Luis said they all know the Star Spangled Banner from hearing it on TV and asked if we would sing it to them. It was an honor to bring a song from our culture to share with them. Afterward, we read them five short stories. This year’s Spanish 5 students wrote, edited and published a book of Spanish bedtime stories in collaboration with Lutheran Hospital and we brought five copies along with us to donate. We shared some of the stories with them. Finally, we taught them the Cupid Shuffle. It was a blast. Before leaving, we put on some traditional Ecuadorian music and invited them to dance in the small room in which they had been sitting around the perimeter watching. About half of them joined in as we smiled, laughed and enjoyed our last bit of time in Ecuador.

Here are several pictures and videos from the day.

On our way to volunteer
Hard at work
Coloring
Making bracelets
Having a great time!
International relations!
Having a great time!
Making bracelets
Getting to know each other
Reading stories in Spanish to our new friends
Reading stories in Spanish to our new friends
Reading stories in Spanish to our new friends
Reading stories in Spanish to our new friends
Teaching the Cupid Shuffle

Working in kitchen video

Coloring

Cupid Shuffle

Star Spangled Banner

Making bracelets

Dancing

video of stories

We broke into our small groups to grab some lunch in Baños. We left Baños around 3:30 to head to Quito, a four-hour trip.

Enjoying empanadas in Baños

Half-way back to Quito, however, we were treated to an unexpected surprise: an amazing view of snow-capped Volcano Cotopaxi, the second highest volcano in Ecuador at 19,347 feet. It was the best view I have ever had of Cotopaxi and even Luis said he has only seen such a handful of times. Normally clouds cover the summit but not today as we admired the view for some 30 minutes as we headed toward Quito, with three short stops along the road to exit the bus and admire the views. It was the icing on the cake for what had already been a wonderful day.

Cotopaxi
Marveling at Cotopaxi!
Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi

We’re at the airport in Quito and should be boarding our flight shortly.

It has been an outstanding trip and we hope you have enjoyed following our blog.

¡Hasta pronto!

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Enjoying every second in Baños

The view from Luna Volcán resort, where we spent the afternoon admiring the views and warm spa water

After several days of nonstop ecotourism, we slowed down a bit today to enjoy the idyllic sights that surround us on all sides. We’re in Baños, a small community that rests in a valley in the green Andes Mountains. We see the green mountains in all directions, in addition to a powerful river that provides electricity and a myriad of waterfalls. It drizzled this morning but by the afternoon the rain disappeared as the clouds gave way for some sun as we enjoyed our second-to-last day in Ecuador.

View of Baños from Luna Volcán spa
View of Baños from Luna Volcán spa

We began the day at 9 a.m. with a ride on a chiva bus.

This is a chiva bus … the best way to see Baños!

The chiva bus took us on a tour of the area outside of Baños. It was raining lightly but the views from the chiva bus made the experience enjoyable. Here are some views from stops we made along the way.

One of our stops on the Chiva bus
A quick stop in front of the Baños sign
Along the Chiva bus route
We couldn’t ask for a better guide … Luis is the best!
Mariana found the perfect gift for Pablo!

Video on Chiva bus

The highlight of our Chiva bus ride was a short hike down to the Pailon del Diablo waterfall, the most impressive waterfall in this area.

Crossing one of two bridges on the trail to the waterfall.

Video descending

Descending stairs on the trail to get closer to the waterfalls
Almost there!
We made it!

Video at waterfalls

Rocco’s reaction to the waterfalls

After hiking out, we stopped for empanadas for lunch. Sra Bailey and I found this little restaurant called Sabor de Mercedes when we were here in 2015. The owner made some of the best empanadas we have ever had, so we had our fingers crossed it was still there. It was. We ordered chicken, ham, cheese, vegetarian and fruit empanadas for lunch and enjoyed them on the chiva bus as we drove toward the Luna Volcán pools.

Such good empanadas!
Be sure to visit Sabor de Mercedes if you’re ever in Baños!
Enjoying empanadas outside the Sabor de Mercedes restaurant. They were incredible!
Enjoying some empanadas

The Chiva bus dropped us off at Luna Volcán, which overlooks Baños. We spent almost two hours in the hot waters with stunning views below.

Great way to spend an afternoon!

Afterward, we boarded the chiva bus again and returned to the hotel for about 90 minutes to rest and shower before dinner. Charlotte, Josie and Chloe wanted to get in a quick run, so we went out for a 1.6-mile run around Baños.

We made a quick stop here to admire the beautiful waterfall.

We decided to visit an Italian restaurant for dinner for some pizza and pasta. Our guide Luis and our driver Guillermo joined us, and we surprised them with our thank you cards and tips. Michael presented both with our gifts.

Saying thank you video

We stopped for an ice cream on the way back and had about an hour before calling it a night. Several of us played Uno … including Ryan, who won three times tonight.

Uno!
Helado!
We’ve enjoyed getting to know Luis and Guillermo.

Wednesday is our last day here … it has gone so fast. We are volunteering at a senior citizen faculty tomorrow and will help prepare a meal for them, in addition to playing some games and teaching them a couple of dances. Afterward, we’ll have a couple of hours for lunch and to explore Baños before departing at 3 p.m. for Quito.

I’ll try to update the blog before we leave for Quito if we have time or perhaps at the airport to post some pictures of our volunteer work.

Thanks for following our sojourn through Ecuador. It has been an unforgettable trip and a privilege to show the kids this beautiful country.

¡Hasta luego!

At the top of a lake and later a city

We awoke to another absolutely beautiful morning in Ibarra, with a blue sky and stunning views of the city far below us.

We met for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and loaded the bus, as today was our last day in Ibarra and Otavalo.

Our first stop of the day was at Lake Cuicocha, one of the most beautiful places in all of Ecuador.

Lake Cuicocha

We did a 30-minute hike on the Las Orquídeas trail and ascended a few hundred feet. The views were spectacular.

The hike up
View from a lookout point
Enjoying a hike at the lake
We’re so thankful to have Luis with us on this trip!
Admiring the view!

Video at Lake Cuicocha

After our hike, we took a 30-minute boat ride around Lake Cuicocha, which is 590 feet deep. The lake used to be a volcano crater and there are no fish in the lake. There is a small island in the middle of the lake but it is uninhabited. You can swim in the lake with a permit.

Lake Cuicocha boat ride
Lake Cuicocha boat ride

Lake Cuicocha video

After our boat ride, we had lunch at Peguche Wasi, where our hosts made us a fresh meal of soups, vegetables, potatoes and grilled chicken that some of us thought was the best chicken we’ve had since we arrived.

Enjoying lunch

After lunch, we watched a presentation of how the family makes hand woven artisan products.

Video clip

We did some more shopping before we left, as the family also has a small store with their handmade items for sale.

We departed for Quito next so that we could ride the gondola cable car to the top of Volcán Pichincha. We were planning to do this on Saturday but had to delay it, as it was closed for repairs when we arrived. It was worth the wait as we ascended to 13,451 feet to see Quito below us. Check out these images:

View from the top with the north side of Quito in the background
On their way up!
Panoramic view

Video clip

We stopped for dinner at a mall food court before departing for Baños. We arrived around 11:30 pm and everyone called it a night.

We begin the last part of our trip Tuesday in Baños with a chiva bus ride around the area followed by a trip to the hot springs. ¡Buenas noches!

A day of shopping

Our view from the hotel

We awoke to another beautiful day this morning but instead of seeing buildings and hearing traffic, we saw green mountains all around us and the city of Ibarra far below us.

Breakfast wasn’t until 8 a.m., which made everyone happy since we could sleep in a little later than the past few days.

We departed the hotel at 8:45 a.m. and made our first stop of the day at the Rosalia Suarez Heladería, one of the most famous places in Ecuador to enjoy homemade ice cream. The ice cream shop has been open since 1896 and the family-run business has never used a machine to make the ice cream. We met the daughter-in-law of Rosalia Suarez, who started the business more than 100 years ago when she was just 16 years old. Sra. Suarez, the daughter-in-law of Rosalia, gave us a short presentation about her family, who still runs all aspects of the ice cream shop like they have since 1896. Before Rosalia Sanchez passed away she asked that her family continue the tradition of making the ice cream hand made.

Waiting for ice cream

Ice cream video

Next, we made a quick stop at San Antonio de Ibarra, a small market that specializes in handicrafts made out of wood. We shopped for about 20 minutes before departing for the big market in Otavalo.

We broke into our small groups and shopped for almost three hours. The kids did a wonderful job interacting with the local venders as we walked around the market, stopping at a myriad of stands to shop. More than once the friendly venders complimented the kids on their Spanish as they bargained for the best prices. Oftentimes the vender would start at $20 and the students would offer $14. After a few minutes they met in the middle at $16. It was fun to watch them use their Spanish all morning at the market as they bought clothes, jewelry, paintings, scarfs and much more. We were very proud of them! Here are some pictures and videos from our time at the market.

Equipo Truman shopping
Shopping for a llama
Vicente checking out items for sale at the market
Shopping for sweaters
Sweater shopping

Market Video 1

Market Video 2

We had lunch at a restaurant near the market and then returned to the bus to drive to the Peguche Waterfall in Otavalo. The waterfall is 66 feet tall and 20 feet wide with an average temperature of 54 degrees. The falls are on steep slopes surrounded by shrubby vegetation. We hiked back to the falls to see them up close, getting a little wet from the off spray.

Crossing a bridge on the hike to the waterfall
Peguche Waterfall
Peguche Waterfall

Peguche Waterfall Video

Our next stop was to see an Andean music presentation at a family’s home. They demonstrated how to make a small Andean flute and then played a song for us.

Family music presentation

Andean music video

Our final stop of the night was in the small town of Cotacachi. We were going to visit here Monday but decided to go today so we could save some time tomorrow for the cable car trip up Volcán Pichincha. Several of us needed to stop at the ATM for the first time after our busy day of shopping. Cotocachi is famous for its leather and we spent about 30 minutes visiting some of the stores before having dinner at El Leñador.

Toward the end of dinner, the waiter arrived with a surprise we had ordered … guinea pig. In Ecuador guinea pig is a delicacy, so we ordered one for the kids to sample. Most tried it … they thought it was OK.

Cuy Video

We returned to the hotel around 9:45 to pack before calling it a night after a busy day of shopping and sightseeing. What was the best part of the day? Click below to see what Kylynn and Chloe think.

Video 1

Tomorrow we’ll do a short hike and take a boat road at Lake Cuicocha before having a farm-to-table type meal at a family’s home. Afterward we’ll stop in Quito for the cable car ride before heading to Baños.

¡Hasta luego!

Two hemispheres at the same time

Some of us are in the Southern Hemisphere and others in the Northern during our visit to the Mitad Del Mundo.
The equator

We woke up to an absolutely beautiful day in Quito this morning, as the clouds that filled the sky yesterday were replaced by the sun and a picture-perfect blue sky.

We met for breakfast in the hotel restaurant at 7:15 a.m. and afterward took our bags downstairs so we could load the bus at 8 a.m. Guillermo, the driver who picked us up at the airport Wednesday night, was back to meet us and help us load our bags.

Our plan this morning was to start the day at the Teleférico — the gondola-like cable car that takes tourists up the side of Volcán Pichincha. We arrived but discovered that it was going to be closed until 11 a.m. or noon, as crews were making some repairs. (It reminded me of all the times I’ve been to Cedar Point only to find out the Dragster was closed for a few hours.) Instead of coming back later in the day, we decided to come back in a couple of days, as we’ll pass by Quito on our way to Baños. It was the first hiccup of the trip but the kids were great as we changed plans.

We were planning to visit the equator after the panoramic view from Pichincha, so we headed there next. We spent a couple of hours at the equator. It was sunny and warm — probably in the 70s. We broke in to two small groups as our guides took us around the equator museum, where we experienced some science lessons. We tried to balance an egg at 0–0-0, we tried walking with our eyes closed in a straight line at 0-0-0, and we tested our muscle resistance at 0-0-0 vs. just north and south of 0-0-0. Check out these pictures and videos below to see what we experienced today.

Kissing the equator
Standing in both hemispheres
View from the equator
Jessica and Rocco managed to balance an egg at 0-0-0 and won a certificate from our guide Joshua.
Thankful for having the opportunity to show the kids this beautiful country.
Equipo Peeper
Equipo Bailey
Equipo Yde
Equipo Truman
In front of the equator monument
Rocco has a new scarf for his collection

Video of egg balancing at 0-0-0

Testing our muscle resistance off the equator

Testing our muscle resistance on the equator

Traditional dance at equator

Traditional dance video 2

Afterward, we visited an equator monument that is about 600 feet from the actual equator. In the past it wasn’t possible to go to the top of this monument but now visitors can. The elevator was out of service, so we climbed the 122 steps to enjoy views from the top.

View from the top of the monument

We shopped for 30 minutes afterward at the stores located around the equator monument … but for some of our group, it was also an ideal time to break out in dance to apply what we learned last night during the salsa class.

Video

We left the equator and drove about 15 minutes to Restaurante El Crater, an idyllic place situated on top of what used to be a volcano’s crater. We were surrounded by green mountains on all sides as the clouds move in and out. Raul described it as a scene out of Jurassic Park. Señora Bailey and I were here in 2015 with our group, and the food was just as good if not better as we enjoyed another authentic Ecuadorian lunch. Several of the kids said it was their favorite meal of the trip. We had incredible views of the green mountains and crater, as we ate in a room full of windows overlooking the crater.

View from the lookout near the restaurant
View from the restaurant
Lunch!

And today we actually did see llamas up close, as there were two in front of the restaurant. After several selfies with the llamas, I’m happy to say not one of them spit at us. 🙂

Make and female llamas at the restaurant

We next departed for Ibarra for our hotel. We arrived around 6 p.m. The hotel is at the top of a mountain and we drove up several switchback roads that provided stunning views of the city below. There is a pool and sauna here, and almost all the students spent an hour here before we had dinner at 8 p.m.

What was the best part of the day? Here is what Rocco and Adam thought:

Rocco and Adam Video

Tomorrow will be our big shopping day as we visit the market in Otavalo.

Thanks for following our trip!

A day of dancing

We finished our salsa class just a couple of hours ago but the dancing started much earlier in the day as we enjoyed Ecuadorian music on our day trip through the countryside on the Train of the Volcanoes.

Our day began at 6:20 in the hotel lobby, where we met to pick up our breakfast that the hotel staff had packed for us to take on the train. We arrived at the train station around 7a.m. to check in and show our passports. We boarded a little before 8 a.m. and had one train car for our group and a handful of people from Ecuador.

Waiting to board the train
Boarding the train
About ready to begin our train ride to Boliche

Our train ride took us from Quito (elevation: 9,110 feet) through Machachi (elevation: 10,134 feet) to Boliche (elevation: 11,637 feet). Along the way we were treated to idyllic views of the Ecuadorian countryside as we saw mountains and green rolling hills, a variety of trees and several animals in the fields, including cows, pigs, rabbits, sheep, horses, roosters, and a few alpacas and llamas. Up to this point the students had only seen Quito, an urban area home to some 2 million people. Today, we saw rural Ecuador, where the livestock and agriculture replace the buildings and infrastructure. Several people who live along the route came out of their houses to wave at us as we passed.

Our view from the train
Another view from the train
One of the conductors enjoying the view

We played cards and enjoyed the views as we rode the train toward Boliche, with one stop along the way to stretch and do a little shopping. It was overcast, so we couldn’t see the snow-capped volcanes that are along the route … but we’ll keep our fingers crossed that we’ll see them later in the trip on the way to or from Baños.

Our guide Luis teaching Vicente to play the card game 40.
And of course some Uno … Ryan says he can beat Señor in Uno … we’ll see tomorrow, as the winner is going to receive an ice cream cone in Baños.
Shopping for souvenirs

When we arrived at Boliche, we saw three alpacas … and their owner hiding in the background.

The three alpacas with their owner.

The temperature was a little cooler than Quito and it was drizzling but we put on our rain jackets so we could do a short hike at Boliche.

Time to hike!

Our guide Jorge, who was on the train with us all day, took us on a 30-minute hike narrated in Spanish as he explained the plant life and talked about several of the trees in the area, including some that need 35 liters of water a day.

Video with our guide Jorge

Always time for a selfie!

It started to rain more as we finished the hike and returned to the train to start the trip back to Quito. Since the guides had narrated the trip on the way to Boliche, they turned up the music on the way back and encouraged all of us to sing and dance. It didn’t take long for our group to join in the fun as the music started and the dancing and clapping began. Kiley and Charlotte got us started and almost everyone joined in afterward.

Video 1

We stopped at the Machachi stop for lunch and despite the rain we received this greeting.

Video clip

We finished lunch in about an hour but had another hour to wait before the train departed. There was a little stand set up near the station selling gifts, and several students bought some souvenirs while others played cards … or styled hair.

A new look for Jessica
The end of our train ride

We returned to the hotel around 6:30 with a little singing on the bus. (This song is for you, Don Panvestre!)

Llueve bus video

We started our salsa class at 6:40. We did well … perhaps the videos will do the class more justice than my summary.

Video of salsa dancing

Video 2 of salsa dancing

We had dinner in the hotel and packed our bags before calling it a night, as we won’t be back in Quito until Wednesday when we catch our flight home. We’ve enjoyed our time here and are excited to spend time in smaller cities and towns as we head out of Quito tomorrow afternoon. We’ll begin the day tomorrow with a trip up the cable car along the side of Volcán Pichincha followed by a trip to the equator and lunch nearby at the Puluahua Crater before arriving in Otavalo and then our hotel in Ibarra.

What was the best part of the day? Here is what Kyra and Grace thought:

Video clip

Our WiFi has been fantastic in Quito and I’m hoping for the same in Ibarra so we can keep updating the blog each night.

Thanks for reading!

Experiencing Quito on foot

Our first full day in Quito was full of adventures as we walked more than 12,000 steps exploring the historic part of this beautiful capital city that is home to some 2 million people. We explored a small part of the city today all on foot as we immersed ourselves in the culture and cuisine.

The day began with a breakfast buffet at 7:45 a.m. that included fruits, breads, eggs, cheeses, ham, juices and coffee.

Enjoying our first breakfast
Ready to begin the day after a great breakfast.

After breakfast, we walked to a small plaza near the Museo Ciudad to take our hourlong Spanish class with native speakers. We broke into four small groups and spread out across the plaza. Our teachers were Ruth, Cristina, Jimena and Ibeth. (Ibeth is actually our guide Luis’ wife. She runs a Spanish-language school close to where we are teaching.) The four teachers used a variety of speaking activities with each group, as our outcome for the Spanish classes was to help boost the students’ confidence and get them speaking right away. Our students did a great job and several of them were even surprised by how easy it was to speak with and understand their four teachers from Quito.

Spanish class in the park. The students had mystery words taped to their backs and had to guess them by asking their peers questions.

Video 1 of Spanish class

Spanish class in the plaza

Next, we met with Caridad, a local guide who took us on a walking tour of Quito. Caridad was dressed in historic clothing as she walked us through the streets of Old Quito. We visited the Plaza de Independencia, Catedral de Quito, la Iglesia Compania and La Plaza de San Francisco. We learned about the history of these places, their importance in Quito and the architecture.

Exploring Quito with our guide Caridad

Video of Caridad talking with our group

In Ecuador, it’s normal to see women carrying their babies on their backs. The word for baby in Ecuador is “guagua,” and Caridad taught us how the women use a “faja” to secure the babies on their backs. Women normally carry their babies this way for the first two or three months. Zoe volunteered to be our “guagua” so that Caridad could show the students how this works. Click below to see a short video clip of Caridad wrapping Zoe in a faja.

Video of Zoe and la faja

We walked to Hasta La Vuelta Senor for lunch, where the students had their first taste of Ecuador’s gastronomy. Some had seco de chivo (lamb), others had tilapia, and several tried fritada (fried pork served in small pieces). The sides were traditional as well as we sampled soups, plantains, potatos and mote (corn kernels that have been boiled and cooked and are served peeled).

Lunch at Hasta La Vuelta Señor … Madison had the seco de chivo (lamb) and Autumn had the fritada.
Ryan also had the Fritada.

After lunch, we walked uphill to see La Basicila del Voto Nacional. We walked up several flights of stairs, across a small bridge in the church and then clibmed up more ladder-like stairs to get an amazing panoramic view of Quito.

The view from half-way up!
We made it to the top!
Making our way back down
View from the top

We stopped for an ice cream on the way back to the hotel. Everyone was tired after our first day here, so we decided to rest for a couple of hours before heading out to dinner at Restaurante Vista Hermosa.

Helado!

We had dinner on the rooftop of Restaurante Vista Hermosa and the views of Quito at night were amazing, as was the food.

View from the restaurant
¡Hola!
Enjoying dinner on the rooftop
Dinner on the rooftop

What was the highlight of the day? Click below to see what Jackie and Josie have to say.

Jackie and Josie video

We have an early start on Friday, as we’ll leave the hotel at 6:30 a.m. to go to the train station, as we’ll catch the 8 a.m. train along the route of the volcanoes as we see a myriad of idyllic sights and do some hiking. Here is a video of what we’ll be doing on Friday. Check back tomorrow for another update about our train trip … and our evening salsa class.

Thanks for following our journey.