July 25, 2018
Wow. Wow. Wow. Our time in Ecuador has sadly come to an end but the past 3 days have been more fulfilling than we could have ever imagined. Since the last update we have spent majority of our time in the beautiful town Baños. While en route to Baños, we were delayed a few hours due to road closures. However, spirits were still high and we made it to town with plenty of time to explore the streets and visit local shops. We purchased a basketball and played a group game on the court outside of our hotel! Night time sports have become a regular activity for us on this trip.
The next morning we were picked up by a colorful Chiva (open air bus) blasting loud music! We loaded up and the Chiva took us on a tour around the town. Our first stop was at a zip line stretching across the Rio Blanco. Choosing between Superman style or Batman style (upside down) we flew across the canyon and back. Riding our adrenaline rush, our next stop was a ride in a cable car stretching 1,400ft across the canyon and over a rushing waterfall. Our next stop on the party bus was to another waterfall where we were able to take steps down into the canyon and stand behind the rushing waters. We then spent the afternoon hiking up to a ridge line that awarded us with a view of the entire valley beneath us. It was well worth the uphill challenge! After showering we made our way to a unique local restaurant where we had our banquet dinner and celebrated our final night in Ecuador! We walked around town and treated ourselves to some late night ice cream sweets.
We awoke this morning and made our way to a hacienda in Cotopaxi National Park where we were introduced to our horses for riding! Dressed in ponchos and gauchos, we rode through the foothills of the Ruminahui Mountain. With a view of Cotopaxi towering above us and the tall grass swaying beneath us, our ride was more magical than we could have imagined. Ecuador waved us goodbye with an unforgettable sunset as did towards the airport.
This trip has far exceeded our expectations and we are overflowing with gratitude for the time that we have spent together. Thank you, parents, for sharing this group with us. They are truly one of a kind and we feel so blessed to have shared this time together. We’re board our flight back to the states soon and cannot wait to share all of our experiences with you!
Mimi, Renn, and the gang
Here are a few shoutouts from the gang!
Hey family I am having a great time and can’t wait to see you!! Love and miss you.
Hola padres! I’m living it uppp!!! My Spanish is kinda actually good now. Compré regalos para mama y Emmy. Lo siento, papa! No sé que comprar para ti. Ecuador is beautiful and has incredible alpaca sweaters that I bought 6 of. Tell Mimi thank you for another trip of a lifetime. -Julia
Excited to see you tomorrow, love and miss you – anabelle
Hi parents. I have been having a great time and I’ll see you soon. Charles
Excited to see everyone back home and I’m really excited for the beach but going to miss the people on this trip, see you tomorrow. -Harrison
Hi Mom and Dad!! I am having the best time in Ecuador! Thank you so much for sending me on this trip! Love and miss you! See you soon! -Catherine
Hey family, I have had a great past two weeks and excited to see everyone back home. See u soon -William
Hey parents, I’ve had a great 2 weeks I’m Ecuador and Galapagos and I can’t wait to see you guys tomorrow. Bennett
Hi fam! I had the best time in Ecuador and Galapagos!! About to go horseback riding so this might be the last time you hear from me! If I make it see you tomorrow. xoxo Blaire
To my parents and Aunt RG: I’ve had the best time here in Ecuador! Can’t wait to tell y’all all about it, see y’all soon! -Elizabeth
hola family! it’s been an indescribable experience and so much fun. I’ll see you soon and I hope everything is well back home. – faye
Shoutout to mom and dad for sending me on this trip, and shoutout to me blunt for bringing Moondance to my attention -Zander
Sup mom and dad, thanks for sending me on the trip of a lifetime. An experience I will always remember. Can’t wait to see y’all tomorrow! — jack
July 22, 2018
Dear family and friends, Hello from Ecuador!
Our community service section has come to an end and our hearts are full with all that we have experienced over the past few days. Our time in Shandia has been incredibly special and we will try our best to share our experiences with you!Following the Galapagos, we departed Quito and made our way into the Andes Mountains en route to the Amazon. Our drive through the mountains took us up to 15,000 feet as we awed at the landscape surround us. During our long drive we made a surprise stop at Papallacta Hot Springs! We spent a couple of hours hopping from pool to pool comparing the different temperatures. Alongside the hot springs there were also freezing cold springs, which Anabelle and Zander challenged each other to see who could stay in the longest (it was a tie). Once we felt relaxed by the hot springs, we continued on to our lodging in the small village of Shandia. Here we met our guides, Diego, Enrique and Dorian and we began our service immediately! Moondance groups have spent their service time this summer helping to build a community center. We jumped right into the project and spent the afternoon carrying large rocks and bags of sand up from the river to build a stable path leading to the community center. Charles showed great leadership in his work ethic with his strength and positive attitude during our labor. Meanwhile, local members of the community worked together to complete the roofing of the center. It was exciting for all of us to be welcomed into a project that held so much meaning for the village.We stayed up until midnight that night to celebrate JACKS BIRTHDAY!!!! We lit a sparkler for him and sang happy birthday beneath the stars.
The following day we started early on our service project. We learned about termites and how they are used as a natural mosquito repellant by burning their mounds. We were thankful for any form of repellant that we could find. We finished the rock and sand path and spent the rest of the morning cleaning debris from the surrounding area. Faye inspired us all to embrace the day as she befriended a young girl in the village and made an effort to practice her Spanish so she could communicate with her. Blaire kept our motivation alive by being the hardest worker in the group and keeping the group energy alive with her bright spirit! Our guide Diego found a perfectly ripe cacao fruit for us to try, which was a new experience for all of us! It was slimy but tasty and tasted nothing like chocolate. Before lunch we cleaned off in the chilly waters of the neighboring river. After lunch we joined members from the community (children and adults) in a large game of soccer! The universe blessed us with a stunning double rainbow shining over the field and we felt that we were exactly where we needed to be. Following our game, our guide Enrique demonstrated the process of making chocolate! We toasted cacao beans over a fire, separated the beans from the shells and ground them with brown sugar to make the best tasting and richest chocolate we’ve ever tasted. We paired the chocolate with bananas and crackers and maybe got a bit full before dinner. Mimi and Renn were given chocolate face masks and we stuck sixteen candles in a banana and sang feliz cumpleaños to Jack! We also lit a couple more sparklers to celebrate!
The next day we adventured to the Pimpilala Cascadas for a waterfall hike!!! We geared up in rubber rain boots and hit the rainy trail. We were soaked within the first five minutes! We trekked through the lush jungle and climbed up and over the most beautiful waterfalls you can imagine. We stood beneath the weight of their falling waters and swam in all of the pools we came across. Our guides painted our faces in tribal patterns with bright orange pigment from the inside of a local fruit and Elizabeth and Faye were adorned with crowns made of fern. Jack was brave and ate a tongue full of tiny ants that tasted just like lemons! We felt that we were truly in the Amazon. We slipped through the mud and finally made our way out of the jungle, ready for dry clothes and lunch! Once we were warm and well fed, we spent the afternoon at the building site making our final contributions to the project. We put hard work into leveling the ground of the floor and lining the edges neatly with large stones. It was incredible to witness the finished product of a project that started from a field of trees and transformed into a beautiful gathering space. The group earned the name “chicken chasing crew” after spending at least an hour chasing chickens with local kids. Kudos were given each time a chicken was caught. We returned to our lodge for dinner and were given a very special surprise for dessert…..chontacuro. Also known as palm worms, we were introduced to the fat and squirmy beetle larvae and offered them to eat, as they are a typical food in the region. Bennett, Zander, Annabelle, Elizabeth and Julia were the brave souls who tried this local delicacy! Bennett and Zander proved themselves to be extra brave as they put down a second worm. Elizabeth and Mimi threw a cheers in the air as they tried a toasted worm together. It was quite the experience to say the least!
Following dinner we joined with the locals at the newly built community center to inaugurate its existence! A traditional dance was performed for us and we were invited onto the dance floor with our new friends. We were asked to share some music from our own culture. Julia got her boogie on and Catherine was a favorite dance partner amongst the kids. Bennett and Annabelle volunteered to cut the ribbon introducing the new center as the president of the village thanked the group for all of their selfless and dedicated work. It was a night to remember as we danced with the community our last night in Shandia.Today we embarked on a new adventure and rafted the Jatunyacu River! Fed by Cotopaxi’s glacial snowmelt, the Jatunyacu River is one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River. We split ourselves into three separate rafts and spent the entire day on the river. With lots of rain and intermittent sunshine, we hit countless class three rapids and they were SO MUCH FUN. Savannah white water rafted for the first time today and rocked it with her fearless attitude. Harrison was also fearless and eager to always be out of the boat and swimming. And William kept the playful spirit alive by always engaging the splash wars. We ended the day with delicious food in the town of Tena and climbed a watch tower that gave us a spectacular view of the river reflecting all the city lights.
This group is simply wonderful and we are having a blast together. The trip is flying by too fast for us but we’re excited for our exploration of Baños tomorrow!
July 18, 2018
¡HOLA! from the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS!!!
Our time on the wildly beautiful islands of the Galapagos has come to an end and the EGP 3B group is headed back to the Ecuador mainland! Our overall island time felt brief but each day was overflowing with activity. Friends and family, we know you’re so curious about our whereabouts so here are a few details to help you to imagine our past few days:
~Día uno en los Galapagos~
Following our late arrival into Quito, the group didn’t sleep much (and by not much we mean not at all, the excitement was like pure caffeine) before our early departure for the Galapagos. After a much needed snooze on the airplane, we landed safely on the island of Baltra. From here we boarded a small boat that transported us to the island of Santa Cruz, where we would be spending the night. We were then transported by bus to Rancho Primicias-El Chato Tortoise Reserve in the highland area of the island. That’s right, a ranch full of approximately 2,000 giant tortoises. We were greeted at the ranch by our local guide, Zambo. We were excited to be greeted by his smiling face and warm personality but even more excited for the table behind him that was eagerly awaiting our arrival and the 15 plates of delicious pasta that would soon be devoured. Once our bellies were full, Zambo led us on a highly informative walking tour around the ranch. We were baffled by the giant (seriously, GIANT) tortoises that looked like E.T. and some kind of dinosaur created a new species. They were so graceful and beautiful amongst the untouched land. We also had the pleasure of exploring a lava tube that happened to lie beneath the ranch. The excitement set in as we began to realize the true beauty of the natural world and variety of wildlife that we were experiencing (and it’s just day one!!!!). We made our way to the main town center of the island where we would stay at the Red Boobie Hotel for the night. We spent the afternoon exploring the streets of our newly befriended island before eating at a traditional and tasty dinner at a local restaurant recommended by our guide. Yay fresh fish!!! Elizabeth and Jack, our first LOD’s (leaders of the day), led us in our first Moonup on the rooftop of our hotel. We talked about our favorite places we’ve traveled and some swam in the rooftop pool before turning in for the night.
We awoke the next day to a breakfast of pancakes and began the day with a nice morning walk to Tortuga Bay. The flat and pristine white beach stretched wide open and merged with the ocean seamlessly. We passed swimming and sun bathing iguanas as we made our way to our swimming location. Eager for the salty water, we all plunged into the crystal blue waters of Tortuga Bay! We were swimming amongst giant eagle rays and shuffling our feet slowly to avoid the surrounding sting rays. Savannah, Anabelle, Jack, William, and Renn found a patch of sinking sand where they slipped beneath the surface all the way down to their waists. Following our beach adventure, we boarded a speedboat that took us across the channel to the island of San Cristobal. We were blessed with calm waters during our entire 2 hour ride and snoozed the entire way due to our preventative Dramamine intake. We arrived at our hotel, Casa de Nelly, and quickly unloaded our bags. Jack and William had been playing catch with a lost coconut for quite some time and decided to crack it open for the group. Thanks to Charles with the strong arms for getting the coconut meat out for all of us to enjoy! We explored the streets of San Cristobal to soon find ourselves sitting at a table in Calypso, the local pizza joint that serves gigantic pies 🙂
The following day, our lovable guide, Danny, drove us to the highlands where we visited a tortoise breeding center. Here we witnessed more protected land for tortoises and the spaces in which they assist in the safety of reproduction. We then made our way to a beach called Puerto Chino where we took turns attempting to catch waves on two paddle boards and a surfboard. Bennett proved the most effort in surfing the chilly waves and his efforts paid off. Our paddling efforts were soon rewarded with lunch at the most beautiful place you could imagine. A kind man named Don Hernan welcomed us with a farm to table lunch at his incredible ecotourism estate. His space included a beautiful home with rooms for rent, a large garden/farm, a ping pong table, a pool table, a volley ball net, and a soccer field with never ending views of the surrounding ocean beneath us. Following our lunch and fresh squeezed orange and papaya juice (drooling face) the group split into teams and played an intense and barefoot game of soccer. Savannah had us impressed by her swift feet on the field and Faye surprised us with her goalie skills. Julia proved her tiny but mighty attitude on the field, letting us know that she doesn’t mess around. Once everyone was hot and sweaty, we made our way down the hillside to a natural spring amidst the dense jungle vegetation. Being a group of adventure seekers living out the phrase “carpe diem”, just about everyone in the group plunged into the freezing natural waters. With renewed energy we made our way back down the coast to our snorkel spot. We carried our snorkel gear up a boarded path that led us to a lookout with breathtaking views of the cove we were soon to be swimming in. We took a moment of gratitude for the sunshine and blue skies that we had been blessed with and also took a few photos. Once at the rocky entrance to the water, we squeezed into our wetsuits and tightened our fins and snorkel masks to fit. We carefully stepped over the masses of sea lions basking upon the rocks to make our way into the deep and clear waters. We explored the underwater world surrounding us with explosive excitement! Zander and Faye, our animated LOD’s, kept the hype alive as they encouraged us all to enjoy the activity at hand. A couple of sea lions joined us and playfully swam around us in circles, dodging our masks before they would return for more play. We ended the day with some good ole American food where Charles and Bennett ordered the largest burgers on the menu.
The next day we woke up early to catch our boat ride to a neighboring island, Isla Lobos. Our guide, Danny, led us on a hike around the small island where we witnessed male frigate birds with their red inflated “balloon” chests attempting to attract the females. We awed at the fluffy white baby blue footed boobies sitting in their nests resembling cotton balls. And we contained our temptations to pet, hold, and cuddle the newborn sea lion that entertained us with its attempts to eat a leaf off of a tree. Up next: snorkeling!!!! We geared up and explored around the rocky coast of the island. The sunlight illuminated the depths of the clear water bringing a whole world of life to our vision. Anabelle inspired us all with her natural ability to fit in with the ocean as she dove deeper than the rest of us. We then took a short boat ride to the most picturesque beach you could imagine. Before making our way to the shore, our captain allowed us to take turns jumping off the top of the boat. Bennett wowed us with his backflip skills and Blaire faced her fears even though she was hesitant on the jumping. A sea lion greeted us at the shore and playfully welcomed us to paradise. Jack and Will, always playing catch, had their hackie sack stolen by a sea lion and Jack had to quickly chase after it to get it back. He was successful in his endeavors. We swam and soaked up the sun on the beach, applying sunscreen more often than we ever have in our lives. We eventually made our way back to San Cristobal where we ate lunch at a restaurant we had been admiring all week. Seven glasses of passion fruit juice later, we ventured on to another beach, La Loberia. Mimi, Renn, Elizabeth, Savannah, Catherine, Anabelle and Zander took advantage of our final beach visit and spent the afternoon snorkeling. We encountered a plethora of colorful fish, five sea turtles and two playful sea lions. Meanwhile….Harrison, William and Jack got up to 281 catches without dropping the ball. Once our beach time was up, we debated on the night’s dinner location and finally settled on a spot serving local fare. Charles and Bennett were still thinking about last nights burgers and treated themselves to a second massive dinner. Catherine and Charles led us in a great Moonup underneath an Oceanside gazebo discussing our biggest fears in life.
And finally….today. We rose with the sun for our second day of morning workout crew!!! The previous morning, a few of us went for a morning run of about 3km. Today we decided to step it up a notch and run 6k! Elizabeth, Savannah and Catherine joined Mimi and Renn as we ran our 6km to the beach as the world around us rose for the day. Elizabeth was ready with her running clothes on before we even woke her up and Savannah could have lapped us all. Meanwhile, Harrison, Charles and Zander led a workout of their own including sprints and core body circuits/push-ups/pull-ups. We love having such an athletic group! We returned to our hotel to a breakfast of handmade empanadas and fresh squeezed orange juice. It was a wonderful final morning in the Galapagos, all lying in hammocks together as we awaited our bus ride.
Once we landed safely in Quito, we treated ourselves to 7 delicious pizzas for dinner. We learned which planets and stars were shining above us while Anabelle and Bennett led us in our Moonup for the night. Following Moonup we ventured up to the soccer field behind our hotel where we played an incredible game of headlamp soccer! It was so much fun. We’re headed to bed tonight thankful for our incredible time spent in the Galapagos and with excitement for our upcoming travels to Shandia.
The Ecuador Gang
July 13, 2018
Hi Ecuador + Galapagos families,
All students have safely arrived in Quito, and are headed to the Galapagos this morning. We can’t wait to hear more from them!