Today we checked out of Casa Real, and once again, Santiago led us to the indigenous community near Chimborazo to work with Trinidad and her family. We began the day with a short walk to a field she needed cleared today. It was filled with clumps and patches of unwanted grass and roots, etc... Before setting to work, she and her daughter shared a typical snack of fresh sweet corn... Then our students set to task!
we also made a visit to Trinidad's home to see her courtyard where she keeps rabbits and Guinea pigs as livestock... While there, several students were examined with the baby bunnies - even with a small "getting peed on" incident, it was a simple reminder of how differently we live from day to day...
we finished our morning with another lovely typical Andean lunch, prepared by Trinidad and her family/friends. If the aji alone didn't win students over, the chocolate crepe for dessert certainly did.
after lunch, 14 of our students played with a soccer ball Ms. Wages had purchased the day before, and our students were delighted when a few young neighborhood boys heard the fun, and came over to play with them!
we then set out for Quito yet again, stopping for ice cream along the way... We settled in to Solera House in downtown historic Quito for our last official overnight stay in Ecuador!
Today we slept in a little later than normal, then began our trip toward Chimborazo to visit a small indigenous community where we learned a lot about how people in the community live from day to day. Because we are wyomingites, our students (for the most part) found themselves feeling right at home in the community. On the way, we stopped at an authentic Saturday local market where the people were selling their livestock, as well as their various goods and foods. It reminded us quite a bit of fair time back home...
Our local guide for the day, named Trinidad, was a sweet, hardworking, welcoming woman. She shared stories from her life, information about alpacas and llamas, and we trekked with her to the top of a hill that offered panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes and homes. We ate dinner with her today - trying llama for our first time!
All afternoon, we spent our time working in the indigenous community - cutting alfalfa fields, moving animals for grazing, feeding cows agave leaves, and moving produce... Our students dug right in, got their hands dirty and enjoyed the experience!
we ended our day with another stroll along the Main Streets of Riobamba. Some students found doughnuts and coffee, while others window shopped or mingled with locals. Several locals actually asked our group to stop and take pictures with them. Tourists are far and few between in Riobamba, which only added to its romantic allure and quaint street views.
Today we began our the extension leg of our tour... We traveled on to Riobamba, passing rolling hills, volcanoes, and skirting the Amazon Rainforest to the east as we traveled through the Andes Mountains. We stopped a couple times along the way to stretch our legs and get ice cream in Salcedo (which is apparently famous for its elaborate and unique ice creams).
When we arrived in Riobamba, we ate lunch at our favorite hotel of our trip, La Casa Real. We spent the afternoon taking a city tour of Riobamba, and wandering the streets, shops, and cafes.
when we finished with our city tour, we explored the city more on foot, then we split into two groups. One group returned to the hotel with Santiago and Mrs. Wages, and the other group traveled with Mr. Cox and me to a shopping mall. Those who returned to the hotel relaxed and rested (except for Maggie, our dedicated runner who went for a run with Mrs. Wages along the outskirts of Riobamba and to Guano.) Our other group shopped at the shopping mall...
After another great meal at Casa Real, we had free time and went to bed. Reflecting back, one of our favorite things about staying in Riobamba was that we saw no other tourists. Everywhere we went we interacted only with locals, which provided ample opportunities to interact and practice Spanish.
Today we left the majestic city of Quito, as our beloved guide, Santiago, took us to a few lovely and unique places to buy alpaca goods, interact with locals, and explore a smaller town that is famous for its exquisite leather work! To begin with, the journey itself was a pretty one - with many small everyday moments to be witnessed all around us as we took in the culture and daily life and habits of the locals as well as the countryside and architecture as we traveled...
At the Otavalo handicraft markets, our students practiced their Spanish and bartered with locals for handicrafts and souvenirs. Nearly 2/3 of our group walked away with alpaca sweaters while all of us found something brightly-colored and soft to cal our own by the end of the day!
We then made a stop in a very small town on our way to Cotacachi to meet the women who run the Gran Condor Artesan shop... It was a collective of local women who hand-make alpaca, llama, and wool products of the highest quality... They gave us a demonstration on weaving, prepping wool and threads, and dying colors for the products using only elements found in nature and indigenous to their habitat.
Finally we made it on to Cotacachi where we ate lunch as a group and several of our students tried eating cuy (Guinea pig) for their first time. They had mixed reactions, but Nathan actually ordered and ate an entire cuy by himself! :-) we then explored Cotacachi and their small market and numerous leather stores before returning to Quito to eat and sleep for the night.
This morning was a lazy morning. We got to sleep in, relax, eat breakfast, wander the streets, shop, eat ice cream, and just generally experience the island all morning long...
In the afternoon, we boarded a flight back to Quito. Once again, we had a brief stopover in Guayaquil, then returned to the capital. Over the past two days, a few of our students came down with a stomach sickness, and then today, five more of our group had caught it too... So thankfully we had ample down-time today to help our stomachs recover. After arriving in Quito, we met our new bus driver and checked into a very nice hotel bordering Plaza Santo Domingo. We ate dinner in a restaurant that offer stunning panoramic views of the city and turned in for a full night's sleep...
Today we had our final boat transfer from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal Island. After our transfer, we went directly to snorkeling. Today's snorkeling was arguably the best of the trip... We snorkeled alongside massive Pelicans and blue footed boobies, sea lions, giant sea turtles, loads of fish, and so much more. The water was cold today, but our Wyoming student hardy noticed... :-)
This afternoon, we essentially split into three groups: one group snorkeled again in the ocean; one group sun-bathed and relaxed on the beach; and the third group wandered about exploring the town...
Tonight was our last night on the islands, so we said goodbye to our local guides, Jose & Wilson, and wandered around the shops until curfew when we returned to our hotel to pack our bags for our return to mainland Ecuador.
Today we began the day with breakfast at the hotel, then on to another brutally bumpy/rocky boat transfer to Santa Cruz Island.
After transferring, we visited the Charles Darwin Research Center!
Later that afternoon, we took a 45 minute nature walk to the pristine beaches of tortuga bay! I didn't get to take many pictures while there, but it was beautiful and calm water in a cove bordering mangroves that provided shelter to small sharks and many kinds of fish. The barrier was lined with cacti and flowers, and the beach's sand was soft and light colored. It was a much needed cool, refreshing swim after a long day in the sun... After our swim, we walked all the way back to town, ate dinner together at an outdoor traditional eatery and then enjoyed the hotel rooftop pool and (for some) a brief karaoke session. Tonight was all about relaxing after the day's activities.
For our first full day in the Galápagos, we explored the largest - but sparsely populated - island, Isabella Island! It was quaint, and safe, and beautiful! As we woke up this morning, several students were itching to go to the beach to play in the waves, so we spent an hour in the ocean before even eating breakfast. Then we spent the entire first half of the day kayaking and snorkeling. We snorkeled with sea lions, crabs, lobsters, loads of fish, sea turtles, and so much more... We kayaked throughout a large bay, around rocky coves, past tropical penguins, large sea turtles, and stopped to see our first blue footed boobies!
this afternoon, we visited a flamingo sanctuary and feeding area, followed by a trip to the land tortoise breeding center to see hundreds of baby tortoises.
After our excursions, we were well worn-out. About half of our students went back to the beach while the others took a rest... Then on to dinner and packing for tomorrow's transfer to Santa Cruz island!
on day three, we departed our Quito hotel at 4am to catch a 6am internal flight to Baltra, Galapagos! As we flew out of Quito, we got to watch the most incredible sunrise over the city nestled in the Andes as an impressive 9,300+ feet!
we spent the day on Santa Cruz island, visiting a tortoise reserve, the Twin Craters, and the largest town in the Galapagos.
We then boarded a brutal 2-hour ferry ride to Isabella Island where we settled in, played at the beach, and ate dinner before resting for tomorrow's busy day.
Day 1 - Thursday: today we spent the entire day traveling to Ecuador. With three flights, five hours in layovers, and 21 people traveling together, it was a great day of traveling!
Day 2 - Friday: Today we slept in - in Quito - ate breakfast as a group, and then spent the whole day exploring the city and visiting the Equatorial Line!
The city itself was beautiful!
Our excursion to the Equatorial Line was fascinating and fun. Students had the opportunity to walk along the Equatorial line, balance an egg on its end, flush water straight down a drain, and play with gravitational forces...
After the exuatorial line, we made an impromptu stop at a beautiful and massive basilica that, for those willing to hike up the daunting stairs and ladders, offered a breath-taking view of the entire city of Quito!
After leaving the Basilica, we ate lunch in the city center and spent the afternoon exploring the old city. With winding streets, colorful buildings, and friendly locals, there is much to love about Quito!! We stopped at the presidential palace, the San Francisco monastery, the site of the future metro station, and the Santo Domingo monastery before returning to our hotel...
We ended our perfect first day in Ecuador with a hearty local meal and a brief celebration for Kyra's 18th birthday!
Now off to bed, because our flight to the Galápagos leaves Quito at 6am tomorrow!!