Places and Faces

Alright people, here it is… The long awaited photo album of my travels throughout December and January.
The first trip was to Manta, a city on the coast, with my friends Buddy, Luke, Amelia, Sadie, Abby, and Drew. I didn’t take that many photos because we pretty much just went to the beach, which isn’t too far from what I do back home, but here are a couple. The first is Playa Murciélago at night with the backdrop of the city. The other pic is the best encebollado I have eaten here. It’s a fish and onion soup that is typical of the coastal region.
The next trip was to Tena, a city in the Ecuadorian Amazon. I went with a group of nine other kids, and we were from nine countries in total. In the photo below we’ve got me (USA), Zak (Libya), Luis (Spain), Aniska (Germany), Arlette (Rwanda), Jamie (UK), Nelli (Armenia), Rasmus (Sweden), Mariana (Mexico), and Anni (Germany). We had lots of good, late-night, campfire conversations about global politics and whatnot, and I began to understand just how crucial the collaboration of diverse minds and perspectives is to making this world a better place.
We stayed in a cabin about 20 minutes outside of Tena. Here is the view from the river in front of the cabin at sunrise.
Here’s Terry the Tarantula. He helped us in the kitchen.
The next three photos are from a hike that the brother of the lady who owned the cabin took us on. It was one of the coolest hikes of my life. We spent the majority of the hike trudging barefoot through rivers surrounded by the sounds and smells of the jungle. There was a section where we were climbing up a slot canyon with water falling on us from all around, and I nearly got my head taken off by a flying bat. Also, two blind dogs came with us. The hike was definitely a highlight of the trip; it helped me see just how precious, unique, and diverse of an ecosystem this is.
A different day, we did a tour with a local chocolate company. If all businesses worked the way that this one does, the world would be a much better place. The company is an organization of 800 cacao-farming families throughout the region, and they receive the deserved compensation for the cacao they contribute. The tour took us through some of their facilities and taught us how the chocolate is made. Afterwards, they took us down a river through the jungle to a small settlement owned by an indigenous, Kichwa-speaking family who is part of the organization. It felt like proper tourism – they weren’t tailoring the tour to fit what we might want; instead, they were eager to share their ways of life with us.
They taught us how to make chicha de yuca, which is a drink commonly consumed in indigenous communities.
They also gave us a massive meal, including these grilled worms.
They were honestly really tasty. The idea of eating fat worms wasn’t quite appealing, but, if you can get past that, they’re delicious. The hardest part to eat was the head, though. It was like a massive ant’s head, and the shell was super crunchy.
They taught us how to shoot blow darts, which these communities used to use for hunting.
On the way out of the Amazon, I stopped in a spot called Baños de Agua Santa for the night to hang with Luke’s family. It was heavily gringo-populated, but understandably so. It’s a crazy mix of jungle and mountains, and there is a waterfall everywhere you look.
The next week, Buddy, Luke, and I did a two-night camping trip in Parque Nacional Cajas, about 30 minutes west of where my host family lives. The weather was absolutely beautiful for nearly the whole time. We brought fishing gear, expecting to feast on campfire-cooked trout at every meal, but all the fish we caught were too small to eat… or that’s what we agreed to tell people… we caught one 6-inch (at best) trout.
Here are Buddy and Luke.
We snagged perhaps the best camping spot in all of Cajas.
The morning that we left, the weather turned on us real hard.
This next one was a Learning Seminar with the whole cohort in Vilcabamba, a few hours south of Cuenca, near the Peruvian border. The only photos I got were from a hike I did with a few other fellows and a couple of the staff members.
The hike ended up on top of that back peak seen in the photo below. This was another noteworthy hike because a good chunk of it was spent on a trail wide enough for one foot at a time, up above the cliffs seen in the picture.
And here was the view of downtown Vilcabamba from the top. It was even more beautiful in person. Down in the bottom left, you can see that open patch on the mountain where the previous photo was taken.
Although all of that traveling was the time of my life, it sure felt good to be back home in Cuenca.
And there’s lots of cool stuff to come! This week I’m in Quito for a couple of days, then Carnaval starts. More updates soon.