When Alisha left her job in April of 2011 she took off with her backpack and passion to volunteer around the world. When she’s not working or volunteering, you might find her salsa dancing, living in a cabana, rafting the Nile, or strolling down the beach. Please enjoy a week-in-the-life of Alisha of Small World Pursuits during her first volunteer project in Ecuador.
Day One: Friday
8 AM: I am to arrive at Project Ecuador: Fundacion Arte del Mundo in Baños, Ecuador, home of my first volunteer project this afternoon. After a challenging border crossing that left me sleeping in the bus stop of the Colombian border town Ipiales, I wonder if I will have the energy to make it the rest of the way.
10 AM: I’ve showered, packed, and listened to the morning Ecuadorian news. Check out at the hostel is at 1:00 pm. Decide to go out for some fresh air and breakfast before I start two different bus rides through Ecuador – 5 hours in total before I will reach Baños.
10:30 AM: Finding breakfast. There is this sinfully delicious bakery on the corner that has lured me in almost every time I walk by. Breakfast should consist of something more than bread so I keep searching.
11:00 AM: Found a cafe with real coffee – organic from the countryside alongside eggs, jam, bread, juice, and fruit. It’s nearly lunch time now, but decide breakfast is still the choice. I sit and read Ecuadorian lifestyle magazines while I eat my breakfast.
1:00 PM: Walk to the bus station to catch the bus to Quito which is 2 hours from Otavalo. Bus station really equals a small dirt parking lot with guys yelling out names of surrounding towns. I find the one that will take me to Quito and jump on. $3. Well, that’s a steal. It’s actually quite decent as well. At least it has air.
3:00 PM: Arrive in Quito and become confused as I am in the north terminal and buses don’t go to Baños (in the south) from this terminal. No one is explaining why. After various conversations and questions, I finally learn there are 2 main bus terminals in Quito. Quito is very thin and long so if you are going to the south, you have to catch buses from the south terminal. A guy pushes me toward another bus and tells me it will go there. Wait, wait, my backpack is below. He looks at me and says don’t worry, we’re passing it over. I get on and pray that my backpack makes it. It all happens so fast.
6:00 PM: Arrive in Baños, backpack and all. Thank goodness. I see rows of yellow stalls and locals selling all kinds of homemade candies and guys swinging sugar cane. A jump in a taxi and just say ‘La Biblioteca’ (LA BIB). The town is small. Everyone knows the foundation. I arrive to a large painted colorful building with an intimidating black gate. Hmm. Then, I hear hellos and see waves coming from the third floor window. You must be Alisha?
8:00 PM: A welcome Pot Luck. Deliciousness is overflowing on the table from taco salad, homemade guac dip, chicken and rice, piña coladas, to the best chocolate delight I’ve ever had. I feel at ease and very thankful that the arrival was as friendly has I’d hoped it would be.
Day Two & Three: Saturday & Sunday
The next two days are spent settling in. I had been on the move for the first two weeks so now it is time to unpack my bags and get comfortable. I explore the town with my camera, watch tourists bungee off the San Francisco bridge, and make a trip to the supermarket to load up on food for the week.
Day Four: Monday
10 AM: Get out of bed and decide to make breakfast and a cup of coffee so I can recount my border crossing shenanigans for my blog post.
1 PM: Weekly volunteer Monday meeting. We go over the happenings of ‘LA BIB’ from last week, what is planned this week, cleaning duties, new volunteer introductions, and orientation. The volunteer coordinators go over the volunteer rules, what to expect, tips and advice for Banos, and a tour of the facility. There is a library, volunteer quarters above the library, an activity room, English lesson classrooms, and an outdoor area for activities as well. The place is bigger than I expected and did I mention Dr. Seuss is on the wall and we have an “imagination corner?”
3:30 PM: Meet downstairs in the library. Hear what sounds like someone taking drum sticks and banging on a tin door. The children have arrived! They are spread along the sidewalk in what is supposed to be a straight line. Laughter, chatter, and a little bit of pushing as they all like to plummet inside once the door is lifted. My first day = kids with an abundant amount of energy. For 30 minutes everyone is required to read. I read with Daana. She’s quiet as a mouse.
4:00 PM: Reading time is over. Activity begins. Today we make skeleton bodies out of noodles and learn parts of the body. Decide instantly I love interacting with these kids. They’re shy at first, but warm up to me quickly.
7 PM: Ate a quick sandwich between 6 and 7 and now sitting in the large English classroom to observe the class I will assist with over the next couple of weeks. Class is a mixture of adults and teenagers all at about an intermediate level. We spend the class with phrasal verbs and American English idioms. We laugh a lot.
8 PM: Volunteer day is done. Lots of new faces. Decide that I want to learn and remember them all by the end of the week. Volunteers huddle in the kitchen chatting about the day. We think about if we would like to celebrate a successful first day with a cup of the finest Ecuadorian box wine.
Day Five: Tuesday
9:00 AM: Lying in bed wide awake. Thinking I really like the fact that I have mornings and days free until 3:30 when the kids arrive. I Decide to take a run through town to see what the local folks do in the morning.
10:00 AM: Stray dogs. Lots of stray dogs. Start running with rocks. On the positive side, on the edge of town the light glistens over the waterfall (Baños is known for all of their beautiful waterfalls) and if you run outside of town there is a path along a riverbank. In town, vendors line the street selling their homemade candies and sugar cane, bicycles and moto carts fill the streets with tourists off to explore, and women walk around with fabric dangling over their shoulders.
1:00 PM: Shower, do some work on the interview with teaching traveling, and try and connect to the wifi. Signal is weak. Not able to get on. Rummage through the resource room instead for ideas for next weeks activity hours with the kids. Between the hundreds of plastic vitamin C bottles, sand, stones, noodles, and scrap paper, I’m sure to find something.
3:30 PM: Kids arrive. Reading time is spent with Green Eggs and Ham – In Spanish. Three times.
Today we’re making paper machete pigs. This is going to be messy. We have three huge tubs full of water and flour. The kids eyes widen as they see what’s in store. Aprons on and directions explained. Except, no one is listening – their attention is on the tubs of goo.
6:00 PM: Kids have finished up and we have pigs flying around everywhere. Floors swept, tables wiped down, and aprons hung. Time to prepare for our Tuesday night Interchange that typically consists of anywhere from 10-30 people both locals, volunteers, and expats. The native English speakers practice their Spanish and the native Spanish speakers practice their English.
7:00 PM: Everyone arrives for ‘Intercambio’. It’s a mix of young, middle aged, and older people. We arrange ourselves in a circle and pair up English speaker with Spanish speaker. Each pair draws a word or topic out of a hat. Anything from ‘global warning’ to ‘favorite beaches’, and the initial 20 minute conversation game begins and is then followed by a group language activity that is sure to bring laughter and confusion.
Day Six: Wednesday
7:00 AM: Decide to wake up early today to take a bike ride on the waterfall route before getting the day officially started with the kids. Walk into town to see if I can find anyone open for bike rentals and coffee.
9:00 AM: Finally got breakfast and my bike. Yes, it took 2 hours. Apparently, there are only 2 places open for breakfast that early and the bike rental staff stroll in anytime between 8 and 9. Aww the joys of living in the slow lane in south america.
12:00 PM: The ride through the waterfall route takes about 2-3 hours if you stop and do all the oohing and aahing, cable car riding, and photo snapping that I do. There is also lots of stopping on the side of the road on the sharp turns so I didn’t get taken out by cars and buses. That is a bit unnerving at times. The path brings me to the town of Rio Verde where I wander through the local village, sit down and lunch at a roadside cafe, and visit the large waterfall from 2 different walking points.
2:30 PM: Standing on the side of the road taking in the scenery, I decide to flag down a truck to give me a ride back. Throw my bike in the back and jump in. This will turn the trip back to Baños into a 30 minute ride instead of a 2 hour bike ride.
3:30 PM: Arrived back at the children’s foundation a little after 3:00pm to prepare for the children that would arrive full of energy at 3:30.
4:00 PM: Children have finished reading time, and today we are doing musical madness from handmade instruments! We have drums, clacking sticks, shakers, harmonicas, and our bodies! The children are so excited. We divide them into groups and let the musical masterpiece begin.
8:00 PM: Tonight is outdoor “Movie Night” at LA BIB. Every Wednesday we project a movie on the big white wall of our outside cemented area, and charge $1 for entry. The entire community is invited, and English students can come for free. Tonight we are playing Dead Poet’s Society. Haven’t seen this classic in a while.
Day Seven: Thursday
The next two days are spent working with the children and planning the weekend activities. We’ve decided that Saturday morning we will head to the Quilatoa loop north of Banos near the famous Cotapaxi volcano. Quilatoa is known for the hike through the Indigenous villages , and the beautiful loop around the crater lake that was once created by an erupting volcano. We also celebrate a long successful week on Friday night with a little bit of dancing before the big hike begins.
Alisha is still traveling and volunteering and is currently in Europe after finishing up in Africa in October. She works with various non-profits and projects as she travels including micro-finance, education, the arts, and programs that focus on initiatives for women and children. You can read the specifics of her projects in Ecuador, Colombia, and Africa and see a video of her time in Baños with Project Ecuador. You can also follow her adventures and reference her volunteer resources on her website at Small World Pursuits. Next Up: She will be heading to India to work with an organization that focuses on women’s rights and education to help in the battle against human trafficking.