Ninth Grade Four Point 2019: Ecuador

March 15, 2019

Friday, March 15

I’m back in Bethel, and it’s time to post a few photos from our last two days of Four Point in Ecuador.

It’s been a pleasure traveling with these 9 excellent young people. Todd Siekman and I (Tracey Wilkerson) have been happy to be able to share pieces of their journey through the blog, and we hope you ask them to share their stories as well.

On the last full day in Sinchi Warmi, the students were guided through a thoughtful reflection of the entire trip. There was a lot to share!

Notes on each activity- a learning, a challenge, an appreciation, and a “win”

sharing some thoughts

sharing thoughts

While we were debriefing, these kids were spying, waiting for us to finish so we could all go to the town of Misahualli! Some of our best times were hanging out and playing with other kids.

happy spies, host family kids

Gould kids, Sinchi Warmi kids.

We came across some not so wild wildlife, in a kid’s backpack. For some coins, you can take a picture with his snake

On the town sign in Misahualli. The river port town of Misahualli is known for its resident monkeys. Christmas decorations in March seem normal now.

When we returned from Misahualli, we shared a dinner and final celebration with the Sinchi Warmi community. Around a fire, our Chinese students translated kids’ names to Chinese and showed them the written characters. They sang two beautiful songs. Our US kids sang a silly fun campfire song, and the whole group sang Let it Go from Frozen. Then, the Sinchi Warmi kids danced, sharing their traditional music, clothing, and dances with us. This photo is the Sinchi Warmi kids in the fire light, watching their Gould friends.

Sinchi Warmi kids watching Gould kids by fire light

The next morning came fast, and we gathered to say goodbye to our host families and head to Quito.

The final 2019 Sinchi Warmi and Gould Academy group photo

Two closing photos. A “selfie” of Todd, Andy Gavilanes, and me, the adults who had the pleasure of leading this Ecuadorian adventure, and a group photo in Quito with Don Sanches, the man who drives with a smile and always helps us feel like we’re in good hands.

¡Adiós Ecuador!


Wednesday, March 13

We’re in Quito, ready to travel home tomorrow!

I’ve been trying to get photos onto the blog but internet is weak here tonight.

We’ve heard some amazing and insightful thoughts from these Gould kids recently. Traveling to Ecuador has been impactful in so many ways.

When we’re back in Bethel I’ll share some photos from our last evening in Sinchi Warmi.

Homeward! With hearts full of gratitude.

Tuesday, March 12

Tomorrow morning we leave Sinchi Warmi, bound for Quito.

That means today is our last full day with our host community. This morning Todd and I left the students on their own with their host families to plant seedlings, share almuerzo (lunch) and take a little down-time.

When we returned, kids were hanging out in the lodge, under the thatched roof, taking in the cool breeze.

roof made of palm fronds, like we helped harvest two days ago. Cool breezes

We met as a group to re-cap all the activities we’ve done in our time in Ecuador. Each student found a quiet space, to reflect, noting the following for each topic: a learning, a challenge, an appreciation, and “a win.”

Here’s the list I made. It’s been a very rich several days!

What didn’t we do? Lots of reflecting going on.

lots to share

Journals have been a good tool jogging memories

After our individual and group reflection, we’re heading to the little town of Misahualli for ice cream and some play time at the river beach with local kids. After that, the host families will join us for a special meal and closing ceremony.

I expect the rest of the afternoon and evening to be rich and meaningful. I don’t, however, anticipate having time to update the blog this evening.

Tomorrow we leave Sinchi Warmi early. We’ll do our best to send another update tomorrow evening, when we arrive in Quito.

Monday, March 11

First night of homestay is behind us! Trepidation and excitement morphed into curiosity and comfort. We’re so grateful for the community of Sinchi Warmi who share their lives, families, and homes with our students.

The tree planting minga crew- and Princesa the dog

Our whole group met this morning for “minga”- community work. Sinchi Warmi was started by a small group of women who had a dream of improving their own lives by developing a lodge and sharing their traditions, customs, and Amazonian natural resources with visitors. Today we worked in the chakra, or forest garden, of the community. Betty, one of the founders of Sinchi Warmi, shared with us some stories of the early days, working hard in the chakra, planting for the future, while pregnant, nursing, and raising children.

It was jungly today! Betty tells us that when Sinchi Warmi started, much of the land was like this. Dense, and the kind of wet that’s hard to move through and sucks your boots off.


Although life isn’t “easy” now, the hard work is paying off. We were happy to join Betty, her brother Fabio, and several other community members planting new trees. We planted cocoa, coffee, palm, chonta (maybe- not sure about that last one) for future generations of Sinchi Warmi and Sinchi Kari (strong women and strong men in Quichua).

After a delicious lunch, we traveled by river boat to a Quichua museum, Kamakmaki, then went fishing! It rained yesterday, so the river was more silty than usual. Instead of fishing with bait and hooks, we fished with weighted nets. We learned how to throw the nets into the river, and retrieve them to find fish. None of us were able to perfect our throwing skills, but trying was fun!

Our taxi to the Quichua museum. Sweet ride.

River boat

Quichua museum, Kamakmaki

None of us could throw the net like Fabio!

We caught fish! Taking them out of the net

Ok, so maybe the fish were a little small.

Preparing for the toss….

Releasing the net!

River walk, river rocks

Students are with their host families for the evening. Tomorrow they’ll be with their families until we meet at 2 to debrief the trip with Andy Gavilanes from Amazon Learning. Amazon Learning has been our partner in Ecuador for four Gould trips. The partnership is strong, and each trip has been outstanding.

Sunset in the Amazon from Sinchi Warmi

Hard to believe we’ll be flying home in a few days!

Saturday, March 9 to Sunday, March 10

After walking from Libertad to the road, we met our driver, Don Sanches. Don Sanches always meets our students with a big smile, bright greeting, and a clean bus!

Inside Don Sanches’ bus

We made our way to Sinchi Warmi. One of the best part of being at Sinchi Warmi, is the opportunity to be with kids who are about the same age as our kids. The local kids joined us soon after we arrived and wasted no time getting to know eachother. Again, language was not a barrier.

The next morning started with Minga, or community work. Here at Sinchi Warmi, all the roofs are made from palm fronds. We helped harvest palms to make new roofs and patch holes.

Harvesting and collecting materials

Pedro and Sacha taught us how to make rope from the palm stems to tie the leaves into bundles

Palms are good for other things too- like making a humming bird hat!

After working, we joined Sofia to learn about making chocolate! We roasted the beans, peeled off the shell, ground the beans, added sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and milk. Next thing we knew, we were eating pieces of pineapple drizzled with  freshly made dark chocolate!

Beans dry for a few days before they are roasted

Beans are roasted over a low fire

the outer husk is peeled off

the beans are ground, then ground again with the other ingredients

Apparently this is where we dropped the ball on photo-journalism. As soon as the chocolate was poured over the beautifully shaped pineapple, we stopped taking pictures! Sure was tasty though.

adding cane sugar, cinnamon

Perhaps the most exciting part of our day came in the afternoon. We finally met the host families! With much excitement and trepidation, our students left the main lodge of Sinchi Warmi and joined the families they will be with for 3 nights. We will all be together tomorrow morning, but for now, they’re off! Launched into what can be challenging but is most often the most rewarding part of the 9th Grade Four Point experience.

These photos catch the first moments together.

Until tomorrow!

Friday March 8 to Saturday March 9

Time to catch up! We do so much on this Four Point trip! After a couple days without internet, we’re back!

On Friday we drove as close as we could to the community of Libertad. For those who like to look at maps, Libertad is between Tena and Archidona. From the main road, we headed west until we came to a bridge we couldn’t cross in the van. We carried our day packs with everything we’d need for an overnight of camping, and for two days of cultural connection. We were camping, playing with children, participating in a Guayusa ceremony, and sharing our dreams.


Not just camping- camping in the Amazon jungle. We found ourselves in a small clearing near the river, surrounded by cocoa trees. Surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest, we set up our tents under giant tarps, just in case the amazonian rains began to fall.

Camping- pretty nice set-up!


Cultural Connection

The children of Libertad speak Quechua and Spanish. Language differences didn’t get in the way of making connections, and making friends. The often shy children of Libertad were eager and ready to connect with our Gould students. An initial activity creating a secret handshake broke the ice and morphed into an enthusiastic soccer game. Later in the evening, after a refreshing swim, the children taught our students their games. The games don’t require any tools- No ball, no rope, no “thing.” There was great enthusiasm on both sides.

Robinson and Alex creating their greeting



Sisa and Sofia. Interestingly, later in the trip, Sofia was given the Quichua nickname, Sisa

kids caring for kids, and still making a handshake

tallest with smallest

Soccer, fútbol




Guayusa Ceremony

We woke in the dark at 4:40am to walk from our camping site, through the community, and along a path up the river to the community’s Waysupina Wasi (not sure of the spelling!). The Waysupina Wasi is a traditional hut for guayusa ceremonies. Guayusa is a plant that is cultivated in the jungle chakras, or forest gardens. In the community, Guayusa tea is shared daily in an early morning ceremony. In addition to drinking guayusa, family and community members share their dreams, which are then interpreted, and used to make plans for the day.

While at the Waysupina Wasi, we learned about the history of the human/guayusa connection. The story is that the guayusa plant revealed itself to local people, offering its leaves to help the people. The result is a symbiotic relationship that has existed for generations.

In addition to drinking guayusa tea, our students shared their dreams with Amable and Bautista, two leaders in the community. Amable and Bautista then interpreted the students’ dreams. An early morning for all, but spectacular to be in the guayusa hut as the sky lightened and the sun rose over the hut, the river, and the amazon jungle.

Waysupina Wasi. The Guayusa hut at La Libertad

Guayusa ceremony

Dream interpretation

dream interpretation with Amable

Minga at Libertad

Minga is a word used for community work. At Corrales Viejos, our students planted trees in Ecuador’s higlands. At La Libertad, we again planted trees. By planting cocoa trees with the community, we are taking a small step toward help the community who hosted us so generously.

In the jungle, a machete is a very useful tool. After some practice whacking a banana tree trunk, we headed into the chakra where we used machetes to dig holes for the cocoa seedlings.

Machete practice.

Tree planting with Frixon

There was plenty of time at Libertad for play, exploration, and connection.

Exploring the banks of the river, and finding…

eggs in the river. It is reasonable to ask whether things like this are edible. In this case, they are not. But the crabs found in the river went directly onto the coals to cook and were eaten by the local kids.

There are no humans living upstream of the river that serves the community of La Libertad. It is about as clean as a river can get, and was enjoyed by all.

Maybe it’s cold? A refreshing dip in the Amazon.

swimming, and more playing


Food was simple, and cooked over an open fire.

a plate of yucca, fiddle heads, hearts of palm, fish and rice

Some more images from La Libertad

This is a happy combination of humans.

Eating with the community was a learning experience for most.

And this is a happy combination of human and dog! Gomez and Zach.

Our next step is Sinchi Warmi, where we will spend one night together before students head off for their homestay!

Saturday, March 9

After an enjoyable two days in La Libertad, we have made it safely to Sichi Warmi.   The students settled into their rooms and then had the chance to meet with some of the homestay students.   It was a joyful occasion.   

However, as we are all very tired, this will be it for the post this evening.  We will update the last few days spent in La Libertad and  Sichi Warmi  in more detail tomorrow evening.

Thursday, March 7

Morning: classroom session, getting to know the Amazon jungle. Journal time to reflect on the trip so far.


Afternoon: A walking tour of Don Clemente’s agro-forestry garden, or “chakra,” including a refreshing stop at a waterfall.

Evening: A meal entirely sourced from his chakra or forest garden. We learned about the rich resources in the jungle, including a multitude of edible and medicinal plants.

Tomorrow, March 8, our exploration of the region continues. We will join the community of La Libertad, just outside Tena tomorrow afternoon. The evening of March 9 or morning of March 10 we should be able to update the blog again.

Don Clemente walked with a machete to clear the path for us

We found interesting plants on the walk in to Don Clemente’s Chakra

Don Clemente generously shared his depth of knowledge

So much to see, feel, taste- in front of us, above us, below us.

Don Clemente and Sadie, a Amazon Learning intern studying botany

looking, listening

Sadie shared her knowledge of the plants, and helped translate for Don Clemente

A refreshing little waterfall.

Our plates of forest feast

nuts, seeds, fruit

Beautiful fruit, and no end to the foods we could try


Wednesday, March 6

Adventure and challenge in Baños de Agua Santa today!

Unfortunately the photos will be sparse, because the big adventure of the day was zip lining through the cloud forest near Baños! It is tough to zip line and take photos.

In the cloud forest, ready for our first zip line!

Over the past few days here in Ecuador, we’ve invited students to come face to face with challenge, and to move beyond fear and discomfort. Today was no different, only the challenge was not subtle. Standing on a platform, surrounded by dense lush forest, wearing a harness, clipped in to a cable, one is faced with a choice. Unclip and step down, or move forward and launch. Our students launched! Through a series of 6 zip lines and short hikes, we toured the forest floor and the forest canopy. A highlight was flying like Superman off of a cliff, over a river, and into a vibrant ravine.

The cloud forest lived up to its name

This group was so supportive of each other as individuals navigated their long-standng fear of heights. Pushing through our comfort zone and into our stretch zone is a theme for this trip. The challenges ahead won’t look like cables and heights, but they will be perhaps more significant. Our students are gaining self knowledge and building strength which will stay with them well beyond their time in Ecuador.

(Note to parents from a parent- for zip lining, we were with a top notch company and guides who ensured our safety the entire time.)

We found a goofy roadside attraction on our way to Tena

After the zip lining adventures, we drove down hill. We drove until we found the warm temperatures and high humidity of the jungle town of Tena. Tena is home to Andy Gavilanes and Amazon Learning, Gould’s local partner and our guide for the Four Point trip.

We like Andy’s shirt!

During a walking tour of Tena, our students were still looking up, afraid of being “wetted” as they were during the last day of Carnival in Baños. The only thing wetting us in Tena was a little bit of Amazonian rain.

Tuesday, March 5

Today we said goodbye to Corrales Viejos and Paul and Andrés’ family – down the bumpy dirt road, back to the highway for the journey to Baños de Agua Santa.

Baños is a town in a beautiful location. It is lower elevation than Corrales Viejos. The town is surrounded by lush, green, and steep mountains. Over the past few decades, Baños has grown into a popular vacation and adventure travel destination for Ecuadorians and foreigners, and it is no wonder why.

We went for a short but steep hike and enjoyed beautiful views of the town below, and the cultivated steep slopes of the surrounding mountains.

Hiking up was steep!

But the view from above was worth the effort.

The town of Baños, nestled in the valley

Back in town after the hike, it became very clear that we arrived in Baños on the last day of Carnival. It is also the last day revelers can enjoy “wetting” each other. The tradition of splashing people is alive and well in Baños! As one can guess, a group of teenage visitors walking the streets was a welcome target for some. After initially trying very hard to avoid getting involved in the wetting festivities, our students embraced the tradition. Most stood under a balcony and allowed themselves to be drenched with water from the revelers above. I would love to share pictures of those festivities, but we were all guarding our cameras from getting wet!

We did find refuge from the “wetting” in the market. After visiting a food market, we explored the shops of vendors of traditional Ecuadorian crafts and clothing.

El Mercado. We have been discovering some of Ecuador’s unique fruits.

Mercedes and her son Klever in their shop. Refuge from the wetting festivities of Carnival!

Tomorrow we’re looking forward to exploring the cloud forest, via zipline!

Monday, March 4

This day was all about connections –  Connection with culture. Connection with self through animals. Connection with the land.

Stunning natural beauty of the highlands

Connection with culture- The Chagras

Today we were met by two men, Alex and German. Alex and German are Chagras, Ecuadorian cowboys (if there is a parallel in the US). The Chagras are expert horsemen and cattle ranchers. They use traditional methods to manage land and animals. The Chagra culture seems to be alive and well in Ecuador. We learned about the gear and clothing used by the Chagras and their horses when they are in the highland, working with their animals. Heavy wool ponchos, chaps made with llama, goat, or cow skin, and hats protect them from the harsh weather. We got to dress in traditional Chagra clothing.

As Alex and German shared about their life as Chagras, our students were struck by the fact that they work all day, every day, and don’t have time off.

Partially dressed as Chagras. Traditional chaps and ponchos



Connection with self through animals- Horses

The Chagra culture is a horse culture. Horses relate to each other and the world through energy. They are very tuned-in to the intentions of  others. After helping students get in touch with their own energy, Paul, the owner of Corrales Viejos, invited the students to walk through and among their herd of horses. Students were asked to feel, but not touch the horses. Next, students were given a halter and asked to halter a loose horse in the herd. Our human energy influences the behavior of the horses.


The Chagras tacked up some of the horses and gave the students the option to ride around the ring. The connection with the Chagra culture, and connection with the horses deepened


Todd and I watched as initial fear of the horses changed to a desire to explore, and then to confidence. Connection with the horses led to new self awareness about how we interact with and move through the world


. These insights were profound for some of our students.


Connection with the land- giving back

Air travel has a high carbon footprint. Parts of the highland of Ecuador has been exploited by human activity, and some native tree species could use human support.

Planting trees

Paul had 100 native saplings ready for us to help plant. By planting the trees, we hopefully help offset our travel to Ecuador. We also hope to help improve the natural wild-ness of this region of Ecuador. We planted the saplings on the far side of a barbed wire fence, so they would be safe from being damaged by domesticated animals. A “Gould 2019” will be with the trees we planted. If you find yourself in Ecuador, visit Corrales Viejos and look for our trees

Planting trees

Who’s digging those holes?

Tomorrow we head to the town of Baños de Agua Santa, about 3 hours south of Corrales Viejos. Adventure awaits!

Sunday, March 3

Corrales Viejos… WOW.

What an incredibly beautiful “rancho,” with generous people who are happy to share their lifestyle, their skills, and their home.

We had a warm welcome to Corrales Viejos

We left Quito and drove into the highlands. We turned off of the paved road and drove up winding dirt roads until we arrived at Corrales Viejos. We were met by Paul, his father Andrés, and Carmen. Paul shared some history of the Rancho, which has been in his family for generations. His family is deeply connected to the land, and they are happy to share that connection with visitors like us. What a treat, and a great opportunity for our students to experience genuine connection to place and to people in Ecuador.

Carmen, an enthusiastic naturalist, guided a short hike and helped us learn about some of the local (and invasive) plants. Many have powerful medicinal properties. The rain sent us back inside, but the exploration and learning continued with a clever leaf/flower matching game. It’s interesting that the plants at high altitude in Ecuador are similar to the plants at Gould’s high latitude.

Finding smiles on a short hike.

Learning about the plants of the Ecuadorian highlands.

On another short hike, we found a herd of horses, and made some quiet alone-time in the polylepis forest. The polylepis trees create a dense lush forest, just the kind of place you might expect to see a forest hobbit, or “duende.”

Polylepis hobbit forest. If you’re lucky, you might see a “duende!”

At Corrales Viejos, we were welcomed into the kitchen to prepare traditional Ecuadorian food.

The evening, after another wonderful meal, Carmen led us in a hilarious game of “Newlyweds.” We certainly have been getting to know each other well, and having some fun!




Saturday, March 2

We have arrived! After a very long day of travel yesterday, we began our adventures in Ecuador today.

The day started with a visit to Mitad del Mundo, the equator. From there, we went to a hill where we had a great view of Quito. This afternoon we walked around Old Quito, where we will spend the night in a very comfortable hotel, Masaya.

Tomorrow we head to the highlands, near Cotopaxi. This group is off to a great start! Hard to believe we’ve only been in Ecuador for one day.

Gould in Ecuador! Nine students and one Gould banner

We were fortunate to see several dance groups at the equator

Lunch was our first big meal, at the equator. We ate well!

After lunch, we sampled some freshly made fruit ice cream.

We learned that during Carnival, no one is safe! Children with water guns and spraying foam attacked in good fun! We took a short walking tour of Old Quito.

A dance troop of street performers captured our attention in the central square.


Our hotel is an easy place to rest-up before heading to the highland tomorrow.


Pre-Trip: Are You Ready?

The final 2019 Sinchi Warmi and Gould Academy group photo

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

In a few days, we’ll have ninth graders all over the world in China, Ecuador, Peru, and Tanzania as they take part in their first Gould Four Point experience. Nine students will be in Ecuador throughout the month learning about the country, staying with local families, visiting schools, and immersing themselves in the culture there.

Students have been working on various topics related to their destinations in their History and English classes. They have also been preparing their journals, packing their bags, and thinking about all of the things they might learn on through this experience. Our older students who have already completed a Ninth Grade Four Point trip look back on their experience and say, “I learned more than I ever thought I would!”

We can’t wait to hear what this year’s students have to say about their experience.

Keep up to date with their trip by following this blog. Trip leaders will do their best to post updates regularly.


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