Ninth Grade Four Point 2020: Ecuador Early March Trip

March 2, 2020

Day twelve: Baeza to Tababela

After a filling breakfast, we boarded Don Sanchez’s bus for one last day of adventure. We headed first for Papallacta, known for its volcanic hot springs and beautiful landscape. After our light hike around the area, filled with flowers, rushing waters, and surrounded by deep green mountains, we explored the hot springs.

There were a variety of pools with water temperatures ranging from very hot to frigid river water. There were also small waterfalls and some jacuzzi-like jets of the hotter water. The students alternated between soaking in the hot springs and quick dunks in the cold pool, which is supposed to benefit circulation.

The springs were followed by a late lunch, which Ethan successfully predicted would consist of rice, salad, french fries and our choice of chicken, beef, or fish. We then boarded the bus for Tababela, and will be sleeping tonight in the same hostel in which we began the trip.

The students had some time for more reflection and then they shared their highlights, challenges and lessons learned in a group. After each person spoke there was time for their peers to express their appreciation for the speaker. It was a thoughtful and reflective time.

One last dinner and discussion of logistics before the students were received their cell phones back. It will be and early night because we depart the hostel at 3am tomorrow morning to say goodbye to Ecuador for now, and start our journey home.

Day Eleven: Baeza

We had a bright and early departure from Sinchi Warmi after our last delicious meal. We hopped in our fan for a two-hour drive to the town of Baeza, picking up our new guide Dani on the way. We could feel the humidity and heat lifting, see the flora changing, and even smell the difference as we passed from the rainforest into the Andes.

When we reached Baeza we rested for an hour after getting into our cozy rooms. We gathered and took a short hike to a a gushing waterfall, where we took some time to connect with the earth and ground ourselves in the new location.

After our hike back up we were pretty excited for lunch! We had the choice of chicken, steak, or fresh trout from the river, sided by rice, a pickled vegetable salad, creamed plantains, and papas fritas (french fried potatoes!). Delicious.

We took some time to digest and then boarded the bus to a beautiful space a few miles down the road where Dani led us in an energizing and centering yoga practice; many fell asleep during Shavasana 😉

After we completed our practice (or some woke up from their short nap) the students began work on their final presentations, reflecting on each significant place we have visited on our trip and deciphering between moments of joy, moments of learning, and moments of challenge.

Dinner was a hearty pasta with local mushrooms and chicken.

Tomorrow is our last full day in this beautiful country!

Day Ten: Minga and a boat ride

The morning started off with minga: a gathering of the entire community to complete a project. The students started by gathering and harvesting rice. The work session switched to carrying firewood and digging mulch for starting plants in the greenhouse. The students rotated in and out of the work based on their energy levels.

After another fantastic lunch here at Sinchi Warmi, the students had an hour of down time and then a boat ride down the Napo River to a wildlife sanctuary and cultural museum. The students enjoyed the boat ride, cooling off with a breeze on the river. We saw ancient Amazonian pottery and animal traps. There were several blow guns and bow and spears that the students were able to observe and and hold. The wildlife we saw included boas, turtles, wild pigs and monkeys. A few adventurous students draped a smallish boa around their shoulders. This expedition was concluded by a trip for ice cream.

Upon returning to Sinchi Warmi, we took part in ancestral games, trying a blow gun, slingshot, and other ancient games. The students all had fun and followed it up with a game of volleyball with the local young people.

After dinner at Cultural Night, the students gave their presentation and took part in a traditional indigenous dance around a large fire. Many students wore traditional clothing and face paint. Goodbye’s and thank you’s were said to all the families.

Everyone is sleeping in the lodge tonight, as we head out bright and early tomorrow morning for our second to last day of Ecuadorian adventure.

Day Nine: Home-stays

Today the students were out on their home stays. Some students went fishing while others continued various local crafts: making necklaces, bracelets, braiding and weaving grass skirts, and more. We checked on all of the students and made sure that they were doing well.

Day Eight: Home-stays begin

This morning our students joined their home stay families. Stephanie led awesome programming prior to their departure to help the students consider and reflect on differences, exciting possibilities, potential challenges and solutions, and how they imagine their home-stay families will want them to feel, or how they would want a visitor in their home to feel.

Todd, Stephanie, and I visited the kids just before dinnertime. Everyone had settled in, and some of the daily activities included yuca and cacao harvesting, jewelry making, fiber harvesting for making belts and skirts, Kichwa lessons, and closing down the day with a game of soccer. Everyone seems to be doing great and enjoying their immersion in Kichwa culture.

Tomorrow the students are with their host families all day, but we are close-by if they need anything. We will see them again early on Monday morning for more community service and exploration of the area. Buenos tardes!

Day Seven: Community Service at Libertad

The early bedtime was definitely needed as we woke up before sunrise to walk into the village for a guayusa tea ceremony, which is how the Kichwa people start every morning.

We walked in silence in the dark with headlamps for about ten minutes until we reached the sacred space where the tea ceremony takes place.

In short, the guayusa plant is a sacred plant to the Quechua people that has been being harvested for thousands of years. Guayusa protects, cleanses, and provides energy for the day ahead.

After tea a few students had their dreams interpreted, were *willingly* “smacked” with the stinging nettle (which stimulates the circulatory system), and ate a hot breakfast of eggs and yuca. We listened to some stories about the river and the ancestors of the land, and then pulled on our work gloves and got to work on a day of service to the Libertad community.

The hut where the community holds their daily morning ritual is getting closer and closer to the rising river, and the roof is falling in. They are hoping to build a new hut in a new location, so our service consisted of splitting palms for a new roof for the hut and clearing land for the relocation of the hut that is further away from the riverbank. We worked for a few hours before the rain forest does what it does best and it started to pour.

When the rain slowed we planted a bamboo hedge surrounding the two-classroom school house, took one last quick swim in the most beautiful swimming spot yet, and packed up our camp while the last of the rain fell. We enjoyed our final meal with the generous and kind residents of Libertad, said our goodbyes, and boarded our bus to Sinchi Warmi.

Upon our arrival at Sinchi ecolodge we were greeted with iced guayusa and we settled into our beautiful huts.

Another guide from Amazon Learning, Stephanie, helped introduce the Sinchi youth to our students. They played games, practiced Spanish and English, and got acquainted with a few of the faces with whom they will be spending the next few days.

Our outdoor candlelight dinner was a savory combination of stewed chicken, pan-friend mashed potato cakes, purple cabbage salad, and banana-pineapple ice cream with cocoa nibs on top.

Another early bedtime for a very long and rewarding day. Tomorrow we meet the students’ home-stay families!

Day Six: Libertad and Camping

We woke up at Casa de Abuelo and had a gorgeous breakfast of eggs, fruit juices, fresh breads, and tea to start our day.

For the first hour of the morning we worked on a short presentation for the children and youth of Libertad, the city on the outskirts of Tena that we would be visiting later that afternoon. The purpose of the presentation is to give the children of the village a glimpse into American life, while hopefully making them smile and learn a bit about our culture.

We arrived at our campsite outside of Libertad around noon and set up camp. The gorgeous site was equipped with hammocks, a palm leaf shelter, and two tarped areas for tents.

Andy provided us with an Argentinian lunch feast of pasta salad, yuca cakes, fresh guacamole, and plantain chips with pineapple for desert. We rested for a bit with our journals before heading down the road to Libertad.

Arriving in the community we saw traditional two-story Quechua homes, smelled smoldering fires, and heard the shouts of young men playing soccer and volleyball. We rested ourselves at the house of Amable, the President of the Libertad Tourism Association.

Soon after our arrival Andy helped to welcome the children, ages 1-15, to come and say hello to the Gould students. Everyone introduced themselves, their favorite food, and their favorite color. The students were then paired with one or two of the children from the village, and the groups created “handshakes” to show the larger group. This was an excellent time for our students to practice the non-verbal communication skills that we practiced at Corrales Viejos.

After the kids were acquainted we headed down to the river for a swim. This particular river is another tributary to the Amazon, and also provides water, bathing, and washing for the community of Libertad.

Finishing our swim and drying off, we headed back to Amable’s house where we were served a dinner of chicken, yuca, fiddleheads, and some delicious blend of fruit juices. We said goodnight and headed back to our campsite for a campfire, s’mores, and an early bedtime.

Day Five: Don Clemente’s Farm

Today we got a real taste of the Amazon forest; literally and figuratively.

After breakfast at the hostel we received a fascinating and informative lesson from Andy about the Amazon. We discussed its importance to the planet, what can be found there, why it is disappearing, and brainstormed ways that we all as individuals can help.

Our traditional classroom education came to a close, and we boarded the bus in our boots to our experiential outdoor classroom at Don Clemente’s farm.

Don Clemente’s farm was not what we all imagine when we think of “farm”. Rather than vast fields of grains and livestock, Don Clemente’s homestead consists of an intricate system of fruit trees, medicinal plants, vegetables, a fishing and frogging pond, and access to a major tributary of the Amazon River.

After our arrival, introduction to Don Clemente’s home and family, and a few bites of fruits hanging from trees above, we set out through the Amazon forest and hiked to swim in the river.

Just as we reached the Amazon tributary it started to rain. Did that slow us down? Of course not! We went swimming in the rain for an hour, playing with Don Clemente’s children and enjoying the majestic steamy fog evaporating from the forest. It was truly breathtaking.

After the slippery and muddy hike back to the homestead, we were greeted with what the Clemente family calls “The Forest Feast”. Everything that we ate came directly from the land surrounding us, most harvested this very morning. We had a feast consisting of plantains, dragon fruit, hearts of palm, papaya, hearts of bamboo, potatoes, and grubs: fat worms that taste like bacon. The kids were gracious and excited, and they tasted and explored the experience of the Amazon River and forest.

Bedtime came early tonight. Another update soon!

Day Four: Tena

We woke up in Banos to a soft, sleepy drizzle. After a breakfast of croissants, fresh squeezed juice, and scrambled eggs, some students decided that they didn’t get enough of the fantastic market fare. While waiting for our bus we took a brisk, rainy walk to see if the merchants had set up. Alas, they had not, so we loaded the van and headed for Tena.

(“Can’t we please stay another day here?” was the morning refrain.)

About fifteen minutes down the road we pulled over at a gorgeous cascading waterfall…adjacent to a zip line! The students soared across the gorgeous valley and river two-by-two.

After we finished flying (Ms. Cook and Mr. Siekman, too!) we drove a little ways until we officially reached the Amazon. We could feel the change in temperature and altitude almost immediately, as well as see the change in the foliage and landscape. We pulled over and took a hike down many, many stairs until we reached a beautiful waterfall. We cooled off in the pools of the falls until we made the climb back up to the van.

A few minutes down the road we pulled over for a traditional Ecuadorian lunch: rice, lentils, lettuce, tomato, grilled plantain, and pork chops or beef with fresh watermelon for dessert; not a bad meal to be had in this country.

Finally we reached Tena! Our guide Andy asks, “should we stop for a swim?”, to which we all responded a resounding, “OH YEAH!” We spent the next half an hour swimming in the Napo River, a major tributary to the mighty Amazon River.

We arrived at the hotel 15 minutes after our dip in the river, a gorgeous hostel with air conditioning. Andy gave us a tour of his hometown, followed by a patio dinner, a view tower by the Napo River, and ice cream to top off this exciting day.

Day Three: Banos

Today was the last beautiful morning in Corrales Viejos. We ended our time in this beautiful space and with our generous hosts with morning team-building activities and warm goodbyes. We boarded our bus and headed to Banos.

When we arrived at Banos a few hours later, we quickly checked into our hostel and began exploring the beautiful city. After a place-grounding tour from our guide Andy, we shopped at the local stores and mercado. Everyone was excited to find beautiful products and handmade jewelry and clothing from local artists. The students also found the “Love Bridge”, where they eagerly pledged their eternal love for one another.

The evening came quickly, and as we stopped to check out an awesome town playground, the students noticed a group of locals playing pick-up soccer. They jumped in! It was incredible to see our students connecting with the local kids and having a total blast.

We ended the night with a flashy city tour on a music-playing dragon-resembling vehicle. (Ask your kids about this one!)

Dinner was late at a local sandwich shop, and retired to our beautiful balcony rooms for warm showers and good sleep.

Day Two: Corrales Viejos

This morning was the first sunny day after 10 days of straight rain at Corrales Viejos. We were rewarded with stunning views of Las Montanas Illinizas. 

We started off with activities surrounding the importance of connections: to each other, to animals, and to the land. We began by working on our connections with each other through the use of sticks that we needed to hold between partners using only one finger, and could not drop as we moved around the space. It was expanded to the entire group having to untangle themselves while maintaining the sticks in the air, fostering feelings of connection and non-verbal communication.

From there we progressed to non-verbal communication with horses. We had to enter the corral and attract a horse. We expanded our connection with the horse by slow approaches, gentle patting, and brushing, eventually becoming more familiar with them. We then bridled the horses, which was a lesson in reminding ourselves of the need for patience, understanding, and reestablishing the connections with the horses.  

After a hearty farm to table lunch and a short rest, we had a nature hike, during which we learned about native plant species as opposed to introduced species. Following the hike, we planted 100 native trees as part of a reforestation project. We threw ourselves into the planting and enjoyed both the process and the reward of a completed task.

After a dinner of fantastic burritos, we closed our day with a discussion around a campfire and headed to bed.

Day One, Part II: Quito Proper

When we reached Quito proper our bus dropped us at the center of Old Quito, the oldest part of the city. We toured Plaza Grande which houses the President of Ecuador’s palace, the city government buildings, and the National Cathedral. 

We next toured La Iglesia de Compania, a hundreds-year-old church built by Spanish Roman Catholics, painted with gold leaf. The students were mesmerized by the architecture and rich beauty of the church. No photos allowed 😉 

We enjoyed a traditional Ecuadorian lunch at the Plaza de San Francisco. 

We viewed “The Virgin”, a statue gifted to Ecuador from the United States, and took in birds-eye views of the entire North and South of Quito. Before heading out to Corrales Viejos, we purchased rubber boots to use for working this trip, and later to donate.

Click to enlarge

Day One, Part I: Tababela, Quito!

Saturday, February 29

Bethel to Boston to Panama to Ecuador; yesterday was a long, long day, but we all arrived safely and happy at our beautiful hostel in Tababela. We were greeted with a warm dinner prepared by our hosts, followed by games of Uno and a good night’s rest.

This morning after a breakfast of fresh fruits, eggs, and juice from trees just outside of our windows, we toured the small town plaza, learned and practiced plant identification, and observed the Spanish-influenced architecture.

Shortly we are headed to a Cotopaxi farm where students will learn about the agriculture of Ecuador, care for animals, and harvest food for our meals. Our next post won’t be for a few days because we will be out of service, but we post again as soon as we can!


Pre-Trip: Are You Ready?

The final 2019 Sinchi Warmi and Gould Academy group photo

Friday, February 21, 2020

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

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 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.


One Response

  1. Avatar Brian Bouchard says:

    Looks like they’re having a great time. What a tremendous cultural learning experience. Many thanks to everyone at Gould Academy, and especially Chris Hayward, for all their hard work in making this once in a lifetime experience come to fruition for our students.

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