One of our Ecuador volunteers recounts the mid-service conference, which allows volunteers to reflect on living and teaching in Ecuador thus far and to travel.
“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” – Azar Nafi
As I’m nearing the end of my service in Ecuador, I wish I could freeze time! It will be hard to leave Ecuador.
The Riobamba crew was the first to arrive in Quito. Rose, Emily and I headed to Republica del Cacao to get our hot chocolate fix. We were going to go to Mindo with CJ and other yearlong volunteers for the mid-service conference. While I was excited about seeing the other volunteers, the thought of being half way through the program saddened me. I enjoy teaching and my Spanish is getting better (it really is!).
Mindo (also known as the Mindo Valley) is a mountainous watershed situated in the western slopes of the Andes, where two of the most biologically diverse ecoregions in the world meet: the Chocoan lowlands and the Tropical Andes. In this transitional area, three rivers (Mindo, Saloya and Cinto) and hundreds of streams irrigate the landscape, which consists of a patchwork of cloud forests, secondary forests, agricultural land, and human settlements. Source: Wikipedia
Mindo is a couple of hours from Quito. The landscape changed quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Some of the volunteers had really interesting stories to tell. It was raining when we checked into Bio Hostal. That evening we assembled in the communal area to talk about our experiences, both positive and negative, of living and teaching in Ecuador. The sessions based on teaching were helpful. The session I enjoyed most was the one in which we were asked to write a letter to ourselves stating the goals we would like to achieve at the end of our service; mine was really long.
We had a free afternoon, so we went on the famous tour of the chocolate factory, El Quetzal, to learn how chocolate is made from “bean to bar”.
The finest organic cacao is sourced from family farms outside of Mindo. The first critical stages of the process are fermentation and drying of the cocoa beans. After drying, the beans are roasted in small batches at El Quetzal, imparting a caramelized, chocolaty flavor to the cocoa beans. A thin husk is cracked and winnowed from each bean in order to isolate the meaty part of the bean, known as “cocoa nibs”. Roasted cocoa nibs are then refined and conched by one of two methods: stone-grinding or ball refining. Over the course of many hours, the nutty, earthy nibs are refined into a smooth molten chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is tempered, moulded, and wrapped by hand.
My favorite part of the tour was the tasting. We tried chocolate with ginger, balsamic, barbeque sauce, coffee and chilli. The brownie was noteworthy.
Our trip to Mindo would have been incomplete had we not visited La Mariposeria. I had never witnessed the different stages of development of a butterfly before. Aromatic and captivating orchids lined the way to the butterfly garden. Later, we walked to the hummingbird observatory and quietly observed them hovering over the feeders.
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” ― Maya Angelou
After the WorldTeach dinner, we decided to go bird watching the following morning. Getting up at 4 was something I didn’t think I could do, but I’m proud of the fact that I did. The guide took the car out at 4:30 am and drove for 45 minutes. From there it was a 20 minute walk to the Lek de Gallo de la Peña Andino. We arrived at the lek shortly after 5:30 am and waited patiently to see “the show” of el gallo (The Cock of the Rock), a bright red bird with black wings and a little white on the back, and an exotic pompous crest. Males gather at exactly 6:00 am to dance, squawk and simulate fights to maintain their territory and impress females. It was a once in a lifetime experience; I’m glad I decided to go.
Zip lining was the highlight of the trip. We did 10 long lines over beautiful scenery. The steep hikes between the lines offered great views. The guides were wonderful, and I felt safe with them.
-Puja Dayal, WorldTeach Ecuador
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