July 24, 2009

9 weeks of teaching is over. I can’t really believe I made it through to be honest, and on reflection it does seem insane that I was allowed to teach when I neither speak the language or have ANY sort of training. I can barely string an Espanol sentence together (unfortunately that is still the case), I am pretty ropey in the Maths department and my scientific skills are rather limited.. Anyway I am happy to say that finally it is over… it is a good feeling and I have definitely not found a new vocation. Though I have definitely discovered a new found respect for teachers…

So the last few weeks were ´summer school´… no teachers, no guidance. School was reduced to 3 days.. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.. following which on Thursday and Friday we taught college kids English, along with which I had to cook. The cooking was just ridiculous.. like something out of ‘ship-wrecked’. Just a gas hob and a blunt knife. The first soup that I made was an unmitigated disaster. I had nothing at all to flavour it with apart from salt, and it just looked horrible, a boiled meat disaster. However after I went on the hunt for stock cubes and garlic, I am happy to say it improved.

The cooking itself was also not without it’s hazards.. as I said the kitchen consisted of a gas hob, but really this was just a ring connected to an extremely ropey looking gas tank, I did feel rather like I was taking my life in my hands each time I lit it. In fact Trish now has a fringe after a mini gas explosion. As well as this – there was no sink, just a tap located on the other side of the playground. On one occasion, when all the local mothers were gathered for a village meeting, I sauntered past carrying a saucepan full of water.. I tripped over and landed face down with my head in the saucepan. Completely soaked. It was extremely embarrassing.

Last Friday I left Otavalo for the last time, and frankly, was over the moon, as a result I had one hell of a weekend in Quito and am now officially on holiday. 5 rather large evenings in a row, go-karting, an adventure park (the latter, not recommended on a hangover) and a possible loss of dignity has now led me to Canoa, a chilled out surfers paradise on the coast.

I arrived yesterday after an overnight bus ride from Quito. The bus arrived in the neighbouring town of San Vincente at 6am. I assumed that there would be taxi´s standing by to kart me off to Canoa. No. There was not a sole around and only myself and one other girl had got off the bus. I wasn´t really quite sure what to do, the other chick was also heading to Canoa so we teamed up. We waited for a bus to come (which apparently was due in an hour)…. but nothing turned up, typically South American. Finally a little tuk-tuk farted past, and we jumped on. I was not sure if it would be able to hold the weight of us plus my rather bursting backpack…. and sure enough on route to Canoa we came upon a flat tyre. Perfect. What to do now….? A little crowd formed, various people scratched their heads, without actually providing a solution. This continued for half and hour or so, when finally the bus we had originally been waiting for, came past and we hopped on. It took us two hours to get 5 kms.

I did plan to learn how to surf, however the waves are frankly enormous and I am not sure that it really is the best plan, though I am keen to continue my quest for ´gnarlyness´. I am going to stay here for a couple of days, following which I will head down to Montañita, a crazy surfer town further down the coast…

Over and out.


I have had a rather hectic few days to say the least.. So lets see, last week was the final week of ´actual´ school and I was under the illusion that ´summer´ school (which is run solely by the volunteers) would be an easy affair. I was sorely mistaken.
Our project manager called a meeting to brief us as to what summer school entailed… with no teachers and a lack of volunteers this month we were put into teams to plan lessons for all the schools. I chose the language team in effort to improve my pigeon Spanish. This meant that our team had to plan two weeks worth of Spanish lessons for 3 schools and all 6 grades in an extremely short amount of time. I felt like I was briefed for a pitch.. I worked extremely hard all week, late into the night for the majority of the week – trying to think of entertaining ways to keep the kids occupied, all the while wondering why I had signed up to this. The deadline was 2.30pm on Friday… which we made…. just. The relief was palatable.

Following which, myself and 2 other ladies (Trish and Molly), hopped on a bus and headed to Quito in an effort to leave the kids, lesson planning and Otavalo behind. Earlier in the week, in a moment of weakness (I think I was delirious from the lesson planning) I agreed to mountain bike down an active volcano (Cotapaxi), which meant a 6am start on Saturday. No rest for the wicked.
On arrival in Quito, we booked into an awesome hostel and headed to the bar. We told ourselves it would be a good idea to have only a couple of beverages so that we could really enjoy the biking experience the following day. We got to bed at 4am.
Two hours of fitful sleep later, we pulled ourselves out of our bunks and tried to look presentable. As Trish fell out of the top bunk, it dawned on me that this may not be the best idea. We persevered nonetheless. On arrival at the meeting point, scrapping in just after 7, we bumped into 12 gnarly dudes all super ready for the experience – kitted out head to toe in correct biking attire… They took one look at three ridiculous looking women, pointed at me and asked if I was going to be sick and would I like to sit in the front of the bus. I cleary looked hideous. We were dressed in the wrong clothes, had not brought the correct amount of clothing and had all forgotten sunglasses. A great start.
It took around 3 hours to get to Cotapaxi, on windy roads. Wonderful on a steaming hangover. On entrance to the Cotapaxi national park we were given the opportunity to buy gloves and hats. I stocked up. But still it was not enough…. as the bus climbed further and further, I started to feel rather apprehensive… Finally we stopped… it was FREEZING. One of the kitted out keenos offered a waterproof jacket to Molly (having spotted our inability to dress ourselves appropriately). She opened the pink packet and pulled out a large pink waterproof number. She looked like a condom. I thought I may die of laughter. We were handed our bikes, given a pep talk on how to ride mountain style… how to work the gears etc – this fell on dead ears. I was shivering, possibly still drunk and generally concerned that this could be the end.
Off we went down an extremely steep road full of rocks and rubble. It was awesome. I was terrified, but it was incredible. Finally I got down to the bottom, and made pretty good time, I think due to fear and the need to be on semi-flat landscape. We continued cycling for a further two hours or so, finally stopping by a river for a hearty picnic. We continued cycling (for the most part down hill, thank God) for the rest of the afternoon. I was exhausted and exhilarated by the end, but looked forward to getting back to the hostel for a shower. I felt sorry for the person sitting next to me in the bus.


We met up with the rest of the cycling team for dinner… I am not sure I have ever been more tired. I looked like I had been in a boxing match and was starting to feel the effects of cycling all day.. walking like a geriatric. More drinks and boogying ensued, before we fell into bed, shells of our former selves. All in all a fantastic couple of days. I have already booked into the hostel for next weekend.


Today was the first day of summer school… which I was dreading it – teamed with the serious Monday blues, and the residual effects of a huge weekend. However as today was a sort of festival day in Ecuador, only 12 kids (out of a possible 42) turned up.. so it was fairly relaxed. I am praying the same happens tomorrow…


Best be off, its 8.30 and approaching my bed time. Crazy



June 16, 2009

I have just got back from a rather odd weekend.

When I first signed up to this, I ticked all the boxes for ´additional activities´ failing to read the small print as to what these ´additional activities´ entailed

Last weekend was the ´adventure weekend´ in Mindo (the ´cloud forest´), and also the local elections in Ecuador – which means a dry weekend. You cannot buy booze or drink in any restaurants, bars, clubs…. you get the idea.

We set off for Mindo at sparrows fart on Saturday and arrived around midday to our rustic hostel.

The first ´adventure´ activity was ´tubing´ – which I think sounds like something rather rude. Anyway I donned a pair of shorts and let my luminously white legs be the source of entertainment for the locals. I was handed an extremely sexy helmet and a soaking wet life jacket – and I have to say I have never looked hotter. Our guides introduced themselves, and pointed to our home for the next hour; a set of rubber tubes tied together with strings set upon some rapids.

As I gingerly stepped into the water, which was like ice –  it started to rain. ´Hmm is this going to be fun?´ I thought…. Off we went.

We bobbed along on the rapids, with our guides trying to enhance the experience and instil some sort of fear. I was too cold to feel anything and so were the rest of the team. Frankly it was miserable, the helmet covered my entire head, as I held on to the ropes for dear life whilst being repeatedly thrashed in the face by freezing cold water. Though, it was mildly entertaining watching the rest of the group grappling around and slowly turning blue all in the name of ´gnarly´ adventure.

We returned to our hostel in search (and need) of a hot shower, but found none. I relaxed for a few hours in a hammock which was much needed. Supper came and we found a fairly decent restaurant, but as mentioned… no booze at all. I was rather distressed. We returned to our hostel with our tails between our legs and decided to play drinking games with the one bottle of vodka we had brought with us… which was a little weird given there were 5 in the team (1 chico, 4 chicas) plus our Ecuadorian guide (who also works for GVI)… Trying to play ´I have never´, whilst not citing anything rude was a particularly hard task. Needless to say we were in bed very early.

Sunday morning, and the next ´adventure´….. canopying. This consisted of whipping through the forest on zip wires. On arrival we were given harnesses, weird gloves and sexy hard hats. There were about 10 wires in all, some 500 meters in length.

The first wire came, I was like a petrified rabbit standing on the ledge, wondering what the hell I was doing, but it was too late to pull out and I did not want to look like I was not down with gnarly adventures, because obviously I am… I screamed like a pig, but I loved it.

This continued for the remainder of the morning with each wire getting a little harder and little more interesting…. After we had all come a touch accustomed to winging along through the canopy’s, the guides spiced it up a little by offering the chance to do a ´superman´ or ´mariposa´(butterfly). Olu, the token guy, said he would be interested in the superman. I think he may have regretted this decision. No sooner had he agreed, he was asked to back into the male guide, lie horizontally and wrap his legs around the torso of the guide…. It looked wrong, very very wrong. But I think he sort of enjoyed the experience….

Following which one of the American chicks opted to do a ´mariposa´. Similarly she had to lie down facing the male guide, the male guide then stood in between her legs and off they went. Whilst zipping along the wire, the guide was opening and closing her legs supposedly to simulate the movement of a butterfly… whilst she was screaming ´Oh my GOD, oh my GOD, oh yes´; out of fear allegedly. I think the guide was in heaven.

Needless to say I was extremely happy that I did not have to endure this on a hangover.

Two weeks are left of actual school, following which the teachers leave for their summer holidays and summer school commences… this means I am in charge. Oh dear God…!?

Chicken Dance

June 5, 2009

So the first week of teaching unaided is over..! I can´t believe I have been here 3 weeks already. Blimey I am exhausted.

I spent the majority of last weekend lesson planning, hopeful that I had created enough worksheets to keep the little blighters busy for a few days, but unfortunately they got through the work I set pretty quickly. The week was pretty full on and just exhausting, the teaching day finishes at around 2ish, but when you get up at 6am – by 2pm it feels like a whole day has gone by, but no…. still hours of lesson planning and Spanish lessons to go, followed by a the still-so-awkward dinner with my host family. I still can´t really put together a sentence, rather speaking in broken infinitives… but for the most part I get the point across. (with ALOT of gesticulating)

Monday was the ´day of the child´ in Ecuador, the other schools that GVI work in had organized a day of fun, but the principal at our school wanted us to teach instead….however we had an impromptu afternoon of fun, which was very entertaining. The kids had to dance together balancing a tomato between their foreheads. They took to this task extremely competitively, not giving up until the tomato was no more and running down their faces. Much dancing ensued, with the little girls grabbing their partners – not letting go for love or money. And I was happy not to have to teach to be honest.

The rest of the week was pretty full on, with various little drama´s along the way. In the community that I work in there was a wedding, which means that the whole community drink non-stop (LITERALLY) for 5 days. On Wednesday morning following the hideous (but beautiful) walk to school… sweat pouring down my face, finding it hard to breathe (due to the altitude, not my fitness levels obviously..) I was offered a beer by a toothless local wife. Bear in mind it was 7.45am and I was about to see my breakfast for a second time. Following which, the playground area was littered with locals, amazingly inebriated and into heavy petting. Wonderful role models. This behavior continued all week, to be honest I would have liked to join in, especially when the local toothless men were staggering around with a half dead chicken (apparently a local custom), but I am not sure that GVI would have been too happy to see a teacher drinking before class. Ah well, next time.

This brings me to my next observation…. Boots (the chemist) should shoot their next sunscreen advert in Ecuador. The reason for this is that the locals obviously do not wear any type of factor to protect their skin and as such look amazingly old when in fact they are probably the same age as me. Along with which I am not sure they have access to toothbrushes as many people have little or no teeth (and this is not just limited to the oldies), which again adds years on. I am desperate to get a close up foto with my digi (HB, AJH!) as their faces are so expressive but feel that this may be a touch rude. Am working on my approach.

This weekend most of the other volunteers are heading to Quito, but I am going to hang out in Otavalo and try to have a ´tranquillo´ break, along with some lesson planning. God I am exciting. It is just very overwhelming teaching in another language without major preparation and I am not one to wing it, well not yet anyway.

And so, I must head home for another wonderful culinary explosion that is dinner with my family. I look forward to a weird soup, followed by a large plate of rice (the food of Ecuador) and some sort of leathered meat. I hope that does not sound rude, but the food of E is a touch different to home, but that is all part of the experience…

I am completely broken. As mentioned, this weekend was a 3 dayer (apparently a rarity)…. so on Thursday night, a group of us (6) bused it to the coast to a resort called Atacames. It appears that Atacames is a very well known holiday spot for Ecuadorians: though I think we choose the one weekend when the schools send their seniors for an end of term piss up…. Needless to say we were the oldest by a good few years and the only gringos.

It took us two buses to get to Atacames. We left Otavalo at 7.30pm and arrived in Quito around 10.00pm. Jumped on another bus at midnight – finally arriving in Atacames for around 6.30am. Nice. We stumbled upon some fairly decent huts by the beach and lubed up for a spot of cloud bathing. The climate by the beach is very humid and pretty hot all year round. Ecuador is split up into four areas really – Otavalo is in the central part, called the ´Sierra´- basically a strip of land that runs through the centre of E, and is VERY high, so it can get pretty chilly here, but it can also get very hot (I am sporting an amazing tshirt burn today). Anyway it was very hot and humid and not that sunny in Atacames – but it was nice to feel like I was on holiday for a couple of days.

The food in Atacames was amazing, all weekend we ate food from the local street vendors. Around $2 for a huge bowl of prawns and rice… and cooked right in front of you.

All in all it was a rather alcohol induced weekend – well for me anyway, I was keen to sample some of local cocktails and before long I was wiggling to the Latino musica. Latin America is all about the bootie.. the ladies of Ecuador are very curvy indeed and LOVE to show it off, sporting as little clothing as possible (in the costal areas anyway). I felt positively overdressed in jeans and a tshirt.

The girls tend to dance in a line facing each other – shaking and wiggling as much as possible – working up a serious sweat. But before long, boys intercept and before you know it all the chicas are paired off. We ended up dancing with quite a few young boys.. you can´t say no really as they come up and ask (felt a little like the days of the Capital VIP parties) all very very amusing though. The bar man in one of the seaside bars took a shining to us, and took myself and another volunteer on a wee pub crawl… very local and fun. Pretty much the same happened on the Saturday night… followed by 10 hours on a packed, EXTREMELY sweaty bus. Amazing on a hangover.

Yesterday I met my kids for the first time. The “commute” was amazing, after taking a local bus up into the hills surrounding Otavalo, I hiked up for another 30 mins or so; which in the altitude is pretty hard work. I worked up a major sweat but it does wake you up at 7am in the morning… The kids are adorable, with very cheeky naughty streaks as well. Teaching so far has been very overwhelming as my Spanish is still extremely basic, but the volunteer I am taking over from was there too – so it was nice to have a slightly easier transition. It’s very overwhelming teaching in Spanish as I don´t have much vocab yet – but I am getting there… albeit VERY slowly. Our days are packed and non-stop starting at 6am… teaching all morning from 8am until 1.30pm, followed by either food shopping for the schools, Spanish lessons, and lesson planning – sometimes all three. This is much more work than I envisaged and it can be pretty lonely at times – but hopefully it will get easier as my Spanish improves.

Tomorrow I am taking over teaching, so I am preparing for a sleepless night tonight.

Hasta Manana

Como te va?

May 20, 2009

So a few more details perhaps… Otavalo is a fairly large rural town (about 3 hours from Quito – capital of Ecuador) with an amazing market that attracts quite a few tourists “apparently”, though I am yet to come across any other gringos (obvioulsy apart from those with GVI) . As I am´rubia´ (Espanol for blonde) and somewhat of a scarcity in the big E, people openly gape – which is a bit off putting (wierdly the men often hiss at women… apparently this is translated as ´hey baby´ or something like that. As you can imagine this is extremely endearing… mmm)

I am finding it all pretty hard to be honest, so far this week I have done 16 hours of one-on-one Spanish and am finding it pretty tough… I forgot what learning a language is like… hundreds of verbs / tenses –  regular and hundreds of  irregular… how I am meant to pick this up and begin teaching next week is still somewhat of a mystery. I have just about grasped basic conversation…. though meal times with my host family are still amazingly awkward. ´Monica´ my host mother tends to stare at me, while I grapple with a cremated piece of leather, while asking a few questions that I can´t answer, other than ´no se´( I don´t know) … however they are extremely nice.

Fortunately there is another English chick staying in the house with me. We are really lucky as our home-stay has hot water – many of the others don´t.. so quite a lot of the other volunteers only manage showers every couple of days or so…

The people of ´Otavalo´ are generally very friendly.. many of the women wear traditional dress: frilly embroidered shirts, long black skirts, masses of gold necklaces and long plaited hair. The men dress in a more western way – though some of the older men have long plaited hair and wear felt hats… I love that a sense of tradition is still so strong here.

GVI (Global Vision International) work in 4 communities based around Otavalo. Each school is pretty hard to get too, for example I will need to catch a bus for 30 mins, taking me higher into the hills, then hike for about 40 mins to get to my school….. for 8am. (Though apparently the countryside is amazing, so I am looking forward to it)

This week there is a inter-school football match between the 4 schools that we work in, which means that the volunteers get Friday off, this has never happened before (generally we work pretty hard during the week, planning each day of lessons and essentially running our classes on our own) So we are planning to head to the coast for a long weekend, we were throwing the idea of Columbia around, but unfortunately none of the places worth going to, are near enough to attempt in a weekend. Booo.

Next week I begin the handover for my class… I am dreading it.

It is refreshing not to have to worry about what clothes you wear each day, how your hair looks and whether to wear make up or not. All the volunteers look pretty ropey.  I am embracing it!


My new home….

May 17, 2009

Phew.. I´ve made it to Ecudaor.. despite turning up at the wrong Heathrow terminal. After a pretty horrendous couple off flights (Note to self  – never fly Iberia again) the second of which I was sandwiched next to an extreemly smelly Ecuadorian chap who insisted that I repeat the Spanish alphabet after him,loudly,for the majority of the flight. All I wanted to do was sleep – but I thought it rude not to oblige.. Finally landed on Friday night at Quito, and located my name on a board hough only after having to borrow a phone from a kind local. I was then dropped at ´Villa Nancy´ and went to bed at the early hour of 7pm..

Picked up the next day by the charity bus (GVI) and made the rather long trip to Otavalo. Stopped on the way and checked out the equator tourist stuff…

On arrival in Otavalo I met my host family who are extreemly nice – though do not speak a word of English and after I had churned out my prepared Spanish speech, supper was fairly awkward… !

Tomorrow I begin a week of intensive Spanish lessons…. looking forward to being able to converse with my host family. Next week I start teaching. Oh Dear GOD

Over and out


April 30, 2009

Heres a blog so that you can keep us all filled in on your goings on…

Thought about getting you some sort of journal…but hey, online is where its at! This way although you’re gone…you won’t be forgotten!

Enjoy…Matt x