Travel Bursary Trip – Ecuador
On the 5th June 2011 my friend Beth and I went to Ecuador in the Amazon rain forest for two weeks
as volunteer English teachers. In those two weeks I had a great and wonderful experience that I will
remember forever. Not only was it educational as I learnt a lot from the country’s culture and
customs, but it helped me to become more independent as a person and appreciate what I have.
We started our journey at Manchester Airport early hours of morning on Sunday 5th June. I was
excited and a bit nervous at the same time. I hadn’t travelled outside of Europe before and had
never been on a flight longer than 4 hours so I was a bit scared about being on a plane and in the air
for over 10 hours. As soon as we boarded the plane I felt more relaxed, it was more spacious than I
had imagined it was going to be and a lot more comfy too. As soon as we set off the television in
front of us came on which distracted me from thinking about the time.
We finally arrived in Atlanta to get the connection flight to Quito the capital of Ecuador. Everything
ran smoothly and we were off again to the next destination. When we got to Quito we were greeted
at the arrival lounge like we were told by Real Gap, the taxi man took us to our host family where we
were staying for the night. It was late when we arrived at the house but the family still greeted us
with a warm welcome and escorted us to our room where we went straight to sleep as soon as our
heads hit the pillow.
We had to be up early the next morning to get a taxi to the bus station where we were travelling to
the Amazon Jungle on a 5 hour bus journey. The journey didn’t seem too long as we were both
amazed and distracted with the views out the window, the only thing that was quite unbearable was
the heat, and there was no air conditioning at all on the bus so we had to manage with the odd
breeze that came when the bus stopped to let others on.
As soon as we got off the bus we were greeted by the volunteer leader called Jessie, she took us to
the jeep and headed off to the house where we were staying for the next two weeks. It was a very
bumpy ride which took us right into the middle of the jungle; the views were amazing on the way
down, even the photos I took didn’t give the place justice. We were greeted by the rest of the
volunteers who were all so friendly and nice. The house was bigger than I imagined and had an
amazing view. We were shown to our room which had mosquito nets hanging over our beds which
threw me off a little, we were told to be aware of spiders because they are some poisonous ones
around which started to make me panic and think about what I was putting myself in for. In the
house we only had 4 hours of electricity at night, so if we wanted the toilet in the middle of the night
we had to take a candle or torch with us to lead us the way which I found quite chilling as all I could
hear were insects and birds around the house.
We were up bright and early at 6am and we were at the first school at 7:30am, this is something that
I wasn’t use to so for the first few days I struggled to get out of bed. Breakfast was definitely needed
as we had to walk up hill for half an hour to get to the nearest bus stop. There are 6 different schools
in the town two of which they visit a day. The furthest school was an hour away on the bus; the
closest was about half an hour away which we would walk to as it was the opposite way of the bus.
The schools were very dirty and didn’t have many facilities inside them, most of them had decent
tables and chairs but some had to have classes outside on their dining room tables as they had no
spare classroom for their English lessons. The children were adorable and so friendly, their ages
ranged from 4 to 11. They would greet you with smiling faces saying “good morning teacher”, you
would get the occasional hug or hand shake off a few of the students which I thought was really
sweet. One of the schools would start their day with a morning assembly where they would line up
outside and do a routine which was lovely to watch. The school times started at half 7 in the
morning until half 12 in the afternoon. After one school day, one of the mothers invited us to their
house where she had made us all our lunch to say thank you for helping the children. I was really
touched by this as they didn’t have much to offer but still wanting to give us something. The food
was amazing, she had made us chicken and rice with vegetables and fried banana. The words fried
banana didn’t sound appealing to me but I was quite surprised because it tasted delicious. The
house that we were in only had 2 rooms, the kitchen/dining room and the bedroom where the
mother and her four children slept together. Their toilet was outside. I started to think how different
things were there compared to England, even with so little they are still so happy thankful for what
they have which made me feel more appreciated with what I have.
In the lessons the children were mostly well behaved, although some would just randomly run out
the class but it was normal for them as they did it in quite a few of their lessons with their normal
teachers. I was surprised that some of the schools had their own uniforms, although I found it quite
sad that you would see some of them wearing them at the weekend as they would have no other
clothes to wear.
The closest main town to us was called Puyo which was an hour away on the bus. We would go into
the town most days after school to get something to eat just to have a look around. We were lucky
to catch one afternoon a procession done by the local schools and villagers. It was great to see all
the different people wearing different outfits and dancing around to their traditional music. The
town was more modern than I thought it would be, they had quite a few internet cafés which I
thought they wouldn’t have but was very handy to be able to contact home. We had internet at
home through the volunteers lap top but the internet connection was very slow. It was nice to be
able to catch some of their traditions as the procession was amazing to watch.
We visited a few restaurants and cafés which had amazing and rich food, we tried local foods such as
empanadas (sweet pastries) and meat dishes which were all extremely delicious and also cheap.
There were a few gift shops that we spent most of our last day in buying gifts for people back home.
They had handmade baskets, handmade bracelets and necklaces made by the indigenous people, I
loved the bracelets, they ranged from different colours and the patterns were so pretty. Seeing as
Ecuador is famous for their cocoa beans I took a few bars of chocolate and also coffee bags to take
One weekend that we had free we travelled to another town close by called Baños. The weather was
quite dull and started to rain later on in the day so it limited us to what we could do there. It was
quite a touristic town and there were lots of activities to take part in such as horseback riding up the
volcano, quad bike renting, or white water rafting. It was a pity the weather wasn’t nice because we
really wanted to go horseback riding to see the volcano and to see the amazing views of Baños. We
checked out a few restaurants where we went for at lunch and tea. It was still relatively cheap in this
town; most meals would cost under $5 including a drink. We tried a Chinese restaurant for our tea,
the service was great and even the other customers in the restaurant were really friendly and
started to join us in conversation. The atmosphere in the town was really nice as everyone we met
were friendly and very helpful if we needed any information. After tea, we headed off to a few bars
and saw a bit of the night life in Ecuador which we both really enjoyed. There was a mixture
between their genres of music and English music from back home. It was nice to see how they spend
their weekends and to join them in it. Although most of the people in the town where Ecuadorian
we did meet a few Americans and English people out who were also travelling. We returned back
the following day as we had to be up early to start the next week of classes. The students were
having exams the following week so we were just giving revision lessons. We had our evenings after
school to plan our lessons for the next day. The lesson planning wasn’t as intense as the ones we
teach back home for our teaching practice module but because we haven’t taught children before
we had to make up a lot of short activities instead of a few long ones to keep the children motivated
and interested. We would usually have to teach 2 lessons each as there was 5/6 lessons a day per
school. The school sizes varied, one school had about up to 35 students and another would only
have 7 students. I enjoyed teaching the 6 to 7 year olds as they were more eager to learn and
concentrated more than the younger ones. They loved the activities we taught and were all
enthusiastic and motivated to join in. We taught them various songs to help them learn such as
‘head shoulders knees and toes’ and songs to go with the days of the week which they all got
involved in. In the higher classes we would teach them verbs, telling the time and seasons. They
would love to come up to the front and draw on the board so I tried to put a few activities a lesson
that got them doing that such as uniting the verb in Spanish to the correct English one. Some schools
provided dinners at the school; some would only get a biscuit and a drink. We were even offered
lunch at one school which I thought was really kind and found really tasty, most of their meals
contained rice and eggs as they were very cheap for them but they still tasted good. One school
offered us the drink that they gave to the children; it was warm condensed milk with oats in. I didn’t
particularly like it but the dogs didn’t complain when I secretly gave it to them.
Every Wednesday we would hold English classes in a local house for adults. This was a way for them
to have an opportunity to learn English as well as the children. The house was small and dirty and
hardly had any furniture but it was nice for Miguel whose house it was to let people come and take
part in learning English. The man I taught didn’t know much English but he was very eager to learn. I
felt more comfortable teaching him as I was use to teaching adults. The class would last from half 5
until 7pm. Afterwards we would walk into the main part of the village for a drink. There weren’t any
bars or cafés, we would be in the outside part of an old lady’s house who would cook everyone food
and serve drinks. After we had a few drinks the volunteers said we had a taxi home. We left the
house to the taxi which was a pickup truck. They weren’t like taxis back home where you sit inside
the car; we all jumped in the back of the pickup and got a ride home which was a lot of fun. Most
people had pickup trucks in Ecuador. Even the police did, you would see them driving past in the
morning at the bus stop with the back of the pickup full of children getting a lift to school, it was
mad to me, but so normal to them.
At the house we took it in turns to cook the main meal at night and took it in turns to wash up. I
thought this was a great idea as it got everyone involved and helped out around the house. Beth and
I when it was our turn made pasta with vegetables and sauce which everyone really enjoyed. I’d
never cooked for so many people before and rarely cook at home so it was a great experience to do
that. Once a week we would have our own chore to do, the first week mine was to brush and clean
the decks outside. Whilst I was doing this I looked up to find a huge tarantula in the corner of the
room. As long as it stayed there I was happy, but when I went to look the next day, it wasn’t there
which scared me a little to think where it was crawling to next.
When we had first go there the weather was brilliant, it was hot and there were hardly and clouds in
the sky. The other volunteers said this was unusual for it to stay so nice for so long. They were right,
it didn’t last long and after the third day it poured it down every day. It was still quite warm and
humid whilst it rained so we still didn’t need to wear many layers.
The two weeks went by so quickly; I really felt that it wasn’t long enough. We got the bus back to
Quito early in the morning where we stopped at the same host family. We had more time with them
this time so they took us to a local market where we bought our last gifts for people at home. They
made us an amazing tea which filled us both right up. They were a really nice family and we are still
keeping in touch with them now.
We were dropped off at the airport the following day by taxi where we were told that our flight had
been cancelled. Luckily they had booked us on to another flight the same day, we put our suitcases
into storage and went site seeing around Quito. We weren’t really bothered about the cancelation
as it gave us time to look around Quito and see the ‘Mitad del Mundo’ which was the middle of the
world where we were exactly on the equator. We tried some amazing local food (roasted guinea pig
and hog roast) and bought a few more gifts.
When it was time to get to the airport we got through security, had a look around the duty free and
other shops and went to wait at our gate. We were then told more bad news that the flight was
delayed, at this point we were getting tired as we had already waited 9 hours from the cancelation
to the next flight. We finally boarded 4 hours later which took us to a different airport in Ecuador
and again we got delayed. Finally we arrived in Madrid, but because we had been delayed we had
missed our connection flight to Brussels. They had to put us up for the night into a hotel near the
airport. Luckily we got it for free and also got a free dinner which we were happy about. The hotel
was really nice and the buffet meal was amazing. We had a bit of time to have a wonder around
before it got too late. We were up early again to get our flight to Amsterdam, but again to our luck it
was delayed again. By the time we got to Amsterdam we had missed our flight, again. It took us ages
to sort out or next flight back to Manchester, at this point we didn’t have a clue where our luggage
was and were so fed up and tired we just wanted to get back. We finally got a flight two hours later.
When we arrived in Manchester we were told that our luggage weren’t on the flight, that one of
them was still in Madrid and the other had come into the next terminal from a completely different
flight. We got to the next terminal and found out it was mine that was still in Madrid, I was that tired
that I wasn’t bothered and just wanted to go home and rest, luckily I got it the next day so it was all
If I was to go again I would definitely go for a longer period of time for like a whole month. I would
also love to go travelling a bit after such as to the countries nearby or the islands. I feel that Real Gap
didn’t give us enough information as to what to take with us. We definitely needed wellingtons
which we didn’t have but luckily they had some to lend us. We shouldn’t have taken suitcases
especially the size we had; rucksacks would have been more suitable. They didn’t tell us that we
needed to sort our own airport transfers out for the way back.
This was a great experience for me and I loved every minute of it and would definitely go back again.
It was also a great experience for my teaching as I had never taught children before which I
thoroughly enjoyed. I felt that my Spanish had improved as all the children and people who lived in
the village didn’t speak English only Spanish so it was a great way to practice my Spanish; I made the
most of this great opportunity. This trip has given me the bug to go travelling all over the world and
hopefully I will be able to soon. It was such an amazing opportunity for me and I was very lucky and
thankful for UCLAN to have funded me as I would not have been able to go otherwise. It has also
helped me to be more confident for my third year at university where I will spend a year out
teaching in Spain. I am now more confident with my teaching skills, lesson planning and knowledge
of the Spanish vocabulary and speaking.