Volunteer & Travel – 2017
(Featured Image is by me – visit http://ubeci.org/site/donate-now/ to support the cause)
The last time I volunteered for an extended time was in 2012, at Christopherus Orphanage (Semarang, Indonesia). Unfortunately I can’t seem to find my online blog of this experience. Christopherus orphanage is a female orphanage which facilitates orphans from kindergarten age until university age. They are from Semarang and the neighbour cities of Semarang in Indonesia. I was volunteering at the orphanage for five weeks to inspire and be inspired. My responsibilities were assisting the children in getting ready for school, their daily chores, preparing meals, cleaning and assisting them with their homeworks. I also had the opportunity to teach them basic English, build relationships, share stories and hopefully I have inspired them in some small way.
It was an experience that changed me, the way I live, and the trajectory of my life.
Thoughts and reflections before I start my eight weeks volunteering in Quito, Ecuador.
A few months ago when life was going well (or so I thought) something raised up to the surface, I felt the rat-race of Sydney was suffocating me, but at the time I had Canberra as my temporary escape every so often. I thought my career has reached a point of comfort and happiness, but then I thought what am I doing? Then a personal attack on me at work became the final nail on that coffin.
Things that happened many months ago were leading me to this path, things continue to fall into place like they all meant to be, confirmations after confirmations, this is what I need to do – everything has a purpose or a lesson.
Why not volunteering with children again? I have done it and I’ve learned what I needed to learn. Furthermore, in 2016’s TEDxSydney, I had the opportunity to listen to Tara Winkler passionately shared “Why we need to end the era of orphanages” (must watch: TEDxSydney). While not all orphanages are as described, this is the majority, we must end voluntourism! Use the kindness of your heart by supporting and donating to organisations that focus on improving the quality of families, micro-finances, and ultimately ending poverty.
In Quito, I will be volunteering my time in an NGO’s office of UBECI Foundation; I am hoping to understand the inner-working of NGOs, and learn whatever I can. I will also attend a Spanish class hoping to improve my broken Spanish.
Sunday 29th October 2017. The 5am miracle started with only two hours sleep, not responding to four set of alarms, woke up only because of the honking downstairs – it was my airport pick-up. Finished packing, brushed my teeth, and ran downstairs – all in less than 10 minutes.
Arrived at the airport at 6am half-asleep, perhaps still intoxicated from the night before (two Austrians and one Australian walked into a bar to celebrate our last night in Peru), and somehow I managed to waltzed through the priority check-in.
I thought I was having 13 soles breakfast then realised everything in Lima’s international airport is in U$. Thirty minutes free WI-FI to tell my loved ones I’m alive and on the way to Ecuador.
Arrived in Quito feeling exhausted, saw my name at the arrival hall, about 45 mins drive to my host family with another South American’s race-car diver (they go about 25km above the speed-limit) and the lack of GPS means that we got lost. Pro-tip: tell the drivers a landmark relative to where you need to be; in Lima, my taxi driver didn’t even know where Lima’s biggest art museum was.
My host-mother, Marlene, is friendly and kind, showed me my room and I retired for the afternoon. I woke up shivering and before I can snuggle under ten layers of blankets I thought I should take a shower; I was shocked by the freezing cold water in the shower! Before I break down and cry, I whipped out my baby wipes and tried to clean myself as much as possible. I slept for a few more hours then it was time for dinner. I met the rest of my host-family, the father Orlando, the daughter Anita and the son Nico. The daughter is studying journalism and we had a good chat in English. The younger son showed me his superheroes collection, and my Spanish was good enough for him.
Good news – the water is not normally freezing cold (it is normally just cold) the hot water system was broken and it should be fixed within 24 hours. In Ecuador, they use electrical hot water systems, and I will need to learn the art of express shower. I will need to find a hairdresser to wash my hair once a week – I know you are judging me right now but have you seen the thickness and length of my hair – it’s usually a laborious hour of effort to wash and dry.
I thought I was escaping Sydney’s extended winter spell but I have thrown myself into additional weeks of coldness, and without the luxury of a heather.
I’m slowly adjusting; “despacio” on the road means “go faster” in Peru & Ecuador (totally being sarcastic here – I’m sure Justin Bieber have told you what “despacio” means) so similarly, I will have to go faster in adjusting to the lifestyle here.
Monday 30th October 2017. Today was the orientation day with two other volunteers; one girl will be teaching English for two weeks and one guy will be doing NGO support for six weeks. Our day ended with a tour of the local neighbourhood, there is no map as this is the suburban area (good luck to me!); North of Quito is the business district also known as the gringo district as that’s where most of the tourists and foreigners are, Old Town Quito is the touristic area (a map is available), and South Quito is the family area (this is where I’m staying and volunteering).
Tuesday 31st October 2017. Before we start our volunteering time in the office, we were exposed to one day at the market where all the hard work is. I am volunteering for UBECI Foundation (website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn), the only NGO in South Quito working with underprivileged children; the organisation focuses on providing education, health supports, and play time for children aged 1 to 17.
It was an exhausting day; we carried the equipment (including toys, books and tents) on the bus for about 45 minutes, set it up in the car-park of the market (it’s a different market everyday), and kids were running to the teachers and volunteers with the biggest smiles on their faces. The day started with a bit of education then followed by games. The afternoon group is bigger than the morning group because there are kids that do have the privilege to attend schools in the morning. They are taught hygiene by washing their hands and faces before study and play. They are taught to be tolerant to each other by sharing toys, there are arts and crafts, ball games, and most importantly they are taught to be kids.
Wednesday 1st November 2017. Today is the first day of what my days will be like for the next eight weeks. Two hours of a Spanish class in the morning, WiFi time (there is none at home), lunch then 4 hours of administrative tasks; Tuesday to Friday. The weekends are for exploring Quito and surrounding towns and mountains.
Thursday 2nd November 2017. Today is a public holiday in Ecuador to celebrate All Souls’ Day when all cemeteries are open for the day. I spent the day having one of the most delicious BBQ and choclo con queso (corn cobs with cheese) to celebrate Geo’s uncle’s birthday.
Then I found out that “no hot water in Quito” is a lie! Thank you to Geo’s generous family, I had a good hot shower, and I managed to wash my hair too.
Friday 3rd November 2017. Today is also a public holiday in Ecuador to celebrate Independence of Cuenca. We spent the morning in La Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), lots of scientifically fun things to do that made my heart flipped and cartwheeled. We cracked an egg that was meant to stand on a nail – this is scientifically possible because gravity is the strongest on the equator line than any other place on Earth.
For lunch, I learned to suck a small juicy mango – it’s very fibrous so it’s not for eating. Then we ate bananas only 5 seconds after they were plucked from the tree.
I was standing on both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere; someone actually figured out this line before any modern technology. We can be in two places at once – I can be a person of balance, both introvert and extrovert, both nerdy and cray cray, I can love both quietness and parties, I’m a hurricane and a sunshine; I’m one who can’t be stereotyped.
As much as I want to settle down, I don’t. “I don’t want to settle down with you. I want to take off with you – to far-away countries, foreign landscapes…” – a quote from a book I was recently reading.
A bit more from that chapter from Heidi Priebe’s book, “…When I strap on a backpack and head to the airport, I want you to be boarding that plane with me. You’re the person I want to get lost with, set up camp with, stumble through dark streets with at 5am after a long, rambunctious night in a city that we can’t pronounce the name of.”
Oh and I videotaped how water flushes differently on different side of the world; Australia and Ecuador.
Saturday 4th November 2017. Being away from home, without the usual comforts, I’ve come to realised what’s the most important to me. It’s not a comfortable bed or bedroom because I’m currently living in a bedroom of two bunk beds and I wake-up with sore neck but not physio-sore yet. It’s not about fancy restaurants because I’m really craving for the street food people are not letting me buy. It’s not about make-up because I’m on moisturiser and sunscreen only; my eyebrows need a bit of attention though. It’s not about expensive cars because I just rode in the back of a ute with 8 other adults & children. The most important thing to me is a long hot shower where I can scrub my whole body and thoroughly clean my hair – that’s about the extent of my must-have comfort.
One of the many benefits of being adopted by a local family (thanks Geo for lending me your family) is being able to swim under a waterfall that is within a private property, and finally able to eat on the side of the road in a tent restaurant.
I’m enjoying Pedro Vicente Maldonado, the place where you put both sunscreen and mosquito repellent regularly – lots of mosquito repellent at night!
Enjoying the sunset from a rooftop; not a rooftop balcony or bar, we literally climbed onto the house’s rooftop. The view is just breathtaking.
Sunday 5th November 2017. Lazy day Sunday. We missed the church service Geo’s family usually attend. Instead, I’m practicing my Spanish, the family is so gracious by using simple words, speaking slowly, letting me use single words and not sentences, and correcting my Spanish graciously.
Monday 6th November 2017. After a few days of hot showers, I’m back to cold showers at the host-family’s house. I started the day with trying to sort out my local SIM card for some internet at home so I can Facetime my adorable nephew. Then I ventured out to North Quito by catching a trole; a trole is a long bus attached to cables like a tram with specific stops like a train. On the way home, I realised I didn’t see the destination so I got off after one stop but unfortunately the next one was extremely full, and the next one too – squashed like sardines.
Tuesday 7th November 2017. Back to the routine; Spanish class in the morning, lunch, then work, work, work.
At some point I may have to give up on finding an Australian organisation/foundation that may provide aids/grants to a Latin America NGO. Most of the ones I have found are based in U.S. or U.K.
Wednesday 8th November 2017. Spanish class is getting tougher with four pages of homework. Today was proven to be exhausting with a terrible sleep last night – I managed to have a dream within a dream, being strangled and nothing less, and I was trying to wake myself. My roommates woke up but didn’t wake me up but patiently listened to my screaming/crying – I have told them to wake me up next time – I thought I was going to die.
In the office, one of the other volunteers told me the meaning of dying in a dream – interesting.
I cleaned the spreadsheet for aids/grants previously investigated, contacted or applied for, and not surprisingly my inner-process-manager took over and created a workflow for the spreadsheet. I created a process for following-up on organisations and foundations previously contacted – it is challenging to maintain contacts when on average the volunteers are only here for 2 weeks.
Thursday 9th November 2017. Four hours of work doesn’t go a long way when there is plenty to read; we need to determine whether or not a grant is suitable for UBECI, moreover whether or not our values and goals are aligned to those values and goals held by the foundation we are applying the grant from.
Friday 10th November 2017. Applied for another grant today; I think my rate of applying grants is one per week.
After work, a bunch of us went to La Ronda which is a street of restaurants and bars,
Salsa and Latino music – Descpacito and Bonita. The girls felt like a session of karaoke and somehow we impressed a table to leave; it’s not a private karaoke room like in Sydney but rather a room with tables, we ordered songs on a piece of paper, the lyrics come on against videos on climate change (…I know!), one huge speaker, one microphone and a bunch of screaming girls.
Saturday 11th November 2017. Pass on the knowledge and experience – learn how to get a bus ticket and catch an interstate bus. This is one of the benefits of volunteering for young people who travel alone; the volunteers who have been here longer showing the ropes.
Armed with three other volunteers, I ventured out on 3hr bus ride to Baños. During the bus ride, my thoughts were:
- How will I do a 10hr bus ride to Cali, Colombia? I need another person to look after my bags while I visit the bathroom
- How do they charge U$4.50 for a 3hr comfortable bus ride? It was a coach with WiFi & a toilet.
It’s all relative, right? If both breakfast and 3hr bus ride cost the same as it is in Ecuador, Sydney to Canberra bus ride should cost about $10, and not over $40.
Sunday 12th November 2017. Our first day in Baños was a massage and a visit to Casa del Arbol. Our second day was much more exciting. After a morning of a rushed tour of waterfalls in Baños (the highlight was Cascada Manto de la Novia and Cascada del Diablo), we did a 2hr white-water rafting.
I have written this before, my fear of height have disappeared, and today I realised my fear of drowning have disappeared too. We were rafting from 10am until 12pm, I remember holding tight to a rope on my first rafting trip, and with similar fear on my 2nd & 3rd. On this trip, I figured if I’d go overboard, there’s a whole boat of people who will try to rescue me, including the guide, and another guy on a kayak; everyone with ropes. Heck, I’m wearing a life vest! Float with your feet up facing the water-flow.
I’ll be fine.
The girl in front of me fell half-way-overboard, I grabbed her life vest and we are all good. I thought that’s it for the trip – there has to be at least one from every boat, from every trip. Hold and behold, three minutes before we reach the finish line, grade 5 rapids (although our guide trying to tell us it was a grade 7… I think it was more of a grade 4 or 4+) and the boat was tipping over to the left and everyone was ready to just accept that we are flipping over. The lesson here is don’t just accept it, the people on the right-handside were meant to put extra weight to the right. Fortunately it was just me who went overboard. One tip before you try rescue someone, make sure your hands are free (store away your tools and weapons); slightly bruised nose – nothing is broken. Other damages include sore butt from smacking a rock on a slide across a river and sore arms from the “…más fuerte!” paddling. Our guide screamed “…más fuerte!” for the whole trip.
Staying another night for a bigger bed, my own bathroom and listening to my own voice. Strong hot water to wash my hair. Most importantly I have no energy for 3hr bus today after yesterday’s I’m-almost-sick bus ride.
Monday 13th November 2017. One thing I have learnt with an extended holiday, I need to remember that it is a holiday so I slept-in today, followed by a complete breakfast (omelette, empanada, latte & juice) at a local cafe near the market for U$6 while the cafe near the hostel charged us U$5 for tea and cookies.
I enjoy people watching and listening to locals – my ears need lots of practice! Most of the non-locals I’ve met in the last 3 days speak a good-level of Spanish in the short-time they have been in Ecuador.
Since I’m staying in a hostel (a private room & bathroom – oh life’s little luxury), the people I’ve met are young and have been traveling for a while or about to embark on a long journey (pun intended). There was a couple who met a month earlier, found their common ground in their love of alcohol and other things, and they have been travelling together. Since they were high and drunk most nights, I was surprised on how well-educated they are, the girlfriend has a double-degree in Finance and Management while the boyfriend has a degree in Finance; they both realised they need the year off to realise what they want – a very wise decision!
Tuesday 14th November 2017. Making some progress with our grant applications, I have applied for two grants, each took almost a week lapse-time because some of the information required are not available in one place or I had to recreate the numbers in a format that is required. Before any applying activities, I must research and research – lots of reading.
Wednesday 15th November 2017. Planning for my trip to Colombia is proving to be challenging. The Colombian cities are far apart, my options are plane (expensive) or bus (10-20 hours), where are the trains?
At work, I created a one-page of “How Can I Help?” for ex-volunteers; mostly simple activities via social media platforms.
Thursday 16th November 2017. Spanish class feels a little long today, maybe because I haven’t had enough time to practice (a.k.a. do my homework). The key challenge is the lack of WiFi at home because one crazy bureaucracy where the volunteer organisation won’t allow the family to give us access/password with the excuse of “domestic internet”; it doesn’t stop some people from obtaining access though. For the record, domestic internet’s speed is sufficient. The dangerous part is that after dinner, in the dark, some volunteers would head to the mall to use the free WiFi.
The craziest part is that WiFi was advertised as a feature for the accomodations.
I have been missing out on my daily Duolingo session, as well as the YouTube video homework from the Spanish teacher – my listening skill is horrendous.
At work, I’m working on creating a document defining roles for volunteers; clarity is needed for both UBECI and the volunteers. At the moment, admin volunteers would come in, look at a list of activities and do as they wish day-to-day, the chosen activities may or may not be the most urgent for the organisation. The same activities may be done by multiple people, and the least sexy activities done by no one. The roles will be based on social media, grant research and application, university liaison, businesses liaison, and finance reports; and UBECI Director will let the incoming volunteers know which role is most urgent, and the subsequent roles.
Friday 17th November 2017. As we are approaching Christmas, it means that more volunteers are finishing up their time at UBECI, to return to their families. Last Friday we said goodbye to Chloe and Amy, and today we are saying goodbye to Robert and Carter; it’s another night in La Ronda.
Saturday 18th November 2017. This weekend was an experience of painful ears and struggling to suck-in oxygen, it was an experience of Cotopaxi. I wanted to give up every three minutes but then I remembered what one of my diving instructors said, go down one metre and equalise, so I go up one metre and equalise – I stopped at every 10 metres. I did eventually arrived at the refuge centre – at 4823m high!
Before Cotopaxi happened, we caught the wrong trole (it’s like a tram and a bus), had to back track a little, arrived at the correct bus interchange, caught a bus, got drop-off in the middle of a highway near the entrance – even though Cotopaxi is a popular destination, there isn’t a bus going there directly. It was about another 10 mins walk to the entrance so we accepted a ride from who we thought was a tour guide; we eventually figured out that he wasn’t a proper guide so we pretty much paid too much for essentially a driver. After the climb, we got drop-off in the middle of the highway again, stopped a bus, arrived at another bus interchange, caught a bus to Quilotoa and we were told it’s one town away from our accommodation in Chugchilan and we would be able to catch a taxi for $10. The bus actually stopped one town before Quilotoa therefore our taxi will be $20, but we managed to bargained it down to $12.
After all the challenges, we arrived at the Hostal Cloud Forest and were in time for the 7pm communal dinner – it is such a good idea to connect travellers.
Sunday 19th November 2017. We were told that Quilotoa is still an active volcano, it last erupted on 1218, and now the crater is filled with water. The hike down to the crater was steep and challenging. We got there eventually, enjoyed a rather expensive chicken BBQ (for Ecuador) then a 30-min kayak around the lake – or as far as you can paddle. It was lots of fun with a tiny bit of fear as the wind gained speed.
On the way back up, we rode a horse. I am not trying to prove my strength or the lack of – even the horses were struggling, they were panting and sweating. The horses were whipped with a tree branch every few minutes, it breaks my heart a little, and I finally figured out that if I make small noises, my horse would move before the guide whip her backside.
Monday 20th November 2017. After the 6am bus from Chugchilan to Latacunga then another bus from Latacunga to Quitumbe, then trole from Quitumbe to Recreo – we are home!
Got my nails done with pretty designs for U$5 (including manicure). Then I got my eyebrows threaded for U$8. I finally feel a bit more feminine especially since I did wash my hair yesterday during a rare 30min HOT shower.
Tuesday 21st November 2017. Two of us got into trouble for carefully reading the volunteer agreement. The Director asked why we were not at the 8:30am Tuesday meeting, we said that we were told by the volunteer coordinator that it was only required for our first week, and we haven’t attended the subsequent Tuesdays. Our volunteer agreement says that if we wanted to go to the markets and work with the children, we must attend the 8:30am Tuesday meeting – well… we have not been going to the markets. The intention of that particular line was actually that all volunteers must attend the meeting, and the additional consequence for market volunteers is that they won’t be able to go to the markets if they don’t attend.
Guess what I had to do today… I had to re-write the agreement with additional clarity; also to remove the niceness in which the agreement was written. I have made it more succinct and clear. The original intention or meaning were lost when 100 words were used instead of 10 words that could had clearly articulated the intention.
Today’s joke was that the agreement was originally written by a Canadian; I was told by a Canadian that everything is “nice” in Canada.
Wednesday 22nd November 2017. Today was my first day without a Spanish class; I worked in the morning and then free time after 12:30pm. I head out to the city to get lost. But first, I was hungry and Mercado Central was just the perfect place. Is it me or is it everything here is either very salty or very sweet?
After randomly turning into streets and alleys, I stumbled upon the Carondelet Palace (Presidential Palace), and there was a tour starting in 10 minutes. It was very interesting to learn about the past and present presidents, the constitution, the usual gifts received from other countries, and to experience the podium where the president would address the public.
I recreated the Absence Request Form today. There is a serious need for admin volunteers to have some administrative experiences, otherwise, I think it creates more confusion and more work for UBECI.
My OCD-tendencies made me edit the Volunteer Handbook to ensure consistent language, consistent format, and added clarity. This is one of the many challenges within the administrative team – consistency across the volunteers that are here for a week or a month.
Thursday 23rd November 2017. We had an interesting discussion in the office today; we were asked to create another paper form for admin volunteers to complete on their last day. This manual paper form is in addition to the spreadsheet we already complete with tasks we completed on daily basis.
We concluded that some of the challenges are:
- Admin volunteers without any administrative experiences
- Admin volunteers not completing the spreadsheet and therefore the director has no visibility of tasks completed or outstanding
- The organisation’s comfort zone is within paper forms
- Lack of volunteers for administrative tasks (I will be by myself for 2 weeks then it doesn’t look like there is anyone after me, after Christmas)
Tomorrow is the last day for two of my roommates, Reagan and Camille, so instead of a Friday night visit at La Ronda, we spent our last night together at Pim’s Panecillo. A fancy restaurant with a great view of Quito’s lights and eventually fogs.
Friday 24th November 2017. Instead of going to Esmeraldas this weekend, I will be heading to Otovalo. I was initially not interested in Otavalo as it is another town of markets, another town of souvenirs but I guess I can do another hike, another volcano and another crater. The alternative was the complexity of going to Esmeraldas: buy a bus ticket in advance by going to the bus stop (30mins each way), bring my own bedsheets as we were staying at a friend’s apartment, then 12 hours bus ride – all that for a beach that is not more beautiful than Bondi. Or Galapagos.
Trying to revamp the volunteers’s exit interview/survey; my first question is what are we getting out of these questions?
Saturday 25th November 2017. By now I should know that a “plaza” means a square instead of thinking of an actual building. Our question of where is Plaza de Ponchos was met with laughters as we were IN IT. Plaza de Ponchos in Otavalo is a sure-way to be overwhelmed by ponchos; ponchos are everywhere, turn right and left and right to be lost in a sea of ponchos. Saturday is the biggest market day. Street food tempting our stomachs at every corners.
The sun was still up so we ventured out to Cascadas de Peguche, a small waterfall near Otavalo town, 5mins by taxi or less than an hour walk. Wind and water equals soaking wet, with the dilemma of no change of clothes; packing light means the jeans I’m wearing is the only pants I have for the weekend. By some sun-miracle, my jeans dried up by the time we head back to town. No guides, blogs or humans told me to bring mosquito-repellent so I was their dinner tonight.
Sunday 26th November 2017. This morning was an 8am be still, quiet and know moment. Water flowing gently. Birds singing a song. Clouds briskly walking over the mountains. We were too early for the 9am boat ride around the crater, Laguna Cuicocha; another active volcano but with last eruption over 3000 years ago.
A bus from Otavalo to Quiroga ($0.25) then a taxi ride to Laguna Cuicocha ($3-5 depending on your negotiation skills).
You may or may not believe that everything happens for a reason but I’m one of those strong believers – everything happens for a reason or a lesson. We needed 10pax for the boat ride to start; there was 2 of us then a lady came, then before 9:30am, a group of 7 people came – the perfect 10!
The lady we met earlier did the “Wild Women” in Galapagos which included a 3-day kayaking in the ocean! Another superb inspiration of what my living younger will be like.
Monday 27th November 2017. I woke up early enough to say “hola” to sunrise and with the realisation of how much I really enjoy traveling solo. I have been more than blessed to do my weekend travels with other volunteers; I was always looking for someone to travel with. But being on the other side is when one realises that the grass is not greener on the other side. My craving to be alone is at its greatest at this point; it has been 4 weeks of being with people every single day.
Today is my visit the churches day. I started with a quiet reflection and prayer in a small peaceful chapel inside Santo Domingo.
A tour of Convento de San Francisco brought peace and awe, it has the same design and vibe as Convento de San Francisco in Lima. I enjoy sitting here in the quietness of its courtyard, just me. The courtyard boasts a variety of plants and birds as a reminder of life itself.
Compañía de Jesús is one beautiful church with a very rich history, ask for a tour (both in English and Spanish). It originally had 50kg worth of gold leaves/plating. The parts with shiny gold are restored parts, after the 1996 fire, and the dull parts are originals; it was interesting that they kept one of the 12 angels on the main ceiling darken with ashes as a reminder of the fire.
So it happened to be the start of the change of guards outside the church which is on the same street as the Carondelet Palace (Presidential Palace) . It’s every Monday and it’s an event! Lots of people in the park and I secured a seat in Fabiolita for a lunch of lamb stew and a glass of narajilla juice. Managed to hear the presidential address from the same podium and balcony I took photos from last week; I stood there imagining what it would had been like to address the masses.
Tuesday 28th November 2017. I want to practice my Spanish but with English-speakers in the office and at home, I’m borderline deciding to forego what I’ve paid for food and accommodation for the next 4 weeks, and move in with Geo’s family; simply so that I can practice my Spanish speaking and listening.
It is a difficult decision for me but I know exactly what FC would say I should do.
Currently reading AFR’s Philanthropy 50, researching for more Australian foundations that may provide funding/grants overseas, especially to South America.
In my effort to be alone, I went to Plaza Foch and spent a few hours reading at Republica del Cacao; it was recommended to me as the place to be (i.e. where cool people hang) but it was quiet and peaceful enough for me to finally finish We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
Wednesday 29th November 2017. I did what I absolutely love – take photos! I went to the market this morning and took photos of the children and their market activities; for future usage of the website and social media platforms. I have created a folder of essentially stock photos.
Thursday 30th November 2017. Photo editing – yes, it took 4 hours with the final 69 photos; hence it still feels like a needle piercing into my heart when someone thinks photography is just point and shoot. It’s time, sweat, blood, and tears; at times it’s heartbreaks.
I had a weird incident today when (presumably) a local asked if the trole was going to La Y station (the last stop on the line); at this particular stop all troles stop at La Y. Then he got off at Santo Domingo, he was behind me, heading to the same direction, until I stopped, turned around and stared at his direction. Hopefully that was nothing and I was merely being cautious; he did wake me up from my day-dream while I was waiting for the trole.
A quick lunch in the Basílica’s courtyard before I go in and experience all the grand-ness of Basílica del Voto Nacional. There isn’t much to see inside the church but the view from the tower is incredible; walk around the outside of the building was more mesmerising.
As part of the Quito Day celebration, we were at La Ronda tonight, and spent a bit of time watching Miss Quito; as usual, they dragged the event passed midnight but we left at midnight. With limited Spanish, we managed a conversation on the economy of Venezuela.
I couldn’t sleep and researched more on Venezuela.
Friday 1st December 2017. Finally I had a pretty good lunch in a nice setting, Hasta La Vuelta, Señor!, it was on a third floor of a rustic colonial building, Plaza Arzobispal which is in Plaza Grande. It was a U$16 which is not on the cheap side but for the live music, atmosphere, service, and Sangria, it was well worth it.
Teleférico, a 20mins cable-car ride that became a little bit more frightening as we got higher. Lucky I took lots of photos going up because when we reached the top, it was cloudy with zero visibility. We grabbed the only bottle of wine at the cafe, it was quite dusty, the price on the bottle was $17.99 but we paid $20.00 – I’m guessing it was the cost of inflation for a year or two that the bottle has been in the cabinet. The bottle is normally $6 at the supermarket so it’s not the greatest wine but we were very thirsty. While we were enjoying the wine, the sky cleared up and I had a 3min window to take photos.
We ended the day with drinks at Finn McCool Irish Pub in Plaza Foch, proudly owned by a Dublin local but it is nothing Irish inside so I was not disappointed of not meeting a leprechaun.
Quito day is on 6th December and the week leading up to it is full of fiestas; two locals offered to teach us play a traditional card game, La Cuarenta (40) – the newbies managed to win the first round.
Saturday 2nd December 2017. The morning started with a hangover; I’ve said it many times, “I’m too old for this s#1t!”. Still in the spirit of Viva Quito, we headed out to La Ronda for more fiestas; there were a boat load of people, bumped into people we know, and made new friends.
Sunday 3rd December 2017. Free concert out of the generosity of city of Quito. It started with two hours of opening acts, then finally the main act, Juanes. I barely heard the singer as his devoted fans around me were singing louder, into my ears. It was a very fun experience ended with fireworks in the field that probably fits 50,000 people. Now the interesting part as we were waiting for a taxi to go home, a Chiva party bus stopped in front of us instead, and we looked at each other – let’s do this! It’s more of an open truck rather than a bus, the music and dancing were superb, and we had a ton of fun. Our final stop was outside Basílica del Voto Nacional where vendors were selling a litre bottle of Canelazo for $3; this was perhaps my most risky undertaking.
Monday 4th December 2017. I found a new love! Oswaldo Guayasamín was a passionate Ecuadorian painter who cared deeply about arts and Ecuador; making sure that Ecuadorians have access to his works and art collections. He donated his house to a foundation in his name, he built La Capilla del Hombre that is filled with his works that he managed to keep in Ecuador. His paintings are as dark as those of Francis Bacon’s, they are full of the human’s hearts and minds; some works are similar to those of Picasso’s.
Tuesday 5th December 2017. Work went-by quickly today as I continue editing the volunteer handbook and continue my research of foundations in U.S.
Tonight is the main celebration before tomorrow’s Quito day. It is also a significant night because this week Jason and Marci will finish their volunteering time, I will leave for Galapagos tomorrow, and therefore this is our last night together. I think most of Quiteños were in La Ronda tonight; the vibe was amazing and the laughter was flowing. Another great night finalised with a slice of pizza.
Wednesday 6th December 2017. Saying hola Galapagos. The internet connection is so weak, I can’t update the time on my Fitbit, so I’ll just have to subtract an hour whenever I look at the time. The connection is so weak that I can’t research where to go, so I’ll have to ask the locals as well as friends sending me text format of websites – oh I love them! The connection is so weak that I can’t see photos (don’t even ask about videos) on Facebook or WhatsApp. The only thing that works is WhatsApp messaging.
The internet connection at the diving shops were better, and I did sign up for a dive for tomorrow.
Thursday 7th December 2017. Snorkelling with a sea lion was a mesmerising experience, never mind that the sea lion was swimming while I froze on the spot. They said that you can’t dive in Galapagos if you don’t have at least 40 dives on record because of the strong currents; there was someone with only 6 dives. My first dive in Galapagos was in this quiet spot, only about 12m deep, and I proved my calmness with the Dive Master that he let me joined for another dive in Gordon’s rock. Despite the strong currents and hugging rocks most of the time, we managed to swim with turtles, said hi to manta rays and spotted eagle rays, and a glimpse of hammerhead’s tail.
U$750 to make another attempt of my Open Water certification; everything in Galapagos are insanely expensive. I will wait for Bali for U$400, or maybe Colombia for U$550.
Friday 8th December 2017. Today started with a good coffee, eggs and a good book – 7% through Count of Monte Cristo. If you don’t know the book, its physical book is a metre thick, I’ve started and stopped reading it several times, but I was recently inspired by someone who’s halfway through it.
Walked along Tortuga bay today and had a moment of reflection; I’ve met some amazing people in this South American adventure. Peru: climbed Machu Picchu with the most friendliest Swiss couple in the tail end of their 11mth adventure, Austrian buddies who I met in Machu Picchu and partied with in Lima.
Quito has been filled with kind-spirited young friends, especially Raegan who’s 18, loves horses, tattoos, and being on time – my love language! It was a surprise for me to be able to build a friendship with someone young enough to be my offspring.
Weekends Ecuadorian trips: there was the young doctor who speaks English, German, French and Spanish, and was about to start his internship in Argentina; he was convinced that I’m his age i.e. 25. The wonder and depth of his mind was incredible.
There was the Californian guy who works in Alaska as a bus driver during peak-season and travel for at least 3 months every year; life is wonderful. While most of us are busting our balls to get 4 weeks holiday. I am yet to figure out what to do with this inspiration.
I learned of the situation in Venezuela from a guy at a bar in La Ronda; I got home and read most business articles available on the net.
Emergency Planning Specialist, isn’t that a cool job title? I thought that was cool enough to trust him with my life up in Telefríco. He dished insults and compliment like we have known each other for a decade plus one; a male version of me but less cute.
I met many people who quit their jobs and started traveling; reflecting and finding themselves again. Then the other group of people are couples who have been traveling for 6mth, 11mth, and 2 years; that’s a couple goal! “I don’t want to settle down with you. I want to take off with you – to far-away countries, foreign landscapes, gems and corners of the world that would only have looked half as amazing without you by my side.”
There were the two American pilots who are passionate about Trump – not really; but they are passionate about scuba diving. When you do the things you love, you are bound to meet other souls who love the things that you love. They have done over 300 dives and 150 dives, and there was me on my 5th uncertified dive; one of them convinced the Dive Master to take me on an additional dive, in a crazy-ass current. Sea lions, turtles, manta rays, spotted eagle rays, gazillion fish and the tail of a hammerhead. We had some interesting conversations on religions, politics and life over a lobster-dinner; I’m glad to report that we didn’t try to kill each other despite our topics of conversation. Again, the love of traveling is what collided our lives.
It was bound to happen that I also had the pleasure of meeting people who are in their own bubbles, and made me thank God for the hell I visited and escaped from; some may visited hell, escaped, and not learn. They could be 30, naive of what the world outside the boundaries of their bubble has to offer, and be oblivious of their fellow human. I simply judge one by their respect of my time, how long will they make me wait, and what they value as important. The conversations one bring is more important than the dress they wear. The games you don’t play is more important than the games you play.
The blue sky, turquoise water, white-blinding sun, old men iguanas, and the serenity of being with the person I love the most, me.
Saturday 9th December 2017. One of the lessons I have learned here is to pay for your accommodation one day at a time, in case you find a good deal on a cruise or you want to go to the other islands. I’m heading out to Isabela today, paid for accommodations both in Santa Cruz and Isabela.
After speaking to different tour shops, they told me to spend at least a night in Isabela since the ferry only run once in the morning and once in the afternoon; even though multiple companies run them, can’t they take turns?
Spent today doing Los Tuneles tour, saw penguins, sea lions, turtles, then snorkeled with different fish, a turtle, sea horses, and visited white tip sharks in their dark haunting cave; I’m pretty sure one woke up and stared at me!
My lesson learned, do a diving tour instead of a snorkeling tour, because my snorkeling tour was filled with people freaking out and crashing onto other people. It was a shallow water, about 2m deep but mostly 1m deep. Someone eventually crashed onto me, and I scrapped my knee onto the rocks.
We got back about 4pm, I was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to ride a bike and check out the flamingos.
Sunday 10th December 2017. They picked me up at 7:15am for exactly 8am hike of Volcán Sierra Negra. The total distance of the return hike is about 18km, and I had to be picked up by the ute for the last 15mins because of the blisters on my toes; my tour guide was in a hurry. Lesson learned is: don’t leave your hiking socks on the other island.
Hiking a volcanic mountain was a new experience for me. Then going down the crater with the challenging lava rubbles (small and sharp) was another unforgettable experience. It is the second biggest crater in the world – 10km in diameter. Imagine about 1000yrs ago this was melting hot.
Monday 11th December 2017. It’s 2 for 1 coffee at Cafeteria Proinsular but I ordered the Galapagos brunch which includes coffee, and of course I ordered another coffee anyway.
Today I had the dilemma of seeing more turtles and lava tunnels, more snorkeling, or just stay in bed.
After reading a few reviews, I managed to book a ride to Los Gemelos and El Chato turtle ranch & lava tunnels for tomorrow, on the way to the airport.
Today was pretty hot so I grabbed my snorkels and went to Las Grietas; I got to the third lagoons all alone and thought this is it, I’ll die and no one will know – it was quiet with no one around, massive rocks in between. I did a little hike for a soothing view of Academy Bay.
I had lobster for dinner last night, the trifling question is should I have another one tonight?
Tuesday 12th December 2017. Saying adios to Galapagos. It was zero-visibility at Los Gemelos so instead of seeing the depth of these craters, I saw the depth of their eeriness through the thick clouds. Most of the area have no barrier, and somehow I got lost despite being sure I followed the correct path to get back to the road.
It was less than 5 minutes drive, away from Los Gemelos, when we are under one clear blue sky – isn’t that funny?
I started my visit of El Chato tortoise ranch with walking through tunnels that required no crawling. It did require quietness to not disturb the odd owls that visit the tunnels. Then, it was tortoises everywhere! They fart and poop a lot, they make a growling sound when I walk toward them, and they retract their cute little heads.
After a taxi ride, it’s a ferry ride across the channel, and a bus ride to the airport; any of them could make you wait 10-20 minutes, so I decided to leave my hotel early this morning – early enough to be the only one at the tiny airport.
Wednesday 13th December 2017. Back to work today and struggling to edit UBECI’s website, how hard is it to make 3 buttons horizontal instead of vertical? Very hard when online instructions of Visual Composers showing options not appearing for our website. The person who created UBECI’s website is definitely knowledgeable but too many customisations that your average person can’t deal with.
Thursday 14th December 2017. Thursday is our hump day since we only work for 4 days, and this week I am suffering from the 7th week itch. It takes time to get used to incoming rejections, then the feeling of disappointment also comes to visit. “Unfortunately, your application for a grant has been declined.”
UBECI does great things for children at the markets, their program is much more structured than programs of other organisations I had been involved with. Other volunteers who have volunteered in other places have made similar comments. Their annual operating cost is only U$75,000 but so difficult to obtain because of no-government support nor tax-incentive for locals to support.
Friday 15th December 2017. I am sure many of you are aware that Star Wars: the Last Jedi is out this week so a group of us are out watching is at Plaza de las Americas tonight. The movie is in English with Spanish subtitle, and it’s in 3D! People came dressing up, and the details were done really well.
An interesting view was a man pissing outside the shopping centre; Plaza de las Americas is located in the up-scale North Quito. I’ve been snubbed about living in Sur de Quito (South of Quito) which is known as the poor side of Quito, and yet I don’t see this classy act around our hood.
Saturday 16th December 2017. Last night, we booked a last minute accomodation in Mindo Cloud Forest for a bit of relaxation away from the pollution. On the bus, I instinctively checked Google Map and realised we missed our ‘bus stop’ (it’s not really a bus stop, you just tell the bus driver to stop wherever you want to but this was a common spot). After walking up and down the street a few times with no luck of finding our accomodation, we got hungry, stopped at a restaurant with its BBQ fired up, called our accomodation, and the owner came to meet us.
The accomodation promised us a bath, but it ended up being a lost-in-translation scenario, they meant “bathroom”. After overcoming our disappointment of not having a bath in the middle of a forest, we signed up for a Frog Concert.
The Frog Concert at Mindo Lago started with an educational lecture and a small glass of wine. Male frogs sing to attract female frogs, they are beautiful sound, soothing and makes my heart smile. Equiped with torches or an iPhone’s minuscule torch, we walked around the property that is also a hotel and restaurant; a romantic dinner in the middle of the lagoon was being prepared, and mosquitos and bugs are complimentary. We saw more spiders than frogs, the guide asked us if we want the harmless spiders on us, hmmm.. yeah. nah.
We met a Quiteño girl at our accomodation, I adopted her into our traveling group. She joined us for the Frog Concert, she loves Tarantulas, so she was super excited at the opportunity of spiders crawling all over her, especially on her face!
Sunday 17th December 2017. We said that this was going to be a relaxing weekend but I was somehow tricked into going to a zip lining canopy. I am sure you know that I have a fear of height, I was about to back-out at the last-minute but our guide pushed me down the first zip-line. The second one was better, but the jerking stop at the end of each line was probably the worst thing. After ten zip-lines, I wanted more; I even attempted the Superman position (just like the name suggested, a horizontal position with arms wide-open) but there was no way I would try the Butterfly position (upside down).
Because we were a group of seven, they gave us a complimentary Tarzan swing. I was the second person to go on the swing, the first person showed me what to expect, and if i wait any longer, I would probably back-out. The guide pushed me (again!), I screamed but no sound came out. After the initial terror, the swing was actually relaxing.
So the weekend was relaxing, while zip-lining through 10 beautiful and fast courses, I looked around, breathe in the fresh air, and thought:
“May I never lose the wander… oh the wander of Your mercy…” (Matt Redman)
Monday 18th December 2017. After a rough night of jacuzzi and fun, it ended with a good breakfast this morning, then we go back to Quito.
Coming back to Quito is still tough for me, actually it probably got worse every time. It starts with struggling for air while walking up the stairs, followed by uncomfortable digestive struggles – HAFE is a real thing! (Wikipedia). Don’t I love high altitude?
Tuesday 19th December 2017. It is my last week volunteering in UBECI. It has been a rewarding experience, I hope I have contributed as much as I can. At the same time I am excited for my next adventure in Colombia. I have contemplated leaving as soon as I can but I have committed to celebrating Christmas in Quito. I am sure I need the family-feel during this special time.
Today was the first day that Santa visited the children at the markets. It was a very fun day full of games, food, drinks, performances, and of course gifts. Some of the children were not the regulars, i.e. they don’t normally join us for the market programs so we encouraged the parents to make sure they come on normal days too, not just for a Christmas celebration.
We had a nice dinner in Cafe Mosaico as a farewell dinner for Amber; great burgers, ceviche, nacho, and onion rings. The view was breathtaking, I just love the hills and lights I see around Quito.
Wednesday 20th December 2017. Attempted to fix those buttons on UBECI’s website, after an hour or so, I gave up. Why is it so hard?
I spent the rest of the day editing photos from yesterday, a few hours later, I have 61 good photos. I hope some day EVERYONE will appreciate the time and effort it takes to edit photos, being a photographer is not simply point and shoot.
Thursday 21st December 2017. Today is the second day I am home alone, my roommate Amber left for Colombia yesterday. She was inspired and booked the flights after my constant talks and excitements of going to Colombia. If she planned this earlier, I would had left with her. She has been messaging me and sending me photos and videos of all the fun she is having.
For the month of December, Global Giving will match December’s donations of new monthly sponsors that started in December; the only condition is that the donors must keep the monthly donation for at least 3 months. It is quiet easy really, if you wanted to donate $30, then set-up $10 monthly donation, cancel it at the end of February, and Global Giving will give UBECI an additional $10 – that’s a total donation of $40 for UBECI!
This week we have been focusing on promoting this initiative through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and also morning announcements to our volunteers; for volunteers to like and share our posts.
Friday 22nd December 2017. Saying adios to UBECI. I completed my exit-survey-form this morning, and yes I will cherish the last eight weeks. I have learned a lot about NGO, Ecuadorian government, research and grant applications, contacting foundations, updating documents, creating new procedures, and building new relationships.
UBECI’s Director gave a heart-warming speech this morning because everyone but one is leaving at the end of today. He reminded us the importance of having the heart to help and serve others, we must keep it that way, and encourage others to help and serve as well.
Saturday 23rd December 2017.
Sunday 24th December 2017. Merry Christmas to my Australian and Indonesian friends and families who are one day ahead.
Monday 25th December 2017. Merry Christmas to my friends on this side of the world (Ecuador/U.S). Happy Boxing Day to my Australian friends – I woke up to a photo of a sea of people on Pitt Street (thanks Sarah!). The photo actually made me feel a little sick, people buying the things they don’t need, do you really need two TVs? do you really need a 5th coat? This is a self-judgment as well – I did donate one of my coats, the one I brought on this trip – I’m sure I’m down to three coats at home, if not, I will donate the ones I couldn’t even remember.
I felt the same way the other day when we went to a toy store – cheap toys from China (note: they cost twice as much as they are in Australia because of how far away China is from Ecuador) – as I see a little girl carrying a basket of toys, presumably her Christmas presents. My head was pounding with these thoughts – do you need another Barbie-look-alike-doll? what are these parents teaching their kids? how long will these toys last before they are in the bin? one doll is about $5, in comparison to an almuerzo set (lunch) is $2.50 – the thoughts were suffocating me, I had to switch-off.
Again, this was a self-judgment or self-assessment – may I, one day, be a parent who spends money on education and experiences, rather than toys. I understand the importance of play and being kids – this is UBECI’s mission, to ensure kids play and learn, rather than work. I didn’t have much toys growing up, if I did, I don’t remember them, I remember one Barbie-look-alike-doll, so if as an adult I don’t remember them, what is the value of overexposing children to toys?
Tuesday 26th December 2017. Today was the day I look after myself – threading eyebrows, manicure, and pedicure – the ladies here cannot comprehend why I am not interested in fancy nail design. To be honest, I have no idea too, perhaps because I’m a simple kind of girl, or I’m hardwired to Sydney’s prices (i.e. nail designs equal super expensive manicure session).
Then I was packing for Colombia, and quickly I realised that I have one whole backpack of toiletries. Within the backpack is a bag of make-up, a bag of bathroom toiletries, and a bag of other toiletries that are not a make-up nor a bathroom toiletry. I am not vain, I have tried to cut it down to the absolute minimum, for example shampoo, conditioner, violet shampoo for my blonde strands, Argan oil for my dry-hair, sunscreen for face, sunscreen for body, make-up remover, moisturiser for body, eye cream, face cream, face wash, SK-II Essence (magic!) – ok the list is long but for certain, I have cut it down to the absolute minimum I need for 2.5 weeks in Colombia without turning into a piece of sandpaper that smells like a rotten egg. (side note: I googled for a smelly/rotten fruit and the result showed all the fruits I like and do not consider smelly, e.g. durian and jackfruit – c’mon Google!)
Wednesday 27th December 2017. Hola Colombia!
Places to eat:
- There wasn’t any favourite in South of Quito
- Las Corvinas de Don Jimmy (TripAdvisor) on the first floor of Mercado Central near one of the exits – for $5, fried Corvina fish, potatoes, and prawn ceviche
- Pim’s Panecillo (TripAdvisor) – great food with great view
- Cafeteria Fabiolita (TripAdvisor) – lamb stew
- Hasta La Vuelta, Señor! (TripAdvisor) – the food was great but the Sangria won my heart
- Cafe Mosaico (TripAdvisor) – great food with great view
Places to visit:
- Pedro Vicente Maldonado – 3hr bus ride from Quito
- Cotopaxi – a 1hr bus ride from Quitumbe station (Quito) to the park entrance ($1.50) – the bus’s final destination is Latacunga
- Quilotoa – a 3hr bus ride from Quito ($4) or 2hr bus ride from Latacunga ($2.5)
- Chugchillan – another 30min taxi ride from Quilotoa ($10); there isn’t much to do in town but the hostel is the best one around – Hostal Cloud Forest
- Otavalo – a 2hr bus ride from Quito ($2.50)
- Laguna Cuicocha – a 20min bus from Otavalo to Quiroga ($0.25) then a taxi ride to Laguna Cuicocha ($3-5 depending on your negotiation skills).
- Cascadas de Peguche – a 10min taxi ride from Otavalo ($2.00)
- Mercado Central – a market in the city for food, fruits, vegetables and meat
- Carondelet Palace (Presidential Palace) – a good insight of past and present presidents, and a good experience to stand on the podium where the president would address the public
- Iglesias de Santo Domingo – free entrance
- Convento de San Francisco – $2.50 entry fee with a tour guide or you can wander alone
- Iglesias de San Francisco – free entrance
- Compañía de Jesús – $5.00 entry fee (plus $20.00 for the catacombs or all for $5 if you visit at night)
- Basílica del Voto Nacional – $2.00 entry fee (plus $2.00 entry fee to the tower)
- Teleférico – $8.00 for a return cable-car trip
- Mindo Lago – Frog Concert – $5.00
- Chugchilan/Quilotoa – Hostal Cloud Forest (TripAdvisor) – breakfasts and dinners were included, they were healthy (not fried) delicious food, both breakfast and dinners were three courses. Exceptional services to explain the hiking route, or by knowing that we will be catching a 6am bus, the staff made an effort to pack our breakfast, and searched and found us in the game room.