United Planet volunteer, Marcia Keene, age 68, recently returned from a Quest to Ecuador. She recorded her experiences and shared some of them with us. Read more about her Quest below!
The trip to Quito (and other places in Ecuador) was a unique learning experience (June 6th-June 23rd 2012). I was a volunteer for United Planet – a non-profit international organization based in Boston.The mission statement of United Planet is “individually we are one drop. Together we are an ocean.” My trip was similar to a mini Peace Corp assignment.
Quito is the second highest capital in the world (9300’). It is in a valley hemmed in by mountains. The first four nights was spent at a hostel run by an Ecuadorean family situated in a 200 year old colonial casa/house. Luis, the owner, took me to the Mitad del Mundo (Equator), the pre-Inca pyramids (tolas) at Cochasqui (small herds of llamas grazed nearby) and the famous outdoor Mercado (market) at Otavalo. This was a long, 12 hour trip. The Otavalo Mercado has many beautiful things for sale (wood carvings, alpaca sweaters, blankets, jewelry, ponchos, shawls, leather belts and purses etc.). I went crazy! Leave it to me – I just had to buy a tall horse statue hand-carved from madera (wood)! Otavalo has the biggest textile market in Ecuador and one of the biggest in South America.
Quito was founded in 1534 by the Spanish and has a population of nearly two million. It is a long and narrow city 22 miles long and 2-3 miles wide. It is roughly divided into the old/colonial Quito and new Quito. We visited three famous iglesias/churches. One, La Compañía, was built between 1605 and 1765. It has seven tons of gold on the ceiling, walls, and altars.
I assisted, as my volunteer assignment, the English teacher, Givanna Rodriguez, and the music teacher, Allencastro Tarquino, at a public government elementary school “Quintillano de Sanchez.” The children were 5-13 years old. They spoke very little English and all classes were taught in Spanish (even the English class). The children were friendly and fun to work with.
I volunteered at the school from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There was plenty of time to sight see. I made friends with Michelle Mizhquiri, a 23 year old student (Ecuadorian) who lives in New York City but who came to Quito also as a United Planet volunteer. She worked as a volunteer at a different school with disabled children. We went to several concerts together (an Ecuatorian folk dance troupe called Jacchigua, a concert featuring Rassana Taddei, a singer from Uruguay and Juana Molina, a singer from Argentina and two museos (museums). I also went to a concert at the Casa de la Musica at which the professional Chamber Orchestra of Quito performed.
Our United Planet program also arranged several excursions for us including a ride on the telebérigo (cable car) up the slopes of Mt. Pinchincha (which stands at 13,500 feet), a late night walk and dinner in the colonial La Ronda part of Quito (traditional music was great!), a salsa lesson, 12 hours of Spanish classes, and a cooking class (Llapingachos – a cheese and mashed potato dish was rico/delicious).
One has to be very careful what one eats and drinks – bottled water only, a no food from street vendors, no unpeeled fruits and vegetables. It’s a very good idea to take medicine for high altitude sickness (after about a week one feels acclimatized). I kept forgetting and put toilet paper in the toilet – a big no, no. Quito’s plumbing system cannot handle toilet paper!
Most of my stay was with a host family – an older Ecuadorean couple. The husband was a cocinero/chef. I ate lunch at his restaurant. Sopa (soup), white rice/arroz blanco, a piece of meat, ensalada (salad) & a dessert are commonly served with eggs, rice and potatoes; a specialty of the country is roasted guinea pig.
All in all, my United Planet Quest was an incredible experience which has enriched my life and broadened my world outlook. Pablo Proano, my coordinator in Quito and his sister Martha were very helpful, organized, and experienced.
Marcia was featured in her local news, The Spokesman-Review. Check out her article here!