Nature

Going with the Flow in Baños

“Tengo una buena noticia y una mala noticia…” I have good news and bad news.

These were the words that were communicated to me as I stood in the crowded, dark office of an adventure tour agency in Baños. I woke up that morning ready and excited to go canyoning—repelling down waterfalls and rocky cliff faces. For days, I had been trying to convince my fellow interns to go with me—that it would be an amazing time—but only managed to convince one friend to join me. She and I rose earlier than most in the hostel, tore through a breakfast of rolls, jam, butter, assorted fruits, coffee, and eggs, and waited anxiously at the hostel entrance to be picked up by the “adventure tour” agency. There were two other girls already waiting to be picked up, and upon exchanging hellos, we learned that they had come from Glasgow, Scotland.

The four of us piled into a van and drove through the crowded, misty streets, lined with vendors and cafes with colorful awnings. I made small talk with the taxi driver, who told me about all the rain the area had received overnight (and was still receiving at the time). I didn’t let this deter my excitement for the expedition to come. We would be wearing wetsuits anyway, so what was the harm?

It wasn’t until I entered the tour agency office that one of the guides explained the severity of the situation. Because it had rained all night, the waterfalls were too strong to safely maneuver—no canyoning today. As I listened, I was slightly dismayed, but the guide kindly offered to take us on the rafting tour instead. “¿Está bien?” he asked me. I glanced quickly at Katey, who waited expectantly for the English translation. We had to make an instant decision, and we didn’t have any competing alternatives, so rafting it was!

We were fitted for wetsuits, water shoes, and helmets, while introducing ourselves to the cast of characters that made up our rafting group. In addition to the two girls from Scotland, there was a guy from Holland, one from Ireland, and a group of guys from England. The group moved into a van to be taken to the river, and settled down for a scenic, forty-minute ride through the green, fog-covered mountains.

Upon arriving at the launch site, I seriously questioned my decision to raft. I looked at the roaring, wild river in front of me and wondered if I was going to come back to my hostel at all that day. It seemed a definite possibility to be swallowed up by the brown torrent in front of me. I told myself that it was too late to back out, so I tugged on my wetsuit, laced up my gritty, damp shoes, and prepared for the all-important safety briefing.

The new rafters stood around the guides, being pelted in the face by torrential downpour, listening attentively. After an animated, heavily-accented crash course on what to do when things go wrong, my boat of five passengers plus a guide prepared to shove off into the Pastaza River. My excitement and nervousness were hardly containable at this point, but I had far-committed myself to being a team member. I scrambled into the raft with Katey by my side, and before I could totally settle myself, our raft was picked up by the vicious current. Definitely no turning back now!

Our guide yelled instructions to us, assured us that if we followed them, everything would be ok. Forward, forward, full forward! We were flying down the river, paddling like a trained team, when our guide told us to take a break. At that moment, I picked up my head, turned my face to the sky, and took it all in. The forest rose up on either side of the vast river, the sound of the current filled my ears, and my skin was alive with the falling rain. This is amazing. This is absolutely incredible, I thought. My heart raced and the adrenaline drove me to be hyper-alert, ready for whatever the river could throw at us.

The journey included several series of rapids, one of which ejected three out of six raft members into the water, but after a fast-acting rescue effort, all was well. Though the majority of the raft team was comprised of strangers, by the end, we had definitely bonded in some sort of unspoken way. We pulled along to the bank after an especially rough patch of current, with both surprise and relief. Everyone clambered out of the raft with aching arms, racing hearts, and wide smiles of accomplishment. The rafting adventure was exhausting, enthralling, and absolutely unforgettable...a welcome change of plans and an incredible experience in Ecuador!

Travel Diaries: The Ecuadorian Cloud Forest

This week, I got the chance to spend some time seeing Ecuador from the eyes of a tourist again, as my cousin and his fiancée were able to take some time off work and school and visit me in Ecuador. It was the first time that my cousin had left the United States, and I am was so happy that Ecuador was the country he chose to first visit! It was also a particularly special time for me, as I recently got engaged and they were both able to meet my fiancé for the first time.

We spent the beginning of the week touring Quito - they had enough time to see all the highlights of the city, such as the historic center: the Presidential Palace, the Basilica, the Equator (known as Mitad del Mundo), and more. We also spent (probably too much) time enjoying delicious Ecuadorian food and some of my favorite restaurants in Quito.

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But the real highlight of the trip came this weekend, when we travelled just two hours away from Quito to reach the amazing little town of Mindo, one of my favorite weekend trips from Quito and the gateway to the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest. We spent the weekend doing a variety of adrenaline-heavy activities like zip-lining, tubing down a fast-moving river, and canyoning, an activity that basically involves repelling off of waterfalls (I sat out for that one). And of course we also enjoyed all of Mindo's delicious restaurants and cafes as well.

Although I'm sad to see them go, it was a fantastic time to get to spend time with them and show them the country that I've grown to love during the last two years I've spent with Manna Project!

Climbing Cotopaxi

On Monday, July 20, 2015, MPI Program Directors Evan Quinnell, Michael Weiner and Allegra Mangione climbed the summit of Cotopaxi in Ecuador. Just weeks later, Cotopaxi, an active stratovolcano, began to rumble. Evan reflects on the experience of a lifetime!

Climbing Cotopaxi

By Evan Quinnell

Looking back now, it’s hard to fathom that we actually summited Cotopaxi.
 
We’d built this day up in our minds for over six months. First as an idea, and then through a number of months preparing for the climb; we practiced by climbing six nearby peaks at lower altitudes.


In June, we began receiving notification from the U.S. State Department regarding the volcanic activity coming from Cotopaxi. As amateur climbers, we were a little concerned that we may have to postpone our climb, but we kept hope and continued our training, summiting nearby Ruminahui and Illiniza Norte in June and July. 
 
Less than one week before climbing Cotopaxi, Mike and I were working with English students at the local university in the Chillos valley, ESPE. The English professor, Sonia, explained to us that the Ecuadorian geophysic institute had just raised the volcanic alert level that week and that ESPE was convening university leaders and students for refuge planning in case of extreme emergency. Sonia was convinced there was no way we could climb!
 
Then, just two days before the summit, our professional guides assured us that the reports for that weekend were safe. Some of the concern for Cotopaxi at times can be exaggerated, but it is with great caution. If the volcano is to fully erupt, the nearby towns and valleys could experience volcanic ash, glacial melt, and mudslides. The most recent major eruption, in 1877 before there were warning systems in place, destroyed the nearby city of Latacunga.
 
We may have been crazy to climb Cotopaxi when we did, but I feel extremely fortunate to have made it to the top with Michael and Allegra.
 
From the beginning, Michael, Allegra, and I were determined we would do everything in our power to reach the summit. During our time in Ecuador, we had met people who had to turn back before the summit due to extreme wind and ice storm conditions. We were hopeful that would not be us. 
 
On July 18th we took the bus into Quito to meet up with our guides. At the shop we were outfitted with all the necessary snow pants and jackets, harnesses, helmets, crampons, and ice picks. From there, we rode just over two hours into Cotopaxi National Park. We arrived near the foot of the volcano where a number of tourists were reveling in the beauty of the beast of Cotopaxi. 

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From the parking area, we needed to haul our gear up slope for about 45 minutes to the climbers' refuge. At this point in the day, we were optimistic as the weather seemed relatively clear and stable. 

Arriving to the refuge at about 3:00 pm, we had time to relax, acclimatize, fuel up in the small dining hall, and get a brief training on Ice pick and crampon use. Although harness, ice picks, and crampons are necessary to summit Cotopaxi, the climb is more of an endurance and altitude test rather than an extremely technical one. 

At 6:00 pm we had a dinner prepared by the refuge crew of pasta, pork chops, cole slaw and tea. At this point the climb became real. In just six hours, we would be off for the summit. Following dinner we had time for a quick five hour rest before it was time to get our gear in order.

Laying in the cold and bare refuge bunks, we attempted get some sleep before we would leave to begin climbing at midnight. Through the wood-paneled walls I could hear the wind howling outside of the refuge. We were legitimately worried, that we would encounter less-than-desired conditions. Thankfully, when we got outside at midnight, our fears retreated. There was a sense of calm I have rarely, if ever, experienced. In the pitch black night, Mike, Allegra, our new friend Benji, and our two guides made our way 30 minutes to the glacier line. We paused to attach our crampons and connect by rope line to our respective guides in groups of three. Slowly but surely, guided by the headlamps attached to our helmets, we made our way up the snow and ice. 

We were fortunate to have good conditions the entirety of our climb. One of the highlights of climbing in the night/early morning was the ability to see Quito and the surrounding city lights far off in the distance. Not to mention the spectacular star show. 

There were a few moments when we struggled with the altitude, but we kept pressing on. With very few breaks for water and chocolate, the climb seemed to never end...and finally, as the sun began to rise shortly after 6:00 am, we were in the final stretch. 

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We passed a few fellow climbers who were on their way back down. "Ten more minutes, you'll be to the top," they said. Ten minutes was more like thirty minutes, but at approximately 6:30 am we reached the summit having reached 19, 347 feet.

It was a surreal feeling. We had made it. After six months of dreaming and with a few significant obstacles to overcome, we were above the clouds and could see to what seemed like infinity. The mountains and volcanoes we had climbed in the previous six months were off in the distance, along with others we had yet to attempt.

Quito, the Chillos Valley, and nearby cities like Latacunga were below. What was probably the most incredible was to look down into the volcanic crater. The vast opening of nothingness made it clear: we were at the peak of Cotopaxi. 

Our guides had told us the night before that two years from now, significant eruptions would likely render it impossible to climb Cotopaxi as we know it again. Little did we now that only a month later, eruptions would begin to occur, spewing ash and putting the country on serious alert. 

It is hard to believe that for quite some time we will be some of the last people to have summited the worlds tallest active volcano. 

I have no regrets and am fortunate to carry this experience with me for the rest of my life. 


Want to experience your own unforgettable adventures?
Join MPI as a Program Director in Ecuador or Nicaragua.

Applications due April 5th. 

8 Beautiful Photos of Rural Ecuador

One of the best parts of the Valle de los Chillos, the community that Manna Project International serves, is the proximity to both rural and urban landscapes. Within what seems like just a few minutes bus ride, Program Directors have access to both the bustling metropolitan city of Quito and also the lush, tranquil fields and forests of rural Ecuador.

Last week Program Directors were joined all of Ecuador in a five day celebration of the Carnaval holiday. Many chose to head out into the countryside to relax. Here's your chance to fall in love with rural Ecuador, just as we have:

Amaguaña

Zumbahua

 

Come work with Manna Project and experience the beauties of Ecuador.

 

Program Director applications  are due April 5th. 


Summer Camp and Cotopaxi

Saludos from Ecuador! This week, we celebrate one month in this country with Manna Project. And what an action-packed last few weeks it has been.

We’ve just finished the transition period between this past year’s Program Directors and our new group. It’s been great sharing time with them as we learned the ins and outs of how to get around, what to do, where to go, and how our life with Manna Project will be this coming year. 

In true Ecuadorian bienvenida/despedida fashion, our friendly volcanic neighbor Cotopaxi reminded us of its presence by erupting! As this is an exciting yet potentially dangerous event, we are safe and sound in Sangolqui, and only had a few days of light ash fall. We have taken the necessary safety precautions and are prepared for any future incidents. Friends and family, fret not - all is well and should any future eruptions occur, we will certainly be in touch.


In other news, our summer camp is in full swing! We’ve opened the library each morning from 9:00 to 12:00 and have prepared activities for the kids ranging from cooking lessons and soccer to art and dance! We even took a field trip to the Yaku Water Museum in Quito, and spent a morning relaxing by the pool in the valley. 

Before our own camp began, we spent a week volunteering at a summer camp run by the local municipality of Ruminahui. This provided us an opportunity to meet and connect with students in the community from the university we partner with, la Universidad Escuela Politécnica del Ejercito (ESPE), as well as get our name out more with the many kids who attended that camp session. 

 
 

We’re currently in the process of having program meetings with each other and our country director, Nancy! We’re setting goals and objectives for each of the programs we run at the library, as well as the organizational roles we are each in charge of throughout the year. While our Manna-specific clubs are up and running (Library, Environmental Club, Art Club, Teen Center, Kid’s and Adult  Nutrition, Diabetes Club, Preventative Health Club), we are eagerly awaiting the back-to-school season to begin a new year working with our partner organizations! These include collaborating with students from ESPE, the United Nations Peacekeepers, the local AM radio station, and the neighborhood preschool and elementary school. 

Most anticipated of all are our English classes, which begin on September 8th. Our inscriptions day was a huge success, as community members completely filled every spot for each level of English (levels basic through advanced) for both kids and adults. 

We’re all so excited to share our journey with you, and will continue to keep everyone updated on our progress, activities, and life with Manna Project in Ecuador!