Ecuador Team Retreat in Latacunga

Last weekend, MPI Ecuador’s team embarked on its first quarterly retreat of the year to the Cotopaxi Volcano in Latacunga.  Cotopaxi is Ecuador’s second highest peak, standing at an impressive 19,347 feet.  We spent the weekend at the cozy Secret Garden Hostel and were treated to endless fireplace fires and warm banana bread (both of which were welcome; the altitude difference of the volcano made for a chillier weekend than we are used to)!  

Typically, Program Directors have retreats every three months and use the time to get to know each another, ourselves, and reflect on recent experiences and improve our teamwork skills. Our retreat was perfectly timed because it allowed us to get to know Carolyn, our new Country Director, much better (through a ton of silly rounds of charades)!

The weekend also gave us the opportunity to discuss our individual goals for our time with Manna Project, agree on our shared goals as a group, address conflict resolution skills and enjoy each other’s company in an environment completely different from the one in which we live.

This last part was probably the most impactful for us; at times we can get so caught up in scheduling, program planning, teaching at our community center and maintaining our house that we forget that outside our community of Sangolqui there are so many incredibly beautiful natural sights in Ecuador.  

Personally, the diversity in Ecuador’s geography was one of the many pulls that brought me here in the first place.  As the nature nut that I am, it always amazes me that one country can have the mountains, the coast, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands and only occupy the tiniest portion of South America.

It was breathtaking to wake up to a full view of Cotopaxi in the morning, especially because it is usually hidden by clouds for the majority of the day. Undoubtedly my favorite part of the retreat was that our hostel had no Wi-Fi (blasphemous, right??).  We were truly able to enjoy each other and our surroundings without being disturbed by texts or emails, which almost never happens today.

I think we were all grateful for the chance to step away from our packed days and escape to Cotopaxi. As a team of only five Program Directors, we work full schedules and juggle many programs throughout the week, but this much-needed break was exactly what we needed to relax and rejuvenate before the start of our English classes.


Want to join the team? Learn more here. Apply by October 1st.

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. 

Group Outfitted at the bottom of Cotopaxi.jpg

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. 

Cotopaxi glacier climb.jpg

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. 

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!