¡Hola chicos!

Following an 11 hour plane journey, bags lost in transit, sunburnt skin and 28 hours of Spanish lessons, I have survived my first week in Ecuador. Success!

I´m having trouble as to where to start this post! I guess from the beginning: descending into Quito was exhilarating to say the least. From above you get a real sense of the geography: mountains surround the city to form a basin – albeit a huge one! Houses look like lego bricks scattered haphazardly into every nook and cranny. The airport is crammed into a tiny space so that when the plane lands, it feels like you can reach out and touch the buildings. Here are a couple of photos to get a vague idea of what it´s like:

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The view from the Basilica cathedral in the old town of Quito

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Quito itself is a strange mix of hurried and relaxed. Walking across the road is terrifying as you get the sense that if you find yourself in the way of a car, it won´t stop. And I swear I´ve inhaled a lifetime of car fumes! However the people themselves are really laid back, always walking at a leisurely pace and arriving 20 minutes late to meetings.

Our first day consisted of a mini tour of the town, safety tips and juice. The safety tips certainly had an impact – I now walk with my bag on my front with no more than $10 in my pocket and I always catch a taxi past 7pm. When I get back home I´ll be even more paranoid than my mum! We also received an itinerary of our week which consisted of various trips throughout Ecuador during the weekends, and 4 hours of Spanish every day for the next 2 weeks. I´ll be leaving to the cloud forest next Monday to begin my ´save the world´project in Yunguilla. I´m really looking forward to going! Quito is wonderful but the pollution and noise is so much that I don´t think I could last a whole month.

I am just over a week into my Spanish lessons, and my brain is numb. I can now understand most of what people say but I find forming a coherent sentence so difficult! I´ve found the most useful phrase to be ¡hola chicos! It´s the best way to start a conversation, followed by lots of nodding, and lots of ´si si si. Si. ¡Si!´

So yeah, it´s been great! I´ve tried traditional food like guinea pig and intestines, and I´m making up for the lack of tea by eating a ton of bread – yesterday I ate 10 slices nom nom. Our weekend trips have been amazing. Last Sunday we went to these natural hot springs in a place called Papallacta, 2 hours away from Quito. Oh, it was so beautiful! Imagine hot baths surrounded by huge towering mountains, hummingbirds chasing butterflies, the faint smell of flowers lingering in the air followed by smoothies at the edge of the steaming baths. It was stunning.

The next weekend was a day trip to Otavalo, an indigenous market. We had to barter which was a strange experience; it was addictive yet the things that were being sold were so beautiful that it felt rude to haggle the already cheap prices! We also visited this historic sight where virgins were sacrificed to the Sun God. Despite that slightly ominous fact the landscape was the most beautiful I have ever set eyes on. Words – and photos – don´t do it justice. Actually words don´t do this whole trip justice, so I´ll leave you all with a selection of photos. I apologise in advance for the bad quality!

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Quito as the sun sets

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The centre of the world
The centre of the world
Standing on the equator line!
Standing on the equator line!

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I´ll try to post another update later this month. We have trips planned to various places like a weekend hiking up Cotopaxi (a huge active volcano), a week in the Amazon rainforest, and probably the most exciting – a week on the Galapagos islands. So hopefully in my next post I´ll have lots to say with nice photos to follow. Chao!

 

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Goodbyeeee!

Happy new year! In 10 hours, I will be on a plane to Ecuador. I can’t believe I’m actually going! Time has flown by far too fast. This has been the first long term plan of my life which has stuck – an achievement in itself on my part!

Taken at the Street Party in Edinburgh - amazing!

Packing has been stressful. The first bag I had was too small, so I hurriedly bought a bigger one – which turned out to be insanely uncomfortable. So I had to swap it for yet another one which arrived just a couple of days ago! I just managed to fit everything in, but the bag is near to exploding.

Farewells to friends have been emotional!  I still can’t get my head around the fact that the next time I will see them and home will be in April. And I mustn’t forget to mention for the final time how incredible the support has been. Right up until today I’ve been getting phone calls and emails to wish me luck for my trip. I will send postcards to as many people as possible!

I apologise for the briefness of this post, but I assure you my next one will be real news! I have an early start tomorrow at 3am, to catch my flight at 5.50am. Aaaaah! I hope I’ll be able to sleep, the nerves and excitement are beginning to turn into butterflies on steroids.

Wish me luck, and I’ll see you all in 3 months!!!

 

Am I the only Scot here?

It’s already December. Which means there are only 27 days to go…! (Ooh and my countdown timer is now counting down the days too —> )

Last week I made the long journey down to Somerset for a pre-departure day in the Outreach office. I made the journey over a weekend, staying with a friend in London.

Laandan!

I was lucky to get to Somerset on time as so many trains were delayed due to the rain! Upon my arrival I met volunteers who will be doing projects in Cambodia, Kenya and, of course, Ecuador. While most of the 25 volunteers will be going to Ecuador, I will be working with only 3 other people in the Cloud Forest! The others signed up for projects which are based in Quito, namely working with and caring for poor communities, children living on the streets, with the disabled and in orphanages.

On the day we were given extremely helpful information. On the subject of immunisations I felt relatively safe, having had all of mine except the BCG blood test. A volunteer asked about the risk of malaria to which he got the answer:

Don’t worry about malaria. In Quito and the cloud forest you’ll be too high for mosquitos to survive so don’t fork out on malaria tablets.

… I proceed to kick myself when I think of the £40 I spent on 3 months supply. James, the director, finished off his spiel on immunisations saying,

The chances of getting a serious illness is about 1 in 30. Which means at least one of you in this room will suffer from something nasty.

Cue nervous laughter and awkward glances around the room: who will it be?

One thing that struck me on the day: I am the only Scot embarking on this trip. Someone remarked on how they liked my accent – which is a sure sign that I really am the only Scot here as my accent, when heard in Scotland, is heard as very English. I feel the need to play it up while I’m in Ecuador to remind me of home. I should take a couple of copies of The Broons and Oor Wullie. Maybe even pack a bagpipe or two.

There are no kangaroos in Austria

My gap year has officially started! Austria was such a fantastic trip but scary as well as it was my first experience travelling across a foreign country on my own. I had to get the train from Vienna to Graz; the landscapes were so beautiful. Sadly no photos as I was using my film camera 😦 It was even more calming sitting in that warm, comfortable, roomy train! I felt like I was on the Harry Potter set as I was sitting in a 6-seated compartment with a sliding door, the old woman with the trolley making her way down the corridor… I half expected Ron Weasley to come in and introduce himself.

Also it was my birthday last week (yay!) and I got a huge amount of Ecuador help things: an insect repellent shirt (I had no idea these existed!), loose trousers, a gortex raincoat, waterproof trousers, a torch set (which included a head torch!), maps of Ecuador, and a mini guidebook to Quito and the Galapagos. Oh and Ecuador chocolate from the Los Rios province! (Actually I think it was from Lidl. But it says on the packet…)

Nom nom nom.

Next week I will be in London for a couple of days for the pre-departure weekend! I’m quite excited but worried as it’ll probably make me panic about leaving. I would have nearly everything prepared but I missed my final jab last week because I slept in 😦 So it’s rescheduled for the middle of December.

7 weeks to go!

7 WEEKS? That’s 49 days. Oh my god so soon! Aaaah!

Scaring myself

This week my dad and a family friend and I went up a huuuuuge mountain the size of Everest: a week long trip in torrential rain; up steep precipices and wading through fast flowing rivers; fighting for our lives against the relentless wind; living off the plants and cooking sheep for dinner; purifying rain water and barely surviving with the skin of our teeth.

PROOF of my endeavours!

Not quite. We went up Ben Lawers this morning for a nice walk. There was lots of wind and rain, and we did in fact wade through rivers (if you can call it ‘wading’ when the water is an inch deep). I was given the task of carrying the bags in the name of training; I’ll be doing lots of manual work in Ecuador (something I’m totally not used to) made harder by the lack of oxygen. However I did feel just a bit stupid carrying the a huge bag (the same huge bag that I’ll take to Ecuador) up a small hill on such a short walk!

Wading through fast flowing rivers…

On the car journey there I buried my head into my Ecuador guidebooks. I’ve been in contact with the two girls I’ll be travelling with, Helena and Connie (who has also started a blog; have a look here!) and we’ve been making vague plans of the in-country trips we’ll make while we’re there. Looking through the guide books with this in mind seemed like a good idea. There’s just such a huge amount to do!

However, some advice to prospective travellers: don’t look at the Health section of a guide book. It’s enough to terrify you and make you cancel your flight. It all seems okay at first as I read the section titled Altitude and hypothermia: it’ll take a couple of days to acclimatise if I avoid alcohol and sleeping pills. However an extreme form of this is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which you get from going too high too quickly.

Symptoms include headaches, nausea and extreme tiredness, dizziness, insomnia, confusion and a staggering gait. The best way to relieve the condition is also the simplest – lose altitude.

I should be okay as long as I’m careful! The next section “Before you go” also seems fine, and advises you to get vaccinated at least 2 months in advance. Well, I’m almost sorted with vaccines so there’s not much to panic about there. However this is followed by a paragraph on insect-borne diseases:

Dengue fever is a painful and debilitating disease spread by the Aedes mosquito, which bites during the day. There’s no known vaccine for dengue fever and there’s not a lot you can do should you contract it … Symptoms include headaches, severe joint pain and high fever, though it’s usually only fatal if caught repeatedly.

Oh great. On the bright side at least it’s not like I’ll just die if I get it. Another section talks about the sun:

It’s not a good idea to strip off and soak up the equatorial sun. Serious sunburn and sunstroke are real risks, particularly at altitude, when the temperature is not necessarily that high but the thin air amplifies the harm done by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

I’ve not been brought up in a place where high factor sun screen is a necessity, so I’ll have to be on my toes when it comes to remembering to apply it. Especially when I only associate sun screen with hot places – and the  Cloud Forest isn’t exactly hot!

Just when I think it can’t get any worse, I read the section titled “Food and water”. Surely I’ll be fine with this – I just need to remember to drink bottled water?!

Avoid the following: ice made from tap water; fruit juices with tap water added…

That should be okay, if I’m at a restaurant I can ask the waiters.

… undercooked, partly cooked or reheated fish, crustaceans, meat or eggs; dairy products and ice cream made from unpasteurized milk…

Hm. I’m not sure my Spanish extends to asking those kinds of things!

… food that’s been lying around uncovered where flies can get at it.

Even if I could ask that, how rude would that be? “Perdón señor waiter, have flies been nibbling at this food you’re serving me?”

… and raw vegetables and salads.

I will STARVE

Eeeeeergh. Oh well, it could be worse! To be honest, while it seems scary it’ll probably be fine when I’m there. Ha. In a weird way it makes it a lot more exciting! (I say that now…)

Anyway it’s quite sad, because I realised that this weekend was the last that I have free until I leave to Ecuador. Totally out of the blue I was invited to an orchestra course in Aberdeen which lasts 5 days from the 8th November. But before that I’m going to Austria for a week to see my brother! I’m leaving this Wednesday, I can’t wait 😀 So from Wednesday my schedule is pretty much full: Austria; 5 days later to Aberdeen; as soon as I come back I’ll be looking after my parents’ shop for 10 days; 2 days later I’m off to London for 3 days for the pre-departure briefing; 3 days after that I’ll hopefully be in Spain for 2 weeks; when I come back I’ll be hectically preparing for my journey while my German friend stays for a week; then on the 4th I am leaving forever! Well, 3 months.

It’s all happening at once!

Prepared…?!

I had my last set of vaccines today. The nurse was surprised that I had them done so early! But I’m glad I did because it gets a massive stress out of the way. Now all I need to worry about is what to pack, spending money and the fact that I can’t speak Spanish.

I can’t speak Spanish!

To lessen the stress of the latter problem I have been taking Spanish lessons. But there’s nothing like going to the country to learn! So I will (hopefully) be going to Spain for 2 weeks in December to WWOOF in Barcelona. Here I will work on an organic farm in exchange for food and accommodation. I’m really excited – and scared! This will be the first time I’ve been in a foreign country by myself with only a limited knowledge of the language. It does bring up more stress however, as the WWOOF hosts that I’ve emailed so far have all emailed back to say they don’t need any help at the moment… But I will persevere! Surely there are farms in dire need of a helping hand in December…?! I will post when I get a positive reply from a farm – it’d pretty awkward if I didn’t…

What to pack…

I am now in the process of buying/finding the essentials: a raincoat, a backpack, insect repellent, *ear plugs, waterproof clothes, money belt, **sports gear, malaria tablets, sun protection, pen knife, a torch, a plastic poncho, gardening gloves, adaptor plug – you get the gist. Of course I won’t need to buy all of this as I’ll have some things around the house. The problem is actually finding them!

*I was told in my informal interview with the director that the one piece of equipment that volunteers never think of to take is a set of earplugs. The forest is just a cacophony of sound and it can be near impossible to fall asleep at nights!

**Ex-volunteers have spoken of the problems when it comes to finding suitable clothing to work in the Cloud Forest; you need to wear long sleeves to protect yourself from bites (so no tees or shorts), but it’s really difficult because you get so hot working so you just want to take off all your clothes! We were advised to take sports wear because this is designed to absorb sweat and cool you down as well as covering your body.

Spending money

Outreach advises us to take £150 a month, so that’s £450 for the whole journey which will come from my savings. We were advised to pack lightly because  some of the essentials we need to take can be bought in Ecuador.

Aaaaaaaah I can’t believe I’m actually going! I’ve gone into this quite obliviously – it hadn’t really dawned on me until now how big the whole thing is. I keep getting sudden bursts of panic/excitement/distress when I actually think about it. But I feel a lot better when I think of the good that I’ll be doing. So yeah, this has become a whole lot more than a little adventure!

Fingers crossed that my next post will talk of my firm plans to stay at a WWOOF host in Barcelona!

I have done it!

Today I received a letter in the post, with a cheque of £250 – this kind and generous and amazing donation was from the Churchill University Scholarship Trust. I wrote them a thank you card, but honestly, I can’t express my thanks enough!

I was reading through my blog from the beginning and realised it’s made up of about a million thank you’s. There’s not one post where I don’t go on about my appreciation for everything etc etc – but that doesn’t make it any less true! That’s one of the reasons why I did the concert, because I thought people would think that my thanks are getting habitual. Although now that’s over I feel like that again!

So I say it again, for the last time:

Thank you absolutely everyone who has donated, supported and given encouragement; to Leigh from the Meadows Directory, the Edinburgh Rotary Club and the Churchill Trust. Oh also to my brother’s friends and my friends family. And to those who have only heard of me through my parents! So yeah, to everyone. Thank you thank you thank yoooou!

Sorry this is getting slightly over the top – it’s just with the Churchill Trust’s donation, I have now reached my target of £4200!! (I made up the remaining money through working, sponsors and pots.) I am totally shocked and happy and thankful:

There really should be a cue for fireworks but here’s my chipmunked face instead:

Sorry I really don’t know why I stick photos like this up here. Fireworks:

I will now close my Paypal account.

IT.

IS.

DONNNNEEEE

Yay

So in the next couple of weeks I will make a page to help future fundraisers. At the beginning of the whole thing I tried finding that kind of information over the internet but surprisingly there’s not that much! A quick word of advice just now: blog it. This blog encouraged people to buy pots and Lizzie’s poetry, and brought me over £1000 directly through donations!

I will of course keep those interested informed of my trip, especially those who have supported me.

Thank you!