In addition to teaching for WorldTeach in Ecuador, I also worked with Plan International, a group dedicated to improving the faltering rural education system. For example, schools affected by the mudslides of El Nino had been simply abandoned. While in Quito, talking with a woman at Cafe Cultura, I saw that there were opportunities to become involved with other organizations dedicated to improving copper mining (abandoned mines leeched chemicals into groundwater) and the oil industry (a pipeline traversing Ecuador leaked in places and was not repaired). All noble, worthwhile causes.
I had time to travel within the year I served as a WorldTeach volunteer. I went with friends, and alone, to various places throughout Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. In Ecuador, I spent time in Quito with its wild iguana parks; Cuenca with its narrow European cobblestone streets; Ambato, Latacunga and Tena on the way to the rainforest; Papallacta with natural hot springs not smelling of sulphur; Jatun Sacha, a biological nature preserve in the rainforest with ancient trees; hiking, whitewater rafting and kayaking along the Amazon; Amazoonica, an island rainforest animal hospital with a capabara (world’s largest rodent), a parrot, a small black jungle cat separated from the rest of the animals, an assortment of monkeys, and a boa constrictor which tightened its grip as I did; the port city of Quayaquil; Machala where a banana queen was chosen yearly; and around my home in Portoviejo, I often went to the coastal town of Manta, as well as beaches near Montecristi, San Jacinto and Bahia de Caraquez.
I travelled with a friend from Canada, a Peace Corps volunteer, and an Ecuadorian friend to the scenic beach city of Cartagena, Colombia. The new part of the city has signs everywhere asking the question “how great is this place?” to which I reply that, with statues of winged horses and a semi-circular array of buildings overlooking white sand beaches, it is great. The old walled city has flowered courtyards and a rustic, picturesque and very intriguing feel.
I travelled to Cusco in Peru, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire. We hiked along the spectacular vistas and stone steps of the Incan trail, looking down upon the clouds, arriving after four days to the city of Machu Picchu. The ancient holy city was abandoned by the Incans as they did not want to lose the place to the Conquistadors. Part of my forthcoming novel Poor Man’s Galapagos is set in Peru, and Blue Denim Press will also be concurrently launching another novel by Shane Joseph entitled In the Shadow of the Conquistador, where two backpackers are forced to confront their pasts together as they hike along the trail to Machu Picchu.
I think that as WorldTeach volunteers we have a unique perspective on the places in which we have lived and taught. We all have stories to tell about our experiences. And I encourage others to put their stories in print, or to otherwise share them as I have chosen to do through fiction.
To be concluded...