Hands that give also receive. – Ecuadorian Proverb
Based on the Law of Attraction or if you’re a believer in “The Secret” philosophy, I could say that I manifested this opportunity to expand my world view through a two week visit to Ecuador. A seven city adventure beginning in the capital city of Quito and ending in Guayaquil, the gateway to the Pacific, hadn’t even been a twinkle in my eye before I discovered it was an established winter break trip for students at the university where I work as a career counselor. The second I heard about it I started expressing interest, and kept expressing interest, until one day…I was invited to co-lead the Ecuador 2019 winter break trip. Whether it was the result of positive thinking or enduring persistence doesn’t matter – I’m grateful nonetheless.
This will be my first trip to South America, and though I always dreamed it’d be Brazil or Argentina hosting my inaugural trip to the fourth largest continent in the world, I couldn’t be more excited to be hosted by Ecuador. In the past few months, I’ve learned many new things about this country that straddles the equator on South America’s west coast and its diverse culture. I look forward to sharing my experiences and photos throughout this journey.
Along with my colleague, Mike, we’ll be accompanying 11 college students on a service learning trip through the rich history and culture of Ecuador. As someone who has only traveled for personal enjoyment, the service-learning aspect of this trip will be new to me, yet far from an unfamiliar experience given that I have a natural spirit toward generosity. With trips through the indigenous markets and communities of the Ecuadorian people, there will likely be countless opportunities for learning and cultural awareness.
The preparation for this trip was much more comprehensive than my typical excursion across the pond to Europe. Our group met twice a week over the course of six weeks to learn about the Ecuadorian culture, how to prevent and respond to culture shock, what to expect with regard to racism, sexism, and homophobia in Ecuador, how to stay healthy and safe in a developing country, and how to document your experience abroad through blogging (I led that discussion). As a staff leader, I was required to go through some additional training on emergency and crisis response and motivational interviewing to aid in crucial conversations relating to group dynamics, relationship issues, and/or emotional situations requiring support. To say the least, it’s a much bigger responsibility to be in charge of 11 individuals who don’t belong to you than keeping track of your own two children away from home.
Irrational Fears, Potential Pitfalls, & Uptight Traveler Strategies
Getting sick – Being sick in a foreign country when you’re traveling with family is one thing. Being sick in a foreign country with a packed itinerary when you’re the one in charge is something entirely different. This has probably caused me the most stress leading up to traveling to Ecuador. I’m no stranger to being bound to a hotel toilet and surviving only on bananas and Saltines. This is one fear that I only have so much control over, but I’ve done my due diligence in preparing for the worst case scenario.
With a recommendation from my co-leader, Mike, who’s been to Ecuador three times previously, I asked my doctor for a prescription for Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic that will treat any bacterial infection. So if the Imodium doesn’t work, it’ll be Cipro to the rescue. In addition, I’ve been taking EmergenC everyday for two weeks to get my immune system in shape and have discovered that the Tangerine flavor causes the least amount of gag reflex. In my suitcase next to my Cipro will be Acetazolamide (prescribed for altitude sickness), electrolyte tablets, Dayquil, Nyquil, Advil, Zyrtec, Dramamine, and Cortizone cream. Yes, it looks like I’ll be a walking pharmacy, for pete’s sake.
Based on my research, there are certain foods to avoid that will reduce the likelihood of tummy trouble. I’ll be steering clear of any uncooked fruits and vegetables that I won’t be peeling myself, anything made from unpasteurized milk products (this sadly includes ice cream), and any under cooked meat or fish. As for drinks, it’s recommended to only drink water, juices, and sodas that are bottled; no tap water even when brushing your teeth. If I can remember these rules, I should be in good shape. A worry I vocalized today at lunch with friends was accidentally opening my mouth in the shower and ingesting a parasite from the untreated water. So, that’s something I’ll be conscious of over the next couple of days to get some practice in.
The vaccine regimen for Ecuador wasn’t a walk in the park, although I did end up with more My Little Pony band aids than any 4 year old little girl would ever dream of getting at the doctor’s office. There was a series of three Hepatitis A/B, a flu shot, and Tetanus. In addition to those, I had to take an oral Typhoid vaccine over eight days. There were a few rough nights where both arms ached and I had to figure out how to fall asleep on my back. First world problems…
Language barriers – My two years of Spanish in high school likely won’t get me far if I’m bargaining at the markets or lost in a large city like Quito. Though there have been times I’ve transcended the language barrier with non-verbals, with my week-long romance on Olympic Beach in Greece during the summer of 1987 for example, however this time I doubt my flirting skills will get me a good price on an alpaca blanket. I’ve downloaded Google Translate to help me out here. It allows me to speak the phrase in English, then will provide me with the verbal Spanish equivalent. It’s quite a nifty tool to have handy.
Bad decisions – Though we’ve had discussions about the buddy system, conduct and incident reports, and consequences for overindulging when it comes to alcohol, there will likely be situations that require some tough love. Luckily, there won’t be a whole lot of free time for the students, yet I remember being twenty-something and where there’s a will, there’s always a way. I’m apt to be the one shouting the Frances McDormand line from Almost Famous, “Make good choices!” as they head out to the club. My mantra has been, “As long as no one ends up kidnapped, dead, or in jail, we’re good.” I’ve been known to have a “mean mom” voice from time to time and won’t be afraid to use intimidation tactics if I have to. With two grown daughters of my own, I’ve had some practice.