Even though today was our country’s (minus Marco, who is from Germany) Independence Day, the day was spent celebrating the face that we were in Ecuador and not the United States. After a delicious breakfast of mixed fruits, oats, blackberry juice, and scrambled eggs, we left to participate in the service project. Little did we know that to get to the project site we had to trek up the steep mountainside for what felt like hours. Jackets were quickly thrown off and legs were turned to Jell-O. When we finally go to the project site we were almost too tired to work. Nevertheless, we mustered up the energy to start hacking away at the mountain. We worked alongside Ecuadorian men, making a trail to ascend the mountain. While working, we saw many native plants and animals; Leonardo (bus driver) seemed to take a lot of joy in extracting tarantulas from their homes.
After working on the trail for a couple hours we took a much needed lunch break. Working had taken a toll on all of us; Allie and Isaac had acquired butt injuries by sitting on a thorny plant, Annie was on the verge of freezing to death, and Maya had dust in every orifice of her body. After enjoying our lunch and the surrounding view of the valley, we were told we were going to enjoy some cola with some Ecuadorians. When we found the Ecuadorians there was no soda to be seen ☹. We then began our descent back to Black Sheep Inn. Jaden, as usual, was in the front of the pack. On the way down, Gavin was “playing God” by cross-pollinating different plants he found on the trail. I’m excited to see what the rock and dandelion’s offspring will look like. The descent was much more pleasant than the ascent. Sarah succeeded in not chopping a limb off with the hoe she was carrying.
After getting back to the Black Sheep Inn, we had a couple hours of free time before the group discussion facilitated by Gavin and me. During the discussion we talked about different aspects of our lives that are not sustainable. We also did an activity where we determined our leadership type and then designed a dream vacation with the people who had similar leadership styles. Alex’s dream vacation was hanging out with ISIS.
Dinner was full of lively conversation. Alex recited the ways in which ISIS kills people, Ashley (not Alessandra) discussed Orthodox Jews, and Sarah shared her hatred of Hebrew School. We were served a soup that tasted like chicken noodle and mashed potatoes over a vegetable mush with mushroom gravy. The guys longed for meat! I thought the vegetables tasted like a crab cake. Dessert consisted of a fruity gelatin thing. It was good. As soon as dinner ended, Edmundo told us he had a surprise for us—fireworks ! Half confused, we all made our way down to the deck beside the yoga room. It appeared they were having technical difficulties as Edmundo left and returned multiple times. The anticipation mounted. During the wait we all wondered where in the world Edmundo had acquired fireworks. It was suggested that the fireworks were in fact going to be someone holding sparklers atop a ladder. The wait was made much easier by the breathtaking sky above us. With the moon not yet risen, the stars shone with the brilliance unlike any of us had ever seen. It was the kind of sight that left you speechless while simultaneously making you realize how vast and beautiful our world—our universe—is. I stared awestruck, unable to take my eyes away, at the sky for quite a while. The fireworks eventually did come. After the first one we clapped, stupidly, thinking the show was over. But there was much more to be seen. We were never quite sure when the show was over as, every time we though we had just seen the grand finale, more fireworks followed. Even after Edmundo told us the show was over, two more straggler fireworks went off.
After coming back from the fireworks show, Allie played us a song. When the song finished, Edmundo, who unbeknownst to me was listening to the song with us, told us he had something to say. His emotionally-charged message was so heartfelt, so genuine, and so moving that many of us were tearful afterwards. In simple words he told us how grateful he and the community were for the work we put in on the mountain trails today. After Edmundo left, we were all silent for many moments, just letting the weight of what had just occurred sink in. We then discussed why we do community service and the difference between a traveler and a tourist and its importance to the program. We ended with Rose, Bud, Thorn like we always do. It was truly and unforgettable day.
– Neil C.