Walking through the Miami airport, stuck somewhere in between concourse H and J, I scouted for the forest green t-shirts the Sustainable Summer participants were supposed to be wearing and confused a multitude of old men (who seemed to also be a big fan of the forest green) for the people who I would spend the next 15 days straight with. After asking at least three different airline agents, and receiving four different answers about the location of the LAN check-in, I reached a very reasonable conclusion standing in the middle of the air port, very close to tears: I’ve been scammed. And now I’m stuck in the Miami airport for two weeks.
Of course, it wasn’t a scam, I found the group, and after sleeping for almost the whole four-hour flight, I arrived in Quito, Ecuador.
Immediately, I became incredibly close with everyone on the trip. I felt as though I had found my people (we actually planned ways to “accidentally” get stuck in Ecuador together). We discussed the future (very grim if we don’t change our ways), food, and feces. The leaders were our guides and translators for the trip, but also my role models for the future. Each student offered a unique perspective on Environmental issue, and we frequently engaged in discourse discussing how to help our planet.
In attempts to maintain the wonders and mystery of Ecuador, our trip leaders kept us in the dark about our next activities, and only told what we needed to bring (always rain gear no matter what).
On one occasion, we were instructed to bring rain boots, rain jackets, and swim suites, and expect a 6-hour hike. As walking up slight inclines made me out of breath, the anticipation of a 6-hour hike killed me. With a somewhat less-than-excited attitude, I crossed worlds as I left a muddy grass field and plunged into a deep forest filled with varying shades of green. The jungle was composed of massive beautiful trees covered with various vines. Nestled in between the trees were shrubs dotted with shades of red and purple and the occasional stream followed by a roaring waterfall. Almost every plant has some medicinal use that the native tribes have been utilizing for hundreds of years. The Kitchwa (the tribe resident to the area)’s ability to take a thin palm tree, a few vines, creativity, a vast knowledge of the land, and create something beautiful amazed me. After gorging on ants that allegedly taste like limes and chewing on a pink root supposed to hydrate you, we were lead to a gorgeous waterfall, which pooled into a sparkling river surrounded by caves. Although the rain was beating down on our faces soaking our entire person, and the bugs were biting every area not covered with bug spray, I had never been happier.
It seemed that the happiest time in Ecuador always occurred when we were soaked, but then again, we were always soaked.
From the bus ride traveling up twisted roads, counting landslides, and trading music to being thrown of a raft into a fast moving river, there was never a dull moment. We followed dogs closely with our cameras in attempts to find one’s that matched each member’s personality (don’t worry, we never pet the dogs that’s a yellow rule), and ate grubs that may or may not have been edible. Sometimes I almost think it is useless to attempt to describe this trip to anyone who wasn’t on it. How could they possibly understand the impact the trip had on me? How can I recreate the beauty I saw in Ecuador with simple pictures and words? Everything I learned. Everything I did. It’s all too incredible to truly describe. One day in Ecuador felt like a week.
As cliché as this sounds, I truly believe I am a changed person because of the people and the unimaginable amount of new things I learned. I have a new outlook on the earth and sustainability and my part in it all. To change the future, I need to change my self. I am starting to avidly compost, recycle, and reduce my water and energy consumption. To spread change in my community I hope to become more involved with oyster conservation efforts, stream cleanups, and poly cultural organic farming.
“Nothing is certain in Latin America, but everything is possible” -Rodrigo.