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Kilina’s Travel Diary

Monday, 02 Jul 2007

MapHello everyone,

What a week it's been. I can't believe I only arrive in Ecuador a week ago... It feels like I've been here ages! Right, now for the update. Since I don't have internet access up at the Hacienda (the farmhouse) I have to travel down an incredibly bumpy track on one of the oldest buses imaginable (it honestly looks like it could be about to fall apart) for 40 mins to get to the nearest town (Machachi) with internet access. I wanted to do so over the weekend, but was needed up at the hacienda, so have taken the morning off today to travel down here.

I met up with Maria Jose, my employer and co-founder of Tierra del Volcan (along with her hubby Jorge), on Thurs morning, after leaving Ronald's house and getting a taxi down to their main office in Quito. They have a couple of friendly employees working in the ofice, although Jorge himself wasn't very friendly or welcoming at all... He hardly said a word to me. Still, I don't have much to do with him so it doesn't really matter. Maria Jose was out buying some materials, and arrived after a little while to pick up her baby (a cute little 10month old girl with blue eyes and blonde hair - not exactly a stereotypical Ecuatorian look, I must say) and me. We set off in her four wheel drive (vital for the Andean tracks) with her dog Cleo in the back. We had to stop off again in Quito to pick up some more school materials for a local school near the Hacienda, where Tierra del Volcan also helps organise community work. It toko about an hour to get everything ready, but we finally set off for the Hacienda at about noon. The trip down the Via Panamericana was beautiful, albeit slightly bumpy. The surroundings were breathtaking, with views overlooking nearby valleys and volcanoes, including Cotopaxi, which was visibly thanks to the clear sky that day (I haven't been able to see it since, even though the Hacienda is only a 30 min drive from the volcano, because it's been cloudy ever since my arrival). After stopping off a the school to drop off the materials - where a group of young American students were busy decorating the building with colourful pictures - we drove on to the Hacienda El Porvenir, where we were greeted by Alfredo, the Hacienda's boss, and his assistant Roberto (who's a funny little guy who loves joking with me and is very keen to learn German , so wants me to give him German lessons!). Alfredo's also really kind, though is older an more serious. He's away in Quito for 5 days now, but says he'll be back on Friday and is bringing his 6 yr old son with him! The way things work here at the Hacienda is people work 15 days in a row, and then have 5 days off. I, however, only have to work Mon-Fri, usually starting at 7am every day (although with several breaks throughout the day, depending on how busy it gets), but if I ever have to work weekends, I can then take a couple of days off later on. So I'm now taking this morning off, though I might have to help out later today. And I may take next Monday off too, which is when Roberto has his 5 days off, and we might take a one-day trip to a town South of Cotopaxi (I've forgotten it's name, but Roberto says it's a really nice place to visit). I'm also thinking of going back to Quito for the weekend, leaving on Fri afternoon, since IAESTE usually arranges trips at the weekend for international students, so it'd be nice to see everyone again.

Anyway, back to last Thursday... Maria Jose left after lunch, telling me she'd be back the following day to be there in time for a cmpetition taking place on Saturday. As it turned out, she didn't return (must've been held up in Quito with her baby or something, so I haven't really had the chance to find out exactly what she wants me to do here. On the drive down here, she mentioned I might be able to lead classes once a week for a month for local school kids (who're on holiday right now, so it'd be a summer camp type of thing), but that still has to be organised. As for giving English lessons, they were supposed to be for the native guides down at the Hacienda Santa Rita (about 30 mins away by car, further down the valley), which I obviously can't do whilst I'm up at the Porvenir. And in terms of acting as translator for incoming tourists, most of them arrive with their own guide (who all work in liasion with Tierra del Volcan) who already speak (very bad versions of!) English and German. Apparently most visitors arrange package trips to the Hacienda, which includes guides, so I don't really know when I'm going to be needed for that. Still, it's early days yet, so who knows what might pop up. So far I've been trying to keep myself busy, helping out in the kitchen, which is where most of the work is done. Although the Hacienda has about 30 cute little 'refugio'-style bedrooms (called Machai), they also have a large-ish dining room, available for incoming visitors who just come on day trips (for horseback rides or hikes to the Cotopaxi Nature Reserve) or stay overnight. In other words, the Porvenir works as a base for incoming visitors, so a lot of food prep takes place - they serve 3 full meals a day, as well as prepare 'box lunches' (picnics) for those heading off somewhere else. The Porvenir is also the main Hacienda out of the three that belong to T. del Volcan (the other two being Sta Rita and El Tambo), which is probably why I've been sent here first. I did have the chance to visit Sta Rita on Friday with Alfredo, since we had to drop off food for the competition taking place there the following day (which I didn't really have much to do with in the end - the competitors had to cycle from Sta Rita up to the Porvenir, leave their bikes and hike up and down a mountain, then pick up their bikes and head off again...). Sta Rita is much smaller, only has a small cabin available for tourists, and only really offers camping sites, a waterfall, and Canopy (or zip lines... Google it, too hard to explain here!).

So I'm glad I'm at the Porvenir for now, where more of the action takes place. I did feel out of place and a bit in the way for the first couple of days (and yes, I have to admit I did feel homesick), cos I wasn't told what to do and had to keep on asking where help was needed - things get busy around meal times or when new guests arrive... but while everyone rushes around getting things ready, I just felt like I was a bit of a nuisance. However, I'm getting to know how things work here, and am able to help out more with everything (cooking, washing up, making beds...!). Not the bird conservation initially listed in the job description, nor translator and English teacher as I was later told... But I'm happy just to help out and keep busy, plus a huge bonus is that I don't have to pay room and board, like I initially thought (which was going to be $220/month), so the grant I'm supposed to received from IAESTE ($300/month) goes straight into my pocket, which is great! Plus, I get to take part in hikes and horserides every now and then. So far I've been on a 2 1/2 h hike with a group of US students, and on a 1 h horseback ride with a family of 4 (with two little kids, so it was pretty easygoing - perfect for my first ride in 5 years!). And I think I'm gonna have the chacne to go on another ride today. Celsito, the guy who offers rides and looks after the horses, says he's happy for me to go along everyday, so I'm hoping I'll have then chance to do a lot of riding out here.

The other employers are really friendly too. They're really different from the Ecuatorians I met in Quito... Much quieter (I often find it hard to understand them , cos they talk really quietly and mumble quite a lot) and more 'tranquilos' - as Roberto told me, they're 'gente the campo' (country folk) and so are much more laid-back and calm by nature. Still, they were all really welcoming and friendly from the start, and although kind of reserved around me at first (and I guess that vice versa too), I'm slowly getting to know them better (Alfredo and Rebecca the cooks, Florita and Lucia the maids and cleaners, Celsito the horse-guy, Alba and Angel the waiters/general helpers...). It was nice to find out that Alba is only 23, so there's someone closer to me in age. She's really sweet, and fun to talk with. And a new guy arrived yesterday ( I think he's called Alberto) who's also only here for 2 months (the peak season), who's just finished studying Tourism in Quito and spent several months working in Frankfurt! He also looks like he's in his early twenties, and is really nice too.

Anywho, I have to get going now cos my bus is due to leave in 20 mins... I havent had the chance to read through this (and there's a little kid on the computer next to me who keeps on playing this same song over and over again at top volume, which is kind distracting), so I'm sure there're typos all over the place. But hopefully you'll get the gist, and I'm hoping to have the chance to write again next weekend.

Lots of love to al xxxx