I went to Ecuador in June of 2006, not knowing what to expect from a "mission trip." Living a few short hours from the Mexico border, I was familiar with this kind of third-world situation, but not at this level.
Arriving in San Pablo, Ecuador, 3 hours to the Pacific coast from the major city of Guayaquil, I was prepared, yet saddened. This village is poor, underdeveloped, and simple. Its location on the coast provides a small means of income and nourishment for the villagers. They rely on a large catch of the day to sell into town and to feed their families. At sunrise, boats that usually litter the shore are bouncing along the waves, full of men dragging large fishing nets. The sandy beaches could be the site of beautiful oceanfront resorts, like its neighbor Salinas, but during the day, they are occupied by a few bands of local kids who can't afford to go to school.
Speaking Spanish in Ecuador is a must. (The Latin American lingo works better than Mexican Spanish because some words are not easily translated, but they are able to understand.)
We went in June, when the temps were a little hot, but nothing compared to highs in the 120s during the later summer. Because of Ecuador's location on the Equator, sunscreen and eye protection is a must. We had vaccinations for all the recommended diseases, but since we were not there in the wet season, we hardly saw a mosquito. I would recommend them just the same to be sure. Eye drops would also be on my packing list next time. By the end of the 7 days, I couldn't even put my contacts in because of all the dust in the air in this part of the country. Our team leaders also recommended chewable Pepto Bismol tablets "just in case" (do not drink the water!)—and not to take more than three per day. I had no problems after using the water at the Hilton in Guayaquil to brush my teeth, however.
The large city is like all others (visit the central market, city hall buildings, and the cathedral), and seeing the countryside is a must to understand the division between rich and poor in this small country. Mission trips are such a unique way to experience other cultures and truly understand their plight. And nothing's more rewarding than helping others.