Cuenca Stories and Tips

Week 87 - Divine Intervention (Ecuador)

Casa de Ceclia - Mindo Photo, Mindo, Ecuador

In a week of rather boisterous International Children's Day celebrations, most of my time was spent at immigration, with renewing my visa a top priority. Failure to do so would see a marvellous fine of at least $200 and possible deportation. After four tedious days of paperwork I finally obtained the official stamp needed for Ecuadorian legality and decided to escape from stressful bureaucracy to the wonders of Mindo, a sparsely populated village surrounded by mist and cloud forests.

Arriving under the cover of darkness after three hours of '80s classics and negotiating more of Ecuador’s mountain hugging roads a serious dilemma was placed before me. Should my time here be spent partaking in a spot of bird watching, something that Mindo is internationally acclaimed for, or should I break my adventure sport virginity instead? To be honest, it wasn't that much of a dilemma and after a few seconds thought it was decided that the adrenalin filled challenges of 'inner-tubing' and 'rappelling' sounded far more exciting.

For those of you who are unaware to what such sports entail then let me quickly explain. Inner-tubing involves floating down a rough, rapid filled river in a rubber ring, being tossed around and drenched head to toe. Rappelling, in the case of Mindo meant jumping halfway off a ninety metre waterfall and then lowering yourself down on a rope, while supposedly jumping down the rock face, as seen in many of the James Bond movies. Information regarding both can be found at the informative Centro Informacion Mindo on the corner of the main park, open 7am-7pm daily.

Fun was had at each, although there was plenty of room for improvements in my performances. Firstly, deciding to go inner-tubing at 8am before the sun had even shown his face to the world wasn't the best pieces of judgement I have ever made, arriving back into the village an hour later in nothing but my swimming trunks, bitterly cold, and watching numerous strange glares from the passing, heavily dressed locals.

Secondly learning to use my legs at the same time as lowering my torso down the rope will certainly help me enjoy rappelling a lot more and will probably lead to less incidences of aimless dangling, lungs filling rapidly with gushing water, and completing the challenge with both knees and elbows covered in deep gashes and cuts.

It certainly didn't help confidence levels watching my fiance happily sail down the forty five metres with no hassle whatsoever, the adoring crowd below going wild. I have to say this was a relief after watching her nearly fall from a slippery ledge into oblivion while climbing up the waterfall. Such a fall would have certainly meant wedding cancellations. Luckily the instructor was behind her to save the day, a place where a doting, loving fiance should have been.

I might have been last when it came to technique, but after watching a number of other 'rappellers' make their way to the bottom of the waterfall, I was safe in the knowledge that if it was a competition based on speed, I would have walked away with the first prize! Annoyingly, photos of adventure sport participation were a failure due to inept guides who somehow failed to understand how to work a simple aim and shoot camera. Never mind!

After one-to one feeding sessions with delicate lepidoptera butterflies the size of my face (Fundacion Mariposas de Mindo, daily 9am-6pm, entrance $3, www.mariposasdemindo.com), fighting off a ridiculous number of horny, friendly dogs and finding out my hostel (La Casa de Cecilia, $5 per person per night, Tel: 02/2765453) was managed by a group of sexually aware teenagers I decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat, back to the slopes of Cotopaxi Volcano. This proved a good decision as I later learnt the President had scheduled a visit which would have made travel and enjoyment very difficult.

Teaching has been a very relaxing affair, watching the children gnawing their way through boiled nipples of various slaughtered pigs (I will never complain about eating boiled pig skin ever again!) and journeying to the countries capital in the name of field trip shenanigans where visits to a planetarium and a publishing company (Editorial Ecuador) were achieved. Both surprisingly proved entertaining, the highlight of which was watching the school principal get in an argument with the planetarium lecturer in front of two hundred watching spectators over the number of planets in the solar system.

With such a busy days worth of activities, a hearty 'Burger King' meal was needed to keep the children awake and alert. It's hard to believe that for many of these children this was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. In Ecuador eateries such as 'Burger King', 'McDonald's' and old Colonel Sanders favourite 'KFC' are seen as a luxury and a symbol of wealth. A little different to views in more Westernized countries where the words 'cheap' and 'poverty stricken' spring to mind.

Normally no field trips can progress successfully without at least one moment of controversy, and this one proved no different. A child originally banned from the day’s activities for stealing another kid's mobile phone, leading to the victim and the victim's mother receiving a number of hideous beatings from the father, was allowed to participate after the headmistress confessed to not having the heart to follow through with the chosen punishment. At the same time, the child that was beaten black and blue was threatened with expulsion from the same field trip for wearing socks that were not sparkling clean. When you consider a child’s parent averages an income around the $40 a week mark, I don’t really think socks are high on the agenda of necessities.

This week should have also seen the arrival of a new male volunteer, who I was hoping would add some much needed testosterone filled banter to the volunteer house. Thanks to what I can only call a spot of divine intervention I managed to find myself sitting next to him in a random Internet cafe (Friends Cafe, Calle Jose Calama, 8am-10pm daily) a few days before his arrival, where the fragrance of bad odour and the smell of an unwashed bottom hit me head on. Dirty clothes, long greasy hair and a dialect not that dissimilar to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle certainly didn't help with first impressions either, and by the time he confessed to a friend of his current plans of volunteering and rubbing shoulders with myself, my worst fears were confirmed. After listening to him brag profusely and loudly for the next ten minutes, for all to hear, of cross-border smuggling operations, transmitted STD's, racist comments referring to Ecuadorian women as 'gargoyles' and even the conning of his own grandmother out of $200, I realised something had to be done with such a potential menace. United with fellow volunteers we petitioned hard and probably for the first time here our concerns were listened to and his placement was terminated before he arrived.

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