Ecuador 2022

I wrote Days for Girls Ecuador shortly after returning home from the adventure but I’ve been wanting to write about what happened there more fully. As I reflect on the trip that happened several months ago, the feeling I remember most is that it felt similar to the Italian Pilgrimage I completed nearly a year ago. Both trips were huge opportunities that I didn’t want to miss. I think the pandemic made me yearn to travel. Both trips allowed me to unplug from technology, visit places I had never been, bond with a group of relative strangers, and come home full of gratitude, for what I experienced and for home.

The Italian Pilgrimage was intentionally a spiritual trip and I had the opportunity to share my experiences with my congregation shortly after arriving home. The first sermon I was scheduled to preach and found out soon after that the senior pastor’s family was struck by covid (they recovered) but he was out for the next two weeks. So, my Italian Pilgrimage became an illustration in an unexpected sermon series: In pursuit of the kin-dom, (which I later renamed “the one” to fit the unintentional sermon series a little better), The Few, and The Many. Recently, I had an opportunity to write about Pilgrimage for The Presbyterian Outlook and Traveling Grace reminded me that I had another sort-of-pilgrimage to write about.

Before I get ahead of myself, I should be clear, the Ecuador trip was purely a group of us that just happen to be involved in DfG to get together with the Ecuador DfG Enterprise and distribute kits to women and girls who needed and wanted them. “Days for Girls is a non-political, non-religious organization and is inclusive in every way. Days for Girls unites people from many nations, generations, backgrounds, and beliefs, and serves people from all places and circumstances. Days for Girls claims strict neutrality regarding anything that could potentially divide us from our shared commitment to eliminate period poverty and reaching all girls, women, and communities.” (From the Days for Girls’ Girls’ policy on unity and inclusivity). If you asked each of us to talk about this incredible adventure, you would have twenty different stories; that’s the beauty of diversity.

To prepare for this trip, I read the email packing suggestions and bought a new pair of shoes (best decision ever) as well as some other clothing items. I filled my carry on and a DfG back pack with my items. My checked bag was a loaded Ikea duffle bag with items requested by the DfG Ecuador representative to pack the kits we would distribute and some supplies that I knew she struggles to source: Carry pouches, PUL (which is the waterproof material used in the kits), underwear and I squeezed in a few cones of thread that were a surprise donation. It was exactly the correct size and weight to be free checked bag.

Before (and after) this trip, I read “Freeing Congregational Mission: A Practical Vision of Companionship, Cultural Humility, and Co-Development” by Hunter Farrell and Bala Khyllep. After the trip, I attended workshops by the authors for Pittsburgh Presbytery and reflected a little more on this trip and how it reacted to the content of the book and workshops. This was part of my work with the Third Presbyterian Church mission committee, but the impacts of that book and mission work in general all impact the work I do with DfG. I wrote a sermon on Service based on a couple of stories from Ecuador.

I read Brian D. McLaren’s “The Galapagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey and Russell Maddicks’ “Ecuador: the Essential Guide to Customs and Cultures”. I made some notes in a journal while reading the first book and I took the second book with me, mostly because I had not quite finished it and because it was set up in a way that if I wanted to reference something it was easy to find. I finished reading it before I landed in Ecuador. I wrote in the journal each day so I could remember all of the amazing adventures. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be traveling like this. I tried to post something to social media daily for my family and friends that way if I didn’t have enough service to text or call, there was a message somewhere that I was doing just fine. Maybe you saw those posts on @periodpastor.

So, without further complicated preamble, this is what I experienced in Ecuador.

September 16th:

I finished Russell Maddicks’ book on the plane and copied this quote into my journal, “…even the poorest family may invite a visitor in to have tea or coffee and a bite to eat. A popular saying is ‘Donde comen dos comen tres,” which means, ‘Where there’s food for two there’s food for three.” (p. 108) I never heard anyone say this but all of the people I met in Ecuador were generous and warm. Everywhere we went we were greeted with a welcome drink and some places also put out snacks too.

This is my first welcome drink (well the bottom half of it as I drank most of it before this picture) in my room at Hacienda Jimenita

I was on an earlier flight than the rest of the group arriving on the same day, so I had my own transportation to the hotel. The driver chatted with me the entire ride and seemed genuinely interested in why I was there and had lots of recommendations for me. His English was excellent which made our conversation easy since I only know a few Spanish words and phrases. When he asked me why I was visiting Ecuador I was able to get across that I was meeting with a larger group that was supporting a woman in Ecuador to help other women. The words “menstrual pad” didn’t translate. Luckily, I had one in my back pack for exactly this purpose. Once I showed him he got it and was quick to comment how good that washable reusable pads would be for the earth. On the way to the hotel, he pointed out rose gardens (florist industry includes exporting these and other flowers grown commercially). He recommended that I visit the center of the earth (which we did later in the trip) and he said that the chocolate I should take back home to family was called “Pacari” (and yes, it was a hit). Cacao is exported from Ecuador, mostly to Switzerland, but some of the good stuff stays and is sold mostly to tourists like me.

Upon arriving at the hotel, the driver had me greet the staff at the gate by his nickname which made all of us laugh. I wish I had written down the name of the driver and some of the name of the staff we met because I’ve completely forgotten them, but I will always remember how wonderful they made me feel. The driver insisted on carrying my bags all the way to the front desk where he greeted the staff (he seemed to know everyone) and then helped them carry my bags to my room. Before I could do anything there was a warm drink with a cinnamon stick pressed into my hands and I was guided to my room. I was there long enough to finish my welcome drink and then I was off to meet all of the people I’ve been working with for years but never had the opportunity to meet in person, including Andrea, the Days for Girls Ecuador enterprise leader. I did tear up a little when I met her. The entire chapters team was already there when I arrived. The other regional reps and collection point leaders would arrive after I had gone to bed so I wouldn’t get to see them until breakfast. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this moment to be incredible and overwhelming and empowering and validating and loving and and and and….

This is Andrea and me at Hacienda Jimenita. We had our phones out to share pictures from a project we did together (but on separate continents). I had pictures of the Pittsburgh Chapter packing up supplies to send with Merryn and Andrea had pictures of Merryn assisting her with a distribution. Throughout our journey together I could see Andrea taking time with each of us and we all felt so special. I continue to be star struck by this amazing woman.
I don’t usually take pictures of my food…. This is pork Ecuadorian style with a side of corn. The corn in Ecuador is very different than what we have in the US. It’s better. The cornels are bigger and softer and delicious. The spice used on the pork to make is “Ecuadorian style” is called Achiote. Andrea explained to me that it was a little bit like paprika (but better) and she showed me some pictures of the spice growing and pictures of people using it in their hair to color it red.

September 17th:

I was up early so I took a walk to explore the hotel grounds and then went to the dining area to fill up my water bottle. Most places we stayed had a designated drinking water station as the water in the taps was not suitable for drinking. I was greeted warmly by the staff and offered coffee. I found a nice place to sit and relax while I waited for our group to have breakfast.

Coffee is served black in Ecuador. The staff did offer me cream which I declined because I wanted to have it Ecuador-style. They brought out little dish of sweeteners too. The coffee really is delicious all on its own.

It was fun to meet everyone in person after communicating only through email, text, and zoom meetings for so long. Alison and I took a picture to send to Constance because she was sure that we would be fast friends as soon as we met. Constance was right.

After breakfast, we gathered to hear from Andrea about menstrual health in Ecuador and then we packed kits.

Eighteen of us, Days for Girls regional representatives and collection point leaders, gathered in a suite at Hacienda Jimenita to literally sit at the feet of an amazing woman, Andrea Espinoza, the leader of Days for Girls Ecuador.  In the coming weeks, we would learn so much from her about how menstrual health is understood in Ecuador.  

She opened her first talk with, “the uterus is a second heart.  It holds emotions.  Menstrual pain is related to emotional pain.  Meditating, breathing, and taking care of your emotions are important.  The uterus can also hold your partner’s pain, so be careful with that too”.  She continued to connect menstruation to taking care of yourself (body and soul) and the earth.  “Menstruation is love.  Menstruation is a woman’s magic; she can offer it back to the earth for the plants.” She describes a practice of free bleeding into the earth that was ancient and is being revived by a young generation.  A long traditional skirt is worn to free bleed.  Women enter a movable tent (so the menstruation can be spread around an area) to bleed, sometimes they do this as a group.  Together in the tent, they write, paint, make music, and talk to solve problems.  It is creative, regenerative, healing time.  Her talk shifted to reasons Ecuadorian women prefer reusable pads, and I now have a deeper appreciation for the way Ecuadorians care for their earth mother, Pacha Mama.  There is a sacredness to their ecology.  

Andrea notes that the disposable pads in Ecuador are made cheaply, with lots more chemicals than in the US disposable pads.  The disposable pads smell bad, especially when the blood is on them (on, not in, because they don’t absorb well either).  These pads can cause skin irritation too.  Being able to see the blood on washable pads or in other reusable options, allows women to notice changes in their blood (which could be important for overall health).  It also allows them to collect the blood for other uses, such as healing acne, or in artwork.  

Andrea told us that most of the indigenous women already used a washable solution.  They would cut up old men’s shirts and use those as menstrual rags.  It was not ideal as there wasn’t a waterproof barrier.  They saw the DfG pads as an upscale version of their own solution and were thrilled to have them.  

She recommended Miranda Gray’s book “Red Moon” that explains women’s cycles as manifestations of valor, strength, and importance.

I think Andrea shared this picture with me. This was one of the kit packing stations. There is a short video Andrea shared with me on my instagram page too. From left to right: Lisa, Nicole, me, Leslie, Robin, and Alison.

We took a break for lunch and to meet the llamas, Cookie and Oreo, and to explore other areas of the grounds with our hotel guide. They love carrots. I don’t remember which one I was feeding… but they were cute, for llamas.

After we fed the llamas, we walked to the trail/tunnel that was dug by the Incas. The hotel staff discovered this tunnel when a dog went missing. They could hear the dog barking and realized that the dog was underground. The dog was rescued and they called in experts to excavate the tunnel. The tunnel is shaped like the big dipper.

The tunnel was a dark and narrow space but something about carrying a candle light lantern was comforting. Kind of like lighting a prayer candle in a dark church. Nicole led us through the tunnel pointing out where places had been carved into the walls to store food or tools. In the bottom “room” Nicole sang a song for us about wanting to be buried in a deep place (like this place) to reconnect with pacha mama (earth mother). It was haunting in the most beautiful way.

Nicole singing. Photo credit: Lisa Chudleigh.

We walked out of the room and onto a trail that led us to a view of the other side of the tunnel. The tunnel is so ancient that the river had cut through it and we could see the opening of the rest of the tunnel on the hillside across from where we were standing. The river is called “dead meat” because the Condors used to fly through the canyon and drop some of their dead meat into the river.

We continued walking on the trail towards a swing that with the right angle could look like we were swinging out over the canyon like a Condor…. or so we thought. Thanks to Hannah for capturing these pics.

After this adventure, there was more kit packing and dinner. Then packing up our personal belongings to head out our next destination and kit distribution.

This is my roommate, Karen and me next to all of the packed kits. I don’t remember the exact number we packed but we were well over our goal of 650. Photo credit: Katy Jones

September 18th:

In the early hours of the morning, I had a nightmare that our room was being broken into. It took a few moments to realize it wasn’t a dream but that I was actually hearing a door knob rattle. I sat up in bed with my fists clenched aimed at the front door, I glanced to the side to see if my roommate was aware of what was happening. She wasn’t in her bed. The noise I heard was our bathroom door. We were safe. However, I was pumped full of adrenaline and couldn’t go back to sleep. When I saw that it was light enough, I left the room for a walk and made my way to another pre-breakfast coffee.

Below is a photo dump of my pictures from Hacienda Jimenita, most of which were taken before breakfast, which is why there are so few with people. Wifi in this location was pretty reliable so I was able to send some pictures to Jim and Nita, our dynamic duo at DfG Pittsburgh who had no idea this lovely place had been named for them. I sent the geranium pictures to LuAnn because she has a large collection of them, but none as big or as tall as what was growing in Ecuador.

After breakfast, we loaded our luggage and kits into two vans to drive to our next location. Before leaving, we gave Nicole a kit. The staff was politely curious about what our group was doing so, when we realized we had extra kits, Nicole was an obvious recipient of our abundance. It seems that every time I start to get nervous about if we have enough components to complete an order, it turns out we have more than enough. It’s true at the Pittsburgh Collection Point and it was true in Ecuador. Sometimes I call it loaves and fishes math, it’s not logical that what we have is enough and somehow there is an abundance.

Our drive to our distributions and to the next place to stay was going to be long, so I took a couple of dramamine chews (yuck) and put on my motion sickness wristbands. I feel like the wristbands really helped and squeezing on the pressure points was something I could do subtly (who would want to sit next to someone who is getting sick). The roads were much smoother than I imagined they would be but there were still plenty of twists and turns and up and down mountains on the drive to make me thankful every time we stopped for a break.

We traveled though some beautiful landscapes and saw the Cotopaxi Volcano, cloud forest, and jungle.

Andrea explained to me that this roadside shrine is known as La Virgin De Papallacta. People bring flowers for Mary and leave pictures of their loved ones. They leave a picture of the person that they are asking Mary to protect. I offered my prayers for our team.

We stopped to enjoy the view and eat our packed lunch. I have found myself on an unintentional pilgrimage.

Our first kit distortions were near Archidona. Each van went to a different location.

Photo credit: Jeana Nash

The van pulled up to a large building with cement walls and open sides, kind of like a stadium, but it had a roof like a picnic pavilion. The women were seated in plastic chairs waiting for us (we were about an hour late).

Photo credit: Jeana Nash

Andrea led the way by greeting the local leaders (The woman in the bright pink hat was a local leader for this community, you can see her holding the banner in the picture above). Andrea had clearly established a relationship with these leaders ahead of time. They were thrilled to see her and were excited about the kits. They even translated some of the presentation into Kichwa (their native language). Andrea gave the presentation in Spanish (their second language) and the card and use cards in the kits we provided were in Spanish.

Since we arrived late, we (the white ladies) were a little anxious to get started. Some chose to entertain the children in the back of the room. I chose not to do this because I’ve had too much teacher training and safe church training to think that I should interact with someone’s child without a permission slip and background checks. I know this bothered me more than the women who were just fine with their kids playing duck duck goose in the back of the pavilion with friendly strangers. A few other DfG ladies organized the banners for Andrea and then turned that job over to the local women. At the end of the presentation, a few of use helped Andrea distribute the kits. I went with this group, because I was feeling a little funny about not having “helped” in some other way already and because it seemed like it would be a behind the scenes sort of job. I really didn’t want to be in the spotlight. While we were handing out kits, the women seemed to want smaller sizes than we had. We tried to accommodate as best we could but after a while we simply had to give kits out and hope that they could figure out the underwear sizes by trading or making do with the underwear in the kit. Jeana was responsible for getting promotional shots for DfG so I didn’t take any photos of this event. And, it felt weird to take pictures and to have pictures taken of me. I was really hoping we wouldn’t have a ton of white savior type pictures and that thought made me feel a little awkward during this first distribution. Some of the women requested pictures with us, I think it’s possible they don’t see many white people and we were sort of entertaining.

Below are Jeana’s pictures of the presentation. Michelle volunteered to do the “how to wear the pads” part that is educational and entertaining. There was tons of laughter and applause.

This next set of pictures is from passing out the kits. I almost didn’t include these because they look a little white-savior-y, but I love seeing the faces of the women receiving the kits, the children playing in the background, and the picture of me and Tessa is the only one I have of the two of us and she was my roommate in the amazon, we survived together by taking turns being brave. Photo credit to Jeana Nash.

I love this picture of Andrea! Photo credit: Jeana Nash

After the distribution there was more driving and the roads were progressively more like gravel and dirt as we got closer to our hotel in the Amazon. We parked were the raided ended and walked a well groomed path beside the Napo River to our hotel. At the end of the path was a long stair case and our guide had us stop to take pictures. I think those pictures never made it to any of us, but probably ended up on the hotel website. At the top, we had a welcome drink that was served in champagne glasses. It tasted like iced tea my mom makes that is mostly Lipton’s but also has a constant comet tea bag to add flavor. While we enjoyed the rest and the cool drink we listened to our options for excursions. Twenty women (well, 19 and Pedro, but he was pretty quiet) deciding what to do the next day was chaotic. So we went to our rooms to settle in, then back down for dinner and more limited choices about what to do the next day which made it a little easier. The wifi worked okay in the main dining area but not in our room, so while I texted my family, Tessa was “bravely” ridding our room of a large spider.

The resort had a few different buildings. This is where Tessa and I stayed.

September 19th:

The colorful breakfast set up at Suchi Pakari

Our guide showed us all sorts of things that I can’t remember, but the hike in the jungle was certainly interesting. We had to walk through at least some of it every day to get to the boats or vans so it seemed like there was something new to discover every day. My favorite part was the leaf cutting ants. The ants climb up a tree to cut the leaves and bring them to their ant hill. They won’t let go of the leaf they are holding no matter what. Our guide showed us that we could pick up a leaf and the ant would hold on. One of the leaf cutting ants was going the opposite direction from the rest of the ants. Katy noticed that ant was “not fit for purpose” which is a term we use to describe DfG components that need to be repaired. I picked up the leaf and turned the ant around and told Katy, that’s what the collection points do, we make the repairs so that our kits are fit for purpose.

Photo Credit: Lisa Chudleigh
Photo Credit: Lisa Chudleigh

After the hike, we boarded boats to take the Napo River to our next destinations. I was a little nervous about the boat ride, who am I kidding, this entire stay in the Amazon made me a little nervous, but most of the time I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The boat ride on the river was beautiful and the speed of the boat provided us with a cool breeze while we traveled. I was really glad I had packed (and worn) lightweight pants and a long sleeved bug repellent shirt (yep, something in the material), because having my arms and legs mostly covered kept me from getting as many bug bites as those who wore less clothing. I did get bitten badly at the waterfall near Otavalo later in the trip, but only on my ankles because I wore cropped leggings.

This is my brave face at the beginning of the boat ride that turned out to be a lot of fun.
Robin, me, Leslie, Karen, Nicole, and Katy are the easiest faces to see here. Photo credit: Lisa Chudleigh

We made stop to pick up supplies for our packed lunches and for the resort. We saw skydivers too.

This picture almost captures how beautiful the view from the boat was.

Our next stop was amizoonico. This is a rescue for animals that have been injured or were kept as pets (or both). The animals we viewed were not able to be released. We walked along a trail that felt just as jungle-y, if not more, as our earlier hike. There were other animals that were recovering that could be released but they are intentionally kept away from people so that release is easier. And they feed (just a little) some wild animals near the edge of the park because otherwise they break in and steal food from the enclosed animals. They call them semi-wild animals. The rescue is designed to be in the rainforest so there isn’t a wall or fence separating it from… anything.

I learned some heartbreaking things. Anacondas are drugged so people can hold them, and being held means they are absorbing sunscreen and bug spray and anything else from humans that isn’t good for them. Turtles are slow and easy to catch, so they are poached often. Living in captivity with poor nutrition leads to shell deformation. Some of the turtles had holes drilled in their shells where they were attached to chains. Birds can never be released to the wild after being pets. Monkeys that are kept as pets develop problems from not being able to climb and still spend most of their time on the ground even now, so they can’t be released. But, with the sad stories also comes the knowledge that people are working to protect these animals. The animals we saw will be well cared for and studying them helps further research too.

Leslie, Sherlynn, Alison, and Lisa

After our trip to Amizoonico, we headed towards a village for a cultural experience that included, lunch, dart shooting, demonstration of making the traditional drink, and feeding caimans.

Photo credit: Michelle Johnston

There is a beauty and sacredness to this traditional life. The fire has three river stones, for mother, father, and children. The fermented beverage they make is called Masato. It is consumed at all of the family meals. It tasted like something between a beer and a wine cooler. (This Yinzer thinks it tastes like I.C. Light mango).

Jeana got theses lovely photos of our hostess making Masato.

They gave us cow heart to feed the caimans. They are semi-wild. The family feeds them so that they stay close to them in the protected land. If the caimans were to cross to the other side of the river, they would be poached.

Then we were back on the boat to travel to a pottery demonstration.

I took a video of the demonstration but no still photos. The little girl insisted on sharing a cocoa with us (she really wanted a treat and having visitors was probably a good excuse). The man opened it using the palm of his hand to strike the outside. The inside seeds are covered in sweet fruit that we sucked off. Then they are dried, crushed, and cooked to make chocolate.

I purchased this small bowl from the woman who demonstrated the traditional pottery for us. A few times during this trip we have heard that the color red means protection, as in the red beads on the traditional clothing and jewelry. When I saw this pottery, I thought it looked like the woman was speaking words of protection. Maybe praying or preaching. Maybe, telling the truth about women’s bodies. Maybe presenting the educational component of DfG and therefore protecting the future of people with periods and their communities. When I see it in my home, I remember this trip and the call to speak truth for the protection of the vulnerable people and creatures, and the earth herself.

On the boat ride home, our guide, who had previously instead that we wear lifejackets, and follow safety precautions, said, “do you want a picture? do this.” I guess on the way home safety is second.

When we got back to the resort, Alison, Leslie, and I had the local beer. It’s a light pilsner and it hit the spot after a long day.

Fish, it’s what’s for dinner
Collection Point meeting. Photo credit: Katy Jones

September 20th:

This is Suchi, the semi-wild toucan that the hotel feeds. This bird is clearly used to the staff and interacting with people, but does not live in a cage. One of the staff members showed us how to hold our hands out and Suchi will nibble on fingers. It was really gentle and felt like plastic kitchen tongs. Some of our group went to see parrots, others went to a strenuous waterfall/swimming adventure. I stayed back with the group that was relaxing at the resort. We lingered over breakfast and talked and we caught up on work or reading or journaling. It was nice to have a slow start to the day.

After lunch, we went to Shiripuno to see a demonstration of native dancing and other traditions. The women we met were all wearing different native clothing. Grass skirts are traditionally worn for parties or special occasions. The blue and purple attire is for everyday wear. Red beads (seeds) are for protection and love. They used a plant based red paint to draw symbols on our faces. This is to protect us from evil spirits. the symbols on my face are the root shakra or earth shakra. And of course, there was a welcome drink.

photo credit: Jeana Nash

They showed us a sacred stone that was in the river when the river was wider. A large snake lived near the rock and people “disappeared” if they got too close to he rock. The rock made different sounds depending on where she tapped it. In the rock, she pointed out different animals and meaningful geographical points in Ecuador. We got to climb to the top and stand where the little girls is standing in this picture.

We called ahead and the women were happy to receive kits from Andrea, so she distributed about a dozen after their presentation. She found out that the women were using old clothes to manage their menstruation. These kits were part of the surplus we had after attempting to pack 650. It was really fun. When Andrea explained that the folded pad could be placed in a pocket or bag, one of the women took it and put it in her shell bra. Some things are just universally funny.

These women were used to having their pictures taken, so Jeana was able to get some really beautiful portraits that can be found on the DfG website and social media. Here are a few:

Photo credit: Jeana Nash
Photo credit: Jeana Nash

The men offered to let us hold animals (for a price). When Tessa and I saw that one of them was an anaconda we bravely decided to go to the gift shop. We were hoping not to find snakes and big bugs in our room, so seeing a big snake up close did not sound appealing. And after what we learned at amazoonico about how these animals are treated and I didn’t want to participate.

At the gift shop I got a turtle for Kurtis, which now lives on our bathroom sink and earrings for me that are made from the red seeds for protection and love. I wear them a lot.

Before we left, I had a shot of chuchuwaso with our guide for “medicinal purposes”. It was like a shot of whiskey and herbal tea…yum!

We left Shiripuno and went to Misahulli (monkey island). They like people food and know how to open water bottles. It was like interacting with raccoons, do not recommend.

We went back to the resort of a cocoa demonstration. After the fruit is removed, the beans are dried for eight days in the sun. Then they are roasted until the “pop”. It sort of sounded like pop corn but the beans don’t explode like popped corn. The little pop is the outer shell separating a little. The beans are then rubbed until the outer shell comes off. Then they are ground into a paste. That goes into a pan on low heat with milk, sugar, and cinnamon. Served over fruit. It was dark by the time we finished and then it was diner time. Dessert first wasn’t a bad way to go on our last night in the amazon.

After dinner, I went on the night hike with Hannah and Deanna. We saw tons of bugs and frogs. The stars were my favorite part. The night hike was a little like a haunted house in that we scared ourselves and giggled. Deanna did get stung but luckily we got back to the main lodge and got some medicine to put on it.

Photo dump from the night hike:

Deanna took this picture of Hannah and me giggling in the dark

September 21st:

I watched the sun rise from my window before packing up to leave the amazon and travel to Otavalo. I explored the resort ground a little and took some pictures of the river and maps that were posted. Eventually, we loaded our belongings and kits into a large bus. There was a Mary at the front of the bus that lit up every time the driver hit the breaks. It is the equinox so farmers are preparing their fields for planting. They burn wood and plow it into the fields (at least that’s what we could figure out from the our bus window). We stopped at Thermas Papallacta to enjoy the hot springs and lunch. At lunch I facetimed my DfG team. They were putting kits on the Global Links truck to go to Bolivia. I cried when I saw Carrie. As much fun as I was having, I really missed my a teammate. More than anything I wanted to have someone I knew well with me on this adventure. Someone who would have been my buddy and roommate for the trip. Having a different roommate for each location was emotionally tiring. I enjoyed everyone but as exciting as “new” is, I really missed knowing being known. After the stop, we got back in the bus and continued the long drive. We drove through jungle, cloud forest, dry mountains, and into the city. We had dinner at the hotel and Andrea told us a little more about the festival for the equinox called Koya-Killa Raymi which is a festival of fertility and female beauty and the soil is prepared for crops.

Sunrise from my “window”. There wasn’t glass just screen.

This is part of the river where the banks were being maintained.

Fields being prepared for planting.

Mary glowed red every time the driver hit the breaks.

We passed green houses and flower shops on the way to Otavalo.

Pictures from the hotel in Otavalo. I shared a room with Hannah and Deanna.

September 22nd:

We visited Museo Otavalango, a textile museum owned and operated by the dependents of the slaves that worked to build the large home and make textiles. I’m sure that I missed some details in the translation but it was an amazing experience. There were a few owners but the first was Spanish and he enslaved the local people. He was cruel to them. They worked for food and shelter. They sat on the floor to weave the fabric. Eventually machines were brought in. Part of the tour also included traditional clothing and descriptions of ceremonies, including those for weddings and divorces. Some of the clothing belonged to the grandfather or great grandfather of our tour guide.

Women wore (and some indigenous still wear) gold beaded necklaces and layer them. The more necklaces the most status in the community. They believed that the gold was a gift to them from the sun. The catholic priests told them it was evil and offered to take the necklaces and destroy them and forgive their sins. The people handed over the necklaces and the church became wealthy.

After the museum we went to a waterfall, cascada de peguche. I think this is where I got most of my bug bites around my ankles. This was the first day I hadn’t applied bug spray. oops. I had enough signal at the waterfall to answer my phone when my Dad butt dialed me. There are beautiful murals everywhere. And we saw totems that tell the story of the town.

Later we explored the town.

September 23rd:

We took a boat ride in an active volcano. No big deal. Laguan Cuicocha. These volcanoes are the most studied volcanoes in Ecuador.

The lake is sulfuric so there aren’t any fish. When the boat stopped we could observe little bubbles coming up from teh springs. Rain water also adds to this laguna. The tutora plant grows here and cleans the water.

When the boat moved fast the front row was windy and wet.

Carolos, our diver does not speak much English and I speak very little Spanish, but while safely driving he was able to communicate to me that the white capped volcano is Mama Cotacachi and the darker volcano is Father Inbabulrah and there is a heart in between them.

The laguna and the islands in the laguna are their children.

Photo dump from the tour in and around the laguna:

We had time for a short trail, ruta sagrada, which included ritual sites: solar calendar, lunar calendar, an offering site, a bathing ritual, and others. There was a man playing a pan flute so our walk had musical accompaniment.

Then we had a fancy lunch at Hacienda San Isidril. My group didn’t get to stay for the tour but I was able to snap a couple of pictures of the chapel and courtyards on our way out. We had a distribution to get to. The second group was able to leave a little later. So here is a picture dump of our fancy lunch.

I think it was Lisa that got this nice picture of Andrea and Pedro at Hacienda San Isidril.

Our distribution in Otavalo was incredible. They were all dressed in indigenous clothing and gold necklaces. A few of the girls had a presentation to go to so they were dressed all alike. There was a beautiful mural behind Andrea as she did the education. One of the local leaders translated nearly all of it into Kichwa, their native language. This was the last set of distributions so we also gave away the extra soap. The pictures below were all taken by Jeana Nash and some of these incredible shots are already on the DfG website and social media.

After the distribution Carlos (our driver) took us to “the best leather shop around”, his wife’s shop! He was really proud to show off his wife’s talents. I bought a small change purse from here that I keep in my church/office bag with change to get snacks from the vending machine. Then Carlos took us to his favorite park (town square) and to the town sign. He was happy to show off his home town.

Carlos giving a thumbs up in front of the Cotacachi sign

Back at the hotel, I took a silly picture looking into Leslie, Alison, and Sherlynn’s room. Then we went out to dinner and explored Otavalo a little more.

Dinner with Leslie, Heidi, Hannah, me, and Alison. Hannah met a couple of LDS missionaries in Otavalo by chance. As I am writing this, she is on her own mission.

September 24th:

The Otavalo Saturday Market… wow! The market flooded out of market square and into several streets around. It felt similar to a large flee market with lots of “good copies” of expensive brands, touristy gifts, and some crafts. I bought pacha mama earrings, a nativity with Mary in red, a magnet, and I pitched in with Alison to buy Constance a fun t-shirt. The t-shirt is the same mask as the magnet.

Alison is testing serger tension, so she can answer some of Andrea’s sewing questions.

Alison and I spent some time looking for fabrics appropriate for DfG components and underwear. We couldn’t find 100% cotton flannel anywhere. Most stores had fleece but not flannel. And the other fabrics were blended materials. In one of the biggest markets there wasn’t much suitable for DfG kits, so it’s no wonder Andrea is having a difficult time sourcing materials. Luckily , in addition to the components we brought, she also got materials from the states that will keep her sewing for a while. Underwear in Otavalo is very fancy. We guessed that’s because they wear indigenous clothing (like a uniform) and underwear is a form of self expression. No wonder they thought the underwear in the kits was much too big. No one wears regular briefs.

On the way back to Quito , we stopped at the center of the earth. There are two sights . One is the original site that was marked before satellites, and the other was after satellite technology. They are only a few yards apart. We spent more time in the original site and we tried a local dish, guinea pig.

Andrea and I are standing on the south and north sides of the equator. Pedro called this the eagle and the condor, which I think is a reference to a “good” relationship between our two countries and not the time we screwed up their economy.

We arrived at the Wyndham Airpot hotel to welcome drinks and popcorn snacks. There were roses everywhere. It was a beautiful place to say our good byes to Andrea and Pedro and about half of the group not going to the Galapagos. I roomed with Nicole.

This trip taught me a lot about mission work, cultural humility, service, and love. We had the incredible experience of watching Andrea interact with indigenous leaders during distributions but we also experienced small acts of service and love within our group.

We served one another in the sharing of practical items like: Tylenol, bug spray, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper.  And we served one another by checking in regularly, how are you feeling?  Did you get to talk to your kids? We shared stories in laughter and tears.  Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this trip to be incredible and overwhelming and empowering and validating and loving.

Near the end of our trip, we found out that Andrea’s home had been robbed.  Her power lines were cut and were taken along with her internet cables.  Thieves sell those cables and leave the home vulnerable for them to return and take what they want.  Luckily, Andrea had a neighbor keeping an eye on things that alerted the police and nothing more happened to her home.  But the expense of replacing her lines of power and communication were worrying to her.  In a matter of moments each of us chipped in what we could and together we had more than enough to restore what was lost.  No one thought twice about it; it was obvious that when someone in our community had any need, we could meet it together.  

In many ways, a short-term mission trip is like a pilgrimage.  Being in a new place with new friends creates opportunities for deep learning.  I learned a lot about Ecuador, and I learned a lot about myself, and my connection with God and neighbor.  The trip opened my heart up to see the way power and privilege play out in the world.  I experienced a group of women whom I knew only from virtual communications build bonds of compassion and care for each other.  I am forever changed because I have experienced a little taste of what the God’s realm could be among my friends in mission and service.

September 25th:

Galapagos Islands

We flew from Quito to the Galapagos, took a bus to a boat and then another bus. This second bus included a tour guide who took us to El Chato Ranch to see the giant tortoises. We toured as much of the island on our way to our hotel as we could. We explored sink holes and lava tunnels. I roomed with Sherlynn. Leslie, Alison and I went out for drinks, specifically to get the local beer that is brewed on the islands. I got pj pants to go over my bathing suite for the next mornings. We knew it would be cool in the morning but we would be swimming later. My other pants didn’t fit over my swim trunks so now I have comfy pants from the Galapagos and they are a real fashion statement.

September 26th

Van to the dingy to he boat. We took a hike on Bachas and the north side of Santa Cruse Island. Then we went to north Seymour Island. The animals were unbothered by people. Everywhere you go on the islands you must be with a guide because they are very careful about the ecosystem. We went to the Darwin Center. The tortoises that are there are marked with color coded numbers so they can be released back to the same island they came from. The Darwin center keeps them until they are big enough or well enough to withstand predators. Tortoises are easy to catch and pirates would take them and keep them on the boat because they lived a long time without food or water and the sailors could have fresh meet. They released pigs onto the island so that the could return for the pig meet but the pigs destroyed the local wildlife. Lonesome George was the last tortoise of his kind. I got a tortoise t-shirt for Kurtis. We had lobster for dinner and laI bought myself a “I love boobies” pin for my DfG apron. I bought coffee, chocolate and other snacks to share with my DfG team when I returned home.