After a 24 hour journey with changes at New York and Guayaquil, we landed in Quito and were greeted by a driver who took us to our hostel for the night. The hostel was on the outer suburbs of the city and offered us a bunkbeds for our first night away from home. That night over dinner we met the guys we were going to spend the next month volunteering with, with the hostel owners speaking only Spanish nobody really knew the plan and so we waited until morning to meet our English speaking guide.
That day we were taken on a whistle stop tour of Quito, firstly climbing a rickety looking ladder to reach the top of a 200m high cathedral tower. This was followed by a visit to the equator and all the fun and games that comes with it. I was always told that water flows in different directions depending on the hemisphere you stand in. Being able to step across into different hemispheres we put it to the test and despite my reasonably doubts it turns out to be true, water really does flow different ways. It was also good fun to find you have no balance walking along the equator, as the earths natural forces attempt to drag you to either on side or the other. All this was topped off by learning that native Indians of the land discovered all this before the invention of any kind of technological existence, pretty impressive when you think about it.
Just as quickly as we had arrived we were off to a tiny village called Las Tunas.
Home for the month was what I can only describe as a house sized shack that I suppose resembled a hostel with about 8 double rooms, a kitchen and a dining area. The highlight was a balcony that overlooked the beach and the Pacific Ocean, included on it were 4 Hammocks to spend lazy afternoons in and of course a view of humpback whales that were often seen leaping from the ocean. Being so close to a particularly rough ocean meant the waves could be heard all day and night. On particularly stormy nights waves could be heard to the point they would wake you, coming from a place that is at least a 2 hour drive to the sea it's no surprise many nights were spent laying awake, waiting for what I thought would be a tsunami to crash through our front door.
Next door lived Fernando and his family. Fernando, a 5ft 6 local Ecuadorean, the same age as me, quickly became my new best friend. He could do pretty much anything; card tricks, salsa, football, volleyball, make bracelets, backflips... the list goes on. Through his broken English and my broken Spanish we formed a friendship. And it didn't take long before he had taken me under his wing and we were off on the back of a motorbike to play football against another group of locals. We rocked up to a concrete pitch with goals either end. For over 2 hours we played 5 aside, the travelling Englishman being the main attraction for the locals. Now I'd like to tell the story of an Englishman teaching a few locals how to play football, but in truth it was the other way round. I well and truly had my pants pulled down by some of the quickest, agile South Americans I've ever seen! At one point I was actually put on my arse, to the amusement the 30 locals who had gathered to watch. I had to laugh, until I begged Fernando 'no mas' (no more). He pitifully laughed at me, but in a way that didn't matter, these people aren't out to judge you and we jumped back on his bike to grab some dinner. As you can probably tell Fernando made a big impression on me and it was refreshing to find somebody so happy with having so little, yet wanting to share and learn so much.
We came here to help and the work we did was surprisingly pretty intense. It involved moving a whole playground, literally meaning of the word whole - moving the entire apparatus assembled - including slide to the new site a mile away. Days were spent building fences from scratch, hammering bamboo cuttings to create a makeshift border that stopped every man and his dog wandering into the school. The there was digging, digging holes and mixing cement for new school buildings, the amount of dirt and cement needed to be shifted to make for a new building is astronomical. Bearing in mind the people here don't have access to power tools of any description so all work was hard manual graft, hammers, shovels, spades and a wheel barrow, I never want to dig another whole in my life! But It was good fun, 14 odd Brits (some more useful than others), Paola our local interpreter and 2 local Ecuadorean builders, who spent most of their days either pitying or pissing themselves at some of our efforts.
The month passed in a routine that doesn't really exist for backpackers, Monday to Friday working followed by a weekend away in a local town or village. After we we had Galápagos Islands to look forward to. So after more goodbyes to our new friends, Emma and I were off to the Galápagos Islands.