The rocks were slick with water. I stepped forward and slipped, using the mossy ledge on the left to keep my balance while reaching for a wildly swinging rope on my right– the only thing that kept me away from the river. With wet sneakers, I continued up the narrow ledge, gingerly stepping from rock to rock, under vines and branches, until I reached a slightly more stable part of the trail.
We climbed up and up– the altitude was tiring, but the scenery was invigorating. Also, there’s something about having only a thin rope separating you from a rapid waters that keeps you awake.
The Andean mountains are a bit chilly in the morning, but the longer and higher I climbed, the hotter I became. At some point, I started focusing on the flowers, the river, and my footing more than my labored breathing. We passed cows and llamas, saw hummingbirds high in the trees, and eventually made a loop back to the main building.
We came here to Termas Papallacta, a spa and hot spring, after visiting our second school in Quito. Before that, on June 29, we travelled to a small compound that housed about 900 young students. I sat in a class, taught 8-years olds how to sing “Old MacDonald,” and was then whisked away to explore Quito’s more historic buildings.
The day after, we went to another school. After conferencing with the principal, we played with the kids during the last ten minutes of recess. Giving us each a bag of chips, our trip director encouraged us to share, saying that it would be a great way to get them to interact with us.
She wasn’t wrong– within three seconds of opening my bag, a huge group of youngsters crowded around me, eagerly reaching out their hands. While passing out snacks, I made my way over to the playground, and eventually ended up on the seesaw. I wasn’t the only adult who was willing to have a little fun, and soon enough there was another group of young children fighting to be the one to play with us.
The recess bell rang, sounding more like a bomb-warning siren than anything else, and the kids reluctantly ran off. Two by two, my classmates and I were placed in rooms to work with the students. My partner and I stayed with chatty five- and six-year olds. Gradually, they came to us, wanting help with the sums they were practicing and full of questions about our lives in the United States.
In Ecuador, being punctual is not as strict as it is in the United States, and true to Ecuadorian spirit, my partner and I were almost fifteen minutes late to our next meeting– but only because the children were sad to see us go. As we walked to the front of the class to say goodbye, they crowded around us, wrapping their arms around our knees and thanking us for our help.
Eventually, we made our way out of the class and onto a bus that would take us to Papallacta. We napped and conversed for about an hour, finding ourselves surrounded by massive mountains and new vegetation, before finally arriving at the hot spring. It seemed like the only thing around us were a river and the mountains; other than that, we were beautifully isolated in the Andes.
Our time there was short. After one fantastic night and part of the next day, we had to leave for the airport. On the 31st of July, we would fly to Cuenca and meet our host families.
I won’t write about my family just yet– but I will say that they’re absolutely fantastic, as is the city. Classes have been keeping me extremely busy, but it helps that we’re starting to settle into a routine. Soon, I’ll write all about my family, my classes in Cuenca, and our weekend excursions!