Let’s take THE LEAP!

The time has finally come… The Leapers (group of volunteers from the company The Leap) have arrived… This means that from now on I am officially Group Leader for 11 youngsters, including 7 boys and 4 girls from the United Kingdom. After one month of hard work, explorations, reservations and organisation, I am happy to present my program for the next 10 weeks with this group.

However, this also means that I will not be able to write so much as before anymore, because there will be not always access to the internet in the volunteer projects. Therefore, I apologize and promise to do my best to write and post something every once in a while…

the leapWhat is THE LEAP?

Volunteering with The Leap is unique because every Volunteer Leap combines a unique mix of projects – so they will help with conservation, community and eco-tourism development over the course of 10 weeks overseas. Even better these projects are located in different places around the country of choice, with the Leap team moving around every few weeks. The result is a massively diverse, enjoyable mix of challenges, cultures and environments.

What is THE LEAP program in Ecuador?

ECUADOR: Jungle + Galapagos + Adventure Week + Andes

  • Jungle (Tsachila): 3 April – 18 April
  • Galapagos (San Cristobal): 20 April – 9 May
  • Adventure Week (Quilotoa, Baños, Riobamba): 10 May – 16 May
  • Andes (Chilcapamba, Mindo): 18 May – 2 June
  • Ruta del Sol (Guayaquil, Montañita): 4 June – 7 June

Between these dates, my home base will stay Quito, where I will return with the group to wash clothes, buy stuff and give orientations about the different destinations and volunteer projects. As you could see, I’ve already visited and posted about 2 of the voluntuur  projects that we are going to (Tsachila and Chilcapamba). I will also go with the group to a volunteer project in the Galapagos Islands, where I will have some time off of being Group Leader to discover the islands on my own. This is without a doubt one of my biggest dreams coming true. Thank God for all this wonderful opportunities and let’s pray that everything is going well with my Leapers throughout the 10 weeks! We are going to work hard and travel harder! 😛

As you can see, this group leading will take almost all of my time in Ecuador. And when this program is done and the group members travel further or back to the UK, I will be finishing lots of administration in the office of Yanapuma (the operating agent for The Leap in Ecuador). Then I only have a few days left until I fly back to Belgium on the 19th of June. Time will fly, as you might be able to imagine, and before you know, I’m reunited with my love, my friends, my family and my cats. ❤

If you’re interested, you can check out the program on the website: http://www.theleap.co.uk/volunteering-in-ecuador.html

do one thing that scares you

And let’s especially remember…

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!”

Let’s take THE LEAP! I am ready to take off…


Chilling in Chilcapamba!

After spending Monday and Tuesday in Tsachila, I left on Wednesday to the next project: Chilcapamba. I will go to this project with my group in May for two weeks. I was happy that I could go and visit this project with my fellow leader Michel, so I didn’t have to travel on my own again.

We met each other at 10 o’clock in the bus terminal in the south of Quito, and took a bus to Otavalo there. After two hours we reached our destination. Otavalo is a small indigenous city surrounded by volcanoes. The Otavaleños (locals) are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool, which are sold at the famous Saturday market. Unfortunately, it was Wednesday so we couldn’t visit it (and we also came here for professional matters, and not to behave as a tourist 😉 ), but we figured out we would have plenty of time when returning with the groups.

otavalo market

From Otavalo, we took a local bus heading towards Quiroga, a small but nice looking village in the ‘Sierra’ (highlands) of Ecuador. Once we arrived there, we had to take a taxi to bring us to the community. And 10 minutes later we arrived at the volunteer house. Just like in Tsachila, the leader of the project was called Alfonso. But both men were very different, obviously as one was from the jungle-mentality and this the other from the mountain-mentality. It was interesting to notice the cultural differences between the various regions in Ecuador.


When we arrived around 1PM at the house however, there was no Alfonso to be found. We did encounter Francesca, his wife, and she showed us our room. In comparison to Tsachila we had quite some luxury here, with a private bathroom and very comfortable beds.

Chilcapamba 001

Francesca left us in the room and went cooking, so we had some time to explore the surrounding areas. I didn’t know exactly whether I had to call it a garden or a farm or a field, as the whole community was one big terrain with plants and animals. It was nice to check it out, but after half an hour we were already quite bored and with hungry stomachs we returned to the house, where lunch was waiting for us.

Chilcapamba garden farm

In the family kitchen we met the children: Tupac, Victor and Consuelo, who just arrived from school in their uniforms. I felt like an invader there, because it just seemed such a pieceful local family and me being this ‘gringa’ in the kitchen was like interrupting their lives. But they didn’t seem to mind at all. After a while Alfonso, our host, entered the building and after he had dinner we finally get to talk to him.

It was around 3PM that we left to visit the other volunteer house, which was completely newly build and looked somewhat too fancy for a community, but anyway… I didn’t complain about that!

Chilcapamba house volunteers

After seeing the local school, and Alfonso explaining us that our volunteers will help painting the walls and floors, he took us to the surrounding forest.

He dropped me, Michel, Francesca and Tupac at the end of the road, and from there we would walk to see the big project: water supply for the community, sourcing from a waterfall nearby.

Chilcapamba Alfonso

What was intentionally ment to be a small exploring walk, turned out in a huge hiking trip. We decided to walk all the way to the source of the water.

We had to walk more than an hour to get there, and on our way we crossed rivers and small paths in bushes. It was a very adventurous experience for me, as I am more a city-person. 😉

Chilcapamba francesca and tupac forest

But the views were amazing every now and then…

Chilcapamba landscape view

On our way I got very motivated and entertained by Tupac, the youngest son of Alfonso and Francesca, who was very intelligent and enthusiastic for his age. He looked like a little Tarzan, and I noticed that it was so much better to let children play in nature, than to play Candy Crush games on their mobile devices all day… THIS WAS LIFE!

Chilcapamba landscape view

You might be thinking right now… What the **** Tupac? Well, Tupac’s name does absolutely not refer to the famous Afro-American rapper, but is an old and traditional Inca name of Andean origin. The name means “royal” in the Quechua language, and Tupac Amaru was also the last Inca ruler of the empire.


Don Tupac Amaru 

After hiking an hour through the forest, we finally reached the waterfall. To be honest, it was not really impressive, but I did feel proud to have reached the destination. And I was happy to finally return.

Chilcapamba me

On our way back I realized it was really special and courageous how those people could have built this water supply road, thanks to the help of many volunteers in many different periods. I realized that the work of Yanapuma really was worthwhile!

Chilcapamba Michel Me

Michel and I, Yanapuma Group Leaders

As we got hungry again after so much walking, Tupac picked some fruits in the forest for us. It was nice to be all into this nature-things.

Chilcapamba Tupac

Once back in the house, I noticed that Tupac did have an iPod. And I felt quite disappointed. Maybe in the end, we people are all the same, and this Tarzan-people are also quite developed already?

in the end

As exciting as the afternoon was, as more boring the evening got. We were hungry and the food didn’t seem to get ready. The hours seemed days, and Alfonso was again nowhere to be found. We even started to question ourselves things like: “Who has written the Bible?” and other weird things out of pure desperation.

Just when we decided to go to bed, he showed up and very late we had to hold our meeting about the program and volunteer schedule for our groups. As my group would arrive in May, there was not even real clarity about what they would be doing. Alfonso just promised me there would always be plenty of work in Chilcapamba. And to keep us motivated, a wise Indian quote:

solo cuando quote indian

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

Late at night, we got to sleep, and woke up early to have breakfast and make the trip HOME again. Yes, dear friends, after one month in Ecuador, Quito is really starting to feel like HOME. ❤

From Julie with Love, from Ecuador


Pululahua, Camping & the Shamans

Life is full of surprises and serendipity, that’s the least I can say about this weekend. Being open to unexpected turns, brought me wonderful opportunities. I slowly start to realize that if you try to plan every step here, you might miss those wonderful twists and turns. And so I founded my next adventure on the dining table Wednesday evening… Celebrating the solstice festival with my host family in the crater of Pululahua, a – fortunately – passive volcano.

We weren’t quite sure where and when exactly we would be able to celebrate with the indigenous Ecuadorian people, but there were rumours going on and so we left Quito for the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) on Saturday morning. My host father, Francisco, and another host in the house, Nicolas, decided to go camping somewhere around that evening. I took some cash in case I would find a hotel, and just for in case if not… I prepared a small back to go camping too. This would be the first time!

And so we left, for a new adventure, crossing the Equator by bus and by foot. On our way we passed San Antonio, a small town near la Mitad del Mundo, where people were already celebrating the arrival of Spring!


We had lunch in Rumicocho, where we visited the Ruinas de Rumicucho. This is an archeological site near San Antonio, constructed by the Incas between 1480 and 1500 for military and religious goals. It is also called Pucará de Rumicucho. There are 5 terraces from which you have an amazing view over the surroundings. Apart from that, it’s not that spectacular, too be honest.

Pululahua 015

We had lunch in a local restaurant near the ruins, and I ate what I got offered (vegetarian option). I could recognize mais and cheese, but the beans I had never seen nor eaten before in my life. Miraculously, it tasted quite well and the meal filled me up entirely!

Pululahua 010

Then we headed further to Pululahua, where the celebrations would continue until late at night… We had to take  a bus and walk a while, but it was okay for my unexperienced hiking-legs. 😉

We hiked up the mountains until we walked literally into the clouds at more then 3000 meters of altitude. Amazing!

Pululahua 076

Once over there, we entered the Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun). Around this monument, all the indigenous people gathered together to make a wonderful time. We were not even inside the temple, or we were invited to participate a guided session. Here the woman explained the magnetism of the equator (the temple is exactly located on the equinoctial line).

Inside the temple, people remember the importance of the sun for the original folks. The buildings consists out of 3 levels, in which they show paintings and sculptures that help to maintain the balance with the cosmos,  regarding the guide.

Pululahua 108

After a while, we were invited to experience the relaxing spirit of medicinal herbs and aromatherapy, combined with Andean music. We were also given a piece of Jade to improve our balance. And believe it or not, but after some random examples, we got proof that this worked.

All stones had a different meaning, and when I asked the woman to explain my stone, I was convinced that this was mend to be MY stone. Therefore, I decided to keep it and never to take it out during my trip through Ecuador. The energy would help me feel balanced. (I know, sounds a little bit crazy…)

Pululahua 124

Before we knew it, it was 7PM and time to start participating in the ceremonies. We didn’t even had time to figure out where to sleep and it was already dark. And as there were no affordable hostels nearby, I had no other choice than to camp too. But secretly, I found it exciting!

As the sun set down, the Shamans arrived for the TEMASKAL (purification with plants and stones). The indigenous were making music in a mystical way, like I had never heard before. Everybody got in a sort of trance and we all started to dance around the fire. Yes, even we, not being part of them and the only white ones here, were kindly invited to participate in the circle.


The Shamans drunk a lot of alcohol, we noticed, but they spitted it out all the time and made a sort of mist passing through our senses that stimulated our emotional state of being. This was awesome!

Pululahua 132

A little bit later the head Shaman asked for fuerza (strength) and alegria (happiness), as they were about to start the ZAPATEO POR LA PACHAMAMA (the fire walk). One by one they ‘danced’ over the fire on their naked feet. And in the background the indigenous kept playing the trance-styled music. After the Shamans all walked over the fire for various times, the public was invited to do it too.


Next, after midnight, was the TOMA DE MEDICINA SAGRADA (taking of medicine), called Ayahuasca. Here came the seriously wicked part. People start to pass bowls of this psychedelic brew of various plants, and drunk it in order to get spiritual relevations regarding their purpose on earth, and to get deep insight into how they can be the best person they possible can be on this earth. In reality, I have just seen most of them getting into another state of consciousness (hallucination). However, you have to drink sufficient before having this effects, because my host companion Nicolas tasted some, and didn’t feel any effects. It might be also important to know that the preparations made of these plants (Ayahuasca) are not under international control and are legal ‘drugs’ here.


Anyhow… The main purpose of all this celebrations was the new Andean year, which starts when the sun aligns with the earth. This causes ‘maximal energy’ and is the day of flowering, dreams and new projects. Natives celebrate it with big parties, music, dance, food and Ayahuasca drink. The party here was called PAWKAR RAYMI, fiesta of the Flowering of the Maize. They thank the bounteous provisions of PACHA MAMA, or Mother Earth, on this day in particular.

And so we went at night to set up our tent and slept shortly near the fiesta. I woke up every hour because of pain in my back and various noises, but after all I really enjoyed this experience. And so I also did enjoy having breakfast with a view in the nature the next morning. (And I even pipi’ed in the wild!!) 😛

Pululahua 143

Early in the morning there were no clouds and we walked into the crater of Pululahua, one of the reasons why we came here.

The views were amazing and I founded them even more beautiful than on the pictures I’ve seen on Google before coming here. Lol.

Pululahua 146

It was a pretty steep hike down into this passive volcano, but the views were UN-BE-LIEV-ABLE!

Hiking up was something else in this altitude and steepness. I had to hold breaks every once in a while to control my breathing and heart rate, but it was all worth it! Definitely!

Pululahua 152

By the time we returned to the Temple of the Sun, the celebrations started all over again. Or actually, did they ever stop? No, because a group of guitarists kept playing all night through…


Now arrived groups of children in typical clothing to perform some dance and celebrate with their families.

Pululahua 214

Unfortunately, it was time for us to break up the tent and pack our stuff. We had experienced lots of amazing things, but the lack of sleep made us longing for home and shower. And the way back was still long…

 Pululahua 086

Next trip: Santo Domingo y los Tsachilas! Read about it soon here 😉

Riobamba, La Nariz del Diablo & La Llama

Saturday it was about time for my first weekend trip, with colleague Michel – Dutch guy, who is also an intern at Yanapuma – and Max, German guy – and English teacher volunteer who I’ve never seen before the trip. We doubted between going to the coast to catch some sun and visit Isla de la Plata or to go for culture & adventure at Riobamba and La Nariz del Diablo. And as the title of this blog post says, you know what it became…

Zaterdag was het dan eindelijk zover, tijd voor een eerste weekend uitstap met collega Michel – Nederlander die ook stage loopt bij Yanapuma – en Max, Duitser die vrijwillig Engelse lessen geeft in Quito en wie ik nooit eerder voor de trip had gezien. We twijfelden even of we naar de kust zouden gaan om wat zonnestralen op te vangen en Isla de la Plata te bezoeken, of dat we naar cultuur en avontuur op zoek zouden gaan in Riobamba en La Nariz del Diablo. En zoals de titel van deze blogpost al verklapte, weet je wat het is geworden…

The Travel Team

Travel Companions: Michel, Me and Max

So Saturday morning I left with a small bag for one night to Riobamba. I was going to meet the boys in Parque El Ejido to catch a one hour bus to the terminal of Quitumbe where we would take the bus to Riobamba. I decided again to let go of my fears and took the public transportation with my camera and stuff. And thanks to God that went well!

4 hours later, around noon, we arrived in Riobamba. On our way we enjoyed spectacular views over the Cotopaxi volcano and other beautiful landscapes, as we were driving along the Panamericana highway. And as always I also slept good on that bus… 😛

Dus vertrok ik zaterdagochtend met een kleine tas voor één nacht richting Riobamba. Ik zou the jongens in het Ejido park ontmometen om daar een één uur durende busrit richting de busterminal van Quitumbe te nemen. Daar zouden we de bus richting Riobamba nemen. Ik besloot opnieuw om mijn angsten te overwinnen en maakte gebruik van het openbare vervoer, ondanks dat ik mijn camera bij had. En God, dat ging even lekker!

4 uur later, rond de middag, kwamen we aan in Riobamba. Onderweg genoten we van spectaculaire uitzichten over de Cotopaxi en andere prachtige landschappen, terwijl we over de Panamericana autosnelweg reden. En naar goede gewoonte deed ik ook een aardig dutje op die bus… 😛

Riobamba & Nariz del Diablo 046 !!!

We booked a cheap hostel for $13 a person but as they did not provide us the expected room, we bargained until we paid just $11. The Ecuadorian way! Overall, we had not to complain about this place, except that the WiFi signal was poor and there came more water from the shower on the floor than over my body… The Ecuadorian way too?!

We started of with a walk through the small city of Riobamba, where we were happy to find the Saturday markets. One market was full of artesian products, and the other with fresh vegetables, fruits and meat.

We boekten een goedkoop hostel voor $13 per persoon maar gezien ze niet over de gereserveerde kamer beschikten, brachten we de prijs tot $11. Op z’n Ecuadoriaans! Over het algemeen hadden we niet te klagen over deze plek, afgezien van het slechte WiFi signaal en het feit dat er meer water uit dan in de douche liep… Ook op z’n Ecuadoriaans?!

We startten even later met een wandelingetje door het kleine stadje Riobamba, waar we tot grote vreugde de zaterdagmarkt terugvonden. Er was één markt vol met ambachtelijke producten, en een andere met verse groenten, fruit en vlees.

Local market in Riobamba on Saturday

I can’t get used to seeing Cuy (guinea pig)… It’s a typical Andean meal, but I’m not really a fan of it!

Ik kan alleen maar niet wennen aan het zien van Cuy (cavia)… Het is een typische maaltijd uit de Andes, maar ik ben niet meteen fan!

Cuy Ecuadorian specialty

We also had the chance to see a lot of indigenous people in this town.

We zagen ook heel wat inheemse mensen in dit stadje.

Indiginous people

And we enjoyed a $0.25 icecream on one of the beautiful plazas in town. Couldn’t taste better, and sunny weather!

In the late afternoon we had seen about the whole town and decided to turn back to the hostel as it just started to rain out of nowhere. Yes, this is also typically Ecuadorian: sun and rain are unpredictable and you can easily experience the 4 seasons in one day: freezing at night (winter), sunny in the morning (spring), hot around noon (summer) and rainy cloudy afternoons (autumn). That’s one of the reasons why should always wear clothes in layers and take as well your sunglasses as your umbrella! “Una locura” = craziness, regarding locals…

En we genoten van een ijsje dat slechts $0.25 kostte op het centrale plein. Kon niet beter smaken, en wat een zonnig weertje!

In de late namiddag hadden we heel het centrum wel gezien en besloten we om terug te keren naar het hostel. Het begon ook plots te regenen. Tsjah, dit is ook typisch aan Ecuador: zon en regen zijn onvoorspelbaar en je kan makkelijk 4 seizoenen in één dag ervaren: vriestemperaturen in de nacht (winter), zonnig in de ochtend (lente), heet rond de middag (zomer) en bewolkt in de namiddag (herfst). Dat is één van de redenen waarom je hier altijd kledij in laagjes moet dragen, en dat je zowel je zonnebril als je paraplu moet meenemen op uitstapjes. “Una locura” = gekte, zoals de mensen hier zeggen…

Walking through Riobamba

We decided to play some silly card games in the hostel until it stopped raining, and even watched the most stupid tv programs on a small retarded television, but no… It didn’t stopped raining for that evening, and so we headed around the corner and spoiled ourselves with some delicious pizza and a cup of Sangria before heading to bed. The next day we had to wake up in 4 o’clock in order to get the bus at 5AM to Alausi, where our main goal of this weekend trip was waiting for us… La Nariz del Diablo!

Around 7 in the morning we arrived at the small village of Alausi, another 2 hours more southwards from Riobamba. Here we could find the train station to La Nariz del Diablo. Luckily we bought out tickets ($25 a person) in advance, because places are quickly sold out at the station as many touroperators include this trainride in their itineraries.

We besloten dan maar om wat eenvoudige kaartspelletjes te spelen in het hostel tot het zou stoppen met regenen, en we keken zelfs naar de meest belachelijke tv serie ooit, maar nee… Het stopte maar niet met regenen die avond, en dus besloten we om snel het hoekje om te lopen om onszelf te verwennen met een heerlijke pizza en een glaasje Sangria voor we naar bed gingen. De volgende dag moesten we om 4 uur al opstaan om de bus van 5 uur richting Alausi te kunnen halen, daar wachtte het doel van onze weekend trip op ons… La Nariz del Diablo!

Rond 7 uur ‘s ochtends kwamen we vervolgens aan in Alausi, nog eens 2 uur zuidelijker van Riobamba. Hier vonden we het treinstation naar La Nariz del Diablo. Gelukkig kochten we onze tickets ($25 per persoon) op voorhand, want de plaatsen waren al snel uitverkocht omdat vele touroperators dit treinritje in programma door Ecuador verwerken.

Alausi town

As our train departed at 8AM, we had still plenty of time to enjoy the Sunday market in town and grabbed some breakfast at the station for $2,50 (including cheese sandwich, eggs, coffee and fresh juice). Not bad!

En omdat onze trein pas om 8 uur vertrok, hadden we nog ruim de tijd om de zondagse markt te verkennen en om te genieten van een heerlijk ontbijtje t.w.v. $2.50 (broodje kaas, eitje, koffie en vers fruitsap inbegrepen). Niet slecht!

Alausi station

Then it was time for boarding… But oh, wait. Let me tell you what exactly is this Nariz del Diablo… Well, La Nariz del Diablo (also called Devil’s Nose in English), is the “MOST DIFFICULT TRAIN IN THE WORLD” and is one of Ecuador’s most famous attractions. The railroad was originally built to connect to Andes with the coast, and the route goes up and down steep slopes, along river valleys and has to negotiate a wall of rock called Nariz del Diablo.

Dan was het tijd om in te stappen… Maar oh, wacht. Laat me even vertellen wat die Nariz del Diablo nu eigenlijk is… Wel, La Nariz del Diablo (ook wel Duivelsneus genoemd), is de ‘MEEST GEVAARLIJKE TREIN TER WERELD’ en is één van Ecuador’s meest populaire attracties. De spoorweg was oorspronkelijk gebouwd om de Andes met de kust te verbinden, en de route gaat op en neer doorheen diepe ravijnen, rivier valleien en gaat dwars door een grote rots, genaamd: Nariz del Diablo.

The most dangerous train ride in the world

People used to be able to choose to sit inside or ride the roof for a better view, but you can imagine how dangerous this was. And yes, eventually some people died so that now it is no longer allowed.

But the real reason why this train is called the most difficult train in the world is because many people died building it, and when you take the ride you understand why. The terrain is precarious. At times the train is so close to the side of a mountain that if you stick your hand outside the train car, you’ll lose it!

Mensen konden vroeger kiezen om binnen of op het dak te zitten voor een beter uitzicht, maar je kan je voorstellen hoe gevaarlijk dat was. En ja, uiteindelijk zijn er doden gevallen (letterlijk!) en is het nu niet meer toegestaan.

Maar de echte reden waarom deze trein de moeilijkste trein ter wereld wordt genoemd, is omdat er zoveel mensen stierven tijdens de constructie ervan. Wanneer je de treinrit neemt, begrijp je waarom. Het terrein is woest en soms komt de trein zo dicht bij de bergen dat als je je hand zou uitsteken, je je hand kwijt zou zijn!

Nariz del Diablo

A round trip train ride from Alausi is only 2,5 hours but we had plenty of time to enjoy all the beautiful scenery because the train goes only 12 km / hour.

Een heen- en terugreis vanaf Alausi duurt slechts 2 uur en half, maar we hadden wel ruim de tijd om al dat moois te aanschouwen want de trein rijdt slechts 12  km per uur.

Riobamba & Nariz del Diablo 220

The tour includes a short stop in front of the famous mountain, where of course everybody wants his pictures with the Devil’s Nose in the background. And so did we!

Bij de tour hoort ook een korte stop vlak voor de beroemde berg, waar iedereen natuurlijk een foto wilde met de Duivelsneus op de achtergrond. En zo wij ook!

Me in front of the Devil's Nose

The tour also includes a 50 minute stop in the town of Sibambe for lunch. Here we could see some indigenous people demonstrating an authentic Ecuadorian dance. You can imagine that this was quite touristic, but it was really nice done and so we could enjoy it to the fullest!

Bovendien was er een stop van 50 minuten in Sibambe om te lunchen. Hier zagen we inheemse mensen aan het dansen. Dit was vrij toeristisch, maar wel leuk gedaan en dus eens leuk om te zien!

Typical Ecuadorian Dancers

The highlight of my trip however were the llamas… This was my first encounter with them and I felt excited like a small little child. Of course, I also needed a picture with them but as you can see I was over-happy and enjoyed it too much.

Het hoogtepunt van mijn trip waren echter de lama’s… Dit was mijn allereerste ontmoeting met hen en ik was zo blij als een klein kind. Natuurlijk moest ik ook even op de foto, maar ik was over-enthousiast en had het zoals je kon zien wel even te goed naar mijn zin.

Me and the Llama

As we had 50 minutes in Sibambe, I had plenty of time to get to know the llama. And I decided to do a small interview with Mrs Llama. (I suppose it was a girl because she was so beautiful hihihi) 😛 :

Tijdens die 50 minuten in Sibambe had ik ruim de tijd om de lama beter te leren kennen. En ik besloot een klein gesprekje met mevrouw Lama te voeren. Helaas sprak de lama enkel Engels vandaar geen vertaling voor dit stukje… 😉

1)      Do you think I could ever keep you as a pet?

Yes, I am loving and cute, and I have many uses. I require less cost yearly than dogs, and am wonderful companion. 

2)      I’ve heard that llamas like to spit. Is that true? Why do you do that?

Yes, it is true. Llamas spit as a way of disciplining young or low ranked llamas in the herd or when they are angry or irritated. Female llamas spit so as to maintain order among the other herd members or when a male llama attempts to mate with her yet she is pregnant.

3)      Are you lazy or do you just look really like that?

Yes, I can be quite lazy sometimes. But if I have to, I can reach a top speed of about 40 miles per hour when running in a wide open area. However, I would only do it if I am trying to escape a predator in the wild. 

4)      If I would ask you kindly, would you give milk?

Yes, but milking me is more difficult then milking a cow or a goat.

5)      Are you strong, like a donkey?

Of course! I am very hardy and strong and can carry loads of stuff. I could also be your perfect hiking companion.

6)      What is your favourite meal?

I love to eat grain and hay, legumes, and vegetables.

7)      Would you ever bite me or use violence?

Some llamas like to chew on you, but we won’t hurt you because we only have teeth on the bottom of our mouth.

8)      If you ever fall in love, how many babies would you like to have?

Oh, I love to love because I am a herd animal. You will need at least two pets. Llama young are called crias, and I would like to have only one cria at a time.

9)      How often do you go to the hairdresser?

Whenever I feel like having to much fiber! (Llama hair is commonly called ‘fiber’.) Did you know my fiber is prized by hand spinners, knitters, weavers and crafters for its softness and warmth?!

10)   What is your preferred climate: hot and humid, or chilly and windy?

I’m used to live in the Andes mountains. However, the climate of a llama may vary. We can live up in the Mountains, on rocky cliffs, but also in ranches, open land plains, and even zoos.

The Llama

Buenos dias, Llama. Mucho gusto…

And before I knew it my 50 minutes were over, and I had to get back on the train.

As I took more than enough pictures during the first part of the ride, I took some time for meditation while I enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

And of course I thought about home, about how much I wished that I could share these beautiful moments with all of the precious people in my heart. I love you and I miss you!

En voor ik het wist, waren die 50 minuten alweer voorbij gevlogen, en moesten we weer terug op de trein.

Aangezien ik al meer dan genoeg foto’s had genomen op de heenrit, besloot ik om even tijd te nemen om te genieten van het mooie landschap dat voorbij gleed.

En natuurlijk dacht ik ook aan thuis, aan hoe hard ik wenste dat ik dit kon delen met al mijn dierbaren. Ik hou van jullie en ik mis jullie enorm!

Meditation Time

Around 10.30AM we were back in Alausi, but as we were awake from 4AM it felt like a long day already. We could use the 5 hours on the bus back to Quito for some serious power nap, and after another bus hour in the giant city of Quito, I finally reached home. Tired but accomplished.

Rond 10u30 waren we weer terug in Alausi, maar omdat we al van 4 uur wakker waren, voelde het aan als een lange dag. We konden de 5 uur slaap op de bus richting Quito dus goed gebruiken, en na nog eens een uur op de bus in de grootstad Quito, was ik eindelijk thuis. Moe maar voldaan.

Ecuador is a wonderful country!

Ecuador is een prachtig land!

P.S.: Michel, my ‘compañero’ made a lovely movie of this trip, which I am happy to share with you:

P.S. Michel, mijn metgezel maakte een leuk filmpje van dit reisje, dat ik graag met jullie deel:


Volunteering in Quito – Spread the Wor(L)d !

The second week of my internship in Ecuador flew by. Before I knew it, it was Friday evening (while I’m writing this). I feel already ‘home’ at the Yanapuma office and more work and responsibilities are coming my way as the days pass by… But I wouldn’t like to talk about what I did at work, I would like to talk about what I experienced as a human being… Because I was sent to visit some of the volunteer projects of Yanapuma near Quito. And doing this, did make quite a movement in my heart and mind. So while reading this… Please consider volunteering at least one time in your life. Spread the word through the world, because your help is more than welcome!

The experience of volunteering is often one of the highlights of any traveler’s journey, and Ecuador offers some great opportunities for connecting with communities and worthwhile projects. And even though I didn’t come to volunteer myself, I got the chance to taste from this wonderful world of CARING and GIVING. And I start to understand it…

“Volunteers are not paid – not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

Boy in Conocoto

Or as Martin Luther King Jr once said:

“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

And so I started my journey to one of the first projects: CAMP HOPE, or in Spanish: Fundación Esperanza, a day-school for disabled and underprivileged children in the northern area of Carcelen in Quito. Every day the local staff and volunteers take care of medical attention, rehabilitation, vocational training and recreational activities for these kids.


For me it was an eye-opening experience, as I felt so warmly welcomed by the local director. I still try to understand how these people keep smiling no matter how poor their life conditions are. Everybody, no matter in what circumstance they were living, was smiling. And the children loved to touch and hold me. I could feel they had so much love to give, and even though I felt uncomfortable being so much more ‘normal’ then them – almost feeling guilty for it – I smiled every second of the time I spend there.


It just demands so much courage and emotional stability to be working and / or living in Camp Hope. And so I figured out where they got the name from… On the website of the project (http://www.camphopeecuador.org/ ) I encountered a video which is definitely worth to take a look at:

After the story, you get some information about the project itself…

Unfortunately I was not allowed to take close up pictures, and the pictures I did take were only allowed for promoting volunteers to come and help them out. So I would like to announce via this blog also to collaborate and volunteer. For more information:  http://www.yanapuma.org/en/volunteer-CampHope.php

And what we can all learn from this is maybe that the only disability in life is a bad attitude, or like Fundación Esperanza says: “prohibido decir no puedo” (forbidden to say I can’t…)


The long hour traveling on the bus was definitely worth the ride, and I had some time to meditate about it on my way back. And God, if feels so good doing something that does make a difference!

The next day it was time to go to Conocoto Public School (“Escuela Fiscal Amable Arauz” in Spanish), also located about an hour away by bus from Quito center. In this project volunteers can teach (English) in the busy primary and elementary school.

There are more than 1400 children, as I was informed and most of them come from the nearby neighborhoods in Quito. As it is a public school, parents don’t have to pay BUT it also means that there is not so much budget and the classes are too full (I counted an average of 40 students in one class room).


Although the project is a little bit far from Quito, it is worth the travelling. During the bus trip I had some amazing views over a valley in the Andes! (Why didn’t I make pictures of that?) And the town of Conocoto is also really nice: there is a small ‘plaza’ park with a beautiful little church. Right next to it is the school.

Inside the school you also have beautiful views over the surrounding mountains, but what was definitely the most impressive is the people themselves here. I met a wonderful English teacher, Lorena, who loved to talk with me about the school.


Then I got the chance to enter some of the class rooms and the children were amazingly excited to see “LA GRINGAAAA” with a camera. (My job was to make pictures of the projects for the website, and to discuss information about the project with the director).


All the teachers were also very friendly and warmly welcomed me to enter and interrupt their classes. I felt like some of them had never seen a camera before and tried to take as many pictures as I could of the children, and showed them afterwards to them.


The happiness and purity in the faces of these young human beings, which is so far away from western lifestyle, is very confronting. Even though these people have so much less than we do in Europe, in my opinion they had so much more to give. And that’s what it was all about for me. Trying to give things which are not evident for me, not to have… but to be.


I realized that as most of these children will never get the opportunity to continue higher studies or will never manage to speak good English, it is important as a further developed human being to try to help out the weaker amongst us. And we should realize that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. See it like this:

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” – Muhammad Ali


“When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.”

If you would like to volunteer in the Conocoto Public School of Quito, please surf to: http://www.yanapuma.org/en/volunteer-conocoto.php for more details.


If you never try, you’ll never know…

Here’s the truth: You can’t know how you’re going to feel about something until that “something” is actually happening. Because guess what? The only way to figure out what works for you is to try things, so you can’t be afraid to try things. And only until you learn to let go your fears, you can rise above them.

I guess true failure is when you don’t let yourself off the perfectionism hook long enough to experiment and test and live. Experimentation is everything. So I told myself… “Listen, I get that you’re scared. But I also get that you want to change your life here. And it’s not gonna happen if you keep… waiting.”

And so I decided to go out and try things until I figured out whether it worked for me. Because really, what’s the worst that could happen? Winding up not liking the city, returning home and stay scared? Well, congratulations, THEN YOU KNOW. And that alone is a big success.

But so I made a turnaround in my mind and started to open up myself for this country. And from then I realized… We all have eyes, but not all of us can see. Everything depends on whether you are ready for it or not. And after one difficult week I felt ready! Finally!

Quito 198

#selfie (not so great hihi)

The weekend started and I decided to go out and do something on my own, without the protection of my guest family. And it didn’t matter what, just something to make me feel fine. And so I decided for the first time in my life to do something I usually have an aversion to: tourist buses. 🙂 This time I could only see the advantages: cheap, easy, safe, punctual, comfortable, educative and fun!

Quito 002

And so I decided my Day Tour with the Hop On – Hop Off Service in Quito. And I turned out to see a lot of things:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I really enjoyed being alone all these hours, and finally and did not only feel FREEDOM but I also start to appreciate the beauty and the culture of this city (even though it stays hard to focus on it sometimes hihi). Note:  Latin American capital cities are known to be not the most beautiful cities in the continent, due to a high population, traffic problems, air pollution, crime, violence and so on.

It was like I had different eyes to see, different ears to hear, a different nose to smell and a different mouth to taste. Everything was getting better today! I enjoyed my time and felt accomplished when I got back home. I had not been robbed, I had not felt scared or unsafe, I had not felt lonely and I even had the biggest portion of sun during this whole week. God’s sign to say things were moving on from now on?!

 new eyes

Sunday was also a lovely day. However it begun with pooring rain, the weather got better and me, Francisco (my host father) and Nicolas (another guest staying in the house), decided to go out for a tour and we rented bicycles. On Sunday the city is partially car-free so that cyclists and pedestrians have time and space to enjoy their ‘healthy’ free weekends.

Bycicle Tour

Francisco guided us up north towards the old airport of Quito. Nowadays, there is a new airport build about one hour distance of the city center. Therefore, the old airport was closed and is now used as a bycicle park. And I have to say, it had something ‘different’: riding the bike on an airport strip!! It was a nice experience, even though the altitude made it difficult to breath for me sometimes… DSCN5977

On our way home, we stopped by the local market of Santa Clara and had some lunch there. I wasn’t really sure about the hygiene and the quality of the food there, but as everybody ate (and I promised myself “if you never try, you’ll never know…”) I had a delicious plate of fresh fish with rice, plantains and spicy sauce. Mercado Santa Clara

Afterwards, I decided to pass by the bakery for something sweet because I was starving (because of the exercise or the altitude?). I bought ‘Tres Leches’ desserts and took it home for the whole family. I really feel so good there with them, every day I feel blessed to say that I feel like ‘going home’…

Tres Leches Postre

Around 4 o’clock it started to rain again, so we felt lucky to be inside again. Everybody was tired and as the weather was bad, we all felt like doing a siesta. Nothing more relaxing on a Sunday afternoon!

And so, my dear friends… After all I had a great weekend and I feel like I have found new energy and strength for next week! I hope you are as happy as me to feel things are getting better. And as you might have noticed: I have tried and now I know… Hey, everything is okay! 😉

¡Bienvenida a la Fundación Yanapuma!

Welcome to the Yanapuma Foundation “Sustainable Community Development in Ecuador”. This is a non-governmental organization is working together with local and international partners to bring about lasting change for the marginalized and indigenous people of Ecuador. And this is the reason why I came to Ecuador, to be part of a bigger project. To be the change I want to see in the world, as Mahatma Gandhi would say…

YanapumaThe Yanapuma Foundation office in Quito

All the projects Yanapuma works with form components of the integrated approach, which focuses on the interconnectedness of the social and environmental reality affecting rural indigenous and marginalized Ecuadorian communities. The aim is always to work to create and maintain active partnerships between Yanapuma, its funders, and the communities that they serve. I will be mainly working around 3 of their projects whilst traveling with groups: the Tsachila, Chilcapamba and Hacienda Tranquila.

TsachilaCommunity of the Tsáchilas, ethnicity of Ecuador

My position in the company as an intern is “VOLUNTEER GROUP LEADER FOR COMMUNITIES IN ECUADOR” because one important resource for the foundation are international volunteers and groups for short or long term periods (1 week to 6 months) to assist the communities with their goals. Yanapuma receives the groups of volunteers a number of times a year, and for this reason, they need people who are willing and able to motivate, manage and lead these groups of 10 to 15 volunteers in different locations around Ecuador. In the communities volunteer work will be done in construction, education, environment, and other areas.

My responsabilities will be:

– Learn about the local culture and previous projects in the different communities

– Prepare for the group’s arrival by setting up accommodation, food, transport, project work, and budget. This might include visiting the local community where the project is to organize with them the details of the work and accommodation

– Greet the group upon arrival and be their leader throughout their time with Yanapuma in Ecuador. This includes traveling with the group to coordinate and oversee their transport, project work, and additional activities.

– Introduce the group members to the community and vice versa

– Coordinate daily activities with the contact person in the community

– Explain the norms of living and working in a community to the volunteers and make sure they are being implemented

– Motivate and support the volunteers with their daily activities

– Organize activities during free time and weekends in coordination with the community

– Participate with the volunteer work

– Oversee the health and wellbeing of the group during their time with Yanapuma

– Be the point-of-contact between the group and the Yanapuma office in case of problems or concerns

– Maintain email communication with the contact person in the group (teacher, representative) to organize the logistics and project

My group will arrive the 1st of April 2014. Most group members will be aged 18-21 years old, and coming from the United Kingdom through a travel agency that offers gap year programs. They will stay for 10 weeks, until the 9th of June.

But for now I am working in the office preparing their trip together with Cristina Lopez, the volunteer and intern coordinator of Yanapuma.

Yanapuma 003The office

Also, I obviously need time to get used to the country and its culture ànd to the company. Therefore, I am staying one month in a host family. And until now I can say that I feel really blessed them around me because they have helped me a lot during my first days. They care about me as if I were their own hija (child) and I don’t know what I would do without them.    Gracias Ana Maria y Francisco!!!

ComedorDining area in the host family house

I have no idea how I will manage to become a real GROUP LEADER in one month, but there is no way back. Only forward… So I’ll keep my head up high, hoping for the best! I can do this!!!

head up

By the way: I already have a small idea of my 10 week itinerary but I’m not telling you yet… Surprise for the next blog post?!


Quito, Life Lessons & the Culture Shock

After traveling through Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, I thought that I would fairly smooth adjust to life in another Latin American country. Obviously… I was wrong!

“Culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life.”

While writing this post I realize that this is my 3th day in Quito. It is therefore not really worth worrying about the fact that I am currently really struggling more than I would like to admit. Let me explain how the last days went…

what am i doing here culture shock

Saturday evening I arrived from a long journey so Sunday I decided to take it easy. The altitude sickness catched me from the first moments when I arrived: I was feeling a constant pressure in my head, and whenever I walked ‘too fast’ or climbed the stairs, I felt so dizzy that I could possibly pass out. Fortunately, it did not happen (yet). 😉

Sunday afternoon my guest father, Francisco, joined me for a small walk through the area nearby, La Mariscal (also called Gringolandia because it’s full of gringos, Americans). There was almost nobody in the streets because currently people are celebrating Carnaval near the coast of Ecuador. Apparently Carnaval is way more important here than in Europe. Walking down the streets, I felt happy to have Francisco near me, because I could feel it was not safe at all.

Therefore, also Monday morning, when I had to be at Yanapuma for my first day of work, he accompanied me on the bustrip to the office. I can feel that my family does this because they want to protect me from the everlasting dangers in the neighborhoods. They have told me so many stories of robberies that I frankly became scared. So even after work, mi padre picked me up near the office to take me home like I was his child.

Quito bus 1

Tuesday morning, the story continued… And nothing seems to work out fine so far: shops are closed so everything I would have liked to buy (sim card, umbrella, notebooks, …) I couldn’t buy, and when I wanted to pay my food in a local restaurant, they didn’t have change for a $50 bill. Apparently, in Quito bills of $50 and $100 are not accepted nowhere because of safety regulations. And changing the money is a hard thing to do as nobody wants to change…

As you can feel while reading, it really bothers me not to be able to independent. If you know me a little bit, you also know that I absolutely don’t like to be vulnerable and dependent. I am always self-reliable, sure of myself and strong. But for the first time in my life I feel like a child that desperately needs somebody to protect me, even for the smallest things like walking around and taking a bus ride for 10 minutes.

But there is nothing to do about it, maybe this shouldn’t make me feel weak or stupid, maybe I just have to go with the flow, and maybe to become strong again, I must become weak first. This teaches me another important life lesson like so many other paradoxes in life:

–          To be first, you must become last.

–          To become rich, you must first lose everything.

–          To become truly independent, you must learn to become dependent.

–          To become strong, you must become weak.

Maybe for the first time in my life I have to learn to take distance from the one thing I am trying too hard all the time, and therefore finding true freedom in a kind of imprisonment here.

be grateful

P.S.: Special thanks to Kristiana Chan who helped through this hard times, your blog post ‘Independence Day’ encouraged me to keep positive about this experience so far. I feel you! http://kristianachan.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/independence-day/


Ecuador: Meeting the Family!

After travelling for 23 hours from Brussels to Amsterdam to Quito, I finally reached my destination. Was it because I was sleepy or wasn’t I realizing what was all happening to me? I just said goodbye for 3,5 months to my boyfriend, cats, family and best friend… Again I left for a new adventure, all alone in the unknown. For the first time it made me feel uncomfortable without stressing me out. I just decided to go with the flow and take this time to live life and see how life can surprise people.

Arriving in Quito, about 2850 meters above the sea level was an unforgettable experience. Right after the airplane came out of the clouds, there was this amazing landscape that took my breath away… The aerial views over the Andes were anything like what I expected. The mountains, rivers, villages and nature had something magical and I felt immediately that this country was really special.

Aereal view Quito 1

Then secondly, after I came out of the airport’s arrival hall (to smoke my first cigarette in hours) I was overwhelmed by the typical smell of Latin America. Just smelling the air made me feel like coming home again somehow someway. I guess I just love the air in this part of the world. It is very distinct from our air in Europe.

After another taxi ride of 1 hour, I finally reached my guest family house. It was raining and already becoming dark, I was kind of exhausted and the pressure of being so high in the mountains gave me a small headache. But I put myself together, met the wonderful and very hospitable family members, had a first dinner with them and talked a little in Spanish. I feel like I have to fresh up my language skills again, but it goes surprisingly well already. No English, por favor!

Host family front

The guest house in area Mariscal Sucre

Host family

Family hosts: Francisco Jiron & Ana Maria Ziritt

As I expected from the pictures they had sent me, the house was very nice and clean. My room was rather small, but really a good quality from Ecuadorian norms. There is a little noise from the traffic in the streets around, but overall I am happy with the place. I unpacked my bags, and around 9 PM local time (3 AM in Belgium) I finally got to bed… Tired but satisfied. I decided to take it easy as he next day is a Sunday, and there is no need to rush things as I am here for a long time.

photo (1)

Hasta pronto!

Un beso,