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Business intern in Ecuador

Date added: Wednesday 27th February 2013

These blogs were written by Rachel Gallucci (18) who is currently on her gap year with The Leap in Ecuador. She is completing a 6 week internship in Business combined with a month of volunteering in the Galapagos.

1. Blissfully Overwhelmed: Week 1

Landing in Quito at night, I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. The city lights below me twinkle in ribbons along the tall Rachel on her internship with The Leap in Ecuadormountain sides and ripple like waves atop the hills, reminding me of lights on the Christmas tree I left behind in my snowy Pennsylvanian home. Despite my exhaustion from a long day of travel, excitement churns in my stomach in wonder of what kind of metropolis will be revealed in the morning. Later, as the taxi driver whisks me off to the hostel, he notes various points of interest and suggests activities and sites to check out while in Quito. Already, I am entranced by this city.

Morning brings a wondrous clarity to the strange land I entered last night. Our group of Leapers find ourselves in a small, tidy hostel, or, as the lovely owner Patricia later corrects me, a home. In truth, the residence is not named a hostel, and Patricia and her family, including her sweatered dog Pilin and her son Aldo, who presents us with seat cushions in a most gentlemanly manner, immediately make us feel like family. The hostel is located in what is said to the the international part of town, or, as it´s known locally, ¨Gringolandia¨.

After breakfast we are walked to the Yanapuma school, with whom The Leap partners to provide spanish lessons, internships positions, plan volunteer work, and more. As we walk, I take in the beauty and uniqueness of Quito. The city is sprawled over a crinkled landscape, lending to a layered look as blue, green, yellow, and orange buildings pile atop each other up the hillsides. All around loom high mountains, one of which is a volcano which you can visit by cable car. Most streets are narrow and clean, and there is plenty of grass and palm trees to remind you you're still in South America. The weather is a pleasant springtime 70, as I'm told it perpetually is. In our debriefing, the Yanapuma workers tell their stories of having come to Quito, fallen in love with the city, and never left. I feel a bit nervous that the same fate might befall me.

As Leap interns, Anna and myself will stay behind in Quito while the other Leapers travel around as a team doing volunteer work. We see them off on a bus Saturday morning as they begin their journey to Otavalo, a city to our north, where they will volunteer on the outskirts of the city in a small village. Meanwhile, Anna and I take the weekend to get more acquainted with Quito. We visit the central part of the city, passing a beautiful park along the way complete with a pond and small river surrounding it, in which families and groups of teenagers paddle boats or canoes in and out of the tree's shade. We visit two churches, one of which is adorned inside with grand, intricate designs in gold. We buy 50 cent ice cream with an American gold dollar, which the Ecuadorians have apparently been stealthily sneaking out of the American marketplace and using quite frequently here. Walking about proves rather easy on Sunday, as buses and cars are banned from the streets, and all we have to watch out for crossing the road are floods of bikers gliding down the colorfully lined hills.

The great thing about this city, as I come to notice, is that it's position makes it very difficult for it's residents to get caught up in the materialism the can sometimes pervade metropolitan atmospheres. The mountains, unavoidably visible from all parts of the city, remind me, and, it seems, most people of Quito, that we are not operating solely in some concrete jungle that can be manipulated and conquered. The mountains boast that there are other jungles more powerful than our concrete one, and seeing their greatness daily, I believe, makes the people of Quito more humble, friendly, and easy-going. Being constantly nestled in the palm of nature, it's thick fingers rising up on all sides, has some way of making you feel closer to the people around you.

Meanwhile, The Leap volunteer team have arrived safely just outside of Otavalo, and have begun their volunteer work this week. All is going well and, as far as I can tell, all of us are still in the state of being blissfully overwhelmed by all the new sights, sounds, people, and experiences here in beautiful Ecuador

Rachel Gallucci

2. Under The Hot Ecuadorian Sun: Week 2

After a week of settling into Quito: working at our internships; finding the best restaurants, bars, and coffee shops in which to put to use of plans to become "regulars"; and adjusting to having popcorn served with soup all the time, Anna and I decide to take the weekend to visit the rest of the group in Otavalo, about a 2 hour bus ride away.

We begin our journey 5 hours before our arrival time in Otavalo, in part because we don`t trust ourselves to be able to switch from a trolley to a bus to another bus in any less than a full length Titanic movie, and in part because we're too lazy to walk the whole way home after classes. Our trips commences promptly at 9, when Anna gets off the bus from her internship and I finish watching overdramatized tv novelas as part of my Spanish classes.

Astonishingly, we manage to make it the whole way to our pre-chosen hostel in Otavalo without one travel mishap, and for a small cost of only about $3.50 apiece. After a thirty-minute much appreciated litany from a worker in the hostel, covering everything from the hours that the local markets operate, to the best form of transportation to every nearby attraction, and the cost to go along with it, we finally fall asleep under layers of mismatched and spongebob-themed covers.

In the morning, we head off to the famous Otavalo Market, to get our hands on some alpaca merch. The volunteer group is also visiting the market this morning, and we run into a bunch of already-missed familiar faces as we wander aimlessly through stacks of striped trousers under the hot ecuadorian sun. They tell us about their week, which has consisted of lifting large boulder out of river beds to prevent flooding and leveling an impassable road. Thanks to the gratitude of the group's host family, Anna and I are allowed to stay with the rest of the volunteers in Chilgapamba for free Saturday night, where we also get a free dinner and break

Saturday night us Leapers somehow find ourselves in the middle of the only service the local church holds the entire year, serving as one of the main forms of entertainment as we take whacks at clay pinatas and represent The Leap valiantly in mighty sack races. After coming a bit too close to being caught on fire by some kids with some questionably legal fireworks, we call it a night in Chilgapamba. A night without showers that is. Our water line has a break. I like to think our mutual filth brings us closer together.

On Sunday we pile into 2 taxis, or as they're known in the States, "the back of a pickup truck", and arrive about 20 minutes later, rear-ends throbbing in an endearing, adventure-seeking kind of way, at the entrance to a waterfall. A short hike takes us to a gorgeous natural view of la cascada. We take some pictures, climb up to see the view from above, crawl through a small cave, pass up on a little niche in a corner that is labeled the men's bathroom, and make our way back down to the "taxis" to head off to a bird sanctuary. Here we see a bunch of different types of owls that altogether could serve as a colorful cast for a Harry Potter spin-off, a couple Condors (the largest flying bird in the world), and a majestic, freedom-inspiring, noblehearted, striking, independently motivated bald eagle named Gringo. This I take a picture of. Represent.

In the afternoon we head out to lunch, browse around the market... again, and then Anna and I begin our journey back to Quito, where begins week 2 of Intern Life in a South American Metropolis. Next week, we visit the cloud forests of Mindo!

3. Meanwhile in Mindo: Week 3

For our third weekend in Ecuador, Teaching Intern Anna and I unwittingly build up our leg muscles for the Galapagos. Planning to take it easy on Saturday, we sleep in a bit, and head out to see Quito's Cultural Museum. We wander around indigenous artifacts and pretty maps for a while and then get hungry and step back out into the hot midday sun. In search for a simple piece of bread, we end up walking about half an hour into the Mariscal district where we enjoy some cookies and yuca puffs.

The rest of the afternoon until dark we spend walking hours around the other end of Quito, enjoying Chinese and Italian food at the mall, circling the Parque Carolina, and searching for the Chapel of Man, a museum on the human body, which we do not find. Inside Parque Carolina however, we find a reptile garden, a botanical garden, and hundreds of frolicking Ecuadorians, enjoying a sunny saturday in the grass and on the courts. At home, we enjoy live TV coverage of the president, Rafeal Correa (whom Anna spotted in Conocoto), as he appears in the Cultural Center, campaigning for reelection with a banjoed band of traditional looking musicians and charismatically dancing and singing his way around stage, a sort of opening act for himself. His supporters have been parading our streets with their florescent green flags and their political chants all week. There are 8 candidates running for president this year, but the incumbent seems to be an incomparable favorite.

On Sunday we take a trip to Mindo, a small town up the mountains in the cloud forests, about 2 hours away from Quito. Anna and I walk an hour uphill to a Tarabita, a zip-line/cable car hybrid, which takes us across a valley to a mountainous hiking path. Here we do a couple more strenuous hours of walking, admiring and swimming in several waterfalls along the way. The clouds linger literally at our same altitude.

We spend the night in a cheap but clean hostel and meet up with the group, who have spent their time in Mindo horseback riding, tubing, zip-lining, and rappelling down waterfalls. Despite several minor injuries and illnesses, the group is in great spirits and continues to get along fantastically.

This Wednesday the majority of our group jets off for the Galapagos, while 6 members volunteer on the Pacific Coast. We look forward to sunshine, morning swims, seals in convenience stores (to which they are reportedly drawn, due to the air conditioning), and eating lots of avocados. As much as Anna will miss getting gifts from her students, and I will miss fighting with Expedia sites as part of my business internship, we and the rest of the group are buzzing with excitement to be moving towards the ocean breezes!

4. Leapers and Lions: Week 4

At an early 5am on Wednesday morning, 16 groggy Ecuador Leapers packed themselves into a bus, Leapers in the Galapagos Islandshaphazardly navigated an airport, and successfully made their way onto a flight to the one and only Galapagos Islands. We are those groggy Leapers and this is our story.

Arriving in the Galapagos, many of us are hit with a wave of heat, despite the cloudy skies, and a wave of regret over wearing our jumpers. We are toted from the coast, where our plane comes in, up into the mountains of San Cristobal Island, to become acquainted with our home for the next two and a half weeks. Hacienda Tranquilla is an organic farm run by a few regular workers, but mostly volunteers from around the world.

Here we get to be a bit more independent- having no team leader with us, having to cook our own food, and having to scrub our laundry outside with a brush and soap. The day of our arrival we are put to work right way, scooping, transporting and raking out gravel for a couple of hours. We all become a bit apprehensive or the hard work, hot sun, shared kitchen, and extensive upper arm work! The week carries on in a similar fashion, and we slowly adapt to life in the Hacienda. We get better at digging holes in hard ground. We learn to stagger our eating times, except for the day we make homemade pizza in the outdoor oven. We shamelessly layer sunblock several times a day.

By Friday night, we are exhausted and ready to take advantage of our time in this beautiful environment. Saturday the group boards a boat and we all head out to kicker rock, a bit off the coast, to do some snorkeling. We all face our fears and swim amongst beautiful fish, sea lions, turtles and, best of all, sharks. Jumping into the water the first time, I think the majority of us were all most determined to avoid the sharks. But the third and final snorkel, we were are searching eagerly for them. Despite the sunburn, we all deamed the day a complete success.

Sunday a group of us took a land tour to a lake volcano, visited some huge tortoises, and spent the rest of the day lounging by the ocean alongside sea lions, who remain quite friendly. They lounge on beaches, benches, in flower beds and in the middle of roads. They pop out of unusual places and scare unsuspecting tourists

Monday's conservation project work brought us into the forest with machetes, where we spent the morning chopping down invasive species that were overgrowing yuca plants. As always, every day remains an adventure here with the Ecuador Leapers!



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