There is an easy way to tell if your group had a great trip, it’s at the end when you all have the same exact feeling that you wished it wasn’t over. Our ten-day immersion adventure in Ecuador was filled with unique opportunities to meet local people and explore deep into the wooded and natural wonders of the highland cloud forest; among our favorite opportunity was staying in our tree house accommodation at Bella Vista surrounding by lush forests and colorful birds, spending nights sitting quietly awaiting a sighting of the usually elusive mammal, the Olingo, who has only recently been added to the list of newly discovered species found in Ecuador.
Our knowledgeable guide Filipi and wonderful driver, Mauricio, created an ethos of safety that assured us that we were in good hands. Filipi’s knowledge of plants, birds, and animals, and his passion for his country made every day feel like a gift we were unveiling. His incredible ability to connect with our students made learning fun and exciting, and our long hikes seem over too quickly. Most of our students even got up voluntarily for optional sunrise walks to see special birds and other early risers. Meeting locals was easy as Filipi facilitated lots of opportunities to engage with the people we met along the way. Along with the wonderful program Chill created, we had lots of unscheduled opportunities for personal connections too. We played handmade wooden board games in a park with local children, experimented with Columbian instruments shared by local vendors, and played in two hard-fought games of pick-up soccer, one which included member of the our service project community, our guide and driver, and some British kids who happen be walking by and were also doing a project in the area.
Our nightly circle talks reminded the students that they were not only experiencing this trip as an individual but as part of a group; each responsible to be their best self along with caring for one another’s positive experience. Whoever held the Chill bandana each day, must at night select another student who they thought deserved to wear it the following day for showing some personal growth, an extra effort, or any special reason the really stuck out to them. Their choices were thoughtful and in earnest and unrelated to friendships. Each person took this responsibility very seriously and looked for moments in the day where someone in the group had stepped up.
In a program filled with immersion experiences with local weavers, musicians, and eco-tourist entrepreneurs, our students listened to, worked with, and created connections with local children, families, and tradesmen. It is hard to pick out just one experience that was better than the previous one, each opportunity created a lasting memory of unforgettable people and a beautiful country. On our last circle night, each student took home a strip of the Chill bandana, as they received their piece, they spoke about what experience meant the most to them. Each one shared their favorite part of the trip, not one student chose an experience that was thrilling, like the zip-lining through the woods, even though it was a blast, rather each one shared an experience or connection they had made with Ecuadorian culture and people young and old. I am grateful to Chill Expedition both here in the USA and in Ecuador. They put together a wonderful trip, engaging our students through diverse experience so that they could leave with a love for nature and the people of Ecuador.
Hillary Spitzer, lead teacher at BFS