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Evening Arrival in Quito, Gateway to the Amazon
Welcome to Ecuador! Collect your luggage and make your way through customs to the arrival area of Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport, where a ME to WE representative will be waiting to greet you.
Settle into the Rincon De Puembo
After a quick transfer from the airport, check in to your charming ‘hosteria’ adorned with a traditional Ecuadorian feel. Here you will be sure to get a good first night's rest before your descent into the world of the Amazon.
Winding down mountain roads towards the Amazon basin brings tremendous change in your surroundings as you descend into the lush cloud forest, home to rare wild orchids and the largest number of bird species in the world. Get comfortable – this trip will take approximately 7 hours.
A Fresh-Baked, Fresh-Squeezed Start to Your Day
Fuel up for the journey ahead with complimentary breakfast at Ricon De Puembo, where you will find both Western favourites and traditional South American cuisine.
Descend into the Amazon Basin
Get your camera ready; this journey is one for the books! En route from Quito you will climb to heavenly elevations in the highlands, with awe-inspiring views of snow-capped volcanoes in this active geological area. Winding down mountain roads towards the Amazon basin brings tremendous change in your surroundings, as you descend into the lush cloud forest, home to rare wild orchids and the largest number of bird species in the world. Get comfortable – this trip will take approximately 7 hours.
Jungle Cruise River Expedition
Hop aboard for a quick, 20 minute outboard motor canoe ride up the Rio Napo, an Amazon River tributary situated in one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. Feel the cool breeze on your face and watch the vibrantly coloured birds fly above as your driver and cultural expert gives you an insider’s view of Amazon River culture.
Minga Lodge Arrival and Orientation
Alli shamushca capay – welcome! Step off the boat at Minga Lodge just in time to take in your first spectacular Amazonian sunset over the Rio Napo. Your lush tropical surroundings will be glowing pink and orange as you snack on local treats like plantain chips and yucca fritters, washed down with a glass of chilled guayusa tea.
Explore Minga Lodge, tucked into the jungle overlooking the river, and follow a ME to WE team member along winding pathways and raised walkways to your cottage nestled into the natural hillside environment.
Meet with the team to learn about Free The Children’s unique Adopt a Village (AAV) model and how it works within the unique local environment. Free The Children developed the AAV model, which relies on five key pillars to break the cycle of poverty and achieve long-term community development:
1. Quality primary education
2. Health care services
3. Alternative income projects
4. Safe/clean drinking water and sanitation systems
5. Agriculture and food security
Let the aromas of cumin, oregano, garlic and onion be your guide as you make your way back to the dining hall from your cabin, along meandering stone pathways and over a footbridge across the creek. Feast on Western favourites and local delicacies like heart of palm, stinging nettle and fish cooked in palm leaves. Add some fire to the meal with a scoop of aji hot sauce, if you dare!
In this playful, educational and optional group session, you will learn key Spanish phrases that will help to foster your connection with new friends in the community. Challenge your senses with blindfolded taste tests and other interactive teaching tools, then partner up and practice your greetings with a fellow traveller.
Rise and shine! Before breakfast, explore the trails of a nearby 300 hectare forest reserve, where you will get your first taste of exploring the Amazon rainforest. Journey onwards and hike deep into primary and secondary rainforest, where, if you are lucky, you may see a myriad of flora and fauna, including toucan, Long-tailed Potoos, gargantuan cebo trees and countless species of insects, spiders and snakes.
Community Orientation and Volunteering
After breakfast, join your group and a ME to WE team member for a short jungle walk or canoe ride to the nearby community where you will help build local infrastructure as part of a Free The Children development project. Gain insight into the community mindset of the Kichwa people as you listen to the inspiring story of how Craig and Marc Kielburger witnessed a spontaneous and powerful community movement – a minga – years ago that inspired the formation of ME to WE, and of course the naming of Minga Lodge.
Back at the lodge, sit down with new friends on the indoor-outdoor dining terrace and revel in the excitement and anticipation of upcoming opportunities and activities.
Volunteering in the Community
As the community develops, priorities and tasks will shift, creating new opportunities all the time. Grab a friend, some new tools, and try your hand at something new – be it digging a well, laying the foundation for a health center, or whatever else the community may need most that day.
Gather around the dinner table for a family style feast and some down time with the group. After such a successful day filled to the brim with new experiences, why not make tonight the night that you challenge your palate and try something entirely new?
Volunteering in the Community
Continue the work you started and try changing roles and building new skills – meeting new locals and learning about the unique needs of their community.
Make your way back to Minga Lodge for a little rest and replenishment before continuing on with the day’s activities.
A Day in the Life
There’s no better way to understand the ways of local people than by walking a mile in their shoes. Roll up your sleeves and join a local farmer to help carry out some of their daily activities, such as planting seeds, fetching water from the river and harvesting crops.
Share stories and photos with friends over a stunning sunset dinner perched above the Rio Napo. Tune in to your senses and enjoy the warm breeze on your skin, the richness of spices in your mouth, and the emerging sounds of jungle fauna all around.
Curious Critters: Wild Amazonian Night Hike
When the sun goes down, the rainforest comes alive. Grab your flashlight and set out on an adventurous night with your cultural facilitator who will take you as close as comfort allows to see for yourself what has been making all that noise after sundown. Common sightings include frogs, spiders, tree snakes, caymans and owls – but with tens of thousands of species in the Amazon Basin, who knows what curious critters might come say hello!
Depart for Quito
Say goodbye to the steamy Amazon and its amazing people and way of life. Begin the first leg of your journey as you entered Minga – by boat. Expect about a 2 hour boat river ride towards Coca, where we will fly back to Quito on higher ground where your Trafalgar Representative will be there to meet you.
This may be the end of the ME to WE Volunteer adventure but here is where you’re Colourful Trails of Ecuador itinerary begins as you continue your exploration of Ecuador.