And it’s a wrap! Camp Latin America End of Team Season 2014 – Part 1
Our first official team season as Camp Latin America, with our very first camps in Peru up and running has finally come to a close. 15 teams representing 28 schools made their way around Ecuador and Peru taking in such sites as the Galapagos, Machu Picchu, the Amazon, Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca to name but a few. Throughout the six plus weeks, students worked on a myriad of projects all designed to improve and enrich the lives of the communities in which they lived. From building new water systems, constructing a community house and installing a new school kitchen to digging out and seeding a trout farm, our enthusiastic volunteers were kept more than busy throughout their stay. Not every project was completely finished but thanks to our equally hard-working gappers, still coming and going, we are slowly but surely putting the finishing touches on each project and celebrating their completion with each community.
With such a busy season, it’s perhaps easiest to break it down camp by camp to give you a full picture of exactly what our teams accomplished and the kind of differences their hard work has made possible in each community. So let’s start with a part 1 – Ecuador; 12 teams, four camps, expeditions to the Galapagos, trekking Cotopaxi and some Padi Open Water dive courses down on the Pacific coast. Each team visited at least three different camps taking them from the Cloud Forrest to the Andres and either to the coast or the Amazon. Two lucky teams were able to visit the Amazon and the Coast can’t get any be that, journeying across the full landscape of Ecuador: coast to cloud forest over the Andes and down into the jungle, trip of a life time.
Part 1 – Ecuador
Ok so let’s just get it out there, there was a rather unpleasant episode that saw more than a few of our volunteers rushing to the closest loo whilst up at Maqui (get it? get it out! I couldn’t resist such an obvious yet completely lame attempt at humor, apologies to those of you still slightly traumatized, might be too soon to laugh). The most amazing thing is that despite illness, the teams at Maqui worked their butts off (again, too soon? I’ll stop now, I promise) to complete possibly our most significant project for the season, a complete new water system for the entire community. Up until now, the community only had access to clean drinking water for 3 to 4 days out of every week. This is because the old water system had to be cleaned every few days for it to work effectively. It was never designed to cater for a growing community, especially one with increasing visits from tourists. The new system will provide 24/7 access to water and much cleaner water than before. The work to build the new system was boring, hard, dirty, monotonous, seemingly never ending, boring, hard and monotonous. It wasnÛªt until the last team arrived and the whole project became close to completion that some joy was derived from the job. However, just to keep things fair with the other groups, the final team had to deal with a broken cement mixer (that they managed to fix only after spending more than half a day working by hand) and then torrential rain on the last day that stopped them from doing the last little bit to turn the system on. Frustrating to say the least. But guess what? It’s up and running now! The engineers have been in to inspect it and the opening ceremony was more than exciting. The smiles on everyone’s faces up at Maqui now are just beautiful. This season’s teams will defiantly not be forgotten any time soon. We’re pretty sure the community would put up an honor wall with all of your faces on it if they could.
In between all of the boring work lugging rocks up that bloody horrible hill, teams also worked with the local primary school students and teachers practicing English, providing comic relief with their soccer and Ecuvolley skills (or lack thereof) and sprucing up the community space with a funky new mural. The trek up to the Maquipacuna Nature Reserve, home of the spectacled bear (yes, Paddington), became a bit of an in-country competition. One group managed to turn what we thought was a three hour trek into a 6 hour plus ordeal. But, just when we were going to reroute the journey to make it easier, two groups returned to let us know that it could definitely be done in under 4. After tallying up all the results (and dividing the time by the number of students yes we listened to your advice that smaller groups had an advantage in the time stakes), the winning team with a total time of 2 hours and 37 minutes is Ormiston Rivers/Seaford. Congratulations. We’ll be sure to put up lead board for next season and see if anyone can beat your time.
Down at our jungle camp, the rainforest was out on show. Rain and mud made work fun but also left our teams with the problem of dirty washing. Many solved this problem by ditching their muddy clothes altogether, either binning what was really bad or donating things that might be salvaged after a good soak. Not a bad way to bring your luggage in underweight after some extensive shopping at the market in Otavalo. Still can’t believe that more than a few of you purchased hammock chairs complete with the timber framing hopefully you got them home in one piece.
Four projects took up our time at Camp Amazon. The one that resulted in the biggest smiles was the refurbishment and upgrade of the play equipment outside the primary school. The little munchkins loved the bright new colours, extra swings and the addition of a hanging plant garden made from recycled plastic bottles, items the little ones happily gathered for us. However the project that will perhaps make the biggest difference in the community is the addition of a trout farm. Not only is the farm sustainable as it removes the need for the community to fish from the ever depleting stocks of the river, it will provide far more fish. This means more protein in the diets of the community but also a more reliable source of income. Coupled with this is the ongoing construction of the indigenous medicinal plant nursery. Plants for the nursery can harvested and sold both within the local communities but also at the larger markets in Misahualli and Tena. Assisting the locals in growing their traditional medicines allows them to continue to use their very successful herbal remedies, it also ensures that the traditional plants are available for ceremonial use. Our gap volunteers will be continuing work within the nursery later this year. We hope to help the community to package, market and sell some of their more easily produced products to sell at health food stores and the like in Quito. You never know, one day you might find Rio Blanco lip balm on the shelf at Waitrose.
The final and quite literally the biggest of the projects in the Amazon was the complete construction of a new and much improved community meeting centre. Built from bamboo, the centre has a new kitchen, dining area, meeting space and even a large area that can be used as a dance floor for those all important family and community celebrations. The roof is currently just a tin shell to keep the rain off. Next season, with our next eager bunch of volunteers we plan to complete the building, turning the roof into a living garden. Green roofs are amazing as not only do they keep the rain out but they also act as incredible insulation keeping the space below cool. Plus, they look cool and produce oxygen, winner all round. This will be the first green roof we have constructed in the Amazon, if all goes and it becomes the showstopper intended, the skills the local community gain in helping us achieve this project will be highly sort after. We envision them taking their skills out into the other communities and into the towns and helping others to build similarly practical and environmentally friendly shelters, community centres and even houses. One of the highlights this season has been working with Alejandro, a young Ecuadorian architect that has helped us plan many of our construction projects. His eagerness to work with each community to help them plan and understand the construction process, especially to incorporate both traditional and sustainable techniques has been inspirational. We hope to work with him on many more projects in the future.
Meanwhile at Camp Costa, life took a slightly different pace. Dinners on the beach as the sun set, studying the PADI book whilst swinging in hammocks, diving with tropical fish and turtles and casual strolls into town to stock up on random junk food and take advantage of the local Laundromat. But don’t be fooled, amongst all of this our teams down at the beach managed to build more than 20 octopus houses and deliver more than 8 out to the sea for critical reef regeneration. They also recycled countless plastic bits and pieces collected from the beach and learnt how to make handicrafts and other useful objects from the junk. Teaching English in the local primary school was definitely a highlight. Looking back at the photos it’s hard to tell who had more fun the little kids or the big ones. After working with the school for only a few days we were soon asked to repaint and design some new murals for the wall, the old ones were looking pretty drab. The school students helped with the designs and one busy weekend saw one of our groups transforming the front of the school, and in doing so the entire street, with a stunning mural that depicts the great variety of environments and ecosystems of Ecuador. There was some slight confusion about where the legendary Paddigton Bear lives but we soon put him back with his spectacled bear friends in the Cloud Forest around Camp Maqui. The finished mural has became quite the talking piece and it is great to see both the school students and passers by stopping to look, point and talk about the fantastic environments, animal, bird and sea life depicted along the wall.
Camp Kuri Kuchu
Camp KK is our show stopper. When Cayambe breaks free of the clouds it seems there is no more beautiful place on earth. Couple this with the equally amazing local community and this camp quickly became a season favourite for many, not least of all because of a very friendly and cheeky mutt named D-fa, or was that Max? If there was food to be had you could rest assured that our opportunistic garbage disposal was nearby. He tried to go home with each group, climbing on board the bus, and made sure he had a warm and comfy bed each evening, sometimes inside tents you know who you are. He has now moved in with Patricio but we’re sure he is missing his left over pancakes for breakfast and passionfruit chicken for dinner.
Out on the projects, Camp KK seems to be the place our teams worked the hardest. This may have something to do with the slightly frigid climate being an excellent motivator, keep moving (working) and stay warm. KK is our newest camp and this was our first season working with the community and didn’t they set the tone early? The community in KK is known for its communal mingas. Kind of like how the Amish raise a barn; the community get together, from the young to the very old, regularly to solve all kinds of problems such as fixing someone’s roof to installing a new water system for someone or helping each other bring in crops. When they work, they work. From this cue, our teams got stuck into some pretty break breaking work. They built a new community vegetable garden from scratch using permaculture techniques that will ensure improved yield without the use of chemicals or artificial fertilizers. One of the great things about the KK community is their love and respect for Pachamama the earth. They are very interested in organics and using companion planting so as not to degrade or poison the soil or water supplies. On this theme, one of our more ambitious projects was to help the community build a new ceremonial space on sacred ground they and their ancestors have celebrated on for hundreds of years. The plan is that this new space will enable the community to reengage their children and young people with their rich tradition and culture. The space will eventually double as a museum and a place where tourists can come and learn about the community and their pre-Inca past. In a rapidly developing county such as Ecuador, preserving culture and tradition has become increasingly important for many communities and we are more than happy to help such wonderful people do this.
Oh and let’s not forget the water project. Getting up there at this altitude was harder than the work itself. There is no doubt that all of our teams left KK fitter and stronger and with a bunch more hemoglobin than when they arrived. A few crazies even went running up at KK, no mean feat at over 3400m.
And for the final segment of Camp Ecuador, the expeditions. Galapagos, Cotopaxi Trek and Scuba.
I’ll let a few sample pics speak for them selves…
If you made it all the way through this epic blog post (we couldn’t let Africa out do us), you are a champ. Stay tuned for part 2 – Peru. I’ll give you the weekend to recover
Before I sign off, a big thank-you to Peter who ‘lost’ his images only so that I could retrieve them a steal a few for this blog. For those of you still sorting through your own snaps from team season, don’t forget our little internal photo comp. Send me your best shots and they could end up anywhere and you could end up with a wacky prize all the way from Ecuador…
Have a great weekend,
Ally and all of the Camp Latin America Team