We always knew beginning a Camps expedition would leave us wide-eyed, and hungry for adventure; but no advert or presentation can tell you of the experiences you will have and the memories you will collect. All of which will last a lifetime. We didn’t know of the work ethic we would develop to make a change – no matter how big – to a community that is in need. We didn’t know of the unlikely friendships that would form along the journey, nor did we expect to learn daily of language, culture and the value of appreciation.
Travelling upwards of twenty six hours is ironically both exhausting and fuelling as the anticipation builds for the moment that we could look upon the green beauty that is Ecuador and think, oh yes, we made it in one piece. Or if you’re our friend Oli, in one piece without any luggage. Great start.
We are at the half way point in our expedition, having started at Camp Amazonia and made our way to the ever-alluring Galápagos Islands; touching down in Isla Baltra, Isla Santa Cruz and our final stop Isla San Cristobal. In between our travels we have hiked, shovelled, swam and most of all laughed our way to the most endearing spots on the planet. Each time having to stop and remind one another of the beautiful place in which we found ourselves and how fortunate we truly are.
One thing that we have yet to experience else where in the world is the sense of community felt in the Amazon. Despite being from two different worlds, we were welcomed wholeheartedly. Having lessons in the Kichwa language, realising how much we can really sweat and, of course, learning that quinoa isn’t really that bad.
We got to know the Camp staff personally, when thousands of miles away from home, a friendly face goes a long way. It made the working day fly by, surrounded by wonderful company. A sense of achievement came across us each night after bricklaying, digging pits and transporting materials as most of us have never even thought of doing such hands on labour, but seeing the progress each day in the projects and within ourselves was rewarding enough. We all felt immensely proud of ourselves for what we were accomplishing. Something that would take an hour to do back home would take upwards of a day here, and the more we realised this the more we began to appreciate things for what they were. I will never forget the day when a young girl from the village ran up to me after a hard days grafting and threw her arms around my neck. Magical moments that will stay with me for a long time.
The cultural day we were lucky enough to experience was a common favourite amongst the group. We were baptised with our spirit animal in the Tena river – our faces decorated with symbols of their ancestors – complete with our own crown made from long reeds. We may have looked like glorified scarecrows but we felt like warriors for the day. Later we learnt to extract fibres from leaves of the forest which made an extremely fashionable, albeit slightly revealing skirt for our friend CJ.
Then we were trusted enough to try out a blow pipe with darts at a target. It’s safe to say we won’t be doing professional blow darting anytime soon. Some even managed to make a trumpet like tune from the pipe which our local leaders thought impressive yet also ridiculously funny.
On our last day in Camp Amazonia, we made our way down to the village and began a football game. Within five minutes so many men and women came out of their homes and joined in. I find it touching that despite the language and cultural barrier, we are able to play as friends, laugh and become part of something bigger than ourselves. Difference becomes indifference when working together, and that is the most important lesson I have learnt in my time in Ecuador.
We’ve seen turtles, marine iguanas, dolphins and even sharks! But we’ve also seen the true value and impact of hard work.
It’s the people that accompany you who make the experience; whether we were taking ridiculous selfies whilst snorkelling, putting on all of Oli’s clothes when his bag was finally found or even falling into a pile of concrete mix – it all adds up. We can all learn from one another. I think I speak for everyone when I say we have learnt to appreciate the smallest things. Kindness is relative, sometimes the tiniest gestures can mean a multitude of virtues.
So as the sun was setting on our final night upon the Galápagos Islands, the group sat on the sand and watched in silence together; awaiting the next two weeks of adventure, appreciating what we have been given and the difference we can make with just two hands.