Last month Kim from our UK head office team had the chance to explore some of our camps in Ecuador. Check out her blog below to see how she got on…
It was a freezing cold and rainy day when I left England and boarded a plane to Ecuador to start my adventure. It was set to be a whistle-stop tour of some of our camps, and I was really excited to get stuck into the Camps experience in South America.
After a brief overnight in Quito, my first destination was Camp Esmeraldas, named after the province it’s located in. Esmeralda is Spanish for emerald, and it’s easy to see why early settlers chose this name for the region. As you drive away from the bigger towns, the dark green colour of the jungle landscape surrounds you.
Camp Esmeraldas is located within this beautiful setting, next to a charming little riverside village. The camp kitchen is in a large wooden building with a relaxed social space with hammocks – perfect for chilling out after a day working on projects. Sleeping accommodation in this camp is in tents, which means you feel really close to nature camping amongst the trees.
The community here are of Afro-Ecuadorian descent and have a rich cultural heritage and incredibly warm and welcoming nature. From the moment I arrived I felt like part of the community, and it was amazing to see just how much the camp here has become integrated with the village. As we walked down the street, the local children came up to hold our hands and walk along with us and were really proud to show us the new play area and toilets at their school, which Camps volunteers have recently constructed.
I also had the privilege of going to visit the recently completed medical centre, which is one of the biggest-scale projects we have worked on in South America. Hundreds of dedicated volunteers have worked to construct this building from the ground up – from laying the first foundations to tiling the floors and installing a pathway for access from the road. It’s now fully complete and ready to hand over to the local government, with four assessment rooms and on-site doctors accommodation so that round-the-clock medical care can be provided for this rural community.
Across the river from Camp Esmeraldas is Camp Chancama. It’s full of rustic charm and located even deeper into the jungle, making for a great taste of peaceful, rural living. Surrounded by rice paddies and cocoa trees, all you can see for miles is endless green.
Our volunteer teams are helping to support the local school here, which is in great need of improvements. So far, we have constructed a play area, a toilet block and some waste disposal units in the school grounds, and our next volunteer teams will be helping to work on repainting the classrooms and desks.
To celebrate my final night in Camp Esmeraldas, a musical group from the village put on an amazing performance at camp. The whole community turned up – including the village president – for some songs and dancing around the campfire. Traditional music is a big part of the local culture and the performance was incredible – so energetic and powerful, led by the strong beat of the drumming.
After having such an amazing time at Camp Esmeraldas, I was sad to leave the community, but excited to see what adventures would await as I travelled into the Amazon…
Visiting the Amazon rainforest is something that has been on my bucket list for a long time, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. It was a long drive off the beaten track to get to our first Amazon location, Camp Donbiki, but the journey was well worth it. Camp Donbiki is much larger than Camp Esmeraldas, sprawling out alongside a river, which makes for some cool little lookout spots to sit back, relax and soak up the atmosphere.
Accompanied by one of the local maestros who oversee our projects, we trekked a little way through the rainforest to visit the Ethnobotanical Garden our volunteers have been working on. The garden holds lots of different native plants and provides a centralised place for the local community to educate the younger generation on the uses of medicinal plants, passing on their traditional knowledge.
My final Ecuadorian camp to visit was Camp Chilli Urku. Located a short distance away from Donbiki, it is hidden down a little hill and nestled between the huge green leaves of the rainforest trees. Trekking through the jungle to get there, you feel like a true explorer when you stumble upon the camp entrance. With the sounds of nature all around – monkeys swinging through the trees and birds calling out into the sky – you feel fully immersed in the rainforest.
I tagged along with one of our volunteer teams for the afternoon as they set to work on one of the local projects – constructing a septic tank at the house of a family in the village. Since we have started working with this community, we have so far built facilities like this for 4 different families, with many more planned for the future.
Digging in the humid Amazonian afternoon is not easy work, but the help of some motivational music on the speakers and a great bit of teamwork, the volunteers had almost finished the hole needed for the tank in one day. We headed back to camp for a well-deserved evening meal, watching the hundreds of stars fill the clear sky.
I’ll never forget the golden light against the trees at sunrise as we drove out of the Amazon for the last time. The feeling of pure calm and remoteness is something truly special and a memory that stays with you long after you leave.
If you’d like to experience rural Ecuadorian life and get to work on amazing projects like these, click here to check out our programmes.
Whichever trip you choose, you’ll get involved in a range of community and environmental projects and experience real local culture, living in rural communities tourists rarely get to visit.
Whether you travel with us for just a couple of weeks or a few months – to Ecuador or any of our other destinations across Asia, Africa and South & Central America – you’ll be contributing to lasting and sustainable project work which will make a real impact.
To start planning your own adventure, click here to request a brochure with our full range of programmes.