Just for clarification, I did the Putney Costa Rica trip last year and in 2018 I did the Ecuador trip. I'd like to think this makes me experienced in this area but you make your own choice :)
After having an absolutely phenomenal time in Costa Rica last year, my expectations for Ecuador were already high. So on the first of July I eagerly carted myself off to Miami to meet my group. These people whom I would eventually call my friends were just exceptional. Each student brought their own perspective, views, beliefs, charm, aura to the group. We were such a diverse group that created some truly memorable conversations and relations with each other that no other experience or group of people could provide. You can trust that a majority of the people going onto the trip will become your best friends. Even if you don't love everyone in your group, you at least appreciate certain parts of each individual and respect them for who they are. My conversations with everyone also led me to do some self-thinking and evaluation and I now think differently and deeper about topics. I actually learnt a lot about myself through this and this was easily one of my favorite aspects about the entire group.
The leaders of our program and the Barn took very good care of us. Our two leaders were not really leaders. Sure, they communicated with headquarters, commandeered our group around Ecuador, and instructed us on day to day projects and checkups but they were not leaders. They became close friends of everyone. If you had something to say to the leader, whether it be a compliment, critique, personal problem, injury, etc. they are there for you 100%. My leaders from last year were exceptional people and worked amazingly together, and I can say the same for my leaders. (Shout out to Chris and Nina, and Gregorio and Julia <3)
Ecuador is truly a unique country. If you point at any point on a map of Ecuador and traveled to that location, I can guarantee that something gorgeous or interesting is within sight. Putney also gives the students a diverse range of activities to do when in the country. For example, we traveled to a few cities and towns in Ecuador for our weekend excursions. In one town we participated in a parade (I mean we literally walked in the parade) that celebrated all the communities in Ecuador. Walking down the street and seeing all the waving hands and smiling faces was truly an unforgettable experience. But in another town we shopped for gifts for family members by bartering in the town market. I may have gotten ripped off on a few items but whatever I got has fantastic designs and is super cool to look at.
The community service aspect of the trip is some of the most rewarding parts of the trip. Although our group worked for almost four to six hours a day on a single project, it was totally worth it. Every day we either shoveled dirt, mixed cement or wheelbarrowed up and down a hill, but we normally did a mixture of everything. It sounds grueling, and believe me it is. The places we dumped the cement were far from where the cement was being mixed and by the end of the work day everyone was sweaty and exhausted. Yet, it felt unbelievably good. I mean, my legs and arms would disagree but the feeling of doing a project that would help the community (We built multiple canals that would help the village avoid flooding in many key areas) just felt incredible. It may sound like I lost my mind but it felt good and the village loved and respected us for throwing our hearts into the project.
We also did plenty of activities within the village. We often played soccer with the young kids or watched the older kids play. The younger kids were around our level (And when I mean young, I mean the 4-10 range) but the older group just played too fast for even our best player. Other than our daily soccer matches, the independent project provided an alternate way to not only aid the community, but to interact with the locals. I personally met with the local baker, Jose Manuel, and learned the trade secrets. I spent a few mornings extensively talking with him and his family and I made bread for our group on two separate mornings. Jose Manuel and I grew very close and when we left, we were making each other cry. He even made me promise that I would return. I promised him that I would and I intend to keep it.
The two clear highlights of the trip were climbing Cotopaxi and the Galapagos. The Galapagos was fantastic, as you'd expect it to be. It's the vacation aspect of the trip so we did just that. Plenty of snorkeling, beaches and animal interactions that kept the group entertained and bonding to the very last day. The surprise highlight of the trip was climbing Cotopaxi, one of the taller mountains in Ecuador. It's a mountain, so it's going to be grueling difficult. Breathing was incredibly difficult (Making the climb up fatiguing), the weather pushed us to our physical and mental limits, and the weight of all the layers weighed us down. Despite everything seeming to be going against us, it was beautiful. Everyone went at their own pace, but was never alone. I personally liked keeping a fast pace and trekked up the mountain with a few other people and the guide, laughing and talking all the way up (I'm not sure how we managed to hold conversations, everyone was always out of breath so it probably hurt us). And when we reached the refuge it was a fantastic feeling. The sheer sense of accomplishment and unity among your friends was indescribable. Yet, I loved the feeling so much that I stripped off all my sweaty layers, and headed back out into the cold to cheer everyone else coming up the mountain. Though I eventually started to get cold, I managed to come in with the last member of the group shivering, but not in Popsicle form. There was an option to climb higher up in the mountain and we achieved the same feeling of Euphoria except it was multiplied. By 1000. And the view was a solid 12/10. I'm having trouble truly describing how I felt aboard the top of that mountain because you need to experience it yourself. If you need anymore proof that was my favorite part of the trip, you should just know that I have a smile on my face just from writing about it.
I loved this trip. Everyone I met was fantastic and I'm glad I can call them my friends. The country, activities and village were just exceptional. It was, yet again, another perfect trip from Putney. All the interactions I've had with the staff have been great just to make my trip go the right way every time. If you ever do student travel, I highly recommend Putney. Twice in a row they've provided me with summer experiences, people and memories I will never forget. I can also guarantee that I'm doing a trip next summer because I know how much fun and love I'll receive from this program.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you have :)
What would you improve about this program?
There were two complaints with the program.
The first is the weather. Ecuador's on the bloody Equator, yet I spent most of the time freezing. Our trip took us to very high altitudes so we ended up needing more layers than I originally thought. Don't be alarmed however, Putney did warn my family and I that it would be cold so I was well prepared but it still caught me off guard. I thought that Equator instantly met warmth but I was so wrong. It's not even a legitimate complaint, Putney can't 'improve' Ecuador's weather but it's just a forewarning for anyone considering the trip. It doesn't mean that if you live in Florida where a bad winter looks like 60 degrees, that you'll freeze. It just means you'll want to bundle up.
The only other (legitimate) complaint I have is with the food. Up in the village, we had a fantastic and filling breakfast. However, my bone is with lunch and dinner. Lunch and dinner often consisted of a main meal of soup with some rotating sides to compliment the soup. The soup was delicious about 75% of the time (And most people within our group would agree) but we just tired of soup after a few days. In addition, after long work days, it would've been nice to sink our teeth into a hard piece of meat or something. But since most of it was in soup form, it was just annoying to eat day in and out. However, this made the occasional pasta dish extra good and our final meal at the village just fantastic. The village cooked us a pig and the pork was to die for. Sorry to all the Vegetarians!