Highlights: Integrating into the South Lima community of Villa Maria was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Traveling from Ecuador’s coast to Bolivia’s altiplano to Bolivia’s jungle was incredibly fun, varied and memorable. Truly what I gained most from my trip was learning how to be an independent person and travel on my own or with friends wherever I am in the world. I spent another month in South America and two months in Ethiopia after my trip and my experience with Quest gave me the confidence and the abilities to navigate my way through whatever tough and fun traveling situations I encountered.
Ecuador Language Phase: Typically we'd wake up and eat breakfast cooked for us as a group at the Hostal, before having a few hours of Spanish instruction with a personal tutor. After eating, we each had a few hours everyday of personal instruction with a local Spanish tutor. We would often get in a large group to play games or walk to the park and use our Spanish outside of the classroom. That being said, much of the Spanish we learned would soon disappear when we were traveling because most of the group spoke English the whole time. We had the afternoons free to explore Quito, a vibrant city with far more to see than three weeks could possibly allow. On the weekends we took trips to different parts of Ecuador. My favorite trip was to Monpiche, a secluded beach town where we spent the weekend surfing, relaxing and eating fish. The most memorable part of my time in Quito however was nights exploring bars, dance clubs and restaurants out in the city.
Peru Volunteering Phase: In a typical day we'd wake up and do chores around the school where we were all living. We'd cook breakfast as a group, tidy our space and prepare for the day ahead. The mornings were filled with building/painting houses. We all learned basic carpentry skills and with the help of the local workers would design and construct wooden houses for residents of Villa Maria, the neighborhood of the shanty town where we were living. It was sometimes challenging to do some of this work as a group. Being the only American (my group was all British except for me and an Irish girl) was always an interesting cultural experience not only with the place that I was in, but also with the cultural differences between the British kids and myself. It was difficult, hot but exceedingly rewarding work.
The time spent in Villa Maria was the most meaningful part of my entire trip with Quest. Beyond doing rewarding volunteer work, we actually had the opportunity to LIVE in a shanty town in southern Lima. I'm not going to pretend that we truly understood the life that residents of Villa Maria live, but we were welcomed and integrated into their community for a short time. The local guys and teachers who run the school are hilarious, fun, and incredible for what they do and I can't express how powerful it was to develop relationships with them. The highlight of my time in Villa Maria was putting on shows for the kids every Sunday. We choreographed dances and I got to be the magician and light stuff on fire. The whole community came out to watch and we were micro celebrities. The kids loved it.
Expedition Phase: It’s impossible for me to explain how fun the expedition phase of this trip was. We went on three treks through the mountains of two different countries. We explored the salt flats of Bolivia. We swam with pink river dolphins and helped construct a puma cage in the jungle. We white water rafted through the sacred valley of Peru before trekking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. We went ice climbing. We navigated the world’s highest navigable lake. We sand boarded down sand dunes. We biked down the world’s most dangerous road and spent a night in paradise. We spent A LOT of time on buses. All in the span of 6 weeks.