After reading online reviews for HLD, I was super excited to go on this trip. However, in the end I was somewhat disappointed with my experience.
Help - The volunteering portion of the trip was an overall good experience. Due to the earthquake we could not get to Jama to build the houses, so we built them in Manta instead. It was really hot in Manta, and the location we built the houses was a fish factory, so it was pretty smelly. Due to being in Manta, we didn't have much opportunity to interact with the families much like groups in past years did, so that was a little disappointing. I felt like that would add to the experience, however there wasn't much we could do about it. We did get to visit some of the victims of the earthquake in a nearby refugee camp. We played with the children and played soccer. Some portions of the construction of the houses was sketchy. We had to stand on rusty barrels to reach higher areas when working, which personally made me uncomfortable. We definitely lost a lot of productivity because we were constantly drilling through the metal on the shipping containers and breaking drill bits. During this week we ended up sleeping in tents and we only had one shower and toilet for the group. We got very dirty and sweaty at the construction site, so this was obviously a bit of an issue. They also hire some workers to do a lot of the work. We got to go to the beach twice during this week which was nice.
Learn - I completed the physiotherapy program, which was new for this year. There were definitely a lot of kinks to be worked out. I was the only pre-physiotherapy student, so I was often left alone to find my way through the hospital and to buy my food for supper, which was difficult because I know zero Spanish. The physiotherapist I worked with was great, he taught me a lot. However he only came into work in the afternoons, so I only got to complete approximately 4 hours per day. I lost one day to the sports medicine rotation and one day to traveling on the Friday afternoon, so I only completed 3 days with the physio for a total of ~12 hours. I was expecting something more like a 40 hour work week to gain experience for when I apply to physiotherapy school, but I was wrong. I was thrown in with the pre-med students for the rest of the time, which some of the stuff like surgeries were cool, however most of it was boring to me (I don't want to be a doctor) and/or didn't apply to me. I would have preferred more physio experience. I had to write the test for the pre-med students on a case study about headaches, which I didn't enjoy at all. I didn't want to come here to study and google headaches, I wanted to go to learn hands-on skills and gain experience to help me get into physio school. No alcohol was permitted during the med rotation week, just an FYI.
Discover - This was my favourite portion of the trip. We got to hike in the amazon, go tubing in rapids, hike to a waterfall, go on the swing at the end of the world, rappel down a waterfall, among other things. Some of the stops were less exciting than others; two of them we basically went and sat in hot tubs. Most of the other participants wanted to stay up late and drink while on the discover portion of the trip. I wasn't into that as much because we had long and early bus rides (hangover? no thanks...), and some days with physically exerting hikes. The owners of HLD encourage drinking and drinking games to some degree. I was more interested in enjoying my time and seeing the country.
-You'll spend some time playing and/or watching soccer. Soccer and volleyball are both really popular in Ecuador.
-Be prepared for long bus rides. Make sure to have music playlists ready and any other ideas to pass time.
-We got a HLD hoodie and t-shirt given to us part way through the trip. Bring lots of clothes! The only place to do laundry was at the hostel in Quito. You had to give your bag of laundry to the people to wash it, it took a day or two, and was a bit expensive (like $10 or $15 I think?).
-Although speaking Spanish is not required, I found it difficult during the med rotations when I wanted to communicate with the patients. All of the tutors speak English.
-Make sure you have lots of room in your bag going back. Alpaca wool blankets are inexpensive and popular at the markets there. I bought two blankets and a hammock to bring back.
-Bring lots of sunscreen and bug spray!!!!!!
Overall I enjoyed my experience, but I wanted to be truthful about the components I didn't enjoy about the trip.