Friday, September 14, 2007

Field Trips---Ecuador Style

Field trips, I'm pretty familiar with them. During my 12 year career as a public school student and my four previous years of teaching middle school, I have been on my share of visits to the local zoo, government buildings, cultural centers, and city parks. When I arrived at InterAmerican Academy and they told me that I would be chaperoning a "field trip" for my advisory class, which happens to be a class full of eleven year olds, I readily agreed. I mean, how hard can it be?

Foolish, foolish Danielle.

Apparently, in Ecuador a field trip is not your typical quick little trip to Guayaquil for the day. Oh no. It is a four-day adventure out in the middle of nowhere. Did I mention I was in charge of a group of 13 sixth graders?

Yes, there was an initial bout of panic, but I quickly got over it and began to prepare for this new adventure. Another teacher and I were in charge of taking the kids to Bucay, Ecuador, a little village that sits right at the base of the Andes Mountains. The plan was to spend four days building our "class community" and also to spend some time at a nearby school to donate supplies and play games with the local students. So far, so good. The owners of the hostel where we were staying even offered to take the students on some hikes around the foothills, one of the main attractions being a waterfall. After a little calming of the kids' parents, who had not yet been without their children for any overnight adventures, we were on our way.

It only took two hours to reach Bucay, but another hour to reach the hostel. We watched the bars indicating cell phone reception disappear as we went farther into "the jungle" as the kids kept referring to it. The hostel was beautiful, set between lush foothills, and the kids were excited to see a pool and the Ecuadorian staple of hammocks.

Hostel grounds, SSR in hammocks, view, pool, and scenery

The first night went pretty smooth. We played in the pool, explored the grounds, and even worked in a little SSR (silent sustained reading). We had the kids head to bed relatively early because we were going to take a hike to the waterfall the next day.

The hike. This is where I realized how truly different field trips in Ecuador are from the field trips of good ol' Idaho. Never in a million years would we be allowed to take the students on an adventure such as this. We hiked down an old railroad track that curved alongside a river and cut through the dense vegetation of the hills. Two guides accompanied us, pushing a flatbed on wheels down the track. At first I wondered why the flatbed was coming with us, what could this possibly be used for as we hike? Much to my chagrin, I soon discovered the answer.

Don't look down

It was at this moment that I realized why Ecuador is great for a teacher who tends to be anxiety ridden, not to mention completely afraid of heights. Here's my learned lesson:

When traveling with a group of eleven year olds, and doing something that frightens the bee-jumbas out of you, you cannot let on that you are scared spitless. Hysteria creates hysteria with these guys.

So...I made myself open my eyes as we passed over the rickety, gap-filled bridge on our mini flatbed cart, that was holding 18 people mind you, and took the picture. The entire time, I just kept thinking, "Dave is not going to believe I am doing this." I've noticed that I have that thought a lot, just the names vary.

After a few more bridges o' terror, we made it to the waterfall. It truly was beautiful and I was able to see plants and butterflies that I have never seen before. The kids loved it, especially when they got to play in the waterfall, and we eventually all made it back in one piece.

Railroad hiking path, rickety ol' bridges, and waterfall fun

We went on another hike the next day. No bridges this time, but our guide did carry a machete because of the pumas. Yeah, that makes me comfortable. The second hike is really a post all on its own, but I will tell you that we were promised we would only be gone for an hour and a half. We left at 1:30 and arrived back to the hostel at 5:30.

Lesson #2: Ecuadorian time is very different than United States time. When someone tells you how long something will take, add at least another hour. Better yet, add two.

We were also able to visit a nearby school, play soccer, and meet some new people. The students, as well as the hesitant chaperones, had a really wonderful time. Not a one of us got homesick and I was even told by some kids, with evident surprise in their voice, "Mrs. Richert, you're fun!"

School in Bucay, soccer game, Bucay classrooms, Puma Hike, and wild horses.

I think I could get use to this kind of field trip.