Here’s some things you should know about this life changing trip.
- These people are going to become your life-long best friends.
Sure, pre-departure class is awkward, and I didn’t know half of their names the night before we left, but that changed really quickly. I wouldn’t do anything differently about how I warmed up to my group, it was so natural. I think a lot of bonding happened when an Amazon River tried to take us down, when we had no electricity in the Amazon, and when we ate together for every single meal. Cherish the meals because that is when we reflected on the day, laughed about what “went wrong”, and truly got to know one another. The country is absolutely beautiful, but my favorite pictures were the ones I took with my new friends. So with that said, my advice is to capture as many moments as you can!
2. Don’t be afraid to speak Spanish.
Some of the best memories are the unplanned ones. When you go abroad, flexibility is necessary in order to turn the unexpected things into positive memories. I couldn’t plan what locals I ran into, but I could try my best to have a genuine connection with them. When we were semi-stranded in a small town for a couple of hours, the group met a store owner named Rosita. She didn’t speak any English, but because I was willing to speak bad Spanish, we were able to share some laughs and I could buy some ice cream. I gave this pharmacist (above) a rose (a small group of us were giving roses to strangers) and she was so kind and made sure we were being safe on the streets. There is a mutual understanding of a language barrier, so, use that to your advantage to immerse yourself in the culture!
3. Buy a lot of chocolate!
My professor, Skipp, started challenging our “American” taste for chocolate ASAP during class in Pittsburgh. At the time, the dark chocolate will be bitter, and sometimes taste like dirt. But something that is important to know, is that Ecuadorian chocolate is on an entirely different level. What’s even better, is knowing the process- seeing it- somehow makes it taste so much more special. The picture above was me in the Bios chocolate factory after spending 20 minutes deciding what chocolate I wanted to buy. When I came home, I wanted everyone to try all the chocolate I did, and love it as much as I do. My advice here is simple, there is always room in your suitcase for more chocolate.
4. Hug the Waorani People extra tight
In about 48 hours, I met, played, hiked, ate, and deeply bonded with the Gomaton community of the Waorani People. The journey to Gomaton was 2 hours on a bus and 2 more on a canoe. I had no idea what to expect and was really nervous when we first arrived. Most of this experience is about mindset. You will get out of it what you put in. After I realized that I was so extremely lucky to meet the Waorani, and that normal people do not get this opportunity, I really put my all into it. Remember, you can sleep later and you can go on your phone later. Enjoy what is in front of you- step up to the challenges that are in front of you. Since so much of your experience will rely on mindset, please do not forget to journal how you feel and what you see while in that mindset. And, when the visit is over, let them know how much they have impacted you. I gave one of the little girls a bracelet of mine. She felt so special which made me feel so lucky. Do what feels right, and hug everyone you meet extra tight