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The 13th of July finally arrived, and we all waited apprehensively with excitement for our coach to collect us and take us to Heathrow Airport to start the journey on our long-awaited adventure to Ecuador. After two long flights, and two South-American airports, at last we stepped off the plane in Quito, jet-lagged but full of excitement for what lay ahead in the next 19 days. Once through the airport, we were met by our fantastic guide, Tomas, who guided us through his amazing country for the duration of our stay.

In the first few days, we adjusted to the time difference, altitude and climate. During this time, we had the once in a lifetime experience of standing on the Equator line and visiting the magnificent monument , ‘Mitad del Mundo’. We toured around the little museum at the Equator before preparing our own traditional Ecuadorian meal in a local restaurant.

Day 3 saw us departing Quito for the time being and heading to Cotopaxi National Park where we began the challenge of mountain biking alongside snow-capped mountains and stunning views. We all showed resilience and determination to complete the hard but rewarding day of activities.

We began Day 4 by setting off for the beautiful Quilotoa Lagoon, located inside a volcanic crater. On arrival at the bottom of the crater, we kayaked in the breath-taking turquoise waters of the lagoon surrounded by amazing views, before venturing back to our hostel accommodation.

The next couple of days were spent at the traditional community project Casa Condor, situated at the base of Chimborazo Volcano, volunteering and living our lives alongside the Andean farmers and their families. This was one of the main highlights of the trip as we worked as potato farmers, planted trees in the forest, milked cows, cleaned out and cared for alpacas as well socialising and playing with the young children of the community.

The adventure continued, with a trip on the world-famous Devil’s Nose Train which took us around spectacular mountains with equally magnificent views. Mid-journey, we disembarked the train to watch and join in with the customary dancers dressed in

traditional costume.

After a good nights rest in the traditional Hacienda, we prepared ourselves and began our tiring but hilarious 3 day trek up to the top of El Altar. Many hours later, and copious amounts of mud later, we finally arrived at the mountain refuge that was to be our home for the next 3 days. What an experience – no electricity, no running water and an overwhelming amount of dirty boots and more mud! We all laugh about it now! A few days later, and we had survived the trek! We then proceeded to make our way back down the mountain before departing for the tropical rainforest area of Baños.

We then spent the following days experiencing beautiful waterfalls with breath-taking scenery and being transported across a rushing river by cable car in Baños . In the evening, we soaked and relaxed in the famous hot thermal pools in the centre of the town.

Another of the group’s favourite activities was the experience of white water rafting along the Jatunyacu river. This was amazing, exhilarating and thrilling as we rode the rapids and swam alongside the rafts, whilst splashing and pushing each other in! Even Mr Halliwell ended up in the river!

Perfect celebrity spotting moment occurred in Otovalo Market, where we bumped into Ben Fogle whilst we were shopping for souvenirs to take home. We all thoroughly enjoyed the shopping experience, utilising and practicing our Spanish speaking skills.

For our last few days of our wonderful adventure, we trekked around another stunning volcanic lagoon, this time Cuicocha lagoon, again surrounded by the most unbelievable scenery and our knowledgeable guide Tomas informed us of what we were viewing. Sadly, our trip was coming to an end and after our final trek, we travelled to the airport, ready for our long journey home, filled with life-lasting memories and experiences that will be with us forever. We were all very sad to leave this wonderful country as we all agreed we had had the best 19 days ever!

On behalf of the group, I would like to thank all the teachers for arranging this incredible opportunity to explore Ecuador – we all had the best time.

By Maddie Sumner