Hello all! So the troops and I have just returned from our first quarterly retreat in the remote town of Quilotoa. As social chair I can safely say this first retreat went off without a hitch. I say that because nobody fell off the cliff and nobody froze to death; a true victory in my social chair book. I knew I wanted to have our first retreat in Quilotoa purely because of how infamously beautiful the Quilotoa crater lake supposedly was. For those who don’t know, the lake to which I am referring (also pictured in the blog's banner photo) is a massive natural lake nestled in the crater of the most western active volcano in Ecuador, the result of a formerly massive now melted glacier. The trek to the tiny town of Quilotoa, which is populated by only about thirty locals all of whom spoke primarily in Quichua, required the boarding of three buses and impeccable timing because there is but one bus that leaves daily to Quilotoa from the Latacunga terminal. Needless to say, we made it and were greeted by two of the friendliest local women, donned in their finest indigenous garb, shouting my name, probably assuming that the foreign girl with the funny accent who made the reservation must be amongst the group of eleven gringos who stepped off of the only daily bus to Quilotoa that day. The hostel was warm, welcoming and relaxing, the perfect setting for our first retreat’s group discussion about the cultural boundaries we had encountered thus far. I like to think we all learned a little something about each other that night.
The beauty of the lake also truly exceeded our expectations. Due to a high concentration of dissolved minerals, the lake is a luminescent aquamarine color. It is hard to fathom that something this spectacular could occur in nature, but it surely does. Once we had all readjusted our now augmented realities of nature’s beauty and the bottomless well of Earth’s many mysteries, we trekked on. The next day I had planned for us to hike from Quilotoa to Chugchilan, another small town on the Quilotoa “loop”, about 10km away. The hike was to say the least…arduous, taking us along the crest of the volcanic crater, through forest and farm, across rivers and through canyons and probably pushed both our physical and mental boundaries a little more than I had anticipated. However, operating with a no man left behind mentality, I successfully herded my flock to safety. The second hostel in Chugchilan was a veritable paradise, complete with hot showers and cold beer. Pleased with the day’s accomplishments we reveled in the bounties the hostel had to offer and in the personal achievement of a long day’s hike. Bright and early the next morning, thumb high on the side of the road, we hitched a pick up truck back to Latacunga and started off for home. It was a rewarding and memorable first retreat to say the least.
Now home, washed and feeling anew, we are all preparing with much anticipation to finally start the rest of our programs next week. English classes, nutrition and cooking, and children’s art will all be underway by this time next week and the house is abuzz with lesson planning, strategy talks and goal setting for the weeks to come. Everyone is excited to get started. More to come next week on how it all goes down!