Wow. What a week! I'm not sure how mere words can capture how incredible the week was, but I'm going to give it a shot!
First, let's talk about the surroundings. Ecuador is a gorgeous country full of fascinating things to see around every turn (and in the mountains, there's a LOT of turns to be made). We saw everything from a volcano erupting to toucans and parrots flying past us in the rainforest. Our first night we stayed in Quito at a very quaint hotel near the airport. Once everyone arrived, we packed up and headed to El Encanto Hosteria in Los Bancos, which was about 90 minutes away. The hosteria is nestled into the hillside of the Rio Bancos valley and offered some of the most breathtaking scenery I've ever seen. You can hear the river rushing through the bottom of the valley if the birds aren't being too noisy. We were up high enough we could see the clouds being created below us, and oftentimes around us as well.
One unique aspect of El Encanto is the Equator runs directly through it. This led to activities such as doing sun salutations on the equator, finding our bodies' energy level or even just simply getting enjoy a cold juice in both hemipsheres at the same time. The service was impeccable if you didn't care about coffee first thing in the morning, and really good if you are addicted to the “cafe”. They did a great job of taking care of us through the week.
We had a number of different activities available for us to do. I got to hang out on the equator (both at the hosteria and in Quito), go ziplining through the canopy of the rainforest, volunteer with a reforestation group, tour a real life chocolate factory, experience a native Ecuadorian shaman cleansing and more! Others in the group got to go white water rafting, repel down a cliff face through a waterfall and spend an early morning out birding with a local expert.
The one best part, in my opinion, wasn't the freshly squeezed juice or the beautiful vistas. They were a very nice bonus, but we could've been holed up in a convention center in Alberta for all I cared. No, the best part was the incredible group of people on the trip. It was laughing at each other as we got dirty plant water poured over our heads at 6 am, or the comraderie of dipping our toes in the tepid hot tub while drinking our way through numerous bottles of wine. It was the support and encouragement from people who were trying to do the same thing you are. A group of complete strangers came together for a week and left as a big family. I might have traveled by myself on the way down to Ecuador, but on the way home I was part of one of the best groups of people I could've asked for. The advice I received on this trip (whether it was something I asked for or not :p) will help me years down the road.
To everyone reading this, if you get the opportunity to go on a Chautauqua with Cheryl, DO IT. I sincerely believe this was not only the best week I've ever had in my life, but one of the most useful. Every penny I paid for this trip (even the $10 I spent on alcohol that I left on the bus) was absolutely worth it.
For those reading this that were a part of the trip: Thank you. You are a wonderful group of people and I am forever changed because of your company.
Because I don't want to leave this post on such a sentimental sappy note, I'll end it with a list of my favorite quotes and sayings from the week. In no particular order, here they are:
-Both halves of Barack Obama
-getting attacked by a weedwhacker
-risking flesh-eating disease
-having safety meetings
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