“We stayed here for three nights,” she says, pointing to a single-story hotel with a whitewashed exterior in Quito, Ecuador. She and about 15 other girls were on the first leg of a spring break trip as a part of Hathaway Brown School’s Center for Global Citizenship. They spent almost two weeks learning about the animals, geography and culture of the South American country and its Galapagos Islands.
I knew she was lucky to get this chance, but each click made me appreciate the opportunity even more. After a few more images, her group is standing in front of a pole that reads: Cayambe, Ecuador, Lat 0˚ 0’ 0”. “This is the equator,” she says. “Not the touristy one, the real one.”
Then she comes upon images of a man, kneeling in front of an open pit, which she helped dig. Baskets of corn, carrots, potatoes, beets and pineapple are waiting to be placed in the ground with hot stones for a traditional pachamanca ceremony.
“It’s really spiritual,” she says. As the food cooked, she says, everyone offers something they are thankful for. “They really talked about being connected with the food, so you even ate with your hands.”
She shares pictures of them hiking the Andes Mountains, examining the caldera of the Sierra Negra volcano, and snorkeling with sharks and Galapagos green turtles. “One actually touched me,” she says of the massive sea turtles. “It’s back fin touched my face.”
She shows me the Galapagos marine iguana, blue-footed booby and Galapagos tortoises, and talks about how the islands are a prime spot to study the effects of evolution.There are stories of planting trees as part of a reforestation project, eating ice cream and laying on the beach to identify constellations from both hemispheres in one night sky. “You can see all the stars,” she says. “It’s the most beautiful thing ever.”
As she starts wrapping up, something hits her. Early in the trip, they learned how to make yarn from llama wool. “I don’t speak even a little bit of Spanish,” she says. But as the elderly woman gave instructions to the group, she understood the directions. “It’s so cool how you can connect with people, even when you don’t speak the same language.”
She says the woman must have felt it too, giving her a knowing smile. “It felt like we had a bond … like we were close,” she says. “I’ve never felt like that with anyone before.”
I ask if it was her favorite experience from last school year. “It was the best thing in my life,” she says.
8:00 AM EST
August 29, 2018