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Published: August 16th 2010
I woke up this morning, groggily peeled the curtains back and looked out my window at the snow covered peak of Chimborazo volcano. The clouds had lifted their furry heads to give me the most splendid view of this monolith, perched on the edge of a plunging green valley with a river snaking through it, spotted with tiny farm houses and a soccer field.
After eating my daily bowl of oatmeal with palm sugar I was ready for the jaunt to the library where my students await. On the way I said hello to a dog, a chicken, a donkey and a cow. Passing me on the dusty snake of a road, a local Salasacan woman shuffled, barefoot, dressed in a bright pink shawl with a green felt hat, her crooked back laden with a huge pile of grass and branches. She couldn't look more miserable until; upon meeting I say "Buenas Dias". She turns her tiny face up to mine, the cracks and rivulets of her skin spreading as her mouth opens into an enormous two toothed most genuine grin. "¡Buenas Dias!" She shouts confidently back at me.
This ritual is repeated with every labouring man or woman you pass and every tiny grubby child that hurtles out of their house to hang off your arms and clothes and ask you your name. The walk to the library should take ten minutes, but you need to leave about twenty for all the greetings. It is a wonderful way to start the morning. Nobody is trying to sell you anything or get anything from you; they just want to say hello.
After the morning guitar lessons with extremely keen Orlando first, and not so keen Gabby second (that all changes when I teach her to play a Shakira song) I start my second walk of the day up to the school and the farm with a handful of other volunteers. At the moment it is the summer holidays, so Katitawa school is closed and English and music classes are held in the local library.
This walk is probably my favourite part of the day. Accompanied by our rowdy hilarious dog Blaze we walk for about half an hour through the beautiful farming land of the indigenous Salsacan people. Sheep bleat and pigs snort (especially when Blaze chases them) and children fly adorable kites made out of yarn and scraps of cardboard or plastic high into the clear sky. Blaze makes friends with a burrito (the name for baby donkey!). The women wash clothes in the stream that runs down the mountain and the men hack off the branches of a strange cactus that is abundant here and looks like a giant aloe vera plant. They feed it to cows and use it for roofing and building.
The rest of our day is spent at the official school, a charming colourful place nestled into the side of a mountain, gazing over the misty valleys and six volcanoes that surround the area (one of them Tungurahua is active, you can sometimes see smoke if you stand high enough). Our little garden needs weeding and tending, the duck and chickens need to be fed, and numerous construction projects undertaken whilst school is out. We are currently building THE WALL, a project that fervently occupies the minds of many volunteers, as well as building fences, and clearing out and painting a room to become the music room! We have a lunch cooked for us by Marta (who loves carbohydrates) and have long circular chats with the manager of the organisation Robert, a hilarious, scatter brained and lovable 78 year old American who donates his entire pension to the running of the school.
In the evenings there are classes for adults, including the animated Spanglish! Spanglish is a little like speed dating, but with five minutes in English and five minutes in Spanish before rotating. It is great confidence building and practice for locals and volunteers alike. One Friday night we held a puppet show with the kids acting out the adorable "La Aventura de David" complete with pirates and funny voices. A big crowd turned up, consumed the mountains of desserts the volunteers cooked and danced with all the little girls in their finest traditional dress (white embroidered blouses, long skirts, colourful felt shawls and sparkling silver brooches) to the tunes of a fabulous local folk band.
In the evenings the volunteers feast, chortle and drink in our lovely home Pachimama hostel. It is a beautiful big house with a giant back verandah and a flea problem (these insanely itchy bites are perhaps the only downside to my time here). We eat all the things that we miss and crave most, cooked in bulk for the 12 of us by teams. The best meal of the week gets rewarded with a bottle of rum for the winning team. Last week we had Indian, Gnocchi and Veggie Burgers! We have an amazing dynamic established in the house, this is communal living at its finest. We all feel incredibly lucky to have landed with such a well knit group. On the weekends we go on group adventures, sometime just to neighbouring Baños, but one time to a monkey sanctuary and another to the Cotopaxi Volcan National Park for a freezing day of hiking, volcano touching and giggling.
Sometimes you forget the beauty of this place; its innocence, its openness and its generosity. But with only a week left I feel my sense of this dramatically heightened and each time I have to walk between the library and home is a delight to be savoured and tasted. I feel so grateful to experience this place that is so extremely far off the gringo trail and have this unforgettable experience. This weekend I am doing the Quilotoa Loop trek with another wonderful volunteer Brittany, and then I will say goodbye to icy evenings and volcanic views and hello to the coast. Salasaca will be sorely missed.
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