Putney Student Travel: Language Learning Ecuador & the Galapagos

Putney, VT

Overview

Immerse yourself on this Spanish language program as you work hand in hand with Ecuadorian friends in a small village. Undertake meaningful projects, and live with a local family. Travel to the high Andes mountains and then to the Galápagos for nine days of outdoor exploration and continued Spanish immersion.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Use your Spanish with Ecuadorian friends during a community workday (or minga) to refurbish a local building.
  • Celebrate the Inti-Raymi harvest festival with traditional Quechua costumes, song, and dance.
  • Practice your soccer vocabulary during a pick-up game of futbol with local students.
  • Climb to the equatorial glacier of Cotopaxi, the world’s largest active volcano.
  • Observe marine iguanas, sea turtles, and Galápagos penguins in their natural habitat.

OVERVIEW

Village Life and Service

Experience village life and improve your Spanish as you live and work in a  community tucked into the Andes mountains and rainforest. In past years, we have volunteered with villagers to construct a community center, formed work groups (called mingas) to complete a village project, helped run a summer camp for village children, and volunteered to help with the sustainability efforts of a local ecotourism group. Students can expect to complete between 50-80 hours of community service on this program.

Spanish Language Pledge

Start your Spanish off on the right foot by taking the Putney language learning pledge, promising to use only Spanish to communicate with each other, our village hosts, and the many wonderful Putney friends and contacts we meet. Putney’s philosophy is to learn by doing: as a group we immediately engage in a variety of meaningful volunteer projects that involve collaborating with community members. Soon you notice that you are speaking more comfortably, and your Spanish has taken on a momentum of its own. Expand your vocabulary as you bargain for food at a local mercado, interview a village elder about her family history, or tell a story to a group of Ecuadorian children. Throughout the stay, your leaders supplement this real-life experience with Spanish language lessons, creative exercises, and fun interactions that further your learning.

Use your expanding Spanish vocabulary as you work with the local maestros de obra to learn basic construction techniques and complete much needed renovations or trail maintenance. Your leaders create fun, hands-on language learning activities – scavenger hunts, interviews, projects, and games – all designed to expand your fluency.  Each morning we head out to project sites in small groups to work on reforestation efforts, teach schoolchildren, or  work with area farmers.

Homestay

Next, join a local family for a week-long homestay and full immersion into Ecuadorian living and Spanish language. Service projects and other group activities continue during the day and we eat meals with our homestay hermanos and hermanas. Swapping language lessons with Ecuadorian family members is a great way to build fluency and spoken confidence as you tell stories, go on outings, and have fun.

Independent Projects

Choose an independent project and pursue an aspect of Ecuadorian culture of particular interest to you—learn to make corn tortillas from scratch with a local señora, try milking a cow, or organize an opportunity for you and your friends to lend a hand in reforestation efforts. After the workday is finished, spend afternoons exploring the tropical beauty of the surrounding areas, playing pick-up soccer with Ecuadorian friends, practicing Spanish, or hiking into the lush hills surrounding your village.

Excursions

On day and overnight trips from our village, we take advantage of the spectacular natural beauty and diverse cultural traditions of Ecuador. Take an overnight to explore Mindo’s biodiverse cloudforest reserve and outdoor wonders.  Visit snow-capped Cotopaxi, one of the world’s largest volcanoes, hike to the mountain’s historic base camp, and trek to rare equatorial glaciers. Don traditional panchos and pants and ride horseback over the open páramo with your cowboy guides.

Final Adventure

Then spend your last week traveling the Galápagos Islands, one of the most fascinating places on earth. Cut off from the rest of the world for millennia, the unique species that evolved and thrived in this desolate landscape were the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Once merely a stopping point for whalers who harvested the giant tortoises for meat, the Islands are now a living museum and the world’s premier destination for naturalists and conservationists. Located at the confluence of five major ocean currents, the Galápagos Islands boast nutrient rich, cool waters that encourage a diversity of marine life. Invasive species and overfishing continue to threaten the fragile eco-system. As we explore the Islands with local guides and wildlife experts, we meet their residents and learn about the challenge of balancing development with conservation in this biodiversity hotspot.  See how much your Spanish has improved as you speak with guides and interview wildlife experts to learn about ongoing conservation efforts.

We begin our Galápagos adventure on the island of Isabela, the largest and one of the youngest islands in the archipelago.  Isabela is home to the Islands’ largest wild tortoise population. Five of the six volcanoes on Isabela are still active, making it one of the most volcanically active places on earth. We hike to the crater of the Sierra Negra volcano, which last erupted in 2005, where we experience a bird’s eye view of this magical landscape. While on Isabela, explore mangroves, beaches, and snorkel with penguins, sea turtles, and sea lions in the calm, clear-water bays.

Next, we board our boat bound for the island of Santa Cruz where we meet one of the Galápagos’ most famous residents, a 100-year-old tortoise named Diego, who has helped repopulate an entire species of giant tortoises.  We visit Diego along with other tortoises and rarely-seen land iguanas at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Explore lava tunnels on a trip to the highlands and take in one last panoramic view of the Islands. Relax on the brilliant, white sand beach of Tortuga Bay, where we observe marine iguanas and kayak through a mangrove forest.

Our final stop is the island of San Cristóbal, the easternmost and one of the oldest islands in the archipelago. A visit to the Interpretation Center provides an introduction to the biology, geology, and history of human impact on the Islands. We explore the coastal regions before heading up into the highlands to visit a giant tortoise rehabilitation center. Snorkeling off of Kicker Rock, the remains of an underwater volcano, offers us the chance to swim with manta rays, sea turtles, harmless Galápagos sharks, and an impressive array of colorful tropical fish. Get acquainted with playful sea lions during a swim at Isla de Lobos and hang out with marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies on the beach.  We return to Quito for the final night where we have a chance to reflect on how far our Spanish has come over the past month, as well as the extraordinary friendships we have developed.

Accommodations

Group accommodations are carefully selected by Putney Student Travel to emphasize convenience, a positive group environment, and wholesome interaction with local people and fellow travelers. Our living accommodations in Ecuador are very simple. For the first two weeks, we live together in a group house located in our project village. We form cooking and cleaning crews each day to help two local women prepare delicious traditional meals of corn, potatoes, soups, cheeses, chicken, eggs, root vegetables, and juices.   For one week, join a local family for full immersion into Ecuadorian living and Spanish language.  In the Galápagos and on excursions, we stay in small, family-run hotels.

Physical Challenge Level

This program is physically active. Days are filled with movement — playing with local children, playing soccer, working on a community service project, or going on a hike. In the afternoons, students can play pick-up games of soccer, frisbee, or basketball.  You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities. On excursions there will be opportunities to hike, bike, ride horseback, swim, kayak, and more.   This program visits high altitude destinations – Quito (~9,000 feet), our hacienda in Cotopaxi National Park (11,800 feet), and makes a hike to the Refugio José Ribas on Cotopaxi Volcano (15,000 feet).    

A Typical Day

7 a.m. — Breakfast
8 a.m.–12 p.m. — Language lesson and work on service projects
12 p.m.–2 p.m. — Lunch and rest
2 p.m.–4 p.m. — Work on service projects
4 p.m.–6 p.m. — Help prepare dinner, play soccer, relax
6 p.m. — Dinner
8 p.m. — Group Meeting, language lesson or games,  and/or group activity

During the week, we wake up between 6-7am, eat breakfast together as a group, and then head to the work site from 8am-12pm. Work may include mixing cement, painting, participating in a local harvest, or teaching local kids. We’ll break for a long lunch and rest time, then return to work for a few hours in the afternoon. After work, relax, play soccer with local friends, help cook dinner, or pursue independent research. After a group dinner together, students participate in a meeting to discuss the day, plan for upcoming excursions, or simply play a game together. Day trips and excursions are a time to explore. Hike to a nearby peak, explore an indigenous market, horseback with local guides, and more.

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