My month at Cuenca was irreplaceable. This shelter, Casa de Maria Amor, for abused women and their children, opened my eyes to what these women go through daily, and how strong in personality they have become. Only a few minutes bus ride from my homestay in Cuenca, it was simple to get to in the morning, and made for a beautiful walk back through Old Cuenca when time allowed so.
Volunteering 9-5 Monday to Friday leaves plenty of time to shop after work, and take weekend trips around Ecuador. The first weekend, myself and the Swedish volunteer (staying at the same homestay but different volunteer work), took a day trip to the national park, Cajas. Hiking the Incan trails, being led around by a fisherman stranger (helped us to see the kindness of Ecuadorian strangers early in the trip), and getting a ride in the back of a pickup truck with some fishermen. On what typical day back home could this have ever happened? None!
The next weekend we went to the hot springs, Banos, where we bungee jumped and river rafted at the top of the Amazon. By freak coincidence, the volcano in plain sight of the town happened to be emitting smoke and small amounts of lava which we could see brightly at night time. The thunderous booms coming from the volcano would shake us out of sleep at night, but witnessing this was truly remarkable.
The third weekend, I took a trip with an Austrian girl from the same volunteering to Guayaquil. (Didn’t enjoy my few hours in this city but that’s besides the point.) A few friends of hers drove us to the beautiful surf town about 3 hours away called Montanita. Love at first sight!! Back home ideas of a surf town include scenes from Hawaii or California, but this was so much more than that!
Seemingly, everyone walked around in their bathing suit or shorts carrying a board and sporting post-ocean hair. (We joked that some of these guys with boards were merely doing it to lure in unsuspecting gringas, which were swarming this town)
Fresh seafood-cheap, warmer weather that I had experienced the rest of the month in Cuenca, great people- only catch was that the locals seem nonexistent and the town consisted of tourists who left garbage in bushes etc.
On the last day of my volunteering at Casa de Maria Amor, I had tried to casually slip out the door to avoid a scene. Little did I know that with my departure i was to be put on spot and hugged to tears by about 20 children, their mothers, and even the police officer that was permanent security at the Casa. Tears flowing everywhere and my name (“Daniela, Daniela!” met me at the door every morning) being repeated by everyone that came near. I had absolutely no idea what it had felt like to be loved by 30 strangers before.
I spent my last weeked in Ecuador at a homestay in Quito. This city was my least favorite part of the trip. I enjoyed the trolley/gondola to see the gorgeous view of the city, I enjoyed the homestay and I loved the food, but something about the city made me feel at prey to danger. A whole month in Cuenca I never felt this way. I would walk the streets alone, go out at night and always felt safe. Quito just wasn’t for me I suppose.
The only thing I would have done different, would be to take in country Spanish lessons (getting good grades at school in Spanish means nothing in a country where broken English is all you’ll get). Also it would have been for at least 2 months.
This country seemed to love me and my flight back home felt more like I was leaving my true home. To have been able to experience this all at the age of 16 was more than I could have ever dreamed or imagined. Thank you.
Danielle Clarke (Canada)
Women’s Shelter Volunteer in Cuenca, Ecuador