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As July 2017 approached, twenty nervous but excited students set out on the adventure of a lifetime to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. An adventure that would last four weeks, travelling over 12,000 miles, involve six flights and a multitude of bus journeys. It would be an experience to change the lives of many; not just the students’ but the lives of people they would help.

A gloomy Cumbrian summer morning. Bags were packed and the coach was waiting to embark on the long but arduous journey to Heathrow, London. The atmosphere was one of excitement and trepidation as Keswick School students set off on their Camps International journey to Latin America.

Fast-track to boarding then a stopover in Bogota, Columbia, with some fresh Colombian coffee to revitalise the spirits. Finally, we arrived. Quito, high in the Andes was our first destination and a chance to acclimatise to the Latin way of life. However, it was a brief respite as the flight to the Galapagos Islands was the following day, flying high over the barren landing strip of Baltra Island, an ex-American outpost; an unexpected landscape.

The first of many ferry crossings throughout the trip revealed what the Galapagos Islands is renowned for: its stunning vegetation, giant tortoises and its Jurassic Park-style vista. Two giant craters were evident from its volcanic past; full of high trees and teeming with exotic creatures. It was as though we were time travelling to the dawn of time.

We headed into the tourist hotspot of Puerto Ayora, far busier than any of us imagined it would be. Full of Western tourists following in Charles Darwin’s footsteps - literally. We headed to the Charles Darwin research centre to observe how they are protecting the giant tortoises with a major breeding programme and of course got to visit the shrine of Lonesome George.

After two days of revelling in the sights, it was time to get personal with the wildlife on the Galapagos. We headed out sea snorkelling, to get close to sharks, turtles, stingrays and finally the marine iguanas made famous on BBC’s Planet Earth II. Yes, they are that fast and yes, they are the weirdest looking animals ever.

After the adventure of a lifetime, we headed back to Ecuador and our first camp: Camp Esmeraldas. A Hispanic-African community 30 miles from the coast. Their community relied heavily on cacao (chocolate) farming. We helped their community by working on their school and helping to build a local health centre. It was rewarding but exhausting work in the heat. We also got to venture into a new community, which Camps International are


starting to build links with. The main form of transport to carry produce to the river ready for transporting was mules, produce was then lifted onto motorised canoes. After a week in the heat, we were ready for the next projects, in the cool refreshing climate of the high Andes, 100 miles North of Quito.

The Andes was a different climate altogether. It was cold, windy and wet. Like being transported home to the Lake District for a week. We wished we had never dreamt of the cool Andes. However, there was lots of work to do: a community kitchen to run, water tanks to fill and a dry mud wall to repair. This community relied on milk production; a task we all got to do, walking several miles to milk a cow and bringing the milk back to the main village. It was an experience I don’t think we will ever forget. After a community meal with the village elders, we headed for the Amazon Rainforest.

Eight hours later, we arrived. Chilli Urku: the most basic, but magical place any of us had experienced in our lifetime. Monkey calls in the distance and poisonous snakes crawling through camp, it was heaven for some, hell for others. We slept in hammocks and worked on key community projects. Helping a family build a toilet and washing facilities. We went to sleep after counting stars and watching shootings stars rocket by: the joy of being in the middle of nowhere.

Our final camp was a five-mile trek through the jungle, nibbling on freshly picked cacao beans and avoiding banana spiders that could kill you in two hours. That’s what we went for: the thrill of being on an adventure. Camp Don Biki was probably the most luxurious camp we had been in. Situated by the banks of the Napa River and Amazon tributary, we gazed at spectacular sunsets and observed local hunters trapping fish for their suppers.

None of us knew what to expect. None of us knew what was out there but we grew as individuals, helped other people and forged friendships that will last a lifetime. Latin America is a beautiful place with kind and generous people who made us feel welcome wherever we went. Next stop: Tanzania.

Robyn Vaughan (Year 12) 19 OCTOBER 2017 ISSUE 419 PAGE 12

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