For a map of Ecuador showing planned activities and where they will happen click here.
You need to have a valid American passport. Keep it safe, on your person while traveling to Ecuador. In a pouch worn around your neck inside your shirt is a good idea. You will get a 90 day tourist visa form on the plane, which will be stamped upon arrival in Quito. Don't lose it! Put it with your passport. It doesn't look like much, but it saves a lot of hassle to have one to present upon exiting. And there are sometimes checkpoints within Ecuador where soldiers will board the bus to check these. Note: It would be advisable to have photocopies of passports and other important documents that you keep in a separate place should you lose the original(s).
The adventures and how to get the most out of them
Ecuador is VERY diverse in terms of scenery and peoples. We will be meeting people from a number of different indigenous groups Otavaleños, Lowland Quichua, Salasacas, and Saraguros as well as Ecuadorian nationals. All will know Spanish, but some indigenous people will have Quichua as their first language. If you learn some Quichua expressions (sheet attached), they will be most appreciative. Ecuador is a third world country. Don't trust the drinking water anywhere, unless it is bottled water.
Be open to learning, be flexible, and be patient.
Remember you are a guest in a different culture.
Be open to coping and don't panic!
Learn as much Spanish as you can between now and departure; then be gentle on yourself for the first few days, while your ear tunes in. You'll find rapid improvement with this immersion!
Quito is at 9000 feet above sea level. This is enough to slow you down for a couple of days. Best advice: Immediately upon arrival GO TO BED. Let your body adjust your altitude 'thermostats' while you're sleeping. Usually if you do that you avoid nasty headaches and possible nausea. Salasaca and Saraguro are in the same range. You might huff and puff a bit more than usual uphills. But Ecuadorians in Quito walk more slowly than we do; they s-t-r-o-l-l. Imitate them! Slow down! You'll feel better. In the highlands you will be in temperatures between 45 and 70 Farenheit. In the Oriente it will be hotter, and more humid too.
Ecuador dollarized in 2000. So your American $$ are their dollars too! No foreign currency to calculate and get confused over. They do have their own coins, but also accept ours. Theirs have numbers on them. They also use (and like) our Sacajawea dollar coin. It is getting more difficult all the time to cash travelers checks, one exchange house in Quito won't take any in denominations larger than $20, another one did in Jan 2003, will they in 2004? Who knows? There are ATMs in Quito, Cuenca and Loja, with a maximum of $200 available any one day Credit cards are only accepted at bigger shops (like bookstores, photo shops, tourist shops and some restaurants) in the big cities. You should generally plan to take all the money you plan to spend in cash since you won't need much. And the $20 bill is often as large as a merchant will accept for a purchase. Street vendors and small shopkeepers want $1 bills or coins. More recently change has become more scarce in small establishments so bring lots of dollar bills and a bag full of coins to avoid problems.
The program is covering all costs except for 12 meals----so what you need is spending money. $300? $500? Surely not more than $1000 and that only if you are planning on buying lots of wonderful crafts and gift items. But whatever amount, carry it safely while in the urban areas-Quito, Cuenca, Otavalo. NOT in a wallet in your pocket. Carry it inside your clothing, next to your skin. This is not necessary while in Saraguro.
There is no drinking age in Ecuador. Three year old kids can have a drink if someone gives it to them. But please realize that getting drunk while traveling diminishes the travel experience tremendously. If you get drunk in Saraguro people will probably look after you (especially true for women) ,but they will laugh at you too. And you have work to do while there. Clear heads are much better for doing that well.
Use of DRUGS
Drug use is absolutely forbidden. It is an instant lock-upable offense and we can't get you out! You are subject to the laws of the country and American Embassy might not be able to help you much.
Crime and violence
Ecuador is regarded as generally stable, even though Colombia to the north is on the Department of State travel warning list. There are problems up near the border, but we will not be going anywhere near there. Nevertheless, NEVER go out alone at night, never travel at night on a bus, and really the best thing is always have a friend with you when you go somewhere. It makes you less of a target. (Again, these cautions are mainly for the urban areas). Also it helps to carry a map of where you are, so you can point out a destination to a taxi driver, shop keeper etc. We will give you one of Quito when you arrive.
See your family doctor before you go and follow the advice given about shots and diarrhea medicine. If you have need of refrigeration for preservation of medication, you will have to take care of this yourself by taking some portable ice container. We should be able to find ice at all locations, and in Saraguro, some homes have refrigerators and you will be assigned one, if you let us know you need this. There are also several doctors in Saraguro and a local hospital, should you need general medical care. But if you have a medical condition which requires a specialist, you should not come with us. Do not count on Ecuadorian pharmacies having your prescription medicines. Don't eat street vendor food.
Phone and email and mail service
Almost every town (including Saraguro) has a phone company 'station' (names differ but almost always end in 'tel') from which you can make phone calls from a booth and pay at the end. The cost is generally less than $0.50 per minute to the U.S. While phone lines are very limited in Saraguro, cell phone service has just (2005) begun in Saraguro. The family you stay with might even have one.
Quito and other Ecuadorian cities all have many cybercafes which are fairly inexpensive (about $1.50 per hour). And now even Saraguro has a cibercafe with eight computers (but we're not talking high speed connections). If you don't know how to use UMD's (excruciatingly slow) webmail http://www.d.umn.edu/email practice a bit before you leave the US unless you use yahoo! or some other commercial provider.
Saraguro used to have mail service. It no longer does. So don't expect to receive mail in Ecuador. You can send mail from Quito and other cities.
Necessities to take
* Light sleeping bag, or, at a minimum a fleece sleeping bag liner. There is no central heating anywhere that we'll be and Americans often find Saraguro feels cold especially at night (55-60 degrees F inside houses). The sleeping bag liner also guarantees you "clean sheets"! (A silk sleeping bag liner would be really nice.)
* Notebook for taking field notes + for journaling
* Camera + film + camera batteries (especially if the film or batts are 'unusual')
* Water bottle and water purification pills or filtration system
* Raincoat (one that also serves as a windbreaker is good)
* Polar fleece jacket or sweatshirt with hood (or both)
* Comfortable casual clothing is appropriate for almost every day. As many wrinkle free light weight fabric items as you can afford. Dryers almost don't exist in Ecuador.
* Women: take a wrinkle resistant skirt or dress, for when you have to meet dignitaries
* Something to keep your head warm + light gloves + light longjohns
* Good walking shoes + Hiking boots
* Towel and washcloth + Shower thongs. Lots of showers have dirty floors
* Swim suit for the hot springs at Papallacta + swimming in the Oriente
* Ziplock bags all sizes
* anti-itch cream. There are no highland mosquitos, but there are fleas!
* travel alarm
* small flashlight
* small amount of insect repellent for the 3 days in the Oriente
* Contact lens solution if you use such.
* your laptop computer, they are too easily a target for thieves. There is an internet "cafe" in the town of Saraguro that usually works (slowly). Last year it cost only one dollar per hour of use. A few of your families may have computers, but probably without internet connections.
* electrical appliances with polarized plugs. Ecuador has the same voltage as the U.S. but most outlets cannot accommodate the wide flange in a plug. If you have such, you might look for an adaptor here, if you need it for your video or digital camera battery charger. Grounded (three pronged) outlets probably won't be found anywhere .
Don't plan to wear shorts in the highlands, though you might find a pair handy in the Oriente. Make them light, so they'll dry quickly. Dress modestly in the highlands. No spagetti straps.
On Taking pictures
Don't take pictures of people without asking their permission and when you get this, offer to give them a copy when it's developed. Merchants in Otavalo allow photos, if you make a purchase. We will make sure your photos are delivered if you get their names. There is 1 hour developing in Ecuadorian cities, but not in Saraguro.
Suggested gifts (for Saraguros)
* bandanas (for both males and females)
* natural indigo dye (the most treasured import item for Saraguro) It's expensive. If you buy 5 pounds you can get it for about $26 per pound. If you would like to, maybe we could organize a group purchase, order 10 pounds and 20 of you take a half pound to your host families, or to your instructors, if these are not the same people. Or, 10 people could split 5 pounds.
* toys (there are lots of children of all ages)
* jigsaw puzzles (take out of box; tear off picture on top, put all in a plastic ziplock bag)
* school supplies
* children's books in Spanish, if you can find them
Saraguro Homepage Extensive website with all kinds of information about the Saraguros and the Saraguro area. Some of the most useful pages on this site include:
The Saraguros, 1962-1997: A Very Brief Overview
Saraguro Maps (links to a variety of maps showing the Saraguro region and where Saraguro is in the Americas)
The Inkas in the Saraguro region
Ethno-EcoTourism in the Saraguro Region (links general information for visitors to the Saraguro area including places to go, things to do, and local crafts).
Saraguro People (links to large photos [up to 200k] of the people of the Saraguro region)
Landscape Photos (links to large photos [up to 200k] of various parts of the Saraguro region)
Many other pages linked through the Saraguro Homepage ( http://www.saraguro.org ) also provide text and smaller sized photos of people and places of the region.
Fundación Kawsay An indigenous Saraguro NGO with lots of information in Spanish
For Ecuador in General:
US Department of State Consular Information for Ecuador (information on travel, health, crime and safety)
Embassy of Ecuador (in the US) (general information for visitors to Ecuador)
Ministerio de Turismo Ecuador (information in English and Spanish)
La Casa Sol (our planned hostal/B&B in Quito)
Otavalo, Ecuador (information on a place we plan to visit for a day)
Otavalo: World Famous Indigenous Market (more information on a place we plan to visit for a day)
Indian Market of Salasaca (photos of another place we plan to visit)
Snowcaps and Other Mountains of Ecuador (Photos--on our way to the tropical forest we will pass close to the first glacier covered mountain pictured. Weather permitting, we should see several other snow peaks during our stay in Ecuador)