Muddy Trails and Heartfelt Connections: A Family’s Experience in Ecuador

by Melissa Nix

This blog post was written by Jes Friedrichs, a longtime friend and supporter of Amizade, who recently traveled to Ecuador with her family as part of our first Amizade family program! She shares her reflections on the experience and recommendations for other families who are interested in traveling with Amizade. 

We’ve always wanted to give our children the opportunity to experience other cultures in countries outside the U.S. but we struggled with how to do that in an authentic, meaningful way. I participated in a social justice movement during a college year abroad in Southeast Asia and then worked for Amizade as a facilitator, so when I imagined traveling with my family, it was in that same spirit rather than as a typical tourist. When our oldest child turned 14, we were thrilled to learn that Amizade was offering their first family program in Ecuador. The program information said that it was recommended for kids 8 years old and up so we decided to leave our 6 year old back with grandma (and I’m glad we did because the hiking would have been too much!).

The trip was everything we had hoped for and more. We hiked every day, ate delicious fresh food for every meal (along with plenty of chips and candy tienda snacks for the kids), learned from local farmers, swam in waterfalls, met local community members and reflected on it all with our incredible hosts. In just one week in Los Bancos, we made such deep connections – with the other family on the trip as well as the family of Nido de Vida.

Amizade’s reflective approach was evident from the start. After a good night of sleep and breakfast in Quito, we gathered outside Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) to experience some tourist attractions at the equator. But rather than jumping right into sightseeing, our hosts Bibi, Lenin and Lucia led us in an activity where we set intentions for ourselves on the trip by using yarn to create a web among us. Bibi then had us clip off our piece of the yarn and turn it into a bracelet to remind us of our goals. She said that if we saw someone else during the trip who inspired us, we were encouraged to give them our bracelet.

After sightseeing, we drove a few hours to Los Bancos where we settled into our hotel, met Lenin’s nine year old daughter and all of the kids enjoyed the fastest waterslide this side of the equator. Having our kids connect with kids from the local community was one of my favorite elements of this trip. Lenin’s daughter joined us throughout the week for activities; we met up with high school students studying tourism midweek and had some of them join us for a celebration on the last evening. I loved how the kids connected, even without shared language – whether it was swimming in the rivers together, playing soccer, learning how to milk a cow and make cheese, playing Ecuadorian games (or the universal “rock papers scissors”), or dancing cumbia and doing the limbo together. By having the kids on the trip with us, I was reminded that play is one of the most powerful ways we can connect with other humans.

The enthusiasm of our hosts for sharing their community and their commitment to preserving the nature they live within is also what will stay with me from this journey. Arriving at Nido de Vida (Nest of Life), about an hour from Los Bancos, is a magical moment. The van makes a sharp turn into the valley and all of sudden, you are surrounded by ancient trees, lush green moss, friendly dogs and best of all, the kindness of family. The Nido de Vida family welcomed us so generously and taught us about the beauty of farm life as well as the challenges faced by their neighbors who work hard to survive every day.

For other families considering this journey, I can’t encourage you enough.

You’ll definitely get muddy so be prepared to be outside hiking, swimming and moving through the rainforest every day. You’ll learn a ton of Spanish and will have a chance to practice it with the many people who make the experience possible. You’ll play cards, dance, make art and eat more fruit than you knew existed. Your kids will build friendships in ways you may never have thought possible and you will too. You’ll plant trees. You’ll take off that yarn bracelet from the first day of the trip and have so many people that inspired you, you won’t know who to give it to. But you’ll choose someone, you’ll tie it around their wrist and you’ll be grateful, because that’s what Amizade programs remind us to do.

Thanks, Jes, for this great reflection! Anyone who is interested in joining an Amizade family program should visit our apply now page to learn more and sign up. 2024 programs are now open in Ecuador, Italy, and Trinidad!