Ecuador: meeting with VIPs and foam parties
Trip Start Jan 07, 2010
10Trip End Mar 24, 2010
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John Bahl, a fellow lifeguard introduced me to the program, which was advertised in a USLA magazine. From my understanding we were going to help guard Ecuadorian waters during carnival because they were understaffed... but it was much bigger than I had imagined.
From Chile I flew to Panama City where I met up with Dan, a fellow San Diego lifeguard, and the majority of the crew that would be helping out in Project Ecuador. I was so excited to see a familiar face because it made me feel like I was back home.
Once we arrived in Ecuador we were greeted by a big crew of lifeguards from Playas. They were the nicest guys you could imagine, but after hearing their story I started realizing the real reason why we were here. I feel like sometimes people start movements thinking it is to help just a little, but God always has a bigger picture. The playa guards were fired from their jobs right before Carnival... and had been denied pay for 3 months. They pay here isn´t a lot to begin with, but at least they were being compensated for their work. They were here greeting us because Paul had been the one who trained them and wanted to volunteer their services. Since the government would not pay for their wages Paul made an executive decision to not send us there. Last year with the extra guards there were 3 drownings... and I heard already that there were 4 drownings just on the first day this year.
That´s the thing about Ecuador... the people here amped to work. They´re amped to learn how to make their waters safer, but it is a process to get and then keep the government to back them up.
Our first day we swam, had underwater swim contests, and ate an amazing dinner.
Our second day we headed to Santa Elena to meet with the mayor. We were goign to have a group guard and train guards in Montanita so in order to make it official Paul and the Mayor had to sign papers. I felt so important because they brought us into a huge office, took tons of pictures and then took us out to lunch. But the most impressive part of that meeting was one of the Playa guards getting up and telling the mayor of this province that he can´t do to his guards, what their Mayor has done to them. He explained eloquently and passionately that lifeguards with experience are priceless to the community because they are what keep the beaches safe, and they needed to be treated with respect. He didn´t ask them to help the Playa guards, he was only asking on behalf of the guards in Montanita which was very honorable.
Once we finally made it to Montanita we jumped in for a surf and then partied all night. Mantanita, Ecuador is Latin America´s version of the United State´s Cancun... except way cleaner and much hipper... please.. dont come here and ruin it! haha We personally went out to a free community dinner and then to a place with live reggae! it was amazing! and Paul the director is crazy because he wanted to stay up all night and surf in the morning... we ended up going to bed at 3 so we can nap until 5 for an early morning surf..
but then we were woken up at 7 by Hugo, the head of the Manta guards. He was there to pick us up but we were a total wreck.. We were a bit surprised because normally everything here runs an hour behind schedule but he got there 15 minutes early!
So we started our trek up to our final destination, Manta Ecuador with a bang.
Manta is a huge port city that´s actually the sister port city to Long Beach, which is part of the reason why it was such a big deal we were there because Paul was acting as a representative. Manta is different than Mantanita in that while Mantanita is full of tourists from Chile and Peru and Argentina, Manta is mainly tourists from within Ecuador. So, we were dealing with an entirely different social demographic.
We were also working directly with the Bomberos.. fire fighters. From day one, Marcos, Julia and me were being used to put on work shops (because we were the only spanish speakers) on water safety and rescue techniques. After our first theory work shop on the first day we headed to Murcielego, their version of Mission Beach, for pure mayhem... they have boats that come into the shore line.. and a beach that you cant see because of the crowds.. we did a bunch of prevention so no on got hurt, but those boat guys were getting on my last nerves... I had to tell them 5 times to stop dropping everyone off in the rip current. They just looked at me in shock, probably wondering who the heck is this gringa.
That´s pretty much how everything went every day.. we worked from 7 in the morning till 5 or 6 every night guarding and teaching... then at night we would have meetings with the captain and commandante of the fire service... adn then dance the night away.
The best two nights were the last ones.... The girls (me, Julia a guard from LA county, and gabby... an amzing 20 year old who was the brains behind the whole Project Ecuador) decided to go up to Crucitos for the night. What started off with just wanted to go out to dance for a little bit, turned into a foam war. During carnival they sell huge cans of foam to spray people with, and everyone kept spraying us. Soi to retaliate we bought our own cans, and I think we definitely won. Every time someone would spray us a little we would team up and get them from head to tow until they looked liked marshmallow men.
We had the same war with the boys on our team the following night. But they definitely won. The moment we got out of the cab they sprayed me and then some random person poured a bucket of water on me! It was terrible! But all in good fun.
On our last day we woke up to a phone call telling us that Paul, the director didnt show up to his meeting with the Mayor of Manta and that we had to come immediately. So as we crawled out of bed to scramble to get ready Paul finally showed up and we all rushed to city hall together. What I thought would be a quick 10 minute hello goodbye and thanks type of meeting, actually turned out to be a huge press conference. Paul got to speak, and Marcos translated live on Ecuadorian news about the happenings of the weekend.
All in all it was a good week, and I am so excited for the connections we´ve made. Right now I´m at Gabby´s house in Ecuador, and I´m finally feeling clean! Which is so nice because sometimes that´s hard to do when you´re on the move.
It sounds like the country is going to try to make a nation wide life guarding service, and a few of us might be invited to help train the guards in October... so I think I´m coming back :)
I´m off to my final country... revisiting the country i fell in love with! and retasting the oh so delicious peruvian food.
besitos y abrazos