Tag Archives: Ecuador

Swing of Doom

19 Apr

Hi there! May I introduce myself? My name is Charlotte, and I am an Environmental Science and Development Studies student at the University of New South Wales. I thought I would start my blogging career with the most interesting story I can claim as mine. Thankfully it is a story from my volunteer placement at an eco-lodge in Ecuador, and so appropriate for my purposes. During my gap year, I organised to go and teach at a rural primary school in Kenya. But this was in 2008, and it was 2 weeks before I left that the social conflict broke out over there. So my parents did the sensible thing and forbade me from going. However, they did all they could to help organise a 9-month around-the-world-trip, with 3 months volunteering at an Eco-lodge on top of an Ecuadorian mountain.

I think I will leave the actual volunteer work, and all the deeper more reflexive stuff for another post, and get to the exciting stuff now! A month into my volunteer placement, I was up at the Lodge on a weekend with some locals for a little break (usually the volunteers spent travelling or at the lodge office in town). We decided to go on the giant jungle swing that had been strung up by the locals from a 25 foot high branch (or so the journal I kept at the time tells me. Of course being the modern girl I am, I can’t think in feet, and have no idea how high that is). The rope with a wooden plank for a seat would swing out over a hill, so at one point you were about 30 meters off the ground (so I am told). It was a rainy afternoon (as all afternoons are in the cloudforests of Ecuador), and our boots were muddy from the walk from the lodge. I thought it would be clever to swing standing up (I had gotten cocky, as I had been on the swing many times before). But the combination of rain and muddy boot meant that when swinging out into the forest my boots slipped off the seat and I could not keep hold of the rope, and fell to the forest floor. I knew I had broken something because my leg was jutting out in the wrong direction. It was at times like this that I wished I had learnt Spanish properly. However, between us (me with no Spanish, my companions with no English) we managed to get in contact with our colleagues in the town, who made it up the mountain to the lodge in record time. They brought with them a doctor, who brought with him an injection of painkiller and a stretcher. My leg was put in a splint, and I was lifted howling onto a stretcher. I was carried down the mountain in the dark and rain by 6 strong Ecuadorian men, with the local doctor tottering beside the stretcher asking me I was awake every two minutes and asking me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten (I am very good at counting in Spanish now). At the bottom of the mountain, I was loaded into the back of a ute, tied in with ropes and covered with a tarp. It is funny how adrenalin can ward off any anxiety or fear; when waiting for the ambulance in the largest town in the area, I found myself yelling “I’m not dead yet” (Monty Python style) while I was still covered up in the ute, with only my feet sticking out, and people were giving me odd looks as they passed. It took 11 hours to get to hospital, and they were 11 very interesting hours. The other volunteers and workers from the lodge were amazing! They looked after me so well. They would talk to me and sing to me (of course they weren’t too keen on the singing, but I had insisted. I blame the painkillers), whether I understood them or not.

The Equadorian Swing of Doom!

This was the notorious swing!

Ecuadorians do hospitals a little differently from us. The one I was in looked about the same as the ones here (a little blander). Although I will say that the first thought that came into my head when I wheeled into the operating theatre was that it looked like a bathroom. The family plays a much larger part in caring for a hospitalised person. They usually do the cooking for them, and will be there to do the things that nurses would do in Australia, like help them shower and go to the bathroom ( I should probably point out that this is from my experience and what I was told while I was in hospital, so I could incorrect in respect to some things). Whenever anyone from the town we were based in, were inQuito, they would stop by the hospital to check on m

e. Usually they would walk in, say some things in Spanish, smile nicely down at me, and then say goodbye, giving me a hug or kiss. This could be people I had never met. One woman even sent word to her nephew who works as a dentist in the capital and who hadn’t lived in the town for a decade, and he came round to see how I was going. The mother of one of the workers from the lodge came round with bottles of water, apples and a packet of chips, saying that these were what westerners usually bought from the store she owns in Quito.

I am sure that I was treated particularly well as I was a young western girl, with little Spanish. One of my doctors brought his wife and two children round one evening, as they spoke English. They stood in a row beside my bed, smiling down at me, asking me questions about my family and how I was feeling. I complained about the food I was being served (they like their food really sweet or really salty, and my poor stomach could not handle that), so from that evening, the mother would bring me fruit to eat every day. The doctor also used this recently attained information to bribe me with the promise of pizza if I eat all my meals for 3 days. It worked. It’s funny how much you miss certain food when you are away from home. For some strange reason, the entire 6 weeks I was in Ecuador, all I wanted was a foccacia (and I had probably only ever had 5 foccacias in my life before that point).

Ultimately, I have fond memories of these 2 weeks of recovery after my break and before I was able to fly home. This came down to the people who looked after me. One worker from the lodge, who was there when I fell, was amazing. She would visit me whenever she had the chance, which isn’t an easy thing to do as Quito was 3 hours from the town. She brought me cake, the belongings I had left up at the lodge, she spoke to me and made me laugh. Another of the volunteers would organise to be by my bedside when the doctors came by to translate, she ran across town to the red cross when I needed blood for a transfusion, and she dealt with any money issues. The nurses, who were frustrated by my inability to communicate with them, remained cheerful and patient with me. My doctors who did everything they could to make me feel comfortable and safe, even if I couldn’t understand which medication I should take when. My dad came over after a few days, and he was amazing. He learnt pretty good Spanish in no time, and dealt with all the things I didn’t feel I could deal with. And of course all the town folk who came to visit or sent random relatives to do it for them.

I went to Ecuador to escape Australia and to grow and become stronger. I came away from Ecuador with a broken leg and almost completely dependant on my family. But I didn’t expect to come away being able to say “The walking stick? Oh yeh…I need that because I broke my femur falling 10 meters off a giant swing in the cloudforests of Ecuador”. I would never have learnt what I did about the kindness of Ecuadorians, and all those cultural and social quirks you can only learn from being in an Ecuadorian hospital.

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