Global Seva Amazon: Day 2 Through the Andes

Posted on March 31st, 2014 by Dahn Gandell

Today we traveled by bus from Quito to Lago Agrio.  The 9-hour trip took us across the Andes mountains and into the Amazon Basin.  Our guide, Amparo, shared lots of interesting information about Ecuador along the way.  One thing I hadn’t known is that Quito is famous for their beautiful roses, 75% of which are shipped to the United States.

As we made our way up the mountains, Amparo would point out different types of vegetation–some of which (like the palm and fig trees of the rainforest) were native to Ecuador and others (like the pine and eucalyptus and cedar trees which we saw in abundance along the road) had been brought to Ecuador from other countries.

A few of the participants on our trip suffer from motion sickness and had to sit near the front of the bus.  Not being plagued by this particular malady, I quickly claimed the back seat and was joined by my fellow Seva participant, Susanne Miller.  Susanne and I are both somewhat vertically challenged and we enjoyed the height advantage that the back seat provided.  We also appreciated the extra leg room (not that we needed it).  The downside of this decision was that there were no seatbelts and no crash helmets.  The crash helmets would have come in handy when we hit a large speed bump at high velocity and both hit our heads against the top of the bus.  Fortunately, this only happened once.

We stopped at the highest point in the Andes which was around 13,000 ft and got out to take pictures.  However, because we were so high up, we were in the clouds and all you could really see was mist.  The altitude has been a bit of a problem for some of us–headaches, nausea and fatigue, but we’re staying well hydrated and also being ecologically friendly by refilling our own water bottles.  There is always a large jug of fresh water on the bus.

One road sign I quickly learned was “Curva Peligrosa” which I’m pretty sure translates into “Insane curve ahead.”  The trip both up and down the Andes was filled with hair pin curves and it was difficult at times not to scream when we would see a large truck hurtling toward us in the middle of the road.

We stopped for lunch at a neat little restaurant and had quinoa and avocado soup followed by spaghetti and a vegetable tomato sauce.  It’s the first time I ever had a brussel sprout on spaghetti.  Our guide Amparo endeared herself to everyone with the abundance of snacks she brought for us: plantain chips with mayonnaise (most of us discarded the mayo), sugarcane taffy, and some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had in my life.  She also gave us maps so we could follow our route.

The tiny villages we saw along the highway were similar to the road side villages I’ve seen in India and Africa–simple structures made of cement block or wood or brick and covered with corrugated tin or thatched roofs.  Many had brightly colored laundry hanging on lines outside and reminded me of what my husband always refers to as “the flags of all nations.”  We saw waterfalls cascading down the mountains and some swiftly flowing rivers.  And we saw the ever present large oil pipeline running next to the highway–a reminder of why we’re here .

Tomorrow we will take our ” Toxic Tour” and visit communities directly affected by the oil industry.  The people on this trip are beautiful and strong and resilient and so are the people we’ll be meeting.  We look forward to sharing their stories with you.


Dahn Gandell is an Episcopal Priest and yoga instructor from Rochester, NY. This is her second Bare Witness Tour with Off the Mat, following her original trip to India in 2013 and Seva Legacy trip this past January. She and her husband David have three teenage daughters, who are very proud of their mom. Dahn successfully mobilized her community to raise significant funds for OTM’s 2013 Seva Challenge to support organizations in Ecuador working to protect the rainforest and uphold the rights of its people. For more information or to donate, visit:

NOTE: The views expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not necessarily represented by OTM