Homestays and Cultural Exchanges in Ecuador
Experience the City from the Inside!
Ecuador is located in South America, and it borders Colombia, Perú, Costa Rica, and the Pacific Ocean. For this last reason, many water sports are commonly practiced there. It is very well known for its coffee and is a popular destination for motorbikers because of the ease of travel.
It is easy to imagine why this country is called Ecuador. The circle of latitude (the Equator) goes through it. And of course, it is not the only country where that happens, but it is the only one that uses that name.
The main language spoken in the country is Spanish. 93% of the population speaks Spanish. However, an additional 14 native languages have also been recognized as widely spoken in the country. You can see those languages represented in the following graph, together with the number of active speakers according to the 2010 Census.
Data source: INEC 2010 Census
Why Travel to Ecuador?
It was a long trip through some South American countries. You can read about my experiences in other locations, such as a 4×4 tour through the Altiplano Boliviano, a trekking experience to Machu Picchu, and visiting a floating Island in Perú. Going back to my trip around South America, Ecuador was the last country I visited. I was traveling with my boyfriend at the time. We started in Guayaquil and then continued to the coast visiting Montañita, Canoa, and Quito.
Our main destination was Canoa, where we did something known as a “workaway.” Workways allow adventurists like me to exchange a homestay for a few hours of work each day with the main goal of sharing daily moments with people from the area you are visiting. Workaway is also the name of the website we used to organize this experience.
Volunteers, or “Workawayers,” are expected to contribute a pre-agreed amount of time per day in exchange for lodging and food, which their host provides.
We noticed that we were visiting tourist places, discovering spectacular views, eating in the most typical restaurants, and meeting many tourist friends. Every experience was wonderful, but we were not experiencing each country’s culture and way of life.
Therefore, we decided to create an account on the Workaway website. We started sending messages to different places where we wanted to spend some time.
Although it can be a little challenging to succeed in finding a match, fortunately for us, we received confirmation in our email! Here we go!
Our Experience at the Canoa Beach Hotel
Canoa Beach Hotel was a dreamy place close to the beach. Tourists were offered an apartment, and the job was quite simple.
The hotel has a large, beautiful pool, hot tub, and an open fire. There’s a bar next to it and a lounge on the beach where you can stay and enjoy the Pacific Ocean. There were two main activities on the beach: surfing and paragliding. I was overjoyed at the sights and sounds and defined this beautiful place as a “volunteers’ paradise.”
We were warmly received and had our own apartment in front of the sea! We couldn’t believe how lucky we were. We had the first day free. So we used our free time to buy essentials in Canoa town which was 20 minutes away, walking along the main road. You could also get to the town by walking along the beach. We bought some supplies and had a good night’s sleep before our first day of work.
In the following video, you can see the view from our apartment balcony.
A Life in Paradise Next to the Ocean
My daily routine was very enjoyable and just perfect for me. I had to wake up early to help during breakfast. My boyfriend could enjoy some more time to sleep as he was working during the night at the bar preparing drinks and chatting with the guests.
I was so excited to start working there that I woke up the first day earlier than needed, and I could enjoy some time watching the ocean before going to the kitchen. Then, my dreamlike day started to get rough. Unfortunately, the people I found preparing breakfast were not as friendly as I expected. The first few days were bumpy. I had no idea what was happening and why they were so unwelcoming. But as time passed, I realized that breakfast was a really important moment for the guests. They had learned from previous experiences that they carried full responsibility for making everything work. I, on the other hand, had none. Why is that? I was only a volunteer, and they were the ones to blame if something went wrong.
Once I understood that I started working harder to show them I was there to help and have fun. Things started getting easier when they saw that I was involved and fully committed to helping them and their guests. Gradually, we started having so much fun together, and they began taking care of me as if I were their daughter, friend, or sister.
I guess this situation summarizes something I discovered about people in Ecuador – of course, I am not saying that everyone there is like this – but in general, Ecuadorians can be untrusting and a little aloof until you prove to them that they can trust you. Just then is when the story changes.
The following months were about taking care of each other, talking and having fun, singing while cooking, and getting closer.
Unique Experiences vs. Tourist Experiences
The title of this section does not mean declaring that either option is better – they are just different. And of course, both can be done if you want to. It is just a way of giving voice to two different ways of traveling.
I can’t deny that the beach, the Pacific Ocean, and the many varied activities we were allowed to do in this hotel and in Canoa were amazing. However, what I remember the most and what is still alive in me is the people I shared a piece of life with, our conversations while doing everyday tasks, and the great feeling of knowing that I had earned their trust. In the end, we were like a family. That’s my very best memory from Ecuador and something that will remain with me forever.
What do you think? Do you agree? Have you traveled and shared time with locals? We’d love to hear from you!
Written by Virginia González
If you liked this read, here is a link to Virginia’s previous article as she teaches us about the Day of the Dead tradition in Mexico!