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Lauren Spring, women's ice hockey
We are off to start our amazing Soles4Souls trip to Ecuador! Day one is always an exciting day, the entire group was able to all be together for the first time! We started our day in Columbus traveling from Columbus to Atlanta; with a four-hour lay over in Atlanta we were able to have our first team lunch. After lunch it was time to board the plane and kick off the trip of a lifetime. So grateful and humbled to be a part of the Soles4Souls group and experience. Ecuador here we come!
Nikki Walts, women's soccer
Another day in the books!
Today was the start to our first shoe distribution. We started off the day with fresh eggs and hot coffee at our quaint hotel. After we finished we were off on a three hour bus ride to a school up in the mountains. It was a sight to see when we were greeted by the smiling faces of the little students. You could tell they were very excited we were there and they were getting a new pair of shoes. We set up our three stations inside a classroom and laid out all the shoes. The three stations consisted of sizing, washing their feet and trying their new shoes on, and finding the correct size to fit. Natalia, Lauren S, and I were in charge of finding the shoe sizes that were the correct fit for the kids. Now I know to many of you that our job may sound easy, but in all honesty it got a little tough when the shoe size they were supposed to be didn't fit them. It would take at times four or five different shoes to find the perfect fit. It was all worth it when we got the "bien" with a smile as they walked off with their new shoes.
Once all the shoes were distributed we were honored with a fresh cooked meal. We then walked even further up the mountain to a beautiful place called Pukyu-Pamb, where an indigenous family stays and welcomes groups to come stay to learn about the culture and organic way of living. Once our tour was over, we headed to our new hotel for the week! It was another two hour journey but boy was it worth it. After going down a narrow brick road with potholes and cows crossing, we arrived at a big piece of land with beautiful cottages. These cottages are something I can't describe... I have never stayed in something so spectacular. Stay tuned to hear more about our trip with Alexa and Nate!
Nate Kohl, men's soccer
Day 3 in the books!
Today we had day 2 of shoe distributions. Waking up in these amazing cottages as Nikki explained in her blog was something special. I don't think I had ever been happier to smell bacon and somewhat of American food! After breakfast was a short bus ride in the mountains to our next school. Getting off the bus and seeing every single kid run up to you saying buenos dias (good morning) with a smile on their face and a high five was something I will never forget. To say the least the kids knew what they were getting and they were super excited to get some shoes! The 2nd day of shoe distribution was much easier to set up than the first and ran much smoother. However, before we started passing out the shoes for the kids we had some spare time. You know what that means! I had to get in on the action and start a pick up soccer game to kick things off for the day. It was a great experience to play with the kids, all they need for happiness is a ball and two goals, a memory I will truly cherish my whole life. After the pick up game we started the distribution and made 267 kids happy today with brand new shoes!
Once again, after the distribution the community cooked a meal for us for lunch. It is safe to say we all will not be eating corn, potatoes, or beans for a while after this trip. Once lunch was over, we said our goodbyes and headed back to the cottages. We finished a little early today and had a few hours to kill before dinner. We wanted to explore so we all decided to go on a hike up the andes mountains to find a waterfall the locals were telling us about. Long story short, we found the stream to the waterfall. Well, Mark, Sean and I had a different plan, we were not making the trip all this way to not find the waterfall. We hiked a much further distance higher up the mountain until we couldn't go any higher because of how steep it was and the myserteous black cave that we had sworn we saw a puma in. Needless to say that was the end of the hike for us, so we thought.... as we start making our way back down the mountain to find the others, they had climbed the mountain to come find us. Since we had reinforcements we thought for sure we could take on the puma now. So we went back up the mountain and entered the cave, we were all tariffed that something was going to get us on this mountain. Come to find out, it was Tito and Pappi ( 2 wild dogs) that had led us up and back down the mountain. Although William wasn't to fond of them, we for sure couldn't of done it without them. We made out way as far as we could go up the mount before the steepness was too much. Even though we didn't make it up to the very top of the mountain to find the waterfall, we still had a great time and another hour hike back down the mountain. The way back down was much faster than we thought and we still had some time to kill. So we decided to try and go pet the wild horses... Im sure you all know how that went. The horses were not having it and we were not having the knee high horse poop we were having to step over every 5 feet. After a very eventful, tiring, and unforgettable day we finally decided to go back and shower up before dinner.
We all got together in the main cottage and had delicious meal that the cooks prepared for us. After dinner we decided to play some games to lighten the mood and break the ice a little more. Heads up for sure was the game that did it; lots of smiles and laughs was what the group needed to become that much closer. Also, if anyone was wondering, according to JT I was no doubt the loudest one to scream the answer. All in all, it was an eventful day, speaking on behalf of the group it was an experience of a lifetime and we can not wait to see what the rest of the trip has in store for us. Stay toned to hear more about our trip here in Ecuador with Dante and Lauren C!
Mark Belanger, men's swimming
Hey everyone! My name is Mark Belanger, I'm a rising senior on the men's swim team at OSU. Today was our first full day in Ecuador, as well as our first shoe distribution. So far, it has already been an incredible experience. We arrived in Quito last night and stayed the night there. Everybody we met between the airport and the hotel were very generous and welcoming to the country. It has been great to meet our tour guide, driver, and to get to know each other better throughout our travels thus far.
We drove close to three hours to the first shoe distribution this morning, and I think a lot of us were having trouble adjusting to the altitude changes. Once we finally made it to the school where we would distribute the shoes, we were all very excited to get to meet and play with the kids, as well as getting to give them all a pair of shoes to take home. We were greeted by all of the students, teachers, and principal when we arrived, and they were all incredibly gracious and thankful that we were there. They had all of the students of the school, only around 100 or so, line up in front of us and they all greeted us in both English and Spanish, and they were clearly very excited that we were there.
Throughout the distribution, my job was to size their feet, while Ashley wrote the sizes on their hands. It was interesting because they were very nervous to meet us, especially the younger kids, but were also very excited at the same time. It was a huge learning experience for me because we don't speak the same language as them but still need to communicate certain things to the kids, so dealing with that and picking up on some Spanish on the way was a little stressful, but very fun and rewarding. It was great to see their faces light up as they walked out the door with their new shoes.
After the distribution, we went to an indigenous family's house where they gather the community to discuss important matters and to learn from each other. This was probably my favorite part of the day because the family talked to us for awhile and taught us about some of their traditions and the way that they live. It was great to learn about their culture directly from the indigenous people.
Ecuador is a very beautiful country, and the people here are so friendly. This trip has already been incredible and very worthwhile, and it's only the end of the first day. I am exhausted, but so excited for the rest of the week and to see what else Ecuador has to offer as we continue this journey!
Alexa Hart, women's basketball
Waking up everyday to the best view of the mountains and animals is pretty awesome. Went to the second distribution, but first we had a lot of fun with the kids. Played duck duck duck goose, but I was out of breath, then played a little bit of basketball. The kids were a little aggressive and I worked on some ball handling. Then it was time to hand out the shoes. The kids were really excited to receive a new pair of shoes. I learned that the children step on each other's new pair of shoes. After the distribution the people cook us food. Lima beans, pork (sometimes), corn, and potatoes is the main course; the food is really good.
Once we got back to the house some people decided to go on a hike to the waterfall, I didn't want to go. I stayed back to watch movies and play cards. We got back early so there was a lot of time before we ate dinner. Dinner was great but the dessert was tasteful. I am having a lot of fun and learning a lot from the indigenous and local people.
Lauren Carroll, field hockey
We started our morning off with an early fresh breakfast and then we were on the road for our last distribution! We headed to Selva Alegre to do a shoe distribution for 5 schools. The drive had amazing scenery as we drove up the mountains and overlooked the beautiful landscape of Ecuador. The very small town of Selva Alegre was very unique compared to all of the other distributions - it consisted of only a few streets, a couple rows of houses and stores, as well as a basketball and volleyball court in the center if it all. Kids and parents were all walking and playing outside; it was very cool to see and had such a warm community feeling.
As we walked in to where the shoe distribution was being held all of the children were separated by schools, sitting down waiting for us. They were all so well behaved as their president spoke and explained who we were and where we came from. The little kids were all so kind and excited. The smiles on these kids faces melted my heart. They made sure to say good morning and thank you with big smiles on their faces even if they were shy. The distribution was coming to a close and one little girl quietly came up to me and asked for the "rojo" (red) colored shoes instead of black. I couldn't say no so, I went over and switched them out. The next thing I knew I had about 10 little girls come up to me with smiling faces asking me for the zapatos rojos! I couldn't say no to those adorable faces....so I switched as many as we had left.
After the distribution we were given an amazing authentic meal. As we ate our meal we sat in a room that was almost like a tree house over looking the mountains..we weren't sure if it was going to hold us all! The Mayor of Otavalo said goodbye to us at lunch and we gave him a signed football jersey. He was so appreciative and told us that we were the first western group that has ever visited Selva Alegre; we all couldn't have been more happy that we were able to be the first and do something special for the little town. Their hospitality while we were there was truly welcoming.
Dante Booker, football
Such an experience is often difficult to explain in words, but as the third day of our trip comes to an end, I can't help but feel a tremendous amount of gratitude and humility for having the opportunity to be here and make a difference. For today's distribution, we had to make a somewhat treacherous drive to the kids who needed shoes. For about three hours, the bus we've been travelling on pushed through unnerving conditions. We stuck to a small, two-way dirt path that cut through the mountains, up, down, and around them. Some of us watched the driver and our path very cautiously, and some of us felt overwhelmed by the commanding view of the mountains surrounding us.
After meeting the mayor of Otavalo on our second distribution, he decided to travel with us today and he lead us to a beautiful waterfall along our path in the mountains, and we stopped to take in the sight of it. When we arrived at our destination all the kids were awaiting our arrival and gave us a warm welcome with genuine cheers. The mayor, and the leader of the community gave speeches on how much this meant to the kids and the community. After a successful distribution of the shoes to a couple different schools that came, we were told that we were the first westerners to come to this location as a group. I thought it was astonishing to how welcoming and friendly the kids were towards people they have never seen before.
Ashley Wenz, women's volleyball
Today was our excursion day and we started off the morning bright and early at 6:30am all packed up ready to head back to Quito. After we said goodbye to our faithful friends Tito and Pappi(the dogs from the cottage) we had a long 4 hour bus ride to Mindo up and down curvy roads along the mountains. But let me say, it was well worth the long drive. Once we finally arrived we were greeted by some locals who led us to this amazing butterfly farm. Before we walked in to the area where the butterflies were there was this dog sitting on the couch and I swear it looked exactly like a cow. Me being the animal lover I am, of course I had to go pet it! But back to the butterfly adventure... words can't describe how incredible it was to be surrounded by so many beautiful butterflies of all different colors. One landed on Britney's head making her scream which was so funny and I got it all on video :)
After the butterfly farm we headed to a small cafe where they took us on a tour of how they make their chocolate. We got to try a bunch of different samples and it was so good! My favorite was the one with coffee in it of course. We then ate a great lunch at the cafe(we were all happy to stay away from beans, corn, and potatoes again). After lunch we had our last stop in Mindo where we got to see humming birds feeding on sugar water. They were really beautiful and it's amazing how fast their wings are. After that we were suppose to go on a hike to see a waterfall but the rain changed our plans a little bit. Instead we went to the equator line which was really cool. Everyone was making sure to get their pictures of being in two hemispheres at the same time because when can you really ever say you've done that right!
Lastly, we got on the bus one more time to finish our journey back to Quito. Once we arrived in the city we had dinner all together at this little pizza joint. The pizza was great and after we all finished we headed to our hotel for one last night here. It was a fun and eventful day to say the least and I can't wait to explore more on our last day tomorrow here in Ecuador!
JT Barrett, football
First off, this trip a has been an tremendous experience and I'm glad I was given the opportunity to be apart of a great service project. I have been inspire to venture out more and be willing to step outside of my comfort zone because who knows the lives that may impact me or how my life can impact other people outside of the United States.
The shoe distrubutions have been eye opening, and has broader my perspective on life. It allowed me to see life through different lenses to realized how appreciative these young children of Ecuador and how I can better myself to do the same.
Sean Melton, men's gymnastics
What a week it has been here in Ecuador. We started out in Quito then traveling to different cities throughout this beautiful country. Visiting multiple schools and towns to distribute shoes to the kids that are in need was one of the most life changing moments I've ever been a part of. Just seeing how these kids are making the most out of life with what they have is inspiring to every single one of us. Being able to watch all the kids faces light up when we slip a new pair of shoes on their feet is something that you cannot put into words.
Coming into this trip I had no idea what to expect regarding the scenery and living situations. I was pleasantly surprised with the hospitality and area we stayed at. We had three houses in a valley with an unbelievable view of the mountains. Being able to explore and climb the Andes mountains was one of my favorite memories of this trip. The hike was only supposed to be 30 minutes to go see a waterfall but turned into a 2 to 3 hour hike filled with excitement and some fear when confronted by a puma which then turned out to be our pack leaders Tito and Pappi. These dogs were the most faithful dogs I've ever seen.
Our last day here in Ecuador was awesome. It was a beautiful morning in Quito which then led to us touring the city and learning more about their community. When we got back to our hotel after touring around, Booke and I were walking up to our room when we saw a flash which we thought was JT's phone so we continued to walk casually but then BOOM! Probably the loudest thunder I have ever heard came down in Quito. For about 30 minutes it was an intense thunderstorm which made us think we might not be leaving tonight.
One last thing that really stood out to me was how genuine everyone is here in Ecuador. Miss Cristina and Daniel-son were two of the most amazing people i have ever met. Daniel-son was a beast at driving. Some of the road conditions he had to drive in was just mind blowing but he always got the job done. Miss Cristina is an unbelievable women. Just so selfless and filled with happiness. She spent her week caring for us and making sure we had everything we needed.
Overall this trip was greater than I could have ever imagined. I have built great friendships with every single person on this trip that will continue to grow heading back to Columbus. Every distribution was so memorable and impacted my life so much. The kids honestly taught me more about life than I could ever teach them. I will be forever grateful for being on this trip with everyone and am excited to share my experiences and what I learned with all of my friends and family.
Natalia Falkowski, fencing
Today was the 7th day of our trip, and the final day in Ecuador. During this week, we gave away a total of 857 pairs of shoes to Ecuadorian kids. After this successful and busy week, it was really nice to have a day to be tourists. Today we slept in until our hotel's breakfast at 8am, which was eggs and fruit. We then headed out to explore old town Quito. The first place we visited today was Panecillo Hill, which marks the division between the center area and the south area of the city of Quito. It is a huge hill that gives you an amazing view of the city. We took lots of pictures and went to the top of the Virgin the Legarva statue that is on top of the hill. The huge statue was originally built to help protect the city of Quito. The next place we went was the president's house, which we got a VIP entrance to. We learned that the current president has been the president of Ecuador for 10 years and is being replaced in one week. He has been a very controversial president. The Ecuadorians have loved what he has done for the poorer people and the country's infrastructure, but he has also been very oppressive. My favorite part was seeing the motionless guards outside the house that are dressed in cool uniforms. We then continued exploring Quito and visited the oldest church in the city of Quito. Everything inside was covered in gold and was absolutely beautiful. The church is called La Compania.
Today was an awesome way to end our trip. We had perfect sunny weather for a day of walking around. Our team has gotten super close and every adventure we do together is a great experience. As the youngest athlete, I look up to and admire all of the other athletes on this trip so much. This whole week has been incredible with this hilarious and unique group of people. I have also really fallen in love with the nice people and the adorable stray dogs that Ecuador is filled with. Of course, the highlight of the trip has been the kids at the shoe distributions. All of the kids have been playful, happy, and grateful. Despite any of their conditions, they were all so happy and friendly. They were all so excited to get their new shoes and to have us play (and dance!) with them. It was extremely humbling to interact with them and visit their schools. I am so grateful for Souls 4 Soles and OSU for connecting us to the kids and for allowing us to bring them the gift of a new pairs of shoes! This week has been an unforgettable experience and i have gained an entirely new perspective. I can't wait to tell my friends, family, and teammates about this trip. I also can't wait to continue building the friendships with the athletes that I have started on this trip! I will never stop laughing about Tito and Pappi, us never finding the waterfall on our hike, us trying to bond with some of the local cows, me accidentally calling Alexa petty, and all of the other countless funny memories we have made on this trip.
Now we are off to our 11pm overnight flight back home. See you all back in Columbus !!