Bilsa: Nowhere Near the Beaten Track in Ecuador

If you ever feel like getting off the beaten track I can recommend making a trip to Bilsa, in Ecuador. If you can find your way there, that is.

I went there with a group of other people as part of a voluntary project to do with rainforest conservation. The trip involved a long bus trip from Quito and then a long wait in a small town somewhere before a truck filled with locals carrying watermelons picked us up and we travelled in it for a few hours over rough roads. You might think that the adventure ended there but in truth it had only just begun.

The next stage of the trip was a 5 or 6 horse ride through sticky, knee high mud. We finally arrived at the reserve hot, hungry and with rather delicate bottoms.

It was only the next day that I realised that this was, without doubt, the furthest I had ever been from civilisation. There didn’t even seem to be a town, a village of a hamlet within walking distance. Everywhere I looked I could only see trees and hills. Eventually, I discovered a few houses and a newly built school but it is still an incredibly remote place.

The Only Noises from Insects, Monkeys and My Irish Room-mate

bilsaComing from the UK, I was used to always being close to at least some houses or a motorway. Being so far from these things was a bit scary at first. The night times were especially weird, with no noise except insects, the odd monkey and the snoring of the Irish volunteer who was sharing a room with me.

If you have ever wondered what kind of work is done on voluntary projects like this I can reveal that not a lot is done. To be honest, the locals who work there are so much faster that the volunteers that it doesn’t make much sense getting the visitors to do much. We got given a few jobs, to plant things and cut things and repair muddy paths but they seemed to just be little tasks to give us something to do. We really lived like glorified tourists for the month of so we were there.

The food was surprisingly memorable in Bilsa. One day a few of us were sent down to the banana plantation to cut down some of the lovely yellow fruit. We took a giant hand of bananas (yes, I learned the correct term for it, now that you mention it) back to the cabin. The thing was so heavy and awkward that it took up the best part of the morning to do it. However, it was worth it. For the rest of our time there we could pick up fresh bananas from the kitchen any time we wanted to. It was at this point that I developed a serious banana addiction.  Having been used to supermarket bananas which had travelled halfway round the world I was amazed by the flavour of these freshly picked ones.

The other abiding food memory I have of Bilsa is of breakfast. We would get up incredibly early every morning. Well, 6 o´clock is incredibly early for me, at least. The cook clearly got up even earlier, as the wafting smell of freshly cooked bread greeted us every single morning. I would spread some delicious guayaba jam on the bread, make myself a coffee and grab a couple of bananas to top the whole thing off.

If you want to get a taste of freedom (and fresh bananas) I can definitely recommend doing some voluntary work in Ecuador. There are reserves like the one at Bilsa all over the country, although this one is the most remote and special feeling of the ones I went to.

Also I just want to thank the Carnival of Financial Independence for including Travel Ideaz twice recently!

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