Learning Experiences in Sinague - World Class Academy

Learning Experiences in Sinague

After throwing my sweatpants, hammock, kayaking shorts, and camera into my backpack, I loaded into the van for a long ride from Baeza to the Sinague community. I was clueless about this trip at the time; where we were going? what the people were like? where were we staying?… In the back of my mind I didn’t care, I was ready to experience an adventure, to face the unknown and to make the most out of it. After a few hours on the road we stopped at the gate at the entrance to a Ecuadorian National Park. We were there to look at one of the World’s top ten most beautiful waterfalls; San Rafael. I was excited to jump out of the bus, and to take a break from the long ride and to stretch my legs. I was worried when I overlooked the signs that say that the walk will take one hour, but I was relieved and a little bit confused when it said the distance was only one mile. I carried my camera around my neck as I meandered down the path, taking pictures of plants on the trail under the canopy of vegetation that covered us. We crossed three suspension bridges and continued walking downhill until I could hear a faint roar of the distant waterfall. Excited and eager to see the waterfall for myself, I picked up the pace. I strutted out of the trees and on to the viewing platform to see an amazing 500 ft waterfall. In awe of this awesome waterfall, my friends and I took numerous photos, all the while being showered in a light mist of remarkable beauty!

San Rafael falls centers the image as thew Quijos river plunges 500ft to the pool below.
A double drop waterfall for most of time, the secondary shelf of San Rafael recently collapsed, giving way to a single breathtaking cascade as the entirety of the Quijos river plunges 500ft to the pool below.

From so far away the waterfall still looked massive and we could hear it clearly from miles away. After catching our last glimpses of the waterfall and the canyon below, it was time to hike back to the bus and continue driving as the sound of the falls faded in the background.

The World Class family posed in front of San Rafael Falls.
Checking the box on our quarterly group photo, students get silly in front of San Rafael Falls.

Following a quick stop for dinner, we arrived in the dark, empty lot at the entrance to a suspension bridge. Pulling my bags out and heading across the bridge, I was ready for sleep. Little did I know how big this bridge was. After walking for what felt like half a mile or more over the suspension bridge, we made it to the other side. I walked up the hill and saw a big covered basketball court. It didn’t cross my mind that it looked out of place, only that I was tired, I decided to set up my hammock in between the pillars and go to sleep.

The community of Sinague from the air, as the rivers flows past its bank and under the suspension bridge that leads to Sinague.
The only entrance point to the Sinague community is this suspension bridge, spanning a third of a mile from start to finish. It is a fascinating crossing to enter the community, almost symbolizing the importance of the jungle on the other side, only the brave can cross.

I woke up the next  morning and saw the community in light for the first time. The court was located in the middle of a grass plaza and surrounded by wooden buildings. I ate some breakfast and set my hammock up inside one of the buildings this time and fell back asleep. Waking up too look through the window and see the whole Sinague community gathered around the court watching my classmates playing soccer against their team. I realized that I was missing out on all the action so I got out of my hammock and went to check it out. As I walked outside I saw a few women gutting fish and wrapping them in banana leaves, preparing them to be cooked over an open charcoal fire. I saw Rachel and Jack helping the ladies, looking squeamish as they removed the fish guts.

Freshly caught Tilapia being prepared in the traditional way of the community; wrapped in fresh banana leaves.
The women of Sinague prepare freshly caught pink Talapia in a swath of fresh cut banana leaves in preparation for being cooked over charcoal.

After getting bored of watching my classmates lose against the local team, I started taking photos of the spiders on the ceiling of the court. I remember being pretty freaked out the night before because I was sleeping under a nest of countless spiders, some the size of my hand. Some of the kids noticed my attraction to the spiders. Before I knew it there was a kid with a massive spider in his palm, trying to give it to me. I was freaked out because they were so big but eventually a ton of kids gathered around Luke and I holding handfuls of massive spiders. We figured since no one was getting bitten that we could hold them too.

A half dozen spiders render a child's hand invisible under the mass of legs and torsos.
The spiders of Sinague. Loved by locals as their webs protect windows, creating natures best mosquito net.

The kids had no fear of the spiders because they had grown up playing with them their whole lives. They were ripping the legs off and doing things that I wouldn’t dare. The last thing I wanted to do was make a spider angry and have it bite me. The spiders had passive pincers that I did not want to mess with but before I knew it, one of the kids got bit. He made a slight displeased facial expression, threw the spider on the ground and stepped on it.  

A beautiful purple and green parrot perched on a ledge.
Birds of the jungle, an injured parrot wonders the outskirts of the community, safe from predators as it heals.

After an incredible morning hanging out with the kids, playing soccer, cooking fish and frolicking with children and spiders, it was almost time to go kayaking so I decided to explore the area a little bit. After walking down a trail I saw a pineapple plant that I thought was pretty cool. I was taking photos of It when out of the corner of my eye I saw a bird walking around. Intrigued to take a closer look at the bird, I realized that it was a parrot that couldn’t fly away due to a clipped wing. It was a pretty chill parrot, showed no fear of humans and it let me get really close and take some photos.

After taking photos of the parrot, I returned to my friends and we got ready for kayaking, heading down towards the river. There was a huge festival going on with almost all of the community down there. I got some weird looks as I walked on the beach with all of my kayak gear and paddled across to a great cliff jumping area. We did some seal launches off the cliff and then gave our boats to the locals so they could try. They paddled all day while we jumped off the rock seeing what tricks we could do and how deep we could go. Eventually some of the locals loaded up a motorized dugout canoe with our kayaks and gear and headed upstream. We didn’t see them for about 45 minutes until we saw them kayaking downstream happily with only one person swimming. All in all it was an extremely fun weekend with some awesome experiences and I’m very grateful to have been able to spend a weekend within the Sinague community.

Celebrating a successful descent among friends.
The locals of the Sinague community quickly learned the basics of kayaking, fulled by their confidence on the river and comfort in their natural environment.

Written by: Zander Ulmer
Photography by: Kalob Grady + Abe Herrara

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