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Monday, October 31, 2016

Learning Outdoors

3:45 am. My internal alarm wakes me up, today we are starting earlier than our normal 5:45 am. Our goal is to use the day fully and have time to stop and avoid the midday sun on our bikes. I silently prepare the little alcohol stove and start heating water for coffee. I take this moment of silence in the morning to meditate and prepare myself for another day of teaching outside. Only 15 minutes later I hear Olympia's alarm clock, she wakes up and with a whispery "wake up guys" starts the day for all the remaining 12 sleepy students that still lay on the floor of our improvised camp at the  Casa Comunal in Pacto Loma.
Slowly, but with determination each and all come out of the warm comfort of the sleeping bag and start packing. Rossie, Aidan and Tashi get breakfast going, Emma checks the maps for one last time, Olympia finishes charging the radio batteries, Tanner, Alessio, Jonathan and Christian bring all the bikes outside the room we all slept in and set them up for loading. Malena takes care of wounds and scratches from the last few days before departure. Layla packs her loads carefully on the bike and Paul puts away spice kits and pots as they get emptied by the cooks. One more day has started on this 4-month long academic outdoors semester, today is the 24th day of our month long self-propelled journey from the highlands of Ecuador towards the Pacific coast.
As I pack I cant help but smile when I think that these kids are on 'another school day'. Instead of plugging themselves into an electronic device and making their way to an enclosed classroom they are now layering up to ride 70 km on some of Ecuador's most biodiverse cloud forest. Their classroom is a wide open lush green book of surprises, eventualities and learning opportunities. Today, bikes will break down, we might get a bit lost,  we will source clean drinking water from the clear waterfalls awaiting us, we will encounter birds, plants,  exotic fruits and local people who will teach us about the world. We don't know where we are camping for the night, have no reservations of any kind, no attachments. We are about to ride freely and enjoy the immense pleasure of ADVENTURE, yes, ADVENTURE in capital letters, something that is slowly disappearing in the lives of young adults as the world tends towards comfort and certainty. Today, once again I feel and reinforce my believe that outdoor education is one of the golden gems of human development.
The pictures below show a few of the places this Kroka-Nahual New Hampshire / Ecuador Semester students have been in the last days of their journey....

This program is a fully accredited semester. Click here to learn more 

3:35 am. y mi reloj interno me hace abrir los ojos, hoy empezamos el dia un poco antes de lo usual con la idea de aprovechar mejor las horas de luz y poder escapar bajo una sombra del sol de medio dia. En silencio saco mi estufa de alcohol y empiezo a calentar agua para un cafe. Estos 15 minutos de silencio antes que todos levanten me dejan reflexionar y prepararme para un dia mas de mi trabajo. 
Quince minutos mas tarde la alarma del unico reloj que llevamos empieza a sonar, con una voz somnolienta Olympia susurra "hora de levantarse" y una vez mas empieza el dia para los doce estudiantes restantes que todavia descansan sobre el piso de nuestro campamento improvisado en la casa comunal de Pacto Loma.
Despacio pero con determinacion cada uno sale de la comodidad de la funda de dormir y sin muchas palabras Tashi, Aidan y Rossie empiezan a calentar el desayuno, Emma saca los mapas y revisa la ruta del dia de hoy una ultima vez, Olympia se asegura que los radios este completamente cargados, Tanner, Christian, Jonathan y Alessio sacan y revisan una por una las 16 bicicletas. Malena se da el tiempo de curar un par de ampollas y heridas del dia anterior. Layla empaca cuidadosamente su equipo personal y lo acomoda con cuidado en su bicicleta. Paul, nuestro Jefe de Cocina, limpia las ollas y las distribuye entre los integrantes del grupo. Asi, en silencio y en la oscuridad de la madrugada empieza un dia mas de este programa de 4 meses. Hoy es nuestro dia 24 de esta primera expedicion que nos llevara desde los Andes hasta las costas del Pacifico ecuatoriano.
Mientras tomo sorbitos de cafe caliente y empaco mis cosas, me es inevitable esbozar una sonrisa al pensar que este es un dia mas de colegio para estos muchachos, en vez de conectarse a un aparato electronico y teletransportarse a un aula cerrada para pasar todo el dia, estos chicos se visten para pedalear 70 km por uno de los bosque nublados mas biodiversos del mundo. Su aula es un mundo sin limites, un libro verde y fresco, donde plantas, animales, y la gente lugareña son los profesores. Hoy, se nos van a dañar bicis en el camino, nos vamos a perder un poco, tendremos que buscar agua limpia de alguna vertiente para tomar, no sabemos donde vamos a acampar ni hasta donde llegaremos. Somos libres, no tenemos reservaciones ni itinerarios detallados, nos podemos entregar completamente a la AVENTURA, si, AVENTURA en mayusculas, un sentimiento que muy pocos pueden apreciar en un mundo que tiende a la comodidad de lo conocido. 
Hoy, mientras amanece, se refuerza adentro mio la idea de que la educacion al aire libre es una joya de valor inalcanzable cuando hablamos de desarrollo humano y educacion de los jovenes.
Las fotos a continuacion nos llevan por solo unos pocos de los lugares que estos chicos de NHESP han recorrido este ultimo mes.

Kroka-Nahual Ecuador Semester es un programa acreditado de colegio y Universidad. Mas info aqui

-- Most days will start and end with the maps.

-- Making the way up to the highlands

-- Views of the interandean valley.

-- The last rays of sun cut through the hills

-- Snack and water break

-- Students  are constantly travelling on trail less terrain. Navigation skills are a must.

-- Homemade tooth brush holder

-- Camp among the rare Polylepis forest

-- Due the scarcity of firewood in the highlands we alternate between fires and Trangia alcohol stoves.

-- Out for a quick swim...

-- Eleven layers of mountain shades. 

-- The majestic Piñan Lake

-- Traditional "bareque"and straw roof chozas.

-- Group reading usually happens in the afternoons.

-- Cartucho flowers

-- Marcea. Hiker, climber, bikepacker, mother of two and semester lead teacher.

-- Making good use of the daily "solo"time.

-- Morning dew

-- Breakfast and morning preps before the hike.

-- Views of Piñan as we move towards the cloud forest.

-- Into the forest...

-- After a few days working in the Intag Valley, we transition into bikes once more to reach the lower lands and finally the river that will carry us to the coast.

-- Last views of the high mountains

-- Cooks cooking

-- An improvised camp under a soccer stadium roof.

-- Morning has come...

-- Rolling, rolling...

-- Mango and cheese sandwiches make a great lunch as we hide from the tropical heat.

-- Morning light as we start pedalling at 5am.

-- Mushrooms, waterfalls, lush green forest and good riding.

-- A fully loaded bike. 

-- At noon we stop at a little hut to rest and eat. Cooks get to work.

-- What do we take for the next leg?

-- Simple living almost always start and finishes with food.

-- Emma packing her bike for one last day of riding.

-- The Mulaute river. Now five days paddling down its clear waters.


  1. Amazing photos, I also just picked up an XT-1 after my X100T was stolen and I really enjoy it.

    The academic program looks amazing, I think I would have preferred the outdoor classroom too.

    1. Thanks Nick,
      Too bad you lost your x100T, I think you will really enjoy the XT-1, so far it has proven to be a great tool for me. Man, this semester is a great program, every year I just love it more. So inspiring to see the kids leave after the 4 months totally changed.
      Congratulations for that amazing route you an Lael put together, I need to go ride it, in fact I was about to write to you to see how feasible it would be to ride some of it (or all) with a family setup? Chariot + Big Fat Dummy? Any particular sections you think could be good for such an adventure?

  2. Awesome photos! Looks like alot of fun, and I love the off trail navigation and map reading...a lost art with all the GPS. I am a fan of the compass and paper maps! I have done three Outward Bound trips and always wanted to be a instructor! I really admire what you all have created!

    1. Thanks Bill, really appreciate your comment. We also see a lot of value in map and compass work and in outdoor education in general, it is such a powerful tool...

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