Francis Hughes, 56
Older boys washing their clothes at The Boys' Home in Bolivia at which I was a volunteer.
My trip exceeded all my expectations. The language school "Guayasamin" in Quito was very good and my teacher excellent.
I know no other people who have been to the Galapagos. The tortoise project was interesting and the whole experience on Isla Isabela was very relaxing.
The overland trip with Intrepid, through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia was marvellous. The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu were truly unforgettable experiences. At various times I met with people who were travelling ad hoc. There are advantages but being with an organised trip added unexpected highlights such as the homestay on Lake Titicaca and visits to communities near the Colca canyon. Talking of the Colca canyon, on the day we visited there were 20+ condors, most in flight. Apparantly it is normal to see 5 or so but 20+ is very unusual. Then riding the Bolivian Road of Death was a heck of an experience.
Looking down on Machu Picchu. The shirt name was a work joke. I don't do enthusiasm, excitement, so it was said that I don't do E's..... but do have fun.
Working at the home for street children in Sucre was very rewarding. Despite the 4 weeks at the language school in Quito, my Spanish was just not good enough. Their accents were too strong for me to understand them and I did not have a large enough vocabulary to communicate effectively. Nevertheless I believe I got on well with the boys and the various people involved seemed pleased with my efforts. I think it would have been worth having 2 weeks studying Spanish in Sucre before commencing the volunteer placement, even if that meant reducing the time at the school in Quito.
The family I stayed with in Quito were extremely welcoming. The family who ran the hostel on Isla Isabela were equally so.
The combined components of my trip made the whole quite complicated. The only organisational problems were down to flight delays and missed connections on the way home. Nothing that Real Gap could have done anything about.
Sealion in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz in The Galapagos. To the right there is a fishing boat, to the left, fish are being gutted and prepared for sale.
I have booked Spanish lessons in order to try to keep improving. My aim currently is to embark upon a trip from next September, to Costa Rica and/or Guatemala and/or Honduras with a similar mix of Spanish study, travel and volunteering.
Being in my mid fifties I was generally older, sometimes significantly older than my companions at the various places. This was not a problem and I met some very interesting and pleasant people. I was very lucky in not being affected by altitude despite spending much of the 4 months + between 2600m and 4000m... some of my companions were and some quite badly. I also only had one bout of food related illness and that early on in Quito. Upon my return I found that I had lost a stone. Not that I was exactly overweight before but I am now the ideal weight for my height. I ate well (rice and potatoes, rice, rice and potatoes and potatoes....) so it must be due to the much increased exercise levels.
Many thanks to you and all those involved at Real Gap
A giant tortoise at The Breeding Centre on Isla Isabela in The Galapagos.