The small coastal town of Montañita was our final stop with the travelling classroom. We were keen to explore Montañita so we agreed to get the bus from Manta together with our travelling classroom friends Stephanie and Jacqueline at 09:30 in the morning. We arranged to share a taxi to the bus station so that we all arrived together and, since we were the furthest away from the bus station, we got in a taxi at 08:30 and headed over to Stephanie’s. Stephanie was already waiting for us on the main road (5 minutes early, thank you Swiss efficiency) so we headed over to pick up Jacqueline. We arrived 5 minutes early to the spot where Jacqueline had told us that she would meet us. She’d told us that there was a café next door to her house, but we couldn’t see any sign of it so we drove on a little further. I spoke to Jacqueline on the phone and got a slightly confusing response. Eventually after 5 minutes of driving around we put the taxi driver on the phone to the father at Jacqueline’s house and he explained where to go, back to exactly where we’d started, we would have found it easily except that the sign for the café was missing! Relieved and still with enough time we headed to the bus station. At the bus station the taxi driver pointed out the right bus.
After saying goodbye to our family in Quito, we set off for the second week of the travelling Spanish classroom. We walked to the school and sat outside the front door as it was a Sunday and the school was closed. Waiting with us was Mario, our teacher for the next week, a short balding man with thick glasses and a baseball cap. It’s lucky that he was there because at 8:30am nobody had yet arrived for our 8am pickup. A few minutes later a tired old estate car pulled up, driven by Augustin, the man who owned the school in the Amazon. Augustin was polite and spoke perfect English, we piled the luggage into his boot and climbed in, Mario in the front and Prisca, Alex and I in the back. The back of the car only seemed to be designed for two people with the wide bench seat split in two, with Alex sitting over the middle. It was not ideal and the idea of a four hour trip without seatbelts (not at all unusual in Ecuador) did not fill me with excitement. Luckily we didn’t need to worry as, after a quick detour to collect Augustin’s wallet, we headed for the open road and realised with its broken rev counter and wobbly speedo the car wouldn’t do a lot a more than 40 mph.
As we headed away from Quito the roads went from excellent to fair then slowly got worse. As we drove through the mountains it became obvious that, thanks to frequent landslides, the road was often either in the process of being cleared, or in many places had completely washed away. We saw many teams of workers repairing the road but they were obviously fighting a difficult battle. We climbed up to 4000m over the Andes and through fog, then slowly started our descent into the jungle. Every hour or so we stopped so that Augustin could buy us a snack or sometimes just to admire a particular plant.
We were due to start our first week of Spanish lessons on the 12th of October. Before we left home we’d found Montanita Spanish school online, and read lots of good reviews, they offered something unique to other schools: a ‘travelling classroom’ consisting of four weeks of Spanish lessons in four different locations in Ecuador. The package included all transfers and accommodation, most meals and lots of activities, meaning we could still see the country and learn at the same time.
We’d been communicating by email with the school over the past few weeks concerning a few questions and getting the balance paid. They’d sent us the address and phone number for the family we’d be staying with in Quito. We’d worked out our route back to Quito and from Terminal Quitumbe (the southern bus terminal of Quito) up to the north of the city where we’d be staying. The bus from Latacunga went smoothly, watching the countryside pass by and trying in vain to see the famous snow-capped Cotapaxi volcano that has been showing signs of activity recently (it was permanently shrouded in cloud for our whole visit to the area, except for one fleeting glimpse on the last day in Quito!).