International Community Service in Ecuador: A Conversation with Katherine Dayton
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What made you decide to go to Ecuador?
I live in Bozeman, Montana, where I’m the owner and Director of VISIONS Service Adventures, a 30 year old company that runs international community service and cultural exchange programs for high school and middle school students.
Most of my international (and domestic) travel revolves around work for VISIONS, which makes my travel quite meaningful in that I know the people and places I’m visiting, and it’s often like “returning home.”
How long did you go for? How did you spend your time?
With respect to Ecuador, I have gone there many, many times over the last 15 years, which is how long we’ve been running programs there. I spent most of my time planning projects, meeting with community members, and also doing some of my favorite tourist things, like visiting some of the hot springs, taking a few hikes on trails in the Andes, and walking around the Colonial Zone of Quito — always a favorite.
What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
One of my favorite times was walking on some of the mountain roads near Termas de Papallacta during a day off. It’s very peaceful there, and then I also spent some time in the lodge having a good meal and reading. Another thing I love to do in Ecuador is ride public transportation, especially between Quito and Patate (our base), as much of the ride is along the base of the mountains. I also visit the Galapagos during some of my trips, as part of our program runs there. It’s always good to see the abundance of wildlife. I also love the big artisan market of Otavalo.
For disappointments, it’s always hard to see that some of the crime in the tourist district of Quito is on the rise, so you have to be careful and know where you are, and where not to be. Another thing is to see all of the development in the Galapagos… I always hope that tourism and growth will be done in a way that can also preserve the ecological systems.
What do you wish you knew before you went?
I wish I’d known how far the new airport actually is from the tourist centers (the old airport was very nearby). There aren’t many hotel options near the new airport, but I think that’s changing fairly quickly.
Any favorite restaurants/hotels/hostels/
sites you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
Any ceviche restaurant!
Is there anything that women specifically should know before they travel to your destination?
Any time I travel or talk with other travelers, I always advise to leave unnecessary valuables and jewelry at home, and to carry money in a hip pouch. Also to know the number of a taxi company instead of hailing cabs on the street (not so much an issue in Ecuador, but good to keep in mind when traveling). That’s just advice on general safety when traveling, and not Ecuador-specific.
Something else I would recommend is to eat at some of the local spots, ride public transportation every once in a while, and think about making a donation to a local nonprofit while you’re there.