Posted on Monday, April 09, 2007 by Randy
Schralping in the Andes: Ecuador TripWords and Photos by Randy Browne
As hard as it may be to believe, there are parts of the world where skateboarding simply does not exist. There are places where kids don’t read Thrasher or know where Hubba Hideout is, random strangers don’t know who Bam Margera is or who won the X-Games, and skateable concrete—not to mention skate parks—is hard to come by. The rural indigenous village of Caluqui, Ecuador, located high in the Andes, is just such a place.
This spring break I had the great fortune to be able to travel to Ecuador for a week and a half with a group of Eckerd College students who were doing service work at a school in Caluqui. As many of you probably know, I only work at the Skatepark of Tampa part-time because my full-time job is at Eckerd, helping to organize service opportunities for students. Each year Eckerd students travel around the world doing all sorts of service projects, and this particular one was aimed at painting a school and giving the children in the community a playground—not a bad way to spend spring break, right?
When I began to learn more about Caluqui I realized that bringing boards into the community would be an incredible experience. I’ve traveled throughout Latin America for years, and even lived in Argentina for a time, so I knew how hard a good, American setup was to find. I also had this past December’s “Boards for Bros” in mind, and thought that it was only natural to expand our reach far beyond the ghettos of Tampa. Clements was down, and the Skatepark of Tampa donated five complete setups, which I packed in a box to take with me to Caluqui.
Without going into great detail—the pictures speak for themselves—let me just say that the trip was an amazing experience and one that none of us who were there will ever forget. Caluqui is an extremely poor area (the average monthly household income is about $200), a place where the children speak their native Quichua before learning Spanish and work the land much as previous generations have done for thousands of years. Few homes have electricity, there are no stores or paved roads, and some of the kids have to walk more than two hours through the mountains just to get to school.
In order to decide who was going to get the six skateboards (there was no way I was leaving without donating my own setup, too), we took the Principal’s advice and had a reading contest in which one student from each grade (1-6) won a board. I got to judge it, and after about half an hour we had our winners. I won’t even try to describe how happy the kids were to have these boards—you can see it in the photos.
I left Caluqui feeling great. We were able meet new people, see some spectacular scenery, and make an impact on a part of the world that few tourists see. We introduced skateboarding to a part of the world that had never seen it, and I can’t wait to go back six months or a year from now and see the kids who will, by then, be landing kickflips and making their own ramps. When we rolled out of town, I realized that this is exactly what skateboarding is really all about—exploring new places, making new friends, giving back to something you love, and making the worldwide community of skateboarders stronger and larger.
This is Otavalo, the closest town to the village where we stayed.
Our second day in Ecuador we hiked to this awesome waterfall—La cascada de Peguche.
This is the main “street” in Caluqui, the village where we were. There are volcanoes all over the place and since you are at about 9,000’ above sea level you have to deal with headaches and cottonmouth for a full day or two before you acclimatize.
We rolled in and were immediately greeted like we were Bon Jovi circa 1986—instant rock star status.
This is the school where we worked.
The service project included the construction of a full playground. This is day one.
Here’s the group I went with. They were awesome, although none skateboard, so the “demo” we did for the kids was pretty funny.
The way we were building this, I’m amazed that no one got hurt.
This was the ghetto “suitcase” I used to bring the boards down. It broke open in the Quito airport and I didn’t notice until later on that I had lost all my hardware and tools.
This is the hardware I had to use. It was too long and too skinny, but there aren’t exactly tons of skate shops in rural Ecuador.
One of the winners of the skateboards.
Another one of the winners of the skateboards.
Group shot of the winners.
The stance is suspect, but at least he isn’t pushing mongo. It’s more like Bruce Walker’s stance, come to think of it.
Do you remember your first time on a skateboard? I guarantee that this kid will.
Stoked to be rolling.
Even the girls were into it.
Seconds away from his first slam ever.
This was the crowd when we gave the boards away and did a little demo.
Waiting to shred.
Eyeing the goods.
We had a reading competition to see who would get the skateboards. If we did that sort of thing here in Tampa, about five percent of you would still have your boards.
Another one of the winners.
This is my favorite photo from the entire trip. That smile says it all.
I think that Dirt Weasel should make this girl his girlfriend.
The kids loved the playground. Which company wants to pay for us to go back and build a mini or a bowl? E-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re interested.
Indigenous couple walking in Caluqui.
This is the Otavalo market, where many people sell their produce.
Freshly slaughtered pig, Otavalo market.
More from the Otavalo market.
In Otavalo you can get your ham straight off the pig carcass.
Hiking in Cotacachi.
Walking at this altitude makes you feel like you’re ninety years old because there is so little oxygen in the air.
This is my friend Amanda looking down on Quito.
This is Quito seen from a hilltop outside of town.
Old Town, Quito.
This picture—and the whole demo I did—is 100% “Take-a-Poop.” What was I thinking doing a flatground demo? I should have built a quarter pipe, or brought someone like Jack Baird who has the flatground skills I lack.
I’m guessing backside 180?
They were so stoked. One day they will actually grow into those boards, too.
Ollie over the only “obstacle” I could find.