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Following in Lizzie’s Footsteps....Our Trip to Ecuador
In Quito, we visited the place where Lizzie stayed and met the man who ran the hostel, and who saw the girls off on that fateful trip. We saw which room she shared and which bed she slept in and we were also able to meet her Spanish teacher who taught her for four hours every day for two weeks. Here are the girls’ teachers with Fernando who owns and runs the hostel.
It really helped to be able to meet the people and see the places in Quito that she had described in her journal. Above the city, the volcano Cotapaxi loomed and it felt good to see it and recall how proud she was to have overcome her altitude sickness in order to get nearly to the top, halted only by the weather conditions. Here is Lizzie looking cheerful as ever on the way up.
Whilst in Quito, we also had dinner at the British Embassy where we were able to meet the people who dealt with the incident and identified the girls’ bodies last April. The trial of the drivers had by then been adjourned eight times and the Ambassador decided to attend herself in order add some weight to the case. She was as good as her word and I feel sure that her presence led to the trial finally going ahead - albeit without the lorry driver. The bus driver was found not guilty of driving dangerously.
Away from Quito, we visited the Conservation Centre on the Galapagos Islands where Lizzie was due to volunteer after her trek in Peru. We were able to plant native species of trees for the five girls – Lizzie would have laughed that hers was a poisonous apple tree! We also went to the Tortoise Breeding Centre where she would also have worked. I know she would have loved it and come home with tales of nearly dropping eggs or digging up the wrong species!
Unlike our girls, we flew to a town a bit further up the coast and took a shorter bus ride to Puerto Lopez. I could not believe that I was able to find in a tiny shop near the airport, just one bunch of Lizzie’s favourite bright pink lilies which smelled beautiful in the bus as we travelled four hours to Puerto Lopez. They were the only lilies I saw in Ecuador!
A beautiful memorial was built at the crash site by VentureCo and we were able to lay our flowers .We wondered with dis-belief at how such a terrible thing could have happened on probably the straightest, best-surfaced piece of road, with the best visibility - that we encountered in our three weeks in the country. Jane shared a description of a beautiful vision she had experienced of all the girls together. I looked in vain for a sign that Lizzie’s spirit might still be there, but at least I now know she isn’t out there in a strange country, wondering why I didn’t come and get her. A local lady had planted five trees by the crash site in memory of the girls. We don’t know who she is, and so cannot thank her, but her act of kindness and sympathy still brings tears of deep gratitude to my eyes when I think of them growing by the side of the road with their trunks painted white to show up in car headlights.
We painted the walls of our book corner with a sea scene and stuck on fish decorated by the pupils. We managed to overcome the fact that we could not buy felt pens, glue, cushions or rugs anywhere in the town! A chance encounter with a friendly nun in the town haberdashery resulted in her taking away our purchased fabric, thread and stuffing and arriving at our school a couple of hours later with some beautiful, large floor cushions!
The nearest bookshop is four hours away, so the children and teachers were very excited to see such a valuable resource arriving in their school. Our school was called the 26th September School, and they made us very welcome. Our corner was declared open with a great ceremony of dancing, singing and speeches.
David Gordon, our VentureCo leader, advised the families to put in a limited number of the books to begin with so that it can determined how they are used, with the promise of many more if the project is supported well by the school. The first group of GAP students arrived in May to continue what we started, and we look forward to the creation of many more corners in schools soon.
When we returned to Quito, we took the opportunity to buy more books by touring the bookstores with Fernando, our wonderful guide. We found some well-known titles! Of course, bookplates were put straight into the new books!
Thank you to YacuAma Travel’s Soledad for all her help with our arrangements, to Mark and the VentureCo team in Warwick for their advice and reassurance and to David for his unfailing support and guidance during the most difficult trip any family should have to take. Despite the heartbreak, we had many laughs and going to Ecuador was definitely the right thing to do.
Looking back on our trip to Ecuador, I am pleased to say that it went better than I dared hope, and although of course some bits were very upsetting, we did find some peace from going. We are all glad we went and are surprised to find that we would all like to return in a few years time to check up on BISEE Books.
We went to Puerto Lopez to mark the first anniversary. All the families of the girls, plus Lizzie’s boyfriend - made twenty of us in all. Our shared sorrow and determination to make a lasting legacy for our precious girls were very supportive and comforting. Here we all are, with our VentureCo guides and helpers, wearing the great BISEE BOOKS T-shirts kindly supplied by the Sadlers.
In Puerto Lopez we met the two men who guarded the girls’ bodies at the crash site and kept the press out of the morgue. Apparently graphic photos were all over the newspapers and internet. Our hotel Receptionist in Quito told us that the Ecuadorian people were so disgusted, that a law was passed in two days making it illegal to publish such images, so some good has come from it.
Creating our book corners was an amazing experience! My plans and hopes to create something like the cosy, inviting areas which we have in our schools, were quickly dashed! Very few buildings have windows which can be closed – since there is no bad weather, there is no need! Therefore everything has to be locked up and so we needed to use metal, glass-fronted, lockable book cases. Not the most child - friendly or attractive furniture! However, we soon got busy despite the heat!
Apart from the government text books issued, books are scarce, as they are so expensive relative to wages. It was lovely reading all the names and personal messages and seeing the photos and pictures on the bookplates as we stuck them in the new books! The children were very keen to share the books even if my Spanish pronunciation was awful!