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Sage Tutors and Tam High Students travel to Ecuador

Since 2007, Sage tutors (Mill Valley and Larkspur) have taken several of their students on a summertime volunteer trip to Bahia de Caraquez, a city in Ecuador that was devastated by 1998 mudslides. Working with Planet Drum Foundation to re-vegetate and educate the city, this journey has proved life-changing not only for the impoverished residents of the area but for the Marin County students themselves.

Destination:

Six Sage tutors four Tam High students traveled to the small oceanside town of Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. We stayed there for two weeks before traveling around the country, making stops in Canoa, Mindo, Otavalo, Quito, Tena, and Banos.

Cause:

Since 2007, Sage has developed a partnership with Planet Drum Foundation’s Eco-Ecuador Project in Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. After mudslides devastated Bahia during the El Nino storms of 1998, the coastal city committed to ecological sustainability, and Planet Drum has helped in this transition through revegetation, education, and thoughtful development. In our trip to Bahia, Sage volunteers participated in a range of activities: collecting and preparing seeds to be planted, collecting and cutting plastic bottles to make pots for seedlings, mixing compost and soil to nurture the seedlings, planting trees, watering revegetation sites, and using machetes to create trails. We also assisted in bioregionalism classes for local teens.

Highlights:

Although the volunteer work was challenging, it was also very rewarding. We could see the positive impact that Planet Drum was making on the town. After our volunteer work was done, we had some memorable adventures: zip-lining over the rainforest in Mindo, enjoying the beautiful beach in Canoa, rafting down an Amazon river in Tena, visiting (and even crawling behind) a massive waterfall in Banos, and shopping at a massive outdoor market in Otavalo. We also got to see the President of Ecuador when we stumbled upon a political gathering in the capital city, Quito. You can see more about particular highlights on our blog.

Challenges: 

Particularly in Bahia de Caraquez, we experienced living conditions that were much less comfortable than those we were accustomed to at home. In particular, clean water is a scarce resource there, so we had to learn how to live with less. This meant taking the shortest possible showers, using bottled water to brush our teeth, etc. We even ran out of water for several days and had to live without running water. This meant toting jugs of bottled water from a local store and using it very sparingly until our home’s cistern was refilled. In addition to the living conditions, the volunteer work was rigorous. Our adventures with the machetes were somewhat perilous—we even had one girl slice her ankle with the machete and get carried out of the jungle on a homemade stretcher! (She got stitches at the local hospital and was fine, but it was a scary moment.) We really had to come together as a team to ensure that everyone stayed safe.

Getting there:

We had 24 hours of straight travel to reach Bahia de Caraquez. First, we flew from San Francisco to Atlanta, then from Atlanta to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We arrived in Guayaquil around midnight and then waited for several hours in a bus station before boarding an early-morning bus to Bahia. That bus ride lasted for about six hours. It was a long trek. Click here for more info about that.

Who would you recommend this experience to?

Anyone who is looking to go off the beaten path. Planet Drum had a number of young volunteers from around the world, and all seemed to be energetic, adventurous, and unafraid to get their hands dirty!

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Wedding With a Purpose

While Christopher and Darcy Barrow usually head to Hawaii for their tropical fix, last year, when they were seeking a wedding spot, a Marin IJ article about the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club on the Caribbean island of Nevis caught their eye. “The island is a pain to get to—ask any of our guests, who still love to tease us that they had to go to the other end of the world to our wedding,” Darcy recounts. But, she says, it was totally worth it (the ice-cold towel and rum punch on arrival helped). Besides the natural beauty of the island, the couple was impressed with the hotel kitchen’s use of local foods and products, including island-made rum. The resort earned a Green Globe Benchmarked Certificate for its reef implementation program and environmentally friendly operating practices, and a palm tree is planted for every wedding on the property. But it was their unconventional first event that excited the couple most. In lieu of a welcome reception, their 20 guests attended a crab race, which benefits local schools. “We helped raise about $400,” Darcy says. “We’re just happy to have been able to come and go without as much ‘debris’ as one might normally see with bigger-production weddings, and we felt good about the hotel’s dedication to supporting the local island economy.”

Why did you choose Nisbet Plantation Beach Club?

Christopher and I have been together 10 years and usually vacation once a year in Hawaii.  We’ve always had our heart set on getting married on the sand in Maui.  However, once we set about actually planning that sort of wedding we quickly realized the limitations: certain hours, certain beaches, no chairs, no alcoholic beverages, lots of strangers on the beach, etc… Maui was looking much more complicated than the simple “barefoot-in-the-sand” vision we’d always had.

Then one Sunday morning I opened the Marin IJ and read a feature travel article about this tiny little island called Nevis located somewhere in the Caribbean.  The article claimed the island was way off the beaten path and was reminiscent of a simpler time.  No high rise buildings, no casinos, no “tourist traps”…just lush tropics, coconuts, and friendly people. I quickly logged on to tripadvisor.com and found Nisbet Plantation Beach Club easily ranked as number one hotel (Four Seasons Nevis was closed from hurricane damage at the time). I was thrilled to find everything Christopher and I had ever wanted in a wedding was right there at Nisbet Plantation: we could get married right on the beach any way we liked, they would handle all the details, including providing a local pastor and photographer, decorating the reception and ceremony with flowers from the hotel’s gardens, they would even provide a tropical cake and help coordinate our guest travel.

The more I read about the island the more excited we got.   We realized from the reviews that Nisbet was not an ultra-fancy or opulent Caribbean hotel, but rather a boutique hotel that consistently earns all sorts of travel distinctions and awards.  It’s also full of romantic history since the late 1700’s.  Leonora, the wedding planner, is fantastic.  She helped with everything from setting our reception menu (I had my heart set on serving as much locally sourced food as possible: conch soup and local spiny lobster in a coconut thermidore were amazing!) to helping Christopher and me source locals baked goods (sugar rum cake) and island-made CSR rum bottles for the our guest gifts.

The island is a pain to get to – ask any of our guests who still love to tease us that we went to the other end of the world to get married!  Red-eye SFO to MIA, then MIA to St Kitts.  Then a cab to the docks, a ferry ride across the channel to Nevis, then another cab to the resort – in all about a 15 or 16 hour travel day.  But Nisbet serves you an ice cold towel and rum punch the moment you set foot in the resort so that helps!

But it was worth it.   Everything was perfect.  We were able to drink champagne and local rum punch and serve a fresh seafood dinner under a full moon right on the sand – then dance the night away on the beach to the tunes of a live steel pan band.  Plus the boys got to golf with the monekys on the trip and the girls got a great tan.  Couldn’t have asked for anything more!

At what point did you realize you could give back to the community during your wedding?

We read about the crab races and the benefit for the local island schools on a blog after we’d selected Nisbet.  The races are held once a week at Nisbet during the manager’s weekly rum party.  I was so excited our guests would be able to participate in such a fun and unique benefit!  Unfortunately, when we arrived we learned that the races were being held the day before our guests arrived, so initially we thought only Christopher and I would get to participapte.

However, once Patterson Fleming (Dining Room Maitre’D who runs the races) heard that a group of 20 or so was arriving the next day he immediately offered to hold a special race just for us!  We had already planned to host a welcome cocktail party as all our (jetlagged) guests arrived that evening, so it was perfect.  Plus, Christopher and I were old pros by then – our crab betting skills had been finely honed and we were ready to bet!

How much went to the local island elementary school?

We didn’t count, but we were a group of about 20 and the event lasts through 5 races.  The minimum bet was just $1 or $2, but many of our guests were throwing down $10 and $20 bets (although no matter how high your bet the maximum you can win is $2 each race, so I think the rum punches helped!) and other hotel guests got to participate.  I would guess we helped raise about $300 or $400.  Patterson was great: you can tell he is passionate about helping the island’s children.  The proceeds from the weekly crab races go to filling library shelves with children’s books and providing computers (no particular school – they donate throughout the island). According to the hotel, today the children are reading at a level two grades higher than they were in 1999 when the program started.

Do you plan to go back to Nevis anytime soon?

As soon as possible!!  But three days after we got back from our honeymoon on St Lucia we started our own boutique company, Foundation Rentals and Relocation, specializing in high-end rental homes and corporate relocation here in Marin. Starting a company as newlyweds has been exciting and the company is doing great, but I don’t know when Christopher and I will be able to squeeze in time off any time soon!  But Nisbet helps insure we will come back with one final detail: our own coconut palm tree.  The morning after our wedding we got to select the site and help plant a baby coconut palm with a plaque commemorating our wedding date.  It’s pretty neat to think of our little palm tree growing in our honor so many miles and miles away!  It may be 10 years before we can return, but that little island with its gorgeous scenery, gentle breezes and friendly people stole our hearts and we’ll definitely be back!

How can Marin Magazine readers help Nevis schools?

Basic school supplies like colorful construction paper, glue sticks, crayons, flash cards, playdough, new books and puzzles are always welcome. The science lab needs everything from filter paper and rain gauges to anatomy models and science video cassettes. For more significant donations and equipment needs, please contact the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club at 869.469.9325, or drop any supplies off at our office in Kentfield and Christopher and I will take care of shipping everything to Nevis. Our business,  Foundation Rentals and Relocation, is located at 925 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Kentfield, CA 94904.