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Lindows reconnect with Ecuadorian foreign exchange student

Visiting the youth music conservatory in Esmeraldas, Ecuador was a highlight for the Lindow family. (Submitted photo)1 / 4
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In addition to delivering musical instruments to needy children, Missy Lindow and her family were reunited with Fernando Checa during their trip to Ecuador.

Last year, as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program, Fernando lived with the Lindows at their Lake Belle Taine home. They grew close during his nine-month stay.

His hometown is Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Like Missy, Fernando's grandfather is a Rotarian.

When Fernando returned to Ecuador, he was determined to serve his community in some way, Missy said.

"He was instrumental in getting this conservatory music program established and going" between the Park Rapids and Ecuador Rotary Clubs, she noted.

In early February, the Lindows flew to Ecuador for a 10-day visit.

"Fun," "warm" and "awesome" are a few of the words they used to describe the experience.

It was a challenge to pack for a family of six and three different climates, Missy said.

The Lindows needed winter coats for the Andes Mountains, summer clothing for 90 percent humidity in the tropical rainforest and swim wear for the Pacific Coast.

During the Lindow's excursion throughout Ecuador, Fernando, his parents, brother and grandparents traveled with them.

"They were with us the entire trip. It was very fun for us to reconnect with Fernando and his family, so we had some great family time while we were there," Missy said.

After flying into Quinto, the Lindows went to Cotopaxi National Park in the Andes Mountains. The high elevation (19,375 feet) took its toll on the Minnesotans while they hiked down and rode donkeys back up.

"It was hard to breath," Missy said.

But they did see wild horses. And "Molly had a run-in with an alpaca."

"It kissed me," explained Molly, 12, seemingly unperturbed.

"It jumped on me," said Eli, 9, annoyed.

Local guides took the Lindows down the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon River.

"We saw native people looking for gold in the river," said Megan, 13.

While meeting two Amazon quicha, or "tribes," the Lindows learned how to make traps for fish and small animals and how to avoid a particular ant whose sting renders you unconscious for three days.

Eli brought a blowdart back to Nevis as a souvenir. A target now hangs in his bedroom so he can practice shooting.

The Lindows then toured the Pacific coastline on ruta del spondylus, or "Route of Sunshine." A major earthquake devastated the region 10 months ago. Reconstruction is ongoing, but temporary shelters and refugee camps still dot the coast, Missy said.

A Rotarian runs Esmeraldas' youth music conservatory. He gave the Lindows a tour of the school and accepted the three brass instruments from Park Rapids.

"The school experience was probably the most powerful by far," Missy said.

Andy, Megan and Molly's blue eyes were captivating to the brown-eyed locals.

Megan thought they were saying "Blue ice! Blue ice!," referring to Minnesota's cold winters.

She received baffled looks from the children when she told them, "Yes, we have lots of blue ice in Minnesota."

Locals wanted a photo of Andy playing the marimba.

"Why me?" he wondered. "It was paparazzi."

"The pictures were endless," agreed Molly. "Lots of smiling."

"They were so grateful and excited for us to be there," Missy said.

Molly, who plays percussion in the Nevis school band, was impressed by the younger kids' abilities.

"They have really good drummers," she said.

The conservatory students performed music and dance in the outdoor courtyard for the Lindows. They were invited to learn traditional dance steps.

"I was the first one to be pulled out of my chair," Eli said.

Structurally, the building is in relatively good condition, Missy said. "There's some cracks. It's safe."

Missy believes her children learned that kids in Ecuador aren't all that different from American ones, even though they may speak another language or eat different food.

"They're normal kids, just like us," she said.

Megan plans to improve her Spanish and return to Ecuador. Emily, 8, wants to help clean up the beaches.

As a Rotarian, Missy really enjoys "being able to serve our community, not just here, but our global community."

"I think, for us, it was important for us to take a vacation as a family, but also see another culture," she said.

The Ecuador Music Instrument Project is "a nice opportunity," she continued. "I anticipate our club to make several trips."