Ecuador ’14 Week 5/6: The Pearl of the Pacific

Guayaquil, nicknamed ‘The Pearl of the Pacific’, is Ecuador’s largest and most populous city. Last week, we spent a day on its wide, tree-lined streets which snake along the banks of the Guayas river estuary.


After a night’s stay in a buzzing traveler’s hostel – which incorporated blight blue TECHO stickers and donation boxes into its decor – we got up early on Friday morning and enjoyed coffee and scrambled eggs in preparation for the day’s three back-to-back meetings.

A clocktower and example of Spanish colonial architecture on the riverfront of Guayaquil; The old neighbourhood of Las Penas; The interior of a cathedral in the centre of the city.


First, we met with Jorge Moran, an architect who specialises in everything bamboo, to discuss its usability as a building material in El Oriente and talked possible options for roof and panel materials – which include coconuts and dried banana leaves. We’re particularly interested in the practicability of bamboo foundations for the jungle home. We’re also very proud to announce that Max, Co-President of the Society next year, was selected for a highly technical and intensive interview by Ecuador’s Channel 7 about bamboo. Here he is at the bamboo library in the Department of Architecture at Universidad Católica de Guayaquíl:

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 20.03.58Link to the Video

In case you’re curious, here’s a translation of what he says:

“An incredible house which is made of sustainable materials. We don’t have anything like this in England.”


We then met representatives from Hogar de Cristo, a Chilean NGO which also builds emergency housing for poor families, to discuss their permanent house design. Finally, we met the people running Fundación en Terris (remember the earth toilets?) who received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Based in Guayaquíl and Washington, D.C., Fundación en Terris are currently developing their design and working on its implementation – potentially including a project with TECHO and EcoHouse. Their vision is to promote Fundación en Terris from the bottom up, as a community driven initiative in areas with limited water supply and underdeveloped sanitation methods.


Over the weekend, the team visited the seaside village of Ayampe, and battled with rented surfboards in the choppy waters of the South Pacific. A much longer amount of time was then spent lounging in the sand with snacks and a shisha pipe, watching surfers who actually know what they’re doing and designing sand sculptures. We left late in the afternoon and enjoyed shrimp ceviche at “Jimmy’s” seafood restaurant nearby, and then stayed in a homely hostel at Puerto López. In the morning, we boarded a small boat at the town’s picturesque port, and followed a humpback whale and her calf before going snorkelling in the icy ocean.

Surfers enjoy the beach at Ayampe; An old building at Montañita home to a small breakfast café; A baby humpback whale leaps out of the water at Puerto López.



Having arrived safely in Quito following an 11-hour car journey, we’ve spent the week working on the El Oriente house design. Our primary focus is how to modify the design of the foundations for the jungle region. Among other things, we visited a plastic factory (since plastic is one of the materials we’re considering) and a major tools and hardware retailer to research the availability of different wooden pile treatment options. We have bought several of the cheapest and most viable alternatives, including a type of ultra-strong and flexible cling film, to send back to Cambridge along with small samples of the wooden piles. We plan to test these in the rainforest-simulation area of the Cambridge Botanical Gardens, to see how different alternatives cope with the hot and humid conditions of the El Oriente region in the Amazon jungle, before selecting the best ones for the jungle design and rolling them out on placement next year.

This weekend, we’ll have to say goodbye to Max, Natalie. and Archie, but I’ve made conciliatory marble brownies for the last night when the whole team’s together.

Over the weekend, the rest of us want to visit the cloud forest at Mindo and try zip-lining. Next week, we’re planning visits to TECHO’s wooden panel suppliers, the jungle town of El Coca where we’ll be building next year, and a test run of Khan Academy Lite with a group of children at Quito’s Interactive Museum of Science and Technology. Hasta luego!

— Eleni Courea