Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A long over-due update

As my time here is quickly coming to an end, I've been thinking a lot about what this means to me. I have experienced so many cool things and I have a ton left to do (school work and otherwise) but all and all it has been one of the hardest, most amazing, eye opening, fun, adventurous, non-traditional educational, slap me in the face experience that I have had thus far in my almost 21 years. It has opened the doors for possibilities in my future, and I really hope to use and apply what I learned/ gained here when I return to the states. I don't want to take anything for granted or forget the situations I have encountered. My family here was more than amazing, and the people in my group were pretty great too. I was thankful to have visitors from the states--although it kind of cramped my studying time-- it was definitely worth it. I've met fabulous people through my internship and other activities I have been involved with, and will be very sad to leave these friendships! I definitely would like to return in the future and see how things have developed and changed. I love Ecuador!

More reflection to come when all is said and done (and I have more time :) )

I've been super busy, but a little brief on what I've been up to lately! I was super sick with what I think was the Swine the week before my field trip...which put me out of commission for a few days. It was really hard to sleep and get things done, but I managed. I've also decided after a last minute cancellation that I will be traveling to Guatemala/Belize this J-term (3 weeks in January) for a tropical ecology class. I'm just a traveling fool!

Michael just left after spending a little over a week here. We had a GREAT time. The first 5 days we hung out in Quito and he saw what I do on a daily basis. He came with me to my internship, met and spent time with my family and classmates, and toured the city of Quito a bit. My group put together a Thanksgiving meal--which turned out really well. The food was amazing and the company was even better! We invited all the families and probably had around 60-70 people--and we (the students) did all the cooking! It was comforting to have a big get-together when all of us are away from home (although it's starting to become a trend for me to be out of the country for Thanksgiving--I think I'll start a new tradition!)

This past weekend Michael and I went to Baños. Although I had been there before, it was once again suuper fun. We rented bikes and biked out of town via the route of the waterfalls, hiked around a bit, ate some great (and not-so-great) food, and relaxed and enjoyed the scenery from our roof top terrace! We ran into another girl from my program Torrey and her boyfriend who also came to visit, so we spent quite a bit of time with them. It was an all around good time. Michael also had to experience the bridge jumping! What a rush.

We had to crawl through this sweet tunnel-like cave to get up behind the Pailon de Diablo waterfall. Amazing! (no actual pics from behind it--we got pretty soaked!)

Love love love

Sorry Becs--he did this while on your insurance :)

Otavalo/ Cotacachi

20-22 de noviembre

Our last field trip this semester was to the province of Imbabura, about 2.5 hours north of Quito. We arrived in Otavalo on Friday morning and visited a center for traditional/ indigenous medicine. Here, we watched (and some experienced) a “cleaning” with cuy, or guinea pig and also one with eggs. The cleanings were so crazy. A healer rubbed a live guinea pig all over Andrew’s body and chanted in Quichua. After about five minutes, she cut open/ dissected the guinea pig in order to see what was wrong with Andrew. The indigenous believe that the guinea pig will show whatever illnesses a person has. According to this cuy, Andrew had parasites in his stomach (there were actually bugs in there!) and a hurt back. I guess it was pretty accurate because this week Andrew is sick as a dog—and with parasites. Yikes. I couldn’t watch the dissecting—too much blood (one reason I will not become a doctor!) and sad L We also learned about some of the plant combinations and natural treatments they use for treating sicknesses. It was really interesting to see and learn the history about this alternative to western medicine. Not sure I’ll be switching clinics anytime soon though…
One component to this field trip was staying with indigenous host families in Cotacachi. We were paired up and assigned to a family through a tourism program that sets up home stays with indigenous families in the area in order to learn about the traditions, customs, and every day life of the indígenas. This was a really cool experience, and I’m sad that I didn’t take pictures of my family! Chris and I stayed with Carmen and Alfonso. They have 3 sons-- 9, 18, and 21. The two older ones work away from home doing construction and farming, and Marco (9) plays all day during the weekends with the other kids in the community and goes to school. We helped Alfonso in the field building a pen for sheep/ cultivating crops Friday evening and led the cows from a far field back to the house. Carmen cooked traditional food for us (rice, fresh vegetables, tasty soup, eggs). They were really friendly and curious about our lives back home and our experience in Ecuador. We didn’t have too much time with them throughout the weekend, only 2 evenings, but it was fun to spend time with them and see how they live/work.

Saturday mid-morning we went to the Feria, or market in Otavalo. Oh. My. Goodness. Talk about overwhelming! There was soo much stuff! From scarves to blankets to bags to hats to jewelry—they had it all. And a lot of the stands/tents had the same things—it was just a matter of where you could get the best price. I pretty much went crazy (buying gifts of course) and it was definitely good that we only had a 2.5-hour time allotment scheduled. I was addicted! After the market we went to the house of a family who still practices a traditional form of weaving (by hand). The couple (85 and 87 years old!) demonstrated how the process works; we were able to watch them prepare the wool, spin it into thread, and begin the weaving of a scarf. Very cool! In the afternoon/evening some members of our group went to the Assembly—where there were people from all the surrounding communities representing different groups/ issues—women, youth, city planning, environment, water, education, and health, among others. There were table discussions where they debated the issues and made decisions regarding laws and activities. I didn’t participate in this, but afterwards I really wished I would have! I instead went to Parque Condor where we saw a bunch of endangered birds (including an owl that MAY have played one of the parts of Hedwig in Harry Potter J). I discovered I’m not really into birds, but there were some AMAZING views from up on the hill where we were.
Sunday we went to Lake Cuicocha, which is a beautiful natural lake with islands in the middle. We took a boat ride around the lake and heard about the history of Mama Cotacachi y Papa Imbabura (the two volcanoes near by). We also received a talk from an indigenous woman regarding the Asamblea and had a “desystemization” session with the tour organization that sets up the home stays.

Everything was great (other than the fact that something really didn’t agree with my stomach all weekend!) but I was suuper excited/anxious to get back to Quito because Michael was arriving Sunday night!

Monday, November 9, 2009


What a crazy week this has been! Mom and Kursten came to visit, and we had quite the time traveling around Ecuador-- small winding city streets, old colonial buildings, sunday markets, beautiful mountain views, volcano hiking, adventure sports, spa days, and seeing Quito via bicycle along with 30,000 locals. Sounds amazing, huh? Well it was, but you try squeezing an entire country into a week and a half. Pretty hard to do! But, we had a fabulous time. I'm going to stay away from the text and mostly show what we did in pictures. You'll just have to hear all the stories upon return! (and boy...do we have stories!)

view down one of the many picturesque streets in Cuenca

market in Gualeceo
(fruit is one of the many things sold here...also vegetables, produce, meat, and in other more touristy markets scarves, blankets, hats, jewelry, trinkets)

One of the many amazing views from Cuenca to Riobamba

view from our hotel! Volcano Chimborazo (and the less pleasant city of Riobamba)

Chimborazo up close! Climbed part of that baby...5000 m

nice little windy pic of the girls and Chimborazo


We rented buggies and cruised around outside the town! Amazing sights! Look out NASCAR ;)

White water rafting...ay yi yi! Crazy Ecuadorians!

The river we rafted...and mom showing off her wound from when our raft flipped-- we took in face-fulls of water and couldn't find the surface...quite scary!

Before jumping off a 100 m bridge! A bit tense?

we're out there in the middle..go, no go??!!

after...definitely worth the plunge!

repelling down waterfalls! awesome

Ciclopaseo en Quito

how Kursten felt about the biking!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Wheww...so things are really starting to get busy here! I just got home Sunday night from our salida de campo to the village of Olmeda, in the province Esmeraldas (the northwestern coast of Ecuador near Colombia, about an 8 hour bus ride from Quito). It was an eye opening experience for sure! Olmeda is a small afro-ecuadorian community right on the beach that depends solely on fishing for their income. The people live in 1-2 room “houses” (pretty much shacks with shabby walls and a tin roof slapped on) that are on stilts for when the tide comes in. Every family had at least 6 kids, and I talked to a woman who had 22! (but only 12 were still living). The “hotel” where we stayed was the nicest structure in the pueblo. We had comfortable beds, and running water for most of the time! The food was quite tasty… good soups, fried corn tortillas, yucca, and amazingly fresh fruits. I’m still hanging in with the vegetarianism, but the others got fish almost every meal. (yuck) The people were hard to understand—although they speak Spanish, it was definitely a different style— a lot faster and they don’t say their s’s. This made communicating a bit difficult at times! The weather was suuper hot/humid. Kids were EVERYWHERE. (I swear they had their own gibberish language as well!) And they LOVED us. You couldn’t walk anywhere without them jumping on you, holding your hand, tickling you, following you—you name it. It was fun…but by the end of the weekend I was ready to have my personal space back.


We went on a hike/walk through mangrove forests—what an amazing unique ecosystem! We also went through a "tunnel" of mangroves via boat. I don’t know too much about the mangroves, but they are trees with huuge roots sticking out of the ground that can grow in the water. They are home to many creatures, crabs being one, and are a large part of the afro-ecuadorian communities in Ecuador. There are major problems right now in Olmeda and all throughout Esmeraldas with shrimp companies clearing out the mangrove forests to put in shrimp pools. It’s a constant fight for the people.

I swam in the Pacific Ocean—it was almost too warm!—and had a giant mud fight with the kids.

We visited a couple other communities and a bird island via boat, all pretty similar to Olmeda. It was cool to walk around and hear about the history of the villages…not to mention we were usually wearing BRIGHT orange life jackets. As if we didn’t stick out enough already…We did a mini America’s Next Top Model photo shoot African village style as well. Pretty impressive ;)

This last weekend was a huge festival/celebration for Olmeda and the surrounding villages; we lucked out and got in on the festivities. One night we played a bunch of street games with the kids (amazingly fun), danced, yelled, and played some variations of hand-slap-patty-cake. The kids ate.it.up. We also experienced a beauty pageant, Esmeraldas style. We’re talking skimpy clothes, booty-shaking, only answer 1 question and it’s not about world peace, kind of pageant. It was really entertaining, but definitely a different culture. The after party went allll night (not even exaggerating…the whole town was literally still bumping with dancing music when we left at 830 the next morning!) It’s tradition for this celebration to go the entire weekend. Whew. I didn’t stay out that late—but my sleep was definitely lacking after this weekend.

Oh yeah, and I couldn’t go to an afro-ecuadorian community without getting corn rolls! The woman braided like a pro. And while she was braiding, I experienced my first holding of a baby! (yes, I know…gasp). An 11 year-old girl just plopped this adorable 2 month old little boy into my lap…a bit of a shock at first. But how precious.
J It was sad to see all the kids rolling around in the dirt with sores on their body and random mis-matched clothing that doesn’t fit (or none at all)…but they were happy! So so happy. I guess when it’s all you know…it’s just life. (now I’m just praying I didn’t pick up lice from that ordeal…)
I had crazy mixed feelings throughout the trip, changing from intrusive, obnoxiously out of place to integrated, overwhelmed, sad, and excited. And really, all at the same time! The community was full of so much Love. It was really an amazing experience to be a part of. Needless to say, I was ready to get back to my comfortable routine in Quito. But it did really make me think about the opportunities I have and how lucky I am. I’m counting my blessings every day! Thank you mom and dad for making this possible!! J

Monday, October 19, 2009

Here I go again..

What have I been up to lately?? Mostly just working, classes, biking, and spending time with family/friends here. This weekend was pretty great. Friday night I went out with some people from Ciclopolis and others in my program for Charlotte’s birthday. We went to a sweet club and danced until 2 am! It was way fun, except for the fact I had to get up at 5:50 am! On Saturday we started our new session of workshops teaching women to ride bicycles. That went well; I was able to communicate better and help more than in the last session. I then went with my family to my aunt's house in Cumbaya (right outside of Quito) for my grandparents anniversary. Ohh my! This house was amazing! My uncle is an artist, so everything was really creative; all the walls were painted in bright colors with really cool paintings (done by him) hanging on them, antiques, lots of plants, and really just a cool modern design. Would have been nice to have my camera! During the meal the grandkids and kids made some speeches..and everyone was crying and I was even tearing up and it's not actually my family! I'm such a sap sometimes.

Sunday was the Ciclopaseo and it was suuper chevere (cool) because I helped with the organization 350.org (great organization! Check it out on the web!) passing out stickers and talking to people about climate change. I met a girl that works with 350.org in California and is partnering with the sector in Quito for an “action” event this upcoming weekend. So she’s been here for about a month working on promotions. I hadn’t thought of it before, but how perfect would that job be for me?? I could save the environment and use my spanish! Ha. After the ciclopaseo I went to the Mitad del Mundo, or the equator, with my family. Well actually I went to both of the “equators”. Because one is where the monument is built (where they originally thought the equator was) and has all the touristy stuff (it’s like a little town!) and the other is the actual geographical equator that they found via GPS. It was fun to see, but a bit over-hyped. Today I went on a field trip to Tumbaco to see an organization called “Red de Guardianes de Semillas" It was super sweet! They do a lot of different things, but much of their work focuses on education of sustainability, responsible eating, alternative technology, organic farms, biodiversity, and other environmental issues. We talked all about alimentation and how important it is to buy local products or grow your own food and the problems of hunger in the world. We also talked about how a lot of problems (with food products) come from countries depending on exports when they would be better off just using the resources in their own country. The couple in charge was really sweet and down to earth as well—I wish I was going to be here longer to do some volunteering with them. Well, this upcoming weekend I’m off to Esmeraldas (on the northwestern coast) to learn about the effects of the fish/shrimp companies on the Ecosystem there (or something to that extent …I’ll give a full report upon return!)

The actual Mitad Del Mundo!

Monday, October 12, 2009


This weekend I went with my friend Ellen to Mindo, a small touristy/outdoorsy town surrounded by mountains and the cloud forest. It was remarkable! We had Friday off, so we left eearrrlly in the morning and arrived in Mindo via bus a little before 10am. We had made reservations at La Casa de Cecelia, a hostel, but typical Ecuadorian life, somehow we didn’t have a room once we got there. Everything worked out, though, and we stayed in a quaint room with 3 single beds (we never did end up getting a roommate) that looked out over a river and mountains.

I think the theme of our weekend was walking and re-walking (we got lost numerous times or just ended up taking the same routes over and over again, which wasn’t hard to do because Mindo is not very big). Friday we explored the area all around Mindo, walking out of town a ways towards the butterfly gardens and water falls that Mindo is known for. We took a hike through the woods, got completely turned around on some of the paths, sweat off about 5 pounds, gained it back in the dirt that stuck to our skin, and ended up at the entrance to the falls. We paid $3 to enter and descended for about 20 minutes before reaching the falls. It was pretty cool, but it was packed with people! (holiday weekend) Here you can jump off the waterfalls and swim around, but we just walked around and put our feet in—the sky had become pretty overcast and the water was freezing! We hiked our way back to town (taking a magillion pictures) and stopped for a fresh fruit juice at a fabulous little shop where we soon became regulars. I tried everything from banana to wild blackberry to exotic fruits that I’m not even sure how to explain. (fresh fruit on ice cream was also amazing). By the time we reached our hostel I was exhausted. Not only did we walk for hours, but if it was Oregon Trail, we would definitely be on the “grueling pace” setting. Remember how long that lasted before everyone went kaput? But, I recovered with a hot shower, a delicious vegetable pasta dish at a “bio foods” restaurant next to our hostel and a delectable cookie from ChocolArte (where we also became known by name). We crawled into bed pretty early, and soon I was sawing logs, dreaming about waterfalls made of fruit juice.

Saturday we woke up early and headed off for the zip lines through the canopies. This was definitely my favorite activity of the weekend. We slid down 13 cables (3500 meters) of forest for 2 hours, flying in positions from the butterfly (upside down, spread eagle) to superwoman. It was exhilarating. We had some pretty funny guides and a good group as well (a couple guys from England- haa love the accents). After the zip lining we took a tour of a small coffee plantation right on the edge of Mindo. I don’t like coffee, but oh how I love the smell! We (surprisingly) walked quite a bit more and delighted our taste buds with another juice. We had plans to rent bicycles, but the rain and language confusion foiled these plans. Some time later we found ourselves in the deserted streets while the town was huddled around every tv in the country watching the Ecuador vs Uruguay soccer game. We ate at El Nomad, a pizzeria with very good pizza/pasta. After another desert at ChocolArte we ended up back at the hostel.

Sunday morning we went to “Nathaly (pronounced like my name) butterfly, hummingbird, and orchid garden. This was so cool! The hummingbirds were so quick, and noisy! There were hammocks and we relaxed to the dull humming, watching these beautiful creatures dart around. The butterflies were also a sight to see. They were so pretty! And so many of them. This was definitely worth the $3. We did more exploring outside of Mindo and then caught the bus back to Quito.

The whole town promoted “green” and “environmentally sustainable” activities—it was quite hippyish (in an Ecuadorian sense). There were hostels all over, and they all seemed to be pretty nice and unique. I loved Mindo and I would definitely like to return before I leave! (Mom & Kursten- Michael- who’s it going to be?? :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chulla vida

Salida de Campo- Yasuni

October 2-5

I made it! We had our first “salida de campo” (field trip) to the Amazon this past weekend… Yasuni National Park- what an adventure! (Then again, what do I do here that’s not??) I’m not going to tell you every detail (that’ll have to wait until I get home…you can read my journal :) But I’ll give you a pretty good description of the highlights of my muddy boots-tangled hair-sweat dripping-sunscreen covered rainforest adventure.

Background/Day 1

We left early Friday morning and flew from Quito to Coca, a small, post-oil exploited town (only a half hour flight or 10 hour drive). One of the first things I noticed when we stepped off the plane was the humidity! Argh- I had forgotten what that was like after getting accustomed to dry Quito. From Coca we took a “barco” (small motorized boat) on the Napo River about 45 minutes and then a 1.5-hour van ride until we reached our final destination. We stayed at a scientific research center associated with the Catholic University in Quito, but researchers from all over the world also come and stay here to do research for a couple months at a time (plants and monkeys are the biggest interests, but non science areas are investigated as well). I met a young female biologist from the University of Texas doing an internship at Yasuni between undergrad/masters program. It was nice to be able to talk to her about what she was researching and where she had been since graduating college. (Her advice- definitely go for a higher degree, but take some time off!) The station was great. We had good food (they accommodated to my newly found vegetarian-ism…fresh fruit and veggies-yum!) and the rooms were comfortable. We slept 4 to a room (air conditioned- each having 2 bunk beds) and we had running water (hot showers!) as well. Our group was separated into two smaller groups, each having a chaperone and a guide. Upon arrival (after eating), my group went for a 45 minute “caminata” to get our first taste of the rainforest. It was beautiful! So many trees and plant species that I had never seen before…and the sounds! Try sleeping with those every night ;) Sadly, my camera didn’t work very well in the midst of the jungle (with the lighting), but I don’t think pictures would have done it justice. It’s something everyone needs to experience (yes, even the not-so-nature-types). We were advised to wear long sleeves and quick-drying pants (I was definitely prepared- thanks mom!), and black rubber boots were a necessity. Walking through the sloppy, sticky mud was a bit hard to get used to- and I fell (the first and only time) on this walk. Wildlife was a bit harder to find, we had to be really looking to pick things out. But once I started looking, I sometimes wished I hadn’t! (See day 2 below). After the walk, we had a little down time to explore before dinner. I mostly settled in my stuff and took some pictures around the station. We had another walk that night following dinner, and the rainforest turned into a total different place when the sun went down! Still very pretty, but definitely creepy; I wouldn’t want to be stuck out there alone! We saw some toads, spiders, other insects, and a tiny little tree snake. My headlight came in quite handy for this! This 2-hour walk was followed by a quick shower and some journaling before the power was shut off at ~10:30. I then hit the sack- early morning ahead!

Day 2

So 5 am actually wasn’t too bad to wake up to- except I spent the night tossing and turning. The noises of the forest were crazy loud! I’ve done my fair share of camping, but I swear there were hundreds of different species right outside my window. We got an early start (5:30) in order to try and catch some of the birds at their peak timing. It was just getting to be light out as we left, but the woods were a bit darker. We hacked through the trees for a couple hours, stopping every now and then to hear about certain trees and other species. Our guide told us that after staying out in the open in the rainforest for 5 days straight, the ants would have eaten all your clothes off! Yikes, don’t want to be stranded there! We were headed for a 32-meter (~120 ft) tower. Here, half of us stayed at the bottom and ate breakfast while the other half geared up (helmets, harnesses, clips, gloves) for the ascent. I’m not usually afraid of heights, but this got me a bit! My arms got super tired, but I made it without problems ;) The view from the top was surreal. It was a total different perspective- being among the treetops and looking out- trees on all sides as far as you could see. After an hour or so we started trekking back towards the station and stopped at the Tiputini River to take a swim. The rest of the day was filled with eating and a tour of REPSOL-the petrolera in Yasuni. The tour was very…interesting to say the least. Everything was really strange feeling- it was a very private/secured area, and it seemed pretty obvious they didn’t want any outsiders there. It was also hard to listen to the men talk about a process that goes against everything I believe in and what they’re doing to exploit the local indigenous people and the environment. The really sad part is that they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. It’s all about the money, honey. But, that’s an argument that can be had another time. It was informative and eye opening to see the other side of the fight to save the rainforest. We did another night trek after dinner, and this time we played a game to see which team could find the most wildlife. Well, guess who won? The whole time I was thinking I didn’t really want to look and REALLY didn’t want to see a snake. And low and behold, near the end I was just kind of walking, scanning the area around our path with my headlight and BAM-snake. I stifled my scream and started calling “serpiente, serpiente!” to my guide, while turning away in disgust. (If you didn’t know or haven’t gathered by now, I’m pretty much deathly afraid of snakes). The guide came running and said, “ohh, it’s the equis! (X)” I knew what this meant, he had just told us earlier today that it was the second most poisonous snake in all of Ecuador! Go figure, I would be the one to find this. It was just a tiny guy, too! Once I found this out, my fright turned into a bit of pride and I ran to find the rest of the group to show off my findings. Everyone [carefully] crowded around and admired (or almost vomited in my case) at the sight. Nasty snake aside, it ended up being quite the hike. And again, I exhaustingly crawled into bed (without shower this time, because it was after 10:30. But wait, who am I kidding, I probably wouldn’t have showered if I could ;).

Day 3

So if we thought the snake and tower was an adventure, we didn’t even know what we had coming. We took off from the station at about 8 am in a motorized “canoa” or canoe, with our guide and a driver. Things were going well…cruising down the Taputini River at a nice leisurely pace…wind in my hair…the view was great. We saw quite a few birds, turtles, and butterflies. All of a sudden, after about an hour, the motor started to sputter. The driver (or Jungle Man as we called him) kept trying to yank on the cord of the motor to restart it…and then it broke off. I saw his face, and if definitely looked like he was thnking, “Ohh crap.” (I know I was). Before we knew it he ran up the side of the canoe from behind where he was stationed (don’t ask me how he did this) and belly flopped/dove off the front with the rope to pull us to shore. We were close to a muddy/sandy small bank, so we decided to do a little swimming while the “men” decided what to do. It ended up that they were going to cut down two large branches to use as 2 paddles/pushers to go up river to a bridge that we had passed about 45 minutes back. In the meantime, we had 3 people get stung by some unidentified- hurts-worse-than-a-bee-sting- insect, and one of those girls got a bunch of thorns in her foot. Whew, we were ready to get out of there! We began the journey with enthusiasm and excitement, it was as if we were on a Gondola ride in Florence! As time went on, the sun got hotter, the canoe got smaller, our stomachs got hungrier, and the conversation got stranger and stranger. Our guide and Jungle man were working their tails off to push us, dodge rocks/logs, and avoid the strong current. We just had to sit back and watch our lethargic pace, wishing there was something else we could do to help. A couple people tried to take the place of our guide to give him a break, but we found it was a very difficult task to maneuver those sticks. After about four and a half hours of this…we were soo relieved to see the bridge! From here it was about a 45-minute walk back to the station. When we pulled up to the bridge, we saw another canoe with a working engine. Jungle man said it was a “family members” so we decided we would just switch the motors and he’d bring us back to the station via canoa. We did a little more swimming during the switch, and once it was done jungle man started it up for a test run. He went for about 4 seconds until the engine flew off the back with a huge noise and plunked right into the river, sinking to the bottom. Noooo! Our faces were all aghast as we watched this happen, in the meantime a pack of about 5 wild dogs came flying down the hillside barking like crazy at the noise. We felt so bad for jungle man as well! They don’t just have a boat motor store down the road…and those things aren’t cheap! He said he could find it at the bottom and was going to get some people to help him pull it out, and there was nothing else we would be able to do. We trudged up the hill to the top of the bridge and luckily found someone from the station there with a pickup. We all hopped in, exhausted and famished, and raced back to the station. I ate and hardly had time to relax before I headed off again to the tower to watch the sun set. This time I didn’t use the gear, only gloves, and I made it okay. The sunset was definitely worth it- and I’m not one to miss out on a possible adventure! I figured I might only be here once J We stayed up there for about an hour, headed back to eat, and then I had a pretty calm night playing bananagram (speed scrabble) and chatting.

Day 4/return home

Monday we woke up pretty early to eat and head back to Coca. The trip went smoothly, nothing crazy (luckily). On my way out I reflected on everything I had experienced. I watched the trees pass by out the van window, thinking about all the possibilities ahead of me. I’d really like to come back some day, to do research or just visit, as well as travel to many other places in this vast world. You’ve done it mom, the travel bug has definitely rubbed off! I had mixed feelings about returning to Quito—time to get back to “normal” life, as I’ve become accustomed to in the past month. Time seems to be flying by, and I still have a long list of journeys waiting to be discovered. This was just another chapter in my time here, and only a couple pages in the grand book of life. J

Chulla vida! (meaning we only have one life- ya gotta be willing to live it up)


Monday, September 28, 2009

La vida Ecuatoriana

I haven't added an update for about a week... but I've pretty much just been working and going to class. Everything is going well! I'm really liking my internship still, and we haven't been too overloaded with homework yet.
As there is not much to update on, here are just a few cultural things I’ve been noticing:

Panty lines and PDA-- they're everywhere

No one ever, ever, wears shorts or sandals here. And if you see someone who is, they are definitely foreign. (or it’s while exercising in the parks on the weekends).

Guests are very important, and always welcome. Some guests also help out around the house by doing the dishes after a meal, tidying up the house, folding the laundry. (In my household anyway) But it’s not expected here. I always try to help but usually I’m turned down.

People seem to find the need to call me “niña” (child), for instance while I’m getting yelled at for using the bathroom only for customers, or when I’ve tried to tell the cab driver that he was lost (when he definitely was). I hate it.

It never fails, my mom always leaves me breakfast in the morning because my family all is out of the house before I wake up (which isn’t even very late, I’m up by 8!).

We don’t drink with our meals, or wait for everyone to be seated before we start. And my mom always is shuffling around making sure everyone has what they need before, during, and after she eats.

It’s a city, so people here dress pretty trendy. Skinny jeans, flats, high heels, and converse. I’d say European-ish. But good luck buying these kinds of clothes if you didn’t bring them. If it’s not from Ecuador, it’s suuper expensive. Anything imported is way over priced.

It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing, I will always get started at.

Breast-feeding is not a private action. Anywhere.

I don’t care how cute the kids are, I do not like when they follow me around trying to sell me things. I could go broke buying gum and candy.

Who the @%&# would want that?? (referring to a ceramic dog or other random trinket someone else is trying to sell me on the street)

If you’re 20 minutes late for something with Ecuadorians, it’s really okay. If the other person is there already, they only arrived 2 minutes before.

It's popular to add "ito" or "ita" to the end of words. Adding it to the end of a name signifies affection. Names are also shortened when this can't be done- I'm Nati to my family and people I work with. I'm really starting to like it :)

Honking. They do it like it’s their job. Not a fan

After reading this...I realize a lot of it sounds pretty negative! I don't mean for that...it's all just stuff I'm getting used to. I love the life here...it's all great :)

I'm going to Yasuni national park in the Amazon rainforest this weekend...stay tuned for details!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I <3 Bici!

Chicas de Todas en Bici...we're an unstoppable team!
I know it's been awhile since my last post, things have been pretty busy in the last week with my internship and class. I have the first weekend's worth of activities with Ciclopolis- Todas en Bici under my belt! Ah I love it...it's such a great organization! There are definitely some things that are a bit different and will take some getting used to (the methods of organizing and scheduling and what not), but as a whole it's amazing. I don't know of a city in the US that blocks of 30 km worth of city streets for 8 hours a day, once a week to promote biking!! And my sector of ciclopolis is promoting biking for Mujeres! (women) The Todas en Bici team is made up of 2 Ecuadorian girls (Anahi, Monica- both 22 I believe) and then Charlotte (my age from Macalester college) and me. Saturday I helped to teach (or more like learned!) one of the workshops we give for women. I say learn because this week we had a mechanic there, and I learned the correct way to change a flat tire. I'm glad I did! It was a bit hard to try and help in Spanish- but it was good practice. The women were all so great and eager to learn. They made it definitely worth while! They ranged in age from 15 to late 50's. Yesterday was their second to last lesson, and 8 out of the 10 are now able to ride quite well on their own. (They didn't know how at the beginning--but 7 lessons later!) For the second part of class I lead them on a ride around the huge park where we give lessons. It was fuun. I'm really excited to be a part of this organization--I hope to be able to make a difference in my short 3 months with them. The weekends are a bit exhausting...working 6:45-11:30 am saturday and 7-4:30 Sunday. Yikes! But it's worth it.

Who knows…maybe I’ll have to start a program of my own some day..

Always empowered, always inspired,


Monday, September 14, 2009

2nd weeeekend!

Today was the all-family picnic at Parque Metropolitana with everyone in the program. Ohh my what an amazing view! I hiked around a bit in the "woodland" area. The picnic was good…delicious food! That took up most of the morning/afternoon. After that, I went with Leo and his friends (Philip, Sebastian, Sesar) to Quitofest, a huge music festival. The location was awesome! It was in Itchimbia Park, which is up on a big hill that looks over the city. And of course mountains all around! The music wasn’t exactly my style—metal—but it was still pretty good. It was also freeeezing! Yikes. But I had a good time jumping around. I didn’t talk much, it’s still a bit hard for me to communicate. I made it an early night and just read a little before going to bed.

Whew. What a day! This morning I went to the English Fellowship Christian church service. I really liked it. It was mostly all in English, which may not be the best in the long run, but it was a lot more beneficial right now. It compared pretty well with The Crossing (or as close as you can get to that in Ecuador). It was weird to see so many white American type in one place! There was a good share of native Ecuadorians there, too. After church we ate soup and then packed lunch for the road. I didn’t quite get where we were going, my parents said, but I thought we were going to someone’s house. It turns out we were going to an archeological park called Cochasqui. I’d call it Ecuador’s version of Machu Pichu, but on a much, much smaller scale. Definitely not as sweet- but it was still cool to see and hear the history behind the building of the pyramids and calendars. It was about an hour and a half drive to get there…and the scenery was amazing! (like usual) Mountains everywhere…and I got a picture with Cayambe, one of the volcanoes near by. It was great- to get up there we had to go on this suuuper bumpy (or more huge stone-y) road, and my dad was just flying up it. We were going all over the place, and I just smiled and laughed out loud. It was way fun.
On the way back, there was a huge line of backed up traffic. It turns out there was an accident so they had to close one of the direct roads into Quito. This was bad news for us because we had to take a large round about way back into Quito. It ended up taking us over 4 1/2 hours to get back! Yikes. But like I’ve heard many times before, and now experienced, these types of things happen all the time in Ecuador. You just need to let it roll of your shoulders and go with it! And the drivers- wow, let me tell you. I would piss my pants driving in Ecuador! It’s a normal for cars to drive 3 wide on a 2 lane road in the mountains. People just drive right in the middle of the lane to pass (at any time) with oncoming traffic. And everyone seems to be in some sort of hurry! When traffic was backed up, and we were at a dead stop, cars would just come zooming around in the other lane and have to find a place to sneak in when oncoming traffic came. Amidst our detour, we stopped in the town of Cachi (?) and saw an amazing cathedral. (I guess that is ALL this town is about). It was another gold plated one, and we happened to get there during a service, so the music was beautifully echoing off the walls.

It was so nice of my parents to take me to Cochasqui and to see the area around Quito. They were very patient on the way back (I guess you have to be living there). The only bad part is I hardly got any homework done this weekend…Good thing I’m not here to study! Oh wait…

Friday, September 11, 2009


This morning I had my interview at CICLOPOLIS. I met Martha, the program director, at the HECUA office at 9:30 (my interview was at 10), and we didn’t end up leaving until around 9:50 (which is typical Ecuadorian time). By the time we had gone back to the office to pick up some forgotten papers, driven past the correct street, got stuck on a one way, and drove about 10 minutes out of the way…I got to the interview at about 10:15. Which was totally fine, by the way. The interview was quick and easy, we just went over what I will be doing and we talked about the dates I’ll be gone because of fieldtrips, breaks, etc. CICLOPOLIS is a sweeet organization, let me tell you. I don’t think I saw a single person over the age of 30 there! My “boss” is probably in her early 20’s, somewhere around my age. It’s a really up-beat organization. I’ll be working with Todas in Bici, which is a sector of the organization that promotes bike riding for women. This semester we are supposed 20 hours a week with our internships. My hours will mostly be spent on the weekends, which I feel is both good and bad. It’s good because the things I’ll be doing will be great! On Friday mornings, I’ll meet with a group of women over food/coffee and chat to build relationships and what not. Saturday morning we give lessons (to mostly these same women) on how to ride a bike, bike safety in the city, answer any questions they have. And then Sunday is the Ciclopaseo, which I described earlier as the citywide bike ride. These will all be awesome events. I’ll work one other morning (by morning I mean about 10 am) during the week, probably doing a bit of office work. I’ll have a lot of time during the week to explore the city and do homework and other things…but the downside is that I won’t be able to do as much traveling on the weekends. I’m still super excited to get involved, though.
After my interview, Martha drove me to the teleférico at Mt. Pichincha to meet up with the rest of the group. The teleférico is basically a cable car/gondola ride up the mountain. Once we reached the top, we could hike around on dirt paths; you are allowed to go off the beaten path, but with our program we can't (it's supposedly pretty dangerous once you get higher in the mountains...I guess people are just dying to steal from you up there). But even from where we were, it was an amazing view! We picked a pretty nice, cloud free day to go; you could see a large portion of Quito and the Andes beyond (plus 2 volcanoes, Cotopaxi included). The altitude we were at was 4100 m…you can do the conversion to feet- but we were pretty high! I took pictures...but of course they don't do it justice! Put this one on the list of must-sees when in Quito!
Tonight we went salsa dancing at a pretty fancy place with the entire group. It was a ton of fun! Expensive (for Ecuador standards)…and late (10pm-1am) but fun. Now it’s off to bed after another long, fabulous day

con amor


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Quiero ser una artista!

“Yo lloré porque no tenía zapatos hasta que ví un niño que no tenía pies”

“I cried because I didn’t have shoes until I saw a child that didn’t have feet.” This phrase is written on one of the walls in the Guayasamin art museum that we visited today. Guayasamin was an amazing artist born in Quito who got his inspiration from Pablo Picasso and Francisco Goya. If you know anything about art history, you can really see these artists come out in his work. Much of what Guayasamin painted shows the pain and suffering endured by the people, especially indigenous women and children. Although depressing and devastating, I found it beautiful. Guayasamin was also an advocate for peace and hope. Some of his paintings (as seen above- my favorites) were quite a bit more pleasant. It was an amazing museum; it was obvious by the architecture that the building was built around the art. I don’t have many pictures from the inside because we weren’t supposed to take any, but there were quite a few murals outside as well!

I also had my first experience being sick in another country! Yikes...last night I was so so sick. I'll spare you guys the details, but it was miserable. And of course, all I wanted was my mommy! But my host mom was very good to me. I think we decided it was because I ate strawberries from the local market on Monday without disinfecting them- my friend only washed them with the tap water there. Mistake. I should have known with my stomach! Ha...well you can bet I won't be doing that again!

Classes have started- quite a bit of homework already, but I've been managing. I have a lot of free time in the evening, and since I haven't been feeling well I haven't gone out much. My host brother invited me out to a discoteca tonight, but I better get well first, and I have to be up early tomorrow. Today I was still pretty queasy! I have my interview on Firday morning for my internship with CICLOPOLIS. I hope that goes well- it's kind of sad because that's the day we're going up Mt. Pichincha so I'll miss part of it. But I'll make it and come back with pictures! Until then...

paz y esperanza,

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Iglesias y bicicletas!

Me gustan muchos los domingos! A ‘ciclopaseo’ takes place very Sunday in Quito. Throughout the morning into the afternoon, many streets are blocked off to make a safe path for cyclists. There are usually about 40,000 people that ride in the ciclopaseo each week. This event is suuuper awesome; it’s put on by the organization “ciclopolis”, which is where I think I’ll be doing my internship. It’s a great way to promote biking in the city; many different people get involved. Today our group went on a tour of Historic Quito on bikes. Yes, 16 of us in one group (18 counting our guides). It was great. We rode around the city and stopped at 2 churches; the Basilica (the video shows the view of the city from the top of a tower- sorry it was so windy!) and La Compañía. They were both quite amazing. The view from the different towers of the Basilica was incredible. I’m not afraid of heights, but it was scary climbing up these super-sketch outdoor ladders in order to get to the tops of the towers. We climbed so many! And so many stairs. But it was worth it. Under the Basilica are the tombs of past presidents. We were touring with a woman whose Godfather’s tomb was there! La Compañía is a beautiful church; the inside is plated with 7 tons of gold. The sight was breathtaking. This 16th century structure took 163 years to complete, and it is the most ornate church in the country. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the inside, but I don’t think they would do it justice anyway. (Look it up on the internet!) I also really liked the paintings and School of Quito murals on the walls. Now that I’m an art history nut after last semester, I could actually appreciate the art. There was so much history there. We also saw the Historic city center- there were people everywhere! I tried 100% dark chocolate. It was disgusting. I do not recommend that. I’ve also been looking at buildings with my host mom in the past couple of days for a new Yoga studio. The views from some of them were amazing as well. I could live there. For sure.

Tomorrow We start actual classes. I also have my interview sometime this week with my internship. It’s more of a “get-to-know-you” chat”, and to make sure it is what I want to be doing. My parents think that ciclopolis is also located close to our house—that would be nice! Hm, I already have quite a bit of homework, so that’s probably what the rest of my day will consist of. I keep *almost* forgetting that I’m here to study, not just learn the language and travel! I think I’ll be back in the swing of things soon enough…



Saturday, September 5, 2009


Today was a great day. We visited Pasochoa; a protected wildlife/woodland area outside of Quito. Houses are EVERYWHERE in Quito. Driving out of the city, it was insane to see how close they were together and what kind of shape the houses were in. It looked like the projects; it was really sad to see kids outside these houses with hardly any clothes on sitting in the dirt next to the road. I kept forgetting that people actually live there. There was also TONS of trash alongside the road-plastic bags mostly. (Adopt a highway anyone?) The reserve wasn’t too far away- but our group went on a bus, and the roads were terrible once outside the city, so it ended up taking about 2 hours. The bus drivers are amazing, though- winding around on narrow gravel roads with huge potholes and dug out areas. We even had to back up a couple times to let logging trucks through. Once we arrived at Pasochoa, we were given a brief explanation of the different distances of paths we could take and the wildlife we could possibly see. We didn’t end up seeing much wildlife, but hike/view was amazing. Throughout the trip we stopped and played different interactive games focused on communication, trust, teamwork, and interpretation to get “integrated” with the culture and one another. It was a ton of fun. When it came time to eat lunch, we all had to put all of the food our family packed for us in the center and we swapped/shared. This was because EVERYONE shares almost everything in Ecuador. Food, drinks, houses— you name it. People are very generous and family/friend oriented. Lunch was a bit weird at first, but then ended up being great for the group- we just took bites of things and passed them around! It really did help us to get to know each other better. The ride home was a blast as well. We sang a large variety of different songs from Journey “Don’t stop believing” to “Apple Bottom Jeans” in a competing/battle royale game two of the Ecuadorian women taught us. It was great. Tonight 13 of us went to the Mariscal, a neighborhood about 6 blocks from my house with a ton of bars, restaurants, and shops, and we watched the Ecuador vs Columbia “playoff” futbol game for the world cup. Too bad we lost—there was quite riot throughout the town. Cops everywhere, and we did see some fights break out. We then went to another smaller bar off the beaten path and did some dancing. I finished up the night sitting at a nice outdoor restaurant/bar with 7 others chatting and watching the Brazil game. I took my first taxi home (they strongly recommend that after dark-even though it was only 6 blocks away). So cheap! 1 dollar. It was a day full of many new and exciting things- much like many more to come I'm sure!!

Estamos en fuego!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

La vida loca

WOW. That is the only word I can think to describe my experience so far. Everything is so overwhelming and new! It’s great…but exausting. I arrived Wednesday at 8 pm (After some delay in Denver/Miami). Flying into Quito was quite the experience- Quito is situated on the hillside of Mt. Pichincha and is surrounded by active volcanoes. With a population of 2 million people- the city lights were amazing! Quito extends 35 km (22 miles) lengthwise and only 3-5 km (2-3 miles) widthwise.
My mom was waiting at the airport with a sign- she hugged and kissed me on the cheek right away. Everyone is so friendly here! Driving back to my house was very interesting- Ecuador is home to many crazy drivers! Honking and cutting in front of another car is like saying hello. My mom was very good about speaking slowly so I could understand her. We had a nice conversation on the way home, and I got to stop and see their yoga studio. I live right in the city center, only 2 blocks from a line of “discotecas” or clubs. My dad and brother, Leonel, were very friendly and welcoming. There was also another guest, Rafael, staying at our home. From what I can tell, Ecuadorians always seem to have guests and willingly welcome people into their homes. We ate and drank tea and had good conversation- Nelson (dad) knows English pretty well so he could help me out when I was stuck. I was thinking about going to bed, but Leo offered an invitation to a discoteca with he and a few friends. I figured I might as well! It was very fun to go to the club and dance- about half of the music was American. I didn’t feel to out of place (maybe because it was dark) but I’m not usually one to sit back and watch while others dance and have fun! There was a lot of smoke, though. And moshing is big. There were about 5 songs where people ran in circles kicking their legs and pushing people. Not really my scene… However, the night ended well. I was exhausted and sore. It was a bit hard to go to sleep in an unfamiliar place, but I managed.
Today I got up and ate and ran some errands with my host mom, Leo, and Rafael. We did quite a bit of driving around, and I saw more of the city in the day time. One thing I found eye opening- at each stoplight people would be wondering around selling candy, gum, board games, newspapers, snacks- you name it. Many times it was women and children--quite sad. The supermarcado was fun to see, similar to the US, but one thing I thought was weird was that many items are in bags (ketchup, yogurt, milk). We bought TONS of fruits and vegetables- it will be fun to try them all. My mom also bought me beautiful flowers to welcome me!
I then unpacked my things and hung around the house before we ate a delicious meal- soup, stirfried vegetables of all kinds and an interesting (but good!) pasta salad. In Ecuador they eat big lunches in early afternoon then eat a snack or small meal in the evening/before bed. I then had my first group/class orientation this evening. It was nice to meet with everyone and speak a little English! I finished up the day watching a movie in Spanish with Leo and chatting with him- it was a good way to practice my spanish! Whew…after this detailed account, I’m off to bed- I have to be back at the HECUA office at 8:30 am. And I have an exam already! Yikes…

Muchos besos,

Don't worry- they won't all be this long!