Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Esmeraldas

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.

Highlights:

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

Mindo!


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)

Nati



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