caity white

Just married. Volunteering in Ecuador. Blogging about it.

On Our Way Home

Drew and I were on a small island in Bocas del Toro, Panama this week and the Beatles song “Two of Us–On Our Way Home” came on. It was such a surreal moment when we both realized that our journey is almost over,  and we just sat in silence listening to the lyrics. The song really captures how I’m feeling with coming home… We have a lot of memories and we had such a great journey but home just sounds really good right now. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHvGBiJhvb4

After our arrival in Colombia we took what should have been a 24 hour bus to Bogota but there was a lot of construction as well as a landslide along the way, and it turned out to be 30 hours. It would have been fine but there was a dad and son combo sitting in front of us and the dad laid his chair so far back that Drew was pretty much wedged into his seat, and his son kept trying to do the same but we blocked him from going as far. His knees were cramped for a good 25 hours, but he wouldn’t let me switch with him, because he knows I have claustrophobia, especially on busses.

We were happy to arrive in Bogota, and let me tell you- Colombia was breathtaking. It was beautiful and green, and somehow a little more stunning than the Andean Sierra. Bogota was really interesting, too, with wide streets, huge buildings a lot of colonial-style architecture. We got in at night, just in time to find our hostel and walk to find some food. The area we were in was very gothic, with a ton of dark bars and punk-rock people. It was really interesting, but our hostel was the worst we’ve been in.

Buena Vida Hostel in Bogotá… Don’t go there. It was filthy and smelled of cat urine, and the culprit was a fat black cat that kept appearing and reappearing in our room. Everyone there had a teburculosis-esque cough and in the morning when we woke up the whole place smelled like marijuana and other burning goods I don’t want to know about. It felt like a place where people  went to disappear from life for a while… with limp bodies just hanging off of couches and chairs staring with dead eyes. I would NOT ever go back.

We had heard rumors about crazy traffic getting to the airport, so we grabbed a cab and headed to the airport early. We  were sad not to be able to see more of Bogotá, because it really looked interesting from behind a taxi window. The traffic to the airport was fine, so we were there very early, but soon enough we were on our way to Panama City!

A lot of people talk about Quito as being very conservative, and I always felt like that was a very strange conclusion about the city that does have a great night life, art scene, and many universities. I now know that the people who call Quito conservative must have also been to Panama City. From the moment I saw the beautiful skyline, felt the cool breeze from the ocean, and saw our hostel, Panama by Luis, I knew this was a place I wanted to explore. We spent one night in the hostel and planned to take a night bus to Bocas Del Toro, which is an island paradise we’d heard a lot about from Andy and Wendy.

We decided to spend the day that we had exploring Panama City, and what  really sealed the deal for me was stepping onto a public bus. The public transit in Panama City consists of old school busses from the States that have been painted with bright colors and even decorated with streamers, stickers, and other trinkets. As I stepped onto the first bus, I squeezed my way through the aisle-packed full of people, and found a spot wide enough for Drew and I to stand. 50-Cent was blasting from the subwoofers, and many people were smiling, taping their hands to the beat, and even rapping along with the song. This was a scene not too far from what I’d seen in Quito on the biggest holidays, but for just a regular saturday, it was exciting.

The bus dropped us off at el Mercado de Mariscos, the fish market, and we walked along the port on a beautiful new walkway. The pelicans were hungry, the people were spending time with family, and Drew and I were happy just taking in everything. We had heard of a Jazz festival that was going on nearby, so we walked some spanish-style streets of Casco Antiguo and found really cute cafés, bars, and hotels. In the Plaza Catedral we found the festival. Gringos everywhere, Jazz music filling the air, and food stands with skewers, potatoes, hot dogs, beer, and whiskey. We stuck to our bottled water for cash purposes and had a great time people watching. Soon we continued on, and stopped at a cafe for the first safe and delicious salad I had tasted in a long time. I´ve missed salads. In Ecuador they would put a slice of tomato or a few raw onions on your plate and call it salad. Or if they did use lettuce it was so drenched in vinegar and parsley that it was almost not worth eating. Plus, after getting sick off of unclean veggies at restaurants I just got used to not eating them unless I could clean them myself with pure water or a drop of chemical cleaner.

(Sorry to diverge, but I can´t wait to make a good spinach salad when I get home!)

We spent the rest of the day walking around the city so that our one day was not wasted. We were tired by the end of the day when we got to the bus station that is, by the way, attached to the most gigantic mall I’ve ever seen. Our bus left around 9:oo and I was asleep in no time.

The next morning we arrived in Almirante, on the Coast of Panama. We took a water taxi out to Bocas Town, on Isla Colón. It was interesting, but we had made reservations at a hostel that was on one of the smaller islands, so we took yet another water taxi to Isla Bastimentos. Bastimentos was a beautiful jungle island with a few beaches, and lots of natural life. It is known for having red frogs that line the beaches( we only saw one) and it felt like we were truly in the middle of nowhere. The hostel was full of foreigners, and had a beautiful outdoor restaurant and tour center where we spent a lot of time. There were tables and lounge chairs, ping-pong and pool tables, and great food. There was great bird watching too, although the spiders were big enough to give me nightmares. We stayed in a dorm room with ten beds, but it was really relaxed and calm, and at night we slept like babies. There were private suites too, so there were many families and older couples too, and Drew and I were happy to be somewhere where everyone was in vacation mode. It gave us time to talk and reflect on the journey we’ve had… and stop to listen to our lives represented in a Beatles song.

We spent two nights on Bastimentos, and were completely relaxed. We went to the beach, took boat rides, and although we left with mosquito bites and heat rash (me), it was worth it. We went back to the big island, Colón, for one more night, and ate at a great mediterranean place. We were also in a dorm hostel there (Gran Kahuna, thanks for the recommendation Andy and Wendy) and it was really cool but it was FULL of Australian and American tourists who partied all night, making me feel like an old lady. Drew and I had top bunks across the room from each other, and I woke up about every 30 minutes to someone screaming laughing, or breaking something, or running into our room to fart and run (I know, I wanted to hurt someone). We sat up and made eye-contact a few times throughout the night, but figured that we had to leave early anyways, so we waited for the sun to rise and got up to catch an early water taxi back to mainland.

It was another long journey to get across the Costa Rica/Panama border, full of long lines and miscommunication. This time we were with a lot of tourists, so Drew and I ended up being translators for a lot of the day. After a total of about 9 hours traveling, we arrived here in San Jose, Costa Rica!! I am happy to be somewhere I´ve been before.. although I just barely know the area I feel like I´m on my old stompin´grounds. I can´t imagine how it will feel to be home!

We had been talking to two of our best friends, Amy and Alex, who we met in Spain, and somehow we worked it out that Alex would come down from Nicaragua, and Amy would take a couple of days off her big-girl job in San Diego and come down to meet us! Alex comes in tonight and Amy tomorrow morning (everyone send her good vibes because she is flying standby!) We hope to rent a car and see as many sights as we can in four days. It hardly will be doing Costa Rica justice but we keep telling ourselves that one day we will be back to travel more in these areas.

We aren´t exactly sure when we will be home, but as of now it looks like it might be within the next week! It has come quickly but I am excited that we´re on our way.

 

 

Our First (and last) Visitors

On January first, the day we had looked forward to all year finally came.  Andy came to visit! I also checked my email that day only to find a message from the one and only Wendy Herbers that said “Hey… I’m getting on a bus to Quito… see you in a few days!”   Wendy is a friend of mine from Creighton who has been travelling around South America by herself since september. We had originally planned that she would spend a month volunteering with us for the foundation, but when that all went to hell she decided to come anyways just to travel around with us a bit and get to know Ecuador.

So the fearsome threesome was back in action. If you didn’t already know, Andy, Drew, and I have taken some pretty fun trips together… Chicago, Baltimore, Barcelona… and we decided we better get going to make this trip just as fun. On January 2nd, a friend of Andy’s boss, Mari, took us around all the touristy parts of Quito to show Andy the Centro Historico, the Panecillo (Virgin of the Apocalypse statue) and el Mitad del Mundo (equator) where we balanced eggs on spoons and watched water go down a drain clockwise in the north and counterclockwise in the south. We drank Canelazo, ate empanadas, and finished the evening by stopping of at Waffles y Crepes, one of the best restaurants in Ecuador. Mari was absolutely wonderful, and works for a foundation that supports Ecuadorian children and orphans with disabilities.  She was truly inspirational, and Drew and I thought we might volunteer for their organization for a while, until we changed our plans completely.

The next day we took the gondola, or teleférico, up Mount Pinchincha, which overlooks all of Quito. Although it was cloudy, we still managed to get some great views of Quito. From the top of the Teleférico we went on a five hour hike ( there and back) to the top. It was cold and  TALL (15696 feet) but we had the best time laughing and talking and taking in the scenery.

Then it was time for Andy to meet our fifty kids in Machachi. We took him to eat lunch at the school which was spagetti and meatballs (good to see they are continuing international food wednesdays). Andy had a great time with us at the school, and we were happy to see all the wawas again. It was as if we hadn’t been gone at all… except many were wearing new socks or sweaters they had gotten from papa noel, and made sure to tell us about their new gear. We were excited to see the teachers too, and after school we took them out to get the best icecream in Machachi. It might be the best in the world, as it is just frozen fruit spun around in a pan over dry-ice.  Helado de Paila.. remember that if you are ever in Ecuador.

It was hard to say goodbye to the teachers again but I know that one day I will  return to see them all again.

That night Wendy came! I was so happy to see her! We only had one day all together before we sent Drew off to the jungle.. so we had lunch in Cumbayá and stopped by the clinic to say goodbye. I also got my christmas package from my mom and card from my sister!!! Andy and I then dropped Drew off with a big group of students and doctors where he began translating for a medical brigade run through Timmy Global Health www.timmyglobalhealth.org. I wasn’t sure how we would feel being away from eachother for THE FIRST TIME since September, but as I learned later, we can still survive without being together every second. I didn’t even miss him at all.. the first day.  But I had great company in our time apart.

Mayra and her family invited Andy, Wendy and I to join she and her family for another night of Karaoke. Andy won the prize of the night as he sang about six songs in spanish and stole the show. Wendy also had some choice song picks, and I went back to my go-to favorite, Everybody, by the Backstreet Boys.

The next morning we woke up early to go to Otavalo where the three of us went on wild artisan shopping sprees.

Andy and Wendy were dying to go to the beach, so we took a night bus to Ayampe. There are many other beachtowns but I knew I wanted to get another piece of Marco’s pizza and see the quiant little town again before I left. We had such a relaxing time at the beach, and and although we only spent one night, we were all feeling really refreshed after swimming, farkle-ing, drinking refreshments on the beach, and indulging in Italian food. We took another night bus home. Wendy and I had broken seats and bounced like kids on a trampoline for the 8 hours back.

The next day Wendy rested to recover from the bus nightmare but Andy and I had work to do. We spent the day preparing Drew and I´s bags so that Andy could take them home. The three of us spent the night at Mayra’s once again, and they arranged a friend to taxi Andy to the airport early.  I was sad to see him go, but Wendy and I were ready to get to the Jungle to meet Drew.

Mayra’s sister Gracie drove us to get all of our jungle shopping done… vitamins, bugspray…and then dropped us off at the bus terminal. We had an easy trip to Tena, then took a taxi to the next town over, Misahualli.

The Timmy group was staying in an Ecological reserve in the jungle. It was a beautiful summer-camp looking place with mini cabins and a large cafeteria. The sun was setting when we arrived and within seconds we knew that we´d have to load up on the bugspray. The night air screamed with insects, and the air was sticky. It was great to see Drew again, although I think he had way too much fun without me. He was glowing when I saw him and had a million people to introduce me to. He had performed surgery that day on a lipoma, or fatty tumor, and the doctor he was with wanted to share every detail. Wendy and I realized it would be hard to adjust to sharing camp with medical professsionals and future medical professionals, because everyone insisted on commenting on thier strange health cases during dinner.

You try thinking about a fatty tumor while eating flan.

Drew moved out of the boy’s bunk and into our own private cabin. It was really fun but within two minutes of being there, we had a friendly fist-sized moth floating around the room and an ant the size of my pinky finger.

Wendy and I joined the ranks of the fellow translators, and each of us were assigned to a different doctor each day.  We saw a lot of elderly patients who complained of back and hand pain after working with machetes all day, so a lot of our work was perscribing ibeprofin. Can you imagine being in the jungle working with a machete every day of your life until you are 74 years old? I just wanted to tell them to stop working and to rest but of course, it’s not an option for most.

The second day I was in the same room as Wendy and her doctor when she encountered a woman with elephantitis. I was so proud of her as she took care of this woman as if she was her own grandma. Her doctor went around to all the students calling them to see the woman’s legs, but the whole time Wendy just stayed with her asking if she could make her more comfortable. The doctor, whose first time it was seeing elephantitis, and students, cleaned out this woman’s bloated purple feet, cleaning out oozy puss and shaving off sores. The woman said that she had been to countless other doctors and none of them did anything to help her. Just cleaning and dresssing her wounds was a huge step for her, and although she was obviously uncomfortable, she was grateful for the help. I was humbled by the whole scene.

Translating for doctors made me realize my ability to be open and caring, even in the most difficult situations. My mom wouldn’t believe me if I told her, but as it turns out, I do have a heart.  I met one girl who had a tube inside of her from her head to her intestines that had been surgically placed four years ago when her brain was swelling. The doctor had ordered that the tube was removed a year later, but her family never had the money…. and here is was three years overdue. She had constant headaches and had lost her sight in her left eye and the  movement of her left hand was lessining everyday. She had taken the 5 hour bus trip to Quito to get it removed once, but when she got there, although she had an appointment, she waited for the whole day just to be told that the doctor didn’t show up that day. She has obviously suffered from some brain damage but had gone alone. She didn’t have any food, and when she finally got back to her village, she was so weak she thought she was going to die, and now fears that she can’t trust any doctor.

Then there was the Teburculosis. I was translating for a wonderful doctor and a woman walked in with her four children, all of which had some form of cough. The woman was pregnant with another child and was, too suffering from a terrible cough. When Dr. Jean heard the first set of lungs she immediately warned me to be careful not to get too close. She was still wonderful with the family but she continued to disinfect her hands. She wrote us a high-priority referral for the woman to go to the hospital and had me explain to the woman that they all might have a terribly contagious virus and she needed to go to the hospital. TImmy covers all follow-up appointments, but the woman kept reiterating that she doesn{t have much money. Each of her kids had fungus growing on thier heads and a couple even had flesh-eating bacteria. If you had told me I would be around these sicknesses before the brigade I may have run the other way… but now after being right along with the doctors, I feel like even if I get TB, it was worth it.

My joy from the brigade doesn’t even compare to Drew’s.. so you can imagine how enthralled he was with the whole process. The doctors raved and raved about him to me when we first met, and they all said he has a tone of empathy that is unlike anyone’s. It’s great to hear that from the doctors, although I could have told anyone that. Drew is going to make a great doctor. After the brigade I feel like maybe I can have some tiny part in his journey.

As for my own journey.. I TURNED IN MY APPLICATION TO JOHNS HOPKINS WRITING SEMINARS (creative writing program.) I hear back in March.. so we’ll just have to see.

As Wendy got all set to leave, Drew and I were back in Quito yesterday thinking about when we would like to be home. We had a long discusssion weighing out the decisions of staying here and working with some of the interesting foundations we have run into and going home to start figuring out how we can apply all our lessons this year to our lives, and we decided that it is best to head home.

So we are heading home,one step at a time. Although we wanted to stick around Quito for another week or so, we just decided that we were really ready to start moving North. Today we woke up early and shared a cab with Wendy. We were dropped off at the bus station and eventually got on a bus to the Colombian border. We crossed on foot and are now in the town just north of the border, Ipiales, Colombia.

We are about to catch a 24hour bus to Bogotá… wish us luck. Espero que no hay FARC.  If I get captured and killed, I love you all.

Just kidding… so far it really feels safe. But I will be in touch soon!

 

 

Holiday Update

(THIS POST WAS WRITTEN ON JANUARY 1st )I hope everyone had a wonderful Holiday season and enjoyed their New Year’s Eve. I, for one, have had an exciting couple of weeks and am still recovering from my New Years—Quito style… but more about that later.

Cuenca

After our entertaining two weeks on the beach, we got the last seats of the night from Bahia (just south of Canoa) to Guayaquil.  As we headed south along the coast we felt the climate changing until everything was hot and skicky in Guayaquil. We have heard a lot of mixed reviews (more bad than good) about the largest city in Ecuador, so we thought about staying a couple of days but decided to go straight to  Cuenca, which we’d read was a beautiful mountain town.

After our all-night bus ride on December 23rd -24th, we arrived to Cuenca around 9:00. We were immediately stunned at just how beautiful the city is. It is very colonial with interesting architecture and rivers that snake through it. The people were genial and it was absolutely the perfect place to spend Christmas.

The hostel we stayed at, Naranja Lodging, was a converted old Spanish-style house with a lot of character. Our new friend John was staying their too. He’s a painter who lives in a trailer park outside of Boulder and saves up all of his money to travel. skype our families for Christmas, Drew and John soon became buddies.  John loved to tell stories, my favorite of which involved him building a house of stone in the Mohave Desert a few years back.

Without wasting too much time resting from our travels, we decided to hit the town. Just a block away from ran into the longest Christmas parade I have ever seen. It seemed like every family in the province had come to Cuenca dressed as the holy family, the three wise-men, and even animals so there was truck after truck decorated as nativity scenes. There was intermittent folkloric dancing, too, and it was a beautiful tradition to witness.

We bought the movie ELF at a nearby store (bootlegged movies are $1.25 all over Ecuador) and snuck a couple of movies to stuff our stockings with. We also treated ourselves to Alpaca sweaters (made of Alpaca and with little alpaca patterns).  Which we both wore for our little holiday celebration, and our Christmas Dinner consisted of Pizza, Fries, and Champaign.

I woke up in the morning to a full stocking; Drew had gotten me shampoo and a toothbrush!

On the 26th we spent the day walking around the city… we did the beautiful river walk and even found a medical museum set in a creepy old hospital. Drew was in heaven.

Baños

When we planned to go to this second-most visited city, we didn’t think about the fact that every other gringo  and  Ecuadorian tourist would be there too. The small town was packed with people, and there was a long line to get into the thermal baths every day, and little space in the hostels.

We stayed in the Hostal Chiminea for a few days,  cooking our own meals, and then in a hotel for one night. We splurged and payed ten dollars a person.

Año Nuevo

For new years Drew and I were invited to celebrate with our friend Mayra (the preschool´s family psycologist) and her family. We got on the bus on December 31st to head to Quito from Baños and we immediately discovered an interesting Ecuadorean tradition. At first we just notices that very mile or so the bus would come to a complete stop.

We soon figured out that there were men in Drag mile after mile along the highway holdng up long ropes or rods of bamboo across all lanes so that traffic had to stop. They would then dance all around the cars and busses holding out their hands for donations. At first we were really thrown off, but everyone in the bus was soon Rolling with laughter watching each Group. The traffic stops continued and were even all over Quito.

Later we learned that in Ecuador, it is very common to make life-size paper machete dolls that represent the Años Viejo, or Old Year. They are called años viejos and most dolls look like old men. The beautas (men in drag) go around as if they are the widows of the year that has died, and everyone donates a few cents so as not to be humiliated by them. Kids dress up as if it is Halloween and the familias walk around at night watching the beautas do their act. We were walking around with Mayra´s nieces and nephew and Drew got attacked by almost every beauta on the walk—of course he forgot his  Money so they all begged for hugs instead haha

At midnight Mayra´s family took their Año Viejo out to the street and we all had mint cocktails while we watched the doll burn. As is tradition in Quito, almost every family had an año viejo out on the street burning, and the general public goes crazy for fireworks. By 12:15 the streets were like a war zone with fires as far as the eyes could see and fireworks Blasting every few seconds. The air was so full of smoke that you couldn´t see more than a couple blocks away, and the lightposts were just glows of light.

After burning the Año Viejo we ate a huge barbeque with delicious steak, porkchops, blood sausage, spicy sausage, chorizo, and of course, potatoes. We stuffed ourselves until Drew and I thought it must be time to sleep, but Mayra and her brother-in-law Dany had other plans.

They took us to a nearby street party where an intersection had been turned into a dance floor…DJ and all. They were blasting all sorts of music. For a few songs they went into a 70´s jam session, and as Drew and I were in the middle of dancing to Greece Lightning, they called me up over the loudspeaker (just by saying hey, blond girl) and told me my dance moves deserved a box of wine.

Most men were dancing around with homemade canelazo, which is an alcoholic fruit drink with lots of cinnamon and spices. They kept handing out shots to everyone and we were dancing salsa and having such a good time that before we knew it, it was after 4 in the morning.

Andy gets here tonight and I can´t wait to see him and show him around Ecuador!!

Cada Loco Con Su Tema (Every Crazy Person Has a Favorite Topic)

We came to Canoa thinking that we would have two weeks of focusing on Spanish, being lazy, and swimming in the ocean. I would be lying if I said that’s not exactly what we got, but what we didn’t expect was that we would meet some of the most interesting people we’ve come across this trip, and have some of the most…. interesting events happen to us.

It all started after a seven hour bus ride from Quito, we got off the bus at the last stop, which was Perenales. The bus pulled into a station that was jam-packed with people and busses, so for a minute, I was worried if we would be safe walking around with out backpacks. Luckily, as soon as we stepped down from the bus, we were bombarded with ayudantes (assistants) from other busses yelling city names at us waiting for us to react. We heard CANOA and our ears perked up, so the ayudante quickly lead us over to our next bus.

I had been holding going to the bathroom for the majority of the bus ride, so I left Drew to watch the bags as I ran to a wooden fence spray-painted with BAÑOS. The scene inside the bathroom seemed pretty typical: I paid 20 cents and went through the opening labeled Damas. Inside the bathroom, however, the dirt floor was covered with about a quarter-inch of water, making the floor a thick layer of muck. I was wearing my Chacos sandals, so all I could do was cringe and pray that nothing touched my feet. Luckily, nothing did, but  there were also no doors to the bathroom or the individual stalls, so I spent more time watching to make sure no one was looking through the entrance that was right in front of me than anything. When I went to flush the toilet, I realized that there was no water in it, but rather a large blue bucket of water with a milk carton  floating on top–it dawned on me that I was supposed to scoop up the water and pour in into the back of the toilet to flush it. Don’t tell anyone, but I skipped that part.

We got on the bus and immediately as I walked up the stairs to see three shirtless men drinking beer in the first row, I thought that this leg of the trip might get interesting.  Of course the men were rambling on and being obnoxious, but I figured it must be kosher here on the coast. We weren’t even out Perenales when the bus driver slammed on his breaks. There was a simultaneous rise of screams and cussing, and before I could say “What the hell is going on,” the driver himself appeared  in front of the drunk men and started pointing in their faces and demanding that they get off of his bus. The men started screaming back, and between punches and pushes, the level of testosterone rose so high that half the bus was screaming in excitement. The other half was cringing as the action rose. The ayudante was soon in the situation as well, as he came to the rescue with a nightstick. Thankfully, before he beat the drunkards with his baton, they got off the bus.

It got dark before we got to Canoa, so instead of wandering aimlessly to find the Sundown Inn hostel, we stopped into an internet Cafe in Canoa. We should have asked the ayudante if he knew where Sundown was, because we could have taken the bus the 2 miles outside of town. Instead we asked the owner of the Internet café and he told us it was too dangerous to walk with our bags, and the bus had just left, so we would have to get a taxi there. There aren’t many marked taxis in Canoa, so he told us to go outside and ask some of the cars at the corner if they could take us to Sundown. I was more than sketched out at the idea of asking a stranger on the corner to take us to our exact hostel… I figured we might as well tell them what room number we would be in or just hand over our valuables. Luckily (we thought at the moment) before we just found a hostel close by for the night the owner of the Internet café called after us and told us he had a friend outside that was willing to take us for $1.50. We felt relieved and walked over to his friend’s car. The driver looked like just another guy, not particularly trustworthy but not really scary either. We threw our bags in the trunk upon his urging, and we got in his 1980 something car that was rusted out on the sides. As soon as the doors shut I just grabbed Drew’s leg and started squeezing. Although it sounded like he was talking with marbles in his mouth, I figured that it was just his accent. “Dos Dolares,” he told us, “y no tengo cambio.”  He didn’t have any change. When we searched our pockets we realized we didn’t have any bills less than a ten, so I thought, well, this guy is taking our ten dollars. When Drew presented him with the fact that we only had the ten dollar bill, he made a sharp turn into the gas station. He asked the attendant for 2 dollars of gas, and then gave Drew the change back. I began to feel like this guy might be smarter than he looks.

Then he started to drive down the dirt road to sundown. He was doing okay for a minute and then suddenly something just felt wrong. I watched the way he was steering and it was exactly characteristic of a belligerently drunk driver.  He was jerking the wheel back and forth to keep the car going straight, but his attempts were failing greatly. In the headlights appeared a couple on bicycles. They were coming towards us along the opposite side of the road. Slowly but surely the cab began to veer towards them. The closer we got I could see them start to look at each other and back at the cab as if they didn´t want to believe we were headed right for them. My heart was racing, and though I was trying to just focus on squeezing Drew’s leg, soon I couldn’t do anything but let my body respond to the situation. I screamed. With less than twenty feet between us and the bicyclists, the driver swirved back to his side of the road. I turned to Drew and all I could say was “He’s drunk.” I wanted to just tell the man to stop and drop us off but we were along a dark road and I figured we must be close to the hostel. Somehow, even after we almost ran of the road a few more times, we made it to our hostel. I was out of the car so fast that I almost forgot to wait to get my backpack from the trunk. The driver tried to pull my bag out but fell over himself. I wanted to just punch him or push him over but I grabbed my backpack and Drew and I ran towards the hostel. I couldn’t sleep for hours that night because my adrenaline was sky-high.

Luckily Canoa wasn’t full of as many crazy surprises for the next few days, because on top of all the stress we had left at the foundation, and then cab of death, I needed some down time. The hostel was just what we needed… it is right on the beach with a big shared common space and kitchen, hammocks, and great company. We bought a mealplan here for breakfast and lunch everyday, so we had our meals with Mark–an Irishman who is in South America with the hopes of being a Shaman (medicine man), Kelly–a surfer-girl from Santa Barbara, and Mateo–a property manager from the East coast. This week came Jeff–a surfer from Vancouver Island, and Mike–a Canadian grandfather looking to retire here. There was also a middle aged ex-drummer from Florida–Chris– in the room next to us.

Last monday we started our Spanish classes by going to San Vicente to the market with the hostal owners/ teachers Jaime the grandpa, his son Juan Carlos, and his wife Mari Elena. The market had tons of fresh fruit and veggies like the other markets we have been to, but this one was also full of shrimp, crabs, clams, and swordfish. Every weekday since, I have taken two classes a day, 9-11 and 3-5. My teacher was Mari Elena, and for the first week, Drew took the classes with me. A lot of times during class we just ended up talking  about everything from Canoa gossip to our childhoods. It was great practice for me and I feel like I have had a great time working on my Spanish these last couple of weeks. She taught me my new favorite saying… Cada Loco Con Su Tema. She liked to jokingly use it about Mark, because her employees are all very Catholic and when they are looking at Marks posters of Krishna and watching him do spiritual meditations in the sand, they all act like he worships the devil. She kept telling me he´s a nice guy but cada loco….. It’s kinda true. Everyone I meet has a favorite subject to ramble on about. (LIKE ME AND THIS BLOG)

I am still trying to finish my grad school apps, and since the deadlines are approaching, it is TIME to finish.

The first couple of days here I had a terrible sinus infection. My eyes, cheeks, and teeth hurt so bad that all I could do was lay down or try to rinse out my sinuses in the ocean (what a hard life). When I wasn’t getting better, I mentioned it at lunch around Mark and he offered to do a cranio-something session on my to get rid of my pain. He has been traveling around doing Hayawasca journeys  (Indigenous medicine that is hallucinogenic) and studying this sort of natural plant medicine, so I had no idea what to expect. He’s a nice guy and at that point I was just ready to feel better, so I agreed to the session. After dinner one night he came to our hotel room and Drew waited outside as Mark lit sage to protect the room, and lit a candle for some other reason I can’t remember. He had me close my eyes and meditate, and then he worked rubbed my head. Later he told me the sinus infection is caused my some emotional stress that he would want to work with in another session, but he just touched the surface of my pain. Strangely enough, my sinus didn’t hurt at all for two days. But then the pain came back and instead of having another session with him, I decided to take antibiotics (We already have them as anti-malaria meds but we looked up that they are good for sinus problems. I feel great now!!!

Canoa is not my favorite town but there is one thing that I absolutely love about this town… AMALUR. Amalur is a Spanish restaurant that is run by a Spanish chef. The food is beyond delicious, and just when I started to think I might never have another truly satisfying food moment in Ecuador, we stumbled upon this piece of heaven. Our little Sundown family went there a total of four times in the last two weeks, and the chef was eventually just giving us free food. It was great. Sunday was Kelly’s birthday so Drew and I woke up early and made her pancakes, and we had a day of adventure with Mark and Kelly as we walked along the beach into Canoa and stopped at a beach-side bar for fresh Juice. We hiked to up bluffs just north of Canoa and around to an area that is only reachable at low tide. There were caves to explore but we got there just as tide was rising, so we only had time for a quick stop. It was incredible though! We ended the night with Drinks along the beach and then dinner at Amalur….. and then swinging the night away on hammocks back at the hostel. It was a perfect day and Kelly is really amazing… it was fun to have a girl friend to talk to in English:)

We´ve also had some great night playing cards at Freedom Bar next door, going into the nearby towns San Vicente and Bahía (that you take a water taxi to) and we even went to the fifth grade christmas program of Mari Elena and Juan Carlos’ daughter Lindsay.

Just when we thought we were free from children… they also have a two-year old Nicolas who is truly terrible. He is cute and I do have a new found soft-spot for kids, but he is constantly screaming or yelling or throwing something or hurting the dog. Tonight he screamed until Mateo gave him his beer bottle– and then he smashed in on the ground.

Walking to and from Canoa takes about 45 minutes. In the dark, it’s important to dodge rocks and washed up jelly fish, but it became an easy nightly routine that all of us felt safe doing. Last night was our final walk back from town, and we realized that the walk could be very dangerous. Five of us were together on the beach almost outside of Canoa when suddenly in front of us on the beach we hear a motorcycle rev it’s engine. There was no moon out, so we all froze, trying to see in front of us. The motorcycle didn’t turn it’s lights on but we watched it’s sillouette drive along the beach away from us. We had heard a few stories about night robberies, but usually the victims were alone. There had been rumors about a man and woman pair of robbers who would ride up on someone with a machete and rob them. Marielena told be that many people in the area act desperately because they need money for drugs. Anyone anywhere can act deperately I figure, so I´m always cautious. We couldn’t tell how many people were on the bike and if there was anyone else around, but suddenly we all became really aware that we were alone on a dark beach. Someone brought up the idea to walk in the water incase the bike came back, and we agreed that even if they were trying to distract us while someone attacked us from behind, being in the water might discourage them. We never heard or saw the motorcycle leave the beach, so as we walked Drew took position as the furthest one from the water, ready with the head lantern just incase we needed to shock someone. We never saw the motorcycle and we got home safe, so I am just thankful we were in a group.

I am currently sweating after a large dance party with all of the spanish teachers and students at the hostel. Despite the fun we are having, we are ready to get back to the mountains. We are leaving late tonight on a bus from Bahia to Guayaquil, and then Guayaquil to Cuenca in the morning. Wish us luck.

I can´t believe it is already christmas and aside from our empty stockings that are hanging from the hostel wall, It hardly feels like it’s even December. When I think about all our families getting together to celebrate Christmas, it makes me wish I could be there. I will miss my family on my first Christmas away, but I am the luckiest girl in the world to be here with Drew, and each adventure or unadventure we have I am learning more about us and falling more in love with him. We are thinking about all of our family and friends at home and I hope everyone remembers they have two people who love them from a long way away. Although I miss you all, I am just at home as ever wherever I am with Drew!

Merry Christmas!!

Change of Plans

If you are not in my immediate family you may not know that Drew and I have dramatically changed our plans.

We officially moved out of the suite, packed up our things, and left the foundation. Even looking back on some of my first posts, I am more and more certain that our decision to leave is for the best. Although I love every single one of the fifty kids at the school and have made lifelong friends with the teachers, I am not going to miss being overworked and stressed out like I have been for the last 3 and a half months.

Drew and I came here with the primary goal of community development and health outreach. Drew planned to have nutrition classes for the families and children and I planned to help with communication for the foundation. When we got here a lot of plans had changed, and we were expected to teach English classes to the preschoolers, and eventually we were expected to teach English  classes to the community of Machachi. We took on two classes on top of helping at the preschool, and soon were working in Machachi four days a week from 9 to 6, and if you count an hour and a half to two hours of bus commute each way, then you can see that we were out of the house for thirteen hours a day. On Fridays and Saturdays were worked in the clinic, but we rarely were finished with the work we had to do by the end of the day, and spent many nights up late grading papers and planning classes.

Our days in Machachi were always rewarding. The school is greatly understaffed, with just five adults to fifty children–counting the director, chef, and the psychologist. With one teacher to 25 students, we soon found that four extra hands were useful if not necessary in the school. We spent our days running around doing everything we could to help, which usually meant cleaning, teaching classes, helping with activities, and as I have mentioned before, simply helping kids with going to the bathroom. We might have been happy had we been only working at the school but when we sat down to really talk about how the year was going, we but just had to admit that we hadn’t had the support we thought we would, and we couldn’t help but realize that between dealing with all the extra tasks that we had been given, we hadn’t been able to focus on what we wanted to.

When it became obvious that our living situation was no longer safe, with money being stolen fr0m our room and our loosing faith in the one person that was supposed to be watching out for us at night, we decided that it was time to make a very hard but important decision.
As we thought more about being away from our friends and families for the year, we decided that although we still want to see a lot of Ecuador and look at other project possibilities, if we are going to be away from our families, grandparents, and be spending money to work our butts off… We’d better be happy.

As much as we love many things about being here, neither of us have felt truly happy or satisfied with the work that we are doing. I have learned a ton about myself, especially in the context of being a wife and being a teacher, and I truly fell in love with the kids and their families, but I feel like I could be satisfied with doing community service or volunteer work if I was in many different places working for many types of companies. And there are MANY people in the world who have just as much need.

Simply put, we didn’t want to waste our first year of marriage in a situation where we were both unsatisfied. We´ve decided to travel for a bit, exploring a few possible volunteer opportunities, and go home early to be with our families. All of this said, there are many things I am going to miss about our life here.

1. I am going to miss our neighbors in Cumbayá.

We had been getting into routines that were really fun, like buying all of our fruit at Olga’s fruteria up the street.

Or checking every day of the week at the nearby panaderia to see if the woman had pan integral (wheat bread) and when she did, stocking up on it.

Dreading the rare occasion when we had to buy anything from the store next to the panadaria, which had almost everything, but the woman who owned it was always very short with us and had the worst stink face. We made it a game that every time we went into her store we would compliment her or act really really nice, but I think us killing her with kindness just made it worse.

Drew’s strange obsession with gapingachos, which are basically mashed potatoes with spices that are formed into pancakes… an obsession which lead him to ask for $2 worth of gapingachos every time we walked past Maria and Segundo’s restaurant. This strange addiction also led to Segundo’s offering us Treintaiuno, which is the spongy lining of cow stomach. I will NOT miss treintaiuno.

2. I will miss the school faculty who have all become our family here.

Mireya started off as just another one of our bosses. She is the Director of the Odd E. Hansen Child Development Center, and she was the one who we would report to at the school. She soon made us feel more that comfortable, and when it became mandatory that all the school staff would take English classes from Drew and I, we got to see that Mireya knew quite a bit more English than we could have imagined. She became the teachers’ pet, and knew almost everything we taught. When we began to feel uncomfortable living at the clinic, she immediately invited us to her home and made us feel like we were cared about. On our last day at the school, she took us to a Parilla, or BBQ restaurant in town with the other teachers to celebrate. At the end of the meal we were all crying because we are all going to miss eachother so much but they all support our decision to leave.

Our goodbye party ended in a karaoke bar where mireya sang about 30 songs and Drew and I smashed on an amazing lineup of songs that consisted of whatever English song the bartender could think of. It was hilarious. (This was our second of 2 karaoke experiences in 2 weeks… but you’ll here more about this new hobby later on.

Myra, the psycologist, intimidated me from the first day I met her. She is beautiful and interesting, and when she is with the kids she just knows exactly what they need. She is so soft and kind that she would always drop anything she was doing to come greet Drew and I, and to help us with anything we needed. She would always explain to us why certain children act the way that they do, because she understood the family dynamics of the community deeper than anyone. She was the  biggest help and support for all of the kids, and for the ones that were being abused at home (which is sadly quite a few) She never hesitated to call parents in to explain to them how they were harming their children. In a society where Machismo is still strong and vibrant, it was really great to see such a powerful woman really speak to parents in ways that everyone else was afraid to.

Myra also invited Drew and I to her house for the Fiestas de Quito, which is an incredible scene in Quito in the first week or so of December. The historic district of Quito pretty much shuts down because there is so much dancing in the streets and firework displays. Myra took us out on the town with her sister Grace and brother-in-law Daniel, and we had the most amazing time exploring the panecillo de Quito  (big statue of the Virgin of Quito on a hill in the middle of the city) and her favorite Karaoke bar. There, we sang an interesting mix of tunes including Drew’s debut solo, WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN, by creed, and old hit of my own, ¨summer lovin¨by the cast of Greese. The night we went out for karaoke, we ended up spending the night at Myra´s sister’s house. She lives in an apartment in Quito, and the next day, we went to their mom´s house for her famous Ceviche. By the time we had eaten lunch and returned to Grace´s house, someone had set fire to the decorations outside of her door, and her house almost burnt down. It was scary!  The family was amazing though.

Patty is the chef that works harder than anyone. She cooks 4 meals a day for 50 kids, plus lunch and breakfast for the adults. The foundation never hired a janitor or cleanind crew, so she is often running around to mope and clean the bathrooms (remember: fifty children, two bathrooms, and toilets where you can´t flush paper)… Patty is a saint. She has a dog named Teddy who often escapes from her house during the day and runs close to a mile to the school to wait outside thw kitchen door for Patty to open it and see him. Teddy is so loyal, and Patty is loyal in return, saving all the scraps to feel Teddy from a Slop bucket. He is one lucky dog, because even when we went for barbecue, she gathered all the pork bones to save for Teddy. It is comical, really, but such a sweet relationship. Did I mention that Patty (and Teddy) were also members of our English class? Patty is a great student as well.

Kathy is another teacher at the school who also lived in Cumbayá. She made the long commute everyday with or before us. One day, however, when I just happened to be sick, Kathy was taking our usual bus route home when the small bus she was on was coming down the steep mountain into Cumbayá and lost it’s clutch and then it’s breaks. There was a terrible accident and she couldn´t work for two weeks. Luckily a small neck injury was all she suffered from, but she described the scene of the crash as “lots of fear and blood.”

Despite her accident, Kathy was one of the most wonderful and patient people I have ever met. She came to school everyday with a huge smile, and although she taught the class of younger kids, she did everything she could to teach the kids a ton of information  in a lot of creative ways.

Teresa was the teacher I was originally paired with on the first day. She is one of those teachers who is firm but loving, and when she was disciplining the kids, even I was afraid sometimes. The result of her motherly ways was that her class was very structured and many of the kids learned in leaps and bounds. I was shocked by how much her students grew in behavior and knowledge. Teresa has a child at the school, Sandy, who is in Profe Kathy’s class. I am really sad that every child other than Sandy is allowed a donor, because the foundation thinks it would be a conflict of interest to allow Teresa´s child to be supported by a donor. I do not think that is fair, because the foundation only pays her just a touch over minimum wage, which is $260 a month, while many other families are just barely scraping by while making minimum wage. Teresa and I became very close, especially because I gained a very special bond with Sandy. Although Sandy is very shy, she and I would play tag or dance every day as her mom was getting ready to go. I miss them so much already.

3. I will miss the kids.

Anyone who has every worked with kids, or had children of their own can probably agree with the fact that they indeed say and do the darndest things.

Since we spent half an hour each day instructing English classes, and the rest of the day trying to implement the English into the kid´s other lessons, they soon became bilingual in the most basic conversations. (As much as is possible in children from 2 to 4). Drew and I soon became Cheechas…( Thier attempt at saying Teachers) and you can bet that I was called Cheechas Andres about ten times a day, as he was called Cheecha Caty or Señorita many times throughout each day. Since Drew was the only ¨Señor¨in the school, he tried tirelessly to tell the kids not to call him Señorita, but since the rest of us fell under that category, so did Drew.

I will forever remember the kid’s little voices screaming ¨How are you?¨ as a response to my asking them the same thing. Even in the last week that we were there, only 2 or so realized that you have to answer How are you? With a statement. Sometimes Drew and I would be so determined to try to explain it that we would waste five minutes practicing the response in front of the kids, but as soon as we asked one of them, ¨How are you David?¨We would undoubtedly get the same question shouted back, ¨How are you?¨

I will forever remember Drew and I’s two famous recess games. One game involves the big bouncy balls that all the kids got at the beginning of the school year to practice playing soccer with. I would offer to punt one kid´s ball in the air, and make sure they asked me in a full sentence. Usually it would go something like ¨Al  cielo, porfavor¨ (To the sky please) and I would punt the ball in the air and they would run and chase it. It always started out pretty calm until everyone joined in and I had about thirty little children holding their balls up saying “porfavor, porfavor!” Drew´s game was a little more hectic, and it involved him gathering all the kids together and at the last moment telling them to try to catch him, at which he would sprint away from them and they would follow him in swarms. It got even more interesting when he started picking some of the kids and telling everyone to chase them. His game was always a bit more chaotic than mine. Somehow, stitches were never needed after the first day of school.

I could go on about the kids forever. Ask me sometime.

4. I will miss their families.

We got invited by one set of parents to share a meal at their house. For a week we panned on going to Sebastian´s house for dinner, and I had no idea what to expect. When we got to their house, which is one room that includes a slight divider for the kitchen and no bathroom, we were surprised to see the toys all lined up, the house perfectly clean, and a meal on the table that surpassed anything we had ever been offered. Here we were with a family that is really struggling to support their three kids, but the parents exude love and kindness to the point where they spent more than they could afford on a meal fit for a king. just so that they could welcome us and feed us well. As sad as I was when I saw their house, I had never experienced such love  and support in a simple lifestyle. We were the first visitors they had ever had over for dinner, and they were a young couple in their twenties with three kids. Anna, the mother, was nursing the 8 month old baby while we were all eating, and I she ate just a tiny portion while our plates were overflowing. Gabriel, the dad, works as a muchroom cultivator, and was telling about the mushroom plant beds. As I watched him talk I noticed that his hands showed signs of farming, with lots of cuts and nails filled to the brim with soil.

This family is just one example of the people in Machachi, and they were all similarly humbling to be around. On the last day we were there we had the christmas pagaent, and it was amazing to see the kids with thier famiies just enjoying their time together. They all wanted to hug and kiss us to say thank you and send us on our way, and they made us feel that we will always have family in Machachi. our experiences have been great, and definitely not all bad, but after saying goodbye to the families, I just can´t wait to get back to my own.

5. I will miss spending every minute with Drew

Ok, ok, maybe I won´t exactly miss it, but it has been a very unique experience to be able to grow as a married couple as we have gone through immense challenges and difficult decisions….all the while knowing exactly when the last time we each sneezed. My mom keeps reminding me that the first year of marriage is hard anyways, and to think that we are doing it all alone is just amazing. I would say that I would have to agree. For four difficult years I have been waiting until the day that Drew and I would be together. I think we both agree that being together 24/7 is not exactly what we were dreaming about, but we have made up for a lot of lost time while learning patience. When you are with someone all the time yet they are the only one that even speaks your language, you learn to get over tifs quickly, or to look at the positive attributes in your partner. That said, say a prayer for us:)

We are currently in the middle of taking two weeks of spanish classes as a hostel in Canoa, Ecuador. More info to come;)


 

Photos From Ayampe ***See Last Post***

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Holiday

Lesson 1: On holidays, buy your bus ticket in advance. The first week of November almost all of Ecuador had wednesday through sunday off of work and school for Dia de Difuntos  (All Soul’s Day) where everyone goes to the cemetery and decorates the graves of loved-ones with flowers and little gifts. It was also Independence day in the providence of Cuenca, so it was a big holiday for everyone. We were working hard to plan for our first week of English Classes that were monday and tuesday before the holiday, so it slipped our minds to plan something for the Feriado (five days off). A few days before, we did made reservations at one of the only hostels we could find availability at, so the only thing we knew was that we had to get to Ayampe, Ecuador.

No one we talked to had heard of Ayampe, but we figured out it was between Puerto Lopez and Montañita, which are two popular tourist destinations. We began asking around and realized we had many bus options to get to the coast, and as long as we got to Guayaquil, Puerto Lopez, or pretty much anywhere else on the southern part of the coast, we could find a bus to our hostel.

Tuesday came and we still didn’t have bus tickets. Mireya (the director of the school and now our adopted mother) went to a few bus terminals in Quito to see if she could find any tickets, but literally every single bus was full. Mireya was just as determined as we were to make sure we got to enjoy our break, so after our English classes, she drove us to the next town over to see if we could catch a bus heading southwest to the coast along the PanAmerican highway. We came to a bus stop that was packed with women selling bottled water, pop, grilled corn, empanadas, and ice-cream. They were preparing in the same way that I imagine peanut vendors would outside of Coors Field before the All-Stars game. They all had their children with them as helpers, and every car that passed by, they would literally run next to it and knock on the window yelling something like, “Empanaditas un dolar un dolar.”

To our disappointment, every single bus that drove by was full. Bus after bus would stop by and as the doors would open for the vendors to enter the bus to sell their items, the buss attendants would stick their arms out to do United States “so-so” guesture with their hand, which here means “no more” or full. Mireya cozied up to a police man who was there to monitor the stop. She explained that we had never been to the coast and that we just had to get on a bus. He was charmed by Mireya, but there was nothing he could do when every bus was full.

Then, from heaven or nowhere came a military man. He was a stalky Ecuadorian who walked past us with a smile, and began talking to Mireya and the police officer. Before I knew what happened, the soldier waved down a passing red pick-up truck, and Drew and I were being shuffled into the truck by the police officer and our very own Mireya. She was shouting, “Ok, you are going to go to Santo Domingo with this soldier. It´s two and a half hours away and from there you can catch a bus to the coast. Call me when you get there.” She made the sign of the cross over my body and gave us each a big hug and kiss.

I was too shocked to be scared, and any fears I might have had were partially calmed when I got into the car to see a family in the front seat. A man was driving, and his wife and two-year old were in the passenger seat. They had toys and blankets for the girl all over the car, and they were cleaning it as we got into the backseat. Drew just grabbed my hand and the car started speeding down the highway.

Lesson 2: Sometimes All You Have is Trust The conversation came easily between the five of us, and before long I felt completely comfortable. They told us a lot about Ecuador that we never knew, and even stopped along the way to buy specialty candies for us to try. Only two times in the drive was I completely convinced that we were going to die. This is where I learned my second lesson.

1. We swerved through mountain roads that put Colorado to shame, rocking back and forth with the motion as we spiralled up and down Mountain after mountain. We were in so much fog I was beginning to feel claughsterphobic just looking out the window, and all the sudden, the car jerked to pass a bus on a blind corner. The soldier said ” You know where we are right now? This is the most dangerous stretch of road in Ecuador.” I somehow kept from screaming so that I could hear the driver´s response, which was, “Yeah but in a little bit there are four lanes and a guardrail.”

2. When we stopped in a dark parking lot on the side of the highway so that the little girl, Brisa, could go to the bathroom. We all got out to stretch and as I was standing there in the dark with Drew, the Soldier, and the Driver, realizing that I had no Idea where I was on a map, and that I didn’t know anyone’s phone number. I realized just how much trust I was putting in the people I was with and suddenly felt very vulnerable. It’s something I had to just put aside, though, and I just focused on how happy I was to be in that very place at that very moment.

Lesson 3: Sometimes Things Just Work Out When we arrived in Santo Domingo, we parted with our new friends and went to the bus terminal to see if there was anything available to the coast. Most busses were full, and for a moment it seemed like we might have to stay there for a few days. We called Mireya and talked through our choices, and she told us that if we got to Porto Viejo, she was pretty sure we would be really close to our destination. Again, I had no Idea where the city was on a map, but we took a chance and bought the last two tickets on a bus that was leaving in an hour. We grabbed some fruit juice and made friends with a ten year old boy who’s mom owned the juice stand. He looked at us with admiring eyes asked us about fifty questions about ourselves and said he really wanted to learn English. He was so cute and had the biggest head of curly hair I have ever seen.

We lost track of time talking to the kid (Alex I think his name was) until suddenly it was ten minutes ’til the bus left. We ran to find it, and people were in line at our lane–labelled 13. I saw a woman punch the man she was with hard in the face. I was shocked and  he just turned and walked back into the terminal. When our bus was pulling out 15 minutes later, she was still standing alone with a scowl on her face. When it comes to bus tickets, they certainly don’t save the best for last… we were sitting in the very front of the bus and our seats were situated so that whenever any vendors came on and off the bus they yelled in our ears and tripped over our feet. At this point we were exhausted, though, so we slept however long it was to Porto Viejo.

In Porto Viejo we got off the bus and it was 3:00 in the morning or so. The holiday rush of people was still obvious, but at that hour there were a lot of lurchers too. I was quite frankly frightened and therefore relieved when we saw a bus pulling out for Puerto Lopez. We ran and hopped on our next leg of the ride. In Puerto Lopez we waited in the dark for a while until we got the courage to ask a bus driver in an idle bus about what bus we should take to Ayampe. He told us we were in the right place and said he bus goes all the way to Montañita. Considering that it was still dark and we didn’t know anything about the small town our hostel was in, we decided to take the bus all the way to Montañita. We made it to the beach in perfect time to see the sun rise over the ocean. We were tired and delirious but just so content. We walked around the city (such an interesting and funny tourist feel with everything very typical beachy and Americanized) and just sat in a square watching ominous black birds on the church steeple. We eventually found  a place to grab an early breakfast and watched as bus after bus came with flocks and flocks of tourists in beachgear.

Lesson 4: Everyone Should Visit Ayampe. We got on the same bus we´d come on, and decided at around 8:00 that we would go at least sit on the beach in Ayampe, and see when our hostel room would be ready. We got off the bus at Ayampe to find a small pueblo with less that 500 people in it. It was very modest with little shacks and a few tiny bars. We found our hostel easily, but it didn’t look like anyone was awake. We walked on to find a completely empty beach with rolling waves and collections of the most beautiful rocks of every color.

When we returned to the hostel, we saw a tall handsome man with a ponytail in the middle of the grassy part of a hostel that looked like a small group of beach bungalows. He saw us walking up and ran over to greet us. He introduced himself at Marco, and soon, a beautiful Ecuadorian woman came running up as well. She was Gabby, his girlfriend, and they immediately recognized our names from our email reservations. Gabriela immediately ran to prepare our room and Marco talked our ears off. He is Italian and he had started the Hostel Los Orishas (www.losorishashostal.com) with Gabby and their friend Guisseppi four months earlier. Marco was a chef and Gabriela was a sustainable architect. The hostel was the perfect place for them to combine their passions.

As the week went on. Marco cooked us some of the best Italian food I have ever had. Imagine being in a bungalow-looking open air restaurant on the coast of Ecuador, and you are eating huge shrimp, seafood ravioli, and THE BEST PIZZA EVER!!!!! I was beyond happy.

We spent that day just vegging out on the beach. We swam in the waves and laid out and just could not stop smiling. Our room was simple but perfect and the whole hostel is decorated with recycled art like water bottle chandeliers and bottlecap framed mirrors. We saw an iguana in the storage room within ten minutes of arriving, and later that night, I found a gecko in our bathroom. It was so interesting! I will even forgive the cockroach we saw on the restaurant floor… It was, afterall, outdoors.

Lesson 5: It’s Nice to Meet New People That day we met a couple Danny and Erika, from Canada and Ireland respectively, who were backpacking through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and eventually Colombia. They had gone on a lot of treks and had a lot of advice to give us about traveling. They don’t speak Spanish, but they got around perfectly fine without seeming to need it. They had taught English in China, so we seemed to have a ton to talk about.

One night we found ourselves sharing sangria with a middle-aged woman, Melissa who works for the U.S. Department of Foreign Services at the consulate in Guayaquil, her new Indian husband, her two kids, and her son’s girlfriend who is from Ayampe. Of course, Danny and Erika were there too. We had a great time talking and stayed up til 1am just chatting. It was random but very welcomed.

Throughout the next few days we shared meals with Danny and Erika, and even went to Aguas Blancas, a historical park run by the indigenous community whose ancestors had lived there long ago. There was a sulfur pool where you could cover yourself with mud and bathe like a hippo in the pool. It was so fun and my skin was so soft! It was incredible. You had to take a little hike to get there, and then you were able to overlook some areas of rainforest.

Drew and I also went to Isla de la Plata, which many people call “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” We saw blue footed boobies and sea turtles up close, and I even got over my fear of snorkeling long enough to see a ton of coral and fish! It was great!! In order to get there, we were on a boat with about 14 French people. It was entertaining because none of them spoke English, and two people kind of spoke Spanish. It reminded me of being on a boat with the Rensch side of the family, because they were laughing and joking and pretending to fall out of the boat the whole time, I just couldn’t understand one damn thing they were saying.

We had the best trip, but were excited to get back to the kids. Within the next few weeks Danny and Erika were in Quito and we met up with them on multiple occasions to converse over beverages. It was great to have friends for a little while, and they are just awesome.

More updates to come.. I realize that this post is about a month late.

Let me know what you think… I’d love to hear if anyone is still reading this thing.

 

First Photo Post

 

Adventure and the Opposite

I am signed up so that my I-Tunes automatically downloads the weekly podcast of This American Life, which has really become my favorite and only radio show I listen to. Now that we have reliable internet in our suite, I got the wonderful gift of having all the podcasts downloaded to my computer. Drew and I always cook dinner together, and when we have an episode of This American Life  to listen to, it is the best. The show usually contains guest speakers who are random people around the United States that tell different stories about their lives. It is especially entertaining to listen to while living in Ecuador, because some people just have the most outrageous stories about things that seem to only be possible in America.

The latest episode we listened to had five different stories that highlighted different facets of adventure; to one person, adventure was simply leaving his house with a plan and coming home having not followed the plan at all. To another, it was the time he spent eight months in a chinese prison. After listening to an episode we talked about how we consider adventure as anything from going on a trip without set plans, to trying new food.  I have been thinking a lot about the idea of adventure since we listened to the episode, and I have realized that we are on possible one of the biggest adventures of our lives.

But a lot of our time here has been the opposite of adventure, whatever that is. We have both shared a mixture of sicknesses that we have either contracted from the children we work with, or the food we have eaten. (You might argue that trying new food and working with 50 children are adventures, and I am not arguing that. But the consequences… I don’t consider an adventure.) We spent a couple of weekends in bed watching old episodes of The Sopranos, or keeping up with Glee in between bathroom runs or cough-fits. We even had to skip some work. After my bout of laryngitis, Drew and I both had stomach issues. I got a bacterial infection in my intestines after something I ate, and Drew contracted strep throat. We were cranky and tired for over a week.

I am also applying for graduate school, so I have spent a lot of time in front of my computer editing poems and fine tuning my self-reflection essays. Many times I have wanted to travel, or go on a hike, but I have talked myself into staying in to work on applications. When I sit inside our suite all day I inevitably feel like I am not taking advantage of my time here. But then I think about the adventures that we do have, and am thankful for the un-adventures too.

Marriage in itself, I am learning, is both an adventure, and an un-adventure. Especially when you spend 24-7 with your spouse. It’s definitely been an adjustment for Drew and I, who have spent four years in a long distance relationship. We are used to calling each other when we want to talk, and having plenty of time to ourselves. We have had to adjust to seeing one another at all times throughout the day, and our communication has been challenged as we are suddenly spouses, roommates, and co-workers. Although we have had times of pure frustration, we are quickly becoming even better best friends. I have considered Drew my best friend for years, but now he is the only person to talk to about everything from political and news topics, to gossip about the people we work with, and sharing fears and insecurities about life.

We have had many adventures in the past few weeks. One simple adventure is that we realized that we have access to the roof of the clinic. Right outside of or suite, there is a ladder to the roof. Last weekend  the sun was setting and we decided that we wanted to explore the roof, so we climbed the ladder. We realized that there was even another ladder that took us onto another, higher section. When we finally climbed to the top, we realized that there is a 40ft. by 40ft mountaintop heaven above our suite. The sky was glowing pink as the sun disappeared behind the Andes. As it began to get darker,we could see the city lights turn on across the entire valley of Tumbaco. It was breathtaking. Throughout the week we have snuck up on the roof a few other times. One night, the sun was setting but our boss was still in her office. The second ladder to get on the higher part of the roof is right over her office window, so Drew went first as the lookout, then we snuck up when she had her back turned. It was such a thrill! I don’t know if she would even care if she saw us, but it was fun to imagine we might get in trouble if we were caught.

Another adventure we had was planning a bike ride. We had it in our minds that we would find the cyclovia, which is a bike route from Cumbayá, where we live, to Tumbaco, the next city over. We heard a lot about the cyclovia from our new friend Daniel, who we met at a medical brigade a couple weeks ago. (He is a student at the near-by University of San Francisco and volunteers at the clinic. After the medical brigade he took us a tour of Cumbayá and Tumbaco in his truck, and showed us a lot of fun things to do, including the bike path and many bars and restaurants.) We thought we remembered where the entrance to the cyclovia was, so we got on our workout clothes and walked the mile or so to the Center of Cumbayá. We started on the street we thought it was on, and ended up walking for an hour past where we thought it was, saying “oh, it must be just a little farther.” It was a beautiful sunny day, so we weren´t complaining about walking around the city, but we finally agreed that we must have taken a wrong turn. We asked a nearby security guard and he looked as us with pity and told us “It´s all the way in the center of Cumbayá. It´s a really long walk from here.” We knew just how long the walk was, and turned around to retrace our steps.

We finally found the cyclovia, and a place to rent bikes for $5. At that time, however, we had been walking for two and a half hours and we weren´t in the mood to start a 40k bikeride. We went to a movie instead. We are still planning on going on the bikeride… it will happen one of these days.

Yesterday we had an unplanned adventure in Quito. The morning started off in Tumbaco, where we were with Neil, Daniel, and Dr. Reece on our second Medical Brigade. Every two weeks or so, there is a medical brigade to a different community around us. Neil is supposed to publicize a community health chat that takes place on Thursday, and then on Saturday Dr. Reece returns to provide anyone who shows up with a free check-up. (Noone showed up for the chat Thursday, so we weren’t expecting many people on Saturday). By some miracle, 14 people showed up in the morning. Many patience were elderly and hadn’t seen the  doctor in years. Others were pregnant women and mothers with children who needed medical attention but couldn’t afford it. I was in charge of measuring their heights and weights to calculate their BMI’s. Drew took their pressure. When the morning was over, Drew and I looked up to see a clear sky above us. We decided to explore Quito. We jumped on the green bus from Tumbaco that goes to the North bus station in Quito, Riococa. Then we hopped on the Ecovia bus that takes us across the city on the street Seis de Diciembre. We got off at a random stop with a nearby park. It was called Casa de la Cultura. Westumbled across a market in the park, and found a lot of wonderful handmade items. We didn’t have the money to buy much, but Drew bought a wedding band made out of Tagua for $1. I couldn´t find one that fit my finger, so I will have to look for one the next time we find a market.

We continued on, and were soon staring in amazement at the cement basilica. It is absolutely beautiful. So is the panecillo, which  you can see from all over the city. It is a hill in the middle of the city upon which there is a statue of the “Virgin of Quito,” or the woman of the apocalypse. The city has a very Spanish feel, with beautiful European architecture and many plazas. After the  basilica, we wound our way through the streets and found a vegetarian restaurant that had lunches for $1.80. We stopped for an interesting but delicious meal of swiss chard soup and paella.

Soon we were at the Plaza de la Independencia, where the presidential palace is. The plaza was filled with tourists, and we decided to sit and people watch for a while. We kept getting asked my children with blackened faces and hands if we wanted our shoes polished, and we spotted a few tour groups of fellow gringos (European/American Foreigners).

We kept walking and found La Iglesia de la Compañia that was built by the Jesuits in 1775. Outside it looks like just another church, but inside it is completely gold. It was absolutely beautiful. I don’t know if there is actually any real gold in the architecture, but there are different stories that say that the highest arcs are gold, while others say it is just gold paint. I am not sure, but it is beautiful! We spent a long time just kneeling and sitting in the church… It was so peaceful. We had gotten there just in time; the doors close at 4:00 and we had been the last people to enter.

We walked around for a little while longer, but figured we better head back to Cumbayá. We stopped at the store and picked up some pizza and a bottle of wine and had a night of un-adventure at home.

 

Riobamba y una Festival Andino

Friday as I was writing my last post I was simultaneously preparing last-minute details for a meeting between Odd Hannsen, Mirella, and Jennyfer (the big bosses).  Drew and I work as the go-betweens for the Foundation and the school, and  just as with any social organization that is supported by Donors, there exists a difference between how the Foundation wants the school to be run and how it really is being run. We are pretty much balancing between the two forces, trying to help all we can at the school, but also trying to help brainstorm with both sides about how it can be improved.

We weren´t in the meeting but we over heard it. The Odd Hannsen Child Development Center is a brand new project. A brand new school in a neighborhood the Foundation Valle Interoceánico has never worked with before. There are many challenges that come with any new project, and it has been a learning process for everyone– needless to say the meeting was full of opinions.

After the meeting, we caught a ride with Mirella to the bus terminal in Quito. During the carride Mirella was quieter than we’d ever heard her, and while she usually talked our ears off about the center, she was just silent. Drew and I snuck a wide-eyed look at eachother and just tried to talk to her as much as possible. Mirella puts 100% of her time and effort into making the school a success and so far, we have been nothing but impressed by all the work that she does. The foundation just has specific expectations about the organization and timeline of the day, and aren’t shy about their wishes. Drew and I were worried that she would think we weren’t supporting her by talking to Jennyfer about the fact that there is some room for change at the school.(Thrilling types of change.. like the menu for example, making transitions from the classroom to lunch more controlled, amount of napping…) but we know changes are easier said than done. By the end of the carride, we had Mirella talking about her famous musicion Grandfather who has a line of Busses named after him, to talking about possible community feistas we can have in Machachí. We knew everything would be just fine.

ENOUGH ABOUT WORK.

We were thrilled to put our work worries aside, and we were even more excited for the weekend ahead. Friday morning we had read an obscure post on lonelyplanet.com about a cultural fiesta, “Tributo de las Aves” that is an ancient Incan tradition, and continued today by the Quitchua people  at Los Lagones del Ozogoche (The Lagoons/Lakes of Ozogoche). Every year in September and October Plover birds that are flying south suddenly just plunge to thier deaths into the lakes. The story goes that the birds kill themselves because the storms over the lakes howl so ferociously they scare the birds to death, and there are some scientific theories about the changes in the atmosphere above the lakes that just wear them out. Nomatter the reason, the people see it as a blessing because they are rewarded with many meals. We both agreed that it would be an interesting sight to see, and if nothing else, we would get to eat some traditional food and learn more about the people. (Although the community supposedly eats the birds, I was not willing).

We got to the bus station by 7:00. By 7:45 we were on a bus to Riobamba–a town three hours south of Quito. The bus cost less than $4 for each of us, and we enjoyed  watching “A Dark Knight” on the plasma TV that was built into the front of the bus. It was too dark to see the towns and mountains that we past but the stargazing was amazing.

We had booked a room at “Hotel Oasis” that had been highly reccomended on lonelyplanet.com, (a reliable source for all things travelling.) so when we got to Riobamaba at 11:00, we caught a cab straight there. The cab driver was really nice. So were his wife and teenage daughter who were sharing the front seat.

Hotel Oasis was discreet amongst the other residences on what looked like a quiet street. Except for the stained glass garage, that  is. We rang the doorbell and after a minute a  small voice came over the intercom. “Hola,” the voice said, and Drew replied “Soy Andres, tiene reservaciones” (I have resevations). Soon a teenage boy came to the door in a pair of pajamas that had some sort of cartoon pattern. His eyes were half open and his hair was everywhere. “Hola,” he said and we stepped into a quiant living room with a small desk, a couch to the left, and a small wall of keys. The only flickering light came from the TV that was on in the boy´s bedroom. He then guided us to another door that was bolted closed, and showed us out back. There we were surprised by an stone path that lead  us through a quaint garden and through an arched doorway that led to a stone porch. Each room had stained glass doors. He opened the door to room #3 and we stepped into a watermelon colored room that was just big enough for a double bed and a small tv.

The first thing we did was check the shower to see if it had hot water, because we´ve been taking cold showers since the second day we got here (In my second post I bragged about having hot water. We haven´t had it since). We each took a long shower and stayed up for a while watching Liar Liar with Spanish subtitles.

The next morning was market day in Riobamba. Every Saturday, there are two markets in the town, and the streets are packed with farmers and businessmen selling everything from street-food to shoelaces on carts. The female farmers, or campesinas wear what look like fidora hats witht their hair in a low ponytail. Most also wrap their hair in “cintas” which are handmade ribbons that wrap  around and around their ponytail until it they look more like rainbow sausages. They also wear long skirts and ponchos of a solid color. Most ponchos are hot pink or bright green, and made of alpaca fur.

We went to the fresh-food market first, and spent over an hour just walking up and down each aisle, past piles of chicken heads and feet, hurrying through the tunnels of skinned hogs, and standing in awe in front of the many sizes and colors of corn.

Two dozen fruit vendors were standing by their brightly-colored inventory, and as we drooled  over one fruit stand, something would catch our eye from another. We encountered the almost half dozen banana options: Pequeños, Maduros, Verdes, Plátanos, Guineos,and witnessed the seemingly endless supply of our new favorite food: giant green mandarins.

The vegetables and herbs smelled wonderful too. Every five steps I would get a whiff of cilantro and my head would swivel around to another colorful booth. We were in awe of the prices as well:  25 oranges for a dollar, a pinapple for 60 cents.and I even bought 5 green peppers for a quarter.

Women passed us on the way to their stands with ginormous bundles of chamomile secured with blankets to thier backs. Others had not herbs strapped to them, but babies. I kept telling Drew to look at how indestructible the women seemed. I was particularly amazed that rarely anyone had a gray hair on thier head. Even the women who seemed seventy years old had only slight signs of graying.

Then there was our favorite part…the eating. There were more than twenty stations where women had set up carts and were serving all types of traditional meals. There was soup, rice, chicken dishes, mote (giant cooked corn kernals) and everything was paired with salsa de ají. We found our way to a stand with a regional dish… tortillas con queso. You may automatically think of a quesadilla when you hear about a cheesy tortilla but scratch that image from your brain. ( They do not traditionally eat those tortillas with their food here.It is a more like a thick wheat pancake with a cheesy filling. They are heaven.  We enjoyed our tortillas with coffee at a community table that was in the eating area. A campesina sat next to us and told us how beautiful we were. Drew later told me that that was the moment he remembered that we stuck out like sore thumbs. I´ve sometimes forgotten throughout this trip that we are in such stark contrast to our surroundings too, but then we´ll walk past a group of highschoolers that immediately start to whisper and laugh, or I will look down as we are riding the bus and notice that Drew´s foot is twice the size of the man´s next to him.

We then made our way to the craft market. There were rows of stands with everything from traditional ponchos and hats to typical tourist knitted purses, scarves, and belts. Ok, I lied. We each bought a cinta for our ponytails.

We took a 2 hour busride to Alousí to catch the train down the “Nariz del Diablo.” We were excited to go on train ride that is known for it´s amazing views of the Andes. It would have cost $20 a piece but we had heard it was a must-see, so we sucked it up and decided to go for it. WHen we got to the train station, however, there was only one ticket left. Drew half-jokingly asked the guy if I could sit on his lap, but the answer was a definite “no.” We didn´t want our bus trip to be for nothing, so we walked around the city for half an hour ( It´s a small city), bought some mandarinas from a small market and found a bus back to Riobamba. The drive was beautiful, so we weren´t upset at all. We winded our way back over mountains and valleys and were happy to be back at Hotel Oasis.

We had read about a great dinner spot that served Mexican food:  El Rey del Burrito. We´ve both been missing spice in our lives so were all over it. We got there and it was truly mexican themed. There were mexican cloths on all the tables and old mexican newspaper clippings on the walls. Drew didn´t even flinch when he ordered “El Rey del Burrito.”  When the two-foot-long burrito came out on a plate that took two careful hands to carry, we just about lost it. Drew had been whining about how he can never fill his hunger, and I was pleasantly surprised that he had a sufficient challenge to show him up.

(Let me just say that I brought my camera on this trip. The first time I pulled it out to use it, however, I realized that I forgot to put my memory card back in after the last time I used it. My photo professor Father Doll would not be proud. At this moment I was thuroughly angry that I couldn´t take a picture of this event)

Drew rarely looses food challenges, and he came out on top of this one, too.  And on the way home, he convinced me that we should stop and buy a candy bar.

Then Sunday was just the best day.

We took a cab across Riobamba to catch a bus to Lake Ozogoche. There were special busses for the festival, and we were the first ones there. We bought a roundtrip ticket from the festival volunteers and got on the bus. It smelled of pure gasoline and I thought it might break down before it even started moving. The bus was only half full, and there were a large group of Ecuadorian college students and a couple of others we speculated were foreigners.

The busride took nearly two hours and we watched in amazement as we passed through cloud forests that revealed small towns and communities with campesinos dressed almost identically with thier hats, ponchos, etc. The amount of poverty was striking: some people live in small hay lean-to´s and most have one room cement houses with tin roofs. The mountains are full of farm after farm, and even the most inclined areas are divided into patches of herb gardens, pastures, and turned-over soil. It is beautiful but most don´t have running water. Cows aren´t fenced in for the most part, and many are just tied up on the side of the road. There are also just packs and packs of dogs. In some places children and parents were working the land together, and again I was blown away by the women who were out herding sheep on foot.

We turned into Parque Nacional Sangay where the lakes are the bus continued to fill up with people from the community that were also headed to the festival. The stench of gasoline only grew worse as the bus made it´s way up hills so steep Drew and I were holding our breath to see if we´d make it around the next corner. But the views of lakes and rolling green mountains were breathtaking.

Finally we were there and we descended from the bus the only other gringo was waiting for us. “Sup guys, where are you from?” He greeted us. It turns out he was an Australian guy named Jake, the guy who wrote the post we had found online. He had been in Ecuador for 2 years, and ran an Eco-Tourism company- He said that he had never been to the festival but that he was really into trekking, and this park was a great place to do so. He introduced us to an Italian friend of his, and his two Ecuadorian business partners. They had also began talking to the group of Ecuadorian college students, so we all headed towards the festival together. We hiked our way around a muddy path until we heard instuments in the distance.

There were tents set up and people dressed in colorful traditional clothes looked like sprinkles on the mountainsides. Many people had arrived to the festival via horseback, and they were now offering horse rides to the few tourists. Some women were passing by pushing a cart of food and Drew offered to help push. They gratefully accepted and Drew had made new friends. They would later offer drew a free plate of food– it was potatoes with pigskin. We watched as the ceremony began with a speech and a small band playing music.

We filled up on empanadas  de quinua and agua aeromatica (a hot tea-like drink), and fried beef with mote. I was beginning to feel guilty about eating so much food when suddenly Jake suggested that we go over to look at the lakes. Drew and I were ready to go, and we saw the lakes in the distance. People were flocking to the lakes on a flat path, and I assumed we would do the same.

I should have known that the group of Trekkers wouldn’t take the straight path. Instead, we were on our way when Jake and his friends veered  straight up one of the nearby mountains. Drew followed suit, so I figured I would just go with it. We climbed up along the banks of a creek and soon we were high above the festival. Above us we saw a man cross the creek on his horse, so we climbed up to where he had crossed, and found a small path. It was so muddy and steep at a couple parts that one of our new friends, the Italian, had to litterally grab onto my backpack and push me  as my feet just skated through the muddy incline and I grabbed for anything to grab onto. We made it to the top of  the first mountain and I figured we would stop. We could see the lake and the festival below. But the guys kept on going.

For a minute I started an attempt at convining Drew that we should turn around. He was exhilerated though, and his smile was so wide that it convinced me to go on instead. Up from the backside of the mountain appeared a  man on a horse. When he got close, we saw that both he and the horse seemed miniature. He approached us and started telling us that we were on his land. ” Beautiful, isn’t it?” He pointed in the dirrection from which he came, and there we saw more horses and cows. He reached his mud-caked hand out in my dirrection and I gladly shook it. Soon he invited me to ride his horse, and it wasn´t until he jumped off that I realized that I was almost a foot taller than him. I practically didn´t even need to use the stirrup to mount it. I rode the horse for a few paces, then Drew and I said goodbye to our new friend and kept hiking. (Not before he asked for a small gift in return for letting me ride his horse. We gave him a dollar.)

Before long we had made it to the final destination. We had caught up with the rest of the group perched on boulders over a steep mountain that dropped down to the lake. Two more lakes were visible too, and as we looked out at the  lakes in amazement. It was literally in my top three most beautiful views ever, and I was proud of the hike we had done. When we realized the busses would leave in an hour and a half, the guys we were with had the idea to climb straight down the hill to the lake, so that we could take the flat path back. Before I could question the decision, the guys had packed thier things and headed down the hill. I shook my head at Drew but we went for it. One of the Ecuadorian girls felt as uncertain as I did, and soon we were friends as we were scooting on our butts down the steepest parts of the hill. The grass was up to our waists at parts and the soil was so wet that my ankles were almost rolling with every step. My knees were shaking as the only security I had was to use the grass as hand grips. The last descent was grueling, and seemed to take forever.

We finally reached horizontal ground and took in the last of the lake views as we headed back to the ceremony. We made it in time for some final songs and then continued to the bus.

We were walking alongside farmer after farmer and I as I looked around at the people and at the land, just felt absolutely content.

______

Although we have been working hard and learning a lot about preschooling, nutrition, spanish, and the bus system, our life here is simple.

As I was brushing my teeth last night something came over me. I started laughing uncontrollably. When I finally wrapped my head around why I was laughing, I tried to put it into words for Drew.

When I think about where I am in my life right now–newly married,  living above a Medical Clinic on an Andes Mountain in Cumbayá, Ecuador, volunteering as a preschool teacher, hand-feeding soup to the mouths of crying children, designing and implementing a  nutritious menu of ecuadorian food for those same kids to be healthy, starting to teach English to both literate and illiterate adults– I am just completely shocked at how I came to be here.  I told Drew to think about what our lives were like a month ago and if he could even imagine how different our lives are already.

We haven’t had hot water, I don´t have a phone,  We haven’t had TV or consistant internet, We don’t usually leave the house with more than five dollars on us, we usually don’t spend more than 2 dollars on any meal, I don’t wear makeup, or do my hair, I haven´t shaved my legs…