Closing Thoughts on Ecuador

Remembering the truck rides to work, the smiling faces and greetings of people on the streets, and the amazing beauty of the environment around me, I thoroughly enjoyed living in Atahualpa with my host mom, sister, brother, aunt, cousins and grandma. I cannot imagine a place closer to their natural surroundings and am forever struck by the fact that the town is nestled in the mountains. I loved our weekend excursions to karaoke, cow milking, corn planting, Otavalo, Quito, and Mindo. I am in awe at the sheer green faces I see everywhere when I used to walk up away from the town centre and be physically closer to nature.

I struggled through parts of the service project, ie. carrying bags of sand and gravel down slippery and muddy mountain trails to the waterfall at the site of a bridge in the future. But I enjoyed building tables, shoveling dirt to form areas for plants to grow, hoeing grass to the sides to clear the path for more people to enjoy the town's natural beauties in the forest, and carrying signs up the mountain to show the way towards points of interest leading up to Fuya Fuya.

I learned so much in seminars about environmental responsibility, where gender plays a part, how we can persuade people to effect change in their communities, and how our environment came to be this way. I got so much closer with the whole group, through media project crunchtime, reading struggles, and mini field trips. I really feel like they are my family now - brothers and sisters, all in this together.

I also tried to take advantage of every opportunity to practice my Spanish and I can confidently say that my understanding and speaking skills have definitely improved as a result of my month in Atahualpa. There were some funny instances with my family that I remember where I fumbled with my Spanish... like the first night after work, when I tried explaining to them that we were doing a project in the forests and I said la selva instead of el bosque. And when I would tell my host sister, Andrea, every night that I was going to take a shower - voy a me banar - that she and my mom would crack up about because the correct way to say it is me voy a banar...I loved all the awkward and embarrassing moments, as well as the funny and caring and sad ones. Very positive experience in Ecuador. Such caring, funny, loving people. Voy a regresar en el futuro! :)


Fri Oct 28, 2011

Back in Quito tonight! Left my family in Atahualpa this morning around 9am on a private bus with the whole TBB group. It was really bittersweet because I knew I was moving on to new things and experiences, but I loved my family and didn't want to leave them...they had been so sweet, caring, welcoming, cute and funny. We made jokes at mealtimes and practiced Spanish all the time. I thoroughly enjoyed my month in their lives. They have convinced me to come back eventually with either my family or, in the far future, my husband and kids haha! As I said goodbye to mama and Andrea before they went off to school and work for the day, I started tearing up. Mama was filling out the evaluation for the homestay experience earlier this morning, and two things caught me when she was answering the questions. There was a question about whether she would want to do another homestay experience and she said "Solo si Katie regresa!" and then another question asked how she felt about her nueva hija after this experience and she replied that I was her daughter in every sense of the word and that she will miss me very much. :(( I am such a softie...I cried so much today because over this past month, I have felt like such a real part of their family and love them all.

I said bye to Theresita, Tom's mom (who is my great aunt), the pharmacy people, Gladys, and Greta and everyone. I also saw one of my friends from last night of the group of little girls that I had lots of Spanish conversations with at the despedida. She is so cute!! :)

It took about two hours to get to Quito. I listened to my iPod and tried reading some of Mountains Beyond Mountains. In Quito, we pulled up to the mission and dropped off our bags and then got back on the bus to EIL. I am rooming with Arden and Sarah for the weekend. At EIL, we met up with the Ecuador Gap Semester TBB group and watched their media presentations about public health in Ecuador. After the presentations,we ran quickly to El Jardin mall to grab lunch before heading to the US Embassy in Ecuador via taxis. We went with the gap semester group to the embassy and listened to Jennifer Lawson and a USAID rep named Chris talk about their work in Ecuador.

It was interesting to hear Chris' perspective and answers to our questions. But the one that stuck with me the most was when Arden asked him what the definition of development is according to him. He replied that it was when people have options of what to do with their lives.

Afterwards,I talked with Jennifer a little because she had previously danced at Mount Holyoke! It was fun to talk to her about what I planned to study and what I liked about the college and how excited I was to go in the fall of next year.

Then we hung out at the mission and waited for our friends to come back from the hospital...they had to pay good amounts of money to see the doctors...Anyways, around six, we left to go have dinner in Quicentro at Crepes and Waffles! I had a mushroom, artichoke and cheese crepe and then chocolate and mora ice cream in a cone for dessert. Delicious.

After eating, we went Cosmic Bowling in the mall with some of the gap semester people. It was super fun because it was dark and our white clothes glowed. And I bowled lots of zeros in the beginning...but ended up bowling a strike too. I was on a team with Scott, Tom, Karelle, and Hope. Tom and Hope were the highest scorers of the game but Tom beat Hope by one point!!

We walked back to the mission together around nine thirty and I got a chance to talk to Teddy and Brennen from the gap semester group so that was cool. We played bananagrams with them tonight and it was fun getting to know them :) Tomorrow we have breakfast at the mission and then a hike up Rucu Pichincha!! :/


Wed Oct 26, 2011

Whew! We didn't work the whole morning today but we had a seminar and media project worktime till 7:30pm! :( It's crunchtime!!! Reminds me of projects at High Tech :D

This morning, we took a camionetta up to Arden's house and walked a new path down to las cascadas with bags of gravel/sand/rocks on our backs. I took up the idea that others had used days before, of carrying the bag of sand IN my backpack -- it was still heavy, but better supported with my backpack straps and everything. Some of the trail was super muddy and slippery because of the recent rain...I slipped into Karelle and almost made her go down too :/ When we came back up, I felt a little nauseous and light-headed, so I didn't help take the second round of bags down. I stayed up at the top (with Sarah too, until she decided to walk home because she didn't feel well again) with all the backpacks and drank lots of water and ate my snack :) After sitting on the side of the road/sidewalk for about 15 min, (I bet I looked like a loner...) the woman who lived in the house across the street poked her head out and said "tal vez necesitas el bano?" to ask me if I was waiting there because I needed to go to the bathroom haha. I told her I was just waiting for my friends, and then shortly afterwards, she invited me over to have some yogurt. She was so sweet. I met her, her kid (que lindo!), and her mom. They were interested in knowing about what we were doing, so I told them about taking the bags of sand down to eventually build a bridge to cross the waterfall down there. It was cool because we had multiple conversations and I answered all their questions, mind you IN SPANISH! Fun communication :)

Once everyone came back up, we had finished work for the day, but decided to take advantage of our extra time before lunch to work on media project stuff. Mijal, Chris and I (because Hope wasn't feeling well...) met at Sarah's house for about an hour and a half working on the introduction, fixing some of the poems, and tweaking other aspects of the project. Mijal left when we were done, and then Tom and Chris stayed at Sarah's house with me and Sarah for lunch. Tom had come over to work with Sarah on their media project too. Almuerzo was pasta with tomatoes, onions, peppers, meat, eggs, and corn. Delicious! :) And we tried jugo de taxo (same family as passionfruit -- interesting taste...) and jugo de melon. Talked a little bit over lunch, Tia Marcia joined us, discussed the on-going joke that Sarah isn't leaving Atahualpa and staying with abuelita. So sad to think that we're leaving Friday morning!

After lunch, we showed Chris and Tom the puppies across the street and saw little baby chicks too! I picked up some more mini tissue packs at the pharmacy too, because I want to have enough for toilet paper on the Inca Trail! Will get more pocket hand sanitizer at other pharmacy tomorrow afternoon.

Seminar at 2:30. Last seminar in Ecuador!! -- How does society change? Perhaps the most meaningful seminar of all the ones we've had so far. Scott taught us about different models for change like Classical Models (mass society theory, status inconsistency, and collective behavior), Resource Mobilization, and Political Process Model. It was super interesting, but also slightly confusing at first. I learned some new key terms too. For example, Cognitive Dissonance, Pluralism, etc. We talked about how social movements begin from social/system strains, that can lead to political/capital resources from elites or indigenous organizational strength/expanding political opportunities and cognitive liberation. Overall, it gave me more food for thought in terms of my learning and purpose on TBB.

After seminar, my group pow-wowed on media project stuff HARDCORE. We added short fade-in animations on significant words of our poems and redid our slideshow. Tomorrow we will print out the script, practice the slideshow, and present at the despedida!! Good-bye party tomorrow :( + painting murals at the school! -- I gave Gladys a San Diego t-shirt today to thank her for everything she's done for us and she said she'll wear it to the despedida!


Monday Oct 24, 2011

Sorry I haven't blogged in so long!! After Otavalo, last week we worked more on different sites in Atahualpa. Besides clearing paths, we spent a day carrying bags of sand and gravel down to la cascada so that a bridge can be built there to help people cross the waterfall. Last week on Thursday, we also went to la escuela (the elementary/middle school -- el colegio is the high school here) and did presentations about the environment and what they can do to preserve nature. I was in the group that prepared presentations for the high schoolers but we didn't have enough time last week to do them too. So the other group presented to three different aged groups of elementary-middle schoolers. They seemed to enjoy the presentation and knew what they loved about nature and how they should preserve it. After the presentations, we started painting three different murals inside the school!!! It was really fun :) We painted a promise that was reiterated in the presentation "Yo prometo cuidar el medio-ambiente porque soy parte de el y me da vida," with a tree (our handprints as the leaves), a world with "Cada dia es una oportunidad para aprender. sonar. descubrir. explorar." and a book with Los Derechos for the students (responsibilities).

Then, the weekend of IST came!! Hope finally decided that she wanted to come with me to Mindo (Hope and Tom were the last ones to decide where to go) and Tom went with the Tena group. The Tena and Banos groups took the 5am bus, while the Mindo group decided to take the 7am one. However, unfortunately or not, Chris missed the Banos 5am wake-up call to get on the bus, so he ended up coming with Hope and me to Mindo -- which turned out to be fun.

We got on the bus from Atahualpa at 7am with Amanda, Kayce (both also going to Mindo), and Scott. The bus ride to Quito was pretty quiet, (we all got seats when we got on! :)) until Hope had to pee really badly... With my ever-growing Spanish vocabulary and opportunities to practice, I got up from my seat and politely asked the guy who comes around collecting money if there was a bathroom nearby. Not expecting to receive an affirmative answer, I listed options, pointing out the sides of the road or trees or anything to relieve Hope. Fortunately, he told me that we'd be near some kind of bathroom area in 3 or 4 minutes drive, so I thanked him multiple times and went back to my seat to tell Hope the good news. :) We came up to a gas station shortly and Hope jumped off and then we continued on our ride to Quito.

I don't know if it was because of that 5 minute bathroom stop, but our bus got into La Ofelia bus terminal a little after 9am and the bus schedule for Quito to Mindo on Fridays is 8am, 9am, and 4pm. We had just missed the bus!! But my group (Hope, Chris and me) decided that we needed to go to an ATM and Quicentro (to buy Hope a new camera -- because she hasn't had one since the Quito soccer game where it was stolen) so we bought tickets for the 4pm bus. Amanda and Kayce took a taxi to go catch the bus that had just left.

Then we took a taxi to Quicentro to run our errands. LOTS OF BONDING TIME... we went to multiple ATMs that didn't take Hope or Chris' cards so that was a minor setback and we had to run around the mall with our backpacks full for the weekend asking where more cajeros automaticos were, but eventually we left the mall and found one in plain sight across the street haha. We also went into an electronic superstore in the mall and got Hope a camera. That was a fiasco too, because they wouldn't take her debit card or Chris' credit card, so we had to use just cash.

When we got to Mindo off the bus, we walked around looking for a hostal (keeping an eye out for the ones we had researched, but we weren't necessarily attached to those ones). Met another student group in town and walked towards the hostal they were staying at. Decided to stay at the one across the street from theirs, called La Jardin de Los Pajaros. Originally, we just wanted to go in and see how much it costed per night per person, but the owner was so nice and invited us into a room to look at it, and we eventually stayed. We paid upfront for both nights -- I used my Spanish to communicate for us and pay the bill :) It was fun and very satisfying to practice in "real life" and have him understand me!!

We were super tired that night, but we walked out into the town for some quick pizza and soda for dinner. Lots of hostals and restaurants in town! Then we settled into our room to sleep -- watched some Spanish music videos on our TV (!), on like a Spanish MTV channel haha. Chris and Hope took the twin sized bunkbeds, so I got the big bed :)

The next day, we had breakfast at the hostal (included in the $12 per night price) -- eggs, coffee/tea, fruit plate, bread/jam. It was delicious. Then, I talked to the owner and the other woman who worked at the hostal about what we could do in Mindo. We had in mind a couple of things, but were curious what they would suggest. We ended up getting much more than we expected! They were like our personal guides to Mindo :) So nice and sweet and acommodating.

SATURDAY

8am breakfast

9am bought boletos (tickets) back to Quito on Sunday

10am horseback riding ($15)

12:30pm lunch

1:30pm zipline/canopy tour ($10)

3:30pm tour of El Quetzal Chocolate Mindo factory ($5 entrance)

6pm El Concierto de las Ranas ($3.50 -- crystal frogs, snakes, spiders, etc.)

9pm dinner....

SUNDAY

6am depart with Randy (tour guide) for birdwatching in the canopy -- saw his big 5: toucans, quetzals, woodpeckers, parrots, and cock-of-the-rock :)

9:30am breakfast on the road from Randy -- bread/jam, granadillas, coffee, bananas

11:00am walk to Mindo-Nambillo reserve, waterfalls, canopy

12pm lunch on the road -- bananas/mayonesa/queso, chicken, sausage, corn

2:30pm finished tour ($25 each for Randy), back at hostal

3pm bolted to bus for Quito -- almost missed it, but got seats :)

Two hours to Quito, but the next bus was at 6:30pm, so we bought boletos, and then took a taxi to Quicentro for dinner. Scarfed down dinner at some quick place in Quicentro, quick bathroom run and took taxi at 6:15pm. CUT IT WAYYYYY TOO CLOSE... told the taxi man to step on it and got to La Ofelia as the bus was leaving for Atahualpa!!! :-O Caught it and got back home around 8:30pm. Full exhausting weekend but well worth it :)


Sat Oct 15, 2011

We arrived in Otavalo by bus yesterday in the midafternoon after working in the morning. We settled into our hostel - roomies with Hope! Dinner last night was a mentos dinner so we are broke into our mento groups and found dinner at different places. I love my mento group, Claire, Sarah, Tom and Amanda :) I had a quesadilla and fruit chocolate crepe. We talked about the weekend plans and how we had all been doing over dinner. It was fun bonding time.

Today was the big market in Otavalo!!! The moment and day we had all been waiting for! I woke up around six and hung out till breakfast downstairs at 7:30. We split into smaller groups of three to explore the market starting at eight. Hope and Julia took off earlier in the morning for the market so we met them there. I had so much fun seeing all the handicrafts, buying stuff and getting presents for people back home in Atahualpa and back home in the U.S. I ended up spending more than I had planned or expected, but I didn't really experience buyer's remorse with any of my items so I am still happy about all my purchases :)

Lunch was with our media project groups. I ate with Mijal, Hope, Chris and Amanda at a new place. I split a chicken burrito and plate of nachos with Amanda - minus the lettuce and tomatoes of course... We sorted out our media project plans a little more and devied up parts of the poem so we could start writing it.

After lunch there were options to go to a healing tree with Amanda and Kayce or a condor place with Scott, but I ended up just walking around the market more and hanging out till dinnertime.

Before dinner, we (except Mijal Karelle Sarah and Connor) all went to go see a cock fight. Honestly, I wasnt particularly thrilled or excited to go but I was curious. It was interesting...I am glad I decided to go to have that experience and see how the locals have fun but I didnt particularly like it. I gagged a bit. The two roosters would peck at each other and when they started bleeding on their neck or wherever else,their owner would pick them up and lick their wounds to clean the blood away. And sometimes the owner would even put the rooster's head in his mouth...!

After that disturbing piece of entertainment, we went to dinner without the PLs. It was pretty good - I had a baguette with jamon and queso and mayonesa :)

Following dinner, we treated ourselves to some different pie slices with our leftover money. Pina, chocolate, manzana, y mora.

Then we split up and some of us went to a dance club for a little while and the rest of us went back to the hostel and played cards. I learned how to play a new card game called President :) It reminds me of Franks Zoo, a game I have at home, but with normal cards instead of animals.

Buenas noches!

changed December 26, 2011