Laundry day

For the past 7 1/2 months “laundry day” has not meant throw my clothes in the washer and then remember to move them to the dryer a little while later. Rather, it is a several-hour affair (depending on the quantity) where I hand wash each item in the sink outside my apartment door (next to my stove which is also outside since there is no room for it inside) and then hang them out to dry on the terrace around the corner. From there, I usually wait a minimum of 24-hours before everything fully dries in the damp La Mana air. Needless to say, if I need an item of clothing washed I better plan carefully. Recently, I have started taking some things to the laundry service place just around the corner. There, I drop my clothing off and when I pick it up a day later it is washed, dried, folded, and smells like a field of flowers and I pay only 40 cents per kilo. I have mostly been doing this with larger items that are harder to clean– like sheets and towels– and to save time since I have been traveling more these past few months. I could do this all the time, but I actually enjoy hand-washing my clothes. I developed a positive relationship to it back in the days of crutches and boots and a sprained ankle, as it was one of the few things I could do around the house with only one leg. (Although it took me a little longer to hobble with a basket of clothes to the terrace with crutches than it does now.) It was so hard not to be able to do anything for myself during those long weeks and months of injury that it felt amazing to be able to do something so satisfying like wash my clothes. And the view of the mountains and light breeze blowing outside aren’t too bad either!

La Mana Livin’

P1160553

I have been meaning to do posts like this for a while, so I suppose now that I have less than three months left it would be a good time to start! In addition to grandiose travels and adventures and experiences, there are also a lot of smaller moments of my time here that I would like to share.

Like this scene I see every other Saturday: the scene of dozens of people lined up outside the bank across from my apartment. In fact, this is the scene at every bank in town. This is one of the first things I saw on my first full day (a Saturday) in La Mana way back in October. As it turns out, these people are waiting to withdraw their paychecks that are put into their bank accounts by the government every other week. While I can never understand the logic behind standing in line for hours when you could just come back at a later time when everyone is done, I suppose I also can’t truly understand what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck either.

The aftermath of the earthquake

In the almost two weeks that have passed since the 7.8 magnitude struck Ecuador, so much has happened and changed that I can hardly begin to process it all—more or less try to convert it into coherent words. But I want to try anyway, partially for my own healing but also to share with you what is going on here and what will continue to happen even though other news has taken precedence in the international outlets and the world moves on.

The first week following the quake on Saturday were extremely hard. Full disclosure: I broke down crying at least once every single day, and I walked around in tremendous fear of everything moving around me again. Those fears were only confounded by the repeated aftershocks that kept shuddering through the earth—some even so strong that they were classifieds as separate earthquakes. There was nothing as strong or as frightening as the first one, but that didn’t do much to calm my fears and feeling of an overwhelming lack of control and uncertainty. Despite being surrounded by people, I still felt alone and in need of serious feelings validation. (Getting away and visiting my Ecuadorian family in another city for the weekend was luckily the exact remedy I needed.)

On top of all that, I saw photos and videos of destruction on the TV screens of every restaurant, store, or home I passed through. Even those small glimpses were devastating and made my heart jolt thinking of those trapped below the rubble, living on the streets, and with lives that are forever changed. There is a feeling of somberness throughout the country. Everything feels just a tiny bit quieter. Conversations with people follow the same general pattern of: where were you during the earthquake?, did you feel it?, it’s so sad isn’t it? But at least we are okay.

According to all the news I see on TV or that I read on the internet, the death toll has surpassed 650 people with 12,500 injured and 58 still reported missing. There is no possible way to count all the others that have been impacted—whether directly or indirectly—by the tragedy. I had several empty chairs in my classroom, vacated by students who were from the affected areas on the coast (mostly the province of Manabí) who had gone “home” (or what might be left of their homes) to help clean up and bury family members.

The tragedy has revealed itself in different people in different ways. For example, one of my male students was gone for over a week as he helped out back at home. This kid has a big personality. Now that he is back, he likes to shout out at least 5 times each class that he is from Manabí. I recently had to call him out for being extremely disruptive and showing other members of the class photos on his phone while we were doing another activity. Once he showed me that the photos were of the destruction and told me to “look how bad it is,” I was met with a struggle of needing to be sympathetic while also maintaining order in my already hectic class of first-semester students.

Then there is a female student of mine in another class. She is quiet and studious. She didn’t miss a day of class despite the fact that she is also from Manabí. My fellow ETA recently asked her if everything was okay, and she stated: “Yes, both my grandparents survived. And one of my uncles.” But then: “But 7 other members of my family died.” Seven. SEVEN members of her family died in the tragedy and I haven’t heard a peep about it.

I mentioned this in my last post, but the thing about Ecuadorians is that they are tough. So. Darn. Tough. They take tragedy and hardship and challenge head on and plow onward. They are proud of their country and their culture and they know they can overcome anything. They know that life is hard but they also know to love and appreciate all that they have. And their level of solidarity is unsurpassed.

I had an interesting conversation with someone about how it’s sad that people only seem to come together after a tragedy. I had to disagree, though, as in my experience here I have found that Ecuador is already a country that practices an incredible amount of solidarity. They are a small country but mighty nonetheless. All over the news I hear and see Ecuadorians talking about how they are standing together and using their combined strength to overcome, and highlighting the fact that Ecuadorians have all these traits already.

The mobilization and collaboration of the country has been amazing. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I saw EVERYONE is in on the effort. Whether they are donating money, donating diapers, or even driving to a farm to pick bananas to give, it has all been truly inspiring. The university was hopping with activity the Monday following Saturday’s quake, as the student political group had set up a table to accept goods and organize trips to said farms to pick said bananas. It was incredible, but at the same time the blasting music made it hard to focus on class. As did the groups of students coming into each class encouraging participation. While some students were generally involved and passionate, I saw others taking advantage of the situation by skipping class to “help” but rather just stand around outside the university. I struggled trying to carry on classes as normal while everyone was still clearly rattled, people missed classes to attend funerals of loved ones, and so much more.

Social media has, of course, exploded. While I am not on Facebook or Twitter, I have managed to see some of the posts made by others as they stand strong for their country. I follow an account on Instagram called “paisajeecuador593” (Ecuador Landscape—593 being the country calling code), and until just recently they posted photos including information on how and where to donate and drawings people have made that show Ecuador with a band-aid on it or the hands of other countries reaching out to help.  Ecuador’s slogan for tourism is “All you need is Ecuador,” but that has been altered on many pages to now read “All Ecuador needs is you.” Other popular ones are #FuerzaEcuador (Ecuador strength) or “Todos somos Ecuador” (We are all Ecuador). The messages are powerful and unifying, and have the ability to reach a lot of people in not a lot of time.

But then there are the issues. I saw more than one post on social media from people asking, “will anyone in Paris pray for us?” This is a direct response to the terrorist attacks in Paris several months ago. As I am sure you know, the worldwide internet blew up with people changing their profile pictures to show the French flag or posting “Pray for Paris.” Ecuadorians were no exception, as they also stood behind Paris during that incredibly difficult time. But when it came time for Ecuador to be hurt, did anyone #PrayforEcuador? Did the international community change their profile pictures to the yellow, blue, and red colors of the Ecuadorian flag? Please correct me if I am wrong, but I tend to think not.

So how and why do we prioritize some tragedies over others on social media and in our lives? Is it because Paris is a well-known and sought after place in the world and Ecuador is well…not? Is it because the attacks in Paris were man-made and the earthquake here in Ecuador was not? Is it simply because no one seems to care quite that much about Latin America as they do other places? What about the earthquake in Nepal last year? Did anyone #PrayforNepal? What about the terrorist attacks in Belgium? The school shootings all over the US? The landslides in Washington state? The list goes on and on, but the question remains: why do some tragedies get more widespread attention than others?

The response from the international community has been strong. Countries (including the US) have donated money, aid, resources, and personnel to help with the rescue, recovery, and rebuilding. But this doesn’t come without costs or unintended consequences either. Any money given in the form of a loan is a huge blow to this already economically-struggling country. Ecuador has been highly dependent on oil for decades, and now that those prices are tanking the economy is, of course, going with it. People are struggling. It was recently announced that taxes would be increased to help pay for the billions of dollars needed to recover. People are already struggling to make it by in this economy, so throw higher taxes on top of that? That’s hard– even if Ecuadorian taxes are relatively low to begin with.

Then there’s the question of how aid is organized and distributed and utilized. People have donated a ton of rice, for example. That’s awesome and definitely a staple of the Ecuadorian diet but…. How are people who no longer have homes supposed to cook it? With donations pouring in from all directions, who is supposed to organize all that and figure out what to do with it? Volunteers and good Samaritans are streaming in from everywhere as well. That’s awesome…if you know what you are doing. If not, you are potentially just getting in the way and taking away valuable resources (ie. food and water) from those who really need it.

The other side of that coin comes with intentionality. Calls for donations and subsequent donations spring up rapidly after disasters. If you contribute, what are you really doing? Do you know where your $5 are going? Do you know to what you are donating and why? Or are you just getting a pat on the back for making the world a better place? Look up international aid fraud and corruption and you will be shocked at how it often does more bad than good.

So does that mean you shouldn’t do anything? Well shoot. Now we have really gotten ourselves in a fix here. I personally say yes, you should give, but only if it is with intentionality. Don’t throw money around for the sake of saying you did a good thing. Do it because you care. Think critically about what you are doing and why, and follow up. Make sure that money you donated is going to use. And donate money rather than goods. You might think that old winter coat of yours will really make some poor homeless Ecuadorian happy, but I can assure you that the sweltering heat of the Ecuadorian coast does not call for parkas.

That’s the highly abbreviated version of my thoughts on aid anyway. I owe them to Professor Gordon at Bowdoin though, for challenging me (and others) to think critically about international aid. And while I am at it, I also want to give a big shout out to the students at Bowdoin (some of whom are Ecuadorian or part-Ecuadorian themselves) for fundraising for the Ecuadorian Red Cross last week. I hope all that donated did it with intentionality.

And you know what really sucks about all this? This earthquake is just one thing on the long list of hardships that have been thrown at Ecuador recently. There’s the economic crisis I mentioned and there are the aftershocks. But there is also the weather phenomenon El Niño which has been pounding the coast with rain for months. (The coast was hit the hardest by the quake. Despite what the news outlets might say Quito is FINE. Stop caring so much just because it is the only city you know the name of in Ecuador. Sorry I’m ranting again.) But wait! There’s more! Rain means floods! And also Zika—the mosquito-borne illness that made headlines not too long ago. On top of all the other bug-contracted diseases already present in the area. It is harder to prevent those now that people are living in tents or even just outside.

Things are fundamentally different here. People’s lives have changed forever and the country still has years and years of recovery ahead. Some things are temporary, like the roads and buildings that need reconstructed. Or the events and activities that are being cancelled por el terremoto (because of the earthquake—no other explanation needed when people say those three words). Others are more long-term, such as the economic blow, the disruption of lives, and the full devastation of some areas. Like I mentioned, the international news media outlets have already moved on to other news, and aid will eventually cease as well. But Ecuador will keep struggling. And persevering. And overcoming.

P.S. A big thank you goes out to all those you have reached out over these past few weeks. Your concern and words mean more to me than I can say!

 

Earthquake in Ecuador

At first I thought it was a huge truck driving by. I live on the main street that doubles as an inter-provincial highway, so I regularly hear and feel large vehicles barreling along. It took me just a fraction of a second, though, to realize the noise and rumble was much too loud and long-lasting to be a truck—no matter how out of tune the engines I often hear are. The shaking started subtly, and as I looked up from my perch on my couch where I was journaling, I looked right at a large plant I have and watched the leaves shake and heard things begin to rattle all around it. And then the floor began to sway beneath me. With wide eyes and a racing heart, it took me just a fraction of a second more to realize what was happening. I live on the top floor of an apartment building constructed from iron bars and cinder blocks, as all buildings here are. Besides a brief tremor I felt in Argentina, I have also never experienced an earthquake before.

Because of that, my knowledge about what to do in an earthquake is fairly limited, but I’ve read before that you should stand under doorways. (I learned later that’s not actually the best, but it was all I could do in the moment.) I leapt up from the couch, grabbed my phone, and made the short bolt for my open door, moving as if I were drunk with the now-violent movement of the building. I have a large glass hutch filled with at least 30 glass wine glasses, and I could see the doors flying open and glasses beginning to fall. I could hear and feel crashes of items falling left and right. On the outside of my apartment, I could see the roof of my building and the neighboring one waving their aluminum bodies and straining back and forth with the shifting earth. What had started as a small rattle was now a full-on sway and violent shake all at once. I sat barefoot under my doorway with my knees pulled up to my chin, helplessly grasping onto the door frame, the floor, and myself in futile attempts at making it all still, pleading for it to stop.

And then the power went out.

My heart jumped again as I looked toward the now-pitch black stairway down onto the street. The shaking wasn’t stopping and I didn’t know if I would be safer waiting it out or making a beeline for the street. I called out “HOLA!” to my neighbor, but of course we couldn’t hear me over the deafening rattling noise. Not that he could do anything to stop it either, though.

After what felt like an eternity, it finally stopped. I took a moment to look around at the darkness and listen to the dozens of car alarms blaring into the night. My insides were still churning, though, and I knew that aftershocks were a real risk, so I shakily ran back into my apartment and grabbed my headlamp, wallet, and some shoes, and headed outside again.

As I got outside onto the open-air hallway, however, I was hit with a wave of uncertainty about what to do. There was an eeriness about the city as vehicles continued to drive by seemingly unphased, car alarms continued to screech, and yet the rest of the city was quiet. None of the usual music or voices. I slowed my walk down a bit as I tried to calm myself and instead walked out, with uneasy legs, to the rooftop balcony where I hang my laundry. I was there just a minute before my neighbor joined me. We exchanged a few words of que asusto (how scary) before quietly taking our posts on the balcony railing and watching the city below.

Within a few minutes, the lights came back on. I could see some people standing outside of buildings that had lost power, but as soon as the power came back they meandered back in and continued eating or talking or whatever else they were doing as if nothing had happened. Ecuadorians are known to be ones to move on from things quickly, but did that include natural disasters? I was confused. At the same time, everything was visibly fine, so was there any need to react any differently than business-as-usual?

After a few more minutes like this, I reached into the pocket of my shorts, turned off my phone flashlight, and told my neighbor I was going to sit down for a bit. Still shaking, I sat back down on the couch where I had been when the quake started, and I opened my phone to text people the news and let them know I was alright.

Before I could say anything, though, I started receiving messages from people in Quito asking me if I was there and if I was okay because there was just an earthquake there. That stopped me for a moment. Quito? That is hundreds of miles away. If it was felt in Quito, too, then this thing was huge. Despite my lack of internet, information starting pouring into me almost immediately- as it does in this technological age. My boss at Fulbright informed me that the epicenter was near Esmeraldas—way up on the northern coast of the country. Then I used data to look up the magnitude: 7.4. When I looked again a few minutes later, though, it had been updated to a 7.8. Remember I don’t know much about what to do in an earthquake, but I know enough to know that is big. Real big.

One of the thoughts I had as I sat in the doorway and waiting for the madness to stop was, “thank God I’m not alone here.” Despite the fact that my fellow ETA and boss are out of town, I still have plenty of other contacts in La Maná that I knew I could rely on for help. But as I sat on my couch and texted wildly with shaking hands, I felt incredibly alone. I was texting people in Quito—where I had been just days before and where I have several really close friends and family members, but where I was now hundreds of miles away from. I was texting my sisters in Wyoming and Alaska who were giving advice on what to do in a future quake as well as updating me on the news (28 deaths and counting reported within minutes), but they were even farther away. Phone lines were down or busy so my calls to others to check in on them weren’t going through. But my mind kept rationalizing back and forth: everything seems to be fine so should I really clog the airwaves checking in on people? Or should I wait it out a bit? Did it look like a cry for attention that I was texting so many people about my own fears?

And then there was the selfish part. I texted two close friends asking them if they are okay (with at least 5 question marks to signify my concern), and they both eventually responded with simply si mija. (Yes, my daughter– “my daughter” being used as a term of endearment, like if we were to say “yes, sweetheart”). But that was it. There was no follow up question asking if I, too, was okay. I mean, I was clearly okay if I was able to text besides being really emotionally distraught so I guess I couldn’t blame them for not asking but also why was no one seemingly as concerned as I was????? All these thoughts filled the brain of my still-shaking body and in that moment all I wanted was someone to be there with to hug and to comfort me. All the thoughts I had about not being alone here suddenly dissipated and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of being so entirely alone. Sure, I had my neighbor just a few feet away but our short exchange of words on the roof a few minutes earlier was the longest single exchange of words we’ve made in my 6 months here, so I tended to think he didn’t want to sit and cuddle and talk about feelings.

In the midst of all this mad texting and thinking and feeling, an aftershock rippled through. It was strong enough to make everything rattle and sway again, and it lasted a few seconds. Those few seconds were enough to send my stomach churning and heart racing again, though. Luckily another friend of mine from Quito messaged me to check in and suggested I meditate. She reminded me, “you are a rock, nothing can move you.” Despite struggling to actually believe that in the wake of all that had just happened, it had an incredibly calming effect on me, and I eventually crawled into bed in an attempt to fall asleep.

And I did sleep, for a few hours at least. Around 2 am, I awoke to go to the bathroom and as my body and mind woke up more, fear and panic came racing into my gut. I started reliving the moments of the quake and thinking about it upset me greatly. As I sat on my bed and took loud, short breaths and tried to control the tears welling in my eyes, the room around me started shaking yet again. It was another aftershock. Like the others, it only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to make me just want to get out of here. But it was 2 am and in a foreign country, where did I expect to go? My apartment has always been a place where I have felt safe and happy, but now my view on it had suddenly changed. I felt trapped in it and as I looked around I just imagined everything moving and volatile rather than the stable, neutral items they used to be. The cliché line passed through my head: “it’s amazing how things can change in just a moment.”

Then came the guilt. As I checked in on the latest death toll, 77, I asked myself: “All things considered, I am fine while so many others are not. So am I really allowed to feel this way? Am I being over dramatic and self-serving?” I could only imagine how scary it must have been for others who actually experienced buildings crack or fall around them or who saw the bridge collapse in Guayaquil or who live on the coast and heard the tsunami warnings. I started thinking about natural disasters all over the world and how it is a million times worse for them. Nepal, Japan, Sri Lanka. The weight of it all did nothing to calm my racing fears.

I write this at 6 in the morning, less than 12 hours after the quake. My stomach was too knotted once again to fall back asleep. I received several messages from friends in other countries, far enough ahead in time zones to be seeing the news in the daytime. Their words offer comfort and support from thousands of miles away, but I am still left feeling alone and helpless here. Technology is an amazing thing, but it can’t replicate the physical human connection that I so crave right now. I have always had a large respect for Mother Nature, knowing that she will always win, but that was put into real perspective last night as I sat helplessly under that doorway and thought for sure that the building was going to collapse on me. No amount of phone service or local friends or anything else could have done anything to stop anything in that moment.

So here I am on a Sunday morning thinking about personal relationships, technology’s ability to connect and also disconnect us, how time can feel both so fast and yet paused at the same time, natural disasters of the world, the volatility of life, my own experience and fears, and jumping at the sound and vibration of every large vehicle driving by….and I still have to lesson plan. And sweep my floor. And make a phone call. And take a shower. As the country wakes up and sees the destruction in the morning light, it will begin to rebuild. Lives lost will be mourned, roads closed by landslides and cracks will be repaired, houses will be patched up, and bridges will be reconstructed. Life will go on, as it is already. Some parts of the country were hit harder than others, and I am counting my blessings that everyone I know is okay. My heart is saddened thinking about the destruction in places I know and to the people I may have seen or met while I was there—and to those strangers I have never met nor will ever meet. As the light finally begins to touch the city softly through the thick, gray rainclouds and mist, I think I will go take a walk. I think some literal grounding is all I need right now. I want to assure everyone back at home, however, that I am fine and thank you for your support.

Sending lots of love and gratitude to wherever you are.

 

**Update since the time I wrote this morning: more than 233 deaths have been reported throughout the country. I am struggling to process the destruction of this beloved country of mine, but I know the Ecuadorian people will stand together and rebuild. As they keep saying on all the news outlets, Adelante! (Onward!)

Contemplating the origin of species

After oversleeping my alarm and almost missing picking Meredith up from the airport at 1 in the morning, we were thankfully and joyfully reunited in Quito and prepared for our 2 1/2 week adventure ahead. I was pooped from so many travels with my parents and Meredith was in the same boat after covering the ranch while my parents were here, so needless to say we took the first few days easy. We met my friends, Marcelo and Daniel, on Saturday afternoon (March 5th) for a jaunt around Quito Old Town and then met up with Natalie (another ETA that lives in Quito) for dinner and beer at Natalie and my favorite brew pub.

DSC00507

The next day, Natalie and I ran a 5k race called “Yo Soy Huarmi” with hundreds of other women. “Yo Soy” is Spanish for “I am” and “Huarmi” is Kichwa for “Woman.” Ecuador seems to do a a lot to celebrate women and raise awareness of women’s issues, and this was one of those cases. It was a blast running in a sea of pink shirts and hats and a great way to start the day. (Although I didn’t actually register in time so didn’t get the cool pink uniform but I bought this hat for a dollar to blend in a little!)

12821615_10153443770656699_6228950664505715648_n

That afternoon, Meredith and I hopped on a bus to Papallacta, which is just about 2 hours East of Quito. There are natural thermal pools in Papallacta, which you might recall from my post back in October. We visited there with Fulbright the day after I got my boot and crutches. It was great to be back and actually do things! Mere and I were still fairly tired, so we spent a lot of time sleeping, soaking in the pools, getting a rare clear glimpse of Antisana Volcano, eating trout from the local streams (well, Mere anyway) and hiking to a waterfall. All in all a very successful few days.

On Tuesday, we woke up dark and early and headed to the airport. Destination: Galapagos!

The Galapagos Islands are located more than 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. They are part of Ecuador and make up one of its 24 provinces. You might recognize them as the famous islands where Charles Darwin developed his theory on evolution and natural selection back in the 1800’s. While we didn’t plan to make any major scientific discoveries, we definitely planned to see lots of amazing things (based on the way people only have great things to say about the Islands) and we were sure to bring Darwin’s Origin of Species book along with us as reference. (Side note: he barely mentions the Galapagos in this book but whatever. We still thought we were hilarious packing it around.)

We left Quito with a beautiful view of Cotopaxi Volcano to the south and landed in the Galapagos a short ride later. The first thing I will say about the Galapagos is that they are HOT. Dry, desert-like heat. They aren’t tropical islands like you might imagine but rather barren, sparse, former (or current) volcanic lava bed. It is similar to being in an oven. That being said, the water is crystal blue, the sky is clear, and animals abound.

P1140504
So excited she just can’t hide it! 

We spent 6 days total on the islands. We were originally going to visit 3 different islands but the 2 hour boat rides between each island became less appealing, so we decided to focus on just two. We spent our first two days in Santa Cruz, swimming in the ocean, walking around the town, visiting a turtle farm, and crawling through a lava tunnel.

On the third day, we woke up bright and hot and early to hop on a launch to Isabela Island. Look how fresh and happy we look:

P1140677

Luckily the boat ride was quite pleasant and calm so we ended the ride looking fairly similar. (Unlike other people I have heard from… ie. Natalie who puked 10 times. Sorry, Nat!) And Meredith continued to look that good in her umbrella hat all week.

The town on Isabela is smaller than that of Santa Cruz, but we still spent our first day wandering around and eating copious amounts of ice cream to beat the heat before taking a nice evening swim in the ocean. The next day, we joined a tour group for a trek to Sierra Negra y Volcan Chico (two volcano craters) for a full day of hiking. It reminded me a lot of Craters of the Moon in Idaho. We luckily left early enough to beat most of the heat permeating the dark and dry volcanic rock, and I was sure to hone my cactus-mimicking skills.

We spent Sunday morning recovering with a leisurely bike ride (all the while dodging turtles slowly crossing the road) to the Muro de las Lagrimas (Wall of Tears), a stone wall built by prisoners in the 1940’s and 50’s. The Galapagos haven’t always been the pristine destination that they are today. Historically, they were places for castaways and prisoners and even a US military base during World War II. The rest of the day was fairly restful- featuring our daily ice cream and an ocean swim.

The next day was packed, though! Despite my being sick and both of us suffering with the scorching hot weather (Wyoming prepared us for a lot of things but hot weather was definitely not one of them!), we rallied and headed out on my favorite and most anticipated Galapagos adventure yet: SNORKELING.

P1140834

The day was beautiful, the water felt amazing, and we were lucky enough to have a crew of incredibly fun and interesting people from Canada, the UK, Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Holland in our group to make for a perfect day. We saw so many aquatic animals, including sharks, sting rays, sea horses, sea turtles, seals, PENGUINS (I really love the penguins), and a wide variety of fishes.

On our way out of the snorkel area, we had to pass through a part of the water where the winds met so looked something like a whirlpool. The water was white and and blue and angry, and with every falling wave you could see exposed lava rocks. Thankfully, we had a great driver who navigated the madness like a champ, and we got plenty of photos of my scared and soaked face (soaked due to my position in the boat).

IMG_0733

After that thrill, we stopped for lunch on former lava tunnels-turned cool rock structures, watched dozens of sea turtles slowly swim by, mimicked more cacti, took lots of jumping pics, and checked out the blue-footed boobies before heading back to town.

From town, we quickly changed our clothes and hopped on a launch back to Santa Cruz for one final night.  We unfortunately didn’t get the best seats in the boat again and the water was rougher in the afternoon than in the morning, so we looked a bit like this after two hours of sun and being thrashed around:

P1140910

The next morning, we made the trek to the airport (featuring a taxi, a ferry, and a bus) and headed back to the mainland. I thought my death would come as we landed in Guayaquil, as my poor plugged ears didn’t like that pressure change one bit, but luckily I survived and made the final flight to Quito. Overall, the Galapagos were incredible, but I can say that more confidently retrospectively. I honestly struggled a lot while we were there to feel like I was achieving the “perfect, amazing” experience that everyone purports to have there, as the heat and my sickness really affected both Meredith and I. The islands are also soooo much more expensive than the mainland that our wallets were as exhausted as we were. We ended on such a fantastic note, however, that I really can’t complain. It was great to see this very different part of Ecuador as well as unique place of the world.  And I couldn’t have asked for a better travel partner! (Despite the fact that she can’t apply sunscreen so I now have Mere-sized finger print tan lines on my back haha).

And the best part? That was only the halfway point of our adventure– so as always, stay tuned for more to come!

IMG_0591
Had to post this twice because what you can’t see is that Mere is awkwardly sitting on me due to the “current”

 

I’m baaaack!

I write this from the cool, quiet confines of the university library as I plan my classes for the semester and I sip a bottle of fresh water. JK there is music blasting outside on a giant speaker (for some unknown reason), it is 80 degrees, and this water is definitely lukewarm. In other words, I am out of my gringo vacation/dreamland and back to real life and work in La Maná.

Not to say that is a bad thing. It actually feels good to be back home after my two-month hiatus away. A lot has happened in that time so I will break it up into a series of posts. Yesterday, I marked the end of my 6th month in Ecuador and the beginning of my final 4 months here. Now that there is more time behind me than ahead of me, everything seems to be going a lot faster. I have plenty of adventures and experience planned (and unplanned) ahead, so I will be sure to keep updating this blog. I also have a lot of thoughts and observations about my experience here that I would like to share as well, so be on the lookout for those posts sometime in the future as well.

But for now… here’s what I have been up to! I worked for two days after Carvnaval at the university and then I hopped on a bus out of La Maná, not to return for several weeks. That Saturday, I met my friend Marcelo in Zumbahua (about halfway between here and Latacunga, where I spend so much of my time). From there, we hopped in the bed of a truck for $1.50 to Quilotoa Crater. I visited Quilotoa when I first traveled to La Maná back in October, but this was the first time I actually got to explore it more. We spent the day hiking around the entire circumference (5 ½ hours reaching upwards of 12,000 feet in elevation at some points). The day was perfect, the company (including a local guide and his two dogs) was fantastic, and it felt amazing to be hiking around again post-ankle saga.

IMG_6491
Yep- hiked all the way around this beauty! 

We headed to Quito the next day, where I had a week-long Mid-Year Conference with the Fulbright ETAs from Ecuador, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. While we Ecuadorian ETAs were bummed to not be hosting and not traveling to a new country like the others, the conference was still a grand success and a great time to meet other ETAs facing similar and unique challenges and to recharge ideas for the second semester. Unfortunately, we 11 of the 12 of us managed to get a horrible sickness on the last night, so the next few days were spent bonding even more—mainly from Natalie’s bed, couch, and toilet. Never forget the Fulbright Plague of 2016.

Despite that, a few of us managed to rally enough to make a trip to the cloud forest, Mindo, for the day. In typical Ecuadorian fashion, we hiked to a waterfall and then had a brownie that I still dream about (made with locally-grown chocolate). I then spent the next few days in Quito before heading to the airport on the evening of February 23rd to pick up MY PARENTS.

If you are surprised that Cowboy and Cookie (as my sisters famously dubbed them when they took over our mom’s Facebook account in their time away) made the trek down south, I am too. We all know it’s a big deal when Dave makes the trek to Pinedale, more or less another country! Needless to say, I was freaking out most of the time leading up to the trip and for much of the actual trip, but they did absolutely amazing and I couldn’t be prouder or happier to have had the opportunity to share my life, experiences, family and friends here in Ecuador with the two most important people in my life.

With the help of our fantastic tour guide and friend of mine, Rafael, we did as much of Ecuador as one can in 8 days. We spent a day exploring the indigenous handicrafts market in Otavalo, hiked to and swam in a waterfall (where I thought my parents might stay forever because they loved the natural massage it gave so much!), saw monkeys in a town park, took a cable car/basket whizzing across a canyon, and had a fantastic dinner with 20+ of my Ecuadorian family members. But WAIT! There’s more! THENNNN we stopped by Quilotoa crater, explored my home in La Mana, spent two days on the beach, straddled the equator, and explored the historical center of Quito before a tear-filled goodbye at the airport. That is just the synopsis, but as you can see we covered some serious ground. Here’s a map of our relative route as well as lots of photos that can speak better than I can.

map

My heart is filled with joy and gratitude at the opportunity to have my parents here. I also couldn’t be prouder! They took on new and challenging foods, languages, culture, and place with great stride. And I had never seen them so relaxed in my life, so that was probably the biggest accomplishment of the trip. It sure was a clash of worlds to have them here since my life “there” usually feels so distant and strange, but I couldn’t be more appreciative for all these two goons have done for me. Thank you for being the best, Mom and Dad!

With my parents safely on the plane, I had just enough time to recover before my next visitor: my favorite older sister! Stay tuned for more on her visit coming up next!

Carnaval

As I write this, I am bustling around my apartment madly trying to recover from my last trip (I returned the day before yesterday) and prepare for my next one. Yesterday, I taught my last class at the university for this semester. Tomorrow, I am leaving early to do a hike around Laguna Quilotoa before spending a week in Quito for a mid-year orientation. A few days later, my parents come! (Yes, I am as shocked as you are.) Then my favorite big sissie is coming and the adventures continue! In short, I will be out and about for almost the entire 2 months I have off before classes resume again in April. I am rapidly approaching the halfway mark of my time here in Ecuador. While sometimes it feels surreal, for the most part I still feel right on track with my adventure here. I am satisfied with what is behind me and excited for what lies ahead!

This past weekend, I traveled to Latacunga for Carnaval with my adopted Ecuadorian family. Carnaval is held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. While it is inherently a Catholic holiday, it has been mixed and meshed with indigenous and modern traditions here in Ecuador to create a unique and extremely fun experience. Each region celebrates a little differently, but most include a parade or two and lots of things thrown around– from water, foam and paint to eggs and flour. I learned that water is thrown to represent new life and a prosperous agricultural year. By throwing it on others, you aren’t throwing in on the ground and thereby not wasting it and ensuring a successful season. Luckily for me and my hair, Carnaval is only played with foam and water in Latacunga. Unluckily for me, it was quite cold outside and the water was even colder. Thankfully a hot shower, a comfy sweater, fantastic company, lots of American movies dubbed in Spanish, and delicious food (including rabbit!!!) warmed me right up. Here is some photo evidence of the mayhem:

In addition to the reoccurring theme of familial love and joy that I experience every time I celebrate a holiday here, I was also struck by the community relationships. Everyone “played Carnaval” (aka threw water, etc) with each other, whether they be friends or strangers. People of all ages play, too, whether they be 3 or 93. And the best part is that everyone takes it all in good spirit and with plenty of laughter. At one point, some strangers picked me up and carried me– despite my kicking and screaming– to their backyard to be drenched with a large bucket of water. I found out later they were friends of the friends I was with and not total strangers, but it was still a blast despite the fact that I looked and felt like a drowned rat. This community, Alaquez, has the same small-town feel of my beloved home of Pinedale, so I think that brings me comfort and joy as well.

Welp, off I go! I probably won’t be able to update here for a while, but I will surely have plenty to catch up on when I return from my many escapades over these next few weeks!