Since my last two posts had to deal with vocabulary words, I thought I would throw in some numbers to mix things up:
6: the number of weeks I have been in Ecuador (as of today)
6: the number of days I have been in Ecuador with two fully functioning ankles
As you may have guessed, this post will ALSO have something to do with this darn ankle of mine. Maybe I kept jinxing it by saying it is getting better, oops. Anyway, here’s another number for you:
11 days: the number of vacation days I purposefully/inadvertently took after my first week of work at the University….
Let me explain. On Saturday the 31st (Halloween for you Yankees up there in North America), Liana (my fellow English teacher), Sebastian (our mentor), and Gaby (Sebastian’s girlfriend), and I made the approximately 3.5-hour bus trek over the mountains to the city of Latacunga. If you recall, Sebastian is from Latacunga and that is where we spent our first night en route to La Maná from Quito three weeks prior. We arrived at the home of Sebastian’s parents to loving hugs and “welcome backs.” There was a lovely feeling in the air of returning to a familiar place but as a slightly different person. Liana and I both commented on how much more comfortable and settled we felt in Ecuador in even those three weeks. Another Fulbrighter, Megan, also joined us for the weekend.
We spent the weekend in Latacunga and just outside Latacunga in Aláquez with the Ramón family. That is Sebastian’s father’s side of the family. Luis is one of 11 brothers and sisters, so needless to say it was quite the affair with all the uncles, aunts, and cousins. That weekend marked Día de los difuntos, or All Soul’s Day. It is very similar to Day of the Dead in Mexico. We celebrated the lives of the family departed at their family plot in the small town cemetery. Many places in Ecuador will often celebrate by bringing food to the cemetery which to share with their departed loved ones as they transition to the next world from this one. We also ate guagua de pan, which is bread shaped like a guagua, which is the Kichwa (native Ecuadorian language) for “child.” The guagua de pan is paired with colada morada, which translates to “purple drink” and is a delicious and sweet mix of juices and fruits that is served warm. No one is quite sure where this tradition comes from, but it is believed that the drink derives from Kichwa tradition and is meant to represent the blood of those who have died, and the bread comes from European descent. Either way, it was a fantastic way to spend the long weekend with a fun, loving, and warm family. And it also felt AMAZING to be back in the cool mountain air after sweating in the tropics of La Maná.
We also had that Tuesday off in celebration of the Independence of Cuenca (one of the major cities in Ecuador), but most people traveled home that day. I had a follow-up appointment on my ankle in Quito the next day, so I traveled there with one of Sebastian’s aunts. I ended up staying the night with them, too, after spending the evening at their grandparent’s house. They live up on a hill overlooking the valley which holds Quito. I was completely enamored by the view and feeling so energized by the people I was with and the place I was in that I decided right then and there (on the rooftop of their home) to extend my visit until the next week. I was going to make it back to La Maná in time for only one class before another three-day weekend anyway, so it seemed worth it.
It was a good thing I did, too, because I ended up having to stay anyway. A series of doctor’s visits that Wednesday showed that I have a torn ligament in my ankle. DANG IT. Despite no longer needing crutches or my clunky boot, I am by no means in the clear. That was honestly incredibly disheartening news to receive, and put me into a bummed mood for the rest of the rainy, dreary afternoon.
I was met with cheer that night, though, as I reunited with another Fulbrighter, Natalie, who is placed in Quito. We had dinner at a hilariously Western-themed pizza bar. I ended up getting sick on the pizza though. Of all the strange food I have eaten in Ecuador…the one to attack my stomach happened to be pizza. The next day, though, I joined Natalie at her university, Universidad de San Francisco. It was like entering a whole new world. USF is the best and most expensive university in Ecuador, which clearly set it apart from mine in La Maná. Either way, it was really interesting to see and to witness Natalie in action. She is an amazing teacher and I shamelessly took notes on ways to improve my own teaching.
Friday morning was spent doing laundry and grocery shopping before yet another doctor’s appointment for me. It was at this appointment that I learned I had two options to heal my ligament: 1. Surgery followed by more crutches and a hard cast or 2. An alternative therapy known as plasma-rich platelets. I chose the latter, as this one involved only a small injection and no cast or surgery. The procedure was set for the following Monday. Feeling down in the dumps again, I returned home to Natalie and proceeded to devour approximately half of the carton of ice cream we had bought earlier that day. Luckily Natalie was kind enough not to judge my pursuit of emotion healing and of “No Shame November.”
A friend of Natalie’s had kindly invited us to a wedding that weekend, so on Saturday morning we hopped on a bus and made the two-hour trek to Otavalo. The town of Otavalo is well-known for having a huge local market, where vendors sell everything from rugs and purses to jewelry and pottery. It is especially big and busy on Saturdays. My ankle was hurting me some and my impromptu added vacation meant that I was low on money (oops), so I only passed through the market with the promise to myself that I would be back. Besides, I wanted to make sure I was ready to rally for the wedding that night.
Unfortunately, the friend who had invited us to the wedding was delayed getting to Otavalo because her bus broke down. I had told her I would help her take photos, though, so Natalie and I hopped in a taxi to go to the church despite feeling like major wedding crashers. (But No Shame November, right?) We luckily ran into one of Natalie’s students as soon as we walked into the church, so we at least had someone to sit next to who was actually supposed to be there. The service was a beautiful, traditional Catholic wedding ceremony. Afterward, we headed to a community center of sorts for dancing, music, tons of food, and even more alcohol. The custom in Ecuador is for someone to walk around with a large bottle of alcohol (or soda) and a plastic cup. That person will fill the cup, hand it to you to drink, then fill it again for the next person once you finish. And on it goes all night. I think of my father every time I watch those germs inevitably pass from person to person. I was able to get out of it by (truthfully) claiming that I was on medicine and couldn’t drink. This reception was also fairly similar to a wedding reception in the U.S. It even featured a bouquet toss—which I caught!!! But then I got scared and dropped it so someone else snagged it, oops. There goes my chance at not being an old spinster forever.
I tapped out early—around 1 am—even though the party was still raging well into the night. I should also note that these traditional weddings last for several days around there. The next day, Sunday, was the traditional ceremony. And by traditional, I mean traditional indigenous, as much of the population in and around Otavalo are Kichwa. The ceremony and reception were held at a beautiful country club-esque setting framed by the mountains and the bright blue sky. The bride and groom washed each other’s faces, hands, and feet with cold water that had flower petals and a sticky, poisonous plant that is activated by cold water. You could see them cringe and laugh as they were poked with the sticky plant, hortiga. The parents and then godparents also partook in the washing, and then any other couple that wanted to was also invited to join. As the couples wash each other, they also say things such as “may I wash your head of bad thoughts,” etc. The rose petals signify the good and the beautiful parts of a marriage and life whereas the hortiga represents the bad that should be cleansed. This ceremony was filled with laughter, cheers, and overall a contagious fanfare. The day overall was set in a beautiful, fun, relaxing, and loving atmosphere that is hard to describe. Perfect weather, delicious food, great company, lovely music, and an exciting new experience made for an ideal Sunday.
Back on a bus again, Natalie, Mali (the friend who had invited us to the wedding), and I made the trip back to Quito. Then, bright and early on Monday morning, I found myself back at the hospital again for the plasma injection. I got my blood drawn, stuffed my face with an amazing breakfast (since I had to fast before the blood draw) while my blood was shaken up to extract a high concentration of healing plasma, and then it was injected into my ankle an hour later. After ten minutes of icing it and instructions to be careful walking for the next three weeks, my ankle was wrapped with an ace bandage and I was on my way. Overall a mostly painless and simple procedure—especially compared with the alternative of surgery. I proceeded to spend the rest of the day doing nothing but laying in Natalie’s bed while she was at work. My only breaks were to eat ice cream, go to the bathroom, or once to lay on the couch and attempt to watch a telenovela.
When Natalie finally came home to me that evening, she brought Mali as well, who graciously brought me a cheesecake to make me feel better. I am forever humbled by the kindness I receive here. We then ordered some big ol’ burgers for dinner before crashing in bed once again. The next day, I made the 6-hour bus ride back to La Maná, getting back 11 days after I left and just in time for my evening conversation hour. Oof.
As I write this a week later, I am still mostly limping around and trying to be extra careful not to mess anything up in my recovery. I am hoping that I get a positive report when I check in with the doctor again in two weeks and that I will be on my way to physical therapy and not the operating table. It has definitely been difficult being so physically hindered during the large majority of my time here. I find it hard to sit or stand or even lie down comfortably and I am constantly in a mild state of pain. As I was slowly walking up the stairs to my apartment yesterday, I thought to myself how I have only ever walked up those stairs with two good ankles once—and that was when I looked at it for the first time. I constantly feel like a burden to others and I am always fearful of making even one wrong move and messing something up again in my ankle’s weakened state. And for someone as active as me, it has been really difficult to not be able to explore and have more agency over my movement. I cringe and mentally slap my forehead every time I think about how one small, stupid and careless misstep led to this.
But alas, I am trying to stay positive, and I know that I am in great hands. I have wonderful people watching out for me here, I have received great medical care in Quito, and I am hopeful that this treatment will work. I still have a slow road to recovery, but I am comforted by the fact that I still have the majority of my time in Ecuador ahead of me. So I am an idiot and stepped off a sidewalk wrong—in the big scheme of things, it could be much worse. I may have ruined my perfect, injury-free lifetime track record, but so it goes. I have been able to do a ton of reading and writing which I have loved. I also felt well enough to finally buy cleaning and other supplies for my apartment, and today I mopped my floors, scrubbed my bathroom, and did all my laundry (which involves hand washing it in a sink and hanging it out to dry, so it is quite the task). Teaching last week went really well, and I have found a new ice cream place in town. So things are looking up. And despite my injury, I still have been able to do and see an amazing amount in such a short amount of time.This might not be how I envisioned my year in Ecuador, but I can’t be hindered by numbers. I may have been crippled for 5 weeks now, but I still have many, many weeks ahead of me to enjoy. :)
Sobador- update: something the medical world and Fulbright is apparently not that impressed with…
When we left off from the riveting Part One of my ankle saga, I had just completed my public and painful breakdown and had fallen into a deep sleep in my new apartment. If you gathered anything from today’s vocab lesson, I am sure you can see that the ankle saga is far from over! Picking up where we left off…
I woke up the next day (a Tuesday) with the promise and hope of a better day. Rather than go to the university with Liana that day, I stayed in my apartment and mostly lounged around and slept with the occasional hobble to the bathroom or to refill my water. My new Ecuadorian family called me every few hours to make sure I was still alive and doing okay. (The thought of being alone or solita as they called me is a strange concept here.) In short, it was a great and much-needed rest day.
The next day, Wednesday, I spent my first day at the university meeting professors and other staff members until the inauguration—or official opening of the university—that evening. I couldn’t understand much of that besides a lot of yelling (I told you Ecuas speak loudly, right?) in celebration of a historic and special new year. A lot of that has to do with the University recently being accredited by the government. I will devote an entire post on the higher ed system and reorganization here at some point. The evening ended with a toast and music, so it was overall a lively and nice affair.
On Thursday, the real fun began. There were no classes held on that Thursday or Friday, so Gaby kindly invited us to join her on her vacation to the beach. Liana called me in the morning to let me know they would be on their way to pick me up “soon,” which I knew would be about an hour yet. Sure enough, by the time Gaby, Liana, and Gaby’s mother, Rosita, finally arrived, it was a few minutes past 9 and we had just missed the bus. Not to be deterred, Rosita drove us at breakneck speed to the next town, but the bus had already left there too. So she floored it again and off we went to Quevedo, a town which is about 30 minutes away if you drive at a regular speed. There, we saw the bus ahead so Rosita began honking while Gaby waved her hands out the window to flag the bus down. It pulled over, we said a quick goodbye to Rosita, and away we went on our first Ecuadorian bus adventure. The bus chase sure brought me back to the days of chasing down the Cora school bus when we missed it. Thanks Mom, Dad, and Aunt Char for those crazy mornings!
I would say the 4 hour bus ride to Guayaquil was uneventful, but it was everything but. At every stop, vendors would board the bus and travel up and down the aisles selling various breads, fruits, drinks, and all else before hopping off again later. Another person boarded and did a loud rap/recitation with a microphone and speaker. All the while, the bus was playing music (highlights included listening to the Spanish version of “House of the Rising Sun” at least 8 times) and people chatted away.
I should mention my ankle at this point too. It was wrapped in gauze and still fairly fat, although definitely a fraction of the size it was before the sobador popped it back into place. Regardless, it was difficult to find a comfortable sitting position on the bus, since I was always tilted slightly to the right as to not put any pressure on my injured left. When we finally arrived at the Guayaquil bus terminal, I carefully hobbled as quickly as I could to our next bus (which we made with just minutes to spare) and away we went for another 2 hours or so to Posorja.
Posorja is the southern-most coastal part of Ecuador. The country does extend farther south, but this is the last point where you can access the Pacific Ocean. Gaby has a plethora of aunts, uncles, and cousins there (and everywhere, I am learning) who kindly took us in for a few days as we went to the beach, dolphin watching, and more. I will let the photos do most of the talking here. Note the orange bandana being used as an ankle wrap on our first day at the beach. That bandana lives on my travel backpack, and it has come in handy more times than I can count now.
We spent Friday, Saturday, and half of Sunday in Posorja. Although I am a mountain girl at heart, my four years in Maine near the Atlantic Ocean instilled a deep love of the ocean in me too. For the first time in Ecuador, it was at the beach that I was finally able to find peace, quiet, and center—something I had been craving amidst all the stimulating new experiences, painful physical struggles, and the adjustment to this new and strange life. There were only a few people on the beach both days that we went, but standing on the edge with my eyes closed and the warm waves of the equatorial Pacific gently crashing on my feet, I felt I was alone in the world and entirely content.
That Sunday afternoon, we boarded a bus once again back to Guayaquil, assisted by our host aunt (Tia Sonia) and her daughter, Ginny, who is at college in Guayaquil. A short taxi ride from the bus terminal took us to the airport where we met up with a fellow Fulbrighter, Colin, and away we flew to Quito! All the Fulbrighters in Ecuador met in Quito for an orientation program. (For those of you who don’t know, Fulbright includes Study/Research grants and other fellowships in addition to the English Teaching Assistant program that I am doing.) Already feeling refreshed from the beach, my energy only increased as I met new people and joyfully reconnected with my fellow ETAs.
Monday was spent listening to a series of very interesting talks and presentations about all things Ecuador, including the health care system, biodiversity, and more. By this time, my ankle was still a little puffy around the edges and stiff, but I had it out of a wrap and was still holding out hope that it would recover in a few more days. Our lovely program director, Karen, however, was not as impressed or hopeful as me. She pulled me aside at lunch and told me that she could visibly see my different ankle sizes as she sat behind me during the lecture series, and she recommended I go to the hospital while I had access to Fulbright and said hospital in Quito. She had a good point, so one of the office secretaries, Rita, kindly escorted me to the emergency room.
My experience at the Emergency Room was overall quiet, calm, and pleasant. Several doctors came into see me (after we would stick our heads out the door and remind them I was there), I got my first x-ray and ride in a wheelchair, and finally a diagnosis of a slight sprain and stretched ligaments. Most of the time, though, was spent staring at the white wall and chatting with Rita. They don’t move too fast here in Ecaudor, so we were there for about 4 hours overall. The doctor kindly wrapped my foot, gave me a giant boot to wear, crutches, and instructions not to walk for a week. I was initially bummed at the prospect of being so immobilized—especially since we had a hike planned for the next day of orientation—but I was grateful that I had gone to see someone and that I would hopefully be on the mend soon. One week of crutches and an additionall one to two weeks of the boot after that really isn’t so bad in the big scheme of things.
The next day, the Fulbright crew and I boarded a bus at the Fulbright Commission and away we went to Papallacta, which is about two hours east of the city. While the rest of the group went on a short hike, I found a nice chair to camp out on and another to prop my leg on while I read a great book. We then spent a few hours soaking in the thermal pools that make Papallacta famous before having a fantastic late lunch and traveling back to Quito. Overall a lovely and relaxing way to spend the day.
Once again, I found myself on a bus the next day. This time, Liana and I were headed back to La Maná. We found a 6-hour bus that took us directly there (no stops) since I didn’t feel able to be able to quickly navigate a crowded bus terminal with my backpack and on crutches. (Needless to say it took me a few days to get the hang of those pesky things.) Another bus ride filled with movies, music, vendors, and sights before we finally pulled into La Maná as the sun was setting.
Even though La Maná and I got off on the wrong foot initially, this time I came into the city feeling totally refreshed and excited to be back. Beach therapy and mountain/Fulbright therapy for a week did wonders for my health, mood, and morale. And I guess a little physical therapy too. I owe a big thanks to all my fellow Fulbrighters who were beyond helpful in carrying my bags, escorting me up stairs, and bringing me food as I struggled to hop around Quito. I found the kindness of strangers also incredibly humbling as I traveled too. I believe that people are inherently good, and this experience has only reminded me of that.
My first few days back in La Maná were fairly low key, as I took care of what I could around my apartment and waited for someone to bring me food. (There are 54 steps and 4 flights of stairs to get to my apartment, so descending and ascending them more than necessary wasn’t appealing to me.) The following Monday marked my first day at the university, observing/teaching bits of classes. Tuesday marked the end of my crutches, and I am now becoming quite pro at the uneven walk with my bulky left boot and normal right shoe. I have also finally learned how to answer the constant barrage of “what happened?” and “is it getting better?” questions. If people looked at me strange before for being a gringa (white/foreinger), you should have seen their faces when they saw me on crutches too. And on the bright side, my left ankle/lower leg is completely void of bug bites which have ravaged my right one. Benefits of the boot I guess. I also hilariously have right shoes strewn all over my apartment—they seem to land wherever I do after the exhausting climb up the stairs. Recovery is slow, but I know my ankle is on the mend.
I am off to Latacunga this afternoon to spend the holiday weekend with Sebastian’s parents (the kind people who hosted us on our way to La Maná a few weeks ago). This weekend marks Dia de los Difuntos (All Soul’s Day) as well as the Independence of the city of Cuenca. I will then head from Latacunga to Quito for a follow-up doctor appointment. By the next time I check in, I will hopefully not have much more to report on this darn ankle. Happy Halloween to you all in the States!
Hello! I am sorry that I haven’t been able to post in a while. I do not have Internet in my apartment and haven’t taken my computer to a place with internet to post since arriving in La Maná. Until today that is! I have been here in La Maná for over two weeks now, so I have plenty to catch up on. Most importantly, I need to share some new vocabulary I have learned in the past few weeks, such as:
Tobillo- ankle (this one I knew at one point but had forgotten)
Sobador- still not sure what this one means actually, but something along the lines of a makeshift doctor/masseuse/ random dude…. I’ll explain
They say the best way to learn something is to do it first hand, and that is exactly what I did to pick up this vocab. On the morning of my second full day here in La Maná, my tutor, Sebastian, and I were waiting for a taxi on the sidewalk of the main street. We were heading to the house of his girlfriend, Gaby. She and my fellow English Teacher, Liana, had already left on Gaby’s motorcycle (more like a mo-ped). The taxi arrived, and I made the mistake of not looking where I was stepping. The drop was about 18 inches (larger than I expected) and I just BOOM. Completely landed on the side of my ankle rather than my foot. Pain immediately shot through my entire foot, ankle, and leg. Sebastian asked if I was okay, and fighting back tears I said I was fine and just needed to walk it off, so we got in the taxi.
We proceeded to spend a lovely Sunday at Gaby’s house, which is about a ten-minute drive outside of the city. My ankle was still bothering me, but I put on tennis shoes for more support than my flimsy sandals and walked around with everyone, first to the river and then through a cacao farm. Gaby demonstrated her farm skills there by picking a ripe cacao fruit, smashing it open on a log, and demonstrating how to eat it. I had no idea that cacao fruit even existed more or less tasted like heaven. The outside fruit is fleshy and white and has a rich, sweet taste to it. We would suck the fruit off the cacao bean and then save that inner bean to dry and later grind into chocolate.
After walking around in the sun all day and with a throbbing ankle, Liana and I finally returned to our hotel (aka our temporary home), where my ankle suddenly hurt beyond belief. I guess my tactic of “walking it off” wasn’t working, so I asked the front desk for some ice and hobbled upstairs. When I finally took my shoe off and looked at my ankle, I saw that it was at least two sizes larger than it should be. Uh-oh. Ever the optimist and not wanting to break my gritty, cowgirl persona, I went to bed with some Advil and ice and assurance that it would be better in the morning.
Well…by morning it wasn’t better. In fact, it was the exact same size as the night before and hurt so bad I couldn’t even effectively limp around on it, so I had to resort to hopping on one leg to and from my bed to the bathroom. Gaby and her mother, Rosita, were set to arrive later that morning to help Liana and I move into our permanent homes (Liana to Gaby’s house and me to an apartment), and I was quite frankly terrified to see the reaction of these two women when they saw my ankle. You see, Ecuadorians are incredibly caring people and we had already been adopted into this family, so I knew they would be worried. Sure enough, the door opened and the first thing they saw was my ankle propped up on a pillow and covered in ice. I was promptly met with: “*GASP* Qué pasó mi hija?!” (What happened, daughter?!)
I found myself unable to explain in Spanish what had happened, but the lack of communication did not deter them from immediately ordering me to not carry anything down the stairs and that they knew someone who could help me. Liana suggested we go to a doctor, as we had already met several in town, but Gaby and Rosita both shook their heads in disgust and disagreement at such a proposal, insisting that a doctor was a waste of time and money. So, in severe pain and confusion, I followed these tiny, bustling women down the stairs and to a fruit market. Why did we go to the fruit market? I have no idea, but that seems to be a trend here. I just get in the car when they tell me too and we show up somewhere, somehow. More on that later.
As Rosita, Gaby, and Liana scurried around buying various fruits, I was ordered to wait by one stand and not move until they were finished. Fine by me, as I realized how much pain I was in and was spending most of my energy trying not to cry. At last, we left the market and piled into the car again, this time to go to the sobador. Even though they kept saying it, I still had no idea what a sobador was, but I could understand enough to know that it was someone who was going to help me with my ankle somehow. We drove down a random dirt road off the main street of the city, took a left turn, and pulled up in front of a non-descript, shoddily constructed cement house with a tin roof and a man sitting on the front step shelling beans. Gaby yelled something I couldn’t distinguish at him out the window (they do a lot of yelling here too, I’ve learned), and he responded by nodding his head. Before I knew it, we were all ordered out of the car and I limped my way into his house.
There, the man (whose name I learned is Don Luzano) ordered me to sit in a red plastic lawn chair and place my foot on his lap so he could examine it. So somehow I find myself now sitting in a red plastic chair, some random guy is rubbing baby oil on my giant ankle and gently massaging it as he examines the damage, and I am surrounded not only by Liana, Rosita, and Gaby, but also Don Luzano’s wife, children, a dog, and at least three puppies. And I really didn’t have much of an idea what was going on. I could deduct, though, that Don Luzano was going to do something to “fix” my ankle.
In addition to being in a lot of pain, I was now also terrified. It’s not that I didn’t trust this man, because clearly Gaby and Rosita knew him, but it’s that I was scared that I had seriously injured myself and that he would somehow make it worse. So I grab my nose in an attempt to plug the tears that are inevitably about to fall while Rosita comes behind me and holds my shoulders (I found out later because she was afraid I would lash out in pain…great) and Don Luzano rubs my ankle with a little more force until he finds the problem. He asks me something along the lines of “ready?”, but before I can answer he squeezes my outer ankle bone and all I hear and feel is CRAAACK, as my bone is shoved back into place.
For lack of a better description, HOLY FREAKING CRAP AHHHHHHHHALKDJFAIOWEURALDSK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The actual popping of my ankle back into place didn’t actually hurt that much, and as soon as he did it, I knew that was where it was supposed to be. (I didn’t know before that that it was out of place, though.) But holy cannoli everything up to that point was so painful and scary and confusing that I didn’t even know how to react.
As I continued to sit there in minor shock, Don Luzano wrapped my foot up, we paid him five bucks, and away we went– first to a pharmacy for a painkiller (they sell drugs by the pill here rather than the bottle), and then finally to Gaby and Rosita’s house. I was beyond exhausted and in pain at this point, but I was kindly yet firmly directed to sit in the hammock and not move. I was scolded every time I moved to go to the bathroom or get more water. Liana kindly brought me a book, and blind and deaf abuelo (grandpa) came and sat by me for a bit (unbeknownst to him; he thought I was the wall), so it wasn’t the worst way to pass the day. At one point, I was allowed to leave in order to see the adorable 4-week old puppies and they fed me every so often, so that was good.
So I was all better then, right? Nope. Most of you know that I suffer from chronic migraines, and they are made even worse by hot weather. Despite the fact that I was sitting in the shade, the air was still and hot and I had a multi-day migraine that I couldn’t kick. It got worse and worse as the day went on and I sat in pain, confusion, and building frustration at not being able to leave to go back to my apartment. I felt it would be rude to say I wanted to leave when they were so kindly caring for me, and I had no way of getting there without someone calling me a taxi or driving me themselves. So I felt stuck.
The day dragged on and eventually turned into evening, where I was transferred inside for some dinner (complete with lots of cheese—a migraine-inducing disaster) and then sent to the couch. There, someone put on the TV for me to watch a poorly-dubbed movie at a high volume. I should note that at this point there were nine people in this small house, including myself. Some were blasting music and singing, some were cooking, and all were talking—often in loud and fast voices at me. Between the pain and exhaustion, I could hardly understand Spanish anymore more or less English. But alas, Gaby and Rosita continued to nurse my foot by soaking it in hot scalding salt water before rubbing it in oil and wrapping it in achote (a giant leaf of some kind) and then gauze wrap.
Around this point, I told my tutor that I need to go home soon to sleep because I wasn’t feeling well. He answered with “sí, vamos ya mismo.” “Ya mismo” is a very important piece of Ecuadorian vocabulary that has now been integrated into my entire life here. It doesn’t have a direct translation, as it doesn’t actually mean anything specific. It basically means “soon,” but soon could be in a few minutes. Or a few hours. Or maybe never. You never know. So when Sebastian told me that we will go ya mismo, I knew it would still be a while before I could finally be alone in my apartment and care for my ankle and migraine as only I know how to do.
This realization was paired with the overstimulation of noise and lights around me and the sudden onset of stomach queasiness as it didn’t know what to do with the strange food and large quantity of pain killers I had taken over the few days. It was getting to be too much, so I held my hands to my eyes and tried to push the pressure points around my eyes to help relieve the throbbing in my skull—a trick I learned from my high school ski coach. As I sat in that position, tears of pain and frustration began to leak out of the corner of my eyes. I almost got away with it, but Rosita noticed and ran over to comfort me. Rather than helping, that just opened the floodgates and I suddenly found myself sitting in the chair and sobbing uncontrollably while Rosita, Gaby, and Estefi (another sister) rubbed my shoulders and back and tried to comfort me. Rosita kept repeating how I was crying because I missed my mom and was far away from my family. I am sorry, mom, but that was not the problem. I wanted nothing but to be alone but instead was stuck with this incredibly loving, but in that moment, incredibly overbearing family. My frustration was only furthered by the fact that I couldn’t explain to anyone what was happening or why, and I was ashamed at myself for having such a public breakdown on day three in La Maná. My hopes of maintaining my tough persona were totally shot.
Liana eventually made her way through the small crowd of my many Latina mothers and asked me what I needed. In my most profane English that I was glad no one could understand at that moment, I told her that I needed to leave and that I needed to leave now. She helped me limp outside so I could continue to sob in the dark while the troops assembled into the car and finally drove me home to my apartment—while awkwardly suggesting that maybe I should take the day to myself the next day and recuperar (recover). I could think of no better way to spend my day than alone in my own pain and misery (not sarcastic—that’s actually all I wanted), so I bid them farewell and promptly fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow of the apartment I had moved into just earlier that day—an event that felt like weeks ago by then.
Needless to say, La Maná and I both literally and figuratively got off on the wrong foot. My physical limitations—both with the ankle and ensuing migraine—made it incredibly difficult those first few days to adjust and maintain a positive attitude about my new life here. But have no fear, Andi the eternal optimist has returned after a week away and a relaxing few days back in La Maná before work officially starts at the university tomorrow. And how is my ankle, might you ask? Don’t worry, that story isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for Part Two to hear the rest of the saga and learn even more vocabulary!
I figured out why it took us so long to travel from Quito to La Mana. It’s because our road looked like this:
And we stopped to take this photo:
And this one:
And to marvel at this canyon:
And to snap a few photos at the famous volcano crater-turned lake, Laguna de Quilotoa:
Where we saw plenty of burros and small town happenings amidst the sweeping views:
Suddenly, the dry and agriculture-filled mountains turned into a foggy jungle as we descended down the other side of la sierra (mountains). And of course we had to stop to visit the entire extended family of our tutor’s mother (I told you that would happen):
And a waterfall for good measure:
Until, at last, we arrived in our home for the next 10 months:
It’s because we made a trip out of it. Our tutor (mentor from the university Liana and I will be working at) and his wonderful parents hosted us and took us on a fantastic tour of their home and surrounding area. La Mana is like no where I have ever lived before, with it’s humid and tropical climate, bustling city life, and so much more I have yet to explore. It actually feels a lot like Kenya, with the relaxed sense of organized chaos and the small moto-taxis that drive everywhere. (These are apparently unique to this city.) Liana and I are also the only gringas (foreigners) here, and it is obvious that we stand out despite our efforts to blend in. We spent yesterday afternoon apartment hunting, and hopefully by today we will have a place locked down so that we can stop living out of our suitcases (as well as stop carrying all our stuff around). I am so grateful to have already met such wonderful and caring people. Despite its differences and strangeness, I am excited to begin to make La Mana my home!
It has only been a few days, but it has already been quite the adventure on my latest Andean excursion.
It all began even before I left. As I stated in my last post, the Fulbright Commission only gave us a 12 day heads up on our leave date, and then only about an 8 day notification about our placement cities. To make it even more exciting, 5 days before I was supposed to leave, they finally purchased my plane tickets…for the wrong date. Unable to fix them on such late notice, I was forced to accept that I would be arriving a day late to Quito and would have to catch up on all the orientation activities that I missed with the group. I stomped around and was angry for a few days about this, but in the end it was fantastic to have the extra, relaxed day at home with my amazing family. We had a delicious ranch meal (featuring ranch beef, potatoes, lettuce, AND carrots) before many teary goodbyes. My mom and I then headed to Jackson to spend the night before my Monday morning flight. My dad had made me a bag of delicious freshly-picked garden carrots for my travels, but I FORGOT them! I was the saddest kitty ever. But because I have the best dad in the entire world, the old man drove up to Jackson at 3 in the morning (it’s a 2 hour drive) to give me my carrots and be able to say one final goodbye to me at the airport. I have the best family ever.
And away I went at last! It felt surreal to finally be going. I submitted my Fulbright application a year ago now, so this whole process has just felt never-ending. But here I have reached the end of waiting and the beginning of what is sure to be an amazing year. After stops in Salt Lake City and Atlanta, I finally arrived in Quito around 10 on Monday night. The plane ride was surely filled with emotions, but I had the pleasure of witnessing an amazing sunset outside to guide the way. I eventually made it to the hostel, where the rest of the group (5 others) were kindly waiting up for me.
The next day is when the real fun began. We started the day off with a security briefing at the US Embassy which effectively made me terrified to do anything ever, but I guess that’s what they have to do. On the bright side, some guests of mine at the B&B from this past summer are also in Ecuador for a year, and I happened to see them there as well which was fun. Then it was off to get a phone, eat some lunch, and catch up on everything that I missed the day before at the Fulbright Commission office. The office is housed in this beautiful, old, colonial-era home and the employees are all wonderful. I am excited to work with such a fantastic team. Lots of paperwork and running around to different government offices was the gist of that afternoon. Today included learning about teaching English in Ecuador (the country is currently in the midst of some very interesting higher education reforms– something I will have to elaborate more on later) and preparing for our departure tomorrow!
So tomorrow Liana and I head to La Mana! We have started playing a fun game here where we ask Ecuadorians if they know anything about the city. Apparently no one does, so that is reassuring. From what I can gauge, though, it is a relatively small city with very few foreigners, so we are sure to be quite the novelty. We each have a “tutor” from our host universities who are picking us up tomorrow. For some reason, we will be stopping in some random town to spend the night tomorrow night before continuing on our trek. Seems strange considering the drive is only about 3-4 hours total…. but such is Ecuador. We are probably stopping to visit our host’s aunt’s cousin’s daughter or something because that is what they do here.
ANYWAY I am sorry to rant so much about fairly boring stuff, but I guess what I am trying to say here is that I am already enamored with this place. I am experiencing a really lovely mix of being in a new and unfamiliar place and also being back in the splendor of Latin America– a return I have been anticipating since I left nearly two years ago. I am not sure what my internet situation will be in the coming weeks, but I will sure to keep updating as I can. I owe an infinite amount of thanks to all who helped get me here, and I can’t wait to know what will happen next! :)
I am just one week away from departing on my next Andean adventure. As I write this, I am sitting on my bed surrounded by piles of boxes and clothes, endless to-do lists, and my Lonely Planet guidebook at close range. In short, it is absolute chaos in my room and in my mind as I prepare to leave for the next 10 months.
Even with only a week to go, there is still so much I don’t know about my upcoming adventure. I don’t know what to expect, much about where I am going, how I am going to do it all, or what my schedule will look like upon arrival. I will share what I do know, though, if even just to ease my racing mind.
Leave date: Sunday, October 4, 2015. I will be flying from Jackson to Salt Lake City to Atlanta to Quito, Ecuador. It is sure to be a long day, but I am sure will be worth it once I finally land in the mountains and 10,000 feet of elevation that is Quito!
Return date: August 4, 2016. That seems far away now, but I know this next year will absolutely fly.
I should note at this point that I just found out these dates last Tuesday…so 12 days in advance of departure. I was halfway expecting that based on how I have received information throughout this entire process, but there has still definitely been a shock factor connected to it.
Placement city: La Maná, in the Cotopaxi Province. If you Google this, you won’t find much besides a one-sentence Wikipedia page and a couple of photos that may or may not actually be from there. If it is anything like this photo, though, I know I will love it!
I will be working at a university extension in this small city. There are 7 of us English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) in Ecuador, and while most of us are placed in our own city, I will be sharing La Maná with one other ETA. This particular university has never hosted an ETA before, so I think that will present us with both great challenge as well as great opportunity in the year ahead. ETA’s are usually placed in the Cotopaxi province capital, Latacunga, but the Cotopaxi volcano is currently erupting there, so the commission decided we would be safer elsewhere. Fair enough.
What I will be doing: As the title implies, I will be working as a Teaching Assistant at the university level, working with students who are studying to becoming ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers. It is expected that I will spend about 20 hours of my week with my English-teaching duties. It is also expected that I will spend another 20 hours completing some sort of community engagement project. I have several ideas in mind for that, but I know I will be able to more fully and accurately develop that once I actually arrive in my community.
And as for how I am doing this all… For those of you who don’t know, I was fortunate enough to be awarded with a Fulbright Fellowship. The U.S. Fulbright Program is sponsored by the State Department and was founded in 1947 in order to promote cross-cultural understanding. There are several forms of the program, including research and faculty fellowships in addition to the ETA program. I had heard about this opportunity early on in my Bowdoin career, and the decision to apply seemed easy based on my current and future personal and professional interests. There are many reasons I pursued a Fulbright and in Ecuador, but it boils down to my desire to perfect my Spanish, my plans to become a teacher in possibly a bilingual setting someday, my love for South America, and my desire to deeply immerse myself in a culture so different than my own.
This year is sure to be filled with innumerable challenges, emotions, and achievements. Despite the craziness of my departure, the ups and downs of being away for so long, and my uncertainty about everything ahead, I know this is exactly where I am supposed to be, and I am beyond excited. I look forward to sharing it with you all!
Hello friends and dedicated fans! I am taking a brief hiatus from recounting my Andean adventures to tell the tale of my most recent destination: Kenya!
This trip cannot be explained without a little background information. After finishing Bowdoin a few weeks ago and preparing to embark on my next South American adventure, it only seems logical that I would jet over to Africa for a bit, right? Right…
This trip stemmed from a conversation I had with my dear friend, Kate, last fall about our mutual friend, Chase. Before I can say anymore, I must describe these two key characters.
Kate: 29 going on 16 in all the best ways. Kate works in the Study Abroad and Fellowships office at Bowdoin so gets mega credit for helping me when I studied abroad in Argentina and again with the Fulbright application process this past fall. And by mega credit I mean I actually would never be on my way to Ecuador if Kate hadn’t whipped me into shape. She is an angel and I am forever indebted to her. At some point over the past few years, Kate and I decided to be friends. Despite the weird looks we got from her fellow office mates for our student-faculty relationship, a true love was blossomed.
You might recognize her name from my post in 2013 about my stuffed traveling companion, Esteban, as Kate was the one who gifted him to me. She is also the loving wife of a fantastic gentleman from the UK and the mother of the two most adorable girls this world has ever seen (ages 2 ½ and 1). Kate can spit out any pop culture reference ever, she loves crabs (real ones and crab décor), studied abroad for half of her college career, and has amazing hair circumference when it is humid outside.
Chase: Bowdoin Class of 2012. I had the pleasure of meeting Chase during my freshman spring when he was one of the leaders of an [in]famous winter camping course with the Outing Club. Like Kate, Chase and I decided to be friends and spent the rest of the semester crossing paths intermittently. A conversation on the quad during his senior week about his future plans to teach in Kenya and my lack of Facebook to keep in touch led to a 3-year pen pal relationship filled with me trying to decipher Chase’s illegible handwriting on graph paper, my extremely lengthy letters, and often a leap of faith in the mail system. Chase is originally from Tennessee, but spent several years of his childhood in the UK and now identifies with being from New Hampshire. He is an avid traveler and outdoorsman, is interested in international diplomacy, is a Star Wars aficionado, and doesn’t like mushrooms very much. He is also a ginger. Just another detail.
And then there’s me: recent college grad always up for adventure, a serial over-thinker, lover of chocolate, and ready to take on the world one country at a time. But if you are reading this, I imagine you know me fairly well.
So anyway. Kate and I were friends. Chase and I were friends. Kate and Chase were friends. Why weren’t all three of us friends? I was in Kate’s office one day when she told me that she was planning to visit Chase in Kenya since he is leaving at the end of this year to pursue a master’s degree in London. I [semi] jokingly told her I was jealous and wanted to go too, but I felt awkward since I wasn’t technically invited and also because I was a broke almost-college grad (cue the serial over-thinking part I mentioned above). Long story short, Kate lectured me about the fact that money is for spending, a few days later I received a formal invitation (calligraphy pen and all!) from Chase, and before I knew it I had booked flights to Kenya!
And now for the actual trip! (If you are still reading by this point I promise it gets interesting.) Due to scheduling, Kate and her husband went a week before me. After a tear-filled and busy goodbye to Bowdoin (complete with a torrential downpour outside), I suddenly found myself on a plane to London’s Heathrow airport. I had a short layover there before catching my next flight to Nairobi, Kenya. The flights went by in seemingly little time and without any issues—I think mostly because I was so tired from the previous few weeks with finals, graduation, moving out, etc. that I slept or cried most of the way. Once I arrived in Nairobi, I was to meet Kate at the departures gate since her husband was flying out around the time I was flying in. Well, it was also a torrential downpour in Nairobi. My flight was late, it was dark, and I couldn’t find the international departures area. I tried to solicit help from a friendly airport employee (who kindly drove me around in his bus), but he was all sorts of confused as to why I wanted to go to departures. A semester of living in Latin America meant that I was surprisingly calm and unphased by this adventure. Poor Kate on the other hand was worried sick and frantically calling everyone she could think of until I finally emerged from the rain, soaking wet and smelling quite rancid after 20 hours of travel but smiling with excitement at our adventure ahead.
Finally reunited and exhausted, we crashed in our airport hotel (complete with what we dubbed our “princess malaria canopies” aka mosquito nets) for the night before heading back to the airport in the morning to make the short flight to Mombasa, where Chase lives. Even in the small part of the city I saw, Nairobi is a large and busy city, and Kate and I were both feeling a little overwhelmed. That immediately dissipated as soon as we landed in Mombasa. Located on the coast of the Indian Ocean and the second largest city in Kenya, Mombasa has a relaxed and vibrant feeling that had Kate and I smiling to each other the entire taxi ride to Aga Khan Academy, where Chase has worked for the past 3 years.
Chase met us at the gate (complete in a pink shirt and socks ensemble that led to many shrimp jokes from Kate and I the rest of the trip) where he kindly showed us to his ocean-view apartment (not complete with toilet paper or food. #bachelorlife). There, we showered, napped, and also met up with another Bowdoin alum Emma, who is finishing up her first year at Aga Khan. The four of us crammed into a tuk tuk (essentially a small motorcar taxi) for a fantastic lunch downtown. I found myself quietly taking it all in with a content and elated smile. It was amazing how all the overwhelming and sad emotions from the days before as I departed my beloved home in Brunswick just seemed to disappear into the humid air of Mombasa. As my dear friend Maddie would say, I was the happiest kitty.
That night, we were joined by another Aga Khaner, Anna, for dinner at another fantastic outdoor Mombasa restaurant, where we devoured trays on trays of meat sticks. And by “we” devoured, I mostly just mean that Chase devoured said meat sticks. He ate a whopping 16 that night, but as of the writing of this blog post I have been informed by my sources on the ground that he set a new record of 26 sticks. Congratulations, Chase, on your meaty achievement.
We had the pleasure of having Emma as our Mombasa tour guide the next day, and she showed us the Old Town part of the city. The area used to be fairly bustling, but it has quieted down significantly now after the shootings of several tourists a few months ago. We leisurely enjoyed some Swahili tea, browsed the shops, had a lovely lunch, and then explored Fort Jesus, which is a Portuguese fort built in 1591 to guard the Old Port of Mombasa. Interestingly, it was built in the shape of a man (from an aerial view) and thus was given the name of Jesus. While we were unable to go inside too far without paying, it was still really neat to explore this 16th century relic. After some coconut water to revive our hot and sweaty selves, we headed back to Aga Khan and geared up for our next destination: Watamu!
Watamu is a small village about 2 hours up the coast from Mombasa. Chase’s taxi guy (we learned that Chase has an absurd amount of Kenyan connections), Collins, kindly drove us. It was so neat getting to see the open landscape of the country as we weaved through small towns. We had to stop at several police check points on our way (efforts to control terrorist group al-Shabab), but they were fairly uneventful. I kept thinking how similar everything seemed to Latin America: the small shops, people milling around in seeming indifference to the slow passing of time, and the insane driving that had me thinking we were going to get into a head-on collision at least every ten minutes. But, in the advice of Chase and Emma, “you have to not care much about your life in traffic here.” (Sorry mom and dad. I clearly made it out alive though!)
Tired from the hot drive, we finally arrived in paradise. Chase had set us up to stay at the Watamu Treehouse Hotel (check it out! http://www.treehouse.co.ke/). The treehouse is built within the jungle branches and the breeze flows gently through the building, as there are no windows. Homemade glass fixtures line the walls, and the soft crash of the ocean waves on the beach, wind in the trees, and the occasional monkey were the only sounds we could hear. Welcomed with fresh juice and a fantastic room for three (because at this point our strange trifecta of friends was the most normal), we were all the happiest kitties. We spent that first evening lounging and dining on a fantastic seafood dinner before falling asleep to a full moon.
Because the moon was full, the tide was strong, so the owner of the hotel, Paul, offered an excursion of floating down a mangrove with nothing to guide us but the pull of the tide. Always down for adventure, we agreed and the next morning found ourselves walking down a dirt road lined with an interesting juxtaposition of small, thatch-roof homes and also large, gated vacation homes. We soon found ourselves at the mangrove, which was essentially a 5-7 feet wide creek, where we hopped in with our snorkels and simply floated. The water gently guided us around the twists and turns of the mangrove as we dodged branches, rolled around in the warm water, and shared plenty of giddy smiles.
After a while, Paul informed us that we were nearing the opening. We readied our snorkels and rounded the corner into a harbor-like area. We swiftly floated past fishing boats and docks as the tide pulled even stronger. We followed the shoreline for quite a while longer when Paul instructed us to get ready to swim quickly to the shore. At that spot, the tide was suddenly stronger than it had been the entire time, and we had to traverse the current in order to make it to the rocky shore. Before we knew it, we were dripping wet, smiling big, and walking on the beach.
And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we noticed one of the hotel employees, Josephat, standing on the shore along with a table full of food. He had also brought along a floating board, so we used it as a table and sat cross-legged in the shallow water and enjoyed a fantastic snack of a Kenyan sweet bread, coconut-covered bean-type things, mango juice, and more. It was unbelievably delicious and much appreciated after a long float. We had originally planned to get a ride back to the hotel from Josephat, but the tide was going out fast enough that we decided to walk along the newly-exposed shoreline instead. We leisurely made our way back, soaking up the sun, checking out eels and crabs, and conversing back and forth as we left soft footprints in the sand.
We arrived back at the hotel to a fantastic breakfast (as if we hadn’t had enough food already!), which we devoured willingly. We had then planned to explore some nearby ruins, but instead the afternoon was spent showering, reading, and napping until we got massages. If I had been relaxed and in a fantastic mood before this day, I was surely floating above the clouds with elation and joy at the end. Just pure bliss. This post-college life is pretty great so far I must say.
The next morning, we sadly had to prepare for our journey back to Mombasa. We had a leisurely breakfast, packed, and said goodbye to our dear new treehouse friends and promised to come back if we can. Collins then picked us up again and we made the drive back to the city. It was hot outside and we kept inhaling exhaust from trucks driving in front of us, so Kate and I were kind of miserable by the time we got back to Mombasa. Luckily some food and a nap cured us, so we were feeling much better by the time we joined some of Chase’s friends for dinner.
These friends are also teachers at Aga Khan. They are probably in their 40s and have a son who attends the lower school. They are originally from India and were some of the kindest people I have ever met. Emma and Anna also joined us for dinner, so it was a table full of friends—some we had known longer than others but it all felt the same with the loving and welcoming atmosphere. And the food was absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious.
That night was spent somberly and quietly packing up, as Chase had to depart early the next morning for a school trip to Mt. Kenya and Kate and I had an adventure of our own lined up. We exchanged goodbyes to our fantastic host and friend, Chase, and before we knew it morning had arrived and we were off again.
And where were we going, might you ask? Well, when in Kenya, one must engage with the local wildlife. So we were off on a safari!
Another connection of Chase’s and safari guide extraordinaire, Salim, met us at the gates of Aga Khan as we lugged our backpacks and several bags for Chase out (these bags are important details you will read about later). We hopped in his safari van and we were off to Tsavo East National Park. The drive took about 4 hours, including a stop to help fix a fellow safari van. Salim is an endless encyclopedia of knowledge, so he spent much of the drive explaining the history and current situation of Kenya. I will spare you the details of all that I learned, but it was truly fascinating to learn more about this beautiful yet strange country we were in.
Not two minutes after we entered the park, Salim pointed to the right at about 30 elephants sauntering about the bushes. I was reminded of being in Yellowstone with the ability to see wildlife so close and so easily. We had lifted the roof of the safari van so we could stand and get a full 360 view of the landscape and wildlife. Over the next few minutes, we saw zebras, gazelles, birds, and much more. We were headed to our lodge for lunch, but Salim asked if we were very hungry. Having just consumed some Pringles, we told him we were doing okay, to which he responded, “okay, so do you want to go eat lunch or see some lions first?” Uhh…DUH we wanted to see lions! A fellow safari guide had radioed into Salim to inform him about the “simba” that he spotted. (Simba is the Swahili word for lion. I told you this was the real life Lion King.) We followed two track roads that Salim clearly knew by heart although they looked confusing to us, and suddenly to our left we saw three female lions lazily lounging beneath the shade of a tree. (In addition to the radio, Salim has an unbelievable ability to spot animals without seemingly even trying to look for them.) Salim turned the van off and we simply watched these majestic creatures for a while before leaving them to their nap and going to our lodge for another fantastic Kenyan meal.
Our accommodations included a canvas tent/cabin hybrid and an outdoor seating area with elephants grazing just yards away. Casual. We napped and got out of the sun for a few hours before going on a sunset “game drive” (as it is called) to see some more animals. We saw elephants, zebras, more lions, baboons, and so much more. I will let the photos do the speaking here.
After dinner and stargazing in a night sky that could compete with Wyoming’s (not many places can do that), we crashed for some much-needed sleep before waking up early for a sunrise game drive. The highlight of this one included watching a hippo give birth. Hippos have been doing the water birth thing forever. So hipster.
Before long, it was time to make the long drive back to Mombasa. The drive was mostly spent staring out the window and watching the landscape pass by, exhausted but very content. (Salim told Kate that I am her “friend that doesn’t speak” since I was so content just watching everything.) We made a brief stop at a wood-working “factory,” where we watched dozens of people carve intricate wood carvings of all sizes beneath the low-lying shelters of tin roofs placed on crooked logs placed in the uneven dirt. I could have spent all day there admiring the incredible craftsmanship. Salim then took us to the train station, where we planned to take the overnight train to Nairobi.
Unfortunately, our impeccable good luck so far on the trip started to take a turn at this point. I know this post is getting lengthy at this point, so I will try to condense the story. First, the station looked abandoned and several decades old. We boarded anyway and found our first-class cabin, whose amenities only partially worked at that involved going through a very narrow corridor to get to. (Very difficult with all our bags.) The “toilets” were nothing more than holes in the floor that led directly to the tracks below us. Somewhat apprehensive as it started to get dark and we began to question our decision to take the train, Kate and I tried to maintain our morale through laughter and not letting our sense of adventure slip away. And what is traveling without a few mishaps anyway, right?
The train was scheduled to leave at 7. But then they informed us it would be 7:30 or 8. Classic Kenya. No worries. We made our way to the food car to eat a surprisingly tasty dinner with the other 3 train passengers. It was dark by this point, but we tried not to worry and kept texting Salim updates, as he had become our very worried and caring adopted father at this point. It was such a relief to have a contact in the country since both Chase and Emma were out of range by this point. The departure time kept getting pushed back farther and farther because we were waiting for the engine that was mysteriously eternally “very close”, so finally we decided to just go to sleep in our very comfortable– yet very claustrophobic in the hot train car– beds.
Sometime later, I heard a loud screeching noise and felt the train jolt to a start. I glanced at my watch and read the time: 11:45 pm. Classic. Feeling relieved to be on our way and much cooler with the night air coming in through the window, I was able to sleep more soundly. Around 7:30 am, however, I awoke to the train stopped in seemingly the middle of nowhere. We made our way to breakfast where we were informed we were in Voi. We texted Salim an update of our location, and he informed us we had made it about a third of the 480 km trip. Even better? Voi is where the park entrance is that we were at the day before. Perfect :)
About halfway through breakfast, the train manager approached us to inform us that the engine was broken and that we should probably take a bus the rest of the way, as they didn’t know when it would be fixed. In a mix of laughter and low-key stress, we packed our things and lugged them all (did I mention Chase sent his heavy books home with us?) to a truck which drove us about half a mile to the bus station, where we bought a $12 ticket and waiting for the bus to arrive an hour later from the dusty bench of the small town.
Kate and I planted ourselves in the front seat and many, many hours later (approximately 6), many horrible bus movies, and insane traffic later, we finally arrived in Nairobi at 7 pm—24 hours after we had set out.
We had clearly missed all our planned Nairobi activities that day, but we were so exhausted we didn’t even care at that point. We snagged a taxi at the bus station which took us to Paul, the hotel owner’s, house. He had kindly offered us his house while we were in Watamu and found out we didn’t have a place to stay. Nairobi traffic is like nothing I have ever seen before, so it took us over an hour to make it the few km to his house, but once we got there, we were welcomed by Paul’s amazing housekeepers, a warm meal, and lovely beds to sleep on. His two housekeepers were so motherly that all the stress and exhaustion from the day seemed to disappear as we fell into the loving arms of these strangers.
Feeling (and looking) significantly better the next morning, we took on our final day in Kenya in stride. Since Kate works for the study abroad office at Bowdoin, she decided to pay a visit to St. Lawrence in Kenya—a study abroad program that Bowdoin students often attend right there in Nairobi. While looking at the map to find the place a few months ago, Kate had discovered that there was a Waldorf school right next to St. Lawrence in Kenya. Kate’s mother is a Waldorf teacher and she hopes to send her children to Waldorf School, and I am incredibly interested in this type of education, so we decided to pay them a visit. For those who don’t know, Waldorf education is a mindful approach to learning that focuses on creativity and developing the whole child—body, mind, and spirit. That is an abbreviated version, so I recommend checking out their video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upmMD4JnCusThanks to connections from Paul, we spent the morning at the school—observing classes, talking with teachers, and learning as much as we could.
On a high from that, we spent several more hours next door at St. Lawrence in Kenya learning about their study abroad program. We then headed back to Paul’s house for lunch and before we knew it, we were off to the airport. The airport is only about 12 kilometers away and our flight wasn’t until 11:30 that night, but our taxi driver recommended we leave at 5. We were confused as to why we needed to leave so early, but we were incredibly grateful to his wise advice once we got into that crazy Nairobi traffic I mentioned. It took us nearly 4 hours to travel that short distance. If we moved, it was very slowly, but we spent the majority of that time simply stopped and waiting for an endless line of cars to budge. It was exhausting.
Luckily, I was able to sleep on the plane as a result and before we knew it we had bid the lovely country of Kenya goodbye and we found ourselves blinking ourselves awake in the morning light of London, England. Our next flight didn’t leave until that evening, so Kate and I hopped on the train and spent the day exploring the sights and bites of London. Kate lived there for several months the first time she studied abroad, so she shuttled us around like a pro. The contrast from the largely impoverished, laid-back, chaotic, and tropical Kenya to the very clean, expensive, organized, and cloudy United Kingdom was certainly startling. Reverse culture shock is a real thing. It was awesome to explore a city I have never seen for a bit, but my wallet was glad to get back to the airport at the end of the day.
A quick flight across the Atlantic and Kate and I were back in the United States of America. Oof. Thinking about it now brings the emotions flooding back for me. Coming back to a place after a trip is always so strange—mostly because that place is so familiar that it feels like you never left, yet you are not the same at all. I often struggle to reconcile that. We got back to Maine near midnight, where Kate and I said a tired and sad goodbye. The next day, I hopped on yet another plane and headed back to Wyoming at last. (Insert deep sigh here.)
There is no good way to conclude this incredible saga (both the trip and this super lengthy blog post…sorry about that). In short, my trip to Kenya was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life. It was the absolute best way to end my college career, as it involved a continued adventure, a healthy escape from the overwhelming emotions I experienced at the end of my time at Bowdoin, and I got to spend it with two people who have been incredibly meaningful and important to me during the past few years. I am now happily home in Wyoming and very content here working, spending time catching up with family and friends, hiking in my beloved Wind River mountains, and gearing up for my next great adventure: Ecuador. I want to thank all the people who made this possible, but especially to Kate for her unending wisdom, love, and light; to Chase for his superb hosting and planning skills, patience, and friendship, and to my family for their support of my travel choices, even when they aren’t always too excited about the destinations I choose. :)
Well, folks, if you have made it to the end I hope you know I appreciate it greatly and commend you for sticking it out. I will leave you here until I take of the Andes again in just a few short months. In the meantime, I plan to “haraka haraka iena Baraka” (unsure about the spelling on that one) as the Kenyans do. In other words, there is no sense in rushing, and I plan to do just that.
Thanks again for all your support, and I will see you again from South America! :)