Some Things I Have Learned on my Trip so Far…

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1.       Sometimes people are just helpful. My initial reaction to all the guides bothering me at the bus stations when I got off was to ignore them and walk through. But it turns out that these guys are willing to walk to you to whichever hostal you want, help you find the right one if you don’t know what you want, and set you up with a tour if you want one. They will even pick you up, drop you off, and help you buy your bus ticket. The best part is, they are just working and trying to help, and someone must be paying them, but it isn’t me.

2.       I am not cut out for the party beach lifestyle. Although Montanita is a really fun pretty town with lots of seafood, being covered in sand and bug bites paired with a hostal that is more of a heat box than a room and blasting techno music until 6 am basically lines up to be my worst nightmare.

3.       Quechan women are badass. They walk all day every day for miles and miles around the country side, carrying vegetables on their backs and herding their livestock. And not only do they do all this, they do it in a skirt. Not only a skirt, but brightly colored skirts, accompanied with bright tights and shoes resembling Mary Jane´s  and the best part is the top hat that they always have on, it reminds me of Abraham Lincoln. I wish I was that cool.

4.       Humans were not intended to ride the bus for days at a time. After one night on the bus I looked down at my feet  and ankles and they were swollen, I loosened my keens and started to freak out, wondering if I was having some sort of reaction to the gallons of itch cream I had been applying, but it turns out it was just because I had been sitting for 12 hours, all is well now that I´ve been walking and hiking.

5.       Piura sucks. Trujillo is pretty. But seeing both of them was an unplanned experience I can attribute to the bus system.

6.       If you sit in a plaza long enough, you will get offered absolutely anything.  From tours to lunch dates to a free trip on San Pedro Mescaline to help me bring in the New Year with a new vision and a cleansed life…at least No is No in Spanish and English so there isn’t any confusion.

7.       Ecuador is easier than Peru. More than anything because when I´m in Ecuador I don´t have to constantly wonder how much money I´m spending in dollars. But also because Ecuador is about the size of Colorado and has one main road in the whole country, and Peru is a bit more confusing than that. And apparently my Spanish has become very Ecuadorian, and my constant use of the words “mande (what?  Or pardon?) ” or “chevre (cool) ” always seem to receive a confused “where are you from?” response…Peruvians are wondering who this crazy American gringa is who travels alone and speaks Ecuadorian slang Spanish in an English accent.

8.       Being away from your family on Christmas sucks. No matter where you are.

9.       Riding the bus is a surprisingly awesome way to see a country. As long as you can get past the uncomfortable sleeping and controlling your water intake, it is a way to see parts of a country that you would never see by plane. And you get to meet a lot of cool people who are also traveling.

10.   Traveling alone is lonely and liberating. Depending on the day, time, and situation.

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My Last Weekend in Cosanga

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I can’t believe it’s here already. In so many ways time has flown, yet I have become completely accustomed to my life here and I feel like I have been here for a long time. It’s hard to imagine that I won’t be walking across the street to buy eggs from Don Lucho or that I won’t see kids constantly running off to the river while reading in the hammock on the front porch. Just now when one of our high school students told me that Wednesday would be the last time I saw her did it really hit me, it will be the last time. Of course there is always the possibility that I will be back, or that she will be in the United States one day, but realistically, this is goodbye forever. The thought is hard to comprehend at this point, these kids and this town have become such a part of my daily life, I’m not sure what happens from here. What I do know is that I have fallen in love with so many of the students here, and have learned so much from them. I am going to miss each student in their own way, and am going to forever value the unique experiences I have had with each one of them. I can only hope that they have learned something from me, whether it be English or not.

I spent my last weekend in Cosanga exactly as I wanted. Reading on the hammock, spending my Friday night putting away a few Pilsner’s with Gladiz, and Saturday night over at Vale’s house. Zo and I went to Vale’s to really experience a day in the life of a Cosangan. And that is exactly what we did. We spent the evening helping Don Falconi milk his cows, and learning about his project on growing sustainable pasture grass. Don Falconi shared with us all kinds of wisdoms on how to be successful in life, his main piece of advice: be energized and passionate about everything you do. He explained that if you are not energized, you will not do it well, and if you are not passionate, you will not enjoy it. And if you aren’t enjoying the things you do and you aren’t doing them well, then what is the point? That’s something that I can live by. After we had milked the cows, we took the milk up to the house and made some cheese. Making cheese was surprisingly easier than I anticipated, whereas milking the cows was the opposite. I struggled with my aim. We spent the rest of the night making dinner, Don Falconi played the guitar and sang some classic revolutionary music for us, and we danced (or attempted to dance) salsa in the kitchen. It was wonderful to be invited in to the family and really get to experience the richness of the Ecuadorian culture.

It is safe to say I am going to miss so many things about this town and Ecuador in general, and I really do feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to embark on the many adventures I’ve had here, from climbing Sumaco to starting the revolution. Now I am headed off on a solo trip through Peru. I’m not sure I’ll be blogging during that time, but we will see. After that, headed back to America! Can’t believe it, and the adventure continues.

Pictures to Come: https://picasaweb.google.com/105693960006950120100

A Little Trip to the Amazon

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As my weekends in Ecuador are coming to a rapid close, I have been trying to accomplish all the things on my list (and yes, I made a list). One of those adventures was to go on a rafting trip into the Amazon Jungle. So I did a little bit of research and found a day trip that goes out of Tena to the Jantunyacu River. It was $55 dollars for the day, which included all the gear, transportation, and a nice lunch. The price was a little high in terms of what we usually spend on adventures in Ecuador, but Zo and I decided it was worth it. Who knows if or when Ill ever have the chance to take a rafting trip into the jungle again. So we headed down to Tena Friday afternoon, did some shopping, used the internet, and got some dinner. We went to my favorite pizza place which is on the corner of the river, although they are doing some construction so the monkeys don’t come around anymore, but the pizza and view were still good. I had never spent the night in Tena before, and I am really happy I did. The town has a completely different feel at night. Originally I didn’t like it much, it was always hot, humid, and dirty, and I was generally pretty happy to get there, get what I needed, and get back to Cosanga. However, we had the rafting trip on Saturday so we had the whole evening to see a new side of Tena. Apparently Friday night is when all the gringos come out to Tena to do their river adventuring. It was funny because I had always seen a few other foreigners around when I was there but this time Zo and I felt an influx. There was a group of 14 dutch people at the pizza place with us, and multiple groups of other travelers around where we got breakfast the next day. I guess the town is more touristy than we realized. It was kind of a surreal experience to be perturbed by seeing a lot of groups of “gringos”. I hadn’t realized how used to being the only one around until that wasn’t the case anymore. Its funny the things you get used to without knowing it.

 

After we finished up our pizza we walked up to a frozen yogurt place and got some ice cream (the first time since I’ve been here that I have had ice cream not out of a convenient store freezer box!) and it was delicious. We took a walk across the bridge, took some pictures in the park and headed back to our seedy $5 hostel for the night. I really enjoyed seeing Tena in the lights at night but once I was back in the hostel I immediately remembered why I love living in Cosanga more: the heat. Our room had one window and four white cement walls, and it felt like an oven. At around midnight it cooled down a bit and I finally got to sleep. I set my alarm for 7 am in vain, knowing I would be up before then with the temperature of the new day. Zo and I both woke up at about 6 am, got ready, and went on a hunt for a breakfast place where we could get coffee that wasn’t Nescafé mixed in water. We found the only place open, and it was connected to a nice hostel. We quickly figured out this is the tourist’s place to go for breakfast. Although I wasn’t mad about being a tourist because I was able to get real coffee, some orange juice, and eggs and toast for $3. We slowly sipped on our coffee refills until it was time to walk over to the rafting agency. We went in and found that they had to get a new guide for us for that day, and they were concerned because his English was poor. We told them it was fine if we needed to speak Spanish all day. We waited around the agency until about 9:00 when the rest of our group showed up. The only other people coming with us were these two people who had come in from Quito for the weekend. The girl was from Quito, and was a fashion designer. The man with her was an Italian photographer who spoke more English than Spanish. They were a great pair to have along for the trip. It made for a day full of Spanglish mixed with a touch of Italian. Once everything was ready to go, we set off on about an hour cab ride up to the launching point. We got up there, got a quick safety briefing, and got into the river. Just in time for the pouring rain. The guides were excited about the rain because the river level was low; being it is the dry season. The rain was nice, and the view was incredible. We really were deep into the jungle. The rafting trip itself was pretty mild, with a few rough rapids. Although, we were playing a game called “Cowboy” where someone rides on the front end of the raft holding onto a rope, and rides the front like a cowboy. Matizias, the Italian with us, was the cowboy, and we hit a rapid and he flew off the front and knocked me right out of the raft. The raft ran me over and the kayaker had to come rescue me because it all happened at the beginning of one of the rapids. My main concern was to not lose my paddle, so once I had that in hand and was on the back of the kayak, I took it as some extra fun. It was an added experience to be able to ride rapids on the back of a kayak. I didn’t realize that everyone was concerned that I was freaked out until I got back into the raft and they were all starting at me making sure I was okay. Apparently it looked more dramatic than it felt. On the trip we stopped for lunch at a cabana and had a picnic that the guides prepared for us. It consisted of fresh fruit, sandwiches, and of course Doritos and Sprite. By the time we got down to the pick up point at about 4 pm I was pretty tired but had a really great day. Once we got the raft out of the water we had our driver waiting for us, beers in hand. Pilsener of course. Despite the taste of the beer, I greeted the refreshment happily. Even though I have about 150 bug bites to prove that I was in the Amazon, I had an awesome day. It will be another adventure in Ecuador that I won’t forget. 

https://picasaweb.google.com/105693960006950120100/ALittleTripToTheAmazon

Putting our Stamp on the School

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This past week, one of the teachers at the school, Eduardo, asked us to participate in painting a mural on the school wall. Apparently the Governor of Quijos asked every school to take part in a celebration of the Christmas holiday by painting a mural that represents the rights and responsibilities of the students. With the presentations of the murals, the students were asked to do a musical performance as well.

When asked, I quickly told Eduardo that I couldn’t draw, but Zo could. So Zo and I discussed what we could paint on the mural, and Zo sketched a drawing of a volcano and a child getting ready to hike it. The climb representing education and all of its challenges, the summit representing the endless possibilities that a strong education can provide; on the student, there would be a backpack, representing the tools that the school can provide for the difficult climb, as well as a walking stick, which would represent family support. We decided that the metaphor may be clearer if we posted a message with the mural, so we landed on “La educación es el sendero a la oportunidad” and at the top of the mural we wrote “Si se puede…”.

Zo did most of the painting, especially the artistic detailing, and I did the writing. While he was painting our portion, I helped by finishing up the painting on the side that the teachers had already drawn. Of course the project ended up taking much longer than anticipated, but I think we were both happy when it was done. It was fun to be able to add our own piece to the school, and provide a daily reminder of what we believe education to be. A quality education really can provide these students with infinite possibilities, and we want them to know that they can do anything if they work for it. Of course, this can’t be accomplished by a single mural, but it can provide an image of what we are trying to do here in Cosanga.

https://picasaweb.google.com/105693960006950120100/PuttingOurStampOnTheSchool

Agua y Aventura! If you can get through the gate first…

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On Friday morning Zo and I packed up our packs, bought some cans of tuna and some rice and headed out to Las Tres Marias. We didn’t know much about the area, except that the Tres Marias are three waterfalls, and I had seen a sign for a trail from the road a few times before. So we jumped on the bus, and then got off when we saw the trail sign. The sign boasted that the area was full of “Agua y Aventura” and claimed that there was a campground, a trail between the three waterfalls, and bird watching. So we took our packs and headed down the trail. About 30 feet into the trail we hit a bridge, and conveniently, it was locked. Who puts a gate on a bridge to a public trail and then locks the gate? Ecuadorians. So, we tried to find a way around the bridge to get to the other side of the trail, but crossing the river looked deep and difficult. So we went back up to the road, looking for an easier place to cross. We gave up, and went back to the entrance of the trail. We saw a man on the other side of the bridge tying up his horse with his cows. So I played the dumb gringa card and just stood at the gate staring at him. He crossed the bridge, and introduced himself. I asked him if there was a trail and camping like the sign said, and if we were allowed to use it. He told me of course we could, but the trail isn’t maintained, and the camping was actually just pitching our tent in his yard. We decided it was worth the one dollar to tromp through the unmaintained trail, but that it wasn’t worth our 5 dollars to sleep with his cows. So we took a nice two-hour hike up to the waterfalls. It was difficult to get through all of the fallen trees and plants, but being at the base of the two waterfalls was definitely worth it. Once we carefully maneuvered around the angry bull on our way down, we crossed the bridge and had a nice picnic in the rain haha. I am learning to love how the simplest things always seem to become difficult in one way or another, and it just adds to the adventure. 

 

Pictures: https://picasaweb.google.com/105693960006950120100

A Shopping Trip Up North

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From what I have seen of Ecuador, I found the town I would live in. This past weekend Zo and I went to a small town up north called Otovolo. Despite the fact that the bus ride was horrendous, between transfers it took us about 7 hours to get there, going up north was really interesting. It is easy to see the Spanish influence in the homes; they are much more like large estate haciendas, then the smaller shanty-esque homes around Cosanga. The bus ride was interesting because most people were on their way to Columbia. I have decided I’m not quite brave enough for that border crossing. Fortunately, our destination was about 3 hours south of the border, so we didn’t have much to worry about. Finally reaching Otovolo was a relief. The purpose of our trip came from the advice of a taxi driver in Quito. He told us we could not leave Ecuador without going to the Artisan market in Otovolo, so I took his word for it, and I’m happy I did. The Artisan market is the largest in South America, and one of the largest in the world. After wading through the strange assortment of goods from the United States and China (Puma tennis shoes, Abercrombie t-shirts, Nike socks 5 for $1!) we made it to the soul of the market. I was immediately glad I only brought 50 dollars. I could have bought everything. So many Alpaca sweaters, brightly colored blankets and scarves, and all the beaded jewelry I could want. The hardest things to say no to were all the fantastic items for babies; Lucy is going to get a bag full of gifts when I get home. Small things are so hard to say no to. Even without the market, Otovolo itself is a great town. It has cobblestone streets, small restaurants, and a gorgeous square with a church. After the long bus ride, Zo and I decided to stay the night. We stumbled into a restaurant that turned out to have a movie theater inside of it. So we bought our two-dollar tickets to the showing of the new Batman movie, it’s always strange to watch an English movie dubbed in Spanish, especially in the attic of a restaurant in some northern town of Ecuador. But the whole trip turned out to be worthwhile.

Pictures!
https://picasaweb.google.com/105693960006950120100

The Pursuit of Happiness

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I can’t believe it is almost December! I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I was sad to be away from my family, but we were able to pull it off down here. We had a nice party at the house with the High School students, we talked about the meaning of Thanksgiving, where it came from, and what it has become. We also talked about what we were thankful for (in English of course!) and here is what they said:

Nando: I am thankful for my city and for God.

Joselyn: I am thankful for my family and learning.

Johana: I am thankful for my family and for having the volunteers from the United States.

Jordy: I am thankful for being alive.

Zuly: I am thankful for my mother and my studies and my boyfriend.

Vale: I am thankful for all of the experiences I have had in my life and for being alive; for valuing all of the moments in my life and knowing they will never happen again. And I am thankful for who I am.

Gersson: I am thankful for having food and being alive.

It was really interesting to discuss Thanksgiving with the students because here in the Oriente there is still such a strong connection to the Indigenous culture. It was hard to explain to them that our Thanksgiving really isn’t about the Indigenous culture so much anymore, and that in reality what happened between us and the Native Americans is a tragedy. But we were able to eat Stuffing, Chicken, and cookies. And the next day Loren actually made a pumpkin pie. It was an interesting take, considering we made it in a frying pan and the spices were chai tea, but it was much better than I expected.

This week I finished up the Curriculum Outline I have been working on for the Roots. I have been feeling a little frustrated, or maybe lost, because I’m not sure what the goal is for our students. Obviously, we want them to learn English. But I feel like I have been battling with myself on whether that means vocabulary, grammar, or something more. What is it that we are really trying to achieve? In my mind, the purpose of education is to open doors, plant seeds, and give new possibility. And I have been feeling like simply teaching word-sets in English isn’t doing this. But the more I observe the culture surrounding the Education system here, I’m not sure that there is much more expected out of education than a simple regurgitation of notes from the board. And certainly, just because the other teachers aren’t doing more than that, doesn’t mean that we cant. And we want to. Zo and I have been trying to find any possible way to get through. This week in the High School class we watched The Pursuit of Happyness. I told the students we would watch it with subtitles, and that we could discuss it in Spanish. My purpose was not to learn more English from the film necessarily, but it was that they consider what else they could learn from the film. So I asked them what they learned, and how they could apply it to their lives. The answers were underwhelming. It is frustrating because I know it is not the fault of the kids. It is not that they don’t want to learn; it is that they have never been taught to think past their workbooks. I’m just struggling because where do I draw the line? Do I attempt to break through that cultural boundary and teach them critical thinking skills? Or do I accept that this is the culture surrounding their education and work within that framework. I’m hoping that the curriculum I’ve written will at least provide some more structure and direction within our English program, and maybe with time this will help us to build relationships and create classroom environments where the kids know that they have choices in their lives. They do not need to have a child at age 20, they have more possibilities for jobs than a dairy farmer or a bus driver, and they can do whatever they want to as long as they work for it.