I know I kind of discontinued this blog…
Well, I have been home for about 5 months. Ecuador is in my past, and I still can’t accept that. Each day, the details become a little bit fuzzier and I dread the day when almost all will be forgotten. I look at photos from my exchange and long for that life of freedom, adventure, and learning. My friends at school can only pretend to understand and sympathize, but they also realize that I have changed.
Counting down the days until I am free again.
In six weeks I will be back in Oregon. I will be with my family. I will be able to eat Subway and Jamba Juice. I will be able to speak English. I will be able to walk down the street without being called “Gringa.”
Sounds great, doesn’t it? I’m not so sure.
Yes, I am so so so excited to go back home, back to my country! But I will be leaving behind people that I might never see again. It’s so scary! When I said goodbye to my family last August it wasn’t really a goodbye…more like a “see you later.”Now it’s the real deal. As of now, I am still comforted by the fact that the time for those goodbyes is not here yet. I still have 5 weeks of enjoying Ecuador! Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens on that last week.
6 WEEKS. I’M SO EXCITED!!
Only in Textbooks
I remember learning about it in Biology class, reading excerps from “The Origin of Species”, and nervously giggling in the 7th grade when we found out there was a bird named “Blue-Footed Booby”. It was a place that I had only read about in textbooks, someplace far away that I only studied so that I could get an A on a test.
The Galapagos Islands. A place that can never be adequately described by a book or experienced through pictures. Because how can you ever really explain how it feels to swim alongside a sea turtle, to observe a shark feed on a school of fish, to watch the sunset with a marine iguana on the rock next to you. It’s simply indescribable.
But…I will try to explain as best as I can.
This past week I got to experience the magic of the Galapagos on a five day trip with all the rotary exchange students. Let the adventure begin!
Day 1: The day began at four in the morning with a three hour car ride to Quito. Once in Quito we met up with the other exchange students in the airport and soon enough we were flying over the Pacific Ocean headed to the Galapagos Islands. An intense sun and a stuffy airport were there to greet us. We quickly took off our jackets and rolled up our pant legs, ready for an amazing week!
We checked into our hotel room, met our guide, and then began the walk to the Charles Darwin Research Station. Time to see giant land turtles! It was really incredible to see these animals…they just looked so out of place in that environment! We would find them grouped together under the shade and one by one they would hobble out into the sun to eat. After taking pictures with the turtles we walked to another area where the famous Lonely George lives. Lonely George is the last turtle of kind and has refused to mate with any other turtles. He’s quite stubborn.
After we were done with the turtles we walked back to the hotel and had a nice “Welcome to Galapagos” dinner. Time for bed.
Day 2: On this day we got to experience the beauty of the Galapagos beaches. After a three kilometer walk we arrived at the most pristine beach I have ever seen in my life. White sand, turquoise water, and marine iguanas that would swim in the water with us. Jealous, much? We swam in the ocean for a couple hours and then hiked back through the cactus forest to our hotel.
After lunch we all boarded the bus and headed to a cave named The Tunnel of Love. The best part of this cave was that it had natural airconditioning meaning we were saved from the heat and burning sun for at least half an hour. We walked through the cave, listening to our guide ramble on about how it was formed, and cursing everytime we got scraped on a rock. It was kind of cool though…
That evening we were pretty much free to explore the city. We went out for ice cream, walked down to the dock to see the sea lions, and watched as the fisherman cleaned the fish they had caught. And so ended day two.
Day 3: Finally we got to go snorkeling! The boat dropped us off at what is called “Sea Lion Island,” which gets its name from the many sea lions that swim in that area. After a couple of minutes of figuring out how to put on our snorkeling masks, we all jumped into the water! I love snorkeling. I am always amazed at this whole other world that can be found underneath the surface. We saw hundreds of colorful fish, coral, and sea lions. A group of three sea lions were swimming and doing flips in the water…while always keeping a safe distance from us. After about an hour of snorkeling we all climbed back on the boat and sat down for lunch. Oh, and another exciting piece of information…LEONARDO DICAPRIO AND BILL GATES HAD BEEN ON THAT EXACT SAME BOAT!! The week before we were in Galapagos they had been visiting and the captain of the boat even had pictures to show us!
Anyways…back to the story.
So once we were done with lunch we hiked a kilometer to a place called “Las Peñas.” They are huge cliffs filled with fresh water…an ideal place to swim and cool off. The water was really cold at first but after a while I couldn’t feel my hands and feet anymore so it was fine. These cliffs were filled with small little tunnels that you had to pass through…not too much fun for a claustrophobic person…but I loved it! The locals also come to this place to go cliff diving. Once we saw them jumping we began to climb up the slippery rock, wanting to try it also. As soon as our guide saw us, however, he yelled at us to get down saying it wasn’t safe. Not fair. He may have been right, though…I did end up with a couple bruises.
At 3 p.m we arrived back in the hotel, lined up to take a shower, and then crashed onto our beds. I was so exhausted! After dinner we had free time once again…which just meant that everyone went to the supermarket to buy ice cream and sit in the air conditioning. End of day three.
Day 4: My favorite day of the trip. It was just a whole day of snorkeling! This time the boat dropped us off in a small bay known for its abundant wildlife. And sure enough, we weren’t dissapointed. The first cool discovery was a school of about a hundred thousand fish being circled by two white-tipped reef sharks. At first I thought this big black blob was rocks or coral but when I dived down I saw movement and the outline of thousands of fish. So cool! Some other great animal sightings were manta rays, trumpet fish, and once again sea lions. After a while the tide got pretty strong and one especially big wave swept me out into the ocean. I was still able to see the boat but it was pretty far away and when I looked into the water all I could see was blue. I was pretty much panicking considering the Galapagos is also famous for an abundance of hammerhead sharks…not something I would want to see all alone and far away from our boat. Which was why I just about had a heart attack when I saw a small black figure swimming torwards me. I quickly began to swim in the other direction but then decided to look back just to see what it was. I am so glad I did because it was a sea turtle! It looked just like the one from Finding Nemo! I was so excited and dived down so that I could see it up close. Wow. This was probably the most amazing part of the trip. The turtle didn’t even look at me, it just kept on swimming to some unknown destination. Once it was out of sight I concentrated on getting back to the boat so that I could brag about the sighting. So amazing.
In the evening we went to a private ranch for a barbeque, horse back riding, and a night of dancing and karaoke. I love karaoke so me and a friend eagerly grabbed the mike and sang our pitchy version of Beat It. Then it was back to the hotel to pack our bags so we could be ready to go the next morning.
Day 5: At 8 a.m we were outside the hotel with our bags packed and ready to board the bus. First we made a quick stop at a place named “Los Gemelos.” These were pretty much two hug holes in the earth formed when an enormous lava bubble popped. After ten minutes of picture taking we were back on the bus heading torwards the airport. At 11 a.m our flight took off torwards Quito and then it was three hours back to Riobamba (after a stop at McDonalds, of course). Bye Galapagos…
So pretty much, I am writing so much about this trip because I want to convince you to go to Galapagos! By far, these were the best five days of my exchange and the most beautiful place I have ever visited. So book your plane ticket!
The Bucket List
I’ve made sort of a bucket list.
No…I’m not dying. But my exchange is. Less than three months left in Ecuador! So to make sure that I take advantage of every opportunity here, I wrote down all of the things that I simply had to do before I went back to Oregon. And this past week…I got to cross off a pretty good amount of those things from my list.
Tuesday: I met up with the other exchange girls at the bus terminal (now like our second home) and said goodbye to our host families. Our trip started with a five hour drive in a bus without air conditioning, not too much fun. As soon as we pulled into the city of Guayaquil, however, our moods quickly changed. Guayaquil is the biggest city in Ecuador…and for us that meant seeing civilization for the first time since coming to this country. We would be staying in the house of the host family of a rotary exchange student from California. After a quick stop to drop off our luggage…we set out ready to experience Guayaquil. Wow. I hadn’t realized how much I missed seeing big buildings, highways, and shopping malls! I know it sounds shallow, but you try living in the small city of Riobamba for seven months! After an evening of shopping, sight-seeing, and enjoying the big city lights…we arrived at the house exhausted and thirsty and ready for bed. Good night.
Wednesday: Another item crossed off my list: Paragliding in the town of Crucita. It was amazing! After lots of asking for directions, we finally found the little paragliding comptany and they took us to the top of the only hill in Crucita. After briefing us on safety and what exactly we had to do, we got ready to jump! It was such an increadible feeling to be so high up with just a parachute to keep you from falling. The ride lasted 15 minutes during which we glided up and down the coastline, diving down and then letting the wind bring us back up again. I didn’t want it to end! Once we all had our turn, we got back on the bus and slept the whole way back to Guayaquil. Another great day!
Thursday: Now comes the crazy part. In the coastal province of Manabi lies a tiny hippie surf town called Montanita…and it is increadibly popular with tourists. It is kind of off limits to exchange students, mostly because Ecuadorians seem to think it is increadibly dangerous there. But we braved our chances, called our host parents and asked in our nicest voices if we could travel to Montanita (it was another item on our bucket list). After lots of sucking up, we got permission and excitedly got on a bus and got ready for just about the best weekend of our exchange. Pretty much, Montanita is my absolute favorite town in Ecuador. It is the perfect south american getaway! The ocean is a turquoise color, the streets are full of music and dancing, and the best part…it is very very cheap. We checked into a hostal that cost six dollars…but which also had a shower that electrecuted us and a little bit of an ant invastion. No worries though, it had an amazing view and lots of hammocks. So we were happy. After a quick nap and a swipe of mascara…we were ready to experience the Montanita night life! And let me say, we were not dissapointed. Dancing, bonfires on the beach, watching the sun rise…it was perfect. At 6 in the morning we headed back to our hotel room and collapsed on to our beds. What a night.
Friday: The days in Montanita started pretty late…like around one p.m. We went out for a late breakfast then applied about a bucket of sunscreen as we got ready for a day at the beach. It was a relaxing day of playing in the waves and taking naps under the beach umbrellas. After getting our first sunburns of the trip…we got some hamburgers and went back to the hotel to nap so that we wouldn’t be tired for the night time. Once again, it was another great night of salsa dancing, walking on the beach, and exchange students. How could life be any better?
Saturday: Another item checked off from the list…visiting the city of Salinas. After a pancake breakfast we took a bus 45 minutes to Salinas. Unfortunately, we got lost. We ended up getting off in a town called La Libertad, which was quite pretty as well, but wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. So 15 minutes later we were back on the bus and soon we arrived in Salinas! It was very different from Montanita, a lot more upscale and many big resorts and hotels. But the beach was like a swimming pool and we all quickly jumped in. We also paid two dollars and got to go on a banana boat which was quite fun…until I fell off. But I recovered and hopped back on while the other girls laughed at me. Then, at night we went back to Montanita and enjoyed our last night there. It was so sad to be leaving the next day!
Sunday: We had yet another pancake breakfast and then slowly packed up our stuff and said goodbye to Montanita. In three hours we were back in the bustling city of Guayaquil where we once again ate at McDonalds and then went back to our house to rest up after a long day.
Monday: Our vacation is over! After a five hour bus ride to Riobamba, it was time to go back to our normal routine. But this time…with our Bucket List a little shorter!
Baby Michael Serenade
I think I’m still blushing…
Usually I’m the first one on the bus when our principal mentions a school fieldtrip, this time however…I wish I had stayed behind.
We were taken to the Centro de Arte y Cultura where we would be watching short films made by students from the local high school. We all filed into the auditorium and made ourselves comfortable. After about an hour of watching films about saying no to drugs we had a short break. To entertain us, a rapper wannabe named Baby Michael came up on stage…thus began my complete humilitation. Some girls from my class decided that it would be extremely amusing to shout out “Alex loves Baby Michael.” Obsviously Baby Michael (what kind of name is that, anyways?) noticed all the shouting and pointing at me so he decided to play along and dedicate his next song to me. The song was titled something along the lines of “I can’t live without you.” Oh god. He came up to where I was sitting, and I nervously avoided looking at his eyes for the three minutes of the song. Once the music finally stopped he gave me a kiss on the cheek and his hat…so that I would never be allowed to forget that horrible moment.
Now at school I’m called Miss Baby Michael. Great.
The Jungle Book
Monkeys, mosquitoe bites, floating down the Napo River, hiking through the rainforest, jungle boys, poisonous snakes, and exchange students. Doesn’t that sound like the recipe for the perfect week?
The Jungle adventure began on February 17 with my bug spray and sun screen in hand. So, here is what happened during one amazing week in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador:
Day 1: The taxi picked me up from my house at 6 a.m and I quickly said goodbye to my half-asleep family. After driving three hours, we arrived at the Quito VIP airport and ran over to where the other rotary exchange students were. It was so great…we hadn’t seen each other in over three months! The flight was quick…15 minutes up and 15 minutes down, but it was the first time I had ever been in a VIP plane so that was pretty cool . The plane landed in the city of Coca with the heat and humidity there to greet us. The next step on our trip was a three hour boat ride on the Napo River to the lodge that we would be staying at. Once at the lodge, we dropped of our luggage in our rooms and took a short walk to the top of a hill where you could see for miles. It was so beautiful…I couldn’t believe that I was really in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador!
Day 2: A day in the Amazon starts early; breakfast was at 7:00 a.m…ugh. I was hoping I would get some extra sleep on this trip! After eating pancakes and scrambled eggs (not what I expected to be a traditional Amazonian breakfast…) we walked to the local high school. Most of the kids in this school live in dorms there because they come from out of town to study. The teachers divided us into groups and we all got to do a different activity with the students. I got to make bracelets that the kids would then sell to raise funds…I was quite pleased because the other group got the wonderful job of cleaning out the pig pen. Hah. After lunch, we crossed the river and walked to the house of the local healer called a “shaman.” Supposedly he was going to take out all of our bad spirits, so we all eagerly lined up for our spiritual cleansing. It was quite the experience. In the evening we went swimming in the Napo River for hours and once the sun had set we headed up to the hotel for dinner. Did I mention…I love the Amazon?!?
Day 3: The motto of the day: Let’s get to work. We started out the day with a small community service project that left my arms sore and my back aching. We dug sand out of the river and hauled it in bags half a mile into the rainforest where the indigenous community uses it for a variety of purposes. Fun, right? We repeated this process until lunch time…where another treat was in store for us. We got to experience a traditional meal from the Amazon: tilapia cooked in banana leaves, fried yucca, heart of palm, stinging nettle salad, and just wait for it…live grubs. Yum. After I got over the initial fear of eating a live bug, I realized it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting! Just another experience to add to my book, I guess. After that delicious lunch, we went on a two hour hike through the Ecuadorian outback. It was so beautiful despite the fact that all us were sweaty and tired. After we emerged from the rainforest, there was a chiva (a bus that has seats on the roof) waiting for us. At that point, the universe was on our side because it started raining and we all welcomed the cold water. Once back at the hotel it was dinner and then into bed…we didn’t even protest our early bedtime that day because we were all so exhausted!
Day 4: This day was a bit more relaxed, which suited us just fine as we were all a bit tired out from the previous day. In the morning we experienced a little more of the Amazon lifestyle by going to a nearby town where they hold a weekly market. They had everything you could possibly need there since for most of the locals it is the only place that they can buy food and toiletries for the week. After spending the morning at the market and eating lunch, we changed into our swimsuits and then came probably one of the best parts of the week! For the whole day it had been pouring and the river had risen about 5 feet. So we went on a quick boatride about a mile upstream from the hotel, put on our lifejackets, and jumped out of the boat. Then we just drifted down the river, letting the current take us wherever it pleased. It was so much fun! How many people can say they’ve drifted down the Napo River in the Amazon Rainforest? At night we built a fire, danced, and then told ghost stories…I didn’t want the day to end!
Day 5: Time to say goodbye to the Amazon and head back to Riobamba. We packed our bags and once again went on the three hour boat ride to the city of Coca where we boarded the plane. After a quick stop in Quito to eat McDonalds we drove back to Riobamba and it was back to our normal Ecuadorian life again.
I can’t wait for our next trip to the Galapagos!