About Me

I am in South America from October 3rd until December 17th! I am spending the month of October volunteering in a child care center in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Then I have a month and a half to explore Ecuador and Peru!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I am HOME!!!!

I did it! 2 1/2 months in South America! And now I am HOME!!! Safely. And guess what? I did not get robbed! I am so thankful that I did not get robbed. If you let your guard down for a second your camera or phone or backpack will be stolen. And whoever stole it will resell it to buy food or gas for cooking or Christmas presents for their family. So I had to be careful all the time and it paid off. I am home safely.

It is so great to just relax. I still haven't unpacked my bags yet though. In all honesty I have spent the last day and a half sleeping. Either I have something or my stomach is having a hard time adjusting to American food. Either way, it is great to be home safely.

I spent most of Thursday (I had a 12 hour lay over) in the Atlanta, Georgia airport. There happens to be an Army boot camp and center there so I saw hundreds of Army people in the airport.

To put this in to perspective: I went from being surrounded by Latin men to being with hundreds of polite Army fellows. It was a shock in and of itself to not be whistled at every 5 seconds. I ended up eating lunch with a really nice Army guy from Aurora, CO who had just finished boot camp. He was so happy to eat pizza! And so was I. Just before we parted ways we said goodbye and hugged. Then I started walking away. I took about three steps then turned around and grabbed his arm and said, "Thank you for serving our country." And with tears in my eyes I walked away.

That night at about 7 I landed in the Denver airport. I was so relieved/overjoyed when I saw Mikala standing near my baggage claim! I yelled "Mikala!" and ran to her. Then my mom and Olivia appeared. :) (I don't have words for what I felt when I saw everyone after so long in South America).

I picked up Olivia and swung her around! And gave my mom a big hug. I cannot imagine what it was like for her to send her baby to South America. I know you prayed for me a lot while I was gone Mommia--thank you! It kept me safe.

After a nice dinner at Maccaroni Grill and a 4 hour drive back to North Platte I found Adam and Ivan asleep on the couches. I woke them up and said hello then crawled in to bed with my dad just before he had to go to work.

It is great to be back in America. I love this contry! And there is nothing that can enforce that better than leaving it for a while.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Deja Vu

Hello from Quito! Being back here in the city I spent the first month of my trip in feels like Deja Vu. I walk down the same streets I walked down before. I take the same busses I took. I take salsa classes at the same studio. I hang out with and see the same people. It feels like I never left. Like Peru was just a dream. But I have all these memories so I know I had to have gone. And when I walk down the streets of Quito I feel different. Somehow stronger? More relaxed? Happier? I am not sure if I could ever put my finger on it. But going to Peru sola, changed me somehow.

My whole 2 1/2 months went by quickly! All 75 days of it...

And here I am. On my last day in South America.

Today I stopped by the daycare for a visit. It was so great to see all of my kiddos! When they saw me they all started yelling "Tia! Tia!" and ran over to me to give me a hug.

And it was great to see the other teachers. My Spanish has improved during my month in Peru so now I could actually understand most of what they said and I could also communicate what was in my head. Spoon feeding the kids their lunches was such a familiar activity, it made me feel like I had not left. But then I talked with the teachers about Peru and what has gone on at the daycare and suddenly that month felt like years.

My flight leaves tonight (or should I say tomorrow morning) at 12:40. Half of me can hardly wait to get on that plane and head back HOME. The other half of me would like to skip the plane back and go back to Cusco.

But I know I am going to get on my plane. I am ready to go back home. I have had my dose of living out of a backpack and taking busses down dirt roads from town to town. I have had my fair share of illnesses as well as tastes of heaven. I have met so many amazing people from all over the world. I have experienced different cultures and seen people live happily in lives I couldn't have even imagined before. And now, my friends, I am ready to go home.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Uno mas aventura!!!

Uno mas aventura is my new slogan. I only have...2 more days here in South America and I keep finding myself thinking uno mas aventura! or one more adventure! I am ready to unpack my bags and just stay somewhere and relax for a while but...while I am in Evuador...uno mas aventura!

So what was my last adventure? To find la selva, the jungle.

I found the jungle alright.

And got lost in it.

Let me start this story from the beginning...on Sunday I got on a bus to Tena which is a town that is surrounded by jungle. On the 6 hour ride I sat next to a 19 year old native named Jonathan. He suggested that I go to Musuahili to find the jungle and offered to go with me the next day.

So after staying the night in Tena and waking up to find ANTS (harmless right?) in my bed I met up with Jonathan and we got on a 1 hour bus to go to Musuahili. Musuahili is unique because it has jungle and beach! Two rivers connect and there is a nice area with sand banks where people and monkeys alike hang out and fight playfully.

Jonathan and I went to the beach. Just as we were getting in to the river the sky opened up and poured rain. But the air was so warm it was all comfortable! Jonathan had to leave early but I stayed and hung out at the beach for a while and watched monkeys stealing food from unsuspecting families and children.

Last night I met a bunch of Australians hanging out at a hostel. They are doing a volunteer project in a nearby village and all stay at this one hostel. I got to talking with them and somehow it came up that I was in Musuahili in search of the jungle. The guy who is in charge of the volunteer project (and has lived here for years) suggested that I go find Carlos and set up a tour with him. So I found Carlos. And set up a tour for today. A family of four were thinking about joining the tour but ended up not.

So this morning Carlos and I hopped in to the back of a pickup truck and went for a ride to a nice place away from towns in the jungle. The pickup truck ride was one of my favorite parts of the day. I saw so much jungle and what can beat standing up in the bed of a truck and ducking out of the way of branches?

Anyways, we arrived at our little entrance and entered the jungle. Just like that. One second we were on the road. One step later I was in the jungle. Carlos explained that we were going to walk around for a while in the Primary Forest (forest in a state of equilibrium with tall trees, medium plants and small young ones) and possibly encounter Secondary Forest (where a tree has fallen and suddenly the plants on the forest floor grow rapidly because of all the sun).

Oh did I mention we did not have a trail?

So we walked for a while and saw big trees and trees called Walking Palms. These ones are really cool, the roots are half way above ground and they can actually move as much as 15 centimeters per year to get to soil with more nutrients. We also heard cool birds and saw colorful butterflies.

A couple hours later we came upon a trail and decided to follow it. We came out of the selva at another road. We had a snack and Carlos said he would prefer to cut straight through the forest to the other road instead of walking in the sun to the other road. Ok, I thought. He knows what hes doing.

So we sat down and had a little snack of bread, water and bananas. A guy walked by and Carlos asked him if the trail we were on went straight through to the road. The guy said he had no idea. This is when I wondered how well Carlos knew the forest. My Australian friend had recommmended Carlos to me as a guide. And in talking with Carlos I found out he had been guiding for 25 years. I had felt secure going in to the jungle with him.

Then we went back in and followed the trail for a while then lost it. Then we turned to the right. I thought, That is funny, I thought the road was the other direction...but my sense of direction is always bad, I will just follow Carlos, he knows where he is going.

About 15 minutes and lots of crazy turns later Carlos turned around and said, ¨Somos perdidos.¨ which literally translates to ¨We are lost.¨

That is when a giant boa constrictor dropped from the tree right in front of our faces. Luckily Carlos had his machetti and he chopped its head off with one swing. Then a pack of monkeys ambushed us. They pulled our hair looking for flead and stole my rubber boots. Sunndenly they stopped the ambush and took off swinging in one direction. Carlos and I turned around to see none other than a giant black panther. It looked us in the eyes, gave one snarl and then-

You dont believe that do you? Really, that is when I pulled out my handy dandy compass. On my last trip to the store before I came my mom bought me a cute little compass that also doubles as a whistle and thremometer and magnifying glass. I hooked it on my backpact and never have actually had to use it until today. Carlos and I found the beautiful direction West and headed in that direction. We walked and walked. I wondered what it would be like to sleep in the forest and wished I had thought to bring my head lamp.

Then we stumbled upon a trail that Carlos said he remembered using more or less 4 years ago. So we followed that. And I was thirsty but did not want to drink any of my water because I wanted to conserve it for later when I might need it more. We walked at while more and I thought about what food I had: an orange, a granadilla, altoid ginger mints and vitamins. Enough to live on for a while right? Then Carlos said 15 minutes to the road and sure enough, about 15 minutes later we came out of the jungle and on to the road. Just like that. One second we were in the jungle and one step later we were on the road. I have never been so grateful to see a dirt road before!

Luckily just then a truck drove by and we hopped in the back and rode to a nice little river where we swam for a while. While we were swimming Carlos said something to the extent of ¨You thought we were lost in there for a while. But we werent lost. We are here in the river now.¨ Ha! Really??? Do you want to rewind an hour and tell me this?

Currently I am at my hostel. It is really cute, one of my favorite hostels on my whole trip. I have a nice big bed with stark white sheets and a floral mosquito net over it. I also have a private bathroom with surprisingly warm water.

Friday, December 11, 2009

**** airports ***

I am back in Quito, Ecuador now! When I bought my original ticket to South America I bought it in to and out of Quito. I later bought tickets from Quito to Lima and then from Cusco back to Quito. And now here I am, again, in Quito.

I am happy to be back. It feels like another home. But the airport this morning was a nightmare!!!!!!

My plane left at 7:40 this morning. Last night I went to my favorite bar, Km 0, where my favorite local Peruvian band was playing. And I decided to stay up all night and just sleep in the airport and on the plane the next morning, no big deal.

After a night of dancing I got to my hostel at about 3:30 this morning. I thought about sleeping but I knew that if I slept I would miss my plane. So I decided to take a shower.

It was a little over zealous of me to think there would be hot water at 3:30 in the morning.

So at around 4 I was sitting on my be in my hostel with nothing to do so I decided to just go to the airport and sleep at my gate so I would not miss my plane.

I got to the airport before it even opened and ended up having to sit outside the gate and wait with two teachers from Peru who were also very early.

Finally the airport opened at 5 but I ended up having to wait until 6 to begin to check in. Checking in was a trip.

1) I bought a didgeriedoo yesterday. It is a long instrument that makes a vibrating noise. I was planning on carrying it on the plane with me since it is fragile but the woman said I could not. She suggested I wrap it in plastic for protection. Ha! I busted out my sleeping bag and wrapped my instrument in it then plastic wrapped it.

2) My bag got searched. Inside and out. I had to take everything out of my carefully packed and stuffed backpack and let the man go through everything from my stuffed animal that Olivia sent with me to my vitamins. My clean clothes and even my dirty ones. It was a great experience. The whole time I was on the edge of laughing and crying. But just laughter came out as the airport attendant went through all the crazy things I had in my bag. haha. Having someone inspect everything you have in your bag really makes you think about what you packed.

So that was just the check-in.

One positive: I met a guy from California named Will in Cusco and we hung out togeher at Km 0 one night. We were both surprised to see eachother at the airport! He got his bag searched too. We went through the nightmare together, but his experience wasnt as bad as mine.

Next I had to go through security with my carry on bag. I got through alright. But the airport attendant scanned my bag, looked at the image and said, "There is something sharp in your bag." ****. My pocket knife. I had forgotten to put it in my bag to be checked in. ****. Before I came to South America I bought a nice little Swiss Army Knife. It was one of the best things I brought with me. I use it almost daily to cut avocado, mangos or whatever else needs cutting.

I opened my bag, took out my knife. Said (in Spanish) "This costed me $25. Do you want it? It is nice. You can have it." And with tears in my eyes I handed over my knife.

Then I found Will and he let me cry to him about losing my knife. Then I bought an Almond Joy and had a moment of peace.

Will and I were lucky enough that the seat next to him on the plane was empty so I sat there instead of my assigned number. We talked a little. Then I turned on my iPod and slept.

When the plane landed I had about half an hour until my next plane took off. And I had to go through customs because it was and international flight from Lima in Peru to Quito in Ecuador.

I got through customs alright. But the lady scanned my bag, then rescanned it. Then said there was something pokey and a man searched my bag. He took out my metal Reflexology tool that is used to stimulate reflexes with precision. It looks like a needle with a ball on the end. It really looks worse than it is. Long story short I was not allowed to have it. There was a large transparent plastic case containing all of the dangerous items that had been confiscated. The airport people were nice enough to let me throw the tool in there myself. :). So with tears in my eyes I dropped it in the case.

Then I went to Will and once again he let me cry.

Then I realized I had 8 minutes until my plane left so I ran to my terminal only to find out the flight was delayed one hour. Thank you. So I went and bought some chocolate. Chocolate. What could be better in that situation? I found a seat at my gate and ate my chocolate and let the musical expertice of James Brown and Rusted Root revive my soul.

Then I got on my plane and slept the whole way to Quito.

And now here I am. In the South American Explorers Club. Tonight I am going to find Truman (remember my travelling companion from the beginning of my journey?) and we are going to catch up before he leaves for home tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

MachuPicchu! WynaPicchu!

This is the view of Machu Picchu from the top of Wyna Picchu. In the native language Machu Picchu means "old peak" while Wyna Picchu means "young peak." They are two mountains on either side of the "Lost City of the Incas" AKA Machu Picchu. The Incas began to build it around 1430 AD but abandoned it less than 100 years later when the inhabitants were killed by small pox. The city remained a secret to the majority of the world until its "scientific exploration" in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983.

When the Spaniards invaded and destroyed they did not find Machu Picchu. As a result much of the city is still in tact. Its original beauty and majesty has survived centuries!

Last time I wrote was on Thanksgiving...after that special holiday I stayed another 3 nights in Puno with CA 1, 2, and 3 and Frenchie (Caty). Our group really didnt do much in Puno. Puno is high in altitude and subconsciously I believe when I am high in altitude I do not feel like doing much. Luckily, our hostel had a sufficient kitchen and we were right next to the Central Market! For the next 3 nights we cooked big breakfasts and dinners. Grilled cheese and tomato soup, pasta with creamy garlic sauce, breakfast smooties, quinoa pudding...we celebrated Thanksgiving for three days afterward to make up for the lack of turkey and cranberries! haha.

After Puno I headed straight to Cusco. And it is this city that I have fallen in love with. The city and the people.

On the way to Cusco my California boys got off the bus a few hours in to the trip to hike in to some tiny town in the jungle in search of a man of 125 years. Caty and I headed to Cusco. Our first night here we met a Canadian man and we all went to a bar Km 0 to eat dinner and get a few drinks. Serendipitously a local band was playing. They play indiginous music with djembays, didgeriedoos, flutes and all kinds of native instruments. About 10 guys packed on to a little stage and filled the bar with music and love. I bought one of their CD's and I hope I can share it with you...

After the concerto I met some of the guys and Caty and I ended up going dancing with some of them at a local discoteca. And thus had been my life here in Cusco--I hang out at Km 0 for live music, go dancing, and explore the city and lives of the people. My style of tourism has developed and changed over the past few months. In the beginning of my trip I went to all the museums and churches that tourists were supposed to go to.

Now I have been in Cusco for almost 2 weeks and have not set foot in a single museum or church. But I have gotten to know the people here better than any other city on my trip. I met a guy, Omar, making jewelery and selling it and ended up playing music with him for an entire afternoon and buying a beautiful set of tourquise earings to go with a necklace. I am good friends with Enrique, the drummer from the band at Km 0. He also drums at Roots, a local discoteca, which makes for an interesting mix of a new age DJ and tribal music that is fun to dance to. I met another guy and we went for a hike to the Temple of the Moon and Temple of the Monkeys above Cusco. The Temple of the Moon is significant because on equinoxes the moon shines brightly into the temple through a hole in the ceiling. After hanging out in the temple we went an set up a slackline between two trees and walked across it. I have slacklined with friends in Boulder but had no idea South Americans knew about it. It was such a surprise and pleasant reminder of home to be slacklining.

Cusco has been great and I am sure I could have stayed in the city for the remainder of my time in Peru and been happy BUT! I had to make it to Machu Picchu! So on Sunday I got on a bus to Urubamba, and another bus to Ollantantambo where I waited for four hours for a train to Aguas Calientes where I stayed the night before getting up at the crack of dawn to go to Machu Picchu.

When I figured out I had a 4 hour layover in Ollantantambo I wondered what I would do with myself for 4 hours. Then I looked at the mountain above me and saw an entire city of ruins! So I spent the next hour hiking up the ruins and played my flute as the sun set in the distance. Then it began to rain and I found a cute little restraunt where I spent the next 2 and a half hours eating pasta with pesto and writing in my journal. Then at 9 that night I got on the train to go to Machu Picchu.

On the train I sat next to a nice guy from Colombia and also 4 German guys and 4 Americans. When we got to Aguas Calientes we all went to the same hostel. I was so happy to get a private room and bathroom for 15 soles (about $6). The next morning we all woke up at about 5 to go to Machu Picchu. We ate breakfast, bought our tickets and got on the bus to visit the ruins.

Only 200 people are allowed to go hike Wyna Picchu each morning. I was determined to hike it to get a view of the entire city of Machu Picchu so I went straight to the beginning of the trail. En route I met 3 Americans and their guide who were in Peru on a mission trip. They adopted me in to their group and we ended up hiking Wyna Picchu together. On woman, Cheryl lives in Denver and is 65 years old! It was great to hike with this group of lively Americans. When I am 65 I sure hope I can do a 1 and a half hour hike as easily as she did. This is the wonderful group that I hiked Wyna Picchu with. Donna, Cheryl and Robert from the US.

Getting to the top and seeing Machu Picchu below us was breathtaking. Beyond words. We began the hike at about 7 in the morning and it was cool and cloudy for most of our hike. But just after we got to the top the sun came out and shined on the city.

Llamas in Machu Picchu. These beautiful animals ran free in the inner courtyard, eating their grass and living peacefully.

Ruins. There were so many stairs and terraces. The Incas used the terraces to grow food even on the steepest of mountain sides.

This wonderful stone has many different corners and edges. One corner points in each direction. And when the part in the middle casts a shadow over one special side it is the beginning of spring (the Spring Equinox).

Isnt it amazing how the Incas fit all the rocks together so perfectly? Every single stone was shaped and placed with love to fit like a puzzle with surrounding pieces.

Me, the city of Machu Picchu and Wyna Picchu behind us.

I spent a good portion of the day enjoying the city and ruins. Then I hiked an hour back down to Aguas Calientes and ate lunch in a cute pizzeria. My pizza was made in a wood fire oven. The woman who cooked it was 8 months pregnant!!! The pizza was delicious. Delicious! One of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.Here she is with my pizza in the oven and a little bun in her own oven!

The next day I spent 12 hours getting back to Cusco. 12 hours. This included a 3 hour hike along railroad tracks, a one hour cab ride and then a 6 hour ride in a mini van. We drove on what would not be classified as roads in the US. We actually drove through through rivers that went right over the roads. I set off on this journey alone but met a group of 2 French, 2 Germans and one Argentinian. They adopted me into their group for the day and we found our way back to Cusco together.

I set off on my journey to Machu Picchu alone but met so many people along the way. This is how my whole trip has been. I always meet people and form groups and travel together. But when I want to do something different from the group or I need time to myself I have complete freedom to do it. Independence...ahhh.

When I got back in to town it was great to see all of my friends I have made here. I ate some smashing potatoes at a cute restraunt where I went to eat alone. By the end of my meal I was sitting at a table with 2 Canadians and a French man. When I was leaving the restraunt I met a guy from Arkansas and ended up letting him buy me a glass of wine to stay and talk to him. haha. I always meet people!

One of the most interesting things about meeting foreigners is to find out their ancestry. We commonly think of America as the the Great Melting Pot. But nope! The entire world is a melting pot! Germans with Polish and Dutch heritage. South Americans who have native, Italian, African and French blood. I cannot say I have met a 'pureblood' person yet.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanks and Giving.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! It is usually spent surrounded by friends and family eating, talking and just realaxing together.

This Thanksgiving was a little different.

I spent 6 hours of it on a bus. Then I arrived with CA 1, CA 2, CA 3 and Frenchie in Puno, found a hostel and went out in search of a Thanksvinging dinner. We found a cute little restraunt with some live music and a lively atmosphere. We poured our wine and cheersed to Thanks & Giving.

When our food came we all held hands, said a prayer and went around the circle and said what we were thankful for. Mine--for our family away from home.

It was a delightful meal. I still was not feeling 100% so I had a grilled cheese sandwich that costed 3 soles (about $1). I could not even finish all of it! haha...what a Thanksgiving! No one ate traditional Thanksgiving food but in a way it did feel like Thanksgiving. Sharing food, joking and laughing.

We have been hanging out in Puno and at our hostel alot. It is a very relaxed town beside Lake Titicaca. Yesterday we went to a market and I started taking with a woman in one of the booths. She was 45 years old and was knitting a pancho that would take her 3 whole days to make. I talked to her about the business, her family, my family, the US, and lots of other things. She was such a sweet woman! I bought a pair of gloves for myself (the took her 2 days to make), gloves for Olivia, a hat and one of her amazing panchos. The pancho costed me 30 soles. 30 soles! That is the equivilant of about $12. She worked 3 entire days to make it and sold it for $12! The total cost of my items came to a whopping 50 soles or just under $20. The woman was so thankful to me for buying all of those items from her! She was hugging me and kissing me and telling me now she can pay for the lights and the gas and food for her family.

3 days spent knitting a pancho seems like a long time to me. But her booth was filled with textiles that she had made. 3 days on one item was probably not very much for her. It is probably harder for her to find a buyer than it is for her to spend 3 days on a pancho.

Thanks and giving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Colca Canyon and Recovery

The Colca Canyon
This canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!

Hello! I am continually surprised by how seredipitous life is! I took that bus to Chivay and just as it was pulling up in the station in Chivay I saw the group I had been travelling with getting on the bus to go to Cabanaconde (they had missed a bus or two). Cam leaned his head out the window and said, ¨Come be part of the family again!¨ That got me. I threw my bags under the bus and climbed on for the 2 hour, $1 ride to Cabanaconde.

The next morning my crew set off at 9:00 to hike the Colca Canyon. By lunch time we were at the very bottom of the canyon and hiked another half an hour up it to a little house\restraunt by the name of Gloria where we had a delicious lunch. Sopa de verduras con arroz, aguacate, papas y alpaca. Pero soy vegetariana y yo comi huevos.

Then we hiked more hours and saw more of the canyon and the people who live there. About 7 hours after we began we were at the oasis. O-a-sis.

Swimming pools, water and shade. Oasis: a little resort built in the very bottom of the canyon.

We swam, ate spaghetti and camped there that night. But one member of our group, Michael, had to get to Bolivia on a tight schedule so he hiked up the canyon that night (in the dark, alone, with a headlamp, water and a chocolate I gave him). I heard from some other backpackers that they saw him arrive in town that night and he was really tired but he had made it.

Some of my friends who stayed at the oasis had tents and offered to let me sleep in them but it was so nice outside and there were so many stars that I just slept right there in the grass. I woke up around sunrise and saw a group of people eating breakfast and preparing for their hike up the canyon. I waved, then flopped back down and continued sleeping.

After spending the morning and afternoon relaxing in the oasis we used the evening to do the 3 hour ascent back up the canyon. It was a good hike, I really enjoyed it. It was strenous though. I was definitely sore the next day.

When we got in to town there were people sitting on one street eating and drinking. They were all dressed in their traditional attire. I stopped and talked to some of the men and women and they said they were celebrating that a house had been built. I asked them if I could take a few pictures and they said yes and were happy to pose and see the pictures after I took them. One lady even told me to wear her hat for the picture. Another invited me to stay the night in her home but I was too tired to accept and spend the evening partying with the community.

This is a woman in Cabanaconde and me wearing a traditional hat.

I ate then went to bed where ended up staying for 2 more nights. The day after the hike I hardly left my room...my stomach was not happy.

Yesterday I decided to go to Chivay. So I packed up and just before I left I saw a French chica, Caty, who I had met a few nights earlier and 3 California boys. We only had a minute to talk before my bus left but they were all interested in having a Thanksgiving dinner possibly in Arequipa or Puno. They briefly said they were staying in La Casa de la Tourista in Arequipa and would be going back there that night.

When my bus got to Chivay it was raining and the sky was cloudy. The main reason I wanted to go to Chivay was to visit the astronomical observatory, but there was no hope of seeing stars that night so I hopped back on the bus returning to Arequipa.

And Arequipa is where I have spent the day. I found the Tourist Hostel last night and left a note on the front desk for California and French. When I woke up this morning I was surprised to find a note in my door from them saying they would come get me when they woke up.

I woke up at 6 feeling good so I got breakfast, showered and did yoga. Then I met up with California and California (AKA Max and Marshall). The other California and French had gone back to Cabanaconde because French forgot her passport there. So Max and Marshall and I went to the market to see if we could find Thanksgiving type food. We found ceviche, empenadas and juice. We all walked away from the market stuffed. When we got back to the hostel I did not feel so good. I spent the remainder of today, up until now, in bed.

Meanwhile, California and French arrived and they and Cali 1 and Cali 2 went out in search of Thanksgiving food.

Turns out there are no cranberries in this town. And turkey was not found either. How can we have Thanksgiving without Cranberries and Turkey? We will. It will be more symbolic...you know, in The Spirit of Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Enjoy--I mean enjoy--the pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, cranberry sauce and turkey. But also embrace the holiday, the spirit of it. The thankfulness for the family, friends and food that are in your life.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lima-Huacachina-Arequipa...where to next?

Currently I am content in the beautiful city of Arequipa.

I woke up this morning and said goodbye to some new friends as they left for Cabaconde, did yoga and went to a cute little fruiteria where I stocked up on avocado, oranges and bananas.

Background: I left Lima on Tuesday morning. I had a great time in Lima with Claudia, her family and her friends. On Saturday night we went to an electronic music festival called Creamfields where we danced from about 11 until 7 THE NEXT MORNING! Claudia and I went home, had bajona and went to bed at about 8. Yes, the sun was up and the birds were chirping and I was just getting to sleep. I woke up at 5 that evening! Agh! I felt so nocturnal. But it was totally worth it. Thankfully I was able to sleep at about 1 that night and woke up at a normal time the next morning. And thus I was again diurnal :).

This photo is of Claudia´s friend Selina and me before we went to Creamfields.

On Monday Selina and I went to the center of Lima (Claudia had to do homework) and went to a few museums and churches. The most interesting museum we went to were the catacombs under the church of San Francisco. It is estimated that 25,000 people were buried here! There were bones and skulls everywhere! (except for the walkway of course).

That night Claudia´s family celebrated her little sister Alessia´s 13th birthday. We all got together and ate mini sandwiches, truffles and cake. Then the parents sat around the table and talked while Claudia´s brother and sister, two cousins and I played tag and sardines! We all ran around the house and yard like we were 5 years old again. It was so fun! I felt like I was playing with my cousins at a family reunion :).

Tuesday morning I got on a bus and headed to a little oasis in the desert called Huacachina. Ok ok. It was not that simple. I got a a bus and headed to Huacachina? ha! That was Lima, folks. And there are like 5 different bus terminals. I decided to take a taxi to my bus station of choice, Flores. But just before we arrived I realized I had left my flute at Claudia´s house!!!

I bought a hand crafted cedar flute in July and have been attached to it ever since. I actually had my dad help me make a case out of a PVC pipe and my mom sewed a cusioned wrap for it on the inside. And I had my taxi driver take me back to Claudia´s, then back to the bus station because there was no way I was leaving my flute.

So then I got on the bus to Huacachina.

This is Laguna Huacachina! It is great for swimming in and relaxing near.

On the bus I met a German named Michael. We arrived in Huacachina and found a hostel together. Then we met 2 Canadians and one other American who had just met a Dutch girl. And we were all staying in the same hostel. :) That night Michael and I hiked up some dunes and watched the stars. I saw one shooting star. Later on our new ´family´ of six went to a bar where I danced one salsa song with a guy from North Carolina who knew his way around the dance floor. Then we snuck into another hostel and swam in their pool before running back to our hostel and going to sleep.


The next morning we went swimming! Then 3 of us(Michael, Anne the Dutch girl, and I) went into town to buy bus tickets for our group of 6. But the man we needed to buy tickets from was not there and Michael and I were scheduled for a dune buggy tour at 4:30. So we left Anne to buy the tickets and we went on the tour that was only supposed to last an hour and a half.

It was soooo much fun! He is a picture of me in the dune buggy...

We stopped at a few dunes where we strapped on boards and went sandboarding down the dunes! Sandboarding is similar to snowboarding. But it was almost more fun just to lay down on it and fly down the dunes.

In all this fun we semi-forgot about Anne having bought our ticket to go to Arequipa at 7. Long story short we got back to the hostel at about 10 ´till seven, packed 6 people into a taxi with all of our bags and sped to the bus station where we discovered our bus had been delayed an hour. What could we do with an hour???
We busted our a few bags of pasta we had cooked earlier in the day at the hostel. Bags of pasta. A ziploc bag and a regular black plastic bag filled with pasta and butter goodness.

One hitch: no forks.

We just used our mouths. Haha! He all sat around in the station eating pasta straight from the bag! Here´s a picture:

Then I cut open a few mangos and before we knew it the bus had arrived. Oh yes, and it was a 12 hour ride to Arequipa. All through the night. And we had 2 bags of spaghetti and were all covered from head to toe in sand. I slept uncomfortably but surprisingly well. We arrived in Arequipa at about 8 the next morning where we showered and hung out at the hostel for a while.

Then Anne and I got hungry so we deserted the boys for food. We found a cute little pizzeria then went to a chocolate store that turned out not to be really amazing.

The rest of yesterday was spent on the terrace of our hostel with my new little ´family,´ my journal, watercolor paints, my flute and the sunshine. Last night we went out to a little bar called Deja Vu where a live band covered everyting from Bob Marley to Play That Funky Music White Boy. I retired early and went to sleep while the rest of my group stayed out until 2 ish...or 3?

This morning the rest of my family got up and set off for a hike into the Colca Canyon. I chose to hang out in Arequipa this morning. I like finding friends and travelling with a group, but I really do like having some alone time. I did yoga and went to a fruiteria where I bought the best avocado I have ever eaten for about 75 centavos.

This afternoon I will set off for Chivay, a cute little town near the Colca Canyon where there is supposed to be an astronomical observatory. Then I will hit up Cabaconde before stopping by Puno on my way to Cusco. That is the plan anyways...

Friday, November 13, 2009

One more thing...

I forgot to write about the music they played at the club last night. Most of it was pop\hip hop and were in English. They also played some salsa. But what really got me was when they played "I feel like a woman" by Shania Twain! I would be shocked to hear this song anywhere in a club in the US. But here in Lima? A country song?

And you know what the funny part is? Most of the people knew the song and sang along. Selina, Claudia´s friend from Germany, and me and a couple of guys cut loose and sang "I feel like a woman," with all our heart. haha.

My First Taste of Peru...mmmmm!

Hello! I am currently on day 42 of my 76 day journey. So that means I have...34 days left in South America! Just over a month.

On Wednesday morning I woke up at 4:30 so I could be at the airport by 5:20 for my 7:20 AM flight from Quito to Lima. I considered taking a bus, but after seeing how things get stolen on busses I am glad I flew.

My last view of Ecuador, however, was not happy. When I got in my pre-arranged taxi at 5:00 AM I forgot to settle on a price to go to the airport. I know better than to do that! Long story short he charged me $10 for the ride that should have been $6 maximum. "It´s 5 in the morning!" he said. Maybe I was just crabby because it was 5 AM and I should have been sleeping, but the $10 was a rip off and I walked into the airport about as angry as Erin gets.

I stood in line, checked in my bags, paid the $40.80 it costs to leave Ecuador (which also did not settle well with Erin at 6:00 in the morning) then went through security.

haha. I decided to bring my flute on my backpacking adventure with me. Before I came to South America my dad helped me to make a PVC pipe case for it and my mom sewed a cloth case to cushion it. I kept my flute with me as a carry-on item and expected to get the 50 questions about it, honestly, it´s a PVC pipe on an international flight. I had to laugh when I walked through security without a second glance at it.

I stopped at a food court and grabbed a yogurt on my way to my terminal. I was still angry about the cab driver, but the yogurt tasted gooood. And then I opened my journal to a page where I had written, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I took a few breaths and let it go and instead focused on the next portion of my journey: Peru.

My flight went about as great as any flight could go. I had a window seat and noone sitting beside me. I slept through the breakfast that was delivered to everyone else on the aircraft.

When I arrived at the airport Claudia and her brother, Fernando, were there to pick me up! After working with Claudia at Beaver Creek, it felt so weird to see her down here in South America! We dropped my things off at her house and went out to a cute restraunt for lunch. I had a chicken salad (yes, I felt like chicken after the long morning) pineapple juice, and some delicious chocolates for desert! Then we drove to LarcoMar (a local mall\social area right beside the ocean) for gelatto for desert. mmmmmmm. Lima has great food.

Next we drove to a spot that overlooks Lima. It was great to see Lima stretched out in front of me! Then we drove down to the coast and I put my feet in the Pacific Ocean in South America for the first time. Well, I tried to only get my feet wet. But I understimated a couple of waves and ended up walking back to the car with my pants drippig wet. oops.

That night Claudia drove me up the side of a mountain to a "Mirador" or looking point from which we could see most of the lights of Lima below us. How beautiful! I got to see Lima during the day and night in my first 24 hours here. I love seeing a city with a local. They know all the greatest places and best things to do. Most people that I talked to about Lima said it really is not that great and they didnt like it much. But I think they just didnt have the right people to show them around...

Anyways, that night we watched the movie "My Sister´s Keeper." It is a beautiful movie that made me cry like I have not cried in a while. But great movie.

Then next day Claudia had class so I went with her to her university. It was fun to meet her classmates and I even got to sit in on her production\cinema class where we watched Fresas y Chocolate (Strawberries and Chocolate). I did not understand much from her teacher´s lecture before the movie but it was nonetheless a great experience and the movie had English subtitles. This is actually my favorite way to watch movies now, in Spanish or English with subtitles in the other language. It is fun and I always learn new things.

Claudia had class until 9 yesterday so I went with one of her frieds who is a cab driver to the Museo Oro del Peru. It is a large museum housing a Weapons of the World Museum and Gold Museum showing the rich cultural history of Peru. I started my tour in the Weapons of the World Museum and saw a gun from Robert E. Lee, a Civil War canon, Samuri body armor and hundreds of different swords and guns. Then I headed downstairs and was captivated by the gold, jewelery, weapons, pottery and even some skulls of the ancient Peruvians. After touring downstairs I walked back upstairs and was in awe over how far our world and people have advanced. To go from slingshots and darts to guns and metal body armor is astounding.

Last night we went out! Thursday is the new Friday :)

We went to the Gothica in LarcoMar where Claudia´s friend had gotten us on the VIP list :) Thank you Maria! The Gothica is a very nice club in Lima with a DJ, dance floor and 4-ish bars. Claudia, her German friend Selena and I got Dressed Up (straightened hair, makeup, dress, leggings, HEELS, the whole sha´bang). We got to the club at about 11 and did not get back to Claudia´s house until 6 the next morning!!!

You are probably wondering what happened between 11 and 6? You would have had to have been there to completely understand. But somewhere between the dancing, mixing Spanish and English in conversation, meeting tons of new people, a few free drinks, some guys who thought they could dance Salsa (but noone who could really dance like my salsa teacher), and the sunrise I took off my shoes and had a great time.

I do not understand how these Limeans (people from Lima) kept their shoes on all night. My heels that I borrowed from Claudia were not even that high and I took them off half way through the night. Meanwhile, chicas with 6 inch heels danced the night (and morning) away. But they said their feet hurt so bad they were numb. I watched a few of them walk to their cabs with the sun rising behind them and they looked like they were in pain. I don´t understand why they do it. Leave it to a girl from Colrado\Nebraska to be puzzled about heels...

Anyways, I woke up a couple of hours ago. Yes, it is 4 in the afternoon. And Claudia and I ate fried Yucca with amazing cheese sauce and salad for lunch.

Oh yes, one more thing. In Spanish there is a word for the meal you eat around sunrise after a long night of partying. It is called "bajona." "Bajonear" is the verb form. :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Last day in Ecuador

John, Truman, Kay, Mikayla, Jackie and I all piled into a pickup truck and headed up a dirt road toward the town of Quilitoa. I busted out a package of Oreos to share with everyone. It was delicious! Nothing like Oreos to enjoy a long truck ride through the mountains in Ecuador.

Quilitoa is a beautiful, tiny, and semi indiginous town up in the mountains. It is positioned right on the edge of Laguna Quilitoa. Laguna Quilitoa is a lake that formed in the very center of a once active volcano. It is breathtakingly beautiful!!! It looks like one mountain in the shape of a circle with a lake in its center. When we arrived in Quilitoa we left our things in a hostel run by a local family and went to explore the laguna. We watched the sun set over the mountains on one side of us and enjoyed the view of the lake on the other side. It was a perfect way to spend the evening before heading back to the hostel for dinner.

The hostel was adorable! For $10 per night (per person) we got our room plus dinner and breakfast. And since it was so cold up there they lit a fire in our fireplace that kept us warm all through the night. We all sat down together for a candel-lit dinner. Since there has not been much rain to power the electricity lately most places turn off the power at night. So for dinner we had...i dont remember. But I had told them I was a vegetarian earlier and they said they would give me an egg instead. But they brought me a plate with chicken on it and I reminded them I was a vegetarian and they took the plate back to the kitchen. They brought it back a minute later minus the chicken. Haha!

That night we all went outside an laid down and looked at the hundreds of stars in the sky.

So to pick up where I left off....
The next morning Most of us woke up to watch the sun rise over the mountains on the opposite side of the Laguna. A word about me and how I travel: I like to travel leisurely but I do not like to waste my time doing senseless things like unpacking and repacking my bags or sleeping when I could be watching the sun rise. When I decide I am ready to go somewhere and do something I am ready to go and usually put my patience to the test waiting for members of my group to get ready. Usually I am ok with this, but that morning I was not waiting for anyone to get dressed because the sun was close to rising. So I told them where I would be and headed out with my blanket, a mango, a pocket knife, my journal and colored pencils. They ended up not finding me, but I absolutely enjoyed the sunrise. I ate my mango with my pocket knife (which is one of the best things I bought before I came, mangos and pocketknifes make a perfect snack). Then I drew a picture of the sunrise, snapped some photos and did some yoga. what a beautiful way to begin the day...

So to pick up where I left off....
After a breakfast of bread, yogurt, tea, cereal and eggs our group split up to do different things. 3 motivated individuals set off for a 5 hour hike around the ridgeline of the Volcan. One girl stayed near the hostel to read. And Kay and I hiked down to the Laguna where we rented a canoe for $2.50 from a beautiful indiginous 16 year old and her younger brother. We put on life jackets, were given paddles and without so much as a "stay safe" were pushed off shore and onto the lake. Beautiful!!! Just to think that we were floating on water right where a volcano had once exploded...

I brought out my journal and some watercolors and colored pencils and Kay and I occupied a few hours with drawing, painting, writing, and of course paddling. When we were all done we hiked about 2 hours back up the side of the volcano for the hostel. Upon arriving in town we were thirsty so we stopped by the store and I bought the first thing I saw which I thought was peach juice in a box. Turns out it was wine. Made for a fun afternoon hanging out outside the hostel in the grass waiting for the other members of our group to return.

That night we all piled in a pickup truck and rode about half an hour to Chugchilan. We spent the evening hanging out in the town square, eating a delicious pasta alfredo meal at the hostel and looking at the stars. There were THOUSANDS of stars. More stars than I had ever seen before in my life! This town is in the middle of nowhere and the electricity had been turned off at 6. The only light came from a few candles and a lightning storm in the distance. We saw 10 shooting stars in about half an hour.

The next morning we all woke up at 3 AM (the only time a bus came) and got on a bus to Latacunga for the Independence Holiday with a parade in honor of Mama Negra. We arrived in Latacunga at 7 30 AM, slept in our hostel for a couple hours, then headed out into the town to experience the parade. Usually people go to watch a parade. But this parade is an experience. Bands march past and men will pull you up into the parade to dance with them for a minute. People walk past with huge pots full of somekindof fruity alcohol stuff and ladels to feed it to whoever will open their mouth along the parade. Men come past with shot glasses and alcohol to give the the girls. Men dressed as women filter through the parade with WHIPS. I think they were to keep the crowd back? But some of them were drunk and I was sure to keep my distance from them...Others came by in packs of three or four people dressed in whit. They picked out a tourist girl or any local chica they could. They danced in a circle around her chanting all the named of mountains and volcanoes they could and then sprayed alcohol on her by spitting it out of their mouth. And the occasional group had the girl take a swig of the alcohol also. And then they asked for a ´donation.´ In case you are wondering, yes, I was baptized by one of these groups with my group of friends.

There were soooooo many people at the parade. When we were walking through a crowd suddenly the crowd felt even more crowded. A few women and a boy squeezed their way through my group of friends and friends of friends that consisted of about 10 people. I had had my watch on the straps of my bag. I felt someone messing with it and looked back and made eye contact with the 40-something man who had tried to steal my watch. I didnt have words to say to him. But I believe my eyes and even his eyes said it all. Suddenly my friend was yelling, "she stole my phone!!!" And then a woman pushed through us yelling "Excuse me!" frantically. That my friends was a pack of robbers. Luckily, yet sadly, the only thing stolen was a phone.

After the parade and crowds we rested in a little bar\restraunt. It was cute, uncrowded, and played salsa, merengue and regatone music until and live band came. By about dark we all retired to our hostel and hung out while the city erupted into chaos. I believe we had the best view of the city. Our hostel was on the third floor and had a window the length of our room that overlooked the town square where all the festivities were. One of the most interesting\scarey things we saw from the window was about 20 guys all walking towards One guy. That guy was backing away quickly. One of the men tried to kick him but fell backwards (haha) and the one guy ran. We did not see any more of that story...they were out of our view.

The next day we collected dust. I mean to say, we were lazy. The three girls we had met en route to Quilitoa headed back to Quito. John, Truman and I hung around the hostel most of the day. We went to an interned cafe (where I wrote the previous post) and then cought a bus to Machachi.

Machachi is a town just south of Quito. Not many tourists go there. The locals could not take their eyes off of us three backpackers. We ran into 2 backpackers (a father and son) from France who showed us to the hotel they were staying at. It costed $5 per night. ¨That is fine with us¨ we thought. haha.

When we arrived to the hostel the 10 year old boy led us (four men and me) to a large room and asked us if we were here just for now (for a few hours) or for the night. !!!!. Four men and me? Sorry kid, I dont think so. Number 1: to of these men already have a room here. And Number 2: We would like one room with three beds for the night. Thank you. I am not sure what kind of place that was...but when John sat on his bed half of the mattress fell through.

That night we ate a few more mangos with pocket knifes. Then while cutting a pineapple John cut his hand. Truman and I set off into the night and came back 10 minutes later with bandaids. The boys also surprised me with a package of Oreos which we ate to celebrate me being half way through my trip! I have completed 38 of my 76 days here! Oreos are great.

The next morning we met up with the Frenchmen and loaded ourselves into another pickup and rode to the start of our hike of Volcan Corazon (Heart Volcano). This volcano is about 15,800 feet tall. We hiked for 5 hours and made it to the ridgeline which I am guessing was 14,000 or 14,500 feet. It was absolutely beautiful! Over the other side of the ridgeline were clouds and more amazing mountains. We all wanted to hang out longer on the top, but the clouds were rolling in and it was getting late in the day (2:00) so we hiked the 2 and a half hours down. That was a strenuous hike. But it was beautiful and well worth it. I dont know if you have ever been at a high altitude before but when you are you become somewhat silly. You gotta experience it to know what I am talking about...

When we got down our trio sat on the side of the road with our bags and waited for a pickup truck we were sure would come by. I cut open a mango with my handy-dandy pocket knife. What a perfect way to relax. And sure enough a truck drove by just as we finished eating it. So we hopped in for our ride to the Panamerican Highway (which stretches from Alaska to the tip of S. AM) where we would catch our bus to Quito. Along the way a few families of locals packed into the back of the truck also. I could not help but laugh. My hands were still dripping with mango juice, I was as dirty as I have ever been from the hike (and maybe a few days without a proper shower because of lack of electrity\water or hot water), and, once again, we were all packed into the back of a truck for a 25 cent ride. Oh how I love Ecuador.

Just before getting on the bus we stumbled upon a little cafe where I ate the best meal I have ever had for $1.75. It was rice, two fried eggs, french fries and salad all covered in spicy ahi sauce. The perfect meal after a 7 hour hike.

We rode a bus back to Quito, got on a few more busses. And at La Marin at about 7:00 Truman, John and I said goodbye. Truman and John have been great travelling companions. I dont know what I would have done, or would not have done without them. Thanks guys! We made a great travel group: John the logical and enthusiastic one, Truman the more quiet but profound and motivating one and me...the girl on the group with the lonely plantet book and always having food. Oh yea, and on the hike yesterday I brought a Maple Nut Cliff Bar I had brought with me from the US. If you have not had one of these go out and buy one and please eat it for me. I brought two cliff bars with me on this trip and wish I would have brought a crate of them. They.are.HEAVEN.

After telling my boys goodbye I hopped on the Ecovia bus to Rio Coca, got on the Calon Camel from there and then got off at Rio Amazonas and walked the few blocks from there to Patrick´s (my volunteer program coordinator) hostel. I am in love with Quito. And I am really starting to figure out my way around. When I arrived at Hostel Jhomana the electricity was out but I was still able to take the most amazing and surprisingly warm shower. Then I stayed up for an hour talking with the man at the front desk: A 22 year old named Pablo who is studying to be a tourist guide and wants to practice English and agreed to help me with some Spanish. After an hour I was content to crawl into my bed at about 10 and sleep. I slept for 10 hours straight.

I woke up at 8, did some yoga to stretch out my muscles from yesterday, had breakfast and now here I am at the South American Explorers Clubhouse.

The South American Explorers Club is a club you can join for $60. There are clubhouses in Quito, Lima, Cusco and Buenos Aires. You can leave luggage at the clubhouses, receive mail there, rent rooms, use internet, exchange books and movies, check out books, access travel information and reviews of all kids of places and companies plus you receive 5-10% discounts at most hostels and restraunts. I saw it as being worth it for me because I have a bag I want to leave here in Quito and would have spent more than $60 to leave it somewhere safe.

Today is my last day in Quito.

Tomorrow morning at 7:20 AM I fly to Lima, Peru where my friend Claudia will be picking me up. I met Claudia while we were both working at Beaver Creek Ski Resort in Edwards this winter. She is from Peru and I am so excited to go visit her!

PS If you do want to send me any mail I will be in the Cusco area from about Nov. 20 to Dec. 11. My address (the Cusco Clubhouse) is:

Erin Dobesh
Choquechaca 188, No. 4
Cusco, Peru

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fiesta de Mama Negra

Right now I am sitting in an internet cafe in Latacunga, Ecuador with my two travel companions, John and Truman. A little background on how I came to be here...

We began our trip with the intention of doing the Quilitoa Loop. It is a route described in my Lonely Planet book that has lots of options for hiking and seeing small towns along the way. On Thursday morning at 6 am we set off for a little town with a big market by the name of Saqisili. The market was huge! There were all different areas for prepared foods, fruits and veggies, clothes and jewelery and meat. One of my best purchases of the day was two avocados for 50 cents and a mango for 25 cents. Fruit here is sooo cheap but absolutely delicious! I also bargained with some of the venders and came away with some great purchases. For $10 I got 2 hats, a pair of gloves and a pair of socks all made from Alpaca (similar to llama). I also bought a few cool bracelets.

After the market we took a bus to Latacunga then hiked 6 miles to the next town on our journey, Pujili. Sewaty, tired and somewhat hungry we then decided to take a bus for the next 25 miles to the next little town on the loop. However, we missed getting off at that town, and the next, and ended up getting off the bus at the stop to go to our second to last destination on the loop, Quilitoa. We got off the bus and met three girls from Boston: Mikayla, Kay and Jackie. They were haggling with a pickup driver about the cost to drive them to Quilitoa. We quickly became friends when we discovered we were all going to the same little mountain town. We ended up taking the pickup ride together.

In the US it is illegal to ride in the back of pickups. Here, it is a common form of transportation. If you have a truck you can be a taxi for an unlimited number of people. We became friends with the girls on the ride to Quilitoa and ended up getting a room at a hostel together. That night we walked the two minutes from our hostel to Laguna Quilitoa.

Laguna Quilitoa
This is a lake formed in the crater of a once active volcano....

and I need to go because we are heading to a town called Machachi. I will pick up where I left off at a later date...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dia De Los Difuntos in Otavalo

Hola hola! I just want to send out a thank you to whoever is reading my blog. If you read the Bittersweet Goodbyes you are great because that was a novel!

Anyways, this weekend I spent in the culture capital of Ecuador, a little indiginous village named Otavalo. The majority of people living in Otavalo are Quecha and speak their own language as well as Spanish. The women wear a beautiful outfit consisting of a blouse, long fabric skirt wrapped around themselves with a colorful belt. They also usually are wearing golden necklaces. It is beautiful and quite festive and I think they enjoy wearing it.

On Saturday I went with Nelly to Otavalo. Nelly is from Otavalo but is living in the same house as I am in Quito while she goes to school. Nelly has a beautiful family that reminds me of my own and had me thinking about my family all weekend. Her family has 6 kids, just like mine. Nelly has an older sister (who was in Columbia), 2 younger sisters Tania (16) and Yoleni (5) and two brothers Cirjio (14) and Oscar (12).

When we arrived at Nellys house her mom was making dough for us to make Pan de Wawas. We spent the evening forming the little baby figures and also trying to make horses. Then we went to sleep.

A few words about the house: There were 2 rooms. And 7 people. The living room also doubled as her parents bedroom.

There were no doors to the bedrooms. Actually, the only door in the house was the wooden one to the ouside. And the lock? An extra long nail that you could slide into a hole in the wall to keep the door from being opened.

All of the floors and walls were cement. No carpets. A few rooms were painted.

There was no hot water and definitely no indoor plumbing. haha! There was an outhouse outside that consisted of a concrete toilet over a large hole...

The family was so comfortable there! They are not used to hot water. They are used to cold quick showers. They dont miss the conveniences I am used to.

On Sunday we woke up and went to the Church for All Saints Day. I cant say I understood much of the mass...

That afternoon I went back to the church and helped Nelly to teach Catechism casses to 8 year olds. We learned about the sign of the cross and sang some songs. Then we went outside and played Pato, Pato, Ganzo! AKA Duck, Duck, Goose. PS North Americans do not know how to play this game. Whe a person is tagged as the Goose they run in the opposite direction as the person who tagged them. They race back to the empty spot.

That night we spent a couple hours in the church for a review of the scripture of that week. I did not understand the lecture...

Today we celebrated the Dia de los Difuntos! We went to church this morning. Everyone brought baskets of food and placed them in the front of the church. After mass, the priest blessed the food and everyone took their baskets to the cemetery.

The cemetery was packed! People were everywhere sitting, talking, eating. It was beautiful. Partly sad, but also very happy and festive.

This is a picture of Nellys family at the cemetery today. They are around and on top of her grandfathers grave.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bittersweet Goodbyes

This is me and a few of the kiddos reading a book in Spanish and English.

Hellow! I just arrived home from my last day volunteering at the daycare center :(. I will tell you about it later, but first I need to pick up where I left off...

The remainder of last week at the daycare center went great. I brought in another bilingual book, Riscotos de Oro y Los Tres Osos AKA Godilocks and The Three Bears. The story was familiar to most of the other workers there and the kids loved it! The especially liked my different voices for Mama, Papa and Baby bear. I figure since they dont understand much of the English part I have to read it more expressively for them to know what is going on. And of course we learned the words for bowl, chair and bed as well as a few others.

On Friday I left my project a little early to visit John and Trumans project (two other volunteers and my travel buddies). They are working in a center for street children. There are only boys and they are ages 12 to 18-ish but they all look a few years younger than what they are because of malnurishment. I do not know any of their stories personally, but either they were kicked out of their homes or they ran away (either because they were naughty or they wanted to escape from their home environment). Most of them lived in parks around Quito until they agreed to live at the center where they get food, shelter and opportunity for education.

This is a very special project. They boys were so sweet! Within half a minuted I had a ping-pong paddle in my hand and was playing a game. If I had met them in any other situation I would not guess that they were street children. Other than their extensive swearing vocabulary, they were all very well behaved. Besides when they tried to coerce me into letting them "borrow" my watch...

John, Truman and I hung out with the kids for a couple of hours. By the end of the day Truman was playing the guitar and we were all sitting around him singing the songs. A song called Wagon Wheels, some Red Hot Chili Peppers and a little of Ball and Chain later we headed out before the sun set. I got a few I love yous and even some of them calling me their girlfriend. They dont see many girls there. haha.

That night we three went to a movie in the mall. We saw Julie and Julia which is about a woman named Julie who makes every recipe in a woman named Julias cookbook. The movie was pretty good but honestly just made me want Food. I felt like I was in America at a movie theater. The setting was so familiar. I expected to walk out the door into the streets of North Platte. But I didnt. We walked out the door into the streets of Quito and took a cab home.

Early on Saturday morning we three set off for another adventure. This weekends destination: Banos. Banos is notorious for hot baths. Just before getting on our early morning bus we met six girls from the US who were also going to Banos. Most of them were studying aboad from Boston University. They were a great group of girls who I ended up talking with a lot on the bus and hung out with the majority of the weekend. One girl, Amanda, is volunteering in a hospital in Guyaquil. She had done a study abroad program a couple years ago and had been to Banos a few times before. She is a beautiful soul and is also headed to Peru soon...potential travel companion...

When we arrived in Banos my trio found a hostel then met up with the Boston chicas for lunch. Then, guided by one of Amandas friends from 2 years ago, our pack set off on bikes to see 5 of the waterfalls close to Banos.

My favorite waterfall: P-something del Diablo. We each had to pay one dollar to climb up some stairs and go on a balcony. This is the best dollar I have spent in South America (so far). Upon entering there was a sign that said, "Are you ready for a little secret? God Exists!" I did not fully understand this until I saw the waterfall. It was soooooo powerful!!!! The water below it was a current of turmoil and strength. So beautiful! AND--we crawled (yes, crawled) up a little passage to get to a second balcony that was positioned right behind the waterfall. We all held our hands out and felt it! And we walked out of there soaked!

After that we all piled our bikes in the back of one pickup, and our selves in the back of another and rode back into town. There were about...12 ish people in the back of this truck. We sang songs the whole way into town with the darkness of night falling around us.

That night my trio plus Amanda rode a in Cheba (similar to a school bus without sides) part way up a mountain. When we got off the bus each person was given a cup filled with a warm liquid (similar to sprite?) and then they asked us "Con trago? or sin trago?" With alcohol or without? Can you imagine this in the US? No IDs, nothing.

We saw all the lights of Banos below us and watched some guys juggle fire and spin poi and even try to light a cigarette that a man was holding in his mouth by throwing flaming sticks back and forth in front of his face. Then we headed back down the mountain and to our beds to sleep.

The next morning we got up and had breakfast at Amanda and the other girls hostel. I met a lot of other volunteers and backpackers at breakfast. A lot. I have met so many others on busses and just around town. I can usually pick out a Gringo (probably because I am one myself) and we mutually will stand by eachother on a bus just to have a good conversation in English and find out what the other one is doing. Anyways! Lots of people with similar interests and plans at breakfast.

Then my trio headed to the warm baths. It was nice. Cold shower, hot bath, cold shower, hot bath. After the baths we decided to have a nice lunch before catching our 12:40 bus back to Quito. While in the process of fining a nice place to eat three South Americans around our age asked us if they could interview us for a class project. We agreed to a short interview and were momentarily surrounded by about 12 of their classmates. Turn out their teacher Jeff had given them an assignment to interview some people in English and dumped them in Banos to do it. They all got out their phones and voice recorders and took turns asking us questions like, where are you from, when did you get here, do you like Ecuador, why, do you have a boyfriend, do you want to be my boyfriend, what is your favorite holiday in the US, tell me about some of the traditions there....by the time we were done with the interview we had just enough time to eat a quick almuerzo (lunch with soup, rice, egg, salad and meat) and run to our bus. We go on the bus just as it was pulling out of the parking lot. That was a close one. We would have had to wait a whole hour for the next bus to Quito.

And that brings me to my last week in the daycare center.
Here Edwin. He is always full of smiles and hugs. My first day at the daycare center he smeared yogurt on my arms.

I have gotten closer to the kids and other teachers. When I walk into a room the kids erupt into a mass of "Hola Tia!" They are adorable. Yesterday I was kneeling down outside showing them one of the books and momentarily found myself almost flat on the ground with a bunch of the 3-4 year olds on me and hugging me. I could hardly stand up because of them and I was laughing so hard.

English classes went great this week. I do classes outside so the kids can listen to the story or do the activity if they want to, and if not they can play on the playground. It works out well because the kids who want to learn can. I have about 5 loyal students. They can count to ten with a little help and know a few basic colors and body parts.

This week I have figured out a pretty good schedule for myself. When I arrive I help feed the kids breakfast. Then I go to the baby room with Sophia and feed my little guy, Darlys, a bottle. He only lets me feed him...I am not sure what they will do next week. After that Sophia and I talk and play with the babies then I do English classes with the older kids and return to the babies to feed them lunch at 11:15. Then I help Sophia change their diapers and put them to bed (and feed Darlys again) then head back to the cafeteria to help all of the other kids eat. Then I help put the kids age 2-3 to sleep and usually end up close to sleep myself. Then I help sweep the cafeteria then eat lunch with the ladies.

I cannot help but to compare this daycare center to the one that I worked at in Colorado for 9 months, Miller Ranch. I have come to a few conclusions. The main difference is everything physical. There are more kids, fewer kids, smaller classrooms. They play with toys that we would probably throw away in the states. And of course the germ thing. But besides all of that, the teachers and kids are so similar to the ones in the states. Who they are, what they do, how they play is el mismo. The same. The kids love to build block towers and knock them down. They like stories. They fight and cry when their feelings get hurt. And the teachers love them like they are their own children.

A major holiday, Dia de los Disfuntos, will be celebrated on Monday. Tradicionally, everyone drinks Coloda Morada and eats Pan de Wawas. Coloda Morada is a DELICIOUS drink made of pineapple, strawberries, mora (berries) and a bunch of other fruits all boiled together and blended with herbs and sugar. Pan de Wawas is bread in the shaped of a baby with frosting on it. Wawas is the Quichwa (indiginous) word for baby.

This morning when I arrived at the daycare the Colada Morada was already brewing. At about 2 this afternoon each of the kids got a cup of it and a piece of bread. It was my first taste of either! And I cannot believe we do not have this stuff in the US. IT IS SOOO GOOD. Rico.
And here is Michelle making her own Pan de Wawa.
Then the teachers gave me a stuffed animal bear as a thank you for working here. They said they dont give one to all of the volunteers. They are so sweet! Then I said goodbye to each of the classrooms and teachers.

It is bittersweet to leave the daycare. I have come to love the kids, teachers and entire daycare center. They will always have a special place in my heart. However, I am excited for the next step in my journey: Peru.

But first, Dia de los Disfuntos and a hike around the Quilitoa loop.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Semana Tres (week 3)

This is a picture of three of my kids in the 2-3 age group. They all really like this little space on the shelves.

This was my third week at the daycare center. I am getting to know my co-workers at the daycare a lot better. I finally have the names and faces figured out...there are 8 teachers and 2 women who do a wonderful job preparing food for 100-ish people every day. Plus me, to float around and help out wherever help is needed.

Last week I left with the other two volunteers at 1 so they could get to their Spanish lessons. This week I have been staying at the center longer and having lunch with the ladies while the kids are sleeping. They are really fun and interesting people. I only understand about a third of what they talk about at lunch. I brought pictures of my family to the center yesterday and they loved seeing and hearing about my family. They asked me if I missed them and I said of course, its my family!

And my mom was so sweet to make baby blankets for me to bring to South America with me. I gave one dozen of them to the daycare center. The teacher in the infant room, Sophia, was sooo happy to have them! She loved all of the different designs on them. Thanks mom! I have different plans for the rest of the blankets...

English lessons with the older kids are going...alright. The past two days I have not been able to have them because I was filling in for teachers in their classrooms and could not sneak away. But on Tuesday I brought in a new book, Los Tres Cerditos, or The Three Little Pigs. The book is written in Spanish and English. The entire class of 4-5 year olds (about 25 kids) sat outside and listened to the story. I read it in English and another teacher, Alexandra, read it in Spanish. Alexandra is 19 years old and is a teacher there. All of the other teachers at in their 20s or 30s. She is so sweet. She doesnt say much and always is calm and patient with the kids (even when a child is throwing chairs across the cafeteria).

A few words about germs: either they dont exist or the kids at the daycare have very strong immune systems. Today I found the hand soap at the daycare center. This is my third week there and I just found the soap! When the kids wash their hands before eating they just run their hands under water. I guess their bodies are used to all of the germs around them. At lunch time all of us teachers serve the food and go around the tables helping the kids to eat. If one is not feeding themselves we spoon feed them. Today I saw a little boy spoon feeding a little girl. It was so adorable! Then he put a spoonful of the rice in his own mouth. Then he grabbed some of the rice from inside his mouth and put it in the little girls mouth! haha. There was nothing I could do besides laugh and try to communicate to him not to do that...kids, they are so innocent.

But really, other than a few runny noses here and there all of the kids seem to stay illness-free.

Last night I went to the salsa club, El Aljun, with a couple teachers from the studio and a few other students. It took me a minute to get in to the swing of things...dancing at a club is different from dancing in a classroom. But it was so much fun!

Chao chao!

PS Happy birthday Mikala! 22, is it?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekend in Mindo

Friday we did not have classes so I went with Amy and Ruth to ride the TeleferiQo, a gondala that goes up the side of Volcan Pichincha. We could see all of Quito below plus three more major mountains in the distance. Ruth and Amy flew home at 7. It was great to have them here this week!

This weekend I spent in Mindo with two guys who are also volunteering in Quito. On Friday night we went out to "Gringolandia," the hub of all the discotecas here in Quito. We spent most of our time dancing...it was alright. The gringolandia scene was a little busy for me though. But here is news--inside one of the bars there was a collection of liscence plates from the US and guess what state was among them? None other than Nebraska.

Early on Saturday morning we took a 2 and a half hour bus to Mindo for $2.50. While on the bus my friend Truman got out his camera and took a picture then put his camera back in his bag. He then put his bag on the floor and laid back to relax for a while. About 5 minutes later our bus stopped at a town along the way and the man sitting behind Truman got off the bus. About 10 minutes later Truman was going to take out his camera only to find the case was empty. Probable event: his camera was stolen by the man who was sitting behind him. Gotta be careful on busses!

When we got to Mindo the first thing we did was look for a hostel. We found a cute little place a short walk away from the town center that was run by two sisters and their mother. It was the nicest hostel I have ever seen! We each paid $10 each for 2 rooms which also included: a balcony with a hammock, warm water and breakfast.

Mindo is famous for 3 things: butterflies, flowers and waterfalls. On Saturday we explored the waterfalls. But first we had a lunch that costed a total of $5.50. We got rice, beans, hot sauce and the boys had chicken while I got a banana with cheese in it. It was delicious! I dont know anywhere in the US that you can get a meal a big and delicious as these were for as cheap.

We could pay a dollar for a shuttle to the waterfall area but opted to save money and walk the hour and a half to get there. Then we had to ride in a metal cart OVER a forest and river. We were ridiculously high up above the trees in a metal basket. And a lady who worked there stood on a ledge outside the basket like it was nothing.

Once we got to the other side we went for a nice hike on some jungle paths to get to the waterfalls. When I say jungle, I mean vegitation like I have never seen before. Trees everywhere. Ferns and mosses growing on the trees. And we are pretty sure there was even a palm tree growing on top of another tree...

We saw one cool creature there...a gigantic millipede. And we saw leaves that were almost 2 feet big. They were everywhere.

When we got to one of the waterfalls we all got in and swam. The water was freezing but it was definitely worth it! John then climbed up on a ledge (about 8 or 10 feet up) and jumped in! Truman was next. So I climbed up there. I stood there for a while not really wanting to jump then I decided to do it and I jumped right away. My train of thoughts in my head was, "Jump now so when you change your mind you will already be in the air and it will be too late to turn back!" And I did. And it was amazing. Definitely worth it.

On our hour and a half hike back to town it rained on us the whole way. By the time we got back to our cozy hostel we were all ready to shower, change and just relax for the night. And that is just what we did.

This morning we woke up and had yogurt and bread with homemade guava mermalade on bread. It was a delicious breakfast. Then we went to the Mariposaria--the butterfly nursery (Mariposa is butterfly in Spanish). The butterflys were beautiful! There were so many different kids and colors. And if you rubbed your finger in a very ripe banana you could hold a butterfly on your finger and they would lick the banana juice off your finger. It was fantastic.

After then Mariposaria we hopped onto some tubes and floated down Rio Mindo. There were about 8 tubes all tied together and we had a guide who pulled us over rocks and guided us down the river. Our safety precautions: helmets and lifejackets. Anywhere else in the world you would have to sign your life away, but here we just put the helmets and lifejackets on and jumped in. And happily floated down the river while our guide did all of the work. I was actually very impressed by him. He knew the river. He knew which rocks to go between and which way to guide us to make it the easiest and most enjoyable.

After all that adventure we ate the $5.50 lunch again then got on a bus back to Quito.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


This is a picture of my host family here in Quito.

Last night I had dinner with the Aschmanns, a family that I met in Wallace, Nebraska who lives here in Quito. They are a missionary family. I met them almost a year and a half ago for dinner to talk about Ecuador and last night we had our second dinner together! They are a beautiful family and it was fun to see how they have grown and changed over the last year and a half. When I got home from dinner us girls (the two other volunteers and myself) were too tired to go out dancing...

Today at the daycare center I worked in the classroom for the 2-3 year olds. I think this is becomming one of my favorite classrooms. If you can get over the potty-training age and all that it involves, they such a fun and explorative age group. One of my favorite things to do with the kids is to turn up the music and dance! Most of them just stand and watch me be crazy, but I get a few to join in :).

Today the other teacher in the classroom planned the activity. Guess what it was? GOMA. Glue! I thought she was crazy at first and I thought the glue would just be messy. Five minutes later all 22 kids were sitting down playing with glue in their hands. For the next 20 minutes they played with glue and then picked it off their hands. All of them. Every kid was content and happy with glue in their hands. It also kept me occupied for a few minutes...if you have not played with a bit of liquid glue lately I really suggest that you do so. A dallop the size of a nickel in the palm of your hand will do just fine.

After the daycare center I went to Salsa lessons! I am learning so many new things in class. My teacher, Isaac, asked me what I was doing tonight at six because he had a lesson with a man and wanted a girl there for the guy to practice with. I had to say, "Estoy occupada." I am busy. It is quite amusing to me that he can teach me to dance salsa. I dont speak Spanish very well and he does not speak English. But I am learning to Salsa nonetheless.

And as for what I was busy with tonight...making dinner for 13 people! Tonight is the New Jersey sister volunteers last night in Ecuador and we cooked dinner for the entire family! It was also Patricks (my project coordinator and the son in law of Aleja and Marco) daughters 2nd birthday.

Amy and Ruth had a delicious recipe for Baked Ziti. We also had green beans, garlic bread, pineapple and mango and birthday cake! We sang Happy Birthday in English and she blew out the candle. Then we sang it in Spanish and she blew out the candle again! The family is so beautiful and loving. I feel so happy to be able to be a part of it this month.

Oh yes, and a word about the fruit. I bought the pineapple for $1.50 and 3 mangos for $1. They were sooooo delicious. The pineapple was WHITE! White! I thought something was wrong when I cut it open but I guess that is what color fresh pineapple is. It was so good! And the mangos...I could almost live off of the fruit here. I had a mango and avocado for a snack this afternoon. If you like avocados in North America you need to come to the southern hemisphere and try these avocados...

Take care!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Salsa in South America

Hello! This week has been amazing so far!

On Sunday I went to the historical center with Marco and Aleja (the grandparents of my host family) and walked around in shops. Then I took a three hour nap. And then two sister volunteers, Amy and Ruth, from New Jersey arrived! They are staying with the same host family as I am. They are here until Friday and are doing the same volunteer project. It is so nice to have people to speak English to and to ride busses with!

The daycare center now has a lot more help with the three of us volunteering. It does not feel like every teacher is overwhelmed with tasks anymore.

Yesterday we each took a group of 5 of the older kids to have English lessons. Amy did flash cards, Ruth tried to do colors and I did songs and Mother Goose Rhymes from a bilingual book that I brought. I had one group that was awesome and interactive and listened. But then my next group did not want to listen. And Ruth was having problems communicating what she wanted them to do, so we joined forces and had a larger group together. It worked alright...

Today for English classes we went outside during their play time and sent up a game to have them run to chairs that were either red, blue, yellow or green. There were about 5 kids out of 30 who were running and joining in. And there was at least one kid sitting in the chair at each color watching the others run. I feel like the game was fun for them and the kids who wanted to play were and if they didnt want to they could go play elsewhere on the playground.

After that game Ruth and I read them the Mother Goose Rhymes. She read them in English and I read them in Spanish. The kids loved the book! We could not get them to sit on the ground. They were all standing around us. I was surprised that the book drew in a bigger crowd than the running-color game. After we read to them we gave them stickers then went inside for lunch!

Oh yes, and to tell you a bit about the food here...
Rice is typical at most meals. Eggs are common. Meat is...different. Juice (jugo) is a must. And bread! The bread here is so delicious! At my house we buy fresh bread every day and the crust is so crispy and flaky and...delicious!

The daycare gives the kids breakfast every day. They get warm milk mixed with some kind of protein-vitamin stuff and also some fruit or something. Then they get a snack in the morning...usually apple sauce or some bread of some kind. Then for lunch they get soup then rice with some meat and veggies and of course...JUGO! All of the kids love their jugo. I think it is because it is basically water with a bunch of sugar and some fruit...but that is just me. We wait until they have eaten most of thir meals to give them their juice. Then they all go take naps. After their nap they get a snack and, you guessed it, more jugo!

Oh yes, and fruit is cheap and everywhere here. There is a furiteria on every street. It costs $1 for a bunch of bananas..somewhere around 15. And it also costs $1 for 25 mandarin oranges. I think I have eaten...one...two...three...four bananas today!

My new favorite saying is, "Estoy bromiendo!" or "I am joking!" Una broma is a joke. I am learning lots of new words every day and Spanish is becomming easier for me. I am able to comprehend a lot more. I still have problems putting what is in my head into words though...

And for my new passion here in Quito...Salsa!!! Salsa dancing, that is. Every day the two sisters have Spanish classes. I was lucky enough to find a dance studio a few blocks away from their lessons (thank you Lonely Planet books!). I have taken two salsa lessons. Today after my class my teacher gave me a card with an add for Salsa Miercoles. A place near the studio has salsa dancing every Wednesday night and I am thinking about going to it tomorrow night with the two sisters. They are also taking salsa lessons after their Spanish lessons. They have the same teacher as me and he has me help them out a bit. Salsa! Un, dos, tres. Cinco, seis, siete. un, dos tres. cinco, seis, siete.

Chao Chao!