Thursday, May 15, 2008

¡Por fin!

I flew back to Quito last Sunday with a growing sense of dread, knowing that what lay ahead of me was a week of writing, editing, and rewriting a 30-page paper on my experience in the Galapagos, as well as a 10-page Spanish version. It made it even harder to leave behind all my friends at Jatun Sacha knowing that all that awaited me was a cold, rainy city where I would be living in an Internet cafe for a week. I anticipated it being pretty miserable and while it was not quite as miserable as I imagined, it was pretty close.

However, FINALLY, I am done. I have spent every day this week writing and editing and rewriting and today, I went through, edited one more time, and then, for better or worse, decided to be done. So I took it to the printer, got my copies all made and bound, and then dropped it off to be graded. Thank God!

I will post some of what I wrote perhaps in the next few days. However, as of right now, I just wanted to comment on something that I had been thinking about since Galapagos and was reminded of while sitting in an Internet cafe the past three days in the Mariscal (aka. Gringoville): tourists.

I had a lengthy conversation about tourists with Fran, one of the Jatun Sacha volunteers, while we were sitting at a cafe in port on my last Friday in Galapagos and I was reminded of our conversation after being in the Mariscal and seeing countless tourists wandering around. I cannot remain silent any longer. I must speak. It is not for me that I do this, but for the benefit of others. Thus, what follows is a general list of guidelines that I hope all might consider before going abroad anywhere:

1) Fannypacks are a no-no. A BIG no-no. That is never attractive and, frankly, if you want to scream, "I am a tourist! Here, come take my money, all in this convenient, painfully-obviously pouch hanging most unattractively from my waist!" then go for it. Otherwise, just NO.

2) Floppy hats: NO. Granted, I know that being on the Equator indicates that the sun is very strong and that therefore some sort of protection for your face is a necessity. However, there is this wonderful invention called "sunscreen" which is far more subtle than an ugly, floppy hat. Additionally, while it might be acceptable to wear a wide-brimmed hat of some sort, I do not understand why tourists somehow always choose the ugliest ones possible. It IS possible to be sun-safe and attractive and NOT obviously foreign.

3) Clothing in general: Fran and I were marveling at this--it seems that there is an unspoken rule among most tourists that they must wear the most unattractive clothing possible while abroad. These are not things they would ever normally wear in their normal, everyday lives; it is as if, when it comes time to leave the country, they subconsciously think, "Oh, gotta pull out the ugly clothes now!" Why???

4) Outdoorsy shoes/hiking boots: I acknowledge that hiking boots are at times a necessity, as well as all manner of specially made sandals for outdoorsy activities which, while not usually very attractive, are very functional and useful. I´ll admit--I wore my hiking boots while hiking around the Sierra Negra and wore my Keans sandals in the lava tunnels. HOWEVER, there is really no need to wear such shoes when walking around the city streets of Quito or around the port on San Cristobal. I promise--you will not encounter mountain lions or rocky cliffs that you must scale or anything which necessitates wearing such shoes. And frankly, dressing like you are about to go on safari while walking around a beach town or a big city is kind of obnoxious and definitely makes you stand even more than you already do just being a gringo.

5) Artificial physical enhancements: I imagine this only applies to a few people, but Fran and I saw one particular American woman in port, walking around in a microscopic skirt and a string bikini top which was all the better to show off her incredible boob job. I guarantee you--if you want to draw attention to yourself, wearing your cleavage on your collarbones is the way to do it.

6) OKAY, THIS IS A BIG ONE: NEVER EVER wear t-shirts or other memorabilia that you have purchased as souvenirs somewhere until you have landed back on American soil. ONLY THEN is it acceptable and sometimes pretty cool, actually, to wear such things. However, when you walk around the streets of San Cristobal with a t-shirt and big, floppy hat emblazoned with "GALAPAGOS" on them, it is definitely cringe-worthy and a major tourist faux pas. I have purchased many an interesting t-shirt since being in Ecuador; HOWEVER, I will resist and not break them out until I am back on US soil. I would hope others might do the same.

There are other rules for tourists, certainly, which could be a good idea to follow while traveling abroad. However, if you generally follow the above rules and constantly repeat to yourself while abroad, "I will not be the negative stereotype of the rude, loud, obnoxious American. I will be polite and say please and thank you, as well as other common pleasantries" then you will be in good shape.

Happy travels! Until next time, ciao!


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Home Sweet Home...

Sadly, I am writing to you from the cold, cloudy city of Quito, having earlier today left the sunny shores of San Cristobal. I truly would have liked nothing more than to have stayed in Jatun Sacha these next two weeks--bugs, heat, humidity, and all--but unfortunately, I had not choice but to return to Quito for a week of furious, feverish writing of my research paper and then another week of grading before returning to the US on May 24.

I think I must pause here and write out some of the things I am going to miss most bitterly now that I have left Jatun Sacha and all my friends there behind:

1) The People: I met more people from different countries in the past three weeks than I think I have ever met in my life--Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, and more! I´ll miss Claire, for her awesome sense of humor and amazing attitude, no matter what. I´ll miss Ricarda and how she never took any shit from anyone and for her love of music and adventure. I´ll miss Fran for quirky, hilarious sense of humor and how understanding she always seemed to be. I will even, in a weird way, miss Angelika´s complaining (mainly because then Claire and I could laugh about it together) and Gerda´s wild gesticulations and strange body odor (again, mainly because then I could laugh about it with Claire). And generally, I will just miss getting to meet new people from new countries each and every week.

2) The Work: Believe it or not, there was something rewarding about the work at Jatun Sacha, for sure. Make no mistake: it was painful, exhausting, torturous, and frustrating at times (not to mention sweaty and bug-infested), but there was a strange sense of accomplishment every day when I finished as long day of hard work and could feel that hard work in every muscle of my aching body. It was worth it, somehow, and I will miss it greatly.

3) The Stars: There is nothing quite so beautiful as the stars over Jatun Sacha. One of the benefits of being in the middle of nowhere: no lights to obscure the brilliance of the stars overhead.

4) The Peace and Quiet: Another benefit of being in the middle of nowhere, with no Internet, telephone, or television closer than an hour´s drive away. Without such distractions, you have so much time to think, to relax, to read (I read more for fun over the past three weeks than I have in a very long time), and to just be. I´ll miss my hammock time in the evenings, watching the light grow dim while swinging in my hammock on the porch with everyone. A lot.

There are countless things I will miss about Jatun Sacha and could not possibly list them all here, but there are some things I do not want to forget:

1) Richard and I, picking oranges to make juice for lunch. Since Richard had previously gotten fire ants in his eyes while picking oranges, we were both very wary and proceeded to pick oranges with me holding the sack out, as far from me as possible and Richard pulling the oranges off the tree and throwing them in the sack, all with our heads twisted around and ours necks craned as far as possible from the plummeting orange. Good times.

2) Walking to the bar at night, under the stars, and playing pool/Cuarenta until the crazy late hour of 8:00PM!

3) Going to bed and rising with the sun.

4) Mealtimes. Nothing tastes as good as, well, ANYTHING after five hours of macheteing and digging!

5) Gerda: "Mmmmmmm, errrrr, grrrrr....cookie! Puddin´!" (Claire, if you ever read this, you´ll know what I mean)

6) Angelica: "I got the black lung, pa...ah-he, ah-he!" ( know what I mean)

7) Sunset over the port while having batidos at Casa Blanca

8) Spiders and cockroaches in the toilet

9) Moths emolating themselves in my candles at night

10) The sweet lullabye of Gerda and LJ´s snoring

11) "I love the smell of DEET in the morning."

And tons more!

Thursday evening a bunch of the volunteers went on a Booze Cruise, essentially--one of the tour agency operators that gives great deals to Jatun Sacha volunteers offered up a SUPER nice boat and caipiriƱas for us for a really good price, so a bunch of us went. It was, in a word, amazing. About 20 of us on this awesome boat at sunset and, once the sun set, we all jumped off and swam around the boat, checking out the amazing stars overhead and the even more amazing phosphorescents glowing all around us in the water.

It was Fran, one of the volunteers´birthdays, so the crew gave her a birthday shot of tequila. However, Fran is a VERY petite person and pretty soon after that shot, she proceeded to start dancing nonstop in the middle of the boat, her voice rose about ten octaves, and anytime someone tried to get her to go in the water, she would cry, "Oh, I couldn´t possibly! I couldn´t possibly! My glasses! I couldn´t possibly!" (much funnier when you imagine that in a British accent, as Fran is from the UK...somehow, the way she said it just made it hilarious).

Friday, Fran and I went to the beach in the morning and ended up going to a bit more secluded beach that I had never visited before. Turned out to be an AWESOME decision: we were the only two people and when we got there, there were these two sea lions playing and flipping and darting around in the bay just off the beach. Suddenly, I noticed something BIG swimming near the rocky shore and at first thought it was a sea lion. However, it wasn´t: it was a GIANT black marine iguana, swimming around in the water. I had never seen them swim before and they are incredibly graceful. They just sort of slither from side to side, almost in the way a shark swims. One of the coolest things I have EVER seen.

Friday evening, we went out for a bit to one of the local bars, but then came back to our hostal and just sat on the balcony, overlooking the boardwalk and the ocean beyond, enjoying the peaceful, beautiful evening.

Saturday, unfortunately, was spent in an Internet cafe beginning to write the lengthy paper I have to do for my ISP. However, in the afternoon, I did get to go out to the beach one more time. We then all went to this restaurant we often went to, La Playa, where, after weeks of watching other people order and enjoy them, I had a langostino (Galapagos lobster, essentially).

This morning, I woke up early and went out to get some breakfast with Claire, only to find that literally EVERYWHERE was closed because of Mother´s Day. Luckily, we ran into Minolo, a tour agency operator that knows all us volunteers, and his aunt runs one of the little restaurants where we go for breakfast. Even though she was not there, he let us in and told us to make whatever we wanted, so we had some toast with jam and coffee and talked with Minolo awhile before I had to leave for the airport.

After a rather sad goodbye, in which I was sure to insist this was only "See you later!" and not "Good-bye," I got a taxi to the airport and set off back to Quito. It was good to see my host mother again and she was happy to see me, for sure.

Tomorrow, the marathon writing commences. Yay! Til next time, ciao!


Thursday, May 8, 2008

All Good Things Must Come to an End...

Today was my last day at Jatun Sacha. And I cannot believe it. I got back from the four day tour late Monday night, absolutely exhausted, but somehow happy to be back to the familiar heat and bugs and humidity of the station. Tuesday, I continued work in the educational garden that Claire and I had been working on the past few weeks. We did some hoeing and raking and removed a giant tree stump from the middle of the garden. That night, after dinner, we all went to the bar--aka. the gazebo in the middle of the jungle with the two old pool tables and beer. We played some pool and some Cuarenta (an awesome Ecuadorean card game). After a bit, Ricarda and I decided to leave, since we were both exhausted. However, the walk home was not as quiet or uneventful as normal.

She and I had just walked about fifty yards from the bar, quickly being surrounded by darkness and following the narrow, steep path down to the road as usual, when we heard footsteps ahead of us. Unmistakable, heavy footsteps, coming toward us. We both froze, unsure what to do.

"It´s probably nothing," I said.
"What if it´s a chancho?" Ricarda responded.
"It´s probably not, it´s probably a cow or something."
"But what if it´s a chancho?"
"Well, gimme a stick."

So I found said stick and hurled it towards where the footsteps had been coming from, in the brush down the hill. Silence. Ricarda remained frozen, staring into the darkness. I, however, was tired and just wanted to get home.

"See, it´s nothing. Let´s go."

So I passed her and started walking off down the hill, Ricarda following a few steps behind, when we suddenly heard the steps and the rustling again in the brush at the bottom of the hill. We both froze again.

"It´s probably nothing. It´s probably a cow, right?"

However, I turned around as I was speaking only to see Ricarda, running faster than I have ever seen her run, disappearing up the hill back towards the bar. Suddenly, I found myself alone in the dark with the heavy footsteps shuffling along behind me, so I saw no other choice but to take off as well. We both arrived breathless at the bar, where everyone turned, curious to know why we had returned and why we were so out of breath. Immediately, I started laughing as I described in Spanish how I had found myself alone in the dark, Ricarda running away like she had bloodhounds on her heels.

The owner of the bar laughed as well and assured us, "Oh, no! That´s just the donkey, tied up down the hill!" Ricarda and I both laughed at ourselves and left a second time. And sure enough, at the bottom of the hill was a donkey, tied up in the bushes. (I hope I did not hit it with the stick!)

ANYWAY, Wednesday was spent digging a trench, essentially, all day. I was tasked with digging the pathway that would go through the educational garden and I started it easy enough. However, soon the soil grew really compact and hard. So for four hours continuously, I dug my trench. Eventually, someone else finished with their task and asked me if I needed help. However, at that point, I was nearly through, so declined--I had started the path and I wanted to finish it. And finally, I did--after four hours of digging. My back and arms were terribly sore the next day and, of all things, the heels of my hands hurt the most, probably from the continual impact of thrusting the shovel into the rock solid dirt. But it was worth it--the garden (and the path) look spectacular. In the afternoon, after lunch, I macheted a bunch of mora with some of the other volunteers.

As we were finishing up, a taxi arrived with four new volunteers, at least two of whom did not (hmmm, how do I say this politely?) really look like the outdoorsy type at all. But then, I could be wrong. As they walked by and waved at us all standing on the hillside, we waved back wearily and Claire piped up, "Welcome to paradise!" which made us all burst into laughter.

Wednesday night was my last night at Jatun Sacha, so we went to the bar again to play some pool and Cuarenta. And as we walked down the lonely road back to the station later, I made sure to look up at the stars one more time. That´s one of the things I will really miss--the stars. We are literally in the middle of nowhere, so I have never seen the stars look brighter or more beautiful.

Today, I helped in the kitchen to make lunch in the morning and then departed. Even though it was sad to leave--I really kind of wish I could spend my last two weeks working in Jatun Sacha rather than going back to Quito, actually--I think it will really hit me on Sunday, when I have to say goodbye to everyone I have met here.

I know that some day, I would LOVE to come back to Jatun Sacha and actually maybe stay a little longer than three weeks. If not this particular station, than one of Jatun Sacha´s other biological stations across Ecuador. One day...

It is going to be immensely hard to leave all the people I have met, especially because we come from different continents and are oceans apart and who knows if and when we will see each other again. But I am still grateful for their friendship and for the time that I got to spend at Jatun Sacha with them.

Until next time, ciao!


Monday, May 5, 2008

Seasickness, Snorkeling, and Tortoises Galore!

The last few days have felt like weeks and I mean that not because they have been unenjoyable, but because we have done SO MUCH in so little time. Me, Claire, Ricarda, the three new German girls from Jatun Sacha, and two of the German volunteers that arrived with Ricarda left on a four-day tour of the islands at 6:00AM Friday morning. The other volunteers had told us we HAD to do the tour if we had the opportunity--not only did we get a HUGE discount as Jatun Sacha volunteers, but, without the tour, we also would not be able to see so much of the islands in such a short period of time and since I do not have much time left in the Galapagos, I decided I HAD to do it.

Our group was comprised of us eight Jatun Sacha volunteers and an older woman named Joy who, originally from Ohio, had married a Cornishman and moved to Cornwall, England with him 37 years ago. I get the impression that he passed away, though she had not explicitly said as much, but nevertheless, she is volunteering as a teacher in the Galapagos for three months and decided to join our tour at the last minute.

To say the tour began roughly is an understatement. It was about two hours by boat to the first island we were visiting, Floreana, but it was cloudy, cold, and windy, so the sea was very rough and more than one person came close to being sick on the ride. Even I, who have never had too much trouble with motion sickness, felt pretty queasy by the end. But hands down, no one had it worse than poor Joy. Joy went to the back of the boat with the other people prone to seasickness, since it is apparently a little better back there, about twenty minutes into what turned into a three hour boat ride due to the rough seas. And about that time, Joy started throwing up and did not stop until we reached Floreana.

We stopped near Floreana for our first scheduled snorkeling time. Everyone was a bit hesitant, since it was cold and windy and poor Joy was strewn out on the seat in the boat, paralyzed by nausea. But our guide, Wilson, insisted we try, so reluctantly, we got in. Thank goodness we did--not only did the sun soon come out afterwards, but a bunch of sea lions swam with us. And not only did they swim with us, but they played with us too. One of them swam right up and stole one person´s fin (our guide, Wilson, chased it and got the fin back) and another one swam right up to one of the German girls, Uli, and was flipping around in front of her and looking at her, curiously.

We got back in the boat and then made our way to land (thank goodness, for Joy´s sake!). Every got off at the dock in Floreana a little shakily and proceeded to a waiting truck that we took up to the highlands to an enclosure of giant tortoises. Giant tortoises are extinct in the wild on Floreana, due to invasive species and humans, but this enclosure has tortoises that were at one time pets of people and, now that that is not allowed, they live in an enclosure where people can visit them. It was pretty cool to get to look at them (and we witnessed a very frustrated male trying very unsuccessfully to mate with multiple females, who were not the least bit interested in him).

Afterwards, we hiked to the "Pirate Cave"--this labyrinth of rock formations where the first inhabitant of the island, an Irish pirate named Robert Hawkins, lived alone for many years. The cave itself turned out to be rather small, but it was a stone structure in which he lived and where you could see shelves, a chimney, and a bed all carved out of the rock. Pretty cool.

Next, we went back down and had lunch in the little town, followed by a brief visit to the black sand beach before we got back on the boat (now sufficiently drugged up on dramamine) and went off to Isabela.

Once we got to Isabela, we went off to the tortoise breeding center there, where we saw some more tortoises, including a bunch of babies, which were very cute. Then, we went off to dinner and then went to bed, exhausted.

The next morning began bright and early with a quick breakfast at the hotel and then we all got in a bus to go off to the highlands. We stopped at a barn and took horses from there along a slightly muddy track through dense trees and brush for about an hour and a half. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, I looked to my right and realized we were now riding along the edge of the giant crater (the second largest in the world, to be exact) of the Sierra Negra volcano! It was immense and, luckily, we had a clear, sunny day that allowed us to see all of it--this giant expanse of black volcanic rock that went on forever!

We got off the horses near the edge of the crater and left them there while we hiked down through a sea of volcanic rock, littered with cacti. Eventually, we emerged on this hill that overlooked more volcanoes in the distance and beyond them, we could see the silvery-blue water of the ocean beyond. It was absolutely breathtaking and unforgettable.

We hiked back and had a quick lunch before getting back on the horses to return. Now, here is where things maybe got a little scary. Now, the horses had seemed like maybe they were not cared for entirely properly--the first one they put me on had a terrible limp, so I ended up switching. The new one they put me on did not limp, but was obviously very hungry and stopped at every opportunity to eat. It turned out that a lot of the horses were lame and a lot of them kept trying to stop and eat, indicating that maybe they were not being fed enough. So, on the way back, some people decided not to ride their horses, while some did. I decided to ride mine. However, part way through the ride, the caballero that had been escorting us came up behind me with two of the riderless horses. He must have hit them or scared them or something, because all of the sudden they went thundering past me. My horse, who had been fine until then, freaked out and went thundering after them, with me clinging onto him for dear life. He panicked and started to run toward the trees and leapt OVER a tree stump, at which point I nearly fell off. The whole time, I was doing my best to hold on and rein him in, but he did not listen. FINALLY, blessedly, he stopped and I was able to get down.

The two horses that had thundered past me had finally stopped, but only because they were tied together and one had fallen and could not get back up. He helped me down, but only as he yelled in Spanish about how it was our fault because some of us walked while others rode and it confused the horses. I, frankly, thought the horses might be more bothered by him hitting them with a whip than by our indecision, but said nothing and continued on foot to the stable.

When we got back to the hotel, Claire, who I had not talked to since before the horse ride back, had apparently had a similar experience to mine. Her horse had stopped to eat and the caballero had come up and hit him across the face, at which point he took off into the trees with Claire on his back. Claire got hit pretty hard on the head by a tree branch and was really freaked out. Our guide, Wilson, told us he would talk to the tour group about that particular caballero, since he had had trouble with him before, and that he would tell them about the condition of the horses.

Next, we went out for a quick snorkeling trip in the bay, The waves were rough and the sun was setting, so we did not see much. However, the view above water was spectacular--what a sunset! I sat there in the water with my snorkeling mask off, just looking at the sunset and thinking, "Wow, am I really here?"

We DID see (from the boat) some sea turtles--BIG ones--in a little protected bay where the water was smooth and calm. Every so often, we would see their heads come up out of the water and then their shells, before they dove back under. It was a very peaceful, incredible sight.

That night, after dinner, Claire, Ricarda, our guide Wilson, and I went to the Bar de Beto, which is apparently famous on Isabela. It is this bar on the beach near the water, with a little tree from which are hanging all different liquor bottles. We had a drink and played a game of Cuarenta, before going back to the hotel and going to bed, exhausted.

Joy had wanted to see the Wall of Tears before we left Isabela and we did not have time Saturday, so Wilson offered to take people before breakfast at 6:00 on Sunday before we left Isabela. I decided to go, as did Ricarda and Claire, so the four of us went with Wilson bright and early. It was a quick trip, but I was glad I went. The Wall of Tears is a wall of maybe 6 or 7 meters high and pretty long, made of stones from the 1940s when Isabela was a penal colony. The prisoners, for no reason other than to give them something to do, were forced to carry stones to make the walls and many apparently died (I can see why, since there was nothing like cement or anything holding the rocks together, making it easy for them to fall and hurt someone).

We went back and had breakfast and then took the boat over to Santa Cruz. It was a pretty long boat ride and we stopped part way there to snorkel at Cuatro Hermanos, this giant rocky island in the ocean with a cave in it. We snorkeled inside the cave and though you could not go too far before it got too dark to see anything, it was amazing. When we turned to go back out, the view was amazing--this dark, black water giving way to the light, blue water outside the cave, where a school of fish was floating. So amazing.

When we got to Isabela, we had lunch, but whether because of being out in the sun so long, not drinking enough water or getting enough sleep, or a combo of all three, I felt really dizzy and did not eat--just drank some water. After lunch, we took a bus to the highlands to visit a farm where the tortoises roam free, which was cool but hard to enjoy, since I still felt light-headed.

After a walk around the farm, we went to see a lava tunnel located there. Apparently, millions of years ago when the island was formed, lava that was flowing cooled on top while the hot, liquid lava flowed underneath. When the lava emptied out, it left a giant underground tunnel, which we took a walk through.

After that, we took our bus to the Darwin Station, where we saw loads of giant tortoises, iguanas, and Lonesome George himself--the last of his species. There are 12 species of giant tortoise in the world, but when George dies there will be only 11 because he is the last of his kind. The rest were killed off due to humans, invasive species, etc. Cool to see him, but very sad, too.

We returned to our hotel then. I was EXHAUSTED, so I ended up going to bed without dinner, too. Had a good sleep and feel slightly better today.

We return to San Cristobal today. I have just three more work days at Jatun Sacha and I return to the mainland on Sunday! And it´s funny--compared to the literally non-stop activity of the past few days, a little manual labor at Jatun Sacha seems like a relief!

Now, I have to say that this tour was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just seeing the Sierra Negra volcano made it all worth it, just that one sight! I enjoyed it all immensely and would do it again in a heartbeat. That said, I have come to realize a few things, due to spending so much time in close quarters with people I would not necessarily otherwise spend so much time with. I think I can pretty much summarize my major pet peeves into three general categories, as a result of the past three days.

1) People who complain. All the time. No matter what.

Case in point: Let´s call her Angelika, shall we? Angelika seems to fit this girl, since it was the name of the spoiled brat character on the "Rugrats" program I watched growing up. Now, Angelika comes from a rather wealthy family in Germany and thought it would be fun to be able to say that she spent four weeks in the Galapagos, even though she seems to loath everything about Jatun Sacha and has yet to do any real work at all because she has had "a cough" all week (think Zoolander: "I have the black"). WELL, here we are, spending a pretty decent amount of money so we can see some really cool sites and do things that a lot of other people would kill to do. And here is Angelika, who has been sure to remind EVERYONE that she has a cough, maybe bronchitis, maybe phneumonia! And therefore, we can´t do anything too physical or strenuous! She sat and waited for two hours with the horses while the rest of us hiked around the Sierra Negra and saw the volcanoes and everything. She sat in the boat, brooding and looking pitiful while we all snorkeled. And when Wilson asked us if we wanted to do a little hike before we saw the lava tunnels, she piped up shrilly to say, "I CAN´T walk too far--I have a cough!" Needless to say, everyone is pretty much fed up with it (Ricarda so much so that she finally spoke up and told Angelika to stop complaining, which prompted a rather uncomfortable argument in German at lunch yesterday between the two of them). Frankly, I find it offensive that she has been so determined to be miserable and not only that but make everyone else miserable, too. I know so many people who would love to do this type of trip but can´t. She can, thanks to her daddy´s money, but has come here and been determined not to enjoy a moment of it. What a waste.

2) Impatient people. Impatient Americans, especially.

Case in point: At breakfast yesterday morning at our hotel, we were all sitting at a long table, eating, when a couple from the US sat down at the end of our table. They were separated from us, even though we were technically at the same table, and very obviously a separate party. Yet, for some reason, they decided they could not wait for the waitress to serve them and proceeded to ask us to pass down our tea, our coffee, our bread, everything! That is the equivalent of going into a restaurant and asking people at another table to please pass over their food so they can eat it. And literally, two minutes after we grudgingly passed our things down, the waitress came out with coffee, tea, and bread for them. Idiots.

3) People who do not listen to simple directions. Or common sense. And who make stupid and avoidable mistakes as a result.

Case in point: Let´s call her Gerda, because frankly, names like Gerda and Olga were invented for women like her. Gerda is a very large woman of about fifty who came from Germany to work at Jatun Sacha. She apparently, somehow, works in the Ministry back in Germany, but I do not know how. Besides not speaking hardly any English or Spanish, she apparently prefers not to speak much German either, instead preferring to gesticulate and grunt wildly to get her point across. Being in close proximity to her has been trying at times, since she apparently does not believe in deoderant nor in ever shaving her armpits, which on more than one occasion have been in my face on the boat the past few days. ANYWAY, Gerda is somewhat clumsy and whether on the boat, in the bus, or anywhere else, finds opportunity to stumble and bumble about, nearly running into everyone along the way. She just laughs and proceeds to exagerrate, flailing her arms wildly and laughing as all 250 pounds of her nearly barrel into anyone within range. Now, who was the only person to go off the trail and not listen to our guide and hence get stuck in the leg rather badly by a cactus during our first weekend here? Gerda. So of course it would follow that when we were hiking through the volcanic rock around the Sierra Negra this weekend, who was the only person to not listen to our guide or common sense and venture off the trail? Gerda. She not only went off the trail, but perched herself on a freaking cliff, surrounded by volcanic rock (which is very sharp and very jagged) so she could take a picture, while Wilson waved and called and gestured frantically for her to get down. Of course, she slipped, being both clumsy and, well, on a cliff, and scraped her legs AND ripped her pants (the rocks are REALLY sharp). Let me tell you, she turned out to be okay, but I would have been really upset if we were not able to continue the hike because she had done something stupid and busted her head, requiring us to rush her to a hospital or something.

All this aside, I had a wonderful trip and all these encounters with rather irritating people is certainly fodder for some rather amusing stories. But nothing and no one could have ruined the past few days. Not to sound like a Mastercard commercial, but it was truly priceless. I told Claire: I spent a decent amount of time this semester being somewhat homesick and a decent amount of this semester hearing my classmates talk about how they never wanted to go home, that they wanted to live in Ecuador, that they never wanted to leave, and the whole time, I never understood how they could feel that way. Until now. It took coming to Jatun Sacha and toiling away in the sun for hours and getting bit by fire ants and sharing my bathroom with cockroaches and spiders and meeting so many different people from so many different places to cure me of my homesickness once and for all and to finally give me that sense of fulfillment and peace and understanding that eluded me for so long. Now, going home for me will be much harder than I imagined--while it will be nice to go home, it will definitely be bittersweet, as I now know that I will genuinely miss it here. I will miss the friends I have made and the adventure of every new day. But I can go home a little more contented and happy as well, knowing that I achieved that and that I finally found that sense of fulfillment here.

Until next time, ciao!


Thursday, May 1, 2008

"Claire, can you get me a napkin, please...there is a spider in my pants..."

Greetings from San Cristobal! And wow, what a week. I do not think I have ever worked so hard or been so tired or sweat so much in my life. Last weekend was wonderful, though, and made it much easier to bear going back to the station for another week of hard labor. Saturday was spent hanging out on the beach in port, having drinks at various cafes on the waterfront, and all around just trying to feel human and somewhat civilized again after a week in the jungle. Sunday, we woke up early and Ricarda and I went on a snorkeling trip around the island, which was INCREDIBLE. The first place we stopped was this amazing rock that rose up out of the ocean and around which tons of blue-footed boobies and other birds were hovering and swooping and diving. There were sea lions strewn all over the rocks near the water and there were baby sea lions swimming around and swimming alongside our boat as we pulled up. I was kind of nervous at first, as I was not sure how the adult sea lions would react to us getting in and swimming around with their babies. However, they could not have cared less--they pretty much just laid there, comatose, on the rocks, basking in the sun, while we swam around with their babies. And baby sea lions, apparently, are big fans of hide and seek, because they would swim down and hide under rocks and stuff and then shoot out and swim around us in circles, doing flips and somersaults. SOOOO cool!

Next, we went to Kikka Rock, which is this HUGE rock formation that is broken in two, with a channel of really deep water in between the rocks where there are sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles. We swam through the channel and for a while, I saw nothing and the water was so deep and dark, I was scared because I knew that if and when I saw a shark, it would be really close (because I otherwise would not be able to see it at all). But sure enough, eventually I saw what started out as a gray blur solidify into a shark! And then two! And then three! They, for their part, could not have cared less about our presence, so we watched them swim around relatively unheeded. We also saw some IMMENSE manta rays, which looked almost like some alien creature to me--they were so huge and strange looking, like aliens floating through space or something.

The part I was most excited about, however, was the sea turtle. We had emerged from the channel onto the other side of the rock and suddenly I noticed a sea turtle floating beneath me, swimming lazily along. I followed it awhile, just watching it. Finally, it swam deeper and it slowly disappeared, first into the mere shadow of a seaturtle, then a dim silhouette, then nothing at all.

Next, we went to a beach to have lunch, which was great except for the horseflies, which practically swarmed us as soon as we got close to shore. However, we walked around a bit, taking pictures and swimming a little in the ocean.

Lastly, we stopped at Isla de los Lobos for our last bit of snorkeling, where we once again got to swim with the baby sea lions. It was much shallower here, though, and I was able to see a manta ray and LOADS of puffer fish up close, which was very cool. Because it was so shallow, I was only a few feet away from the manta ray as it swam along the bottom. It was crazy to see it so close and be able to see its eyes looking up at me (though in a rather detached, disinterested way, since it kept swimming right along the bottom, not going very fast and stopping occasionally to nibble at things on the bottom).

Finally, we returned to port as the sun was setting and caught a cab back to the station with the other volunteers. Back to the bugs, the heat, the sweat, and the back-breaking labor!

Monday morning, I was feeling relatively refreshed, however, and ready for another week of work. Some new volunteers had arrived on Sunday evening--three new German girls and a girl from Portugal. And even though they were new, I very quickly became...unimpressed with them. The German girls, for their part, showed up late to work Monday morning and I could barely resist the urge to ask them if they were going to the mall or something, based on the ridiculous outfits they had on for the work we would be doing. The girl from Portugal, while a bit more appropriately attired, complained most of the week about 1) how dirt her boots were (compared to the state of my boots, hers were brand freaking new!) and 2) how many bugs there were (she is going to be here for THREE MONTHS and I honestly do not know how she will make it if she does not get used to sharing her personal space with the creatures of San Cristobal).

ANYWAY, I spent pretty much all of Monday hoeing in the educational garden (which is freaking EXHAUSTING and backbreaking) and then raking and then hoeing some more.

Tuesday, I spent my morning digging holes to plant coffee plants as part of Jatun Sacha´s ongoing reforestation project. After this, we all had to help to carry this GIANT trees to different areas that were going to be used as telephone poles for the electrical wiring for the different buildings (the Old House finally got electricity this week, though due to the fact that light is a bug MAGNET, we cannot really use them). However, this is where things got a little...uncomfortable.

I was fine carrying a giant tree across my shoulder with the other volunteers. However, what I was NOT okay with was the ton of fire ants that were apparently on the tree and decided to then crawl on me! And not only do those little bastards bite, but they will bite you again and again and again until you kill them or otherwise remove them. SO, as I felt my upper body erupting in firey burning pain, I decided I had best go take a shower as that was the only way to get them all off. I did not manage to shower and change clothes, however, before my arms, chest, neck, and back were COVERED in bites and my skin there was a red, irritated, painful mess. And unfortunately, there is not much you can do about fire ant bites except wait for it to go away. Waiting for those bites to go away that afternoon was possibly one of the most uncomfortable feelings I have ever had. Ugh...

Wednesday, though my fire ant bites had gone away mostly, my close encounters with nature continued. Now, normally, I shake out all of my clothes before I put them on. However, I forgot to shake out my pants on Wednesday morning. So, all morning, as I was helping to dig holes for the telephone poles from the day before and then install the wires on top of the poles, I kept feeling like something was crawling around in my pant leg. However, I was not sure and thought that maybe I was just imagining it.

Well, during juice break, it turned out I was not imagining it at all. I was sitting on the ground of the kitchen, playing with the station dogs, Linda and Negro, when I felt that same creeping, crawling sensation in my pants leg and this time, I was sure I was NOT imagining it! So I quickly smacked at my pants leg and grabbed the fabric where I felt something moving...and felt my fingers squish something...something BIG...

Now, I am proud to say, that after a week and a half in the jungle, sharing my bed with cockroaches and my bathroom with HUGE spiders, they do not particularly bother me anymore. And I managed to more or less calmly turn to my friend, Claire, " Um, Claire, could you get me a napkin please? I think I have a spider in my pants." Claire was good enough to hurry off and come back with a napkin, as well as her work gloves on and ready to ensnare whatever was in my pants.

Maintaining a firm hold on the part of my pants where I had the critter trapped, I slowly rolled up my pant leg and then grabbed it with the napkin. It was indeed a spider...a fairly sizeable one, though not the biggest I have seen here. "Oh, that´s nice," I said, examining it. Just another day at Jatun Sacha!

One thing that the experience definitely showed me is that the Jatun Sacha employees were not lying when they said the spiders could not hurt you. If there was ever a time for one of those spiders to bite me, it would have been when it was stuck in my pant leg, but it didn´t. Still was not a particularly comfortable experience, though.

After installing the telephone poles Wednesday morning, removing worms and caterpillars from the tomato plants in the afternoon, and then hauling watermelons up a mile long STEEP uphill trail (Pepo told us where we would be taking the watermelons, to which I replied, "Are you serious? That´s hilarious!"). It literally felt like something out of some comedy film--hauling WATERMELONS up a giant hill! Claire likened it to rehab or something and, given that we are cut off from any sort of alcohol, chocolate, Internet, or junk food during the week at the station, we do have the withdrawal symptoms (to a certain extent) to deal with, as well.

Wednesday night after dinner, however, we had the pleasure of being able to go into port a day early! Thursday, the first of May, is somewhat of a holiday in Ecuador, but it is apparently a HUGE deal in Germany and, since about half of the volunteers are from Germany, they managed to convince the employees that we needed to celebrate this holiday by having a day off of work...and the employees agreed!

Today we will celebrate the first of May at the beach and tomorrow, a bunch of the volunteers leave for a tour of the islands for the weekend, which I am super excited about. :)

Until next time, ciao!


Saturday, April 26, 2008


What a week! So even though I thought, after my coastal village homestay, that there was no such thing as "off the grid" anymore, this past week has proved me wrong, since Jatun Sacha is almost as off the grid as you can get. I arrived last Sunday and my Quito-accustomed senses were shocked as a stepped into the hot, humid air of the Galapagos. I walked with the hoards of tourists towards the airport, but was very proud and pleased to be able to avoid the lengthy "International Tourists" line and go to the "National Tourists" queue, where there was no one else waiting. I had gotten my censo (Ecuadorean ID card) and thus was able to qualify as a national tourist AND I would only have to pay a $25 park entrance fee as opposed to $100...At least, that´s what I THOUGHT. I got stopped at the door because, seeing a gringa walking towards the National Tourists line, the guards assumed I just couldn´t read or something. But I proudly showed them my censo and was allowed past. BUT, when I got up to the lady behind the desk and presented my censo and other documents, she looked at it and at me and then asked for my passport. I told her I did not have it, only a copy of it, since I was told by my teachers that that I was all I needed. She took my copy of my passport, looked at it, and then directed me over to the International Tourists side, saying I still had to pay $100. I almost completely involuntarily cried, "Bullshit!" but managed to hold it and my frustrations in. I at least was not made to wait through the entire HUGE International Tourists line, but they did unapologetically take my $100 from me and send me on my way, while I glowered silently to myself.

I eventually collected all my bags and made my way to the throngs of people waiting out front of the airport, most of them guides waiting for tourists. I almost had a moment of panic as I stood there amongst them--someone was supposed to be meeting me from Jatun Sacha, but where the hell were they? What if they never came? How would I find the station?

Thank God, out of nowhere, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was there for Jatun Sacha. She was Lydia, a woman who works at Jatun Sacha, and she was waiting there with another woman who works in the kitchen at the station. She said she knew I must be a volunteer because of the requisite giant, ugly rubber work boots I had slung over my shoulder. However she recognized me, I was just glad she had found me!

We waited in the oppressive heat a while longer for three other new volunteers who were supposedly arriving, but then finally we decided that the woman from the kitchen and I would go on to the station in a taxi (aka. a big, white pickup truck) while Lydia waited for the others. We rolled along in the taxi on a paved road only for about fifteen minutes before veering off on a narrow, dirt road that wound through jungle. On this extremely rough road, we rumbled along for the better part of an hour and, the further and further we went, the more it dawned on me that my hopes for occasionally going to an Internet cafe in town during the week or making phone calls were completely ridiculous.

FINALLY, we arrived at Jatun Sacha. Besides the sign out front, you would not know it--it is just a collection of humble buildings built from bamboo in the middle of the jungle on a hillside. A girl named Mimi, who also works in the kitchen, met us and showed me to the "Old House," where I would be staying. After she had shown me my room, she left me to myself while she started dinner. No one else was there yet, because apparently all the volunteers go into port for the weekends and were not back yet. So I stood there, completely alone, POURING sweat, in my dark little bamboo room, staring at the GIANT spiders hanging from nearly EVERY wall and smacking at the little biting flies that were partaking in a little fresh blood, courtesy of me, and, for a moment, I could only think: What the hell have I gotten myself into? Three weeks of this!!! Three weeks of oppressive heat like this, hard labor, bugs at every turn, and completely isolation from the greater world! "Holy shit..."

Luckily, Lydia arrived somewhat soon afterward with the three other volunteers, who were also in the Old House with me. They turned out to all be from Germany--Gabriela, Anne, and Ricarda. Ricarda was closest to my age and probably spoke the best English (they had only had a month of Spanish instruction before arriving and, besides that, their accents can sometimes make it hard to understand), so we talked for a while and have been getting along pretty well. Ricarda was also a bit more appalled and disconcerted by the heat and bugs than I was, so it made me feel better that there was someone else who kind of felt the way I did.

Just before dinner that evening, the other volunteer arrived. There was: LJ from CA, USA; Claire, Fran, and Croz from the UK; Connall, Sonya, and Paul from Canada; and Vanessa and Mike from Germany, as well. They gave us some pointers and advice to help us get accustomed to things there and how things work, which was nice. It was also just comforting (and helped relieve my slight sense of panic) to be with other people who seemed so self-assured and who had been doing it so long.

And thus, Monday morning, began what was a LONG and exhausting and CHALLENGING week. Each day, we had about six hours of hard labor, working on Jatun Sacha´s various projects. In the course of the week, I dug holes to plant coffee plants, clear cut invasive species away from the road with a machete, did some weeding and tending to the plants in the nursery, raking, and more macheteing! There is only SPOTTY cell phone reception and getting any reception at all requires people to hang their phones from wires along the roof and then lean out and twist and turn them into odd angles to get a signal. My phone, of course, gets no service on the islands at all, so I have to borrow other people´s phones and then spend a half hour attempting to get a signal just to send a quick message to my teachers twice a week to check in.

One of the highlights of the week was a CHANCHO (pig) hunt, which was awesome! After we had finished work for the day, Cesar, the director, asked us if anyone wanted to go with them to hunt chanchos. They are an introduced species and have been eating the eggs of the native birds, which is bad, and plus, they are good to eat! So, me and Claire looked at each other and I immediately was like, "I wanna hunt a chancho!" I convinced Claire to come with me, because I did not want to be the only girl running through the jungle after guys with machetes, begging her, " Come on! If nothing else, it´ll be an amazing story! When else will you be able to have this opportunity!" So, she came with us!

The chancho hunt entailed hiking up incredibly steep hillsides for about an hour, following dogs and guys with machetes, and then, FINALLY, upon spotting some chanchos on a nearby hillside, running like crazy down our hill and back up another one after the chanchos. Unfortunately, we did not catch the chanchos, but it was an adventure, for sure. It also really hit home for me how much invasive species are a problem here...and how hopeless it may be...when we were standing on top of those hills, looking out over all the neighboring hillsides: there was mora EVERYWHERE! Mora is one of the worst invasive species (it is basically blackberries) because it does not allow anything else to grow where it grows and it easily spread because birds eat the berries and spread it. And wow: I looked out over the hills and saw, in some places, it was completely white, twisting thorns and vines where the mora was and NOTHING else. It was everywhere! Lydia told me it covers 70% of the islands and that one day, it will probably be everywhere, and that it is basically impossible to stop. Sad. And it all began with one lady bringing a single mora plant to add to her garden here. Now, it is everywhere and it is irreversible.

Though the labor has been hard this week, the people have made it worth it. Meeting so many interesting and amazing people from all over is incredible. Definitely makes for some awesome story and character ideas for my creative writing project! One thing that was sad this week was that Paul and Croz left the project Thursday. They were two really interesting guys, who each basically got fed up with society and with their jobs, so they quit, sold their houses and everything they owned, and have now just been traveling and volunteering. Paul worked saving leatherback turtles in Costa Rica before this project and now he is moving on to do a three-month trek in Patagonia (I asked him how the hell he found out how to do awesome shit like that, to which he replied, "Google. The world is your oyster."). Croz worked in Costa Rica before this, too, and he is not sure where he is going next. It´s funny--I probably never would have met them except for being here and now that they are gone, I will probably never see them again (they are not the type for keeping in touch). It´s funny to think of the people that enter your life for just a brief time only to leave again, but who you will never forget. It was cool to know them while I did, and I know that, occasionally, I will think of them and wonder, "Where did they end up? What are they doing now? Did they ever find what they were looking for?"

While Paul and Croz left this week, new people arrive all the time. Richard from the UK and Eric from France just arrived on Thursday. Fridays we do not work, but instead go on nature hikes. Due to excessive rain the night before, we could not do the hike Friday and instead, Richard, Eric, Ricarda, Gabriela, Anne, Lydia, Cesar, and I piled into a taxi and drove to the Galapaguera Semi-Natural. This is where people get to see the giant tortoises. It took an hour to get there, then we walked around the place and saw the nursery with the baby tortoises, and then the big ones along the trail, who just sat there, nonchalantly chewing on leaves and staring at us. The biggest ones were pretty freaking incredible and reminded me of a tank or something. And yes, I got some good pictures, which I will post eventually...MAYBE next weekend.

After seeing the tortoises, we hiked down to a nearby beach (gorgeous white sand, clear blue water, volcanic rocks with blue-footed boobies on them) to eat sandwiches for lunch and enjoy the beach. And a bit later, we hiked back up and got back in our taxi to go back. NOW is where it got exciting.

Because there were eight of us, eight people cannot fit into the cab of a pickup truck, so Richard, Eric, Ricarda, and I sat in the back (the other two Germans were not too enthusiastic about the prospect, so we volunteered). However, about five minutes after getting in, it literally started to POUR. And it continued to pour the ENTIRE ride back. And as if that were not enough, we got stuck on the muddy dirt track that leads to Jatun Sacha, so Eric, Richard, and Cesar had to get out and push. We somehow managed to get past it and Richard, Eric, and Cesar jumped in the back of the truck as the driver gunned it up the rest of the rough, muddy track, trying to avoid getting stuck again. I just remember looking around at all of us--covered in mud, soaking wet, and all laughing our asses off. Eric yelled, "Well, this is adventure, isn´t it?" Adventure, indeed.

By some miracle, we were able to get our things from the station and make it out to the paved road and into port for the weekend, where the rest of the volunteers waited for us. Today, I plan to spend on the beach, where there are apparently tons of sea lions and blue-footed boobies and mantas, and tomorrow Ricarda and I are going snorkeling off of a boat that some of the other volunteers are going scuba diving off of, as well.

So, until next weekend, ciao!


Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Las estrellas y la luna ya me dicen donde voy..."

School´s OUT! Yes, that´s right--yesterday was the last day of the Academic Seminar portion of my semester here in Ecuador. It was just like any other day, but I somehow felt like I should pay more attention to everything since this was in fact not like any other day in that it was the last time I would have to wake up at 7:00 and make my way through the crowded city streets to the Experiment in International Living office where our classes were held. Yet, as I found myself once again squeezed between mounds of people on the Monserrat bus, shoved and jostled the whole ride and dying of heat between all these people, some of whom obviously did not believe in deodorant, I was not so sad it was the last day of this nor too concerned about paying attention to it all. Frankly, all I wanted to do was get off that freaking bus and into some fresh air!

So, as I have done almost every morning, I took the bus down Diez de Agosto and as soon as we reached a point from which I felt I could feasibly walk to class, I pushed my way through the crowds of people, handed a quarter to the little guy with the fanny pack whose job it is to take it, and tumbled out of the bus onto the sidewalk. Lucky for me, the last day of class was a particualarly beautiful one and more than made up for the cold, rainy miserable days that found me sitting in class shivering and uncomfortably damp for the majority of class. The sky here just seems so big and blue and clear on days like this, despite the smog that pours out of nearly every vehicle that passes by. Maybe it is the sun--it is so clear and close and strong here, the light absolutely unfiltered by anything ("All the better to burn the crap out of your skin, my dear!").

Eventually, I made it to class and, as is usual in any college-level class that I have ever experienced, there were already people there early, preparing for our final exam and talking nervously about it--what would it be like? What would the questions be? Would we really need three hours to write two essays? I am fairly superstitious about tests and do not believe in cramming or freaking out about it and verbalizing that to my fellow students right before the exam. So, I went and sat out on the patio that looked out over Quito. What a truly gorgeous day! On days like that, you can see for miles and miles--the little houses like little boxes clustered all over the mountainsides and, even more spectacularly, the mountains beyond. And on this particular days, I could see, peeking out from behind wisps of clouds and the mountains in front of it, just a bit of Cotopaxi, snow covered and magnificent.

I just sat quietly and watched as the city woke up. There is this one house directly across from the patio and, apparently, the bathroom is the room directly across. The glass is fogged so you only see the people in it as shadowy figures. The sink is nearest the window and I only deduced it was a sink because I had seen the figure of a father, with his little son sitting on the counter by the sink, while the father brushed his teeth and then brushed his son´s, a few times. On my last day of class, they were there again, the shadowy figure of the father brushing his teeth, then brushing his son´s and wiping his face.

On this particular day, I also saw, on a rooftop in the distance, a woman hanging laundry, but not just plain old laundry--this laundry was particularly brightly colored--neon pink, red, green, blue, yellow. It made me wish I had my camera (though, out of a fairly valid fear of pickpockets and just plain being robbed, which has happened to more than one of my fellow students, I did not bring it with me).

So, finally, the exam commenced! We had three hours to write two essays and we had a choice of two out of four different questions. I ended up writing about the history of the indigenous movement in the Sierra since the 1960s and then about US-Ecuadorean relations (THAT one was fun...and I kept thinking about something Hugh Grant said in that movie Love Actually: "I love that word relationship...covers all manner of sins, doesn´t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship, based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all the things that really matter to Britain."). ANYHOW...

Now, like I said, I am superstitious about exams. I have my routine and the things that work for me. And one thing I find works better for me than anything is not second-guessing myself. When I do that in an exam, the product ends up worse than if I had just left it the way it was. So, essentially, I spent about an hour on each essay, getting done about an hour early. I felt self-conscious and hesitated momentarily to walk up and turn mine in, being the first done, but I decided to go with what has worked for me all through high school and college and went ahead and turned mine in. Faba was a little surprised, but I told him, "I know I have done the best I can do and sitting at my desk and rereading or rewriting will not improve what I have done." Basically, for better or worse, I knew I could do no better, so there was no use just sitting there because I did not want to be the first person done.

I gave Faba a huge hug and thanked him for everything and hugged Lenore, too. I promised to keep in touch during the four weeks I would go without seeing them during my Independent Study Project (which I am actually required to do, every Sunday and Wednesday, so they know where I am and how things are going). It was weird--I mean, we will have another week with them after our ISPs...but still, it felt strange saying goodbye and going for a whole month without seeing them! They have become like Mom and Dad for all of us since we have been down here and we see them almost every day...our beloved Fabinore! But it will be weird going so long without seeing them. However, this is what this program is about: Faba and Lenore are there to hold our hands in the beginning and in the end, they have to let us go so we can use everything we´ve learned during the semester and experience things on our own.

I stepped out into the gorgeous sunny day and, lucky for me, a Calderon bus was just going by and had been stopped at the red light. So I ran up, jumped on, and actually got a seat (score!). And it was cool--for the first time on this ride, out of all the buses I have taken in Quito, I saw a couple people I remembered seeing before--a lady with this crazy visor thing (how could I forget that!) and a guy that came on and played some songs on his guitar. The last time he got on, I had not been able to get out some money to give him before he hopped off, so this time I made sure to have my money ready and, after he was done playing, I handed it to him and murmured, "Gracias..." before he got off.

Last night was spent packing and arranging all my things for the Galapagos and running some errands. I went to the Mariscal to meet my ISP advisor Rick (who happens to be Lenore´s "compaƱero"). I got assigned him at the last minute because they were having difficulty finding a bilingual advisor for me. The reason I needed a bilingual advisor is because, for my ISP paper, I had chosen to do a "non-traditional" ISP and write a create writing piece as my product rather than a traditional paper. And, because the simple fact is that I know more words in English than in Spanish, I felt like I needed to write my piece in English. This is allowed, though Lenore and Faba did tell me they would grade me harder in English, which is fine. Basically, for my ISP, I am going to the Galapagos Islands for three weeks to work with the Jatun Sacha Foundation. I will be volunteering with the reforestation and eradication of invasive species projects while there. Where the creative writing piece comes in is I actually got the idea based on another volunteer I met at Jatun Sacha´s office in Quito a few weeks ago.

I went to the office to go through orientation and there was a lady for the US who was there for orientation, too, for one of Jatun Sacha´s other biological stations in Ecuador. I talked to her for awhile and she said she had just quit her job of many, many years and was reevaluating a lot of things. So, in the process of reevaluation, she decided to take a month and volunteer in Ecuador. That gave me the idea that, since I will be working with a lot of volunteers from all over the place, and the Jatun Sacha staff, it would be cool to write a fictionalized version of my experience that talks about what all these people´s histories are and their motivations for coming to the Galapagos. Also, on a larger scale, I want to talk about how effective Jatun Sacha´s efforts have been in the face of all the tourism and human incursions in the Galapagos.

Despite what I intend, as Lenore and Faba told us, nothing ever goes the way you plan it and to just keep an open mind. So, with that in mind, I really do not know where my project will go exactly. But, as Lenore and Faba also told us, ANY project can be an amazing one--there is no single magical project. It just matters what we put into it. And I am definitely ready for this.

I fly out to the Galapagos tomorrow (Sunday) morning at 9:00AM and I return on Sunday, May 11 to Quito to write my paper. I do not know what to expect as far as Internet access and phone, but I will do my best to keep this blog updated if at all possible.

Take care and until next time, ciao!


P.S. Just remembered a couple quotes from my fellow students/the Fabster that make me laugh and by which I will think of them fondly over the next four weeks:

"I just wanna go off and have my whole thing just totally rocked and I just wanna become more like Pacho."
-Zach, during our class discussion of our goals for our ISPs

"I don´t know, I guess I just always thought it was from brushing my teeth..."
-Rachel (aka. "Africa"), explaining (completely seriously) why she has such ripped arm muscles

"And when I become the benevolent dictator of Ecuador..."