Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hard Goodbyes

Last weekend we had independent student travel, and Arden, Julia, Tom and I decided to go to Tena, which is a town in the Oriente near the Amazon Jungle. We arrived safely, after about 8 hours of travel by bus, and found a nice cheap riverfront hostel. We took a little canoe to the Parque Amazonico, which is basically a small island that was made into a sort of reserve for flora and fauna. It was lots of fun and we learned a lot about medicinal plants and some of the native animals in Ecuador. Monkeys, capibaras, porcupines, and tapirs were among some of the aminals we got to see. At night, we walked around town and were at an ice cream shop when an indigenous looking man dressed in khakis and a botton-down came up to us and asked if we are the Americans he was looking for. We weren´t, but the converstion went on for about an hour and consisted of talks about his culture, his life, and the current problems his people are currently having. We had been learning about the conflicts indigenous tribes had with oil companies coming into their territory and moving them out of their land to extract oil, but this was a first hand look into the life of a person who was directly dealing with this. He exprssed his desire to help his people and to save his land, but that despite what the government promised about being on their side, that this was not what was happening in reality. It was sad, but good to know that people care about their land and take the time to fight for it and spread the word about the truth. He talked to me, I talked to others, and hopefully they will pass on the information so we can all know a little bit more about their lives. The next day we went river rafting on the Napo river, did a jungle tour and jumped into a natural pool made by a waterfall, and slept in a lodge in the middle of the jungle. It was a wonderful exhilirating day. The following day we took a bus to the hot springs in Papallacta on the way back to Quito. We took a bus from Quito to Atahualpa and arrived late at night. The last week in this little town I called my home for a month, consisted of painting murals at the school, with messages about taking care of the environment, finishing off the greenhouse for the reforestation of the surrounding mountains, and working on our media projects. The night before we left, we had a going away party with all of the host familes and the members of the local government. It was nice to see how much they appreciated our presence in their town the last four weeks, and we expressed how thankful we were for their love and hospitality. We all showed out media projects, and my group´s was about people´s realtionship with the environment. We created a series of poems with pictures and the audience seemed to like it when it was presented. The goal of our project was to urge people to think about their personal relationship to the environment and how they affect it everyday. Also, to make them question their actions. The local band played a mix of traditional music and modern hip hop and we all danced and celebrated our time together. The next morning it was time to part from the wonderful host family that I lived with for the past four weeks. They all gave me gifts and I wrote them a letter of appreciation. It´s amazing how close you can get to starngers in so little time and the deep bnd that can be formed between people of two completely different worlds and cultures. My host mom shed some tears as we hugged goodbye. I shed some as well. Some tears of sadness, but more of joy that I got to spend time with such wonderful loving people. I will never forget all that I learned from them and the amazing experience I had in the small town of Atahualpa, Ecuador.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Learning from Strangers

This weekend was absolutely amazing. Although I had already been to Otavalo, Ecuador, I revisited this year and it was a completely different experience. That's what's nice about going back to places after a while, you've grown up and you see everything with a different perspective and it's a whole new experience. We had dinner at a marvelous organic place called Buena Vista and I had some good conversations with Karelle, Conner, and Kayce. All awesome people. We went looking for a pie shop someone had told us about, and supposedly it was very close to the restaurant we had just eaten at. A man at the restaurant told us it was located "diez pasitos" from Buena Vista, meaning ten steps. We walked aimlessly for about 15 minutes until we were across the street and saw the sign "The Pie Shop" right next to Buena Vista. Taught us to listen to the locals and look in all directions when looking for anything. At night, I was reading at the hostal by the fireplace and a drunk Irishman asked me to read to him out load in Spanish, and then payed me one dollar for my services. Oh the places I'll go and people I'll meet. The next day we went to the huge crafts market, called Plaza Pancho, and saw so many beautiful pieces of art. After having focused so much on consumerism during seminars, I was set on not buying anything. After all, I had already been there three years ago and totally splurged. Walking around and seeing all of these products created by Ecuadorian people started to bring out the consumer in me. I had totally convinced myself that I truly didn't need to buy anything. I have everything I need to live comfortably, all of these urges to buy are only for wants, not for needs. Why do we buy all of these things we truly don't need? Why do we let the media convince us to fall into their trap of consuming the unnecessary? When is enough really enough?  I only brought $15 to spend, and ended up spending $150. I've developed a bigger love for the art of bracelet making. In Costa Rica, Roma taught me a couple of stitches but in the market in Otavalo I learned all that i needed to know to make all kinds of bracelets  necklaces, rings, etc., all out of waxed string. It's incredible how the traveling artisans have their own little community. I met a lady in Quito the weekend earlier named Leo from Switzerland, and then met a guy in Otavalo aslo named Leo and also from Switzerland, both artisans that worked with the material I love to work with, waxed string. . . what a small world! I met a girl named Lucia form Spain in Otavalo, and she was selling a bracelet of a stitch I had never before encountered. I was determined to learn it. I went back after lunch and spent four hours with her, her boyfriend, and Sarah, learning all the stitches I could possibly imagine. They were so wonderful. For lack of a better word, they were what one would call "hippies" but I hate using labels to describe people. They were open-minded, loved to travel, money was not their first priority, and most importantly they wer happy. The boyfriend, from Argentina, had dreads and was beautiful. We talked about how sad it was that so many people in the world only cared about money, and failed to appreciate and enjoy the small things in life. I was so happy that they were willing to teach me everything, considering the fact that I had asked Leo to teach me and he was very hesitant and wanted to keep his talent for himself. On the other hand Lucia and El Negro were so excited to share their talent, and as more people walked up to learn they were open to new students. I felt lucky to have met them and wished them love and happiness in life. Dinned that night was delicious, and once again I had some question provoking conversations with Karelle, Sarah, and Conner. Once again we got pie at the delicious "Pie Shop". At night, we played cards by the fireplace at the hostal, which was coincidentally located next door to the hostal I had stayed in 3 years ago with my AdventuresCrossCountry trip. Sunday, we went up to FuyaFuya, a mountain by the lakes of Mojanda Grande. It was a cloudy day, but still beautiful. We split into two groups, one that would climb to the top of the mountain, the other that would walk around the whole lake. Despite my inappropriate shoe apparel, my Vans, I decided to climb to the top of FuyaFuya. It was all uphill and pretty tough, but most definitely worth it. When I reached the top I felt renewed, and we were literally in the clouds. It was so dense we could not see to the bottom of the mountain, let alone see the lake. When I looked up I felt as though if there is a heaven, this is what it would look like. All white. Pure. Beautiful. Karelle, Kayce, and I had to go back to Quito to get our Chinese visas, but unfortunately they were not granted. We had spent two other weekends in Quito working on them, and it was just a waste of time and money. I wasn't pissed at all though, cause at least we got to eat some good food each time, especially at a new one we found called, "The Maple." I came back to Atahualpa with a new bracelet, backpack, earrings, necklace, and mindset. I learned that in life you don't necessarily need some things, but some things are worth buying. Whether it was for aesthetic beauty, or simple pleasure, I didn't feel guilty for my purchases. They were all handmade by the people of this wonderful country, and all the proceeds went directly to them. What better way to buy then that?

Friday, October 14, 2011


Sorry for not updating this earlier, I don’t have very good time management skills. We’ve been in Ecuador for about a little bit over three weeks and it has been awesome. We arrived in Quito from Costa Rica, after having had the time of our lives getting to know each other and preparing for the year ahead. We spent about five days in Quito, taking Spanish classes everyday to prepare for the next month with Spanish speaking families. Luckily, because of the Mexican that I am and the Cuban that Karelle is, we got to skip classes all week and walk around town and run errands with Kayce. We had seminars and lots of reading to do about the environment, which is the topic we are focusing on here in Ecuador. One day we had an Ecuadorian professor come talk to us about the history of Ecuador, and we learned many interesting things about the government and the current situation here. In 2008 the current Ecuadorian President, Correa, drafted a new Constitution, which included rights for nature. It is the only country in the world that gives rights to nature, something that many other countries should contemplate, considering the fact that we were made for the earth, and not the other way around. A college student also came and talked to us about the environment in Ecuador, its diversity, and the current issues. One issue is that the Ecuadorian government is trying to get $100,000,000 from other countries to pay them not to destroy the Oriente, or much of the Amazon. So far they only have about 50 million, and I think the deal makes it or breaks it by the end of this year, which is terribly sad. Think of all that beauty, all those trees, plants, animals, all that life. Gone. Just because they need to get money from somewhere to not completely depend on other countries for support. We had some good times in Quito --- Going to the mall called Quicentro and getting delicious ice cream from a restaurant called Crepes and Waffles. Going on runs in the morning around the city, in the fresh air with Ecuadorian runners all around. Simply walking around the city and seeing places I had been to three years ago on my AdventuresCrossCountry trip, and becoming beautifully nostalgic. Having a splendid stuffed red pepper at a restaurant called The Magic Bean. Walking around the old city part of town.  Joining a dance class in the middle of the street and getting a free bracelet. Going to the huge church, which has been in construction for hundreds of years, and overlooking all of wonderful Quito. Doing yoga in the morning, led by the delightful Kayce. Playing games with the group. Looking at the graffiti on the walls by the Ecuadorian youth. Seeing a sexy chap with dreads at the top floor window of a five-story building, wishing I could talk to him. Walking on the mountain after having gone to a glass building that contained lovely modern artwork. Having delicious breakfasts and dinners at the Mision Carmelita on Abascal and Cochapata Street. --- Finally, waking up to the day we would come to Atahualpa, and meet the families we would be living with for the next month.

The town is small, under 1,900 and 2,000 meters above sea level, nestled in the mountains. Atahualpa is the Pichincha province and near five other towns in this area. The weather is sweet. Mostly cool, with some refreshingly warm days, and habitually either rain or drizzle. The views are amazing. It feels as if the clouds are only several hundred feet above us. The sunsets are outstanding. The mountains hold waterfalls and a small river, and on the other side there are huge lagoons. The town is set up along a main road, which goes all uphill at a relatively steep incline. The town cemetery is small but decorated beautifully with bushes of all shapes and sizes. There is a big soccer field, a school, a pretty church in the center of town along with the park, and a public swimming pool. Everyone knows each other, and there is no crime. One can walk on the streets at any time of day or night, and be completely safe. This is where I get to live until October 28th. My family is sweet, two daughters: one sixteen, one fourteen.  The house is a three-story cement house which like many others her looks unfinished. The only floor in use is the first, in which they generously gave me my own room. The second floor is separate, kind of like a duplex, and is used for making cheese, yogurt, jams, and arts and crafts. The third floor is basically the roof, with a washing machine and clotheslines for the laundry. I remember the first night I was here, after having just met my family, looking up at the clear nights sky and seeing all the twinkling constellations. After that, the nights have never been so clear. The mom has her own garden in the huge backyard with organically grown veggies and fruits. They also have about 50 guinea pigs, which is a meat they eat here. Bunnies, ducks, chickens, quail, geese, and a dog named Pinky also reside in the backyard. Not longer than a five minute walk away is a lot of land with their cows which they milk every single morning. Coming on this trip I thought I would be living in the most remote places, for example here in Ecuador I thought I’d be with a tribe in the Amazon. Not quite what I expected though, having a television in every room in the house. Although I had mentally prepared for way harder conditions than the one I am in, I have to admit, this is not the easiest thing in the world. Living with strangers of another culture, with different customs, habits, and general way of life can be significantly overwhelming. For example, I saw the slaughter of a guinea pig the other day. My host mom just took it by the neck, slit its throat, held it upside down for all the blood to drain out, dipped it in boiling water to take all the hair off, cut it open in half, and took all of the guts out. All with her bare hands. She told me to touch the muscle of the leg, and already cut open and completely dead, the muscle twitched and I jumped back with a scream. She left the heart and brain in though, and then cooked it in the oven with oil. I tried it and it was pretty good, it was really more just the thought of having seen the process of this once cute creature’s preparation for our enjoyment. My host sister Dayana loves to chew on the head and eat the brain and the eyes, and suck everything out until the only thing left is the bone. The subject is ecotourism here, so we started working on the service project and we went up to the mountain to fix the potholes in the rode that led to the top. Then we went down to another mountain to widen the walking trail for tourists to come and give the town some business.  We visited the waterfalls that were the destination of those trails and they were marvelous. I loved hiking up and down, oh and I got to swing on a vine! It was so much fun!!! Sometimes I feel like I belong in the jungle.  We had lots of fun getting wet and muddy, and it was a good workout too. On the weekend Karelle and I went to Quito for a dance performance in the town square and I was in it! My host sisters taught me all the moves the night before and got me all of the costumes I needed to preform with them. It was sick dancing in traditional Ecuadorian clothes in the middle of the square surrounded by so many people. We came back and kept working on the same project and having seminars everyday at 2:30pm after having lunch at home, which is the biggest meal of the day here. I helped my mom make bread from scratch and it was really good, considering the fact that I don’t usually eat bread that often. The food is good, not as many veggies and fruits as I would like, but still good. Some of my favorites have been fried plantains, and boiled corn called mote, which looks like popcorn but tastes like corn, and is absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, I ate a lettuce everyday, which I thought was disinfected but turn out only with lime.  Unfortunately, I got E.Coli, but thankfully I went to the hospital and got diagnosed in time before it got worse and my intestines were all fucked up. I just today finished the antibiotics and it feels good! Taught me the lesson to be extremely careful with everything I eat and not think I can take it. We went to Quito that same weekend for the Ecuador – Venezuela soccer game, and Ecuador won 2-0, despite the common thoughts that we would lose. I guess TBB is their lucky charm, because they just beat the U.S. 1-0 a couple of days ago as well. Karelle, Kayce, and I had to stay the night to work on getting our Chinese visas. It’s a long process, but it was fun because that night we went to La Ronda, which is an artsy part of town with different cafes and art shops. I spent around $40 buying insane string bracelets from some pretty cool people from Chile and Switzerland. I bet Roma would love them if she saw, I’ll probably send her an email with the pictures. So this week we started working on making a greenhouse for the local community to grow trees and plants in order to help reforest the mountains that have gotten deforested over the years. We cleared the weeds on the land, gathered wood to build the greenhouse, and so far have dug out seven long trenches for small trees to grow in. I really like manual labor.  I’m having fun, learning lots, and enjoying life. I have to admit I do miss home, but mostly I miss the delicious food my mom makes and all the yummy restaurants. No wait, JAMBA JUICE! That is what I miss the most. And of course all you people reading this know I miss you like crazy, so that goes unsaid. Something I have to work on is being more disciplined with my time and prioritizing correctly. Hopefully I will get better soon, in order to make the most of this experience.  I’m so lucky to be here and so thankful.  I love you all back home. Oh and thinking about all of the stiff we’re reading and everything we’re ding inspired me to write my first poem ever. Here it goes.

You and I.

My dear earth,
I have to say I’m sorry.
Ever since the start,
You’ve been nothing but good.
You let me come into being,
And let me live on your land,
Using whatever I needed.
But my brothers and I,
We have not been good in return.
If anything,
We have taken advantage of you.

My poor earth,
What have I done?
I feel as a young boy would,
After killing a spider that did him no harm.
I used to be able to lie in your ocean,
And feel your breath.
Now I only hear the sounds of machines I myself have created.
I used to be able to breathe in your air,
So clean and so pure.
Now I taste the smoke of those machines,
And it hurts my lungs.
I used to be able to walk your land,
And feel your heartbeat.
Now I only hear the sounds of my brothers and their machines,
Hurrying to make more of what they believe can buy them happiness.

Life was so sweet when you and I were one.
Now you say you don’t know what’s become of me.
Why have I only thought of myself,
When you are in the midst of all my doings?
I love you so much,
But I know I have not shown it.
In this relationship of ours,
All I have done is take,
When you know nothing but to give.
Sometimes I feel your pain,
And many of my brothers have dies because of your anger.
But with our past actions,
We deserve it.

Lately some of my brothers have felt your pain as well,
And many are trying to reverse what they have done to you.
But it’s not easy.
I know you’re about to break,
But please,
Give me a chance.
Give me more time.
I promise I will try to heal you.
But with all you have to give,
Many of my brothers still want to take.
They don’t understand how you’re feeling,
And that if they don’t stop,
Your heart might cease to beat.
I will spread the word of your illness.
I hope someone heeds my words.

My beautiful earth,
All I can say is I’m sorry,
And I’m trying.
But it’s hard,
And sometimes I want to give up.
But I can’t.
I owe it to you and I.
Every time I see the colors of your sky,
When I hear the whispers of your wind,
As I feel the softness of your land,
I know you’re still there.
You’re alive and your heart is beating.
Your love resonates within me,
And when I feel it in my soul,
I know you and I are still one. 

P.S. I'll put all the pictures up soon! 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rich Coast

Costa Rica translated into English literally means rich coast. It is filled with hundreds of species of flora and fauna and is extremely diverse. After spending ten days in a small surf town called Avellanas near Tamarindo, I fell in love with this beautiful country. The life they live is simply beautiful. It may not be the most luxurious life but it is comfortable and you are constantly surrounded with natural beauty. The people are laid back and seemingly worry free. Very hospitable, very happy, good energy overall. I promised myself I would return to travel around the whole country and see everything this small bridge country has to offer. The beach was gorgeous, beautiful sunsets every evening around 5:30pm. I would wake up everyday around 5:30am and go on a run, do yoga, work out, meditate, or write on the beach. There were hundreds of pretty shells on the beach, some with which I made a small key chain. The waves were awesome, I tried to surf once and did pretty well but wish I would have gone out to surf more often while I had the chance. I preferred to just swim, and if you swam far out enough you could just float peacefully, without the waves crashing on you. The best was that you could hear the sounds of the ocean, not of motors or the like, because there was nothing there to disturb you. Howler monkeys were often heard, making slightly frightening deep sounds. Once you saw the monkeys though, they seemed cute and harmless. Iguanas also roamed around, as well as once in a while rare birds I had never seen before. We went zip-lining which was an amazing time, and on the last zip-line I hung upside down which was totally sick! We also went on a catamaran trip and went cruising looking at little islands and the vast ocean. We snorkeled, but I put the gear up pretty quickly because there was not much to see since the reef was dead. Instead I swam and then kayaked around for a bit. Then Arden - an awesome girl on my trip that I totally already love - and I took the kayak out to see a little cave but she kept on falling off and it was too funny, I peed in the kayak. Hey, who can say they've peed in a kayak right? That was super fun, but what was even better was tying the kayak with a road to the boat and getting pulled and just laying on the kayak and letting it take us. We fell off once and had to swim to the boat but it was cool cause I needed a workout for the day anyways. The hostel we stayed at is called Mauna Loa, and the guy who runs it is named Gustavo. He is an awesome guy with whom I loved talking to, and I promised him I'd come back to visit. He taught me a lot about Costa Rica and the way they live and what not. He's an outstanding photographer, you should check him out at  Another person I met who taught me something was this Argentinian girl named Roma. She's 25 and awesome. She moved down to Costa Rica to surf and live and works at the hostel, while making crafts on the side. She taught me how to make a new kind of bracelet which is pretty fucking cool. She says her parents named her Roma because backwards, amor, it means love. She loves her boyfriend so much and was so sure and trusting of him it was refreshing and pure. Gustavo's brother was beautiful, tan, surfer, blue eyes, sexy ass body, and totally off limits. But it was nice looking at his sweet smile. I love everyone in the group. Karelle is this spectacular half hispanic half European girl like me and we totally click and laugh our asses off for stupid shit. She says sorrynotsorry and it's like the coolest phrase ever. Arden is a fun sweetie pie from New York who was an awesome roommate in Costa Rica, along with Katie another sweetie pie from California who's super caring and organized. Julia makes these mean comments, with good intention, and she's just so fucking funny. Claire is my H-town buddy and I love the way she sings and her hand gestures when she talks, it's cute. Hope is just the most darling thing ever, and she's so smart and one of the genuinely good people I've met. Sarah is a wee bit shy, but once you get to know her she's sick and really fun to talk and laugh with. Chris is really funny and he doesn't even know it. Conner is really smart and I hope to learn some of his talking skills cause I really admire the way he can talk and put his thoughts to words. Tom is such a good boy and he's really nice and funny too, he knits, which is think is awesome. The program leaders I love as well, Scott is funny 24/7, Amanda is an organic farmer that loves to hug (score!), and Kayce is a person that reminds me a little bit of myself but 10x cooler and is a great yoga teacher. Stephen, the program coordinator, is so nice and sweet and I'm so thankful for all his hard work. I'm planning on giving him the bracelet Roma taught me how to make, but shhh, he doesn't know. So yeah Costa Rica was great, and I've already learned so much. All the seminars and discussions we have really get me thinking and I feel like I really am being challenged which feels good. I feel like my mind is slowly expanding. I'm so excited for Ecuador tomorrow. We go to Quito for about 5 days and then start on the actual service project for 6 weeks living with a family. I feel extremely lucky to be here, it's almost unbelievable. This trip will completely transform me, in a good way. I wish everyone that I love could be here with me, sharing all of these great experiences. I would be nothing with my family and friends, all of which have made a great impact on me and give me the love and support I need to be strong and happy. I miss you all. I send my love your way.