(Advanced warning: this post is long, and written mostly for the benefit of parent's of Vanderbilt Spring Breakers: continue at your own risk!)

Dunc and I just got back from the Quito airport after dropping off our 9 wonderful spring breakers. Before I crawl back into bed to catch up on some of the sleep that's been sorely missed this week, here's a recap of the past 3 days for those who are interested. Pictures to follow later today, as I snagged a camera card and uploaded Alaina's before she left. Thanks girl!

In the morning we headed out to parque Moya, the big park at the edge of Conocoto, to lay in the grass and plan out the children's English class they would be running that afternoon. Another almuerzo in Conocoto and a quick stop at the local dvd shop later, we were back on the bus (oh the constant busses) headed out to the community. Our afternoon was filled with Apoyo Escolar, Children's English (they talked about their favorite hobbies; gotta love creative college students), working in the library space (major props to Michelle for constructing the computer table!), and hitting up every tienda in search of a good Magnum ice cream bar.

Wednesday evening we were invited (thanks to Seth's awesome networking skills) for tea and a light supper at a local hacienda, a place we Program Directors have walked by every day since July but never been inside the grounds. And what an experience it was. Needless to say, after getting a tour of the grounds, meeting all 24 polo horses, seeing the two polo fields, walking through their private chapel, and sitting in awe under their chandeliers from Prague as their cooks made fresh empanadas, choclo pasta, and homemade cheesecake, we felt like we were in a completely different world. As if, by walking through the gates, we had passed through the wardrobe and were now in Narnia. The place was ridiculous, the family's hospitality was wonderful, and it definitely sparked some great conversations later that evening.

We rounded out the evening at a local restaurant in downtown Quito which featured a live Ecuadorian blues band; Manna is nothing if not cultural!

Another bright and early wake-up call. All 11 of us headed out the door, weekend bags packed, at 8 am to make our way to the base of Pichincha, the large volcano which stands sentinel over downtown Quito and is accessible via the teleferico, a gondola. After riding up, hiking around, taking a horseback ride to a little-seen waterfall, and standing in awe of the immensity that is the city of Quito, we sped over to the terminal and climbed on board for our 4 hour bus ride out to Banos, Ecuador.

We checked in to our rockin' hostel (free internet! a roof-top patio!), changed our clothes, and walked over to my favorite restaurant in Ecuador, Casa Hood. 3 hours, 5 smoothies, 11 amazing dinners and countless laughs later, we reluctantly left Casa Hood and walked back to our hostel, only to remember the top floor terrace. Places like that stimulate wonderful conversation (and a fair share of hilarity), and our Thursday ended with both.

After convincing a few of the girls that it really was easy to remember how to ride a bike, we aimed our wheels towards the river route and spent the morning biking through the forested Andes Mountains: over bridges, through tunnels, along the river and past waterfalls in some of the most beautiful mountains South of the Equator. A long hike down led us to Pablon del Diablo, an enormous waterfall we were able to climb up and behind thanks to a new tunnel completed this past October. We rejuvenated ourselves with french fries, ice cream and cokes (maybe not the best combination) before treking back up the mountain, grabbing a couple of trucks, and riding back up to Banos for lunch. Massages, shopping, exploring and soaking up the Andean sun made our afternoon fly by, and before long we were back on the bus headed home.

Our spring break cook, Elida, had a wonderful costal meal waiting for us when we got back, and after pushing together three dining room tables, all 20 of us sat down together for our last dinner with Vanderbilt. Over at the apartment the girls packed, showered, and loaded me up with all the extra food and magazines they couldn't fit in their suitcases: Melissa, those yogurt covered pretzels are AMAZING!!! Yet another of the countless reasons I adore them.

So there you have it. One spring break week down, 2 to go. Dunc and I are pleased to report that no one got sick, hurt, or lost, and right now their plane is taking off from the airport with full numbers in perfect condition. We probably have a few ulcers, but so it goes :)