Summer Session 1

A little something to think about.  Read Jillian's reflections on her experiences here so after her first month in Ecuador.

If you find yourself more interested in the character development of a poorly made Jackie Chan film rather than the climax of the plot, you should continue reading this blog post. My time in Ecuador thus far has been comprised of countless meaningful details that have contributed to my personal experience rather than large awe striking events. For example, in this blog post I will not focus on the breathtaking zip line trip across a valley with hundred foot waterfalls, but rather on the fact that Kristina’s loving grip on my left hand reminded me why it is so much more enjoyable to experience these things with other people. Even if it results in a sore knuckle and a pierced left eardrum.

Additionally, I will not focus on the movie night thrown in the teen center at the library last week, which featured the Amazing Spider Man, fresh popped popcorn, and a seemingly endless amount of Fanta orange soda. However, I would rather mention the fact that I played Bananagrams in Spanish for the first time. Already intimidated by my two new Spanish-speaking friends urging Jenni and I to play, I was exceptionally proud that I could take ownership of at least eight words by the third round of the game. (It doesn’t matter if Los Chillos is a name for something, it automatically implies that el chillo is a thing as well, right?)
I couldn’t possibly force you to read story after story about our wonderful weekend in Baños riding bikes, relaxing in day spas, and consuming an absurd amount of delicious food. I would much rather help you imagine what it was like for us on our initial bus ride of the weekend from Sangolqui to Tambillo, a forty-minute trip. Picture a large plushy bus donned in decorative fringe and curtains, with a bumper sticker declaring, “We brake for no one”. Now, remove the bumper sticker and imagine the passenger capacity at double the suggested number. Throw in a group full of gringos with overstuffed backpacks and duffle bags, and you’ve got yourself a legitimate test of human strength and balance. But really, if your triceps and forearms aren’t sore by the time you get off, you’re doing it wrong. Throughout the course of the forty minutes we were guaranteed no seat, at least a half dozen face-to-armpit encounters, approximately four smashed toes, three awkward hand placements, and multiple wafts of unexpected scents including, but not limited to, cologne, body odor, street food, hair gel, or animal (questionably domesticated).
There is nothing quite like finally getting a seat and being able to rest your shoulders. After we were all able to sit down, we realized the unsolicited workout we had received on our abdominals, as we had not been able to stop laughing at the chain of events experienced during the first twenty minutes of the ride. It was this enjoyable bus ride full of laughter and muscle conditioning that started our weekend in Baños off on the right foot for some much needed fun and relaxation.


Charlie on the weekend retreat to Baños!

 Beautiful views like this all weekend long!
 Charlie and his new friend.
 Walking the bridge.
 The "crew" soaking it in.
            If the lightly experienced Spanish speaker were to visit the touristy town we traveled to this past weekend, I’m guessing they’d be slightly confused with amount of adoration the people there had for bathrooms. In many souvenir shops there were shirts on display that said, “ I heart bathrooms”. The shirts didn’t really say that, actually, this town holds the wonderful name of Baños, which translated in English means bathrooms. This wonderfully large town is almost like an island, not being surrounded by ocean, but surrounded by high-scaling cliffs and mountains on all sides. Illuminated radio towers and even a cross are scattered across the mountain skyline, and at night, it appears as if there is just a floating cross in the middle of the sky, which was quite a site to see.

            Baños is by far the most touristy place we’ve been so far as a group. I’m not saying that as a bad thing though, because personally I had the most fun there out of all of our weekend excursions. When we arrived, I thought I was in paradise. The streets were livid with loud motor sport vehicles, like ATVs, dune buggies, and dirt bikes. It’s as if all the extreme-sports mega bros decided to set up shop here and make a business out of renting these fast and fun vehicles to tourists willing to throw down some money. Sadly, we didn’t rent any of those, but we did rent some mountain bikes. I ended up renting two because I had a little too much fun popping wheelies and going on and off curbs on my first bike, which consequently bent my wheel, quite a bit at that. I had only noticed this 5 minutes after we started riding, so Pete rode back with me while I got a new bike. There was something awesome about the following sequence and I just loved it. Because we were both behind the main group, we decided to go as fast as we could to catch up. Hopping on and off curbs and weaving through traffic going (probably) 25-30 mph+ was just an amazing feeling; it was like I was in a Red Bull commercial. After we exited the town, our ride was a straight shot down a two-lane road with the occasional uphill struggle. Overall though, it was a very easy ride, and me being the speed freak I am meant I was at the front of pack when Pete and I caught up to the rest of the group.

            The view. Amazing is all I can say. I’ve taken pictures of almost every activity I’ve been actively involved with, but while on the bike ride, I didn’t take a single picture. I was so actively involved with going as fast as I could and looking around that I didn’t even bother. Going down a mountain road surrounded by sheer cliffs and the occasional waterfall and river, to me, is perfection. We went through tunnels and bumpy side roads and even through a tiny waterfall, all of which were awesome. Then we proceeded to make a pit stop and zip lined across a massive gorge with a raging (not really) river at the bottom. It was very high up though, and the Ecuadorian ingenuity, which was used to harness us in and ride across the cable, also made it all the more exciting and nerve racking.

            Our downhill trek on bikes took us to the Paílon del Diablo, a gorgeous waterfall that we hiked to and got to climb around. All of us ended up getting soaked, but luckily Kristina had her waterproof phone case and was able to take some good pictures of us all. What I didn’t understand was why some Ecuadorians decided to wear high heels and clothes that, well, I wouldn’t want to get wet, but hey, maybe going to waterfalls is an extravagant outing for them.

            The following morning we rode horses up a beaten path to a volcanic water hole. We got to taste the water, which was very odd because it was like it was very carbonated, almost like seltzer. The horses though, what a ride. Even though they were trained to only respond to Ecuadorian whistles, they were still pretty fun. My trusty steed, Michael Jackson, was neck-in-neck with Jefferson’s race horse (ha) Whiskey. I’m convinced Vlad’s horse was constantly pissed at something, because it bit Polly and some of the other horses. We didn’t manage to break into a full gallop, but we did do some trotting, which was still fun.

            Baños was a real good time, my favorite in Ecuador. It’s a great town with a great sense of personality, and a ton of things to do if you’re an outdoorsy person. It was my last weekend in Ecuador, and the most fun. I will definitely miss this place.

Kristina on their trip to the edge of the glacier on Cotopaxi:

I didn’t think I could stand the constant bumpy road one minute longer. I had a crick in my neck and I swore it felt like it had been three hours since we were graced with paved roads. There was the nine of us, plus an extra straggler from Canada heading towards The Secret Garden, a supposedly really nice hostel in the middle of nowhere. When we finally arrived, our travel weary selves were given warm mugs of mulled wine and served lunch before the hostel volunteers offered to take us off on a waterfall trek. It was really beautiful and a nice change after being stuck in various buses and vans for most of the day. The volunteer mentioned gave us wellies to borrow and led up mostly through mud and up stream over rocks until we arrived at a series of waterfalls and few us brave trekkers decided to take our boots and jump down into the dark pool of freezing water. Now that was an experience. We were definitely awake after that. That night, after a delicious home cooked meal and time around the fire, talking with other visitors about their travels, we slept like rocks before we rose bright and early and attempted to climb Cotopaxi.

The next day it was around 10:30 and here was sleet on my sunglasses, I was very confused. I swear it had been sunny a minute ago. I had made it to the refuge on the side of Cotopaxi, one of the largest active volcanoes in Ecuador, along with my fellow volunteers. We hurried into the barely warmer enclosure to eat our banana cake and drink our hot chocolate that we bought off the guides. We had just completed the first half of our climb through a very steep continuous incline of dirty volcanic ash, but we were still determined to make it to the glacier at 5,000 meters, which was at least another 45 minutes through the hail and snow. Finally after a couple of inhalers were used and a bunch of us used the bathroom outside in the terrible weather, we put our gloves and hats back on and followed behind the guide in a single file line like a row of confused baby ducks. Eventually we lost feeling in our toes and fingers, had nice piles of volcanic ash in our shoes, but our energy was still going strong. I don’t think anything could have caused us not to be excited about making it to the glacier at the point, even when we were warned that there was an electric storm and that we should probably hunker down for a couple of minutes. The guides allowed us to frolic around the glacier for a little while, creating photo ops and scaling down the crevasses while others attempted to sled downwards on their jackets and make snow angels. We were on top of the world and very proud of ourselves. I know that as a young adult that has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for years, that this was an accomplishment for me. RA is something that will always be there, attempting to stop me from doing all the things I want to with the pain and swelling in my joints and the threat of decomposition of the my cartilage in the back of my mind. One day I will be older and weaker, probably with a few fake joints and a ton of gross medication, but I will be able to look back on my climb of Cotopaxi and know that at one point I was adventurous. 

Morgan on our trip to Otavalo:

One of the things I’ve looked forward to the most about being a summer intern is the weekend travel.  This weekend the group made our way to Otavalo to do some shopping and some hiking.  Otavalo was definitely different from Sangloqui.  There wasn’t as much hustle and bustle and the people there dressed more traditionally than those in Sangloqui.
            There was a lot of hype about the market since it is the largest outdoor market in South America.  They had pretty much anything you could ask for.  From alpaca sweaters and socks to purses and all kinds of odds and ends, none of us were left wanting for anything.  Of course my trip to the market wouldn’t have been complete without buying another sweater, so I bought two this time.  There were many other interesting purchases such as overalls and some suggestive pens.  We ended our day of shopping with some world famous pie.  The Shenandoa pie shop had some of the best pie I’ve ever had, and everyone else agreed.  It’s pretty rare that a product is so good that customers don’t care how the owner acts, but the owner of this pie shop has certainly achieved that.  I really didn’t care that my order wasn’t served with a smile, because I would go there everyday if I had the chance.
            Otavalo was a cool town but what was most notable were the spectacular views.  Our hostel was nothing short of a dream.  Mountains, pastures filled with cows and other farm animals, and rolling green hills all in Rosa’s backyard.  Being from the middle of nowhere Georgia with nothing special to look at, I feel like I appreciate spectacular views so much more.  When I visit places like this I always wonder if the people that live there ever get to a point where they don’t seem to notice what’s around them.  Hopefully they don’t.
            On Monday we did a hike around Cuicocha Lake.  Cuicocha is a beautiful crater lake in a town near Otavalo.  Since this was my first hike since being back it was pretty challenging for me.  The altitude here never disappoints.  The feeling of accomplishment I had after it was finally over and the beautiful views made it all worthwhile though.  It was also a good warm-up for next week when hike Cotopaxi!

They really show the variety of the patterns at the market

View from the Hostel

Marin absolutely crushing it


I did not know what to expect returning to Ecuador for a second time. I surely did not expect to be so judgmental of so many people, mainly young children.
 Seriously, the past two days I had unexpectedly been assigned to judge two competitions for different schools. The first event was quite the spectacle. Peter, Alejandra, and I walked down to this gymnasium near the house, and upon entering we were greeted with the sight of a gym full of Ecuadorian school children. After hearing that I would be a judge, I did not expect the event to be so serious, but after we were introduced to the school’s administrative staff, they showed us to our judging table which was decorated with personal water bottles and cups, chocolate bars, and scoring forms. This was serious business.  We were supposed to judge kids singing songs in English, and who would not be a better judge than Americans? Anyways, we critiqued each performance for the students’ pronunciation, creativity, and performance. There were two different age groups, for the younger age group, a beautiful rendition of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” took the winning spot, and for the older group, a well-performed rendition of T. Swift’s “Trouble” won everyone’s heart.  We stuck around after we were relieved of our judging responsibilities to watch folk dances from Ecuador and Peru, with children and adults alike performing in traditional cultural dress. 
 For the second event, Polly, Alejandra and I judged an English spelling bee for several different age groups. We were again greeted with our own judging table with delicious instant coffee courtesy of the teachers (I had about three sips and called it quits). It was interesting and fun to be surrounded by so many children. They can’t help but stare at us, and when we acknowledge it and talk to them, their usual reaction is to look away in embarrassment and giggle with their friends.  I guess they think we don’t speak any Spanish. Many are extremely talkative and funny. They’re also extremely easy to entertain. After participating in my first advanced children’s English class, I probably spent about 15 or 20 minutes just throwing a soccer ball back and forth with two young girls and they were having a blast.
            Ecuador is an awesome place. Some cultural things still bother me though, like Ecuadorians’ sense of time and sometimes their general lack of respect. For example, during the singing competition almost all the kids in the gym had no regard for the students performing and were talking throughout the entire event. Walking back from the event we saw a guy just peeing on a wall.
Obviously things like these agitate me and I doubt I’ll be able to get used to them. I realize that this country is completely different from my own, but I still love it. I can’t wait to experience more of the country with fellow summer interns and MPI Ecuador’s awesome Program Directors. 

Check back later on this week for more blog posts from Summer Interns and PDs!
As always all the best,