Week 14: Solo Trip to Quilotoa

Hola a todos!

This week, I was hit with an internal dilemma. I have less than 5 weeks left in Ecuador, but I have a lot places I still would love to visit. One of those places is Laguna Quilotoa, a lake that filled in a depression (which formed due to rapid magma activity from Volcán Quilotoa). Since I have enjoyed hiking this semester, I really wanted to do a significant hike while in Quilotoa. However, I couldn’t find anyone to go with me this weekend. Quilotoa was something that I wanted to experience, and I knew that if I didn’t go this weekend, I probably wouldn’t have the chance to go again. Instead of missing out on something I truly wanted to do, I decided to embark on my first solo trip in Ecuador!

Side note: This was a very last minute decision, and to some, traveling solo may seem very unwise. However, I was extremely careful on the buses, I hiked with a guide, and the rest of my downtime was spent in the lodge where I slept for two nights. I felt very safe the entire time.

Now on to the adventure… I left Quito at 8am. After a series of 4 buses, allowing me to travel from Terminal Quitumbe to Latacunga to Chugchilán, I made it to my ecolodge, Black Sheep Inn. Yes, I did say Ecolodge! This place is right up my alley. They serve vegetarian meals, use compostable toilets, and have a yoga studio that I could use any time! When I checked in, there was only one other family from Oregon who was staying here. They were amazing! They told me about some of their other travels, which gave me inspiration for travel destinations in the future. The dad is also an ER doctor, so of course, I ended up having some conversations about medicine and public health with him. After checking in, I took a short hike, read, and did some yoga. It was a relaxing end to day full of travel.

On Saturday, I accomplished what I set out to do: hike! I took a 6 hour guided hike that went from Quilotoa back to Chugchilán where Black Sheep Inn is located. Laguna Quilotoa is stunning! The lake is a gorgeous, blue-green color. The water would sparkle as the sun came and went. It was breathtaking!

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After walking around Quilotoa for about an hour, we started to descend a canyon to head back towards Chugchilán. Along our way, we saw a lot of wildlife—sheep, cows, chickens, goats, llamas, etc. For plants, we passed tons of grasses, shrubs, flowers, and pine trees. The hike into and out of the canyon was beautiful due to all of this diversity. Before we headed down the canyon, we ate a delicious lunch provided by my lodge. It was so good that a goat really wanted a taste. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t willing to share. Along this portion of the hike, I got a glimpse of what living in a rural environment is like. There is quite a bit of poverty here, and the people who live in these towns mostly depend on agriculture to make a living. I’m very glad to have gotten the opportunity to witness this lifestyle because it is very different than what I am used to in Quito. After coming out of the canyon, we made it back to the lodge. Later, I celebrated with lots of free coffee and baked goods that the lodge provides for its guests. I also came back to discover more guests—including Dutch guy and a French biker gang of sorts. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by reading and practicing more yoga.

On Sunday, I made a quick trip with the family from Oregon to a nearby town to experience a local market. There was a hodgepodge of meat, fruit, bread, and artisanal crafts. Then I hopped back on the buses to head back to Quito.

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This was an amazing weekend for me. One of the lessons that I have been learning here in Ecuador is to embrace my independent personality. A lot of people hate doing things alone, but I’m learning how liberating it is. I don’t have to depend on other people. I don’t have to sacrifice what will make me happy in order to satisfy a group. I have the freedom to choose what I want to do, however I want to do it, whenever is fitting for me. I do not regret this decision to travel solo whatsoever. In fact, I recommend that everyone tries a solo trip, big or small, at some point in their life. My adventure to Quilotoa will definitely be one to remember!

Chao,

Hannah

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Week 13: I’m on top of the World (almost!)

Hola a todos!

I spent this week in Quito, but it was far from boring! On Thursday, a group of us went to a Persian restaurant for Shawarma (This was even better than the Turkey Shawarma at SNC, so that’s saying something.), and then we saw the movie, Thor. This was the first time in a long time where my entire group of friends was able to spend time together, so we had an amazing night.

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On Friday, I went on a mini adventure to Parque Metropolitano. It’s a ecological reserve in the middle of Quito—filled with tons of hiking paths and trees. It was shocking because I’ve never seen nature like this in the city. I fell in love with this park! Not only was it beautiful, but the air was clean (contrary to the smog problem in Quito), and it reminded me of going hiking back home in the summertime. Needless to say, I was a bit sad walking home, especially since I got hit by waves of black exhaust from the passing cars and buses.

On Saturday, I crossed off a major bucket list item for me—hiking Rucu Pichincha in Quito. I have been meaning to hike this mountain for the longest time, since it is right in Quito, but I haven’t had the chance until now. To complete this hike, you simply have to take the Teleférico up to the top, and then start walking. For the first two hours, the hike was both gorgeous and manageable.

The last hour, however, was very difficult. I basically had to scale a ginormous sand dune. For every three steps I took, I slid down two. Once I got past the sand, I then had to climb over rocks to make it to the summit. This was extra challenging given the fact that I was surrounded by clouds, so the visibility was not great. In the end, though, I made it to the top: over 15, 400 ft! I have fallen in love with hiking. People who know me know that I am always up for a good challenge. Hiking like this is both mentally and physically difficult, and that is why I love it! Nothing feels better to me than summiting a mountain; I can’t really describe it. I hope to do more hikes during my final weeks in Ecuador. They have been one of the highlights of living here, in my opinion.

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Sunday, I just had a lovely relaxation day. I went on a run/walk, and then I stopped by one of my favorite cafes for a mocha, so that I could work on some homework. Afterwards, I went to a little market to buy some fruit. The rest of the day was spent reading and Facetiming with friends and family. I love days like these.

That sums up this week. I can’t believe I have less than six weeks left here. I am ready to see my friends and family, but I still have so much more sightseeing to do before I get on my plane. Stay tuned!

Chao,

Hannah

Week 12: To the Beach!

Hola a todos!

This week my school had another vacation, so a group of friends and I decided to experience the Coast. After researching, we decided to visit the calm beach town, Mompiche. On Thursday, we took a series of cabs and buses to reach the coast—about a 9 hour endeavor! After arriving we checked into our Airbnb, which was amazing!! Our cabin overlooked the ocean and came with hammocks to relax in during the day. For dinner that night, I got my first (of many) ceviches. Wow, I am in love with seafood, and seafood on the coast doesn’t get any fresher. Let me tell you, during these four days, I was in complete food heaven.

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On Friday, we took a boat tour of Mompiche. During our tour we stopped at several beaches to take in the turquoise water, the sandy beaches, and the exotic mangroves. As far as food goes, the highlights were ceviche, arroz con leche (a wonderful dessert made with rice, cinnamon, and dulce de leche it looked like), and a strawberry and coconut batido (basically a really sweet, creamy smoothie made with milk).

On Saturday, we first took a 3 hour tour of the jungle—I know, this coastal town also has a jungle. Crazy! During our hike, our tour guide pointed out various plants and fruits, including pineapple, papaya, coconut, etc. We even got to try some fresh cacao (which I hate for the record. It has a really funky, floral, sweet and sour flavor in my opinion.) and sugarcane. Our guide also blessed us with water from a small waterfall as a way to say thank you to God as well as to the the Incan god Pachamama for all of the blessings that we have been given in our lives. I thought it was really sweet and also really neat to see the blend of two distinct religions.

In the afternoon, we took a surf lesson. What an experience! Surfing is incredibly fun, but really hard, especially for me since I have little to no experience with similar sports (skateboarding, snowboarding, wakeboarding, etc). Despite this, I was able to stand up a handful of times for a few seconds, and I was quite proud of that. I would love to try surfing again in the future!

Sunday was our last day in Mompiche. We had some encebollado (one of my favorite Ecuadorian dishes) for breakfast. It is a warm fish soup with yuca. It sounds weird to have for breakfast, but it is delicious. Then we took a quick trip to Playa Negra, a beach with black sand due to its high iodine content. Finally we had to go home, and man that was difficult. There was some hoopla with finding buses to actually get home, and we learned that research beforehand could have saved us time and money. Finally on Monday morning, yes Monday, we made it back to Quito. It was a long trip home, but we did it.

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Between my trips to the Galapagos and Mompiche, I’ve realized that I love the ocean. It’s beautiful, peaceful, and filled with wonderful people (and food!). Well, another memorable trip is in the books, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for the rest of my semester.

Chao,

Hannah

Week 11: A Series of (Mis)adventures

Hola a todos!

I made it to the halfway point! It’s hard to believe that I have lived in Ecuador for two months already. On one hand, I am eager to be reunited with my family and friends, but on the other hand, I can’t possibly go home yet because I have so much more experience here.

The past few days can be summed up by a series of unfortunate (but funny) events.

On Friday, my friend and I decided to bike the Chaquiñan Trail. The ride started off wonderfully. I rented a bike, and we made our way to the quaint 40 km trail, which was surrounded by beautiful trees, flowers, and at one point, we were able to view a beautiful valley with a river running through the middle. Near the halfway point, our luck turned. First, my gear shifter broke. Then my friend’s tire popped. While my friend was trying to fix his tire, I got bitten by many mosquito-like bugs. After we realized the tire could not be pumped up, thunder rumbled in the distance. We decided to bike back to the nearest checkpoint, and the guard was kind enough to call us a truck to bring us back to town. Once I returned my bike, I had to walk back to the bus stop in the rain because, of course, I didn’t bring an umbrella or a jacket. The day trip definitely did not go as expected, but it was an adventure that is for sure.

The next day, I woke up at 5am for a hike up Volcán Corazón. Ever since coming to Ecuador, hiking a mountain has been one of my goals, so I was very excited for this opportunity. After being at the base of the hike for about two minutes, a stray dog decided to pee on my backpack while I was searching for sunscreen—not a great start. The beginning of the hike was also rough. My body was utterly confused as to what I was doing, and mentally I was wondering how I was going to survive a full day’s hike. However, with lots of water, chocolate, and good music, I had enough energy and motivation to make it up the mountain. We summited in about four hours. At the top (4780m), I got a nice reminder of Wisconsin because it was snowing! Luckily, I brought enough clothes, so the cold was not a problem. After taking some pictures at the summit, we headed back down. It took us about three hours to descend, and luckily no one fell off the mountain—although Nala (the dog of one of the hikers) did run into me a couple of times.

Today, Sunday, I am alive and well. My hands are blistered and my calves are covered in ginormous bug bites from the bike ride on Friday. However, my legs are only the slightest bit sore from hike, so I feel quite proud of that, especially since this was my first real hike. So while I may look a little rough right now, I feel great. I love these sorts of outdoor adventures, and while they might not always go according to plan, they make for great stories later on.

That’s it for now; stay tuned for more (mis)adventures that may come my way.

Chao,

Hannah

 

Weeks 9 & 10: Learning to Love and Serve through Medicine

Hola a todos!

I unfortunately did not have time to post a week 9 blog, but I can sum up my week pretty quickly: I readjusted to life in Quito rather than the Galapagos, did the usual school work, FaceTimed some friends from SNC, got Vietnamese food with some friends from USFQ, and went to a music concert at USFQ.

However, on Thursday of week 9, I got the most amazing news—I had the opportunity to be a Spanish translator on a medical mission trip through an organization called Timmy Global Health. There is a little bit of backstory to this, so let me rewind.

Before coming to Ecuador, two older students from SNC, who had also studied abroad in Ecuador, volunteered with Timmy Global Health. Both of them raved about the organization, so I knew I wanted to get involved with the them too. However, school started, and when I got the information about the Timmy Global Health brigades, I got worried that if I missed a week of school, I wouldn’t be able to catch up. Anyways, I was FaceTiming one of my best friends one night, and she convinced me to reach out to the Timmy Health Coordinators, so I did. Of course, I was way too late in the game, so all of the spots for the brigades were already full. Needless to say, I was really bummed that I missed my chance to go on one of these amazing trips, and I was praying that a spot would open up, so that I could go. On Thursday, I got an email saying just that— one of the interpreters couldn’t make it, and the coordinator Michelle wanted to know if I could join the brigade leaving that Sunday. I said yes, of course, and I spent the rest of the week emailing professors and getting ready for this brigade. I definitely think God was at work here, and while I really had no preparation for what I was getting myself into, I was incredibly excited for the week.

My week in a few words: humbling, fulfilling, inspiring, joyful.

I couldn’t have asked for a better week. I was one of roughly 5 translators (depending on the day) and we worked with members from Timmy Global Health, local community partners in Quito, a group of premedical students from Notre Dame as well as 3 doctors, a PA, a pharmacist, and a nurse. Every day we went to a new community in the southern part of Quito, and we served at least 100 patients each day—ranging from newborns to the elderly. Everyday, I also was able to rotate roles; I helped with taking the patient’s history, worked with the pharmacy creating medicine labels in Spanish, and my favorite part was translating between the doctor, patient, and scribe. Throughout this week, I not only got to practice my Spanish, but I also learned first hand from some of the most kind-hearted, selfless doctors who showed me what it is like to treat a person as a human, not just as another case. My mind is racing right now with all of the lessons that I am taking with me from this trip, but the following were some of my favorite moments of the week.

My most impactful day was out second day of clinics. I was able to translate with Dr. Rene, an Ecuadorian doctor here. Late in the day, we had one patient whose blood sugar levels were so high (even with his diabetes medicine) that the he could experience blindness or worse symptoms. Dr. Rene basically said that there was really nothing more that we as a clinic could do, and in these situations, Dr. Rene asks to pray over the patient. So he asked me and another student if we wanted to help, and together we prayed over this man. Not going to lie, this was really challenging for me, and I was really skeptical, but I tried. The patient was not miraculously cured, but I was so impressed by the strength of Dr. Rene’s faith. After this, a flood of questions just came out of me, and Dr. Rene so patiently answered them. The most impactful thing he told me is that he always remembers that as a doctor he can only do so much. He is not all-powerful, but he believes in a God who is. Through his years as a doctor, he has seen miracles that only can be explained by some greater being. The way Dr. Rene treated each patient, and his mindset for continuing to serve as a doctor made me think about what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus and how to spread Christ’s unconditional love.

Another takeaway from this trip was the attitudes of the patients we met. Most of them were unbelievably joyful and grateful even though they live in poverty with insufficient access to medical care. It’s really sad to see that these brigades are, for the most part, the only medical care these communities get to receive, and most of what we can give to these patients is medicine to help make their chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, gastritis, etc. more bearable. Even though we can’t cure any of these patients, I think part of the reason they were so grateful was due to the fact that we didn’t care about where they came from or what their financial situation was like. We simply listened to the unique stories they had to tell, and we treated them with as much love and respect as we could give. I think all humans crave those kinds of relationships. Even though we were only there for a week, I believe that meaningful relationships were made with the community members. Plus, the great thing about Timmy Global Health is that they keep sending brigades to these communities, so that these patients continue to receive care.

This week made me think quite a bit. One, it solidified in my mind my calling to pursue medicine and public health. Two, I really love Ecuador, and I want to serve these communities again as an interpreter and hopefully as a doctor one day. Three, I reconsidered the idea that the way I live my life has the opportunity to spread Christ’s love. If I’m honest, I’m kind of a mess in regards to knowing what to believe when it comes to faith, but I firmly believe that our actions can speak profoundly. This week showed me that if we can work towards serving others with a selfless heart, we can do a lot of good in this world.

This week was more than I could have ever hoped for, and I am beyond grateful for this opportunity, as it challenged me and gave me another perspective about the importance of faith and how it can be integrated into my daily life.

Chao,

Hannah

Week 8: Las Galápagos

Hola a todos!

This past week was a vacation period for USFQ. During this break, I was able to go on the most amazing trip— a 5 day adventure to the Galapagos Islands. Considering the islands are warm, sunny, surrounded by the most beautiful ocean, and enveloped in rich biological history and diversity, I knew that this opportunity would be well worth the money. Plus, I got to share this experience with some of my closest friends Carolina and Elissa.

We started our trip on Thursday morning bright and early at 5am. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately our flight got delayed 2 hours, so we had to kill some time. Eventually we made it to the airport on Baltra Island. A short canal ride later, we made it to Santa Cruz Island.

From there, a group of 5 of us shared a taxi and took a tour on our way to Puerto Ayora where our hotel was located. We first went to Los Gemelos, which are two sink holes that formed due to all the lava activity on the island. Then we went to a ranch that had two sights. The first was a series of tunnel formations carved from lava. The second was a reserve where giant tortoises roam. We were able to walk on this reserve and get 10 feet away from this amazing creatures. Afterwards, we checked into our hotel, walked around town, and went to dinner. For dinner, I got the most fresh fish ceviche, and of course we had ice cream for dessert. At night we walked around the dock and saw some sea lions, crabs, sharks, and puffer fish.

On Friday, we first visited the Charles Darwin Research Station. We a got tour of the grounds, learned a little bit about Darwin and his work, and mostly saw their conservation work for the giant tortoises. At the research center, they take fertilized tortoise eggs, incubate them, hatch them, and them raise the tortoises until they are three years old. At that point, they return the tortoises to their birth location. The coolest thing I learned was that the scientists at the station where able to bring back a species of tortoise that was extinct through a process of DNA purification and then selective breeding of tortoises that shared a very high percentage of the DNA with the species they were trying to revive. Since I’m not a geneticist, I do not understand the specifics of this, but I think it’s absolutely amazing.

Afterwards, we took a 40 minute hike to Tortuga Bay—the most stunning beach with fine white sand, aqua blue water, and some fun creatures like the marine iguana and the sea lion.

Side note: sea lions are now one of my favorite animals. They are sooo hilarious. They will show off for you in the water, sleep on benches like they own the island, etc. They have such a free-spirited personality. It’s adorable (that is when the alpha males aren’t fighting over territory. Yes, I did witness this too).

After swimming and relaxing by the beach, we grabbed empanadas and went to Las Grietas. To describe it, imagine a canyon with a canal of pristine blue water running through the middle. We were able to swim in this beautiful, freezing cold water. It was breathtaking. A dinner of pizza and ice cream was well deserved, because I think we walked over 13 miles by the end of the day.

On Saturday, we got on a boat at 7am to ride to San Cristóbal island. Boy oh boy was this a choppy ride. During this three hour ride, people were sick, puking, and in general counting down the minutes until the torture was over. Meanwhile, I was reading, writing this blog, and then listening to music. However, by the end of the trip, I was very ready to get off that boat. After we made it to the island, we we to la Lobería y las Tijeretas to snorkel. During each snorkel, we saw amazing wildlife like sea lions, marine iguanas, sea turtles, sting rays, and the famous blue-footed boobies. I am amazed by all of the wildlife that coexist together here. It truly is amazing to see these unique ecosystems.

Sunday we took an all day 360 degree boat tour of San Cristóbal. We alternated between periods of pleasant boating, hiking, and snorkeling. We tried fishing, but caught nothing. That is okay though, because I still got delicious fish with rice and cole slaw for lunch. The best part of the day was going to Kicker Rock, this huge rock formation in the middle of the ocean. We were able to snorkel around this rock, and on our journey we saw sea lions playing in the water, sea turtles, and SHARKS!! Don’t worry, these were either Galapagos sharks or black tipped sharks, nothing that would eat us. This was my favorite day by far because I got to see so many animals, eat lots of food on the boat (they had yummy snacks too), and even nap now and again.

As you can tell, this was an exhausting trip. Most days I was up by 5:30am and we were doing activities all day until sunset. I think it was well worth it, though. We had limited time and budgets, so we had to see as much as possible in a very short time. Even though our time was short, being in the Galapagos reminded me of how lucky we are to be on this earth surrounded by all of this amazing creation. There is a tremendous amount of diversity here, and I can’t believe I got the opportunity to witness it, especially with how quickly this planet is changing. Who knows, in 20 or 50 years, the Galapagos could look vastly different than it does now.

It was incredibly hard to say goodbye to the warm weather, pristine beaches, and playful sea lions on Monday. Five of us managed to sit in first class all the way home, so that was an unexpected plus that made going back to Quito feel a little better. I had a wonderful time in the Galapagos, especially due to all of the new friendships that I made with the students who came with us. This trip has been my favorite part of being in Ecuador thus far, and I will treasure these memories for the rest of my life.

Chao,

Hannah

Week 7: Embracing Life in Ecuador

Hola a todos!

This week was extremely relaxed. I had no tests, barely any homework, and really no major plans. Having a week to just recharge has been refreshing, but also challenging. If life in Ecuador is teaching me anything, it is how to be more “chill”. As a person who thrives off of structure, punctuality, and full agendas, this laid-back way of life still throws me off. If I could describe the feel of life in Ecuador, I would say that life is not about what you accomplish in a day, but who you spend your time with. It’s very people-oriented, rather than than task-oriented.

Since this is a people-focused culture, time loses its power. If we are late to this, it is fine. If we can’t visit everything on a trip, no worries. It is all about the experience of being with the people you care about, regardless of how time is functioning. Even being here for seven weeks now, I still struggle with this lack of structure. I’m the annoying person who wants to see and do everything on trips. I get impatient if we run late or can’t check off all the sights that we had planned to see. In my day to day life, to combat the lack of structure, I create it myself by working out, studying for the MCAT, even blogging. If my day feels full, I feel accomplished.

I clearly see how detrimental this mentality can be. I can get so sucked into doing things that I’m not really enjoying the day, I’m just mechanically moving through the day in order to check off my to-do list. If I’m so focused  and structured, I can miss out on the spontaneous moments with friends and family that form the memories I treasure the most. That’s why I’m so grateful to be in Ecuador—to receive a lesson on truly living.

So this week, instead of going stir crazy with the lack of stuff to do, I found ways to enjoy the lack of structure—I got lunch with Estefanny, my friend from Ecuador, talked to friends from home, and most importantly, I started reading a book just for fun, and now I’m obsessed. You will find me reading just about anywhere simply because I want to.

I still struggle with adjusting to this lifestyle, but this challenge couldn’t come at a better time. After I get back to the States, I’ll be thrown into real school again, with the bonus of trying to prepare for medical school. I don’t want my agenda to rule my life; I want prioritize time for my family and friends because they mean more to me than any “productive” day could offer.

Even though it is uncomfortable to change the way I’ve always lived, I’m so thankful for this semester in Ecuador to challenge me to stop thinking of my time as solely quantitative, but rather to give precedence to doing the things I love with the people I love.

Chao,

Hannah

Week 6: Waterfalls, Zip-lining, and Chocolate in Mindo

Hola a todos!

This past week had a hectic start. I was a little behind from my Tiputini trip, so I not only had to catch up on homework, but I also had to make up a test in addition to taking three other tests last week. Luckily, none of this compared to the amount of workload I am used to at SNC, so the week went by just fine. Last Friday, we decided that to do a quick weekend trip to Mindo. That night made some rough plans for our adventure and by midnight we booked a hostel for the next day.

On Saturday, I woke up at 6am to pack for our trip. I made it to the bus station at 8, but unfortunately the rest of the group got held up, so we missed our bus. Luckily, we were able to catch the next one. After a 2 hour ride, we made it to Mindo. We first got some lunch and checked into our hostel.

After we settled in, we headed for the Cascadas. Once we got there, we first took a cable car ride that overlooked the cloud forest of Mindo. Then, we decided to take a one hour hike to the biggest waterfall—Cascada Reina. After we made it, we decided to not just admire the nature, but to fully experience the waterfall. We changed into our suits, navigated the rocky bottom of the pond, and went under the freezing cold waterfall.It was so fun!

After our hiking endeavor, we went to el Quetzal for a chocolate tour. We learned about the process of making chocolate from bean to bar, and we got to try many chocolate samples, a tea made from the shells of the cocoa beans, a brownie, among other things. For dinner, we got delicious pizza from Tigrillo, and we finished the night with some dancing.

On Sunday, we went back to el Quetzal for breakfast. Then we went on a zip line adventure. For just $20, we were able to go on 10 different zip lines that overlooked the forest. At one point we even got to zip line in the “mariposa” pose. Basically, we ziplined upside down. It was terrifying and amazing at the same time. To finish off the adrenaline-filled morning, we did a “Tarzan” jump. Basically, I was hooked up to this rope, I stood on a ledge, the gate opened from in front of of me, and then I was pulled off the ledge. At first it felt like I was free falling; then it turned into the most exhilarating swing ride. I was the first in our group to go, but don’t worry, I was completely safe.

And just like that, it was time to head back to Quito. Our time in Mindo was very short, but it was filled to the brim with all sorts of new adventures. I’m extremely grateful to Elissa, Carolina, Sophia, Andrea, and Mateo for making this weekend one to remember. Ecuador just keeps getting better and better.

Chao,

Hannah

 

Week 5: La Oriente del Ecuador

Hola a todos!

This weekend, I spent time in a whole new world— the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Yasuní National Park. It’s crazy to think that I even had the opportunity to go to the jungle. The whole trip, my friends and I kept saying to each other, “Wow, we are actually in La Oriente in Ecuador.” This trip was unlike anything I have experienced before.

On Friday, we all met at the Rio Coca bus station at 4:30am. From there, we took an hour bus ride to the airport, where we took a 40 min plane ride to our next destination. After a short bus ride, we arrived at a hotel on the river. We then proceeded to take a 1.5 hour boat ride. After that, we hopped on a chiva, a wooden bus that wasn’t enclosed, for a 2 hour ride. Following that, we boarded another boat that took us on a 2.5 hour journey to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station. After a daylong journey and amidst sporadic downpours, I was so happy to finally arrive. As you may be able to tell, this place is in the middle of no where, but it is certainly beautiful!! All around our cabin (Sophia, Elissa, Courtney, and me. It was like I had college roommates again!) is lush jungle—picture a real life Jurassic Park. The sounds of the jungle, between the rain, bugs, and the birds is so soothing. Needless to say, dormí a pierna suelta (slept like a baby).

Saturday, we had a 6:30am wake up call. We ate pancakes with peanut butter (clearly we have been a little deprived of my favorite food) and fruit. Unfortunately it was torrentially down-poring so we had to head back to our cabins for a bit until the rain “died down”. The rain did not die down, so at 8:30am we went on a 3 hour group hike. On that hike we saw many unique bugs and plants. We even saw this one species of tree that has a symbiotic relationship with a species of ant. The ant produces toxins to prevent any other species of trees from growing to close to this tree, and in return, the ants get food and shelter from the tree. These tiny ants are edible, so we gave them a taste. They have a really tart lemon flavor. I never thought I would eat bugs, but I guess why not if you are in Ecuador? My favorite part of the hike was seeing two different types of monkeys hopping from tree to tree while they socialized and ate. That moment definitely solidified the fact that I was indeed in the jungle.

Later, we went on another hike. It started off very hot and sunny. We were able to catch a glimpse of a giant exotic bird. Afterwards, we chewed up a plant that made our tongues turn blue. Our last adventure was scaling this huge tower to overlook the canopy. The view was incredible! However, it started to downpour again, so we had to hike back in the pouring rain. The last event of the night was taking a short night hike in the jungle. On that hike we saw many LARGE bugs, and a beige and grey snake. We even turned off all our lights and just listened to the jungle in complete darkness for 3 minutes. That was insanely cool.

Unfortunately, I happened to get very sick over the course of the night (l lived, for those of you who get that phrase). Everyone was very generous with their medication, and I spent Sunday morning recuperating. I felt better in the afternoon, and I managed to keep food down, so I decided to go with the group on a boat ride down Río Tiputini to look for wildlife. After a while, we had the opportunity to swim in the water! There definitely were piranhas, anacondas, and other terrifying creatures lurking around, but don’t worry, we were all safe. This probably was my favorite part of the trip. I don’t know what it is with me and water, but whenever I am in water, I feel better, happier, and more free. Later that night, the group went to a night boat ride. I decided to stay back because I wasn’t feeling great. I heard they saw a jaguar, though, so that must have been pretty cool. The crazy thing about the jungle is that the researchers spend years trying to study the animals here, and some animals like the jaguar are very good at not being seen. At Tiputini, they have several hidden cameras around the camp to try to capture the animals that inhabit the jungle. I wish I had more time at the Tiputini so that I could learn more about the fascinating work being done here.

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On Monday, we left Tiputini nice and early at 5:45am. Luckily, someone gave me more medicine, so I felt a lot better, although not completely cured. First it was back on the boat for 2.5 hours, then the chiva for 2 hours, a boat for 2 hours, and then an 8 hour bus ride (It was horrible, but I survived). When I got home, I took a nice hot shower (There was only cold water at Tiputini.), took some strong medicine, and relaxed.

Tiputini was an amazing adventure, and even though I did get sick, valió la pena (it was worth the pain). I mean who knows if I will ever get to visit the Amazon again?! It was the most unique trip I have ever been on, and I will remain as one of the highlights of my time in Ecuador.

 

Chao,

Hannah

Week 4: Fútbol y Otavalo

Hola a todos!

Well, I have officially been here for three weeks now! I think it has finally hit me that my friends and family are all living their normal lives apart from mine, which is weird to think about. Right now I am really missing my SNC community, especially since everyone is back at school. I miss my friends, St. Joe’s Church, the second floor of Mulva Library, the soft-serve machine at the caf, and much more.

But don’t be mistaken, I am still very happy and healthy here in Quito. I feel like every week is an adventure. It’s hard to remember to be a student sometimes. For example, on Tuesday, there was a huge fútbol game in Quito—Peru vs. Ecuador. A group of friends and I all decided to spend the money and go to the game; I even bought a knock-off Ecuador jersey off the street for $5 so that I could look the part. The game—my first ever fútbol game— was extremely fun even though we lost. The people next to me were so passionate; I learned a whole bunch of Spanish curse words in just a few hours 😉

After the game, Sophia, Andrea, and I went to a Vietnamese place for dinner. I got the Pho, and wow, it was delicious.At SNC, I would never do this much on a Tuesday, so having this much free time is refreshing.

Fast forward to this weekend, my friend Estefanny and her family took me to Otavalo, a town about 2 hours away from Quito. On Friday, we drove to Cotacachi, which is near Otavalo. On our way, we stopped at a place for Fritada—an Ecuadorian dish that had pork, llapingacho (a potato cake), mote (a type of boiled corn), toasted corn, and fried plantains. Later that night, we walked around town and watched some traditional dancers. On Saturday, we first went to the market in Otavalo, which is full or artisanal clothes, art, jewelry, etc.

Then we went to see the Peguche waterfall.

After that we went to Cuicocha to hike and take a boat ride around the inactive volcano that is in the center of the lake.

At the end of the boat ride, we got some complementary Canelazo—a typical warm drink that is sweet and made with agua de canela (boiled water with cinnamon). Oftentimes this drink has aguardiente, which is a type of alcohol, as an ingredient, but this version was alcohol free. After that, we ate some lunch and drove back home. Later I went to see a movie with friends, and that pretty much wrapped up my week.

Today (Sunday), I think I will just rest, do my homework, and try to catch up with some family and friends. Later this week I am going to the Amazon, so stay tuned for that adventure!

Chao,

Hannah