Week 18: School’s Out + Iliniza Norte

Hola a todos!

Just like that, I am done with my final exams. I honestly couldn’t be happier. My classes were by no means hard, but I didn’t find them to be incredibly interesting (besides my research, which I very much enjoyed). As odd as this sounds, I’m ecstatic to take science classes again. Call me a nerd if you want; I won’t deny it by any means 😉 Besides taking finals, on Tuesday, my friends and I went to a band concert to watch our friend CJ play piano. It was a great night with wonderful Big Band music (CJ if you are reading this, you rocked it!!).

Even though I’m still enjoying my time here in Ecuador—whether it is going to concerts or getting ice cream with friends—each day, I grow more and more eager to go back to Wisconsin. I miss the familiarity and routine of home. Plus Christmas is approaching, and I miss the snow (crazy I know!), real Christmas trees, and traditions like decorating Christmas cookies. As I write this now, I have one week left! However, I can’t leave just yet because I still have Cotopaxi to climb.

This week as my last training session, I decided to summit Ilinza Norte. We had a gorgeous day! It was sunny and clear, so we could see other mountains like Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi. In my group, there were 2 guides, a young woman from Columbia, a guy from Guayaquil, and another woman from Romania. Right off the bat, our group separated, and I ended up hiking with one of the guides, plus the woman from Columbia and the guy from Guayaquil. Our first task was to hike to the refuge, which was at 4700m. It took about 2-2.5 hours to hike to the refuge, and during this portion, it was a typical hike.

After we rested at the refuge, we continued another 2-2.5 hours to the summit. During this portion, we had to wear a helmet and a harness because we had climb over a lot of rocks. The feat was not as scary as it sounds, and soon we made it to the summit—5126m/ 16,818 ft!! I was really happy because after 5 hours of hiking, I only had a slight headache.

The descent was not as nice. As expected, we had to climb down from all of those rocks. The big rocks soon morphed into a section composed of sand/gravel/loose rocks. Every step for an hour and a half felt like I was going to wipe out—and I did fall quite a few times—none of them were bad falls because, thankfully, sand is soft. However there was one point in our descent where I very gracefully fell onto the sand. Since I had fallen about 10 times already, I just sat helplessly for a while because I was so annoyed. That annoyance and anger (plus some hunger) fueled me to get my butt moving again. Eventually we made it to flat ground, and from there, it was a quick walk to the entrance. We finished at 5:30pm… so the hike ended up being 7-8 hours. It was very long, much longer than I anticipated. But hey, I made it back in one piece. Today, I feel fine too. Nothing is majorly sore, so at this point, I feel ready to conquer Cotopaxi. Today and tomorrow, the plan is to rest up for the big hike, which starts roughly at 11:30pm on Saturday. If you are reading this before the summit, I would love prayers/good vibes for me and my team this weekend—that everyone stays safe and motivated, and that we have a clear sunny day!

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Chao,

Hannah

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Week 17: Last Week of Classes + Cotopaxi Training

Hola a todos!

I am counting down the days until I get to hop on my plane…as I am writing this now (Thursday, December 7) , I have two weeks left!! I have loved my experience in Ecuador. I have fallen in love with nature and adventure here. Through this experience, I have new-found confidence, courage, and independence. Ecuador has shown me how to truly live life, rather than just going through the motions of life. While I will still be the same type A, motivated Hannah when I return to the States, I can only hope that this experience will help me to loosen up just a bit 😉

That being said, I just want to be home. I miss my family, my friends, my bed, my own food. I also miss my cat and dog, and I really want to meet the newest addition to the family—Millie, a sweet, crazy, black and white kitten that my parents recently adopted.

This week, I finished up my last full week of school. On Tuesday, I gave my final presentation for the research I have been working on this semester. I analyzed the nutritional data of 128 adolescents in Ecuador. I was curious to see how factors such as gender, region, and socioeconomic status affected the nutricional state of these adolescents. I also looked into how the consumption of macronutrients varied according to gender, region, and socioeconomic status. I loved doing this research. My professor was so kind and helpful this semester. Plus, I learned a great deal about statistics and got my first taste of public health research, which I much prefer over a traditional science lab. Later that night, my friends and I went to a free concert in Centro Histórico and then went to farrear (to party) as part of the Fiestas de Quito celebrations—although, I didn’t stay out too late because I had to train for Cotopaxi the next day.

Speaking of training, on Wednesday, I hiked Rucu Pichincha for the third time with two other students who are also climbing Cotopaxi with me. We managed to finish the whole thing in 3.5 hrs—30 minutes faster than when I hiked Pichincha last week. I still am the slow one, but training with people who are faster than me is a great way to push myself. Plus, everyone I have hiked with has been extremely supportive and motivating. Afterwards, we went to Quicentro for lunch and ice cream. It was a great day off!

Thursday was my last day of real classes (I just have to take my final exams on Monday and Tuesday)! Later that night, my friends and I went to Mr. Joy. How would I describe Mr. Joy? Well to me, it as a hybrid between Chuck E. Cheese mixed with a McDonald’s play area. I feel like the target audience is children ages 5-12. However, the slides, skating rink, and “ropes course” of sorts were actually pretty fun. In the end, I enjoyed myself at Mr. Joy, even though we were clearly far too old to be there. Afterwards, we went to all you can eat sushi, and although it was very expensive, it was delicious!

Friday, I did absolutely nothing apart from run, sit in bed, and read. I finished the first book of the Mistborn series (I highly recommend for anyone interested in fantasy 🙂 ). However, on Saturday, I climbed Guagua Pichincha with Jessica and CJ. This was actually a pretty easy hike, despite the fact that the summit is at 15,700 ft. It took 1 hour and 45 minutes roughly to summit and only an hour to climb down. This was my favorite hike by far because we had a crystal clear day. We could even see Cayambe and Cotopaxi (which we are hiking in one week!!). What a wonderful morning! I’m praying that we get views like today when we summit Cotopaxi next Sunday!

Stay tuned to see how my time here in Ecuador ends…I’m hoping to share with you all a successful summit story. Fingers crossed!!

Chao,

Hannah

Week 16: 24K Magic

Hola a todos!

This week was filled with a series of spontaneous events. First, I decided to commit to climbing Cotopaxi December 16-17 with a group. This semester, I knew that I wanted to visit Cotopaxi, but as I a saw more and more pictures and heard stories about people’s attempts to summit, I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t try to summit Cotopaxi too. Now that I have committed, I am extremely terrified. It will be a cold, long hike in the middle of the night, but if I can summit (which I hope that I can), it will be the most amazing 21st birthday present ever. To prepare, I plan to hike a mountain at least once a week, as well as continue to workout regularly. Fingers crossed that my discipline and stubbornness (and plenty of chocolate) will get me to the top of this mountain!

That being said, on Friday, I hiked Rucu Pichincha for the second time with four others. I always thought that I was in relatively good shape, but in comparison to this group, I was the weak one. They were SO fast. Even though I felt slightly bad for slowing up the group, we managed to hike Pichincha in four hours—30 minutes faster than when I hiked it last month. Afterwards I was exhausted, but I still managed to have the energy to go dancing with two of my friends later that night.

On Saturday, I spend most of my day in bed doing homework. At the same time, I was on Facebook being jealous of all the people who were saying that they were going to the Bruno Mars concert that night. I really wanted to go to this concert, but I thought the tickets were sold out. However, I talked to my host mom and sister, and my host sister said that she had friends who bought tickets the day of the concert and that I should go with them. After debating it for a few seconds (as I didn’t know if I should spend the money), I decided to just go because 1. It was my only chance to go to a big concert in Ecuador and 2. It was BRUNO MARS. Ten minutes later, I was on a bus to the stadium. I met up with my host sister’s friends, bought a ticket, and got in line. After a little downpour, we were able to enter the stadium, and luckily after that, the rain wasn’t really a problem. The concert was unbelievably amazing. It was the best $65 I’ve ever spent, hands down.

On Sunday, I decided to go to church with some friends. Afterwards, we went out to brunch, where I got some delicious tigrillo and pan de yuca. Later we walked around Parque Carolina because later that night was a Juanes concert, part of the Fiestas de Quito celebrations. I didn’t end up staying for the concert because I realized that I still had to lesson plan for my volunteering the next day—side note, I have been volunteering with an organization called Dunamis for the past two months. It is an organization for girls who have recently gotten out of sex trafficking. During their time with Dumanis, the girls learn different skills such as sewing and jewelry making, have English lessons, and learn about other topics. I have been teaching the girls about health and hygiene. It has been a really enriching part of my time in Ecuador.— Anyways, after the Bruno Mars concert, I knew that this concert would fail in comparison, so I decided to go home and finish the work that I had to do.

That wraps up my weekend. It was much more exhausting, but fun than I could have ever anticipated. It was a great way to start off my last 3 weeks in Ecuador!

Chao,

Hannah

Week 15: Whitewater Rafting and Waterfalls in Baños

Hola a todos!

This weekend I finally managed to travel to Baños—a gringolandia of sorts, filled with lots of adventures from whitewater rafting to canyoning to paragliding. Normally, I like more authentic, cultural experiences, but I couldn’t come to Ecuador and not visit Baños. However, I fell in love with this town! It is very touristy, but it still conserves the Ecuadorian culture—for instance there’s an authentic mercado with tons of vendors selling juices, encebollados, almuerzos, etc. While I was there, I tried Guatita, which is tripe with potatoes in a peanut sauce. It was surprisingly good! I also bought handmade, tradicional, taffy-like desserts called melcocha. Don’t  worry, I did more than just eat on this trip; the whole weekend was quite an adventure.

Friday morning, we set out on bus from Quito to Baños. After about 4 hours of travel, we arrived and checked into our amazing hostel. Even though we stayed in a dorm that slept 12, the place was nice, clean, and offered wifi and free breakfast! Once we checked in, we went to the mercado for an almuerzo and then took a taxi to La Casa del Árbol, a tree house with giant swings attached. For $1, we were able to swing on a variety of swings that overlooked the lush mountains and valleys of Baños. When we went, it was sunny and the views were incredible! Afterwards, we attempted to follow a trail that an Ecuadorian told us would lead to a lookout point of the town. This trail was immensely confusing, and we ended up at a random hostel, not the lookout. But that’s okay. It’s all part of the adventure right?

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On Saturday, a group of us decided to go whitewater rafting. I did not realize how terrified I was going to be. I have been rafting in the States before, but I must have experienced a tame version. Here, we had to wear life vests and helmets, as well as receive instructions for what to do if you fall out of the raft. The entire time, I just kept praying that we did not flip the raft and drown (because how ironic would it be for me to drown even though I’ve loved swimming all of my life?) Luckily, our raft did not flip. No one fell out, and everyone survived. Later that afternoon, we visited El Pailón del Diablo—a stunning, thunderous waterfall. If you are willing to crawl through a tiny cave (which we were), you can go directly behind the waterfall, which was such a fun and wet adventure.

At night, we decided to relax by visiting the thermal baths in Baños. Depending on your level of luxury, you can pay $3 to enter the public paths or $6 for the private ones. We were cheap, so we opted for the public baths. While it was crowded, I really enjoyed relaxing in the warm water. Everyone was forced to wear lovely swim caps too, so that made our outing more memorable.

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On Sunday, we had to pack up and head home. I really loved my time in Baños. There are so many activities to do, and it’s filled with really interesting travelers. I wish I didn’t have to leave, but the end of the semester is approaching, and that means I have a lot of final exams, projects, and essays to complete. It seems like my last few weeks here may be a little hectic with school and with trying to cram in last minute travels, but they should be exciting weeks, that is for sure.

Chao,

Hannah

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

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