¡Chao Ecuador!

Hola a todos!

I am finally back in the United States. All of our flights went exactly as planned, so it was a smooth journey home. Right now, it is hard to describe the emotions that I am feeling. Of course I was slightly sad to have to leave such a beautiful country, but I honestly left feeling very grateful and content. These past four months have been quite the challenge—from the language barrier to the culture shock to having to live with a whole new family. There were moments when I desperately wanted to be home, but despite all of this, I’m so happy for the opportunity to study abroad. My favorite part of Ecuador, by far, was the nature. During my four months abroad, I was lucky enough to experience, all four regions of Ecuador—the Sierra, the coast, the Amazon, and the Galapagos. Throughout all of my adventures and travels, I really developed a sense of freedom, courage, grit, and just love for life in general. “Ama la vida” is actually Ecuador’s slogan, and I really hope that this can stick with me back home, especially since it’s so easy for me to get wrapped up in productivity, efficiency, and achievement.

So leaving Quito on the 21st, I left feeling happy actually. Instead of feeling sad for what I would have to leave behind in Ecuador, I felt extremely satisfied with what I had experienced. If I had to rank my top three experiences abroad, they would rank as the following:

  1. Summiting Cotopaxi
  2. Going to the Galapagos
  3. Being a Spanish interpreter for Timmy Global Health

 

It was an amazing four months, but I was ready to go home. Plus, I know I’ll be back one day, so this was just an “Hasta Luego” not an “Adios.”

Being home is wonderful! I love seeing my family and friends. I finally met my new kitten. I love seeing my house decorated for Christmas. Being home is so comforting and familiar. I’m just so excited to re-establish a routine here in Wisconsin. And since I don’t plan on working over break, I can just relax, read, and spend time with as many people as possible. So far, my favorite things about being home (other than seeing family and friends) are the following:

  1. Meeting baby cat
  2. Having a fridge/freezer stocked with both ice cream and healthy foods (especially vegetables!!)
  3. Getting in the holiday spirit with cookies, music, and decorations

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I don’t think reverse culture shock has hit yet. I’m not sure what that will feel like or if I will experience it. I’m assuming that once I get out of this honeymoon phase, I might miss my life in Ecuador a little more. I do already miss the warmth that’s for sure 😉

This is my life right now. I need to unpack, and I have a big to do list to tackle. In case you forgot, I hop on a plane to India January 3rd. Stay tuned for that adventure!

Chao,

Hannah

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Week 18 Part 2: La Cumbre de Cotopaxi + Mi Cumpleaños

Hola a todos!

The adventure I have anxiously been awaiting finally came and went: climbing Cotopaxi on my 21st birthday! These past 24 hours have been filled with a wide array of emotions—from excitement to nervousness to pure awe. Here is how the trip went down.

Saturday, December 16th: mid-day

On Saturday (my actual birthday), our group of 10 headed out for Cotopaxi National Park. Since we exchange students are running low on money, we decided to take a series of buses that eventually got us to the park. Once we arrived, our group along with our guides drove to our hostal, which was located in Cotopaxi National Park. There we unpacked and then practiced how to put on our crampons—basically an attachment with metal spikes that hooks onto the bottom of your boots so that you can hike on the glacier. At 5pm, we ate dinner, and then it was lights out from 6-10pm. I slept for maybe an hour or two at most.

Saturday, December 16: night

At 10pm, we woke up, packed our bags, and ate a light “breakfast”—tea and some bread. We left at 11pm to drive to the parking lot where the start of the hike is located. Side note: In case you are wondering, yes, this hike did occur at night. This occurs because part of Cotopaxi is a glacier, and if you hike too late in the day, the sun melts the snow which could cause avalanches. We started our hike roughly around 11:30pm with our warm clothes, backpacks, harnesses, helmets, and headlamps. First of all, we had the most perfect night. There was not a cloud in the sky. Instead, the sky was lit up by millions of stars, which we were able to see perfectly since Cotopaxi National Park has little to no light pollution. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars before. It was breathtaking. You know what else was (literally) breathtaking? The beginning of this hike. It was a brutal 45 minute hike up a sandhill to the refuge (4800 m). What made it worse was the fact that I was carrying a backpack with the following: 2L water, a coke, 3 bananas, a PB&J, granola bars, 2 chocolate bars, metal crampons, leggings, a thin jacket, snow goggles, and extra hat, gloves, etc. It was HEAVY. Right off the bat, people were passing me up—including my partner and my guide. I just kept thinking, Well this isn’t good. I’m not even 20 minutes in and I’m already struggling. How am I going to hike for 6+ hours to the summit?

Well, we made it to the refuge at some time, and then continued onward. Side note: this hike was a complete time warp. My fitbit was covered up by all my layers of clothes, so I never knew what time it was during the entire hike. It was probably for the best. That way, I couldn’t fixate on how much longer I had on this mountain. After the refuge was more sand/gravel for probably and hour. YAY! The struggle continued. Eventually the sand ended and the glacier began. However, at this point, I hit a very concerning roadblock: my partner got altitude sickness, as in she vomited and couldn’t walk straight. Normally the rule is, if your partner gets sick, you and your guide have to go down. We were barely 2? hours into the hike, and I was not ready to quit yet. However, all of the guides knew it was my birthday. As the cumpleañera, they made an exception and let me join another group. I was bummed for my partner who trained to do Cotopaxi with me, but at the same time, I was so happy for the opportunity to keep hiking.

Sunday December 17th: middle of the night

I joined two other exchange students from USFQ along with their guide. We hooked on our crampons, got tied up to a rope, and headed up the glacier. For probably 4-5 hours we hiked in the dark in silence. This hike was steep too. All of it. For a while we kept wanting to take mini water breaks, but our guide quickly told us that we had to keep moving and only stop at designated break areas. Otherwise, we wouldn’t summit in time. So, we continued, slowly, but continuously—ice pick, step, step, and repeat—for hours, stopping only at the appropriate break areas. This time for me oddly flew by, maybe it was because I lost track of time? The inclines were insane, but somehow I managed to keep on trekking. I never thought about turning back either. Perhaps it was my sheer determination? All of the sugar that gave me energy? The cocoa tea? Who knows.

Sunday December 17th: a bit after sunrise

Eventually, we neared the summit. However, this part was the steepest section yet. Every time we hiked up a steep hill, I thought we had reached the summit…but that only lead to another steep hill, which still didn’t lead to the top. I experienced 2-3 false summit moments that were really disheartening. I knew we were so close, but every step was very difficult due to the incline. I just wanted to summit so badly.

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Then we made it. The views were STUNNING. It was a clear day, so we could see other surrounding mountains.

We also got to see Volcán Cotopaxi’s steaming crater—yes, this is an active volcano. Reaching the summit was such an amazing feeling. I couldn’t believe that my body and mind was able to get me to the top of a 19,347ft/ 5,897m mountain. It was unreal! Plus, since I was the cumpleañera, I got a plethora of hugs at the summit, which just added to my already elated state.

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Sunday December 17th: morning

The summit of Cotopaxi was quite cold, so after snapping a few pictures, we headed back down the mountain. We were pretty tired by this point, so the descent was slow going. The worst part was trekking down the sand/gravel between the glacier and the refuge. I think I fell at least 10 times on those stupid pebbles. Much like my experience with Iliniza Norte, a couple of times after falling, I just sat there for a while pouting. I considered just sliding down this portion, but I didn’t want to ruin my rental snow pants. Eventually, we made it back to the parking lot, and we returned to our hostal to pack up, eat real breakfast, and go back to Quito.

What can I say? I have fallen in love with the mountains of Ecuador. During my semester, I have hiked Rucu Pichincha three times, Guagua Pichincha, Volcán Corazon, Iliniza Norte, and now Cotopaxi. Every time I hike, I am amazed by the variety of nature that exists on this planet, and I’m astounded by what my body can do. I would have never thought I that I could hike a mountain that is over 19,000ft, but Sunday I did just that. I honestly couldn’t have imagined a better 21st birthday. To me, it really shows how this semester I’ve grown to be more independent, courageous, and open to challenges. If anything, this hike has given me a glimpse of what I am capable of, mentally and physically. So reflecting on my 21st birthday, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in the beautiful country of Ecuador with wonderful friends doing crazy adventures like hiking Cotopaxi in the middle of the night. Writing this now, leaving Ecuador is slightly bittersweet. I want to go home, but now after four months in Ecuador, I finally feel like my Spanish is improving, I’m meeting more people, and I’m finding the aspects that I really love about Ecuador (one of them obviously being hiking). Now that I feel more established in this country, it’s sad to have to leave, but I guess that means I will have to come back some day.

Chao,

Hannah

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

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