To Grandmother’s Village We Go: India Part 2

If your read my previous post, then you will know that I went on vacation with my friend Madhu to India. I spent several days in Hyderabad, and during the second half of my trip, we traveled to Agra and then to her grandmother’s village near Bhimavaram.

On Tuesday, we woke up around 3:30am to go to the airport. From there, we took a plane to New Delhi and then a taxi to Agra. In Agra, our first stop was the famous Taj Mahal. I was prepared to be slightly let down since the Taj is so touristy, but the palace went above and beyond my expectations! The size, the white marble, and the intricate carvings and tile inlays of the palace were breathtaking. The marble was carried by horses for months to reach the building site of the Taj Mahal. It took 22 years of fine craftsmanship to construct this palace by hand. All I know is that Shah Jahan must have really loved his third wife if he put in all this time and money to build this tomb for her.

After the Taj Mahal, we visited Agra Fort, which is where Shah Jahan lived. This fort was beautiful with a mixture of red stone and white marble. Our final stop was an artisanal market, filled with tile inlay art made by the descendants of the workers who built the Taj Mahal. I bought I pink marble traveling chess set, which I have already used quite a bit.

The next morning, we took another flight to a city near the village, and after a two hour car drive, we arrived. I ate lunch with a few of Madhu’s family members, and for the first time, I learned how to eat rice and curry with my hands (as opposed to curry with chapati or naan). There is definitely a learning curve, and while I still am no pro, I can at least eat and not make a giant mess everywhere. Like I said before, everyone is very impressed with how well I am adjusting to the food here. After lunch, a few of us went to a cow competition of sorts. There were various cows that competed in different events; although I couldn’t really discern what was going on. I did notice, though, that I was the only non-Indian person there, and wow did I get stares. I also got asked to be interviewed twice, which I declined. People also placed this chicken in front of me so that they could conveniently take pictures of the chicken while still getting me in the background.

On Thursday, we got up early to visit Madhu’s grandpa’s farms. We first visited some shrimp ponds where we witnessed a beautiful, tranquil sunrise. At one of the ponds we were able to take a boat ride on this small, rickety, metal boat. Later we saw some of his cows and visited with some family members. Once we returned to her grandma’s house, we found out that I appeared in not one, but two newspapers. I guess they don’t get a lot of  foreigners to their village, so I was a bit of a celebrity here. In the afternoon, we went to maybe 7 or so houses to visit with family and friends. Side note: this village is basically one big family. Everyone seems to be related in some way, and since family is very important here, going on house visits is common. At the houses, I met more family members (who often stated that they saw me in the paper) and ate a lot of new Indian snacks and sweets. While I was stuffed the entire time, the food was delicious. I particularly loved the desserts. Most of the sweets I have tried here are a baked or fried pastry dessert that is very sweet, and they sometimes have nuts or dried fruit.

The rest of my stay was mostly characterized by family time. Even though I don’t understand the language, the family did their best to make me feel comfortable and welcome (I really did appreciate all of their sweets 🙂 ). As far as other unique outings, Friday afternoon, we went on a quick boat ride in one of the rivers to see some native birds. On Saturday, Madhu and I got henna on our hands. The henna comes from the leaves of a plant. These leaves were ground up by Madhu’s grandma and then a family friend applied a design onto our hands. After about two hours, we removed the paste, and we were left with a bright red design. Apparently, if the dye turns bright red, it is a sign that you will have a good marriage. Hopefully that turns out to be true 😉. Our time in the village ended, and we took a night train back to Hyderabad where later we hopped on our respective planes to head back home.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have had this authentic Indian experience. While there is a fair amount of poverty here, I’ve felt an outpouring of joy and compassion from the people I have met. Living in two, third-world countries over the past six months has started to impact the way I think about my life now that I am back in the States. While I don’t know fully how these experiences have changed me, for one, it’s making me think about how I can live a more full life and how I can spread the joy and love that I received in both Ecuador and India to those around me here.

Unfortunately this is the end of my travels for some time, but I will still be doing my regular blogging from now on 🙂

Lots of love,



New Year, New Travels: India Part 1

After being home for less than 2 weeks, it was time for me to embark on another journey: India! I have always been intrigued with Indian culture, such as their food and religion, so when my friend invited me to stay with her family in Hyderabad, I couldn’t refuse.

My poor mom had to once again drive me to O’Hare International Airport on January 3rd. I flew with Etihad Airways, and it made the 20 hours of travel bearable. On the plane, I received a plethora of Indian food, which I was extremely happy about. I didn’t end up sleeping much. Instead, I read quite a bit, which made the time pass rather quickly. The journey definitely was long, but I made it just fine. My friend Madhu picked me up at the airport, and after eating a delicious meal of butter chicken and naan, I tried to sleep (which I actually did do until about 4:20am…good enough)

In the morning, we had a traditional South Indian breakfast, idlis with chutney and coffee with milk (The coffee here is instant coffee and the milk, I found out, is actually buffalo milk. While that may sound odd, I really enjoyed it because the milk is very creamy and it didn’t upset my stomach!)


Afterwards we went to Birla Mandir—a beautiful, white Hindu temple decorated with intricate carvings. I love learning about theology, so I was thrilled to experience this worship space.

In the afternoon we visited Golconda Fort where we explored the ruins and climbed to the top to see a lookout of the whole city. While there, MANY people asked for a selfie, both young and old. I felt like some people were more interested in me than the tourist attraction that we were at, but I tried to just roll with it. I definitely stuck out here, but it was all part of the experience. At night, I met some of Madhu’s friends from high school at a really cute, French dessert place. I was in food heaven 😊.

On Saturday, we got a taste of royalty. Madhu’s family treated us to a lunch at Falaknuma Palace. When we arrived, we were taken in a horse-drawn carriage to the palace. Then as we walked up to the palace, the employees dropped fresh rose petals on top of us. We were spoiled for sure. For our meal, we had soup, lamb appetizers, and various entrees with halibut, lobster, and curry. The dessert was my favorite, as I got to try three ice creams: mango, honey and saffron, and chai. Mango was my favorite!

Afterwards, we quickly stopped by the monument, Charminar, which is in the middle of a HUGE bazaar. In general, the traffic in Hyderabad is awful, especially since there are no rules. Traffic lanes aren’t respected, so there is a lot of swerving and honking. At the bazaar, however, there were people, scooters, and cars coming in every direction. Thankfully Madhu’s family’s drivers are pros. The whole situation was slightly overwhelming, but it was a very authentic Indian experience.


Sunday was very relaxed. We spent most of the afternoon visiting relatives. In the span of a few hours, we went to 4 different houses. Four! While I could not keep track of who all these family members were, I did have a good time. I also learned that Indian families love to feed you. I got offered food at every house, and by the end I was stuffed. Later that night, Madhu and I went to the mall so that I could buy some traditional Indian tunics to wear while in her grandmother’s village. After that, we got ice cream, of course.

Monday was our last day in Hyderabad. In the morning, we went to Madhu’s grandpa’s hospital to shadow. We went to the cath lab, the cardiology outpatient unit, and the wellness unit. I was very surprised to see how modern this hospital was! I loved hearing about the current healthcare situation in India. Now that India is becoming more advanced, more people are dying from non-communicable diseases like diabetes rather than transmisible diseases, so it will be very interesting to see what public health programs they implement to educate their patients about preventative care (which is what I’m very interested in) Okay, enough about medicine and public health 😉. The rest of the day was spent reading and running errands. During those errands, I tired chat for the first time. Chat is a variety of fast food snacks. I tried three different types of snacks: one was bread dipped in a curry, the second was a puffed rice cereal snack with spices, and the third (my favorite) is hard to describe, but it’s a concoction of chickpeas, fried chips, different sauces, and yogurt on top. After our errands, we headed to bed because we had a 3:00am wake up call to begin our journey to the Taj Mahal!

I’m extremely grateful for this authentic experience in India. By living with Madhu’s family and interacting with all of her extended family, I have learned so much about the culture. I’ve slowly learned some Telugu, which is vastly different from English and Spanish. The one phrase I have memorized is a response to “How’s India?”. I always say, “Chala bagundi!” (translation: It’s very nice). I love all the food, and all of the grandmas are really impressed that I can tolerate the spice. The religion and spirituality is fascinating, the clothes are beautiful, and the love and hospitality I have received from family here is unlike anything I have experienced. These first few days were the biggest culture shock I have experienced, even more so than my four months in Ecuador, but I loved every second!

While my time in Hyderabad is over, there are still more adventures to come. Stay tuned for part two of my travels in this beautiful country.

Lots of love,


¡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


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!



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.


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.


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.



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!

WhatsApp Image 2017-12-13 at 9.14.33 PM



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!!



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!



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?


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.


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.



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!


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.


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!



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.


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!