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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Welcome to the Jungle

Hola readers!

I am sad to say that this will probably be all one entry. I have literally had no time or internet connection to be able to post anything. Most of you probably already know this since you have m on facebook and I haven’t been online in a while. So I am just going to start from here and see how this all goes. Get ready for a pretty good chunk of time spent reading.
It is currently May 24th and we are all home, except for me. Nine days ago a group of 9 people from Carl Sandburg College went up to Chicago to head off for this trip. I personally had only met a few of these people once or twice. I barely new them, and some of them I didn’t know at all. It was an interesting two plane flights to get to Quito, Ecuador. I had forgotten how annoying the customs forms are when you have to fill them out mid flight with turbulence. Our first flight landed in Miami, Florida both on the way there and on the way back. I have decided that I want to visit there sometime. 

I suppose I should first apologize for the odd wording that may show up in this blog entry. I am very tired right now (that’s what happens when you have to get up at 3am to get to a 6:30am flight and stay up until 10:30pm after you finally get home after 8 hours or flying plus 2 hours of connection delay) and I am also having the problem of reverse culture shock. For me, the main problem is the language difference. I have spent a week and a day in a different country that speaks only Spanish, or Kichwa and thus had to translate for people who had no knowledge of the Spanish language. It’s a fun being part of the only group of people on the trip that spoke even a little bit of Spanish. So I apologize because I am still mostly thinking in Spanish and I can’t quite get English words out correctly. 

I will start off this story from the first day. We had just landed in Quito, I want to say it was between 8 and 10 pm. We had the joy of waiting in customs, which really wasn’t all that bad. Then we had to wait out in the lobby for the second group from Nebraska to get to the airport to arrive. That took about an hour. In that hour we learned that donut in Spanish still sounds like donut and that the key words are, “No gracias.” We had already been offered snacks from a street vendor and boy there a lot of them. When the second group finally arrived around 10pm we all got onto a bus and drove to our hotel. It was a nice little place with a soccer field to the side, all enclosed by brick walls. The first thing we were told was to not flush the toilet paper down the toilet. Then we were told to not drink to the tap water. I will let you come up with your own conclusions as to why, I’m sure they are pretty close to the correct reason. Needless to say, that was an experience. 

I’ll just go ahead and tell you that one day we woke up at 7:45 and breakfast was at 8, all of the other days we had breakfast at 7, or sometimes 7:30. I should add that most of the time we got back to the hotel close to 8 or 9 at night. Most of the time we would have to stay up for dinner and to repack all of our stuff so we could fit in anything that we had bought and put anything that we needed for the next day in our “day bag”. So you can guess correctly that most of us didn’t get a lot of sleep, even less if you stayed up to hangout or “party” as some did. I mostly hung out with my roommates and then we crashed. 

The first full day of my trip to Ecuador we went to the Mindo Cloud forest. This is an area that is part of the Amazon rainforest, but isn’t actually a “rainforest” because it has a different type of climate and weather pattern than the actual rainforest. The cloud forest is on the slope of the Pichincha Volcano, one of 20 or so volcanoes in Ecuador. It was an extremely beautiful place and we were actually able to swim in the river that ran through it, after we got a chance to zip-line across a valley that the river ran through of course. I didn’t zip-line because the high altitude already had me a little dizzy and I didn’t want to stress myself out even more. I also didn’t have a swim suit at that time so I didn’t go swimming, but I did hike all the way down to the bottom of the trail. The hike back up almost killed me. I forgot that when you go down one way, to get back to where you started you have to walk back up. By the end of this trip we all concluded that we would all be able to run a marathon with ease. 

On the first day we also visited the Intinan Museum and learned about the Incas and the equators; which we got to stand on. It is a funny feeling to close your eyes and stand directly on the equator line. You can literally feel the magnetic fields created by the poles pulling you in opposite directions. We also learned that on the equator a person with only a little arm muscle can push down the flexed arms of a pro-wrestler. 

The second day of the trip we travelled to Otavalo where we stayed for two nights. The first day we went to a place called The Province of the Lakes and we saw pre-Incan pyramids. These pyramids were flat, unlike those of the Egyptians. We learned that the Egyptians were one of the very, very few cultures that actually didn’t use flat topped pyramids.  This area where the pyramids were was literally in the center of all of the volcanoes. One pyramid in particular you could stand on it and see all of them. It was very beautiful, but it was quite a hike to walk around the whole place. Though, not as bad as the hike through the Mindo Cloud Forest. That night we got back just in time to spend an hour in the Otavalo market. Most of the stalls were closing, but a few were staying open just in case people like us showed up. That night Profesora Dickerson, our bus driver Raphael, and one of our tour guides David took us out to find a place to salsa dance. That didn’t quite work out, but we still had fun trying to salsa. Both of our Ecuadorian friends were quite the dancers. After a while the group of us students (about 6 of us) went to another place that was playing music from the U.S. and we danced for a few hours. It was so much fun and we all had a really good time. 

The third day we went to Malchingui; which was a small village that worked hard to restore nature back to its original form from the destruction that has been caused by deforestation. It was neat and the tour of the village and the surrounding area taught us a bit about the plants and animals that grew around there. We also helped weed the area where they start growing trees to replant, though I had to stop part way through because I began to get dizzy from the altitude. We were also introduced to some of the thistles in the area via grabbing them to pull them out. Those things are evil. Just sayin’. When we returned to Otavalo we got to spend more time in the market. We had to speak Spanish to most of the stall tenders, but it was very good practice and it was interesting to actually barter the prices down. I got a leather handcrafted belt that was $40 down to $10 because I kept saying “No gracias,” when I should have been saying, “No.” Maybe the guy would have left me alone. Oh well, I got a new belt out of it for cheap. I suppose I can live with myself. =] 

Later that night we got the surprise of our lives, or at least the trip. We would be spending 3 days in the Amazon rainforest and in order to get to the lodge that we would be staying in we had to take a “canoe” ride up the river. I should tell you that I am terrified of water, unless its rain or in a pool. You can imagine what my reaction was. Not pretty. 

We got up extremely early and got on a bus to take an extremely long ride to the place where we got on a boat. The good thing was that we did get a break. We got to a hot spring resort; which was a big, multi-swimming pool area that was heated by a volcano. There was one problem though: I still didn’t have a swim suit. I had resigned myself to just reading my book while I waited for everyone to get done swimming when I saw that one of the stores was selling swim suits. So I bought one….for $10.80. I FULL SWIM SUIT FOR $10.80. I was a happy camper. 

The boat ride up the river to the lodge was terrifying, especially since we were still on the boat when the sun was set and the sky was dark. It helped a little that the canoe was actually a motorized pontoon boat. When we finally docked we had to climb up 30 more stairs to get to the lodge. Profesora Dickerson, we found out later that night, had mistaken mud for a stair and it had taken 3 men to pull her out of the mud/river. 

That night was the first time ever that I have slept in a mosquito net. I’m not sure yet if I really liked it or not, but it kept the bugs off my bed, and believe me there were bugs…..lots and lots of bugs. The spiders were the worst. Someone even got a picture of a huge spider, and you could tell it was a huge spider because it was eating a lizard. Yeah. 

The day after that is where it gets tricky. We took another boat ride across the river, hiked a few minutes, and then reached an indigenous Kichwa village and school. Did I mention we had to carry 10 gallon buckets of pain and water, as well as other things to the village? No? Well we did. Luckily the guys were nice enough to carry the really heavy stuff, but most of us girls felt bad and tried to give the guys a break after a while, but they just kept on going. Yay for gentlemen! Once we got to the village, that’s when it got tricky. Originally we thought that we would be playing soccer with the school children, but that got changed pretty fast. We painted the outside of the school, built a swing set, and built two tables that they could eat at. It took a good 11-12 hours to do. Though I am glad we did it. It was entertaining to see the children get excited. The girls in our group with long hair got their hair braided whether they liked it or not (yay for short hair!), and they even help paint the walls….and a chair. We ended up losing 2 of our 6 paint brushes, but hey what can you do. 

When we got back that night we were exhausted, covered in paint and sweat, and some of us were even close to passing out from being in the sun so long. Two of my group members actually did pass out while we were in the village, but luckily they were already sitting down or laying down in the room we were given to put our stuff in. That night most of us (except the group leaders because we wore them out) went up to the lounge and a dining room around, that was up 60 or so stair by the way. We sat around and hung out. One of the other girls from the other group taught me and a few others how to salsa. It was fun, but I’m still not the great at it. I guess I’ll just have to practice here at home. 

The next day we took another boat ride, about 45 minutes, to an Amazon animal rescue center were we say a few monkeys, a lot of birds, and an ocelot. The funniest moment was when a butterfly got into a spider monkey cage. The monkey saw it an immediately was no longer interested in us and chase the butterfly around. It had almost caught it when the butterfly squeezed through the fence and the monkey made a grumpy face and even grumbled. It was hilarious!

Then we left and went to another area via boat ride, and learned about the hunting style of the indigenous people before they found guns and dynamite. We ate lunch off of washed banana leaves (though they were washed in the river so I’m not sure what to think about that) and swam in the river for a bit. I didn’t swim because I was not getting in the river even if someone paid me to. Then we went back to the dock and got back on the bus. Hallelujah! 

We ended up staying in a hotel outside of Banos, Ecuador. The hotel was great because it had the first internet access that I could actually connect to. Before that I was going through internet withdrawals. Not really, but I did miss talking to people back home. 
The last day in Ecuador was spent looking at waterfalls, both from a distance, after a hike, and from a cable car ride. That cable car ride was extremely high up, but very fun at the same time. It didn’t help that a hippie was running the whole thing. That is funny. Then we got to run around the market street of Banos and buy more souvenirs, though trying to get money out of the ATM was like pulling teeth. At the market street we got to watch taffy being pulled. Those guys have got to have some impressive upper body strength. It was interesting to watch and getting free, warm and chewy taffy was a treat. Of course I had to buy some to bring home. 

After that we left Banos and returned to Quito, where we had started. It was sad to leave, but most of us were ready to go home. We left at 3 am the next day and got on the plan at 6 am. I don’t know if we will ever see anyone from the other group from Nebraska again, but we will all miss them. Spending a week in a foreign country will do that to people. 

We all experienced some weird and tough times throughout the whole trip. The bipolar, high pressure showers, the different food, the massive amount of rice we had to eat, not throwing toilet paper in the toilet but in a trashcan, getting used to the fact that when a native citizen says 15 minutes they really mean 45 minutes, and even tougher things. I will never forget the good times. The shock when guy without a filter says something offensive and the person he’s talking to just laughs, the klutzy moments, the dancing, and jokes, and most importantly the friends that we made. It may seem sappy, but it’s all true. Though I am glad that I am home now, I am glad that I went. I encourage you, if you get a chance to; go somewhere you’ve never been before. See castles, and mountains, and waterfalls, and people who look very different from the usual. Eat something you would have never thought you would eat before. Do something that scares you. It’s an experience that will stay with you forever. Don’t miss it for the world. 

Now I just have to wait for Switzerland. Sí Senora?

Until the next adventure from afar, Adiós mi amigos.


[And now for a few quotes from the trip.]

“I’m hot and tired, and angry because I am hot and tired.”

“Please tell me it’s not papaya.”
“Okay…..But its papaya.”

“I do.”
“I do too.”

“It’s five o’clock in the morning.”

“Here’s my number. So call me maybe.”

“Welcome to the jungle…..It’s not fun and games.”

“We survived the freaking AMAZON. This is NOTHING.”

1 comment:

  1. I am so proud of you!!!! And so happy for you to be able to have these adventures. Cherish all of them. Love, Mom