2004-05 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: High Springs, Florida
School: Santa Fe High School
Sponsor: High Springs Rotary Club
Host: Quito Sur Rotary Club, District 4400, Ecuador
August 24 Journal
Well it is now day 4 in Quito, Ecuador. Life here as my host mother likes to say is differente, but too beautiful for words.
Let's start from the beginning. I won't lie. I did cry when I left my parents at the airport, but that was all my dad's fault. He started crying so I started crying… it was one of those downward spiral things. Once I got away from my sobbing father I was ok. I did cry for like 5 minutes but once I got on the plane to Miami I was fine. The flight into Quito was amazing… the city is so pretty. I got off the plane with my fellow exchange students and you could tell everyone was really nervous. In the end I found my family. They were holding up a sign that said Welcome Jackie Linch… notice that they misspelled my name. haha. My host mother is still misspelling my name. It's ok though.
I live in an apartment surrounded by mountains. Actually the mountain behind my apartment is an active volcano. I have my own room, bathroom, computer, TV, DVD player, and CD player. Its really frigin nice. And of course… the maid is a really nice bonus. The first night was the hardest and that’s just because my host parents really worried over me and offered me anything under the sun. Are u hungry, thirsty, is ur bed good?... so many questions and they were all really fast. I didn’t understand most of it. But every morning I get up and eat breakfast and go back to the grind of learning… learning… learning. It's paying off though. I can understand almost everything said to me… as long as it's said slowly. And I can get what I want to say across.
Really it's all the little things that really surprise you. The fact that they drive insanely here. Just because there are little white lines on the road doesn’t mean u have to stay on your side of the road. Or you can stop and park in the middle of a busy street to call someone on your cellphone. Also people just walk up to your car and try to sell you anything. You can taste the fruit before you buy it at the store. You can smoke ANYWHERE. It's the things that you didn't prepare for, that you didn't even think it was going to be different that make you really realize… wow I'm in a foreign country. But even with all these little differences these people are not that much different than you. I love this place already. I'm not homesick at all. More than anything I think about how much I want to tell people about how amazing this place is.
My mother took this week off so she can be with me and show me the city. I actually got my first wax job and pedicure yesterday. It was the most painful experience of my life… but hey… it looks good. I'm probably going to get really addicted to it. Tomorrow I leave to go to the beach… which means I get to see almost all of Ecuador from here to there. It should be a lot of fun.
They actually changed the day school starts here. I start school 20 days after I was supposed to. So I have 20 days to hang out. My mother is enrolling in salsa and pilates classes. So that should keep me busy and keep that Rotary 15 away. I'll be taking the classes with one of my new friends Heather… who is an exchange student from Pennsylvania. I haven’t really gotten a chance to meet kids from here that are my age.
Well that’s all for now, Bye!
September 3 Journal
I can’t believe it… has it been two weeks already? Well, I haven’t started school yet. That won’t start for another week or two, but I have signed up for my classes. You might think I’m crazy but just as promised I’m going very high academic. History of Ecuador and Geography are required, but then I got to make a choice and without hesitation I chose Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus. I’ll probably get into the class and think “OMG what have I done?” like most of the students thought on the plane on the way to their countries. Of course, there is really no risk for me… I’ve already got my diploma. I also get to take art and photography. Which should be fun.
Well the beach… was… different. I loved it. Forget the manufactured beaches and overcrowding of cars that you find in Florida. This beach was completely natural. The shells… completely unbroken. I didn’t find a broken shell while I was there, and the shells themselves are much different from the shells in Florida. Needless to say, I brought a lot of shells back from the beach. Uncle Dean if you're reading this yes… a lot of the shells are for you.
But there was more than pristine beauty in this place, which also makes it very different from Florida. There was one huge hotel but that was probably a mile down the beach from where I was. Most of the coast of the beach was green lush landscape. It was really wild. However, down the coast in the city of Esmeralda they are drilling oil and there are constantly big tankers off shore. This puts small amounts of oil in the water. You could see it on the sand of the beach. It tinted the whole beach a little grey. My family along with some friends of the family Gomez, his wife, daughter, and mother (plus two friends of his daughter) stayed in this tiny rented house. Now this place is kinda sketchy. The water went out constantly so in the five days I was there I was lucky to get 4 showers. One night while the water was out, my family and Sophia (Gomez’s mother) was playing some Latin American card games… and guess what… the power went out. It was great fun playing cards next to candle light.
One night they took me to the intercambia… now I suggest that before you die everyone needs to see this place. It’s like a gigantic artist market right on the beach along with countless Tiki Bars. We went on a Thursday because it’s impossible to go on Friday or Saturday due to the crowd. There is also 5 dollar hotels lined up one right after another. Gomez told me that all it is, is a bed. No shower, no running water. Nothing. Hey you get what you pay for. It's so crowded and from every direction there is something going on. I had women come up and grab me and ask me if I wanted my hair braided. You get to of course negotiate the prices of what you want to buy. They sell food on the streets. Wild dogs run around everywhere. People sit on the little swings around the bars of the Tiki bars. Now that is funny. Imagine someone getting drunk while sitting on a swing. You know sooner or later they’re going to fall off and it’s going to be funny. Drunken people have enough trouble with regular chairs let alone a swing.
But there is too much about this place to explain. I literally walked around with my mouth hanging open. I have never seen anything like that in my life. It was wild. Ugly and beautiful at the same time. That’s what makes it such a wonderful place. It doesn’t hide anything from you. It’s the truth, unfiltered. That’s what all of Ecuador is like. It has these amazing beautiful things but at the same time there is poverty and dirtiness… but they don’t try to hide that from you. I also went to a fish market. Which was probably the extreme of my stay at the beach. On the floor of the market, on the dirty cement, there was a huge… and I mean huge, swordfish. One man would just take his huge knife and hack a piece away from it and put it on his table and sell it. The smell was intense. After choosing a fish you liked (head and all) they would skin it for you and rap it up. Now I have seen my grandfather skin catfish before, but that seemed a little more sanitary than this was. Really I can’t explain my feelings at the fish market. It was such a shock to my system. I really just stood there hugging my purse very tightly and just watching this amazing crazy circus around me that to everyone else seemed completely normal. It is an experience I will never forget.
Well I think I have rambled enough. Sorry I have no pictures… my camera is broken and my dad didn’t bring his digital because you’re not supposed to take digitals to the beach or something like that.
September 12 Journal
Things have settled into a routine that feels very comfortable. It is now the end of week 3. I am amazed at how quickly time seems to move here. The days flow in perfect 12 hour increments. The sun rises at 6 and sets at 6.
Since the last time I have written a lot has happened. I have now been to the discos here twice. Once with my new friends Jenny and Michelle. And another with my friend Heather and her host sister Danielle. Jenny and Michelle are both from here but their dad is from the States so they speak fluently Spanish and English. Both discos are completely different from one another which shows you the incredible diversity here. The disco I went to with Jenny played a lot of latino punk (which I never knew existed till now). People would get up and randomly dance around in a circle. In the states this kind of dance is called skaing, but a lot of people have never heard of it. Here its very popular. It's kinda dangerous. It's a lot like moshing so picture me in heels jumping and skipping around with a bunch of latin people in a circle. I'm surprised I didn’t twist my ankle in the process. The other disco was a lot like a rave. There was a dj and techno ran through out the night. I figured out that there is nothing like an American girl to make the latin guys pounce.
The thing is, here, I am trusted by my host parents who I have known for 3 weeks. I can go to a disco, and stay out as late as I want to. Parties are no problem. I am trusted to do a lot of things here that my parents in the states would feel uncomfortable letting me do in the states. Parents offer me alcoholic drinks and they don’t care if I drink when I go to a disco. In this way I feel very old and mature, like I'm a young adult. I am finally grown like I've always wanted to be, but at the same time I have never felt so young and helpless. Not being able to communicate can do that to you. So here I am a grown up baby. It really is a very different feeling. I have spent most of my life trying to grow up, trying to get to have all the things that those that were older than me had. Now I have it, but my independence is gone. I am completely dependent on others here. Friends that know their way around here, know what not to do, what is safe and not safe. It is a feeling I have never encountered before in my life. I know that what I write here might not be what you at home might want to read. The knowledge that I am going out to parties and drinking when I do so will probably make you uncomfortable. But it is the truth and I would rather not hide anything about my experience here from you. It is apart of the culture here, a beautiful culture that is full of life and happiness. Everything is so open here. There is no need to lie or to hide anything. Almost every kid I knew in the states hid things from their parents. There is nothing but open loving relationships between children and their parents here. It is the way I hope to be with my children and I hope I can bring this culture into my family when I decide to have one.
I also went to the center of the world monument. Today actually. I did the whole tourist thing and stood on both sides of the yellow line that runs from the huge statue marking the center of the world and said “look I am in
2 hemispheres…wow” I took many pictures with my new camera. I shall send those pictures as soon as I figure out how to download them onto this computer.
I have also discovered a familiar game here. Pool. Seems people here like it just as much as I do. I am getting a lot of play time at the pool table and I seem to be getting really good at it. Well I've written enough for now. I will write again next week. And pictures will follow soon.
September 21 Journal
A lot has happened since I last wrote. Maybe I’ll just start from the beginning.
Meeting Jenny and Michelle just might be the best thing that has happened to me since I arrived in this country. In a lot of ways they are like me. They love music which is also one of my passions. During the week, there was an outdoor youth concert celebrating the independence of Ecuador. Jenny invited me. The bands were terrific. There was one band that was nothing but drums. That band was a lot of fun. Everybody would randomly jump around. In the states it’s called moshing. I came away with just a few bruises, but what made the afternoon/evening truly interesting was the fact that it started to rain… well hail. Now picture this. I am in khaki pants jumping around in the rain like a fool to some wonderful music. My pants got soooooo muddy. Let’s just say my maid had fun cleaning those. I also went to another concert benefiting the joys of reading. Michelle and her band played there along with many other bands. It seems like everyone is in a band here or at least plays some sort of instrument. It’s all very exciting. Discovering this new and wonderful music. The one thing that is absolutely wonderful about this culture is the fact that music is so important to them. It is in every aspect of the culture. People will randomly break out into song here. That is something I wish we had in the states. I mean I know music is important in the states but it isn’t woven into the fabric of everyday life there like it is here.
Sunday I also went to Otavalo for the first time. There are so many wonderful things there. The indigenous people here are wonderful artisans. Anything you might want you can find at Otavalo among the many tent-shops set up in the plazas. The shops are right next to each other and it’s not quite as crazy as the intercambia. Maybe that’s because there are no tiki bars to go to. Along with the help from Jenny and my host mother I am getting much better at arguing prices with the vendors. The art in these places are wonderful though. I feel kinda bad for arguing the prices because with some of these things the vendor deserves more money than what they are getting. Also one of the wonderful things about buying jewelry here is you can get necklaces turned into bracelets, bracelets into earrings, necklaces shortened… anything you want. They will do it right on the spot for no extra money and they are good at it.
School started this week. It was one of the most confusing days of my life. We stayed in one class and the teachers introduced themselves to us but we didn’t sign up for classes. I didn’t sign up for my actual classes till today and I haven’t signed up for my electives yet. Maybe it’s because it’s in a different language but it seems very unorganized to me. Even with the fact that I am taking all the hard maths and sciences I figured out today it won’t be as hard as I thought. In chemistry I already answered something that no one else in the class could answer. “What makes something inorganic?” After he asked everyone in the class, he finally turned to me and asked me. I answered “sin carbon” which means without carbon. Not the best Spanish but it answered the question and my teacher seemed quite surprised. I already have a little group of friends from the school. They invited Heather and me to go bowling and play pool with them. Sometimes I get frustrated with Heather. Yes some of the girls understand English but a lot of them don’t and Heather relies on her English a lot. She will say something in English before saying it in Spanish. It’s frustrating having to translate for her. Not that my translation is the best but I still have too. One gringa translating for another is almost like the blind leading the blind. I’m trying to get her to talk in Spanish more but it’s definitely hard.
My last revelation for the week would have to be seeing the Simpsons in Spanish. Now that is strange and mind blowing. To me the Simpsons is an important part of the American culture. Homer sounds like Homer and that’s that. But then turning it to Fox and seeing… hearing Homer… in a Spanish voice is the most insane thing ever. It makes his character completely different. It’s almost like my world came tumbling down around me. Homer… in Spanish. Now there are a lot of American shows here dubbed in Spanish but none of those had quite the same impact as… Homer in Spanish. My host parents laughed at me because it blew my mind so much. My host dad gets a real kick out of all my little quirks.
Well I’ll write again next week. This weekend is Jenny’s birthday so I’ll probably write about the terrific surprise party Heather and I are throwing for her… shhhh it’s a secret.
October 4 Journal
It’s been about two weeks since I last wrote so I have a lot to talk about.
First things first, I should start with the surprise party for Jenny. It actually wasn’t a surprise party since Jenny's sister let it slip to her. It was ok because the cake we made for her was still a surprise. The cake was a lot of fun. As heather, Taby (another exchange student) and I were baking the cake we forgot to add flour to it because of the higher elevation, so the cake didn’t rise as much as it should have. We also baked it in a big bird face pan, but because we smothered it in icing, M&M's, and jelly beans you really couldn’t tell. It was actually a game for people to guess what it looked like. We got a playboy bunny, the grinch, bugs bunny, and a monkey.
Halfway through the party Jenny made her neighbor come over. He is the drummer in a band, and as a present they played for us. After they ran out of their own songs they started playing other popular songs both in Spanish and English. Everyone at the party would sing along. It was a lot of fun… it’s just another example of how much music means to the people here. The band has a demo out and I have decided that I am not leaving the country without a copy of it… That’s how good they are.
School is not so confusing anymore, thank heavens. That first week was so insane. We do move around from class to class a little. There is one class you're in for all your general classes, then another class for your specialized classes. You only have two choices with your specialized classes: Social classes or science classes. I’m in the Science classes which are the physics, calculus, etc… Then you move again for your electives. I am in cinematography which is a lot of fun. Homework for that class was going and watching the only movie to be made in Ecuador and directed by an Ecuadorian: Los Chronicas. It was hard to understand the dialogue but the action was easy to follow, and I figured out that I hated it. I didn’t hate it because it was a bad movie. I hated it because it had one of those endings that just make you mad. The bad guy gets away with murdering little kids… just thinking about it makes me mad. Otherwise school is very easy. I’m actually helping the girl who sits next to me with her calculus. I find it kinda ironic. Heather is not doing as well as me sadly enough. She actually cried in the middle of Lengua class. She also really relies on her English. She will speak in English before she will speak in Spanish. I find myself having to speak to the teacher for her, which is really sort of stupid. It’s like the blind leading the blind, but I guess it works for now.
This weekend my host parents took me to this lagoon thing. It is an inactive volcano with a lake in its center. It was really magnificent. What was funny about it is that it takes three hours to get there just to stand and look at it for ten minutes, take some pictures and then leave. This place is in the middle of nowhere to begin with. The drive there is insane. We went up to 1200 feet, and the whole way there was going around turn after turn at very high speeds. It occurs to me that Ecuadorians would make very good astronauts. Because of their driving habits, they are already used to the heavy G-Forces. The scenery is really magnificent also. Maybe it was because I was listening to the soundtrack from lord of the rings but that area looks just like the land of Rohan from Middle Earth. Everything is mountainous with the same yellow grass hillsides. Sometimes I expected to see Legolas and Aragorn to come running over the hillside.
After riding in the car forever I went to hang out with Jenny and I spent the night at her house. We went out to the mall but while we were there her mom’s car battery died… seemed all too familiar for me. In the middle of a busy parking lot we had to push her mom’s car so she could jump it into second gear. It was funny to say the least. I then learned that it is a bad idea to play any board game with Jenny’s dad. He’s very competitive. The whole family gets very mad at him. He’s really quite ruthless with the way he plays, but I handled my defeat with grace… or maybe I vowed to never talk to him again… it’s all the same. All in all it was a lot of fun.
Well that’s all for this week. I go on my first Rotary trip next week. I get to miss a whole week of school and go to the beach. I can’t wait.
October 19 Journal
OK it’s been a while and I've got a lot to say. I went to Manabi (that’s a beach here) last week with Rotary for the first district trip. All of the exchange students were there, all 96 of us, 43 of which were from the States. It was insane to say the least. I now have 4 really good exchange student friends. Carolina is a girl from Germany… and she is my best friend here. She goes to my school so we hang all the time. One thing that I will always hold against her though is the fact that she pushed me into the pool at Manabi with a skirt on. We stayed at two hotels. We only stayed at the hotel on the beach for one night so I only brought a little bit of clothes and she pushed me in with the only clean clothes I had left so I had to keep them on soaking wet. I guess that’s just the way Germans are… but I love her anyways. She makes life interesting. Cory is from Connecticut and we can never stop laughing when we are together. He lives in Rio Bamba unfortunately which is three hours away, but we keep in contact through email. Armando is from Italy and is one of the greatest guys I have ever met. He is so much fun and lovable… and he is a FANTASTIC dancer. He is the best dancer out of all of the exchange students by far… besides me of course. Last but not least is Danielle. He is from Arizona. He is a very chill person, which is one thing I miss about my friends back in the States. Thank god he lives in Quito. I actually met him before the Manabi trip. I met him the Saturday before at the bull fight I my rotary club was sponsoring.
OK time to switch tracks a little… the bull fight. That was definitely different. It was a joven bull fight so they didn’t kill the bulls. The bulls and bull fighters were too young. The bull fighters were only 17 or 18 years old. My host mother told me that the bulls were not drugged. It was very violent in many ways. Besides the whole cloth dodging thing they also stick these long sticks with barbs on the end onto the backs of the bulls. You can see the scars on the bulls from previous bull fights from these sticks. However, the bull fighters did do some pretty amazing things, which made them seem quite sexy. I can see why girls here love them. At the end of a fight women will throw their hats and roses to the bull fighters. It’s all very dramatic and romantic. This was a small bull fight. In December, during the festival de Quito they will have a regular bull fight where they kill the bull.
OK… back to Manabi. The trip started with all of the exchange students from Quito climbing onto a bus. The entire trip, there were people standing in the aisles and switching seats, making sure that we met everyone. It got very interesting when we started going through the mountains. Only the pros stood up because if you weren’t a pro (like me) you would be falling all over everyone. We arrived at a 4 star hotel far away from the beach. Now I say that this is a 4 star hotel… but anyone from the states would highly disagree, but it did have a heck of a view from the roof. The last night we were there, they let us stay up as late as we wanted and a lot of us went to the roof and just sat up there all night long.
The day after we arrived we left to go to the hotel right on the beach. The boys and girls had different hotels. The boys mostly hung out at the girl’s hotel because our hotel was really nice. The hotel was basically little cabins near the beach. Each cabin had a main living room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. The bathroom did not have hot water but we got over it. There was a really nice pool in the center of all the cabins, a hammock area, and flowers everywhere. While we were there we played “futbol” and “volley” on the beach. I say “volley” because it's volleyball only we play with a soccer ball. The futbol games were a lot of fun and it turns out that it’s a very dangerous game. A lot of people got hurt. One of the Aussies had a black and blue toe after a Brazilian kicked it trying to get the ball away from her. In my spare time, Danielle and I decided to randomly dig a hole… I don’t know why we started but once we did nothing could stop us. We got it so deep that a full grown person could stand all the way down into it. Cory has pictures of it and as we speak I’m trying to get him to send it to me.
After leaving paradise we went back to the “4 star hotel”. The next day we were in a parade. It was a lot of fun because we got to bring flags and be patriotic. All of the different countries would sing or chant something that had to do with their country. I liked the Aussies the best. They really are a wonderful people. They are so laid back and in general wonderful. All week they had been chanting “AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE, OY OY OY, AUSSIE, OY, AUSSIE, OY, AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE, OY OY OY”. By the end of the trip they had lost their voices. The states showed through proud and true however. We sang a load of patriotic and children’s songs, along with a special rendition of Sweet Home Alabama, proving once and forever that the south is still alive and kicking.
I also rode a ferry for the first time and went to a zoo. I got to pet a sloth and a baby deer. Although the whole time I was petting the baby deer all I could think about is the deer that made me flip my car, so needless to say I didn’t pet the baby deer for to long. We went to a market and listened to a live band. I danced salsa with a Rotarian (very interesting) and got my hair corn rowed.
Once of the worst points of the trip was the visit to the Tuna Factory. I waited an hour to see 10 minutes of tuna slaughtering. Then we got a can of Tuna. Another part of the trip I didn’t quite like was the Florida/Bush bashing. Yes somebody did ask me if I could count when I told them I was from Florida. I know it wasn’t the thing I should have done but I had to correct them and tell them that it was the old retired snow birds down south who can not count… oh well. Otherwise the trip was amazing.
Since returning to Quito, I have slept a lot. During the whole week I got a total of 12 hours of sleep. School has been very hard going back to school, but I’m OK. I had a test the Monday I returned on the stuff I missed the week before… I got a perfect score. So school is still easy, but I love the people. Well that’s all I can think of… I’m sure I missed something, but what can you do. Chao until next week.
PS I saw Godsend… freaky movie.
November 21 Journal
As the shaman finished singing, he took his hand off of my head and I turned around to look at my mother and my best friend who were smiling at me, their faces illuminated by the camp fire. As I looked past them to look at the lightning on the horizon of the rain forest I realized, “wow this is something I never expected to happen”. Well that was a little teaser. I’m sorry I haven’t written in a long time. A lot has happened so I guess I'll get started.
I guess I should start at the beginning. My school had elections which was rather insane. At the beginning of the week I was told we were having an election for president, vice president, and secretary. What I failed to realize is that meant that there would a party day at school. Instead of just random people running for different positions you voted for a political party. There were three political parties and in the middle of the week they all threw parties to try and convince you to vote for them. There were DJs, carnival acts, bands, and much more. You would just walk from party to party. People would chant the name of their favorite political party, dance, scream, and in general just act crazy. It was a nice surprise for hump day, especially since I got to wear what I want instead of the awful gym uniform they make us wear on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I think I have fallen in love with my school since then. As far as academics go my school is not that good. In fact it’s the worst private school in Ecuador, but they sure do know how to throw a party. So it’s really good for exchange students. Maybe not so good for the rest of the students that attend the school, but cool for the exchange students.
So the next day we got out of classes again for the debate… no I am not kidding, there was a debate. People really got into it to. The day before one of the political parties was handing out pencils in order to win votes. During the debate one of the students from a different political party asked them why they were trying to buy votes with pencils. Everyone began screaming and freaking out over this question. People took this all very seriously. The day after was finally the day of elections. Alianza (my favorite) won… and everyone began crying… crying. Whether their political party won or lost they cried. Needless to say it was a very exciting week.
The Friday of the next weekend started a five day holiday. Monday was the independence of Cuenca, a city here. Instead of having a national Independence Day, they have Independence days for each of the big cities here. Then Wednesday was a day to celebrate and remember the dead. Lots of people go to the cemeteries to visit their loved ones who had passed on. So because Monday and Wednesday are both holidays you get Tuesday gratis. So my family decided to go to the Amazon for the vacation. I got to bring my best friend here Karalina with me. We left early Saturday morning. Saturday was also the last day I could fax my vote to Florida for my first election ever. I know this is random, but I just have to say how proud I feel to have finally voted and to have my vote count.
Anyways, moving on… We arrived in Baños, a very beautiful city with waterfalls everywhere. Baños is also known for their hot water springs, but we were only there long enough to switch cars around. My host parents stashed their car and Karalina and I loaded up in Gomez´s car. We drove for a long time, watching the scenery slowly change from green mountains to rain forests, when the road came. Now I call it “the road” for a reason. This was a dirt road but you could not go faster than 15 miles an hour on this road because the road was in that bad of shape, and this street lasted for miles. Well finally we got to the place we were going. Middle of nowhere does not even compare. You had to park your cars and walk down this huge staircase to a river. The Napo, to be more specific, is a tributary of the Amazon River itself. We then had to load up all the things we brought with us in this little wooden canoe. Slowly everyone and everything was shuffled across this river by a native who doesn’t speak any Spanish. On the other side of the river you find a trail that leads right into the rain forest. Trees grow tall on each side of the path and for a place out in the middle of nowhere it is so loud. There are so many animal noises coming out of the forest it can be deafening.
After walking about a half a mile the forest suddenly opens up and there is this beautiful hotel and dining area. Its small but it seems like paradise. Turns out the owners of the hotel which you get to know very well during your stay owns the island I stayed on. That’s right it was an island. The Napo splits in two and surrounds this small bit of land. Also turns out, and my mom should love this, Survivor was filmed on the island during the Survivor Amazon season and I stayed in the hotel that two survivors stayed in after a reward challenge. Very cool. Well the next day we had a rain forest walk. Lost of fun. I learned about scraping bark off of trees and using it for medicine and finding fresh water by using vines. Got great pictures if I can ever get them loaded on my computer. That afternoon everyone went out to the Napo and went for a swim. Then we decided to do something called Hydro-surfing or something like that. We walked up the river and after putting on a life vest you got to float down the river through some rapids. Looking at these rapids they don’t look that big but when you're there swimming through these rapids it’s pretty intense. Karalina and I did it twice and after a lot of persuasion we got my mother to do it as well. She was very scared but in the end it was a lot of fun for her.
The next day we all loaded up into cars and we headed out to see a waterfall. A few hours later on the most horrid roads possible we arrived at a beautiful waterfall and natural slide. The natural slide was where the water ran down a large solid rock. The water eroded away at the rock until a channel was formed for the water to run down: a slide. However a lot of people were there so we all went to the waterfall to swim instead. I’m really glad that my parents taught me how to play near waterfalls and walk on slippery rocks, because while we were there two people fell and hurt themselves. Otherwise, we all had a great time swimming in the pool below the waterfall. After having lunch we all returned to the cars and went back to the hotel.
That evening after dinner, we all walked out into the jungle. We followed the path in the dark with a couple of flashlights when the path opened up into a hut with a fire in the center surrounded by wooden chairs. In the biggest chair sat the shaman. He did not look like I had expected him to. I had expected him to be dressed in native clothes with some weird head dress or something but things are not always as you expect them to be. He wore a Tommy Hilfiger shirt and jeans and was smoking a cigarette. First thing he did was give everyone a drink that relaxes you. Then everyone who wanted to be blessed and helped in some sort of way would sit in front of him while he performed a ritual. Before he began he asked you what you wanted to be helped with. I asked to be given luck with love of course, just like every other girl, and I asked for my Spanish to be better. Then with a cigarette in one hand he began the ritual that included bouncing a stem with leaves all over it on top of your head, and rubbing a stone on your face, and singing some strange song in the native tongue. Afterwards I felt good, and it’s probably just something I did, but the next day my Spanish seemed to be much better. It was fun and definitely interesting. Being in that sort of situation always makes you think of life and how short it is and how wonderful it is to have a chance like this, to experience life like this.
The next day, everybody was wondering what we were going to do next. Some people just wanted to stay and relax. Others wanted to go tubing. Finally we decided to go for a canoe ride and go to a zoo. So once again everyone loaded up into their cars and we drove to another hotel right on the Napo River. Down on the shore of the river there was a beach and many canoes with motors on the back. While we waited for the men to negotiate a price, Karalina and I noticed that there were monkeys on this beach. They climbed and played on the beach and then tried to steal food from the people picnicking and swimming on the beach. One monkey even stole a soccer ball from some kids. I started trying to help them get the soccer ball back and ended up being chased by the frigin thing. These monkeys were very aggressive that’s for sure. So after being chased by monkeys everyone loaded up into the canoe and set off down the river. On either side of the Napo which was the size of the Suwannee River there was rainforest. Karaline and I just sat in the back of the canoe talking and watching the scenery pass us by. Finally we arrived at the zoo which was small but a lot of fun. After my host mom telling me like always to be careful I picked up a six foot python. I also played with a baby crocodile and some turtles. I saw lots of exotic birds and other fun creatures. What made this zoo fun was the fact that I could play and mess around with the animals. Then we got back on the canoe and went home very tired. The next day sadly we had to leave. We all got up very early and left in the rain. I did nothing but sleep on the way home. It was a great experience, an experience I will never forget.
Going back to school was hard, but then it got easier. Everyone was getting ready for sports day. Boys were going to play soccer, and run track, while the girls from each grade made a dance. There was also going to be a sports queen and king just like homecoming queen or prom queen. Karalina was chosen to be on the court. So that was very exciting. In the meantime I started working on the choreography. The rest of the girls wanted me to write it but they couldn’t come up with the music, which wasted a week, so finally I chose and I started writing and teaching. I chose Move Ya Body by Nina Sky, Bombastic by Las Ketchup (song from here), and a now favorite song of the school thanks to my ipod Baby got Back by sir mix a lot. Later they added a Samba song. Besides the dance to the Samba song, I choreographed all of it. I taught all of it. It was hard choreography too. At first, a lot of the girls didn’t seem interested and it was hard teaching it, but after they started learning, they started to like it. Then they started practicing it a lot. It was a wonderful thing. Sitting in front of them, yelling, “Give me more, I want more, perform more!!” took me right back to that auditorium where my guard practiced. It’s a wonderful thing teaching. I don’t ever want to teach for money, that takes the fun out of it. I want to be an engineer, but I think that I always want to teach on the side. It is such a rewarding thing.
Well, Saturday we had the sports day. Karalina did not win sports queen but I think she really didn’t want it. Another girl from my grade won and everyone was very happy when she did. Everyone practiced the dance many time before performing and it looked so awesome. However, we got out there in front of everyone and a few of the girls blew up. No one knows better than me how performing in front of a crowd can make you mess up. Even though it was not a good performance we still got second place which we are all proud of. The boys’ soccer team won against the other school, and we all danced and had a good time. I have a bit of a tan from the day, and many wonderful memories. I’m very happy I got to teach this dance because now I am much closer to all the other girls in my grade, not just Karalina. After the festivities were over I went out with the girls for some pool and shawamans (like a chicken wrap… very good). Ever since this whole dance thing started, I’ve been hanging out with these girls non-stop, and they are a lot of fun. I’m glad I’m not like Heather. All she does is hang out with the other exchange students, which is fun. I like to do it too, but you have to hang out with other people. You have to learn from the people here and learn their culture, not just hang out with other gringos and miss the American culture. She is actually counting down the days until she goes home. It makes me sad to think about going home. This place has become home to me. Oh a little side note a guy actually introduced me to one of his friends as a gringa. He asked me if I minded, and I said yes. I like gringita better.
Well that’s all I can think to write about. Oh and a little side note. I’m running for the geek award for the most journals…. Vote for me. Love you all and I’m working hard on those Christmas presents I promise.
December 8 Journal
Well I know there is no way I will be able to top the last journal. It’s kind of hard to top the Amazon but I will definitely try.
Well thanks to the dance I wrote for the girls in my grade, I am now very much a part of the group. Before, they were cool and we hung out, but now, they are good friends that I go almost everywhere with. Of course my best friend here is Karolina, but now I have more than just her. I have a whole group of friends. I am even painting murals on the walls of one of my friends´ homes. I go to her house almost everyday after school and paint. It’s a lot of fun.
I have also come to really really love my school. Yes it's one of the worst private schools in Quito, but it is a lot of fun. Some days we just randomly leave school. One day all of the seniors left school with a teacher to go to a concert. The concert was for anti-drinking during the Fiestas de Quito. So I missed all day at school and listened to bands. Another day the whole school left and went to the movies to pre-screen a movie that was about the independence of Quito, and then we met the actors in the movie. Even though I’m pretty much fluent at this point, people don’t tell me when these things are happening so I will show up to school and one of my friends will randomly come up to me and ask me if I’m going to the concert of movie or whatever. Every day of school is like a surprise.
Switching topics the Fiestas de Quito was this week. It’s basically a week long party. To start it off I went to a party on the Friday that the fiestas started. I spent the night at a friend’s house and the next morning very early Jenny called me and asked me if I wanted to go to an anti-drinking concert. So off I went. At ten in the morning the concert started and I was there until 8 at night. There were almost 15 bands, and all of them were really good. A couple of the bands are native Quito bands but they are famous all through Latin America. At this point I was sick and a ska band went on. Now it didn’t rain but the ground was very muddy. A huge circulating mosh pit started in the middle of the crowd. In the states we call it skanking. It’s moshing only you rotate. Now these things can be dangerous. Especially since it was muddy and to make it interesting people throw things like water bottles and shoes into the pit. I really wanted to do it but Jenny wouldn’t let me because I was sick. It was a lot of fun seeing that shoe being thrown around. Somebody lost their shoe in the mud so people just started throwing it. I couldn’t really see but I think somebody got hit in the head with it. I hope he’s ok…
Anyways, moving on to Sunday. Sunday I went to a bull fight with my host mom. She did all the advertising at the Plaza de Torros so we got free seats very close to the ground and VIP entry to a Flamenco party after the bull fight. I saw Jenny and Edu there. They sat near to us luckily. The bullfight itself was… very violent. But I kind of liked it. They killed the bulls at the end and in total there were 8 fights. There were two really good fights with good kills. When there was a good kill people would wave a white cloth. The whole celebration is really interesting and intoxicating. When you're there you forget how violent it is. You’re sitting there screaming and yelling as you watch an animal get stabbed with a sword and die. I think that every exchange student in Ecuador should see a bull fight before leaving, but out of the ones that have seen them I’m one of the only ones that enjoy it. It disturbs me, but I think I’ll get over it.
After the fight we all went to the Flamenco party. Everything was gratis inside, and the band was really really good. However what was even better were the Flamenco dancers. It makes me really want to learn Flamenco. It is such a cool way of dancing, but I’m already too busy to be putting Flamenco on the plate. I’m still learning salsa (which is a lot better).
During the week there wasn’t a lot going on but then this weekend came. The final days of the Fiestas de Quito are the wildest. I really don’t think I slept. There are dancing in the streets, discos, concerts, parties, Chivas (big trucks that you dance on as it rides through the streets), bull fights, and so much more. Also everybody plays this one card game called “cuarenta”. It means 40. It is a lot of fun and it is the card game of Quito so they play it all of the time during the Fiestas de Quito. I carried around a deck of cards with me all weekend long. We would be hanging somewhere and suddenly I found myself pulling out the cards and playing cuarenta. I want to bring it back to the states and teach people back at home cause it’s a lot of fun. My salsa improved a lot this weekend as well. I kept hanging out with this one guy named Lucho. He is really cool and a good friend, and once you dance with someone for so long you understand their style and where they are going to twist you. I’ve learned to follow him and it’s a cool feeling being twirled around the dance floor. I know I am going to miss salsa when I go back. Oh well.
Well that’s all for now. I leave Thursday for my next trip with Rotary. So the next journal should be fun.
January 3 Journal
I just finished with the holiday season. I remember that Rotary told me this would be the most depressing time of my exchange yet it was one of the most pleasant points I have had in my exchange. One Rotarian recently emailed me wishing me a merry Christmas. He also commented that my journals seemed to be very upbeat and how there must be down times. In all honesty… I have not been sad here once. Ecuador seems to be a constant flow of happiness and contentment. Even through Christmas, I was happy to be with my new family who treats me as one of their own.
Well a lot has happened so I’ll get to it.
In early December, I had another Rotary trip, this time on my home turf in Quito. All the exchange students came together once more from all over the country. One sad point is when I realized my good friend Cory who lived in Rio Bamba had gone home. His mother was very sick and he flew home to be with her. The trip was not the same without him (I have recently found out however that he will be flying back next week). However, the show must go on and we had a great time on the trip. We saw all the hot spots of Quito and took a lot of photo ops. We saw all the old churches and statues during the first night and the next day. Then we were off to Ibarra and Otovalo. We stayed in a very very cool ranch hotel in Ibarra. The hotel was really big and it had a pool, sauna, hot tub, bar, and game room. While staying there they had a wedding that we were allowed to attend later in the night. We weren’t allowed to attend the ceremony but we were allowed to attend the reception. They played a lot of techno and reggae so everyone danced the night away. During the next few days we visited mountain lookouts, and other scenic places. Everyone took pictures and played cards. All of the Quito kids taught everyone how to play “40” (the card game from the Fiestas de Quito). No one else in the country really knows about 40 so we taught and it became the pastime of the trip. We also went to Otovalo. We spent half a day in the market bargaining with all the shop owners. I got all of my Christmas shopping for my family back home done in 3 hours with room left enough to have some pie from one of the restaurants lining the streets. All in all it wasn’t as fun as the Manabi trip but it was great to see everyone back together again. It was relaxing and I got all of my Christmas shopping done.
With the Quito trip over I began to get myself ready for Christmas. It was really stressful trying to get everything ready and sent back home. Probably the most stressful thing I have had to deal with since arriving in Quito. However once I got the huge box in the mail I was very much relieved. When school got out for Christmas break, most of the people I knew were going to the beach for Christmas and New Years. My parents had to work so I couldn’t go to the beach like everyone else. I spent Christmas Eve with Jenny and her family. We had an American style Christmas lunch with turkey, ham, corn, mashed potatoes, and etc. It was wonderful to have American food. I had to go home relatively early however because here everyone opens their presents in the afternoon or evening of Christmas Eve. I got lots of great presents from my parents. Then we went to Gomez’s house to have Christmas dinner. Dinner was wonderful. By the end of Christmas Eve I was dead. I had eaten so much that after dinner I passed out from being stuffed silly. They sure like to feed you during Christmas but I guess that’s the same no matter
Between Christmas and New Years I spent my time with my Jewish friends Daniel and Yonathon. It turns out that the Jewish community here, though small, is quite wealthy. They just built an Applebee’s here and it is owned by three Jewish families. Because I am a friend to Jews, I can go to Applebee’s anytime I want and eat for free. So while I was with Daniel and Yonathon we went to Applebee’s 5 times. The owners now know me by name and for some strange reason they think that I too am Jewish. I was asked every time I went if I would be going to Synagogue on Saturday.
On New Years I went to Jenny’s house. There I learned about all of the fun traditions they have here in Ecuador on New Years. First, everyone dresses up like widows. The reason for this is that it is the death of the year so everyone is a widow. Even the guys dress up in dresses. Then everyone goes into the streets and asks people in cars for money. You could hold a rope up across the road and not allow the cars to pass until they give you money. Some people dance on the cars. It is really fun. That night in an hour and a half I made thirty five dollars and that is just my share. Of course it is all in change. Later in the night close to midnight, you have to write out a list of all the good and bad things from the previous year and the things you expect in the year to come. Then you wait outside with your luggage, grapes, list, and a straw dummy waiting for the clock to toll midnight. At midnight, the clock tolls 12 times and you have to eat twelve grapes in that period of time. Then you light the dummy on fire and throw your list into the fire. Some people light fireworks and you jump over the dummy while it is on fire. Then you take your luggage and you run around the block. I did all of this and by the time I was through I was very tired. I stood there watching the rest of dummy burn away in representation of the old year burning away and I looked out over Quito as fireworks lit up the sky. It was a very pretty scene, and one that I will never forget. Everyone was on the streets, with their dummies and fire works. I have never said this in my journal but it is something I say here with my friends. For being such a large city Quito is quite a small place. This is because everyone knows practically everyone else. While in the mall or concerts it is not abnormal to see at least 4 other people you know. I have friends I go to school with that know my other friends who live on the opposite side of the city. What makes Quito small is not the size but the people. People here are warm and friendly. Standing on that street with the fireworks going on in the sky behind me, I noticed once more how wonderfully friendly the people are here. They are what make the experience wonderful.
Tomorrow I leave on yet another Rotary trip to the Amazon. For this trip they are sending us in five different groups. I will not see all of my friends. It is only a group of 20, but it will be fun none the less. Till next time. I love you all.
January 13 Journal
The mood here has changed drastically within the past week or so. I have now reached my half way mark. Five months. Only five months more to go. I leave July 18 to return to a home that seems to not hold the same meaning in my heart. It was not hard leaving Florida. In fact it was quite easy, but now the last days with my first host family are counting down and leaving them seems to break my heart in two. I remember walking into my house yesterday with my friend Karolina after a great day at school to my host mom. I gave her my usual greeting and she turned to me with red eyes and said “Jackie, tienes que cambiar tu familia”. (You have to change your family). I think my heart broke at that point. I have now come to accept it. Being an exchange student means being adaptable, but this is one adaptation I don’t want to make. Now I have the second half of the year with a new family, and the airport I pass everyday to and from school seems to be looming over me. Other exchange students don’t have this in their life but for those who live near to an airport it is a constant reminder that you are going to have to return home. Watching the planes taking off into the sky above beautiful Quito makes me think that in no time at all I will have to be on one of those planes against my own will. This half a year has been one of the greatest of my life full of new and wonderful opportunities, great friends and stories, and the most remarkably loving host family I could have ever gotten. In the last journal I said I have not had any down times but that has now been broken. Life goes on, and you have to leave this fantasy behind you. It happens a lot in a life time, but it has never hit me so hard.
Beyond that sappy paragraph, there are still wonderful things here to be enjoyed and savored while I still have time, and while these wonderful things are happening I must share them. I actually forgot a very fun story in my last journal. During the end of the year here they open a theme park in this vacant lot near to my favorite mall here. It’s called Play Land Park, and it is more dangerous than any theme park or county fair in the entire United States. It has a rollercoaster and a few other normal county fair rides. However, the construction and upkeep of these rides is far from safe. While on one ride that spins you around while going upside down, the ride operator started the ride without first closing the cage around my friend Jenny’s chair. As the ride started to spin Jenny, JuanMa, and I started screaming at the operator to stop the ride. I heard another story about Jenny’s boyfriend. He had an interesting experience on the rollercoaster. During the ride he accidentally pushed up the lap bar. Just for effect, this rollercoaster has a loopdy-loop that Edu went through WITHOUT A LAP BAR.
Now my favorite ride is something that does not exist in the United States. It would not pass the safety standards. The first thing you read under the name of the ride is that they are not responsible for any injuries sustained during the ride. It is a circle that has a bench that circles the edge of the ring. The seats face inwards and there is a hand rail behind the benches next to your head. Now there are no seatbelts or any restraints or any kind. So you basically grab on to the handrail behind your head and hold on for dear life. They start the ride by spinning you which isn’t that intense but then they bounce the entire ride. When you are looking at this ride it doesn’t seem like it is bouncing that much but when you are on the ride your whole body flies off of the seat and then slams back down into it. It will shake you, spin you, and bounce you until you can not take it anymore and then the ride operator does it harder. The first time I rode it nothing really happened to me during the ride except for a bruise on my arm. The ride came to a stop and these ramps dropped down so people could exit the ride but the gate to the ramp was still closed. Everyone started getting up to exit the ride and when everyone was standing the ramps suddenly went up so the ride could start up again while everyone was standing. I realized what the operator was doing so I yelled for everyone to sit and I grabbed Jenny and sat down in the closest seat. She ended up sitting on my lap while we both grabbed onto the rail. The ride started bouncing for about 6 seconds but soon stopped as everyone in the center of the ride fell all over each other. Thank the lord no one was seriously injured. The second time I rode the ride it was a different story. Jenny and I were sitting on opposite sides of JuanMa. To my right were some people I didn’t know. During part of the ride we were bounced so much that all of the people near me were scrunched together. Jenny ended up losing her grip and flew toward the center of the ride. She grabbed frantically for JuanMa but only was able to grab his leg. Because of the extra force on his body he lost grip with one of his hands and flew on top of me. At this point I had JuanMa in my lap and another girl next to me hitting me with her leg. I simply turned around in my seat towards the outside of the ride and grabbed the hand rail with both arms and assumed the fetal position. I only survived because of this. However because I was no longer in the leg room of the girl sitting beside me and JuanMa was basically in my seat, he got kicked in the balls by the girl sitting beside me. I admit I left the theme park with many bruises but I would not take it back. Besides roller coasters, it was the greatest ride I have ever ridden.
Now this should be when this journal should really get interesting. For the past week I have been in the Amazon for the second time now. I have come to fall in love with the rain forest. People who have never been there can not possibly understand the magnificence and beauty of this place. For this trip they broke the exchange students into five groups. I was apart of the first group to go. About 12 of us met in the airport. It was then that we met our guide Delphin, who later became known as Magiver. We flew in a plane for about 30 minutes. We arrived in Cooca. We had a break before we got on this canoe with a motor on it. The canoe ride was 4 hours long. When we arrived at the Yachana lodge we all realized we were in the middle of nowhere. We found out later that the closest hospital is 4 hours away. The first thing we met was a little monkey. Well I love animals so that was that and I became the monkey’s mom for 6 days. Now this seems all cute now… but after a monkey pisses on you 3 times it's not that cute anymore. Our rooms were sort of like jungle dorm rooms. There were three rooms each filled with bunk beds. All three rooms were in the same building and the walls were so thin you could talk to the person in the next room. There were public bathrooms and showers. They didn’t have ceilings so you could always talk to the person in the shower stall next to you. There was also this cool huge common area with a couple hammocks. This area became the place to chill and relax. To give you some background into the Yachana lodge, it was started by an American as a non-for profit organization. It exists to support the local people. Any money the lodge the money makes goes into helping the people who live near there. They have built a small clinic and school for them. They also buy the “chocolate” the people grow there. The process the chocolate and then sell it to bring more money back into the community of the people. The Yachana lodge helps to educate anybody staying at the lodge as well. For three days we actually went into the forests and helped the people build a greenhouse and transplant banana plants. It was hard work but much more enjoyable when it was raining. I got blisters on my hands from digging holes with a post hole digger. After we stopped working we started to do the really fun stuff.
At this point in the story I must introduce Ward to you. We all called him Fabio because that is what he looked like. The first time I saw him he was wearing tan colored shorts and no shirt. His long brown hair was held back in a pony tail. My guy friends and I looked on in amusement as he took his hair down and did a hair flip. He is a gringo, but he has been living in Germany for the past five years. He is in marketing but hates his job. About ten years ago he was riding his Harley through the American desert and crashed. It was then that his “adopted family” (Native Americans) took him in. He was really badly injured and the Indians healed him with sticks, rocks, and prayers. So now he is a really spiritual guy and he came to the Amazon to learn about the secrets of the rainforest from Delphin. So that is the background story on Ward. So Saturday morning, we all went to a local market that they only have on Saturdays. There was meat hanging from hooks and little chicks up for sale. They were also selling stuff from the city as well such as clothes, cleaning products, and DVDs. It was really interesting.
When we returned from the market we started on our four hour hike through the rainforest. Ward came along as well. Delphin, who is a native, led us through the trails and dense forest. Delphin knows English, Spanish, and Chichua (the native language). He had to speak to us in Spanish because some of the exchange students didn’t know English, but this was perfectly fine. His accent was really easy to understand, but ward didn’t understand a lick of it. I ended up having to translate a lot of stuff to him. The fun thing about the walk is that Delphin would randomly stop and pull some plant of the rainforest to show us something. One of the funniest things is when he made a basket for us. He grabbed a palm limb and cut it so that he had two stems with six leaves on it. He then weaved the leaves together and took a small stem out of the middle of one of the discarded palm leaves. This small stick is something the rest of us would never be able to find. He stuck it through the leaves at so the weave would not come loose. He then weaved the other side together then the top. It formed a very nice basket but he wasn’t done yet. He then went off of the trail again and came back with a root that he tied to the basket to form a handle. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. That is why we call Delphin Magiver. The exchange students think that he is better than Magiver. During another part of the walk my boot got stuck in the mud and I fell skinning my elbow in the process. I got mud in the scrape so I asked Delphin what I should do about it. Delphin just looked out into the forest and walked over to a tree. He took a leaf with standing water in it. He poured the water over my scrape and washed away the mud. He then looked off into the forest again and went to another tree. He stuck it with his knife and a small line of red liquid came out. The tree was called Sangre de Dragon, or dragon’s blood. He rubbed the red liquid onto his hand until it formed into a paste. He rubbed that on my scrape and a day and a half later it was completely healed. Later in the walk we came upon this vine. Because the path was on a hill you could swing on the vine and try to grab onto a tree. If you grabbed the tree you were about 9 feet in the air. I did it although I did not hit the tree but it was a lot of fun. Delphin and a lot of the Germans did it no problem. Then… Ward stepped up to the vine. Once again he was not wearing a shirt. We asked him to take down his hair while he did it for pictures. He did and I swear he looked just like Tarzan.
We saw some monkeys, parrots, and a bullet ant. Near the end of the hike the trail led up to a look out point over the Napo River. We rested there a bit and that is when Ward gave the first of his famous speeches. “Be one of the earth not one upon the earth. Follow your heart. If you want to be a guide for the grand canyon instead of advertisement designer do it. If there was a solar burst, we would lose all of our computers. We would all be broke and we would end up killing each other but Delphin would just go about his life as usual. All the things that we do to make our lives simpler actually make our lives more difficult…” This guy was intense to say the least.
On our last day we went to the Shaman. The Shaman did a cleansing ceremony, which Ward took very very seriously. After the cleansing we got to play with blow darts and spears. I didn’t hit the target on the first shot with the blow dart but I got very good very quickly. The spear on the other hand was very difficult. No one was able to get it but Delphin was deadly with it. At a small shop Alaska (his real name is Tyler but he is from Alaska so we call him that) bought a blow dart. One thing you have to realize about Alaska is that he hates bugs and animals. He freaks out at the first sign of them. So with his blow dart he went to work. He ended up killing a small lizard. He was very proud of his kill and showed it off to everyone. He was the great white hunter of the group. The day we came back was also fun. All of the coast kids couldn’t grab a bus until around 10 at night and we arrived back at noon. So everyone stashed their stuff at my place and I showed them around Quito for the afternoon. It was exhausting but fun at the same time.
Because of this trip Thomas a coast kid introduced me to a new and wonderful kind of music. I have become addicted to electronic music, all of it. Trance, House, House Progressive, Drum and Bass, all of it. It is the freshest and most diverse kind of music I have ever heard.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS RANDOM COMPLAINING ABOUT ROTARY IN ECUADOR
I have come to really appreciate my club back in Florida. District 6970 is set up wonderfully to give the outbounds and inbounds the best exchanges possible. That said… Rotary here sucks. I am never in contact with my club. I have to call my counselor if I want anything. I have to remind him to give my money. I never know when meetings are because they tell me nothing. My counselor doesn’t know anything. I didn’t know I was supposed to give the money for the Amazon paseo. I found out about it from another exchange student and at that point it was already a week past the due date. They told me I had to change three days before I was supposed to change. The entire year, even after many questions, I didn’t know if I had to change or not. They totally mishandled the Amazon paseo too. All the coast kids had to ride a bus to Quito. They were all supposed to take buses to Portoviejo first to all meet up and get on the same bus together. Because there was no Rotarian there to meet them they ended up taking different buses to Quito and then once they got to Quito there was no Rotarian to meet them there either. This is a big dangerous city that they are dropping kids off into randomly. They all had to figure out on their own to get to the airport. Then they had to buy their own tickets when they returned to Quito after the paseo. They mishandle our allowance. Every kid in Ecuador is entitled to 70 dollars. We all signed a form saying so. The first month we all got the $70 but then they tried to decrease the amount. That didn’t work for me because my host mom had read the first document I signed and told them they had to give me my full allowance. However, most of the other kids just let the allowance drop down to $50.
I apologize about my rant, but it needed to be said. I really don’t live with Rotary in my life here. I haven’t gotten angry with Rotary in the past. The straw that broke the camel's back is the having to change in a matter of three days. All of the other stuff is small. My life here is wonderful, and when it comes down to it, the problems with Rotary are small and pass in time as all things do. That is the end of my journal for now. I’m sure ill have another for you soon. Until then I love you all.
February 9 Journal
Well it’s me again. It’s been an eventful past couple of weeks, so I will get to it.
The first thing that comes to mind was the concert I went to with, guess who, Jenny and Edu. It was a coliseum concert for Victor Franco, a popular Latin American singer. I had to pay 12 dollars for general seats that were all the way in the nose bleed section. It was still a lot of fun. The music was a lot of fun but the people in the audience are even more fun. There was this girl beside me who was more or less drunk and she kept telling me about how Victor Franco is the best singer in Latin America and how she loves him. I think she fell down as we left the stadium. Needless to say the concert was a lot of fun. I always enjoy jumping around and singing along with songs I have never heard before in my life. However, it makes me wish I could have been alive during the true concert era. It would have been great if could have gone to a true jam band like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Doobie Brothers, or Jethro Tull. That was a time when you were still allowed to light up a bic during slow songs. Unlike anybody going to a concert in the United States I was able along with the rest of the crowd to light up a lighter during some wonderful slow songs. It was so beautiful seeing all the sparkling lights across the stadium. I had a good view since I was all the way at the top.
I went to the concert on a Friday and the very next day I had to change host families. It was a sad day. As I unpacked in my new house, for the very first time in Ecuador, I cried. My new host house is nice. For the first time I have a sister. However we don’t talk that much. She is 24 and has a very hectic life of her own. I have a dog again thank the lord. I really missed having a pet to come home to and this dog, Becky, is much cleaner than my outside dogs back home. My host dad seems to be never home, and my host mom is home only a little bit more than he is. They both own clothes factories. So they are definitely swimming in money. There is this great balcony on the top of the house that I like to go to a lot. You can see a lot of Northern Quito from there, including the airport. I now get to watch the airplanes land and take off on a regular basis, but at night the city lights up and it is just so beautiful. One of the things I enjoy most about the house is the fact that for the first time in my life, I have a playstation. And yes I use it a lot. I’m ketching up on all those years I spent without video games. I guess I am trying to ketch up to the video game skills of the rest of the world. In true video game style, I am a much more nervous person, but my reaction time is much higher.
In school I got a two week vacation for Carnival, which I will talk about later in the journal. Because we had all this time some of the exchange students including me tried to set up a trip to Baños. It was so last minute that it fell apart. We couldn’t get all the permission we needed to get but some kids came up from the coast and we showed them around the city for a couple of days. Also, Cory, an exchange student from Connecticut, came back from the states. He went home a couple of months ago because his mother got sick. Her condition didn’t change so his father thought it best that he come back because you only get this chance once. A week ago he came back and we got to hang out before he went to Riobamba. Cory is one of my favorite exchange students so it was really cool to hang out with him again. We did all the touristy stuff and for a long time my house felt like Gringolandia. Then everyone went home and I was left with my new host family.
Last weekend was the start of Carnival and I got to go to Baños anyways. I went to Ambato, which is close to Baños, with my host family and Jenny (from Canada) their old host daughter. Saturday Jenny and I took a day trip to Baños. Baños is soooo beautiful. There are waterfalls everywhere and hot springs on the tops of the mountains. Jenny and I started by eating lunch in some obscure restaurant and then we went on the search for the famous Baños bungee jumping. That’s right, I bungee jumped. Don’t worry I’m still alive. The ropes held my body weight. It was fantastic. For years I’ve wanted to do it, and to finally have it off of my “Things to do before you die” list is wonderful. I jumped off of a bridge with a mountain river underneath me. I didn’t even hesitate. I climbed over the railing and the man behind me said, “Listo?... ok uno, dos, tres!!!”, and then I jumped. The falling part is so intense. I’m so glad that I did it. After that Jenny and I went back to the center of town where they were having a parade. During the parade they will throw out home-made toffee (a specialty of Baños) and fruits. Then my host parents picked us up and we went back to Ambato. The next day they had another parade in Ambato. It was a lot of fun and I danced Salsa with my new host mother. She is a really good dancer and very fun women. Later that day after lunch we went home.
Monday and Tuesday were the true days of Carnival. Now Carnival in Ecuador isn’t like Carnival in Brazil. Instead of a big party there is a big water fight. Everyone is always throwing water balloons at each other or buckets of water for that matter. The boys on my street tried to get me several times but they failed. I wanted to “play Carnival” but I wasn’t able to. However, I did get wet once. I was standing outside of CCE, one of the malls here, with Daniel, trying to get a taxi. That is when this car came out of nowhere and a kid in the back seat threw a water balloon at me. It hit me right in my crotch, so it looked like I had wet myself. I had to walk around for the rest of the day with this big wet spot on my pants. It was horrible. Daniel could not stop laughing at me to save his life.
Well that is pretty much caught up to date. The only other thing is that I threw my neck out. It’s kinda painful. Mami I miss you. Anyways Chao for now. Love you all.
April 16 Journal
I know I have not written in a very long time. It’s because not much has happened. I go to school, do what little homework I have, and chill with my friends. However, I felt that I should write about what’s going on in the country right now.
As you may know Ecuador has been in the news lately for political unrest. I would like to assure you that I am completely safe and I am far away from anything that is going on.
Years ago, corrupt officials got elected into office. For more than a decade presidents stole millions of dollars from the people of Ecuador. Not only did they skim off the taxes they also stole money from individual bank accounts. Finally, there was a little uprising and the president got kicked out of the country. However, he escaped the country with all the money. That was about seven years ago.
They had the election for the new president this year and they had a choice between the brother of the president who was kicked out of the country or the current president. So of course they elected the current president by a landslide.
That was about five months ago. Now, slowly over the course of the last five months things have been going a little south. Each branch of the government has been taken over by corruption. The cops were also corrupt. When driving around you always should have forty dollars in the car in case a cop pulls you over. Otherwise, you would get a ticket. The first thing that happened was that the president appointed corrupt judges who were making decisions that the people of Ecuador didn’t like very much. That is when people started protesting, but only a little. They called on their Congress to do something about it but everyday a vote came up, the speaker of the house would make up an excuse and postpone it.
Now everybody is basically pissed. For the past two months there have been protests in the colonial district near the house of the president. I won’t lie. I wish I could have been there to see it, not take part, but see it at least. I saw a lot of pictures on the news though. Everyday that there is a huge protest I get off of school so it was kinda cool.
However things have just come to a head within the last two weeks. Last Friday a strike was planned. School was cancelled again, this time for four days. Wednesday is when they had the strike and every government agency went on strike. There were neither buses nor taxis. The taxis set up blockades shutting down some of the most important streets. This day my friend Jenny, who’s in a band, had a band practice getting ready for an audition and she invited me to the practice. I went with her in her mother’s car and along the way I saw tanks, that’s right I said tanks, rolling down the streets of Quito. There were cops everywhere and we went by a protest where the cops were throwing gas grenades into the crowd of people.
Last night there was a huge protest in the Parque Carolina. The people lined the streets banging pots and pans which signified the hunger in Ecuador. In all parts of the city cars were honking their horns. It was impossible to sleep because the whole city was alive with the sound of car horns. Today was the “march of toilet paper”. Toilet paper has coated the city of Quito. Cars, buildings and trees are covered in toilet paper and there are people everywhere screaming “Fuera Lucio!” which means leave Lucio, the president. This morning Lucio got on the television saying how he wants to become a dictator.
Monday everybody is going to turn off their lights at 8 o clock for fifteen minutes. So, for the first time in a long time the whole city of Quito is going to be dark. We might even be able to see the stars.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next. The government seems to be very much in control even though everybody is protesting it. Nothing seriously violent has happened because of it, but I don’t know where it’s going to go. It might die out or it might get worse. I hope if it gets worse it’s after I leave the country because I would hate for this to shorten my exchange.
I leave for Galapagos in five days so I will write about that after I get back. It should be an amazing trip. I can not wait. Until then I want to assure you that I am still safe and very much happy. I love you all.
April 26 Journal
I have just one word for this entry. Galapagos. I spent four days in paradise and this is the point where you are all allowed to be very jealous.
Thursday, eight of the exchange kids from Quito met early in the morning at the Airport. From there we flew for thirty minutes to Guayaquil where we had a small layover. Then we all got back on the plane to fly for two hours to Galapagos. Daniel, one of my better friends here, was lucky enough to fly in the cockpit while we landed in Galapagos. The pilot was the father of one of his friends who had an exchange to Arizona last year. I kinda hate him for that.
My first impression of Galapagos was not what I expected. The airport has its own island and this particular island seemed like a desert. There wasn’t a lot of greenery and there were a lot of cacti. Not to mention it was very very hot. As soon as we stepped off of the plane all of the exchange kids were caking on the sun screen.
We then got on a bus which took us to the coast. We saw our first exotic animals there. Blue Footed Boobies. They look normal until you look at the feet which are sky blue. There are all sorts of shirts available for purchasing such as “I like Boobies!” if you are interested in that sort of thing.
We then got on a ferry which took us to the most populated island. We checked into our hotel in the main port of Galapagos and then went to eat lunch. While we were eating lunch we noticed on the TV that while we were in the air the EX-President Lucio lost support of the military and left Ecuador. We now have a new president who happens to be a Rotarian, and a good man according to the Youth Exchange Chairman.
After lunch we went for a walk with our guide through part of the national park to the beach. The national park area was really strange. Galapagos is almost like another planet sometimes. The most interesting part of the walk was the strange cacti. The cacti in Galapagos have a trunk. Supposedly, it evolved that way to protect itself from the giant turtles. Soon the vegetation opened up onto one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. The water was so blue and the sand so white. The waves were humongous. On some black rocks in the middle of the beach were lots of land iguanas and beautiful red and blue crabs. I am a little ashamed to say that I thought about how good they must taste. We swam for the rest of the afternoon in the beautiful blue water and watched the sun set on the beach.
That night we were free to go to the local clubs. I played a lot of pool that night. None of us went to bed early that night. The next morning we went and saw the giant turtles. The turtles are very big but not very active. It must be rather hard trying to carry around all that weight in such extreme heat. We also saw George, the last of his species. He is a giant turtle from one of the more northern islands and his species for some natural reason died out.
After the turtles we went to the boat that we would spend the next three days on. We got our rooms unpacked our things, then ate lunch. It was a small boat compared to the rest of the yachts around us but it was good enough for us. There were five rooms below deck which were so small. The bathrooms were a joke. On the main deck there was a dining room, kitchen and a sunning area in front of the boat. This is where most of the people slept. There was also a second floor which was mainly a chill out area.
After lunch we went through a cave to a huge canyon. It wasn’t as big as the Grand Canyon but it was big nonetheless. It was a hard walk but the view made it worth it.
That night around 11 the ship set off for the next island. We all fell asleep outside under the stars on the hard floor of the sunning area. It was way too hot in the rooms and it was very noisy because of the engine. We drove all night long and I woke up to see my first Galapagos sunrise. It was really beautiful but the pain in my back kinda took away from the whole experience.
After eating breakfast we all got onto the dingy for a wet landing on the island. The beach had red sand. Something to do with the oxidation process. That’s when we saw our first sea lions. You are not allowed to touch the animals but you can get as close as you want. While posing for pictures one of the sea lions nuzzled me with its nose. We then went on a walk through the island and we saw pink flamingos and wonderful views. Of course the bugs nearly carried us away.
After returning from the walk we went snorkeling which I have to say I love. I am actually really good and I can dive really low. I swam with all sorts of fish and saw interesting coral and then… I swam with my first sea lion.
We went back to the boat and we had lunch as the boat headed out to our next destination. We dropped anchor in between two islands. This is when we asked the crew if we could jump off of the roof of the boat into the water. The crew said fine so without hesitation I was the first to jump. Soon many of the exchange students were jumping.
Later in the afternoon we went snorkeling again. We saw a sea turtle, a shark, lots of fish, penguins, and of course sea lions. I love swimming with the sea lions. They are very playful creatures and you can swim all around them and under them and they will play with you.
Then we all went to shore with a coral beach. The beach was nothing but small white dead coral. I wanted to take one so badly, but it’s not allowed. Instead I busied my mind with taking pictures of all of the sea lions on shore. The babies were soooooo cute. You just want to pick them up and hug them… which is not allowed. We also walked to a cove where we saw these huge waves. Wave after wave would crash into the rock cliff. It looked like a lot of fun. Of course if you jumped into that water, death was certain.
After returning to the boat we set off again for the next island. We dropped anchor before dinner and once again we slept outside under the stars. The next morning we climbed the highest volcano in Galapagos. The island was relatively young and there was no vegetation. It looked a lot like the lunar pictures. Makes you wonder.
Then we went snorkeling again for the last time. I swam with sea lions again and we saw a blow fish which our guide caught. The blow fish inflated and bobbed on top of the water for about a minute. After snorkeling the boat set off again for another island. That afternoon after we dropped anchor we went for a dingy ride. There was an inlet of fresh water that you could drive up into to. Mango trees grew in the water creating a labyrinth of small rivers. We saw small sharks, huge manta rays, and fresh water turtles.
The boat set sail again (we did a lot of traveling) and this time set down anchor before sunset near the island where the airport is. There we were able to talk all ten of the exchange students to jump off of the boat together at the same time. When we jumped we rocked the boat scaring the crew. We swam while the sun set. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life. We all fell asleep late that night playing card games.
That morning we had our last hike. We saw lots of boobies, sea lions, and those birds who have basically big red balloons on their necks. We saw the mating ritual of the boobies. The females call to the males with this airy whistle. The male then gives gifts of sticks and then dances for the female. Basically, dancing means turning around in a circle lifting their feet very high. It was all very interesting.
Sadly we had to leave so we went back to the airport and flew home. I am now VERY tan, and enjoying the dry cold air of Quito. I don’t know how I am going to survive when I go back to Florida. The humidity and heat kills me. I enjoy the cold, and it is great for my complexion.
Well I have three more days of school then I leave for my last trip with Rotary. I will be on a bus for eight days. Should be interesting. Till next time, I love you all and I am having a great time.
PS. Politics have returned to normal so don’t worry I’m safe.
May 28 Journal
Things have been just so hectic that it’s been hard getting in a journal. I have found that the end of your exchange is the craziest part of it. At the end you realize that everyone is starting to go home and soon your exchange year will end too. 22 days. Everything is a mad rush to get done or fit into your schedule, and trying to get it ALL done can be stressful. However, at the end of it you realize that you had this amazing year and working for something so hard is always worth it.
Leaving off after Galapagos (that seems so long ago), I had a few days more or less to write my previous journal and wash all my clothes. Only a few days after Galapagos, I left again to go on the last Rotary trip. I spent eight days on a bus with 80 other exchange students. The last trip was my favorite. When your district is as large as a country the times when you can hang out with ALL of the exchange students are wonderful. You spend a year getting to know these wonderful people just to say goodbye to them on the last trip. Every moment becomes precious with these amazing people.
For eight days we traveled Ecuador. We first went to Baños, my favorite city in Ecuador. Baños is my favorite because it’s this wonderful city nestled in between lush green mountains. It’s a little cold because of the altitude but at the same time it’s so tropical and lush. The scenery is amazing… and green is such a wonderful color. The rest of the Sierra of Ecuador is yellow so it’s really cool to stay in a place that’s green.
After Baños we went to Rio Bamba for a night. Rio Bamba is the oldest city in Ecuador and has a big tourist attraction. From Rio Bamba you can take a train that leads you through the mountains with vertical cliff drop offs and sketchy train tracks. What makes the train ride truly wonderful however is the fact that you can sit on top of the train. It’s really cold but the view is better from the top. The one negative is that the top isn’t very comfortable and the train ride is 3 hours long, but it was a lot of fun chilling and talking to everyone.
After Rio Bamba we went to Cuenca for 2 days. Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador and it’s really cool. I think it’s the best looking city in Ecuador. The architecture is amazing and it’s really clean… something you don’t really find in Quito. I kinda got into trouble in Cuenca. My two friends and I got separated from the group while doing a walking tour of the downtown area. We went to get some water and then the group was gone. We spent the next two hours trying to hunt down the group. We finally got in contact with someone in the group and we were right about to get in a taxi to meet up with the group when our friend called my cell and said the buses were leaving Cuenca. So we were stranded in Cuenca. Julio (president) wasn’t too happy with us, but he realized it was an accident and let it go. One of my two friends who went AWOL with me was in his club so he knew her well. Thank the lord I got lost with her. Julio at first thought we did it on purpose and I could have gotten sent home for it, but Julio is a cool man.
After Cuenca we visited some ancient ruins and then went to Guayaquil. The first thing I thought when we entered Guayaquil is, “OMG its Florida!” The architecture and climate is just like Southern Florida. It kinda freaked me out since I’m so close to going home and I really don’t want to. That night we had a party at a Rotarian's house. It was really cool. It was Karolina’s birthday and she got a cake from Julio. I of course had to stick her face in her cake and she of course had to push me in the pool later… tradition you know. The next morning was the last time that we would all be together. There was lots of crying. I didn’t really say goodbye to too many people. There were people who I would never see again. However with the people I am truly close with, there is no such thing as goodbye. The few goodbyes I did say were strange. So many of these exchange students are truly wonderful people. Everyone of them is special, unique, and they made an impact on my life and knowing people like that makes me feel blessed. A lot of people cried. I haven’t gotten to my crying stage yet. I know the waterworks will come but not yet. After the crying fest the Quito kids got on a bus and left for the 9 hour ride home.
Since the last trip I have been going to school. I painted a mural against smoking tobacco. It was a fun day-project with my friend Karolina. The school really liked it and the principal was for once impressed with Karolina and I. My last day of school was Thursday. I said all of my goodbyes to my school mates at a birthday party Thursday night. My school wasn’t necessarily the best school. The teachers may not be the best and the kids may not be the smartest, but there is something wonderful about my school mates as well. For me, they represented Ecuador to me. My classmates are so much fun. They took me in from the very, even when I couldn’t speak Spanish. They were some of the most fun people I have ever met in my life and I will miss them so much. They filled this part of my life that I don’t think anybody will be able to fill again.
For the past two weeks, two of my friends and I have been planning a party. It was a party for the exchange students in Ecuador. Last night we had the party and it was fantastic. There was so much stress involved in doing something like this. This was an all out party. We cooked dinner for 40 people. Then we had an award show for all of the exchange students with awards like, “best eyes”,” most likely to change the world” or “most likely to go to jail”. Everyone got an award. I have spent the past week sending out ballots to the exchange kids so they could vote on it and buying all the awards myself. I spent $120 on it. Everyone brought $5 so I got $80 of that back. The rest of the money went into the food and renting the space. After the award show we had a DJ and people spent the rest of the night hanging out and dancing. It was the last time all of the Quito kids would be together. Once again last night I said goodbyes that would be forever. Of course I told everyone if they wanted to come and visit for spring break I would be happy to chill with them again. However, some things like that will probably never happen. This time the goodbyes were a little more personal. The crying at the end of the night was the reason I wanted to plan this party with my friends. Everyone had fun and it was a great last time. I really wanted a last time and for everyone to have fun. It worked out really well.
I have realized that goodbyes are strange things. I am about half done with my goodbyes now and it's just a strange thought that you will never see these people again. You meet so many people on exchanges and everyone of them will mean something to you at the end. You realize that even though you’ve only known them for what seems to be such a short time, they mean something to you. These are people who matter and make a difference in your life. They know what you’ve been through because they have been right there beside you going through it at the same time. It creates this bond, a bond that doesn’t break with goodbye. This is what it is to be an exchange student, and every other exchange student becomes your family.
That leaves the rest of my exchange. I should be leaving today to go to Ibarra. I am going to stay with an exchange student there for a few days. On Thursday I will say goodbye to 5 more people. Friday is my birthday, and Sunday my parents are coming. After they leave I only have four days left in this country. 22 days. It's something that’s hard to write about because I still have not accepted the fact that I’m going home. When that day comes it might be the hardest day of my life, but if my exchange has taught me one thing it's that, things will not always be easy. Sometimes things can get really tough, but if you're just stubborn and push through the pain, life will always reward you. I have to admit, I have gone through some rough times here, but it was all worth it. After an exchange year, you become a stronger person. At the start of an exchange you’re a wad of cookie dough. At the end of your exchange you are carved out of stone. Going back, you are sure that you could handle anything now. It has been the best year of my life and I am so grateful for it. Thank you