Kristina Saunders
2008-09 Outbound to Ecuador
Hometown: Freeport, Grand Bahama Island
School: Lucaya International School, Lucaya, GBI
Sponsor: Freeport Rotary Club, District 6990, GBI
Host: Machala Rotary Club, District 4400, Ecuador

Kristina's Bio

 Hello everyone,

I’m Kristina Saunders. I was born in Miami, Florida but currently I reside in Freeport, Bahamas. I am currently a senior at Lucaya International School. My school is extremely small it has approximately 230 students. I am one of many from my school to be awarded the opportunity of being involved in the Rotary Youth Exchange program.

I would call myself determined and very well rounded. I am very active within my community; I’ve been involved in everything from sports to performing arts and alternative dance. I am very outgoing, I love hanging out with family and friends, mainly my family, because family means the most to me, being that I’ve come from such a very close knit family.

In my spare time I really like reading/writing. I love reading non-fictional novels. My favorite novel of all times is When Doves Cry. I love writing stories about my life because I feel that my life is a story to be told. In my spare time I also like to go out on the town with my friends, a night on the town normally consists of going to Port Lucaya and walking around, talking, and taking fun pictures.

I am so thankful to be awarded the opportunity to go on the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, I am looking forward to meeting all of the new and exciting people that I will encounter on my journey.

August 23 Journal

 HOLA! Como estas? Donde eres?.... that’s about all I’ve been hearing for a week now. YES! I’m FINALLY in Ecuador.

I arrived last week Friday, I had some minor complications but everything was sorted out, my host dad did not receive my e-mail telling him what day and time I was arriving, and he and my host sister, who is now on her exchange in Colorado, went to Quito. It just so happened my chairman e-mailed me the day of my departure introducing himself, and asked when I will be arriving, and I told him, being that there are only two airports in Ecuador, one in Quito (the capital) and one in Guayaquil (the one I flew into), sadly I live 3 hours by car from Guayaquil, so by the time the chairman read my email it was to late for him to drive to Guayaquil to come and pick me up so he had a friend of his living in Guayaquil collect me. She was one of the sweetest people I had ever met, she brought her niece along to collect me because her niece speaks English fluently. My flight was suppose to depart at 5:50pm, in fact we boarded our plane at 5:15pm, but we did not depart until 8pm arriving in Ecuador at 12am (11pm in Ecuador), where as I was suppose to arrive at 9:50pm (8:50 pm in Ecuador). I was very proud of myself that I did not panic. I remained calm, but I shed a few tears of homesickness like everyone does, that didn’t last long. I called home to let my parents know that I had arrived safely, and told them about the situation that was going on, they just encouraged me to stay strong.

The following day my host dad Raphael and sister Natalia came and collected me from Guayaquil, and we took a private bus to the small town of Machala, the place I now call home. After a 3 hour bus ride we had finally arrived to Machala. Once we arrived I was greeted by my host mom Consuelo, who is one of the most beautiful people you will ever meet, Dominica the little sister that I never had and Sebastian my brother, who is fluent in English being that he took part in the Rotary Youth Exchange last year, where he lived in Minnesota. They were so happy that I arrived on the day that I did, because my sister Natalia was having her going away party, and they wanted to show me how Ecuadorians throw a party, may I say it was AMAZING! I truly enjoyed myself - all of their friends were so nice and extremely friendly, just about everyone at the party tried to have a conversation with me, they truly made me feel special.

The next day (Sunday) my family had a barbeque in honor of my arrival, and a bon voyage for Sebastian because he was going to university in the capital that same day.

Monday my host parents and sister had to go to Guayaquil because they had a meeting with the US Consulate, but I stayed home with the maids and got to practice my Spanish on them, also two girls that I had met at the party came over and hung out with me. Later that evening my chairman and his family took me to dinner at an Ecuadorian café, it was one of the cutest cafes I had ever seen (it was named “Aroma café”), and then to the port for some sightseeing.

Tuesday morning I went to a basketball game at my sister’s school, that was quite entertaining. Later that day my host mom, my sister and myself went back to Guayaquil, but this time we went to pick up my sister’s passport and had lunch, at a five star restaurant; from there we went sightseeing.

Wednesday I helped my sister pack for her trip to Colorado, and the entire family took a private bus again to Guayaquil, but this time it wasn’t really a fun trip, it was rather sad because we were seeing my sister off, she was very strong, and I wish her all the best in her year abroad. I’m sure she will make her parents proud.

Thursday my little sister Dominica and I watched Dora the Explorer all day, I never thought I’d find myself watching Dora the Explorer but guess what - it's so helpful! And being that my sister attends a bilingual school she tried to translate for me, it was too cute I must say.

Today I went and looked around my new school, it’s so different but I'm very excited to start on September 8th. Being that I have a two week vacation before I start school my family is taking me to Quito for a week’s long vacation, I am very excited.

October 9 Journal

 I've been in Ecuador almost 8 weeks now, I know I'm overdue on writing my second report, but I've been extremely busy and have encountered minor problems along the way.

On August 24th my host mother, host sister and I traveled to Quito for 15 days, Quito was extremely cold, especially from an island girl's point of view. Being that my host mom is from Quito, I had the opportunity to meet most of her family, and joined along in their family activities. Quito was truly an experience that I will never forget; after only being in Quito for 2 hours my computer crashed, and I ended up losing all of my files, it took 4 and a half weeks to get it fixed and returned to me in Machala.

I arrived back in Machala on Sunday September 7th, and was very excited about starting school the next day, but I had a little problem, I had no school uniform and my new school apparently was extremely strict. The following day my host mom and I went and looked around the school, then went downtown in search of a uniform. I found out that here in Machala all uniforms are handmade, so this meant putting off another day of school, seeing that I now had to wait in line for my uniform to be made. I officially started school on Wednesday September 10th, even though I still did not have a uniform (a Rotary club official spoke with the director of my school and she allowed me to wear a white polo with jeans for my first 2 days).

I attend Marcel Laniado de Wind, and I must say for the first time in my life, I LOVE GOING TO SCHOOL. The students are so nice and so helpful, and everyday I meet someone new. It's funny because most of the exchange students attend my school as well, and it's pretty obvious at my school who the exchange students are because we all look so different. All of the boys are extremely tall and have blonde hair and the girls are all shaped in their own unique way. I live on the same street as my school so I walk to and from school every day with my host mom and host sister. My school begins at 6:30am and ends at 12:30pm everyday. My school, at 6:35am every morning, locks the gates and if you are late they make you stand outside of the gate until 7am. Then you have to pay one dollar and they call your parents. I would have been broke or died if they did this at my old high school in the Bahamas, in fact if they did this to any school in the Bahamas the school would make quite a profit. Every time that you are absent from school or go home sick, your parents have to pay $1 for a sick note or a letter explaining why their child was not at school. I find these rules very interesting and different, but I know it's all apart of a learning experience.

I have been attending my Rotary Club's Interact meeting every Wednesday and it has been so interesting. The people in my Interact Club are so sweet and helpful and they all want to know who you are, where you're from. They are so interested in getting to know you better, and hearing about your experience so far, seeing that most of them are interested in taking part in The Rotary Youth Exchange Program in the near future.

My weekends have been so much fun and so busy at the same time, everyone has been inviting me to "fiestas" (you probably refer to them as parties). I'm extremely friendly with the other exchange students in my Rotary Club, and we always spend time together. For example we always go to the mall together, the cinema or Jambeli which is an island where the beach is. In order to get to Jambeli you must take a ferry from the port, the port is about 15 minutes away from my house, and the boat ride is approximately 30 minutes and only $2 roundtrip. I've been to Jambeli now 3 times, once with my friends from school, and another time with the exchange students from my Rotary Club and once with my host family when my host grandparents were visiting.

I've been attending a lot of formal Rotary events, and I must admit those have been some of the most fun times I've had here in Ecuador. My fellow club members are so much fun to be around and it is a joy to hold a conversation with them. In fact, I attend all of the Rotary meetings, every Thursday night from 8pm to 12am (I know it's long, but it actually doesn't start until 10 - here in Ecuador everyone is always late, so they say 8 and it begins at 10). My Rotary Club enrolled the four exchange students, in our club, in Spanish lessons 3 times a week for 2 hours each day. Then twice a week we have dance classes where we learn how to dance the native dances, like meringue, salsa and reggae ton. Sadly I must admit none of us have any rhythm so it's very funny to watch us "TRY" and dance at our dance classes.

Two Sundays ago, my second host family invited me along with three other exchange students to the "Cascadas de Manuel" which are the waterfalls of Machala. This day consisted of pure dirt and water, and coming from a girly girl, IT WAS AMAZING! We traveled to the cascades on the back of my host uncles' truck, (what they didn't tell us was that we were going to be driving through dirt roads in order to get there). When we arrived at the cascades we were all covered in dirt and it was pouring rain, but we were so excited to start our hike to the waterfalls. We hiked for about 2 hours straight in the pouring rain only stopping to take photos and swim in the different waterfalls. After we saw all of the waterfalls we hiked back to where the car was parked, and we had a native Ecuadorian lunch. I must say this was the most exciting experience that I have encountered along my journey so far, and I am so thankful to have a host family as generous as they are, and I am looking forward to learning and part taking in more Ecuadorian activities with them.

I love the Ecuadorian food, lunch is the most important meal of the day. Everyday soup is served before the main course as well as a salad, the main course always contains white rice and beans, plantain and some kind of meat or a ceviche which is similar to conch salad minus the conch.

I think I am adjusting to this new culture very well, I know it takes time, and in time I will be fluent in their language and fully accustomed to their culture. The one thing that I've learnt is that if an Ecuadorian tells you something starts at a certain time or they are going to pick you up at a certain time, start getting ready at that time because Ecuadorians don't "know time." They are officially worse than Bahamians. :)

Last but not least I have to let you all know, I am having the time of my life. I have new friends and a Rotary club that expresses a true interest in helping me succeed in learning the language and culture. I've learnt one thing along the way: you will encounter problems with everything that you do, you just have to be strong, have faith, and believe in yourself and in the end everything will work out just fine.

P.S. I just found out my first official Rotary trip is next weekend, and I am so excited. All 200 exchange students in Ecuador are going to meet in Manabí (which is the beaches) for a weekend of fun and Rotary activities, I am so excited!!

Thank you once again Rotary for this life changing experience.  

November 25 Journal

 October was one of the busiest months ever! But I must admit, it was soo much FUN!!

The fun month of October began when my second host family invited me along with two of my friends (exchange students) to Cuenca for the weekend (Cuenca is a province here in Ecuador). Cuenca was amazing!! Unlike the weather here in Machala, Cuenca was extremely cold, so that meant layers of clothes, socks and boots, something I wasn’t really looking forward to. We drove around the providence of Cuenca, visiting numerous towns, cities and historical buildings like churches and government buildings, and we tried dishes we never thought we’d ever be caught dead eating. Here on the coast seafood are the most famous dishes, but as for the people of Cuenca “Pig” is their dish of choice, my friends and I hesitated a bit about eating “Piel de chancho” (pig skin), but we figured why not eat it? The whole point of coming to Ecuador was to experience a new culture, which included trying new things; in the end I must admit I love pig!! It’s so delicious; it’s just not the healthiest meal.

After such a fun weekend in Cuenca, I figured Oh that was the most exciting thing about the month, but the best was yet to come. From the 17th of October to the 21st of October, I had my first official Rotary trip. One hundred and twenty two Rotary youth exchange students from all over the world, living here in Ecuador, met in Portoviejo, Manabí, Ecuador, for a week of fun in the sun. Rotary had planned everything for us, from the minute we opened our eyes in the morning to the moment we closed them at night.

The trip officially began at 7am on October 17th, when the group of 11 exchange students here in Machala, 1 exchange student from Santa Rosa (a town outside of Machala) and 1 exchange student from Pasaje (another town outside of Machala) met at one of the Rotary clubs here in Machala. We took off for our 8 hour journey to Portoviejo, Manabí, Ecuador at 8am; we made one stop along the way at a gas station where we all pigged out on empanadas and ice cream, we didn’t arrive in Portoviejo until 5:30pm. Once we arrived in Portoviejo we went straight to our hotels where we met the other one hundred and nine exchange students, some we had already met before from traveling together and others we were eager to get to know, and hear about their experiences here in Ecuador so far.

That evening we all got dressed and went to a fellow Rotarian's house, where we ate dinner in his garden, it was fun, we introduced ourselves to the group and met our chaperones as well as heard about the exciting things we were going to be doing that weekend. The second day consisted of a parade through the streets of Portoviejo, because it was The Fiestas of Portoviejo; we all marched in our Rotary Blazers carrying our countries' flags. After the parade, we all traveled to another town in Manabí, Monticristi. In Monticristi we had a group photograph session with our flags and Rotary blazers. We stayed in Monticristi for two hours, where we did some sightseeing and souvenir shopping, Monticristi is actually known for its famous Sombreros. After we all purchased our sombreros, we got back on the buses and headed to Manta (one of the most famous cities in Manabi, it's known for its beaches). In Manta we ate lunch at a restaurant on the beach with other fellow Rotarians from all across Ecuador, being that there was a Rotary conference taking place in Manta that weekend. Later that evening we got back on the buses and headed to Puerto Lopez. Puerto Lopez was so beautiful, we stayed in cabanas overlooking the beach, and it was so peaceful. Our trip to Puerto Lopez was so much fun, we had a lot of free time in, where we all relaxed on the beach, went swimming in the coldest water I had ever been in with 4 to 5ft waves, and walked around the small town sightseeing. Our last night we had a talent show, where we did something together in groups by your country, being that I’m from a multi district, I was put in the group with the Americans, we sang the American national anthem, but I’m thinking for our next trip, I will ask to do something solo and rather more Bahamian. The next day was another calm and peaceful day - some played beach sports, while others just laid on the beach hoping to catch some sun, later that evening we returned to Portoviejo. Later that evening we returned to our first hotel, where we all got dressed up in our finest attire and went to an evening dedicated to exchange students, this evening included a cultural folk act, and election of the king and queen of the trip (I was actually one of the top 3 finalists) dinner and a lottt of dancing. The next morning we said our goodbyes, some shed tears while others exchanged numbers and email addresses hoping to stay in touch with our found friends, and hopefully one day visiting each other in our different cities throughout Ecuador.

Nope October is not over as yet! After our fun week in the providence of Manabí, we had another 8hour bus ride back to Machala, where we reflected on our trip and planned on going on more trips, but just the small group from Machala, we thought it was fun to plan the trips but there’s no way we will actually get to go on these trips, but guess what we did! Last week Sunday the small group of us from Machala packed up into a bus with our chairman’s and their spouses and we went to Pinas (a town about 1 hour away from Machala, this was actually the town I was suppose to live in) and Zaruma (another town outside of Machala approximately 2 hours away). In Pinas we walked around the small town of approximately 3 thousand inhabitants. We left Pinas and set out for Zaruma, we stopped in towns along the way, and just did some sightseeing. In Zaruma we visited the Mines of Ecuador then went to a mini water park, the trip was both educational and fun. We are all looking forward to the rest of our trips together.

January 12 Journal

 Christmas, once only known as a festival from the Christian Church commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, now celebrated on December 25th, a holiday secularized and dominated by gifts, the togetherness of family, decorated trees and jolly ole Santa Claus.

Christmas was somehow totally different this year, but absolutely amazing. This year I found myself in another country, filled with customs that I was not used to, especially around this time of year. Usually every kid in the United States and The Bahamas break from school around the 17th of December until the 4th of January, honestly I thought this was a custom that was common in almost every country, OH BOY didn’t I get a reality check, in some parts of Ecuador you don’t get a break from school during the Christmas season, here in my city we only had the 25th, 31st and 1st off from school. But being that I didn’t spend my Christmas here in Machala, I was given an unofficial Christmas break. My family and I spent the holidays in Quito, being that they are originally from Quito.

Here in Ecuador, the Christmas festivities are usually celebrated on Christmas Eve. My host family made my Christmas special and absolutely spectacular. I had a brother who was able to relate to the emotions that were racing around in my head, because he had been on exchange the previous year, my host parents also knew how my parents felt because their daughter is currently on exchange and this was also her first Christmas away from home. My Christmas began with reciting Novena, which is a religious tradition where you recite stories about the birth of Jesus Christ, there is a story for each night of Christmas and it begins 9 days before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve, followed by the exchanging for Christmas presents and a traditional Christmas dinner. On Christmas day, family and I visited the Mitad del Mundo. The Mitad del Mundo is the line in which the equator passes through Ecuador.

New Years Eve, the night of December 31st, is celebrated at midnight often with merrymaking to usher in the new year. Typical new years for me usually consist of a family dinner in an elegant restaurant with my family and family friends, afterwards drinking champagne while watching fireworks, and the traditional screaming of Happy New Year while giving everyone hugs and kisses, then off to parties with friends or family. But this year was nothing like that; sadly I must say it was so much better!!

On Christmas eve my entire Ecuadorian family gathered at the house of my great grand aunt, where we built dummies “Ano viejos” from old clothes, stuffed with newspaper along with wishes that we DID NOT WANT to happen in the new year. At 11:30 we began burning the dummy in front of the house. A tradition here in Ecuador is you have to jump through the flame while the dummy is burning, and you must keep jumping through it until it is completely burnt. It’s an old knight’s tale here in Ecuador, that if you don’t jump through the flame you will have bad luck for the New Year. Two minutes before new years, my host great grand aunt brought out plates with twelve grapes on each plate. I was under the impression that you were to just take a grape or 2, so I took one grape from one of the plates and everyone just laughed and hugged me, and I asked my host mom what happened what did I do?, and she explained the tradition to me. Everyone is suppose to take a plate of twelve grapes and two minutes before new years you must eat the grapes and after you eat each grape you must make a wish for the new year, each grape signifies a different month in the new year. At midnight we did fireworks and we jumped up and down screaming Feliz Ano! followed by hugs and kisses. Later on there was a small family party at my aunt's house where we ate and danced the night away LITERALLY! We danced until 5:30 am. My New Years was truly like no other, and I am so thankful that I was able to spend it here in Ecuador.

Within the 15 days I spent in Quito, my family really did their part in helping me to get to know Quito and a lot of the history behind Ecuador. I visited places such as Cotopaxi, the historical center, which consisted of churches and houses dated as far back as the 18th century, the virgin of Quito, Mitad del mundo, a souvenir market and an old theatre; considering my love for theatre that was truly my favorite part of Quito. I had the opportunity to see a typical Ecuadorian play and it was HERMOSAAAAA! (Beautiful).

I’ve come to the conclusion that this year I did not celebrate Christmas or New Years and have Santa Claus come down my chimney. I experienced something totally different. I celebrated Navidad and Fin de Ano and received gifts from no other than Papa Noel!! When I say that this Christmas/New Years was truly like no other, I’m sure that each and every one of my fellow exchange students can agree with me on that one, it was filled with memories that will last a lifetime.

March 29 Journal

 These 7 months have gone by so fast, it feels like just yesterday I was filling out an application to become a Rotary Youth Exchange student. And now in less than 3 months I will be getting on a plane saying goodbye to two amazing families and all of my new friends.

In the beginning of January, I switched families. Here in Ecuador we only have 2 families, and I had gotten so attached to my first family, that it was hard not only for me but for my first family as well to watch me pack my suitcases!! (Yes when I arrived I arrived with 3 suitcases and switched with about 8 all together haha!!) and walk out the door. My first host family insisted on driving me to my second house, as I got out of the car and walked up the stairs to my new apartment, I reflected back to August 15th the day that I embarked on this wonderful journey. I remembered saying good bye to my family as I walked up the escalator looking back at them, remembering the tears just running down my face and my mom crying and telling me everything is going to be fine, and I will have an amazing experience and make her so proud. As I walked up the stairs to my new apartment, I couldn’t help but look back at my host mom, she also had tears running down her face and she too shared some words of encouragement.

I have been living with my new family for exactly 2 months now and it has been amazing so far. I feel that I fit in so well with this family because we are all so much alike, my host father is rather a quiet person, my host mom is both beautiful on the inside and outside - she’s your typical girly girl, but what can I say I’m exactly the same, I think that’s why we get along so great, because we both love the same things. As you all know I’m an only child, so I’ve never really had a brother or sister growing up, so this exchange year has given me the opportunity to know what it feels like to have siblings, and I absolutely love it. I currently have a 16 year old sister and a 10 year old brother, what’s so different with my siblings in this family from my siblings in my first family, is that I’m closer in age with my siblings, so it’s easier to talk to them, and hang out with them. I am extremely close with my 16 year old host sister, she is like one of my best friends here - we can talk about everything together, unlike her mother she’s not your average prep, so we don’t go shopping a lot lol.

Towards the end of January, I witnessed the customs of an Ecuadorian funeral, when one of my fellow Rotarians passed away. Unlike funerals in the Bahamas there rituals are somewhat different. Here in Ecuador funerals are usually held on a Friday, so the night before the funeral everyone gathered in a chapel, dressed in white. That evening we prayed for the soul of our deceased love one, and we drank wine and ate bread while the family of the deceased love one were given gifts and prayed for by a priest. That Friday morning we all got dressed in black and gathered in our Rotary Club hall, in the hall there was the coffin, a priest, a group of school kids of whom were going to perform a musical piece, and a good amount of people of whom gathered to show there respect. The service in the Rotary Club lasted for two hours, after that service we all assembled across the road in the cathedral, where there was a regular mass, after the mass we marched in the road singing hymns to the graveyard. At the graveyard people shared passed memories that had been spent with the now deceased. At first I was a bit skeptical about going to someone’s funeral who I did not know, but I was so caught up in getting to learn more about the culture that I am living in, that I attended. I felt the pain of the family members because I too lost a grandfather just last year before I embarked on my journey.

Not only did I attend an Ecuadorian funeral, in February I attended an Ecuadorian wedding. Here in Ecuador the bride and groom actually get married one month before the actual wedding ceremony, the bride, groom, his immediate family and her immediate family assemble at the court house where they are married by the justice of the peace, and within that month the justice of the piece checks up on them every week to see how they are doing as a married couple. On the day of the wedding ceremony, the bride, groom, and their immediate family assemble in a church where the priest prays over them, and prays for a successful marriage. On the night of the wedding ceremony there is a huge party, and that’s when they invite their friends and family, and the bride, groom and their bridal party then dress up. At the ceremony the bride and groom renew their vows with the justice of the peace who married them the month before, and then they party into the early hours of the next morning.

In the end of January we broke from school for vacations for 2 months!! During the month of February I did a lot of traveling with my new family, we went to the beautiful city of Cuenca for a week. Then towards the end of February we celebrated Carnival!! Which I must admit was my favorite week here in Ecuador so far. Carnival was amazing, here in Ecuador Carnival starts on the 21st of February until the 23rd, here on the coast of Ecuador the young people throw eggs, sugar, flour, water balloons, and foam from a can on you when you're walking in the road or evening driving (how crazy is that!). For Carnival my family took me to Salinas, Salinas is one of the most famous cities in Ecuador because that’s where the most famous beaches are located. It felt like every Ecuadorian was in Salinas, because it was packed!!! There was hardly any room on the beach to lie around, and people were just walking past throwing water, flour, eggs, or foam at you. But I can’t lie - my siblings and I participated in it as well, and it was soo much fun.

The last weekend in February, two of my exchange friends and I went to Guayaquil for a week, to visit my friend's host sister, who went on youth exchange 4 years ago in Florida. That week was soo much fun, we hung out and got to know the exchange students in Guayaquil, as well as played tourist by visiting all of the touristic sites and taking pictures of everything . My friends and I have already planned on returning my last weekend here in Ecuador because we had soo much fun.

I’ve realized that I’m officially in the last quarter of my year as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Ecuador, these last 7 months have been amazing, and memories were made. I’m sad that I leave kind of early, but I am overwhelmed with happiness because I was given such a wonderful opportunity.

April 24 Journal

 I feel as if I’m months behind because there’s so much that I have not had the chance to tell you about this last month.

Towards the end of March, the 20th of March to be exact, I received one of best gifts in the whole of Ecuador. My mom, dad and grandmother came to visit me for 9 days. It was amazing; we spent 2 days in Guayaquil, 4 days in Quito, 2 days in Machala and 1 day in Cuenca. Those 9 days went by faster than I can count to 9.

The first day I took them to The Malecon 2000, Parque Historico (Historic Park) and the famous Iguana Park in Guayaquil. The Malecon 2000 is outdoor facility on the waterfront; it was built to make you feel as if you were on a cruise ship due to the current of the water. The Malecon 2000 has an underground shopping mall, restaurants, an IMAX theatre and art galleries. The Historic Park is a zoo along with a museum teaching you about old Guayaquil and art galleries showing what the old city looked like. The Iguana Park, is a park in the center of Guayaquil that has very old trees and in these trees live iguanas, there are over a hundred iguanas in this park and they walk around as if its their home (I mean technically it is their home but basically they are just letting you know its their home), they walk over your feet, on the side of you and everything - it's very interesting to say the least.

Later that evening we went to El Cerro, which is where the two shanty towns of Guayaquil join by a lighthouse. In order to reach the lighthouse from the actual road, you must walk up the 500 steps! Oh boy that was a journey, the cool thing about the 500 steps are that after every 50 steps there are restaurants and bars. The second day we just spent relaxing at our hotel, along with a little bit of shopping, later that evening we got on a plane and went to the capital of Ecuador, Quito. Quito was really cold!! But the trip was still overwhelming, we stayed at the Marriot hotel which was in walking distance of everything, but sadly in Ecuador it is very dangerous and everyone suggested don’t walk anywhere, so we traveled a lot in taxi, in case I forgot to say here in Ecuador taxis are extremely cheap - the most you will spend on a taxi is $3. While we were in Quito we visited sites such as, Mitad del Mundo which is where the line of the equator passes through Ecuador, Teleferico which is an amusement park that has cable carts that take you through the mountains and gives you a beautiful view of the city of Quito, La Rhonda which happens to be a street in downtown Quito, which is said to be the very first street in Quito, all of the 204 inhabitants which were established when the city was found in 1534 all lived on that very street. To this very day native indigenous people still live in these homes, most of the homes have been reconstructed but it is against the law to reconstruct the balconies of these homes because they represent the Old Quito. While in Quito we also visited The Virgin of El Panecillo and The Historic center. The Virgin of El Panecillo is a monument of the Virgin Mary. The monument stands on top of a globe, standing on top of a chained crocodile, symbolizing her triumph over evil. The monument now decorates the main altar at the Church of St. Francisco. In the Historic center there lives the president of Ecuador, the famous cathedral, and all of the old traditional catholic churches that are over 300 years old.

After 4 days in Quito we got on an airplane and headed back to Guayaquil where we got in a private bus organized by my host family and traveled 3 hours to Machala. We arrived in Machala on a Thursday, and it just so happens that Thursday nights are my Rotary meetings, and my host family had gone out of their way to make that evening special for my family. My host mom and all of her friends cooked a fabulous meal along with a number of delicious appetizers, and cocktails. After the meeting all my Rotarian family along with my family sang Karaoke, Oh my gosh this was truly a night to remember. My dad loves karaoke, but I could not have asked for anything more - it was a great night, I had fun and more important my family had a blast. The next day we woke up really early and my host family took us to the city of Cuenca, where we had lunch and just did a little bit of sightseeing, later that evening my chairman and counselor had invited my family and I along with the other 3 exchange students in my club to their house for dinner, that was also another special night as well as it was my family's last night in Ecuador. The last day we spent doing some last minute shopping, along with packing one of my suitcases to take home, being that I came with a lot of clothes as well as bought a lot of clothes here.

After a week of translating and extremely cold weather, and being a little sad that I had to say goodbye to my parents AGAIN, my counselor suggested that we take a trip to the beach!! So me and the other 3 exchange students packed our swimsuits and sun block and headed to Salinas!! Salinas is about 4 hours from my city Machala. We spent 5 days at the beach and it was amazing, I never realized until now how much I’ve missed the beach, and like we all know their beach is nothing like home but it was nice I must say. While in Salinas we decided to take a trip to other cities nearby like Montanita and Playas, those cities are also very famous for their beaches and were really pretty. It just so happened we were in Salinas for the right weekend!! Ecuador was hosting the annual International Surf Competition so we were surrounded by surfers 24/7. It just so happens that one of my friends from France went to school with one of the professional surfers when they were little and they bumped into each other while we were at the beach so we got invited to all kinds of surf parties and we got free passes to the actual competition, it truly was an amazing weekend. Oh how could I leave out the best part, being that we were hanging out with one of the main professional surfers while she was being interviewed by ESPN they decided to interview my friend and I as well being that we’re also international students in Ecuador.

I must say I am truly enjoying me last few weeks here in Ecuador, and everyone is really going out of their way to make sure that happens, and I am just so thankful that I am getting to enjoy this wonderful experience. I am even more excited because next weekend I go to the Galapagos Islands for my last official Rotary trip, and I know that is going to be a blast.

Thank you for everything.

Un beso de Ecuador!


May 5 Journal

 This has officially been the best week of my entire exchange year! Why you may ask? Because I just recently went on my last official Rotary trip to The Galapagos Islands, and it was incredible.

The Galapagos Islands are a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, west of Ecuador. They are known for harboring unique species of wildlife, especially the giant tortoise. The native giant tortoise from the Galapagos Islands grow up to 1.2 m/4 long and weighs up to 500lbs.

There are no words to express how amazing my trip was. My trip lasted a total of 5 days, and each day we participated in different activities along with island hopping.

Friday the 24th of April all 10 of the exchange students in my city gathered at my Rotary club at 6am to embark on our journey. It took us 3 hours from Machala to Guayaquil where we met up with thee other 30 exchange students from Santa Rosa, Pasaje, Portoviejo, Manta, Guayaquil and Bahia, we were all so excited because not only had we not seen each other since our very first Rotary trip to Manta back in October, but we were going to be able to share this wonderful experience together.

After a 2hour flight we had arrived in Balto. Balto was an island that consisted no more than just an airport! No homes, restaurants, nor shops, only the official airport. After we all cleared customs, and picked up our luggage we all gathered on a huge tour bus, that drove us directly to the tip of the island where we caught a ferry to the island of Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz was the island where we spent most of our time; we stayed at a quiet little hotel directly in front of the port. Once we arrived at our hotel, we only had time to put away our things and get back on the bus, from the minute we landed every second until we had to get back on the plane was planned for us. Our first activity was a trip to the Charles Darwin station. The Charles Darwin station works closely with The Galapagos National Park in protecting the marine reserve. The Charles Darwin station is famous for being home to the famous “Lonesome George”. “Lonesome George” is a giant tortoise and conservation icon, suspected to be the last surviving of his subspecies, he is reported to be 90 years old, and is still in good health. Not only did we visit Lonesome George, but we had the opportunity to take pictures with his other 8 friends.

After a very interesting tour of The Charles Darwin station we walked the 7km back to our hotel, where some relaxed where as others including myself took a boat ride to one of the nearby beaches. This beach was truly something alright, while swimming in the water we met some very friendly creatures by the name of marine iguanas. I had never seen anything like that, at first I was very freaked out, but after a few minutes I was just amazed. Later that evening after dinner (every night was pretty much the same) we were free to roam around the island, as well as do a little souvenir shopping.

The next day we woke up for breakfast at 7am, then later on assembled at the port, where we boarded a beautiful yacht that took us to a nearby cay where we went snorkeling and swam with SEA LIONS! I think the best words to describe that moment is super chevere!! (Coolest thing ever). After swimming with sea lions we visited one of the most famous beaches in The Galapagos, it is prohibited to swim at this beach because the current is very strong, the famous thing about this beach are the mariguanas (Marine Iguanas) they were literally everywhere! The marine iguanas look so different from regular iguanas, sadly I must say they are 10 times uglier, they are smaller in size and are black, but when they change colors they change to a dark gray.

Later on that afternoon after we ate lunch at one of thee most beautiful beaches in the Galapagos, then we took a nice long walk to a Natural Piscina which is an enclosed “pool” with half water from the ocean and half natural, the pool was crystal clear and approximately 30ft deep with cliffs 30ft high in which we were able to jump from, it was incredible, the only thing I did not like too much was the fact that the water was freezing cold, and once I got in and jumped a few times from the cliffs the temperature just remained the same, but it was so much fun to say the least.

The next day like always we woke up at 7am and after breakfast we assembled in groups in front of the port, but this day went a little different than all the others, we took a yacht to another island that was 2 hours away. We did not actually walk around the island in fact, that island was only famous for their sharks. Apparently the sharks of the Galapagos Islands are not that aggressive, so we had the opportunity to swim with them, even though I was scared out of my mind and I kept saying that I was not going into the water, I went in, I remembered the point of my exchange year was to try and experience new things, and that was something new, so I gave it a try, I cannot lie - I think I lasted about 10 to 15mins in the water before I got back on the boat, but I just think I would have regretted it, If I had not given it a try. After an eventful morning of swimming with sharks, blue footed boobies (ducks) and sea lions, they decided to treat us to calm, relaxing afternoon just soaking in the sun rays and swimming at the beach.

The third and last full day, we went to Tortuga Bay (turtle bay). Tortuga Bay is a beach with crystal clear blue waters that actually resemble the beaches back home a bit; the only difference is you can swim with sea turtles. We had to hike about 12km to the beach in order to swim with the sea turtles, and then hike back to our hotel for a quick lunch, and then we were off to the tunnels. Later that evening, Rotary had organized a BBQ for us with Karaoke and dancing, oh boy that was a fun way to end off an amazing trip.

The following morning we left our hotel at 8am and did a little sightseeing together as a group as we headed to the airport. We arrived back in Guayaquil at 3pm; this was hard because we had just spent 5 incredible days together and now we had to say goodbye, some of us had to say goodbye maybe forever as for others it was see you later.

The trip to the Galapagos was everything I expected and more, an enjoyable time spent with new friends, experiencing new things. I don’t think I could have asked for anything more, maybe a little bit more sleep ha-ha because I can definitely say that no one really slept on that trip, we were up until 4 and 5 in the morning almost every night just talking and catching up on new things; crazy I know, but I am sure no one is surprised to hear that.

Oh I almost forgot to say, just this past Thursday I gave my official Rotary presentation about The Bahamas along with my experience here in Ecuador. I thought that it was just going to be a regular meeting and I would give my presentation, but oh wasn’t I wrong - we had a very special guest that evening. The Governor of Rotary in Ecuador just so happened to be visiting my club that evening and she stayed to hear my presentation ... can we say paranoia, I was soo paranoid and nervous that I was going to mess up. But guess what - the governor really liked my presentation and she invited me to lunch the following day, where she told me that I had advertised my country very well because I had persuaded her into considering taking a vacation to The Bahamas and she claimed that she doesn’t go on vacations, just Rotary trips, and apparently those are nothing close to vacations, hmmm sorry but I cant agree with her on that one ha-ha cause the one I am currently on has been one heck of a vacation, that I just don’t want to come to an end.