Viajes de una gringa

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Feeling very grateful

for everything I learned this year, and especially for the people that came into my life. I believe everyone we meet has something to teach us, and there is a reason they are in our lives - for however long they are meant to be. 

I met a lot of new people while in Ecuador: my fellow WorldTeach volunteers and CJ and Lee, our directors, all of my friends and co-workers at ILE, Pilar and her daughters at Quinta Dorada cafe, other travelers from around the world, and countless others in Riobamba that have impacted my life this year.

They have shown me remarkable generosity and love, and they make me want to be a better person. Those are the kind of people I hope to always be surrounded by. 

Filed under grateful blessed people lessons living Ecuador

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The Amazon

This post is looong overdue, but before Nora left to begin her travels, we went with Abby and a few other friends on a week-long trip from Banos, to Puyo, to Tena. 

After changing our minds repeatedly, and deciding between the mountains, coast, or jungle, we finally decided on the jungle. We spent the first night in Banos, indulging in the good food, clean air, and a comfortable hostel. The next morning we met up with Alexa and Zach and rented bikes to ride to Puyo, in the Amazon. The ride took about 6 hours total, including a stop for lunch, and, though exhausting, it was amazing to see the beauty of the natural world surrounding us, and to take our time seeing all there was to see. 

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The ride was harder than had been described to us, and the uphills were physically demanding. While Nora was a trooper (she’s an awesome biker, and even went on a 2.5-month long bike ride from Texas to Alaska!), the rest of us walked up many of them. There were moments when each of us thought of giving up and flagging down a bus, but in the end, I am proud to say we made it all the way to Puyo just in time to meet the car with all our bags. 

The next few days were spent in Puyo. Puyo was Nate’s site this year, and he showed us where he teaches and took us along the river through a beautiful walk. We even saw some of Ecuador’s military training there, climbing ropes and crossing the river!

The highlight of our time in Puyo was visiting the orchid gardens. The family who cares for the gardens has spent the past 25-30 years reviving the natural plants and insects in this part of the Amazon. They have done extensive research on the plants and life in the jungle, and their passion was obvious and heartwarming. These people have dedicated their whole lives to these gardens, and to the gentle and respectful research and care of the jungle. We spent a couple of hours touring the gardens, which felt like being immersed in the middle of the Amazon. We ate leaves and plants that tasted like cinnamon, lemon, garlic, you name it. Our guide pointed out medicinal plants and strange fruits, and we saw and heard monkeys from a distance. 

From Puyo, we took a bus to Tena, a bit further into the Amazon. We got the number of a tour guide from Nate, and spent the next few days with him. The vibe in Tena was relaxed. People were friendly, always smiling at us in a neighborly way. They seemed completely at ease, We met our tour guide, Alex, for beer and discussed what we wanted to see. 

We spent all of the following day on the river, whitewater rafting, and the rapids were bigger and more difficult than they had been in Banos. We each took turns sitting on the front of the raft, and Alex pulled every trick he could think of to dump us out into the water. 

Abby and me in the raft.

Riding on the front of the raft.

Some of Alex’s tricks to get us into the water!

It was a fun, eventful, and exhausting day and after a shower, some food, and rest, we were ready for the next adventure the next day: a jungle tour. I’ll save that for the next post!

Filed under Amazon Puyo Banos Tena jungle orchids rafting Ecuador adventure nature

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The End & the Beginning

My time in Riobamba is coming to an end. I have just under 2 weeks left here, and a lot of goodbyes coming up. But it’s not sad, at least not right now. I am excited for what lies ahead - traveling, seeing my family and friends, going home, embarking on a new journey training as a yoga teacher, and all the unknown awaiting me in the days ahead. Don’t get me wrong - it will be difficult to leave my friends here. They have become my world this year. But maybe, just maybe, I am getting better at accepting the flow of change, and learning to trust that there is always more ahead. 

I have less than a week left of teaching, and I can’t believe how fast the time has passed. Before I leave Riobamba, Abby, Melanie and I are giving a speech at graduation - in Spanish! We have it written out in English, and will work on translating and practicing it this week. 

I went to my favorite cafe in Riobamba, Quinta Dorada, the past 3 days. Pilar, the owner, and her daughters are some of my favorite people in this small city. The other day Pilar asked me when I was leaving and then said, “Who am I going to serve cafe lattes to all the time? I need another gringuita, exactly like you. You have to come back and visit us, and stay for a while more.” She gave me a big hug and we went on our way, and it felt good to know my presence here will be missed as much as I will miss being here. 

It feels like I’ve been in Ecuador so long, and I miss home a lot. But I know that a few weeks after I arrive home, I will miss this. My life here, my friends, the culture, even when it drives me crazy, it warms my heart. This year brought a lot of challenges, and I have learned a lot about myself. There have been ups and downs, but I will remember this year with fondness, and use all that it taught me going forward. 

Here’s to continuing along the road - next stop Quito with my parents! I can’t wait to show them around this beautiful country and travel with them for the next couple of weeks!

Filed under journey the end & the beginning moving forward travel Riobamba Ecuador

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Spent all day today reading, lazing around at one of my favorite cafes in Riobamba, and then at my favorite park, taking in the sunshine and the joy of children running around, kicking soccer balls, chasing after dogs, and laughing. Watched a dog accidentally run into the pond while playing with another dog, went on a beautiful walk as the sun was setting, and came home to make empanadas with my host mom. I talked with her as we cooked, just the two of us, about life, family, dating and marriage, aging parents, tragedy, you name it. Then I had dinner with my host family, and retired to my room to look over my lesson plans and relax for the night. What a great Sunday.

Filed under Sunday rest reading cooking conversation cafes parks Riobamba

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This morning I had to say goodbye to one of my good friends in Riobamba. I met her just four months ago, but it’s crazy how close you can get to people in such a short amount of time. She went from being a complete stranger, to being my roommate, to being a good friend, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to share breakfast conversations, bus rides, river rafts, dance classes, and teaching tips with.

Nora moved in in January, and started teaching at ILE, where I work. As we both experienced the ups and downs of living abroad, her friendship brought me a lot of comfort. We have many similar interests, including yoga and meditation, the outdoors, rock climbing, hiking, traveling, etc. Nora, Hugo, and I always joke that we became the three adventurers, because it was always the three of us that wanted to climb, hike, and camp on the weekends. Every morning at breakfast, and at night after teaching, we would share conversations about travel, careers, lifestyles, relationships, and anything else that came to mind, and it was always nice to talk with someone who shared my understanding of life.

Today Nora left to start a new part of her journey, and travel around the country with her mom. Saying goodbye brought tears of both sadness and joy, and promises to see each other soon. It was weird to look at Nora’s empty room, and it will be weird to not hear her music playing or have her next door to share the funny things our students do, but I am excited for her and all the adventures she will have going forward.

I realized today it is going to be enormously difficult to leave Riobamba and Ecuador. This place has become another home, and I have made incredible friends that have found a permanent place in my heart. So many goodbyes at once will be a challenge for me, as I have always been emotional when it comes to goodbye. But that is travel, and that is life. People come into your life, grab hold of your heart, create unforgettable memories, teach you invaluable lessons, and then they go, for they have their own journeys ahead. I will go ahead in my own journey thankful for the memories and the friendships I have made this year. I used to kick myself for getting so closely attached to people, because they always left. Now, I am grateful for my emotional, crazy self because I have met people who have changed my world for the better.

Photo: Chao Norita!! Will miss ya big time

Filed under goodbye friends friendship travel relationships

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Yesterday I biked from the Andes to the Amazon. I saw beautiful scenery and enjoyed being outdoors all day, and the whole trip cost $9.

Today I went on a tour through a botanical garden in Puyo. The owners are regenerating lost plants from the rainforest, and they are so passionate about the plants, animals, and insects they study and grow.

Tomorrow I head further into the jungle to Tena, and this week I plan to river raft and go on a jungle tour.

Feeling so grateful for this experience. Living here makes me feel so alive. I can go anywhere and see amazing things. I can climb, hike, bike, raft, dance, eat, drink, talk, learn, meet people. It is incredible.

Filed under Ecuador travel jungle Amazon alive

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Easter, Riobamba’s Independence, Climbing, Camping, and a Trip to the ER

So, last weekend was eventful.

This year, Easter and Riobamba’s Independence Day fell on the same weekend, which meant lots of festivities, food, and excitement. 

During Holy Week, it is tradition in Ecuador to make fanesca, a rich soup, specially prepared with a number of ingredients, including figleaf gourd, pumpkin, and twelve different kinds of beans and grains including chochos, habas, lentils, peas, corn and others, together with bacalao (salted cod) cooked in milk. It is also generally garnished with hard boiled eggs, fried plantains, herbs, parsley, and empanadas. Nora and I helped our host mom prepare some of it, and our host mom and sister had spent the previous afternoon and all of Friday morning in preparation. We made enough for each family member to eat 2 or 3 servings (and there are seven of us!) It was delicious, though quite filling, and we found ourselves sleepy and sluggish afterward. Nora and I rested for a while before meeting some friends for a walk. 

The next morning our friend Abby came over to watch the first parade of the weekend. The parade was to celebrate Riobamba’s independence, and because we live in the center of the city, it passed right by our house. The family set up chairs on the balcony and outside on the sidewalk, and our host dad and brother had been collecting beer for the occasion all week. Some of the extended family came over a while later, and our friend Hugo joined us, as well. The parade lasted six hours! We sat in the warm sun and watched as dancers, drummers, professionals, and reinas (beauty queens) marched by, proudly representing their city. As the parade came to an end, our host mom put out sandwiches, potatoes, corn, and soda for everyone to enjoy. It was exciting to see the city come to life like that. It was a vibrant, joyful scene on every main road all weekend. 

Later that afternoon, our host sister, Andrea, invited Nora and I to Macaji, where there was a big fair, with some of her friends. Macaji had artisan vendors, animals, a military display, lots of food, and a concert. We actually ran into a vendor we recognized from the fair in Ayampe, and she was sweet as ever. After catching up, she gave us her card and told us not to lose touch. I love how friendly Ecuadorians are. :)

On Sunday we finally went on the camping trip we had been planning for months. After breakfast with the family, my host mom gave us little soy pancakes she made to take on the road. Nora, our friend Miia, Hugo and I met at the bus station with all our bags and set out for Acantilado. To get there we take a bus headed to Guaranda and get off on the side of the road when we see the trail. It’s far from everything and very serene. I feel lucky that Hugo and Ale introduced this amazing place to us. We set up the tent and then unpacked the food to make lunch. Nora commented that food always tastes better when camping and I tend to agree. 

Lunch time.

The day was perfect, though a little chilly. We had everything we needed. Hugo had bought fresh fruit and vegetables from the market and lent us all sleeping bags. Nora brought fresh bread. We packed tea and mugs, and a large bottle of wine to split at night by the campfire. 

Miia set out on a hike up the mountain, and Hugo, Nora, and I went to climb. The climb was a bit scarier for me this time. It was windy, and climbing in the wind makes me feel vulnerable, like I might fall, even though I know I’m in the harness.

Once we reached the plateau, though, it was all worth it. The views of the surrounding mountain and valley were gorgeous, and it was incredibly peaceful being out in the mountain, feeling so small, and disconnected from everything. 

Hugo, Nora, and I on the plateau.

Nora and me.

The rock wall.

Up above the valley.

Amazing views.

Taking in the view.

After repelling back down the rock, it started raining a little and got very cold. We hurried back to our campsite where Miia had put all our bags under the shelter of the tent, and we made some tea to warm up. 

It was a lovely afternoon. We enjoyed each other’s company and conversation, with nowhere to be and nothing to do. 

Enjoying some tea and being in nature.

Miia staying warm in the tent.

We decided to make the campfire to warm up, and before it got dark. Hugo went to look for some wood and came back carrying a tree… casual. 

It took a while to get the fire going, but once we did we were all mesmerized. There is something magical about fires. Hugo and I made dinner and poured the wine, and the four of us sat around the fire, in the purest kind of happiness. We introduced Miia to s’mores and spent the evening happily drunk on chocolate, wine, conversation, and the beauty of Acantilado. We were lucky the clouds cleared for a while, revealing a a bright, starry sky. 

It had been a wonderful day. Unfortunately, a little while later, my stomach began to hurt, and the pain grew throughout the night. I tried to breathe through it, and took some medicine. A few hours later, I was in tears and couldn’t move. I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want to ruin our trip. I tried to go to sleep, but it hurt to lie down. After a while, it became clear that we’d have to leave. My friends were amazing. Hugo ran up the mountain to get cell phone service and call for help. Miia and Nora tried to soothe me and rubbed my back. They packed up all our things and when Hugo got back he guided me through the dark back to the street, carrying me when it hurt too much to walk. Nora and Miia carried the bags back to the road with what appeared to be superhuman strength, and Hugo’s mom came in a taxi to take me to a clinic back in Riobamba. 

Nora and Hugo took me to see the doctor. At this point it was 3am. No one had complained once. They were nothing but patient, helpful, and caring the entire time. I can’t imagine a better group to be stuck on a mountain with when you’re having incredible pain. 

The doctor was not the best, to say the least. Though I was speaking to him in Spanish, he ignored me most of the time, and talked mostly to Hugo, when he wasn’t on his cell phone. The nurse gave me an IV, except she didn’t put it into my vein, and when I woke up a few hours later, my arm was heavy and swollen. Hugo found the doctor, who apologized for messing up my IV, and told me the swelling would go down over the next 3 days. My stomach was feeling better, and he told me I would be able to go home soon. “But what happened?” I asked. I wanted to see a specialist and get some answers. He told us we could wait until 9am to see if the doctor came, but since it was a holiday (Monday was a day off for Fiestas de Riobamba) he wasn’t sure if the doctor would be coming at all. Frustrated, I decided to leave. I went home, cleaned the smell of campfire and dirt off of me, and slept until mid-afternoon. 

Though we had quite the adventure at the end of our camping trip, and it didn’t quite go as planned, I feel so fortunate to have such wonderful friends. They cared for me when I was pretty helpless, and comforted me through the whole ordeal.They are the definition of great friends. 

Overall, it was quite a weekend, filled with a lot of craziness and love. 

Filed under Fiestas de Riobamba Independence Day Easter Holy Week fanesca food Macaji fair climbing camping Acantilado nature sick friends friendship love

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Once again, my students put a smile on my face

Tonight in class my students had to create their own inventions, and then “sell” them to me through an advertisement. In pairs, they created a brochure with the name of their invention and a picture, and 10 reasons why I should buy it.

Yesterday my iPod was stolen during conferences. In both classes, one group created a “super cell phone” that is impossible to lose, and if anyone tries to steal it, it electric shocks their hands.

Then one of my students offered to let me use her phone to take a picture of the vocabulary we had written on the board. I always take a picture with my iPod to remember the definitions I gave them. She emailed me the photo after class and wrote this:

Hope you’re doing great, too bad what happened with your iPod.
You can take all the pictures you want with mine, I’ll mail them every day to this address.
Hope you get a new one soon :)
Have a good night

Their genuine kindness made my night when I was feeling pretty crappy. There are still so many good people in the world, and they haven’t let me forget that. :)

Filed under kindness students good people