Well, I’ve again waited to tell about too many things, leaving this blog victim to my long-winded posts. I’ll try and briefly tell you about the last month here in Ecuador, which has been incredible to the point that I’ve neglected the world a bit. Don’t worry though, absentee ballot is in and I’m desperately searching for a way to be connected on November 4th, when I’m sure you will all be relieved to finally escape the advertising and campaigning and debating and general chaos. Suerte (may the force be with you).
After leaving the valley and our first host families, we travelled to the Oriente, better known to the world as the Amazon Basin. Our drive took us from 4000-1500m in just over 5 hours. The change in scenery was incredible, but as the air became thicker, the bugs got bigger. They were good reminders of where I actually was. Our rides in longboats down the Arajuno and Napo Rivers were also pinches on the arm as I took in images I had only ever seen through film and photo. One night was spent in an Eco lodge off one of these rivers, where Tom (an expat from John Day, Oregon) had built one of the most beautiful hardwood resorts to educate tourists on the delicate ecosystems and communities in the area. Mona, his pet wooly monkey, was definitely one of the most amazing friends I’ve ever made and despite almost having all my hair pulled out, I felt complete in having travelled to the Amazon. We had the oppotunity to spend a day in a small village upstream, teaching mini math lessons and helping to paint the school. The president of the community also gave us an extensive tour of the communal gardens, where all the food the community consumes is grown–pretty incredible to think of their sustenance-based lifestyle. Despite the knowledge of the land posessed by this community, there were also some incredible hardships existing that one day of painting seemed to do absolutley nothing about. Alcoholism is a big problem, along with difficulties in access to education and economic gain. The eco-tourism industry looks to help solve some of these issues, but I definitely left confused and troubled about how a community of indigenous people like this has suffered from globalization.
That experience was a transition for our academic program, which started the following week in Quito with new families. Each day we have had 2-3 lectures given by experts in fields such as Ecuadorean politics, women’s rights, development, afro-ecuadorean issues, economy, and other broad and pertinent topics. Our discussions have been rather charged and it’s been interesting combining this classroom knowledge with all that’s experienced in the culture itself. I know I already said this, but my experience of Quito has been more than amazing…My host family is so excited about showing me how real quitenos get along, with my host sister definitely going above and beyond to make sure I see all there is to see in 3 1/2 short weeks. One weekend, we crammed 12 into a small hostel in a hippie eco-tourism town about 2 hours outside of Quito. I earned the role of poser-quitena, desperately trying to keep up with the slang and joking of these very latin, very beautiful people. Waterfalls, rafting in tire tubes, and dancing ’til the discoteca closed made it all complete.
Last week we had our last ‘excursion’ together as a group and travelled South to Guayaquil, Ecaudor’s largest city that sits in a large port off the coast. After a night in this tropical city, we hopped on a bus and were dropped off two by two in small villages along the southern coast. My friend Sarah and I landed in Palmar, a small fishing village off the main highway. We stood there for a bit waiting for someone to take pity on us and ended up randomly meeting a PeaceCorps volunteer who had been living in the town for 10 months. We eventually got around to meeting up with Hannah, and spent 4 hours in her small apartment on the water drinking tea and finding our common love for adventure and people. I should stop to describe our purpose in Palmar, which was to live with our family and find out as much as possible about the town, developing a work journal that would legitimize any type of writing about the week. That sounds pretty dry. Really it was a week of living with the most generous family in the world, taking walks on the beach everyday and hiking the bluffs to look out on the only mangrove forest left in the province. The people in Palmar were so tranquilo (kind of like calm) and generous with their information, laughs, and plates of rice that Sarah and I mechanically found an appetite for every 3-4 hours during the day. The week definitely changed me in ways I can’t even begin to articulate–I hold on tightly to my shells and jewelry from all the children who would follow us around as we explored this small community on the Pacific coast. Our last day was a rush of beach walking and futbol games, where we definitely earned some giggling with our tall and awkward playing. We pushed to the last minute, tears running down my face as we walked to catch the last bus of the day to go back to our group.
Through all of these experiences, the strongest emotions have come as I leave, mostly because in the act of leaving I prove that I have an option to escape to an incredibly blessed an comfortable life. The same was true in the Amazon, and I’m sure I will feel the weight again in the month to come. It is a feeling that can lead to hopelessness, to an incredible sadness that you are briefly looking at these individuals through a window with lots of knowledge about possible solutions, but with really no working ability to send the kids to school, to build the homes, to deny the fact that if their life is white then your’s is black. They’re dilemmas that never really have fixed answers. What I am learning though is how much I have to learn from people with such a different and beautiful energy for life. Humility is definitely something I get handed each day.
I’ve included some photos again because they’re probably more interesting than getting through this novel I’ve just written. Some are of Cotopaxi where we camped next to some Incan ruins this last weekend. It definitely made me feel small and humble standing next to the point of the Earth’s surface that is farthest from its core and closest to the sun. If that was my home, I probably would have thought that God was the sun too. The wild horses and silence of the grassland was truly unbelievable and seemed to be a culmination to a month of extra-ordinary experiences.
Again, thanks for reading and for the e-mails! I’ll write once more before next week, after which point I might not have much internet access. All of these people and places are incredible, but I can’t help miss you all in the midst of them. Love, peace, and sun!