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Journals from Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador

2010-04-14 Spring Break! Woot woot!

Hola todos! Welcome to a fun entry- spring break!!! Yay! I think that spring breaks can be broken into three groups (at least for me!): stay at home and chill, do Alternative Spring break and work your butt off for service, or go on vacation. Ive never really done the go on vacation thing. With 7 people in the family, vacations were expensive and staying at home was easier. So this year, I decided to go all out. I did all three! The first part of my break was spent with Un Techo Para mi Pais, the program that is similar to Habitat for Humanity. I loved it. We had over 500 university volunteers, and we built 120-something homes in four days. The homes are pretty simple- ten feet by I think thirty feet. Two windows and a door and a tin roof (that I helped build, haha!) But they are cozy and warm and better than living in a house twice the size with almost 20 other people as one of our families was doing. The conditions there weren't as bad as Mexico--I didn't see anyone living in boxes or underneath two garage doors propped up on one another. But the people here are very family and neighborhood oriented, so they tend to offer homes to those living on the streets even when they don't have space themselves. Hence, 25 people living in one house that is about the size of my three-person apartment at Linfield. Scary picture, huh? I built with another group called Amor Ministries during high school, as did a bunch of you. The Techo process is different from the Amor Ministries process, and I think I like Amor better. For Techo, we build the house lifted off the ground using wooden stakes that we bury in the ground and build the foundation upon. I like that better- it's cheaper than concrete, easier to maintain/move if the family decides to leave, and we don't have to wait for cement to dry. However, with Techo, we build two homes in four days because they hire a company to premake all the walls and floor. We don't build them; we just put them up and nail them together. So on the second morning, the house changes from having fifteen wooden stakes connected by boards to having a plank floor and four walls made from plywood within about an hour. It's so much faster, but it means that we only have two days to spend with the family and we really don't get to know them too well. It's kinda sad... Our first family didn't show up much at all. But the second family was a young couple, Rebecca and Ephraim, and their two kids, and they were great. On the first day with the second family, I went with Rebecca and her sister to prepare lunch for everybody. (Because lunch is the big meal here, we brought all of our food with us and cooked a giant lunch and took about an hour and a half break in the middle of the work day. Strange!) We were talking as we cooked, and I mentioned that I had never tasted the traditional meal of the area, called Cui. In case Katie hasn't already told you this story, Cui means guinea pig. It's a very special meal--the families raise guinea pigs all year long to eat during a single festival in November or when special guests come. But it's so rare that even when special guests come, only those guests eat Cui and the family eats chicken or no meat. Super important to them. And of course, because several of us had never tasted Cui, they slaughtered a bunch of their guinea pigs the next day, Easter Sunday, and cooked us a huge lunch of potatoes, bread, rice, and Cui. For a family with no money or food to spare, cooking for nine extra people was a big deal. And of course it was Cui so it was a very big deal. The funny part? Cui is disgusting. Stringy and chewy and it still had a foot... but we choked down every bite so we didn't offend the family! What a strange Easter Sunday! One of my favorite parts about Techo was the people I met and the fact that I spoke Spanish and nothing but Spanish for five days straight! It was lovely. I try to speak Spanish with my friends here, but there are an awful lot of students who just want to speak English, both students from the States who find it easier to communicate in English (which it is, but that's no excuse!) and Ecuadorians who want to practice (Many of them speak better English than we do Spanish!). So I end up using a lot of English. It was neat to be able to hold my own among the native Spanish speakers. I didn't understand any of the jokes they told at the camp, but the rest of it was just fine. It was really cool. And I finally made some Ecuadorian friends- they say they're going to take me to the jungle to see the Amazon again and go white water rafting before I leave. Should be a blast! I got back from Techo at about 11 pm on Easter Sunday and flew out at 9 am on Monday morning for Galapagos. That place is everything you've ever heard. The water is so clear- in some places, we went snorkeling and could see five to eight feet below us. But it's so dirty at the same time. Not from people, but with fish poop and dust and all sorts of lovely things. It's stupid, but that surprised me. I guess I thought that Galapagos fish would rather preserve their environment than go to the bathroom... We spent time on three different islands. Well, four, but only because the airport is on a different, tiny island called Baltra and we flew in and out from there. When I arrived, the group was on Isla Isabella, so I had to find my way from the airport, across Isla Santa Cruz, and across the water to Isabella. I was standing at the airport alone, waiting for my luggage, looking (I thought!) very confident and sure of myself, when a family approached me, told me that I looked lonely, and announced that they were going to talk to me. It turned out pretty cool. They gave me a ride to Porta Ayora, the main city of Santa Cruz and their hometown. Showed me the sites, showed me the places to buy cheap fruit, and helped me buy a ticket to Isabella. They were super nice- one lady even gave me a bracelet to remember them by! Isabella was beautiful. Our hostel was great- air conditioning, a fridge, a TV, and hot water (not that we used it!) for only $15 a night. The next hostel, in Santa Cruz, was the same price and didn't have any of those. Their shower was barely a trickle. I was literally washing two square inches of my hair at a time. With hair as long as mine, it took forever! But in Isabella, we were right on the beach, so we spent most of our time there. The waves were huge and gorgeous, but they gave me a start every time I swallowed water. I always forget that it's salt water! I'm so used to fresh Nevada lakes from home, I guess. On Tuesday and Thursday, we went snorkeling most of the day. So cool! It took me forever to get the hang of it. I don't know why, but my body just rebelled to using a snorkel. I think because I've trained myself in recent years to keep my eyes open underwater and to breath like a swimmer- out when I'm underwater and in when I turn my head above water. My brain didn't like the idea of breathing in again when my mouth was underwater- what are you doing, stupid? You're going to drown yourself! It didn't help that my snorkel was malfunctioning. I thought so, but the guide told me that a lot of new snorkelers have trouble and to keep trying. When I finally made him look at it, he discovered something wrong with the snorkel. Made me feel better- wasn't completely my fault! Once I got a snorkel that worked and taught myself not to freak out when I breathed underwater, it was great. We saw so many sweet fish--one was almost transparent! I saw an eel, baby sea lions that played with us!, several huge sea turtles (I went snorkeling on my own on Friday using kayaks to go farther away from the beach, and at one point, I turned around and there was a turtle literally right behind me! It was amazing!). I also saw what I think was a shark, but I'm not positive. Others saw sharks, but I guess I just was lucky/unlucky, depending on how you look at it. On Wednesday and Friday, we went to Tortuga Bay. It is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and I could see why. The water is SO clear and the sand is so perfect. There are tons of turtles (hence the name) and fish and sea lions who come right up next to you. Sharks too, just little white tipped ones that wont hurt you. We were surfing in the water when someone let out a yell and we saw a shark right next to us. And we were only about 10 feet from the shore! The turtles are super cool. You know how the turtles in cartoons always have such comical faces? Thats exactly how they really look. They are big and sweet and so cool! Some came close to the shore, but we saw the most when we rented kayaks on Friday and went out into the bay. That was super cool. The only trouble with Tortuga Bay was that, on one side, there is no shade and the sun is so strong that you really have to apply sunscreen every 30 min or so. I actually did pretty well in terms of not getting burnt. My tops of my feet got super burnt on Tuesday; Ive never had to sunscreen them before because they always get lots of sun at home, thanks to my flip flops. But here, the streets are so dirty that I never where flip flops. My feet were pasty white, then lobster red, and now they are dark brown with a sweet flip flop tan line! But I was really careful, and I only got little patches of sunburn in other places where I rubbed the sunscreen off accidentally or something. After the sun had started to set, however, and Tortuga Bay was a little cooler, it was such a great place! I could just live there, if it werent a national park... On Wednesday afternoon, the group left Tortuga and went to a place called Las Grietas, which is a canyon filled with beautifully clear sea water. Its super cool. The cliffs have various little platforms from which you can jump into the water. The highest, according to the professor, is 50 feet. I think it's less, but... could be wrong. It's a little nerve-wracking to stand up there, but it's really not that far. A lot of people got to the top, got really nervous, and forced themselves to jump anyway. So of course they had terrible form and ended up belly flopping or landing on their side or something. There were some pretty sweet bruises the next day! I had a good jump when I went, but somehow my arm got caught behind me and I wrenched my shoulder when I landed. It was super sore for a few days, which was terrible timing because our big snorkeling trip was on Thursday and at that point, I had a tiny range of motion. But I swam one-handed and kept up just fine. We definitely got a great deal on Galapagos- a little under $800 for five days. It was mostly just because we are already in Ecuador so the flight was 400 instead of a couple thousand. Although I know it was a good deal, it still is MUCH more than I've ever spent, or will spend for a very long time, on a vacation. I can't help but think of the number of credits that would've paid for... no! stop thinking that, Rachel! It was a great trip and I'm glad I went! If you are coming to study in Ecuador, you should definitely look into it. Don't do a cruise- buy a Lonely Planet guide and do it yourself for about $2000 less! What else... the food there was super good and Im pretty sure that I ate about ten times what I should've. All of the healthy food is really expensive-most of the fruits, for example, get shipped in from Ecuador. But bread is super cheap. It only cost me 20 cents for a giant roll. Im going to have to bring some yummy bread back to the States with me. It is both the bane of and the reason for my existence here! Overall it was a great trip. Just about all of those who went were international students, so I had lots of friends to hang out with. Spent most of my time with two guy friends, David and Andrew. They both try to speak in Spanish instead of English, which is why I hung out with them instead of other friends. Why would I go to Ecuador to speak English? In Santa Cruz, though, I shared a room with another girl named Rachel and spent some time with her groups of girlfriends and that was fun. We flew back on the same day, so it was nice to have company in the airport. (You know how cheap airlines are in the US? How they never serve food anymore or offer blankets or anything? Even our Continental flight to Ecuador, which got in at almost midnight, didnt offer anything besides a tiny dinner and a drink. But this flight, this hour and a half flight from Quito to Galapagos, served us a delicious meal of fruit, veggies, bread, and turkey. I think I'll fly to Galapagos more often!) The staying at home part of spring break was really only one day, the Sunday after we got back, but that was perfect. I went to the soup kitchen where I like to help and I got to play the piano for the church service. Some time to relax, write my essays that were due today (all done!) and hang out a bit. It was a fabulous spring break! I wanted to attach some photos, but I forgot to put them on my disk to bring them to school. Oh well. I'll add them later! Ciao! Rachel

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