Monday, April 16, 2012

Thank you Larry

It's never easy saying good bye to a friend. Loosing someone so quickly and unexpectedly is always shocking to all who knew them. This past year I have started experiencing death on a more personal level and because of you, Larry, I now have the words to write.

When I was really young death showed itself. My grandparents passed away. At this point in my life relationships didn't hold near as much value as in the coming years. In high school death sprang up again. It was a kid who was 3 years younger than me who fell off a wave runner straight into a running boat motor. Devestated the whole town. I didn't fully understand the pain. And once again in college, fraternity hazed a student until he drank himself to death. The whole campus went dry and mourned for the loss of someone so young.

It wasn't until I was reading a poem at my grandmommy's funeral this past May, when death really hit home. As I was looking out into the audience seeing all the red faces, teary eyes and runny noses; I, truly experienced saddness. My heart ached, my forehead wrinkles doubled and I knew my grandmother was never coming back physically. So this is what death felt like. I didn't have to imagine any longer.

Everyone experiences death at one point or another, and no one fully understands it. We can ask so many questions, but we can also look at it on a positive note. There's a reason why we are placed on this earth and some people fulfill their mission sooner than others. Just like our dear friend Larry.

I was taking one of my life sabaticals, as I called it, to Ecuador. Some of the best times of my life happened in this country, right alongside of my dad. I can't believe it's been over a year since I experienced everything in that quaint little town beside the ocean.

Walking up the dirt road to the prettiest looking townhouses in the community was Larry and Shirley's la casa. There was Shirley waving from the front porch with a big smile on her face. Not too far behind was Larry. Her soulmate, and best friend. They had found each other later in life and were enjoying the adventure of their lifetime together all the way down south. My dad had told me they had a wonderful feeling about this place and they purchased their townhouse before ever stepping foot in Ecuador. I was speechless. To have such confidence and passion was a stranger to me.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Larry and Shirely. They were such wonderful, positive people or should I say Canadians. I enjoyed the back porch wine discussions and the walks to town. They had adopted a stray dog who was on her death bed and nursed her back to life, naming her Lady. She was our greeter. She followed us everywhere and was always protecting us. I know that was Larry's girl.

Larry, Shirely and my dad were always thinking of new ways to have fun! They bought motorcycles to one day take a cruising trip. They took shopping trips and were always enjoying their surroundings. They fought hard to keep their community the dream they all had. They made friends with anyone and everyone, but they stood their ground when necessary. They took care of each other, because that's what friends do.

Unfortunately, Larry passed yesterday. Thanks to him I have found the words to write again. He deserves much more than this. He had a light about him, a love he spread to many. I know he fought hard, but he must have been ready. He has fulfilled his mission here. The ocean wrapped him up in her sparkling glory and he is onto his next adventure! RIP Larry

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Parque Nacional Cajas

I am taking you back to September 2010....

Well I had just started my first week of Spanish classes and I met a nice gal from New Hampshire named Bre. She was backpacking through Ecuador and had always wanted to visit the Galapogas Islands. She convinced me to sign up to hike the Cajas Mountains with her, where were about 30 kilos outside of Cuenca. I said sure, why not! Little did I know what I was really in for....

The name Cajas was originally from the indigenous language, Quichua, that meant "gateway to the snowy mountains," but in Spanish Cajas means "boxes." These mountains surround the Historical city of Cuenca and the highest point in the National Park is about 15,000 ft. If you know me at all, I am always up for an adventure, but little did I know I would be hiking a total of 6 miles through the freezing cold.

Sidenote: always do your research before attempting to say yes to any adventure. I hadn't even packed the necessary attire, let alone even brought that attire to Ecuador, thinking, Ecuador=equator...if you were to say I would be hiking in sleet and wind and temperatures in the teens I would have laughed at you and said, "I think I will go to the mall instead."

But the small mini van with our tour guide who spoke mainly Spanish, and called us all "muchachos" meaning buddies, paid little to no attention as the roads got steeper and the weather turned icy. At first we ventured into the park at the lowest point of the mountains and saw some llamas and an old brewery. The whole area of the park spans over 285 kilometers with over 270 lakes/lagoons. My camera couldn't even capture all of the beauty throughout our hike.

After arriving to the part of the park where we would begin our hike, I was told to put on a pancho, because I was not even prepared for the next venture. I was freezing cold once we stepped outside the van and I started to turn to Bre with this look of "I'll meet ya back in the van when you guys are done." Don't get me wrong, I enjoy hiking, but not in the wind, ice and cold temperatures. Bre coming from New Hampshire, was use to hiking through freezing cold weather. (Don't worry, I got her back though when we hiked miles through Vilcabama where the temperatures were well into the 90's-look forward to that post!)

We ate this leaf in the van. It apparently helped us from getting high altitude sickness.

The interesting thing about the Cajas is there are 5 different ecosystems throughout the 285 km, which is a lot of different types for being such a small area.
-The high grassland (contains over 19 different types of plants, the main one being straw grass)
-The cloud forest (located in the lower part of the Cajas)
-Quinua (also known as the paper tree forest-this was my favorite!!)
- Perennial high mountain forest
-Avifauna which is a place for bird watching

A ribbed feeling leaf from the trees

The Cajas are home to a large variety of animals, 80 of which remain only in Ecuador including the giant hummingbird, the South American Condor and the Black and White Raptor.

So we hiked and hiked and hiked with our group of about 8 from all over the world. My favorite areas were when we saw the Llamas in the high grassland area and the paper tree forest. The llamas were just hanging out in the fields and looked so peaceful even out in the coldness. At that point I wish I could have had their fur coats! After hiking up and down over mountains and under we came upon a forest out in the middle of no where. It was like a tangled woods, we had to climb over and under limbs and watch the slippery slopes. Our tour guide told us they were going to film a horror movie out here...which would be perfect! It was definitely eerie and you could easily get lost in it!

We hiked out of the forest and down the mountain to a valley were there was a huge lake filled with stalks of hay looking plants. It was a neat site, except for when we found out the stalks were actually taking over the lake and consuming all the water, which eventually the lake would disappear.

Another cool point along the way was the rock of a thousand faces. If you look closely you will see this rock has a ton of faces!

A few times we all had to stop and take a breather cause the air was so tight it was hard to breathe! I was really proud of myself, because I could breathe almost the whole way til we got to the top of the highest point and then it was very hard to breathe! At least it was only a temporary thing, but man my heart sure was thumping away!

A memorial to fallen hikers

By the end of the journey, with no potty breaks, because honestly who would want to take off 5 layers of clothes, we could see the van about a mile away. We all picked up the pace, our faces and bodies numb to the cold, but we didn't care anymore! We were home free!

Afterward, our guide took us to a popular restaurant where we all ate a whole Cod, Yucca root and a shot of cinnamon Canelazo (a traditional alcoholic drink from Cuenca). I think the whole gang was just ready for a nap!

It was quite an accomplishment to hike that high for me, even though it was freezing cold, Bre and I cheered each other on the whole way! Just another adventure in Ecuador!

Hello are you still there??

Hello? Hello? You still there?

For all my readers out there, I haven't totally fallen off the blog thing. I think its important to continue writing about my adventures, even though its been awhile since they happened. So stay tuned because I am still here and back to writing again!

First off I would like to let everyone know I am back in the US safe and sound after a full day of traveling. 5am on December 7th I left via taxi for an hour to the bus station in Porto Viejo, then I had the pleasure of riding a really nice bus for 4 hours to the bus station in Guayaquil and then a journey of a few minutes via taxi to the airport where I jumped aboard a plane after having my baggage thoroughly searched and took off to Miami. My friend Bre, who has traveled to many countries, warned me about feeling weird once I arrived back in the states. She said I might get this annoying sensation with the people and sure enough she was right! After finally adjusting to the "manana" attitude, I quickly felt bombarded and rushed and annoyed. I literally walked around the corner, misread a sign and the elevator closed and reopened for me to step in. I instantly got chewed out by a male flight attendant for taking too long to get into the elevator. I quickly shut him up when I replied "Merry Christmas to you too."

I must say it took me a few weeks to actually start resuming the American lifestyle. Wal-mart was a huge shock, way too many choices and the prices for produce were ridiculous and not even fresh. I put a pineapple in the buggy and was later confronted by my friends boyfriend that he had never heard of just cutting a pineapple to eat it. But still after being here a month as of two days ago, I feel like Ecuador is just a dream. Life really passes you by so fast! I am still forever grateful for my daddy for allowing me the opportunity to travel to such a beautiful country and to have an unforgettable experience. And to my mom and step-dad who watched my little baby boy, Tucker while I was away, this experience wouldn't have been possible.

I again stress to those of you out there reading this traveling and living/learning about another's culture is an eye opening experience. Life is too short to sit around and talk about back packing across Europe or visiting the Great Wall in China, DO IT! So, HAPPY 2011 to all my friends and family out there! Make it one you will never forget, do something you have never thought possible and live tomorrow like its your last!

Keep reading because I am posting the rest of my journey in Ecuador!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The beginning of Spanish School in Cuenca

I am back in San Clemente! It was a great month in Cuenca! I studied, partied, traveled, met new friends, learned to cook and took salsa lessons. Wow! It was quite a trip! I met people from all over the world and learned of their stories, very interesting! But one thing I learned is no matter how hard I try, I will never be Ecuadorian J But, THAT’S OK! I learn something new about this culture everyday and that’s priceless.

A traditional meal of Motepillo (large corn kernals boiled with queso, egg, green onion and aji) very delicious, very filling!

I had decided early on going to Spanish School was a necessity. I remember bits and pieces from high school and college, but it had been almost 6 years since then. I definitely needed to brush up on my skills. I decided after enjoying our trip to Cuenca so much I would rather go to school there. A week after my decision I was on the bus to Cuenca, which took a total of about 10 hours to get there (6 by car). The bus ride was quite an experience, especially since it was my first one by myself. As I said before the Guayaquil bus terminal is bigger and nicer than the airport here. The ride was smooth except for the police man who was kind enough to show me my gate and was also so kind as to hit on me. He asked for my digits and I thought eh what the heck, I don’t have to answer his call and I will probably never see him again….WRONG! (update: on the way back to San Clemente, after not answering his calls for 3 weeks, guess who I saw in the bus terminal again…HIM!!! It was quite amusing…and he made sure I got on the correct bus once again and then called me to make sure I arrived safely in San Clemente.)

The first day of Spanish School was EXHAUSTING! My brain literally hurt. 4 hours starting at 8am with a private tutor, who only spoke Spanish…I was beginning to rethink the whole idea! I swear my eyes just had this blank stare about them and my drool was collecting on the floor. I felt dumb. But by the 3rd day I seemed to be picking up a lot of the words she said and after the first week I started talking more in response to her. I started meeting all these new people too with different stories from all over the world.

Bre , a teacher from Boston pursuing her dream of going to the Galapogas.

Felicity and Mark traveling all over South America for a year from Australia.

Another couple from England doing the same thing.

A family from Wisconsin taking a sabbatical from work to enjoy another culture.

Holly and Andy a couple from Washington DC, teaching English for 6 months and learning Spanish for work back in the states.

A girl studying abroad from Norway for a few months.

The list grew. People from all ages came and went. We all got together a few times at the local pub after salsa class at night to learn about each other. We compared cultures and reasons for leaving our countries and why we had come to Ecuador. I realized we all had something in common. We lived for adventure and weren’t scared of risks. It’s not every day you come across people who have hiked up mountains 12,000ft above sea level, or jumped off cliffs or woke up to insects the size of your head clinging to the outside of your mosquito net in the Amazon. So riding a bus throughout three countries in South America is a piece of cake.

The group saying wishing Felicity and Mark good travels.

And right from the start Mateo, my boyfriend, was a hit! I would invite him to hang out with the tourists or gringos and they would ask him every question in the book! But he was great and he even enjoyed hanging out with us too.

The first 2 weeks I stayed with a host family in Cuenca while attending the school. The house was fairly huge that I stayed in and there were 3 brothers, 2 already married and out of the house. The mom was very welcoming and I had a nice bedroom, but it just wasn’t for me. After living on my own for over 5 years I really wanted to stay on my own. My friend Bre was staying in a hostal for $6 a night so I transferred there and saved over $50 a week! The hostal overlooked the river, I shared a bathroom, kitchen and living space with 2 other people. It was great!

During the first week of class, one hour was dedicated to going out in the city and doing some sort of activity. This particular day I visited the local Shaman. For $2 every Wednesday and Thursday the Shaman from the mountains would come into town and do this ritual on people. It was quite the ordeal. First they make you close your eyes and smell this concoction of herbs and flowers, then they started beating you with it and saying these weird things! After, this lady took this black charcoal looking stuff and made an X above my belly button and then on my forehead. Then, she took a swig of what looked like alcohol and spit it all over my back and then my front!!! The finale was when she rolled an egg all over my body, cracked it and then read my fortune. She said I didn’t have too many evil spirits in me!!! PHEW, I was worried!

The Market with all handmade items.

My friend Bre and I ventured to a few places together, but our first outing was to see an Argentina Jazz concert. It was very interesting! The cool thing is that there is a whole book of free concerts, movies and arts festivals throughout every month in Cuenca. This was during the first week of Spanish class so we couldn’t really understand what the guy was saying, BUT he was making the audience crack up. He would play his saxophone for like 5 minutes hard core and then the piano and guitar would take over and the guy would leave the stage. He would come back after like 10 minutes and take a swig of his water, then stamp out the beats with his head and feet. This process went on the whole time, he would sometimes switch back and forth between the saxophone and the oboe. The music was great!

Look forward to my next entry about Bre and I hiking the Cajas up 12,000ft above sea level through rain, sleet, wind and freezing cold!!! Always an adventure here in Ecuador!!!

Te Amo,

T.I.E moment. This was walking through the center of town. A guy with three goats just hanging out with his goats tied to the lamp post. Goat milk anyone?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Festival of the Virgin- San Clemente

The Festival of the Virgin takes place in San Clemente every year on September 8th. This is a time when the people celebrate the Virgin of Charity of Copper, a patroness of Cuba.The Virgin of Charity is a statue of the Virgin Mary on the mining town of El Cobre, Cuba. It is said a slave boy and two Indians in 1608 were hanging out on the coast and saw something floating in the water. It was a statue of Mary holding baby Jesus on a board with the inscription, "I am the Virgin of Charity."

Every year the festivities in San Clemente begin 9 days prior to the grand finale, where everyone gathers in the town center every night to pray and sing to the Virgin statue. People from all over the country come to celebrate all the festivities; the parade, singing and dancing, drinking, eating, shopping and the morning of the last day is the fisherman fiesta on the water.

Yes, that is a donkey painted like a Zebra! A man dressed as a black woman!

It was very interesting for me to go to the town center and witness a night of the praying. Chairs are put in a circle around the statue in the center of town and little girls in pink and white dresses go up to the microphone to say prayers. Then they sing and food is given to all who have come.

The fun part was all the partying! Unfortunately, I had lost my voice a few days prior to all the fun, so it was pretty difficult talking, let alone talking in Spanish! There were so many tiendas (small stores) set up along with a big inflatable slides for all the kids. Everyone just danced in the streets all night long and the bands were so loud you could hear them all the way down to my place (about .5 mile away). A few friends of a friend came and showed Megan and I how to traditionally dance, it was fun! The streets were just completely filled with could barely walk!

Before all the partying there was a parade that last almost 5 hours! It had really funny floats and then some really cool bands too. Each school in the area was to participate. Even the hotel employees walked in the parade! The bands were amazing...I am including some videos of them at the bottom of this blog! Enjoy!

On the morning of the Saturday of the final fiesta, everyone gets up early and see's the fisherman off to sea. They have a prayer to the Patroness of Fisherman and then they all sail out to sea. All day long there are small boats carrying people back and forth to the large fishing boats. There is just one big party after the next on the ships. These people know how to party! They party for ANY reason! I missed the farewell was WAY too early in the morning, especially after a long night of partying.

Some of my favorite people!

This boat is all decorated and ready to take people out to the big fishing boat!

Yes that is a snow cone machine!!

The weekend ended perfectly!

NEW: Bahia Bridge....I traveled with Santiago to the new bridge they are building in Bahia. In a few short months the new bridge will replace a lot of jobs in the area. You see, for the longest time the only way of getting over to San Vicente from Bahia were the ferries. The ferry ride was $.25 to get a mile to the other side and the ferry also held vehicles as well. This new bridge is going to change life for Ecuadorians in Bahia. It is going to expand business as well as tourisim. I got lucky and was able to take a tour with the construction manager of the cement portion. Santiago and I had some fun taking pics of the new bridge!

The bike/walking ramp.

The temporary sign introducing the bridge!

The beginning of the bridge on the Bahia side.

Me, sporting the hard hat.