Friday, May 14, 2010

Final Beach Trip and Breaking Hearts

Well, my last essay is turned in, my last final taken. My bags are nearly packed, and I just have a few small things left to buy. It’s hard to believe it’s nearly over. This has been such an up and down semester: moments of extreme homesickness followed by moments in which I feel like I never want to leave Ecuador. I guess it’s a good thing time decided for me!

My last final was on Monday, and on Monday night, I hopped on a night bus at 11 pm and headed for a beach in a town called Canoa, about 7 hours away. The night bus wasn’t too bad. We paid a little extra for direct tickets, so our bus didn’t stop along the way except to let of passengers. It’s a lot safer that way; a friend of mine was on a not-direct bus, and she ended up being robbed at knifepoint! An extra two dollars is definitely worth it! The bus was nearly empty, and by the time we arrived, the only people on the bus were in our group or in another group of gringos from USFQ! (I don’t think I’ve said this yet, so just so you know, the word ‘gringo’ here is not an insult. It’s a term of endearment for anyone not from South America, basically. I know one girl who calls me her little gringita friend. So I’m not being discriminatory when I say that everyone on the bus was a gringo!)

The only problem with the bus was that it was freezing! I was wearing my cool new USFQ sweatshirt and jeans and my hood and my gloves and I was still cold! It was such a shock to get off the bus and step into the humidity of a coastal morning. The heat hit us like a brick wall, even though it was only 5:30 am. But we could see the sunrise and hear the waves and the heat wasn’t that important.

We found a hostel for $5/night and crashed for about 5 hours. Night buses aren’t exactly restful. By the time we woke up, though, we were definitely ready to hit the beach!

Beaches in Ecuador always surprise me. I grew up with the fresh water lakes of Nevada, so any salt water always takes me by surprise. And then I started getting used to cold salt water in Oregon, so the warmth of the water here is always a shock. It’s wonderful though! I love swimming in the ocean here and jumping over/diving under the waves.

The first morning in Canoa, four of the six girls in my group had gone for a walk, and just Katie and I were left sunbathing on our towels. An Ecuadorian guy came up to us and started asking questions- where are we from? How long are we in Canoa? What are our names? We were both sleepy and not really talkative, and he finally got the hint and left after several minutes of awkward conversation. That afternoon, we were sitting on the beach in a circle, talking, and he came back with his friend/brother, I’m not sure which. Again, they awkwardly tried to start a conversation, but they kept asking about where our hostel was and what we were doing that night, and we didn’t want to give them too much personal information so we didn’t say much. The first guy, Alberto, remembered my name because it was his sister’s name, so when the other girls were avoiding eye contact, he addressed me by name and I kind of had to answer.

Then, on Wednesday morning, a bunch of the girls went for a walk again while I was in the water, and when I got out, Katherine was asleep on the beach and I was mostly alone. I was just drifting off when I felt a hand touch my ankle. Guess who it was? Yup, good ol’ Alberto. He sat down beside me without an invitation and started to chat with me again. I didn’t really mind. I like having the chance to speak Spanish with people and hear their stories. But he wasn’t really interested in that. He started asking me about myself, beginning with the typical Ecuadorian ice breaker, “So, do you have a boyfriend in Quito? No? How about in the US? No? Why not?” As we talked, the conversation got more and more awkward. He asked if I liked surfing, and if I wanted a surfing lesson. I said I like surfing, but I have no money to take a lesson. He offered to teach me for free. I told him that I was there to spend time with my friends, but thanks for the offer. He asked if I had gone to see the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm, a cool tourist attraction nearby. I said that it sounded really interesting, but again, I didn’t have the money. He said that he knew the owners and would take me for the afternoon for just $5. Then he asked if I liked horses. When I said yes, he invited me to his farm outside Canoa to go horseback-riding.
There’s nothing wrong with inviting a girl to do fun things, but I didn’t even know this guy. I turned down his offers, saying that this was my last chance to spend time with my friends and I only had two days in Canoa to spend with them. He started sighing and saying that I should stay longer. In fact, he told me, he was in love with me, so I should stay and marry him and we could live on his farm together and raise horses and children. And when our oldest child, be it boy or girl (he wasn’t prejudiced), turned four, he would teach him/her to surf and we could be a surfing family.
Needless to say, I wasn’t even tempted.
I didn’t really know what to say, so I made some excuse about my life waiting in the States, saying that I wanted to finish college. He nodded and said, “That’s ok. I’ll wait for you, my Raquel. I’ll wait five years if you want me to. I’ll wait ten years for you to come back to me!”
I’m never going back to Canoa again!
I wanted to get rid of him, but I didn’t really know how to say it in Spanish. I wasn’t entirely sure if he was just joking or if he was seriously declaring undying love for me 24 hours after we met, but I was getting very uncomfortable. I made it clear to him, I think, that I take relationships very seriously and I don’t want a relationship with someone I just met. But he just insisted that I should stay longer so we could have a relationship. Boy, what a tempting offer! And then when he said he was sleepy and wanted to sleep on my shoulder and got upset when I wouldn’t let him, I knew he was the guy for me. Or when he wanted to put sunscreen on my back for me so I wouldn’t get burned, but I said that I was going to lay on my back anyway, so it wasn’t necessary. Luckily, my friends came back then and we decided we were ready for lunch. He saw a friend of his and left to say hello, promising to come back to me soon.
We went to lunch, and I spent the afternoon looking for him so I could hide from him. He saw me just as the sun was setting and we were heading back to the hostel. He invited me to eat dinner with him and then go party afterward, but I told him I was eating my last dinner with my friends and leaving for Quito on a 9:30 bus. He looked so disappointed. I think I broke the poor guy’s heart. But I don’t feel too guilty; I have no desire to live on a farm in Canoa for the rest of my life, no matter how many free surfing lessons I get!

A Day in the Life

I wrote this entry about a month ago, but I keep forgetting to publish it. So here it is, at long last!

As I read over my former entries, I realize that most of them are about trips and fun things and the exciting parts of life. They are all true and they were all fun, but life in Ecuador hasn’t been one big party. I truly have had a lot more homework here than I expected, and conflicts with my host family have made the semester interesting. In this entry, I want to give you a picture of daily life, minus the thrills of beach trips and backpacking and zip lining. This is a normal day in Ecuador:

My alarm goes off between 6:30 and 7 am. Sometimes, if my early classes are cancelled, I can sleep later, but my host sister Lisette usually comes over around 7:30 with her two daughters, Greta (4) and Ariel (7 months), because my host mom babysits Ariel during the day while Lisette is a work and Greta at school. If any of you have experience with 4-year-olds, you know that they make sleeping in very difficult! So, with one thing and another, I’m usually up by 7ish. It was worse though; I used to have a class at 7 am on Thursdays, so I had to be up by 5:15 at the latest to get there on time! Luckily, that class ended after spring break.

My host mom usually has breakfast waiting for me. I’ve offered many times to get my own breakfast, particularly on the days when I have class at 8:30 and am leaving the house by 7. She resisted at first, but now she generally sleeps in and lets me find my own food. Breakfast for most of the family consists of coffee/hot chocolate and a piece of delicious Ecuadorian bread. I don’t drink coffee or hot chocolate, so I usually have bread, sometimes with melted cheese on top or a small omelet, and some fruit. Pack a lunch (usually just an apple and a pear or something, but sometimes with some chifles (banana chips) or bread or something), brush my teeth, and I’m off by 7:30 at the latest.

I used to take three buses to get to and from school, but that was adding up quickly, so about a month ago, I started walking part way to save money. Now, I walk to the Rio Coca Bus Station and catch a big green bus. This bus goes to Cumbaya, the town where my university is. I spend an hour a day on the green bus, but it’s not too bad. Most of the international students ride the bus, so I spend time chatting with friends while we travel. Or I do homework or look out the window at the amazing views. After I discovered Harry Potter in Spanish in the library, my hour bus ride became my reading time and I looked forward to it every day!

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, my classes start at 9 am with Italian. I added this class later than my others, so I’ve been a little behind all semester. But, I’m not taking it for credit, just for fun, so it’s not a big deal. Plus, Italian is super similar to Spanish, which makes it a lot easier to learn. The pronunciation is the hardest part for me. Some sounds are like English and others like Spanish and other like neither, which just confuses my tongue. But it’s a cool language and I like the teacher a lot.

My next class is Temas de América Latina, a political science class about Latin America. It’s very interesting and I’ve learned a lot, but it’s probably my most difficult class and the one I think I’ll probably end up with a B in. The information isn’t too difficult, but the professor, Jose Julio Cisneros, goes off on tangents a lot, which makes it hard to take notes or follow the main thread of the class. But I’ve learned a lot about relations among countries in Latin America and relations with the US.

On Fridays, I’m done after Temas, but on Mondays and Wednesdays, I have three more classes. Conversation is first, with Claudia Gutierrez. Claudia is an interesting professor- you either love her or hate her. She’s very good about correcting our grammar when we speak in class, which is good, but she sometimes makes you feel rather stupid for making a mistake. It doesn’t bother me too much, mostly because I’m in an intermediate class instead of advanced, so I’m one of the best speakers in the class and don’t get a lot of corrections from her. My favorite part about this class is that half of our tests are creative writing, using our vocabulary words in stories. For a creative writing major, that’s perfect! My next class is Español Avanzada, a grammar class. This class is really good for me, because my grammar was lagging behind my speaking and understanding abilities, but it’s really boring and I often have a hard time sitting through it. The professor, Lidice, is nice and she’s really good about having open office hours and being willing to read over an essay or something if we want her to.

My last class of the day, Capoeira, ends at 4 pm. I liked this class a lot at the beginning- learning kicks and blocks and tricks and music. It’s a blast! But I hurt my shoulder over spring break, and it still doesn’t feel completely healed. In Capoeira, we are working on back handsprings, but it hurts too much for me to do them. So I spend a lot of time sitting out in this class now, which sucks because I’d really like to learn and get better at this sport. We had a really fun class the other day, though, in which I got to participate: the professor taught us to play the cool Capoeira instruments. There’s a tambourine and another instrument with a funny name that keeps the beat and an instrument that looks kind of like a bow with a gourd on the bottom that plays the melody. We learned them all. Super fun, but SO hard!

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I start class at 8:30 am with my Bilingual Education class. I absolutely love this class! It’s super interesting, and the professor, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, really knows her stuff. She speaks four languages and has raised her children to speak all four of them. If any of you come to Ecuador, I totally recommend taking this class! My next class is soccer, which is fun but disappointing sometimes because nobody shows up. As the semester has worn on, our class has basically trickled down to nothing. Luckily, I’m also playing on a club team, so I still have some soccer. My last class on Tuesdays and Thursdays used to be Volcanology, but that class ended after spring break as well. It was an interesting class, as long as you got along with the professor. Theo Toulkeridis is very smart, but a lot of people had trouble relating with him. I didn’t, so I enjoyed the class a lot. If you want to travel, this class is a good one because you have four weekend trips in which you see some really cool stuff.

My afternoons are all different. On some days, I hurry back to Quito to work in a soup kitchen called Pan de Vida (I do this on Sundays as well, and I love it!) Other days, I go to a friend’s house to use the Internet or to bake cookies. Others, I have a soccer game in the afternoon, so I stick around at school to play in that. There is a school league that runs from February to April in which teams of 6 play on little fields. My team (me, international students Jill, Laura, and Shawna, and Ecuadorians Caro, Isa, Valeria, and two others) is doing really well. We just won our semi-final game against a team that has beat my teammates for the last two years, and we’re going to the finals next week. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s been a really good chance to meet Ecuadorians and get to know them.

Most days, I stay at school for a few hours to use the Internet. I don’t have Internet in my house, so I download a lot of information onto my flash drive and take it with me to do at home. I do my work at home, as much as I can, and just carry the completed work back to school to check sources or do last minute translations on the Internet. This entry, for example, I’m writing at home, but I’ll send it from school. It’s a pain to not have Internet, but it has made me more productive because I don’t have Facebook or email to distract me at home. So of course, I use Solitaire, Hearts, and Chess to distract me instead…

When I get home, between 5 and 7 pm, dinner is waiting for me. My host parents eat around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, but they save a plate for me to heat up when I get home. Almuerzo (lunch, or in my case, dinner) usually consists of a bowl of soup, juice, some sort of vegetable, and a plato fuerte that has meat (usually chicken, but sometimes fish or beef. Never pork), rice or potatoes or both, and some sort of sauce. We don’t have dessert every day, but when we do it is usually cake, some sort of bread, or a fruit salad with cream. Most of my conflicts with my host family have centered on food. They got upset with me for eating too much fruit, which they claim is really expensive here. (I think it’s super cheap. $1 for 10 apples? Two pounds of strawberries for $2? But I’m looking at it from a U.S. perspective, and I shouldn’t do that.) Plus, my family, unlike most of the host families, is not rich and they really have to watch what they spend. I feel like I’m paying them more than they are giving me, but I guess my payments also include my host mom making all my meals and the cost of my room and such.

At first, I had trouble because they always gave me vegetables that were smothered in mayonnaise or butter or something, which doesn’t seem particularly healthy to me. It took me a long time to work up the courage to say something because I’m not the most confrontational person with people I don’t know well, but I’m glad we finally talked. Now, my host mom sets my vegetables aside before putting sauce on everyone else’s and I get to eat healthy veggies.

In the evenings, I usually do homework, watch a movie, read, or go out. I’m not a huge partier, so I don’t tend to go out every night like some people I know. But I do spend nights at friends’ houses or in the Mariscal, the section of Quito with all of the bars and restaurants and everything geared toward gringo tourists. We do a lot of movie nights, either at someone’s house or at the theater, because it is cheap, and I generally go to the theater once a month or so. I have a Bible study every Tuesday night at the English Fellowship Church, and I really enjoy that. I wanted to find a Catholic youth group, but I haven’t had any luck so far and it’s getting kind of late in the semester to be worth it. But the EFC group, Twenty Somethings, is really fun and has helped me make lots of friends. We generally go out for ice cream or to study together afterward.

But I don’t have a lot of time on weekdays to go out, because I have a lot of homework. I have 6 academic classes in all, and although most of them don’t give a lot of homework, it adds up. I’ve had at least one test and one essay every week for the last three months, and it’s only getting worse. A lot of international students treat their semester abroad as a party, but their grades don’t transfer back to their schools, so as long as they get a C or better, they don’t have to worry. My grades transfer, and I’m enough of a nerd to want straight A’s. So I work a lot harder than most people, but that’s okay. I enjoy all of my classes, and I don’t enjoy getting drunk in the Mariscal. So I don’t mind.

I don’t spend a lot of time with my host family on a day-to-day basis, and I’m not entirely sure why. We eat dinner together if I’m home- I eat my big lunch meal and they eat coffee/hot chocolate, bread, and cheese again. But after we eat and I help clean the kitchen, my host dad goes off to his room to watch TV, my host sister goes to her room to watch TV, and my host mom either watches with my sister or goes in the study to watch TV in there. I’ve never like the television much, especially when the only shows available are the late night soap operas. Sometimes I’ll watch movies with my host family, and I spend a good amount of time playing with Greta, my niece, or talking with the adults. But we don’t go traveling together and they don’t usually invite me to do things. It’s kind of a shame; our relationship is more that of landlord and guest than parent and child. But they aren’t mean to me and they give me lots of space to be independent, which I’d prefer to having an overprotective or needy family.

All in all, daily life here is not too exciting but it’s fine with me. I find little things to enjoy every day- a movie with a friend, playing with bubbles with Greta, playing in a soccer game. There are lots of wonderful little moments, little cultural or linguistic surprises that I delight in, and they make daily life great.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Un Techo Para Mi País y Galapágos!!!

Hola todos! Welcome to a fun entry- spring break!!! Woot woot! 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. I´ve 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. Hence, 25 people living in one house that is about a third the size of our house in Fallon. 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 hardly at all. But the second family was this 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 are too embarrased to use Spanish (??) 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, a 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 Tahoe and Lahontan 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 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 to not freak out when I breathed underwater, it was great. We saw so many sweet fish- one was almost see through! 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 further 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 (turtle.) 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 won´t 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? That´s 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 Tortunga 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 good in terms of not getting burnt. My tops of my feet got super burnt on Tuesday; I´ve 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 weren´t a national park...

On Wednesday afternoon, the group left Tortuga and went to place called Las Grietas, which is a canyon filled with beautifully clear sea water. It´s 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 and do it yourself for about $2000 less!

What else... the food there was super good and I´m 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. I´m going to have to bring some yummy bread back to you all. 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 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, didn´t 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!

Hope you all had lovely spring breaks and are ready for the last push to summer! We´re almost there!!


Getting robbed...

Well, I´ve been terrible about writing, and I´m sorry. A ton has happened, so I´m going to put in two entries today. The first, this one, is a bit of a downer. You don´t have to read it, but maybe you´ll learn something if you do! The second is much more fun- Galapágos!!!

First, I got robbed about three weeks ago. I got very lucky; I have friends who had to go back to States early because they were attacked or molested. Others have been robbed at knife point, and others have lost their cell phones, computers, debit cards and/or all their money in their accounts. I didn´t get attacked and I just lost my cell phone; I´m grateful for that. But it shook me up quite a bit. I´ve had my wallet stolen before, but that was just a pickpocket. This was someone stopping me on the street on my way to school, pinning me against the wall, and saying things he would do to me if I didn´t give him my cell phone. It was a little scary.

I was on my way to school when it happened, walking along a street that wasn´t deserted but wasn´t full. I saw a guy coming from the other direction, who looked a little sketchy. I wanted to cross the street, but there were too many cars so I couldn´t. When he first stopped in front of me, I thought it was a mistake. Most people try to dodge you, not run into you, but he was playing with his cell phone and I figured he just didn´t see me. I tried to go around him, but he wouldn´t let me. He told me to give him my phone. At first, I was confused. Did he want to borrow it? I didn´t mind, but how would he get it back to me? I wasn´t going to give him my address, and he would have my phone so he couldn´t call me. I was running late, and didn´t want to wait around for him... I guess I took too long to respond, because that´s then he put his hand on my shoulder and shoved me against the wall. And that´s when I realized what was happening.

I don´t know if this is good or bad, but my first instinct was to fight. I didn´t even think of running (probably would have if I didn´t have a heavy backpack) and I was not inclined to hand over my phone (I had just purchased twenty dollars of minutes! Twenty dollars!) I tried twice to push past him and say no, but when he pinned me against the wall and started shouting about all the things he would do to me (most of which I didn´t understand and I´m probably lucky I didn´t understand! The part I heard was scary enough!), I handed my phone over.

It scared and upset me, but I really got lucky. He just took my phone- I bought a new phone. And my phone wasn't a good one, and the new one was cheap. Though I had a backpack on and there was money inside, I didn´t lose money or a computer or a camera or my life or anything. I have friends who have lost all of those (not their lives, but a few have been attacked physically.) So I feel very lucky. Once I stopped crying, I definitely realized how much God had protected me. And it was probably good for me. I´ve been much too confident about walking alone when I probably should take a bus or taxi, but I don´t usually carry enough extra money on me to pay for transportation that I haven´t planned for, so I walk. I´m lucky that God woke me up to reality without hurting me or costing me too much.

The frustrating part is that now I´m nervous all the time when I´m walking and I hate it. Every guy I see is a potential robber; I feel like the robbery stole my small town innocence. Since I´m in a big city, I know what awareness, that cautiousness, is a good thing. But I´m afraid that I´ll go home to my tiny towns in Oregon and Nevada and be jumping at shadows. Sigh, I miss the country!

Ok, now it´s time for the fun entry! Stay tuned for Galapágos folks!


Monday, February 22, 2010

Backpacking and Bacterial Infections

I have a homework pile stretching to the moon and back right now, so this´ll be short, but I haven´t written in two weeks and a lot has happened. So here goes!

Two weekends ago (Feb 13-14) was a holiday called Carnaval in Ecuador. The idea of Carnaval is not religious based or anything. The point is just to have fun. Kids fill water balloons and have giant water fights in the streets. They spray silly string on each other and on any unfortunate passerby who gets in the way. It´s a nice break, right when you need it. (You know how the US has a huge holiday season for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but then you have to go to school for Jan, Feb, and March basically without a break? Carnaval was great for relieving that long stretch! I think the US should adopt it!)

Anyway, I´m off track. During Carnaval, if you remember, I went backpacking in the Amazon. It was AMAZING! We left Friday afternoon and drove up to a town in the mountains called Oyacachi. Oyacachi is the trailhead for a three day hike to a town called El Chaco. And right next to Oyacachi is the entrance to a national park with hot springs. We spent the first night there, sleeping by the hot springs. It was pretty sweet- there was NOBODY there (well duh. It was 8 o´clock on a Friday night before Carnaval. Who is going to go to Oyacachi?)

On Saturday morning, we met up with our guide, Pedro aka Tío. We drove the first 15 km because they are just walking along a road- boring stuff that we didn´t have time for. Then we hit the rainforest and going got a little tougher. I´ve backpacked in the desert before, but this was very different. Obviously. We were walking along the side of the mountain, not over the top and down like I´ve done on previous trips. Our path was generally about a foot and a half wide, maybe less, and when the little path ended, there was usually just a drop off that headed down the mountain. If you fell, as I did many times, there were trees to stop your fall, but you generally fell at least a little ways before coming to a stop. And the trees were prickly and the ground was muddy. Great fun.

There was a lot of mud. I´ll post the pictures when I remember to put them on my disk (meaning, you´ll probably see them when I get back to the States because I´m a little absent minded...). We had rain boots, but at one point, I stepped in a mud puddle so deep that I sank up to mid thigh. Got my foot out, but we had a nice 10 minute break while we dug my boot out!

Our guide made things interesting. Not really in a good way. On Sunday, we packed up and started hiking around 6:30 am. He told us not to worry, we´d reach the town of Santa Maria, outside of which we would spend the night, by 2 pm. We would have time to explore, bathe, buy more food if we had run out (which I had.) Around 1, we asked him ¨How much longer?¨ He told us, ¨Oh, maybe half an hour. Probably less.¨ Half an hour? That´s nothing. We could do that easily. We kept hiking.

2 o´clock. ¨Pedro, how much longer?¨ ¨Oh, an hour. That´s all. Probably less.¨ Ok. Another hour. We could do that.

4 o´clock. ¨Pedro, why haven´t we stopped yet?¨ ¨Oh, it´s only another hour. Really. Probably less.¨

We arrived at 6. Not at Santa Maria, but at the best camping spot we could find. We had half an hour to start a fire (which wouldn´t start. The wood was too wet. One of the greatest failures of my life...), cook dinner, set up tents, get water... crazy!

The others slept in tents, but I don´t like tents. I like to fall asleep breathing fresh air and I like to see the stars. They told me I was crazy, that in the RAINforest, I would get rained on. I did. My sleeping bag absorbed it and I didn´t feel a thing. They woke up with condensation in their tents dripping on their noses!

The professor told us we would have a fire, so I packed the stuff for s´mores (it´s not that heavy, and who can resist s´mores???) Turns out, the wood was too wet, so on the last night, we tried making them over a candle flame. The first boy to roast a marshmallow accidently put the candle out, and of course, we had used all of our matches. So we made s´mores with marshmallows squished between our fingers to make them malleable, chocolate, and crackers (they don´t have graham crackers here, so we used two kinds- Ritz and another called Noel. Made for interesting s´mores!)

We got back on Monday night. On Tuesday night, I realized that the water filter I had used in the mountains hadn´t been functioning and that I hadn´t been purifying my water. I got sick. Really sick. I went to the hospital Tuesday night and had to get two IVs in my arm to stop me from vomiting. Didn´t really go to school last week, which is why I didn´t write (I went on Thursday to my first class because I thought I was feeling better. But the mix of medicines I was taking made me sick again, and I ended up sitting through one class staring into space and going home before the next one started. My professor tried to ask me a question, and I kind of just stared at her. My brain wasn´t really functioning that day!)

But, everything is better now. I´m going to be a lot more cautious in the future. I had heard of bacterial infections here, but I figured I had a strong stomach and wouldn´t have problems. Famous last words. The water really is dangerous, and those of us with clean stomachs from the US and other countries really have to be careful. So learn from me and take care of yourself when you travel!

Time to go write an Education essay. This entry was longer than I thought. Hope the States are treating you all fabulously!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Start of an adventure!!

Technically, my title is a little misleading. My entire month here has been an adventure (wow, have I really been here for a month? crazy!). However, this weekend, I'm going backpacking for the first time since last summer. For those of you who don't know, backpacking is a big thing for me. I went for the first time two summers ago, and I love it. I have most of my own gear, and I brought everything with me to Ecuador- I knew I would want to go! That was a good decision, because renting isn't too expensive, but it definitely adds up.

First- last weekend. I went with my volcanology class to southern Ecuador. We spent Saturday at a volcano called Cotopaxi. It is huge and beautiful and amazing. When we arrived, we thought we would be doing experiments and such. Imagine our surprise when the professor told us that first we were going to climb up to the glacier! It is a hike of about an hour and half straight up the side of the mountain. The gravel is too loose to make paths, so there aren't switchbacks or anything. You just climb. The professor, Theo, told us that we would probably climb for three minutes and rest for three minutes. I thought 'how pathetic. Anyone who can only climb for three minutes is not in very good shape!' Guess how many minutes I climbed for? I'm not going to tell you. It's embarassing. Sufice it to say, I was exhausted by the time we got done. However, I made it to the top at long last and got to touch my first glacier!

We spent Saturday night in a town called Baños. Baños is one of the most touristy places in Ecuador and there are lots of adventure sports there- mountain biking, tubing, mountain climbing, etc. We didn't have time for any of that, but we did have a fun night. A group of about 20 of us (mostly Ecuadorians, but a few of us gringos) hired a chivo and rode up to the top of the mountain. A chivo is a decorated truck. It has an open bed, but there is a roof and seats and a space for dancing. They turn on the music really loud, and you party as you drive. It was pretty fun. We went up to the mountain nearby and could see the city below- it was beautiful!

On Sunday morning, we were up at 5:30 to go on a trip with Theo. We drove to a place called, I think, Paillon del Diablo, and went hiking for an hour before the sun came up. so gorgeous. We walked across a bridge and off to the side, we could see some spectacular waterfalls. There were three, all in a row. It is possible to pay and hike up and stand under them, and we wanted to do that. Theo had paid in advance, but because it was so early, there was nobody there to let us in. Law-abiding citizens that we are, we hopped the fence and went anway. It was amazing. The water came down with such force; when it landed at the bottom, it splashed back up with waves at least 10 feet high.

We spent the rest of the day studying the social effect of volcanoes, which was actually really interesting. We went to an active volcano called Tungurahua, one of the 19 most active in Ecuador. It has eruptions every 5 or 10 minutes, but they are so small that no one notices. We did, but that's because we were watching. Three years ago, there was a huge eruption and several people died. People in nearby towns are supposed to be ready to evacuate, which means they should have a backpack ready with clothes, water, food, air masks, and helmets for an emergency evacuation. However, in 2006, there hadn't been an explosion in over 7 years, so people had slowly unpacked their bags. Not intentionally, but... honey we're out of water. Grab a bottle from the backpack? That kind of thing. The man who spoke to us told us that people had also removed their helmets, so when rocks started falling from the sky, some of them picked up traffic cones and walked around with those on their heads. Speaking of cone heads...

It was a very interesting, very fun weekend!

Homework during the last few weeks has been crazy, but it's finally winding down. This week, I have had a test, presentation, portfolio, or essay due every day, and on some days, I've had more than one. However, I survived, and I'm so ready to go backpacking!!!! Five days and four nights... I'm super excited! I'll tell you all about it when we get back.

Have a great weekend! Miss you all!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

10 things I love/hate about Quito

As I was walking home yesterday, I was thinking about all the little things about life that I don´t tend to share with you all. I mean, I talk about the big trips I take and such, but the little things are what make or break a home. So here goes!

Five things I love about Quito

Cheap fruit.
A bag of cherries? $1. Three huge apples? $1. It´s wonderful and delicious and I´m going to come home broke because I´ve spent all my money on fruit.

Cheap ice cream!
They make real ice cream here- essentially fruit and milk. They don´t use all the preservatives and such that is normal in the States. It is so good, and a cone with two scoops is only 89 cents!

Bridges over the streets.
I walk home for about an hour every afternoon because I dislike paying for buses and I love walking. During that hour, I have to cross several busy streets (see below for the reason I hate crossing streets.) After a week of fighting to use the crosswalk, I discovered the amazing pedestrian bridges that span most of the major streets. They are colorful and huge and wonderful. When I´m walking home, it´s usually the windy/cloudy part of the day. I always pause at the top of the bridges and feel the wind in my hair and just feel so powerful and amazing! I love it!

Movie stores!
There are movie stores every twenty steps here, and ALL of their movies cost $1.50. At first, I thought this was cool but was sad that all my movies would be in Spanish. What good will that do me when I return to the States and want to watch a movie with friends? But I´ve discovered that the majority of the movies have English and Spanish, as well as subtitles. It´s great! My movie collection is growing by the hour...

The variety of people.
I love people watching. I always have. I love walking along and looking at people, and I love making up stories about them in my head. (Hey, I´m a writer! I can do that!) There is much more variety here than in McMinnville or Fallon, and I love it. People wear/do the oddest things sometimes...

Five things I hate about Quito

The pollution!
It´s terrible! Cumbaya, where the school is located, isn´t as bad as Quito. But when I am walking home through the streets of Quito, I can literally see the smog and smoke and yucky things in the air. It´s nasty!

The smoking.
Everybody smokes. And they do it indoors. I requested a non-smoking family, but the girls who live beneath us smoke constantly and their fumes are always floating up through the vents... And people light up without stepping away from the group or going outside. I was at a presentation yesterday and someone just started smoking without saying anything. The wind blew the smoke right in my face! Yucky!

Crossing the street.
There are crosswalks, but the cars don´t care. If you are in their way, they will hit you. Cars go really fast, they rarely use blinker lights, and they change lanes without a sign. I usually have to run to cross the street, and it´s seriously scary!

City noises.
I know that this is true with any city, but I hate the noise. I´m such a country girl. The gas truck goes by at 7 am, the guards at our apartment complex blow their whistles for no reason whatsoever, and the traffic never stops... it gets old. I´ve been here for a month, and I´m ready to fall asleep listening to crickets again!

Male comments/fashion.
Guys here are a lot more disrespectful toward women. They catcall or make little comments like ¨Hey pretty mama¨ and ¨Whatcha doin´ tonight?¨ as we walk along. And they stare at us girls, directly and without shame. And they definitely don´t stare at our faces! I´ve never felt my gender so vividly before.
At the same time, all of the girls here are MUCH more fashionable than me. I don´t care- I´ve never really cared about fashion. Don´t want to pay for it. But the clothes that are normal at Linfield? Those are work-in-the-garden-on-Saturday clothes. And the clothes I would wear for Easter Sunday? Those are everyday-going-to-school clothes.

There are so many more things to say, but I have to go write a paper for my education class. This weekend, I´m going to Baños, a tourist site in Southern Ecuador, with my volcanology class. We are going to Cotopaxi, one of the largest volcanoes in Ecuador, while we are there. It should be a fun weekend- I´ll tell you about it next week!

In case you´ve forgotten, mail makes my day. I´d love to hear from anybody who feels like writing!
Rachel Mills
PO Box 17-12-280

And I´ve heard it is difficult to comment on my blog- sorry! If you feel like it, you are welcome to email me ( or comment on Facebook instead?

Hope everybody is having an amazing February!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Homework, blah. Food, yay.

Why can’t we go to school in Ecuador but not have homework?” (my friend Raquel Aufderheide, on Saturday.) That pretty much sums up my sentiments for the week. Remember how I said my classes weren’t difficult? Well, that was week one. They’ve gotten harder- I spent close to 15 hours on homework this weekend and I’m still not done. Essays are the hard part (because they are in Spanish! I know what I want to say and it works in my mind, but when I put it on paper… not so much.) Of course, since this is college, the only assignments we have are tests and papers.

I don’t want it to sound like I’m not enjoying my classes, because I am. I have quite a few classes this term, and I enjoy them all. Right now, I have four sports classes because sports classes at USFQ don’t count for credit. At Linfield, they do count for credit, so I never have room in my schedule for them. But here, I can take as many as I want!

I particularly love my sports class called Capoeria. Capoeria is a combination of martial arts and Latin dance- it’s SOOO much fun! I totally recommend it! Class is a very intense hour and a half of lunging, jumping, rolling, doing handstands, kicking, leaping, dodging, and trying to make it all look graceful. But when it works- it’s the coolest thing! You dance with a partner, and it looks like a slow motion fight. It’s pretty sweet! Intense, though, like I said. I don’t get sore easily, but I could barely walk for two days after the first class!

I’m excited for my Andinismo class- another sports class where we go climb around and backpack in the Andes. My first trip is in two weeks, and I’m psyched. Right now, we are learning about knots and safety harnesses. Last Thursday, my host mom asked me how school had gone, and I told her that I had learned about nudos (knots.) She was really confused until I explained that I had learned the nudos in my mountain climbing class!

My bilingual education class is also incredibly fascinating. The class is nonstop discussion- even when the professor tries to lecture, we always have so many questions that it turns into a debate instead of a lecture. The material is so interesting- you know how they say that kids can learn languages better than adults can? That’s actually only true up until the kid is 10 months old for written language and 5 years old for spoken language. After that, the learning abilities don’t change- if you are good at languages when you are six, you’ll have the exact same ability when you are 60. Cool, huh?

I’ve had a few requests to talk about the food, so here you go. It’s funny- in Ecuador, fruit is really cheap. Before I came, people told me to be prepared to eat a ton of fruit and seafood. I apparently got a non traditional Ecuadorian family. We had seafood for the first time today- usually it’s chicken. They have fruit in the house, but I’m essentially the only one who eats it raw. They mostly make juice out of it- but I’m not complaining! The juice is wonderful. They’ve finally figured out how much fruit I eat, so they are starting to buy more for me (sound familiar, Mom?)

They also drink a TON of coffee and hot cocoa- neither of which I enjoy. I have finally taught myself to drink tea because I don’t want to be rude and drink nothing when they offer me hot drinks. It’s easier to say that I prefer tea than to explain that I don’t really like any of them!

Breakfast is usually bread and hot drinks, although my host mom started giving me fruit when she figured out that I like that better. Lunch is the big meal of the day, and it’s usually eaten around 1. Dinner is called la cenita- little supper. We drink hot chocolate or coffee (or tea!) and eat bread and cheese.

Lunch consists of three courses: soup, a meal of rice and chicken and juice, and then desert- usually cake or ice cream. Considering the prices of vegetables, I’m really surprised by how seldom veggies are a part of the meal. Regardless, the food is delicious. The soup usually fills me up, and then I eat only about half of what is on my plate.

It’s funny- I feel like I’ve eaten too much everyday since I arrived, and my host mom is worried that I’m starving to death. I had to leave the house at 5:45 last Thursday, so I decided not to wake her up and just take a banana with me for my breakfast. She was quite upset with me, saying that if I got sick and died from malnourishment, it would be her fault. She sat right down and copied my schedule- you can bet I won’t be making my own breakfast again!

Last thing- I made lunch for them this weekend- rice, broccoli, chicken kiev (my favorite recipe!), and an attempt at zucchini bread. Unfortunately, I didn’t decide to make the zucchini bread until Saturday morning, and I had neither the recipe nor the Internet to look it up. So I tried to make it from memory. It was probably the flattest, most pathetic loaf of zucchini break I’ve ever made. Sigh. Oh well. The meal tasted delicious and now they all think I’m a good cook (chicken kiev is about the only thing I can make well, but that’s why I made it!) Now my host mom is teaching me to make Ecuadorian foods- I’ll have lots of good recipes when I come home!

Speaking of recipes, if anyone feels like emailing/mailing me some (such as oatmeal fudge bars (cough cough, roommates!) or chocolate chip banana muffins (cough cough, family!)

This is getting long, so I’ll end it here. Miss you all!


Monday, January 11, 2010

Lindo Mindo

What an amazing weekend! Flying through the air on a zip line, lazing around by the river, salsa dancing in a disco bar, spending a rainy Saturday afternoon in a sweet little chocolate/art shop…what could be better?

As you can probably tell, I went on a trip this weekend with friends. We didn´t go to the beach- it´s too far for a two day trip. But we did go to a town called Mindo. It’s an easy trip from Quito- two hours by bus and it only costs $2.50. If you get a chance, you should go! Mindo is an adorable tourist town with tons of attractions: zip lines, waterfalls, butterfly farms, tons of species of birds, tubing on the river, and a local market with trinkets and gifts. (My friend Adrianne bought the cutest little shoulder bag with toucans on it!)

We had a few mishaps during the journey to Mindo. First, guess who overslept? Yes, me. Instead of waking up at 6:15 to meet my friend Raquel, I woke up at 7:20 when my host mom knocked on my door and said “Why are you still here?”

I ran out the door and caught a taxi to El Terminal del Norte, also called La Ophelia. I arrived in front of the ticket office at 7:55. Two other friends, Josh and David, were waiting with good news and bad news. The bad news was that Raquel and our friend Adrianne hadn’t arrived. The good news was that the bus didn’t leave until 8:20.

The bus left at 8:20, but Raquel and Adrianne weren’t on it. They apparently caught another bus to Mindo, which shouldn’t have been possible. As they told us later, their bus dropped them on the side of the road near Mindo (not in front of the Mindo ticket office as our bus did.) They had to ride in the back of a random truck and pay extra to get to Mindo!

Note to future Mindo travelers: buy a ticket on the bus operated by the Flor del Valle! They are the legit ones; I have no idea who runs the other bus, but I’m not impressed. We were just glad that the girls made it safely.

The first thing we did in Mindo was go to the zip lines. It was amazing! The company has XXXXXXXXXXX meters of cables high up in the mountains, 12 zip lines in total. And we paid only $10 apiece! We finished the first zip lines and I thought that was the end. But there were eleven more! We got to go upside down on one zip line, go with a partner and have one person fly like Superman in front, and ride on a cable that they bounced for us. The last cable was the best- it was so long and went so fast! It was AMAZING!!!!

We were feeling a little cheap, so we didn’t pay to go tubing, see the butterfly farm, or visit the Las Cascadas, the waterfalls that are supposed to be really amazing. But we had a great lunch at La Chef, wandered around and took pictures, and ended up spending the afternoon talking to the proprietors of a cool little place called ChocolArte. Victor and Carrie, the owners, offer coffee, hot chocolate, sweets, and breakfasts. They make their own chocolate, and they give demonstrations if you ask. (We asked; they were out of cacoa so they couldn’t.) But their food is delicious and the atmosphere is great. We probably hung out there for a good four hours this weekend!

We also had fun salsa dancing at a disco/bar called el Bambú on Saturday night and at the river on Sunday morning. The disco was interesting- we tried salsa dancing and decided we weren’t very good. The Mindo boys would teach us the basic step, but as soon as we figured that out, they would start getting fancy and we would get confused! I think it’s time for salsa lessons…

On Sunday morning, we wanted to go Las Cascadas (the waterfalls, remember? Weren’t you paying attention?), but it cost $20 to get a ride there and back, which was more than we wanted to spend. So we hiked down to the river and found our own mini waterfalls, plus an island with lovely rocks for sunning ourselves. And the best part? It was free!

Just a quick note really about hostels- if you are traveling in Ecuador (or any country, frankly! Except maybe Antarctica…), there are a ton of hostels. They all want your business, but because you are a visitor, they will all think you are stupid and don’t know what is a fair price. In Mindo, we paid $8 per person, and that included a room for the boys and one for the girls, hot water for showers, and breakfast the next morning. Some hostels offer TV or Internet, but we didn’t bother with those niceties. A good hostel in Ecuador without breakfast runs about $6. There are some owners who see the color of your skin and raise the price to $10 or $12; when you come to Mindo, be smart and bargain! Because you are coming to Mindo, right???

That’s all I’ve got for you now! I´ll give you and update on the host family and classes next time.



Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Primera semana!

Hola todos! So, I realized yesterday exactly how many people I´ve promised to stay in touch with and write to every week while I´m abroad, and it´s probably not going to happen. I´ll try, por supuesto, guarantees. I also realized that the 6-8 pages I write each night in my journal have so many interesting things that I want all of you to know. So... I started a blog for the first time in my life. I probably won´t be writing in it as often as I would like- there´s no Internet in mi casa so I have to do it in my free time at school. But I´ll try, I promise!

I´ve been in Ecuador for... four days now, and my head hurts. There´s so much Spanish all around me, and my brain is trying to translate all of it! I spend a lot of my day staring into space as I eavesdrop on the conversation behind me. But en realidad, there´s actually more English  than I expected. My host dad, Marco, understands English, but I refuse to speak it with him (I´m here to learn Spanish not English!). My closest friend so far is another international student from Oregon, also named Rachel (we both go by Raquel here!). She speaks Spanish basically fluently, but we speak English together usually. Sometimes, I´d rather speak Spanish, but it really does take a ton more effort, so it´s good for me to rest sometimes. Besides, when we promise to speak Spanish together, we spend a lot of time sitting quietly because we don´t care enough to talk, and that´s no way to cement a friendship!

My classes are all in Spanish, and they started today. I was really worried about them- everyone told me that the classes were the same difficulty as those at Linfield but in Spanish. Totally not true! I have four ¨real¨ classes and three ¨fun¨ classes. Today´s classes were all real. I started with Temas de America Latina- a political science class. The professor spoke quickly, but the words weren´t too difficult and I followed pretty well. I have a tape recorder (thanks Grandma!) that I will use to record all my lectures so I can play them back again more slowly if need be. Temas seems like an interesting class, and it´s FULL of students from the US (We have to be careful about calling ourselves Americans. Guess what? Ecuadorians are American tambien!)

My other two classes are Intro. a Cultura Ecuatoriana- a class for international students that seems super easy and a little dull... I´m thinking about dropping it- and Española Avazada. I like all of my professors so far, but the work (at least what I´ve seen on the syllabus) doesn´t seem to difficult. My other classes should be easy too: Volcanología (I get to study volcanoes!), Fútbol, Guitarra, y Andinismo (a class that is all about climbing mountains here! Literally, the study of climbing the Andes!).

I´m a little frustrated at the classes, but hopefully they will get harder. After all, it´s only the first day! And trying to communicate with my family makes up for it: mi español es limitada, and it´s not always easy to understand what they are saying. I zone out sometimes, and when they want to speak to me, they have to say things two or three times. But I´m learning!

There´s so much to tell, but I have to go. Time to meet Raquel and catch a bus for the hour long trip home. The next two days will be full of classes and I think we may go to la playa (the beach) this Saturday because... why not? We´re in Ecuador! It´s so hot that I have a sunburn! In January! Que loco! 

As the Ecuadorians say (I´m not joking about this): ciao todos!