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

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Hope everybody is having an amazing February!