Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Historic birthday, historic city

So my 25th birthday was a few weeks ago. It passed without mention here on this blog, but some major celebrating occurred, as is only fit for a milestone such as this one. I never gave much thought when I was younger to what I would be doing or where I would be in my twenty-fifth year, but I can say with certainty that spending it in Ecuador never crossed my mind. Still, being sung to in both English and Spanish and having various toasts made in my honor was a welcome surprise. A bunch of VASE friends and I went to BaƱos to celebrate two birthdays the other weekend: mine and Leslie’s, who is the other US volunteer. There was cake, there were candles, (thanks for sending, Mom!), there were mystery drinks at the bar, and a fireworks display. We also decided to go white water rafting down the Rio Negro, which was an appropriately thrilling and dangerous activity to appease my quarter life crisis. All in all, 25 ain’t so bad.

Since I’m now officially old, it only made sense to visit Ecuador’s finest historical city: Cuenca. A few brave friends, both old and new, agreed to put up with the punishing 10 hour bus ride with me, and it was completely worth it. Everything that I feel Quito is lacking, Cuenca has. Beautiful churches on every corner? Check. Cobblestone streets? Check. Ambling river? Check. Inca ruins nearby? Check. It was a perfectly touristy cultural weekend, complete with guided tours and museums, and plenty of postre to keep me happy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Art Exposition

Way back in February when I was trying to figure out what on earth I was going to do at FUDIS since being a therapist was out of the question, I brought up the idea of doing weekly art activities with the patients to Ines. Nearly four months later, I (with the help of so many exceptional people) managed to pull off quite a classy viewing of a selection of the paintings done by thirty-two of the patients at FUDIS.

The past few weeks have been a blur of organizing and collaborating with FUDIS and VASE to get this art exposition ready – I can now add floral arrangement and curator to my repertoire – and it all came together last night at the inauguration of the exposition, called “Una Arcoiris de Esperanza”, or a Rainbow of Hope. About 75 people came for the speaking program/cocktail party and the local news channel showed up to capture it all. Seeing the room full of people and the large camera hovering right near the stage made me incredibly nervous to give my toast (in Spanish, no less!), but all went well and I managed to not dissolve in a pool of sweat at the podium. After speaking to many of the guests about the paintings and my time here in general, I stepped back for a moment to reflect on the scene around me. Not only was it an amazing feeling to know that hey, I helped make this happen, but also to know how much this would do for both VASE and FUDIS. Both foundations need all the exposure they can get, and this was such a wonderful opportunity to get the word out about the good things that both programs are doing here in Ecuador.

Even though I still have three weeks left, it already feels like I’m starting to say goodbye to Quito. The expo was the culmination of everything I’ve been doing here, and looking around I realized how much I’ve actually accomplished. There were definitely days working at FUDIS where I felt frustrated and lonely, but in that moment, I felt so much love and appreciation for everything that FUDIS and VASE has given me since I arrived.

Monday, May 10, 2010


One of the most recognizable peaks on the Panamerican highway, Cotopaxi, has been calling to me ever since I arrived in Ecuador. Literally meaning “neck of the moon”, it is the world’s highest active volcano and stands at a mighty 19,347 ft above sea level. For a while, I had entertained the thought of trying to summit this beast, but my lack of technical skills involving crampons and ice picks convinced me to scale back on my ambitions. Hence, Sunday found me and a few friends on a guided trip up to the snow line and around the national park.

On a clear day, you can see Cotopaxi’s snow-capped peak from Quito. Unfortunately, Sunday was not a clear day. Oh well. Onward and upward we went in the bus through the entrance to Cotopaxi National Park and to the parking lot, where we would start our ascent to the base camp at 16,400ft. The wind was howling and icy rain was pelting us from all sides as we trudged along the path covered in volcanic ash. With the fog closing us in on all sides, it felt like we were on another planet. Certainly not Ecuador, since it seemed pretty strange to be seeing snowflakes so close to the equator. Even though I’d been hitting the gym pretty frequently, it was still difficult to breathe at that altitude. We finally reached the Base Camp refuge after an hour of hiking and were treated to lunch and hot tea. Everyone in our group was soaked and freezing, but we sat around the table animatedly swapping stories and sharing travel tips with fellow volunteers and other backpackers from a handful of countries around the world. I think everyone was secretly relieved when our guide told us that the visibility was too poor to continue our hike up to the glacial line. Instead, we scrambled back down to the parking lot to pick up our bikes and zoomed down to Laguna Limpiopungo, about 8 miles away. Freezing hands aside, it was a great ride and once we emerged from the clouds there were some spectacular views. It’s amazing that a country as small as Ecuador can have such diverse landscapes; the sparse vegetation and craggy mountains were a stark contrast to the lush cloud forest and humid coast that I enjoyed the other weekend. Sometimes I forget that I’m living in the Andes mountains, and this trip served as a reminder of what an amazing part of the world I’m calling home for a few more weeks.

Monday, May 3, 2010

So I joined a gym back in February in order to ease the suffering of my poor lungs at approximately 9,180 feet above sea level. I’m pleased to report that I can now run for 30 minutes straight at a halfway decent speed! I definitely wasn’t anticipating so much altitude training, but it’s been a good experience overall. The place is pretty ghetto (no surprise there, since I paid $40 for three months!) and populated with lots of muscle men who check out their pecs in the mirror in-between reps. One of the reasons I keep on coming back, though, is my trainer David. Though he has very few skills by way of personal training, he is hilarious and always yelling at me that I’m too “suave” in my abdominal region. So when he wasn’t at the gym mixing up protein shakes all last week, I started to worry. It turns out that he left for another job, taking his sweet Hits of the 70's mix with him. I feel so cheated! I mean, it’s not like he was exactly helping me turn into the next Kara Goucher, but still. I’m heartbroken.

In other news, Olga, Oskar, and I headed to Mindo on Saturday to check out the cheapest ziplines in South America. What a treat! Mindo’s a small town two hours north of Quito with a lot of cool stuff going on – rafting, a butterfly farm, organic coffee farm, horseback riding… Since we only had the day there, we spent our time zooming across the cloud forest in the pouring rain, making friends with the butterflies, and eating. Solid day, even if most if it was spent soaking wet.

Yesterday I went over to Olga’s house to join her in feasting on a homemade cake and to say hi to my old host family. It was so great to chat with Paola, my old/Olga’s current host mom, over tea and catch her up on my project and find out how the family is doing. It’s afternoons like that when I really wish I had a host family – sometimes living at FUDIS can feel a little isolating. But then I talk with other volunteers whose host parents call incessantly asking when they’ll be home, and I’m grateful for the freedom that I have to come and go.