About McKenzie McClure

I am a junior at Western Oregon University planning on going into nursing! I will be in Quito Ecuador for a medical internship September 26th – December 5th, 2015.

Peru and Happy Holidays

I’ve officially been back in the United States for 21 days, and am so glad to be home with my loved ones. Before I get to that, let’s rewind to Peru, which was AMAZING. (However, it didn’t come without its battles and panic attacks)

Peru

I left Quito on the 3rd for Lima, Peru and stayed overnight in the airport (and lived off Starbucks-I was really happy to see that place again). This is where I met up with my aunt Anna, who was told by her airlines that her bag never left Houston. She would be without it for at least three days (and during Machu Picchu).

In the morning I had a one hour flight to Cusco at 6 am, then needed a 20 minute taxi from Cusco to the Puyo train station for my 8:25 am train to Aguas Calientes. This is where me and my aunt would meet up with my friend Blake who had gotten into Cusco the day before. I immediately fell asleep on the plane as soon as I sat down. Unfortunately, when I woke up at 7 am, the plane was on the ground: it hadn’t even left yet. By this time my aunt was most likely in Cusco, by herself, looking for me, and neither one of us had a way to communicate without wifi. My plane landed at 8:05, giving me exactly 20 minutes to get through the airport, find my aunt, find a taxi, and make it to Puyo all before our train at 8:25 left. And believe it or not, we did it! It took some sprinting, and a really nice cab driver that took some interesting routes and wouldn’t let me stop for a bathroom, but as we ran up during the “last call” whistle, we were helped to our seats. And to Blake.

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Aguas Calientes is the town at the base of Machu Pichhu, about a 20 minute bus ride from one of the Inca’s biggest secrets. The town was quaint and adorable, just as I had imagined. You were completely surrounded by mountains, pizza places, and little markets where everyone sold the same exact things, claiming they made it themselves.

Peru’s money is called Nuevo Soles (New Suns). One US dollar is about 3.4 soles at the moment. It was the first time I had used a different currency (Ecuador uses the US dollar), and it went a whole lot smoother than I expected.

There was a river filled with dark water (due to minerals) and massive rocks with amazing shapes to them. We think this was due to the water level previously being higher, sculpting the rocks.

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Peru’s famous drink is called Pisco Sour. It’s used with Peru’s own alcohol: Pisco, and it’s blended with egg whites. It’s actually pretty good. They also blend almost everything with egg whites, like lemonade. It gives a smooth, foamy texture- I loved it.

We got into Aguas Calientes around noon and spent the whole day exploring. After dinner we all settled down to try and get a good night’s sleep before waking up at 5 am for the early bus ride to Machu Pichhu.

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Which was better than I could have ever imagined.

We were there from 6 am to about 3:30 pm, and had a guide for the first 2 hours of the experience. The stone work, the architecture, the paths and bridges and trails, everything was amazing.

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Even though it was a bit foggy in the morning, it quickly changed into a beautiful and warm day. If none of us were told it was Peru’s rainy season, I’m sure we all would have believed it was at least Spring. Even with putting on sunscreen twice, my neck was completely fried (not complaining, every second was worth it).

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In the early afternoon we all went on an up hill hike to the Inca’s sun gate trail. There are a very few times in my life where I can say I felt that empowered. Once you make it to the sun gate you can look at Machu Picchu and realize you climbed above one of the world’s greatest wonders, and are now looking down on it. You’re standing on a trail that was used daily by an empire in the 1400’s. You’re surrounded by the Andes mountains. You realize you are so small but that specific moment is so huge. Nothing in my life has been more breath taking.

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After a full day at Machu Picchu and another night in Aguas Calientes, we made our way back to Cusco. On the train we got to visit with fantastic people from all over the world — one of my most favorite things about traveling.

In Cusco we explored the city, bar hopped for the last time (until September!), and went to an artisan market. However, the NEXT day, we got to go an a four-wheeling tour around the Peruvian countryside, a beautiful lake, and Incan salt mines.

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This was my first time on an ATV and even though it scared the crap out of me, I loved every second. It was a fantastic way to tour a country, especially when you want to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

After four wheeling and dinner, it was time to get ready to go home. I had an 8 am flight to Quito and needed to be in a cab for the airport by 5 am. However, when that morning came about, everything went different than expected.

I was supposed to be boarding my flight at 7:40 and at 7:35 I didn’t have a gate number. By then I knew it would be delayed. What I didn’t know was that it would later be cancelled, and leave me stranded in the Cusco airport. The airlines were letting people from my canceled flight get on other flights to Lima if they had a chance of making their connecting flight — which I did. However, according the airlines, my flight back to Quito was full and therefor they wouldn’t give me a seat in another flight to Lima. When I asked when they’d be getting me back to Quito, they said the soonest flight they had available would be the next morning. This put me in full-out panic mode because my flight to the US was at 8 am the next day, and the airlines that were screwing everything up were not the airlines I’d be taking back home, which meant I wouldn’t be reimbursed for the three flights I’d miss.

After causing a huge scene I was offered a possibility that would get me to Quito by 1 am: Fly from Cusco Peru to Lima Peru, to Bogota Colombia, to Quito, Ecuador. With just enough time in the airport to have someone drop off my bags I’d left at Rosita’s, and take a quick nap. Then I’d wake up and go from Quito to Miami, Miami to LA, LA to Portland, and make the drive from Portland to home. So that’s exactly what I did.

I still dealt with more issues like delayed flights, the airlines printing me the wrong boarding passes, and throwing up on the plane from anxiety that I’d never get home or be able to sleep again. However, along the way I got to bond over my hatred for Avianca Airlines (NEVER USE THEM) with other passengers who were also screwed over, and meet more fantastic people from all over the world. One of the best parts: I got to have an hour long conversation in Spanish with a man next to me. At that point I realized I really had accomplished so many of my goals while in Ecuador, and I began to feel proud of myself for handling the whole experience the way I had.

After 50 straight hours of airplanes and airports, and stepping foot in 4 countries in 24 hours, I made it home to see my people. I got to take showers with hot water, hug my family, go on an actual date with my boyfriend, and go back to being vegetarian-which I missed a lot. Everything was as it should be.

Plus, the holidays is such a fantastic time to be getting to come back home.

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Now that it’s been a couple weeks I’d like to think that I’m fully readjusted to the United States, although it surprisingly wasn’t very hard to do so. I’d been warned that I’d have a difficult time getting used to things, but for me this wasn’t the case. I appreciate everything on a new level, but there was no huge reverse culture shock like I’d been expecting.

I’m now preparing to start winter term next week, and moving into my very first apartment with my friend Jamie! Although I’m so excited for whatever adventure is around the corner, I’m incredibly content with getting back into the routine of school, family, friends, and work. I missed the normalcy of home and it will be nice to enjoy it for a while.

Happy New Years everyone! Hopefully 2016 brings you as much happiness as 2015 brought me.

xoxo,

McKenzie

Hasta luego, Ecuador

Today was my last full day in Quito.

Tomorrow at 2 pm I leave for the airport and arrive in Lima, Peru that night. Then I take an early flight to Cusco, where I will meet my Aunt Anna and friend Blake for a train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.

It has yet to hit me that I won’t be living here anymore. My bags are packed and my plane tickets are ready, but it still feels like a regular old day. I don’t have the excitement and anticipation in my stomach like I did before I came here. I’m ready to come home, but I know when I do I’ll be leaving a piece of my heart here in Ecuador.

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Before I get too sappy let me back up and talk about how the last week and a half has gone.

Last week I was at a public hospital for family medicine. I got to shadow in on specialties like chronic illnesses, the emergency room, and pediatrics. Surprisingly, I liked pediatrics way more than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I loooove babies and kids, but they’re so difficult when they’re sick! They’re sad, they don’t cooperate, they don’t tell you where it hurts or what kind of pain it is, you have to literally pin them down to take their temperature or give them a vaccine, etc.

That being said, it was fascinating! I learned how to do the 3 month check up: listen to the heart, lungs, and digestive system of the baby. Move their hips and check for dysplasia, measure their growth, then chart it and compare it to the mean statistics of other babies in their age group, and more. I saw babies that were under weight, overly large, had infections, children who couldn’t walk and had underdeveloped lungs from improper care during premature birth, and other interesting impairments I had yet to see for myself in the United States.

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I really love that babies and little kids don’t have the social filter to refrain themselves from looking shocked or quizzical when they see something new. Those kids did not know what to think of me. They looked me up and down, from my hair to my eyes to my skin and my shoes (huge difference between shoe choices in the US and Ecuador). Some of them had looks of terror, some of them were just confused, and some of them were intrigued. Either way, I won most of them over by having stickers and lollipops in my pockets. 🙂 Works like a charm.

On Thursday I spent part of the day skyping some of my family before they ate Thanksgiving dinner — which was so nice. That evening Rebeccah, Lauren, and I all went out to a fancy dinner to celebrate. We couldn’t find anywhere with traditional American Thanksgiving food, so we went downtown and paid way too much for a meal, but had a fantastic Thanksgiving. The best you can hope for when away from your home, family, and close friends. (And mashed potatoes)

That weekend I went to the doctor for my knee due to the persistent reminding that it was necessary to go by Rosita and my medical director. Thankfully, the doctor agreed at this point the damage has already been done and I can wait to get an MRI/XRay in The States. Not thankfully, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if it was a ruptured ligament that required surgery in the future. For now I am still constantly wearing my brace and have been given some physical therapy exercises to prepare my legs for Machu Picchu. So pumped.

On Sunday we went to my Spanish teacher’s son’s 3rd birthday party and had an amazing time. But first, we had to go toy shopping. Oh my goodness. I’ve talked about how anything imported is crazy expensive here, right? The only toy store we knew of was Toys R Us, and we were in for a huge surprise.

Toys that would cost anywhere from $10-$20 in the states were at least double, sometimes triple or quadruple, here in Ecuador. I took pictures so people could ACTUALLY see what I meant. Look at those price tags (which are not including tax).

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Luckily, there were 3 of us, so we split the price of an iron-man action figure and a toy dinosaur 3 ways, and didn’t have to break the bank.

Once we were there we got to play with Dimitri and a street puppy that hangs out near by. SO CUTE.

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Then, the party began. Ecuadorians are no amateurs when it comes to throwing a party. There was lunch, snacks, dinner, dessert, drinks, music, dancing, clowns, games, the works. We were there from 2 pm to 9 pm. They even had little Pinatas for each kid who came that were made out of ceramic clay. (I was the only one who broke their’s, those 3 and 4 year olds got to see how it was done) OH, and Marco, our Spanish teacher, was of course one of the clowns.

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This week I got to shadow a gynecologist, who also happens to be a surgeon. I saw HPV, cervical polyps, paps, mammograms, was taught how to diagnose osteoporosis, and then scrubbed in on two hysterectomies. One was done robotically and vaginally, while the other was the conventional method. Both were done due to myomas and fibroids. I also really liked this field. So now I have 3 or 4 specialties I could picture myself going into…great. (Also can we just take 2 seconds to recognize how fantastic the female body/reproductive system is? We literally have the ability to create life and undergo unfathomable change and pain to support it. Women are superheroes)

Okay, now for some observations about Ecuador I think I have yet to share (everything is kind of blending together):

  • The strawberries are the size of orange cuties here. At least. Literally like the size of a fist.
  • Even the best, wealthiest, hospitals violate health codes like not changing gloves or hygienic furniture coverings between patients.
  • Ecuadorians love their crocks. Yes, the plastic shoes. Love them. If you have a profession where it is socially acceptable to wear crocks here, huge added bonus.
  • There are way more female med students than female doctors. I have no explanation as to why this is but I have two guesses: Either after years of needing to prove themselves more than their male counterparts, they got fed up and dropped out. OR as this country makes strives to end the machisimo culture here, women are feeling more able to assert themselves in male dominated roles and professions. I’m hoping for the second guess.
  • People here have four names and you write them down in this order: Father’s last name + Mother’s last name + first name + “middle name”
  • There are security guards and parking assistants for every business and building ever in Quito. I think I pass more guards on my way to work than actual pedestrians.
  • Troles are really really awful. They’re crammed full, they’re stuffy, they smell bad, they jolt around and make you carsick, and people literally ride the trole all day every day trying to rob you. Like, that is their profession.
  • People with disabilities here are treated better than I expected (from what I have witnessed). If someone who is blind or has a different physical ailment gets on a bus alone, people take it upon themselves to make sure they get a seat or are guided out the doors when necessary. Kids with downs syndrome happily hold their parents hands and play with them in the park without protest. City jobs are given to people who otherwise wouldn’t normally be employed. That being said: I have yet to see a child with disabilities put into a school with children without disabilities. Quito is also not a physically safe or accessible atmosphere for people with disabilities: hand rails and wheel chair ramps are not a thing, there are very few troles with places to put a wheal chair, and basic needs like walking on a smooth sidewalk are not obtainable.
  • Women curl their eyelashes with the back of spoons
  • Toilet paper pretty much doesn’t exist here
  • You have to pay to use a public restroom
  • Fiestas de Quito is coming up: Quito’s largest holiday and celebration that stretches to be a week long. Shops and stores shut down so people can have plenty of time to drink all day, then ride in a bus called the “Chiva” that looks like a cart made for livestock, but has flashing lights and music blaring.
  • Everyone who asks me what my name is, hears it then replies with “no, I mean what is your first name?”
  • People love public displays of affection. Especially 13-year-olds on the trole. Another reason to not like them (troles that is).
  • Breast feeding here is totally acceptable. Whenever, however, in front of whomever. People recognize that breasts were first made to give nutrients to babies, so I have yet to see a mom be given a dirty look for showing an exposed breast in public when her baby is in need of food.

Alright, now for the sappy stuff.

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This country, the people in it, and their culture have taught me so much. Who knew a person could grow this much in just a few short weeks? I’ve laughed a lot, cried, seen things I wasn’t prepared for, was shocked in both happy and sad ways, and so much more. On top of that, I can now carry out full (yet still limited) conversations with strangers in Spanish. I feel like that alone is a fantastic accomplishment.

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Through this experience I have proven to myself that I have the capability of true independence. Yes, I received so much love, support, and help along this journey. Which I’m beyond thankful for. But I also made the decision at 20 years old to pretty much spend everything I had ever saved, move to a country where I didn’t know a single person, where I could barely speak the language, and work in a whole new healthcare system I had never witnessed before. AND I totally made it out alive. Not just alive, but in my opinion, a better human being.

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My experiences here were like non other. Experiences I will undoubtedly never have again. They made me excited, mad, emotional, overjoyed, devastated, and so much more. My experiences pushed me to be introspective and re-evaluate a lot of my own opinions, feelings, and beliefs. They pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I can’t even remember where that line is anymore.

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Although not what I expected, at all (and let’s get real, when is anything new what we expected?), I wouldn’t change this journey for the world. It did exactly what I had hoped it would do: change my life. It changed my perspective, my knowledge, my goals. It gave me a new sense of who I believe I am, and who I want to continue to strive to be.

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I am forever indebted to this country and the people in it. Ecuador, my first taste of a completely new world. The first country I fell in love with and fought with at the same time. A place that made me appreciate my home, yet want to strive for more positive changes as well. A country filled with amazing people who had no reason to want to help me, yet I know they would do anything to make sure I am okay. A country full of unexpected friends, mentors, family, and loved ones.

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Now that the time has come to say goodbye to this beautiful, at times heart breaking, eye opening, fantastic country, it’s a lot harder than I expected it would be. However, one thing I do know is that this isn’t goodbye forever, just “hasta luego.”

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Thank you for the love and kindness you have showed me, the education you have given me, and the experiences that will stay in my heart forever.

Until next time, Ecuador. You will forever be my first international love.

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Chao <3

-McKenzie

12/02/2015

My last full week in Quito

I’m writing on a much more positive note this week — Yay. My week at the surgery unit in the military hospital was amazing. This was the second time in the last few years that I’ve been able to scrub in on surgeries (now in two different continents), and I loved everything (ok like 99%).

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This time, I got to see a little bit of everything (which was nice considering I had a 40 minute commute and had to be there by 7 am). I got to see pre-op patients, check up on post-op patients, participate in rounds with the other medical students, scrub in on surgeries (one gallbladder removal, one hernia repair), sit in on consultations, be a part of diagnostic meetings, and sat in on a gastro-intestinal lecture. Can my life get any cooler?

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Unfortunately, I also had to sit in on family members receiving bad news about their loved ones. Which was incredibly difficult, and it made me glad it wasn’t something I had to personally be doing. It was especially difficult because Ecuadorians tend to have a strange way of reacting (in my opinion) to someone showing weakness or discomfort. I’ve never seen someone here acknowledge when a person starts to cry, instead they just turn the other way. My assumption is that this is to allow the person to try and “save some face” or recompose themselves to not appear emotional, which likely stems from the incredibly machismo culture they’re brought up in. Even the children at the preschool were ignored when they cried. Like they didn’t want them to be embarrassed for letting some emotion slip out. After saying goodbye to the great people at the surgical unit, me and the girls headed 9 hours south to Cuenca. A town worth the distance for its architecture alone. The fact that it was a solid 75 degrees and sunny the majority of the time was also an added bonus.

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And some more:

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Here we explored churches, plazas. museums, flower markets, artisan markets, a zoo, and ate some of the best food I’ve had while in Ecuador. The zoo was fantastic. There were baby lion cubs just feet away from a fence (yes, that’s literally all that separated us from them–and their mom) AND monkeys swinging freely from the trees as you walked around. I’m talking no cages of any sort. They sat on branches inches away from your face, I could have touched one if I didn’t forgo on the $900 rabies vaccine. Here’s a picture, I named him Frank:

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Okay, I told you I’d get to the food. So, the first day we got there we had breakfast at a German bakery. For $3 you got scrambled eggs, tea or coffee, and unlimited helpings to a buffet of freshly baked German bread. Poppy seed, rye, cinnamon, fruit chunks, you name it. Plus like a million different types of spreads. Yes, we stayed there for like two hours.

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On top of that we had delicious coconut juice, pesto bagel sandwiches, and Indian food that easily put me in a food coma. (Just a reminder I ACTUALLY haven’t cooked for myself in almost 3 months. Just let that sink in) Something that I’ve noticed a lot here is the obsession with Westernized culture (not surprising, considering it seems to be pushed on everyone). One thing that people seem to love here is imported US clothes and other goods. However, a shirt that would be like $15 in the US is easily $40 here, so most people can’t afford it. Unless of course you get a knock-off version of a brand that is popular with 14-year-olds int the States:

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On Sunday we decided to travel 45 minutes to a nature reserve called Cajas. Little did we know that just 45 minutes outside of beautiful Cuenca there was a raining, freezing, mess. And of course we didn’t dress accordingly. So instead of getting to hike a couple of the 200 lakes and over 75 trails, we sat in a restaurant by a warm fire, enjoying hot potato soup, and viewing the scenery while being sheltered from the cold. Not complaining over here, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Except maybe for it to be sunny.

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By the way, that fried cheesy goodness behind the soup is an epenada. I have at least 3 a week.

And here is a picture from on top of a hill, over looking part of Cuenca (Ecuador’s 3rd largest city):

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Other than having a great week, and weekend, my knee still kind of sucks. I bought a brace to keep it sturdy during my adventures, but I’m in constant need of ibuprofen and my mobility is a lot more limited then I would like. After being checked out by the doctor I’m shadowing this week, and by my medical director, both told me they would highly encourage an MRI as soon as possible. They talked about lateral ligament damage, and possibly a fracture from the patella hitting the other bones when it dislocated. I don’t really like the sound of that (obviously), but I’m very thankful I’ve been able to walk and my injury hasn’t ruined my trip, or cut it short.

Here is a picture of the swelling the morning after the dislocation/injury (thankfully no bruising and the swelling has gone down. It only hurts to straighten out or bend, and to the touch in some parts):

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Even though it’s not ideal that I have to use them, it’s pretty cool I’m surrounded by doctors that can give me consultations and checkups without appointments or being charged. I love being surrounded by medicine here: the girls I live with study it, we constantly talk about our clinical experiences, the Spanish I learn is mostly medical Spanish at the moment, and then I work in medical facilities at least 4-5 hours a day during the week. I’m in heaven (again, minus the knee)!

Today was my first day at a hospital for Familiar medicine. It was quite different than what I’ve been used to shadowing: which is private hospitals for people who can afford to pay a ton of money for excellent care. The hospital I went to today was for those getting help from social security, in a hospital that hadn’t had much attention itself in what looked to be decades. The consultation room I worked in had a small window, no working lights, a makeshift desk, and an examination bench/bed that looked like it belonged in MASH. But I’m so thankful I got to see this side, considering this is how the majority of people here receive health care (and those are the ones that even have access).

After shadowing the doctor who was checking in on patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and epilepsy, me and the other med students moved on to the Emergency Room. The ER was a large, square, cement room, with about 25 beds placed maybe two feet apart from each other, most with thin curtains between for “privacy.” No one had monitors for their vitals, most didn’t even get a pillow. And the weirdest thing? They had a hose-down station for pediatric patients. I kid you not, there was a room with a large basin, and if you brought your child into the ER, you were expected to put them in it, and hose them down. When I asked the doctor why this was, he said kids are often the most dirty of patients, carrying harmful germs, and they usually have some sort of bodily fluid on their clothing/hands. Especially when sick. Since the beds are so close to each other, they want to lower the risk of passing illnesses/bacteria on to weak, elderly, or pregnant patients…Interesting huh?

Speaking of those little germ-balls, everyone in the clinic who asks me what kind of specialty I want to go into, already assumes it’s pediatrics or maternity. In fact, many people have just answered their own question for themselves, before I got a chance to respond. In their defense, that’s what most young med/nursing students who are women want to do here. But I think it’s because it’s kind of already decided for them, in a societal-pressure type of way.

Sexism is incredibly obvious here, from little things that most people have learned to overlook, all the way to basic human rights issues. I have had very few public meals without a strange man commenting on how much I eat — obviously they have never witnessed what Thanksgiving looks like. My lunch portion has no comparison to the amount of food I wish I could be eating in two days.

Unfortunately, thanksgiving will be just another day for me. We’re not allowed to use the kitchen at my host-house, so we can’t make anything ourselves. And I looked into the big chain hotels around like the Marriott and the Hilton, but nothing is advertising some sort of celebratory meal. Looks like I’ll have to celebrate over chicken and rice, and count all the things I’m thankful for from my room here in Quito. There’s a lot, so it will probably take a while 🙂 I hope everyone has a fantastic holiday, please know that I’m thinking of you and am thankful you’re all in my life.

Buenos Noches.

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Tomorrow is a new day

Not every week or day can be wonderful, in any situation, even while exploring abroad (so I just learned). I’m thankful to have my health, my loving friends and family, and all the opportunities that have been given to me. That being said, this week was kind of a let down.

Not all of it though! I went to the musical, which was interesting to watch and fun to experience. It was more of a theatrical choir maybe? Definitely something similar to what a college theater/musical group in Portland might come up with.

Then, we went to the soccer game! Which was super fun to watch and participate in! Ecuador won against Uruguay, even with three injured players, so as of right now we are in the number one spot for the world cup!

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It was a lot less crazy than I expected. At least where we sat, it was a total family affair! We even made friends with the 4 year old boy in front of us, who decided he liked us so much that he would spend the whole game on our laps (especially Lauren’s, she seemed to be a fantastic human jungle gym). And of course the parents definitely didn’t mind getting a couple hours of alone time to watch the game, while we got our face paint poked at and Becca got her beer dumped. Haha

Speaking of snacks, tons of vendors walked around offering foods of all sorts. You didn’t even have to get up. So for $5.50 I got two epenadas, a big bag of popcorn, and like a 20 oz beer (still can’t bring myself to like that stuff–bleh).

On Thursday I also said goodbye to Doctor Palacio and the great people at the dermatology clinic.

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Every Thursday meeting is finished off with a fancy (and FREE) breakfast of fruit, yogurt, granola, bread and jam, eggs, coffee, tea, and some sort of sweet. So I pretended like it was more of a going away party for me 😉

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Unfortunately, this is where the great times seemed to end. On Friday the 13th the girls and I loaded onto a bus to Riobamba, a city about 4 hours South of Quito. Here we spent one of the scariest bus rides we’ve been on in Ecuador, and unfortunately passed fatalities on the road as we went by. These scenes were yet to be dealt with, so images of dead bodies on the road were in our minds as we swerved along to our destination.

One of the reasons we went to Riobamba was for a train that brings you around a boulder/mountain called the Devil’s Nose. When we went to buy tickets for the train later that day, we were told: 1) the price had gone up, and 2) there was construction, so the bus would ACTUALLY be departing from Alousi, a town 2 hours south, and the bus fair to get there was not included. We bought the tickets anyway, figuring we had already made the trip. At this point Becca’s brand new hiking boots had disappeared from her backpack as well, and we were not able to get any information from any of our bus or taxi drivers about their possible location. Maybe we should check eBay.

After a somewhat exhausting day, we got pizza at a little diner, which comfortingly turned out to be the best pizza I’ve had here (still nothing like the US). As we left the restaurant, it had gotten dark and we talked about going around to check out the night life of the city. However, in this short walk we all had begun to feel uneasy about our surroundings and the people paying attention to us on the streets. Not to mention passing a fatal car crash as we went for ice cream. And right as we decided to head back to the hotel instead, someone tried to pick-pocket me. Luckily, we have been on high alert since Lauren was robbed, and honestly he was just incredibly obvious, so he didn’t get too far before I caught on.

After what we thought was the ending to the terrible turn of events, we came back to our room to hear about the shootings in Paris. And by that time, I felt very defeated. I can’t even really explain the vulnerable feeling you get when something terrible like that happens in the world, and you are over 4000 miles away from all your loved ones. The entire world was hurting and being effected by this act of terrorism, and I couldn’t even hug my parents or my boyfriend. I’m going to be frank: it really sucked. We went to bed eager for the day to be over.

The next morning we went to Alousi, a town much cuter than I expected.

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And here was where I got to take my first train ride ever (unless you count the mini train at Oak’s Amusement Park).

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Which brings you on a 45 minute ride around Ecuador’s beautiful scenery, and then to the previously mentioned boulder/mountain, El Nariz Del Diablo:

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This outing went well, and was even accompanied by coconut ice cream. After heading back Riobamba we had dinner and a girls’ night in the hotel to try and make up for the last evening that didn’t go so well. By 6 am all of us were woken up by our neighbor vigorously hacking up something from his throat for at least 10 minutes. (Who needs an alarm clock when you have flem?)

Sunday we visited a town called Guano before making the trip home. Although small and not much of a tourist destination, I think it was worth visiting (However don’t come here if you’re interested in hearing a talented church chorus):

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Leaving Riobamba we were thankfully some of the last people to secure seats on the bus to Quito. However, here we passed more death on the side of the road, and it was where Lauren’s seat partner tried to rob her while she was sleeping (we’re smarter than that now people, come on).

Next, in Quito, we took a city bus back home. This was where Becca dropped a copy of her passport, and intelligently, I reached my leg out to try and swipe up the passport with my foot. Unfortunately, this left my leg and a terrible position, and then the bus came to a screeching halt, which caused my knee to buckle and I got to feel what it was like to have your patella pop out of the socket and then right back into place. This is why I am sitting on my bed at 1 pm writing this blog post instead of scrubbing in on awesome surgeries. I’m still mad enough I really don’t want to go into more detail.

And lastly, as I crawled into bed thinking that this weekend couldn’t end any worse, I found out a former classmate of mine, who just graduated June 2015, was killed in a hiking accident in the Redwoods. My love and condolences go out to the friends and family of Henry Nittler. He was always so kind, and dedicated to so many different activities. He will be missed by the entire North Eugene High School community, I am sure.

Sadly, this is where the blog post ends. I am desperately hoping for a better week ahead: for me, my loved ones back home, and those suffering across the world. Tomorrow is a new day. And now, after getting all the ugly events off my chest, I’m going to try and look towards the positive and make an effort to end the bitterness I’m harboring. Bad things happen, so now I just can’t let it ruin the short experience I have left here.

Love and appreciate everyone so much, I really should say it more.

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Relaxing week

This has by far been my most relaxed week in Quito. In fact, so relaxed, it has made me a little stir-crazy. We have been non-stop going almost every second since we’ve been here, so having time to sleep in and even finish a book I’m ready felt strange.

Wednesday, we ate cuy: Ecuador’s fanciest dish and also known as Guinea Pig in the United States. No, it was not good. I even sort of had high expectations for it. At this point I have tried guinea pig, goat, cow’s blood, cow intestine, cow stomach lining, and pig skin. I don’t think I’ll ever eat any of those again, but I did it and I didn’t die either.

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Thursday evening the girls and I went out to a Salsa club that is known for having a clientele of professional dancers and choreographers. I’ve never seen such beautiful dancing in my life. That includes anything I’ve watched on TV or youtube. These people looked like they had practiced dancing together for years, but the majority of them had never even danced together before. If you want to see some real talent, might as well buy a plane ticket to Ecuador right now. After a while us girls were asked to dance, and thankfully the people asking us knew what they were getting themselves into. But that didn’t even matter, our dance partners were SO good that we were doing moves we had never learned before, all from how easy it was to follow them (and if you couldn’t follow them, well they would just move you themselves and somehow make it look natural). It was by far one of the funnest nights out I have had here, and even though these were the best dancers I’ve ever tried to salsa with, they made me feel the most comfortable. YAY.

On Friday we took a cable car (called the Teleferiqo) up one of Quito’s highest points, to 13,000 feet altitude. Here, you’re supposed to be able to see out over Quito from dangling in the air. However, just our luck, a thunder and lightning storm hit just as we were about at the highest peak, but not close enough to get out of the cable car. We panicked as the cable stopped the cart we were sitting in, and waited for a good ten minutes, watching the storm around us while dangling in the air. Finally, we were taken to the top and got out, where we spent over an hour in a cafe watching the lightning. It wasn’t how we envisioned the outing, but it was pretty cool getting to see it from a warm chair with hot chocolate and chifles (plantain chips). You could even pay to have some flavored oxygen.

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I didn’t have a camera at the time, and I probably wouldn’t have thought to use it while suspended 13000 feet up during a storm, so here is a google image of what the teleferiqo looks like on a sunny day (also here is the link so I don’t get sued: http://www.deanmyerson.org/files/photo%20archive/foreign/ecuador/146%20teleferico%20above%20Quito.jpg) :

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Friday was also my three year anniversary with Christopher, so I got to spend my evening as perfectly as possible while in separate continents: skype date!

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Saturday started out fantastic. The girls and I went out to breakfast, then Ejido Park, where we got to stroll around and look at stands of Ecuadorian hand crafts. Here I bought the final two of my three oil paintings I will be bringing home with me, and am very in love with all of them:

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Then I was able to buy a decent amount of gifts all at the same craft stand, and I dropped enough money that the man I was buying them from was shaking and thanking god as I handed him the well-deserved money. It feels really good to see how something as simple as buying someone’s handmade work can make an impact. It was a mutually benefiting transaction, and we both left extremely happy campers.

Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last on the way home. My dear friend Lauren got her wallet stolen on the trole. This was frustrating for multiple reasons, but one of which was that we did everything we were supposed to in order to not become targets. We stayed close to each other, we had our bags in front of us, at least one hand on the bag, AND kept an eye out. Sadly, the bus was packed and a lady snuck up behind Lauren and was able to cut her wallet out of her bag with a knife. Even more aggravating, sweet little Lauren felt someone touching her bag and was was worried she might offend them by acting as if she was worried they were robbing her, so she just moved her purse to the other side of her body, where they couldn’t reach. But it was too late. I realized a lady next to us, who had JUST gotten on the bus at the same time as us, was getting off at the next stop and making a run for it. Then Lauren saw her slashed bag. We had been targeted even before we stepped on the trole (which hadn’t been more than a minute, if that).

Here’s the good news: at that point in the day we were all very broke, and had chosen not to go to the ATM that far away from the house. So the lady only made off with $10 and a debit card, which Lauren immediately canceled. And we think since Lauren moved her bag, the lady knew she was about to get caught, and didn’t bother trying to steal the camera that was also in her bag — thank goodness. Also, lets not forget she had a knife. Thank goodness it was only used for a dang purse. This was also a lesson-learned. We can’t get comfortable and lazy even though it’s been 7 weeks. Even if you follow all the rules in the book, if someone wants to take advantage of you, they will find a way to do it. Especially if they’re desperate. We just have to hope that $10 was put to good use.Which is a reason this blog post is lacking in pictures after Saturday: I have yet to bring a photo-taking device out of the house with me since this incident.

Sunday we went to Papallacta hot springs, 2 hours north of Quito. We ended up taking a taxi to the wrong bus station, over an hour and a half away from the station we were supposed to go to, so we splurged and paid a taxi to just take us all the way to the springs — that way we didn’t waste an extra two hours. At this point in the weekend, I think we were all needing a little TLC. At Papallacta they have 7 pools filled with natural mineral water, 6 of them with varying temperatures of heat, one of them ice cold. We spent a good four hours hopping from hot water to hot water, enjoying the mountains and river in the distance, and basking in the ability to actually have water warm enough to bite your skin again. We would have likely stayed a couple more hours if it weren’t for the thunder and lighting that hit. Sitting in a hot pool with cold rain feels amazing, but not amazing enough to risk being electrocuted. Here is a google picture of Papallacta, since our belongings were religiously locked up the entire day (http://loveecuadorliving.com/wpcontent/uploads/2014/03/1.1273165345.hot-springs.jpg):

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This week I went back to the dermatology clinic, and had a wonderful time. The more I stay there, the more I am interested in this specialty. It’s also nice to see the differences in practice when it comes to addressing the patient and prescribing medication.  The doctor I am shadowing is very stern about the concept that the patient is more than a medical problem in need of a diagnoses. He encourages small talk, wants us to know their full name, where they grew up, if they have children, etc. He lectures about small talk being one of the most important parts of the consultation, because it could give you necessary incite on the problem their facing that you might otherwise miss if you’re solely concerned about the symptoms. Dermatology is also a business where you potentially have to deliver bad news, and no one wants to receive bad news from a stranger. I love and appreciate his perspective. He also is very interested in making sure I understand what is going on 100% of the time, which I appreciate, because I’m sure it would be much easier to be bitter that someone came to a country to learn without even knowing the language fluently.

It’s hard to not feel like you’re a burden when you can’t fully understand someone, or express exactly what you want to say. I am so grateful for the kindness Ecuadorians have shown me in this department, and it hurts my heart to think that students in my same position in the United States are much less likely to receive the understanding that I have been given. I hope one day my country can be more accepting of cultures or customs outside of our own personal practices, and be compassionate towards people struggling to make ends meet in a place that is so foreign. I can’t imagine the difficulties someone would face in the US if they just moved there, are trying to work or go to school, AND all of a sudden be expected to be fluent in another language. Sheesh.

Working in the clinic has been a blast, and I can’t wait for the next few weeks of experiences, but I can’t help but miss my job back home. I have loved being a CNA more than I ever imagined, and already two months away from my residents and Valley West has made me excited to return to them. It’s difficult going to school in a town an hour and a half away from your favorite job. Hopefully the things I learned at clinicals here will improve my work back in Eugene. Or at the very least provide me with some entertaining stories to share.

Yesterday we went to my favorite restaurant: Crepes & Waffles. (pronounced Cray-pays-eee-wah-flays). Lauren and I make a solid effort to drag Rebeccah here at least twice a week. Who knew the reason I’d go broke in South America was because of all the gourmet ice cream I shove down my face?

Tonight I am headed out to dinner, and then to a Musical! I have no idea what it’s about, but we’re going with some girls we met at the beach who live here in Quito, and I’m sure it will be a fantastic experience.

Thursday we are going to a futbol game here in Quito: Ecuador against Uruguay. This is a BIG DEAL because both teams are in the running for the World Cup. We are painting our faces and going with our Spanish teachers as security guards, because apparently the crowds can get PRETTY wild. I don’t know what would be worse for my safety: if we win or lose.

I have learned that I am incredibly bad at “besos.” Which is when you greet or say goodbye to someone in Ecuador, and you lean in, put your cheeks against each other, and kiss the air. Almost like kissing each other’s cheeks at the same time, but not quite as intimate. One would think that I would have mastered this by week 7, but here I am, never failing at making the situation awkward. I am either excited I remembered, and seem very eager to kiss this new person. Or I don’t remember, and people lean in as I’m walking away. Or someone catches me off guard, and it doesn’t register that this person leaning close to my face is not in fact trying to kiss me on the mouth. In that situation, which has happened multiple times, I do the classic “duck and retreat” followed by a look like “whoa I just met you and you’re like 30. What do you think is going on here?” Hopefully the fact that I’m whiter than their lab coats is explanation enough for my ridiculous behavior.

With my free time this week I finished up the book “My Year With Eleanor” and started Amy Poehler’s book “Yes Please.” Both were incredibly thought provoking and literally laugh-out-loud funny. If anyone is looking for a feel good book to read, I recommend both. (Especially Yes Please if you like very blunt honesty in a hilariously vulgar way).

We have yet to come up with some plans for this weekend, but we BEST be doing something because time seems to be running out! I will officially be home in one month, all ready to start celebrating the holidays. Woop Woop.

Alright, I’ll be in touch soon! Hopefully with more news to share and pictures to post! Chao.

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Beaches and Clinical Rotations

The week has gone by so fast I can’t stand it. I’m hoping the others slow down, I can’t bare to believe that by this weekend I will only have one month left here. It’s physically painful.

Last Thursday I said a bitter-sweet good bye to my babies. One little boy even started crying, saying I could get a job as the school doctor, and that I didn’t need to go shadow in the hospitals. How can I not tear up at that?

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That night me and the girls boarded a 10 hour bus ride to Montanita, a beach town known for its shops and surfing, but quite possibly more famous for its non-stop partying. Although we had somewhat of an idea of what we were getting ourselves into, I think it’s safe to say we were a little clueless on this town’s idea of parties. I’ve never been to Vegas, but I’m going to go a head and make that comparison.

Our days were mostly overcast, but don’t let that fool you: we lounged in 80 degree weather the majority of the time, and none of us escaped without some sunburns.

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Our hostel was probably the nicest place we’ve stayed in so far, besides maybe the tree house in Mindo. It also had a bunch of Hawaii signs and sayings, which was fun to see. According to our neighbor from Peru, many Hawaiians come to Ecuador and Peru’s coast to see what “real surfing” is.

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And although the night clubs (discotecs), banana coladas, and general night life were fun to experience for a short while, we found it much more enjoyable to be doing other things, like riding bikes through the sandy streets, looking around shops, and reading on the beach.

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Shocking enough, the coast is famous for it’s seafood (who would guess?). And while here, I promised Chris’s dad that I would try one of Ecuador’s most famous seafood dishes: Ceviche. It’s like a cold soup, with (usually raw) squid, fish, shrimp, and shellfish, along with a sauce similar to pico de gallo: tomato, onion, peppers, cilantro, and lime.

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Although tasty, I think it was a bit much at 11 am (locals swear you have to have it before noon), and I couldn’t help but feet like I should be eating it like a salsa with chips, instead of straight with a spoon. Either way, it’s probably safe to say I had one of the best and most authentic versions of the dish.

We also managed to find bowls of at least 8 types of fruit, omelettes for $2 that were twice the size of our face, and coconut juice that would make you buy a plane ticket to Ecuador just to come back and have again (have I mentioned how much I’m going to miss the juice here when I have to leave?).

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After 3 nights in Montanita, including being mildly impressed by the Halloween activities and making friends with multiple street dogs, we took a bus an hour and a half north to the beach of Puerto Lopez.

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Here we took a 1.5 hour boat ride to La Isla De la Plata , an island off the coast of Puerto Lopez that is said to be similar to the Galapagos Islands. I was NOT one of the two people who got sea sick on that trip (Thank goodness for Dramamine).

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On our way to the island we saw a whale, which is a really big deal because the majority of them make their trek to warmer waters (is that possible?) in mid August-September.

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Once there, we snorkeled the coral reef where we saw a sting ray, sea turtles, and other exotic fishies. (That picture is of a sea turtle) And little sand crabs!

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After snorkeling we hiked to the highest point on the island and along the way saw some lizards, but more impressively: some birds literally called blue-footed boobies. Their feet, legs, and beak become a darker shade of blue with age. Their nests are lined all over the island, and we were lucky enough to see them not only sitting on eggs, but to also see them hatched with day old baby boobies.

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On the way back we lounged in the sun and ate water melon (life is hard, isn’t it?).

We spent the evening enjoying Puerto Lopez and the festivities that commenced for El Dia De los Muertos, the second of three holidays this weekend. However, the fiestas were not so intriguing when the music was still blasting at 3 am and we had to be up at 4 am for a 12 hour trek back home to Quito. (By trek I mean annoyingly long bus rides) We did, however, get to share a hostel and dinner with two girls from the Netherlands, which was fun!

Today, Wednesday, was my first day in clinical rotations. FINALLY.

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My first rotation is at a dermatology clinic instead of general medicine (which seems to be just a lot of prescriptions and medication checks). I was in HEAVEN today (some of you may know I’m considering dermatology as a specialty). I worked along the side of 7 Ecuadorian medical students and a fabulous doctor who cared a lot about teaching us. (Also, a little perk, most students and staff at the clinic could speak a decent amount of English, so when I had trouble understanding something, they could clarify!)

First, the doctor showed us pamphlets they give patients, and forms doctors fill out during the consultation. Then he showed us their most commonly used tools. They have a scope you use to look closely at problem areas, like moles or acne, and that scope can attach to an ipad, where you take a picture. With that picture you can discuss the diagnoses with multiple doctors or students, get second opinions without the patient present, save it as a reference to see the progression of the skin issue, and email it to your patient for their own references. When we had downtime between patients, the other students and I would zoom in on each other’s freckles, moles, and other skin abnormalities. Which was extra fun because the doctor showed us how to label moles based on their color, size, symmetry, and density, then rank it with a point system, and determine if it the mole was possibly problematic or needed further evaluation.

Once we were more comfortable and sat in on a couple consultations, the doctor would have us do an entire appointment in pairs. We’d interview the patient, collect medical and family history, even do a physical consult (in simple situations), then come up with our best diagnoses (the patients knew we were students of course). After that, the doctor would come in, go over our notes, give us advice on how to improve them, then do his own consultation and diagnoses, and compare it with ours. After his diagnoses he would explain his recommendation/prescription to both us and the patient, then after the patient leaves we would have a discussion about the appointment. I got to be a part of four of these and saw everything from fungal infections, to warts, to contact dermatitis, to skin ulcers. On patients ages 4 to 84. IT. WAS. AWESOME.

Due to the week being so short, I will get to spend another week at this clinic and I’m incredibly excited. After that I will spend a week in surgery, a week in maternity, and a week in pediatrics (then a week in Peru, then home! What?)

I was incredibly nervous for my first day today and am so happy I left with a huge smile. I made friends my age (all on my own, with a language barrier) that are interested in the same fields and live in Quito as well. The doctors were beyond friendly and welcoming, and the patients were even more encouraging than I expected. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Tomorrow, the doctor asked us if we could come in early, but he’s buying us breakfast to make up for the inconvenience. I mean what the heck, is this real life?

Alright, I have to get to bed if I’m going to do anything productive with my day tomorrow (rumor has it we are eating cuy, also known as guinea pig in the United States).

Yo Escribire mas adelante! 🙂 Chao!

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A Month in Ecuador

I can’t believe it has already been over a month in Ecuador.

I remember sitting on the couch December 30th, incredibly frustrated with myself that I had wanted to go abroad for as long as I could remember, yet I was 19 and hadn’t even been to Canada or Mexico. That was when I made my first ever New Year’s resolution: By January 2016 I wanted to at least have purchased plane tickets to a new country. And now look at me! I’ll have been in two other countries, another continent, a completely different hemisphere AND back home all before January. I’m not sure I could get any luckier.

Things are starting to settle down and feel normal here. The altitude doesn’t bother me, cultural differences don’t come across as shocking, the consistent chicken, rice, and soup for practically every meal is beginning to feel comforting, hearing everyone around me speak Spanish seems like second nature, and my routine feels as though it could really just be my every day life, like it doesn’t have an expiration date. It makes me sad to remember this is temporary, and by the end of this week my program will be half way over. (WHAT?)

The one thing that has yet to feel normal is the constant stomach issues. Last Wednesday I made my first (and hopefully last) trip to an Ecuador emergency room at 10 pm. It was my fourth time coming down with what seemed to be pretty severe food poisoning, but I also had some new symptoms that were a little nerve-wracking. Instead of sitting in pain, my roommates convinced me to go in and make sure it wasn’t something more severe, considering I have no idea what kind of sicknesses you can contract down here.

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Sure enough, after 3 hours of sitting next to a screaming baby, an IV, some weak pain medicine, multiple med students taking turns squishing my stomach (which seemed more like having a contest of who could actually grab my intestines) I was sent home with antibiotics, pedialite, and the diagnoses of an intestinal infection from good ol’ street food. At least I got the reassurance that it was nothing worse, and got to observe an emergency room in a developing country from the patient’s perspective.

Everyone was incredibly nice, the tools/machines they used seemed outdated but were effective, and their techniques were interesting to watch. I even got to practice my Spanish by trying to explain my entire medical history with a very limited vocabulary. Thank goodness for Rosita – she makes every situation down right hilarious. Even when you’re sure your stomach is about to explode.

On Saturday we set off for one of Ecuador’s most famous lakes, which was voted the best hiking destination multiple years in a row online.

I present: Laguna de Quilotoa

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Reminding me very much of crater lake, only practically double its altitude at almost 13000 feet, this beautiful body of water was created by a collapsed volcano due to a massive eruption 800 years ago. Geologists claim it is around 250 meters deep (820 ft) but the Indigenous people of the village have a much more intriguing theory of it being bottomless.

This lake sits to the side of the Indigenous village, Quilotoa, home to about 50 families of native Ecuadorians. This is where we stayed for the night.

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This was our hostel: Hosteria Alpaca. It was ran by an adorable family that for $17 gave you a room (with a fire place and queen beds), AND made you a home cooked communal dinner and breakfast, with tea by the fire downstairs whenever you felt like visiting with back packers who stopped by.

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(sorry for the sideways picture. I have given up on trying to turn the darn things.)

This was the lady and one of her sons that ran the business constantly, no matter the hour. Their clothes were much more than just a fashion statement, they were completely necessary. It got SO cold. I made sure to pack my warmest clothes I brought with me, but they didn’t even begin to cut it. So the majority of our down time I spent by the fire, snuggling with the hostal kitty:

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After each weekend I always say “now THAT is the prettiest place we’ve been to so far in Ecuador!” But this time, I REALLY mean it. The views were breath-taking. I could have watched that lake and the mountains forever and be completely content. The entire time I was there I kept thinking “there is no where else in the entire world I’d rather be right now.” Something just felt extra special on that mountain.

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We got a late start to the steep hike on Saturday but it did not disappoint. On the way down I ended up rolling my ankle (multiple times–of course), but we had the companionship of stray dogs and cranky donkeys to keep us company. Speaking of 4 legged creatures, hikers have the option of riding horses back up the hill they likely slipped the majority of the way down.

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Now before you judge me, remember I had rolled my ankle, AND it was getting dark (I’m also pretty out of shape). So yes, I opted to take the horse back up for everyone’s benefit. My friend Becca did the same while Lauren and Kristina trekked their way back up. The good news is that the money we paid to ride the horses went towards a young girl’s education fund, with dreams of one day studying in Quito. How can you say no to that?

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This is a picture of a dog (“perrito”) sleeping outside the village (I promise it was just sleeping). There are tons of dogs here for how tiny it is, but they seem very well cared for by the community, unlike other cities in Ecuador unfortunately. I saw a puppy husky mix and was trying to find ways to put it in my suitcase.

I actually calculated wrong and have one more week with the kids before moving onto clinical rotations. Which turned out to be nice since I was sick during what I thought was my last day. I’ve built a great connection with both the teacher and the kids, and I’m going to miss them a lot after I move onto the next phase of this program. I’ve been bringing bubbles (burbujas) and stickers to class every day, so the kids are behaving wonderfully, of course. I also took a bunch of videos of the kids singing and dancing, which I’m going to keep forever 🙂 so cute

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This weekend we get a nice long break due to back-to-back holidays. First, on Monday, it is The Day of the Dead (super excited about this. Look it up if you’ve never heard about it) and then Cuenca’s Independence day on Tuesday. So Friday-Tuesday we will be soaking up the sun on Ecuador’s coast line in the beautiful Montanita and Puerto Lopez beaches.

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Unfortunately, this means a ten-twelve hour bus ride since the flights almost tripled in price due to the holiday. I’ve done the car trip from Eugene to LA so I’m hoping this will feel like a piece of cake. Especially once someone sees where we’re staying:

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For a whole $20 a night too (about double what we normally pay for a three-four bed room). Waters are supposed to be 80 degrees and the beaches are known for their surfing and other water sports. Can someone say Parasailing?

I realized I hadn’t posted a picture of Marco or Angel, our Spanish teachers that we spend 15+ hours a week with, so here they are (on their side of course).

Marco:

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Aaaand Angel:

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Since it’s 6 days until El Dia De Los Muertos, traditional holiday food is being sold/made everywhere. Today the preschool teacher, Juanita, brought in homemade guagua’s de pan (loaves of sweet bread frosted like babies in a blanket) and colada morada (a warm berry smoothie with cinnamon). Both were delicious.

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As much as I enjoy the food here, there are some things I really REALLY miss. Like Cheez-its, donuts, and burritos. What I would give for a dang burrito. You can’t find them anywhere down here, and if you do, they’re nothing like the ones in the US. I have a feeling the small amount of weight I lost while here will come right back on just in time for the holidays 😉 Totally worth it.

The weeks seem to be going by faster and faster, which stinks. Of course, I can’t wait to come home and see everyone I’ve missed, BUT I really love it here and don’t want the experience to end. I just have to make sure to live in the moment as much as possible I suppose.

Okay, that’s it until I come back from the coast! Chao 🙂

Am I actually in Ecuador right now?

I can’t help but still feel stunned that I’m finally here, meeting such wonderful people, and participating in adventures I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.

Before I talk about the week and my weekend in Banos, here are some pictures from my weekend in Mindo that missed the cut last time:

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Here was the old grandpa horse that I got to ride for my first experience.

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And here is a shot of me making my way down a 135 foot waterfall. The picture probably speaks for itself, but I was sufficiently drenched.

The rest of last week went wonderfully. I had some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had at a place called Crepes and Waffles. Since then we have already returned for delicious crepes, and a chocolate fondue plate that would probably cost like $35 in the US. $11 here seemed more than doable.

This weekend we took a 4 hour bus ride to the city of Banos. Much like the rest of Ecuador, the city is surrounded by massive mountains that seem to go directly upwards no matter where you turn.

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Banos is one of Ecuador’s destinations for extreme sports. After having 3 exhausting weeks, we decided to take advantage of the more relaxing aspects of the area, but kept a look out for the activities we wanted to do when we return.

In Banos you can get an hour long Swedish massage for about $30, and a pedicure or manicure for $10. These are also the more expensive prices for such offers. I was a party-pooper and didn’t end up getting either, but I doubt I’ll leave this place without doing something of that nature.

This town definitely has a sweet tooth. Candy shops on every corner. Here you can watch vendors hang massive chunks of naturally flavored taffy, then pull and spin them out until soft and smooth. After that, you watch them twist the taffy into different shapes which you can buy packaged up.

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Here is a guy doing the spinning of the taffy. The taste is delicious, and it’s better to turn a blind eye when it comes to the hand hygiene of the person making your sweets. (What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right?)

There’s also beautiful scenery that you can hike around. And if you’re real adventurous, you can look at that scenery while jumping off of a 10 story bridge with a single rope harnessed around your waste. We decided to pass on that. However, on the way to a fun hike called El Pailon Del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron), our cab driver stopped along the way to show off 7 of Banos’ most famous waterfalls. Now don’t repeat this, but Oregon definitely has Ecuador beat in this department. I had to keep my mouth shut as tourists from around the world “ooo’d” and “aww’d” at waterfalls (cascadas) that don’t even begin to compare to those we see just a short drive from Eugene or Portland.

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However, the Devil’s Cauldron was spectacular. A short but steep hike takes you to a peek above an incredibly large and strong waterfall that gushes around and down into a canyon, making water spray up in every direction. From here you can take a slippery stairwell down into the center of the canyon and get your shower for the day, or you can crawl up through a dark canal to a higher lookout point, or you can take a slightly sketchy draw bridge across the cauldron and get a bird’s eye view.

I really enjoy touristy towns for multiple reasons, but one of them is the fantastic vegetarian food offered that is no where to be found in Quito. Here in Banos they even offered pasta with tofu and quinoa burgers. Not to mention the fantastic freshly squeezed juice or smoothies you get all over Ecuador for about $0.75. With that price, it’s really difficult not to get one every day.

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The greenery in this country feels like home in Oregon. Although the mountains are crazier than I’ve ever seen back in the states, the constant vegetation is incredibly comforting.

In Banos you can go to the Casa Del Arbol (house of the tree) and swing from a spot called “The Swing at the Edge of the Earth.” So of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. After securing yourself into a swing attached to a tree house, you pick your feet up from a ramp and swing out over the side of a mountain. For the majority of the experience you’re truly flying through air, with nothing below you for hundreds of feet.

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While waiting your turn on the unregulated swing, you could also try and balance on some random pieces of wood that remind me a lot of the kid’s jungle gyms at the preschool.

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Banos was fun and interesting, but it was nice to make it back home on Sunday to relax, get some dinner, and prepare for the upcoming week that is currently my last with the kiddos.

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Although they can be incredibly aggravating, they can be even more sweet. I’m going to miss getting tackled by 30 little bodies every morning yelling “Buenos Dias Profesora McKenzie!” And having to wash my hands a million times because they pick their nose then hold my hand. They also love to “wash” their hands and then shove them straight in my face because they think I need to smell the antibacterial soap.

The letters “McK” and “McC” never appear together in the Spanish language (too my knowledge). This makes my name exceptionally difficult for most adults here to pronounce. So it’s pretty adorable listening to the little ones try so hard to call me by my name. They end up pronouncing it: “MAH-KHAN-SY.” Close enough 🙂

Some other random but interesting pieces of the culture:

-Even if you pay for a non-stop bus ride, you have to be prepared for multiple stops on what seem to be random highways to pick up hitch hikers that wave money to show they’re willing to pay the bus driver. If there are no seats available, they’ll be invited to sit up front with the driver. Most bus drivers also allow street vendors to climb on the bus and shove products in your face while you’re trying to sleep. Obviously I’m not much of a fan of that.

-Ecuador, and I’m assuming the majority of Latin America, has a very beautiful appreciation and acceptance for the human body. You’re likely to find murals and sculptures in almost any town of pregnant women captured as Mother Earth, couples dancing, and even just poses of the naked body. Even the women here seem to be accepted for all their shapes and sizes much more than you would ever see in the United States. There’s definitely a sensual vibe to the majority of the artwork, but I think it’s pretty beautiful. They have even found preserved pottery and paintings from the Incas and early humans in South America the capture the vulnerability of the human body and sexual poses in a very matter-of-fact way. I think it’s somewhat ridiculous that the United States is so obsessed when it comes to sex in pornographic ways, but so prude when it comes to appreciating the human body without over-sexualizing it or accepting it in its natural forms.

-Movies here are absolutely all North American films. Then you either have the choice of Spanish subtitles, OR Spanish voices dubbed over the English speaking actors. Sometimes that means the same voice for every character in the movie, no madder the age or gender.

-Every hostel we have been to here has had some sort of pet roaming the halls and entertainment areas. I LOVE it. I miss my kitties a lot, so it feels nice to snuggle up to an animal once in a while. Even if that animal’s name is Tarzan and wants nothing to do with you.

-For being the very religious, and what I would consider conservative, country that Ecuador is, there are a decent amount of actions and laws that surprise me. Here, both prostitution and marijuana are legal. I’m not fully up to date on the rules that it entails, or whether or not this is seen as progressive by anyone, but it’s not what I would typically expect. The bathrooms in the school that I’m working at are also gender-neutral. One big bathroom shared by all kids without the unnecessary emphasis on gender roles and expectations. I love it. (I also worked with the 5 year olds today on the human body. I was so happy to see the teacher speak about genitalia just as casually as you would an arm or a leg. It’s totally unnecessary to add all this explicit adult content to a body part to make the child get the impression it is somehow dirty or wrong. So way to go public schools in Ecuador for just teaching it how it is).

-The sidewalks in Quito desperately need some attention. If I’m not constantly looking down at my feet, I’m rolling an ankle. I wear my calf-high boots when walking longer distances to try and protect myself from breaking something (knock on wood).

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(that’s a sidewalk)

-After beginning my research about health in the United States and Ecuador, I wanted to share a few statistics that hopefully remind us back in the US how lucky the majority of us truly are: Ecuador’s childhood mortality rate is 24 in 1000 kids, over three times higher than the US. Over 92% of children in the United States have access to a measles vaccines while less than 65% of kids in Ecuador have that opportunity. Ecuador’s maternal mortality rate is over 5 times higher than the US’s, and while very few deaths have been due to tuberculosis in the US, the numbers in Ecuador are over 35 times higher.

 

Many of you may know by now, but I have recently purchased plane tickets to Cusco, Peru in December to cross Machu Picchu off my bucket list. Traveling with me is my Aunt Anna and friend Blake. It will be so nice to travel with some familiar faces.

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Alright, that’s it for now! Chao from Quito!

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Weekend in Mindo

**I was not able to rotate some of the pictures for some reason. Sorry, so frustrating.**

Despite getting over a stomach bug and then developing a small cold, I had a fantastic weekend–probably in the top 10 best weekends of my life.

The four of us interns spent all of Friday exploring Quito because Kristina, the latest intern to arrive, had yet to really see the city. We toured La Basilica, Ecuador’s tallest church, and climbed all the way to the top and looked out over the entire city.

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Lauren has a friend from the United States that lives in Quito, so we got to spend Friday evening with her, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s friend. As much as I enjoy hanging out with our Spanish teachers and Rosita, the house mother, it was nice to spend time with people our own age that knew the city. While with these people we got into a tiny fender-bender in a parking garage, where we MAY have gotten our car’s paint onto another parked car. I spent the next 45 minutes using my sweater and some dish soap getting the paint out, and sure enough, the security guard let us leave without leaving our information! When we came back, he said the owner never noticed a thing…Now perhaps this was SLIGHTLY unethical, but in our defense, I guess that’s just kind of how things roll over here.

We planned on taking the Teleferico, a cable car, that goes up one of Quito’s highest mountains that looks over the city, but at about 5pm Quito got it’s first rain in months, and the cloud cover was too thick for a good view. So we will have to go back another time. However, I DID see a 10 foot tall, glow in the dark, dancing robot at a bar that night. So that kind of makes up for it.

Saturday morning we went to Mindo, which is 2 hours North West of Quito and puts us right in the rainforest. SO BEAUTIFUL. Our hostel was a cabin, and we got to our room by climbing up a ladder. Once inside, there were huge windows looking out into the trees…it was literally like a treehouse. We had a blast. It was also right next to the river where I got to see an amazing sunrise and tons of birds.

This was the view from our beds. Told you, totally a treehouse. AND HOT WATER — best part about hostels is not having to take cold showers.

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While in Mindo we made sure to fill our time with as much activities as possible. Lauren and I went horseback riding through the forest/jungle, which is a really big deal for me. Not only am I terrified of horses, but it was also my first time riding one. It’s probably safe to say I won’t have a better experience in that department. Which I’m okay with.

After that we repelled down a waterfall, which I didn’t expect to be so scared of, but once I got up there, saw the equipment, saw the 135+ foot WATERFALL, and then the guide only spoke in Spanish to explain the procedure, I started to panic. And luckily, I have a gopro video of the entire thing capturing my moments of pure terror. However, it did NOT capture the moment where I saw the person below, that was supposed to be securing the other end of the rope, NOT holding the rope, and TEXTING. Thank goodness I didn’t let go right? 🙂

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View of the Mindo rainforest

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Post-waterfall repelling

Oh, and this was our method of transportation all weekend:

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Riding in style

After cleaning up from repelling, and taking a zipline swing across the river, we toured a local chocolate factory. There they grow the fruit, cut it open, harvest the beans, ferment them, then turn them into chocolate. We got to see the whole process, and the best part was the samples at the end. Who knew chocolate, chili powder, and ginger went so good together?

We finished the evening with a fantastic dinner (freshly made pizza, we watched the guy go cut off the vegetables) and some dancing. The people here are amazing dancers. It’s seems to be part of growing up. Like learning to tie your shoes, you learn to dance. There was live music in the park and I watched a 3 year old with way better dance moves than I will ever hope to have. Luckily, the majority of the locals find my two left feet endearing–or at least they pretend to 🙂

Sunday was filled with more relaxing activities. We visited a butterfly reserve, hiked in a nice German couple’s back yard (the bugs were not so nice. I was bit by fire ants), drank lemon grass tea on a balcony, and observed some of Mindo’s many bird species.

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We also spent the time taking advantage of some of the best snacks I’ve been offered. I had helado de paila (kind of like a sorbet) inside quinoa pudding…very interesting. But the food that stole the show was the grilled corn and bananas, dunked in sauce and cheese (not cheddar cheese–I wish). The corn here, called “choclo,” is massive, much lighter in color and texture, and almost fluffy. SO good. A lady and her husband sold them at a small market along with chicken kabobs.

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Grilled bananas are really common here. It makes the texture very interesting, and makes them about 5 times as sweet. The sauce and cheese was a good touch to taming down the sugar.

We got home late Sunday night, the bust taking almost two hours longer than usual due to the massive amount of wrecks on the road. It was a holiday weekend over here, so there were at least triple the amount of travelers. Sadly, that created some fatalities.

As I already told some family members, I’m not yet homesick, however I miss the normalcy and familiarity of home, where things are just easy. Stores have more than one product, I don’t have to worry about who prepared my food and how they did it, I could drive myself around when I wanted, where I wanted, etc. It’s exhausting being in a new country, learning so much EVERY DAY. I’m constantly being aware of my surroundings, watching the culture with curiosity, translating everything I can in my head, all while making new friends and working and going to school. However, today I was able to find a Subway and it was a little piece of heaven. Funny what 15 minutes in a familiar setting can do for your psyche.

The preschoolers are hilarious. And by hilarious I mean devil children. Haha no they’re sweet…but then sometimes they’re not. Half of them just want to love on me and share their snacks and hear “muy bien! Lindo!” when they show me their coloring books. The OTHER half want me to cry myself to sleep at night I’m pretty sure. 🙂 They have caught on that I don’t know a ton of Spanish, so when I give orders they’ll be like “what was that? I don’t think you’re saying that right. I don’t understand you.” Even though I KNOW my classroom commands are fine…I use them A LOT. They’re a handful, but I love them all. Even when they take sewing needles and put them pointing upwards on the carpet under my desk…

However, today I started to notice some of the issues the kids and teachers are facing. Although the school puts on a good front, they’re very poor. The teacher I’m helping was distraught today when she realized she only had enough funds for either 1) classroom paper or 2) a clean water dispenser for the kids. A little boy also showed me bruises on his arms and told me he was scared to go home because he “wasn’t strong.” This brought me to tears. Protecting children here doesn’t work like it does in the US. The parents would be notified about the accusation and likely take their kid out of school. If there truly is abuse in the household, it would likely get worse in this situation, and then the child wouldn’t have the five hours of a safe place to play. So unfortunately, it’s likely safer for the child if action was not taken. So while wrestling with this dilemma, I just reminded him that he was safe here and very loved.

Tomorrow I start a research project analyzing the children’s health and comparing it to children’s health in the United States. Then I will look at the accuracy and availability of vaccinations in both the US and Ecuador to draw further conclusions on why their health may differ.

Here are some more things I’ve noticed while being here:

-There are just as many female police officers as male police officers…Maybe even more. Which is SO unlike the United States. I’d like to know the reasoning behind that trend, but whatever the reason, it seems pretty cool.

-You can only buy liquid yogurt here. Like in a cup that you drink.

-Ecuadorians like to put pineapple in everything apparently. Which isn’t awesome for me, considering I’m allergic and all.

-The snacks and sweets lack all the additives and artificial ingredients that are in the US. I’ve unintentionally lost a little bit of weight from the fresher food and the huge amount of walking we do.

-Taxi drivers don’t pick you up if it’s raining and you’re soaked. So you’re screwed.

-Sometimes what get’s lost in translation can be hilarious. The Spanish verb “molestar” means “too annoy” or “too bother.” Luckily, we knew this in Mindo when a store owner came up and told us in English he was not trying to “molest” us. We didn’t have the heart to tell the guy he wasn’t saying what he thought he was. We just thanked him for telling us his intentions. Lol it’s fine because last week I was trying to ask if the juice had pineapple in it (pina) but instead asked if it had penis in it (pene). Awesome.

Well that’s all for now! Happy Wednesday!

 

Ecuador Update: Week 2

Even though only a week has passed, it feels like at least 3. Every day is so jam-packed that it’s hard to remember everything that has happened. Unfortunately, the reason I finally have the time to blog about my experiences is because at the moment I’m in bed with a stomach bug. It could have been the food, but I’ve had it since Sunday morning.

Thursday we went around La Ronda where I took pictures of the amazing architecture. We toured churches, got food, and went Salsa dancing. Shakira would probably be disappointed in my moves, but we had a lot of fun. There’s something liberating about trying new things in a new country…especially when you know the people here will probably never see you again so it really doesn’t matter if you look stupid 🙂

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Also, this is not an elephant ear people. This is a giant empanada with cheese on the inside and sugar on the outside. And yes, I had hot chocolate too.

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This weekend we traveled north of Quito to Otavalo, Cochasqui, Ibarra, and Cotocachi. (I’m not promising that those are spelled right).

First we stopped in Cochasqui, where we got to chill with some alpaca’s and see pre-incan ruins. We also stood at the highest point in the middle of the world, so you could say we were slightly out of breath.

Our guide spoke only in Spanish (obviously) so I didn’t pick up everything he was saying. But the trip was well worth while and I enjoyed witnessing remnants of a history so long ago.

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In Otavalo they have one of largest hand-crafts markets in South America. You can find everything from Alpaca fur scarves, blankets, and sweaters (alpacas are not harmed by the way), to jewelry, baked goods, pottery, instruments, paintings, etc.

It was here that I found out that I have a gift for haggling down prices in Spanish. I think this is due to me not understanding the majority of what they’re telling me, so I feel no pressure or guilt from requesting outrageously low prices. I also know I’ll be here a while, so I don’t feel pressured to buy anything that very moment because I know the opportunity will present itself again, and I have no problem walking away — which REALLY gets them to drop the price. 🙂

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I ended up getting a handmade alpaca blanket for $11, a handmade alpaca sweater for $15, and a hand painted oil painting (just barely able to fit in my suitcase) for $25. I still have my eye on some painted bowls and a small vase that seems to be pretty common, but I’m holding out for a deal.

Otavalo also has an animal trade/market in the mornings, which I was able to go see. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, especially considering I JUST gave up vegetarianism (and plan on going back to that after I leave here), but it was a good experience to have.

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It was not uncommon to see animals tightly packed in small spaces, often sitting on top of each other. Most people were walking around with bags of live chickens (multiple in just one bag that is tied off without holes). This was somewhat uncomfortable because you could hear them squak and see the bag move. We also saw live pigs dragged by their feet.

I had to remind myself that the factory “farms” in the US are just as bad, if not worse, as far as treatment. And from what I can tell, most of these animals grew up in a healthy/nicer environment then the one they were presently being sold in. I don’t consider this a negative experience, just a learning opportunity. It would be hard to treat an animal as your pet if it was your livelihood or your dinner.

Otavalo and the surrounding areas were a good reminder of the poverty that many people face in this country. It was a bit of a reality check after visiting the beautiful streets of La Ronda with cathedrals filled from head to toe with real gold.

While in Otavalo, we visited a rescued bird sanctuary. There were amazing species to look at, and tons of owls, which I loved. There was also a fantastic view of the mountains that you’re continually surrounded by if you live pretty much anywhere in Ecuador. The tall mountains and beautiful cloud cover are a constant occurrence.

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Otavalo, Ecuador

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Oh, and as we left there were some random cows in the road.

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Cows

We also got to hike to a waterfall called the Cascada de Peguche. Here you could see lots of couples showing their affection (PDA is a much more common occurence here. These people just seem to be very passionate in general. I think its kinda cute). You could also crawl through tunnels made in the rocks (terrifying by the way) to little spots behind the waterfall that you wouldn’t be able to walk to.

 

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Cascada de Peguche

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A few miles away we got to visit a stone solar calendar and a small market with food and crafts. So here is a picture of me, and not of the calendar or the food or crafts. haha woops.

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Yesterday, Monday the 5th, was the first day that we started work. I went to the preschool, Rebecca went to a women’s service clinic, and Lauren went to a dental office. (I’ll be going to the hospitals in 4 weeks)

While I was at the preschool there was some miscommunication with the teacher. As in, as soon as I got there she left me alone with the classroom of kids for the entire time. She didn’t even come back when class was over, and I had to send them off with people that I hope to goodness are their caregivers. Luckily, they had wifi so I could use a translator on my ipod if I needed to say something I was unsure of. The nice thing is, kids speak slower and have pretty simple sentences, so I understood them better than I do adults here. But if there was ever a time when I didn’t understand them, smiling and nodding did the trick. I think for the most part they were just telling me stories about siblings and pets 🙂

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Being on the playground with these kids is terrifying. First, they all wear the same uniform and are the same height and skin tone. And I didn’t know all their names. So trying to keep track of everyone was exhausting. Especially when the playground is 3 levels from the school being built on a hill.

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Second, the equipment on this playground I’m sure has long since been banned in the US. Old mary-go-rounds, rusty teeter-totters, wooden structures with nails sticking out. And third, the way they played almost gave me a heart attack. 3 students would lay on the slide while one up climbed over them (stepping on their backs) and another tried to slide down them (running into the one climbing up) and from what I can tell, the goal was to knock the other person OFF THE SLIDE. There’s no photo of this because I was too busy tearing my hair out.

When this kind of play was happening, I would look around to other students and teachers, who didn’t seem at all phased, or were doing the exact same thing. I made the decision to not step in, because I didn’t know if this was just a cultural difference. The US schools do tend to be extra paranoid, so maybe I’ve just been engrained like that. And maybe this kind of play is what creates the type of driving the adults seem to partake in here 😉

In the end, no one got hurt (not even a scratch–maybe we need to relax a little in the US), I shuffled them off to the bus or parents, and went on my way to Spanish class. After talking to my director about the teacher leaving, she called the lady and we got the situation straightened out. Today was MUCH better, but only for the hour that I was there…considering I slightly ruined the fun day by throwing up and having to go home…not sure how she explained that one.

Other things I’ve noticed:

-Money is not nearly as private of a matter here than it is in the US. It seems to be very casual to ask people what they make. I’m constantly asked by teachers or even cab drivers how much I’m paying to learn here. I just try and avoid the questions because I don’t want to put myself in a vulnerable position, seen as a wealthy American girl traveling alone in a foreign country. I’m sure they are just genuinely curious. However, the minimum wage here is like $1.50 an hour so I’m sure anything I told them would sound extravagant.

-Everyone is so relaxed. Like relaxed to the point that it gives me anxiety. Whenever I ask a question people laugh and go “tranquila” which basically means chill out. So I must come across very stressed. Haha but everyone is also very nice, warm, and welcoming. And if they don’t know an answer to your questions, they will try to find another way to help. (When I got sick out of town, the lady who managed the hostal we were staying in brought me a homemade electrolyte drink with lemon and sugar and salt and some other stuff. She even checked in on me. so sweet.

-All the advertisements are of white people. Most with light hair. Which I find to be just SO odd when literally no native here is remotely light skinned. It makes me sad that as humans we’re fixated on unreachable beauty standards. And it makes me even more sad that in a nation that is SO BEAUTIFUL, with gorgeous people, they’re constantly told through media that they need to idealize western culture/people and are pressured to be like them. Even the bathroom passes for the girls and boys in school had blonde-haired, blue-eyed children. I can’t imagine how it feels to be out-casted, even when you’re the majority!

That’s it for awhile, I’m going to try and sleep off this darn stomach bug. Chao from Ecuador!

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