Tag Archives: travel

Mis Meses en Ecuador . . .

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Hello there!  While I was out of town the past two weeks, I had an idea to write a post summarizing the events from my months in Ecuador thus far.  I thought it would be fun for me to reflect on my time here and hoped you might enjoy it too!  Here we go!

equatorIn September . . .

  • I arrived in Quito, Ecuador for my 10 month adventure of living and teaching abroad.
  • WorldTeach had orientation for 33 volunteers for four weeks to teach us about Ecuador and how to teach English.
  • four other volunteers and I rode the teleferico up to the top of a mountain in Quito.
  • my host mom, Susy, and I visited the equator and had a wonderful time!

In October . . .pajaro.1

  • I moved to Riobamba.
  • my host sister and I went to my first Ecuadorian soccer game.
  • another volunteer and I traveled to Manta and Isla de la Plata (the beach) and saw the famous Ecuadorian birds called Blue-Footed Boobies.
  • I took my first – of MANY – bus trips.
  • two other volunteers and I traveled to the city, Banos, for one day.

In November . . .

  • I started teaching my first English classes at my school, University of San Francisco.
  • my Spanish classes with my teacher, Cesar, began.

In December . . .chimborazo

  • I spent a few hours with friends from the U.S. in Quito.
  • some friends and I climbed part of the amazing volcano, Chimborazo.
  • I traveled to the U.S. to spend time with family and friends for Christmas and New Year’s.
  • I acted and danced in my first Spanish play – A Christmas Carol.

In January . . .

  • I began teaching new English classes.
  • I went to Esmeraldes (the beach) for a WorldTeach meeting.

dancingIn February . . .valentines day

  • my students celebrated Valentine’s Day.
  • I danced in my second Spanish play – Hawaiian Adventure.
  • I celebrated the Ecuadorian holiday of Carnaval.
  • three other volunteers and I visited Tena (the jungle) and went whitewater rafting.
  • I began feeling homesick and missed family and friends in the U.S. – a lot. 😦

robinsonIn March . . .

  • the students at my school decorated AMAZING Easter Eggs.
  • I had vacation time and took a cruise with my parents.
  • I felt very homesick and contemplated leaving Ecuador early to return to the U.S.  But then . . .
  • I found out that I would be returning to Robinson (the previous school where I taught) to teach fifth grade. 🙂

In April . . .bolones

  • I took a last minute trip with a friend to visit Cuenca (the sierra).
  • my Spanish teacher’s wife, Paty, taught me how to make bolones. (Here is a recipe!)  Yum!
  • I danced in 15 Latin American dances (with the other teachers) for the students at my school.
  • a student, friend and I went canyoning.  Check out this video.  Yikes!

galapagosIn May . . .

  • my friend and I visited the Galapagos for five, incredible days.
  • I visited Loja and Vilcabamba (the sierra).  Read about amazing Vilcabamba here.
  • I began my last teaching cycle and have 30 students – so far.  Yikes!sea lion

In June . . .

  • Oh yeah . . . I can’t write this one yet . . . but you can!
  • What are YOUR plans for June?  Reply to this post because I’d love to hear from you!
  • Plus, I’ll reply to you after reading your comment. 🙂
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Vida de Ecuador

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Hola mis amigos . . . . como estan?  In this l-o-n-g post, I have written about 5 activities in my Ecuadorian life.  I wrote from my perspective in the past, present and future.  I hope you can see how things have progressed – and changed – during my time here.  I also think you might enjoy reading about my hope for the future in each category.  So . . . here is the scoop on what is happening in my life in Ecuador these days.  Enjoy!

Spanish Lessonscartoon

  • Pasado: I started Spanish lessons with my teacher, Cesar, at the end of November.  We began meeting 5 days a week for 2 hours each time.  However, since my teaching schedule got busier this past cycle, we only met 3 to 4 days a week. Also, because I had more of a demand with my English classes, I was unable to make time to do Spanish homework. Argh!  I feel that during this time, my growth in Spanish was minimal because I didn’t have time to practice on my own.  However, even without homework, any Spanish conversation is helpful.
  • Presente: Currently, I feel like my Spanish ability is at an early intermediate level.  I can often communicate my thoughts, but lack correct grammar and consistently understanding others when they speak to me – unless it’s really slow, which I love.  Now, I meet Cesar at a restaurant to take my Spanish class.  He and his wife recently opened a seafood restaurant, so it is much more fun to talk with him, his wife and at times (when they will look at me or talk with me), their children.  We still meet 3 to 4 days a week and still have the opportunity to speak in Spanish for about 2 hours.
  • Futuro: I am hoping to be able to (somehow!) make time for more Spanish outside of class.  I spoke with the director of my English school last week about how he learned Spanish.  I was in complete awe of him because he taught himself!  He said that he wrote in a journal everyday, used flashcards when he had a spare moment, and would check his grammar on his own.  Wow!  With that inspiration, I hope to begin a Spanish journal a few days a week and start to utilize flashcards more effectively in order to improve my Spanish communication.

Teachingestudiantes

  • Pasado: Last cycle, I continued to teach two Level 7 English classes each evening (5:00pm and 7:00pm).  I also began teaching a third English class in the afternoons at 3:00pm.  This new class meant that I needed to leave my house at 2:15pm and was gone for the rest of the day – until about 9:15pm.  While I really enjoyed this new class, it changed my schedule drastically to where I had to do all of my planning in the morning before classes – and somehow squeeze in a 2 hour Spanish class. Do you see why I didn’t have time for Spanish homework now?  Yeesh!
  • Presente: During the current teaching cycle, I have the exact same schedule as last cycle.  However, I am slowly learning to manage my time a bit better and don’t feel as overwhelmed with my time outside of class.  In addition, during my two evening classes, I feel as though these classes are by far my favorite students and I truly have enjoyed my time with these new students!
  • Futuro:  With my new (wonderful) students, I am really excited to spend with them and guide them to learn English.  These students really want to learn English and are mature enough to have fun at the same time.  While we have only spent a week together so far, I hope to use the skills I learned from teaching Level 7 during the two other cycles to make this their a great learning experience for my students.  And finally, I have s-l-o-w-l-y figured out how to integrate speaking, listening, writing, and vocabulary into the classroom without feeling like we are zooming from one activity to the next.

Social Life and Making Friendsrafting

  • Pasado: Oh goodness, where do I begin?  Socially, my time in Ecuador has been a definite  growth opportunity for me (that’s a sugar-coated way of saying that it has been difficult).  It has been hard for me to make all new friends and try to get to know people at a heart-level.  Afterall, every person I have met during my time in Ecuador has been new in my life and sometimes that gets overwhelming and exhausting.  Sure it can be exciting too, but making friends is hard work!   Needless to say, I have had some emotional ups and downs in regards to making friends, but have thankfully gotten to know a few great people too.
  • Presente: Currently, my relational “anchors” in Riobamba are a friend of a teacher from school, Soraida, and my Spanish teacher, Cesar.  I see them both on a regular basis.  Thank goodness!  I believe that Cesar and Soraida have become my “anchors” because they show me that they appreciate me and help me feel valued.  They also make me think about life . . . and make me laugh.  🙂 I am quite thankful for these two individuals in my life.
  • Futuro: My hope for myself relationally is to push myself to be slightly uncomfortable and spend more time being social with some of the new people in my life – even at times when I don’t want to.  While this can sometimes be difficult for me, I also know it can be healthy for me in the long-run too.

Travelcactus

  • Pasado:  Before I came to Ecuador, I wanted to travel everywhere possible – whenever I could.  Shortly after arriving in Riobamba and traveling for several weekends in a row, I quickly realized that I did not want to travel as much as I had originally thought.  There was both a craving and a comfort to stay in Riobamba and get to know the city where I was living.  Therefore, I started to minimize my traveling and got to know my “Ecuador hometown” a little bit better.
  • Presente: Recently, I have felt like traveling a little bit more – maybe because I had taken the time during my first few months to get to know Riobamba.  I’m not exactly sure why this desire to travel has been reignited, but it has been nice to explore a few other cities and relax with others during the weekend.  For example, just this past weekend I traveled to Cuenca, an amazingly  beautiful city in Ecuador.
  • Futuro: In the coming months, I hope to travel to some other nearby cities so I can soak in Ecuador a little bit more.  Also, because it sometimes gets lonely on the weekends, it is nice to spend time with other people from WorldTeach on the weekends. And for a BIG goal for my future travel plans, I am hoping (nothing is finalized yet) to take a big trip with a friend from college to the Galapagos at the beginning of May.

Goalsgoal.cartoon

  • Pasado: When I was making my final plans to live in Ecuador for a year, I had many goals for myself.  These goals were to: strengthen my relationship with Christ, travel as much as possible, develop into a creative and engaging English teacher, become fluent in Spanish, get to know as many people as possible and build meaningful relationships with them, and practice “relaxing” more frequently.  While these might sound like hefty goals, I feel like I have been able to address many of them during my time here.  Meet all of them? No. But, work on each of them in various ways?  Yes.
  • Presente: I do not want it to be a secret that things have been very difficult for me over the past month or so.  After the six month mark of living in Ecuador, much of the excitement and novelty that comes with living in a foreign country began to slowly fade.  Relationships back home became more difficult and I started to miss my daily routine in St. Louis.  I miss home – plan and simple.  I have learned that regardless of where you are living, after awhile, life is still life.  We tend to get into the “daily grind” of life wherever we are – even in a country as beautiful as Ecuador.  As I mentioned, I am still working on making the best of my time here, but I am also thankful that I am starting to see glimpses of July 2, which is my return date to the United States.
  • Futuro: In the coming days, weeks and months, I hope to become better at: connecting with others in Riobamba and around Ecuador, stretching myself socially by putting myself “out there” more often, enjoying my students by laughing in the classroom more and making our learning more fun, and speaking confidently in Spanish.

Whew!  You made it!  Thanks for reading through all of that.  Now, I want to hear from you!  What has been happening in your life in the past, present and future?  Share with me.  Please, please, please post a comment and let me know what you are up to these days.  Thanks! 🙂

A Letter to my Dog

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Dear Hannah,hannah

Hello my little friend.  How are you?  I hope you are having a great time at Christina, Tom, and Ian’s house.  I know they are treating you well and I hear that you love to go on walks with them – even in the freezing cold weather!  In this letter, I wanted to tell you a little bit about my time in Ecuador and let you know that I haven’t forgotten about you. 🙂

Since I have been here, I have seen something that I think you will find very interesting.  Oftentimes, dogs get leftover food from lunch for their meals . . . you would LOVE this!  That would mean you would get meat, bread, rice, vegetables, and everything else!  Crazy, huh?  With that being said, however, I still believe that your dog food is the healthiest thing for you – even though your stomach may not want to agree.

Many people have asked me why I didn’t bring you to Ecuador with me.  Even though I walk a lot . . . Ecuador would not be a good place for you.  Cars honk a lot, cars drive very fast, the weather changes multiple times throughout the day, and there is very little grass for you to sniff.  Believe it or not, most dogs go to the bathroom on the sidewalk – which is not your favorite thing to do,  I know.  Also, I am gone from the house a lot each day.  In the mornings, I am usually gone for 3 hours to learn Spanish.  And in the afternoon/evening, I am gone for 7 to 8 hours.  That would leave me very little time to spend with you.  Plus, there are a lot of fireworks in Riobamba and I know the noise would scare you.  Even though I would love to see you, walk with you, and pet you, I still believe that coming to Ecuador without you was the wisest decision.  My heart doesn’t like that, but I will get to see you soon, okay?

playaListen to this!  I went for a run last week and a dog bit my pants leg!  Can you believe that?!?  I was just running by and he ran up and bit my pants!  I couldn’t believe it!  I know you would never do something that, right?  Plus, then I had a strange dog’s slobber on my pants . . . gross!

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the beach!  Here is a picture of some of the friends who were at the beach with me.  Their names are Matt and Sarah.  I bet you would like them because they’re really nice people to hang out with.  Sarah and I went swimming in the ocean and played in the waves.  The waves were HUGE that day and it was fun to learn how to swim under the waves to avoid getting knocked down in the ocean.  Next, I tried boogie-boarding.  It was a great afternoon!

As I mentioned earlier in this letter, I am trying to learn Spanish.  Maybe you could ask Christina, Tom, and Ian to teach you a few Spanish words too.  That way, when I return to the U.S., I can give you commands in Spanish and you’ll understand.  You’re up for some new learning, right?  It will keep you young.  Plus, I strongly believe that you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Remember, I will be back in the U.S. at the beginning July.  I should be back for the Fourth of July, so we can celebrate Independence Day together.  In the meantime, know that I think of you often.   There are a lot of stray dogs here and whenever I see them, I always think of you and what a good friend you are to me.  Continue to have a great time in your new home and I will see you soon, ok?  Chao! (Hey – that can be your first Spanish word!  It means bye!)

Love,

Rachael

(P.S. If you could write a letter to your pet – imaginary or real – what would you say?  Please write a comment to me!)

A Short Story

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Preface

flowerHola mis amigos!  I know I have been absent for a little while.  Please forgive me!  My absence simply means things have been busy and without time to do much writing.  During these past two weeks I have been overwhelmed with my time – or lack thereof.  My days generally consist of teaching, planning for classes, and taking Spanish.  In the midst of that, I have tried to get to know my new host family.  And finally, I have worked on making time to relax and enjoy not being busy.  As you read the next few chapters, I hope that you are able to gain an understanding of what life is like while living in a foreign country.   Feel free to read each chapter or just those that interest you.  As my friends and family, I hope that you will also sense my connection to each of you and the appreciation I have of your support.  In particular, I need to thank the following who have consistently supported me during my time in Ecuador up to this point: Lesley, Lisa, Shari, Cesar, Beatriz, Soraida, Kristen, Liz, Laurie, Nicci, and of course, my parents.  I also need to share my gratefulness for having God with me each step of the way during this journey.  If it weren’t for God, I would be completely lost and broken at this time.  With His presence, I can settle into peace, contentment, and hope.  Read on!

CHAPTER 1: First Day of Classes – Take 2

On the first day of classes, I was ready to teach the same classes I taught last cycle.  Whew!  What a relief . . . I knew what to expect!  I soon found out that God wasn’t going to make my life that easy.  During the first class, all of the teachers and students met in the auditorium for about 40 minutes.  During those 30 minutes, I spoke with my director’s wife about possibly teaching another class in the future.  This particular class, lasts four months, instead of two months like my current classes.  Since I won’t be here long enough to complete the four month class next cycle, I was literally assigned to teach the other class 15 minutes later.  Eek.  I was excited, nervous . . . and overwhelmed.  This meant that I would be teaching a one hour class at 3:00pm and 2 two hour classes at 5:00pm and 7:00pm.  And without much fanfare, I began teaching the 3:00pm class the next day.  Now, two weeks into classes, I enjoy my students greatly.  There is something special about students who really want to learn.  Their heart is invested in their learning in a particularly refreshing and enthusiastic way.  And as their teacher, I love it.

CHAPTER 2: Spanish

cafeThe battle of “Spanish vs. Rachael” is alive and kicking everyday in Ecuador.  Yeesh.  My host family only speaks Spanish, which makes it a good – yet challenging – “learning” experience to communicate with them.  I continue to take Spanish classes with mi maestro, Cesar.  He has been particularly patient with me in the midst of my frustration and short-term memory with the Spanish languge.  While I know I have made progress, I still struggle with understanding Spanish during most conversations.  However, the time I spend in the cafe where I take Spanish lessons is one of the best parts of my day.   Of course it is entertaining when I confuse the word for glasses with lentils (lentes vs. lentejas), but one day last week was hilarious.  As you can see in this picture, the front of the cafe has glass doors.  The door on the left is the one you are supposed to use to enter and leave the cafe.  While I was having my Spanish class, Cesar and I heard a loud BOOM.  I soon found out that the noise was a man who was trying to leave the cafe, but walked into the window, instead of the door.  Ouch!  Poor guy.  But . . .  we couldn’t stop laughing either.  Then, when I saw the man’s nose print on the door, another bout of laughter began.  So, even if I cannot fully understand Spanish, laughter truly is a universal language.

CHAPTER 3: Traveling Sundays

potatopotato babyMost Sundays, my host family and I travel to cities around Riobamba.  Many families in Riobamba do this so they can spend time together and see the country.  In addition, most places in Riobamba are closed on Sunday, so that provides an opportunity to get out and explore.  I am thankful for these Sundays because this is one of the few times I see my host family.  A couple of weeks ago was a particularly interesting day for me.  We harvested potatoes!  I have never done such a thing and definitely enjoyed the experience.  It is amazing how many potatoes one might discover beneath the surface.  Here is a picture of some of the potatoes we harvested.  As you can see, potatoes come in many different sizes!  Needless to say, we have recently enjoyed many soups that include potatoes in the recipe.

CHAPTER 4: Free Time

mallI have been working hard at trying to make time for myself to have free time.  The thing is, this isn’t so easy for me.  Many of you that know me are aware that I like to feel productive and accomplish – anything.  But, I am also aware that it is not necessary to always be productive with work or task-related activities.  Relaxing and enjoying free time is productive too.  It’s just a matter of shifting my thinking to truly believing that in my heart.  Some things I have begun doing during my free time to relax is to watch movies, walk to a store, visit the mall (check it out in the picture), read, write in my journal, sit in the park, and get together with friends to talk.  I plan to continue to make free time for myself and look forward to relieving the stress that so easily builds up with a busy schedule.

Epilogue

riobI have officially been in Ecuador for almost five months now (minus my time in the U.S.) and have some reflections I’d like to share with you.  As I think back to my first few days in Quito, I remember feeling both excited and nervous for this new adventure.  When I think back to my first few days in Riobamba, I remember feeling uncertain about what my life was going to look like in my new city.   Now, with my time in Ecuador nearing five months, I have recently had an interesting realization.  Ecuador doesn’t feel quite so foreign to me anymore.  I feel comfortable here and, Riobamba feels like a home to me.  I believe this is because I have some friends, a job, and a house; so life is enjoyable for me.  And, I say this with a sense of awe because I remember not too long ago when I was trying to figure out what it would take for Riobamba to feel like home.  I am still not clear on all of the contributing factors, but I don’t think I need a succinct list for you – or for me.  I believe the most important thing is that I am clear that I feel peaceful and enjoy my life in Ecuador.  And, oddly enough, I oftentimes forget that I am living in Ecuador because it just feels so normal.  Kind of strange, huh?  Recently, while I was teaching, I looked out the window and could see a perfectly clear view of Chimborazo (look at the picture).  I try to savor moments like this, knowing that they will only last forever in my mind.  And then, during a first visit to an indigenous community to teach English to a small classroom of children, I found myself on the verge of tears because being in that place and that time felt so perfect and peaceful to me.  I don’t know what the coming months will hold for me, but I can admit that I am excited to discover them.  I am sure there will be difficult moments too, but I continue to enjoy learning about me, you, and the world we live in.

Afterward

I am not sure where the “afterward” goes or what is supposed to be included, but I do have something else I need to share. I wrote most of this post before I went out of town for a meeting last week.  While I was out of town, there was an incident that has currently changed my feelings toward safety in Ecuador.  Please know that I am not trying to be cryptic and that no one was hurt during the incident.  I include this information because I pray to return to the feelings of peace and safety I had just a mere week ago.  I hate to end this post on a low note, but I have to be honest with you because each of you are important to me and I believe it is of utmost importance to be truthful with you.  Until next time . . .

How to Enjoy Visiting the U.S. after Living in Ecuador for Four Months

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STEP 1: As you make your flight reservation consider your commute to the airport, as well as the time you are to arrive at the airport for an international flight.  For me, I booked my flight from Quito to Houston and Houston to Denver.  Since I am living in Riobamba, I needed to get a ride to Quito the day before because it is a 4 hour ride.  On the day of my trip, my flight left Quito at 7:00am, which meant I needed to be at the airport at 5:00am . . . I am not a pleasant morning person these days. 

STEP 2: Pack lightly For some reason, I often feel the need to fill-up a suitcase – regardless of the size.  With this being said, my suitcase in Quito was 61 pounds . . . airlines allow 50 pounds. It took me four attempts of taking things out until my bag was at a more appropriate weight.  Argh.

STEP 3: Once you arrive in your first airport in the United States, soak in the things that you have missed most – even small things.  As I walked to customs in the Houston airport, I got a drink of water from the first water fountain I saw and immediately filled up my water bottle.  The water tasted amazingly delicious and cold – I loved it!  Remember, in Ecuador, I only drink bottled water because it is not healthy to drink out of the faucet – and come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drinking fountain in Ecuador.  

STEP 4: When you see family you haven’t seen in four months, be sure to give them a BIG hug and enjoy their presence.  I was fortunate enough to see four family members at the airport in Denver.  Then, I had the opportunity to see more family at my brother’s house in Denver and even more family during my time in St. Louis!  To the left, is a picture of my parents whom I got to see – and hug – at the airport in Denver.

STEP 5: Plan your time wisely – while simultaneously being cautious of not planning too much to overwhelm yourself.  Be sure to spend time with family and friends who show you love, rather than those who you feel like you “should” see.  This was particularly hard for me because there were several people I wanted to see and talk with, but did not have the opportunity to do so during this visit.   However, it was important for me to make sure I had a stress-free schedule, so I could enjoy the days . . . and I even planned a little bit of free time for myself. 

STEP 6: Visit places you have missed during your time away. For me, this included restaurants with food I had been craving, as well as places that make me feel good!  Some of the restaurants I visited were Crazy Bowls and Wraps, First Watch, and Pei Wei – yum!  The place I enjoyed visiting most was Forest Park . . . I love that place!

STEP 7: Sleep well. Of course good sleep makes us all feel better.  In my case, I particularly enjoyed the absence of crowing roosters nearby, which I have gotten accustomed to during my time in Riobamba.   carrito

STEP 8: Love driving – and remember that U.S. driving laws are different that those in Ecuador.  It was so easy for me to enjoy driving because my car is very fun to drive.  Here is a picture of my car one day when there was a downpour of snow.  In addition, one evening as I drove on a main road, I decided that I wanted to go the other way on the road instead.  So, I made a u-turn right in the middle of the road and then thought to myself, “Un –oh . . . I am not allowed to do this in the U.S.  That was totally illegal!”  I’m glad no one was around.  Yeesh.

STEP 9: Continue to practice your Spanish – in any way possible!  Since I was not speaking in Spanish at all during my time in Denver or St. Louis, my Spanish teacher asked me to write a daily journal entry in Spanish.  I felt like it was beneficial to do so after days of only speaking in English.  Also, at church I decided to take notes in Spanish instead of English.  Ha, ha . . . why not try to challenge my brain as much as possible, right?

lizSTEP 10: Enjoy the weather . . . whether it is cold or f-r-e-e-z-i-n-g.  It was really, really, really cold in both Denver and St. Louis.  I did not always enjoy the cold weather, but I tried.  Although, I did absolutely love watching the snow fall and taking a walk with a friend in the cold weather one afternoon.  robinson

STEP 11: Take a lot of pictures!  I took my camera to most of places I visited, which is pretty unusual for me.  Here are a few pictures of some of the people I was fortunate enough to visit during my short time in the U.S.

lesleySTEP 12: Watch TV or movies in English and revel in the fact that you can understand all of the words!  Most people comment that I do not usually pick “high-quality” television shows or movies to watch.  However, I enjoy them and that is all that matters, right?  I had the opportunity to watch part of one of my favorite shows, Hawaii Five-O, viewed the movie, You’ve Got Mail, with a friend, and even went to a movie in the theater!lisa

STEP 13: As the date gets closer for you to return to South America, shop for things you want to take back that you cannot easily purchase in Ecuador.  For me, this included note cards for letter writing, a delicious smelling air freshener, a Spanish workbook, and blank note cards.  I know I didn’t buy anything terribly exciting, but rather a few “wants” for the next six months.

STEP 14: Repack carefully . . . and lightly, if possible.  Believe it or not, even though I left several clothes in St. Louis that I did not need in Ecuador; my suitcase was still too heavy in the airport.  Once again, I had to take things out of the suitcase to arrive at an appropriate weight for my airline.  Blech.

STEP 15: Arrive at the airport in St. Louis on time and be sure that your suitcase is in good, working condition.  As I was unzipping my suitcase to take some of the extra weight out, the zipper popped off.  Fortunately, the man taking my suitcase was very sweet and fixed it with some pliers. 🙂

Now, tell me what you are thinking – please!  Just choose one or two questions – I love hearing from you.

  • What is your favorite “step” and why?
  • What is your “must-do” for a short visit to the United States?
  • What did I forget to put on my “how to” list?

Let’s go to the beach!

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Last weekend, I visited the coast of Ecuador.  Another WorldTeach volunteer, Jessica, and I left on Friday morning and returned to Riobamba on Monday evening.  Long weekends are one of the blessings with having a late start date at our teaching site.  It took 8 hours to get to Manta by bus, but was worth the long ride to experience the beach and the warm weather that goes with it.  Also, I had an amazing day on Sunday, which I will tell you about shortly.  There are two other WorldTeach volunteers living in Manta, Bridget and Angelika.  Just like us, they are staying with host families.  So, we gratefully stayed at the homes of their host families while we were there.

I have to admit this is a picture from the internet, but I wanted you to see what I experienced!

On Saturday, we visited the beach and swam in the ocean.  For those of you who aren’t sure, it’s the Pacific Ocean. 🙂  (By the way, if you would have asked me a year ago what ocean was next to Ecuador, I probably would not have known.)  The beach was fun and I even got a coconut to drink . . . and eat.  Check out the picture.  After you buy a coconut, the vendor cuts the top off with a machete so you can drink the coconut water with a straw.  After you finish drinking, you take your coconut back to the vendor and he cuts it apart and gets out the “meat” for you to eat.  Mmm . . . it is tasty, I must admit.On Saturday afternoon, Bridget and I relaxed at the house of her host family.  In the early evening, we started talking about what activities we could do the next day.  A few hours later – after a trip to an internet cafe, the bus station, and an ATM – we had a day trip planned to Isla de la Plata.  Our plan was to leave Manta on a bus at 4:00AM, so we needed to head to bed early.

We arrived in Puerto Lopez bright and early on Sunday morning after our 2 1/2 hour bus ride.  Shortly thereafter, we found a tour company and bought tickets for our day trip to Isla de Plata leaving at 9:30AM.  You can click on the link to learn more about Isla de la Plata.  However, it is also known as “The Poor Man’s Galapagos Island.”  While the island was wonderful, I have to guess that The Galapagos Islands are much better.  Regardless, we had a super day.

We took an hour boat ride to the island, which was amazing.  I loved feeling the wind on my face and seeing the waves all around us.  Next, we went on hike around the island to see some beautiful and rare birds living there.  There were two species of birds present on the island:  Blue-Footed Boobys and Fragatas.  (As a side note, the name “Booby” is thought to originate from “Bobo” the Spanish word for clown.)  The Blue-Footed Boobys were all over the place!  As you can see from the pictures, the birds were always protecting their young . . . either eggs, day-old babies, or month-old babies.  Look closely at the pictures to find the baby boobys! 🙂

After our hike, we had lunch on the boat and saw some sea turtles.  This is the best picture I could get.  After that, we snorkeled in the ocean.  This was my favorite part by far!  The fish in the ocean were amazingly colorful and beautiful.  Here is a picture of some of the fish when they came to the surface.  Unfortunately, this just gives you a glimpse of the incredible sights I saw underwater.  If you’ve gone snorkeling before, you understand what I mean, I am sure.

Next, we took the boat ride back to Puerto Lopez and headed back to the bus station.  At the bus station we found a bus going back to Manta and embarked on our 2 1/2 hour journey back to Bridget’s house.

There is one last thing I feel you might like to know about some bus rides in Ecuador.  While on the bus, it is quite common for people to frequently get on and off the bus selling food and other items.  For example, I saw  people selling watermelon, pineapple, chicken, empanadas, bread, corn on the cob, water, juice, soda, and jewelery.  So, here is a picture of the corn on the cob I bought.  I figured that there aren’t enough opportunities in my life to buy corn on the cob on a bus, so I decided to take advantage.  Now it’s your turn to answer the following food question.

  • If you were on a bus ride in Ecuador, what favorite food would you most want people to sell  to you?  What would really hit the spot? (Reply to me in a comment please!)

As always, thanks for reading my blog and for being interested in this journey in Ecuador.  Have a wonderful day! 🙂

Banos Anyone?

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Here I am in Banos! My first trip in Ecuador!

No . . . it is not what you think!  Banos is a city in Ecuador . . . not the bathroom.  Well, it is that too, but not in this case. 🙂  Two weeks ago (13/10/12), two Riobamba volunteers – Sarah and Alicia – and I went on a day trip to Banos.

We left on a bus at 7:20AM.  It takes about two hours to get to Banos from Riobamba.  The bus was very clean and quite comfortable.  (I didn’t know what to expect for my first Ecuadorian bus ride.) There was a  television too!  I was excited when they started a movie, but then I realized that it was The Thing – a scary and gross movie, in my opinion.

This is the river running through Banos.

During the rest of the ride I tried not to watch the disgusting things going on in the movie, but sometimes I couldn’t help but to sneak a peek.

We arrived around 9:30AM and explored the city.  It was quite beautiful.  It was nice to wear a t-shirt and feel warmth all day long.  (This is not the case in Riobamba.  Usually it’s warm in the morning and early afternoon, cool in the late afternoon, and very cold at night.)  We walked around the bridge and river in Banos and then hiked up to a sculpture at the top of a mountain.  Let me tell you, I was exhausted.  The altitude was rough on my lungs! I made it though . . . with plenty of sweating.

This is one of my favorite photos so far! Amazing!

Next, we walked over to a waterfall in town.  It was breath-taking, as you can see.  After that, we went to a restaurant for lunch and then to a different restaurant for dessert.   We had to take advantage of being on “vacation” for the day and have dessert, right? 🙂  After that, we walked around town a little bit more and then headed back to the station to catch our bus back to Riobamba.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip.  As many of you know, one of the things I want to do while I am in Ecuador is to travel to many of the beautiful places in the country.  Banos was my first trip and I enjoyed it a lot.  I also loved learning how easy it is to travel by bus in Ecuador.  Plus, the bus is really inexpensive!  Our tickets were $2.00 each way – what a bargain, huh?

One final thing you may not know about me – I love public transportation!  I know I am in the minority with this one, but it is really fun and humbling being around other people experiencing the same things as me.  I don’t know how else to explain it . . . I just like it.  Even in St. Louis, I loved riding the MetroLink.  Go figure.

So . . . now I turn it over to you.  Here is a link to 10 places to visit in Ecuador.  Check it out (it’s brief!) and tell me:

  • Where do you think I should visit while I am here?  Why?
  • If you came to visit (which you could!), where would you want to travel?

Tres Semanas en Ecuador

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Buenas noches.

Some volunteers and I took the Teleferico up to 13,000 feet and saw Quito’s magnificence from a distance, as well as other natural beauty.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend!  This coming week is my last full week in Quito.  How quickly the time has gone.  I can hardly believe that I have been in Ecuador for 3 weeks.  I just told a friend the other night that it hasn’t hit me yet that I am living in Ecuador.  Silly, I know.  Maybe that reality will sink in one of these days.  You would think that being surrounded by a different language would help that reality sink in . . . but nope . . . not yet. 🙂

Last week, we began teaching English at a local high school.  I taught three different classes of 13 year-old students.  This has been a huge shift from my previous teaching experience with first and second grade students in the United States.  Plus, I have realized that while WorldTeach is doing a fabulous job in preparing us as English language teachers, it is rather challenging to teach English.  Our language is extremely complex and difficult, to say the least.

Speaking of languages, I am rounding out my fourth and final week of daily Spanish lessons.  Wow – has it been rough!  The other 5 students and I have a fun time together during our daily one hour class.  We also enjoy our teacher thoroughly.  However, our teacher pushes us HARD to learn more vocabulary and verbs, which has been discouraging at times.  I have definitely traveled through some “I will never be able to learn Spanish” thinking over the past few weeks.  With that being said, I ask you to hold me accountable to continue to try to learn Spanish.  I plan to sign-up for a class in Riobamba and your job is to follow-up with me and ask if I’ve done it!  Muchas gracias!

Right now it is difficult to think about my move to Riobamba and starting over again.  One of the hardest parts will be adjusting to a new host family.  I have loved my Quito family and will miss them greatly.  It is amazing to see how our relationship has begun and grown in such a short period of time.  My host family has opened their home to me and fully welcomed me into their family.  It has been a privilege to be a part of this family during my time in Quito.

It is fascinating to think that I am already moving into another phase of my Ecuador journey.  Please keep me in your prayers this week and next as I adjust to the many changes that are coming in the near future.  Please pray for safe travel as many of the volunteers head to their new sites.  As always, thank you so much for your support.  I appreciate it more than you can imagine!

The First 10 Days!

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Here is a picture of “typical” fruits and vegetables at a corner tienda. Please take note of the HUGE carrots!

Hello again.  Or . . . hola otra vez.  Thanks for reading my last post about my “typical” day in Quito.  This past week and half has been interesting for me in many ways.  With that being said, in this post I decided to tell you about some experiences I have had in Ecuador so far, as well as the thoughts I had during and after those events.  Be warned, this is a long post.  Listo?  Espero!

Event: Sunday, September 2 was my travel day to Ecuador.  The Miami airport was where I met 8 other WorldTeach volunteers that were on the same flight to Ecuador.  We flew to El Salvador (via Honduras) and then to Ecuador.  We arrived around 11:30pm.  After going through customs and traveling to the hotel, I was in bed at 2:30am.  We met in the hotel lobby the next morning at 7:45am, packed and ready to go.

My Thoughts:  I was apprehensive to meet so many new people in such a short period of time.  I was nervous and didn’t know quite how I would come across, but knew I wanted to be authentic (thank you Brene Brown).  Shortly after meeting the other volunteers, I got a sense of their heart and knew that they were both kind and sweet.  After traveling for muchas horas, we got to know one another much better and I felt a bit more at ease.  Eventually, I got settled into the hostel, met my roommate for 5 hours (another new person), and went to sleep.  I was pretty cranky and was not very excited to wake-up, get packed, and be ready to go at 7:45am.  As I headed downstairs, I was very tired and not ready to start the day after my traveling the day before.  As I wearily met volunteers from other flights, I continued to experience that this was a group of compassionate people.

Event: During our lunch break during the weekdays, volunteers ate at different restaurants within walking distance of our orientation location.  Our meals ranged from vegetarian, Ecuadorian (go figure), Chinese, Mediterranean, and American.  I went with various groups of people each day.  Usually we went in groups of 5 or 6.

My Thoughts:  As the first days of orientation passed, I noticed I became more quiet around many volunteers.  While they were still just as kind, I started to realize that I was separating myself from the others because of our age differences.  It seemed like other volunteers were making connections with one another and I was not.  I felt like many of the other volunteers would think of me as “old” and wonder why I was here at this stage in my life.  Yes, I was being hard on myself.  In all honesty though, I think I created that perception because I haven’t felt the other volunteers acting any differently toward me.  Therefore, I am working hard to get to know others better and get over my hang-up with being older.  With that being said, it has been fascinating getting to know the other volunteers over lunch.  We have such a diverse history and I truly enjoy learning about others.

Event: On Friday, September 7, the volunteers went on a bus tour of Quito.  It was 3 hours and we sat on the top of the bus (with no roof) for most of the time.  We saw a gothic-style church and a statue of a woman.  It was hot.  It was long.  I grew tired and eventually took a short nap.

My Thoughts:  I sat next to a very nice male volunteer on the bus ride.  I didn’t feel like I was able to talk with many other volunteers, so that felt kind of lonely.  I tried, however, to focus on the tour and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.  After about two hours, I felt like I was baking in an oven and went downstairs to the enclosed portion of the bus with a few other volunteers.  All of a sudden I noticed it felt so nice to be alone.  I realized that up until then, I had been with either my host family or the other 32 volunteers most of the time I had been in Quito.  It was peaceful to be by myself . . . to reflect and think.  I looked out the windows, pondered where I am in my life (in Ecuador?), and eventually felt so relaxed I took a short nap.

Event: I Skyped with my parents, my brother, and a close friend on different evenings.

My Thoughts: I loved being able to connect with people from Los Estados Unidos.  It was freeing to speak in English.  This is so much easier than fumbling through Spanish each day.  I was able to catch-up on what has happened with family and friends and it felt nice to connect.  After speaking with each of these important people in my life, I was glad and had a feeling of encouragement about where I am and what I am doing in Ecuador.

Event: On Sunday, September 9, we had a host family barbecue at a beautiful Ecuadorian park.  We drove in this cool, blue car.  All 33 volunteers were there with their host families.  Here is a picture of my host family: Susana, Gonzalo, Rachel and I.  (Maria Isabel was not in attendance.)  We ate hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, and a tasty snack of popcorn and plantain chips (you should try that one!).

My Thoughts:  Initially, the barbecue was difficult for me because I didn’t feel like there were any specific volunteers that I could talk with that I had become better friends with thus far.  I noticed many groups of volunteers talking and laughing together, but I didn’t feel likeI knew them well enough to join their group.  I soon realized that I was so glad that Rachel was at the barbecue because we hung out, I got to know her better, and I began to introduce her to some of the volunteers.  As I introduced Rachel to others, I felt more comfortable with some of the other volunteers and started to notice who I connected with more.  That was a nice feeling.  I learn that sometimes I need to put myself in difficult situations in order to grow and build relationships.  That is not easy for me, but worth it for my heart.  As the time went on, the barbecue got a bit better.  Two other girls, Rachel and I went on a walk in a small part of the park.  It was beautiful.  We also saw some alpacas!  After the walk, I spent some time with my host parents, laughed with them, and then we went home.

Event: I washed my clothes in the washer and Rachel taught me how to hang my clothes on a clothesline to dry.

My Thoughts: “Will my clothes blow away?”  This was my first question to Rachel as we discussed hanging my clothes on a clothesline.  She laughed and told me that hers never have.  How incredible that I am 35 years old and have never been in a situation to hang my clothes out to dry.  What percentage of the world doesn’t have a choice and does this out of necessity?  While it was exciting to learn a new task, it was humbling for me to see and feel some of my privilege from growing up in the United States.  I am not saying that privilege is always bad, I suppose it has a time and place.  I am saying, however, that it is important for me to notice what I have in my life and try to become aware and sensitive that this is not the case for everyone in our world.

  • Based on my last stream of thoughts, what privileges do you notice that you have which are not prevalent in the rest of our world?
  • How does this make you feel?  What does it make you think?

I know I posted a lot of information. Thanks for hanging in there!  If there is anything more specific you’d like to hear about during my time in Ecuador, please let me know.  I am happy to share with you.  Gracias.

  • Is there anything you would like me to include in my blog sometime?
  • Is there anything you are wondering about Ecuador that you’d like me to find out for you?

Thank you for reading.  Hasta pronto!

A Day in My Quito, Ecuador Life

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Hello wonderful friends and family!  As many of you know, I have successfully made it to Ecuador and am rounding out the first week of orientation in Quito with WorldTeach.  Here is a picture of Quito that I took during a bus tour of the city.  Huge, huh?  I thought I could run through a typical day (right now) in order to give you an idea of how my days have been spent so far.  Sound good?  Okay then, let’s begin. 🙂

6:30am: I wake up and get in the shower.  In my house in Ecuador, as in many other places in the world, I have an electric showerhead in order to heat the water.  Check out the picture.  I know that electricity and water don’t sound like a great combination, but it works and apparently there haven’t been too many tragedies thus far.  After showering, I get ready and head down to breakfast.  As I walk downstairs, I see this beautiful view from my bedroom.  It’s chilly out, so I need to bring a sweater or sweatshirt.

7:30am – I sit down for breakfast with my sweet host family, Susana, Gonzalo, and Maria Isabel.  I also eat with another WorldTeach volunteer who came in February because she lives here too.  Her name is Rachel and I like her very much.  We drink delicious juice such as banana/orange, passion fruit or tree tomato.  We also drink tea, eat bread and sometimes have cheese or an egg.  Breakfast is a light meal here.

8:00am – I leave the house to take a 20 minute bus ride and walk for about 25 minutes to the orientation site.  The group of 33 WorldTeach volunteers meet at Hotel Seis de Deciembre each day for our teaching sessions.  We are taught by our three amazing field directors, Kate, Tara and Lee, as well as other visitors that come to speak with us.  For example, we have had a nurse speak to us about health, a special agent from the Embassy talk to us about safety, and a previous WorldTeach volunteer speak to us about culture.

9:00am – We have two sessions in the morning.  These have included conversations about safety, culture shock, lesson planning, teaching in the target language, and more.

12:00pm – We head to lunch in Quito.  Usually we divide into groups of about 6 and find a place to eat.  Most restaurants in Quito have a set lunch menu as an option.  This means that you can order “El Almuerzo” and it will usually include soup, a main course, and dessert.  The price has ranged from $2.50 – $5.00.  In addition to the el almuerzo option, one can also order of the regular menu at the restaurant.

1:30pm – I go to the Spanish school for my one hour lesson.  I am in a class with 5 other volunteers and we have so much fun as we make mistakes learning Spanish.  We have a wonderful teacher and really enjoy the time.

3:00pm – We meet back at Hotel Seis de Deciembre for two more teaching sessions.  These have included insurance discussions, learning about the WorldTeach emergency action plan, purchasing cell phones, creating objectives for lessons, concept checking, diagnostics, and discussing classroom management.

6:00pm/6:30pm – We finish our session and head home.  I take one bus with two other volunteers and then another on my own.  I have not yet done this on my own because my host mom has gone with me each time, but I plan to try it solo in the near future.

7:30pm/8:00pm – I arrive home and get settled and do my Spanish homework.  I check email if I can and do a few other miscellaneous items.

8:00pm/8:30pm – Susana, Gonzalo, Maria Isabel and I eat dinner together.  (Rachel comes home around 9:00pm.)  Dinner can consist of delicious soup, bread, beans, or potatoes (so far).  After dinner we have tea and sit at the table and talk.  Oftentimes because my Spanish is weak, I start to tune out when they are having discussions.  Eventually, I notice that they are all looking at me because they have asked me a question and usually I figure out what they are asking by having them repeat the question.  Silly American.

10:00pm/10:30pm – I head upstairs to my bedroom and get my things ready for tomorrow, get ready for bed, and go to sleep.