Published: March 12th 2009March 12th 2009
PHOTOS COMING!!!! Just didn´t have time to download them today.
So my service is winding down rapidly. Peace Corps just recently approved our March 20th Close of Service date which means that we will be leaving country soon after that.
The last month or so has gone exceptionally well - some of the best experiences of my Peace Corps service. To start, a few weeks ago I was in the community of San Pedro to collect some GPS data points for one of CODEAMAs projects. I went on a 5 hour hike with one of the teachers in the school, the community President, and one other guy whose land we were going to be walking through. The hike was AWESOME!!! I had no idea that San Pedro had so much land and that they still had primary rain forest to boot.
It rained almost the entire time and we were in thick canopy so my GPS didn´t work at all. I kept telling the guys to walk slower so that the GPS could catch a signal, but they had no intention of doing that, so….I just started making stuff up - which seemed to satisfy them just fine.
At one point, Victor, the teacher who prior to this day was skeptical of me and really didn´t care to be around me. He has a hang up with foreigners coming to the community. Anyhow Victor asked me how far we were from San Pedro and what our altitude was. Seeing as how the GPS wasn´t working I gave him a best guess off of the top of my head and said, ¨oh about 3 km and 900 meters above sea level. ¨ He turned to me and the others and said, ¨that is what I thought - I´ve done this hike before.¨
During the hike when the rain was really coming down, the two community members disappeared in the forest and returned with some long palm leaves that they jammed into the ground thus creating a canopy over our heads to keep us dry - it was really cool. I noticed that by the end of the hike, I was covered head-to-toe in mud and I was soaking wet. The other guys only had mud on their boots. I´ve noticed that Ecuadorians, especially the indigenous, seem to have mastered walking in the forests and fields without getting dirty.
The following week I went out to San Pedro again to try and map a different part of the community. This time Matt (PCV Puyo) and Jason (PCV Tena) came with me. Jason has been working on a fish pond project in San Pedro so we checked out the progress on those - which there was none and then went to find Victor to go on the hike. What we found were three community members who didn´t want to spend their Thursday walking around the jungle - they told us that they didn´t know the trail to get to the points we wanted to see. Instead of pressing the issue, I told them no problem. Not wanting to waste a good day for a hike, Matt, Jason, and I decided to walk along the river all the way back to Puyo. The walk took about 4.5 hours and it was incredible. I was now two for two on my awesome hikes. I have to admit though, walking that long in rubber boots over a rocky trail was murder on the feet. I think I actually strained a tendon in my left foot which has been hurting me for a
month now - totally worth it though.
During this time, I started and finished my teacher trainings. By far, this was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had during my service and possibly during my life. The first one was on the 9th of February with 24 teachers. I did a little science magic show to start it off, then talked about the importance of Env. Ed and how to implement it in the classroom. We did an activity from the EE guide I wrote and then I distributed all the materials I made, the guide, a resource CD, and three posters. At the end of the training, the teachers were asking me to autograph their copies of the guide. It was flattering and weird at the same time.
The second teacher training didn´t go quite as well. It was a week later with 46 teachers. I had to go after a two hour presentation from a guy selling textbooks. The teachers were not as enthusiastic, one of my best magic tricks failed miserably, and I was uncharacteristically lethargic in my presentation. However, by the end, I salvaged the training with the help of Matt, who
led one of the activities and did remarkably well.
The third, and final, training was in a small town north of Puyo. Matt and I headed up with Ana from the Ministry of Education. We got to the school and noticed that the name of the school was John F. Kennedy - so cool that my final training and the final large activity in my PC service would take place at JFK, the founder of Peace Corps. Matt and I got a picture in front of the school. This training went better than the first. It was supposed to last two hours, but instead took three because so many people were asking questions and participating. I didn´t sign copies of the guide, however, I did get a lot of handshakes and thank yous.
I want to thank all of you who donated to the project - it couldn´t have happened without your generosity. We did good!!! I have real confidence that some of these teachers are going to use the guide to improve EE in their classrooms. Perhaps that means that you and I will be directly and indirectly responsible for a new generation of environmentally conscious and
These are the kids in my Eco-Club on my last work day in Puyo.
aware people who will preserve some of the most beautiful rain forest in the world. Or at the very least, kids will enjoy school a little bit more when they get to do some meaningful and fun hands-on activities. Seriously, this project has made me proud to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Matt is going to follow-up my trainings with some evaluations of the EE materials and with a student workbook that former Volunteer Katie Wallace designed and Matt edited. He is currently looking for similar donations for his project. Check it out at www.peacecorps.gov under the donate now link.
In mid-February, I returned to Tena with Sue to hit up the Carnaval festivities there. We went up with Casey and Jay and stayed at our friend Mary´s house in Tena. The first night we just hung out in Tena, got some dinner and sat at a river-side bar. A few other PCVs in the area joined us for the fun.
The second day we headed to Misahualli for a party on the beach. If you will remember, I was there in January for the River Fest. This time though, the beach had about 5000 people. Because
it was Carnaval everyone was spraying water and foam on each other and some even would attack you with powered dyes and flour. It was all good fun and part of the Carnaval tradition in Ecuador. The kids especially wanted to attack the two tall gringos (Jay and I) and we fought back which made it all the more exciting for them. Susan, Mary, Sadie, and Casey had to battle two fronts, kids and Ecuadorian men. We had a blast, however, after 4-5 hours we were exhausted. We headed back to Mary´s, took showers, and then decided to head back to Puyo for the rest of the weekend.
Carnaval brings with it parades, dancing, and drinking as well as the normal water and foam fights. All in all, this Carnaval was not as good as last year´s in Ambato, however, it was still fun…different, but fun.
Did I mention before that my counterpart, Bolívar is running for Prefecto of Pastaza which is the equivalent of running for Governor of a state? It is interesting to follow the political process here where there are often 6-7 legitimate candidates for a specific race and it is very common for the winner to come out with 30% of the vote. The upside for me has been that he has been out campaigning and spending very little time in the office. Don´t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Bolívar, he is a hard-working man and his heart is in the right place to be doing development work. I just know that the office runs smoother when we are left to do our work without his intervention, plus, we have more fun while the cats away so-to-speak. It would be fun to be around during the elections (late April), however, I am sure we will be hearing all about it from our friends here in Puyo.
Last week, Susan´s friends from college came to Ecuador to visit. Julie and Chris came in on Friday the 27th. Sue and I took an afternoon bus to Quito. We hung out with some PCV friends of ours that evening while we waited for Julie and Chris´s plane to arrive. It was great to see our friends, this group happened to be the ones responsible for training the new group of Volunteers that arrived two weeks ago (the job I applied for but was shot down by the Country Director because I am such a little mischievous trouble-maker). Anyhow, we had fun with them and they seem to be doing well with the implementation of training. In hindsight, I am glad that I am not a trainer as it would have changed my last few months of service entirely and since I have had a great last few months, I have to say the fortunes worked my way.
Anyhow, Julie and Chris arrived late (12:30am) into Quito. We got them to the hotel and then we went out to have a drink to catch up and celebrate. The next morning we had breakfast and then went to El Chaco to visit our friend Jeff and to do some hiking and rafting.
That afternoon, we hiked into a gorge and saw quite a few Cock-of-the-Rock birds, which in the birding world are rare. Somehow we lucked out and saw about 15-20 of them. Later in the hike we were wading into the river and through the narrow part of the gorge where we actually go into a cave like tunnel in the rock. Here, a bunch of tayos were nesting. These birds will fly a hundred or more miles into Peru just to eat. It was really cool and we had fun wading 300 meters in waste deep water (three for three on hikes).
We returned to El Chaco, got cleaned up, and then went to get some dinner. It is always fun showing people who visit the varied menus of Ecuador and explaining what certain types of foods as. We settled on a Columbian Restaurant and ordered a variety of stuff. Jeff joined us, as did the brother of another one of our PCV friends (he is travelling around Ecuador for a couple months).
The next morning we went rafting on Río Quijos, the site of the 2005 World Rafting Competition. We had a blast, even though I had to pull Chris out of the water twice during the trip. Jeff was our guide - which made it all the more fun. He is such a great guy and probably the nicest person in PC Ecuador. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn´t like Jeff. He has a way of living his life that all should aspire to. He works hard, has fun, minds his own business, and would do anything to help you out.
We also managed to see two more Cock-of-the-Rock birds on our trip. Near the end, we stopped at a place on the side of the river where they serve Sugarcane Juice. The place also had a moonshine still. If it weren´t for the Ecuadorian who owned it, you would have sworn that we were in West Virginia playing out a scene from Deliverance.
After rafting we were going to visit a waterfall, however, it started to pour so we opted to hit a restaurant, have a snack, and drink a few beers. We ended up eating enough there that we skipped dinner, sat up on the deck of our hotel and chatted until we were tired enough to go to bed.
The next morning we caught a bus to Archidona, just outside of Tena, where AJ and Yvonne live. Yvonne took us to the caves in Archidona and we had an hour long hike through the cave. It too was cool and we had to wade through water multiple times. So for Julie and Chris, each day involved them getting soaking wet - they kept joking that PC Ecuador was all about watersports.
After the hike we went to Tena, checked into a cute hostal overlooking one of the rivers in town, and then went to Araña, the riverside bar, to have some cocktails. Mary met up with us, as did Yvonne. We had a great time chatting and then ended up going out for pizza. Mary had to leave to catch a call from the U.S. so the rest of us returned to the bar. A while later, Elliot, Jason and his fiancée showed up. At some point, Sue and Julie left to go back to the hostal - Elliot had ordered six beers just before they left, so naturally, the rest of us had to stick around to finish them.
The next morning, after a fine breakfast along the river, we headed to Puyo. Joan was going to be flying into Quito around 2:00pm. The bad friends that we are, neither Sue nor I wanted to make the 5.5 hour trip to Quito to get Joan and then get on a 5 hour bus to Puyo. So…we called a PC friend in Quito and had him to get Joan at the airport and then get her on a bus to Puyo. It all worked out splendidly. Joan arrived in Puyo around 7:30 just as I was finishing up making dinner for everyone (Sue, Joan, Julie, Chris, Matt and Casey). We had a splendid dinner of my Ecuador famous burritos with homemade tortillas. After dinner we played a game called Apples to Apples and then called it a night.
The next day Sue and I took our friends out to Hola Vida waterfall. They enjoyed the 30 minute hike and we had a picnic at the waterfall once we got there. We hiked back and I showed them the FRATES center. Guillermo and Marcelo were there so they got to see them. We had good bus luck because just as we got back to the road, the bus pulled up.
When we arrived back in Puyo we took them to get beers and volqueteros (a famous Puyo dish - dumptruck ceviche). Later that evening, Joan took us all out to El Jardin, our favorite restaurant in town that has the absolute best steaks around.
Of course the whole time that Joan, Julie, Chris and Sue have been together they have been reliving and retelling the stories of the college days and all the fun trips they have had together. I am envious of Susan in that he group of college friends are extremely tight. My group of friends all seemed to go separate ways. I would still say that we are friends, but we certainly do not maintain contact. Perhaps, if Sue ever convinces me to join Facebook, which I doubt she will, I can begin to get reacquainted with my friends. Facebook is internet crack cocaine. I just don´t want to join because I´ll get sucked in, plus, I prefer to not have my name, picture, and personal life accessible on the net - though I fear that much of it already is.
The following morning we all headed to Baños. We went to the souvenir shops and walked around for a couple of hours. I headed back to Puyo because I had to give my final Teacher training Friday morning. Sue and her friends headed to Riobamba because they were planning to take the Devils Nose train-ride the next morning. The plan was for all of us to meet up in Cuenca on Friday evening.
I already spoke of my training, so when it was done I caught a bus to Ambato where I planned to catch another bus to Cuenca. Everything went very well. The weather was great and I caught my bus to Cuenca at 3:00pm. The sun was beating down on me in the bus so I opened my window to catch a breeze. After a few minutes, the woman behind me reached over my head and shut the window without asking. Ecuadorians hate having open windows on buses, even it is 100 degrees inside the bus. I spun around in my seat and asked her what she was doing. She said she didn´t like the air on her and I told her that she could chose a different seat - my seat, my window, my choice. She gave me a really shitty look and she had two kids with her so I opted to swallow my pride and I kept the window shut.
My next move was to pull the curtain over the window to block the sun. This worked for two minutes until she grabbed it and pulled it in front of her, loudly exclaiming how hot it was. I then opened my window and she yelled at me. So I spun around again and said,¨ you have a choice…window or curtain…choose wisely.¨ She didn´t respond so I pulled the curtain back over my window. We then proceeded to play a little game of pulling the curtain back and forth for about 20 minutes. I kept saying, quietly, but loud enough for her to hear, that I was bored and this was fun.
After those 20 minutes we entered the mountains and the clouds. Things calmed down and we had no more incidents between us. The bus however, had issues. It broke down about two hours from Ambato (4 from Cuenca). It was overheated. We were stopped for about a half hour before we started up again. We went another 15 minutes and then had to stop a second and eventually third time to cool the engine. Eventually, I made it to Cuenca around 10pm and I caught up with the crew at a Shwarma restaurant.
Cuenca was a stunning city - something you would expect to find in Europe and not Ecuador. It was metropolitan, clean, and had the most amazing architecture. Julie and Chris had to leave that afternoon so we spent the first full day there sight-seeing. After they left, Joan, Sue, and I took a walk along the river and then stopped for coffee at a riverside café. That night we met up with some other PCVs from the Cuenca area and had some drinks and dinner.
The next morning, the three of us headed off to Cajas National Park to do a 5-6 hour hike. It was stunningly beautiful and we had incredible weather. We were told to prepare for cold and rainy conditions. Instead we had sun and 60s. We were hiking at around 12,000 feet which made for some hard uphills. Joan struggled a little more than Susan and I, however, we all did just fine.
We hitch-hiked back into town in the back of a pick-up truck. We returned the hotel and met up with our friend Kris. The four of us then went to have dinner at a cute little restaurant in town. After dinner we walked around Cuenca at night and settled at another restaurant/bar to have a beer or two. Our PCV friend Jeremy showed up and joined us. We ended up leaving rather early after we witnessed a fight between the cook and the waitress. The cook went after her with a meat cleaver - just didn´t seem like a good idea to stick around.
The next morning we said goodbye to Kris and Jeremy and then headed to Ingapirca, and Incan and Cañari ruins about two hours north of Cuenca. It was a nice ruins and we had good weather again. The final 15 minutes to the ruins took us through the heart of traditional Sierran Ecaudor. Joan took loads of photos and really enjoyed the scenery, as did Sue and I.
After the ruins we caught a bus to Ambato and then another bus to Puyo. We really lucked out being able to catch them along the side of the road and not having to wait more than 30 minutes at any point in time. My worry was that we would miss the bus to Puyo and have to wait on the side of the road at midnight until the next bus an hour or two later. All went well though - the bus gods have been on our side for most of the trip.
Joan´s stay in Puyo has gone well. Yesterday, she and I went to a local animal park just outside of town. It was great, Joan loves monkeys and she got her fill. One of monkeys climbed on her shoulder while we walked around the park. The monkey actually fell asleep at one point. Joan was elated and thought it was so cool.
As I write this, Sue, Joan, and Casey are in Baños pampering themselves with a ladies spa day. The prices are so cheap, that it´s hard to pass up.
Well, that´s the news from Puyo. I probably only have one or two blogs let before this adventure is over. Thanks for reading.