Friday, June 7, 2013


Hola a todos! Okay, I know I talk about Ecuador like it is a beautiful country and say how there is always so many incredible things to do there - this is true.However, there were times when I just needed to stop and think about how lucky  blessed I am and how easy it is to forget that there is always SOMETHING I can do to help SOMEONE in SOMEWAY, every day (and so can you).

One of these stop-and-think moments happened on my bus ride to school. First, I need to give you some background information:,REP,PMB,PC4,PRE#state=%7B%22pl%22%3A%7B%22uc%22%3A5%2C%22aid%22%3A5741237022%2C%22vp%22%3A%22g%22%2C%22sb%22%3A1%7D%2C%22ovm%22%3A%7B%22v%22%3A%22s%22%7D%7D

This is a quick video to show you how some people make their living down there. It is actually a pretty common practice where people are given permission to jump on the buses without having to pay so that they can sell things to the passengers. I've seen people sell everything from food to music and toothbrushes to jewelry.

Getting back to my little story, I was sitting on the bus just looking out the window not really paying attention to who was selling what at the time because it happened everyday at that same stop.Literally. Everyday, two or three people would hop on at the first stop after the bus station and would sell chips, ice cream and sodas/waters. This particular day, I did end up taking the small piece of paper that the man handed to me and was caught off guard by what it said. This man wasn't selling anything.

As I read the paper, I snapped out of my day-dreaming mode as I tried to process the fact that this man was going bus to bus, asking for strangers to donate a few cents so that he could support his family after the accident that took away his left arm. I looked up at him as he walked up the isle to the front of the bus, and then looked into my tiny wallet for some change. There I was, a gringa from a first world country. Who was I to say that I didn't have anything to give to this man? I can't remember how much I ended up giving, but I know it wasn't much. When he walked back the isle a second time, looking for those who were going to donate even a penny, I held out my hand and gave him the few coins that I had. 'Gracias. Que Dios le bendiga' he told me, with such sincerity.

While I was there, I was constantly reminded of how fortunate I am, for so many different reasons. Thanks to Paul Hamilton, I was also reminded that I am not lucky, I am blessed.

I couldn't agree with him more.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Snow in Ecuador? Well yes there is! I even ate some today. Nicole, myself and two of our very best friends from Ecuador, Juan and Daniel, took us to Cotopaxi for the day. Cotopaxi is a beautiful volcano that is covered in snow. I asked Juan when was the last time it erupted and he told me that it was about 120 years ago. Apparently, it should erupt about every 100 years so it's due any day now. Luckily, it wasn't this afternoon.
We started out the day at 7:30 this morning when Juan picked us all up. The drive was nearly two hours and when we started to get close, they told us to let them know if we start feeling sick from the altitude. Luckily, we made it without any side effects.

The drive turned into a bumpy ride when we started heading up the base of the volcano to the parking spot. Everyone was dressed in their hats and gloves for the climb to the refuge that was part ways up the volcano. There are people who make it to the summit, but to go the whole way up, they need a guide to take them there.

We started our hike from the parking lot. It did not take very long for me to realize that the refuge was farther away than it looked. Breathing was, difficult, but we did stop to take a few breaks and pictures. 

 Meet Juan: he is actually the "ecuabuddy" that i was assigned before I even came to Ecuador and we've been close ever since.

Meet Daniel: he is Juan's best friend so I was lucky enough to meet him through Juan when he came with us to lunch one afternoon before the middle of the semester.

You probably know Nicole by now, but here she is anyways.

                                                                               heh (:

After about an hour of hiking, we managed to spot the refuge!

 José Rivas Refuge
15, 953 feet
Instead of just going in right away, we decided to hike a little farther. We made it as far as we could without needing a guide. The view was beautiful, even if it was hard to see through the clouds at times.


Thhheennn the snowball fights began:

Before heading back down the mountain, we stopped in at the Refuge to drink some hot chocolate and warm up our fingers a bit. As we were sitting there, I saw a picture on the wall that made me think of something that I didn't before: how did they build this up here with it being so steep/no roads/no ski lifts? Well, here's your answer:

I'm exhausted just thinking about it. God bless those hikers and their dedication.
For the hike back down to the parking lot, we took the shorter, steeper path that was much like the path at Quilotoa; rocky and slippery. It didn't take very long to get to the bottom but we were having a little bit of trouble with rocks in our shoes.

My lungs feel healthy after that hike. The fresh air was a great change from the city air of Quito and the snow actually made me miss not really being around for it this year. (I know you all think I'm nuts since it's finally going away in PA, but it's true.) Anyways, we succeeded in our climb to one of the highest points in Ecuador with great company and an excellent workout.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Many of you know that I am very interested in Sign Language and have taken two semesters of it at Juniata so far. Well, at the beginning of the semester, I was able ad lucky enough to have the opportunity to volunteer at La Escuela Nueva Vida (The school of new life) for deaf/mute children between the ages two and I believe 15.

The school is conveniently close to my house, only a five to ten minute taxi ride, and I am able to go whenever I want to. Lately I have only been going once a week in the morning until about noon, but I think now that it is getting down to the last few weeks I might go more often.


After being in Honduras and trying to sign with two of the deaf girls there, I knew that not all of the signs that I had learned would be the same in both English and Spanish. However, I did not realize how different it would really be here. The first day there I was trying so hard to communicate with the kids. They were excited that I knew some sign, I could tell, but then when they tried to talk back to me or answer a question, I could not understand what they were saying. Even for me to try and ask when their birthdays are was difficult and resulted to pointing at construction paper signs on the wall with the months written on them.

As the day went on, and we continued to try to communicate, we started to become friends. :) One of the older girls, Anabel, was really patient with me and really wanted to me to understand what she and others in the room were saying. Even after seeing so much sign over the past few years, it still amazes me how quickly they are able to communicate ideas and know exactly what the other is saying.From what I am gathering, I think that a lot of the signs that they are using are interpretive and are ones that they have been using with each other ever since they started school together.

They break the children into two classrooms - the older kids and the younger kids. I like to alternate classes each time I go there, but either way I usually just end up playing ad trying to talk with the kids. My first day with the big kids got a little out of hand. It was the day of their math test and the teacher had told me that she was going to go print out the tests and that she would be back. Since they were being good and they were older, I figured I could go check the time and let my one other friend know when we should be leaving. When I came back to the classroom, there was paint and water all over the floor. I stood there in the doorway with my mouth open and Anabel just started at me and shook her head. The teacher came back two seconds later.

My first day with the younger kids turned into this little wrestling match:

Since I can't exactly yell at them and tell them to break it up, I just let them do their thing. I mean, it seems like they were having fun, right?

The main idea of this school is to try to get them to talk and not rely on the signs so much so most (if not all) of them do have an implant or something of that sort. That first day with the younger kids, something happened that melted my heart and made me fall even  more in love with interacting with the deaf. We were all taking pictures and playing with toys when it happened. The two younger girls were stacking blocks and playing with a small ball. The older girl, who is probably only about 4, rolled the ball to the two year old. When she picked up the ball, she realized that there were little beads inside and began shaking it next to her ear. Her face lit up and I knew that she could hear it. After watching her eyes get real big, she smiled, held the ball up to my ear, and shook it so that I could listen.

I was able to teach the older class multiplication tables the one day and they loved it. The teacher told me to just write them on the board and let them answer them. Pretty soon they were volunteering to come up to the board and were so excited when they would get them right. Then they started having competitions with who could figure it out the fastest, and started helping each other with ones that they didn't know. When it came time for the 9's, I showed them the finger trick where if it is 9x3, for example, you put down your third finger (middle finger on the left hand) and the answer is 27. THEY LOVED IT! I can't even tell you how many problems with 9's I had to write on the board for them.


The teachers at the school are so nice. I often get to see them explaining to the kids how to pronounce a word and it is the coolest thing. Each sound has a different motion, like a sign, that they use to describe it. It's amazing.

I am getting to be really close with these kids and it is going to be sad when I leave them next month. Maybe I'll find myself working with the deaf someday, who knows. What I do know is that I am thankful I have the opportunity to be at La Escuela Nueva Vida.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Yep. Our last BCA excursion of the entire semester. I can't believe how fast it is going. My posts are a little out of order now so there will be plenty more posts, I just haven't gotten there yet.
Well, this last trip was to Quilotoa which is an active volcanic lake. The pictures, again, don't do it justice, but I'm sure that you can tell the view was fantastic. The weather was cool, but there was enough sun to sunburn many of our white faces which we didn't realize until we were home.
After marveling at the view from the top, we all decided to make the 45 minute hike down into the crater. From the top, it didn't really seem like it would be too bad of a hike. Our perspective changed a little bit the moment we started down the steep and twisty trail.


Some areas of the trail were really rocky, some deep and sandy, and some just slippery because of how steep it was. With that said, we all couldn't stop laughing at each other nearly face planting every three minutes. We did have two winners though with complete wipe outs: First place went to Hilary and second went to Elizabeth.
Even with all of the caution, we were still able to appreciate the scenery around us: purple and yellow flowers, green water that changed colors when the sun passed behind the clouds and just the trails in general.

By the time we made it to the bottom, we were all hot and ready for a nap so we sat on the edge of the cliff, staring at the water and taking in the view.
We could see the water bubbling!
Down a little farther we could actually walk down right to the water. A few of us did and found mules drinking out of the lake right in front of us.
 It surprised me how cold the water was considering it was laying on top of an active volcano. When it was time to leave, we walked up to the group of mules, hopped on the saddle and off we went back to the top.
Not everyone decided to take a mule back to the top, but I am more than happy that I did. For one, I'm not the biggest fan of hiking, especially when the trail is at a 90 degree angle or felt like it at times anyways. Second, when I passed a group of my friends who did decide to hike, they were already out of breath and trying to bribe me into switching with them. The sad part is that it was only ten minutes into the hike. They are troopers and all made it successfully.
Once we made it to the top it was time for a little lunch that consisted of soup, chicken, rice, salad and potatoes. The meal was quick and then we were on our way to an art gallery. Oh yeah, before that. We met at five in the morning so that we could make it to the Zumbahua market (3.5 hour ride). This is an indigenous market that surprised me with the smells of frying food, herds of sheep and variety of things being sold. There was everything from bananas to live chickens, pig heads to cheese and earrings to fox hoodies.

Is it okay for all of this raw meet to be laying out on a table in the sun?

We were a little hungry in the morning so we decided to buy a bag of bread. A few of us decided to split a bag of the chocolate swirl bread, but really we all could have bought our own without any problem. One bag of six rolls only cost a buck and it was delicious.

Okay, so after the market was the lake and after the lake was our final stop at the art market. Daniel told us that this man was actually the one who brought back this style of painting and it was on accident. He painted the side of a drum that he was taking to play at a wedding when some already well-known artist passed him on the street, stopped, and asked if she could buy it off of him. He told her that he was taking it to the wedding but that he could paint her one later. Ever since then, he has been very successful with his art and was there to show it to us. His daughter is actually a singer now so there is a whole bunch of talent in that family.


Another awesome trip was planned by our directors and I am so thankful for all of these opportunities that they are giving to us. Ugh, I'm so bummed that it is almost over.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Another day trip! Daniel split us into two groups again for our trip to Bomboli, a cloud forest. When we stopped and stepped off of the bus, we were awestruck with the beauty of all of the green!
After taking plenty of photos, an older man showed up and began talking to the group. He and his wife live there in the middle of all the beauty, trying to protect the forest that so many people are planning to destroy for different reasons. (notice in the second picture how the mountains on the right have already been ruined.)
He is such a cute man. His voice is so soft that it is almost impossible to hear him. He loves his life there in Bomboli, it's obvious by the way he talked about it. We followed him as he told us terrifying facts about what is happening to the forest. For example, people purposefully burn the trees and it's going to take 1,000 years for it to grow back like it was. He showed us the waterfalls/rivers of the live and well part that he and his wife are protecting...
...and then he showed us where the water use to run before the forest was destroyed and it broke our hearts to see how upset he was about it. Not only that, but right now there is talk about building tunnels that would run right through where those healthy flowing waterfalls above are located. He is trying to fight it as long as he can.
Where the rivers use to meet
Another fact he told us was about the Amazon Rainforest and he said that if it continues to be destroyed at the rate it is going right now, the Amazon will be gone by 2050.
After the little information session, we were welcomed back to his house where he would show us around even more and would prepare us supper. Because there were so many of us, we had to take a truck and a van to get from the highway to his secluded house. On our way up, our van ended up getting stuck in the muddy ditch before we were even half way there. Hoping not to have to walk, we all tried our hardest gain superhuman strength and push it out.

Unfortunately, our many efforts were unsuccessful and we were left to walk while the drivers stayed behind and tried to figure out what to do. Once we were ALMOST there, the vehicles showed up and drove us the last 5 minutes of the way.
From the second we arrived there, we could see that they him and his wife did everything they could to be Eco-friendly because of their hanging baskets that they made out of plastic soda bottles.
Then, his wife walked out, tiny as could be, but super energetic; both of them are. She helped us all find rubber boots to wear for the muddy paths that we would be walking, but before the walk, we were taken down to the bottom half of their property where she makes their own cheese that comes from their own cows.

SO MUCH CHEESE! After making the mozzarella cheese (which is prepared by taking the curds that you see in the first picture and mixing it with HOT water), she ripped of chunks of cheese for everyone to try. I do love cheese, especially mozzarella, but I had to split my chunk of cheese with two other girls because she was so generous about the portions.
Then began our little tour. We drank natural, cold, spring water out of a hose, saw beautiful flowers:
Pretty, but dangerous when crazy people decide to turn it into a date rape drug.
Best smell award!!
So many orchids!
Humongous leaves:
Meet my friend, Emily!

Ate delicious wild berries that I have never seen before:
Moss covered trees:
And then things that they created themselves such as these little gardens in the tires:
A carrel for horses - they planted trees all around the outside instead of clearing too many trees to build a fence:
And this bull skull that they put in the tree (shout out to my cousins who had nightmares for weeks when my dad did this):
We made it back just in time for supper that the cute little woman was preparing. Our first dish was one of the most delicious soups I had ever had, followed by chicken, mashed potatoes, rice and vegetables. All the warm food tasted sooo good, but not as good as the dessert. ;) It was a chocolate and caramel crepe! All of us clapped when she brought it out, hah. She actually makes and sells her own chocolate and caramel...we all ended up buying some. We were all sad to finish our crepe and I think she noticed because she came back in and asked if we wanted another one!! Ahh, crepes.
After dinner we all made our way to the living room to have our reflection about the day.
As I said before, they are very Eco-friendly and use what ever they have to their benefit. Two more examples: their main rug in the living room was a horse hide...with the tail and mane still attached. As cool as it is that they do things like that, it freaked us out a little and we felt too weird to walk on it. Second, hah, this one is so strange but I'm going to tell you anyways. Some of us were sitting there waiting for everyone else and Daniel came in, picked up a vase with flowers that was sitting on the mantle, and handed it to Nicole. He asked if we knew what it was made of, we said no, and he said, "a bull sack". Daniel will say whatever he wants. Of course, Nicole wasn't too keen on holding it anymore after that, but it was interesting, for sure.  
Back to the reflection.
They asked us to go around in a circle and comment on something that we learned/were most impacted by, and they sat there, listening so closely to what we had to say and smiling because they know that we really did get something out of the short time we were there. Most, if not all of us, commented on how we were moved by what they are doing to protect the incredible forest that they live in.Yes, they said "thank you", but he was sure to point out that they are doing it because it is something they are passionate about, and that, is what is making the difference.