Monday, October 24, 2011

News from the Walp

OK a lot has happened in and around Atahualpa (aka the ‘Walp) in the last couple weeks so please excuse my rambling.

We’ve gone on a couple really fun weekend/day trips. The first was the soccer game against Venezuela at the stadium in Quito. It was SO fun and crazy crowded, just a sea of yellow jerseys. We got little Ecuador flags painted on our faces and Ecuador won! Very exciting but on the way out we got completely squished in the crowd and someone nicked my iPod from my pocket. Which was totally my fault, I should have left it in the ‘Walp, but I was still pretty mad.

We also went to Otavalo, which has a cute crafts market where we spent HOURS emptying our pockets. We also saw a cockfight (nauseating) and went to a night club. The club was utterly hilarious – it was actually a private birthday party but we (five of us) got ushered in anyway since half of us were blonde Americans. Literally every eye in the building was on us and we had a ton of fun.

Ate guinea pig the other day, mmmm.

This weekend was Independent Student Travel weekend. Karelle, Conner, Sarah and I went to Banos and it was such a success. The first night we went on a night tour of the volcano nearby (we couldn’t see anything, and the “fire show” afterwards was a joke, I was laughing so hard I cried). We also biked to the waterfalls outside of Banos and hiked down so we were right next to them, it was beautiful. We gorged ourselves on food from Casa Hood, the best restaurant ever ever, ever. On our way back to Atahualpa we tried to make a stop at the mitad del mundo (where you can be in both hemispheres at once) and we paid for the taxi, and for the taxi to get into the parking lot, but then we were too poor to pay to enter the actual site. So we stood about 300 meters from the mitad del mundo! Too good.

Back in ‘Walp sweet ‘Walp, our work project is coming along. We’ve finished fixing up the pathways for tourists and started building a greenhouse for the community. It’s pretty cool because we’re involved in every step of the process, from hoeing the land for the structure to building the tables and setting them up inside. It’s not completed yet but it’s pretty close. Kind of frustrating because I want to finish it but for the last two days we’ve been (literally, I kid you not) hauling rocks down the mountain. Huge sacks of gravel. We are not happy about this. The goal is to build a bridge across the waterfall so people won’t have to straddle it like we do. The work is EXHAUSTING, I miss the greenhouse!

We also took a day to go to the elementary school in Atahualpa and paint a mural, which is oh so beautiful, hopefully pictures to come, which focuses on protecting the environment.

Our media projects are almost done – we’re supposed to finish today – so links to those should be coming out soon! Get excited because this project has taken a lot out of us.

Can’t believe our time is almost up in the ‘Walp. We leave in 3 days! I am going to miss my sweet host family (my sister is knitting me a scarf!) and all the rice. Headed to Peru for the Inca trail in a week!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Life in Atahualpa

(sorry this is long)

Wow, I can’t believe this is only day 8 in Atahualpa, Ecuador! It seems like we’ve been here for much longer!

I don’t even know where to begin describing the experience so far. I think I’ll just try to give you a day-in-the-life overview:

3:00 AM – wake up to dogs killing attacking each other in the street or to a truck honking or to the host family doing who knows what around the house

6:00 AM – get out of bed, or else my sweet host mom will come in worrying about me! Then breakfast with host mom and sister Elisa, probably bread or a fried pancake-like thing called tortas, and cafĂ© of course.

7:30 – the truck to take me to work is supposed to be here but I’ll wait until 7:50 for it to arrive, then grab my day pack and a shovel and head out. The truck will either take us like 30 feet to a little trail down to the waterfalls, or a good ten minute ride to the mountain slopes. Either way we’ve been fixing up the rocky dirt trails around the community to make them safer and easier for community members and tourists. The trail down to the waterfalls is especially treacherous with random cliffs and loose rocks, all on a super steep slope! We’ve dubbed it the Trail of Tears. For four hours we’ll hoe and shovel away the terrain, with our 25 minute snack break (usually a couple bananas from home) in there of course. Then we make our way BACK up to the road where the trucks are. This is the hard part and we all have a suspicion that we aren’t really on a gap year after all, but a global fat camp, because it is seriously so so so difficult to climb back up to the top!

12:30 PM – get back to my house for lunch with host mom and possibly other family members. Probably rice with fried potatoes and maybe something else like a fish that still has its head on it, or pig skin soup, yum? And tomato juice.

1:30 PM – get my stuff together and head down for the 40 minute walk into the center of Atahualpa. Meet up with the North Shore Crew (other TBBers living near me way up on the hill) along the way. I’m the furthest one away but there are a couple people close to me so that’s nice.

2:10 PM – arrive in town and begin our feast on junk food which we totally earned that morning. Favorites include ice cream things that are basically like Dibs if you know what that is, only it’s usually too cold for that, in which case I go for the Cua Cuas which are like little chocolate wafers.

2:30 PM – our seminar or media project work period begins. The theme for Ecuador, like I said, is the environment and so far I have learned a ton about how I personally impact the environment, how society becomes environmentally destructive, what can be done, etc. Today we are making our own policies, long term ones of 30 years, to regulate environmental impact – or something like that. Our media projects are presentations that we started working on to show what we’ve learned. My group chose ecotourism in Atahualpa and we are always REALLY busy interviewing community members and trying to put our project together. It’s kind of ridiculous.

5:15 PM – head back to my host family’s house, arrive in time for dinner with everyone. Then hang out with the fam for a while. I have some pretty cute host nephews, especially the 5 year old Nilan who loves to beat me at marbles and try on my glasses. My maybe-10-year-old nephew Alexander (or Gigi for short?) loves singing “My Humps” and saying “trick or treat” since we talked about Halloween. They’re entertaining. My host family is really so nice and accommodating. They taught me to make tortas and helped me do my laundry (Nicaragua flashback of cleaning clothes on rocks!). They took me to the local pool last weekend (I know, Atahualpa is POSH) which was FRIGID but fun. I also milked cows with them on Saturday.

8:30 PM – finish up the billion chapters of readings I have for tomorrow’s seminars and go to bed. Maybe use our electric shower, try not to get shocked!

So that’s a typical day… We are in the process of MAYBE acquiring tickets to the Ecuador vs. Venezuela soccer game on Friday which would be SO fun. This weekend is our last with our families because the next two weekends we will be travelling – to a local crafts market and then we have Independent Student Travel where we can basically choose to go wherever we want as long as we plan it ourselves. I’m excited!

Hopefully you’ll be able to see a great finished media project about ecotourism soon! Until then you know I’m crazy busy at global fat camp and having fun. I miss everyone bunches. Enjoy your fluffy bath towels for me!

Oh – also – my Spanish is definitely getting better! Even though I’m sure I’m butchering all the verbs I still am managing to converse with the host fam about politics and the history of Ecuador and its current president, Correa. Interesting stuff. We also have 4 dogs who hate me the end.