Friday, October 24, 2008

I Trekked To Machu Pichu And All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt

...And those memories...And those photos...Oh, and that inability to walk -- but that will go away ;-)

I believe we left off the night before we headed out to the Inca Trail to begin our trek. I´ll pick up from there. Well, what with the packing and the stuffing of non-essentials into bags to be stored at our hostel I didn´t get to sleep until 11ish which was a little late considering that I´d gotten about 6 hours of sleep in the past 48 hours and we´d be waking up at 5ish. Still, I woke up, showered (gotta be clean to get dirty), ate a lovely breakfast with the traditional coca tea and out we headed.

Now for a quick (well, I can´t promise anything) comment on coca. Coca is what most Americans recognize only as the plant from which cocaine is derived. This is true. Cocaine is derived from coca. However, as a popular Latin American slogan says "Coca no es la Cocaina" or, rather, coca is not cocaine any more than poppy seeds are opium or heroin. Coca leaves have medicinal properties and have been used by locals for hundreds and hundreds of years for those properties and not as a narcotic. They help with altitude sickness, give you energy, make your mouth a little numb if you chew the actual leaves and make delicious tea. And candy. On this trip through Peru, I´ve had many litres of coca tea, some coca candy and have even chewed the leaves along with the traditional ash (uck) to enhance the plant´s properties and I can safely say I have not done drugs. Coca, all in all, is pretty awesome and I can see it being really popular in the states as a kind of tea or energy supplement...were it not illegal. There´s the crux. The U.S. crop dusts coca plantations in Colombia so that drug cartels don´t refine it into cocaine, but the people farming the coca are poor peasants, not drug dealers, and they´re growing a crop that´s been grown for centuries. The drug cartels pay the highest price and so the farmers sell them their coca. Who can blame them? Here in Peru, coca is perfectly legal. The Incas even farmed it. But if you´re caught with even the tiniest bit of cocaine, it´s twenty-five years in prison for you. Fine. We can grow poppies in the U.S. and we can´t make them into heroin. Why doesn´t that work with coca? A lot of innocuous or even useful substances can be made into something harmful -- we aren´t allowed to bring more than 3 ounces of liquid on airplanes because you can find out how to make almost anything into a bomb on the interent-- but we don´t demonize the innocuous stuff. No one is outlawing soap. But they are outlawing coca. The idea of a war on drugs in general is a little stupid. We shouldn´t be fighting the drugs. They´re bad, but the problem is the violence that goes with them and the best way to get at the problem is to fix the broken economies in which being a drug mule is a good career option. Crop dusting some coca plants isn´t hurting anyone but the poor farmers who chose to plant coca over potatoes because it sells for a higher price at market. That´s the general idea of what I think, at least. Í´ve been thinking about it a little over the past few days. I was surprised, when I first was served coca tea because I´d always thought that coca was bad, bad and only bad. Live and learn. back to our feature presentation:

We took a 1.5 hour bust ride from Cusco (which I´d always thought was spelled with a z...) to Ollantaytambo for a quick shopping stop. I bought two bags of coca candies, a bag of coca leaves, some M&M´s and a walking stick at the guide´s recommendation (all of that...not just the walking stick) and was glad to have all of it along the way (although actually I still have 98% of the coca products...we had tea in the morning and with every meal so I was coca-ed out). We hopped back on the bus to our point of departure, Piskacucho -- 2600 meters (mind you, not feet...that´s 8,530 feet above sea level). Day one was the "easy day." We walked 11km to Wayllabamba("Why-ya-bamba") -- 3,000 meters or 9,842 feet. Sadly, for me it was not easy. I was very, very tired and a little behind. I conked out the second we got to camp, woke up for 5:30 "chocolate time" (hot cocoa, tea or coffee and some crackers or popcorn) and then slept right through dinner. The next day, day two, was the day of death. There were no Inca sites to visit, just miles and miles of up, up, up. At about 7:30am we set out from Wayllabamba (3,000 meters, remember) and walked up to Warmi Wañusca, or "Dead Woman´s Pass," named, supposedly, because it resembles a dead or reclining woman, but really, I´m not so sure. It didn´t look that much like a woman to me...Dead Woman´s Pass is 4215 meters or 13,828 feet above sea level and is only about 6km from Wayllabamba. For those of you who don´t like math, that´s a climb of about 4,000 feet (at altitude) over 3ish miles. Then there ware some steep stairs down to our camp for the night at Pacaymayo (a mere 3,600 meters or 11,811 feet). I was BEAT. I arrived at camp at 4:30 and had missed the late lunch that the other, faster, people had eaten. That´s NINE hours of hiking with no food. Sandy was amazing and hung out with me the whole laborious time...and she was starving. A porter did meet us on the trail with about 30 minutes to go til camp with ham and cheese sandwhiches which had been the snack for the day but which we had both passed up since we either don´t like or don´t eat ham. I didn´t think I was that hungry, but since he brought them I figured I should eat it. Let me just say, that may have been the best sandwhich I have ever or will ever eat in my entire life. I´m sorry Subway, I just don´t think you can beat it. When we finally got to camp on day 2 I was pretty tired, but very, very happy to be done with the dreaded second section. I survived...and I had been dubious as to my odds.

A word now about the porters. They are beasts. (I mean that as a complement for those of you who aren´t up on today´s teen slang...which I don´t really use anyway, actually, but there you are). They are all from poor families, as far as I can tell, and get paid 40 soles a day, which works out to about 13 dollars. Their food is included while they´re portering, but still, not a high-paying career choice. I think, though, that it´s pretty decent as far as their other options are concerned. Still, it is no easy feat. Our guide Ruben and our assistant guide Edwin (who are absolutely amazing by the way and if you ever hike the Inca trail you should go with the company we went with -- Qénte -- because it´s locally owned, less expensive, awesome, and has Ruben and Edwin whom you should ask for), said that a porter will trek 5 to 6 times A MONTH. That´s pretty much every day! And, if you haven´t been following closely, it´s not an easy trek. Particularly if it´s your job to carry 20 or 30 kilos (we aren´t clear on the current law, but either way it´s much better than it was even ten years ago) and to run up and down the hills so that you beat your trek group to lunch or camp sites with time to set up tents. While hiking, it´s etiquette to get out of a porter´s way (which is often a welcom 2 or 3 second break) and on the last night of the trek we gave tips. There were, however, 27 porters for our group (because they have to carry our group gear, food, and their things) so it didn´t work out to any spectacular amount. A bunch of us chipped in with whatever soles we had left with us. On a side porter-related note, the cook and assistant cooks were awesome. Everything tastes better hiking, sure, but this was pretty gourmet. We had a big tent with a long table in it and we´d pass around bowls of soup and then plastic casserole dishes from which we served ourselves. I was expecting camp stoves. On the last night, they even made us a cake! At altitude! It tasted sort of like a giant pancake, but it´s the thought that counts and it said "Well Done Chicos" so I like the thought quite a bit :-)

Day three was more tough uphill at the beginning to get over a second pass called Rankurakay (3,900 meters or 12,795 feet), but only for an hour or hour and a half. Then it was down, flat or some rolling hills (still not easy once you´re that tired, but so, SO much better than infinite up). And there were some ruins to entertain us along the way -- that is to say nothing of the scenery which, after descending from Dead Woman´s Pass, began to change from Andean brush to Amazonian greenery. Both, however, were beautiful (although right at the bottom at the beginning of day one it looked eerily like driving out of L.A. north on the 5...). I have a TON of photos, believe me, but I´m not sure when I´ll get them posted. I´m still in Aguas Calientes at the bottom of Machu Picchu waiting for the train...we won´t be back at the hostel until late and then we´re heading out early for our 3 day plane fest to China. I´m excited to have some chill time to read and sleep, but a little sad that all my gross comfy clothes from Machu Picchu will remain gross and unwearable until we arrive at our destination on the other side of the world. Anyway, that´s why the photos may not be forthcoming.

Today was day four. We woke up at 3:50am (after a bad night´s sleep for me, sadly...after feeling GOOD after the hike on day three -- good enough not to nap before bedtime and to make all meals -- my frustrating and constant runny nose from day two morphed into a full on cold with the sneezing and the dry coughs, or what I like to call "Machu Picch-flu"...I´d rationed my role of toilet paper carefully along the trek, blowing many snot rockets (don´t ask, don´t tell) along the trail instead of using the tp to blow my nose, but the night of day three my tent mate also had runny nose issues and I gave her the remainder of my roll in the hopes that she´d quiet down her snore/moaning...she used up the roll but didn´t really quiet down...ah well)...Anyway, we woke up mega early, had tea for breakfast and headed of to Intipata to watch the sun rise which was awesome. Then there were another 6km of flat, down and rolling hills to get to Intipunku -- the Sun Gate -- and then from there down to Machu Picchu. I suppose it wasn´t too terribly difficult objectively speaking, but I was beat and found it difficult indeed. Still, I made it to Machu Picchu -- I´m not sure exactly what time but I know I was there by 8am. I got my passport and my journal stamped with the Machu Picchu emblem at the checkpoint and headed in...again...because we´d had to head out first to get to the checkpoint where they make you leave your pack and walking stick. We toured around with our guides for another 2 and a half hours, learning some interesting facts and seeing the sights (and moaning every time we got up from a seated position or tried to go down stairs), then it was free time for an hour or so. Four of us (the crazies: Liz, John, Zack and Katie R.) opted to climb on to Waynapicchu ("Little Mountain" as opposed to Machu Picchu which means "Big Mountain"), the rest of us chilled out or wrote in journals and then headed down on the bus into Aguas Calientes for lunch.

Ah, lunch. It was a buffet. We were NOT the people that buffet wanted walking in the door. We were RAVENOUS and it was delicious. Much food was eaten and there was much rejoicing. And the bathrooms were BEAUTIFUL. There was soap and toilets and toilet paper and flowers in a bowl of water and potpourri. After lunch, I tried to wipe up a bit and changed into comfy clothes. When it was time to head out and say goodbye to Edwin and Ruben I nearly cried. Honestly. They were just so nice to me. And Edwin particularly was such an interesting guy. He´d be talking to Robin near me for about a hour on day three and wow...he came from a poor family, taught himself English (and still is), picked a career he thought would be lucrative enough but chose not to go into the drug trade and had a lot to say about the importance of education and the importance of self-advancement. And he was so sweet, too. I was too tired to be embarrassed about my lack of hiking speed, but even if I weren´t I might have avoided the sentiment, they were so encouraging. I have both of their emails and I´ll be sending them photos. The thought makes me happy. :-D

Anyway, I really wanted to buy a shirt that said "I Survived The Inca Trail." Normally, I´m not much for those touristy shirts, but this one I felt I deserved. But I hadn´t brought much money and had only 2 soles left (and it´s about 3 soles to the dollar). Then, magic happened. I found dollar bills in my pocket that I didn´t know I had!!! And Aguas Calientes is SUPER touristy so I thought they might take them...AND...THEY DID!!! I could have even gotten change in dollars but I got soles to pay for the internet cafe which you should all appreciate. So I am now the proud owner of an odd green colored shirt with a map of the Inca Trail (including altitudes if you look closely), a coca leaf that says "La Hoja Coca No Es Una Droga" and the happy phrase "I Survided The Inca Trail." Hooray!

Anyway, you´re pretty much current with me now. I love getting all your emails and wish you all well on the various trips everyone seems to be going on. And if you´re not going for a trip, I wish you well on your staycation or just work as the case may be.

I´m off to Cusco and from there to Lima to San Salvador to L.A. to Beijing to Kunming.
Keep keeping me posted!

Love, your still alive,

Monday, October 20, 2008

Welcome To The Jungle

Hello there!

Sorry for such a terse last post…this next one doesn’t promise to be too much longer. We’ve been incredibly busy since leaving Bua last Wednesday morning (before which I was incredibly busy being hit on by another drunk Ecuadorian, throwing up for the first time since 3rd grade, coaching Isabel to kill a scorpion in our living room (because I was sick and also too afraid to look at it…scorpions are in a scary bug league of their own as far as I’m concerned), and getting cleansed by our host grandfather because our family thought that both Isabel and I were suffering from “mal de ojo” (evil looks) and not, as we suspected, “mal de leche” (evil milk). ) Whew! That was a long and winding parenthetical.

So, what have we been so very busy with? Media projects! I’m in the text group this month, so we had to write summaries for the website about our time in Costa Rica and Ecuador as well as an article about the history of water resources in Bua. As time consuming as that was and as many late nights as we had, the other three groups had it harder. The Google Earth project group ended up not being able to use Google Earth because, shockingly, the people at Google haven’t yet found it imperative to take satellite pictures of Bua. They also tried to use the GPS map of Bua that some folks at Yanapuma are working on, but they ended up with PowerPoint. Don’t let that deter you though. I’ve seen it and it’s a far cooler presentation than PowerPoint deserves to drag down with its dull name. The podcast group was decimated by illness (Alexis, the only group member with Garage Band experience was out with a parasite and Dave was out with…not a parasite…but something) but managed to overcome that obstacle and their technological difficulties to put together a presentation that I would really love to listen to. I’m sure it’s awesome. I heard a rough version and it sounded pretty interesting. It was the video group, however, that had it the hardest of all. They had a few nights of not going to sleep at all and only finished last night (this morning?) at 2am in the Lima airport. I was up, too, and saw the finished product. I was very impressed and you will be too, but please, for their sakes, multiply your level of wow by 100. It was that hard to put it all together and they deserve the credit.

So now you’re thinking, “Huh. Those might be interesting. I’d like to learn about water in Bua and see awesome photos from TBB’s time there. I wish Becca had told me how to do that…” (If you are not thinking that, you should be). Well, lucky you, here’s a quick How To: Go to Click on “Student Voices.” Click on Costa Rica for our summary of our time there, or Ecuador for our summary-ette and the media projects. Simple, no? Except…we’ve had some uploading issues so you’ll have to wait until at least October 25th…because tomorrow WE’RE GOING TO MACHU PICCHU!!! (And we can’t upload until we get back).

Our last few days in Quito weren’t all work and no play, though. Don’t get the wrong idea. I hit up the marketplace and got some very sweet knit hats to keep me warm on our hike and next year at college. We took a fieldtrip to Quito’s largest water treatment plant which was up on a hill so the view was beautiful. Saturday most of the group went on a hike, but I was feeling a little under the weather so I stuck around Quito – took a walk and ran some errands. I even found an English language bookstore (called the Confederate Bookstore…run by a guy from Virginia who bought it six years ago from his friend who was likely also from Virginia) and got The Beautiful and the Damned, a two-in-one by Virginia Woolf with Jacob’s Room and The Waves and some assorted long poems by Auden. Yay!

We left for the airport at 3pm Sunday for our 6pm flight. We arrived in Lima at about 8pm, collected our bags, went through customs and then camped out against a wall until we could check in for our 5am flight to Cusco around 4am. A few people slept. I didn’t really. I did, however, fill out my ballot, catch up on journaling and watch Silence of the Lambs which I rather liked (and Anthony Heald, an actor from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is in it and I recognized him right away and it felt like I knew someone in the movie).

When we finally arrived in Cusco we had a briefing with our the agency that will guide us up Machu Picchu (I’m terrified, by the way…altitude is TOUGH) and then were left to our own devices. Despite an overwhelming desire to sleep, we all went out and enjoyed the city. I did some major shopping, but since it’s 3.1 soles to the dollar I didn’t do major damage. I got a fabulous llama charm necklace (for some reason I’m attracted to anything llama…it’s my new favorite animal by far), a long pair of wool socks, wool glittens (the glove/mitten combo) and a tealish skirt like the ones the indigenous Peruvians wear around and also kind of like people wore in the ‘50’s.

However, it is late and I am tired and I’m not quite done packing so I’m going to sign off. If you don’t hear from me ‘til around Halloween, I’m sorry, but immediately after Machu Picchu we get on airplanes for three days and head to China. We arrive late on the 27th I believe…

Anyway, remember to check out the media projects! (Oh and also, the video of Correa addressing us at his speech in Santo Domingo is going out with the TBB newsletter and will be on YouTube under TBB).

Much love,


Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Know This Doesn't Really Count As An Update...

But I'm super busy and actually slightly stressed out so it must suffice for now.

Left Bua. Great memories. Good stories to tell. Arrived in Quito. Working on media project (as is everyone else). Will try to link to projects, but if I don't they'll be at under the student voices section. Did upload more photos in all three albums, Costa Rica, Quito 1 and Bua/Sua/Bua. Go check them out, please. 

Love to all.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Miscellaneous Update From El Centro

It's that time again...hello! 

I'm in Santo Domingo, spending the day trying to upload photos (I'm really trying, I promise, but it may or may not happen...), blog and print some photos for my host family. I'll probably be back tomorrow doing mostly the same things.

So what is Santo Domingo like, you might ask. And where am I exactly? Well, my favorite spot is this internet cafe on the second floor of a building a block and a half away from the one and only shopping center which we TBBers use as our base of operations in the city. There are three clusters of computers, four around a pillar with high stools to sit on while using them. They play some Spanish language music and some English, a lot of Bob Marley. We're 99% sure that the guy who works here, who is very friendly, is a pot dealer by night. The strong smell of incense last time we were here, the guitar hanging from the ceiling with the peace sign painted on it and the spherical light that projects spinning rainbow colors when turned on hanging from the ceiling in one corner all reinforce our hypothesis. But by day it's not sketchy, I swear. Just comfortable and occasionally faster than the speed of a snail. Right now, however, I'm on one of our laptops using wireless which is free, a little faster, and should allow me to upload the pictures I've saved on this computer...or some of them. I've been here for 45 minutes and it's uploaded 10 of 256 MB...

Actual Santo Domingo, however, outside of this internet cafe, is probably one of the ugliest cities I've ever seen. It's basically cropped up entirely in the last 15 years and now has about 600,000 people in the city proper. It's all dreary cement and worn signs except for near the outskirts where bright green weeds crop up between buildings and through cracks. There are, apparently, no traffic laws; lane lines are mere suggestions. They seem to be pretty nice about pedestrians, though. I haven't seen anyone get hit yet, at least. A strange phenomenon I've noticed in Ecuador is the occasional comandeering of an American brand logo for something completely different. There was a car shop with a big sign of the logo from the computer animated movie "Cars" and down the street from me now is a yogurt/ice cream store with the old rainbow Mac symbol on its storefront. Also, a ton of smaller, hole in the wall type restaurants and shops have signs out front with a CocaCola logo on the left or on both ends and then their name in the remaining white space. It's almost as if a CocaCola representative walked around Ecuador offering to make free signs for anyone who wanted one and printed them up in the back of a truck or something. Very odd. 

Eight TBBers took the opportunity to go to Guayaquil this weekend -- our first opportunity for independent student travel. I was going to go, but then I thought better of it. I had really wanted to go to Otavalo, but nixed the idea because it's proably a six hour bus ride. Then I found out the Guayaquil was also a six hour bus ride. They left yesterday for Santo Domingo on the 3:30 bus, probably arrived about 4:15 and then intended to take the next bus out to Guayaquil. They have to be back Sunday, so they'd only really have one day there. It is Guayaquil's Independence Day Weekend (most big cities here have their own independence holiday) so that should be fun. I, however, surrendered to my long to do list and my desire to stave off total exhaustion and decided to chill in Bua. I'm very glad I did. In addition to all the internet stuff and the photos, I desperately need a new journal. I have a grand total of 7 pages left in mine...And I really need to read through the California voter information guide my mom thoughtfully sent my way because guess what? I GOT MY ABSENTEE BALLOT YESTERDAY!!! I GET TO VOTE!!! SWEET!!!

Incidentally, props to Connecticut for being the third state to legalize gay marriage and for actually writing a strong opinion in favor of it. 

So, how go our actual projects in Bua? 

Well, the bathrooms at the school are seeing some true progress. They've finished the lower half, where the tanks will sit about 3 meters down (the drop from the level of the school to the level of the field...we've built the bathrooms into a hillside remember), laid the floor and are now building up the walls. The doors are built, say "No Olvides Lavar Los Manos" on them  and are being painted with preservative and varnish. We also installed a new sink at the school, the water from which will drain to mix with the urine from the bathrooms and go out to water the trees that will be planted along the perimeter of the field. Giovanni, an engineer working with the agriculture sector of Yanapuma, is creating a compost garden. Isabel and I spent about an hour carrying cement blocks up steep dirt stairs with him (one at a time for each of us, two at time for him), then we helped him shovel a ton of gravel and mix a ton of cement. Hard, hard work. The bathrooms won't be finished by the time we leave, because we're leaving on Wednesday, but they'll be nearly done and Andy, one of the founders of Yanapuma, said he'd send along photos of the finished product. 

Project number 2, the single bano at Freddy's (it's y, not ie as I'd thought...sorry Freddy) is coming along. I've worked on it two days this week, mainly mixing cement and then trying to get it to stick to the cylindrical wire frame we've built. It does not want to stick. The second layer, which we've started, needs to be smooth to look nice, but even so is much easier. It's treacherous work though. The wire is sharp and I don't think anyone has avoided stabbing themselves at least once (I had until yesterday, but alas, I jabbed my finger with the bottom of some wire mesh...thank goodness for tetanus shots). Plus, concrete dries out your hands like nothing else. My hands actually hold up alright and I bought some lotion last Wednesday, but some people get cuts from the sand in the cement and others have lost entire layers of skin. Still, it's actually pretty fun work and not too exhausting. AND we might finish it! We're probably going to work extra long Monday and Tuesday, but we really might be able to do it.

Project number 3, the well at Shino Pi, is something I've not yet seen. There was a huge rock in their way that they spent 2 days breaking, but they got through. The TBBers helping have been allowed to go down the 12 meter hole and they've come up absolutely covered in dirt. At one point, ants started attacking Zack and there was nothing anyone could really do since he was at the bottom of a soon to be well. I haven't seen the well because I haven't voluteered to work on it. Plenty of people want to, but being lowered on a rope down into a dark and bug infested hole does not sound fun to me. We won't finish the well by Wednesday, but the Tsachila certainly can. They had started it anyway, I sort of feel like we just helped them along a little and arranged for the well digging tools to get to them. 

By the way, it's now been an hour and a half and only 16 photos uploaded (it stopped about 20 minutes ago...I don't know why) so I went through and just chose some and started again. I'm trying to get you all some pictures, I am! I guess, though, that I won't be using the internet as a backup for them...Good thing I brought that USB drive!

So, exciting news for Isabel and I on the home front. On Thursday night (after that really particularly exhausting day of work and a sleepless night the night before...literally we woke up at 12:45 and just stayed up...our light, coincidentally, was still on -- until it went off at 4am...we wonder who was up then and noticed it was still on...) Anyway, on Thursday night, our family found Tilapia! This may not sound particularly exciting -- I do mean the fish and not a person named Tilapia -- but trust me, it is. They've been telling us about this traditional dish where they wrap the fish in leaves for weeks and apparently the fish must be Tilapia and Tilapia has not been easy to find. But they found it! So, instead of going to watch the Gringos vs. Tsachila soccer game with everyone else (an event I must say I'm sad I missed, but there was nothing we could do about the bad timing), we got to hang out with the whole family and have the grandmother teach us how to wrap whole fish in giant leaves. They also wrapped some of the Tsachila skirt fabric around me and made Isabel use her belt to tie one of Kati's skirts on like an apron...I think mainly because they thought it was hilarious. The grandfather also grilled some grub on a wire skewer, but only for himself. Honestly, I was a little disappointed. I was ready to try grilled grub. About a week ago there was one night when several different families served it to their honorary children and a few people said it was actually pretty good -- tasted like bacon. They served it to Robin and Sandy at Shino Pi that night and Robin didn't eat any. Wimp. Then again, I didn't actually have to eat any either. 

After we set the fish on the grill, it took an hour to cook. We felt a little in the way so we went back to our little casita and hung out until Andy came to get us for an early 6:45 dinner. Normally they put us at a little table facing the wall in the living room and either Germania or Wilson (our mother and father) will eat with use. Recently it's been Wilson all the time. Thursday night, however, they let us into the kitchen to eat with the whole family on the packed dirt floor with no spoon! (A spoon is the utensil of choice in Bua...although we did get a fork yesterday...I didn't know they HAD forks...) We were thrilled! We were like a real part of the family for, oh, 20 minutes. So I have officially picked apart a whole Tilapia with my bare hands and eaten it. I was alright at the whole getting-the-meat-but-not-choking-on-bones thing. Isabel was a mess. Wilson was a pro. He basically left a clean spine, a pile of other bones, the tail, two fins and the head bone. He didn't even leave the eyes! Clearly we have some work to do on our whole-fish-eating skills.

I have a video of some of the fish grilling as well as the grandmother peeling plantains out back with a spoon. She was just ripping through them; it was very, very impressive. I don't know if any of those videos will ever get to any of you though, since the whole photo uploading thing seems to be slow going.

I have, however, uploaded four photos as a separate post below this one for your enjoyment. (Please accept this and don't ask why they aren't part of this one). Hooray! They are, in order: Isabel and I in our Tsachila skirts wrapping fish with our Grandmother, our three host siblings Andy, Magdalena (aka Tatiana aka Lili), and Leo (aka Benicio), the eco toilet we're building at Freddy's circa last Tuesday and a bunch of TBBers sitting on the wall near the beach in Sua...the one standing on the left is not a TBBer but a very awesome Rasta coffeeshop owner -- he makes the only real coffee in Sua and, as far as I can tell, all of Ecuador. Everywhere else it's instant. 

That's all for now...I'll work on the photos for a while and if I get some to an album on Picasa I'll be sure to link to it.

~ Becca

p.s. I saw an ad on the side of the New York Times website while I was reading up on the news for a production of the Seagull with Peter Sarsgaard. Will someone in New York *cough* Annie *cough* please enjoy that for me? Because I would LOVE to see it! I miss theatre! (I actually miss fiction of any kind and am going to make finding an English language bookstore number two on my list of things to do in Quito right after finding a laundromat and putting all my clothes through it twice).

And Here:

The first album is of Bua, Sua and more Bua and the second is of some of our time in Quito before we came out here. (Backwards, sorry). Hooray!!!

A Few Photos!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

This Is Just To Say

I have added two new gadgets on the right sidebar!

One is called "Want to Subscribe?" and allows you to subscribe to posts on this blog so you don´t have to check to see if it´s been updated-- you´ll just know.

The other is called "Want More TBB Blogs?" and will link to the blogs of other TBB students. Right now it only links to one, but I´ll work on that. Promise. I don´t have time to read them, but hey, I get to hang out with these people all the time. They´re pretty awesome and we all have different experiences to share so you might want to check their blogs out. I know that right now, for example, my friend Alexandra, whose blog is the only one I currently link to, is writing about her experience getting cleansed by a shaman last night. I don´t live anywhere near her or the shaman so I wasn´t there, but I´ve heard about it and it´s probably an interesting and entertaining read.

Beyond that, I don´t have too many exciting stories to share from the past few days.

Sua was a tourist beach town in its off season and probably isn´t a place I´d head back to even when it was warm and sunny, but for a weekend away as a group with showers (icy, but oh so good), toilets, pillows (we don´t have those in Bua either) and some time to bond and relax it was lovely. And they had really good batidos de coco (coconut) and mango (a batido is a fruit juice mixed with milk kind of like a smoothie except so much better).

Sunday night we returned to Bua. The bus ride was three hours -- two hours shorter than the ride there. We didn´t make stops, but that doesn´t account for the whole two hours. I think we time warped. Sunday night for dinner we had soup with pieces of something unidentifiable floating in it. First I thought it was really gristly chicken, but our host mother insisted that it wasn´t meat. What was it? Well, it was something they use to put with peanuts and make another dish. Obviously. Duh, sorry. So I tried a bite...and tried TO bite, but I couldn´t. It was like solid rubber. It´s sort of how I imagine the inside of an intestine, with all the villi and what not. I swallowed as much of it as I could, but I must confess I left some in the bowl.

After dinner, I walked over to visit our closest TBB neighbors, Liz and Noah. We had nice visit and I walked home about 40 minutes later, expecting Isabel to be in bed (since she hadn´t come with me because she was tired). Nope. She was standing in our doorway talking to six moderately drunk Bua natives. I permiso-ed my way through them and stood next to here in the doorway where she quickly explained that they had come to talk to her when she watched me walk over to Liz and Noah´s (it was dark, so just to be safe) and hadn´t left since. They thought she was my translator, but once they realized I could speak Spanish they were pretty excited. Their leader, who introduced himself as Lider (which translates to leader), said he was proud to talk to me. I was the first foreigner he´d met. I guess Isabel didn´t count. She said he´d told her he thought I was beautiful. She also previously told me that when she lived in Guatemala they thought all blonde people were immediately more attractive and that all people who had not brown eyes and not black hair were considered blonde. So hey, I´m blonde! Anyway, I told him politely that our light would be turned out in 5 minutes (true) and that we had to get in our pajamas because we had to get up early to work. He asked if he could give me a kiss on the cheek goodbye. Sure. My second kiss on the cheek this weekend (a guy trying to convince me to go whale watching in Sua also demanded a kiss goodbye...and I turned my head...note that there are no whales in Sua this time of year).

Anyway, I´ve got to go...Sorry about the abrupt ending...But Liz just showed up so I´ll also add a link to her blog!

Bye for now,

Friday, October 3, 2008

It´s been a month! (Week 3 in Bua)

Hello again out there!

I´m in Santo Domingo again, but we are heading to the coast later Sua, in fact. Much like Bua, but with an S :-P

This past week has been awesome, as usual. I´d been feeling a little sick and tired, but I started feeling much much better which is fabulous.

On Monday I went with Robin and five other TBBers to another Tsachila community about two hours by open bed truck from Bua called Poste (POST-a) to help dig a well there. The idea is that after we finish the well there we can use the equipment to build one at Shino Pi (the cultural center in Bua). Ultimately, it looks like the well-digging in Poste has been postponed until the Missionaries who began it can come back and finish it because at 17 meters deep it´s getting very difficult to dig and they estimate we have another 13 meters to go! Still, on Monday, when I went, we were still dig, dig, digging and so I will do my best to describe the process. (The same process we´ll be working on it in Bua starting Monday.) I have some photos that may be more useful than my attempt at an explanation and I drew a diagram in my journal, but for now this is the best I can do:

Basically, there is about 50 feet of bamboo scaffolding. On one side, about three quarters of the way up is a bamboo platform on which someone stands or sits to guide the tools from above. The four giant vertical pieces of bamboo that primarily make up the scaffolding each sit in a meter deep hole to keep them stable; crossbars of bamboo connect the four main poles and are attached with thin metal wire. The cross bars function mainly as a way to climb up to the bamboo platform. At the top of the scaffolding is a pulley, through which runs a rope. The rope is attached at one end to a long metal pole and at the other hangs loose. At the bottom of the pole is a digging apparatus shaped like two cupped hands attached at the palm near the wrist. It is maybe 8 inches long. To dig, you lower the pole down into the hole and twist is around so that the cuplike apparatus fills with dirt. However, by the time we got to the well, the hole was 15 meters deep, so after lowing the pole until its tip was just above ground level, we had to use monkey wrenches to screw on another equally long (about 50 feet each) metal pole and then lower the whole shebang until it hit bottom and was sticking about four feet out of the hole. It is this second pole that has the wooden handle at its tip that we actually grab on to in order to dig. Then we walk around the pole in circles for 3 to 5 minutes and hope we´ve filled the scooper with dirt. Then it´s time to lift it out. The extra pole has to be unscrewed each time, because leaving them connected would risk breaking the entire thing as together they are much much taller than the scaffolding. Each "scoop" of dirt earned us about 6 inches of depth -- we think -- if it was a good, full scoop. When we hit rock, we had to untie teh pole from the rope and tie on a chisel (a GIANT chisel as long as my arm fro mshoulder to fingertip and very heavy) and drop it down the hole to break through the rock. We kept hitting this rocky wet clay which was maybe worse than rock; the chisel could sort of loosen it, but not break through and it was so sticky that at one point it took three guys pulling for several minutes to unstick it from the depths of the hole. So basically, well digging is slow going! Luckily, the well we´ll be digging at Shino Pi has already been started by hand, meaning that 12 meters (!) down there is room enough for someone to stand so we can start the digging from there and our bamboo scaffolding can be shorter and more stable.

Additionally, while digging at Poste, we met another Peace Corps volunteer named Ryan who had been living there for about 6 months. I asked him for more information about how the PC works, really. I hope we keep meeting volunteers...I´m getting a lot of useful insight and information about how the Peace Corps works that I can store away and use to help me make my decision about possibly applying when the time comes.

I spent the next two days helping to build the six doors for the school´s soon to be new eco toilets -- measuring, sawing, hammering -- I´m going to be downright handy by the time this month is over!

After work two days this week, some of the neighboring TBBers have come over to visitm, chatting or playing cards for an hour or so in the evening. It´s so incredibly nice to have time to get to know people and just hang out...and it´s fun. We discussed our holiday traditions and I´m going to see if I can get some dreidels and gelt mailed to Vietnam. I´m also learning to play cribbage! (I´m sorry if that is horribly misspelled...) Several people on the program play at home with their grandparents...maybe it´s an East Coast thing? I´d hardly heard of it before last month.

Yesterday, half of us went on a "river walk" with a woman named Tatianna who is an environmental engineering student at the university in Quito and also works with Yanapuma to map out Bua with GPS. She talked a lot about the importance of stopping river pollution and reforesting along its banks...all in Spanish and I understood 99 percent of it! It was very interesting, but I don´t have time to rehash it all here. We did find a lot of trash in the river as well as empty bottles of pesticides and I feel substantially less clean knowing that that is where I´ve been bathing for the past few weeks. Incidentally, Tatianna was standing on the rock we use to wash our clothes when she said that that part of the river was very dirty and she´d hate to have to bathe in it. Oh, and we were told to watch out for the very venemous X snakes that I did not previously know inhabited the river. Sweet. :-P

Today I came into Santo Domingo with Robin, two Tsachila community leaders Alfonso and Freddie, Andy (the head of Yanapuma) and Guillermo (the director of the school we´re working at) to meet with the representative of the local prefect. She was interested in building similar projects all over if this pilot project proved successful and wanted specific project information and cost analyses to present to the prefecture this afternoon. She seemed to maybe underestimate how difficult it is to convince people of the importance of conservation and the utility of eco toilets, but did at least seem enthusiastic about the idea. I guess it´s easier to talk down expectations than to get her to like the project at all.

So, that brings me to now, in this internet cafe with Robin. We´ve got to head back to Bua so that we can catch a bus for our 4 hour ride to the coast where we´ll spend the weekend. (Showers!!! And an outlet to charge my iPod!!!)

I didn´t catch the debate last night, but I´ve read about it...I want to see at least one live...I hope we can!

´sall for now folks,

Oh, P.S. I read Brideshead Revisited last weekend...very good. I missed literature! It made me SO happy to read a novel!