Saturday, September 24, 2011

While I Wandered

We're now almost done with our stay in Quito, Ecuador, and so many great things have happened that it's hard to list them all. We took Spanish lessons, learned about the project we will be doing with Yanapuma, toured a water treatment plant, and took salsa lessons.
One of my favorite activities came on Thursday morning, when we toured Quito's historic district. We saw a church that took 160 years to construct (it was gilded all over, which prompted Katherine to wonder, "How many people would Jesus have fed with the money it took to build this place?"), and at lunch, I ate cow's tongue (it tasted pretty much like regular beef) and had a delicious drink called Ponche. The best experience, though, was when we climbed the Basilica del Voto, a huge gothic cathedral built in 1892.

The architecture was amazing, but the first interesting moment for me came when I saw the door:
It's not the best quality photograph, but the engraving depicts a robed Spaniard blessing (and presumably converting) a kneeling Native American. Kinda says it all, doesn't it?
Anyway, we climbed up to the very top of the bell tower, which had an amazing view:
We could see buses and cars, as well as dozens of uniformed schoolchildren scattered in courtyards across the city. In the background of the second picture, you can see a few of the amazing mountains that surround Quito. The city is built far up onto their slopes.
The bell tower at the cathedral was covered in interesting graffiti. Climbing to the top of the Basilica was definitely an exertion (there was an elevator, but that's not for hardcore TBB types like us), so I got to wondering: when they've hiked up all those steps, what do people write?
Some folks just went for the classics:
Jose, Sanoy were here 1999
While others just admired the view:
There were languages from many places...

But love, of course, is universal:
You are the light that illuminates my life, you are the best of woman, I love you.
Fat man, I love you. From black girl.
("Gordo" and "negro" are sometimes used as terms of endearment in Ecuador!)
Quite a few inscriptions had an artistic flair:

And some were funny:
Spotted two-thirds of the way up: "From here he didn't attempt to climb any farther."
While some were sad:
"These nights when you are not here... (something I don't know) I feel terrible."
Here's one for my mom, who hates misplaced apostrophes.
And here's one that just caught my eye.
Anyway, tomorrow we are leaving Quito to head out to the Tsachila village where we will be spending the next few weeks. We won't have internet access, and even sending postcards might be iffy, but if you email me when I'm there I will absolutely respond when I get back. As they say in Ecuador, ciao!
(No, really. They say that here.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

We arrived in Quito, Ecuador today, and we will be staying here for about four days (got to start my malaria meds tomorrow...).
This marks my first time crossing the equator, because Quito is in the Southern Hemisphere! Quito is also quite high up-a few people had some altitude sickness, but a meeting with Yanapuma, our partner NGO, combined with a delicious dinner helped us regain our strength.
Anyway, what's on my mind right now is the way we as travelers bring our culture with us. For example, as I type, we are in one of the hostel rooms discussing characters from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Twilight (we're determining which characters each of us would be).
That's in many ways a good thing, because we have each other for company when the journey gets stressful. We were all exhausted from travel earlier today, but now we can feed off each other's enthusiasm. And Quito at night isn't the sort of cultural experience any of us signed for.
However, carrying American values and popular culture with us when we visit other countries can also harm our experiences there. With our upcoming Ecuador homestays, where most of us will be living with another TBB student with a host family, we have to be careful that we don't cling to the familiar (our fellow student) at the expense of the amazing new knowledge that will surround us (our host family and the village). Our information sessions with Yanapuma over the next few days will give us some cultural background on Ecuador and the T'sachila people, but only firsthand experience with the community will truly open our minds to other cultures.
Once we are in the village, I won't have as frequent internet access, so I may take a while to respond to emails. I am having tons of fun, but of course I miss you all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Costa Rica Pictures

Well, okay, this one's not Costa Rica... But I thought I'd start from our departure and work chronologically forward.
In Lindsay's honor, a horse in the town we're staying at in Costa Rica.
I'm going to post the pictures from surfing separately, because they're not on my camera and have to go through a different upload process.
The beautiful view as we drove to the ziplines.
A view from below of one of the ziplining platforms.
After the ziplines, there was a giant rope swing that we could go on.
Here I am preparing to swing (not to mention rocking my new TBB shirt).
And here I am swinging-it was amazing.
Lastly, a neat but as yet unidentified animal that we saw near the rope swing.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Surf, Spanish, and the Fourth Roommate

Hola from Costa Rica.
Since I last wrote, we've arrived at the hostel where we are staying for the majority of orientation. The rooms and the food are in a battle with the people and the beach to see which is most awesome! Yesterday we went surfing, which was great, and even wiping out was fun.

I have had two conversations in Spanish.
One was with Ronald, one of the surf instructors. We were walking up to a waterfall to swim, and he said that if you hike further into the jungle, you have to check the weather beforehand. It takes five or six hours to get there (we just hiked a few minutes, not to the real forest), and if it rains while you are traveling, the rivers can swell up and wash you away. Even though he's a surf instructor, he told me that he has only been surfing for a little while-he grew up in a town further inland, which made getting to the beach a hassle, and he moved to this town about 9 years ago.
I'm normally not good at striking up conversations with strangers, so it was really cool to speak with a local-the stuff he told me was really just basic facts, but that's exactly the kind of things that we as foreigners are completely unfamiliar with. Coming from a suburban town, I have mostly encountered people who have followed roughly similar life paths to my own, so I'm hoping that interacting with people from around the world will let me encounter new lifestyles and understand the day-to-day routines of the places we visit. In some ways, the small details like my chat with Ronald will make the trip complete.
Oh, and as for the waterfall, it was beautiful! The swimming was so great and we saw howler monkeys on the way down to the water.
My second conversation in Spanish was actually first chronologically.
The group is spread out across a couple of rooms here at the hostel, and my roommates are Lizzie and Michele. We pretty much have a party all the time, so our first day at the hostel was great.
Then we meet the fourth roommate. The bat was about three inches long with a wingspan of about six inches, but when it flew around, I think it managed to take up most of the room on its own. I was busy practicing my cowering, so I couldn't gauge anything too precisely, but the bat did a few frantic, panicky laps of the room and then vanished.
I think it was Zelda Jafar (as we named him)'s elusiveness that made him so interesting-other rooms had had bat incidents, but theirs had left fairly promptly, which Jafar declined to do.
Michele and I were there when he appeared, and we did what every good child of the nineties would do, which is google the problem. Reassuring phrases like "the bat will not turn on you" were counterbalanced by our fear of rabies, so we then did what any good TBB student would do, which is go outside to the other building and yell loudly for the Program Leaders.
Their thorough search of our room revealed no trace of Jafar, so once we determined that Jafar was not a safety hazard (in the words of fellow student Ben, "You probably won't get bitten, because they're fruit bats, and you're like... not fruits." Thanks Ben.), we went to bed. Clicking sounds in the night told us that our guest was still present, a suspicion that was confirmed when I saw him fluttering around again in the early hours of the morning.
Mostly we were good sports about it, even when Jafar left his excrement all over the room, and Stephen arranged for our rooms to be cleaned every day to minimize the problem.
Anyway, the Spanish conversation came in when I tried to explain our problem to the man running the hotel. Halfway through the first sentence I realized I had no idea how to say 'bat' in Spanish, so I explained to the man that there was a "bird of the night" in our room (for those curious, it turns out bat is murcielago). He gave me a weird look but I think he got my drift; but there wasn't much he could do about the problem since there weren't any empty rooms.
Jafar's presence made opening the door an adventure-would he be there? Had he brought friends for a bat party, or decided to start a multigenerational bat family in the shower?-but by the second night our extra roomie appeared to have left.
So that was my first Spanish conversation: an attempt to explain to a kind Costa Rican man our adventures with Zelda Jafar, bird of the night.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Costa Rica

After that uncreative but geographically informative post title...
We arrived in CR last night and so far everyone is getting along great. Everyone in the group is super nice.
We haven't done much yet but I figured I'd take advantage of the internet access to post (also I'm bored because I thought it was 8 00 when it's actually 7 00). I can't find the colon on this keyboard because most of the punctuation marks don't match up with what is printed on the keys.
Apparently there is beach-going in our future, so that should be fun. More when possible!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hello World

How does one start a blog post? Let's go with "Hi all".

I am currently breaking my own cardinal rule, which is "only write when you have something to say", but I felt that it would be odd to send people a link to a site with nothing written on it, so I decided to write a post. I'll sum a few things up.

I'm Alison and I'm writing this blog about my upcoming gap year experience. On Wednesday a group of fellow students and I will head off to spend eight months doing a program with the nonprofit Thinking Beyond Borders. It is a fantastic trip involving several different countries, the four core nations being Ecuador, China, India, and South Africa. In each location, we will live in homestays, do a community service project, and learn about development issues faced by the community we are living in. You can learn more information at the link above.

I have done some traveling with my family, but never anything like this (I've never even been to South America, Asia, or Africa), so needless to say I am both nervous and excited.

My goals with this blog are to both create a record of my trip and to keep in touch with my friends and family back home. I'm hoping that the process of writing will make me feel connected to the people I miss and also be something for me to reread after the trip is over. Posts will likely be a mixture of daily life description (pictures of where I am and what I am doing, etc) as well any interesting thoughts I have (seeing so many different cultures should inspire at least a few).

When you hear from me next, I will probably be posting from Costa Rica, where the other kids in the program and I will be having our orientation (oh yeah...).

Farewell till then,