Peru

Warning. This is a very long post. I have a lot to say. On Sunday we left Ecuador for good. It was strange. We had been there for four months. That is a long time. But all things come to an end and it was time to leave. We woke up at 3AM, had breakfast (odd time to eat, right?), and headed to the Guayaquil airport. Our first flight was to Lima, Peru. We were all dead tired and trying to check in, figure out our luggage, and get to the terminal. We finally boarded our plane at like 6AM. The plane was massive. And there just so happened to be almost no one on it. So we all spread out and got to lie down and sleep in our own rows. It was sweet! A couple of hours later, we finally got into Lima! Lima is the capitol of Peru and has more people than New York City. Over a third of the population of Peru lives there.

We got off the plane, got our luggage, went through customs, and then headed right back to a different terminal. We got on yet another plane and flew to Cuzco, Peru. Cuzco is the Incan Capitol. They believed it was the center of the world and the city is full of amazing history. We got off the plane, out of the airport, and took a bus to our hotel. When we got there (at about 3PM) we were told to just go to sleep. And that we did. The altitude here is even higher than it was in Ecuador so we have been really tired and have had awful headaches as our bodies try to adjust. Over three hours later, I woke up and then we all went to dinner. It has been hard trying to deal with the exchange rate. We were very lucky that Ecuador used US dollars. But in Peru they have the soles. Soles have about a 2.5 exchange rate so something that is 15 soles is only 6 dollars. But it always freaks me out when I see the price of something because it sounds so expensive. After dinner, we went back to the hotel, hung out, played cards, and then went to bed. It was a very long day.

On Monday we headed out on a city tour. We drove to the top of the city and went to some Incan ruins. The name of the place is called Saqsaywamam (sound it out and you will figure out why we were laughing about it all day). They were amazing. They had enormous stone walls that formed terraces on the hillsides. We got to explore around there for a while and then walk up to the top of the hill to a great lookout spot over all of Cuzco. We walked around some more, got to go through some underground tunnels, chase around some llamas, and then we headed back to the bus. We made one more stop on our way back into the main part of the city to an Incan temple site. A lot of it had been destroyed from the Conquistadores, but it was still so great to see. I could just picture the people there at the height of the Incan empire. Amazing.

We drove back down into the city and then went to the main cathedral. It was absolutely gorgeous. And massive. We got to walk around in there for a long time just looking at all the paintings, sculptures, and architecture. After, we went to another museum for a bit, and then headed back to the hotel. We went out to lunch, and then had the afternoon free to explore and shop in the city. There are so many artisanal crafts lining the streets. We spent hours walking around the stores and looking at everything.

Later that evening, we all decided to go to a traditional dance show at the Cuzco Center for Traditional Art. They had a series of dances that are native to different parts of Peru. The costumes were amazing, the live music was beautiful, and the dancers were very talented. It was a lot of fun. But by far the best part was during one song, they invited the audience to come up on the stage and dance. For a long time, no one went up. But then a bunch of my friends from my program ran up on stage and danced around for the rest of the song. It was hilarious and the entire audience was laughing and cheering them on.

Tuesday was our day of Incan ruins. We left the hotel in the morning and drove around the outskirts of Cuzco for hours, visiting different ruin sites. Each one got larger, more intact, and all around more incredible than the next. They all involved a lot of walking/ hiking, but they were amazing. The Incans had a very specific style of architecture where the stones they used for walls and buildings line up perfectly. I could not figure out how they moved the massive boulders around without wheels or modern machinery. I loved walking around their old temples, buildings, and homes. We would just sit and try to imagine it like it was at the height of the Incan Empire. We also got to visit a place that had llamas, alpacas, and vicunas. They are seriously the strangest animals. They look so odd.

At night, we took the train to AguasCalientas. The train ride was extremely bumpy and there were a bunch of French people sitting next to us. It was interesting trying to communicate between French, English, and Spanish. The sun had already set by the time we got on the train so we could not see hardly anything outside the windows. After a couple of hours, we finally arrived. AguasCalientas is the small town that is in the middle of the Andes Mountains. All we could make out when we got off the train were enormous mountains all around us. We were all so excited to be there because the next day was the day we had been looking forward to the entire trip: going to the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu. It was seriously like Christmas Eve. We spent the night in a small hotel and tried to get some sleep before the big day.

The next morning on Wednesday, we woke up at 5AM. It was not very pretty. We got our stuff together, packed our bags, got into our hiking gear, ate breakfast, and headed out. As we walked outside, we could finally see the stunning mountains surrounding us. They were the tallest that I had ever seen. They shot straight up into the sky. It was unbelievable. We took a bus up one of the mountains. We drove through the endless switchbacks for a long time until we finally arrived at the entrance. Machu Picchu is known as the lost Incan city. It is one of the most intact Incan ruin sites because the Spanish conquistadores never were able to find it. It is a whole city in the sky and one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.

When we got there the entire mountain was covered in fog so we could barely see anything. Our guide led us across the ruins and to the other mountain called Huayna Picchu. In the classic view of Machu Picchu, there is a huge mountain in the in the background. We got to be some of the lucky few that got to climb to the top of this mountain so we could look out over the entire site. We got through the line and started our ascent. The mountain was almost straight up vertical. It was almost 45 min straight of walking up steep stairs. The switchbacks were endless. My quads and calves were burning, I was out of breath (the altitude did not help at all), and I had to stop every little while to rest. But the view was spectacular. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally reached the top of Huayna Picchu. Amazing. The fog had just started to clear so we had a picture perfect view of Machu Picchu. It was stunning. We finally made it. Trust me, this place is worth the hype. And that hike up, totally worth it too. We stayed there for a long time, just marveling at the view.

After a while, we made the long hike back down. It was not easy on the knees. We got back down to Machu Picchu and then had a tour around the ruins. Our guide explained to us the significance and meaning of the different places. It was fantastic. We could see the city much clearer since the fog was gone. It is massive. It was so cool to listen to all the different languages around us. I loved how a place like this can bring people together from all over the world.Such an amazing experience. I do not have the words to describe how great it was.Unreal.Definitelya dream come true.

We made journey back to Cuzco, showered, and passed out. Thursday we had a free day in Cuzco. In the morning we went to a chocolate museum and factory. It was so yummy! I got to make my own hot chocolate and it was delicious. After that we did a lot of shopping, walking around, and relaxing.That night we had our final dinner together as a group. We went to this nice restaurant that had a buffet of foods from all over Peru. The food was delicious and we all ate way too much.

On Friday, we woke up, packed up, and went back to the airport. We flew back to Lima for our final day in South America. After we got into Lima, we dropped our stuff off at the hostel and went out for lunch. We then went on a city tour that lasted hours. We drove around in a bus to the main cathedral, the president’s palace, and other cool places. At night we then went to a park full of amazing fountains. There were maybe ten different ones. Some were absolutely massive. Others had colored lights in them. And one was a circle maze that you could walk through. Most of us got soaked. We ended the night by visiting el parquedelamor. It had a beautiful view out over the ocean.

But then we had to start our goodbyes. Four people in the program had to leave to catch their red eye flights. It was a very sad goodbye. Lots of tears. I will really miss these people. We have done everything together for the last four months. I have made a lot of really great friends here that I know I will have for life. So tonight is a sad one. I am a jumble of emotions. I fly out tomorrow afternoon and I am finally coming home. So the next time I post, I will be in the USA. Weird. But good, I think. So I guess I will see y’all soon! Chao!

La Despedida

It happened. We left Cuenca this morning. Today has been weird. Actually, this last week was kinda odd. It is finally hitting me that we are really leaving. It feels like we just got here though. I so clearly remember the very first day in Ecuador and then the very first day we got to Cuenca. As they say here, el tiempo vuelva. And it did, it really did.

Last Thursday was my birthday and I had a lovely day. I went to lunch and fondue with my friends here. We just talked, laughed, hung out, and walked around the city. I am officially not a teenager anymore. That is strange to think about. Although the day was very fun, I wished I could have been home to celebrate with family and friends. I definitely was missing them.

Then on Friday we had our last couple of classes and finals. After school, I went home, ate lunch, and packed up all of my things. I had been procrastinating all week so I had a good amount of work to do. We can only check one bag weighing 50lbs. So that was interesting, trying to play the game of shifting around things between my checked and carry-on bag. I think I am good though. We will see tomorrow. That night we had our despedida dinner, which was a farewell dinner with all of us in the program, our coordinators, and all other staff. We ate good food, watched a photo slideshow that one girl made, and started our goodbyes. We have seen these dinners for months now as other groups have come and gone. But it was finally our turn. Then this morning I finished my final preparations, said goodbye to my family, and got dropped off at school.

One of the biggest (and only) disappointments I had while here was the lack of relationship I had with my host family. I was not very close with them. At all. I was left home alone a lot. Even when they were home, they were always in their rooms watching TV and on their computers. I did not have much of any interaction with them. They were nice to me, but it did not ever seem like they really cared. So leaving was not hard. What was hard was saying goodbye to the other coordinators and friends that we made from other programs. I cried (big surprise, I know). It is sad leaving a place that I have called home for the last four months. I will miss the city, the friends I have made, and the amazing adventure this has been.

We made the ride to Guayaquil this afternoon. We have made this drive plenty of times now. It is right through the windy mountains of Cajas National Park so I took Dramamine and slept most of the way. We got to the hotel about four hours later, dropped off our stuff, and went on a city tour. Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador. We walked around for a couple of hours as our tour guide explained to us a little about the history of the buildings and different things we saw. I loved walking around the boardwalk and the different parks. We then ate dinner, and now I am back at the hotel, writing this post.

Tomorrow morning we wake up at 3AM. Yeah, sucks to suck. It will not be a fun wakeup call. We will be leaving the hotel, going to the airport, and then flying to Peru! We have finally arrived at our end of the semester trip. I am so excited! So I must go now to try to get in a couple of hours of sleep. I will be posting again soon. Chao!

Almost there

Well, this is it. The last week in Ecuador. We leave for Guayaquil Saturday, spend the night there, and then fly to Peru Sunday morning. And I think I am ready. Ready to go home, be with my family, and spend time with my friends. It has been a long trip. Over 3 ½ months so far. That is quite a long time to be away. I am now actually looking forward to returning to life at home. But I know that it will not be the same. Life does not pause while we go away. It keeps changing and moving forward. I have changed too. I’m not entirely sure how yet, but I know I have. This experience has made a huge impact on my life. I am sure with some time and space, I will be able to more clearly reflect on this journey.

Yesterday we had another charla (chat). The topic this time was reverse culture shock. Yeah, it doesn’t go away does it. The speaker warned us that usually, reverse culture shock is much worse than culture shock itself. Perfect. Just what we all wanted to hear. She told us that since we are all so excited to go home that we are only remembering the good things. We forget that life is hard wherever you are. She told us that it is going to be difficult to try to re-assimilate back into our culture. We have all just experienced this crazy adventure that is stimulating, grows us, is hard at times, but is also amazing. And people at home simply cannot relate. We are going to feel lonely and isolated. We are going to want to share the last four months, but we might not be able to in a way that satisfies us. Things are not going to be what we expect.

So yes, that is now what I get to look forward to. Great. But on the bright side, I have already gone through a somewhat similar situation the last two summers after I got home from camp. I know what it is, I know what it feels like, and I have a little bit of practice dealing with it. It is so hard to have just gone through something so crazy and intense and then return to a place where it feels like no one understands. Hopefully I will be a little prepared.

But in the meantime, life continues here in Cuenca. Last weekend we all went on a volunteer project to Yunguilla. It is about an hour and a half outside the city. We went to an orphanage for kids who have special needs. Most of them have been abandoned by their parents. It was heartbreaking. We went there to do some maintenance around the homes, paint a couple of rooms, and play with the niños. And let me tell you, I love me some niños. The kids there were so happy and just wanted to be hugged, listened to, and loved on. They were all kinda dirty and smelly, but none of us cared. We spent most of the day there and we actually got a good amount of work done. It was an incredible trip. That night we stayed at a hostel. It was fun to hang out and relax, but the rooms were awful. My bed was a very thing mattress lying on top of metal bars. I ended up sleeping on the floor. I did not sleep much. And in the morning I woke up to over sixty mosquito bites all over me. I have eighteen on my face. Lovely. Any part of me that was sticking out of the sheets got eaten alive. My legs look like I have the chicken pox. I have been using insane amounts of anti-itch cream. Hopefully they all go away soon.

I am really trying to enjoy this last week here. It is surreal how fast the time went. I have a couple of finals to finish up and a lot of packing to do. I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t go over the weight limit. It will be close! I am getting so excited for our trip to Peru. It will be a great way to close out this semester. But until next time, chao!

La Costa

So, as I left off last time, last weekend was our long awaited trip to the coast. As you probably can tell by now, my program includes a ton of great trips all around the country. We have been to every region of the Ecuador from the Andes Mountains, to the Amazon Rainforest, and to the Galapagos Islands. But the one place that we have not spent a lot of time is the coast. We have stayed the night in Guayaquil on our way to the Galapagos, but we did not have an actual trip to the beach. So since we all really wanted to go, we planned (and by we I mean mostly just one girl in our group who is amazing at organizing things) a trip to the coast for the long weekend (last Friday was Cuenca Day so we had school off).

So on Thursday after work, I quickly went home, ate lunch, grabbed my stuff, and went to school. We rented a buseta (private bus) so that we did not have to deal with the somewhat sketchy public transportation system. We left as soon as everyone got there and then started the long drive through the mountains, to Guayaquil, and then up the coast to where we were staying. It took over seven hours. Not fun. But we finally got there. We all rented a house in a little town called Olon which is right outside of Montanita. Montanita is a famous beach city that is known for being a hippie town with great night life. The first night we walked down to the beach (which was five-ish minutes away) and ran straight into the water. The beach was absolutely gorgeous. The sand went on for a very long time before you hit the water which was clear and very warm. I had missed the ocean a lot. The smell of the salty air, the sand under my feet, the ocean breeze, and the salt sticking to my skin. It is a beautiful thing.

We eventually went back to the house, made ourselves dinner, watched a movie, and then went to bed. I woke up early the next morning to the beautiful sunshine through the windows. Absolutely amazing. I was so glad that we had a house of our own with showers, beds for us all, and a full kitchen so we could cook our own food. It was lovely. We spent our time at the coast just eating food, wearing just our bathing suits everywhere, going to the beach, spending time with each other, and hanging out in Montanita. Tough life, right? It was such a fun trip.

Every day we would walk down to the private beach. I spent hours walking along the shoreline looking for sea shells and animals. We found tons of live sand dollars and lots of orange sea stars. I got lots of pretty shells. We would swim in the waves and play around in the water for hours. There were hardly ever any people at that beach so it was nice just to relax and hang out.

We also went into Montanita a lot. It was just a 5-10 minute taxi ride away from our house. The main part of the city is just a 6 by 6 ish block grid of streets right on the beach. The streets are lined with stores and street vendors. There are tons of clothes, accessories, and jewelry there to buy. We would walk around the blocks for hours just looking at all the things. The food was delicious and not super expensive. As I said earlier, it is quite the hippie town and most of the store owners and people on the streets have the stereotypical dreads, piercings, and clothes. I loved it. There were so many interesting people there from all over the world.

The weekend we went also just so happened to be the same weekend as an international surfing competition in Montanita. One of the days we were there we walked down to the competition and watched some of the heats. There were competitors from all over the world! It was so great to see. We spent a lot of time at the beach in Montanita. It was packed with people. There were beach chairs and umbrellas lining the coast. We just sat in the sand there and swam in the water. One day, I wanted to swim out far to the break. I went out with some of my friends and we swam around in the bigger waves for a while. But then the lifeguards came and called us in! I have never ever had that happen to me before. All my life I have been swimming out way part where most people go. I practically learned how to swim in the ocean and my dad taught me how to dive under waves when I was a little kid. I was shocked that they made us come in. Definitely a first.

Almost every night we went into town. Montanita at night is like another world. There are so many people walking around the streets and hanging out at the beach. People literally stay out until the sun comes up. It is insane. There were fire throwers and entertainers walking all around. One night there were even fire works! It was a great time.

But finally on Sunday afternoon we had do make the long journey back to Cuenca. This trip to the coast was definitely one of my favorite weekends and experiences here. I loved being able to spend time with my friends at the beach. I have gotten so close to the people in my program and I am going to miss them all when we finally have to go our separate ways. We now only have 9 days left in Cuenca. Absolutely crazy. And then we go to Peru for our end of the semester trip. I am really looking forward to that. But I am really going to miss this place. It has been a crazy journey with lots of ups and downs along the way. But through it all, I have learned and experienced so much.

Tomorrow is my last day of work at San Jose de Calasanz. It is going to be a sad goodbye. My students are all so happy and loving. These beautiful people have really touched me and taught me so much. Things are all wrapping up here and we have our final exams and projects. I am enjoying my last few days here but a part of me is getting ready to come home. I have been here for 3 ½ months and I miss my family and friends. I think I will be ready when the time comes. It is not long now though! We are on the home stretch. Hasta la proxima vez!

Saraguro

So it’s been a while. Sorry about that. I am a little behind. The last two weekends have been quite busy. Time is flying by here. I officially have less than three weeks to go. And only 11 days left in Cuenca. How on earth did that happen? Part of me is really happy that I am going home soon. I really miss family, friends, and comfort things. Like hot showers, different food, carpet, my own bed, being able to talk to people whenever I want, being able to drive wherever I want, and being able to perfectly understand what people are saying to me. But another part of me is really going to miss studying abroad. I do not want to wish my time away. There are so few days left and I really want to enjoy them with the people in my program. I am sad that I might not get to see some of them ever again. We have done everything together for the last few months. I didn’t really realize how close we had all gotten. I am going to miss living in a foreign country. Every day is a new adventure just waiting to happen. I am a mix of emotions.

But now to recount about the trip two weekends ago. Friday night was one of the girl’s in my program birthday. We all went out and celebrated and had a great time. But then early Saturday morning we had to wake up for our weekend trip to Saraguro. Saraguro is the last indigenous town in the south of Ecuador. The people there are descendants from the Incans. We went there for both Saturday and Sunday. It is about a three hour long drive and we all slept the entire way. We finally got to the little hotel in the town and met our guide Juanita who was an indigenous woman from Saraguro. We quickly unpacked our stuff and then drove to a beautiful valley. I may or may not have been sitting on the top of the van again (sorry Mom). We then went on a two hour hike (about an hour each way) across the mountains to a lookout point over the valley. The view was breathtaking. Juanita then led us in an Incan cleansing ceremony on top of the mountain. It concluded with us all screaming as loud as we could over the edge to release all of our negative energy. Who hasn’t wanted to do that before? It was great. After we hiked back to the cars and drove back into town, we went to a museum that is a house that is over a century old. We got to see how the people lived there. We then went to yet another (I think this is #4) demonstration of traditional weaving. These people are really serious about this stuff! We finally ended the night with a delicious traditional dinner at Juanita’s house. We went back to the hotel and then went to sleep.

The next morning we went to another Incan cleansing ritual. This one was a lot longer and way more legit. The people who lead the ceremony talked about the four elements, mother earth, and all life. There was a man playing music with a pan flute and a drum. They passed around different traditional drinks that we had sips of out of little shells. The woman and her daughter cleansed each one of us by blowing smoke from the fire on us and then spitting one of the drinks on our backs. It sounds kinda weird, but it was really cool. I really enjoyed being a part of this ritual. It has so much significance to these people. We have been learning about Cosmovision (the traditional religion that is the relation between man, the cosmos, and the earth) in some of my classes and I loved seeing how these people live it out in their daily lives. After the ritual, we went back into town and went shopping in the town square. The people make beautiful beaded jewelry and woven goods. We ended our trip with a traditional lunch and then headed back to Cuenca.

Last week was pretty normal as far as weeks here go. I had class, worked, went to another museum, and hung out with friends. But it was a short week because we had Friday off for Cuenca Day. It is the celebration of the founding of the city and there are a lot of artisans who come and fairs that happen in the city. On Thursday for work, we helped the kids paint a mural at a contest that raised awareness about drunk driving. At first I did not know what the theme was about so I could not figure out why we decided to paint a man driving a car with a bunch of beers and the grim reaper about to kill him. But I loved that we got to be a part of this. Drunk driving is a huge problem in Cuenca and people need to understand the seriousness of it. I loved having fun with the kids and other volunteers. It was a really cool experience and the painting turned out great!

So then right after work on Thursday, I ran back home, grabbed my stuff, and went to school. We all met up and then left for the Coast for the long weekend! And you will just have to wait to hear about that till next time. Sorry, cliff hanger. It was amazing trip though! I got to go, but I promise I will write about it soon.

Preguntas

So almost every week we are here, we have a different charla (chat) or taller (workshop) that we have to go to. They have been on topics from anything to culture shock, Andean ecology, migratory architecture, and native music. Some have been interesting. Some have been boring. But I have not been able to go to most of them because they have been at the same time I have had class or work. But this week we had one to reflect and talk about our time here and I was able to go. This was definitely my favorite charla thus far.

The person who gave the talk is an American who has live here for many years and teaches at one of the local universities. She allowed us to vent about our frustrations but then would try to explain to us why things are the way they are here. It is very hard to immerse yourself in a new culture because you were not raised on the same rule book that everyone else was. People around you know all of the unspoken norms and customs. And you certainly do not. We have had to learn by making mistakes, messing up, and figuring out things the hard way. It is easy to get frustrated, but she encouraged us to stop, take a breath, and try to become curious. Instead of just shutting down or exploding at the situation, we need to ask what is going on and why is it going on. This has been very good advice that is enabling me to be less frustrated at the things going on around me and more open to trying to figure out the deeper meaning behind situations.

So at the end of the charla, she gave us three questions to think about. I really enjoyed them so I figured that I would try to start working out some of my answers here.

1) In what ways are you proud of yourself?

Well, to start with, I am proud that I actually took the leap of faith to come here in the first place. This last year was a very hard time for me. With everything that happened, I was not sure if I wanted to leave the country for a semester and be away from all of the people who had been (and still are) my support system. After a lot of debate, switching back and forth, and some really good advice from some people that I look up to, I decided to go for it. I am so happy I did.

Another thing that I am proud of is how I have been able to be flexible, adventurous, and strong with all of the crazy things that have been thrown at me. As I said before, trying to assimilate into a new culture is not easy. Although I know I have drastically improved my Spanish, the language barrier still sucks sometimes. Learning about (and trying to get used to) all of the different customs and norms is hard. At times I have been way outside my comfort zone. The numerous challenges at Casa de Maria Amor definitely shaped and grew me. All the stresses of trying to figure out classes here, classes at home, work for the summer, work for next fall, and housing have been frustrating and difficult at times. But I have been able to carry on and continue forward. I am proud that I have been able to survive and thrive here.

2) In what ways have you been frustrated or hard on yourself?

I knew that this experience was going to be hard, but there are certain things that I either expected that were not the case or did not see coming at all. I got frustrated at how long it was taking me to improve my Spanish. I became disappointed at the lack of relationships I formed with my host family. I got upset at the little differences I kept running into. Looking back, I wish I would have given myself a break sometimes. It has not been easy and I should have not always expected so much out of myself.

3) In what ways are you hard on others?

I did not quite get this question. I guess I got frustrated at the CEDEI staff for not being extremely organized. I am used to being in a culture where you can get up to date information quickly and easily. The concept of time here is much different. It is not a commodity and things can always wait. At times I got upset at the miscommunications or lack of communication. The only other thing I can think of is at times I get lonely here and would really appreciate the little messages or updates from people. It can be hard to not feel left out or forgotten about when you do not get to see or talk to people. I miss people from home and would have wished to stay in better contact with some people.

That is all I got for now, but I am sure that with time, I will be able to take even more from this experience. I know it has already changed me in so many ways. And we are not done yet! We have some amazing things planned in the next couple of weeks. I am so grateful for all the adventures we have had and excited for all the adventures to come. Hasta la proxima vez!

Semana Santa y Pascua

Well, it’s official. On Thursday I finally got my visa! Good timing now that I only have a month left in Ecuador. But sarcasm aside, this is very good news because now I can actually leave the country. It was a long process but we finally have them. There is something about getting all these stamps in my passport book that makes me very happy. I cannot imagine how much harder it would be for people to get visas to the US. That would be a nightmare.

This week went by very quickly. I had a lot of little things planned that helped to pass the time. On Wednesday, we went out to lunch and then went shopping at a little hippie market a couple blocks from school. I had been there a couple of times before, but I had restrained myself from buying anything. There are rows of stalls selling hand crafted earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings, and other little trinkets. I really love walking around and looking at all the cool stuff. I just wish the stalls were built for taller people. I had to stoop down in every one to see. I mean, I know I’m tall, but I did not think I was a giant. In the evening, we went to a little workshop where we got to see traditional instruments. The man there was a very talented musician and made playing them look so easy. But let me tell you, it was not. Most of us could not get any sound out of them. Then Thursday, as mentioned before, we had our appointments to get our visas. Besides that, it was just the usual routine of classes and work.

Then we got Friday off for Easter, or Pascua as it is called here. There are definitely some perks of living in a Catholic country. I got to sleep in and have a very relaxed day. After lunch, some of my friends came over and we had a movie day together. It was lovely. Very relaxing. I worked on my class schedule for next semester since registration starts next week. Here we go again. It is amazing that we are already doing all the planning for next year. Prayers that everything would continue to fall into place would be greatly appreciated. I have to figure out housing (which by the way finally worked out), classes, and jobs. Time is flying by.

On Saturday, five of us in our program went canyoning. For those of you who do not know what that is, canyoning is basically hiking down a river. It usually includes cliff jumping, bouldering, rappelling, and swimming. It is probably my favorite outdoor activity. We woke up early, met at school, and then headed out. We had two guides with us and a couple from Quito that were in Cuenca for Semana Santa (Easter week). We drove just outside of the city to the mountains. We dropped off the car, grabbed our gear, and headed out. We then had a very step hike up to the starting place. It only took about 30-45 minutes, but in the altitude it was exhausting. We finally got to the river and put on our wetsuits, harnesses, and helmets. Yeah, this was an intense trip.

We got in the water, and even with the 5mm wetsuits, it was freezing. Mine was too big and therefore did a terrible job of keeping me warm. More on that later. We began our trip down the Rio Amarillo (Yellow River). The river was absolutely gorgeous with steep ravine walls on either side. The very first obstacle we got to was a natural water slide. Super cool, right? The only thing was there were rocks on the bottom so you had to push yourself off the slide so you did not land on them. We all did relatively fine until the lady from Quito went. She did not push herself off and got really hurt. The guides thought she just twisted her ankle, but we all think she broke it. She was in a lot of pain. The guides had to carry her down through two more pools until they reached a safe spot. They then had to do an emergency take out up an extremely steep hill. I have no idea how they got her up it. But they did and the rest of us carried on.

As we continued, we alternated between swimming, going down waterslides, jumping into pools, and rappelling down the numerous waterfalls. It was spectacular. The scenery was fantastic and I loved it. The only problem was I was freezing. We all were. I cannot remember a time where I was ever so cold. My lips quickly turned purple. My hands were so cold that they hurt and lost a lot of mobility. My entire body was stiff. I fell a lot because I could not really feel my feet or my legs. I was out of breath not because of the physicality of it but because of the temperature of the water. My body was not happy. We all started to dread every time we had to get back in the water. We would try to keep as much of ourselves out of the water as possible and huddle together for warmth. It was slightly miserable. It was getting to the point where I did not think I could physically go on. As one of my friends put it, we had a love hate relationship with the adventure. It was amazing, but it was so cold. Even the guides said it was a particularly frigid day.

We ended up taking out a little earlier than the normal because of the conditions. Some of us got pretty banged up. A couple people got bloody fingers from the rocks and I cut my lip from a branch to the face on the hike out. We had to hike straight up a huge hill. There was lots of mud which meant lots of slipping. But we finally made it up, and then we had to hike back down to the cars. It was a long day. I stayed cold for hours after I got home. I just do not warm up. As usual, it was quite the adventure.

So today was much more mellow. I slept in to try to recover from the day before and lounged around the house all morning. I watched church online, read for a while, studied a bit, and skyped my family at home. It was so good to see all of them. I so wish I could be at Oma and Papa’s house today spending time with all my cousins, having lunch as a family, and eating chocolate. The whole Easter bunny and candy idea is not a thing here. Bummer, cause I could really go for some chocolate right now.

We are now on the home stretch of our time here. We only have a month left in Ecuador and then a week in Peru. It is now hitting me how fast time is going. Although I still get frustrated with things here (see last post), I am enjoying life in Ecuador and am looking forward to the rest of the adventures to come. This has been a spectacular experience and I know I have learned so much from the good and the not so good times here. This is where I am supposed to be right now. So I hope you all have had a happy Easter with family and friends. I’ll be back to join y’all soon!