Rumbo a la Selva

This past week was All Saints Day/ Día de Todos Santos and so the whole country of Ecuador was on holiday from Wednesday through Sunday. I traveled with two peace corps volunteers and 7 Ecuadorians to the rainforest on one of the most fun adventures of my time here in the Peace Corps.

Here is a brief summary of each day and pictures!

Our Itinerary:

Tuesday: 12 hour night bus to the rainforest with my roommate Caitlin and another PCV, Christina.

Wednesday: We met up with my neighbor Leo from Guayaquil who is currently doing his thesis in the jungle and was the mastermind behind the whole trip. After getting some breakfast we walked along the Napo River and fed strawberries to monkeys in the park. That night we stayed at a hostel and met up with the rest of the people who would be traveling with us.

Boats on the Napo River

I fed a strawberry to this little guy

Squirel Monkeys in the trees along the Napo river

Caitlin and Christina in our room at the hostel

Thursday: We all woke up early and jumped into the back of a truck with all of our bags and headed southeast to a rainforest reserve. A naturist guide gave us a introduction to the park and the flora and fauna. We went canoeing on the lake and later that day we took a night guided tour to see wild black caymans, piranhas and green tree frogs!

The whole group before heading off in the morning

Ants "hormigas" for breakfast ....mmmmmm

In the back of the truck on the way to the jungle….

The whole group before the canoe ride

On the pier and about to get into the canoe….

In the canoe with the whole group….

Half of the group in the canoe

A cayman we saw on the lake .....it was close enough to touch from the canoe

a woman and her child in a indigeous town where we stayed the night

Sunset in the jungle

Friday: We traveled back West and spent the day sleeping in hammocks and listening to our Ecuadorian friends play the guitar. At night we went out for a group dinner and then to a local discoteca to dance.

Good Morning!!

Buying breakfast in the morning at a little store in the indigenous community

natural beauty

A little boy with his machete knife as he sucks on sugarcane

The jungle is full of life....

The whole group after a guitar sesh

Dinner with the group -- Bianca and Me

At the discoteca with the group

Saturday: We jumped in another truck and headed south to another small town where we went on an amazing hike to the most beautiful waterfall that I have ever seen. One of the Ecuadorians traveling with us works with multiple indigenous communities in the jungle so he was able to take us to this waterfall, which is a well kept secret in the area. We took a 30 minute walk to the top of the waterfall and continued down the side of the waterfall through caverns until we reached the base of a river. At the base of the river there were places to cliff jump and to swim up stream below the jungle canopy above. The pictures don’t even do this place justice….. one of the most beautiful places I have ever been!

Crossing the river and starting our hike …..just as it starts to rain

Christina jumping into the river before the hike.

At the top of the waterfall before scaling down to the river

The top of the waterfall before climbing down

On the way down....

On the river at the base of the waterfall .....we made it down alive!!

group pic on the river

....and another one

Climbing back up the waterfall.....

Caitlin and Me at the end of the hike

That night we stayed in a house that looks over the rainforest below and sits above the clouds. With my new made Ecuadorian friends I helped make dinner: talapia, patacones (fried bananas) and a salad. Leo and his friends all play the guitar and sing so we joined them singing songs in Spanish and English by the campfire.

Jumping into the truck and heading home for the night

The house where we stayed which looks over the jungle

Next to the campfire

Sunday: Up early, breakfast, and we caught a bus on the highway at 10am 1) Bus to Tena, 2) Bus to Ambato 3) Bus to Guayaquil …..a total of 14 hours in 3 buses back to Guayaquil. We were in the terminal by 12:15pm and home in our apartment by 12:30pm.

Here are some more videos and pictures from the trip. QUIERO REGRESAR A LA SELVA !!! I want to return to the jungle!!! ……some plans are already in the works to return : )

In the truck returning from the waterfall hike

Sunset

The Ground Black Beetle

Leo making a joke, “Tenemos much peso….botamos alguien” — We are very heavy….toss someone”

Leo being himself

bright colors everywhere in la selva

Sunset

panorama of the sunset

Guitar Session

Palmtrees remind me of California

Christina and Caitlin

Eating sandia with Fabian

La Caperucita Roja

I spent Halloween weekend in Cuenca and dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood ( la caperucita roja ). I bought red and white silky materials and then sowed my hooded cape by hand!!

Lisa, Corey and Me

la caperucita roja and two feet !!

The Girls

Heidi and Me

Isla Trinitaria

Today I spent the day working with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer and her counterpart organization, JUCONI – Fundación Junto con los Niños. JUNCONI is a foundation that works with “street working children” in Guayaquil to promote reintegration into school, to support the family structure through social work, to reduce violence within the home and to provide schools with support to cope with special needs kids.

Today we volunteered at a small elementary school in Isla Trinitaria, which is a primary Afro-Ecuadorian community and also known as one of the most dangerous places in Guayaquil. We spent the day cleaning classrooms and scraping down walls to prepare for a new paint job.

The view of the elementary school from the second floor

two girls chipping paint in a classroom

more volunteers from the elementary school chipping paint

volunteers in a classroom

It was a new experience for me to travel to Isla Trinitaria and to see with my own eyes a level of poverty that I have not yet witnessed in the city. Isla Trinitaria lacks elemental services, such as paved roads, drinking water, plumbing for sewage, waste collection and legal electricity supply.

elementary school students waiting in the snack line

smashed in between the big kids

A little girl playing on the school slide

Me and the group of volunteers from JUCONI

San Isidro, Manabí

This past weekend I traveled 8 hours north of Guayaquil to the small town of San Isidro in the province of Manabí. (Map) I was invited by two Peace Corps volunteers from my omnibus to help them with an HIV open house (casa abierta) in their small town.

Kasie, one of the volunteers who lives in Manabí worked alongside her youth group to put together the casa abierta and to prepare all the educational materials we would need to pass out to the public. I brought 30 rapid HIV tests from Guayaquil to use and to test patients in the local clinic. We set up a system with two rooms where patients could be tested for HIV. In one room a Ecuadorian doctor helped draw blood and used the ELISA hiv test, which takes 1 to 2 days for patients to receive results. In another room I set up my rapid HIV tests and did one on one consejería (hiv education) with each patient. The casa abierta also included a large tent with booths where the youth group and 4 other Peace Corps volunteers helped to educate the public and to promote the HIV test.

A poster created by the youth group for the open house

Another poster that explains the ways HIV is not transmitted

Kasie's host cousin holding a poster that says, "I have HIV, please hug me. I can't make you sick"

In a small town like San Isidro, the general public is not well educated on the basics of HIV (such the vias of HIV transmission and how to protect yourself against the virus). After a full day of doing HIV consejería it was clear to me that the residents of San Isidro had a much lower level of education on HIV than the patients that I work with in Guayaquil. In small, rural towns in Ecuador like San Isidro there is a lot of stigma surrounding the topic of HIV/ AIDS. In my experience I find that the younger generation, such as high school students, are much more educated than their parent’s generation. It was rewarding to watch Kasie’s youth group educating older members of their community.

All of the volunteers from the casa abierta (Peace Corps Volunteers and the youth group of San Isidro)

Overall the casa abierta was very successful!

On Saturday we took a 15 minute truck ride to the town of Santa Clara to climb down to a waterfall. Another reason why Ecuador is one of the most beautiful places that I have been in the world!!

A video of the view from the back of the truck:

9 de Octubre Waterfall

me underneath the waterfall

Me and three fellow Peace Corps Volunteers

Jewelery Making

My roommate Caitlin works with HIV+ teen moms based at Marianita de Jesus Maternity Hospital in Guayaquil. She is currently teaching these young women to make and sell jewelery as an additional income for their families.

Here are some pictures of two little girls who came with their moms to Caitlin’s jewelery workshop.

starting a necklace

Me with the girls

happy as can be!

playing with some gifts from Caitlin

The jewelry is based on a design from México. Our program manager came to Guayaquil to teach us how to make these necklaces and bracelets.

The whole group after Dana taught us how to make the jewelery

finished products

a necklace I made

another necklace with some fun colors

Midservice Conference

I just got back from my Midservice conference in Quito which marks 1 year and 4 months in Ecuador!

The conference was held in the new Peace Corps training center in Tumbaco which is about 45mins outside of the city. It’s a HUGE enclosed center with classrooms, dorm rooms, and an outdoor area with a bonfire pit, a zip line, a garden, a basketball court and a soccer field. It’s the perfect spot to have trainings and to host up to 50+ volunteers.

We spent the three days in lectures with topics such as food security, urban gardening, teen pregnancy/ family planning and an update on HIV AIDS in Ecuador. I did a presentation for my omnibus with three other members of the HIV Task Force including Caitlin my roommate. We unveiled a training manual that our HIV Task Force group has been working on over the past year.

Tire Gardening

Cooking Talapia

Menestra -- a dish made with lentils

fresh veggies

Some of my fellow PCVs in the kitchen

Me cooking menestra

We also had an open house where each member of my omnibus presented a poster or pictures on their experience so far in their sites.

The poster that I made about my work in Guayaquil

Some work done by a fellow volunteer with her youth group

***********************************

Just another 2 months until I am home in SF!! I’m already making a long list of what I want to do when I get home.

Here is an excerpt of that list:
— Hike in Muir Woods
— Trip to cabin in Tahoe
— Family dinner at Chennary Park
— Tennis at the tennis club and or in Marin
— Hills and Drils Boot Camp with JJ
— BBQ in the backyard with the family
— Runs down by the Marina
— Saturday Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building
— Roxies Sandwiches
— Picnic in Dolores Park

Teaching English at CEN!

Over the past month I have been teaching English conversation classes at a English school in downtown Guayaquil called El Centro Ecuatoriano Norteamericano (CEN). I was first introduced to CEN by my counterpart Dr. Farhat while walking with him through downtown Guayaquil.

One of the greatest parts about being a Peace Corps volunteer is being able to set your own hours and to initiate secondary projects outside of your counterpart organization. Every Monday and Thursday I am busy with my primary project, promoting the HIV rapid test at Puerto Lisa Hospital. On Tuesdays I work at Hogar de Cristo providing the rapid test in small clinics and on Fridays I rap up the week supervising HIV testing centers with the Munipicio. So that left Wednesday wide open to start a new project.

To initiate the project, I meet with the director at CEN about my interest in starting a conversation class and outlined the specifics of the class. In about a weeks time my class was approved and I had already taught my first conversation class. Now I have two classes that I teach each Wednesday. One class in the morning for advanced speakers and one class in the afternoon for beginning/intermediate level English speakers.

my beginning level class at CEN

I create my own lesson plans for both of my classes which gives me a lot of space to introduce new topics to my students. In my advanced class, I often begin the class by sharing a New York Times article. I find this helps the students to practice their reading comprehension and to learn more about whats is happening in the world outside of Ecuador. Last week we focused on an article by Nicholas Kristof highlighting the famine and violence in Somalia: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/kristof-on-top-of-famine-unspeakable-violence.html?_r=1&ref=nicholasdkristof

Teaching English at CEN reminds me of all the summers that I taught at Aim High in San Francisco. I really missed the joy and gratitude that comes from teaching young people.

I find the following quote by JFK, the founder of the Peace Corps, very inspiring:

“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength of the nation.” — John F. Kennedy