Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Understanding Poverty

          I was really excited about my trip to Salasaca- a weekend with my Anthropology class learning about Indigenous weaving techniques. All I needed to do was pay the $50 deposit, so I took my debit card to school to withdraw money. When my class ended at 5:30, I loaded the crowded bus with my backpack on my chest and my arms crossed protectively over it. I got off the bus at the stop where the super market was; I got some groceries and loaded them on the conveyor belt. I brought my backpack to the front and felt for my wallet- it wasn´t there. I dropped to the floor and frantically searched every pocket. Still not there. I stood up and told the cashier I didn´t have my wallet who responded by rolling his eyes and calling someone over to take the food. I walked to an internet cafe so I could call my mom but realized I had no money to pay for the call.
          I got home and opened the cupboard to see half a bag of rice and a can of corn- good enough. I went to sleep tossing and turning, trying to figure out how someone had robbed me and what I had done to deserve this karma.
          The next day I asked my roommate if I could borrow 50 cents to get to school. I didn´t have money for lunch and was already hungry. I got on the bus with my backpack on front, looking at each person´s face, imagining a thief inside each one. I guess I had gotten too comfortable and had this horrible feeling- this is not my home.
          Although I lost $200, my debit card, my student ID, and a beautiful green leather wallet from Morocco, all I can do now is try and understand why this happened. I didn´t know how I was going to buy my next meal and realized a large percentage of the world lives like this, so I decided to look up some statistics. I found out that over 3 BILLION people live on less than $2.50 a day! In Ecuador alone, about 30% of the population lives below the national poverty line- which is much lower than the poverty line in the United States. Even though I had seen these statistics before, I have never fully understood them. I have never felt hunger in my belly with not even a cent in my pocket. I have never not had enough money to ride the bus to school.
          Today, I struggle with poverty alongside 3 billion other people. Tomorrow, I receive cash from a wire transfer my mom will send me and I will return to my privileged life. 
          As I am writing this on the bus, I look up to see a woman playing with her baby. The woman´s shoes are torn and it´s raining outside. The baby´s clothes are dirty- not dirty from playing in dirt, but dirty from having to wear the same clothes every day. Nevertheless, the baby screams with joy and the young mother responds with a giggle. I imagine it was her husband who stole my wallet. I imagine him buying shoes for his wife and a coat for his baby with the money he found in my wallet. Suddenly I feel alright about everything that happened. Although I don´t have enough money to eat lunch today, at least a family in Quito will be able to afford new shoes and a warm coat.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Puerto Lopez, Playa los Frailes, and Isla de la Plata

 This past weekend I took a trip to Puerto Lopez which is on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador a few hours from Guayaquil. Puerto Lopez is a small fishing town on the border of Machalilla National Park which contains beautiful beaches, pre-Colombian archeological sites, and Isla de la Plata also known as Poor Man's Galapagos. Check out the pictures!
Puerto Lopez is a small fishing town and in the mornings all the boats come to shore to show their catches- sharks, squids, shrimp, and many other kinds of seafood. All the boats are left on the sand and fish are gutted right there on the sand. 
This is Ceviche de camaron which is a very famous and typical dish on the Ecuadorian coast. It contains shrimp (or other seafood), onions, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, a bit of orange juice, and lime juice. It's actually VERY delicious. 
After arriving in Puerto Lopez at 6:30 am, we took a moto-taxi to Playa los Frailes inside of Machalilla park. We arrived around 8 am and found this pristine, white sand beach with little crabs running everywhere. No one arrived for two hours!

It was very hot so we took shelter under this toxic tree... I'm not kidding- its leaves irritate the skin and lead to rashes. But we were pretty desperate for shade. We also hiked up one of the cliffs and on the other side was a black sand beach with many huge rock formations. 

This is Isla de la Plata, or Poor Man's Galapagos. It is home to Blue footed boobies, sealions, hermit crabs, sea turtles, and many other birds and marine life. After an hour and a half on a speed boat with a group of 10 Dutch flight attendants, we arrived and hiked across the island to see the cliffs with the most wildlife. 

This is a Blue footed boobie- it has no fear of people since no one has ever mistreated them here. You are required to hike in a group with a guide. Isla de la Plata means Silver Island- this name comes from the bird shit on the cliffs that shine when the sun hits it just right. 

On our way out, we saw two huge sea turtles!! On the island there are many nesting areas where sea turtle eggs will hatch in a few months. 
Although the water wasn't clear because of the currents, we went snorkeling and were able to see coral reefs and many types of tropical fish. 

Everyone hangs out on the beach for sunset. 

Another typical plate- arroz con conchas (rice with shells). 

These are the restaurants/bars/clubs all along the beach. They open early in the morning for breakfast and stay open late into the night. 

This was a very relaxed, great trip. I would recommend Puerto Lopez to anyone coming to Ecuador. The town itself is a cute beach town similar to Montanita and Canoa but the surrounding areas are what make it unique. The islands and beaches protected by the national park show the real beauty of nature that Ecuador can offer. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


               Spring break here in Ecuador is called Semana Santa because it is the week leading up to Easter. The best part about this week is that there are no classes!! So I grabbed my friend Carley and we booked a ticket from Quito to Medellin, Colombia. After a 24 hour late start (read about it on my previous post), we finally arrived in Medellin and checked in to the Black Sheep Hostel located in El Poblado. We grabbed some beers and headed outside to talk with all the other travelers. There were tons of Germans, tons of Kiwis and Aussies, a handful of Brits, and a Colombian. We ended up going out salsa dancing with a few people and had a great time watching the amazing dancing of the locals. 
The next morning we circled all the tourist sites on the map and started our sightseeing day. We started by taking the metro to the north of the city where you can ride a cable car up the side of the mountains where the poorest part of the city is. At the top there is a large library called La Biblioteca Español. It is shaped like two large black boulders and caters to the most marginalized part of the city. The view is amazing! Further up the cable car is the top of the mountain... but you keep going for 30 minutes over a beautiful forest with metallic butterflies. At the end is a HUGE park with horses, lakes, museums, markets, and whatever else you can imagine. We didn't have enough time to hike around, but we enjoyed the sun and took the cable car down again to the main city. Next, we went to the Botanical Gardens which are beautiful. We were there on a Sunday so there were hundreds of people just hanging out in the park. We took a nap on the grass and then walked around a different part of the city where we found a planetarium. Neither of us had been to a planetarium in a long time and the one in Medellin is one of the best in the world so we bought a ticket and waited outside watching all the kids play in the fountains.
   On Monday we walked around the city and went to Botero Plaza, the Museum de Antioquia, and saw a few churches. The next day we took a walking tour of Medellin run by a young guy trying to break into the tourism business. It was an amazing tour and showed us many parts of the city. That afternoon we boarded a plane to Cartagena and once we arrived, we went to an air-conditioned salsa bar. 
            The next day we spent walking around the beautiful colonial town. All the buildings are unique and many have huge window boxes filled with flowers and are painted bright colors. Around the city center is a huge stone wall with cannons scattered around. In the evening we hopped on a chiva which is an open-air party bus that has a band playing live music and unlimited alcohol. We drove around the city and stopped to dance and hold sloths. The tour ended at a club which was ok for old people, but our group decided to head to a huge hostal right outside the stone wall called Media Luna. It was a huge party with live music. 
         My favorite part of the whole trip was today: we took a tour of Islas del Rosario. We went to the port in the morning and got on a small motor boat crammed with people and took a sea-sickening ride to islands an hour or so off shore. Cartagena is located on the Caribbean coast so the water is all kinds of colors. We let some people off to tour an aquarium but a few of us stayed on the boat to go snorkeling at another island. Snorkeling was AMAZING. Even though the coral reef was in bad condition, we were able to see tons of species of tropical fish. 
          Our last day in Cartagena consisted of touring a castle called Castillo San Felipe which was the Spanish Army’s castle. We spent the rest of the day walking around the city some more, eating tons of fruit, and hanging out with people at the hostal. We took a night bus to Medellin and spent the next day shopping and walking around the city some more. That night we went out with a lot of people from our hostal to la Zona Rosa which is the main area with lots of bars and clubs. We went to a few salsa bars and enjoyed the atmosphere.
           Since the next morning was Easter, I decided to go to the Cathedral to see what was going on. I arrived just in time to see the huge parade with statues of Jesus, Mary, and other saints being marched around the plaza complete with six military bands. Our flight was in the afternoon and we returned exhausted back home to Quito.
           Colombia fully exceeded all of my expectations. Coming from an American perspective, we are told that Colombia is filled with drugs and violence and that there is nothing worth seeing there. I knew that wasn’t true so I was intrigued to see what it offered and was fully surprised at how gorgeous and unique Medellin is and how mesmerizing the streets of Cartagena are. I wish I had 100 years to explore every corner of every town in Colombia, but a week was sufficient to guarantee my return to this wonderful country. Thanks Colombia.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A (really) hateful ode to LAN Airlines

Oh LAN, you really suck.
I ignored the hassle of trying to find out the correct price for my ticket.
I brushed off the fact that the radar broke while we were in the air.
I waited patiently for five hours while you tried to get your shit together.
I oohed and aahed at the boring hotel room you took me to after midnight.
I cheered when the plane landed in the correct destination 30 hours later.
I even said “gracias” to the flight attendants on my way out.
I didn’t slap your worker across the face when she contradicted everything I had been told.
I gave up on that reimbursement you promised me.
And now, I would rather be a stowaway in the back of a truck carrying dynamite than deal with your sorry excuse for an airline company.