Planting / digging / machete-ing

Most of the work at Jatun Sacha, in the highlands of San Cristóbal, consists of chopping down plants and trees that are invasive and replacing them with other plants that control the growth of the invasive ones.

The job on my first day was to gather what had been cut down the previous day into piles so that they could be burned. During our morning meeting, when we learned what we would be doing, I was relieved to know that that was my activity because I wasn’t ready to face the machete yet. However, when we got down there (every day we had about a 10 minute hike up or down to where we would work) it shocked me to see just how much of this invasive debris needed to be gathered. It’s everywhere. Even with 20-40 volunteers working for hours at a time it’s still hard to see imagine it ever being fully depleted. We had to use sticks to gather the chopped mora (blackberry vines) and push it into the piles. After 2 hours, each pile was over my head. That wasn’t my favorite activity because it was one which felt like a lot of work with few results because there was still so much to be done. I was ready to try the machete the next day.8E836928-C7AD-4C4D-A635-4301F198E278154953B5-3A97-49B7-AEAC-0C5E7AF96B68

Chopping down the mora was much more satisfying than gathering it. Once I got the machete (and was taught how to use it without chopping off a hand) I started chopping through the thick forest of invasive plants. We were working in a different area this time where you could only get through after chopping down the mora because there was so much of it and it grew to way above our heads. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, we also had do deal with their thorns and the swarm of mosquitos that flew around us the entire time. The head mosquito nets were helpful until one of those little bastards managed to get underneath it when I needed a drink of water. (My level of hatred towards these insects has definitely increased after this trip.) However, after about a half an hour of chopping my way through, I looked back to see the gap I had created and that pushed me to keep going. This  week we had to cut down lantana which were more like small trees than vines, and then Fernán Sánchez, which actually were trees. We had to use heavier machetes for those and try to dodge the trees as they were being cut down. Now, I am a master at the machete and I feel like I can chop down anything. Not to mention, my arms are getting a great workout.

Ready to machete!C41AA5F2-457C-4FCF-BA2B-07A9EDD64DF6

The owl hiding in the trees we were cutting:DE5FFB0E-D03F-4FED-8A80-7CD5091B738B

Our ride to the Galapaguera, where we worked two times a week.83A7120F-73F7-4EA8-A0F3-373007217F95

Turtle butts.462731FC-40BB-4185-8BB5-BBB89AE8D34C

Another day, we went back to an area that had been cleared to plant coffee. Coffee is neither native nor invasive. It is an introduced species that when planted will eventually grow tall enough and create shade to control the growth of mora around it. The coffee doesn’t put any of the flora at risk and it helps to keep the invasive plants from doing more harm. In addition to that, the coffee that is produced is used to export and help uphold the economy of the Galápagos. These results usually start to happen about 5 years after the coffee has been planted, so it is important to continue to maintain the mora around the coffee until then.A6DFD717-29AF-45EB-8AB1-E999E156F1CE

In the morning we work from 8-12 and then we stop for lunch. The afternoon shift is only 2 hours long, so we are usually doing work at the station during that time. We’ve cleaned one of the houses, gathered fruit for juice, dug a giant hole for a new septic tank and collected wood for a fire. 5B007AE5-0347-48B4-B12E-C07FCBD8A4C3

The past two weeks have been a lot of hard work (with lots of mosquitos and cold out-door showers), but at least we had a nearby bar to hike to to drink off the week’s work. It was a great 2 weeks and I’m glad I decided to participate in this program.

The bar:B62BE900-3F7C-49E7-96BF-6F724B5FC4B2FE7045F8-607B-47E3-ABB5-E5D388FAFD01

The view from the bar on a clear afternoon:4E223E92-E330-4A63-9D0B-1F4A06AD7025


Hasta luego, Quito!

Yesterday was the last day in Quito. 😦 I was supposed to leave 2 days ago but I just couldn’t leave this place. Not only is it so beautiful here, but I also met some amazing people in my hostel and they wouldn’t let me leave. I have never felt so welcomed in a hostel before. I arrived here thinking that I wanted to see as many places as possible in the amount of time I have here, but instead I gained some new friends and fell in love with a city. Sometimes it’s not what you see but the experiences you have and the people that you meet that make a trip worth it. It was hard to leave but I’ll be back 1 more day before I fly back to the States.535A5661-7B6A-47AB-966A-A1E59912844E

The last few days I have done a lot with my new amigos from the hostel. On Saturday, we took the Teleférico up to Volcán Pichincha.FD979428-7EDC-46BA-B37B-5F77A678BCE1

Not a lot to say except more incredible views of Quito. I think I’ve gotten a view of the city from a ton of different angles now. CA9AD2B3-52B5-40AF-9EDF-AB2FD8F31310

Found a little hut at the top of the mountain.   E79F913A-C0AE-4EB8-B9A7-AA56D2813ED6

After taking the fast-moving cable car down the mountain, we went straight to the Basilica del voto nacional in the colonial part of Quito.  Hay tantas iglesias en esta ciudad!   81C9E340-14E2-496E-90D2-64EA0D75B1CD

Otra vista desde la Basilica.  24ECA5A8-5910-461E-B7C1-54FCA63C4F3A

Tomando un café en una plaza.   65B3C201-8D10-4F24-835C-1F3D9B541857

The food here is so cheap (if you find the right place)! Everything below was $2.00! 88387406-81EA-4FE0-9E00-59C726AD8B8B

Monday, we went to la plaza grande to see the changing of the guards at the Palacio Nacional. This was a unique cultural experience for me. I’ve never even seen this in London. It is such an ordeal and they do it every week!  It was awesome though – there was a band playing, lots of guards, and school children sitting out front and singing the national anthem with them. The vice president of Ecuador even came out to greet us. E09D1ED9-156C-455B-9E0E-1B8778E7314AE99B89D3-F544-4516-B943-E11B622B0536

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I really couldn’t have picked a better place to stay while I was here. At first I was bummed that I wouldn’t be able to live with a host family during my stay in Ecuador, but this hostel was definitely the next best thing. I would highly recommend Community Hostel to anyone planning a trip to Quito. It really has a community feel (hence the name) and the people that run the hostel are amazing. I will definitely be back here!  4B5AD0C1-043F-4CB5-BC71-CF859F215577

I leave you with the sunset over San Blas, Quito.1EAC53EB-E535-471C-B8DF-77B4064A59BF

La mitad del mundo

Today we ventured out to la Mitad del mundo, otherwise known as the Equator. We got a large group together comprised of people staying at the Community Hostel (my idea). We had to take two city buses to get out there. The city bus out here costs…wait for it… $0.25 per ride ($0.50 for an hour and a half bus ride)! When the bus gets full however, you may end up with a random Ecuadorian child on your lap. You give some you take some23CADA93-ED9B-458A-B634-AA2E6E1D7632The trip was a little bumpy (and my thigh was asleep after 45 minutes of a 5-year-old sitting on it), but it was really cool to touch the equator. I met some fun Irish girls in the hostel. It is nice to have some travel buddies while I am here. They really want to live in NY so I’m trying to convince them to move to Brooklyn.A6648E47-7816-4CF4-9C1D-C26273BEC4D5

I thought it was supposed to be hot at the Equator. I was misled. It was about 75 degrees here, and as we hiked higher up the volcano nearby, I had to put on my jacket. The weather here varies so much in a day. My taxi driver called Quito the place where you get “las cuatro estaciones en un día” – It can feel like fall, winter, spring, and summer over the course of one day.86F778D3-E19F-41F9-98D0-60DE87BF97F3

We had to take a group photo on the Equator. Can you find me? I’m in the Northern Hemisphere. 1FB2D31B-9549-4724-8F59-07BB9A8B945A

After taking pictures of the yellow line, we continued our excursion to the Volcanic Crater, Pululahua, which is inactive and actually has inhabitants. There is fertile land, a school and a hostel IN the crater! The school had 12 children and 1 teacher that commuted 2 hours and a small hike from Quito every day. My hour subway ride doesn’t seem so bad compared to that.5D12CE89-74FF-4FE8-9160-A6061B20B95A Our guide gave us all of this interesting information about the crater. The volcano in the background is still active.

When we got back to the city, a couple of people that work at the hostel took us on a food tour around Old Town Quito. It was mostly fried stuff but the night walk was really nice. This is a picture of La Ronda in the colonial part of Quito.474994D0-1D92-477A-8D62-0DAFC4779EC2

Sharing a giant empanada de queso. Se llama empanada de viento. That is the actual size. Biggest empanada I’ve ever seen.F316458A-FF4B-40D5-BF30-90DCAB627626

On the way back to the hostel, we passed a girl leaving her Quinceañera. 🙂 Que linda era!DED6E43B-47BD-42DE-BD7A-772653E0F5E9

Llegue a Ecuador!

I have finally arrived in Quito, Ecuador for my Fund For Teachers summer fellowship! It was a painless flight, despite the small injury I traveled with on my left hand. Thanks to my glass table breaking right before my trip, I will be sporting this red-pepper shaped middle finger for my first few days here. Maybe it will make a “Flat Stanley” appearance in some of my photos.BE441C76-43BB-41C1-AAD7-F709B00ACE1C

 

It was an early flight. I left my house at 4:30am. Got to see the sunrise from the beautiful NJ Turnpike. Hadn’t seen that in years.573F0588-9EFC-4984-85FF-002956AA3C8F

I had a layover in Panama City during which I pondered leaving the airport for a bit. When we were arriving in Panama, the view from the plane was nothing to write home about. However, the view upon landing in Quito was awesome. I may have accidentally turned my phone on during landing to take a photo which I know is frowned upon, but I couldn’t pass up the photo op. Then I realized I have a real camera with me.EEBE529C-0A1C-48A5-AAD4-FDE252050024The hostel I am staying in arranged for their driver to pick me up from the airport. Upon exiting the customs line, Don Omar (the Community Hostel chauffer, not the Reggaeton artist) was waiting there to bring me to the hostel. He gave me  a quick tour of the city on the way there. I am already in love with this city and excited to see it in daylight! (It gets dark here around 6 apparently.)52576D89-D1E0-4135-9797-5A06E98D3AAC

He insisted on taking a picture of me in front of this church. Now you know I’m REALLY here.D5139118-6938-4C89-B1A9-5329941FBC4E

We arrived to the hostel about an hour later – after a brief night tour and a lot of conversing in Spanish. (Don Omar loves that I speak Spanish.) He gave me some great ideas on how I should spend my time while in Quito which is going to be really helpful. This place is great! Exactly what I needed: Kitchen, community table, living room with a projector, and daily activities to get involved with.EBFD5D54-E2E4-47D6-8681-99A0EBC5E061

The room is basic but good enough for me. It also has a sweet balcony with another great view.F29D8878-E617-4320-A276-02E6E58C1F63

Tomorrow I will take on Quito by day! Me va a gustar este pais. 🙂

Hostels

The countdown to Ecuador is on. I am putting the final touches on my trip planning. One of my favorite things about planning a trip abroad is searching for hostels and finding out about all of the really cool lodging options that there are in a certain country. Ecuador seems to have a lot to choose from, probably due to the high volume of backpackers that travel there. There are 2 places in particular that sound really awesome: Community Hostel in Quito and El Manso Boutique Hostal in Guayaquil. Reading about these hostels and talking to the people that work there has made me even more excited to stay there and meet the other world travelers that will be staying there with me. I would recommend that everyone stay in a hostel at some point in their lives. The hospitality and sense of community that you get at a small hostel or guesthouse makes staying at a place like this much more enjoyable than staying in a large hotel.

Here are some pictures in past hostels I have stayed in. When I look at them, I remember the awesome people I met at each one and the experiences I had while staying there. I can’t wait to do it all again!

This hostel in La Fortuna, Costa Rica was one of the nicest ones I’ve stayed in. There were hammocks out front with a beautiful view of Volcan Arenal. It also had a nice pool with a swim-up bar.

 

This was another one in San Jose Costa Rica. There were cute little tables outside with a lot of plants all around – I’m guessing to get us ready for our rainforest adventures. This hostel included breakfast and coffee in the price which was great.

 

Cafe

Describe a little thing — one of the things you love that defines your world but is often overlooked.

There is one thing that I always need to do no matter where I am traveling or where I am living, and that is to find time to sit down and enjoy una taza de cafe. Everyone who knows me knows that I can’t function without my morning caffeine. However,  Coffee is about more than just the energy boost when I am abroad.

Sometimes it is about the taste. When I would wake up and enjoy a nice cup of Costa Rican coffee with my friends in the morning, I knew it was going to be a good day. There is just something about drinking a cup of coffee outside, amidst the tropical morning breeze, that makes it taste so much better.

Sometimes it’s about the company. When I studied abroad in Spain, I couldn’t go off to class without sitting and enjoying my cafe con leche while telling my host mom my plans for the day. The tazitas de cafe in Spain were so small and quick to drink. It was just enough time to practice my Spanish with my host mom and not be late to class.  Those times helped me build my confidence when talking to my host family. It’s such a small thing, but it’s those conversations and that cafe con leche that added so much to my study abroad experience.

Sometimes it’s about the variety. In Peru, my host family only had instant coffee. At first, I was let down because I thought my morning coffee would not be good for the 6 weeks that I lived with my Peruvian host family. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the taste of it. It was still cafe peruano, but in a little glass jar ready to be stirred into a cup of hot water and condensed milk. Sounds gross, but it had a unique taste that I tried to imitate when I got back to the states, but the instant coffee here is definitely not the same.

Sometimes it’s just about the time that drinking a cup of coffee gives you to sit and think about life. When I lived in the Dominican Republic, after a big family lunch, my host mom would give me a cup of black Cafe Santo Domingo which I would take with me to the rocking chair on the balcony and just relax before the afternoon activities. Most of the time I would look at the view of the city and think about how lucky I was to be studying in the DR while it was snowing back home.

And sometimes it’s just about having something to do on the subway. When I’m home, I don’t take the time to sit and enjoy coffee on a daily basis. I am usually in a hurry for work every day so I drink my coffee on the go, and it never tastes as good that way. Take the time to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee from time to time!

Pura Vida!

Because I am a Spanish teacher, my friends tend to always let me know when they plan to travel to a Spanish-speaking country, I think, in hopes that I have some good advice for them. While I’ve only been to 5 up til now (someday I hope to hit all 22), I still feel like I can always give some type of helpful advice. If it’s a country I haven’t been to, it’s usually one I really want to go to, so I usually have something to offer up. (I did purchase 3 Lonely Planet guidebooks without actually having any immediate plans to travel to them.)

I recently had a few friends tell me they plan to travel to Costa Rica this summer. This is a place I can talk forever about because I’ve been there AND I really want to go there (again). I went to CR with 2 of my good friends in 2010. I planned the short spring-break trip really well (if I do say so myself) and I remember it like it was yesterday. Talking about this trip made me reminisce the experiences I had there. Costa Rica is definitely a place that everyone should cross off their list. There is something for everyone. If you are adventurous but traveling with somebody who is not; while that somebody is relaxing on on the beach all day, you could be zip-lining in the rainforest less than an hour away. It’s a great place to go with a group. Some may choose to hike around the active volcano while others rest on hammocks outside your hostel with the volcano in the background. Or maybe chillin’ in the hostel’s pool with a swim-up bar. Only in CR can you find a pool with a swim-up bar at a hostel that sleeps guests for 10 bucks a night. It’s great.

Costa Rica is just such a happy place. You can tell that Ticos (Costa Ricans use this term to refer to themselves) genuinely love life. They even say so at least once per conversation. Instead of hola it’s “Pura vida!” In response to gracias it’s “Pura vida!” Even to say goodbye, if not used as a greeting, it’s “Pura vida!” They say that Latin Americans generally are happier, but in Costa Rica you can really see it all around you. You will have an amazing time here – mark my word. Just don’t make the same mistake I did – go for longer than a week.

This first photo is during a pit stop on the ride from the airport in San Jose to our hostel in La Fortuna. Our personal driver (works for the hostel) stopped to buy a machete, then took us into the rainforest. Scared us a little until he started cutting a watermelon and telling us that the hostel likes to give its guests a cultural experience on the way to it…

 

First waterfall visit in CR.

 

Hammocks in front of the hostel with a view of Volcan Arenal.

 

No need to go 5-star resort. This sweet “resort hostel” had it all.

 

Can you find the toucan?

 

La Colina villas, Manuel Antonio. If monkeys running on top of your roof bother you at night,  this might not be the place for you. Otherwise, it was awesome.

 

You can get up close and personal with some of the animals. I watched this one steal a granola bar out of someone’s sac on the beach.

 

SLOTH!

 

 

Canopy Tour – halfway through. Do not leave CR without zip-lining! If you are in Manuel Antonio, check out La Selvita. They were awesome!

 

Downpour mid-zip. Coolest feeling ever.

 

Pacifico.