June, 2007

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The Start of Ecuador, Part 2!

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Hola again! Here´s another lazy copy-paste post about my adventures! If you´ve read the email, no nead to read this, it´s all the same. For those of you who didn´t, for whatever reason, read on about all the fun!

First, I forgot to mention that Alto Choco is considered a bio-diversity ‘Hot Spot’, which means it has a really high level of plant and animal diversity (more plants and insects than animals in Alto Choco). There are only 10 ‘Hot Spots’ in the world!
Well, this last week was busy. After the weekend in Otovalo, four of our group of 9 got quite sick. Nobody’s quite sure what set it off, but everyone is better now. I myself was quite ill yesterday, but I took my Cipro (antibiotic) and it worked miracles, I am back doing very well today! On Monday we helped some local ladies dye cabulla to make crafts and also learned how to make a bit ourselves (this is the ones who weren’t sick). Then we did reforestation. We planted 64 trees in about 3 hours with only 11 people! That was more than any other group, in less time, with less people! On Tuesday those well enough went for a hike – from ISV it was me, Eddie, Cheryl, Laurissa, and Kate, and Helen, Brett, Mark, and Ashley came too, along with our project leader, Nuno, and our guide, Milton. What a hike! We took the bus for an hour and started our hike at 8:30 in the morning to go to the base of the Cotacatchi volcano. It was a pretty intense hike, we were going up at a very steep angle. Unfortunately, just before we got to the very top I had to stop. I´d woken up with a cough that morning that I hadn´t thought much of, but in the higher altitudes with less oxygen and doing very hard hiking, I just couldn´t get my breath at all, and was wheezing and coughing quite badly. So I didn´t get to see the Cotacatchi lagoon. However, that was just the beginning of the hike! We then had to hike back to Alto Choco across the mountains. We walked along some ridges, far up above the tree-line, and the view was absolutely amazing. Then we headed down down down down down. It seemed like we were going down forever! It was so steep my legs were aching from having to jump and slide; in some places it was so steep you could be almost vertical but have your hands on the ground behind you! We had to climb down roots and use vines to rappel or absail down some places. It was exhausting but exhilarating. We didn´t get back until 7;30pm – about an hour after sunset! That was a little worrying, but it ended up being ok. There was an almost full moon, as well, which helped. And our headlamps attracted insects, which in turn ended up attracted a few bats, which swooped around our heads. That was really amazing!

Wednesday morning we had the morning off, as half of us were sick and the other half absolutely exhausted. In the afternoon we carried rocks from the river up the steep bank (about 1.5 stories up at a 45 degree or greater angle) and then to the botanical gardens so that the next group can continue the path we laid last week.

Thursday was a surprise for us! We were told we were going on a field trip and that we should bring bathing suits and towels. In the morning we all piled down to Milton´s (his house is on the road) and were told we were going to have to catch a ride to our destination. So Milton´s neighbor pulled up in his pickup truck with handrails fixed to the sides of the bed, and we all piled in the back! We rode for about an hour standing in the back of a pickup truck swerving around the potholes and on the dirt roads, clinging to roads on the sides of mountains! It was actually really really fun, and much better than the cramped, crowded, non-air-conditioned buses. We got off the truck and went on a half-hour hike up to the ridge of a hill, and went and visited the house of man who leads the resistance against the mining companies, and saw some of the aztec artifacts that had been plowed up in the surrounding fields. Then we all walked back down the path, saw some burial mounds, picked some oranges, and got back in the truck. After about another hour, and a quick tour through Apuello (a nearby village), we arrived at the thermal baths! After a week of cold showers (we ran out of gas and there are supply problems at the moment) we were all excited! They had pools from freezing cold to bath-warm, and all in between. We had a wonderful time swimming around, surrounded by the Andes mountains. Then we all got a lukewarm shower (better than our freezing cold river water!) and back to Alto Choco to pack, pack, pack.

Friday morning we were up early to pack up our last things and carry our bags down to the road to get our coach. Everyone on the reserve came with us, as we had to go through Otovalo on our way to Quito, so Brett, Paul, Helen, Sarah, Mark, Ashley, and Nuno all got to stay with us for a little longer on the bus, where we said our sad goodbyes! After living with them all for two weeks, we were quite a little group, and it will be strange travelling around without them! Then there were 9, and we were off to Quito.

Quito! Well, if I´d written you this letter yesterday, I would be much more apprehensive, but I was a stranger yesterday, and sick too. Yesterday was not so much fun, as we mostly had orientation meetings, unpacking, laundry, shopping for essentials and souvenirs, and then everyone went to a club and drank. We also went to the ´Center of the world´ monument, and that was quite interesting, though we were given wrong directions to the ´real´ center of the world, so sadly did not get to see it! (By the time we got to it, it was closed, as we didn´t get to the area until about 5pm) So, not so much fun for me, especially as the only people I know are those from Alto Choco – all the people from the other projects I don´t know as I didn´t do Spanish lessons! So I had an early night last night.

Today we had breakfast early and then got fitted for our hiking boots for tomorrow. Then it was back on the bus, and where to? Otovalo again! All the Alto Choco people were a little unhappy, as it´s a 2 hour drive, and we just took it yesterday! But we got to go to the Saturday market again, which is definitely worth going to. Then back on the bus and back to Quito.

So tonight my roommate, Izzie, and I got together with some of the other people, and a group of 7 of us went out to eat at an Italian place, which was delicious, then Izzie and I went to a place called Xocoa, which is a chocolate-lover´s dream, and each had a fruit and chocolate fondue – for just $3! Now I´m at the local internet cafe typing this up! Today I also found an English bookstore run by an American man, so I had a look around at the books, which was a lovely little break from my adventures for me! He also had a sticker from Archer City, Texas, which has a semi-famous bookstore I went to a few weeks before coming here, so it was a neat connection. You never know how you´ll know people around the world! So far, I am really enjoying Quito, and wish I wasn´t leaving tomorrow! There are so many neat restaurants and dessert places, not even mentioning the museums and sights to see! I am barely scraping the surface in my 2 days here! And everything is so cheap! Tonight was $8 for a personal pizza that was delicious and my chocolate fondue, and two bottles of water. There are so many people from so many places here, and so much is going on. There is a square with a fountain with lots of restaurants around it with outside seats, and I wish I could just sit and enjoy the atmosphere a few more nights! I will be coming back someday!

So tomorrow we are off to go glacier climbing on Cotopaxi volcano – at a higher elevation than any of the continental US! I´m nervous but also really excited. We´re getting crampons, ice picks, everything! And from there, to the Amazon! Right now I am in a very good mood about the next two weeks, as I am getting to know people. It will certainly be a huge adventure!

I hope everyone else is doing w
ell, and know you´re all in my thoughts as I do my travelling! It still blows my mind regularly to think ´I´m in Ecuador!´ And being back in a city after Alto Choco is something else, let me say. Having an attached bathroom, having electricity, having a television, having lights that come on with a switch! Living in the backwoods certainly makes you realise modern conveniences! I think I will really miss Alto Choco, as I got used to the routine and the way things works, and it´s very obvious that the next two weeks will be super super busy, unlike the laid-back attitude of Alto Choco, where all the business stopped after 6:30. But then, it´s something new, and I´m sure it will turn out to be a crazy two weeks. And I´m sure the Galapagos will allow a little retreat away once more before my trip is over.

Wish me luck on Cotopaxi tomorrow, as I´ll be needing it! I´m working on getting some pictures up for you all and will send you a link as soon as I can : )

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Emma in Ecuador

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

This is a big old email I send out to lots of people. I don´t have time to type it up again, so you get to read it copy´-pasted : ). See you soon!

First let me apologize for my typos… The keyboard is really strange, my fingers are tired and blistered, and I am trying to be somewhat quick!

So where can I start? I am at Alto Choco reserve right now, about 4 hours from Quito and 2 hours from Otovalo, which is where I am right now. There are 9 ISV people there – Eddie, Jen, Jaime, Kate, Laurissa, Anna, Cheryl, Izzie, and me. There are also a man and woman from California, a man from the USA, a man from London, a girl from Isle of Wight, and a girl from Germany. There´s also Nuno, our ´leader´, and some ladies that work at the reserve, mostly cooking for us, and two men who know their way around the reserve very well and help us with our work.

The drive there was somewhat scary, it´s way up in the Andes, so the road has sheer drops off the side as you weave through the mountains. It´s very misty often, too, so we would be driving along and suddenly another bus would materialize in front of us. We arrived Friday night, and Saturday morning Nuno gave us a tour of the reserve. Then he left to go into Otovalo, and apart from a girl who came up to cook for us, we were alone for the weekend. The reserve is very basic – we have three buildings. One is a kitchen with a covered porch where we eat by candle every night, one has 4 rooms where we all sleep and a porch with hammocks where we sit, and the other is the shed/workshop. There is no electricity at all – not even the generator they talked about. The toilets are outhouses (one for men, one for women) and the shower is behind the womens toilet. Everything´s fed with river water. The shower is crazy, sometimes it´s lovely and warm, but more often it´s freezing cold or burning hot. There´s also a sink attached to a tree. You can´t flush paper down the toilets or it´ll block up the lines, and of course we can´t drink from the sink, though it´s clean enough to brush your teeth. They boil big pots of water every day that they then pour into a big tank where we can fill water bottles and stuff. We get three meals a day cooked, and take turns doing dishes in pairs. We get a lot of rice, potatoes and pasta, and are happy when we get chicken or beef! We´ve been quite lucky as we´ve had eggs most mornings (hard boiled or scrambled) and a cow just had a calf, so we´ve had fresh milk too! (Boiled first.)

We work hard, from 9-5 with 1.5 hours for lunch, usually.

Monday we hoed and planted a garden that the local woman will use to grow a plant they get fibers from to make bags and hats called cabulla (kah-boo-yah). Then we cleared trails (essentially carving trails into the side of a hill with hoes!). Tuesday we made mud or adobe bricks with dirt we carried down the hill on our back, shredded bamboo, and water. We mixed it with our boots! Then we laid river stones into paths on some sections of trail in the ´botanical garden´ (a place they´ve planted a lot of the plants from the forest so that local children can see them). Wednesday we hiked for about 2 hours up to a corn field planted for the bears (they are vegetarian, by the way!) (planted to keep them out of the farmer´s field) and cleared a lot of brush with machetes so that a new field can be planted. Boy, that was exhausting. We carried lunch with us (rice, beans, and canned tuna) and ate in the field. Thursday we led some school children around the botanical garden and then helped to sieve ground bamboo to feed the small pieces to the worms. Yesterday we cleared plants in the botanical garden (to help the important plants grow better) and then planted trees and sieved more bamboo.

The Reserve is located about 30 minutes uphill walk from the main road, on a little track, in a valley. There was no truck to carry our bags, as we´d been promised, so that was quite a hike… very tiring! We´re in what´s called a ´cloud forest,´ and it´s very wet indeed. Nothing is ever dry! Even the toilet paper is always moist, not to mention clothes. The only way you can get something dry is to hope for a few hours of sun. Most of the time it´s quite misty-cloudy. I´m very glad I have my quick-dry clothes as they´re about the only thing that will dry. I´m also really glad I have clothes with ´´bug off´ in them, as there are some bugs here called mosquos that are worse than midgies or mosquitoes! When they bite it hurts, and they leave a purple circle with a red dot in the middle. Then about 24 hours later it starts to itch like you wouldn´t believe! So I´ve been wearing my lightweight long sleeve shirts and luckily I´ve not been bitten up too badly, and not nearly as badly as some girls. The weather is also crazy. In the afternoon it can get quite hot, but at night it´s freezing cold! For dinner I´m usually wearing two pairs of pants, a shirt, a fleece, and my rain jacket, just to stay warm!

We caught the first bus this morning (7am) to Otovalo, which means we were up at 5.30, before the sun! We left the Reserve to hike down to the road at 6.15. Then two hours on the bus to here! We´re staying in a hostel here, and it looks like I might have my own room, which is actually pretty scary, So I might switch with someone. There´s a huge festival this weekend, I think it´s called San Juan. It can get pretty violent, but don´t worry, we´re going to be safe and stick together.

So far I´ve been doing quite well. The work is hard but I´ve been keeping up and doing my part. I´ve not been too badly homesick or too badly longing for comforts like electricity and heat and indoor plumbing. I had a little stomach upset for a few hours on one day, and that really did make me a little homesick, since you realize ´if I don´t feel better tomorrow.. or the next day.. I still have to stay here.. I can´t go home and be taken care of, and I can´t even call home and say that I feel bad.´ But I got better and have been doing ok. I do miss people and I do miss keeping in touch, but the hard work and lots and lots of reading keeps me busy. Sun goes down around 6.30, you see, so there´s not much you can do after that but eat by candle light and read by candle light!

Ecuador is a very interesting place. Obviously I haven´t spent much time in the city, but the country actually reminds me some of England! The grasses in the plains are very similar, and the weather is wet and muddy. We also do a lot of walking, which is something we do a lot of in England, and I´m wearing rubber boots nearly every day, just like England!

I´m keeping a daily journal of what I´m up to, and I´m making sure I write it in such a way that I can type it up after all this and put it online, and you can all read it if you want to.

I´m not sure what else to say! Just know that I am doing ok and I am having quite a time. Sometimes it is hard and often it is different but I´m getting along. I do look forward to seeing you all, but I´ve still got so long left! We leve Alto Choco on Friday morning to go back to Quito and start the adventure tour. Then, a week in the Galapagos!

Talk to you all later!

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Hola from Quito

Friday, June 15th, 2007

I’m here in Ecuador, enjoying one last night of internet, electricity, and the like. Can’t talk long – it’s late. Here is some contact info about me while I’m here.

To see a good breakdown of when I’m where, and a map, log into Facebook, then go to my profile and scroll down to see my ‘Trips.’

I can receive texts for FREE, so send as many as you like. Cell phone signal will be pretty much nothing for 1st two weeks and then every 2-3 days in 2nd two weeks and on Galapagos.
Internet will be accessable at about the same frequency, so send me an email.

If you want to snail-mail me or Fax me, here is the stuff:


Mail is slow in Ecuador – can take up to 2 weeks to get to Ecuador
(if in doubt – send it to the next hotel! they can always hold it if I’m coming, but won’t forward it to me if I’ve gone.)
“Please hold for Emma H*dcr*ft with International Student Volunteers.”
You could also send FAXES (make sure to put the above AND put check-in date on them so they’ll hold them)


June 15 – June 29
Rodrigo Pineda
Fundación Zoobreviven
Reserva Alto Choco
Imbabura, Ecuador
Fax: ++ (593) – 2 – 2596428

June 29 – July 1
Chalet Suisse
Reina Victoria, Calama Esq ( 24-191 <-- don't know if this number should be on or not)
Quito, Ecuador
Phone: (593-2)-2562700

July 1 – July 2t
Hospedaje Tambopaxi
Hotel Tambopaxi, Cotopaxi
Phone: (593)-9-944-8223

July 2 – July 4
Hotel Sangay
Plazoleta Isidro Ayora #100
Phone: (593)-3-274-0490
Fax: (593)-3-274-0056

July 6 – July 9
Hotel Cuenca
Borrero 10-69 y Gran Colombia
Phone: (593)-7-2833711
Fax: (593)-7-2833819

July 9 – July 11
Charo’s Hostal
Phone: (593)-09-342-7062
Fax: (593)-09-938-6474

July 11 – July 12
Cdla. La Cogra Mz.1 Villa 2 (Km 3,5, Av. Carlos Julio Arosemena <- not sure if this is needed)
Phone: (593)-4-220 1143
Fax: (593)-9-986 7968

From July 12-20th I am in Galapagos, after that, the UK.

If you want a postcard, make sure I have your address, or else you definitely aren’t getting one!

Wish me all the best… I’ll update if I can about how I’m saving the rainforest and the world all with one finger. : )

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Emma Ecuador England Eggplant

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

Yea… So I haven’t been on much. I figured I should post now, while I can. For those of you who don’t know, which is probably quite a few, since I’ve kept this somewhat under wraps, I’m leaving for Ecuador on Thursday. I’ll be going straight from Ecuador to England, and won’t be back from England till August 14th or so. So, if you want to get in touch, please email me. I will be going to internet cafes as much as I can, so I should be in touch fairly ok. Once I’m in the UK (past July 21st) you can also do the usual text/AIM.

Well, how do I feel about this. I do feel a little excited. Mostly I feel scared and unhappy about it. Ungrateful, I know. Save it, I’ve heard it all. Truth is, I was never really into going to Ecuador in the first place. I signed up for New Zealand. They put me in the Ecuador group instead, and I decided I could make it go away by ignoring it and never confirming my plan to go on this new modified trip. Months later I went to check whether they’d given up on me, due to my non-communication. Well, they hadn’t. Now I was past the point of saying no, as well. I’m pretty sure that violates some kind of something – changing a travel destination and not having to get an explicit ‘ok.’ But eh.

So, I’m going. Now, for someone who goes all over the place, I’m really not very good at being away from my parents. Never had to do it much. Everywhere I go in the world they’re there, or not too far away, or it’s only a week, etc. I’ll be gone for 5, and out of the US/away from regular internet/away from my friends for even longer.

Oh well. Mostly that’s what I’ve been doing since January. I’ll just stay in denial until I’m landing in Quito and then see where life takes me.

So I’m all stocked up with more travel gear than you thought was possible. Well, probably not. I’ve got bug-off clothes and rainjackets and camelbacks and filter straws. It’s a pretty back-country trip and I am supposed to be prepared for everything from 40º to 95º F. And rain. And beaches. Yea, no trick or anything. So next to my 3-in-1 Northface rain jacket plus zip-in fleece and gloves I have a lovely Roxy bikini and some shorts.

I guess one good thing is that I’m meeting up with a girl in Miami to fly into Quito and spend the first night in a hotel together. She’s very nervous about travelling, and in situations like that I do well at keeping myself calm and straight-minded in order to reassure the less-certain parties of the group. I learned this long ago from having younger siblings, especially while your parents go through messy divorces and arguments. So, hopefully going into the trip with that mindset will stop me from freaking out, at least for a while.

Well, enough writing for now, I have to go pile things up in piles to pack. I’ll post later an itinerary and stuff.
Hasta pronto.

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