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Best Week Ever

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

You know that stupid show that’s on some channel called ‘Best Week Ever’? Well it’s all lies, because it’s on like every week, which makes it useless.

However, I have had the best week ever. Really.

Cities I have stayed in this week:
Wed: Manchester
Thus & Fri: Allenheads
Sat: Hartlepool
Sun: Hexham
Mon: Edinburgh
Tues: London
Wed: Ft Worth

Travelling FTW!!!

Great things that have happened this week:
1. Got unconditional offer to Liverpool
2. Visited Manchester
3. Got to see Hartlepool play
4. Got autographed picture by no 1 Hartlepool player
5. Got to see Kenneth & twins lots and lots
6. Finished HL2: Episode 2 with Kenneth – SO SAD! YET SO AWESOME!
7. Got to visit Edinburgh, which steals my heart every time
8. Got to meet and impress program director of Genetics & Genomics MSc programme at Edinburgh
9. *****Got an unconditional offer to Edinburgh University!!!******
10. **** Got HOME FEES (1/3 less than international fees!) for Uni Edinburgh!!!!***
11. Delayed flight from Newcastle meant missed the London connection to Dallas on the 28th… which was actually a bad thing.. until…
12. Dad got me a hotel room in London and I got to spend the day hopping the Underground all around LDN!
13. **** Managed to secure extremely coveted and very rare ticket to the SMASH HIT OLIVER! with Rowan Atkinson as Fagin!!!! *****
14. GOT THE BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE
15. WAS FIRST IN LINE FOR ROWAN ATKINSON’S SIGNATURE
15. GOT A PICTURE WITH ROWAN ATKINSON
16. DIED OF AWESOMENESS.
17. WAS REVIVED BY AWESOMENESS.

Yea. Pretty awesome. And I STILL get to go home to the best boyfriend ever today!

Man I am just bowled over by this week. LIFE IS AWESOME!

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On the Road/Railroad Tracks/Flight Path Again…

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Hello all! Here is a more accurate summary of Sean and my plans for travelling the UK and seeing the sights and all that this winter. So now you can track us on your little map on your wall with pins! Hooray! Long and short of it is I will be gone Jan 5th – Feb 3rd and Sean will be gone Jan 20th – Feb 3rd.

U.K. Trip Proposed Schedule Alpha

Monday, January 5
       Emma leaves from DFW

Tuesday, January 6
       Emma arrives at LHR

Tuesday, January 20
       Sean leaves from DFW

Wednesday, January 21
        Sean arrives at LHR. Meet with Emma and take train to Canterbury midday.

Thursday, January 22
        Canterbury

Friday, January 23
        Morning train from Canterbury to Hexham; bus to Allenheads (6 hours approximately)

Saturday, January 24
        Allenheads & Hartlepool football match!

Sunday, January 25
        Allenheads

Monday, January 26
        Morning bus from Allenheads to Hexham; train to Newcastle (30 minutes approximately)

Tuesday, January 27
        Newcastle

Wednesday, January 28
        Newcastle

Thursday, January 29
        Morning train from Newcastle to Glasgow (2.5 hours approximately)

Friday, January 30
        Evening train from Glasgow to Aberdeen (3.5 hours approximately)

Saturday, January 31
        Aberdeen

Sunday, February 1
        Aberdeen

Monday, February 2
        Leave Aberdeen and arrive in London.

Tuesday, February 3
        Sean (on AA) and Emma (on BA) leave LHR, arrive in DFW

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Leos and Svaras and Books, Oh My!

Friday, January 18th, 2008

Well, I thought I should post and assure everyone I made it back from UK-land alive. I also wanted to apologise for not being very available this week to the people who’ve tried to get in touch or who have commented I’m not as in touch as usual.

First, let me say I will be making a couple posts about my time in the UK, specifically, my adventures getting there and a new years post, mostly to go along with the fabulous pictures and videos I’ve uploaded to Facebook (if you’ve not seen them, please go visit!).

The reason I’ve not be around so much is simply: school. Yea, we’re only a week in, but for some reason even I don’t fully understand, I’m really feeling driven this semester. This first became evident when I returned from the UK and spent an ungodly amount of time completely cleaning out my room and bathroom – this included finally unpacking from Ecuador (*ashamed face*). Now my room is not only spic-and-span, but also a haven of order and prettiness (I manged to finally hang some pictures and put up some lamps that glow wonderfully in the evenings).

So, five days in, and I’m ahead in all my classes. Well, except programming, because the teacher is kind of nuts and I’m not even sure what we’re doing right now. And he hasn’t given any clue on what we’ll be reading or what we should be doing. But, programming is my ‘just for funsies’ class anyway, and really is the least of my worries, since its a ‘nothing’ class, and doesn’t count towards my degree.

I guess for many out there being ahead in classes is probably no biggie, but for one thing, this mostly means I’ve read ahead, and for me, reading textbooks is my biggest procrastination – I hate it! Last semester I didn’t read any of my genetics book – too long-winded, too boring. Probably suffered for that though : (. So this week, I’ve read 2 chapters of microbiology, 4 chapters of prenatal/infant/child nutrition, and read five chapters of neuroscience – which, trust me here, is no easy task. Neuroscience is going to be my hard class this semester. Also, I’ve gone ahead and started some physics HW, though we’re actually behind schedule and haven’t finished the chapter yet.

So most of my spare time, even in the mornings before class, is being spent reading – either in the new bookstore, in that hidden little corner with the stuffed chairs that catches the morning and afternoon sun, in Einstein’s at lunch, or at home on the couch. When I’m not reading and highlighting, I’m usually trying to keep peace between Svara and the cat I found (whom I’ve temporarily christened Leo). They hate each other, so I keep Leo in the office for most of the day, but he’s lonely and isolated, and hates it, so then I have to put Svara in my room, and let him roam (and make sure he doesn’t destroy anything – he’s the clumsiest cat I’ve ever seen (he’s a teenager)), and then do the daily ‘acclimation’ where I let them interact, much to Svara’s deep dissatisfaction. Any time when Leo isn’t in the office, I pretty much have to be following him around, to break up fights and pick up objects, and if I do sit down, he promptly climbs all over me, making it impossible to do much.

So – that’s why I’m not around much! I’m also already sleep-deprived, which bodes really well for the rest of the semester…

But, overall, I’m doing good. I feel good about school, and I’m hoping to find a home for the cat (IF YOU KNOW ANYONE WHO COULD TAKE IN AN ADORABLE ORANGE CAT LET ME KNOW!!!!).

Well, I feel this post is quite an adequate length, and though I’d love to write more, I’ll stop here, for the sake of your aching scroll bars and short attention spans : )

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I Miss my Cat and my Bed

Friday, December 28th, 2007

(Because one loves and snuggles me all the time, and the other doesn’t hurt my back.)

I forget exactly why I was thinking I should post last night. I realised that usually I blog more than this while in the UK, esp over Christmas, but I think I’ve learned that blogging from the UK is a bit like yelling into the wind – not worth much.

Anyway, I hope everyone had a good Christmas, and that the end of 2007 looks to be a good one for you. 2008 is dawning slowly, an eventful year for many, I know, as it’s the graduation year for most of us ’04-ers.

Well, I’m in the UK, and I’ll be back on the 8th, as my dad… well, I’m too pissed off to go into it right now.

For those of you who haven’t heard, my journey here was quite an adventure. Took WAY longer than it should have, and took WAY more effort than it should have. Let’s just say that in one day, I rode in: 1 plane, 1 taxi, 1 car, 2 busses, and 4 trains. All to get from A to B. I’ll tell the whole story later.

For Christmas, my presents are thus fairly unremarkable:
Alice – Maltesers (British candy, like Whoppers, but better)
Heather – Cat necklace
Kenneth – New Harry Potter DVD
Libby – Maltesers and House Season 1 (already have, so I’m going to exchange)
Liz – Two good books, two really nice Mackintosh-style cups, Planet Earth poster
Dad – 1 CD, 1 comic book, 1 box Maltesers, 2 packets of instant soup

Yea, I’m about as befuzzled by my dad’s present as you probably are. I mean, he often gives some weird food present as a joke, I don’t know why, he finds it hilarious. Last year I got chicken-spread. But, usually I get something at least a little noteworthy, like a DVD TV series set or something. Oh well, win some, lose some, I guess.

Well, that’s about all the yabber I can muster right now, as I’m in a rather bleb mood. Maybe it’s the darkness getting to me. We only get about 8 hours daylight this time of year – 8 to 4. Gets you a bit mixed up, as you look up, it’s pitch black, and it’s 4:30.

Anyway, look for me by 8th, watch for me by 8th, I’ll come to the by 8th, though hell should bar the way. God damnit.

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Packing, My Hidden Talent

Friday, December 21st, 2007

I thought I’d write up a post saying that I’m feeling much better today. Well, maybe not much, but at least better. I’ve an excitingly super-busy morning of last-minute errands that had to be run, and after I finish my quick lunch, I’ll commence on the packing. Or at least the organizing for the packing. The difficulty, of course, is Xmas presents, which are going to take up an ass-load of space. And, then I’ll get dirty looks from everyone who finds out I’m only going for 2 weeks, and yet I have two bags and a huge-ass carry-on. And I can’t explain with ‘Christmas Presents’ because that would be ‘importing goods’ and they’d have to get a survey of all I’m bringing to see how much import tax I’m bringing. So, if my bags are searched (thankfully much less likely in the UK than in the US), I’m ready to explain how I’m bringing all this unopened things over ‘just to show’ and ‘for my own personal use’ and am totally taking them back to the US. And I’m ready to be searched roughly 6 gazillion times because my carry on will have more electronics in it than a Best Buy (laptop, 2 cameras, Wii, nano, DS, phone, backup phone, and all the hundreds of chargers, cords, transformers, and plug adapters that come with the above).

The only thing I like about packing is that it feeds my slightly OCD inner desire for organization. (This is usually overshadowed by my laziness, but does display itself in certain forms.) In real life, there are always loads of things that don’t really fit into good ‘categories’, so you have to stuff them somewhere. But when you’re packing, everything has a place. Clothes, toiletries, electronics, and, for this trip, presents. Then there will be a couple books, and probably a journal, but that’s such a small part, it’s hardly worth worry. Plus, books are nice and rectangular, so packing them is easy.

The difficult part of packing is organization, especially when travelling with valuables and breakables (ex: Christmas presents). Luckily I don’t really have breakables this year, but between presents and Wiimotes, I do have valuables. This means you have to wrap them up, cover them up, and generally hide them, which often messes up the symmetry of packing.

Well, I’d better go start selecting clothes to pack, which will be harder than usual, as I haven’t had to fetch out my cold-weather clothes yet this year, so they’re still…. who knows where : (.

Ah, well. At least I’m so used to packing that I’m pretty efficient at it.

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Perfect Exhaustion

Friday, December 21st, 2007

So I’m here typing once again, instead of being asleep like I should be. Why this time? I don’t want to go to Britain. It’s been a long while since I was eager to go, but right now I’m just dreading it. There are many reasons, but one is resonating, and has been resonating, so strongly right now.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of life. Which is sad, considering I’m young and 21, and ‘the world is my oyster’ – whatever that means. I don’t even like oysters. I’m tired of getting up in the morning. I’m tired of being alone, tired of lying in planes for hours, tired of navigating layovers and flight changes, tired of packing and unpacking, tired of trying to be a long-distance big sister and daughter to people whose lives function perfectly well without me, tired of fading friends, tired of explaining my life story to anyone who talks to me for more than 5 minutes, tired of being a ‘child of divorce’, tired of being strong, tired of psychoanalysing my family for my family, tired of surviving the experience of my family, tired of going to bed every night, tired of having to feed my grumbling stomach multiple times a day, tired of trying to figure myself out, tired of adjusting to change, tired of looking for stability, tired of the prospect of ‘future’, tired of my own past, tired of the present, tired of trying to please everyone, tired of being nagged, tired of being warned, tired of finding lack of happiness in too many places.

It’s only two weeks, but it will be exhausting. I will be yelled at, lectured, and generally emotionally abused by my father. I will try to catch up with the ongoing lives of my younger siblings. I will generally be isolated from the world, and probably be yelled at for reading too much. I will be yelled at for a lot of things. I will be tricked and lectured, and miss my cat and my privacy. I will do my best to comfort the young ones, as I have done for so much of my short life, from the yelling and the arguments, and the general hurt my family routinely inflicts upon itself.

But who am I to complain of anything. My father is rich, and I have travelled a lot. Certainly, my life is perfect.

I am so tired of being me.

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To the Potato Land

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Hola friends. I’m half asleep at the moment, so excuse me. Fell asleep watching an episode of my new ‘Planet Earth’ series : ). Well, off to Ireland tomorrow. Hopefully we won’t get bombed. Chances seem much slimmer nowadays. Tomorrow to Stranraer to the ferry to Ireland, then to our hotel, the next day to wherever the Giant’s Causeway is, then the day after, to Carick on Shannon to get our boat. A week on the boat, then the drive back. I’ll be back in Texas on the 15th of August, for those curious.

There’s a Hartlepool game tonight, but I’m very tired (see above) so I think I’ll stay in with Kenneth and the twins, and watch tv or something. Anyway, I thought I’d send a note of my intentions to you all via my blog, so you know I’m not lost away somewhere in Ireland, kidnapped by the IRA. However, if you do see that I get kidnapped, please send money, or whatever they want. I’ll pay you back after I get back to the US.

Well, I think that’s all from this half-asleep brain at the moment. I’m off to see what trouble Kenneth & the twins are getting up to. Libby went to register at Newcastle College for her culinary class today, but messed up by mentioning she had an American passport, and now they’re all in a ho-hah about her not being down as an international student and trying to get free education illegally. (For reasons unknown to me, she did not tell them that she does, indeed, have a British passport.) I wonder if maybe that naivity is somewhat my own fault – I was the one who through the years took care of all our customs and immigration snags and problems, and sometimes made mistakes and learned quite quickly what to say to appease those angered by my duality (of citizenship). Though, she has had plenty of time in the past few years to go it alone through the airport maze, and she certainly could have learned plenty by paying attention. And as the eldest, until she turned 18, I had to be the one taking charge, as it says on the forms. Oh well. I will ponder on that further.

I look forward to my return to the US, though it shall be super-busy. I know my mom has plans for me already, and I have to get ready for school, ensure I’m in all the right classes at the right time, tidy my house, have a party, and then go to school. Wish I had more of a break before school started.

Well, I said I was finishing this long ago, so may the rest of your summers be fun and happy, and I shall see many of you soon, or at least, I better. Bibliotheque!

PS – Ireland has potatoes. You have no idea how excited I am about this. I don’t think they get purple ones, though. I only ever saw them that one time in Ecuador.

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Part 2 of my trip is almost over!

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

Unedited email. Gotta run!

Thought I´d write another quick email and try and give a little update!
Well, we did the bike riding and rafting from Banos. The weather was quite an issue, as the rain was very cold, and we were soaked through and shivering. Plus, we could barely open our eyes in the driving rain, and we couldn´t see any of the views for the low clouds. Rafting, at the beginning, was also very cold, and most of us were shivering. However, the sky cleared a bit, we dried out a bit, and we ended up having good fun on the rafts. Then we drove to a riverside spot where we had lunch, and then continued on the Amazon! We stayed in bamboo huts on stilts, and had to use mosquito nets tucked under our mattresses. The first night, at our first place, there were cockroaches everywhere in our rooms, and none of us liked that. Other insects I can handle ok, but cockroaches are horrible. The place had a monkey they´d rescued and some puppies, and they fed us like kings – three course meals in the jungle! The next day we got up and went for a 6 hour hike through the Amazon, which was really interesting. We were split into groups, so there were only 5 of us with a guide, and he told us about medicinal plants, made us some jungle treasures (necklaces, crowns, and bracelets) from plants, and painted our faces with the juice of a plant the Amazon tribes use to ward away evil spirits. We hiked to two waterfalls – one was quite close and easy, the other was more of a hike and harder to get to. In fact, at the end, we actually had to swim up the river a little way to get to the waterfall! It was really interesting though, and very cool to swim in a rain forest pool in the Amazon! Then we put our bags on the bus and get into canoes, and floated down the river to our next accommodation. It was a similar place, but without cockroaches, which was a big relief. We didn´t do much there but have dinner and enjoy the evening, though we did go on a night hike. Didn´t see much but some insects and caiman´s (small crocodiles) eyes in a lake. It poured rain that night like I´ve never seen in my life – like the sky had turned into a giant waterfall!

The next morning we were up early for our road trip to Cuenca via Banos, 8 hours. We set off on time and in good spirits, but the bus mysteriously came to an unexpected stop in the town of Puya. Our guides explained that apparently the rain the night before had caused land slides that had again closed off the road into Banos! So we were told to take half an hour to look around Puya while they figured out what to do. Half an hour later we all assembled and were told that the landslide had been cleared, but that they had decided to completely remove a bridge and put in a new one, so the road wouldn´t be open til four. Our original plan was to arrive in Cuenca by four, so obviously our plan was going to be changed! Of course there is no point moping around when you are stranded, so we went back to the riverside park with waterslides we´d been to before, and all had a refreshing dip in the now incredibly deep water (due to the rains), and a sunbathe on the banks. Then we had an impromptu lunch in Puya and set off towards Banos. Luckily the bridge was indeed up and we were able to get into Banos no problem. We had planned to take half an hour there, but we were obviously running late, so we stopped no longer than was necessary to drop off our guides. We then drove straight on, stopping only for toilet breaks and gas, but did stop in Rio Bamba for a delicious pizza dinner. Then on into the night, and finally arriving in Cuenca at 12:30am.

Because of our late arrival, we were allowed to sleep in a bit yesterday, and then it was off to a museum in Cuenca about Ecuadorian history and culture. It was interesting, but only a bit of the museum was in English, so most of it I couldn´t really make much sense of. I did see real shrunken heads, though. Then we went to Incapirca, the Cuna and Incan ruins about an hour and a half from Cuenca. That was much more interesting, as we had an English speaking guide who showed us around the site and explained the history and significance of the shape of the settlement and it´s religious purpose. We had a few hours in Cuenca then, and at 9 set out for our ´dress to impress´ dinner at the Eucalyptus Restaurant, where I had delicious food and dessert and ate like a king for only $20 a meal that would easily be $50 or more in the US.

Today was rock climbing, so we were up early to head about an hour to the rock. They set up 6 climbs, ranging from fairly easy to a little tricky, and I did all of them. We were there all day and had lunch on the rocks. It was really good rock climbing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It´s been about a year since I last went – on my birthday last July in Arran! Then it was back here, where everyone slept on the bus and felt absolutely exhausted. I myself am covered in scrapes and bruises from the rocks, including an especially bad one on my knee that is throbbing quite a lot. I hope it doesn’t interfere with the rest of my time here. We then made a run to the grocery store for snacks for tomorrow (another 7 hour bus ride) and dinner at a lovely place called Blue Monday.

I would have to say that my main disappointment so far is our lack of time to do things that are not included in the adventure tour. We had no time here in Cuenca to visit the church, which is supposed to be very pretty, nor have a good look at the colonial architecture or to visit the Panama hat factory – all things I really wanted to do. But we are busy all day long with other activities, so we don´t have time. I guess you can´t do everything, but who knows when I´ll be back??

I hope everyone had a good 7-7-07. Nothing unusually lucky happened to me, unfortunately, though it was the day that it´s 21 days to my 21st birthday, so I figured that must be of some significance somehow (since 21 is a multiple of 7). Probably means I´ll rule the world someday, or something like that : )

Well, we´re off to Montanita tomorrow, which is a coastal town in the South. We have two and a bit days there, tomorrow after the bus ride is a free evening, then two days of whale watching and surfing lessons and snorkeling. Our trip is winding down to more relaxing activities, as in just a few short days we´ll be in Guayaquil, saying goodbye to half of our group! Then it´s off to Galapagos, which will truly be an adventure!

What can I say, my part 2 trip is almost done! It´s interesting how you adjust. The magnificent Andes have become a usual sight, no longer making us all reach for our cameras. Ramshackle villages, cultural dress, roasting whole guinea pigs and pigs no longer cause us to bat an eye. We quickly scout out our new town and find grocery stores, internet cafes, restaurants, and laundry (it´s great, you can get 5 kilos of laundry washed, dried, and folded for about $2.50!) We´re used to rice and beans and eating in places that might normally make us wonder about food poisoning. We´re all fans of cipro and know the first signs of a troubled stomach. Most of us have upped our fitness quite a bit, and grown used to adjusting to altitude and drinking tonnes of water and Gatorade, and never drinking from taps (and ordering all drinks without ice). Going without electricity, toilets that really work, and hot showers (or showering at all). I´m interested to see what my reaction will be to go back to the clean, sparkling, and modern ´first-world´. We´ll see!

I also wanted to add a quick note to say that I send these emails because I simply can´t wait to share what I´m up to! It´s not because I am homesick and need to be in touch, it is much more that I just have to tell you all what I´m doing and all my adventures! And when I write in short bursts like this, I can include more detail and remmber better what I´ve done.

Well, I´m holding up the internet, there´s only
one computer at this hotel, and we´ve all had to wait, so I´d better get on my way. However, I´ll write again, probably just before I leave for the Galapagos, since I don´t know what my communication situation will be when I´m there. I hope you are all doing well and know that I´m doing fine. I hope those of you who have been following me on the map are able to keep up with my funny routes!

Best wishes to all of you, talk to you soon!
Emma

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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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