Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ruta del Sol

We went on vacation!!!

Jose and I headed to the Ecuadorian coast for a week-long trip, we followed la Ruta del Sol, the Sun Route, although we essentially spent the week chasing the sun, as this tends to be the cloudy and cooler season. No matter.

We flew to Guayaquil, on separate airlines actually, which is the short version of a long and complicated story about my temporary residence rights and INGALA regulations. Not so interesting.

But we both arrived in the hot, muggy afternoon on Monday and were picked up by cousin Julio. We promptly headed over to the bus station to reserve our tickets on the first morning bus to the north, a small surfer town called Canoa.

After shopping at "real" stores (underwear and shampoo are cheaper on the mainland), we grabbed some exotic food (shwarma) and headed to the house where we visited with droopy eyes and finally crashed into a comfortable and clean guest bed. Instead of falling asleep to the familiar sounds of ocean waves and dogs, we heard lullabyes sung by neighborhood cats, loving and fighting all night long.

As the sun came up on Tuesday, we loaded up, hailed a cab, and caught our "executive" bus (it had a toilet on board), and slowly but surely made our way north. Approximately eight hours, a million stops, sadly no food vendors, but lots of interesting road-side amusement later, we arrived dusty and tired to the sleepy town of Canoa.

I say sleepy, since it's the off-season for tourists and vacationing students from the city. The town seemed so quiet and peaceful, sandy streets and fish shacks lining the beach, where we found our hotel: Hotel Bambu, right on the beach and in the corner of the pueblito. One of the best places that I have every stayed at in Ecuador, the food was great, the service excellent and friendly, and the entire setting was the very definition of tranquility.

Doing nothing much more than strolling the beach, taking photos, and exploring the town, we left two days later, with a little reluctancy. We caught the same bus that we had left earlier in the week, and boarded to head back south.

Let me take a moment to explain the phenomenon that is the bus system of Ecuador, and many South American countries. There are large, quasi-comfortable buses of all ages and states of cleanliness being herded across every corner and crevice of the country at nearly every hour. They are pretty darn efficient, and they are always run by characters. The drivers and "hustlers" wear button-down shirts and ties. The "hustlers" hang out the open door as the bus slows through town, yelling the name of the next destination, while potential passengers hurry to board. The price of a bus ticket varies and depends on the bus line and the distance. The minimum fare is around 50 cents, while the highest fare we paid was around $3.50 (for about four hours of bus service and entertainment). The people who take the buses are professionals, grandparents visiting relatives, people going to work, children riding to or from school, people coming or traveling to market, etc. The public takes the bus, and that's what makes it so darn amusing. Examples of cargo that I witnessed on our personal bus rides: laundry in a basket, briefcases, bags of fruit, a puppy, a large TV, baby carriages, and even building materials. The bus is perhaps one of the most real experiences I have had in Ecuador, while also feeling safe and adventuresome. RECOMMENDED.

During a brief interlude, we visited a small aquarium run by a small community Valdivia. Here young volunteers guided us through a display of animals and birds and marine life (some living, some preserved specimens) and told us what it ate, where it was found, etc. Our ten-year-old guide, David, told us he had been volunteering there for one year already. Hot stuff.

We boarded our bus again, after about a fifteen minute wait on the sidewalk, and continued on to Puerto Rico (town, not the country, obviously), just a few miles south of the famous Puerto Lopez. Here we stayed in a beautiful hotel called La Barquita. The best part was not the freezing pool, or the lovely garden, or even the friendly dogs keeping everyone in line, but the restaurant and "lobby" of the hotel itself, which was, in my opinion, a genuine pirate ship. Fun ensued.

The next day we had made arrangements to travel back to Pt. Lopez to take a daily tour to see the migrating whales. Like WHOA! This was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and I kept telling myself, as I feverishly scanned the horizon, that whales are probably the most marvellous beings on the planet, and that they are rare and timid and that I shouldn't get my hopes up to see them, let alone see one jumping above the waves.

And then I saw them. At first, we just saw their slippery backs, fins cutting above the white caps of the choppy waves, everyone on board got excited, cameras ready, standing up (despite our captains specific instructions not to). On the return trip, we saw several jumping, breaching, breaking through the ocean's world and into ours. Unbelievably large, powerful, graceful, I couldn't stop myself from pointing, gasping, and then clutching my heart and sighing as it disappeared back to below. BIG DEAL.<3

We sadly returned to Guayaquil the next day, after having traveled the last leg on our final bus. The next morning we headed back to the islands. I had a more eventful trip back, as I had difficulties with my ticket (as in it was actually scheduled for the 30th of September as opposed to the 11th, minor detail). So in the end, Jose took the regular two-hour flight back home and was resting and unpacking and waiting for me. I, on the other hand, took a two-hour flight to Baltra, then a bus, then a ferry, then another bus to Porta Ayora in Santa Cruz, where I had lunch and waited around in the sun on the pier, waiting for the charter boat to carry me (in a very bumpy and rough manner, if I do say so myself) the nearly three hours back to San Cristobal.

I can't explain the joy I felt, walking back into our little apartment, after a long and crazy week away, there's no place like home.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


¡Viva Ecuador!

That's right, Ecuador's Independence day was August 10th, which was (barely) celebrated on the island by a small parade in somewhat inclement weather. Being a Wednesday, the holiday was moved to Friday, providing proud citizens with a three-day weekend to reflect upon the liberation of the small nation.

Since it's quite possible that Ecuador loves its holidays more than any other free nation in the world, last week's classes were poorly attended. But this could be due to several reasons. Either students were A) confused about the weeks holiday schedule that I plainly posted for them, B) too wrapped up in the marching parades and flag-hanging and powerful speeches given by their leaders, or C) totally didn't bat an eye about ditching out on class. Or any combination of the three.

No matter, it was nice to glide through a shorter and easier week, all the while looking forward to taking the boat out this weekend for a quick run to test the engines and do general cleaning.

That is, until Thursday morning, when word spread that we were under an Orange Alert.

Upon first hearing this, I was more than a little worried about the fruit that has only recently come into season, and of which I have been consuming like some sort of shameless Vitamin C junkie.

But, to my further dismay, the warning was not concerning the abundant fruit harvests, but to the strong waves that were due to arrive within the next four days.

The next four days which happened to fall over the three-day holiday weekend. Crap.

So, while some nervously monitored the shores and breaking tides, plenty of others were left trying to fill their days with other activities, since their business trips, food and gas cargo, and tourism ventures were delayed for half a week.

The weather hindered many options by refusing to put on a happy face and let the sun out long enough to dry up the rainy/misty landscape. (Not to mention the beaches were completely prohibited, don't even think about it, gringa.)

Movies were bought. Naps were taken. I read two books. We even attended a glow stick party. Same bar, same songs, same drinks, same people, but with glow sticks. It was a nice try.

We spent most of a whole day in the highlands farm, socks and shirts tucked in to keep out the biting ants and mosquitos (to no avail) while we collected oranges, tangerines, papayas, avocados, bananas, and one lonely egg that hadn't already begun incubating. Even the donkey looked disappointed with the foiled holiday plans.

So now here we are, Sunday afternoon and not even a dampening of the waterfront with hazardous or violent waves. The sun has decided to come out as an act of consolation, and the boats have once more fallen back into routine tours and charters and deliveries.

So the joke was on us, Ecuador. Maybe you really just wanted to insist that we all take the rest that you thought we surely needed this weekend, in honor of your free and laid-back spirit.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cowgirl Shower

We ran out of water the other day.

As in, when I turned on the sink, after much spitting and sputtering, out coughed some brown sludge, not exactly what I wanted to brush my teeth with.

This meant, of course, that the cistern which provides agua dulceto the main house and the three apartments on the same property, was empty. To remedy this situation, mi suegro, Vicente, must power up the generator to transfer water from the main cistern, or else pump water from the huge diesel water supply truck that he drives. Either way, I'm not allowed to help in the process.

It was later afternoon, and my in-laws had just returned from their highlands farm, tired yet lugging crates of oranges, large bundle of fresh flowers, a few fresh eggs, a head of ripening bananas, and a few bags of rich, nearly black soil for the small garden and plants in the yard.

Even if the water transfer were to happen right away, that didn't mean I could wait a few minutes to turn on the tap again.

The set-up of hoses and generator takes about fifteen minutes. Then, when the noisy machine is turned on, the actual transfer takes at least a half an hour. Then, one must wait for the water to settle. The shortest time is at least another half hour, longer if you're smart.

Since this is fresh water, but not clean drinking water, there are a few friends floating in the mix. Since the cistern provides water through a pump that floats on the top, you shouldn't be impatient to get wet from that stream. Anything you've got to clean can wait and will be better off for doing it.

Since we recently had a new shower head installed (an electric one that provides alternating three minutes of pretty warm water and regular, icy water), I had lost my habit of always showering in the middle of the day, with the few minutes of luke-warm water that was heated by the mid-day sun as it sat in the black rubber hoses between the cistern and the apartment.

Here it was, sundown, and I had planned on going out, which I reluctantly agreed called for a shower and clean clothes that weren't cut offs.

Grabbing towel, bucket, and bar of soap, I slipped on my bathing suit and flip flops and headed outside to the side of the house where there is a small cistern and table-like basin for the hand washing.

With only the lights of the clear stars and the colored lamps from the Malecon about two hundred feet away, I lathered and shampooed and rinsed the old fashioned way, feeling like a cowgirl bathing in the silent witness of the stars, and the family dogs.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.

I have a new class. Boy, do I ever. I am teaching Level 1 again, my favorite group. I love teaching beginners for many reasons.

First, they want to be there. They have taken a rather large first step. They are willing to try something new and that is a powerful attitude.

Second, most of them know absolutely nothing about the English language. This being said, they have a clean slate to work with. They haven't yet picked up bad habits (that everyone has in a foreign language) and can be taught something correctly.

Third, as a foreign language student myself, I start the class with full Spanish (which is another avenue of practice for me) and slowly wean them off of it and before they know it, I'm only speaking to them in English, but they UNDERSTAND!

Fourth, there is no shortage of topics to teach. They need to know the basics, which depending on them, can take many directions.

Oftentimes students approach me before/during/after class to help them translate phrases they need for work. (Please put your suitcase on the scale. I need to inspect your boat. Are you a vegetarian? Fill out this form, please. Where do you have pain?)

I have nearly 50 students combined. A much longer roster than usual, as attendance in prior classes has curbed at no more than 15 per class. That's the beauty of small language classes - so much personalized attention from the teacher.

When I say I am teaching in a university, most people imagine a roomful of boisterous youngsters in their late teens and early twenties, like in the US. Not exactly. While I have many typical university students (same age group, familiar with the process of being a student, i.e; doing homework, taking tests, studying, attending classes regularly, etc), more than half are older adults. They are working professionals with homes and families. They work for the National Park, the Navy, the Police, the hospital, the city government, and various other institutions. This changes the tone of the class.

On top of that, I also have a few teenage high schoolers peppered in the mix. These students are 15 or 16 years old, attend high school classes during the day (including the English classes they are required to take in high school) and also attend the English program at the university in the evenings. Sounds like quite a mature and eager student to be tackling all that, huh? You would think.

So now we've started in on the third week of the intensive 7-week course. And they are all still coming. I'm tickled, don't get me wrong. But usually what happens is the first week is kind of crazy with new students showing up and then disappearing, or else dropping in a few days late and trying to get caught up, etc.

I thought that surely after I assigned them their mid-term project last week that a few would drop. But to my surprise, I will have 47 mid-term projects to grade. And I can't wait!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

This Is Just a Test

Or that's what I keep murmuring to myself, trying to keep all cool and all stoic right now.

Today my level 6 students are taking their Final Exam, which will be followed in two weeks by the program's Exit Exam. I have never been more nervous for a module to end. I know that not everyone will make it through, but I am so apprehensive that the ones who really deserve the success of receiving the Proficiency Certificate will be justly awarded.

And I have to understand that it isn't up to me.

It's totally out of my hands. Yes, I've taught them some vocabulary and grammatical structure and forced them to put their feelings into a blog and stand up in front of their peers and express their opinions and played the Devil's Advocate in class debates and tried to be available to them for any questions at all they might have had and offered review sessions and a hundred other things.

But I can't make them learn English and I can't force them to study hard and I can't require them to care. Not if they don't want to by their own accord.

And so here I sit, answering redundant questions during their exam, hoping the test is an accurate assessment of not only the program's ability to teach English as a Foreign Language, but also for their own ability to apply what they've learnt.

Also, living on the island, more friends have left, and potential new friends are soon to be arriving. Now I'm on the other side of the airport scene, the one who stands outside the gate and waves goodbye without a bag in hand.

People, especially if they are happy to be leaving this place for some reason (not satisfied, fed up with Island Time, homesick, etc), leave me with stinging accusations about how I could possibly like it here, why would I want to make this place my home, what in God's name do I think I will do here in the future?

These questions are good for self-examination; unless you know me and understand how I can over-analyze anything for days (and do) and end up crawling out of the rabbit hole on the other side, questioning everything that I've come to know and believe in, down to the rabbit hole itself.

Inversely, when new arrivals show up and they are bright-eyed and trying to get a grasp on this place and it's workings, I get many of the same questions. I hate feeling defensive, but I seem to always feel like I'm being attacked during these interrogations.

Because I don't know.

I don't have many answers about why I've chose this place instead of others, I don't exactly know what the future will bring, mainly because I know how suddenly life can change, and sometimes it's best not to have your hopes woven too tightly around something.

And I've always been like this. Not just in this isolated island where time doesn't seem to exist like it does in the rest of the world. Where rules and reality morph and bend depending on the day and with whom you are speaking (or filing paperwork).

But I am so happy in this moment! I am loving everyone and everything around me, even starting to laugh off the rude official letters, the lacsidasical way in which progress is sought after in this culture.

I am keeping my peace amidst all of this. Even though I aknowledge my nervousness, my lack of direction, my absence of life plans. I start to feel the familiar tightness in my spine and my belly, and then I kind of chuckle and say, this is just a test. And then I open up again, and everything falls away.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sea Turtle Savin'

Tonight, as I walked out of the university after my evening class, I almost stepped on a baby sea turtle.

Let me explain. The university is literally across the street from a beach. And apparently there was a nest which had hatched, and a group of babies were crawling towards the lights of the university, rather than the moonlight (it's cloudy tonight).

So when I nearly tripped over my flip flop to not squash the little guy, and I stared down at him, flippers desperately swimming across brick, it took me a second to register. Then I called to the night watchman and the few local university students who were sitting on the front steps, lost in their own conversation:

"¡Hay tortuguitas del mar!"

They all stopped mid-sentence and rushed over and with the light of a flashlight and a few cell phones, we counted several more. Just then, a few motos came racing down the hill (per usual), to arrive at the U. We scooped up the babies and carried them to the safety of the sand across the road.

Another student went searching for a local teacher/researcher for the National Park, Juan Carlos. He quickly found a shallow bucket and filled it halfway with sand, where we then carefully deposited each of the lost but not yet discouraged baby sea turtles.

Suddenly we were a group of ten or more, scanning and scoring the beach slowly in the dim lights, minding the sleeping sea lions, as we searched for more turtles.

After a while, with no more new discoveries, some photos were taken, and the babies were escorted into the evening tide.

Such a random thing to happen, but I was so glad that it did (and that we were able to gather seemingly all of the turtles, obviously, duh). They were smaller than my palm. Their almost fleshy-feeling flippers were so strong and stubborn, like thumb war winners, scales so fine and smooth. I picked them up by their miniature yet sturdy shells. My memory was flashing to all the times I've snorkeled with these giant graceful beings, my favorite sea creature by far.

What a beautiful night!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Scuba as Meditation

Here's what I've learned both from my recent Open Water Scuba Dive course and my meditation practice:

1. Never stop breathing. As in, don't hold your breathe, for fear of bursting your lungs as you surface, sure, but also, to maintain a slow and steady core as you pass through the world. Or as the universe passes through you.

2. Keep your eyes open. Discovering life underwater, especially in one of the world's largest Marine Reserves, is exhilarating and inspiring, yet peaceful. Don't block out the negative aspects of this world, instead focus on the root, the source.

3. Know your emergency strategies. Being prepared for potential problems changes the situation from being out of control, to manageable. Knowing how to keep your cool, giving responses instead of reactions.

4. Always dive with a buddy. Share your experiences, share your life. Enjoy the company you keep, learn something from everyone, even if they are not 'on your side.' Know that you are not unique in your life, we are all connected by our human drama.

5. Keep searching. Don't settle, never allow stagnancy. Continue to grow and challenge yourself. Take up new hobbies, make new relationships, keep on discovering your self and the world.

"Constantly exhale a steady stream of bubbles, making a gentle "Ahhhh" sound."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ich lerne Deutsch!

That's right, I'm a student once more.

There is a German lady here as a tourist, also volunteer teaching English in one of the elementary schools, and providing community German lessons at night. Her class schedule clashes with my own university English classes, so upon meeting, she agreed to give me individual lessons. Today was my first official German lesson.

It was great! We met at a cafe and she gave me some worksheets and practiced pronunciation, very patiently, I might add! The best part is that one of my English students was talking to us and asked Monica, my German teacher, how I was as a student. It was hilarious, but a good point. This experience to start again at square one in learning a new language will help remind me how my students feel, even though they are about the same level as I am in Spanish. Perhaps I will also review some ways of studying and teaching, bringing them to my English students.

But wait, you might wonder, are you already "fluent" in Spanish? Oh heavens no! I have Intermediate, conversational, informally-acquired, Spanglish speaking ability. I have a long way to go. But, as with many things we seek to spend our time learning, I have hit a learning plateau.

People don't correct me when I make mistakes. I spend equal parts of my day speaking English and Spanish. I know what I need to know to live how I live, so I don't seem to be learning as many new words and phrases as when I first arrived here. Obviously.

Something I read about for this specific situation, is to seek out other ways to practice (such as a fluent Spanish-speaking German tourist). Another was to pick up another language. They suggested that understanding a new language may help you to see patterns and common problems in how you learn, let alone the technical components of similar languages, like Spanish and German.

To make things even more interesting, Monica is teaching me German, by using and comparing it to Spanish. After the basic German lesson, we get to know each other by conversing in Spanish. I told her that since my Spanish is far from perfect, it's more like "Spanglish": a crude mixture of English and Spanish. So while we are learning in such a different approach, it's like learning "Germish": a mix of Spanish and German.

Yes, I hope to pick up a little German, improve my Spanish, and to more importantly make a new friend.

She is older, a CELTA-qualified English and German teacher, who has also worked for years as a tour guide for German passengers through-out Spanish-speaking countries, as well as many countries in Africa. Tall and slender, dark blonde and very down-to-earth, she reminds me of Jane Goodall.

So now I speak English, Spanish, and German. / Yo hablo inglés, español, y alemán. / Ich spreche Englisch, und Spanisch, und Deutsch.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's a Twister!

The hot season is winding down here in San Cristóbal, and the weather is getting cooler. Back in the United States, however, spring is wilting in the heat of summer, and suffering through Tornado Season.

Being from Kansas, I've tried to explain the concept of Tornado Alley and it's wrath to my students. Usually they are not impressed.

I grew up in a location that I witnessed at least one tornado nearly each year. That being said, I was in awe of tornados. I respected them but was somehow never afraid of them. I was blessed to never have lost anything or anyone to a "twister."

Now, as I read about this season's tragedies throughout the Midwest, my thoughts go out to those who lost their homes, their families, their comforts and securities. It's in the response of any disaster, that the true face of man appears: the concerned neighbor, the helpful friend, the courageous stranger, the selfless rescuer. To me, this is the raw heart of humanity in action.

And while storm-chasing doesn't appeal to me, perhaps following behind in the path of where a tornado has touched down would prove more full of compassion and faith and love.

Destruction clears the way for newness, for change, for growth.

May these communities find calm during the storm and a peace which follows behind the dark clouds.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Science of "Want"

I love the life I live. Don't get me wrong. I am an adult and I whole-heartedly admit to the constant decisions that I make which thereby create my own reality. I get it.

So why is it that when I hear about what other people are doing, I tend to whine, I wanna do that!?

I recently heard from a few classmates from college, who after long-ish periods of doing seemingly nothing (nothing worth writing about, anyway) in the States, they have broken free once more to travel in Latin America and throughout the world.

They are riding buses and taking trains. They are rock climbing and surfing and hiking and sleeping in unexpected dwellings. They are trying new foods and recommendations by other travelers. They are just passing through.

Another friend wrote a few days back and told me the tale full of twists and turns of how her life is falling into absolute perfection, needs are being met miraculously (I don't use that term loosely) and she is the happiest that I have ever known this constantly happy woman to be.

Meanwhile, here in my own paradise, no news is good news. I have regular daily habits, I have routine. And while this brings Comfort and Security, it also drags along it's dull triplet, Boredom.

I haven't traveled to or visited a new place in a very long time. My outlet for new activities (and newness in general) is finite. I try constantly to make my classes fresh and fun, while mixing it up for my own benefit, as well, because otherwise, I'm bored. And if I'm bored, guess who stopped listening and started texting long ago (students!)? My search for my next teaching contract has been a little daunting and disappointing, so far.

I am combating these feelings of staleness and underachievement, by reminding myself that I have plenty of projects and endeavors still in this place. By telling myself to continue enjoying the moment, because when things do change, they generally don't stop, and there you are, reminiscing about the "Salad Days" of yesteryear.

So I will continue to be genuinely happy for my friends, and keep enjoying the stillness of these moments. Where time has slowed and the messiness of life has seemed to settle, like muddy water in a jar, to reveal understanding with crystal clarity.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Seasons Change

While at home spring is just now beginning to, you know, spring, here in San Cristobal, the hot season is winding down and we are creeping into the rainy season. Let me define these terms: "hot season" usually peaks at around 95 degrees F, demanding a fan to stir the heavy air even at night. The mosquitoes are thick and the sun seems to be directly overhead, even early hours of the morning. It's amazing. I don't think I can ever survive in a cold climate again, this is where I belong!

The "rainy season" is slightly cooler, an average daily temp of somewhere around 70. The skies tend to be grey and hazy, garua or mist comes and goes day and night. The ocean's temperature drops, and by drops, I mean the Humboldt Current from Antarctica is what arrives on the beaches, so swimmers need a wet suit. In the evening you need a jacket, possibly shoes, and a blanket on the bed. Forget the fan and close the windows while you're at it.

Tourist and surfer season have died down. Mi compañera, Liz Conn, returned to the States, having finished her teaching term here at GAIAS. Tomorrow is the inauguration of a gigantic laboratory built by UNC Chapel Hill.

The weather is changing, the water is changing, the people are always changing. It's all just a big wheel, isn't it? Always moving, sometimes moving so quickly, other times you can't even notice the progress.

So instead of quoting a children's writer, (if you know me, you know how much I abhor this saying), I will just take a moment to be grateful for all that has came and went, while looking with bright eyes toward what comes next.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Meditations on Madness

I feel myself going a little bit crazy lately. A lot is happening and I've been letting my heart be sloppy and sappy and losing pieces all over the place, like shiny little trails left behind by slugs.

Nothing is perfect. No one is perfect. Life will never be perfect. I am a work in progress and that is a blessing.

That being said, I have allowed myself to be so let down and disappointed and hurt by things and people that I can't control and mopey and sad about things that don't even deserve my energy or attention.

So with that being said, I need to find my center again.

I have lost and found myself so many times that I sometimes wonder if I used to be an illusionist in a former life or something. An invisible woman. An escape artist. A woman with a thousand masks.

One can always find some sort of dissatisfaction in life to pick away at absentmindedly and wait for it to fester into something large and powerful. But I really don't have anything in my life that I should be dissatisfied with. Not really even one little thing.

I am surrounded by blessings and amazing people (even people who are not right here with me). My focus has shifted, however, away from this brilliant light and off into the distance where things are unknown.

Bottom line is I'm happy. I live in an incredible place. I am in love with a wonderful man. I have so many opportunities to meet incredible people from all over the world. I love my job. I have people around me who are concerned for my happiness and well-being.

What else do I need?

So I begin to scrape off the muck that I allowed to settle everywhere, to do some spring cleaning. Get rid of a few things, open the windows and let the fresh air sweep away the staleness. Polish the glass so that I can more clearly see what it really is that I'm looking at. So that I won't keep losing the sun, even when there's just a few clouds in the way.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Notes on Reliability

I have always thought of myself as a reliable person. I work hard, I try to never be late, if I make a promise I will do everything I can to keep it. I am loyal and faithful and if I love you, watch out, 'cause you're really gonna get it.

I am constantly heartbroken, however, when the world is not as reliable. I am fully aware of my control issues, thank you very much, but this is a little more specific. When people give their word, I have expectations. Actually, I have extremely high expectations, since your commitment to other people is the most important thing in life, I'm pretty sure.

So anyway, when people let me down, I fall hard. And it takes everything I've got and then some to forgive that person (if I ever do, I'm also aware of my trust issues, thanks).

So, last night was the Earth Day program that I had been planning for a month. It turned out great, mainly because there were a lot of great people helping me out. However, it was truly a blessing that it wasn't a total flop.

The Municipio (basically the City Hall) totally bailed on me last minute. As in, all the help and materials they promised me for the program (giant screen for the Environmental Education presentation and movie, tables and tents, and general volunteers) were instead used in a different program in the main park. A political program, which was encouraging people to vote a certain way next week by offering dancers flown in from the mainland, free booze, and singing. This was the mayor's doing, using public materials for his political agenda.

Secondly, many of the volunteers and anticipated performers bailed, too. There was supposed to be a band (they weren't around), there were supposed to be a small show of giant puppets made from recycled materials (not ready yet), and the Queen of San Cristobal, one of the English students, was supposed to make an appearance and give a short introduction to the program's festivities. Apparently she had better things to do...

So there we were, a small group of gringas and a few locals, reorganizing the schedule, using the two tables (three more were later scrounged up) that were supposed to be eight, hanging hand-painted signs, offering face painting and recycled material arts, and waiting for everyone else to show up.

Luckily, once the few of us donned our costumes made from recycled materials, a few kids happened by and the spirits were soaring.

One little boy, (the little brother of one of my students) was the very first to come. He rode up on his little skate-scooter, his mom following behind him. He was the poster-child for enthusiasm, wanting to know everything about everything that was going on; he got his face painted, participated in the art station, played cardboard frisbee, rode his scooter all over the place, and was surely one of the last to leave almost three hours later.

Vicente, my soon-to-be father-in-law, a natural leader and joker, was happy to take the microphone (when one showed up) and between reggae songs, did the announcements.

After about an hour of arts and general silliness, the bike contest began. Police cones were arranged and around fifteen kids on bikes and skateboards and little scooters participated again and again until the winners were selected. They received adorable books about bike safety, written and donated by the Charles Darwin Foundation. We also awarded them each t-shirts, as we had ample gifts that had been donated from the local agencies and businesses.

A while later, the kids who were in costume took the stage and described their costumes. There was a girl in cardboard mini skirt with matching vest, a boy with karate pants and shirt made from trash bags, two robots, and "organic trash" a boy with a mask and wearing a trash sack. All very original costumes which had obviously been labored on with great care. All were winners, so they also were awarded t-shirts.

Next there was a local naturalist guide who had created a special presentation about the history and importance of Earth Day. Without the screen, we just projected it on the wall and it turned out great.

Finally we had the adult costume contest. This was a very difficult contest, as there were seven of us women who had very eclectic costumes. There were three who had truly gotten into the spirit of a festival and used only recycled materials, while a few others (myself included) had less impressive costumes.

After strutting around on the stage, begging for applause and describing the materials we had used, the winners were picked. Because I had mandated all my students to come, the applause I received put me into third place. I bowed out of the prizes, however, because I felt like the other participants deserved the prizes, while my prize was that everything had finally fallen into place.

Finally we had a local musician sing a new song he had written and played guitar. After that, we thanked everyone for coming, dispersed leftover materials and cleaned up.

My English teacher cohorts and I went out for a celebratory ceviche dinner, after which all but one fell fast asleep.

I am pleased with how the event turned out. Again, it went great, considering how terrible it was destined to turn out. This whole time, they were my ideas of the minga and festival. Everyone was skeptical, few were interested in helping at all. But in the last few days, everything came together.

Nothing could have happened if my very important support group hadn't of believed in me and my ideas for a cultural event, a celebration of the Earth, not just Galapagos. A positive way to celebrate our place in the natural world, instead of so much negativity and accusations like the local population is used to.

At the end of the day, I know that it was my friends and family in this beautiful place that I am able to count on, to support me, to help me, to listen and understand me, to try to play along with whatever random activities I come up with and thrust upon them. It is these people who have shown me a new side of Reliability.

Lean on me, and lean I did. BIG LOVE!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Earth Day!

So Earth Day is quickly approaching, and for someone like me, a Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism degree holder living in Galapagos, this is like the Super Bowl.

I'm organizing a minga (community clean-up day) and festival. I've invited everyone I know. I've approached institutions, agencies, and small businesses to ask for support and donation of materials. I've asked the local and international student groups for help. I've created promotional materials like fliers and Facebook events and will soon be making a spot for the local TV station. All this in my second language, virtually single-handedly.

Not to say that I don't have support. But the cultural differences still astound me, especially coming from a pretty progressive college town. This ain't no Fort Collins.

People are hesitant to commit, hell, they are hesitant to seem interested at times. Politics play a heavy role, and so it's very complicated as to how I can involve which groups and schools and agencies and I must hold formal meetings in the Municipio (City Hall) for everything. Yes, there I sit, with my paper scraps scribbled full of ideas and my Spanish - English dictionary right there on the table. (Somehow, I have been taken somewhat seriously so far, which is nothing short of a miracle.)

What really strikes me is how unresponsive the students have been: both local and international. Again, coming from my niche in a Colorado town, this is the biggest challenge: trying to get the faces of Galapagos, these young leaders who are studying Conservation and Tourism Administration and Evolutionary Biology and the like to be active.

For the festival, I'm offering tables (manned by my English students, of course) for recycled art workshops for kids of all ages. I've been busy all weekend, trying out new ideas and testing the feasibility of making a bank decorated like a whale out of a soda bottle and some paint, for example.

I've also asked the local guides association to put on a short presentation about any topic they wish, keeping in the theme of Earth Day and sustainability and the uniqueness of Galapagos. I've petitioned local musicians to play and I'm searching for the right movie to project on a huge screen (that is if there is no rain)!

The main event is the parade and contest of costumes made from trash and recyclable materials. Prizes will be given away for the best and most creative costumes worn by all ages of participants. I've also been brainstorming my own costume and burning my fingertips with hot glue guns (and yes, I've already stapled my finger once) throwing together these concoctions of beer caps, plastic bags, plastic cups, and milk cartons.

My hope is that the events will be well-received; that everyone can take home something amidst all the hub-bub. A message about sustainability, new ideas for old materials, a new piece of knowledge about this beautiful place, the fun of a festival shared by friends, family, and total strangers, all in this thing together.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bear with Me

So things are getting interesting. Namely, I'm on the brink. The most direct story is: I am changing my life.

I've never really dealt with anything, never confronted my demons, never sat through the pain of something. Maybe it's me, or maybe it's my generation of ADDers, or maybe it's my culture of onward and upward (as quickly as possible), or maybe it's something else. Or maybe it's all of it all crammed into the same messy package. Whatever, it's not important.

During my life, whenever I've fallen on hard times, I've usually skirted the issues. I mean, the real issues.

I've quit hobbies and activities and challenges and jobs and projects whenever I encounter an obstacle. I walk away from people instead of dealing with the hurt, or the real intimacy. I switch schools. I move away. I cut things out of my life like a trim of fat from a steak. And it leaves jagged edges, and it bleeds, but I generally ignore such trauma and fill my focus with something else, but equal to what I just left behind.

So it's happened that in this place, the place that I am the happiest I've ever been in my life (both geographically and emotionally speaking) that all this dusty, spooky shit from my past, is seriously blasting and bubbling out in every direction. Like a fireworks display that's out of control: they zip up and down and left and right and straight into that pile of dry leaves and, you get it...

So I've realized that I must finally sit still (like an adult and everything), and deal with my self.

And it's happening because the timing is right. I'm on a tiny island, in the middle of the world, my obligations are slight and effortless, my safety net is secure and tender...

My mind is relaxed and, let's face it, bored enough, to finally decide it's time to drag out the old boxes of photos and relive each joyful, beautiful, lonely, hateful, depressed, tear-jerking moment of it all.


I promise I'm not losing my mind. Or maybe I am. But whatever. This is happening. And while I know some things are better left alone (and just move on with your life, why don't cha'?), I'm sorry, but I'll be knocking down all these comfortable spider webs and seriously cleaning house.

"First you decide what you've got to do, and then you go out and do it. And maybe the most that we can do, is just to see each other through it."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mi Cariño

Can I just rant about my man? My lover? My best friend?

He lets me speak for myself, and that especially includes trying to express myself with shaky pronunciation and complex grammar.

His usual response to any idea of mine: "It's OK; If you want it, just do it."

He tells me he'll wait for me, wherever I need to go, whatever I feel compelled to do. He asks me to just enjoy the time that I want to stay here with him, and leave when I need to.

He never makes pressure on me for any reason.

He cooks for me. He brings me treats and take out.

He puts up with the scorching sun, while I bask like a crab, brushing sand off my cheek and shoulders.

He always lets me go out with the girls, or alone, if that's what I want.

He sings love songs to me, along with the radio.

He rubs my back better than I can rub his.

He is genuinely interested in my life, and the lives of my family and friends.

He kindly stays out of my way when I am upset or angry, witnessing that he has three sisters and he knows...

He laughs at nearly everything and can make me laugh almost always.

He holds me when I can't laugh, and wipes tears away from my eyes.

He welcomes me into his family and with his friends.

He tells me that he's proud to be with me, that he loves the way that I am...

I am so lucky and grateful to experience this love, to have the opportunity to feel such love for another. Thank you, baby.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Things That Make Life Worth Living

Family. Extended family. Adopted family. Friends you've known forever. Friends you'll only hang with for a short time. Freshly baked bread. Organic bananas on the stem. Puppies that wear purple plastic necklaces, so you'll know it's a female. Juice every color of the rainbow. Snorkeling and getting chased by sea lions. Learning new things, like slang phrases in new languages. Stepping over the line of comfort and outta your shell. Startling sightings of exotic birds. Washing laundry by hand and drying it on the line. Teaching barefoot. Kissing the person I love good morning, good afternoon, good night, and everything in between. Chocolate milk. Mail from distant loved ones. Summer clothes all year long. New books. Juicy watermelon. After lunch naps in hammocks. Frozen treats to beat the heat. Phrases like "hot season." Accents spoken by beautiful people from distant lands. Strangers who smile. Emerald waters. Riding waves. Swimming until you can't swim anymore. Dancing in over-packed discos. Watching the stars. Comfortable silences. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves. Waking up to the sound of hard rain. Eating great food while watching soccer games. Little baby laughs. Having good health. Travel plans. Music gifts of new artists from friends. Forgetting how old you are. Sun and surf. Ceviche and popcorn and chifles. Tiny sweet mangos from the tree in your front yard. Sea kayaking. Laughing at everything the day brings. Journaling like no other. Finding yourself at peace. Knowing how good you've got it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Mudda

My mom turns 60 today. And it breaks my heart that I can't be in person to celebrate with her, but being the wonderful compassionate and understanding mother that she is, she doesn't tell me that she's heartbroken that I'm not there, either.

My mother has always been an inspiration to me, more than because of what she's accomplished, but her consistency. Her generosity exceeds all, her kindness and the world's best laugh are enough to win anyone over. She is always thinking of others, even in her Alone Time. I know this, because she's told me.

Since my teen years, we have gotten over so much, and have since been able to truly accept each other for who she is and to love the other unconditionally. She is my very best friend.

From her I have my laugh, smile and too-thick hair. My love to cook and dance and plan and sew and read and teach and try new things were all gifts she gave me.

In my darkest moments, when no one else "gets me," I know it's my mom who will come the closest in trying to.

Happy Birthday Mom, I love you. Te amo. Ich liebe dich. Canda munani. Je t'aime. Ti amo.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


If the opportunity to live in this amazing place weren't enough benefits, there are plenty of perks that come along with an English-teaching position at the university. For example, I get a breakfast buffet every morning, even the weekends, if I feel the desire to come in the mornings. Internet service, although unreliable and slow (it's this way everywhere on the island), is at least free. There is a decent book exchange for us nerds who like books, lots of books. I get to meet and make connections with superb professors and doctors, usually native Ecuadorians, as well as googles of international students and volunteers. Next week the semester group arrives and I've decided that I will take the Evolutionary Biology classes with them, for free. There are also outings and trips with these student groups.

Recently, I got to go on a six-hour boat trip to Isla Lobos and Leon Dormido to snorkel. Gear and lunch and snacks were included. All for free. It's not so expensive to arrange this trip on your own, but it never happens often, since there is a minimum number of passengers needed, guide fees, etc. The other teacher and I were fortunate to be allowed to join a small student group who was studying geology and evolution in Ecuador and the Galapagos. So on top of the spiel we heard from our friendly guide, we also heard some insight from the two professors.

I saw my first jellyfish at Isla Lobos, although not much else, other than sea lions, obviously. At Leon Dormido, we circled the towering rock formation twice, then snorkeled through the channel twice. The current was calm and still, and the water pretty clear. The first run I saw several Galapagos sharks, although they were swimming close to the sea bed, at that area around 47 feet. I spotted a few Pacific sea turtles, and fists full of fishes.

After we exited the channel, we loaded back up on the boat and went around to drop off at the same spot, because swimming with the current is so much more enjoyable. The second swim was much more exciting, as black-tipped reef sharks were swimming only a few feet below and around us! Then we swam on the outside of the rock, the sea bed nowhere in sight, only the sunshine like columns in the aqua water. As we returned to Puerto Bacquerizo Moreno, we saw in the distance, a few dolphins jumping over the waves. A perfect ending to a perfect day.

Not too bad considering I'd still do this job without any of the above-mentioned. My students are great, funny, interesting, and dedicated. I tell them that my goal is for them to have fun while learning English, and maybe that's why they are so open-minded to the silly games and creative projects that I thrust upon them.

People always say about work: do something that you love; but shouldn't this be true of everything we do? Do it all with love?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Odds and Ends

I washed an apron that my grandmother gave me, and wondered when was the last time it had been scrubbed by hand. It is drying on the line, in the fresh sea breeze.

I went swimming yesterday, and as I first dipped my toes into the tide, a baby sea lion rode the wave ashore and flopped over to me and kissed my leg with it's mouth. It felt like the muzzle of a dog, whiskers and all.

I ate chocolate today, only because it was melting and needed to be gotten rid of.

I am typing up the lyrics for the first song I'll present to my class this week, "Stand By Me," the acoustic version by John Lennon. I decided to set a goal of singing a song in Spanish at a karaoke bar by my birthday.

I walked with the other teacher all the way to Loberia and back, because we were in too deep a conversation to jog, as planned.

I played "Telephone" with my classes today and found out just how big of giggle-boxes they really are. (Huge.)

My word of the day is, "la caseta de perro" which means doghouse or kennel. Dogs here run free, or are tied to stakes, or are barricaded on top of the roof so as to stay out of trouble.

I decided to take Evolutionary Biology classes starting next month with the international semester students. For free and for fun.

My makeshift garden has one surviving tomato plant, lemon grass, aloe, three pepper plants, and some basil. Oh, and the mango tree is coming along nicely, as well.

I have yet to buy fresh bread from my favorite panederia, because I know I won't be able to resist those chocolate-iced and filled doughnuts.

I have pictures and postcards and my new calendar from my nephew plastered to the side of the dresser. And some of my signature 'look-up-the-tree-trunk" pictures.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Everything Is Round

I made it back to Quito last night! After nearly twenty hours of airline travel, layovers and connections, the first thing I did was sleep for twelve hours. It was some of the best sleep of my life. While traveling such long distances, I yearn for a bed above all else. Oh, to sleep in a horizontal position! Not in a constant state of motion, no children kicking the back of your seat, no turbulence, no constant announcements over intercoms, and not having to take all my bags with me when I go to the bathroom. Just peace and pillows and the cat-like stretching of my toes.

I had a wonderful month in Kansas with my family, friends, and relatives, though I didn't get to see everyone I had hoped. I di, however, get to eat amazing BBQ and make beer with my dad and see my nephew on his 3rd birthday and visit my grandmother twice and play with my cousins and get too many documents done and taken care of and cook and bak until I got burnt out and have long talks over coffee and go bowling and watch basketball. This may not sound like much to you, but to me it meant the moon and more.

Saying goodbye to everyone this time was more difficult because it was so different. Things have once more changed. I am to get married soon, I have a new contract with the university, I don't know when I will come home again. And while I try to keep in my mind the thought that every day lived could be your last, it is unspeakably strange and heartbreaking to create a worthy farewell. I am terrible at it. I do one of two things: either I bawl and blubber like a snotty-nosed kid, I cling and I whimper and I stain loved ones shoulders with mascara. Or, I try to remain in control of my tear ducts and appear totally indifferent, unconnected and therefore ingenuine. I would prefer something that lies in the middle of this wildly swinging pendulum. So it goes...

My unexpected trip home was meant to happen, or at least that's what I tell myself of everything, in order to feel grateful for the opportunity to learn from the situation. It put me close to my family for the holidays, it allowed me to get some things in order that I have been needing to do, it enabled me an opportunity to see how my relationships have changed with friends and family back home, and to take that into account.

People grow and change, there is no stopping them. It is like trying to forbid the leaves from turning into such vibrant colors, and then lazily falling to the ground where they will crisp, crumble, and mulch. Such is the way of life and who would want to stop such a beautiful thing?

That said, I am beyond grateful for all the wonderful people who are still in my life. For those of you who are no longer, I will miss you and I wish you the best.

For everyone who helped me (even those of you who think you didn't, let me assure you that you did indeed) I want to thank you with everything I've got. I am not nearly as independent as I'd like to think I am. I am like a spider, held up by a web of unconditional love and support in every sense of the word.