Monday, September 28, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle!

... or perhaps more accurately, welcome to the transitional Cloud Forest!

Last weekend, the entire group set out for our first retiro (retreat) to SierrAzul, an enormous nature sanctuary, dedicated to protecting the Cloud Forest from deforestation and poachers. It's located about 40 minutes (via semi-uncomfortable camioneta ride) outside of the town of Baeza and about 2.5 hours away from Tena, where the rain forest begins. Its location between the mountains and the rain forest gives it a unique feel and makes it home to a few cool animals like the spotted bear, puma, and the tapir (which is apparently the size of a cow... who knew?!).

We made our way out to the sanctuary on Friday after a wakeup call at the ripe hour of 6am (which I, at least, had not seen in quite some time), 1 van ride, 2 bus rides, 1 (severely cramped) camioneta ride, and a 30 minute walk. Basically we were out in the middle of nowhere... and it was wonderful.

Once we arrived, we took the rest of Friday to relax and go on a short hike... and prepared for our big excursion. Saturday was the day of THE hike. What kind of hike, you might be asking yourself... it was a 14 kilometer, 7.5-hour hike to a waterfall. We were up and ready to go by 9am on Saturday morning, with our beautifully enormous rain boots (except for Erik and Chet, whose feet were unfortunately too big, but were troopers and stomped through the knee-deep mud in tennis shoes and Chacos!), and backpacks stocked with water, snacks and rain gear.

The hike was wonderful. It gave us time to talk to each other, time for personal reflection, and an opportunity to experience the beauty of unaltered nature. Additionally, we learned how to remove ourselves from knee-deep mud pits, face plant with grace, and drink water from the river (seriously). We returned to the cabin area around 5:30 - just in time to take HOT showers with phenomenal water pressure (they actually steamed!), eat dinner, and play countless rounds of Catch Phrase and Phase 10... until they shut off the generator and made us go to bed. (Thankfully, Krysta brought her Wonder Woman cape. I'm not sure we would have survived without it...)

On Sunday, we slept in, ate a big breakfast, and hiked/drove our way out of the sanctuary, back into civilization and back to work!

Last weekend was the perfect first retiro... thanks to Shawn and Bibi for all of the planning! (And a special thanks for all of the frosted Galapaguitos and chochos!) I'm excited to see what our next group traveling adventure will bring.

Thanks for checking in,

Erik and Chet can barely contain their excitement on the bus!

This is where we stayed! Pretty sweet, eh?

Hiking through the forest

Haley stops to take in the view

Drinking spring water from the river
(gross, Krysta...)

Group shot in the river (please note the super cute boots)

4 hours later - we made it to the waterfall!

Shawn checks out the cascada

The group at the base of the waterfall

The view after emerging from the forest

Playing Phase 10 until they shut off the generator...
Thank goodness Krysta thought ahead and brought her cape.

Group shot before heading out on Sunday morning - clearly there were some focusing issues... :)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Balancing Act

Today's guest blog comes from Miss Haley Booe (pronounced like boo, not booey). Haley hails from North Carolina and the hookie-infested Virginia Tech University. She's well known around here for being a Tai Chi enthusiast, enjoying toast, introducing us to Step Up (1 and 2), and having a huge supportive heart. For example if you check out the group Women's Exercise picture below you can catch a glimpse of one of her motivational signs that reads 'believe in yourself, you can do it!'

"Life in the Manna House, as you might have already guessed, is a bit like a circus. It may be due to the fact that once a week there is food in someone’s hair by the end of dinner, but recently, I’m convinced it’s because many of us have been perfecting a balancing act in regard to programs.

My time in Ecuador thus far has been concentrated on the Women’s Exercise program. Recently, we moved locations to the third floor of the library. This was an exciting move for us, because now we have our own space and a chance to further network within the library community. On the other hand, we’ve also been having a difficult time with attendance, and trying to figure out how to boost our numbers. One culprit could be the Ecuadorian fear that all foreigners have swine flu. And since my pale (almost translucent at this point) skin and light hair scream “Gringa,” people might be running in the opposite direction for that reason. As plausible as that theory sounds, I think it’s more likely caused by the fact that the past two months have been a transition period, both in the Manna House and in our Ecuadorian communities. Many people spend August and early September soaking up the last days of summer by taking family vacations and are busy doing what us Spanglish-speaking gringos call matriculando-ing (Spanglish for “matricular” or registering for school). Now that school is back in session, and that we’ve made phone calls to over 70 women who have previously attended exercise classes, attendance is slowly picking up. The women who attend class regularly are great, and I am excited and ready to see this program grow this year.

Aside from learning how to do guided meditation in Spanish for yoga class (apparently a class favorite… who knew?) I’ve recently been helping with lesson planning for English. I am helping Chet teach Adult English on Wednesdays and am starting to help Sarah with Children’s English on Mondays. The nutrition program for Aliñambi also requires some time, as several of us spent mornings going to the school to take growth measurements on each of the students. It’s very exciting to be a part of these different programs, and it’s looking to be a promising year.

Understandably, it takes a bit of juggling and a lot of planning to prepare for and teach many different classes - hence why I often feel like I’m a part of the circus. But then again, it could be that I’m woken up most mornings by the cow (whose grunts more closely resemble those of a dinosaur) that likes to graze outside of our window. Although the chaos of the Manna house and the flexibility required to run programs sometimes resembles a Barnum and Bailey’s three ring stage, Ecuador is becoming my home and I’m thrilled to be a part of a these communities.
Haley strengthening her core with a smile

Sonia, me and one of the other women doing yoga

Haley leading us into Meditation

Group picture after last Thursday's Yoga class

¡Hasta pronto!
- Haley "

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Vamos a La Selva!

Today's guest blog was supposed to come from Miss birthday Booe, Haley herself (HAPPY BIRTHDAY HALEY!!!)... however, we all just spent the last 2+ celebrating by gorging ourselves at Crepes y Waffles (a delicious non-Ecuadorian establishment).  The average course went a little something like this: ice cream, salad, personal dinner crepe, shared and/or personal desert, followed by homemade cake.  If that doesn't induce food coma, I'm not sure what would.  

We're also leaving for SierrAzul, an ecological reserve in the cloud forest with over 2,000 hectares of virgin forest, in t-minus 7 hours.  This will be the first of our quarterly retreats and we are super excited!  So, my apologies for this haphazard blog entry and our lack of a guest blog but we promise to deliver an entry from Haley and a detailed account of our retreat after the weekend (and on time!)

Chet is a good sport as the girls from the library "dress him up" after art class

Part of the table at dinner (we unsuccessfully tried to get the whole table)

Group shot after dinner (sorry if you're one of the members of the dart game)

Haley with her lemon poppyseed (minus poppyseed) desert #3

Have a great weekend! 
- Jackie

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Result of Writer's Block

"Writer's block is a condition, associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work."  Thank you, Wikipedia.  I don't quite know whether being a co-author of a (semi) Daily Life Blog counts as being a professional writer (I'm leaning towards no on that one), but I do know that I happen to be suffering from writer's block.  What has happened recently?  Any funny stories?  Ridiculous happenings?  Interesting breakthroughs?  What do people actually want to read about?  Nothing... I'm coming up with nothing.

This is not to say nothing has been going on in Manna World recently.  In fact, it's been quite the opposite.  We have all been throwing ourselves into planning and running programs, keeping up with operational jobs (or maybe not keeping up so well if you call yourself a blog writer...), attending marathon meetings, and trying to plan some time for ourselves.  Throughout all of this, it's becoming apparent that the small things are often the most exciting... to us, at least.  Today's (small) excitement was...

... a mailbox run.  Our post office box (or Casillero to those of you who are awesome and have been writing us letters) is located in Sangolqui, which is located a bus ride away from Conocoto, and doesn't have the most convenient hours.  This means that we only check it once every few weeks, or when our friendly post office worker calls the house to tell a lucky someone that he/she received a package that is too big to fit in the actual post office box.  (This is a highly coveted phone call.  Trust me.)  Needless to say, it's always exciting to be one of the lucky few to receive a letter in the mail.  This week's mail included several cards that were written nearly a month ago (love the Ecuadorian correos) and a birthday package to Haley complete with several packages of powered cheese from the treasured Kraft Blue Box.  Real cheese doesn't exist here... so we settle for the orange powder from home.  (Kind of gross, I know.)  Like I said, it's the small things.

Haley shows off her powdered cheese collection... while I remain skeptical.

Yep.  That was an entire post on writer's block and mail runs... which clearly means it is time for bed.  Check in for a guest blog from Haley tomorrow and a recap of our first group retreat early next week!  (And HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO HALEY! ... as I'm officially posting this on Thursday!)

Until Monday,

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Advertising Antics

When you're starting up a handful of new programs, excessive advertising comes with the territory.  Planning for classes, charlas, mingas, and health clinics takes a ton of time and we certainly want to make sure we have successful event turn outs.  In order to make this happen, we are on our way to mastering various types of advertising strategies.  Some are pretty straightforward: making posters, handing out flyers to community members and library kids, and attending as many community-based meetings as possible (churches, town councils, futbol leagues etc.).  

There are also some more non-traditional methods.  One of them involves hopping on buses and having one person give a presentation while the other puts up flyers at the front of the bus; so far Erik and Mike have mastered the art of bus advertising while the rest of us stick to less intimidating methods.  However, starting next week I will be participating in three days of advertising via riding around on a Camioneta shouting into a megaphone about the details of our very first Minga, set for the third of October.  

Erik and I have collaborated to co-lead a community clean up in Rumiloma.  It's a perfect combination as he is in charge of organizing Mingas (an Ecuadorian word for people coming together to do community service projects) and I am running the environmental programs.  Litter is a huge problem in our community as people are accustomed to simply throwing trash, from water bottles to candy wrappers, all over the streets.  Many community members approached us both in the library and at one of the town meetings last week about this issue and wanting public trash cans.  We've also created a friendly competition between library kids to give them incentives to come to the clean up.  Hopefully we'll be able to use this time to talk with interested people about improving waste management and mitigation for our community. 

I'll keep you updated about how the telefoneo incident goes (and of course about the clean up itself);  I think I'll be spending the next week taking notes on the Camionetas drive down our streets yelling things like "el gas el gas el gas" and "escobas escobas... escobas."  

- Jackie 

Monday, September 21, 2009

Learning to Teach

Everything here is a learning experience.  Literally everything.  I was a science major in college, which basically means that I learned how to memorize and regurgitate large lists of information.  My only worry was how I was going to cram all of it into my brain before the exam.  I never had to think about how others learn, or how to effectively teach someone else.

... until last Monday.

That was the first day of programs.  And for me, the first day of Children's English.  My first day as a teacher.  Thank goodness Dana is my Children's English partner-in-crime, because I'm fairly certain that without her, the first class would have amounted to me standing in front of a bunch of kids like a deer in headlights.  We anticipated having only a handful of kids show up for the first day of class, as word-of-mouth seems to be the primary source of information around here (and it is neither rapid nor entirely reliable).  So when 8 kids showed up, pencils in hand, we were pleasantly surprised.  Throughout the course of the week, parents walked into the library, kids in tow, and asked to have them enrolled in Children's English.  By the end of the week, we had a total of 20 kids... the most we've ever had enrolled in a program in the library space.

Seeing the third floor turned into a classroom every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon has been exciting, rewarding... and slightly overwhelming.  We recently decided to split the class into two, in order to give our students more attention and lessons that better fit their abilities.  And thanks to the help our fellow PDs have offered, we will have twice the number of profes!  (Seriously.  Mil gracias!)  We're hoping that with this new arrangement the kids in Children's English will learn more effectively and retain more information.

Now, instead of pulling all-nighters to cram for the next big neuroscience exam, my nights are spent thinking about how our 9 youngest students learn best and researching engaging learning activities, in order to tailor lessons to best suit them.  It is certainly a learning experience... but it is also a welcome change of pace - thinking about others instead of myself.  And a good reminder of why we chose to come to Ecuador in the first place.

Thanks for checking in!

PS. Sorry things have been a little slow in the blog world... we're adjusting to our new schedules, and it seems we're all playing catch-up around here.  Here's to an attempt at consistency!  :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fundraisers, Infomercials and Futbol

It might sound like these three topics don't mesh well together, but that, in chronological order, is exactly how we spent our weekend.  Mid-afternoon on Saturday we headed to a fundraiser for the church of Rumiloma.  The building had been knocked down sometime last year and the community has been slowly renovating it, but unable to get very far due to lack of funds.  As we walked into the courtyard and found a half dozen tents, a full band on a covered stage, and some of our favorite library kids running up to greet us.  We wandered through the crowd, some of us ordering Cuy while others watched a clown sporting over-sized plastic American flag shoes sing to a woman for her 100th birthday  (and shamelessly point out the ten gringos lingering in the background). 

Being greeted by some kids in the community

Watching the impressive (and well dressed!) band

Mike and Chet enjoy their cuy (a.k.a. guinea pig, an Ecuadorian delicacy) 

After stuffing ourselves with cuy and chochos we caught a bus into Quito to scalp some futbol tickets.  Although we're accustomed to people hopping on buses and sell everything from Bon Ice to historical dvds (guilty of buying both), the man that hopped on our bus had a talent that most lack.  I'm not sure if it was his thought-provoking riddles or straight up charm, but he somehow convinced at least half of the people on our bus, including Krysta, to buy a family indestructible tiny Snoopy keychains.  How do we know they were destructible, you might ask?  The salesman threw it on the bus floor (lick any of those lately to avoid going to Jersey, Seth?) and stomped all over it to demonstrate.  

A clan of snoopies... enough said.

The rest of us were happy to spend our allowance on futbol tickets, avoiding the ploys of a Billy Mays in the making.  La Liga Deportiva, the club team we've become partial to, played against el Deportivo de Quito.  Though our team lost 3-0, we thoroughly enjoyed waving around Liga flags and jumping around with the rest of the fans and chanting "esta noche tenemos que ganar!" (at least that's the only part of the cheer I remember). 

Liga fans loyally chanting for their team 

The girls attempt to chime in with the fight songs
Until next time, 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teen Center Goals and Vision

(Today's guest blog was written by Mr. Mike Gabrys. Mike is famous - to me, at least - for making sure people don't fall down Pichincha when hiking, and for holding the in-house record for longest time sporting a mustache... out of the boys, of course. Enjoy!)

Mike playing a game of "piedritas" with Gisela

"I'm Mike, the fifth guest blogger. I hale from Northville, Michigan, which is a suburb of Detroit. After spending the last six years at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, I have developed an appetite for live country music that I'm finding difficult to satiate here. I like to run, ride my bike, eat toast, and beat Erik in chess.

This year, I'll be working with the library program with Jackie, and the Teen Center with Shawn. As Jackie has given you some insight into the direction the
library is headed, I'm going to focus on the Teen Center.

As you hopefully already know, this past weekend we had a back-to-school party for Teen Center. All the arrangements- music, speakers, snacks, decorations, and publicity- were handled by the teens themselves. This not only made our job easier (after all, I'm still struggling with the language) but also allowed the teens to take ownership of the party, which contributes to fulfilling the goals of the Teen Center. For awhile Shawn and I doubted if the teens would pull through, but in the end, everything worked out.

The teen center serves as a place where older youth in our communities to socialize, free of the influences of alcohol.  The Teen Center also seeks to develop teens as leaders, offer supplemental educational opportunities, and integrate neighborhood cliques. A major component of this is the Teen Board. The board is in charge of planning events and outings, like the party last weekend; selecting topics for panel discussions we will have later in the year; and opening the Teen Center when a profe isn't there. The members are selected by peers to represent the different groups that come to the center.

This year we hope to build on the success of last year and the work of Seth and previous PDs by making the space more engaging for teens.  This includes having more things to do, more ways to interact with one another, and offering this space as a safe place to talk about issues facing teenagers.  This will take some time, but as we've seen already, the teens can pull together and accomplish the task if they've set their minds to it.

Along with the library, we are writing a grant proposal for furniture, magazine subscriptions, and stimulative games. Additional items we would appreciate are on our Wishlist; we continually add to it, so check back often.

The past few weeks have afforded everybody in the house an opportunity to meet and get to know the teens. They are a great group, and I look forward to updating their progress throughout the year.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Manna Discotec, Arriba!

This past Saturday night, co-teen center gurus Shawn Fagan and Mike Gabrys put on a successful back to school event for the jovenes in our community.  They decided to make it pretty much entirely run by the teens, from the music selections, to purchasing food, to advertising.  In order to plan for the event, the two weeks previous were filled with nightly meetings in the teen center and afternoons of aspiring DJs uploading music onto our library computers.  They decided to utilize the space above our library, deemed ¨the third floor¨ for lack of a better name, which is used for various classes during the week. 

After an invigorating day of climbing churches and attending soccer games in the community, the rest of us popped into the teen center to help out and bust some moves.  As we walked into the front door of our building all we could hear was the repetative¨oomst oomst¨of the base from above.  At first, kids were scattered between the second and third floors, a little unsure of what to do (probably pretty frightened by six gringo girls, standing in a circle and re-enacting women's exercise moves). But soon enough, with a little nudge from a light dimmer, all of the kids made their way to the dance floor. 

Dry erase boards point the jovenes in the right direction

Our two master DJs for the evening

Mike and Chet talk to the teens as they walk in

Christian, one of the teens, teaches us girls how to Salsa

Overall the event was a huge success, giving teens the freedom to plan their own party and most importantly, giving them a safe space to socialize on a Saturday night.  For more information about the teen center's plans for the upcoming year, tune into on Thursday for a guest blog by Mr. Mike Gabrys (or as the kids refer to him, prof. mickey mouse). 


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Our Saturday Adventure

Yesterday, 5 of the MPIE girls decided to spend Saturday reliving their days in Quito as tourists by climbing to the top of the infamous Basilica in Centro Historico. After an overcrowded ride in the Ecovia, a missed stop (my bad...), and lots of spiral staircases and ladders, we made it to the top. And the view definitely didn't disappoint. Here's a small glimpse into our tacky tourist lives as seen by the MannaCam (who still remains nameless).

MPIE girls select the "boy band pose" in front of the stained glass window. Solid choice, team.

Jackie, Sonia, Krysta and Haley check out the view after the first set of stairs

Sonia takes a breather after the last ladder on the floor that resembles chicken wire.
(It's more sturdy than that, I promise)

Me looking out over the ledge from the top of one of the spires

Climbing the next set of ladders to the belfry

The view from the bottom of the ladder - gargoyles and the beautiful sky

Haley checks out the graffiti at the top of the belfry
PS. Happy Anniversary Haley and Dave! :)

The group at the end - sufficiently tired and ready to trek back to the valley

Now off to get some work done before the weekly 3M (Monday Morning Meeting)... Programs start tomorrow! Exciting days ahead!

Thanks for checking in,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Un Abrazo de Marco

Apologies for skipping a post yesterday.. we've been spending our post-dinner evenings learning about each other's life maps, which is usually prime blogging time.  Life maps are basically an account of anything and everything important that has happened to you, from birth to present.  It's become something we really look forward to as each PDs recounts a detailed picture of how we all ended up here in Ecuador.  

More details on that to follow, but for now, here is a parting guest blog from none other than Mr. Mark Hand, our former Country Director.  We miss you Mark, and hope your road trip is going well! 

"To my dear friends and family:

After two years in Ecuador with Manna Project International, I’ve hung up my cleats. I have landed safely in Shreveport, had my first (and tenth) Southern Maid Donut, my first encounter with an old Magnet High schoolmate in Barnes and Noble, and begun slowly to relearn the rules of the American road. I leave my work in Ecuador in the capable hands of Bibi Al-Ebrahim, a former Peace Corps Volunteer and Tulane public health graduate who replaced me as Ecuador Country Director last month.

At the close of this two-year journey, I want to thank you and your family for your gracious support of a project you may have understood only in vague terms when it began. Admittedly, when I first asked for your help in the summer of 2007, I had only a rough outline of how I would spend the next two years of my life. Your confidence inspired and challenged me to make these two years count and pushed me along in more difficult moments.

I would like to take the opportunity to describe how your donations and my time in Ecuador were spent. Upon first landing, MPI-E’s founding team inherited a skeletal mission: to create a community of young volunteers who would live in service to a "community in need" in the developing world. We were invited to work in a valley southeast of Ecuador’s capital, Quito. We began slowly, with an after-school program and English courses.

Very quickly, we had to discard many of the assumptions we brought with us to Ecuador. This was a lower-class community, to be sure, but children were not starving. The neighborhoods of San Francisco, Rumiloma and Tena were full of people already working to better their own communities. What constructive role could a handful of young, eager, Spanish-learning Americans play here?

Our answer was simple: we could build up, connect and support those Ecuadorian institutions, networks and people already in action. We set to work connecting a locally owned cooperative to microfinance training; we began talks with a school/foster home to open a health clinic; we helped a teacher and entrepreneur develop his English curriculum. The shift from talking about communities in terms of ‘need’ to talking about them in terms of assets and resources allowed us to see people as actors rather than clients.

Missing in our grand new scheme, however, was a sensitivity to the valley’s edifices of trust and power. After a year and half, we were still an unknown quantity: the nice gringos who taught kids’ classes in the community center, but little more. In communities where traditional ideas of trust (confianza) and authority run deep, the library and teen-center which we launched in March of 2009 granted us the presence necessary to approach larger institutions, provided a platform for building personal relationships, and created spaces in which to experiment with educational programming – like our art class, one result of which I’ve included with this letter.

The library and teen center have met enormous success, even as Bibi’s new crop of volunteers determines their role in the valley’s development. For my part, I leave Ecuador having learned how to be a plumber, mediator, volunteer coordinator, librarian, US embassy warden, disciplinarian, and entrepreneur. My own path remains an open question. I’ll be traveling in the US for two months to visit old friends and am looking toward graduate school in 2011. The last two years have prepared me for just about anything, an opportunity for which I thank you all dearly!

Un abrazo (A warm embrace),

Mark Hand" 

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Interview the Executive Director: Lori Scharffenberg

Finally, after several empty promises and many hours with my new boyfriend, iMovie, I am proud to announce that Lori's interview is complete! But before I unveil this gem, let me give a few prefaces...

1. Please ignore the random background noise, which includes (but is not limited to): children screaming outside, my housemates screaming inside, doors slamming, rain pouring, and dogs barking. Welcome to the joy of living in a house that echoes like none-other.
2. Yes, I know the screen is kind of (ok, more like really) dark. I positioned Lori with perfect back lighting... which apparently is NOT ideal for things like video and pictures. Everything seems to be a learning experience around here.
3. And yes, I am also aware that there is a smudge on the screen. Yet another tactical error. I'll work on it for next time.

But even with all of my mistakes, Lori managed to give a super interview. So check it out!

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions! And thanks to Lori for putting up with me! :)

Hope you're having a wonderful week!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Live by the Sun, Love by the Moon

Not only do Sarah and I tag-team the blog, but apparently, we also combine forces to christen our grill for the first time living here as new PDs.  While standing on the roof staring at our panoramic view, I was immediately brought back to almost two months ago when last year's PDs welcomed us with a barbeque on the roof.  I remember thinking "I can't believe I'm living here for the next year."  Although we're all getting used to the idea of being here for the long haul, I don't think a day will go by without looking out into the Andean distance in awe of what surrounds us.  
Sarah and Jackie get excited about the grill 

Haley kept us entertained as she steps into a pile of residue from the door installation 

Not even going to pretend to be normal for this picture
 (from left to right: Sarah, Mike, Chet, Erik, Krysta, Haley, and Sonia)

Highlights for this week include: 
  • An investigative look at our new library policies
  • A guest blog from former Country Director, Mark Hand
  • An interview with Executive Director, Lori Sharffenberg

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Saturday Well-Spent

Saturday morning was an early one for the five of us who decided to climb Volcán Pichincha, the active volcano after which our province is named. (Don't worry parents, Pichincha hasn't erupted since 1999, and before that in 1660... we thought our odds looked pretty good.) Mike, Krysta, Jackie, Sonia and I bussed our way out to the TelefériQo, a huge gondola-esque tourist trap on the west side of Quito, as early as we could be expected to get out of the door on a Saturday morning (which was about 45 minutes after our scheduled time of departure, since my alarm was promptly thrown on the ground when it went off at 7:15am...).

We made it to the
TelefériQo shortly after it opened, and hitched a ride up the side of Cruz Loma, the hill next to Pichincha. The gondola dropped us at an altitude of a mere 4100 meters, and we were free to hike the easily identifiable path to Pichincha. After several rolling hills, "Is there any oxygen up here"-stops, and an hour of hiking, we made it to the base of the volcano. We were fairly convinced that the worst was over (ok, so I was fairly convinced) and that we only had 30 more minutes until we reached the summit... we were sorely mistaken.

After circling one side of the volcano, we stumbled onto what felt like a vertical climb of sand and loose rocks (in retrospect, "vertical" seems like a strong word... but I guess it's all relative when you feel like you're going to begin a human landslide at any moment). That's where the real "hike" began. We slowly followed each other up the sand/rock combo and after a little quasi-rock climbing, we finally made it to the top.

I distinctly recall one of my college professors saying that the word "amazing" is overused, and I'm fully aware that I'm guilty of all charges. But I'm also convinced that no better word exists to describe the rush of emotions we felt when we reached the top of Pichincha. We sat at the top - above the clouds, the airplanes and the noise (a big deal when living in a house of 10) - and took it in. There is something magical about being that close to the sky that neither words, nor photographs, can capture.

Once we got cold enough, we began our descent. I'm pleased to report it was much more pleasant (and less terrifying) than the ascent. After only an hour we found ourselves safely back on the ground in Quito, with only a dehydration/altitude headache, a little sunburn, and a ton of dirt in our shoes to show for our adventure; however, I'm sure the feeling of climbing over that last rock and seeing the view from the top of Pichincha will last much longer than any sunburnt face or dirt in our shoes. And for that, the climb was well worth it.

Here's to hiking teamwork and reaching the summit with friends,

PS. Psssst... we just added photos from the end of August/beginning of September. Check them out by following the link to the right!

The view of Pichincha from the Cruz Loma trail

Me, Mike, Sonia, Krysta and Jackie at the beginning of the Cruz Loma trail

Stopping for a breather at the top of a hill, and looking at the view of Quito

We reached the base of Pichincha!

MPI was here. :)

Mike and Sonia look thrilled to have reached the summit!
(They were so tired they couldn't smile...)

Sarah taking in the view from the top

One part of the descent... sand skiing?

Safely back at the bottom. And absolutely exhausted.
A Saturday well-spent.