Friday, October 28, 2011

One more photo

I went and did some Facebook searching to find more cliff jumping photos. Here's a photo taken by my study abroad coordinator. In addition to showing how crazy high the cliffs are, it proves that there was adult supervision on the trip. Enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mindo: Cliff jumping and zip-lining

It's been another two weeks since I posted on my blog. I can't begin to write about everything that I've done in that time - it'd be far too boring. Instead, I'm just going to write a little about my trip to Mindo on Saturday with the kids in my exchange organization.

My friend Tom, from Germany, took this photo of the zip-line that we took together in Mindo, a bit of an Ecuadorian tourist destination two hours north of Quito. On Saturday all of the kids in my Xplorer group met in Quito. We hopped into a rented van and drove north. It was a gorgeous drive. Ecuador doesn't worry about putting up safety walls on the highways, even when they're the enormous drop-off, so that made parts of the drive a bit harrowing. Other than that, however, the drive was marked by mountains transitioning to rainforest.

When we got to Mindo we hired a camioneta (a truck-taxi with space in the back to stand) and drove up to this zip line. The zip line had three levels (conveniently named one, two, and three). The first level involved being strapped in to a harness and then making a sitting motion, which set you off on your journey. The second involved a running start off of a platform (pictured above). It had a shorter cable, so most people just stepped off the ledge. The third level, modeled by me in the above picture, involved a running start and then a dive off of the ledge. The cable I was using had a bit more elasticity, so when I jumped off, I free fell for a little bit before being caught by the rope. It was totally awesome.

After everyone in the Xplorer group had gotten a chance to try the zip line, we hiked on the forest path for about ten minutes until we got to a waterfall. Even though the water is really cold we enjoyed splashing around and using a slide that dumped you into the water. Then, we noticed the cliff jumping opportunity.

There was a ledge to the side of the waterfall where people could jump into the water at the foot of the waterfall. There was a man there who was supervising the whole process and he explained to us where to jump to avoid hitting the rocks below. It was a twelve meter jump, so we also had to be careful to let our body fall completely straight - otherwise we'd hurt our backs.

I was the first one to try it. It may have been one of the scariest things I've ever done. With legs shaking I eventually forced myself to step off the ledge. I did a bit of writhing in the air, so when I hit the water my back hit the water as well, making my back sting for awhile afterward. There was also a bit of a funky current caused by the nearby waterfall, so while I had no trouble swimming to the surface I was turned in a circle for a little bit. After swimming to the ladder where I could climb back up to the platform I realized just how much I'd been shaking. I had difficulty standing up because I was shaking so much. The combination of the intense fear of jumping with the temperature of the water meant I couldn't stop shaking for awhile.

Unfortunately, when I got to the top of the platform, I realized that no one had taken a picture of my triumphant cliff jump. So, I had to go again, and then again, to make sure there were several good pictures of me cliff jumping.

Afterwards, we hiked back to our camioneta to go back down to Mindo, where we ate lunch. Hoping to get some different food, I ordered tilapia (I've been eating a lot of chicken at home). I didn't know the Ecuadorian preparation of tilapia, but I did enjoy it. The tilapia was fried, and whole (including eyes). Included in the whole plate was rice (of course), a tomato/onion salad, and fried plantains.

Saturday was definitely one of the coolest days I've had in Ecuador. I've also been surprised to release that I'm now more than a third of the way into my time here. Part of the reason I risked the cliff jumping was the realization that my time here is actually going to be quite short.

Thanks for reading, guys. I hope you're all well. Enjoy the photos!

Tom getting ready to run off the platform for his zip lining experience.

The view of the area where we were zip lining.

My tilapia at the restaurant - fried plantains, whole fish, rice, sald of onions and tomatoes, and a very sour orange (it was actually a cross between an orange and a lemon).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

French toast, birthday parties, and geography

It's been a while since I last posted. I wish I could say I've been busy, but the truth is that I just haven't been thinking about my blog much lately. But I'm back. I've been continuing to go to soccer practices at school. On Friday I assisted two goals. As we enter "winter" here, the biggest change is that it rains most days around 4 p.m. This makes for some wet soccer practices, for we start around 4:30 most days.

The country is still in a bit of a festive mood after playing Venezuela in an elimination match for World Cup qualifiers. They played on Friday in Quito, and everyone was wearing their own Ecuadorian soccer jerseys. They were rewarded with a dominant 2-0 win for Ecuador. The next soccer event is a friendly between the USA and Ecuador on Tuesday in New Jersey. I'm really excited, though I worry I've raised the expectations for USA just a little bit with all of my trash talk. I'm going to the store today to get mini American flags for the special event.

Last weekend I made French toast for my family here. At home in Texas I really like making my own breakfasts on the weekends, so I asked Dori if it'd be alright if I made them breakfast on Saturday. She agreed, so I went out and got the ingredients I could find. On Saturday morning I fried up some bacon and French toast. I kept telling my host family that if they didn't like the breakfast they didn't have to eat it (I was secretly hoping I could eat it all myself), but they enjoyed it! I think one of their favorite parts was the syrup I got at the supermarket for the breakfast. They've been peppering me with questions about maple trees and the Northeast. After I told them about my fellow exchange student who brought New England maple syrup for her host family, they've been angling to get ahold of any real syrup she still has. Miguel and I bet a bottle of maple syrup on Tuesday's soccer match.

Last Sunday was the birthday of Stefania (Dario's wife, Miguel and Dori's daughter-in-law). We had a party for her here. The birthday party was a lot of fun, with really good food and a chance to see family again. Also, there was time to play with Melanie, Dario and Stefania's ten month old baby. Baby Mela, as she's called, is making a run for happiest baby in Ecuador award. Constantly smiling, she gets around in a kind of seat that has wheels on it. She can't quite walk, but she can propel herself on the seat when she wants to get around. She struggles going through doors because the chair is just a little wide. She doesn't seem to mind crashing into everything, though.

At each of the birthday parties I've been to here I've been impressed by the graciousness of the hosts. Each party starts with appetizers, but before anyone is allowed to start eating the host of the party gives a small speech. It's usually no more than three sentences where the host says "Today's a really important day for my ____ (wife, son, daughter-in-law). I thank you all for coming and I hope you enjoy yourselves." On Sunday, Dario departed a bit from the theme to talk about how fortunate he is to have Stefania as his wife.

The only other big part of the week was my completion of my geography project on Thursday. The assignment was to create a model of the Andes that run through the center of Ecuador and mark the major valleys. When the project was assigned I was completely clueless because my teacher used a word for valleys that I didn't know. When I tried to ask for clarification, she used the tried and tested trick of moving closer to me and repeating herself slowly and loudly. Somewhat annoyed at being treated like an idiot, I explained to her that I had heard her the first time, I just didn't know the meaning of the word she was using. After this minor issue I got started on the project.

The project was due on Thursday, and I was a little worried about how I'd turn it in. It's not uncommon for me to have to stand in the doorway of the bus on the way to school, and I was imagining dropping my project on the highway or having it blown away by a gust. I resolved to break the bank and spend $3 on a taxi to school. As a result, I walked to the bus stop and started to wait for taxis. Little did I know that taxis rarely stop for passengers on the highway. After the third empty taxi passed me by I jumped on a bus. My project, which consisted of styrofoam, toothpicks, and wet paint, had hardly any chance of pissing anyone off, right? Fortunately for me, there was an overhead space where I could stow my project until I got to school. All my efforts were rewarded by the 20/20 that I got on my project. It is now proudly displayed on my class's wall.

I hope you all enjoy the photos. I should get going now as I go to buy some American flags. I'm really hoping that USA wins because I don't want to have to spend the $1.35 on another bottle of syrup if I lose my bet!

Everyone together last Saturday for French toast, strawberries, bacon, and syrup.

A model plate, created by chef Jimmy.

The appetizer line-up for Stefania's birthday party.

Miguel in action as he grills up pork chops and chicken wings on his charcoal grill.

Baby Mela sitting with Veronica as they watch Miguel do some grilling.

Stefania and her birthday cake. It was chocolate cake that's served with jello.

My sweet project. It's safe to say that my art skills haven't gotten any better in Ecuador.