Archives

Machu Picchu fail of epic portions

So perhaps you all are waiting to hear about how cool Machu Picchu is. Well, I hear it’s pretty awesome. I mean a lot of people have told me how awesome it is.   How spiritual it is.  How life-changing it is.  I wish I could say the same.  I wish I could say Machu Picchu fucking awesome.  But alas, I cannot.  At least not today. My first attempt to hike Machu Picchu in March 2010 and experience the amazing-ness that is  Machu Picchu was a big-time epic failure. [spoiler alert: I finally did make it to Machu Picchu]

peru

Machu Picchu, alpacas, hiking, amazing scenery, volcanoes… This is what I had in mind when I booked my flight to Peru and arranged my trek to Machu Picchu. What a perfect way to celebrate turning 30. The universe; however, had other plans. In January, there was a massive mudslide related to heavy rains in the area. The mudslides knocked out the train tracks and washed out some of the roads to the area. But this was January… surely everything would be fixed by end of February/first of March, I reasoned. But it was not to be. In typical Latin-American fashion, it took the government well over two months to restore the tracks and roads. Machu Picchu is by far one of the biggest sources of tourist revenue for the country. Around 2500 tourists per day visit Machu Picchu so you’d think opening the tracks would have been a bigger priority.

cuszo walkabout 2

But no, it was still closed when I arrived in Cuzco, and my dreams of hiking Maccu Picchu dashed. I kept hearing different reports of when they would reopen, but turns out the roads/tracks re-opened in April… far later than I would have liked. The upside was that there were almost no tourists in Cuzco, and I had the city basically to myself, which was awesome! It was also a lot cheaper too. So yay for saving money.

cuszo walkabout 3

So what do you do when your dreams of exploring Machu Picchu on your birthday are dashed? Drop back and punt, so to speak. Enter Cusco. Just as there’s more than one way to skin a cat; there’s more to the sacred valley than just Machu Picchu.

cuzco walkabout 4

Cusco is an incredibly historic city. Back in the day, it was the capital of the Incan Empire, and is home to some pretty impressive Incan ruins other than Machu Picchu. It also has some impressive Spanish colonial architecture.

cusco walkabout 6

cusco walkabout 5

But there are some really cool sites around Cusco that I don’t think get the attention they deserve.  First up Písaq. The Spanish built the present-day town of Pisac along the Urubamba River half a century after the conquest, but the surviving terraces of its predecessor, Inca Pisaq, are still draped across the mountains above less than three miles drive away.

The signature terraces – stacked 40 high –  are visible throughout much of the switch-backed drive from the market.  Their design takes advantage of mountain runoff by channeling it through the fields on its way to the river below. The terraces also served to prevent erosion and landslides, and contained rich soil hauled from the valley below that enabled Inca farmers to produce crops otherwise unsustainable at these altitudes. The buildings are scattered across nearly two square miles of the slope, and include fortifications, aqueducts, granaries, homes, and ceremonial spaces.

Pisaq 1

The ramparts of the Q’allaqasa – the citadel – contain 20 towers that overlook the site from a perch on the ridge above the terraces.

What appear to be the mouths of small caves in a nearly inaccessible hillside across a ravine from the settlement are actually the face of an Inca cemetery not yet fully excavated by archaeologists. pisaq-ruins 3
Incredibly enough, skeletons are still visible in some of the open-air crypts.

Next up, Ollantaytambo.  In my opinion, Ollantaytambo is where Inca ruins come to life. The town is much bigger and better preserved than Písaq.  Several Inca structures survive and have been continuously inhabited by their descendants. Ollantaytambo boasts some spectacular scenery, as well as agricultural terraces, well preserved Inca walls, as well as a partially constructed sun temple at the top. Built by the emperor Pachacuti, and a stronghold of the last independent Inca ruler, Manco II, it was eventually conquered by the Spanish. Ollantaytambo fell into to decline and ruin, although native Inca continued to live there and was rediscovered by European explorers in the 19th century.

Ollantaytambo,_Peru

Ollantaytambo_2

So my amazing Machu Picchu trek where I hike for miles and commune with nature and have a spiritual experience was a bust, but it wasn’t a totally wasted trip to Peru. I did get to learn a lot about Inca history and it was the perfect jumping off place for my 16 month trip around South America.

The Olympics and an Adventure

I freaking love the Olympics… everything about them… pageantry, sport, and adventure all rolled into one huge event. In an effort to make 2006 a much better year than 2005, I decided to a few things differently. One, I’ve moved.  For the first time ever [other than as an infant or study abroad], I’ve moved away from South Carolina.  I love South Carolina, but right now, SC has too many bad memories.  Death of a parent, a lying, cheating bastard X 2 that I dated. Pretty much everywhere I went had some kind of memory attached to it.

The Olympics… in Atlanta… Cool

I also haven’t been on a vacation since 2002 when I returned to Mexico.  After having lived in Mexico, and traveling all over the country and dipping my toes into parts of central America, not going anywhere for the entire time I was in school was hard.  I have wanderlust so bad I can hardly stand it.  As a means to that end, in December, a mere two months ago, I decided that I wanted to spend my birthday in Italy.  Why Italy as opposed to *Spain*--where I’ve wanted to go since the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona?

The Olympics or better yet, the Winter Olympics which I’ve never seen.  Hell, until very recently I’ve never even seen a hockey game much less seen anything like curling, luge, bobsled, skiing, or any number of other winter sports.  But in only two months time, I’ve managed to snare a ticket to the opening ceremony in Torino, a plane ticket from RDU–>Zurich–>Roma–>GSP, a train ticket from Zürich to Milan, a train pass for Italy, and tickets to olympic events in Cesana and Bardonecchia.  Oh and a place to stay those first five days I’m in Italy when the world’s cameras will be joining me on my Italian adventure.

I CANNOT WAIT.

*Spain is still high on my travel list.  I would love to hike the entire Camino del Santiago or explore Andalusia.  Or Barcelona.  Or Galicia. Salamanca. Really, I’d love to find a way to move to Spain  to live for a year or so.

My 2006 Olympic Experience

I was lucky enough to attend the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia.  Don’t get me wrong; it was awesome, but it wasn’t the true experience.  I only live a couple of hours from Atlanta so I just drove down the day of.  I was able to get tickets for 4 events–baseball, soccer, rhythmic gymnastics, and volleyball.  Not swimming–which I would have loved, but still… it’s the Olympics.

Winter 2006 was a lot different… winter sports vs summer sports.  Torino, Itlay vs Atlanta, USA.  Olympic village vs my own house.  4 days + opening ceremony vs random days spread out over the two weeks.

2006-winter-olympics

Opening Ceremony:  There’s nothing quite like seeing the opening ceremony in person…The pomp and circumstance, the parade of athletes, the cool costumes, and the lighting of the Olympic flame—it’s all pretty amazing.  There’s such a feeling of hope and opportunity in the air.  It’s the only time–especially at the Winter Games when a lot of events are some distance from the host city–when everyone is together.  All [or nearly all] of the athletes, the spectators, the media–everyone is in one space for the opening.  After the opening ceremony, people scatter, and they don’t always meet back up at the closing.

Seeing the flame be lit  and watching the parade of athletes was awesome.  I always wanted to be an Olympian, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t have the competitive nature to push myself day in and day out.  Sure I always played sports… even went to college on athletic scholarship, but at the end of the day, I played sports because they were fun… and I enjoyed the camaraderie with my teammates.

Bardonecchia:  I stayed in Turin for the day prior to and the day of the Opening Ceremony and then next morning high tailed it up to the mountains courtesy of the free Olympic shuttle.  I based myself in Bardonecchia because 1).  Mountains…skiing…the cool winter sports 2) closer proximity to the other winter villages than Torino 3) free shuttles to and from the games and 4) It’s where I could find a place to stay that didn’t use up the entire monthly budget at one time.

The games:  I grew up in the south eastern part of the USA.  Skiing, ice hockey, ice skating, ect are not things that I could have participated in easily.  I mean we were always taught to never walk on frozen ice because it never gets cold enough to freeze solid and then we’d drown and/or get hypothermia.  SO that being said, winter sports have always fascinated me and I thought that had I grown up in the appropriate environment I’d would excel in biathlon.  I mean I can shoot like a champ and though I’ve never been on skis, cross country skiing doesn’t terrify me like down hill skiing does.

Biathlon does not get any love in the USA.  Its not fast or glamourous or shiny.  I mean they don’t even use real bullets when shooting, but for whatever reason, it fascinates me.  I was beyond thrilled to stand in the freezing cold and watch the biathletes ski and shoot their way to Olympic Gold.

torino biathlon

I also got to see some snowboarding…which terrifies the snot out of me…as well as bobsled and luge. No pictures from those events as they were whizzing past much too past for me to get a decent shot.

But bilathalon, though…it was beyond cool to see it.

Snowshoeing in Sarajevo: An Olympic Adventure

When I’m at home, I hate all things winter.  Being from the southeastern United States, winter [meaning snow, skis, cold] is still a bit of a foreign concept.  Just the threat of snowflakes sends everyone scurrying about buying up all the milk and bread in sight.  Should the grass actually be covered, expect the entire city to shut down. For days.

An example of a recent snow that shut down the town for 4 days.

So my position statement on winter has always been I like to visit winter; I do not like winter to visit me.

My previous adventures on skis consisted of one adventure when I was 16 to the North Carolina mountains and my recent trek in the French Alps where I discovered that I LOVED cross-country skiing So, bolstered by success in the Alps, I knew skiing would be on the agenda when I ended up in Sarajevo.  Why Sarajevo you ask? Sarajevo [as Yugoslavia] hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics than Sarajevo, and if you know me, you know that I love all things related to the Olympics.

 

 

Sarajevo is a city surrounded by mountains which makes for some awesome outdoor adventure activities. These mountains have seen a lot in their day–from being a world-class Olympic destination in 1984 to being occupied by Serbia in the 1990’s to being used to attack the city in the Siege of Sarajevo. Sarajevo the city has experienced peaks and valleys just like the mountain that surround it.  Sarajevo’s popularity is surging yet again as it is much less expensive and much less crowded than say -France and Switzerland, and it’s mountain are just a good for a variety of winter sports.

 

Jahorina and Bjelašnica are the two of the most popular ski resorts in  the area; both are approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Sarajevo city center.  If you are new to skiing, I’d recommend Jahorina Olympic Center. It’s perfect for skiers of all levels, offers ski equipment rental, but not clothing rental, and has cheap ski lessons for 10 euros/hours. A day pass can be had for less than 20 Euros.

The great thing about this resort is there are fewer crowds. This resort is probably Europe’s best kept secret. I am not a downhill skier. And I know my limitations, so lucky for people like me there are other options such as hiking and snowshoeing and just riding the ski lift. On this trip I opted to try snowshoeing, and man, is that a workout. My heart was pumping; my lungs were screaming, and my legs were crying by the end of the trail.

 

But to see these views, to do something new, and to experience these mountains…

 

It was completely worth the time and effort and expense it took to visit the mountains surrounding this city on the rise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naughty Nuns of Santa Catalina

It’s no secret that I’m a history nerd. Throughout school, history was always my first choice of electives.  Need a religion credit– Catholic History and the secret lives of Monks and Nuns was a much better choice than Old Testament 101. My favorite time period depends on my mood and sometimes my location.  I have written a thesis about the Mayans of Mexico, a lengthy paper about the Witches of Salem, and traced Spanish explorers around the world.   My interest in English history began while exploring/ living in England and German/Prussian/Austria-Hungarian history while hanging out in those countries.  I was a kid and somewhat remember the Yugoslavian conflict and was fascinated while walking around Belgrade/Zagreb, Serbia, and Montenegro.  Italy is a history nerd’s dream, and Greek military history is fascinating [and a perfectly good reason to visit Greece]. My year long plus jaunt around South American had me dabbling in history of its countries, and there is much more to the continent than Incas, narco-terrorists, and dictators.  Enter Peru and its colonial history.

Arequipa is a #historynerd’s dream and is a great place for anyone who loves history.  If you don’t love history, but like pretty buildings, it’s good for that too. And if you’re overloaded on all things Machu Picchu, come to Arequipa; it’s like the Incas never existed. I went without any fixed plans and was content to wander and enjoy its colonial structures.  Arequipa might be my favorite Peruvian city. Lima, the capital, is rough, gritty, and crowded. Arequipa is more refined. Cajamarca, in the north, has interesting history as well, but overall  Arequipa, having better infrastructure, is just a bit better suited to travelers; it’s quieter, cleaner and moves to a slower pace.  It is just my style.

I always thought that had I been born in a different time and place I would have been a nun. Not necessarily because I’m a devout Catholic or would honor vows of purity, chastity, or poverty, but because nuns were the original bad-asses.  In societies where marriage was a means to an end, nuns spat in the face of that. And they were bad-asses in the health care arena too.  Yep, had I been born in the 1500’s, a nun was a much better deal than serf or some lord’s wench.

It’s with that mindset that Santa Catalina was high on my list of places to visit on my stop in Arequipa. Built in 1579, the monastery is a huge mini city within the city that was founded by the Dominican Second Order nun, Maria de Guzman. The Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena was initially meant for rich upper-class women from Spanish families [I would have had to settle for a bit more spartan monastery] and each family would have to pay a dowry upon their daughter entering the monastery. Some dowries were as expensive as 2,500 silver coins which would be the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s currency.  For their dowry, each nun got up to 4 slaves to do their daily chores but were also required to bring things like paintings, intricate tapestries, clothes, and other things would make the environment quite luxurious.  Nothing like the message “God is #1, but luxury is a close second.”  Maybe they didn’t get the memo that avarice was one of the seven deadly sins.

But gluttony and lust were equal pursuits

It was also pretty common for the nuns to throw extravagant parties in their quarters and rumor has it there are tunnels that connect to a local church so Mother Mary wasn’t the only invited guest.  On even more scandalous note, there are stories of pregnant nuns and monk baby daddies were fueled by the allegation that a baby’s skeleton was found encased within the monastery walls. [The Catholic Church denies the claims.]

The Santa Catalina Rave raved right on for nearly 300 years until 1871 when Pope Pius IX sent a strict nun [read: not part of the cool kids] to shut down the party at the Santa Catalina social club. Uncool nun also freed all the servants and slaves [OK, that part was cool] and sent all of the coins, paintings, tapestries, ect back to the Catholic Church in Spain in order to  reform the monastery.

The monastery is constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone quarried locally and painted blue and orange within. The convent is considered the most important and impressive colonial structure in the city. Since Peru is known for its earthquakes, these continual earthquakes and tremors have forced changes in the structure of the monastery and thus is has some singular architectural characteristics.

In the 1960s, the monastery suffered significant structural damage due to two earthquakes that struck Arequipa. The 20 remaining nuns voted to open the monastery up to the public as a tourist attraction; it was opened to the public on August 15, 1970–a mere 430 years after the city of Arequipa’s founding. The nuns used the funds to pay for restoration costs, install electricity, and install running water.

These days #historynerds like me can freely roam around the beautiful grounds and learn about the naughty nuns that loved to have a good time. And for the navigationally challenged– there’s an interesting twist.   From the instant you walk in – you can only make left turns. I spent 5 hours wandering the monastery only making left turns.  It’s impossible to get lost, and for someone like me, who likes to wander and not pay attention to which direction I came from, it’s a godsend.

Adios, Huanchaco

It’s hard to believe that’s it’s been 5 years since I left Huanchaco, Peru and the amazing friends I made there.


Querido Huanchaco,

I am leaving you, and although I am a little bummed, I am not entirely sad about it.  We’ve been together for a while now–three whole months and part of another.  That’s the longest I have stayed with anyone (other than Campeche–but you don’t need to know about him).  You were good to me.  You introduced me to so many cool people from all parts of the world.  You have given me opportunities that I don’t know I would have gotten anywhere else such as establishing a clinic and helping to organize an art exhibition.  As a memento of my visit,  I am leaving you a clinic.  I have no illusions that it will actually survive when I am gone although I do hope the printed material and posters will at least hang around a bit.

You allowed me to stay in an awesome apartment with an amazing roommate (Hey, Emily) and cool vecinos (Hola, Cameron and Corinna).  I learned about supply and demand of hot water in the desert and learned to love life with out electronics or ice.  [The ice part wasn’t too hard, and I learned how to rig up a system for music] But everyone you have introduced me to has already gone, too.  Don’t worry.  You’ll soon be full of Peruvian vacationers and party-surfer-dudes from all over the world.  Summer is coming and that’s your time to shine.

Huanchaco, we had some good times like dancing at the BeachHouse, bonfires on the beach, hanging out in the apartment, parties celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving in the apartment with 30 or so people, clubbing at AMA, watching real ‘football’ in Trujillo, but there will be some things I am glad to leave behind.

Like how you think I am stupid because I am a white girl. I know it is only 1.20 soles to the mall (and sometime only 1 sol) , not the 1.50 you ask for every single time. Or how you think I will just hand over money because it’s a “fee”. Come on, I have been here too long for that. Another thing I won’t miss is how you think that just because I am walking, I am looking for a taxi [beep…  beep]. I won’t miss how you stop in front of me or your insane sirens, but what I will miss is how close you are to the ocean (I have never lived a block and a half from the beach before), that you are probably the safest town in Peru, how I can walk back to the apartment at 2 or 3 in the morning and not feel threatened at all… In that way you remind me of Due West, and that I will miss. There is a big wide world out there, and I need to explore it. So adios, Huanchaco, I am headed to south.

Bosque Seco

The following is the text of a press release I created for La Ceiba foundation work in the dry forest of Ecuador.  I spent approximately one month in the wet forest, dry forest, and Galapagos Islands of Ecuador doing plant and animal research for La Ceiba.  In part to the research I collected, La Ceiba was able to convince the Ecuadorian government to add additional protected lands.

The Bosque Seco Lalo Loor [BSLL] protects over 250 hectares of transitional semi-deciduous lowland tropical forest.  The forest supports a large population of Mantled howler monkey.  The reserve is located in a dry area of Ecuador’s coast where it receives a little over 1000 mm of rain each year, nearly all of it falling between January and May.  For the rest of the year, the forest receives almost no rain at all.

The monkeys eat a diet of mostly leaves, but they will eat fruit if it is available..  Leaves are a good source of carbon, but they lack nitrogen; therefore the diet is not especially nutritious due to the high concentration of leaves.  As a result, the monkeys live a fairly sedentary lifestyle compared to other tropical monkeys.

La Ceiba Foundation is collecting data for demography, range, and feeding habits of the monkey population.  A group consists of 2 people.  Each group will have binoculars, watch, compass, trail map, and a data sheet.  Each group will work a separate area of the trail for four hours once in the morning and once at night.  Once a monkey is encountered the group will stop and a collect data for 30 minutes.

Other notable plants and animals in the forest include:

  • Jaguarundi
  • Howler Monkey
  • Ocelot
  • Tayra
  • White front capuchin monkey
  • chestnut mandibled toucan
  • choco toucan
  • Ecuadoran Trogan
  • Grey back hawk
  • Hook-billed kite
  • Palamandibled Aracari
  • Red Mask Parakeet
  • Boa Constrictor
  • Equis
  • Blue Morpho Butterfly
  • Helicopter Damselflies
  • and several species of orchids

 

That time I went to the Galapagos Islands

I don’t know if I ever mentioned that time I went to the Galapaos Islands.  I think going to the Galapagos Islands are one of those things that are on nearly everyone’s [ok maybe not everyone, but every traveler, animal lover, and science nerd I know] bucket list.  My own adventure to the islands involved a bit of serendipity and a lot of  meclizine.

Flashback to 2010:

It was September 2010, and I was working for an ecological research/preservation company.  The original plans were for me to split time between the Mindo Cloud Forest, the Lalo Loor Dry Forest, and the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest.  I did all that and more. But the highlight of my conservation internship was when I was asked to spend 10 days on a research boat on the Galapagos Islands tagging turtles.

galapagos islands turtles

These guys are huge and can live up to 175 years in captivity or 100 years in the wild

galapagos iguanas

and checking on these guys

galapagos island marine iguanas

don’t forget about these fellas

galapagos island sea lions 1

and revel in the cuteness of these lovable lions

My home for the 10 days was spent between living on a boat [not ideal for someone who gets motion sickness as easy as I do while on a boat] and spending time at the Charles Darwin Research Center. There were not a whole lot of tourists on the islands. I don’t know if it was due to it being the low season [September] or the fact that back in 2010 there weren’t a whole of of tour groups coming to the island.

galapagos research station

Before he died in 2012, Lonesome George was the center’s most famous resident. He got his nickname because he was the last surviving member of his species. Scientiests tried mating George with several different ladies who were genetically close to George but nothing happened. He died without having reproduced and with his death, his species became extinct. I feel a little bad for him, living his last years in comfort but without the friendship of someone of his own kind.  George was also known for being a little bit of a recluse.  Each time I saw him, he was hiding behind something or behind the trees, but always munching on grass.

The giant tortises like George can weigh up to 800 pounds fully grown.

galapagos island baby turtles

Hard to believe that these little fellas will still be with us in 2180 and will be 800 pounds. I’d be lucky to survive to 2080.

One of the cool things about being a ‘researcher’ is getting to go where is usually off limits to tourists. And when you are in places not often frequented by human, you catch animals, or in this case turtles, having sex. I’ve never thought about tortoises having sex before, but I sure didn’t imagine them doing it ‘doggy-style’.

more turtle sex
Tortoise style

It must have been giant tortoise valentine’s day or something. I found another couple doing the same thing.

even turtles do it

All that tortise sex results in lots of babies, and it was because of the babies that I was there. See that yellow writing on the shells? That’s my handiwork…tagging baby land tortises for future scientific research.

baby land tortises

giant turtle
These guys have such personality. And they are only found on the Galapagos Islands. A lot of the creatures on the islands are like that. Being located over 600 miles from mainland Ecuador equals not a lot of genetic diversity. And that is a good thing especially from an evolutionary point-of-view.

Festival of Tabuga

For most of August and September, I am in Ecuador volunteering with an Ecological organization which has me going to a tropical rain forest, a cloud forest, and a dry forest.  I’m current in the dry forest area.

Tabuga is the village closest to the reserve. I use the term “village” loosely as it has–at last census–428 people in four different areas. It has no laundry, no internet, no bus terminal, one store, 3 (I think) streets (not paved). I have to walk to get there and it is about 1.5km from the front of the reserve. But Tabuga is the largest village between Pedernales (30.000) and Jama (7000). As such I guess that qualifies it for a 4 day festival and the festival began today. Since we took the AM off to do administrative things and buy food, we took the PM off to go to the festival.

It seemed like a regular, uneventful Friday when I was informed that there was a festival tomorrow. What in the world could a ‘town’ of 428 be celebrating?  Who knows, but any event to attend a festival seems like a good idea.

First up, boys indur. The teams were made of six boys from Tabuga on each side. They were probably 6-9 years old. Final score 1-0. The boys of the winning team each won 75 cents. They took up a collection prior to the game and came up with $4.50 for prizes.

Second up, was open mike singing. Some good, some truly awful, and I, as the only foreigner in town–special guest from South Carolina, got to be the judge. The prizes were 1st–a chicken 2nd–food from the vendors and 3rd beer or coke depending on the age of the winner. Two hours later, I awarded a chicken (live) to a teenager named Segundo, and he was beaming ear to ear as if he had won a million dollars.

And finally, movie night.  The Jungle Book shown on the big screen [aka white sheet held between goal posts and projected via laptop].

 

Lalo Loor and Tabuga

Tabuga is a small town with 75 families located on the northern coast of Ecuador, in the province Manabí. Manabí is the poorest and most illiterate province in Ecuador. There are no conventional phones; there is no cell phone signal nor television signal. There are two stores. They sell basic things like canned tuna, rice, sugar, soda, beer and Caña Manabita. Caña Manabita is a sugar cane alcohol that compares to ever-clear in the US and is sold for only $1.20 a bottle, a beer costs $1 and doesn’t get you to the point of falling over drunk sleeping in the dirt road. [A bottle of water is almost $2] Given the choice,  the men in Tabuga choose the cane alcohol and some don’t make it home until Sunday night… if they leave on Friday.  (Women do not usually drink alcohol.)

The majority of people live in traditional wood houses and many live in even more traditional flattened bamboo (called caña) homes. The majority of the income in Tabuga comes from machete work done for other large land owners. In addition, many families have small parcels of land where they grow bananas, passion fruits, java beans and yucca. The machete workers earn $5-7 per day.   The average number of kids per family is 6 and their diets are almost solely plantains and rice. Plantains are a  starchy, chewy, banana look-a-like that has almost no nutritional value.  I don’t understand why plantains are so popular when Ecuador is the banana capital of the world. The more well off families buy eggs and chickens.

My volunteer experience here is very different than my time at El Pahuma, the rain forest, or what it will be like in the Galapagos.  Lalo Loor Forest is located about 2 km from Tabagua, but since I am the only volunteer and they don’t want to completely isolate me, I will split my time working at the reserve and then helping out a former Peace Corps volunteer with various  community   projects.  I will still stay at the reserve as that is really the only place in town for visitors. (No hotel or guest houses in Tabuga).  The volunteer house is a bamboo and palm frond creation that can house up to 25 at a time.  It doesn’t have electricity or running water.  No heat.  No air.  No indoor plumbing, no hot water.  When there are more volunteers, there is a cook too.  When there is only 1–no cook, but I do get to go to Pendernales to shop for my breakfast and weekend food.  I get to eat lunch and dinner in town.  In the forest, I monitor animal behavior, go for hikes, search out birds, snakes, and insects.  I am also helping to construct a staircase on one of the closed trails.  I call it La Escalera de Michelle.

It gets dark about 5:30 pm…maybe a little earlier at the house due to its location in the forest.  From about 6p-9p, I read by candlelight.  [I found a Spanish language copy of  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It’s slow going, but I am making my way through it, and its improving my Spanish language skills.]  It also gets light about 5:30am.  I wake up a bit earlier than that due to the howler monkeys that start their screaming about 4.  Thank god for the siesta.