Monday, September 12, 2011

My Love-Hate Relationship with Ecuador

After having lived in Ecuador for a complete year I have become accustomed to many things Ecua, but I have also realized that there are just some I will never adapt to. The other night I went to a restaurant with my boyfriend and as usually he ordered something “strange” in my opinion. He ordered “hubre” which he orders on a regular basis yet I always look at it and hesitantly ask, “what part of the animal is that again.” He always laughs before he tells me... well, makes a motion, which tells me that it would be the cow’s boobs. Then he waits for the same reaction that I always give, a slight cringe as I try to act like it is completely normal to me.

This got me thinking of all of the other things that I still think are “weird” or more appropriately, annoying. I realized that the things that ABSOLUTELY DRIVE ME CRAZY about this country are also the same exact things that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE.

Here is my I hate it, but I love it list:

1. No sense of time... at all

HATE: The other day I was at my wits end waiting for people. First, I was meeting people at the bus station at 8:00 to travel back to Portoviejo. I waited for 40 minutes before giving up and getting on the bus by myself... I had a job to get to but no one else seemed to have anywhere particular to get to. Yet, they casually walk onto the bus as it is leaving and say “I cant believe you were going to leave us.” Then I waited in my office for a friend to eat lunch with me... an hour and a half later I went to get lunch by myself. I was OVER IT and ready for SOMEONE to show up on time... or at all!

LOVE: That same day as I finished class at 6:00 I was trying to finish up some work quickly and get home when a friend of mine stopped by to say hi. I hadn’t seen him in weeks and it was so great to catch up. He had nowhere he NEEDED to be so we just chatted for about an hour and then he had plenty of time to drive me home. I didn’t feel rushed at all in our conversation and we were both very present, not thinking about the other 5 million things we needed to do. I am going to miss that!

2. The Spanish Language... particularly “regalar”

Well first off, I just LOVE the Spanish language but I HATE how much I mess up. No matter how much I practice, question, and study I just still mess up the simplest things.... stupid masculine and feminine words. I mean what characteristics does a table have to make it feminine or a problem to make it masculine. AHHH

So this word “regalar”

HATE: The word literally means “to gift” which I don’t think is a verb in English and if it is it certainly isn’t used often. Well Ecuadorians LOVE to use it. It really isn’t the word itself that annoys me, it is the way that they say it. Ecuadorians are always asking to get something for free “regalame un poquito mas de.... fill in the food/object/etc here” meaning “give me a little more ___ for free.” There is a unique tone that fellow volunteers and I refer to as the “ecua whine” and it is VERY overused when they say “regalar.” Imagine people going into a store or restaurant and saying in a whinny voice “just give it to me for free...” ANNOYING

LOVE: This word is also used in a very poetic and beautiful way that reminds me why I love the Spanish language. After spending a day with friends one might say “gracias por regalarme este dia contigo”-translation- “thank you for gifting me this day with you” or “gracias por regalarme tu compania” -translation- “thank you for gifting me your company.” BEAUTIFUL :)

3. Greetings

HATE: Okay so a couple of months ago I went to meet some friends on a Saturday night. So I arrived and gave a nice wave and big “hola, como estas” to everyone. Then I proceeded to talk to a friend and ask him how his week had been. He totally gave me the cold shoulder and when I asked what was wrong he said that I didn’t greet him properly. Meaning I did not give him a kiss on the cheek when I arrived. Okay, I had lived here nine months and should have known better, but still I thought I was giving him sufficient attention by saying hi and asking about his week. That same night 3 other friends came over to “yell” at me about not properly greeting them. AHHH

LOVE: It is tiring and often awkward to walk up to everyone at a party and say hi and in my case “nice to meet you”, kiss them on the cheek and then repeat the whole process before leaving. However, it is so nice that you walk into a party and are introduced to everyone and talk to the whole room. In an American party you can easily go and talk to only the same people you arrived with. People can often be very separated with their own group of friends and the greeting tradition in Ecuador really breaks the ice and makes everyone interact. Once again, so much more human contact.

4. Rice

HATE: So I have eaten more rice in this year than my all of my previous 22 years combined. To put it simple, I am sick of rice.

LOVE: However, there is this part of the rice called “cocolon” that is so delicious. It is the burnt part of the rice that is scraped off the bottom of the pot... you have to ask for it special because there is only so much of it and it is in high demand. Too bad I am never going to make a batch of rice big enough to create some good “cocolon.”

Thats it. Living in a different culture can be so frustrating and uncomfortable but it can also be so amazing and mind opening when you take time to look for the positive. Thanks Ecuador :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Is this soccer or a beauty pageant?

Round 2... back in Ecuador :)

So my contract with Worldteach ended in July but I just wasn't quite ready to leave Ecuador and the life I have created here. I had an amazing break and trip home for 3 weeks where I was able to eat some DELICIOUS food and spend time with my family and a few friends. I got back to Ecuador a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't be happier with my decision to stay. Life is very different because my Ecua life partner (Krista, the other Portoviejo worldteach volunteer) left me to start grad school. It was so nice this past year to have someone to share the experience with that really understands everything. For example, Krista was there to feel awkward with me when people talk about taboo topics like salary or weight ALL THE TIME and she was there me to feel awkward together when everyone else was completely comfortable just staring at us. Now its just me battling these things but having her here for so long definitely helped me prepare and she still enjoys the stories from afar :) Since I have been back I have been very happily busy and my friends have been great about stopping by to see me at my office, coming running with me, and all those fun things that Krista used to do with me.

Me and Krista before rafting in Banos, Ecuador

Classes have gotten off to a great start... I am especially enjoying my intermediate class because when I started with them a year ago they could say "My name is..." (kind of) and now they can make sentences like "Yesterday I was talking to my sister when my mom called" and "Diamonds are more expensive than pearls." That is a BIG change. Unfortunately I am still having to teach some beginner classes... I mean all of the students are great but it just gets old teaching "What time is it" and "What are you wearing" over and over. In October 3 new volunteers... yes THREE!... are coming to Portoviejo. Two guys and one girl will be coming so I will be able to teach more advanced levels which will be exciting and a fun new challenge.

I also have been teaching about 5 or 6 private lessons every week. They definitely keep me busy and it is a nice switch up from a large class dynamic. I am also continuing my private Spanish lessons... I am only taking class about once a month or so but I really enjoy having someone to ask questions to that actually knows how to explain and has a lot of patience.

What has been taking a lot of my time is SOCCER. I have been playing a lot since I got back because I am participating in a tournament. We have jerseys and all! Mine of course says "Heder" which you will note in the picture... I think that is my separate Ecua persona haha Heather at home, Heder abroad.

So the first day of the tournament I showed up ready to play soccer, but I forgot something SUPER important. Oh no, my 5 pounds of makeup! I forgot soccer is not just a sport, it is also a beauty competition. Really.... there was a beauty pageant to kick of the tournament! One girl from each team participated, they brought dogs, their babies, sashes, skirts, tights, and their teams soccer jersey. I wish I had a picture... I should have seen it coming I mean I have been in Ecuador for a year, but I was too in shock to tell my friends to snap pictures.

My team did not win the beauty pageant, but once we started actually playing we kicked butt! We won 6-0 and have 2 games left to play (we play every Saturday). Unfortunately on practice last Thursday I pulled a muscle in my leg, but I think I have recovered and should be able to play tonight.

I will keep you updated on our results!!!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Patrick turned Patricio!!!!

So a few weeks ago my brother, Patrick, came to visit me in Ecuador!!!!!!! I can't express how excited I was to see him and spend time with him. So here is our Ecua adventure...

We started out in Quito and unfortunately Patrick got here just in time for "Dry Law" which meant there was no alcohol all weekend due to elections. So we didn't really get to see the real Quito, but we still had fun chatting and catching up. We also went to the Teleferiqo which was a cable car that took us to the top of the mountain to an AMAZING view of Quito and the surrounding mountains. That afternoon we tried to catch a bus to Mindo and failed miserably... have spending $15 on cabs (that is a lot in ecua terms) going all around the city trying to find the bus we finally decided to wait until the next day. Instead we walked around Quito and checked out the Basilica and government buildings.

Sunday morning we managed to catch a bus to Mindo... we were the first ones on the bus that morning haha We did NOT want to miss it again. Mindo is a small cloud forest town. It was beautiful and so nice how we could hear the birds and sounds of nature. It was a chill few days, but we managed to fit in some extreme sports. The first day we went on a Canapy tour, flying through the trees. The safety speech was about 2 seconds long ... very different from the Canapy tour I did at home in Asheville. It was great though and we were able to do "superman" and "butterfly" moves by going tandem with a guide haha After our Canapy tour we went to get some delicious fresh fruit juices... Patrick had to try at least one different flavor every day :) Then for dinner Patrick tried Churrasco for the first time.... it was love at first bite. It is a plate of steak, eggs, avocado, salad, and of course rice. Patick managed to eat it at least once a day for the rest of the trip!! Our last day in Mindo we did another extreme activiy... Canyoning, which is repelling down waterfalls. We had the most unsocial guide ever, but we had a great time!

Day 4 in Ecuador.... we headed to Tena, a jungle town! In Tena we went and saw some monkeys on an island preserve and then almost got stuck on the island because the river grew so much... whoops. Tena is known for its White Water Rafting so after our monkey visit we went to sign up for rafting for the next day. This "sign up" turned into a huge trek around the city and once we found an open spot we had to run to our hotel to get money. One problem... we forgot the name and location of our hotel, whoops. Second problem...when we finally made it, the tour group didn't take credit cards. haha it was a mess, but we figured it out and had an AMAZING white water rafting tour. All of the instructions and everything was in Spanish so Patrick had quite a good Spanish day... we also got some war paint on our faces to prepare for the rapids.

The next day we took a bus to Puyo, another jungle town, where we met some of my fellow volunteers from the Coast! It was great to meet up with some other people to go out and check out the night life. We were there for "Fiestas de Puyo" so that night we went to a live concert outside. The next morning we woke up bright and early went on a JUNGLE TOUR!!!! The jungle tour started by spending some time with monkeys...Patrick was on Cloud 9. The monkeys jumped all over us and Patrick found a special friend that sat in his lap for like 20 minutes. haha After playing with the monkeys, we went on a hike to a waterfall. It was beautiful, but a little trechorous. Before Patrick came my mom told me, "don't get stuck on crutches this time," so the whole time I was telling myself "you can't hurt your ankle, you can't hurt your ankle" haha Luckily, I made it through without a scratch and we were rewarded by an amazing waterfall. I think that might have been Patricks favorite part of the whole trip! Our Jungle tour ended with a canoe ride, a visit to an indiginous community, and a climb to a look out where you can see the whole town. All of that for $30... we were very impressed!

We only had one night left so we went to Banos... a city about 2 hours away with great night life. We went out dancing until about 2 and then were heading home, but weren't quite ready to go to sleep. We heard some music coming from behind a door, knocked, and there was an open discoteca! We had a great time dancing salsa and hanging out. It was the perfect last night. We had the whole next day to relax so we went to the "Hot Baths" in Banos. They were the most crowded pools I had ever seen. We were very hesitant, but we eventually got in and it was nice and relaxing.

That night we left around 5 on the bus and made it to Quito to take Patrick to the airport around 11. I was so sad to see him go, but we had an AMAZING week together. I think by the end of the week Patrick and transformed a little more into Patricio.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cycle 3... time flies

Cycle 3.... my last cycle of teaching... time freaking flies!!!!!

We had a week break before this last cycle so we took a trip to Colombia! I know... such a rough life that I lead these days. I left right after my last class of cycle 2 and a bus ride, plane ride, and taxi ride later I was in Santa Marta, Colombia. Santa Marta is a beach town and we spent a day hanging out by the beach and then the next day we went snorkeling. We saw some beautiful coral and fish... it was a blast. The next stop was Cartegena were we did a city tour of all of the beautiful buildings and learned a lot of Colombian history. We had a ridiculous tour guide who turned into more of a photo shoot director... everywhere we went he had a new pose that he wanted us to do. The best was in a random water fountain where he proceeded to tell us, just throw the water up and laugh, more, throw more water. Later he showed us his head shot and told us that he is often an extra in movies... we have a picture to document:

The day after our city tour we decided to take a boat ride to a gorgeous beach... playa blanca. The water was so blue it was amazing. However, getting there was kind of traumatizing. As we were on the
boat a canoe with three boys paddles up next to us. They were paddling really fast to catch the boat and grabbed onto the side. It looked like the boat was going to just let them have a ride which seemed nice because we were in the middle of the ocean, but then the boat stopped. The boys jumped into the water and our captain told us that if we threw coins the boys would catch them. It was the most degrading thing I have ever seen in my life... the boys dove for coins as people threw them and kept them in their mouths. It was like they were animals doing tricks. I have seen many different ways to make money here but that time I had to look away I was so disturbed. Luckily on the boat ride back that was not part of the trip.

On a funny note... I went in a group of 4 Americans girls- fellow volunteers. In Ecuador occasionally people will ask us if we are sisters, but usually only if 2 of us are together. In Colombia, EVERYONE asked us if we were sisters.... apparently we are quadruplets. We don't even look alike!!!!! (picture below... cast your vote if you think we are sisters) This was becoming pretty hilarious and then on the plane ride back it went to another level. The flight attendant was giving out tax and customs forms, but she only gave us one. When we asked her for more she said no, only one per family. It took us awhile to convince her that we weren't sisters but she eventually gave in. Ridiculous!

We made it back to Portoviejo just in time to celebrate my birthday and my friends were great! We had a little get together at my house and then we went out to a discoteca and danced all night. On the TV screen at the club my friends had them write "Happy Birthday Jeder"... since that is what everyone here thinks my name is. Then they preceded to pick me up on their shoulders as people sang happy birthday. Insane, but I love them!

So despite all of the traveling, I have actually been working! Cycle 2 went really well and I feel so much more comfortable in the classroom. I am able to adapt a lot more if things don't go exactly as planned and my instructions/classroom management have really improved. I did a lot of fun stuff in my classes last cycle, but my FAVORITE thing was a Word of the Day in my intermediate and beginner 3 classes. I taught one slang word a day and used them as extra credit on tests. The students really loved them... some of their favorites were B.O., its a piece of cake, stoked, and sketchy. We had journals as well and some of the students would try really hard to include them in their journals... it was awesome. On the final test I had them choose 4 word of the day's that they remembered and write a story with them for extra credit. Below is an example of what my intermediate student wrote:

I have problems: Frist, I lost my job and now I am broke and I need a job hunt..!! Second I have a little crush on Carlos, my friend but he is a player and I don't like that so when he says: "I like you" I played hard to get, but I fell in love with him! and I don't know what I can do!! I need to chill!!!

How awesome is that???? I can't wait to see what Cycle 3 brings. We have a new volunteer in town so we are able to offer even more classes. She is super sweet so I am excited to work with her.

It is sad to think that my time here is coming to an end, but I am definitely going to make the best of my last few months here and aprovecharlos!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Me Toca Escribir

Me toca escribir... aka its about time for me to write again. My life has been a whirl wind these past couple of weeks, but I am loving it! I feel like I am finally being productive here and really getting integrated into my community.

A couple of weeks ago a Rotary Club from Alabama came into Portoviejo to give out wheel chairs. Somehow we got connected with them and helped them build the chairs and then served as translators on the day that they gave them out. It was really weird but nice to interact with a group of Americans. A lot of them were really sweet business men that reminded me of my dad and didn’t try to creepily hit on me at all!!!!! It was so refreshing, but definitely made me miss my family. The translating was interesting... I had to translate the opening speech and 4 different television interviews. Talk about intimidating! The guy I was translating for apparently wanted to come across eloquent and kept talking about how they were crossing borders, joining nations, and all of these intense ideas. In English it sounded great, but he would have come off a lot better in my Spanish if he had kept it simple... what a mess. They kept asking me to translate for more people so I guess I did good enough, but it certainly made me realize that translating is a completely different skill than speaking Spanish. I got the chance to interact with a lot of special needs kids from the community through that project and in total we gave out over 70 wheel chairs!!!! It was awesome and now we are in contact with the Rotary Club here for when more groups come :)

We (Krista and I) also finally started up our free Advanced English class from English Teachers from Portoviejo. We advertised by putting up flyers around the University, Hospital, and random other places and we also put an ad in the local newspaper. The first day over 70 teachers came to the class!!!!!!! We were overwhelmed but very excited. We have class every Thursday and just finished our 3rd week. Every week we discuss a new idiom, answer any questions they have, and lead a discussion/activity. The activities are very different from my normal classes and are a lot more like activities that I did during volunteer retreats in college (KW... I am thinking our retreat business could go international). For example, last week they had to prioritize different items they would need if they were stranded in the ocean. Then at the end of class we relate it back to them and come up with ideas how they could change this activity to a lower level or to focus on different grammar points. I REALLY look forward to this class every week!

My other classes are going really well... we just had “Portoviejo Fashion Week” in my Beginner 2 class and it was hilarious! Creativity was a big part of the grade so we had some intense modeling going on haha

One of the groups after presenting a look from each season!

My foot has completely heeled (finally) so I have started playing soccer twice a week again. I also started a baileterapia class... yes, dance therapy. It is an aerobics dance class and it is a blast! One of the English teacher’s sisters runs the class and he is letting us go for free as a trade off for our free English class... ballin!

My host mom is living in the United States for 2 months so everything at home is a little different, but luckily I still get to hang out with my little brothers and my host dad and I are getting closer. I am so busy that I am not home as much, which my little brother has certainly noticed. I took him to the movies and to his swimming class last week so I think we are okay now. My host mom returns in about a month and she will be bringing back a new baby! I can’t wait but I am really interested to see how the dynamic around here will change.

On Sunday I leave for a week long trip. It is Carnaval in Ecuador/all of South America which apparently is a big party all over the country where people throw water, flour, and everything they can find. I am going with a bunch of friends to Canoa (Jennifer... I will tell everyone you say hi) and then I am going with a couple other volunteers to the north coast.. Mompiche. It is supposed to be beautiful but it is an 8 hr bus ride so we are taking advantage of this full week off to go. I can’t wait to tell you all how it goes!!!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Its already February?

Its about time I posted again... I just realized the last time I posted was in December and so much has happened. First off, NEW YEARS! I went to the beach with a couple of other volunteers and had a blast bringing in the new year. I learned all kinds of Ecuadorian traditions. For example, wearing yellow undergarments is supposed to bring good luck. My favorite tradition is the burning of "Ano viejos" which are paper mache dolls that represent the old year. They are in shapes of soccer players, cartoons, and of course... the Simpsons! One of my favorite things is a good fogata (bon fire) so burning these ano viejos on the beach was a GREAT way to start of the new year.

The next big event was my best friend visiting!!!!! I went to pick Jennifer up from the airport at midnight on the the second and we traveled to Portoviejo the next morning. I was so excited to see her that I decided to jump in the cab instead of step and fell. I ended up spraining my ankle on the first day of Jennifer's trip... she can definitely say that she got to see more than just the tourist side of Ecuador, because we spent hours at a clinic. That is, once we found one where a doctor was present (that would be the 3rd one). I got a $20 x-ray which was a pretty sweet deal, but then was told basically nothing. He gave me a prescription and I clearly said that I wanted pills- pastillas- and not a shot -inyecion-. I DO know these words in spanish and they sound nothing alike. However, my host mom went into the pharmacy and preceded to get the take home shot which our maid had to give me in my behind. This sparked the comment, "eres muy blanca" (you are very white) as if she hadn't noticed before haha. My little brothers (not so secretly) loved this injury. One of them nicknamed me "kangrujo" for hopping around so much and the other stole my crutches every time I walked in the door so that he could attempt to use them.

Jennifer and I didn't let this little injury get us down... I went out and bought crutches and we set off on the beach trip that we had planned.

The first day we went to Crucita with a friend and Jennifer went paragliding. I was jealous, but I have plenty of time to go back again. Unfortunately, we had another little snag in our trip. I was "watching" my friends bag while she went running on the beach and 2 guys on a motorcycle managed to come by and steal it. We were engrossed in our books and not paying attention and of course the sprained ankle kind of limited me from doing anything. It was very unfortunate... Ecuador did not hold back at all for Jennifer. The rest of our trip was pretty smooth... except for my face plant. That was at the beginning of my time with the crutches and eventually my skills improved. We spent a lot of our time relaxing on the beach, reading books, and drinking fruity drinks. Jennifer got really good at ordering drinks in Spanish for us... such a good little waitress! haha One night we went to Manta where I have some other volunteer friends and Ecua friends. We went out to a discoteca and I rocked the crutches look. As if 5 giant gringas didn't call enough attention, here I was hobbling around. We had a great time- Jennifer got to learn all of the top latino songs and I got to do a lot of "mom chair dancing." I have to say, I got pretty good at it. The next day my friend David took us to one of his favorite surfing spot. It is a small beach with lots of fisherman and no tourists- it was a pretty cool local experience for Jennifer to have.

Unfortunately she had to leave me and I had to get back to teaching... on crutches. Luckily, my classroom has rolling chairs which I took full advantage of. One of my students even said, "teacher, it is your car." Despite the foot injury, teaching has been great this cycle. I have a lot more confidence as a teacher, but I have some new challenges. One of my classes is tiny- 4 students! Luckily, it is high intermediate so I can do a lot of spontaneous conversation activities if necessary. Another class has 10 students and they are so quiet! I had to have a conversation with them about how English is a SPOKEN language so they have to speak. Some days that class is super boring, but I am finding more and more activities that really work for that class dynamic. My most difficult challenge is my Beginner 2 class of 31 students! My biggest class last cycle was 17 so this was a huge jump for me. I have had to adjust a lot of my activities to work with a larger class, but I had a great week with them and am feeling good about my new strategies. Unfortunately, I have had to be much stricter in a class that size, but I am surprised at how well they behave now. I am giving myself a pat on the back for my new found classroom management.

In January we had our Mid-service conference with all of the volunteers which was really motivational. It game me lots of good ideas which I took back to my classroom and it really kicked me into gear getting some community projects started. These 6 months have gone by so fast and I only have 6 more. In the works are: an advanced class for English professors in Portoviejo, translating for medical mission trips for groups from the US (random connection we just made!), and possibly horse therapy for kids with special needs (if my host mom follows through- fingers crossed). Hopefully I will have an update on those soon.

Right after mid-service I had a site visit from my directors. I was nervous, but it was actually super helpful. They came and observed my classes and gave me great feedback and constructive criticism that I have really put to use. We also got some time to just hang out and talk through our project ideas, etc with them.

Other highlights:
1.superbowl "party" planned for this weekend. Treating ourselves with American snack food! yay
2.Went to a huge music festival - Nawi- my friend won a t-shirt in a dance competition!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mom and Dad come to Ecuador!!!!!!!!

Right before Christmas my parents made it down to visit me in Ecuador! My last day of classes was December 15th and I hopped right on a bus after class to go meet them in Guayaquil. They got in late so we stayed at a hotel and then got right back on a bus first thing in the morning to bring them to Portoviejo. Yes, my dad rode in Ecuadorian buses. I am pretty sure that they would have failed his safety inspection miserably but they got us to where we needed to be. My family fixed us a huge Ecuadorian lunch with shrimp as a treat. They were somehow shocked when my parents got here and they really didn't speak any Spanish... they looked at me and said "you weren't lying...not one word." My host mom was really cute and tried to use her limited English to communicate. My favorite was when she said "you English, me Spanish, big problem." Even though there was a lot of translating involved I thought the conversation moved along pretty well. That afternoon I took my parents to my University so they could see my classroom and office and also because there is nothing else to show them in Portoviejo... we got back to the house and had dinner with my host family and then my friend Krista came over to meet my parents. We all sat around and talked and then my little brother insisted that we play both playstation soccer and soccer on the patio to "show my parents how we play." My host family took off work and school for my parents visit so they decided to take us on one of their epic beach trips... this always beens hours in the car and limited time at the beach. On this particular day they decided to invite our housekeeper to come along for the first time which meant we were packing 8 people in a 5 person truck. It also happened to rain for the first time in 4 months so we couldn't ride in the back. There is nothing like sitting on top of each other for 4 hours to bond some families... We made it back to Portoviejo in time to catch our bus to Guayaquil but on our way there with about 15 minutes to spare I remembered that I had left my passport in my room. AHHHH We somehow made it back to the house and to the bus before it left-- it was the first time I was happy that everything runs behind schedule.

In the morning we left from Guayaquil to the GALAPAGOS!!!!! We stayed on Santa Cruz island where we got to see a bunch of giant turtles up close at the Charles Darwin Station. They were surprisingly active but every time I tried to get close for a picture they had this creepy deep throat sound... it freaked me out. Santa Cruz is also home to Tortuga Bay... a beautiful white sand beach. We had to walk 30 minutes from the entrance of the park to even reach the beach but it was beautiful. We planned two day trips and the first trip was to Bartolome Island. We took a two hour boat ride to get there and then hiked up the volcanic comb to an amazing view where we could see the Penacle Rock- it is the most photographed view in Galapagos. We went snorkling around the Penacle rock and got to see some Sea Lions swimming and active on the beach. We even saw a penguin but it looked surprisingly like a duck when it was swimming. The next day we went to Isabela island where we saw Flamingos, a white tipped shark, penguins fishing :), and TONS of iguanas. We even saw a giant turtle on the beach that our tour guides helped back to sea. We went snorkling again and then headed back to Santa Cruz for dinner and drinks.

We flew back to Guayaquil the next morning and had all day to explore the city. We walked along the river and people watched for awhile and then walked up 444 stairs to a nice view of the city. Guayaquil is one hectic city! That night we took advantage of the hotel and mom and I spent some time in the hot tub and pool. We had a nice breakfast the next day and then mom and dad headed off to the airport. I took advantage of that hot shower one more time and then went to the terminal to catch a bus to Portoviejo.

We had a great time and it was definitely the best Christmas gift I could have asked for!

New Years is coming up and I am looking forward to the fun Ecuadorian traditions... then my best friend is visiting for a week! I am feeling lucky these days... anyone else want to book a plane flight?