Friday, October 29, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousands Words

Hello all!

This past week we did a 4 day trek through Huascaran National Park in Peru. The highest altitute we reached was 15,500 feet. Although we had some cases of altitude sickness, we all had a great time. The pictures we took can describe how incredible it was better than we ever could with words. We spent the night in Huaraz and caught a bus to Lima in the morning. We spent one night in Lima before catching a plane to Cuzco for 2 weeks of spanish school and homestay family excitement.
We´ve been having some technical difficulties so this is the only picture we can get to load right now. Stay tuned!
Anna and Mia

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Last Week in Ecuador

Hi Everybody,

We last left off in Otavalo and so much has happened since then. Last time we blogged we were about to go to Cuicoche (thats how you actually spell it) a crater lake right outside of Otavalo. To hike around the whole thing it takes a number of hours so we only hiked a portion of it to get spectacular views. After hiking for an hour or so we had delicious sandwiches and jumped back into the bus to go to hotsprings. Though the water made everybody´s bug bites super itchy and also caused many people´s skin to peel it was very relaxing.

That night we celebrated Claire´s 21st birthday. We went to a pizzeria and suprised her with a cake and some cinnamon. The cake was delicious and although it was hard to not be home for her birthday we all had fun together. Sunday was her actual birthday so we suprised her in the morning with handcrafted journal paper birthday cards. Its the thought that counts.

After a delicious breakfast at the hostal we left Otavalo for Intag where we spent the last week. We lived again with families in San Antonio de Pucara, a village within the region of Intag. The community greeted us with a number of song and dance presentations and also forced us to participate in some embarassing games. It was a great way to start our time there. We also met Peter who led our reforestation projects with an organization called Canopy Co. He is originally from the US but lives in Pucara working to help the community. We were all split into pairs for our homestays (the three boys were together) and all of our families were incredibly nice. The homestays weren´t as luxurious as Cuenca but they weren´t quite as rural as Agualongo.

Monday we participated in a minga with the community. A minga is a community project. Generally they pick one day when everybody works together on a certain project. We worked with many members of the community to plant a thousand trees to help reforest land in their region that had previously been used for pasture. We didn´t really know what we were getting into but we all packed our backpacks with little baby trees and hiked forty minutes aka an hour and a half up in the forest. It was hard work but very important. We didn´t reach our goal of a thousand but we planted around six hundred trees.

Tuesday we woke up early to hike down to the river. We borrowed canastas (woven basket backpacks) from our families and collected plants. After we had collected enough plants we took them all back to Peter´s farm to bag them for later use in reforestation projects. Later in the afternoon we participated in a soccer game with some of the kids from the community and practiced our acroyoga and handstands. Then we got to spend some quality time with our homestay families.

On Wednesday we went to Peter´s farm again to finish bagging and planting some trees. A portion of our group slaved away on the side of a mountain for hours digging holes, avoiding giant poisonous spiders and planting trees. Although it was very difficult, the trees we planted offset the carbon that we used to fly from LA to Quito and back. That afternoon we ate another wonderful lunch at Peter´s house with a group of highschool students visiting from Atlanta. We also got a tour of Peter´s farm and learned about Permaculture and organic farming. That evening we had a despedida (farewell) with the community with more singing and dancing. We even prepared a song to the tune of ¨Wonderwall¨ by Oasis.

Thursday we left Pucara early in the morning. We couldn´t believe how quickly our time had passed and we were all very sad to leave our host families. Peter took us on some tours of local farms and we learned all about fair trade coffee. After lunch we hiked down the face of the Inca it was a really steep trail and many of us fell multiple times. It is called the face of the Inca because when you look at it from the opposite side you can see a face in the mountainside. That night we stayed in a hostal near some hotsprings.

Friday morning we took a tour of a forest reserve and got our last views of the Ecuadorian country before heading back to Otavalo to catch our bus to Quito. We spent last night in Quito and we got a taste of the city today. In the morning we went to Shungoloma which means heart of the earth in Kichwa. It was a small museum that represented many facets that make up the orientation and importance of Ecuador in the world including the mountain ranges as the heart of the world and the rainforest as the lungs. After that we headed the the old part of the city and visited an amazing basilica along with other important sites. We had a delicious lunch for $1.50 and also stopped at an amazing ice cream place. In the afternoon many of us went to the Guayasamin museum.

The next moring we had to leave our hostal at 5AM to catch a flight to Lima, Peru. After landing in Peru we took an eight hour bus ride to Huaraz where we will begin our week of free travel. The group has organized a four day trek. We are all so excited to be in Peru and we will update you when we finish the trek!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thanks for Everything Agualongo!

Hi Everybody,

Greetings from your new bloggers, Mia and Anna. Be prepared for the best blogs ever.

Our second week in Agualongo was easier and went by so quickly. We all became more comfortable with our families and grew to love the community. The groups switched and everybody had new roles in the clinic and spanish classes.

Our weekend in Agualongo was very interesting. There was a wedding in the community so there was lots of celebrating. We all attended the wedding fiesta on Sunday and many of the girls got to dress in indigenous clothing. We learned about local wedding traditions including a face washing ceremony. The bride a groom and several other family members partake in a face washing with flower and stinging nettle water. At the end they threw the water at the crowds watching- one poor little girl got soaked. There was a lot of eating and some dancing which most everybody enjoyed. Some of us were even brave enough to try cuy- a local delicacy also known as guinea pig.

One of our afternoons was spent at a Tandana volunteer´s host family´s house. Lauren´s host dad is a shaman and we got to learn all about some plants he uses and what he does. He taught us that being a shaman is something you inherit from your family and is a life long learning process. He also told us about the responsibilities of being a shaman. There are some people who abuse the knowledge of the powers of the plants. Even though there is more money in the evil, he stressed the importance of using his knowledge to heal and help. We got to see his healing den and it was incredible.

Another afternoon was spent visiting Master Weaver Miguel Andrango. He taught us the process of turning sheep´s wool into thread and showed us the natural dyes he uses. He demonstrated the backstrap loom weaving that is common in the Andes. He told us that the piece he was working on would take him a minimum of three weeks working seven hour days. Needless to say, his work was amazing. We looked around a shop and he ended up gifting us a few of his treasures. Fun fact: his wife was on the cover of the 1989 edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to Ecuador.

On Thursday afternoon we went to Jessica´s host family´s house in Agualongo and made bread. We had to mix HUGE buckets of dough and had fun making bread of many different shapes. We discovered that some shapes worked much better than others. We have never seen that much bread in one place in my life. We cooked the bread in the new oven they made for the community. It was made out of bricks and mud. After everybody had filled up on bread, we went to Mia´s host family´s house for a goodbye dinner of corn soup with cuy and mote (not mota which was a typo in an earlier blog, do not worry we were not eating bowls of mota).

For our goodbye on Friday the community had a despedida. We had a big lunch (more cuy) and then put on a long performance to thank the community. We wrote a rap for them- lyrics to be posted at a later date. We also wrote them a short speech, sang them ¨The General¨ by Dispatch accompanied by Austin (boy) on the guitar and the health song in Kichwa. They really appreciated us coming and made some speeches themselves. Vicente, Tandana´s local coordinater, played the harmonica and guitar for everybody. It was really sad to say goodbye but we all got so much out of the experience and formed amazing relationships with the community. We´ll never forget it!

As sad as it was to say goodbye we´re looking forward to our next adventure. We spent last night in Otavalo and today we are going on a hike at Cuichoa a crater lake followed by a trip to the hotsprings which we´re all looking forward to. Next week we´re heading to Intag to live with families and do some reforestation work. We won´t have much internet access but we´ll update you as soon as we do!

Your new favorite bloggers,

Mia and Anna

Saturday, October 9, 2010

First Week in Agualongo

Hola Todos,

We have been in a small Andean, rural community for the past week, each in our own homestay families. Living conditions have been intense but varied. We´ve all learned to appreciate comfort and convenience which we experience at home. However, it is an incredible experience regardless-there is no better way to learn about a language and culture than living with the families and in their reality.Our living conditions have been unlike anything we have ever experienced before. We are sleeping on woven mats with an alpaca blanket on the dirt or cemenet floors of our families houses. The nights can get quite chilly, so it has definitly taken some getting used to. The concept of privacy is also much different here. Most of us are sleeping in a room with the rest of our family members, so needless to say, we are all quite bonded for better or worst.

For the two weeks we are here we are split into two groups for the days activities. Lucky for you, your two bloggers can represent both of these groups...Firstly, I, Megan, have been a part of the volunteer medical clinic group which is run through an amazing organization called the Tandana Foundation ( This has been a great, hands on way to help the local people of the Andes access healthcare...which actually travels to them rather than forcing them to get to a city for attention. Each member of the clinic group has had a job this week including: doctor´s assistant (Joe and Anna), dentist´s assistant (yours truly), vitals takers (Natalie and Austin L) and pharmacy (Catherine).

This can be quite the task when you are getting questions in spanish from all sides. Our days begin around 9-930 and end between 1-3 depending on the need of the community. We usually see about 25-40 patients and help them to the best of our ability and our resources. It has also been a treat to work closely with Anna, the founder of Tandana, who is inspiring in her work in Ecuador as well as her ability to work with many different cultures. Now i´ll pass the torch to Austin (girl)...

¡Hola! After another week of intense spanish lessons, I think we are all feeling much more confident and capable of communicating with our host families. Monday through Friday Emma, Mia, Claire, Jim, Jessica, and I (Austin) spent four hours every morning paired with one other student and our spanish tutor. The teachers were great and were even nice enough to travel from the city for us. It was also an experience to be taking classes in the local daycare center. We were constantly amused by the children´s antics, although we were ocasionally scared for their and our safety. After a week of witnessing children excaping over the fence, playing with machetes and flaming sticks, and torturing puppies (all done without pants), we all have a new found respect for the daycare ladies.

Afternoons were either spent with the group playing games and reconnecting or doing activites with Tandana. At 4 PM each day it was always nice to reunite with our other half. One evening we spent (again split) half in a Kichwa lesson and the other half in an Ecuadorian cooking class, which led to a wonderous feast. We consumed diligently seasoned steak, potato balls with cheese, mota (look it up), tomato salad, chamomile tea and a delicious raisin cake wrapped and steamed in a palm leaf. It was nice to spend sometime with the other Tandana volunteers by the fire as well. Kichwa is the locally spoken idiom here and most of our host parents learn spanish as a second language, so they really appreciate our effort to learn their native tongue. Here´s a say thank you in kichwa you can either say ¨dios le pague¨(god pays you) shortened to ¨pagui¨ or just ¨pai¨. Another afternoon some of the group members participated in a futbol game with the local children near the community center, which was heated to say the least. Many of the kids playing were members of our host families.

We drafted new group agreements:

1) No exclusive (especially sexual) relationships in the next two weeks.
2) Be on time, and that means ready to go!
3) No cliques: Carpe oppurtunities to connect one-on-one with everyone (turkey burger time).
4) Thou shalt check thyself prior to wrecking thyself: if you can´t say it to their face, don´t say it at all.
5) Participate to your honest, full potential.
6) Carpe present; stay diem


In the beginning of the trip we drafted group agreements, and this is our revised version for the coming weeks.

After this week, we´ll spend the weekend in Otavalo and possibly do some hiking in the Andes. Sunday, we are off to the valley, cloud forest of Intag. We will update you more on what is in store there later on.

Hasta Luego,

much love,

Austin girl and Megan

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Arrival in Otovalo

Hey folks,

Quick update. After an 11 hour bus ride, we have arrived safely in Otovalo. We are about 1 hour north of the capital, Quito. We arrived at about 6:30 and had an hour to kill before breakfast at a friendly hostel called La Valle de Amanecer (Valley of the Dawn). We then took a little walk around a local artisans market, which had plentiful amounts of alpaca goods. It was difficult not to buy everything we got our hands on.

We are meeting a representative from Tandana Foundation at 11 AM for orientation and then we´ll be off to meet our individual host families for the next two weeks. We´ve been told this homestay will be very rural and the most rugged we´ve experienced thus far. We´ll be spending these next two weeks split into two groups in the morning, one at spanish school and the other volunteering with a community health project. In the afternoons the group will be together for various activities.

Although Cuenca will be missed, it is exciting to be in new scenery and be immersed in a different Ecuadorian culture. Hopefully we will have computer access again soon to let you know how our homestays are going.

Much love,

Megan and Austin girl

Friday, October 1, 2010


Hola Los Extranejeros

We have been in Cuenca, a colonial city in the south of the Ecuadorian Andes, for 5 days and have learned absurd amounts of glorious EspaƱol. Our mornings have consisted of 5 hours of one-on-one Spanish study with afternoons of various group activies including but not limited to: a city tour, Salsa lessons, a guided visit through a museum with a historical and present representation of different regions and peoples of Ecuador, a cancelled cooking class due to the strikes (more on that later) and getting to know the history-rich Cuenca.

Us girls have been paired up in homestays around Cuenca while the boys have been in their own. This has been a great oppurtunity to speak spanish and experience the lives of local Cuencans. Lunches are the heaviest meal here with at least two courses. Dinners are much lighter and sometimes do not occur at all. It´s okay though, we´re strong (besides Joe who gets spoiled for his endless stomach capacity).

In other news...As you all have heard, during our time here in Cuenca, there was a bit of unrest. During our morning snack break yesterday, we got the news that the police of Ecuador were going on strike due to a cut in their bonuses by President Correa. We were assured that strikes are a common occurance here; however, this is the first occasion that the police have done this. In Quito, things were violent. Here it only consisted of police and their families driving around the city with sirens causing things to go a bit slower than usual (as they tend to be slow already). Today it seems to have completely calmed down in Cuenca besides the military suits paroling the streets with unnecessary riot gear.

Today we travelled into the Cajas National Park. This park is incredibly beautiful partly because of the 235 lakes within it. We think this must be one of the most high density lake populations in the world in one area in the world. We were accompanied by our trusty guide, Pablo, who rightfully explained the beauties which surrounded us. We went for a 2 hour+ hike through these beautiful mountains of the Andes. The 13,000 foot altitude started affecting us slightly, all our hearts were racing, but we took slow. We got back to the city just in time for lunch with our host families and then finally an afternoon to explore the city for all its extravagence.

Tonight we are getting together to put our new-found salsa skillz to the test at a local salsa club...wish us luck!

Tomorrow we have a full day of rock climbing followed by an overnight bus to Otovalo in the north (back the northern hemisphere for two weeks!) It´s 13 hours so hopefully we´ll make it fun, as we always do. Hope you all are doing fabulously back in the US of A and not missing us too much but know we miss you!

besos y brazos a todos


Yo fav bloggers

Megan y Austin girl

Updates from South America

Dear family and friends,
Another update from the Carpe home office - we've been in touch with the group and wanted to let you all know their plans over the next few days. The situation on the ground in Cuenca has been calm. While the group has been taking precautions, they haven't felt at all unsafe where they are. They are planning on doing some hiking on Friday in Cajas National Park, going rock climbing on Saturday morning, and then packing up and heading north on Saturday night. They have been in touch with numerous people in Quito and all our contacts there have confirmed that roads are open and safe. While the group will be passing through Quito on their way up to Otavalo, they will only be stopping there to switch buses. Our contacts have assured us that buses are still running on schedule and all the bus terminals are open. Know that the group is well and they are looking forward to moving up to Otavalo for the next couple weeks of volunteering and language school. Once they arrive and settle in to Otavalo, they will post a blog with their updates.
All the best,
Heather Diamond
Carpe Diem Latitudes Director