Saturday, March 26, 2011

sup dudes

                Free travel couldn't have gone by any faster. Though at first we were somewhat nostalgic of the times we had in Agualongo, it was any easy adjustment to life around Trujillo. The sandy shores of Huanchaco graced us with their beauty and hospitality giving us the perfect opportunity to unwind and relax. We filled our days shredding the gnar, eating, and getting our golden tans. Our nights being spend putting on our poker faces and having show downs in talking spades. The world championships of spades are beginning to look like a run away. With all our pride and self respect on the line, Ari and Mike L are getting spanked by Mike C and I, 2 sets to zero. I hope they feel terrible about themselves if they get sweeped. We were able to get a van ride out to the shore known for having longest pipeline in the world. Although it wasn't at its 2km record fashion we were able to get some of the best gnar sessions of our lives while indulging in the tranquility of a traditional low key beach town.

                Yesterday marks the last day of beach life for the rest of this trip, but we are all anxiously awaiting time in Cusco, the Amazon, and Manchu. We have a home stay awaiting us in Cusco, one casa housing the nine of us, for the next two weeks where we will be able to resume our Spanish course and get cozy with each other. Missing you all back home but not really, we having a ball and will completely forget about you guys once we get another frisbee. There´s supposed to be a superhero party tonight and I have an insider telling me Spiderman and Superman will be making appearances.


                                                                                                                                      With love, hugs, and kisses,

                                                                                                                                                                              Nick Cash Kessler


Week 6 in Equador brought many things for some of us it brought important lessons, like don´t put paint thinner in sprite bottles because some of us, Ari, will drink random open sprite bottles. It also brought a slew of sicknesses to our group, taking me out for the better part of the week. While I was out for the count the rest of the group continued on with the healthcare work and teaching at the school. In the classroom Nick and Erin excelled at teaching english to the 8th and 9th graders by introducing Jepordy and entertained the third grade by repeatedly singing "Head, shoulders, knees, and toes" faster and faster and teaching them the english version of one of their favorite games, "Que Hora es Sr. Lobo". While Campos, Daniela, and Ari took a different swing on it and taught the older kids to sing along to "Hey Jude" and played games with the younger kids. Out in the field it was cool to see how the communities really appreciated the healthcare work that was being done, it was also awesome that Nick got the opportunity to play dentist and not only pull a tooth but also administer the local anesthetic. Our last night in Agualongo was spent in the near by town of Quichinche at a festival which included a parade which most of the group danced in. Simone, Daniela, Sarah, and Erin looked stunning in the traditional dress and Nick really pulled off the early westernesque traditional attire of a cowboy hat, a red bandana, a leather vest, and very furry chaps. While Ari tried to fit in with black pinstripe overalls, and a traditional shirt (because his costume was infested with scabies after both he and Miguel got it). Nearer to the end of the night we migrated to the carnavalish area complete with a swinging dragon ride, haunted house, and assorted other games. I think I speak for everyone who whent both on the dragon ride and in the haunted house that it was worth the dollar it cost to obtain a state of freefalll for a few moments on each peak of the dragon or get scared better than some of the haunted in the states can. Our last day in Agualongo was bitter-sweet because we were saying good bye to the families and community which had taken us under its wing for the past two weeks, and slightly sweet because we now only had a short bus ride between us and hot showers and proper beds. After a wonderful meal and a parting song performed by SamIAm we gathered our gear for a final ride down the hill in the back of Guevarra's truck to the bus stop, where after a mad dash for some last minute pie we boarded the 2 hour bus to Quito.
-Joseph "Maverick" Sariego

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sam I Am kicked off our fourth week rounding out an eleven hour bus ride. We rolled into Otavalo at 6:30 in the morning for a free day to enjoy the city. From the bus terminal we groggily stumbled the eight or so blocks to our hostel. Luckily, we found it to be equipped with hammocks, delicious breakfasts, and the best damn showers we have encountered in Ecuador thus far.

After a lazy morning of snacking and Spades we decided to make our way to the Peguche waterfall. We have been informed that on a normal day at Peguche you can enjoy the beautiful sights in peace and even whisper your secrets to the falls and be cleansed. However, last Sunday we were still in the heart of Carnaval so we had a different experience entirely that included crowds, an excess of foam, water fights, and the occasional explosion of colored flour. Our superheroes once again made an appearance and were kind enough to provide the public with photo-ops upon request. The rest of our day was spent roaming the world-famous Otavalan market, Plaza de los Ponchos, and indulging in more good food.

Monday morning brought the start of two weeks of homestays in Agualongo and our work with the Tandana Foundation, an organization devoted to building relationships and providing support for the towns of indigenous Ecuadorians around Otavalo. Anna, the founder of Tandana along with a few other volunteers met us at our hostel for orientation. We had a quick crash-course on life in Agualongo and our schedule for the next two weeks including a brief lesson in Kichwa, the native language of Ecuador that our homestay families speak in addition to Spanish. From there we made our way to Agualongo. We were each dropped off at our homes to meet our families and then promptly made our way to the community center for a welcoming ceremony followed by a slightly chaotic game of soccer. Unsurprisingly, us gringos did not come out ahead.

Immediately after our day took a turn in a quite different direction and we headed to Las Palmeras Hotel where a small gathering for volunteers and visiting donors was being held. The party was hosted at the hotel owner, Nik´s, home. Nik is a rather eccentric older Englishman who splits his time between Manhattan and Otavalo. He got to know Tandana through volunteers staying at his hotel and included the construction of a medical storage facility for the foundation when he built his new home.

Tuesday we participated in a local minga, which meant the nine of us spent the morning picking up trash around Agualongo along with the other young people of the town. A minga is an alternative to taxes that most of the indigenous villages use around Ecuador. A project is selected and planned that every family must contribute to, whether that be sending a member to help work or providing refreshments for the volunteers. Our afternoon was spent taking inventory of the medical storage facility at Las Palmeras in preparation for our health clinic work for this upcoming week.

Wednesday morning was spent weeding and planting seedlings at Muyo, a tree nursery dedicated to the rehabilitation and reforestation of indigenous plants in the area. From there we spent a long afternoon in a cooking class hosted by Claudia, a former scholarship student of Anna´s who is now opening a cooking school with her family. We made llapingachos (fried cheese potatoe dumplings), carne colorada (steak curry), rice and pea empanadas, and quimbolita (an angel food cake made by steaming heaps of batter wrapped in giant leaves). It took us about five hours to make dinner for twenty people and the results were certainly worth it.

Thursday and Friday were converting the old kitchen into a new library at the local school. Some group members sanded and painted the room while the rest meticulously covered books with contact paper to ensure they would have a long life span in the library. There was a lot of book covering. We had a quite pleasant afternoon on Friday harvesting Frigole (beans) at the house of Campos´ homestay family. We spent about twenty minutes filling our bagswith beans before plopping ourselves down in a potatoe patch in the middle of the corn fields and eating as much choclos (raw corn on the cob) and caña (the sugar-cane like substance in the center of corn stalks). We were joined by a few young children of Agualongo who put us to shame with our swiss army knives by peeling the caña with their teeth and chowing down on about five full cornstalks a piece. Luckily, our brief bean-harvesting work still provided Campos´ family with enough beans for the rest of the year!

Saturday morning brought another minga. The project was tiling the community center floors, however, the level of organization involved was minimal and after scrubbing away at the cement ground and soaking a few tiles we ran out of ways to contribute. Then we had a free afternoon to enjoy some timein Otavalo. Saturday is the biggest day for the outdoor market so many of us returned home with a new accessory or article of clothing. In Nick´s case, a full new outfit of traditional Ecuadorian attire in the form of red-striped overalls and a bright green fedora. We´re all seriously considering following suit. It could be a good look for Sam I Am.

Our week has been very busy, but very enjoyable. Our familes have all been very kind and welcoming and each day we have plenty of opportunities to practice both our Spanish and Kichwa.

Hope all is well where you are, much love to our friends and family.

Your blogger for the week,

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Second week in Cuenca

Dear readers of SAM blog,

We started our second week in Cuenca off with an amazing hike through a national park in Cajas. We continued our Spanish classes, which took place in our classrooms and out in the city, where we visited markets, museums, a zoo, etc. After searching for the past week or so we were finally able to acquire a frisbee, which got a lot of use in the park. Cuenca was an awesome place to be during the Ecuadorian ¨Carnaval¨ celebration, because there´s a tradition that invites everyone to throw water-balloons and spray foam at pedestrians on the streets. We went through multiple 100-packs of water-balloons, some of us going out with backpacks full of them at a time. Campos, Nick, and I bought superhero costumes (Spiderman, Superman, and Batman, respectively) which further enlivened the Carnaval experience for us. On Saturday, we all packed our bags, said goodbye to our host families and Cuenca, and left on an overnight bus (12 hours long) to Otavalo. We´re all having an amazing trip so far and miss everyone back at home.

Michael L.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

¡Hola from Cuenca!

Well, here we are in cuenca, Ecuador! After travelling from Canoa on an overnight bus on Saturday, we were all rushed away from the bus station by our respective host families on Sunday morning. I have my own family due to the odd number of poeple in our group, but  most are living with partners. We´ve all been having a really good experience with it so far. My host dad, Oscar, is Columbian and very funny. He is always telling me to ¨tranquila" (relax) and that his casa es mi casa. He claims to be a member of the Mafia, but he is kidding... I think... Ha. Anyway, we´re glad with the way things worked out there! People here seem to eat much smaller meals than we´re used to, so that has been an adjustment!
Monday through Friday, we have Spanish class from 8-12. The school is beautiful, comfortable, and has a constant suppy of teas, coffee, and hot chocolate to keep us going- that much Spanish  can get exhausting! However, I for one can definitely say that my Spanish has improved in just the three weeks that we´ve been in this beautiful country. The school has also supplemented our lessons with cooking classes, city tours, and salsa dancing lessons (involving many laughs and stepped-on feet!)

We have spent our afternoons and evenings exploring the markets, shopping, playing ultimate frisbee in the parks, spending time with our host families, eating (local cuisine, along with KFC for a few of us!) . There continues to be at least one deck of cards in play during every free moment. This weekend, we checked out a local discoteca for some cultual experience! An experience it certainly was, although personally I could have done with a few less local chicos pursuing me for being a gringa, and a few more of those free cotton candies!

On Sunday we took a bus to El Cajas National Park for some hiking and picnics (definite emphasis on the latter)! It was a great day and awesome to relax and explore such a beautiful place! What could beat hiking, eating, sunbathing, Lord-of-the-Rings photo shoots, and watching Simone continue her streak of accidentally stepping into deep mud pits?

As I sit here writing this update in my bedroom at my host family´s house, ¨Don´t Stop Believing¨ is blasting loudly outside the window. So begins another week in Cuenca, and who knows what adventures it might bring!

I think I speak for everyone when I say that we miss our families and friends a lot, but we´re also very thankful to be right here where we are in such a unique part of the world. We hope you all are well and can´t wait to share even more memories and experiences with you!

Que te vayas bien,


Sarah and the rest of the SAM I AM crew