Day 13: Reflection

I sat staring at this blank white box for a full 20 minutes, trying to come up with the perfect words to sum up my experience; to solemly bring closure to this life changing journey.

Suddenly, like a sign from God, I recieved this notification from our Facebook group “Ecuador Study Abroad 2013″ from my peer and 4 time Ecuador veteren, Erik Brown:

“What a wild, crazy ride we’ve had! We’ve stood on the exact middle of the world, climbed a volcano, sailed the sea, snorkled with sea turles, manta rays, and sharks, danced underwater with sea lions, and visited with the largest & most endangered tortoises in the world. We’ve tubed down river from a huge waterfall, and shook hands with wild monkeys. We’ve played Pitch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on one of the purest & least visited Islands on Earth, and insured nearly 700 Ecuadorian children’s smiles for 6 months. Who else can say this!?!”

Hit the nail on the head, Erik Paul Brown.

The relationships I have developed with my peers and the faculty on this trip is definitely the most valuable thing I will walk away with. While hiking up a volcano, I got to know Suzanne, a pre-med student looking to specialize in pediatric oncology. It turns out, we had Animal Physiology last semester together and did not even realize it. I got to know Lauren, who broke her foot the third day of the trip but snorkeled with us every day and never let it slow her down. I could go on for hours about each person I met and something I learned about them. It was amazing that 35 strangers could be dropped off on a desolate island in South America and walk away friends (we should have made a reality show it would have been super inspirational).

Dr. Coffey and Dr. Guffey: Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for sacrificing your time to making these trips happen. The knowledge I have gained abroad is incomparable to anything I have ever acquired in a classroom. I wish that every single WKU student, regardless of their major, could experience this. It truly has been a blessing and you two were definitely placed in my life for a reason.

I am blessed to return to the United States with many new experiences, lessons, and new friends.

I’ll see you soon, South America.

ecuao20

Day 12: Departure

Today:

Flight booked to Miami for 8:15 am sharp.

6 hour layover in Miami.

Flight to Nashville. Arrive in Nashville at 11:30 pm.
—————————————————
Today’s a day of mixed emotions.

If you’ve followed my posts, you can probably concur two things about me:
1. I often look for signs from God.
2. I will return to Ecuador when I complete dental school.

Both of these give me the comfort in saying goodbye to this place that has taught me so much about myself. I know I will not be back here for quite some time, and that is the part that really hurts. The strong conviction I feel to make a difference in this country is one of my driving forces when studying for my DAT and applying to dental school this semester. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life: this is my calling. Every part of this experience, as well as my first trip, have solidified my passion for the field of dentistry.

I want to give back to those tiny, precious smiles that have unknowlingly inspired my career path.

46278_10200329058978528_1140328821_n[1]

ecuao21

Day 11: Quito

We spent our last full day abroad visiting the cathedrals in Old Quito. This was a repeat for me from the last trip but I still found myself in awe of the overwhelming beauty of the churches. We were not permitted to take photos inside but if you visualize massive ceilings, religious artifacts all around, perfect symmetry, and every surface covered in gold leaf, you can get a pretty good idea of what our eyes captured.

IMG_0201

IMG_0206

In addition, Hannah, our friend Travis, and myself romped around Quito shopping. First stop: The Supermaxi.

photo-12

What does one purchase at an Ecuadorian supermarket? Well, this country is known for the “3 C’s” : Chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon. These all made great souvenirs for relatives who enjoy cooking. Vanilla is another commodity they are known for. I also purchased a big jar of blackberry preserves (which Miami customs snatched), cocoa, hot sauce for my dad, and green tea.

While we were looking around, I noticed a few distinct differences in Ecuadorian vs American Markets:

1. They had an entire aisle dedicated to canned tuna.

photo-3

2. Imported liquor was super expensive.

photo-1

3. Water was CHEAP!

photo-4

4. Mac and cheese was pretty pricy

photo-9

Here’s Hannah and Travis being good little consumers. Aren’t they cute.

photo-7

Next stop: Indian markets.

photo-10

Coming from a self-proclaimed “shopaholic”, there is no other retail experience that quite compares to the excitement that lies within the privately owned booths in this market. Haggling, negotiating, arguing. It really is a cheap thrill. Since we are Americans, the initial price they give us is almost double what they will actually part with the item for. The key is to not give in, name your price (within reason) and if they do not accept, walk away. 9 times out of 10 they come running after you, accepting the offer. I went in knowing exactly what I was after: scarves. Last year I purchased about 7 scarves and ended up giving most of them away. This year, I came home with almost 20. They are high quality and each one is unique. Plus, at 3 for $5, you cannot find a deal that good in America.

Here is the “loot” I took home:

From Left: Galapagos textbook courtesy of Dr. Coffey, doll was part of admission ticket to a ballet we attended in Quito, parrot figurine and yellow tshirt were also gifts from Dr. C, hat purchased in the Galapagos ($15), food items, an angel figurine for my grandmother ($2), wooden recorder for my piano teacher ($2), Christmas ornament for my mother ($3.50), socks ($2.50), miniature turtle ($1), three Galapagos tshirts ($5/each), three thick scarves ($5/each), and 17 thinner scarves (less than $2 each).
photo-14

Day 10: Goodbye Galapagos

Leaving Isabella island was so difficult. This desolate island filled with rare and amazing creatures changed my outlook on nature. The conservation, preservation, and sustainability of the island is the top priority of her few inhabitants. By breeding endangered tourtise species that would otherwise be extinct by now, they only intervene to better the wildlife, not harm it as we so often do in the USA. Having to adapt to mother nature was refreshing; she made us work a little and inconvience our lives to fully appreciate her beauty. We spent hours on hikes to view wildlife that would have taken a 20 minute car ride to see at home. Seeing a giant tourtise in it’s natural, undisturbed habitat (not the restraints of a zoo) was fascinating. It truly is the animals island and the people are merely visitors. The purity of the island is something I will always remember.

I know this will not be my last time in Darwin’s Galapagos.

ecuao8

ecuao9

ecuao12

ecuao13

ecuao14

ecuao15

ecuao16

ecuao17

ecuao18

ecuao19

Day 9: FREE DAY!

This was the first day we did not have any sort of structured activities! We still began bright and early, out of habit, with breakfast and then we all hung out in the cool outdoor living area outside of our hotel. Then, groups spilt off to do activities of their choice. Some people went horseback riding on the beach, others went kayaking, and a few went to see the iguanas. I know this will shock you, but five of my friends and myself went snorkeling yet again! We went to a little deserted beach and began exploring. The water was very shallow but would drop off at random spots, which was scary! We did not stay very long and ventured to a nearby beach where boats were coming in and out. We spent a solid hour there, just talking and wading in the water. We put our clothes and towels in a nearby tree for safe keeping but after about 30 minutes, a man ran up to us screaming and pointing at where our clothes hung. It turns out we had placed our clothes in a tree with poisionous bark! We laughed and moved our stuff (no one got sick, luckily!)

About an hour later, the group that went kayaking floated past us. This was good because that meant the bus would be by soon to pick them up and we could catch a ride back. They said they had an awesome time. We ate pizza for lunch at a cute little beach resturaunt called Ceasar’s.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the beach. It was so relaxing.

Our evening consisted of walking on tight ropes, eating a 5 course seafood dinner for $10, doing yoga as the sun set, stalking turtles to watch them they lay their eggs, and playing/singing the cup song (the one off of the movie Pitch Perfect) at a beach bar. May seem like a strange dream, it wasn’t. It was an absolutley perfect day.

Day 7: Underwater Adventure

Never in my life have I been snorkeling and I never imagined my first time would be in the crystal clear waters off the shore of Darwin’s Galapagos. My group of 10 people set off with our awesome guide, Frebecio, into the depths of the Pacific Ocean. With every few feet we chugged along, some ocean creature would appear. It was fascinating! We saw dolphins, sharks, manatees, penguins, and hundreds of sea lions. Experiencing the raw beauty of nature was unbelievable.

Once we reach the lava tunnels, we all plopped into the water. As soon as I was in, I put my mask on and went under the crystal clear aqua blue water. My breath was literally taken away. I can’t even begin to explain how unreal that unseen world is. Schools of fish, starfish, coral, sea urchins glaore. Hands down, the best exerience of my life thus far.

snork1

snork2