Day 6: Sierra Negra

Today’s agenda consisted of visiting the world’s second most active volcano, Sierra Negra (last eruption was in 2005). I was super excited about this activity…until the bus pulled up to the base of the massive volcano, in the pouring rain, and we were left to climb up it. Not exactly what I signed up for.

Oh, did I mention I was wearing flip flops?

Needless to say, the 6 and a half hour, 10 mile hike is one I will never, ever forget. I actually managed to climb up the mountain (2 hours of sloppy mud, might I add) without falling but, being a clutz with rather unfortunate luck, slipped into the messiest puddle of mud you can ever imagine the last 20 minutes of the descent. But hey, how many people can say they have peered into an active volcano? Everything about the journey was totally worth it. The view was breath taking.

This was the perfect way to begin our 5 day trip appreciating the pure beauty of raw nature.

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Day 5: Venturing to the Galapagos

When I signed up for this trip, I guess I was unaware of how much traveling was required. For those of you that do not know (I’ll admit, I did not know this proior to the trip) the Galápagos Islands are part of Ecuador, like Hawaii to the USA.

The trek from Quito to the Galapagos went something like this:

6:00 am: Arrive at airport.
-chaos and confusion ensue, 2 trips through security for everyone, extremely stressful
7:45: 35 Americans run onto the aircraft, out of breath, take seats.
8:30: Stop in Guayaquil, largest city in Ecuador, to pick up more passengers.
9:00-12: Flying over the Pacific Ocean!
-before landing in Baltra, the stewardesses sprayed the plane with insecticide. Weird.
12:30-1:30: Galapagos customs (which included cleaning forgein dirt off of our shoes. It happened.)
2:00: Board bus, drive across Baltra
2:30: Board ferry to Santa Cruz
2:45: Board bus, drive across island
3:30: Board smaller boat to Isabella.

Two long, bumpy, sea sick hours later, at 6:30 pm our little boat pulled into Puerto Villamil on Isabella Island.

Yes, ladies and gents, 12 and a half hours and 4 modes of transportation later, we arrived at our destination.

Let’s see what you’ve got, Galapagos.

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Day 4: Teeth and Monkeys

Today was probably my favorite day. After applying sealant in the morning, we went to a beach inhabited by wild monkeys! They were everywhere and not scared of humans at all. This was for sure a once in a lifetime experience.

FYI: these pictures were my grandma’s favorites from my entire trip! She thought the monkeys were pretty cool, too.

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Day 3: Dental Varnish, Dairy Farms, and Waterfalls

Today we loaded up the bus and began the treck to Tena, hometown of our guide and friend, Miguel. The bus ride is one I would not mind forgetting. With the drastic changes in altitude and windy, marrow roads, I was feeling a little queasy.

En route to Tena, we stopped in the town of Chaco where we completed our first dental sealant project. When our bus pulled up to the elementary school, we were greeted by the entire study body waving makeshift Pom Poms that they had crafted for the occasion entirely of old magazines. They then chanted an adorable song in English welcoming us. It was truly heartwarming to see how excited and appreciative they were of our visited. The principal ushered us to the gym where we were greeted by all of the schools administrative staff and the mayor the the city. After a formal introduction, we went to work lathering the sealant on the teeth of the students. I made an effort to speak to each child, even though I know minimal Spanish, but I could tell accommodating to them meant a lot. As usual, I was filled with the overwhelming joy only experienced when taking part in these projects. As we left, we signed autographs like celebrities. Our visit meant a lot to them, and their smiling faces mean more to me than they will ever know.

After an eventful morning, we visited an Ecuadorian dairy farm and ate lunch, prepared entirely from grown produce and meat from their farm. The owner of the farm, Jose, explained to us how he worked in the United States for five years and saved $100,000 to purchase the farmland in the depths of the jungle. He then explained a very interesting agricultural preservation program the Ecuadorian government enacted where farmers are paid a yearly stipend not to develop part of the land they own (we have similar projects in the US to my understanding). Our lunch was delicious and his story was inspiring.

Finally, we ended our memorable day in Tena where our bus driver dropped us off by a river deep in the jungle. We were very confused and the professors told us to go explore. As a group, we followed the river and my breath was taken away as we were suddenly standing in front of a giant waterfall. It was completely unreal and pictures do not do it justice. This was definitely an inforgettable day (and I slept well that night!)

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Day 2: Middle of the World

We began day two with a yummy breakfast of fruits and bread. If you have never had fresh Ecuadorian pineapple, you have no idea what you are missing! It is delicious. They also have the best (very potent) coffee I have ever tasted. We then travelled to the Middle of the World exhibit. This was a repeat for me from the last trip but nonetheless, walking on the equator is just plain cool.photo[1]

Day 1: Travel and Arrival

The first day of my Ecuadorian excursion began with a bang (literally) as my roommate, Hannah, pounded on my locked bedroom door. Exhausted (from staying up till 4 am packing/watching Gossip Girl on Netflix) I looked at my phone. It was 7 am! Our flight from Nashville, which is about an hour from Bowling Green, left at 9:45! What a horribly inconvient time for my iPhone alarm clock to decide to be dysfunctional. I jumped out of bed, threw on my outfit that I had laid out the night before, and opened my door to face not only my furious roommate, but two of the professors who were leading the trip that decided to carpool with Hannah. What an awesome first impression. To my relief, everyone found my oversleeping incident humerous and we made our way to Nashville. I am NOT, I repeat NOT, a morning person so starting the day off in such a frantic frenzy left me a very unhappy camper in the backseat.
 
Once we arrived at the airport, we parked, caught a trolley, checked in, and by some act of God boarded our plane just in the nick of time. Once on the plane, I finally took a deep breath and my mood lifted. We were on the way to Ecuador!

Now would be a good time to give a little background about myself. I am a junior Biology major/Chemistry minor with a pre-dental concentration at Western Kentucky University. I apply for dental school June of this year. This is actually my second time abroad in Ecuador with the same group led by Dr. David Coffey and Dr. Kristie Guffey, both professors at WKU. The class we recieved credit for was an upper level honors agriculture class (AGRI 375).

 
I initially stumbled upon this opportunity to study abroad one day while walking to class with Hannah. She was blabbering about some trip that Dr. Guffey told her about in class. To be honest, I heard the words “agriculture” and may or may not have tuned her out. Agriculture was out of my rhelm of understanding and interest, at the time. The big man upstairs had a different plan for me, though, and used Hannah as his messenger. Realizing my lack of interest, she produced the trip itenerary from her back pocket. Slightly irritated, I looked over it just to appease her. As I flipped through the pages, my eyes caught a glimpse of the sentance that will forever change my life:
 
“While in Ecuador, the service component of our trip will be applying dental varnish in orphanges and public schools. This activity will be led by Dr. Rankin Skinner.”
 
The very next day, and the last possible day to apply to study abroad for winter 2012, I had a plane ticket with my name on it to Quito, Ecuador. You must realize, I come from a very traditional, middle class family. The farthest South we have travelled is Disney World. When I called my mother and awkwardly uttered, “uhm, so I´m going to Ecuador in five weeks”, it did not go over too well. Immediatley, the first question arised:How in the world are we going to afford this? In my defense, I told mom about the numerous scholarships that WKU offers to students studying abroad. I applied for all of them and in the end, over half of my trip was funded. Checked that one off. The next question: How are you going to get a passport? Luckily, my uncle is a postmaster and hooked his niece up with one in about two and a half weeks. Check. Finally question three: Isn´t South America dangerous? This one took a little more effort to defend. Yes, there are parts of South America that are dangerous and that twenty-year-old American females who do not speak a lick of Spanish should not frolick around. After speaking with Dr. Guffey, she informed me that this was her thirteenth trip and Dr. Coffey had been over twenty-five times and every place we were visiting was safe. Needless to say, they know their stuff. With number three checked off, mom reluctantly agreed, I went to work saving money and preparing for the most amazing experience of my life. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined visting South America once, let alone twice.
 
All of the events previously mentioned led me to where I am now, two flights later, sitting in my room at Hotel Embassay in Quito, Ecuador for the second time. I could not pass up an opportunity to return to the place that solidified my life long passion for dentistry; the place where I experienced first hand how it felt to give a child a gift of a healthier smile. That feeling is the one I want have every day of my life when I leave work as a dentist. 
 
I cannot wait to see what this adventure has in store! 🙂