Land of THE Lake

Right now I’m sitting in a van, on the way back from “The World’s Most Deadliest Road” outside of La Paz, Bolivia. Mire on that in a bit…

Picking up where I think I left off in Puno, Peru: On Monday I hopped on board a boat on the shores of Lake Titicaca for a two day island hopping excursion. From there, our first stop was the Floating Islands of Uros. Although touristy, they are incredible. The people use the reeds that choke much of the Lago to build their floating homes. They are constantly adding reeds as the bottom ones rot. They started thus lifestyle to get away from the Incas and other warring peoples centuries ago. The beautifully colored skirts that the women wore and the dreamlike reed boats and unique.

The view aint bad either. Imagine The big sky of Montana with a vast shimmering lake in the foreground.

From there we continued for a painstaking 3 more hours to the island of Timantani. While it also relies on tourism, it seems much less tainted. We were matched with host mamas who took us in like real family. The island was so peaceful, and except for my Gringo compadres, seemingly unchanged: no roads, plumbing, or electricity (except for the internet cafe!I saw and my host brother was at for half the night to the chagrin of his mother.

Meals consisted of lots of types of potatoes, soups, and cocoa tea, as well as my broken Spanish, and lots of smiles from my mama and hermana.

We took a great sunset hike to the temple of Pacha Tata (Father Earth). Views of the mountains and lake were stunning, like I’ve never seen.

It was so cool to observe all their customs. For example, the women all wear a different skirt depending on their village in the island.

At night, their was a Peña, where we dressed up in traditional garb (for pancho and hat), and danced to a traditional band. The walk back sans electricity and a million star sky wasn’t shabby either.

The next day, after a breakfast of pancakes made straight over the fire, we left for our final destination of the island of Taquile. Here I played soccer with two boys who quickly became my bffs. I took pics and videos which the giggled at incessantly when I showed them to them, then they would insist on more videos.

Before we left we had a delicious lunch on a hillside overlooking the lake. Then, it was back on board for the slow boat to China.

My group was great and I made friends from Canada, US, Peru, Puerto Rico, Holland, England, France, and Australia. Since it was one of their birthdays, we went out to celebrate, what better excuse for a couple drinks than for a birthday celebration for someone you met 36 hours before?

One of the great things about traveling is the amazing people you meet from around the world. Add that to the list I’ll miss about this continent (a list that would make Santa nauseous).

I’ll update about today soon enough, I hope. But, I made it to Bolivia just fine, just took a $5 bribe after one of my bills to pay for my visa had writing on it. And, spoiler alert, I made it down the Camino Muerto (Death Road) with only a sunburn.

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My Greatest Teachers

On this blog I rarely talk about what I do during the week. I tend to chronicle the adventures I’ve been so lucky to have had this past year, but ignore the grind of my daily life as a teacher. A profession I’ve grown passionate about over the past three years.

But I was listening to Stephen King’s new book today (I’m now addicted to audiobooks, btw) and there’s a line when the main character says, “I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t know what he thinks, until he writes it down.” That really struck me, because I think I’m that guy too. So, I’m writing so I know what I think.

Anyway, what sparked this blog  (besides Stephen) was that today I was thinking about my grandparents on my dad’s side. Mama and Dick, as we called them, died three years ago, but I think about them every day. They have had an impact on my life about as much as anyone has…

As a teacher I am often in conversations about “better teaching practices” and how to become a more effective teacher. In my short three years as a teacher, I’ve often think how Mama and Dick represent great teaching for me.

From an early age, Mama taught me about the beauty of the written and spoken word. Her father was a Brit Lit professor, and she was her father’s daughter. She wrote us grandchildren poems on our birthdays, and was always full of witty sayings. A scotch-taped piece of paper announced on their  ront door for as long as I could remember:

To all grandchildren great and small,

Muddy feet, don’t walk in the hall

Take off your shoes, and make it snappy

If Mama’s mad, ain’t nobody happy

She helped infuse a love of reading in us. I have clear memories of her reading a.a. Milne’s Now We Are Six (I can envision the cover with Christopher Robin and Pooh leaning their backs on one another so vividly). She also had a penchant for bad grammar. She’d cringe every time we’d pass a sign that had a misplaced apostrophe and railed against the evils of Spell Check. (I apologize, Mama, if you’re reading this somewhere for my often shaky grammar). But, like any good teacher using “Better Teaching Practices,” she made these things interesting, and infused them practically into our daily life: lecturing little, practicing a lot.

My grandfather Dick is the kind of man they talk about when they talk about The Greatest Generation: grew up during the Depression, fought in WWII, came home, created a family, ran a successful business through hard work and honesty. Cliché maybe, but 100% true. I was thinking today about how great of a businessman he was, making a small seed company into an international business. And I was thinking about how I feel like I did not inherit his gift of being a great businessman. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that being a teacher is a lot like being a businessman. We too have a product, whether it’s ancient Rome or To Kill a Mockingbird. And we too have to sell it. And guess what, the client’s not always buying it. There can a lot more appealing alternative products, especially today. But, like any good businessman will tell you (I’m guessing, I’ve never asked), it’s not necessarily what you’re selling, but how you’re selling it. The Declaration of Independence can be a stuffy irrelevant old paper or it can be spiced up to be fresh and relevant (think of it as the U.S. sending a break up text to the Brits). On an unrelated note, here’s a great video I love showing my students… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZfRaWAtBVg

And just like in business, your relationship with your client is invaluable. If you’re an honest businessman who your clients trust, then you can sell ocean front property in Arizona. As a teacher, if your kids are on your side, then you’re golden. They’ll let you slip up every once in a while, because they know you care about them. The number one lesson I’ve learned in teaching: it’s all about relationships…and I think Dick DeWine taught me that years ago.

Enough with the business metaphor, Dick DeWine was just a great teacher. He taught me the value of positive reinforcement. I worked for him every summer from the time I was a small child until I was 18. He often praised my work, rarely scolded me, and I never wanted to do a poor job as a result. At the time I thought he was just being nice, but in retrospect I think he knew what he was doing. He knew how to get results. He also taught me the value of incentives. Every day, he would take us to lunch: to Wendy’s, Steak N’ Shake, or maybe even Olive Garden. Believe me, that kept me working. And there’s not much that entices a student than a well placed Jolly Rancher, or Doughnut Friday.

I find myself infusing elements of all my grandparents (not just Mama and Dick, but my mother’s parents as well) in my work every day. From the way I approach my coworkers, to the way I treat my students, their teaching practices are with me. So I may not be selling a tangible product, but hopefully what I am selling is much more valuable.

The Best Laid Plans of Mountaineers

Cotopaxi, the second highest peak in Ecuador, means “neck of the moon” in Kichiwa, and aptly so as I found out last night, hiking under a brilliant full moon.

Ever since Becca and I decided to move to Ecuador last year, I’ve wanted to climb Cotopaxi, which is (disputably) the highest active volcano in the world.

So, last night we went for it. The last couple weeks, ever since we booked it through Gulliver’s Expeditions, I’ve been pumped. We did a acclimization hike on Tuesday, had a pasta party Friday night, and I’ve been guzzling water like no one’s business (I’m not usually much of a water drinker).

After getting geared up at our outfitters, our journey began with an hour hike to the refuge ( 15,750 feet) up volcanic ash with all our gear.

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The refuge was PACKED. I’ve never seen so many people stuffed into close quarters. There were probably 50 people packed into two bunk rooms.

After several cups of tea and a small dinner, we attempted to go to bed at the ripe hour of 6:00 p.m. Becca, per usual, was out within a few minutes. The rest of us (Sean, Emily, and I) nodded on-and-off until our wakeup call of midnight.

It was a pretty cool/surreal experience: fifty people with headlamps getting prepared in the dark for a common goal: to climb up to 19,350 feet.

And so, once we got our three layers of pants, six top layers, three pairs of socks, boots, gators, harness, helmet, gloves, hat, and ice-axe in hand, we were ready to go. I felt like the kid in The Christmas Story who can’t put his arms down because of the layers.

After an hour of hiking, we reached Cotopaxi’s glacier, and the real fun started. It was a beautiful, clear full moon night, so we barely needed our headlamps. It was gorgeous, but after a couple of hours the plain glacier transformed into a network of crevasses, icicles, and a variety of other things I don’t know the word for. I really wish I had photos that justified the stark beauty of all of it, but a) I didn’t have the energy /mobility to get my camera out of my backpack and b) when I did get it out, the elements were affecting my camera as much as me. Alas, I will always have the images in my head. At times I thought I was lost in Narnia. Other times, I pretended I was climbing Everest.

 

In all honestly, the altitude did not have too much of an effect on me, despite being over three miles high. Mainly I was just slow, but that might have been the howling wind, the absurd amount of clothing I was wearing, or the fact we were hiking on a glacier.

As we climbed higher, the weather worsened. The moon faded and we were in a practical white-out (although I always felt safe). The worst was  the wind. It pierced through me, not in a “holy shit, that’s cold” kind of way, but in a “holy shit, I can’t breathe,” kind of way. Meanwhile, spitting snowish/hailish pins shot into my face. Shortly thereafter, our guide told us that we needed to turn back…the weather was too bad. Apparently it was especially bad even for Cotopaxi. Even though I really wanted to make it, I won’t lie, I didn’t put up too much of a protest in the moment. In retrospect, I wish our guides would have been more encouraging. I know safety is always first, and I appreciate that, but I suspect our guide just didn’t want to keep going another 1.5 hours. So, to anyone who is reading this and is considering Gulliver Expeditions, maybe think twice. Our guides took care of us safety wise (they both had climbed Cotopaxi over 100 times), but they were not very encouraging or personable. But anyway, at 6:00 a.m. and at 18,000 feet, we turned around.

Despite not summiting, it will definitely be a memory I will never forget. I’ve never experienced such stark beauty like that before. In the words of my friend Emily “I’ve never enjoyed something and hated something so much in my life before.” And, the few pictures of us ice-clade are awesome.ImageImageImage

Dia del Maestro & Salinas de Guaranda

Last Friday was “Dia del Maestro” (Teacher’s Day). So, like any normal school, CEBI cancelled classes after 10:00, the teacher’s hopped on a bus and went to Banos for the day! I complain a lot about my school, but there are some redeeming things about it. We hung out at a hotel/resort type place for the day: chilling, playing in the pool, eating, and drinking a few beers. It was a good bonding experience. The highlight, though, was when the regular school bus was turned into a party bus on the way back to Ambato. Before we left we bought some caldo del pollo (literally a type of chicken soup, but code for this black moonshine that packed a punch) and sanduche (again, literally it means sandwich, but in reality a drink made from fermented cane sugar). That’s my kind of soup and sandwich.  It was as I bought what turned out to be a three gallon container of sanduche for $6, that I again thought to myself, “remember how cool this is, because it’s not going to happen in the States.” I can only imagine what people thought when they past a school bus full of maestros locos.

 

On Saturday we decided to bus it to a small, mostly indigenous town called Salinas about three hours away, high in the sierra. First we took a gorgeous bus ride passing a mere 5K from 20,000 foot Chimborazo to a town called Guaranda. And from there, we hopped in a pick-up to take us the final 20 kilometers.

 

The town is famous because of it’s co-ops. Apparently an Italian missionary came into town in the 70s and saw people living in dire poverty. Half of all children died before their first birthday. The farmers weren’t able to demand a fair price for their goods. So, this guy, who is obviously a bit of a local hero, decided to build a cheese factory. He brought in a Swiss engineer who helped set it up. Some thirty years later, the cheese factory is still humming, and produces Ecuador’s best cheese. Except now, there are eleven factories (factories is a bit of a generous word) that produce chocolate, soy products, soccer balls, alpaca products, textiles, etc. And, all the profits go back into the community. Socialism at it’s finest.

 

This week is already flying by, not that I’m complaining. Becca’s sister Kate and her husband Sujan are coming this weekend, so I’m excited to show some more people around Ecuador! We’re going to hang out in the market town of Otavalo on Saturday. We’ve been three times already, but it’s a fascinating place, so I’m not complaining. Plus we’re staying at a hostel with some pretty awesome dogs. I try to live vicariously through other people’s dogs. Can’t wait until I’m reunited with Lupe Dog. Hope she remembers me.

 

 

 

 

Machu Picchu

I got a lot to say in this post. But before I do, let me put it out there. I miss home. I think sometimes I portray my life as this ideal lifestyle where every day is an adventure. But, the truth is, it is not always, and I’m really excited to come home in a couple months. I’m excited to finally be close to my family (closest I’ve ever been in proximity, really, in my entire life). I’m excited to see my nieces and nephews grow up, and not just dismiss the birthday invites I get in my inbox. I’m also excited for the mundane…having my own house that I decorated, and to drive my car. I’m excited to not have to speak Spanish when I need anything, and not figure out the translation or if I’m making a fool out of myself. I’m also excited to see my friends: high school, Wooster, and Memphis. I miss them all and wish they all lived close to me. I know six months from now I’ll be craving  my current life and longing for a vacation remotely like what I get to do every weekend, but for now I’m counting down the days, while also appreciating everything this amazing country/continent has to offer.

On to the fun stuff! Last weekend for Semana Santa (Holy Week), Becca, Emily, and I went to Peru to visit Machu Picchu! It might have been the highlight of our South American excursion so far. I really wanted to do the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu but because of our limited time (we only had 5 days) we couldn’t. Instead we did an “alternative” Inca Trail called Huchuy Qusqo (Little Cusco). It might have been better than the real thing. We arrived to once Inca capital of Cusco on Wednesday. We explored the beautiful (if touristy city) for the remainder of the day, buying some obligatory alpaca sweaters, among other things. I wish we would have had more time to discover the subtleties of the town. But alas, time did not allow.

The next morning, after a 4:30 wake-up call, we piled in a bus. Before we knew it, we were eating breakfast and on our trek. We were with an amazing group of people from Ireland, Germany, Singapore, Australia, and the States. We really bonded with all of them over the three days. And what made it maybe better than the real Inca Trail, is that we saw no other tourists. On the Inca Trail, you can see up to 500 hikers a day. We saw sheep. Our hike started with beautiful paramo (above the tree line, below the tundra line…so, grassy) similar to what we’ve experienced in Ecuador at about 4,000 m (13,000 feet).

Then we passed through a stunning canyon, where the vegetation changed from grasses to all sorts of colorful flowers and other fun plants.

Before finally reaching our campsite, we emerged from the canyon to a stunning view of the Sacred Valley. I had never seen anything like it. In the panorama included rolling grassy mountains, rocky juts, and snow-capped mountains. Oh, and not to forget the rainbow or the Inca ruins and that it was about sunset. I wish these pictures did it justice.

Pretty spectacular place to camp for the night. Especially when the tent is already pitched, and the gourmet Peruvian meal is awaiting you. That night we played Mafia, one of my favorite games, before going to an early bed on full stomachs (FYI, Peruvians make some damn good soups).

The next day, the 14 of us, already feeling like close friends, hiked down to the Sacred Valley. But first, our tour guide James showed us around the ruins we were lucky enough to stay near. Apparently, this Inca nobleman thought this would be a pretty good place to retire, so he built a village. With that view, I can’t disagree. James was great, giving us a detailed, if at times skewed, history of the Incas (he even played down woman sacrifice, saying that they were so important to the Inca culture that they were “blessed” to the gods).

But one thing he did say, that really struck home with me, was how he explained their religion. Basically, he said that most religions always put a human face to their god (Jesus, Buddha, etc.) But the Incas did not. The sun was their god because it gave them warmth and light. Rain allowed their crops to grow, etc. It was magnificent, and they did not think to humanize it. I know I’m butchering this, and it seems pretty simple, but it struck me. Doesn’t it make much more sense to revere things like the sun, rain, and mountains which give us sustenance, rather than a human figure? In the words of a radio preacher from when I was growing up, “not a sermon, just a thought.”

So, after hiking down, we took a bus to our guide James’ hometown where we ate lunch and played a game called “ranas” “frogs,” a cornhole of sorts game (sorry for redneckifying a centuries-old tradition) where you try to toss gold coins into a frogs’ mouth.

From there, we took a snazzy train to the uber-touristy town of Aguas Calientes, at the foot of Machu Picchu. We beared a night here in anxious anticipation to see the lost Inca city.

The next morning we took a bus to Machu Picchu, and soon enough we were in the gorgeous ancient city, which luckily the Spanish never found (or else it would be covered in churches). It was exactly like I expected it, but it was real. That sounds strange, I know, but when you see images of something over and over, it doesn’t seem possible that it’s real. I thought I was walking through a 3D puzzle. It was amazing to see the intricacies of the city, from the agricultural terraces to the sacred temples.

After our guided tour, I had a ticket to visit Machu Picchu mountain (it’s a long story why I was the only one who had a ticket, and really not worth explaining). Most people climb Waynu Picchu, which is the typical peak you see in Machu Picchu pics, so there weren’t too many companeros with me. Also, fun fact: no one really knows what Machu Picchu was called back in the day. The American dude who “found” MP called it that because an indiginous man pointed up and said Machu Picchu, which means “Old Peak.” He wasn’t referring to the actual ruins, but the mountain…which is what I was climbing.

Of course, I decided it was necessary that I run to the top after James said if I was quick I could make it an hour. I made it in 28 minutes, camera, hamstring injury, and all. Nerd.

When I would pass people wheezing along on the trail, they would say in either English or Spanish, “que fuerte” or “you are fast!” I pompously responded, “Soy Inca!” (“I’m Inca”). (Uber nerd). When I got to the top, MP was a mere speck. It was a beautiful and serene moment.

Upon going back down, Becca and I took some silly pics, before calling it a day at old Machu Picchu.

That pretty much concluded our trip. We took our tour guide out for a couple drinks that night back in Cusco. We even got cool certificates. And, the next day we were on a plane back to Ecuador, wholly satisfied.

Puking, Puyo, and other excursions

I really need to update my blog more. Not just because it makes it more daunting when I do blog, but also I need to update it twice a month to meet my “25 Things to Do Before Leaving Ecuador.” By the way, I’m a little more than halfway done, which is deceiving because many of the items are “in progress” (for example, I need to collect 10 “buses,” I have 9 right now.

Anywho, let us start two weekends ago, shall we? That Friday night, The Streak ended. For many of you who know me, I like to brag how “I don’t get sick.” I’ve always known this brash attitude would come back to bite me eventually, and that Friday night it bit. After many a fortnight (roughly 340), I puked. And puked again. I drank water after awhile so I would have something to puke. So, I spent Saturday recovering by watching a marathon of Community. But by Sunday I was all better and so hopped, skipped, and bussed over to Banos, rented a bike and did an awesome bike ride. It was quite a climb, but amazing views…

Yes, that’s a volcano erupting in the background.

 

Fast forward past another week with my lovely but spoiled and punkish kids, and we’re on our way to the beach. We google mapped the trip to the sleepy beach town of Canoa and it was supposed only be 5.5 hours. One problem, the little man inside my computer who estimates time? He hasn’t driven on roads in Ecuador. He did not account for the little known hills known as the Andes, and how it can hail, and have fog so intense you can’t see five feet. Once we got past the mountains, we thought we were home free. Wrong. We or the man in my computer also didn’t know about the massive floodings in several towns or that we would averaging 15 miles per hour as we manuevered through pot holes. At several points we had to get out of the car to move rocks out of the road. All of this, of course is in the pitch dark. Welp, at 5:00 am, 13 hours later, we made it. My friend Karla’s teeny compact Ford was really The Little Engine That Could…But Really Didn’t Want To (later the windshield was cracked).  First thing we did of course  was to run down to the beach and touch the Pacific. Then, we crashed in hammocks at one of the beach-side hostels until it opened. This also included a rooster several feet from us that didn’t realize it was quite light out yet. Truly one of the crappy moments where you look back at nostaligacally years later. Note to future self: don’t be. It sucked.

But once we were there, it was fantastic. We ate delicious seafood and other coastal food (like patacones, which are plantains, but taste like potato chips, amazing). We tried to surf again. We drink fruity drinks at the beach cabanas. I went running barefoot. We had bonfires. I watched Ohio State advance to the Final 4 with one eye, and a gorgeous sunset with the other. No joke. Good times.

 

Of course, then we had to return. To be quick, we took a different route, that was longer but shorter in time, although a mudslide detoured a couple hours (9 hours in total).

Flash to this weekend, which was Becca’s b-day weekend!

I got her, among other things, an Ecuadorian cookbook, which, to be honest I might use more than she does. After our marathon trip to the beach, we decided to stay a bit more local and go to Banos (1 hour). I’ve been probably a dozen times, still love that town. We had a fun night carousing and dancing. Then, yesterday we drove another hour to the jungle town of Puyo. We went to another monkey reserve type place like we did in Tena, but this one was better. Why? Maybe it was that there were a lot more types of monkeys, or that you could see them up close, or maybe it was that ONE JUMPED ON MY BACK! Yes. It was amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emily wasn’t as excited.

Before leaving Puyo, I decided to try some local cuisine. Which, among other things included eating one of these guys.

I felt like Timon and or Pumba (probably Pumba). It wasn’t bad. Juicy and salty with just a hint of dirt. I washed it down with some cana (sugar cane juice) and I was happy as a warthog.

So that summarizes my most recent adventures. Somewhere in between these weekends Becca and I decided to take our talents up to Ohio! It was a tough decision with a four-way tie between Colorado, New York, DC, or Ohio for awhile. Eventually DC and Ohio emerged as leaders of the pack. And, after I was offered a position at KIPP Journey Academy in Columbus, I decided I could not turn it down. I’ve always loved Cincinnati, even Cleveland, more than Columbus, but I’m ready to get to know it! I’m also really excited to be a KIPPster again. I get really good vibes about the direction of the school and I really believe I’ll have an awesome school year next year. I just hope I didn’t forget how to teach like a KIPP teacher. Eek.

“You’re down in the jungle, baby”

Although Ambato is only two hours from the jungle, it took us six months to venture there. Our excuse for finally going was our friends Andy & Ashley from Memphis coming to visit. We decided to take two days off of school in order to go with them. Well worth it.

We met Andy & Ashley bright and early Sunday morning in Quito, and took the six hour bus ride to the jungle town of Tena. Tena itself is nothing spectacular, but it was infectious (pun intended). People were super friendly. While walking to our hostel (Casa del Abuelo) we were approached by an eager man who told us that he was a tour guide and pointed us in the direction of his office/home.

After dropping our bags off, we decided to walk around to the different tourist agencies to arrange a jungle trek. Since this guy was closest (also, way off the beaten path) we decided to start with him. Immediately we were hooked. Gabriel didn’t start off by giving the spiel about all the different tours he offered. No, instead he launched into a long monologue about his dachshund, Flash. Flash goes ahead of the group and lets him know if there are snakes or spiders or whatever on the trail. Thus, he is often called Super Flash. Needless to say, Flash became our best friend. After mapping out what his jungle trek would look like, he concluded our initial meeting by bringing out a tarantula, which he subsequently put on our hands/faces. Only Becca chickened out.

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Then he showed us these gigantic centipede like things… By the way that’s just ONE. He uses them to catch catfish that are literally as big as a human (if we go back, we are doing THAT!)

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After that, Gabriel invited himself (and his daughter) to dinner with us and he told us stories about his family, the area, etc. Including, when we asked if there was any crime, a story about how a man had raped a woman 20 years previously. The townspeople caught him and (Gabriel motions to the park across the street) they strung him up, poured gasoline on him, and lit him on fire. So, no, there’s no crime.

The next day we showed up bright and early at Gabriel’s casa and hopped in a pick up truck for a 45 minute ride into the jungle. Our first stop was his Gabriel’s parents’ house, which consisted of a thatch roof and dirt floor. Pretty humbling. Then we started our trek. I guess I don’t need to outline every single event in chronological order, so here are some highlights…

Gabriel made us colorful costumes from the flora.

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We swung, Tarzan-like, from ropes…

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We ate lemon ants! They really tasted like lemon! And ants!

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Got our face painted. This is stuff the local tribes use for rituals and the like.

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Ate a delicious lunch of Talapia (it’s cooked inside the leaves), palms, yucca, and ferns (?). I was the only one who ate all mine. They also told me the head was the best part. So I tried it. Ended up almost choking on an eyeball (it was hard, not slimy like I expected).

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Found a highly poisonous spider, beat it with a stick to make it submissive for two minutes (very scientific), and Emily & I put it on our faces. Also, who was the guy who figured out if you beat a poisonous spider for two minutes, it won’t bite you. Seems like a lot of trial and error.

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Bathed in a gorgeous waterfall near the end of our journey.

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Hopped back in the truck, Flash hopped into Andy’s lap, and ate some ice cream on the way home. Great jungle trek.

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Day 2 in the jungle consisted of white water rafting with an Irish tour group called River People. The water was super high, which made it really fast, but only a couple small adrenaline rushes. Still, beautiful views and good fun. After getting back, the only thing we hadn’t satisfied was our desire to see monkeys. So, we went to this place called Isla de los Monos (Island of the Monkeys). It is a bit of a sanctuary for them. Albeit not entirely “the wild” but as close as we could get, and I’m marking it off my list of “25 Things to do Before Leaving Ecuador.”

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A “highlight that doesn’t seem like a highlight” came on the way back from Monkey Island. Our cab that took us there was supposed to pick us up, but he never showed. We were a little worried because we had already bought bus tickets and there’s not many buses that go to Ambato. So we flagged down a truck, who turned out to be a scientist that spoke perfect English, who told us, “This is my country, enjoy it!” So, despite our time crunch, I took the time to enjoy the fact that I can jump into the back of a truck full of banana leaves, let the wind blow through my hair, and watch the Ecuadorian jungle and its people fly by. That memory, almost moreso than eating ants, will stay with me.

We then got to the bus station, I got me some meat on a stick, and hopped on the packed bus for the beautiful ride to Ambato.