Another Successful Study Abroad to the Coast of Ecuador

 Kristie Guffey was applying the dental sealant
on a young boy in the coastal village school.

 A group of students traveled to Ecuador during the winter session on an agricultural study abroad experience.  There were 18 students traveling along with Dr. David Coffey, Dr. Melissa Stewart, Kristie Guffey and a dentist from Winchester, Kentucky. 

The group left the winter cold of Kentucky for the warm, tropical conditions of the south.  They arrived in the capital of Ecuador and toured the museums, art, architecture, churches, and the culture of Quito.  The group met up with Dr. Rankin Skinner, a dentist from Winchester, in the city of Santo Domingo.  There the students and leaders of the group learned how to administer dental sealant on the teeth of children and adults.  Working with Dr. Skinner and Partners of the Americas, it is the combined goal to improve the overall health of teeth in the children of Ecuador.  The group went to two orphanages, two schools, and a small coastal village to apply the dental sealant and to give each one a toothbrush.  The service learning project was magnified by the overwhelming majority of students who are now donating money, time, and dental supplies to the next study abroad trip that will be leaving on March 2, 2011.
Agriculture freshman, Josh Dennis and Junior, Andrew Peden applying dental sealant. 
The group continued to travel from the magnificent mountains and volcanoes of the Andes to the tropical region and the Pacific coast of Ecuador.  They traveled to a bamboo farm, pineapple, cacao, beef cattle, palm oil, and hearts of palm, fishing villages, local markets, and witnessed a local group of indigenous people in their native culture.  The group wrapped up their experience by walking on the equator and conducting exciting scientific experiments that proved they were in the middle of the world.


The entire WKU agricultural group 14,000’ high in the Andes Mountains.

Pre-Pharmacy major, Lashelle Courtney wrapped up our trip with these words, “To see mountains that touch the clouds, to witness farms and plantations of bamboo, bananas and palm oil, to be indulged into lifestyles that are new and different from our own, to touch peoples´ lives and have them touch ours right back, the study abroad trip to Ecuador was the trip of a lifetime.”

 By:  Kristie B. Guffey




Today found us returning to Ibarra to visit friends and continue our dental program, which was started in 2002.  On our way out of Quito, as we were driving through the Guapalo neighborhood, I thought once again what a beautiful town this really is. The winding streets through this hill town really resemble villages we have seen in Spain. Upon leaving Quito, you travel through mountains that are dry and much like  areas of Africa. After reaching the town of Cayambe, the terrain turns lush and green. The patchwork farms on the sides of the mountains are a lovely site. One thing that strikes everyone as they travel through this part of Ecuador is that fields are planted on the vertical slopes of the Andes. The area is well-known for fresh blackberries and strawberries. A great blackberry syrup, called arrope de mora, is made here, and is awesome on pancakes. 

In Ibarra, we learned that the Rancho Totoral, at Lago Yarguacocha, where we have been staying for a lot of years, had been sold and turned into a private residence. So we lodged at the Hotel Montecarlo in the central part of the city. We shared a great seafood dinner with or friends Nicolas Herrera and his daughter Soly. Afterwards, we walked to the Casa de la Cultura for a private showing of Nicolas’ new sculpture installation. Both Nicolas and Soly are artists and both have had shows at Lexington’s Central Library Gallery, under the auspices of Kentucky Ecuador Partners. 
After Nicolas finished his exhibition in Lexington, we shipped his paintings to McAllen, TX to the Latin American Museum. He added more paintings to the show, for a total of 50 paintings. His opening there coincided with an International Surgery Conference, which held its opening reception at the museum. Nicolas sold every painting at $5,000 each. He used the proceeds from this event to build his cultural center in Ibarra, a stunning facility high on a hill, with a panoramic view above Lago Yarguacocha. 

In the several years since he was in Kentucky, Nicolas has created monumental sculptures which have been placed in the central parks of the towns of San Gabrial and Gitan in Carchi Province. He has been very successful and now has expanded his cultural center to increase his exhibition space by 120% and also is including a cafe, which Soly will manage. 

The next morning, Miguel Harrington, a friend who has worked with our projects since 1986, hired a truck with racks in the back to take us to schools above La Esperanza. Esperanza is at the foot of the Volcano Imbabura (15,121 ft.). Imbabura, the mother mountain, is held in high regard by the indigenous population, who ask her blessings for abundant crops planted on her sides (when it is raining in the valley, it is said to be Imbabura relieving herself). The local indigenous used to climb Imbabura to collect ice to sell in Ibarra. 

As you leave Esperanza and climb the mountain, you drive through stunning scenery, including eucalyptus forests and a patchwork of planted fields. You realize you have entered a world all its own as everyone here is indigenous. The type of bus these folks have to use is exactly what we are riding in, a truck with sides on the bed. The difference is, in their trucks, there might be 15 or more people. Everyone here still wears their native clothing and don’t seem to be affected by outside culture.( At one point on our way back down the mountain that morning, we came around a curve and realized we were following a pickup truck carrying a somewhat small casket along with one of the deceased’s family members, surrounded by funeral flowers and leading about 8 other mourners).

Finally, as we climbed higher and higher that morning, the truck began to sputter from lack of oxygen, just as we arrived at the school “El Abra” Our dental program was started here at this school in 2002 and we have seen a lot of success, more restorations in permanent teeth and few cavities and lost teeth. After applying ACP and distributing toothbrushes and beanie babies, we returned to Ibarra for Helado de Paila.
Ibarra is famous across Ecuador and in Queens, NY for its helado de paila. Although helado translates as ice cream, here it is made only from fruit juice, pieces of fresh fruit , ice and sugar and is made by hand by spinning the ingredients in a large, somewhat shallow bowl or paila, over ice, straw and salt, It is simply delicious and is also a great way to sample the different fruits of Ecuador.
Roalia Suarez began the tradition in 1897 by gathering ice from Imbabura’s glacier. She lived to be 105 years old, and the last time we were in Ibarra , in 2008, her then-93-yr-old daughter was still working the cash register at the original restaurant 7 days a week. Rosalia’s descendants still run the shops in Ibarra (there are three in this town, alone) and in Queens. You can find this fabulous sherbet across Ecuador.
Note: this idea did not originate with Rosalia. The Incas used to send runners to the glaciers for ice and make helado de paila. It was a special treat, saved for only the highest leaders.
The next day, Nicolas and Soly and the Skinners headed to Carchi to get up-close-and-personal with Nicolas’ monumental sculpture. The Skinners were a little apprehensive, as this would place us right on the border of Colombia. As we left Ibarra, we descended into the Chota Valley and within just a few minutes the temperature rose dramatically and the terrain became very dry. This area is all farmland but is irrigated from the Chota River. 80% of the tomatoes eaten in Ecuador come from this area. It is inhabited by Afro-Ecuadorians. One inhabitant in 1988 was a tall, lanky goalie who accompanied our Ibarra team to Winchester and Lexington to play in a series of soccer games. In conjunction with the Sister Cities International Convention, which was meeting in Lexington. Lexington Sister Cities sponsored an Under-18 international tournament with teams from Canada, France, Ireland, USA, Italy and Ecuador. GRCHS Soccer Team in Winchester sponsored the Ecuador team. Ireland ended up winning the tournament, but Ecuador won everyone’s hearts, as they fought every game to the last second. Ecuador  played France for 3rd place and the game ended 0-0; then, after overtime, with no score, a shootout was required. The kid from Chota stopped every shot-on-goal and gave Ecuador its victory. Upon his return to Ecuador, we requested that the American Embassy send someone to scout this young man out. They did and the rest is history. The kid’s name was Giovanny Ibarra and he would go on to become the most famous goalkeeper in the history of soccer in Ecuador, and he would go on to lead the national team to many victories. He was there for the 2008 World Cup when England’s David Beckham bent a shot to defend Ecuador, winning the semi-final game. It is our understanding that he is still playing on the national team.
Upon leaving Chota, you climb into the cloud forest and the views are just spectacular. When we arrived in San Gabrial, we were stunned by the massive sculpture which met us as we got off the bus. We were all speechless. We asked how many pieces the sculpture was transported in and were told it was moved all of-a-piece. He must have had to use a Mac-type-truck, with a flatbed. He says he has a movie of the whole thing, and was given police assistance all along the highway.
We then rented two taxis and were off to Gitan, a small village near the Colombian border. We took the old cobblestone road to get there, again seeing beautiful scenery. After checking out the other sculpture, we headed back into town, where their Saturday market was in full swing. We had (of course) ice cream before boarding a bus for the trip back to Ibarra.
That evening, we journeyed to Nicolas’ house and foundation where Soly was fixing dinner for us. We arrived early enough to see the garcas, the beautiful white birds which come up through the river  valley every night around sundown to roost around Lago Yarguacocha. It really is remarkable to see these pretty birds float in, first in 2’s and 3’s, then in larger groups, finally in groups of 30-40 or more, to spend the night on the lake, then return the next day to feed around the nearby river.
We were given a private tour of the cultural center and saw all the new construction. This is going to be a truly handsome sculpture and art destination.For dinner, Soly prepared loco de papas, (potato soup with avocado), shrimp, choclos (corn, but better than anything found in the U.S.), llapingachos (potato cakes with cheese; also has a little achiote added right in to the frying oil), avocadoes, green salad and fresh-squeezed blackberry juice (jugo de mora). Soly is a terrific cook, and we were all stuffed as we returned to our rooms to pack and bid farewell to our friends and to our Sister City.


No trip to Ecuador is truly complete without a visit to our favorite city, Cuenca. The flight there is the coolest because you fly right down an avenue of volcanoes. The plane flies so closely over some of them that you feel as though you could reach right out and touch them, or better yet, see into them. Cuenca is 275 miles south of Quito and is Ecuador’s 3rd largest city. It has cobblestone streets and various colonial-era churches, plazas and buildings. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site since much of the city’s colonial architecture remains intact. Cuenca was the 2nd largest city in the Inca empire, after Cusco in Peru. The foundations of the former Inca palaces became foundations for the city’s churches and government buildings. Before the Incas (1400’s) the Cañari people had lived here for centuries. They were the first inhabitants of Cuenca, building a city here around A.D. 500, called Guapondeleg. After the Incas conquered them in 1480, the city became Tomebamba, the name of one of the rivers which run through the city. Pizzaro and the Spanish conquered the Incas in 1534, and the city of Santa Ana de los Cuarto Rios de Cuenca was founded in 1557.

We checked into our hotel, The Orquidea, and took off to the Parque Calderon (the most beautiful in all of Ecuador, we think) to people watch and eat ice cream. One of the things we love about Cuenca is her friendly people and great food. Everyone on the street speaks to you, and with a smile. We contacted our dear friend Julio Montesinos, a very talented painter, who arranged a private showng of some of his new work. Donnie bought two paintings to complement his growing art collection. The next day we decided to see the little-known Cañari ruins found 30 kilometers from Cuenca called Cojitambo. We stopped a cab to ask if he could drive us there. He said it would be cheaper to take a van. So he took us to the bus/van stop. We found out the van would take us to other areas which we had already visited, and would only take us to the base of Cojitambo. The ruins are situated at 10,000 ft. Our cab driver tried to negotiate a fare with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but it was too expensive. Finally, he said he had never seen (or heard of, for that matter) the ruins and would just take us there himself. He was looking forward to the trip right along with us.  This is yet another example of why we  love Cuenca. The city-dwellers love their town so much, and want to share that love with newcomers.
The drive north to the ruins was on a great road (All the rich folks we have talked to simply hate their president, but we have seen truly major improvements in the roads and infrastructure in this country. Could their hatred have anything to do with the fact that they now have to pay their full taxes, which are then used to improve services for the entire populace?) and naturally the  vistas were stunning. One thing which seemed a little ajar to us was there seem to be many new gated communities for retiring gringos. Most don’t seem to learn the language or immerse themselves in the culture, which hurts the feelings of the locals. The expats don’t, as a general rule, bring the best of what our culture has to offer. 

As we continued on our way, we saw a huge mountain towering over everything around it and going straight up. We soon came to realize the ruins were to be found on this mountain. As we pulled off the main road, we hit what is best described as a goat path. After about 1/2 mile, it got better, then turned into a great road. As we ascended, the view became more and more dramatic. Finally we reached the small community of Cojitambo and asked directions. We were told to keep on going to the very top. The higher we ascended, the less oxygen there was, and the car started coughing and sputtering. Finally, with the car now in first gear, it could climb no further. So we got out and started our climb. We stopped often, first to catch our breath, and second to become yet more breathless by the fantastic view. We were at the highest spot in the entire area and the world was there at our feet. We finally reached the peak of the ruins, with a 360 degree panorama. To the south we could see the entire city of Cuenca, to the east the town of Azogues, to the west the way to the coast, and to the north, Cajas (The Boxes), a national park with over 20,000 lakes. (Yes, that is the correct number. Cajas is a story all its own, but will have to wait for another year). The person in our group who was the most blown away was our driver. He was amazed by the entire experience and loved the fresh air. Cojitambo was built by the Cañari as a defensive fort. They could
see for about a hundred miles in any direction, so it was impossible to sneak up on them.We spent a while hiking around and enjoying the view. There are few places left in the world which give a sense of wonder. This place seemed to us to be very spiritual as well as being physically stunning. If there is any place everyone needs to visit in Ecuador (before it is discovered by too many tourists) this is it. We had the place to ourselves. It definitely is not on the tourist radar yet, as no one in Cuenca seemed to have heard of it. Good. Best kept secret. 

The next morning Ruthi and I took a yoga class with Ximena Montesinos, one of Julio’s daughters. It was great to stretch out our muscles after our day of hiking. After class, Ximena showed us her studio and apartment. The apartment has several bedrooms (she rents out some of them, which pays her rent for the whole place), and a rooftop terrace with lots of plants and flowers, and a great view of the city as the terrace is on the 5th floor. Next time you’re in Cuenca needing a yoga class, she is there Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:00 A.M., and  teaches a couple of 6:00 P.M. classes, 3rd floor above Cafe Austria. (Tell her we sent you).
That afternoon we visited the Indigenous Museum where 5,000 artifacts are housed, covering the history of Cuenca, going back 5,000 years. One of Rankin’s favorite things there was a skull with 2 front teeth sporting gold inlays. They were pretty cool, but obviously they were completely decorative. Surely, this guy impressed many a female with his flashy smile. Yes, men were showing off even then. 
Our last day in Cuenca, we took a city tour on a double-decker bus. We climbed high above the city to a beautiful church, Mirador de Turi. Here you could see all of Cuenca before you. In Spanish, Cuenca means river basin and four separate rivers run through the city, all of which you can see on this tour. We also visited a barrio where everyone works as blacksmiths. They make these beautiful crosses surrounded by birds, animals, etc. These are placed on top of all of the roofs in this area. Ruthi wants one next time around (But, with crazy weight restrictions, we have to be very careful what we do or do not purchase). We ended up back at Parque Calderon where the double-decker affords a great view of the beautiful Catedral Viejo (Old Cathedral). It is the oldest structure in the city. It was build in 1557 with stones from the nearby Inca ruins of Pumapungo. Also viewed from this vantage point is the Catedral Nueva (New Cathedral), which was started in 1885 and took 80 years to complete. Two massive blue domes are distinctive and visible from various areas around the city. This is the largest church in Ecuador. There is  live music nearly every night in the park. Our favorite group featured a young kid of about 9, who sang (with abandon and with real talent!) and played a mouth organ, accompanied by his father and older brother. Hey, this kid may have only known one song, but he belted it right out. When his repertoire expands, you should be seeing him on “Ecuador Has Talent”. 
It was with great sadness that we packed to depart Cuenca. We left with many memories of old and new friends, great meals and fabulous ice cream. These memories will have to hold us until we return next year. 
Rankin and Ruthi


January 19

Quito—After an uneventful trip back from the coast to Quito, the college group and the Skinners, (minus Ruthi, gone to get a decent haircut, and having been on this cool trip before), met to take a ride on El Teleferico. This great cable car was constructed by the Swiss a few years ago. It is a 6-person car which takes folks up the side of the volcano Pichinca which tops out at13,287 ft. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the top at 3,286 ft. and it is really interesting to see the vegetation change as higher altitudes are reached. There was a great view of Cayambe and several other volcanoes, all snow-covered (something the folks back home may be unable to fully appreciate during this horrible winter of ’11). At the top, Quito lies before you, surrounded by a line of some 7 volcanoes, simply breathtaking. It makes your heart beat faster in amazement; or it could possibly have been that altitude, us having started the journey at about 10,000 ft! There are many hiking trails which give different perspectives of the city view, as well as horses for rent for those who don’t dig on high-altitude hiking. It is so spectacular, you consider never leaving, until the cold starts to seep into your very marrow. If you are ever in Quito, Ecuador, Sud America, this is a treat not to be missed!

In the afternoon, we visited the artist Enrique Estuardo Alvarez. He works in a truly lovely old colonial property owned by an arts foundation in Cumbaya, one of the lovelier neighborhoods in all of Quito. Cumbaya puts one in mind of any town one might encounter in Southern California, complete with the obligatory KFC and Mickey D’s.Kentucky Ecuador Partners brought Enrique to our state in 2003 for a show of his paintings at the Lexington Public Library, and workshops at UK, EKU and WKU. Since then, his success has been phenomenal, and prices for his paintings have skyrocketed. He did a public works project in Ecuador called Faces of Ecuador, where billboards of his paintings were placed along the highways. He was also selected by Absolut Vodka to design a bottle cover which was then transferred to black leather jackets, sold only in Switzerland. Technically, his new work is as good as it gets, very cutting edge as well as political. He continues to do Faces of Ecuador and these works evoke a strong emotional response from all who see them. All the students bought books of his work and postcards with reproductions of his paintings.
We had a farewell dinner with the kids (students) at El Cielo Quiteño, a restaurant providing a view of the entire city. At night, it is a heartstopper. This is their last night in this wonderful country. They are headed back to ice, several inches of snow, freezing temperatures and a new college semester, to begin on Monday. Via  con Dios. We were privileged to know each and every one of you. The Skinner clan was a little sad to see this terrific bunch head home, but we have too much planning to do for our dental work in Tena to even be allowed time to cry.

The Coast

Only about 3% of the population of Ecuador, but about 70% of the population of the coast, trace their roots  to escaped slaves of African origin. These people inter-married with the local indigenous and learned their ways and culture. They established communities along the coast and rivers called Palenques as early as 1550. They were very independent and resisted colonial rule. They brought the Samba and Batucada from their former homes. The combination of the cultures brought about a local traditional music called Currulao.  This music combines drums and marimbas, a xylophone-like instrument of African origin. Coastal folk will dance for hours to the driving beat of this music. Another thing not to be missed on the coast is Encocado, a coconut seafood stew.
The Skinners and WKU students and staff arrived in Atacames late in the afternoon and were given time to make phone calls, use the internet, get water, sunscreen and other supplies. Without sunscreen, you WILL fry!! Atacames, once a small, quiet fishing village with a beautiful beach is now the tourist trap from hell. But, this is where we had to go to stock up on supplies before getting out of Dodge and heading on to the lovely Same, a small village some 15 miles to the south. We checked into the Hosteria El Rampiral. We had private cabañas right on El Pacifico (what you call the Pacific Ocean). We fell asleep with the crashing waves creating their harmony throughout the night. For R&R it brought back memories of 1969-70, when we lived in a beach house in Oceanside, Calif.
The next day we rode in tap-taps, motorcycles with a bench in front seating two, to the adjacent town to the south called Tonchigue. We went to arrange for dinner for the next night for the group at a small restaurant called Francesca’s. Not only does Francesca herself serve as the chef of the leading seafood spot in the area, but she is also the hard-nosed sheriff, allowing no drugs or prostitution in her town. Francesa’s dream is to make this town a family destination on the coast, allowing just enough tourism without losing the small-town charm and innocence here. The return trip to the hotel was accomplished seemingly on two wheels. Is this where the saying “Hell on Wheels” originated?

The college students voted to return to Atacames for lunch and contact with the outside world. The Skinners had shrimp ceviche which was out of this world. One of the many things we love down here is fresh-squeezed orange juice. But halfway through drinking said juice, we realized it was loaded with ice. We asked the owner if the ice was made with purified water. His vague answer  seemed to imply that we were had lads. Luckily, we had just left a nature store, where we had purchased Sangre de Drago (Blood of the Dragon), a natural remedy for bites (and various and sundry other things) made from the sap of the drago tree. Thank goodness, as by late afternoon, Rankin had gone down for the count.(Ruthi would have a delayed reaction, which would come in a different form, also treated with Blood of the Dragon). Miguel Castañel, who trains Navy Seals about medicinal plants in the rainforest, prescribed 10 drops of “The Blood” in a little water, twice daily. After 24 hours, we were completely well, which made us huge believers in nature’s pharmacy.
The morning of  Rankin’s miraculous recovery, we headed to a town south of Same (pronounced Sah-me) called Muisne. Muisne is unique in that the town is cut in half by the river, also called Muisne. Half the town is on the mainland, and the other half is on a small island across the river, with a beautiful beach. Our entire group took launches across the river to reach the island. The cost was 10 cents each. We were introduced to several Canadian students who were volunteering with a local foundation whose goal is to repopulate the mangroves. At the foundation we were told that thousands of acres of mangroves have been destroyed to make way for shrimp farms. Many local people have lived on land in the mangrove area for generations, but no titles to their land were ever recorded. So, when some big company wants to put in a shrimp farm, they cut down the fences, bulldoze the houses, and replace them with shrimp ponds. They don’t pay for the land, and the locals are displaced. The foundation in this town is trying to find a legal solution to this problem, but they are fighting people with a lot of money, and officials are easily swayed by bribes. This issue seems to be an important one, because 2 1/2 acres of mangroves will support about 20 families. Not only do they gather food to eat, which comes directly from the mangrove area (fish, crabs, langostinos, shrimp, etc.), but what they do not eat they sell in the market, providing the family with a little income. 2 1/2 acres of shrimp farming will support 2 families, with only 1 receiving the actual profit. Most of that profit doesn’t stay in the local community, so it is easy to understand the socio-economic impact of mangrove destruction. Also, the chemical treatment of the shrimp ponds and the processed food used to feed the shrimp are starting to cause contamination of the local water, affecting the bio-diversity of the area.
Another problem that is just starting here is replacing farms with eucalyptus trees. The pulp from these trees is used for making printer paper for our computers. The problem other than farm replacement is the massive use of Round-Up to kill the natural jungle plants to clear the land for this planting. They continue spraying to keep the vegetation down and insecticides are in constant use. The run-off is contaminating rivers and streams with constant fish-kills being reported. From now on, it will be hard for R&R to eat cheap farm-raised shrimp from Kroger or Sam’s Club or replace the paper in our printer without thinking of the social impact on the places from which they come.
That afternoon, we took boat tours through the mangroves to a fishing village on the coast, where we would see first-hand the life of the locals, dependent solely on what they can catch or gather. We were touched by the hard lives of these people but impressed with the love in the family unit, and the way the folks in the community supported each other. Their lives were a blueprint which we could all follow. (This village was also a part of our dental project, but you will receive a more detailed report on this in a later blog). As we left the village, there was little talking in our boat. We all seemed to be reflecting on how blessed we are, and how we could change our lives and “Live simply, so that others may simply live”.
Regards from beautiful, diverse Ecuador, The Skinners

Field Trips: Plantains, Bamboo, Palm Oil

We awoke early and were off to inspect a plantain (sometimes mistaken for bananas) plantation. This farm exports most of their product to the U.S.via Bonita. It was interesting to find out that banana plants grow young plants (sort of the way orchids sometimes produce sports) around their base as they get older. The workers select the best new plants and cut down the rest, so it is unneccesary to replant. They recycle the cut materials. As the plant matures, a purple flower will appear, which is the biginning of a stalk of bananas. As the stalk forms bananas, a plastic bag with holes in it is placed over the whole stalk to protect it against insects. We were able to see how the banana tree is cut and the bananas are removed, treated and boxed up for markets in the U.S., Europe and Canada. After a great lunch of swordfish steak, we were off to visit a group of los Colorados Indians.

The los Colorados, more properly called the Tsachilas, are one of the most interesting indigenous groups in Ecuador. There are about 3,000 individuals left, living in 8 communities around Santo Domingo. They are well known for their healers and shamans. Most are farmers and they raise cattle. The men use a thick paste made from the achiote seed to mat down and color their hair. The men wear a knee-length wrap-around skirt, with black and white horizontal stripes, tied at the waist with a red belt. For ceremonies and healings, men and women paint their bodies with horizontal black lines, said to be indicative of the snake or serpent spirit.

We were told of the use of halucinogens to help the healers communicate with their ancestors and to better understand nature. We were allowed to view a mock-up ceremony to bring a young man into adulthood. It takes him 10 years to prepare for this, as he will be drumming and chanting for days to communicate with the spirit world.

Afterward we practiced spear-throwing and dancing. I placed a spear dead center in the target. These were really beautiful people, and it was moving to see how tight the family unit was. It was also very sad, as probably by the time our children are our age, the Tsachilas will probably be no more, their way of life giving over to an ever-expanding world population and more and more “progress”.

The next day we headed to a bamboo forest. It is owned by Carlos Penaherra. Carlos was born in Ecuador, but later moved to Ohio, where he graduated from Ohio State, later getting his post-grad from Harvard. He served in Viet Nam. He was an old hippie who developed a passion for bamboo. He returned to Ecuador, where he teaches at the University of San Francisco. He bought a farm in Santo Domingo and converted several thousand acres to bamboo production. He planted many varieties and harvests constantly. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, growing several feet in a week. His main variety grows in clumps, with the oldest plants, the ones which can be harvested, in the center. This makes the harvest difficult. Hiking though this forest is like taking a trip back in time. It is dead quiet except for the wind and birds singing. One feels very close to nature in a beautiful preserve such as this. Of course, paradise always has serpents, and a bamboo forest is not exempt. There are many bushmasters (fer-de-lance), an extremely poisonous snake here. It is most advisable to wear knee boots and carry machetes, something which we were somehow not told earlier.

Bamboo has many practical uses, including furniture, flooring, and is even sold in 6-foot sections, which is used for exterior house walls, as well as interior paneling. It is very easy on the environment, as once it is planted, no heavy equipment is neccesary as this land will never have to be plowed under again. Every place bamboo grows, it causes springs of water to form  and much water is stored inside the plant itself. Even clothing can be made from bamboo. It is said that bamboo will completely overtake the cotton market, as cotton ultimately depletes the land, and bamboo does not. A company in California is already marketing bamboo clothing. The Skinner clan found this to be the most exciting farming possiblity of all the different operations we visited. Wow!!  We´re land greedy.Ruthi wants to be a bamboo farmer!

We then visited the fruit, vegetable, fish, meat—-oh, what the heck—-the Everything market in the small town of Concordia, very near the bamboo farm. The students were put off by the seafood and beef sections as they are accustomed to having their food processed, packaged and brightly displayed at their local Kroger. (These were mostly Agriculture students. How far we have veered from mother nature. We seem to have forgotten as a culture from where food actually comes).

Ruthi and I were blown away with the fresh crabs, still alive, huge swordfish where you had your steaks cut to order. There were many varieties of fresh fish, including red snapper. Also could be found every kind of fruits and vegetables known to man, plus fresh herbs by the armload, and fresh bread which was baked daily. If you lived near here, you would be able to eat like a king for very little money.

The market also had all the other things a person would need for his daily life, including that dang machete we weren´t warned to buy! Boots, too, for that matter.

The next day we toured a plam oil factory. There are thousands of acres in Santo Domingo which are planted in African Palms. It takes about three years for the trees to bear fruit. The palm nuts are then taken to the processing plant where they are graded, cooked, then the nut in the center is separated from the husk. The husk is then pressed and the red oil that is used for cooking is expressed and separated from any water. Most of this product goes to Brazil. The nut is then pressed and this second oil is used in cosmetics, granola bars, etc. What is left of the husk is used to fire the ovens for the cooking phase. The remnant of the nut process is bagged and is used as an igredient in feed for cattle. There is no product left which needs disposal. 

Tena: Strangers Entertained

At 7:00 A.M., we left for Tena with Miguel Castañel, on public transport. Aware of how dodgy the bus trips can be in S.A., we knew we were in for an adventure. We stopped in Pifo, Miguel’s hometown,to pick up fresh bread (with chocolate in the center, and also with pineapple, Miguel says only his town does the piña) for the trip onward, and to meet his beloved mother. We unfortunately missed her; she is a very devout Catholic, and had already headed to church. But, to our delight, Pifo was in the second day of a 3-day festival celebrating San Sebastian, the town’s patron saint. Whoa!!! You already KNOW how the Skinners dig a parade—This should be big. The parade featured groups of dancers, musicians, clowns and, of course, the obligatory local beauty queens. I can still feel the excitement we felt as we just climbed right in and walked among the performers and floats to get lots of photos. What I loved most about this parade was that there were groups of dancers of all ages, from toddlers to a group of grandmas gettin’ down! The cutest indigenous kid of about three years was enclosed in a circle dance, boogying with all his family. What a doll! This festival is held every year at the same time. We were told that the entire day on Friday was given over to celebrating the Chagras, Ecuadorian cowboys. Many boys and men were still wearing their chaps from the previous days parades and partying. We will put San Sebastian on our calendars, making sure to take in the whole weekend event next year!

About one block from the corner where we would wait for the bus on to Tena, a young lady of 103 years of age, who had had a birds’ eye view of the festivities from her upstairs window, called down to us. Her daughter who was with her told us she was giving us her blessing, and they asked if we would like to come up for a visit. Even though we had no more time to stay and chat, we were reminded of just one more reason we love Ecuador; her people are as beautiful and inviting as the country. While waiting at the bus stop, we bought slices of fresh-cut watermelon, which we ate with our yummy chocolate bread right there on the side of the road. No three- star dining establishment could have made it any better than that.

When the bus arrived, we found seats wherever they were available. While things are quickly becoming more up-to-date even in Ecuador, where you rarely encounter live chickens and even small pigs, and where folks are no longer allowed to use the bus as a moving van (where entire household goods were stacked on top of the vehicle), it still sometimes seems like an every-man-for-himself undertaking. One woman who shared the space with Rankin and Ruthi on the back seat had little space and nothing to hold on to except the small child in her lap. No problem. She just politely leaned over, put her head on Rankin’s shoulder, and proceeded to fall fast asleep.

The ride to Tena takes one through a pass in the paramo, over 13,000 ft., the air turning very cold at those heights, before descending into the jungle. Sometimes the bus is held up for several hours until the ice/snow on the road melts, before proceeding through this pass. Condors are regularly seen here, if the clouds are cleared. We passed the lush green Papallacta Hot Springs, where there are many pools heated by volcanic activity. The terrain continued to become more tropical until we reached the edge of the jungle, Tena.

Tena is the capital of Napo Province and is considered the cinnamon (canela) capital of the country. The town sits at the convergence of the Tena and Puño rivers. The International Kayaking Championships were held here two years in a row recently. The area is well known for its whitewater rafting. We had a riverside room at the Hotel Posada, which faced an island park between the two rivers. Sleeping to the tune of whitewater running by the window, mixed with the exotic sounds of the jungle, made for sweet, peaceful dreams. The next morning we started our dental program, our first since Santo Domingo and Muisne. I will blog on the entire Ecuador Dental Health Initiative in a submission all its own.

Later in the afternoon, we took a dugout canoe to the island and were met by a green parrot which followed us everywhere we went during the visit. We called him “Coty”, after a beloved green conyer we used to keep as a pet. We found a drago tree, made a small cut in the bark, and a drop of the reddest “blood” instantly seeped out. As we have already reported, it is used to treat a wide assortment of ills, including Montezuma’s Revenge. Donnie’s greatest hero seems to be Samantha Brown, whom he watches somewhat religiously on the Travel Channel. She has been to Ecuador and preached, Chapter and Verse, on the efficacy of BOTD. We took a photo of him at the tree. He wants to tell his beloved Samantha that she has nothing on him. He has now been washed in the blood, so to speak.

This preserve has enclosed different kinds of jungle animals, plants and serpents, protecting them in as close to their natural habitat as possible. We were lucky to see an anaconda. They are usually very difficult to view as they are very shy, and also camouflaged. This one had just had a close encounter with an unfortunate duck (give you one guess who won?) and was consequently satiated and sluggish. We poled the canoe off the island at sundown, and finished the evening with a delicious dinner of Ceviche de Camarone (Shrimp). Our friend Victoria Carrasco would later tell us this healthful, scrumptious dish is called “lavante muerte“, roughly translated as Raised From The Dead, an apt description in our opinions. Yum.

The next day the group, (excluding Ruthi), took off for a whitewater rafting excursion on the Rio Anzu. The river runs by lush, thick jungle scenery, with an abundance of birds (we saw toucans) and monkeys. Amid the intense green there were trees covered with beautiful orange flowers, called Erytrina (Flame of the Jungle). After exhausting ourselves paddling through rapids we stopped for lunch at a river beach called Shangri-La. All I can say is it was aptly named. We pulled the raft from the river, turning it over to make a table. Our guide, Manual, served us homemade Ceviche de Palmitos (a vegetarian version of the usual seafood variety, and delicious!) yuca, hot rice, pepino (a melon-like fruit), fresh pineapple, apples, bananas, and (but, of course), Coca Cola. This meal will long remain in our minds as one of the 25 best of our lives. There was something mystical about standing on that beach, closing my eyes, and listening to the unbelievable jungle sounds and life which surrounded us.

The water temperature in the Anzu is relatively comfortable. That changes rapidly when the Rio Jatun Yacu converges. It comes from the glacial melt of the volcano Cotapaxi. The water turns frigid and we all began to pray not to fall out of the raft. (There we go, getting religion again). Eventually the Rio Anzu converges with the Rio Napo, which is the longest tributary in Ecuador of the Amazon River in Brazil.Donnie and Rankin just about killed themselves trying to drag that heavy raft back up the hill to the truck at the end of the trip. Thank goodness Ruthi was there with the proper provisions (dark Ecuadorian chocolate laced with hot pepper. Ruthi had not been completely idle during the day, herself).

While we were rafting, Ruthi had a private tour of the entire area, meeting many new friends, and seemingly learning all she ever wanted to know about the three surrounding towns. She ended up at a chocolate factory (Ecuadorian chocolate is considered to be second to none in the world, save the Swiss version). Free trade chocolate is a cottage industry for the indigenous tribes in the rainforest. It is one way they are able to sustain both their culture and the forest. She also bought jewelry made by the Yaorani (sic), sometimes spelled Warani. This is a once-fierce tribe in the rainforest which still retains its culture (excluding the headhunting and just general mahem they were famous, er, infamous for). Over the next decade, this will change drastically if we continue to explore their land for oil, and this people becomes more exposed to our way of life. Since they are now self-sufficent (and have stopped killing the missionaries), does our culture, our modern world, really have anything of true value to offer these people? We finished the day with another great seafood dinner, followed by ice cream made with fresh fruit. A huge single dip is 50 cents. Rankin’s favorite is Guanabana, which he considers the nectar of the gods. But, Coco, the cocoanut having been taken directly from the tree, WOW! This is divine.

Sadly, our stay in Tena came to an end with another hair raising (Daggone! This dude was in a hurry!) bus ride back to Pifo. Miguel’s dear elderly mother had made a wonderful, simple dessert for us, Quembolitos. (They reminded Ruthi so much of the simple treats her Grandma Landrum always made, called Sweet Cakes). Quembolitos are made from ground corn with raisins inside. They are then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. They have just the right amount of sweetness, not to compare to the sweetness of his mother herself, as she hugged, kissed and blessed us all and sent us on our way. In our country, most folks have become so jaded and fearful that it is hard for us to pour out unconditional love,remembering to “entertain strangers” as the good book says. Yet one more reason to love this enchanting part of the world. An hour and a half busride later, we arrived at our apartment in Quito, grabbed a taxi and rushed to the laundry with all those dirty clothes from the trip, fighting to get there before closing time. Not to worry; it is all working out. As Roberta pointed out more than once, we have been blessed by at least two lovely Ecuadorian women; what other blessings could we possibly ask for?

Rankin and Ruthi

Sealant Project — part 1

In 1996, while on tour in Ecuador with the rock ‘n roll band Beau Haddock and The Highland Rim, our group ended up in Ambato to headline the Fruit and Flower Festival there. Bands and dance troups from all over the world participate in this annual event. While there, we were invited to a private performance of the local university ballet group. Their dance was choreographed to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Ruthi commented on how beautiful the girls were, especially the lead dancer.
After the show, we were invited to a reception, where we met the dancers. To our dismay, we noticed that the prima ballerina had a huge cavity in her upper, front tooth, taking so much from her beauty, as well as,I am sure, from her self-esteem. As a dentist, I couldn’t help but realize this lovely, talented young woman would most likely require an extraction within only a few months. Afterwards, Ruthi insisted we had to add a dental component to the volunteer work we had already been doing in Ecuador for nearly ten years.The big question was—-What will we do, and how will we fund it?

For several years, we procrastinated because this would require a huge investment in time and money. In all my prior dental health projects (Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala, Belize and Ecuador), I was unable to do anything but extractions, and could never come close to meeting the needs of the populace in these communities. It was frustrating to think I was doing nothing more than putting out fires. I came to realize more and more that prevention was the only true help, stopping the decay before it starts. So, in 2002, working directly with the Ecuador Minister of Health, we started a Sealant Project, where we provided the sealant material and training for government dentists in 15 clinics
in Ibarra and several surrounding communities, and 15 clinics in Quito.This was a partnership among the Minister of Health, the government dentists, the schools they supported, the parents, and Kentucky Ecuador Partners. Ruthi and I would provide the sealant material, and the government dentists would place them. The second year, on discovering that these children did not even have toothbrushes, we realized we sort of had the cart before the horse, so provided toothbrushes, which we obtained at a reduced rate from Darby Dental Spencer Meade, a dental supply house from whom we purchase our supplies for our own office.

In order to be successful, we realized we would need several components to this program. The dentists would place the material and every six months, under the pretense of checking to see that the sealants were still in place, they would see the kids back in their offices, clean and check their teeth and add fluoride into the process at the same time. The principals of the schools instituted a daily brushing program and included a dental health education program into their curriculum. Then, both the dentists and the schools began educating the parents. Most of the parents were subsistence farmers, with little or no education ,but loved their children just as we love ours, and wanted to help the kids in whatever ways they could. During the last year of this program, a new product for preventive dentistry entered the market. It was a new fluoride varnish with ACP (Amorphous Calcium Phosphate), manufactured by Premier Dental. This was destined to become one of the best preventive dental materials to ever enter the market. The ACP, when added to the Fluoride Varnish, causes the teeth to absorb 200% more fluoride than a regular fluoride treatment.

As an added bonus, the ACP remineralizes areas of the teeth which are just beginning to break down. We were soooooo happy to add this material into our preventive arsenal. After this 5-year program, we achieved a reduction in decay of 49%-78%, depending on the clinic responding. During this time, we were able to place 150,000 sealants, and provide toothbrushes to the schools. We were able to bankroll this project ourselves for the most part, because the ACP has other benefits. It is very inexpensive (especially when you get the company to give great discounts, knowing we will promote their company along with the material), and it is very light-weight, which allowed us to simply spread out a few hundred of the applications in our suitcases,shipping the rest with college students coming with Partners, etc. But, sometimes someone, usually one of our patients or sometimes good souls at First Presbyterian Church in Winchester, would just step up and donate a little money or help in some other way. For instance, a charming, cherished and somewhat funny story was about one of those patients and her mother. This patient told her mother up east about what we were trying to do, and both of them became determined to help out. One day, this lady, a Christian in the true sense (the kind the big guy intended that word to be) showed up at our office, telling us that her mother was outside with a gift. We went out to find this woman literally encased in that car with no room for anything but her and the 3,000 toothbrushes she was packing!! We were stunned, asking how and where she came up with all those toothbrushes, then drive them all the way to Kentucky. She simply replied “They’re from New Jersey; don’t ask any questions”. We didn’t.

Our patients Kathy (she with the mom from New Jersey) and Art Sebesta mentioned at one of their six-month check-ups in our office, that they would like to donate toothbrushes to the cause, and we thanked them very much. Three weeks later, we came home for lunch to find the front of our garage door to be covered with toothbrushes, some 25,000 of them! (For all our friends and family always ragging us about the fact our garage has not been cleaned out in years, now you get some small idea why. How can we keep loving, caring people from giving ’til it hurts?) It is hard to write this story without getting choked up just a little. And, the Sebestas are not the only folks who have given what they could, when they could. We have had several people just write a small check, or sometimes just give us some dental or medical supplies they know will be needed in Ecuador, understanding that we will always be good stewards and put every penny or item to good use. May you be blessed, one and all.

Our success in Ecuador led to The Clark County Dental Health Initiative, wherein the Clark County Community Foundation funded a dental health program in the Clark County Kentucky Public School System. We would place the fluoride varnish with ACP on all students, pre-school through 5th grade twice a year. We would then do a dental exam called a DMF survey (Decayed, Missing, Filled), to get an accurate measure of the decay rate in this group. Clark County had an initial decay rate of 50%, appallingly right in line with the rate in the state overall. This places Kentucky in last place in the nation in providing for the dental health of our children. After one year, we were able to realize an 11% decline in the rate of decay. This partnership is between the Winchester Dental Society, the Clark County Health Department, Clark County Community Foundation and the public school system. We are now in year 3 of this 5-year undertaking and are anticipating great success, and an even higher drop in the decay rate.

A note—-This group is also providing a new toothbrush and large tube of toothpaste to all 6,000 students in the Clark County School system.

This brings us to our 2011 dental program in Ecuador. Dr.David Coffey invited us to join his team from Western Kentucky University, including 22 students, to help provide a community service component to their January term Agriculture tour here in Ecuador. In Santo Domingo we trained the students to place the fluoride varnish and also to let them know that they would be leaving something tangible behind, that being hundreds of children whose teeth would be protected against decay for 6 months.

Our first volunteer opportunity was to treat 200 kids in the orphanage Casa Hogar de Jesus. The boys and girls were housed in separate buildings several blocks apart. The experience of working with this team will long be in our minds. The orphans were so grateful and expressed it with smiles, thank yous and big hugs. We went to the girls’ home first and fanned out to begin the applications. Ruthi was working next to a lovely WKU student named Lachelle. A beautiful little girl of perhaps 5 walked directly up to Lachell, looked into her eyes, gave her a winning smile, then wrapped her little arms tightly around her and would NOT let go. Believe us when we say there were tears all around that night when Lachelle had to reluctantly say goodbye. She desperately wanted to adopt the child.These scenes were repeated of course when we went to the boys’ home. These little guys were so adorable. They had already had their baths and were in their jammies when we arrived. We took a lot of photos of some of our guys holding sometimes three little boys in each arm. That is one of the beauties of volunteerism. The volunteers get as much reward as the folks for whom they work.

After we applied the fluoride varnish, all the kids were given toothbrushes. We also placed the varnish on the staff. During the training phase, it seemed quite apparent that the students wanted to do this as quickly as possible and get back to their iPods. But, once they started working, they were so touched by the response of the children that they never wanted the evening to end. Several of them told us this was the highlight of their trip. For many it was the first time they had provided a community service and been given unconditional love in return. The Skinners never tire of this type of work. We know that it is a service with measurable value and that a life of service is always a fulfilling one.(And, come on guys; what a great excuse to get away from the snow, ice and frigid temps of KY in the winter!).

The next day we headed to the city school of Saquisili. By then our team was so professional they had earned the name Los Increibles (The Incredibles). We spent the morning again placing the varnish and giving these kids toothbrushes as well. Several young kids and adults in the neighborhood asked to be treated so of course we did. We headed to lunch with great feelings of accomplishment.

Our next community dental program was in a fishing village deep in the mangroves near the coastal town of Muisne. We rented two dugout canoes with 100 horsepower motors. Leaving the town we blasted through the river, also named Muisne, trailing 5 foot rooster tails of water , half of which seemed to end up in the boat. Our ride through the mangroves was like a trip back in time. Although we were speeding through the mangroves, we were able to see many species of birds and animals in the air and on the banks. We finally arrived at a small isolated fishing village located on a peninsula, the ocean on one side, the river on the other.

As we neared the beach our boat bottomed out, so off came the shoes and we waded ashore. Approaching the tiny village, we came to realize that life here was pretty basic. The houses were wood shacks with tin roofs, and the people were subsistence hunter/gatherers. There were small dugout canoes, but no motors. It was quite obvious that all boat transportation had to be powerd by hand. Hunting, fishing, crabbing, shrimping, small gardens and fruit from the jungle provides all their food needs. The thing which impressed us most was the apparent cohesiveness of this community. They seemed to look out for each other like a close family.

As we entered the village , the children came running to grab our hands and lead us on. All the Spanish speakers in our group (Melissa Stewart, Spanish instructor at WKU, was along on this trip as translator) went from house to house to explain the purpose of our visit. In twenty minutes, everyone in the village had gathered at the community center. Our team began placing the varnish and passing out toothbrushes to all the kids and, as they insisted, we moved on to all the adults. Everybody in this tiny village were treated and their expressions of gratitude touched the hearts of us all. When it came time for us to leave, the people were begging us to stay and at least share a meal. We had to decline as we were losing daylight.
When we headed back, we were surprised to learn that the tide had gone out, and we all waded some 50 yards back to the boats. On the ride back to the town, everyone was quiet, reflecting on how hard some folks’ lives can be and how many blessings we all seem to have. We believe the WKU students’ lives will be forever changed by their participation in this dental program.

Back in Muisne, we trained Rodrigo, a foundation member, to place fluoride varnish and provided enough material for him to treat all the kids in the public schools there. Again, we left with a sense of satisfaction in what we were able to achieve.

After the Western Kentucky students returned to Kentucky on the 21st of January,we, along with Miguel Castanel, headed to Tena and the rainforest to continue our work. We rode a bus from Quito to the town of Pifo, then caught another bus on to Tena. After the thrills and chills of public transport in South America, we arrived safely at our destination. We met with the principal of the public school in Tena and explained our program. The local school dentist volunteered to assist us. The next day we passed out toothbrushes and placed the varnish on all the students in the school. We included pre-schoolers, where a 3-year-old approached Ruthi, threw her arms around her legs, and said “I want you to treat me”. Then Ruthi was rewarded with a big hug and afterward this child followed her around the school like she owned her. We finished the day exhausted, but happy that the children in this community now have six months’ protection against decay. The next day we had a day of rest, and set aside time to challenge the rapids of the Rio Anzu.

Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to Miguel Castanel, who made the arrangements for our entire rainforest activities. For those of you who may not know Miguel. he studied English at U.K., and speaks with a Kentucky accent. He also jumped right in and helped us place the varnish, something he had also done in the Clark County Schools when he was in KY last fall.
Ibarra, Winchester’s Sister City, would be the site of our next dental varnish endeavor. On our trip out of Quito, we drove through a dry, dusty area, then little by little, the lush green hills surrounding Otavalo began changing the scenery entirely. The area around Otavalo has not changed too much in the some 25 years we have been coming to Ecuador, although there is now a 4-lane highway. Many areas still shine through with the lovely site of patchwork gardens showing against the Andes. There are also still charming little farms with the black and white cows, from whom comes the cheese the area is famous for. And, of course the stunning site of Lago San Pablo and Pachamama, the heart of Imbabura. Okay, okay, Ruthi digresses. We’ll get back to that in a later post.

Some 15 miles onward is Ibarra. We rented the only transport we could find, a small farm truck with high walls surrounding the bed. We drove up through the community of Esperanza and continued climbing Imbabura. We finally arrived at the public school, El Abra. The principal of the school says the altitude of this school is 3,800 meters. That translated into 12,467 ft. and believe you me, there ain’t much oxygen to be found. We had to hire a truck because cars will not run at this altitude.

We placed the fluoride varnish on all the kids, only about 70 in this poor mountain village. Then we had the principal bring all the pre-schoolers from another school (at an even higher altitude) to be treated. We have been treating the children at this little school, checking to see if the government dentists were applying the sealants as directed, there being no ACP back then, since 2002. We are seeing very little decay and finally these once-neglected kids are being treated at the government clinics, being treated with fillings, and we’re seeing very few extractions.

One thing we were able to do for these little children which we could do nowhere else, is give them “prizes” for being good patients. Our beloved sister-in-law Roberta is an avid garage sale gal. Ever since we started doing our dental program in Ecuador, she has made a point of going to garage sales in the best neighborhoods in Lexington nearly every week. She seeks out only the best items, such as Beanie Babies, brand new ones still with the tags on them. (One year we were able to send down 300, something which is almost impossible now with the crazy weight restrictions put on by the airlines). Even so, by hook or by crook,enlisting the help and goodwill of some of the other travelers, such as some of the WKU students), we managed to get about 100 beanie babies, several packages of hot wheels, 3 dozen kaleidoscopes from the Skinner dental office, 600 silly band bracelets, etc.

We are, as we said, partial to this little mountain school, so we saved all the beanie babies and hot wheels for these little kids. They jump and squeal with delight over little tokens which so many of our spoiled little Gringo kids might just take for granted. How rewarding it was to us all as we saw their faces light up upon receiving these things. Rankin says he could feel tears starting to well in his eyes as we left, but he was certainly not moved by the kids. It was the altitude. That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.

Stay tuned for the Kentucky Ecuador Dental Health Initiative, Part 2, coming in a later post.

Rankin Skinner, Ecuador

A Trip Report by Marcelo Carrera


La visita tuvo como objetivo “Desarrollar profesionalmente el conocimiento acerca de los recursos naturales para la gestión sostenible y establecer directrices para el mejoramiento del BioParque Amazónico La Isla, de la ciudad de Tena, ubicado en la región amazónica de Ecuador.

El intercambio de experiencias y el conocimiento de trabajos similares en educación e interpretación ambiental en el cual se ven beneficiados la sociedad y en especial los niños y jóvenes fue otro de los objetivos.
Con estos antecedentes las visitas fueron realizadas a los siguientes Centros:
El Lexington Mac Connell Springs, Arboretum de la Universidad de Kentucky, Pine Montain Settlement School, Flat Lick Elementary School aquí hubo dos presentaciones acerca del trabajo desarrollado en Ecuador a estudiantes de quinto y sexto grado.

Rave Run Interpretive Center – Salato Wildlife Center – Gladie Visitor Center. Daniel Boone National Forest. En la Universidad de Kentucky se impartió una charla sobre Recursos Naturales de la amazonía ecuatoriana

Compartir experiencias no solamente fue en el aspecto ambiental sino también en lo cultural y lo histórico Bluelick State Resort Park y experiencias en la recolección de frutos en Red Valley Orchads.
En Indianapolis – recorrido por 100 acres, Parque Ecológico y Ambiental. Y el Zoo de Indianapolis.
La segunda parte de la experiencia se desarrolló en Bowling Green
Visita al Dale Hollow Lake – National Fish Hatchery – Lost River Cave – Kentucky Down Under – Mammoth Cave National Park.

En el Campus de Glasgow se impartió clases sobre lenguaje y cultura Ecuatoriana por tres ocasiones.

En WKU de Bowling Green se difundió dos clases adicionales, incluida al programa de líderes de la Universidad.
Visita al Zoo de Luisville, fue una experiencia sumamente interesante, pues allí se pudo conocer de cerca el manejo de animales, sus dietas y los protocolos de manejo de fauna, algo similar posee el BioParque La Isla con un pequeño centro de rescate animal.

The Score and More From Rankin and Ruthi

For those interested in the soccer score, the Imbabura tem defeated the national tem 1 to 0.The entire game was accompanied by the oldest brass band in the free world, who only knew one song.The magic of the Andes only added to the excitement of this game. The play was VICIOUS!!! After the game, Dr.David Coffey picked us up in Otavalo where he was touring with 22 students from Western Kentucky University, and we returned to Quito.

The next morning we were off to Santo Domingo. We will go from 12,500 ft. down to 300 ft. above sea level. As we descend, the terrain changes dramatically. It is exactly like views from Romancing The Stone, this incredible green vegetation and dramatic waterfalls at every turn. The temperature in Santo Domingo is much warmer and humid.

Santo Domingo is located in the lowlands on the western slope of the Andes. It is a major transportion hub connecting the coast with Quito and the rest of the country. It is also the center of some of the most productive agricultural land in Ecuador. They grown palm oil, pineapples, cacao, bananas, plantain, and various other fruits and vegetables. The city gets its name from the local indigenous group the Tsachilas, who paint their hair a bright red, using an achote paste. The Spanish call them The Los Colorados (translates The Colored Ones). When the area was colonized, they were converted by the Dominican priests and the town was called Santo Domingo Los Colorados.

After checking into our hotel, we were off to the local hospital where we learned much about the increase in Diabetes since the introduction of Coca Cola and KFC (Thank you, U.S., you shouldn´t have). We met with Dr. Leonardo Oviedo, who has been to Kentucky many times, and works with several groups, including Partners and Shoulder-To-Shoulder. Later we went to a farm, Finca de San Antonio, owned by a local agricultural college. It was initially owned by one man, but was confiscated by the federal government after he was convicted of drug trafficing. It hs 22,000 acres and that is not one of my normal exaggerations. They raise beef cattle, have a dairy, raise pineapples and various fruits. It is a major farming industry. They make about $750,000 per year on the pineapple alone. Most is exported to the U.S. and Europe. We cut pineapple in the fields and ate it right there. It was sooooooo delicious. It doesn´t get fresher than this. The rest of the farm is covered with tropical vegetation and has a river running through the center, with various types of fish and small alligators. The alligators are employed to keep the water clean. When Ruthi saw all these rivers around this farm, she was GREEN with envy.We returned for a reception at the radio-television station Zarcay. Our host was the owner Holgar (pronounced Ohare) Valestequi, who is a WKU grad. He spoke of the political perspectives of the coastal area and the infiltration of the Colombian cartel, using Ecuador to launder their money. We fell into bed exhausted.

We´re keeping all our friends and family in our thoughts and prayers, and hope you will do the same. We´ll be baaaaack,

Rankin and Ruthi