Day 16 &17 – Yachana

Remember how I said the internet would be unreliable? Yeah, that was not a lie. The server’s been down for a couple of days and they just got it running again tonight. Hopefully, I can bring everyone back up to speed tomorrow or when we get to the coast in a couple of days. Thanks for reading! 
Nick Bratcher

Day 15 – Yachana

 Today we loaded up on the top of a double-decker bus to do some bird watching through the jungle. Once finished and well away from the river, we did some hiking.

But what would hiking be without indigenous warrior face paint made from tree sap (pictured above)? After gearing up, we set off with our Yachana guide, Robert. He’s truly an expert when it comes to the Amazonian jungle and it’s been a pleasure to glean from his knowledge. He even showed us how to make a make-shift basket from palm leaves (pictured below).
In case anyone has forgotten, this is a service-learning study abroad, though. We’re earning our keep at Yachana in two unique ways. First, the lodge in which we’re staying is actually a non-profit organization. It uses the profit from all its guests to fund the town’s high school, Yachana High School. This school is so elite that over 200 applicants throughout the region apply for the 20 spots available each year. It teaches the young men and women here in the Amazon the mandatory math and sciences while simultaneous applying practical uses in Eco-tourism and environmental protection.
We’re also volunteering in several projects with the students of the high school while we are staying here. Today we went “Machete-ing” to rid their plantane garden of weeds. I ended up with a couple of blisters, but more importantly, I made a new friend, Samantha.
Nick Bratcher

Day 14 – Yachana

This… was today’s afternoon snack. Grub worms found in the empty space that exists in the Hearts of Palm plant after its center has been harvested.
We did cook them first though, so they tasted much like bacon. The heads were especially crunchy!
OK, I think that’s enough gross stuff for the day, though we did do a fair bit of eating and cooking in the afternoon, including making some delicious chocolate cooked from fresh cacao beans (pictured below). It was definitely a lot more bitter than traditional chocolate in the States (which is normally 15-20% cacao if it’s milk chocolate), but with a pinch of sugar, the rich, warm taste definitely made me a fan.

The morning was spent slightly different, though. We went looking for a prehistoric bird that has survived in the rainforest in very small numbers. It has the nick-name the “stinky turkey” and “flying cow” for its emission of methane gas (much like a cow) which has a very bad odor.

Then we went to find the largest tree in the Amazon, the Kapok (pictured below). Yeah, it was pretty big…
Nick Bratcher

Day 13 – Yachana in the Amazon Rainforest

Right now, darkness consumes almost every inch of space, leaving behind just a small patch of stars visible through a canopy of trees. Bugs fly and chirp everywhere. A generator rumbles in the distance. Yep, I’m blogging from the rainforest.
It’s been crazy here. Even getting here was an adventure. We had to take a plane to Coca, then a bus to the river, and then took a three-hour canoe ride to Yachana. We’ve already had one tarantula scare when a girl from another group found one on her shoulder. One of our students got sick and has been stuck in the clinic all day getting fluids. Power is only on from 6-10 p.m. and computer speed and signal are fairly week. Despite all that, it’s been a blast.
Today we met with a medicine man, known as a curo, in Yachana. The indigenous peoples here believe that life is a balance between good and bad spirits. When infected with too many bad spirits, the body becomes weak and gets sick. It is the medicine man’s job to remove those bad spirits. Today, he performed the ceremony on our group that removed our bad spirits and replaced them with good.
After our souls were purified, we needed to catch our lunch. Naturally, we used a blow gun and hunted for our own. OK, so maybe we just came back to our lodge and ate the prepared food, but it was still awesome. One of the girls in our group, Ashley, actually got three bullseyes in a row and won the competition. Too bad she’s a vegetarian!
I hope every day is this interesting. Just walking from place to place can get pretty adventurous in these parts.
Nick Bratcher

Kicks and Giggles: food

If there’s one hot topic about travelling abroad, it’s food. Rightly so, eating is kind of important to sustain life. Ten days in seemed like a good time to give a run down about the dining options here.

I would be amiss if I didn’t start with fruit. It is, by far, the biggest food source here. It’s in the drinks, it’s what’s for breakfast, and it’s what’s for dessert. Sounds like a little much, right? Well, it would be if there wasn’t an extensive variety. From guanabana to tomate de arbol, there are tons of choices, most of which aren’t even available in the U.S. (much like the naranjilla pictured above).
I won’t comment on what I’ve thought of it much because I’m no authority. However, I will say I’ve tried everything offered and in so many ways I couldn’t even comprehend. Banana chips (exactly like potato chips, but bananas instead), smoothies, juices, milkshakes, ice cream, pie, raw, in yogurt, etc.- they’ve all been different and great experiences. (In case you really are curious, the piña (pineapple) and mora (blackberry) stuff has been my favorite by far.
We should move on to soup. It’s HUGE here. I’ve always hated it in the States, but I promised to be a little more open here with my food choices. Thank goodness for that because almost every traditional meal we’ve had here has included soup as the first course. It’s actually been very delicious in most cases and generally is broth-like with a potato or bit of chicken for substance.
The soup is only the first course. In most meals we’ve had, they’ve at least contained two courses. The second course generally contains some version of corn (there are dozens of varieties served, but my favorite has been Choclo with queso, as evidenced by its destruction in the picture below left).
Dinner also usually features a small portion of vegetables (usually a potato or yuca because both are easily grown in the mountains) and sometimes a small portion of meat (chicken has been very popular, but we’ve also had a jerkey-like meat a few times).
As for my opinion, it’s all been very good. The corn is NOT the same as in the US. You can forget the butter and salt, but the cheese that I mentioned compliments it just as well. The meat is deliciously seasoned, and the chicken is usually baked, not fried. It’s just as delicious though. I’ve been very content with the main courses on the whole.
And now for beverages:
Beer is immensely popular here and comes in two cheap types: Pilsener and Club. They’re served for about a dollar in every store, restaurant, and even hostel with practically no exception.
Water is bottled, and I’ve found that Ecuadorians enjoy club soda just as much as normal water. So, if looking for regular water like in the states, one must ask for agua sin gas (water without carbonation).
Soda is big here too, of course. Coke, made from sugar cane instead of corn syrup, is much better than in the States and seems to be the most popular soft drink. Sprite and Fanta seem to be popular choices too.
Finally, juice, as I said above in the fruit section, is always an option.
Well that’s my run down about food… Buen provecho!

Nick Bratcher

Day 10 – Quito

Well, this has turned into a somewhat unbloggable experience lately. Today was spent sifting through museums, and we’re headed to a movie tonight. Both prohibit the use of photography for obvious reasons, so it looks like everyone will remain in the dark for now. Sorry followers!

Hopefully we can get this thing rolling again soon. Until then, enjoy this picture of my buddy Joe Law, a sophomore at WKU, with one of the little girls thanking us in Santa Ana. Chao.

Nick Bratcher

Day 9 – Traveling

We spent the day travelling back to Quito from Otavalo today. Not much to say about sitting on a bus… But we did stop in Cotacachi to see the volcano there and to learn how Alpaca sweaters and pants are made. I’ll leave you with some pictures of that:

Kicks and Giggles

 This is the first installment of a segment I’m starting called “Kicks & Giggles”. It’ll basically be anything I’ve found interesting here that I couldn’t quite fit into my daily recaps. 

A tree with a towel on it? Be careful to judge. This tree is hundreds of years old and is located in Peguche, Ecuador.
The story of its origin derives from an old tale in which a man came asking for water and a place to stay the night while travelling through the town. He was told no by everyone except a man and his wife who took him in. To thank them, he told them that a huge flood would be coming through the town of Peguche. There now exists a lake there from this supposed flood.
While fleeing, they were told not to look back or the man would be turned into a tree and the woman would be changed into the dust of the earth. This tree is that man after he took one last look at his city. The earth in which it stands is his wife.

Day 7.1 – Not a Chill Day

Remember that chill day I mentioned? Yeah, didn’t happen. Let’s just say the hiking trails in Ecuador are a little different than the United States. 
We started out by going to a presentation of condors in a wildlife park here, but then we made a somewhat bad decision to take a “trail” to the waterfall in Peguche. Unfortunately, the trail was a little overgrown and indistinguishable . Parts were divided into forks and you couldn’t always see far ahead of you due to the cliffs, so a few groups got lost…
Yep, lost in a forest in Ecuador.
We tried calling Dr. Lenk and started out on our own with directions on how to get there, asking people from time to time if we were going the right way. We did find it with the helped of a young girl we found playing with her dog. And of course we took another picture, but by this time it had gotten dark 
So we found a nice guy named Luis (Loo-eese), and he called a taxi for us. Turns out, everyone was waiting for us at the Hostel. Crisis solved.