Thursday, September 2, 2010

*pentultimo día

…I always knew time fly’s when you´re having fun- but when youre giving presentations every week; working on secondary applications; and trying to sure up a scholarship proposal; time fly´s faster than fun has ever seen.

I´m rushing this last post in the final minutes of the internet café at Santa Maria being open- but I wanted to share my last tangible English feelings of the trip with those I care about most, before I finally get to see them in what has been too long.

As I prepare to board a plane back to the states tomorrow, I´m overwhelmed with feelings. This past day has been spent full of sad yet humbling goodbyes, and the next days upon my return will include a joy and excitement I´ve spent the last 3 months building up. In all, I´m nowhere near ready to leave- Ecuador has become my home, my life, and treated in a way that I hope my volunteer work and determination can atleast repay in the slightest- but I´m ready for the challenges and “real life” that awaits to which I can apply the lessons, certainty, and motivation that I´ve found here on the other side of the equator.

Whether or not people think I am the same, or think ive changed immensely, all I can hope for above all other aspirations, is that they find in me the happiness, possibilities, and hope, that I´ve found this world has to offer.

Hasta Pronto; y espero que todo sea bien

andrés blanco

Monday, August 16, 2010

cumpleaños, selva y despedidas

Today was a sad day. Actually, not extremely sad or anything; but in terms of sentimental feelings and things that “change our lives”, today, the family here in Tumbaco had to say good bye to my “hermano,” Ajay, and although I can’t say I’ll miss him in comparison to things like: home, ice cream, English, or having a dependable internet connection/ any dependable way to keep in touch with those I care about- I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t going to be missed. Nevertheless, hopping in the car with Elsa and Jorge after dropping him off at el aeropuerto Mariscal Sucre, life here in Ecuador continued on. At first with a some-what odd silence as the concept of returning to the three of us sunk in; but not for long, as Elsa received a phone call from her sister in Quito, and we went off into the afternoon visiting family, drinking café, and barely making it back home through the pouring rain that left Tumbaco looking more like a lake, than the pueblo it usually is.

It’s crazy to think that Ajay’s six week stay here has already come to an end, but as we parted ways, said our goodbyes, and promised to keep in touch, I realized it’s even crazier to think about how it’s been 9 weeks since I last saw the airport here. Without delving into a reflective monologue about how much I feel I’ve grown and matured, I can only hope that over the next three weeks I’m able to continue to enjoy my time here as much as I have the past two months, and ensure that the next time I visit the airport, it’s with no doubt in my mind that my journey here was worth it and that I’ve made a change in the lives of those around me anywhere near as great as they’ve made in mine.

In the past week since I last had a chance to update my blog, life here has been full of excitement. Ok, ok, again, excitement probably isn’t the best way to describe everything that has gone on since we last touched base, but since I have finally finished with imputing all data into my computer for my research, have plotted the growth of the children in comparison to the WHO standards, and will now only need to interpret the results, excitement, relief, and a bit of exhaustion, are really all I feel.

Along the lines of excitement though, last weekend was spent in the Amazon jungle. Saturday morning we woke up early to meet one of Jorge’s workers who kindly ensured we boarded the right bus, and as we waited for about an hour or so, we were quickly brought up to date about the local soccer clubs, animals to keep an eye out for in the jungle, and learned just about everything about Jorge’s jardinero (gardening) business. The bus ride was hot, crowded, and about 5 hours long- at least until the first stop. Since we hopped on mid-trip in Tumbaco, instead of starting out Quito, I spent the first hour or so standing, reading a book Caity’s brother gave me, and listening to the pleas of people who would come on and off the bus trying to sell anything from candy to DVDs (which, by the way, I´ve now seen Inception, Shrek 3 & 4, and a discovery channel collection on “the Universe”). When we finally descended to sea level, the humidity greeted us warmly. Within the first steps off the bus I was already sweating profusely, and the noises, smells, and brightly painted stores encompassed a livelihood and dynamic that I hadn’t seen since visiting Moroccan marketplaces last fall. In between catching our next bus to the dock closest to “Liana Lodge” (the best/ best bargain for travelers according to Juan Fernando- the Duran’s son who runs a tour business) Ajay and I delved into the local gastronomy, ultimately picking a traditional restaurant to satisfy our hunger after Ajay turned down my numerous offers to try the local street vendors grilling skewers of, well, for lack of certainty, miscellaneous meats and vegetables. After another bus ride, this one a little shorter, we arrived at a small stop in the middle of dense greenery. Immediately we were greeted by a shoe-less indigenous guide, who woke up as a result of our bus driver honking and speeding off down the unpaved road as soon as we stepped out the door.

In short, our journey was much briefer than I think either of us wanted. We only spent the night in jungle after getting a call that we were direly needed in the clinic Monday, but even with only a little less than 24 hours amongst canopies of trees, canoeing tributaries of the Amazon river and turning 22 to the singing of exotic birds and monkeys shouting, the jungle was everything my imagination anticipated and more. One of the interesting things about Liana lodge, other than the whole, no electricity, tri-lingual staff, and 4-star hotel service, is that it is only part of a larger project designed to protect the rain forest and increase indigenous involvement in the tourist industry. As such, associated with the lodge is an immense animal reserve that’s home to animals I’d only seen from watching Jungle Book; as you can imagine, it was any easy choice to decide what we’d fill our precious time pursuing. Since we made it to the lodge just before night fall, the first evening was spent relaxing around the communal fire and drinking an array of fresh juices and Pilsner.

Once we got back to our pitch black lodge, I ended up having to take the bed closest to the giant spider web due to Ajay´s fear of arachnids. Somehow the roosters around our cabana were louder than at home, and I probably slept less than normal, but with the pressure of enjoying every second we had, when the sun was finally out, we sped through breakfast and threw on knee-high rubber boots to explore the jungle. With the help of a guide who pointed out everything from termite burrows to meter long snakes, we slithered through the jungle, reaching a look out that, although was a bit laughable in comparison to Cotopaxi, gave an amazing view of the extensively flat and never ending reaches of green vegetation that spread out from the river we rode to reach the lodge, and faded into an indeterminable haze of clouds and tree-tops at the horizon. Following a short rest, we headed down to the wildlife reserve. Below I’ve included some pictures of my favorite animals there.

Being short on time we quickly left the reserve running back through the jungle and catching a canoe towards to the lodge. All of the haste was worth it, considering that we made it to the bus on time, but since we reached the stop about an hour before the bus (running on Ecuadorian time…), it’s hard to say that the running part was entirely necessary. Looking back on it, we spent as much time on the bus as in the jungle, but even the few short hours there were a great way to start being 22.
The week in the clinic was spent preparing for a dentistry brigade that would be visiting from the United States. In all, this process involved doing inventory, once again reviewing the translations of the hundreds of pieces of dental equipment that would accompany the group, and basically following whatever demands the staff could think of. The hectic nature of this kind of grueling work was alleviated a bit when I came home Monday night to a chocolate mousse cake that Elsa had baked for me; which, after eating some of the most delicious crepes I’d ever had the pleasure to taste (garlic shrimp with a gravy that deserved to be found in a professional cook book somewhere), was the perfect way to end the meal.

After singing happy birthday to me in English with Spanish verses at the end to wish me many more years, I made a wish, blew out the candles, and enjoyed the rest of the night with my make shift family. It goes without saying, that even though I went to bed full, that I night I missed home, my real family, and my friends, a little more than the usual.

The rest of the week, as I began to explain and then got side tracked thinking about chocolate cake, was mainly full of working in the clinic. Other than a 7.2 earthquake that I’m pretty sure didn’t even occur (well, ok, it did occur, but it was so deep in the earth, and significantly far away that it only shook the chandeliers a little bit), until Thursday and Friday when the dental crew arrived, I basically spent every waking minute entering data into my computer and trying to sneak left over pieces of my birthday cake. Sharing the clinic with the group of dentists was a fun, and interesting experience. I’d never really felt any sort of special intrigue toward dentistry, but after watching hundreds of teeth extractions, in the very least I gained a newfound appreciation for the profession, and at times though it might be kind of fun; yet, now that I’ve had more than a day to think about it, it’s nothing compared to the way I feel about medicine.

But speaking of medicine, the rest of this week is probably going to be a bit more action packed than the last. This Thursday I will be leading my final group meeting for the High Blood Pressure Support group, and hopefully, by covering the topics of exercise and diet a little more in depth, I can leave the group with the motivation to change their lives in a tangible, productive way. Included in this though, means that I have to once again experience what it feels like to be a telemarketer and make another few hundred calls or so over the next two days… It’ll be alright though, one thing I’ve learned since being here is that no matter how arduous, or difficult it may be to try and make a difference, no matter how insignificant the consequent change may seem, it’s still a change that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

I hope that the final days of summer treat you all well, and before I go start working on my presentation, I also want to send a special thanks to all of you who have made a change in my life and given me the motivation to continue on this path. hasta luego


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

written last week...

Well, with two days left of being 21 all I can say is that the past year has been the best of my life. Not only have I been blessed to the point that I’ve traveled to more than a handful of countries; somehow convinced the woman of my dreams to spend the rest of our lives together; and been able to do so without any major setbacks; the combination of all these things has set a foundation, and a certainty in my life that is incomparable. Even though I still find it hard to sleep between rooster crows and honking car horns, in terms of professions, and jobs, and all that good stuff, I think I’ve found something that I could potentially do for the rest of my life- and with the aforementioned foundation- all the ambiguity of med schools or future plans seem conquerable as long as I continue to follow my heart and dreams.

Since I last wrote, I’ve been through probably the most dangerous experience of my life, (also the most tiring), been extremely elated to have overcome this challenge, and if possible in spite of hours of tireless work, even content as I’ve undertaken the challenge that brought me here: my thesis research.

To put the strenuousness of my past weekend into context I’ll stray away from my usual exaggerative descriptions and only give a concise timeline of the preparation, the events, and the facts of the endeavor. To begin, Saturday morning, Ajay and I got up at 5 a.m. After hopping on a bus into Quito, we headed toward the center of town where the tour agency was. Running on American time opposed to Ecuadorian, we showed up at the arranged meeting time of 8 a.m.; only later to wait until our guides arrived at a little past 9. After getting fitted with all sorts of snow equipment, boots, crampons, and a backpack to throw it all into, we hit the road by 11; Ajay and I rode in a jeep with three of our guides, while 6 other foreigners that were accompanying us and another guide tagged along in a separate car. With two stops- one for gas and café, and one to buy food for our meals- the trip to Cotopaxi national park took about 3 hours. By 3 p.m. we were in the parking lot.

At this point, we were an hour and a half hike away from the “refugio”- a.k.a. the shelter where anyone crazy enough to attempt an ascent at the mountain rests between hiking the dirt road to reach there, and throwing on their snow gear. With about 50 pounds of gear we traversed the path; which, thanks to Cotopaxi’s volcanic tendencies consisted of a mixture of dirt, dust, and ash, that under your feet was about as easy to walk through as beach sand. When we reached the safe-haven, the whole “altitude factor” became obvious; at this point we were at 4,800+ meters above sea level- or about 16,000 feet. After a quick lunch of chicken and rice (yum!) we threw on our snow gear and learned the technicalities of climbing on glacial ice. The only downside I found to this form of climbing compared to traditional hiking is that you’re weighed down by about three times as much clothes as normal, and the addition of footwear as sturdy as moonboots with metal teethed cleats, makes your legs feel like they’re waking up out of a coma. As one annoyingly loud American who over-used the word “dude” put it, “one pound on your feet, is like carrying three pounds on your back;” and I’m pretty sure the boots and all other feet equipment had to have weighed at least 5 pounds. Long story short, it became increasingly hard to dredge uphill as the lessons in ice-picking and rope tying carried on.

Following the intro, we ate again. As the weekend went on the food got increasingly worse, but the hunger your body gets from rolling around in the snow and fighting for oxygen is surprisingly undeniable- even if all they serve is pasta and boxed wine.

Soon, it was time for bed. I would say it was time to sleep, but since we headed to our bunks around 7 p.m. and I maybe got 15 minutes of sleep before we got up at 12:30, it would be a lie to say otherwise. I tossed and turned for the 5 and a half hours of “rest” only able to hear the occasional snore, or cough over my pounding heart beat and throbbing headache- for the first time in my life, I think I began to get altitude sickness…

Regardless, I didn’t come all that way for nothing. When the guides phone alarm finally went off, I jumped out of bed, threw on my gear, and tried to drink as much water as I could while still saving some for the ascent. It was pitch black outside when we began to climb, and within two hours of hiking, we reached snow and began the real deal. We were split into sets of 2 gringos and a guide, blindly strapped up our crampons in the dark and took a few deep breaths to even sequester the minimal amount of oxygen.

Before I go any further, a little word of advice: if a guide asks you if you’re doing alright it’s safe to say something like “Sí estoy bien” or, “Sí, sí, no pasa nada;” but when he asks if you’re “Super bien”- say NO. Immediately, without hesitation, do anything you can to convince the guy that you’re as mediocre as possible- otherwise you might end up in the boat I found myself in.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the guide who questioned me as to whether I was feeling good had previously made plans to lead a tour on another mountain range at 11 a.m. that morning- two hours away from Cotopaxi. So as I strapped into the safety line with my now friend through shared suffering, Kevin (a 4-year NCAA track runner), and the guide who was in a rush, I had very little knowledge of what was coming next.

Within thirty minutes we had passed every other three-some of hikers in our group. By 5:20 a.m. – 3 hours and thirty five minutes later- we made it to the summit. Everything in between is lost in a haze of physical exhaustion and oxygen deprivation.

For the three or so hours that we trekked to the top we passed, not only every other hiking group that had left the refugio, some beginning as early as two hours before us, but caves, narrow snow-covered plank like walkways, and magnificent ice formations sculpted by the temperamental hands of freezing wind and gravity.
We beat the sunrise to the summit. In the darkness, our head-lamps lit the view of the monstrous crater that calls 19,000 feet its home. Looking into to it, I developed an entirely new sensation and definition of human insignificance compared to the power of nature. This feeling was immediately accentuated by the numbness that crawled from my finger tips, up my hands, and over every inch of exposed skin that peaked from under my ski mask. Although less frozen parts of me craved to stay put until the sunrise came, gusting wind, a now frozen set of under-shirts, gloves, and scarf, and a pair of legs that were more than ready to move down-hill, easily convinced me that my time had been sufficient atop the world’s second-tallest active volcano.

The path down wasn’t nearly as easy as I anticipated. I’ve neglected to mention that the ascent was the most teasing, arduous battle I’ve encountered in my life. Around every bend and after every unbelievably steep incline, there waited another, rising ceaselessly, with an incredulous steepness that taunted the legs I could no longer feel to even dare to continue.

Thus, on the way back, it wasn’t any less challenging to maintain control, footing, and a focused mind; and really, given the fatigue amassed on the path the first time, it was probably more dangerous to move down than it was to climb. But like everything else this day encompassed for me- I somehow managed to carry on, redefining my personal limits of capability. Not to mention that the accomplishment and adrenaline rush of finally reaching a point where there were no more huge climbs and only horizon to be seen made anything seem possible. So we headed down the same path in reverse, following the lead of Kevin but truly led by our guide and his words of motivation to carry on- fueled by his previous arrangements. In the end, by the time we reached the limit between snow and dirt our guide ran off downhill, leaving us to stroll back to the refugio at our own pace, only looking back time and again to see other groups still attempting to reach the summit off in the distance as the sun slowly climbed in tandem.

Ajay, sadly, didn’t make it to the top. Luck being as it was, his partner ended up falling ill at only a few hundred meters past the snow line, and although this distance is only an estimation and I’m not sure how far he actually made it, to this day he still says that “Cotopaxi wasn’t that bad;” which, based on my experience, can only mean that he didn’t make it too far…

...So I guess I got a little more long winded that I anticipated there, but looking back, Cotopaxi was a great experience and sort of deserved a post dedicated to it. Since overcoming the challenge I have finally completed data collection and coding for my thesis and will soon being analysis (the LONG part of the research…); but for now, we´re off to the jungle. I´ve included a link to my facebook photos from Cotopaxi, and as always, hope everyone reading this is doing well.


Friday, July 30, 2010

end of July

For the most part, my last week of July has been tedious, full of work, and a little tiring. But above all this, it´s been very rewarding to finally be able to start what I came here for- my project on the health of the children using the clinic. In these beginning stage, I´ve been exposed to the wonders of paper medical records.
Not just paper medical records- paper medical records in a non-profit clinic. 7000 records down and a couple more thousand to go, all i can say is I am extremely grateful that in a few days I should finally be done with the scouring, and hopefully be able to computerize the information I have found. The only thing the 6 years worth of records have in common, is that, like i previously mentioned, they’re all "paper."

Starting with the first record ever made at the clinic and continuing through the history of patients, I immediately noticed the progression of medical record style. The centro medico originally started out with lined paper that had "historia" across the top. From there, in about a year or so, it appears as though they transitioned to a more formal record style with actual spaces to fill out information concerning the visit and/or the patients, and in 2008 I guess that either funds were low or there was a paper shortage, because for about 4 months, every of record was recorded on anything from scrap paper cut into post-it sized squares, to ripped out pages of magazines. In all, the entire experience of medical record revision has given me a brief exposure to the history of the clinic, accentuating how far the community has come, and how great the potential it still has to improve.

This weekend, to relax and give my paper-cut fingers a break, I´ve decided to wear-out my legs a little bit instead. Ajay and I are going to be waking up early tomorrow, hopping on the first bus to Quito, and meeting a climbing group that will then depart for Cotopaxi National Park. With a little luck, lots of sunscreen, and the help of the guide & included snacks, we´ll hopefully be on top of the 19,000+ mountain by Sunday afternoon.

According to this description on a web-site i came across while researching what we´re getting into, it sounds like it may even be a “religious” experience:
"Cotopaxi was also once worshiped by Ecuador’s ancient civilizations, thought to be the bringer of rain and prosperous crops; and the top of Cotopaxi was considered to be where God resided."

We´ll see what the world’s second tallest volcano has to offer…

Wish me luck!



the whole gang going horse back riding

just "the men" preparing for canyoning

...I went first- probably because i was this serious about things

a shot from another angle

the real waterfall (the yellow speck is Ajay- just to give you an idea of how far of a drop it was)



my post outside the clinic

pretending to know what i´m doing...

the start of the presentation

answering questions

Sunday, July 25, 2010

La reunión

With the end of Blood Pressure awareness month approaching; come last week, I had to change my customary schedule from taking blood pressure in the morning and finalizing the proposal of my Child Growth Standard project in the afternoons (which involved having what I thought was decent Spanish, continually corrected by my advising crew here at the clinic; Jennyfer and Paola.). Instead, I began to work primarily on my support group presentations in the afternoon after continuing my publicizing of the meeting in the morning.

Being able to spend the mornings taking blood pressure was surprisingly fulfilling. Not only did I become a pro at quickly being able to find arterial pulses and work the sphygmomanometer, more than anything, the patient interaction was humbling and rewarding. The majority of the patients I tended to were either waiting for a family member to be seen by the doc, or were passing by the clinic and figured they had little to lose when the word “free” was involved. The range of victims was immense. From small children that were fascinated by stethoscopes, to teenagers, to adults, to even small indigenous women that reminded me of my nana; I was able to interact, practice my awkward banter, and genuinely become acquainted with the community in a manner I couldn’t have ever anticipated. The sincerity of each person I had the pleasure to meet (which up to this point has been over 110) made the early mornings worth it; however, as fun as it was, with July 22nd approaching, I had to shift my focus to the reason why I was even able to meet them…the support group meeting.

In reality, I pictured the presentation to be a bit less time consuming than it ended up being. After practicing my basic explanation of hypertension, its risks, suggestions for healthier pressure, and answering any questions, I felt that I would easily be able to conceptualize my knowledge into a presentation that would last an hour or so. But, after realizing this knowledge only covered about 5 minutes of information, I knew I had a bit of preparation before Thursday.

So I jumped right into the topic of “la hypertension.” Fliers, pamphlets, information sheets- I read any and everything I could get my hands on in which ever of the two languages I’ve had running through my brain the past 6 weeks. For hours on end, I tried to synthesize the information, hoping to find an interesting and interactive way to present the info, finally realizing that the good old friend of mine, power point, would be able to provide the information in the most visually appealing and straightforward manner.

With the help of Dr. Andrade and the ideas catalyzed by what I gathered from talking with the patients regarding their knowledge over blood pressure, I set out to work on the presentation with the intention to motivate people to actually make changes in their lives. After looking at the lists for the past support group meetings it looked like something was missing- there was basically an entirely new group every time, and it sounded like the meetings were more lectures than providing support. Most of all, I wanted to give people a reason to come back to the August meeting.

Before anything though, I knew it was necessary to set forth a foundation of learning before delving into any advanced topics or lifestyle changes. As one gentleman was telling me after discussing his abnormally high blood pressure, although he had been taking medication for the past two years (well, at least saying he was taking medication; I’ve found even those with prescriptions usually don’t have the means to buy the expensive pills, often resorting to sporadically taking them, or reducing the suggested dosages to a point of inefficacy…), I was the first “medico” that had ever explained to him anything more than that he had two numbers of a greater value than they should be. Therefore, afternoon after afternoon I worked on setting forth a logical way to present the information necessary to truly understand what blood pressure is; my outline went through the most basic development possible: The importance of blood; the circulatory system; why we have blood pressure; what our blood pressures mean; and then the risk & development of hypertension.

Slide after slide, and animation after animation I attempted to make the presentation as interesting as possible, in addition to also encompassing themes and diction that I wouldn’t slip up on, or make a fool of myself trying to pronounce (“asesino silencioso” is pretty hard to wrap your tongue around when you’re half way through an hour long presentation…).

But then came the fun part, or at least the part that didn’t involve deadly pathologies of the disease or anything. Opposed to leaving the group with a dismal feeling about their maladies I tried to present reasonable and easy ways to change their lives- suggestions of sorts- that including things from dietary changes, exercises, how to lose weight, and lifestyle changes. Another thing I was excited to test, was the follow-through of the group. To give them as much incentive as monetarily possible (considering monetarily I couldn’t offer a thing) I decided to make a calendar hand out for each person that came to the meeting. Included on this were spaces for keeping track of dietary consumption, whether they did any form of exercises, and spots for specific goals that we would fill out during the presentation. Hopefully, with a little push, I could try to increase participation in the meeting, and more than anything, give people a hard copy of something to motivate them to change, and continue, healthier lives day after day.

Then finally the day of the presentation came. I had made my phone calls, practiced my presentation a few times, and had my hand outs printed off; by the time 5 pm rolled around I felt exceptionally prepared.

Ok, not really; I’d say I felt fairly prepared- ready to give the presentation and all, but a little nervous about forgetting all of my Spanish while standing alone in front of the group. Regardless, the moment the first members of the group made their way into the waiting room, I realized my nerves were misplaced, and that really, other than the possibility of being a little humiliated if I forgot how to pronounce a word or two, I had nothing to lose.

In all, 16 people ended up attending the support group meeting. From the first slide to the last, I scanned the audience and could tell that in the very least, I had their attention. Although, honestly, I was a bit nervous to begin with Dr. Andrade, Paola, Jennyfer, and the other volunteers all watching, it was actually relieving to see their supportive glances as the presentation went on. When all was finished- the most gratifying part came to see the smiles and appreciation on everyones faces; at first it caught me off guard, but every person who had come to the meeting went out of their way to introduce themselves, say thank you, and make the whole past month feel like it was worth it.

Since the support group, things have been relaxing. I decided to stick around Tumbaco opposed to go out and cram something into the weekend, and as I sit writing this, relaxed, content, and just having finished and submitted my medical school application, I feel more at ease than I did soaking in warm mineral baths.

The next week will probably be a little more laid back than the past, but if I’ve learned anything here, you’ve got to roll with what life brings you opposed to being set in any expectations. So for now, I’ll just keep carrying on, and hope that everyone at home- family, friends, fiancé, and all- are doing the same.

Buenas noches,


Hace una semana

Wow- it’s been too long.
The past two weeks have flown by in a sense- at least in the sense that you get after tirelessly trying to accomplish something and then finally getting a chance to look up. The majority of the past 15 or so days have been spent focusing on Blood Pressure…

But before I get into describing “business” though, I can’t go any further without mentioning the reason why I was unable to update my blog last weekend; sadly, I decided to relax a little bit…

Since I arrived in Ecuador I’ve heard from almost any person I end up talking to about possible tourist destinations that “Baños” is a must see place. I know, I know, all of you out there with any background in Spanish are probably thinking that this must have been some sort of joke, or that I would’ve definitely already visited the baño, but to clarify, Baños is a small pueblo about 4 hours away from Quito known for its thermal baths and incomparable scenery. At the foot of an active volcano (don’t worry Moms & GrandMary, not too active) the city serves as home to a fairly small population of people devoted to tourist activities, and a pretty constant flow of visitors from all over the world. In fact, other than the section of Quito known as “gringolandia,” I hadn’t seen such a concentration of toe-headed short-wearing persons since I left the states.

We decided to take off for Baños Friday afternoon in a mix of excitement to begin the weekend and acceptance that waking up at 5am the next day to compensate for the bus ride wouldn’t exactly fit under the “relaxing” agenda. Ajay and I left work following a patient-filled morning, headed home, packed backpacks. Then hit the road to Quito. After making a pit-stop to grab some schwarma before leaving the city, we hopped in a cab to the bus terminal in the Southern valley. Oddly reminiscent of the University of Denver campus, the metro area of Quito is confined to the only space available atop the 9,350 ft mountain it rests on- an area only a mile or two wide, but tens of miles long.

Normally, it isn’t a problem to journey through the city, but because of this characteristically narrow design, when going from the Northern valley of Tumbaco to the Southern terminal in Quitumbe, you are basically traveling the longest distance possible through the urban landscape. Throw in the most viscous traffic you can imagine, and to traverse this distance of under 15 kilometers takes a little more than an hour and forty minutes.

Not knowing this at the time, we set off for the bus station around 5 pm; arrived at the terminal in time for the 7 o’clock bus to Baños, and then made it into town with about a sitcom to spare before midnight. The ride, in general wasn’t extremely memorable due to the darkness that hid anything worth seeing, but one thing that has been getting to me lately is the fact that no matter where you go, disparity is undeniably present. Whether it’s driving by house after house constructed only of a mixture of grey concrete and dilapidated wood, or being asked by a 4 year old boy in tattered clothes if you would please buy some of the candy he’s managed to procure; 5 pieces for 25 cents, or 10 for 50. At every stop we'd pick up a new group of children trying to make a living, and at every stop I'd get the same sad feeling in my heart. I find myself overwhelmed by a mix of feelings, mainly describable as disheartened at first glance, but humbled and grateful for the opportunities I’ve been blessed with after. And more than anything, I can't help but feel motivated to continue the work that I’m doing, motivated to help improve these situations in any way possible.

When we arrived in Baños we decided to head to our hostel and get a full night rest in lieu of the adventures and action packed day that was in our plans. In short, the hostel was more accommodating and welcoming than money could pay for. Run by a Kiwi couple that decided to move permanently from New Zealand to Baños after working as tour guides, the eco-friendly “resort” of sorts, involved a free (and extremely delicious - not a common combination) breakfast buffet consisting of fresh fruit, granola, and home-made bread. Also, due to the connections the staff had, we were able to easily acquire numbers and information of reliable tour companies; which, Saturday, included a “manly” adventure to go canyon-ing, and later, a horseback ride up the mountain juxtapose to the volcano. In Baños we met up Regina and Ben (two other volunteers from the clinic), and as part of the compromise Regina proposed to Ben, as a way to convince him the “thermal spa” town would be more interesting than the jungle, was that Ajay and I would do sufficient adventurous, guy activities. So, along these lines, we three men decided that the best outlet to enjoy our escape from estrogen would be to rappel down cliffs next to raging waterfalls; a.k.a. go “canyon-ing.”

The guide did a great job of explaining the logistics of the reverse mountain climbing, and as I descended down four different waterfalls, even in spite of the extremely slippery rocks and water splashing in my face, I had a pretty good time. I'll throw in a few pictures to give a more visual idea about what the experience looked like when my internet connection isn't so slow, but even then, they hardly will do justice to how fun it was.

The final waterfall was a leap of faith. About 140 feet vertical drop, the last plunge involved about 5 meters of rappelling down a sheet of water, and then jumping off the rock ledge into a graceful descent alongside the falls.

After drying off and getting some food, we picked up Regina from the hostel and the four of us volunteers rode rented horses through the town, up a scenic path that wound alongside a ravine, and into the mountains of the Andes. The scenery was unlike any other I’d experienced before. Even growing up in Colorado didn’t prepare me for the awesomeness of the landscape; protruding mountain tops jutted out from either side of the river, rising above my line of sight and surpassing the blanket of clouds that enveloped the evening. A distinct and vibrant emerald green, flourishing with plant life I never even knew existed, these mountain tops redefined the power of nature for me. And as we continued to trot through the valley, although the ultimate goal of seeing the volcano Tungurahua was unfulfilled due to the prominence of the aforementioned cloud-cover, I felt a peace that only the sounds of the meandering stream could even begin define.

The next day, believe it or not, I slept in past 6:15 a.m. That’s not to say that I didn’t have a little help (in addition to being tired from all the adventuring, a night spent out trying the local sugar cane alcohol until the point that we ended up singing Hotel California at a karaoke bar might have contributed…), but it was refreshing to get up after the sun for a change. Following breakfast we packed our bags and headed to the name-sake thermal baths. My companions didn’t feel that they were necessarily warm enough or up to par with what they were expecting, but I found it hard to complain looking up from the semi-steaming pool and seeing the jungle covered peaks that surrounded us as we sat neck deep in water. In fact, with the 6 hours of buses that followed, my body was thankful to have had any sort of time devoted to its relaxation. We made it home safely, and even though Ajay lost his credit card in the process, other than stiff feet, legs, back, and a sore neck after the bus ride, I’d say the weekend was a success. In the very least, it allowed me to approach the upcoming week with a little more enthusiasm and vigor- which upon reflection, I'm really glad I had.