In just a couple of hours, our team will be flying down to Managua, Nicaragua from Miami in hopes to address some of the major health problems in William Galeano, a small residential community lying in the outskirts of the city. We have partnered with ATRAVES, an international non-profit that works with and supports education, health, and development programs in Nicaragua, and with their help, our team plans on designing and constructing a computer lab for health resource access by both the clinical staff and the public, leading creative activities and lessons to teach local young students the basics of health, nutrition, and hygiene, and building a greenhouse to teach the importance of the environment and sustainability.
For the next five weeks, we will be staying with nearby homestay families which will allows us to fully immerse ourselves in the community, customs, and culture. I’ve never been to Central or South America, so I’m extremely ecstatic for this new experience. Although the thought of holding conversations in Spanish brings back some bad memories from my intense high school AP Spanish class, it’s not enough to dampen my excitement and it’s definitely going to be difficult to fall asleep tonight. We’ve been planning this trip for almost an entire year! And it’ll be extremely rewarding to actually see the project being implemented and being one of the participants to help it do so.
We will have regular internet access so this blog will be updated regularly – check back soon to see where we are and what we’re up to!
Saturday June 11th
Today started our other mini-vacation to the coast of Ecuador in Puerto Lopez. Did I mention it looks amazing. The beaches are magnificent. When we arrived we had one of the most exquisite breakfast at Paticon Pisao. The owner: Jaibel, a friend of our advisor: Alicia, was awesome! Because of him, today we went SURFING at Las Tunas beach, where there are usually surfing competitions but the waves during the summer months are usually smaller waves than the normal 15-20 footers! It was one of the best experiences ever. Out of the three of us, I (Harsh) caught the first wave! It was phenomenal! Haha. But we all surfed a ton of waves and got beat up by a ton as well. Did I mention the waves were like 6-8 ft high. Pretty sweet right? Afterwards for dinner, we went to a restaurant called Carmittas….omg the seafood was beyond excellent; basically our taste buds were going nuts. For dessert, we went to this small bakery and had delicious chocolate cheesecake and a brownie. Btw all this costed roughly between 5-8 dollars total. Jealous much?
Sunday June 12th
Oh so totally forgot to mention, our hotel is like 50 meters from the beach. So you walk out, cross the street and hit sand and the Habanas. Today we went on a tour to Isla de la plata and saw like a thousand birds indigenous to Ecuador and the island. We were probably less than 5 ft from most birds and the birds just continued with whatever they were doing, Then went snorkeling near a coral reef by the shore of the island. The last and by far the greatest sight of the trip was seeing Humpback whales! They were like less than 50 meters away from us! There were so many, in the distance some were playing by jumping and splashing. Simply amazing. Ironically for dinner, we went to the restaurant Whale cafe. No, they do not serve whale…it’s just the name. But the food here was just as exquisite! The fish, shrimp, and squid was excellently prepared. Lastly, to end the night we chilled in a habana by the beach in hammocks and beach lounge chairs.
Monday June 13th
Wow so today probably goes down as one of the most hellish experiences we all agreed have had…today we decided to go biking to las Frailes (a national park Beach); quite honestly, one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever been too, and Agua Blanca. Agua Blanca is another national park that has a crater lake with sulfur water and a museum. Now you may be wondering what made this so called biking experience hellish? Well continue reading…We biked about 32 km total and me and Binoy literally got lost in Agua Blanca’s single lane forest trail when we continued while Jaibel and Kunal tried to fix their flat tires. And before Binoy and I decided to continue we were all attacked by hundreds of wasps and Mosquitos that seemed to be resistant to Repel with 40% Deet… Oh and like 5 min into the trail a part of the trail gave out and Binoy fell in a huge thorny nest and got ridiculously scratched up…and if that wasn’t the worst of it, it was about 90+ degrees Fahrenheit all day with no clouds in sight for miles when the day before it was 100% cloudy. Taking the temperature into consideration our guide Jaibel said the 32 km translate to more like 60+ km. Oh and lastly, we ran out of water about half way through the trail. Once we finally reached the museum we called a transport back to Puerto Lopez. We got back and cooled off at the pool .in which our luck went south again. When I jumped in my glasses fell off and sunk to the bottom of a 9 ft pool. It took us about 30-45 min to find them because we couldn’t see underwater and it was too dark in the pool to see from above. For dinner we went to Jaibel’s restaurant and had the special Paticon Pisao with seafood/fish. Again the food was excellent as expected. We were thinking about going to have a second dinner at the italian restaurant Bellitalia but after the first dinner we were done. Lol. So we went to our friend Boris’s habana and chilled for the rest of the night.
Tuesday June 14th
We headed back to Quito and said our farewells to Puerto Lopez. A great trip overall besides our little mishaps I think we’ll live. haha. When we returned we went to “”gringoland;” which is their main tourist plaza, for a late lunch/dinner. We had a craving for some mexican food so ate at Mexicali and had burritos! Then basically called it a night since we were exhausted from our trip.
So after building the structure of the greenhouse to near completion all that remained was place the plastic as well as securing it and planting the flowers. Our job was almost done. After checking over all of the bamboo pieces to make sure that none of them compromised the structure we began the initial process of taking the plastic top and measuring it. Once again requiring ourselves and our leader Luchito to ascend to the top of the structure so that each and every measurement could be absolutely precise. After figuring out the dimensions we began to cut the necessary length of the plastic to be placed directly on the top part of the structure. As soon as this process was done we made a few quick trimmings in certain locations and began a VERY TEDIOUS AND DIFFICULT process of stretching the plastic to its greatest tension and then taking wooden poles to nail down the plastic. We did this so that any bad weather wouldn’t destroy the greenhouse by placing air pockets in the flaps and causing a rip in the plastic; which, in effect would destroy our entire project. So a few days went by and this securing process was done over and over again to each and every side of the greenhouse and multiple times. Along with the roof we also secured plastic to the foundation as well as the mid-piece of the greenhouse (the space in between the ground of the greenhouse and the roof). After many long arduous hours we finally finished this task and all was complete. All that remained in the greenhouse was building and securing a doorway and forming the actually garden for the tomato plants.
In our eyes, this was probably the worst part of the project we had faced yet. Kunal and I (Binoy) had to first form a ditch for the irrigation pipes and also to begin forming mounds on which the tomato plants would lie. After placing the main irrigation pipe within a water ditch we began the tilling process. This had to be the most difficult part of the project because this was the first time that a language barrier between us and Luchito took a toll on us. After an hour of back and forth movements and arguing with Luchito, we finally understood exactly how he wanted us to build the mounds. 3 hours into the project and we had finally finished the base for the garden in the scorching hot greenhouse. As soon as we stepped outside into the normal atmosphere we felt a huge cold wave come over us. Even though it was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside it felt like we stepped into a cooler. As soon as this was done we had to move to the next part of the project, which was making a mural.
Harsh began a detailed drawing of the mural, a soccer goal that was very detailed…almost too detailed. While he did that, myself and Kunal began finishing the door and its supports (so that it wouldn’t fly open in the event of a windy/rainy day) and also planting all of the tomato plants (which totaled to around 140 plants). After putting down the small irrigation pipes for each and every tomato, me and Kunal finished planting all of the plants and we also finished the structure of the door. All of this work combined exhausted us. The heat of the greenhouse was nothing to play with, and we learned that the hard way. By the end of the day, a small drawing of the mural was done…we had so much to do and we worried that we wouldn’t finish because it was completely ridiculous to make a drawing so detailed. We simply didn’t have the time. But I went in the next day knowing I would have to take control and get this mural done.
On our final day of work we finally began the mural. The curtains for the greenhouse were completed by Kunal and Luchito and me and Harsh began the mural. Quickly I employed the help of all of the school children, allowing them to paint everywhere that I had guided them. Within no time, the entire sky, and soccer field were done and all that remained were the two players (a tomato and banana I decided) and a scoreboard. Before lunch however, the entire school, its leaders, principles, nurses, all wanted to congratulate us on the work we had completed. All of the friends we had made, the kids, the adults all were there to hold a celebration for what we had done. Feeling honored and like celebrities we were rushed by the school children for autographs. Wow, I never knew something so small could blow up so huge. For lunch, we got a special treat. GUINEA PIGS! Me and Kunal had been craving this the whole trip because it is a delicacy here in Ecuador. After a few weird and new tastes we decided this was an experience in itself. After lunch, I jumped right into action with my Bon Ice in my mouth (best icepops ever). After saying goodbyes to our young friends (it was a heartfelt moment, the last time we’d see the boys and girls) we finished the tomato and the banana and the scoreboard. And finally at 3PM we finished the entire project. The mural was complete. Now all we had to look forward to was a well deserved vacation in Puerto Lopez (a beach side resort on the West Coast of Ecuador).
Wednesday June 1, 2011
So today was pretty epic building the greenhouse. Binoy and I (Harsh) were on 2 pieces of wood on top of the greenhouse frame. At first when Luchito randomly found some planks of wood, I looked at Binoy and was like I think he expects us to get up on top of the whole thing…and of course we had to in order to put on the top wood at the top of the greenhouse. Both of us were extremely skeptical on whether the planks were safe to stand on but when we got up there it was pretty cool. So next we lift up the log and nail it down, Luchito looks at it….and it’s too high. Now we had to un-nail the log, rest it across the structure then use the hand saw to saw off about 8 inches off both sides of the middle pillars. Believe me when I say this process was extremely arduous. To be up so high and cut a log sideways on unstable planks….definitely an experience and I’m not talking about a fun one. Afterwards, we took the machete and hammer and split 20 bamboo sticks to allow them to bend and flex properly. Next, we needed plastic wrap and some tools so we had to go to Quicentro Sur Mall to go buy stuff. Afterwards, we went back to the site and wrapped 20 bamboo sticks in the plastic and afterwards called it a day. Later when we got back home, Tachi (Alicia’s sister) took us to the crystal palace at ITCHIMBIA. The view there was amazing; we could see every part of Quito. The crystal palace was nice but the view around it is definitely worth the trip. Then, we went out for coffee in “Gringoland” at Republic de Coco. This coffee and chocolate was probably some of the best we’ve ever had.
Thursday June 2, 2011
We took the bamboo that we wrapped up and started putting it across the whole structure in order to create the roof. It was very strenuous trying to bend bamboo against the poles; it literally took all the strength we could muster up in order to hold it down while someone tried to drill holes then nail it down. Some of the bamboo had ends that were too thick and the tension across the whole bamboo after one side was nailed down was too much that some cracked. For instance, Kunal was bending one of the bamboos that he straight broke it in half essentially; it was pretty sweet! But for the ones (3) we cracked, we had to replace them with newly wrapped bamboo sticks.And in order to get the bamboo over the top log Binoy and I put up; I (Harsh) had to get up to the very top and hold the bamboo, drill it and nail it in making sure there was enough arc on both sides to create a semi-circle for the top of the greenhouse. Not to mention the middle posts of the structure were lacking proper support and were shaking the whole time I was up there trying to nail and what not…lol. Finally when we finish that we took metal wire and ran it across the greenhouse for the tomato plants to attach to.Then after that was done we wrapped around 20 wooden sticks in plastic with help of the school kids.
Friday June 3, 2011
Today was baller….literally speaking. Yesterday, the kids had made us promise we’d play basketball with them so today they dragged us to the basketball courts. J As soon as we got to the court, the kids swarmed us wanting to play with us. Most of them wanted to be on my (Harsh) team but we had to get everyone a fair time at playing. Haha. Anyway, it was Binoy’s team verses my team first… the result: my team won. Oh and mid-game like while Binoy’s team had the ball before I got to react I was swarmed by little kids on the court asking for autographs. As soon as the first game ended we all got swarmed for autographs and phone numbers lol. The 2nd game was Kunal’s team verses my team; the same result as the first game occurred. J Even during this game we were all bombarded with little kids asking for autographs after autographs…haha what can I say? We were kind of famous. The last game we played was me, Binoy, Kunal and one of the kids that was at our height for his age against all the other kids in one massive game. But, due to so many younger kids coming up to us asking for autographs we just ended the game. At one point, our little kids (the ones that always came to the garden where we were building the greenhouse to help or ask questions and what not) started acting like our bodyguards telling kids no more etc. It was hilarious and pretty awesome! Lastly, we painted half of a wall white for the base of the mural we are going to paint.
Saturday June 4, 2011
After our first heavy week of work, we decided we needed to relax so we went to hot springs with the whole Guzman family and Suka: a golden retriever. It was amazing; the water was geo-thermally heated and natural. Also, right beside the hot springs ran a river from the mountain that was literally Ice cold! And there was a pool that the river water was routed to for the people who couldn’t go into the river since the rocks were slippery and became dangerous. But, the three of us went into the river twice! We were also told to go from the hot water and then go into the cold water then back to the hot water because apparently that’s really good for your skin and body so we did that several times. It felt weird but good at the same time because it was the Icy Hot feeling and tingling sensation at the same time. For lunch, we had trout for the first time and it was the whole fish! The head, skin, tail and bones were all in there…it was delicious! When we got back to Quito, we had some of the creamiest ice cream ever and the flavors were all so different than what we find in the US!
Sunday June 5, 2011
We went to Anna’s (Alicia’s sister) Capoeira class; which is dance martial arts. It was stupendous; the teacher was doing flips and kicks so gracefully. It was just phenomenal watching, we thought about trying but we acknowledged we would probably have hurt ourselves more than doing anything properly. Lol. Also today was Alicia’s birthday, so when she returned from her hiking trip we all celebrated with cake and relaxed.
After a long trip on an airplane we finally arrived in Quito, Ecuador. The drastically different altitude immediately took an effect on our body. We knew right then that the low levels of oxygen would be difficult to get used to. After meeting our host family, we retired to our rooms and immediately went to sleep.
Our first day in Quito allowed us to realize the challenges we would face. Simply traveling around the Old City and viewing the monuments we got tired from walking as well as assimilating ourselves into a place where English is not the primary language. However, the trip was definitely worthwhile because we got a helping handful of the culture. We visited Palacio de Gobierno, La Iglesia de Santa Domingo, El Catedral, and the Plaza de la Independencia. The beautiful architecture taught us the Spanish and Indigenous influences that are prominent in this city. From Catholic structures and depictions of holy figures to the modern protests that occur in the Plaza, we dove right into our progress on becoming residents of this beautiful country. And of course, we had to try the amazing coffee that is such an integral part that makes the locals function. The fresh tastes, the strong flavors…the coffee was definitely the best part of the day due to its relaxing touches and quick energy boost. The catch: dehydration and a higher susceptibility to the altitude. After a struggle, we finally made it back to the comfort of home-cooked Ecuadorian cuisine: a platter containing celery and mozzarella soup, cooked vegetables, and seasoned beef; ALL FRESH. What better way to top off the night with a good night’s rest.
The next day, we got down to the nitty-gritty part of our trip. After making a squished voyage on a trolley bus trying to prevent the theft of our belongings we made it to El Factoria del Conocimiento, also known as ConQuito (a municipal center set out to help the citizens of Quito establish a better way of living, in financial, healthful, and a well-rounded life). After meeting Luchito, the leader of our project, we got a crash course on our reason for carrying out the building of a Greenhouse. Not only to create a sustainable structure we also were working on this project in order to establish a “fresh” lifestyle in the children and adults of the community. By teaching them the importance of growing crops and the necessity of maintaining a nutritional diet we hope to cure the impoverished and lacking lifestyles so evident in many parts of Quito. Along with the nutritional benefits, we hope to create a financial standard for these people. By selling any excess crops, the community will be able to use profitable moneys to further enhance their lifestyles. Once the work was done, playtime began. Making a trip across the city we landed at the Centro del Culturidad to learn some breakdancing (a type of dance that is very popular among the youth of Quito). We still hadn’t adjusted to the altitude but we made due of our abilities and learned a routine; but more importantly, we made many friends that exposed us to the youthful side of Quito.
T-G-I-F! The weekend started on Friday due to a holiday and we took the opportunity to travel around the city and experience a little bit of what people do on a daily basis. We traveled to malls, we saw movies (granted with Spanish subtitles), we even got a small taste of the pastries that are so sought out by tourists. Saturday came and we got to leave the city and visit the indigenous and natural landmarks of Ecuador. After wading through the markets at Ota Valo and purchasing goods for our friends and family back at home we got to visit a crater…yes, a full crater that is filled now and is a natural lake. Although the rain prevented us from taking a boat ride around the crater we got to witness the beauty, the real reason why we even came to visit this tourist site. A long drive through the mountainous terrain and we made it back home to our beds and our dreams.
After a slow Sunday, Monday arrived and our first real day of work. We met with Luchito and quickly traveled to the school to map out our plan of action. After creating a blueprint and determining our supplies, we got to work. Quickly, we made holes for the foundation and overall structure of the greenhouse. After getting a jumpstart on our project, we departed and were ready for the intensive side of the job to begin. On Tuesday, after finally getting past the traffic (which took around 1.5 hours) we quickly went to work, using our blueprint to lay down the posts that would create the outside wall and roof of our structure. After a long 6 hours, we finally finished for the day. I would give more details on this process, but words can’t really describe the event-filled day that we had. Pictures will follow!
The first thing that comes to mind when volunteering in Ecuador is definitely the immersion into a foreign environment. All the unique people and places we will meet and see sound enticing when you hear Ecuador. I believe I can attest for the whole group in that we can’t wait to board our flight to Ecuador. Food, culture, traditions, lifestyle; those are the words that jump right out at me when I think of Ecuador. A South American country that is filled with lush scenery, bordered by towering mountains, and filled with bustling alleys and streets. If that doesn’t seem interesting to someone I don’t know what is. After thinking about all the perks, the true goal of the project settles in. Journeying to another country in order to help its inhabitants with agricultural production is as humane as it gets. It makes me feel like I’ve contributed to helping a part of the world better itself and by creating one tiny change I know that I will be generating a shockwave or more acts of good will in the community. In terms of packing and prepping for the trip, everything is smooth sailing. Besides the tedious efforts of gathering the right clothes or small materials that might make life comfortable, I’m excited to bring the bare essentials and learn to adapt to this new environment. Of course, I’ll have my trusty Spanish-English dictionary handy. I guess that’s all I have to say for pre-trip information. Can’t wait to make my first post once we’re in Ecuador. But for now…I got to finish with these final exams.