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Monday, April 8, 2013

Homecoming King

Well I never got to be the Homecoming King in High School, probably because I never attended a Homecoming Dance. Although for the record I must state that I think if I had really given it an effort I could have at least made it up to Homecoming Duke or something. But finally my talents have been recognized and I can say that in my own special way I am a Homecoming King.

It is going to be a difficult adjustment coming home after almost eight months in Ecuador. I will have to get used to things like throwing toilet paper in the toilet, not saying "gracias", and using a toothbrush that doesn't fold up. For the past month or so I've been very anxious to leave, not because I don't like Ecuador, but simply because I have been missing a lot of things from home. Now that I'm actually sitting in the airport, beyond the threshold, I have mixed feelings.

I am now realizing just how much I will miss this place. I've met so many amazing people on my travels, made new friends, gotten to know some of the most wonderful places in the world, and had so many extraordinary experiences. I just can't imagine going back to a normal life at this point. But at the same time I can't wait to get back and see all of my family and friends. I can't wait to sleep in my own bed, get woken up at 5AM by my dogs instead of a rooster, and be able to assume that I won't get typhoid from a glass of water.

It's quite the emotional blender over here right now, but they're calling my plane, so I suppose I should shut the computer and get ready for a long day of travel. See you all soon!

Food as Art

This post is mainly just about a few of my favorite pictures that I've taken here. No surprise that in a country with dramatic landscapes and otherworldly plant and animal life, the thing that I can't stop thinking about is food. It's just so wonderful to live in a place where you have access to just about any fruit the world can offer. Even after eight months here spent working on farms and living in the jungle, I was still learning about new fruits on my last few days in the country.
A close up of lemongrass sugar we made for use in our lemongrass chocolate.

Me playing around with our espresso machine.

My recent stint working in a restaurant/cafe/chocolate factory only got me more excited about the food here, as I had twelve hours a day to explore the offerings here. I am eagerly awaiting my return to the States, but one of the things I will sorely miss is access to fresh lychee, passion fruit, guava, dragonfruit, and countless other delicious fruits on a daily basis. But at least I have some of these beautiful photos to keep the memories alive!
A chocolate and blackberry cake I made for the restaurant.

These hairy little guys are called Achiotillos, I believe they are Lychee in English.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Rumbo en Mindo

If you have been checking my blog recently you know that it has been dryer than an Aubrey Plaza character. The reason for that is not my usual excuse that I don't have Internet; in fact, I have Internet all day long. The fact of the matter is that I've just been working without stop for the past week and a half. I arrived in Mindo last Sunday, and Monday morning began work at El Quetzal, an artisan chocolate factory and restaurant. I work seven days a week, from eight in the morning until eight at night, and I'm loving it.
El Quetzal is probably one of the few places left in the world that ferments, dries, roasts, grinds, tempers, and molds their own chocolate all by hand.

My new place of work.

It's a really amazing establishment to work at. They are just so committed here to experimentation and the production of quality products. Their chocolate is outstanding, still made 100% by hand, and the best in Ecuador by my tastes. We make our own homemade ginger ale, caramelized ginger, and ginger syrup. For anyone who knows how much of a ginger fanatic I am, you can imagine how happy I must be working here.
My best attempt at latte art... I know it's pretty pathetic, but we use whole milk, which makes things pretty tough.
Aside from that I have a big fully equipped kitchen and espresso machine to play around with. I'm getting to practice a lot of things like my mayonnaise making skills, milk frothing, espresso making, and chocolate tempering. Working in a restaurant kitchen again is fantastic, and even more so at a place with such imagination and respect for food. Unfortunately I will be leaving in only a few more days and be "Rumbo a SC". Being in such a great place with such nice people makes me realize how much I am going to miss Ecuador, but I look forward to coming home all the same.
My first attempt at a "Latte Machiatto Caramelo"

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Farewell, Amazon Style

Yesterday I left Sacha Yacu Animal Rescue Center, my home for the past month, and made my way to Quito. I am now in Mindo, getting started on my last hurrah here in Ecuador, working at an artisan chocolate factory in the cloud forest.

Of course, this most recent visit was not my first time in the Amazon, I had spent two months there earlier in my gap year. During that time I was told a story about something called the Botfly, which lays it's eggs inside of open wounds or mosquito bites, and then leave the larvae to mature inside of your flesh.

Of course I thought it was an interesting fact, but never considered the possibility of it happening to me. Well, for the past few weeks I have had several infected bug bites bothering me. I've had this problem before, where a mosquito bite becomes infected and forms a pus ball under your skin. It is extremely difficult to get rid of, and I still have a couple from about four months ago.

So back to my story, I was on the bus heading to Quito, when one of my infected bites began to itch. I scratched it, and noticed a little white thing pop up out of it. I figured it was just some pus coming out, which happens a lot, so I squeezed a little harder. A little cream colored tendril popped up out of the bite, and I started thinking that maybe this wasn't just any ordinary pus. So I squeezed this time with a lot of force, and out popped a little white worm, fully intact, and still moving.

Turns out that I was indeed the victim of the Human Botfly. It is still difficult even for me to believe that this actually happened, but I have a witness in my friend Barbara who was traveling with me. And we both agree it's probably the grossest thing that has ever happened to me. But I suppose that's just what I get as a farewell gift from the Amazon, reminding me that I must come back soon!

Signing Up

Short post, just catching up on some things I was unable to complete during my self inflicted confinement in the Amazon.
Me and Andrea, machetes in hand.
So a few weeks ago we decided it was finally time people knew where Sacha Yacu was, considering that it's basically just at the end of a path in the middle of the Jungle. So we painted some signs, and went out to the main access roads, machetes and shovels in hand, to put ourselves on the map.

I'm happy to say that thanks to our signage, if someone can figure out how to get on the bus to Arajuno, they can probably find Sacha Yacu, which is more than we could say before.

Up Close and Personal

This is the first day in a month that I have been away from Sacha Yacu Wild Animal Rescue Center, and I already miss it terribly. I miss the rain forest, even though I'm in the cloud forest; I miss my old friends, even though I'm surrounded by new ones; but most of all, I miss the animals.
This is our baby parrot, out of his cage for feeding time.

This is one of our Amazonian parrots... their talons hurt a lot.
 I'm only realizing now just how unique an experience it was to be so close to animals that are usually only seen in zoos. At Sacha Yacu we have the opportunity to really get up close and personal with our animals.
Me with Grumpy, my favorite monkey.
Every day I got to have birds fly over and climb up my arm, have monkeys delice me, or pet some of the cutest little coatis the world has ever seen.
I got to go in the cage with our two female Coatis and pet them. I want one...
This time around I really developed some special bonds with our animals, and it was even harder to say goodbye then last time. But I can leave knowing that perhaps I made a small difference in their lives, that they are well taken care of, and that maybe, just maybe, I will see them again someday.
This was the first time someone (me) got pictures of our Tigarillo outside of it's cage. That was a lucky night.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Learning to Fly

My life has been a constant battle with gravity; ever since I was a child I've dreamt of flying. It is the main reason that I spent 14 years as a competitive swimmer, since underwater is the only place I can feel weightless and have the sensation that I'm as free as an eagle.

I think I first realized my desire when watching Saturday morning cartoons, seeing Superman take off like a missile and go shooting through space with no hindrance. So like any 5 year old kid, I went outside, straightened my arms over my head, clenched my fists, and launched myself off of our back porch. Unfortunately gravity got the best of me on that day. But I was not discouraged; the failed attempt simply redoubled my hunger for flight. I strapped garbage can lids to my arms: too heavy; I cut out some wings from cardboard: too flimsy; I found some big discs made out of woven reeds, and for a mere fraction of a second, I felt the air resistance lift my arms, stretch the muscles in my armpits, and slow my decent. From that moment I was hooked.
Of course out of nostalgia I had to do it like a swimming start.

As I got older I realized the irrationality of my dream of flight. I laughed at how ridiculous I must have looked strapping anything large and flat I could find to my arms and flapping them like wings as I leaped off of our porch and landed with a splat, crumpled in a heap of broken wings and broken dreams. I saw the comparison to the mad turn of the century inventors that had died attempting the same that I was, and I promised myself that I would stick to the back porch, and not jump off of cliffs or into ravines with my makeshift flying apparatus, now at age 19 I have broken that promise.

Even as I got into my teens, I have not been able to escape the dreams of flight. I often wake up remembering myself soaring high above my house, feeling the wind rushing past my ears and drying my eyes. But dreams are a cruel substitute for the real thing; always giving me a taste of the sensation but never satisfying my appetite. In my dreams I am in the park outside of my house. I take a running start, and then leap, catching a draft of air and climbing up, up, up into the sky. I hover before assuming the superman position and speeding around in circles, passing low to the ground, performing loops and acrobatics. But as the dream progresses, my new found powers are sapped by the rising sun outside my window. I being to lose my speed and falter; it feels as if I am in a car that is running out of gas. As I pass lower to the ground my imaginary engine sputters and I scrape against the ground before momentarily regaining lift. But I can feel the inevitability of complete failure; and my fears land me back in the park, where I find myself on the ground, repeating the running start, leaping up, grasping for that indescribable feeling, trying to recapture just a taste of the magic that I had felt. I am unsuccessful. I have been grounded.

Despite my many letdowns I am determined to keep hope alive, and always search for that momentary exhilaration; the weightless feeling that takes the place of all worries, fears, and uncertainty, and leaves you unburdened. That was what gave me the motivation and courage to jump from a 100 meter bridge into a ravine, with nothing but a rope to hold me to the earth. It may have only been for two seconds, but in that short time you feel all that is profound, meaningful, and meaningless in life flash through your head and spread out to your extremities, like lightning striking a pond and spreading out to the shore. It may not be the same as flying, but it's a start.