PIcs of the Galapagos Islands are here:
Pics of the “Lonely George Mural” are here:
Pics of Guayaquil, Ecuador are here:
Summary of Volunteer Work Abroad:
Camoapa, Nicaragua mural and environmental education program at Hogar Luceros Del Amanecer project for the community boys in need.
David did an excellent job teaching the boys techniques to create a beautiful local landscape on the once dirty wall of their school. The landscape included their future home at the farm they will move to in about 2 years and often work at. It was the farm property where Erin taught the children environmental stewardship and science.
We read the Lorax in Spanish at the top of Mombachito, the largest peak in the area. The lorax reinforced the ideas of interdependence and eco-responsiblity of previous lessons.
Erin and the kids made nets to find local insects. We then observed them, looking for adaptations. Later we created our own critters, drew them and described their interesting adaptations.
This is Jose Manuel being a little scientist during our Bio-diversity study at the farm. The kids learned how to use transects, make bar graphs, and most of all why it is important to respect and treat other living things with care.
Cochabamba, Bolivia mural and love giving project at Infante, a shelter for victims of Domestic Violence and their families
Here is the first wall that they had for us, too crazy and detoriated.
The final mural, showing the dreams of the children for the future under the mountains of Cochabamba. In the mural you can see a future presidents, pilot, doctor, and a nice safe home with a loving family. This project turned out to be a huge labor of love and affection in a very impoverished and chaotic center. Erin was a professional hugger during this time and made up interactive games for them to help them grow.
Sorota, Bolivia English teaching project in rural children’s center
Erin led these sweet and motivated teens in a roaring round of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” to teach English vocabulary.
Galapagos, Ecuador environmental education, teacher reform, and mural project
Erin led a teacher training workshop that showcased interactive and constructivist methods of teaching. She led by example and let them experience how fun and interactive learning can be.
The final product with the artists on top. We called him Solitary George and he transformed this tiny town that attracts hundreds of tourists a week to its tortoise reserve. The perfect mascot and a money making tourist attraction for this impoverished town.
Erin teaching photosynthesis through role play with the funny kids of Delia Ibarra School. Watching these kids critically think and enjoy learning was a huge step forward and very inspiring.
Erin in Peru
Hidi-ho campers! I am in Philly writing this, but will search my full and rich memory bank to tell you a little about my solo time in Peru. It was great. I went thru anxious patches and loneliness, but for the most part, had a blast exploring and learning. I started by going down to Bartolo, a little surf town. The coast of Peru is intensely stark, with huge, completely unvegetated mountains. At first, I thought, how the heck did I end up in this god forsaken place? Then I got used to it and enjoyed sleeping right next to the pounding waves. The owner expressed and interest in yoga, so I led him in a couple of sweet yoga sessions on the sand. I loved that. The beach was pretty, and dirty. A couple of times while I was in the water, I mistook plastic bags for sting rays. Silly me.
The surfing was hard. The waves broke right into a rock pier. It was thrilling and at times a complete blast, but I got hit by a girl’s board and hurt my arm badly. I cried like a baby. I am getting to the point where I just don’t like risking getting hurt. But one of the best parts was surfing with the guys from the hotel, having a little supportive posse.
The Spanish lessons in San Bartolo weren’t really happening. Antonio, the guy who was supposed to teach me, told me, “How can I teach you, when you speak better Spanish than me?”
So I decided to bite the bullet and high tail into Lima, a city with a bad reputation for congestion, contamination, crime and all around ugliness. The mission was to learn more Spanish. Surprisingly, my stay in the barrio called Miraflores was totally pleasant, full of learning and fun! The area was really pretty, with great parks, a wonderful sea front walkway, strewn with pretty, green parks. Who knew? I entered the city with two crazy and fun guys from Washington State. Our hostel had a rooftop garden, playing the best reggae I have heard in a long time. I was a happy girl. The next day I started school. My host mom was fabulous, the food delicious, and the Spanish easy to understand. My classes and teacher, another Antonio, totally rocked. Best ever. It felt so good to be really immersed in a Spanish world. That’s the only problem with traveling with David, is we speak too much English with each other! So I felt really satisfied. I saw a huge salsa dance fest in the park (finally some dancing!) and ran and meditated every morning on the ocean front.
I signed up to go surfing with this Lima surf legend named Doc (because he is also a psychiatrist). It turned out I spent my last few days joining his friendly and fun posse of surfers. I really enjoyed being part of a funny crew and getting to spend my last day cruzing back to San Bartolo to watch an international surf competition.
So that’s my solo adventure. I used a disposable camera, so the pictures will come later. Triple Yay!
Arriving into Ecuador felt like a mix of being in Central America and the United States, plus insane heat and humidity (since we’re right on the Equator). Everything is in US dollars, that’s their official currency, and it feels completely modern. Ecuador has two main cities in their country, Quito, the political hub, and Guayaquil, the commercial hub. We checked into a hostel in some far-off and lame neighborhood and promptly left to explore their mall! We got yummy-nasty mall food and saw a movie in English. We were happy. Getting back home was a challenge because we only knew the name of the hostel, not the address. After our taxi driver stopped to ask 7 different people how to get to our hostel, we finally got out and figured it out ourselves. We had dinner at a local crab shack and the next morning hopped a flight to the islands, 1000 kilometers west.
The Galapagos Islands
After entering the national park of the Galapagos, we were met by our host dad and director of the school we were going to volunteer at, Miguel. We have been staying with his family, Marixa his wife, and Arianna and Stalin his two kids in the tiny town of Santa Rosa in the center and highest part of the island. We have a lovely little room above the house, and besides having to watch my head hitting the roof and door frames life has been pretty good. We are a 3km walk from the Giant Tortoise reserve, and the school we are volunteering at is across the street. On our first day we went to the busy port town, Puerto Ayora, where we met our volunteer coordinator, Emily, and since it was her birthday we met a bunch of other volunteers who we quickly made friends with. The next day several of us went surfing and I got a great opportunity to remember how terrible I am at it. But right near by on the beautiful beach are hundreds of amazing Marine Iguanas, the only ones on the planet.
The first week here was a crash course into the Galapaganian life style, which is similar but different to mainland Ecuador. The Galapagos is much like Ecuador, except people come from all over the mainland, so the culture is a bit of a smattering. As a result of many tourists and volunteers giving to the people, there is a sense of non-ownership of what they have. This proved to be a challenge for us in our first week. Erin and I were assigned a teaching schedule, she was to teach environmental science and I was to teach art. I can’t speak for Erin, who has actual teaching experience and a curriculum, but I absolutely hated it. I didn’t know what to do with the kids (there are 4 different classes, each a grade ranging from the first cycle with 5 and 6 year olds all the way to the fourth cycle with 10 and 11 year olds), and most of them were little hell raisers and brats. Our introduction to children in Nicaragua severely skewed my perception of Latin American kids because they were so well-behaved. The kids here on the island were not. Miguel also had some ideas for me to paint little murals in the school with the kids, also something I wasn’t that interested in, since I came with the intention of painting a large scale public mural. However, in the center of town is a large coliseum with a huge quarter of a dome between the roof and a large vertical wall. It is humongous, more than 60 feet long, 18 feet high and 15 feet deep. All I could think of when looking at it was that it could be a huge turtle head. Oh yes, it would be mine.
I drew a design of a turtle head, showed it to Emily, our volunteer coordinator who loved it, and with her help we convinced the president of the town counsel, Angel, who then convinced the board of directors to approve the design and let me get started. From that point onwards I was in my happy place, a bit anxious about the project I was undertaking, but really excited to be stepping up my art. I was itchy to get started because my gig at the school wasn’t for me. So, once approved I put all my time into the mural and finding ladders, drawing the design, acquiring paint and supplies, and recruiting neighbors to help (which wasn’t that hard once people could see what I was doing…besides the appeal of climbing to the top of the tallest structure in town and painting a massive turtle head). Since school is only from 7:30am to 12:30pm, Erin had classes in the morning and I painted and prepared the structure for kids in the afternoon (I got out of my teaching gig once I got the mural approved). In the afternoons from 3-6 I climbed up to the mural and as soon as kids saw me up there the urge to paint called them up to join me.
After the first week and a half we made some good progress and were ready to explore the main port area and look for some tour opportunities, I mean, we are on the Galapagos so we should probably see some of what it has to offer. Firstly, we got hooked up with a large pile of DVDs from Emily, the coordinator at Galapagos ICE (where we’re volunteering). So from that day onward we saw at least a movie in our bedroom every day. We went on a local snorkel trip and although the water was murkey we saw some cool fish, a sea lion and a sea turtle. We also took a small boat to a point of rocks where we son TONS of iguanas and crabs
Slowly the days turned to weeks and we were fully living life in the Galapagos: waking up to roosters at all hours of the night, enjoying a fresh breeze blowing into our tiny windowless room through our open door when watching movies, fighting over the only pillow and the “good” side of the bed, overeating white rice and delicious soups and fruit and tomato smoothies by our host mom, making popcorn in the afternoons, playing with kids that come to the house’s adjacent convenience store, exploring the islands on the weekends, going on walks in the afternoon, teaching and painting with the kids, and getting to know the locals.
Unfortunately for us the islands were quite pricey, which limited our tourism. However, we did have a wonderful four day weekend on the island of Isabella. We snorkeled, explored, mingled with locals and tourists and enjoyed our time there. One thing to note about the Galapagos is the uniqueness of the wild life: some animals are bigger than normal, there are many different species that don’t exist any where else, and many animals are exotic – like hammerhead sharks, sea turtles and swimming iguanas, and also, the wasps pack a bigger punch. With my luck of stinging insects I woke up my first night to a wasp stinging my hand. It was swollen for four days. But that didn’t stop our adventures. Erin even taught a group of teachers about her interactive methods, which are very different from the memorization and wrote methodologies of Ecuador. One day Erin relaxed and snorkeled while I hiked up the local volcano.
Our highlight was snorkeling by the main dock where we swam with iguanas and tons of fish while coming with in inches of a lava herring perched on a mangrove above the water. Our time on the island was a great way to take a vacation from our trip and connect to each other. We had a romantic dinner out and read all the things we loved about each other over dinner and drinks. Overall, we had a lovely time but missed the home cooking of Marixa and the quaintness of Santa Rosa.
Being back felt great, and I started to really love my time working on the mural. Erin was a great help, both as a painter and managing children. My days were always harder without her; one day it was me and 15 six to twelve year olds painting, which wasn’t easy. Slowly the mural filled in, and at about half way through our stay the entire dome was completely covered in paint. During this time more and more teens from the neighborhood got curious, and after a short time I had a great group of teens working every day, who came on their own accord, unrelated to the school.
Our trips to the main port town were few, but it was nice to meet up with other volunteers occasionally, check email, and research other tour opportunities. We found a tour to an island about 2 hours south called Floreana. We hopped a tiny boat with a few other people and Erin and I got to lay on the front bit watching crazy flying fish soaring through the air about 30 feet. We endured a lame walk on land to find non-existent sea lions, but the true reward came when snorkeled at the Devil’s Crown. The current was very strong but in 10 seconds we saw sea lions, scores of amazing schools of fish, beautiful sea stars, rays and more than 5 white tipped reef sharks. We rode the current around the back side of the site and swam through an under water bridge to enter the center of the rock formation. This was truly the most beautiful and impressive snorkeling we’ve ever done. Afterwards we rode to a sea lion cove and swam with tons of sea lions who were incredibly playful. We saw penguins, blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. It was a memorable experience.
It is worth noting that the Galapagos aren’t particularly beautiful, but rather unique and fascinating. For example, the snorkeling isn’t full of pretty coral nor does it have great visibility, but there are incredible wild life roaming every where who are very unafraid of humans so you can swim right up to them. Being on land is the same experience. It’s really just a lot of old lava rocks every where, but if you pay closer attention to what’s around you can find some incredible plants and animals.
The purpose of Galapagos ICE (Immerse, Connect, Evolve) is to connect volunteers with schools and local community. So I feel I should write a bit about the people. The community of Santa Rosa feels a lot like any semi-modern Latin American town: every one knows every one, babies and children can be heard every where and are in the streets, people only eat Ecuadorian cuisine (our host family wouldn’t eat asparagus when Erin and I cooked it), the TV is always on, school is only half the day and most of that time the kids are playing or are idle, hanging out is a national past time, and not much changes. The big difference here is that the big sport is volley ball, and only men play it. They are pretty amusing to watch because the net is so high over all the short men that no one can spike the ball. Sad but typical is the women are housebound and the men are out and about. I’d say that 90% of women over 30 years old are over-weight. This is definitely a culture reigned by machismo. It was great to constantly see Erin shatter their stereotypes of woman, and for me to be the gentle giant with children as a strong role model. Neither of us could walk a block in our small town without some kid shouting our name to say hello. Having gotten a deep look into their community and culture, it is difficult to not feel judgmental and critical about their differences, especially around their education system. To us, it’s painfully obvious that children aren’t learning very much, which is perpetuating itself when they become teachers and do the same boring memorization practices without critical thinking. The teachers are inherently lazy, which was a big frustration of Erin’s when she would teach their classes and instead of assisting and learning, so they could incorporate the lessons, would just wander off and talk on their cell phone, even after Erin repeatedly asked for their involvement. But the teachers were quite friendly and warm, and Erin led some amazing outings with the kids to explore nature. In my opinion she was a divine messenger arriving at this school, where you have to spend so much time disciplining kids and getting the teachers to participate, because I could see her, some times forcefully, getting the kids to actually think.
Since we were both advanced certified to dive we couldn’t miss the opportunity to look for hammerheads. We went to an area called Gordon’s Rock, where two different currents meet and make your underwater experience feel a bit like a washing machine. It was challenging to be tossed around in murky and rough water at such a challenging dive site, but we did, although quickly, get to see a hammerhead, several beautiful sea turtles, an eel and the opportunity to swim for minutes at arms length from a white tipped reef shark. It was a good time.
Living with Miguel and his family was a mixed bag for us. They warmly invited us into their home and Marixa was a fabulous cook, considering that every thing had white rice and some options were limited to being on an island. They were generous and friendly, and always answered our questions and offered advice about how to do things. At the same time it was challenging for us to be confined by the dysfunctionality of another family (the hardest thing about living with other host families). We felt like we were a combination of a fly on the wall, their older children, and what we were (gringos visiting). Not all of the customs suited us, especially around the machismo culture where Miguel would thanklessly tell Marixa what to do, or when he was having a conversation with us would only address me and never look Erin in the eyes or pay her proper respect. That got old for sure. Being cooped up for a month gave a deep look into how the children were raised and it was so hard to not be hyper critical and judging that their kids sat in front of the TV all afternoon or would start conversations by complaining what they wanted. We could see they needed guidance, boundaries and affection, so we tried our hardest to give them that attention. We compared them to what it must be like living with the Simpsons, the father and son are ADD and challenging the mom and daughter are smart, sweet but confined to their roles. We also felt stuck, that this isn’t our family and it is not our place to say anything, especially living there for only a month. They didn’t seem unhappy, but they didn’t feel like they had a happy family dynamic either. But we figured out our flow with them and even had several nice outings together.
One weekend day they took us to a beautiful beach, Playa Alaman and a rocky canyon where the salt and fresh water mingled, Los Grietos. Marixa packed up a nice lunch and we all spent the day together. Los Grietos is nice because there is some great opportunity for rock jumping.
Our last weekend on the island they took us to a more remote beach where we enjoyed the waves. On most beaches there are horrible horse flies that are pretty aggressive, so we spent just about all our time on the water. We had been doing a great job of soaking up our last moments in tropical islands. It’s a strange feeling to have been traveling for so long, and knowing that we’re close to returning, to have to work so hard to appreciate where we are…on the freakin’ Galapagos Islands. But still we were so excited about returning that it made it challenging to put up with the annoying idiosyncrasies of Ecuador and Latin American life. We just want to see you all so badly!
The other day in the weekend we went back to Playa Alaman and Los Grietos with 4 of the teens who helped paint the mural. It was such a great experience taking them out and being their older brother and sister for the afternoon. Two of them were great swimmers but the other two didn’t really swim so I carried the little guy on my back when we needed to get across deeper water. We had a blast playing the waves and jumping off the rocks.
Rock Jumping Fun
In our last few days we had a great sushi dinner with some new friends, went to the famous Tortuga Bay to play in the waves and walk along the beach. I found a little inlet of water where thousands of fish were hiding from pelicans and a spotted-eagle ray swam by. That evening, our last night, Emily and Angel (the town president), coordinated a goodbye and thank you party for us outside the coliseum where we got to appreciate the new town mural! It was awesome to feel so appreciated by the locals and then turn the event into an impromptu play time with the kids. Two of my favorite teens came to the pool hall with Erin and I for an hour afterwards. FYI, the town is only 300 people and there’s two small convenience stores built into the homes, a school, a coliseum and a shabby pool hall with two tables.
At the Party:
My Inspiration and local Friend:
We said all our goodbyes and when crossing the canal to Baltra Island to catch our flight more than 100 blue-footed boobies dive bombed the water next to us at one time hunting for fish. It was a glorious salute to our time there. We flew to Guayaquil that afternoon and were smart enough to not have made reservations so we could just ask a taxi to take us to a cheap hotel near the nice neighborhood. We spent the evening and much of the next day exploring their beautiful river walk and colonial neighborhood in the hills.
We hopped a plane and stopped off in Costa Rica, making Panama the only Central American country we didn’t see. My brother, Zach, and my great friend, Shaggy, were generous enough to pick us up at JFK at 3am and take us back to Philly. And now, here we are…in Philadelphia on our first day back in the states. I haven’t turned my cell phone on yet, but when I do in the next day you can reach us at 415.867.2298. We’re looking forward to seeing you!
It’s been an extraordinary adventure and I feel blessed to have been able to share our journey with you. Thanks for reading.
I’m not sure if we’ll keep up the blog, but since Erin and I are still traveling for the next month and splitting up for the summer, you might hear one or two more entries.
Dave and Erin