Saturday, October 25

The Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

This past week, our group ventured to Peru to hike the Inca Trail.  We flew into Cusco, where we had a day to explore the winding cobbled streets and the marketplaces.  On Tuesday, we took a bus to our trailhead and began our four-day, three-night trek.

We hiked 6-16 kilometers each day, of varying altitude changes, and hiked 40 in total.  The trail was beautiful.  In places, it was dry and desert-like; in others, we saw snow-topped mountains.  Each night we camped in tents under the gorgeous southern hemisphere sky, and at altitude, the weather was freezing after sunset.  Local Quechua porters helped to carry all of our gear -- tents, sleeping bags, food for the duration of the trek. 

Wednesday was our most difficult day of hiking, culminating in a high-altitude pass called Dead Woman's Pass.  We all made it, however, and made it to camp to relax for the rest of the day.  

By Friday, we made it to Machu Picchu, the capital city of the Inca empire.  The site itself was something of a tourist attraction, swarming even by eight o'clock in the morning, so the most exciting parts were the mountain passes and the early morning sunrises that came on the Inca trail itself.  After taking a tour of the site, four of us hiked up Wayna Picchu (the singular peak famous in many post card pictures) where we had the best view yet of Machu Picchu.  

The group at the trailhead of the Inca Trail


Afternoon sunset from our campsite

Hiking along the way


The group at Machu Picchu (Wayna Picchu in the background)


View of Machu Picchu from atop Wayna Picchu

Sunday, October 19

Quito


We´ve spent the last four days in Ecuador´s capital city, Quito. We´ve had time to ourselves to go to the local market and stock up on traditional woolen wear, to go to internet cafes, and reaquaint ourselves with other types of food: Mexican, Indian, and Italian.

We went as a group to Quito´s largest water treatment plant to see, in contrast to Bua´s situation, water purification in an urban area. It was quite interesting to take a tour and speak with some of the employees, and it was surprisingly clean. It was on a hill, and had a great view onto the city. It meets international standards and is one of the most efficient treatment plants in the Americas.

We´ve also been working hard on media projects (text, video, podcast, and google earth), trying to finish them so we can publish them before we leave Ecuador.

My media group (text) working on our article at the hostel


Yesterday, the group, minus the sick people, went on a day hike of Rucu Pinchincha, a mountain just outisde of Quito. We started early, when the day was still crisp and clear, and took a gondola up part way. From there, we hiked four hours up to the top of 14,000 feet. The elevation was definitely touch, but hopefully it will help us acclimate before we start hiking Maccu Pichu next week. At the bottom, we had a great view of the sprawl of Quito, but by the summit, we were completely engulfed in clouds -- and it was quite cold!


Today we have an overnight flight to Peru. After a day in Cuzco, we´ll begin our five day trek to Maccu Pichu, an ancient Incan town.

Friday, October 17

Leaving Bua

The Aguavils

On Wednesday, October 15th, the group left Bua for Quito. We packed up our bags and said sad goodbyes to our families -- my host mother cried when the truck picked us up. They send their regards to all of my family and friends back home, and they hope that someday we will return. It´d be really interesting to see Bua in a couple of years or decades, since it´s already changed so much in only a couple of generations.


Noah and I on our log perch outside of our casita

... we spent many an afternoon passing time in this way

Thursday, October 16

Farewell Celebration in Bua

Noah & I with our host family
Rafael, Andy, & Diana

On Tuesday, our final night in Bua, the community had a despedida, or farewell celebration, for the TBB group of volunteers. My host-mother was happy to prepare me for the party -- I wore my new traditional Tsa Chila skirt that my family gave me: the vibrant, brightly colored striped skirt, and she also gave me a make-over. John got the male Tsa Chila treatment: the traditional achiote hairstyle, which involves crushing bright red berries into hair gel, and putting a crown of cotton balls on top.



John and I, in traditional Tsa Chila dress

We had one last traditional dinner of fish cooked in leaves and the infamous "log" (boiled unripe plantains, smashed and rolled into a flavorless, dense log) and then the festivities began ... Community leaders thanked us for our work, we thanked our host families, and each volunteer recieved a small gift of a beaded bracelet. We saw traditional Tsa Chila music, complete with a marimba and maracas, and a group from the cultural preservation center danced for us. After the ceremony, it was our turn to dance ... It was a great night for the outdoor celebration; we were under a full moon.


The cultural dance & music group


Traditional Tsa Chila dance

Wednesday, October 15

Guayaquil

Last weekend, some of the group traveled to Guayaquil on Indepedent Student Travel, meaning we made all of our own arrangements for transportation, lodging, and food, and we traveled without leaders. Eight of us went -- Alexandra, Alexis, Renee, Lily, Emily, John, Ian, and me -- on Friday and we returned to Bua on Sunday.

Guayaquil is on the coast in the south, and historically is a much more liberal and diverse city than Quito, because it was exposed to foreign merchants via sea trade. We noticed a number of signs and graffiti opposing the constitution, because it also tends to be more economically conservative. Much like the United States, Ecuador´s political affiliations seem to be very regional.

We stayed at a really interesting hostel with lots of open-air spaces, hammocks, parrots, and free (delicious) breakfast: french toast. It wasn´t in a central location, however, so we took a public bus to the center on Saturday morning. We walked along the Malecon, the boardwalk that follows the river. We wandered into an older part of town, Las Penas, where we got lunch and discovered freshly churned ice cream. We visited the MAAC, the museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art, where the exhibits varied from old pottery remains to progressive political artwork. One of the biggest surprises there was seeing a real Salvador Dali watercolor -- I noticed it, and thought that someone was ripping off his warped clock motif, but when I looked closely, it turned out to be a genuine piece!


the group on the Malecon


Saturday evening we got dinner on the boardwalk where there was live music and far more people than we´d seen all day. We were in Guayaquil just days after the city´s independence celebration, and we´d expected it to be crowded and lively. All day, it seemed deserted, but at night, people did come out to celebrate. The boardwalk was full of people, and we spent the evening just wandering and taking in the sights: tons of vendors selling food, people with wild hats, and fireworks.

It was a great weekend trip, and we made it back to Bua in time to watch Ecuador beat Chile in qualifying rounds for the 2010 World Cup!

Saturday, October 11

Water Issues in Bua

In each of our core countries we focus on a different aspect of development; in Ecuador, our focus is clean water. We´ve seen a number of water issues in Bua, and most of them seem to revolve around the river. About twenty or thirty years ago, the river water was potable and large fish lived in it -- a large part of the local diet. Now, the water is not remotely drinkable, the water level has shrunk, and only tiny minnows live there. Firstly, pollution has contaminated the water -- both from litter (there is no trash disposal in Bua, since wrappers from consumer products are a relatively new thing there), and from agricultural pesticides. Run-off from erosion has led to stagnation and weeds growing. People use the river for just about everything: bathing with non-biodegradeable soap, gutting fish, washing clothes, using bleach. Lastly, human waste disposal is contributing to the problem: currently, the sanitation system is either to simply use the woods as a bathroom, use an outhouse, or to use toilets that lead to overflowing septic systems. The run-off from all of this is making its way into the river, making the water contaminated and allowing algae to thrive.

This all raises a number of issues. One day our group went on a river clean-up walk, picking up the trash we saw, but because there is no disposal system, the bags of litter we collected will probably ultimately end up right back in the river. If the river is going to be cleaned up, there needs to be a garbage system, and everyone has to agree not to litter. Similarly, with agricultural pesticides, which the Tsa Chila say come from Mestizos (mixed ethnicity Ecuadorians) without education about how to use them, the lucrative economic benefit of seems to outweigh the long-term environmental impact.  The government pays $100 for each hectacre of preserved forest, but that same amount of land can bring in $4,000 from yucca cultivation, which leads to deforestation and erosion and chemical pesticide contamination.  

We're in the middle of working on our media projects which address this clean water issue -- there are four groups, and each works with a different form of media: text, podcast, video, or Google Earth.  I'm in the text group, and within a couple of days our final pieces should be up.

Saturday, October 4

Constitution Passes!

If you´re interested -- http://cnn.mlogic.mobi/cnn/ne/world/detail/175115/full;jsessionid=1FBBCF8C5A672952CF40A77407FBB3E7

The Constitution passed by a pretty large margin, about 60 - 30, roughly.

books: The End of Poverty and The White Man´s Burden

The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs
The White Man´s Burden by William Easterly

A big part of our curriculum in Ecuador has been learning about general international aid and international development -- reading about the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF, etc. For reading, we split the group into two, and each group read chapters from either The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs or The White Man´s Burden by William Easterly -- many people ended up reading both. Both authors are esteemed economists who have worked directly in large international organizations, the World Bank and the UN, but each has come up with drastically different perspectives about how to address poverty in the future.

Sachs, who played a large role in creating the UN´s Millennium Development Goals, calls upon developed nations to collaborate with developing nations, giving increased percentages of GDP towards extreme poverty alleviation -- a comprehensive, collaborative international effort to eliminate extreme poverty (under $1.25 a day -- one sixth of the world population) by 2025. Easterly, who wrote his book as a direct response and critique of Sachs´, calls for the opposite, essentially grassroots initiatives to assess each community in need individually, rather than money coming from the top, where it may get lost in corrupt governments.

We simulated a debate between the two, and we ended up tackling the assumptions of each author. I enjoyed reading the two, and the contrast offered really interesting perspectives about big questions.

Weekend Trip to Sua


This weekend the group is taking a weekend trip to the coast - to the touristy beach town of Sua (not to be confused with Bua). Friday afternoon we caught a five hour bus ... Lily´s camera was stolen, making that the third theft. Two other cameras have broken, as well. I´m just biding my time until mine die, too.

We´re staying in a hostel right on the beach. It´s a tiny little town full of cabana bars and little hostels, a pretty tourist spot at its prime, but it must be the off-season. We pretty much have the weekend to ourselves; we´ve been wandering and walking on the beach. So far a little too overcast to swim, but I wouldn´t rule that out for the whole weekend. It´s been nice to have a shower, rather than bathing in a twelve-inch river where people clean fish, bleach clothing, and dispose of pesticides -- the river in Bua is really a pollution issue. Had yogurt for breakfast, rather than tuna and raw onions. It´s a nice change of pace and scenery from Bua, for a couple of days.

October 4th marks one month into the trip! It seems as though it´s gone really quickly so far. One more month til the election! Some people have already received their absentee ballots in the mail; I´ll get mine in China. I´m anxious for all the campaigning to be over and finally know the result (fingers crossed.) We´ll be in China at the time.

book: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man


Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

We all read this book over the course of Costa Rica and the beginning of Ecuador. It´s all about the ¨corporatocracy¨of international development aid in which the US economists predict hugely exaggerated forecasts of economic growth in developing nations, justifying their credit so that the World Bank will grant them a loan to invest in infastructure or natural resources, with the condition that the construction projects be leased to huge US companies. Of course, when a nation cannot repay the debt, they are at the mercy of the World Bank and the corporations. Many countries must devote more than half of their GDP to repaying interest alone, not even making progress on the initial sum.

I wasn´t necessarily so shocked by the fact that there are greedy CEOs out there who want to make enormous profits. What was more surprising was that all of this selfish capitalism was happening under the farce of international √§id¨to improve the living conditions of those in extreme poverty. It was pretty disillusioning about the role of the World Bank and the IMF and the multi national investing companies.

What´s more, the book offered a pretty interesting psychological aspect as to why Perkins, the author, continued in his profession for decades. He understood what was happening, and considered quitting for years, but didn´t. The excuses he offers time and time again are frustrating and raise questions about what really drives people.

I would recommend this -- it´s a quick and easy read, and introduced me to a world of corruption that I hadn´t realized existed.