Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Last 3 weeks

Summary of the rest of the summer.
August 6-August 27
So I have accomplished a lot these last nine weeks and today is the last day of my “school-less” summer. Here is a brief summary of my South American experiences and I will fill in all the details in later posts so I can tell you all exactly what went down!
I was not able to post blogs over the last month or so of my trip because I was traveling throughout this country’s diverse ecosystems as well as interesting cultures and communities. Many of the places I traveled to did not have electricity, let alone internet connections, so I couldn’t really whip out my Mac book and blog as much as I would have liked to. But I am going to give you all a summary of what I did:
After Lago Agrio I went to Quito and had my 18thbirthday
Before I forget, be sure to check out the film Crude since it is finally in theaters this September and it will give you the history of the devastation Chevron left in Ecuador in the Lago Agrio region and that I have now experienced first hand:
After my birthday celebration, I explored Guayaquil, the second biggest city in Ecuador, with some of my interesting international friends where we celebrated Ecuador’s 200 years of freedom.
With this same group of friends, we continued on to Montanita, a surf and youth community where we spent all hours of the day playing on the beach. We stayed up all night wandering down the one street in town and swimming and making bon fires on the beach till sunrise! I love Montanita!
From August 13 – 23, I met up with a group of “Yoga-ers” and adventurers lead by the Pachamama Alliance and YogaWorks in Quito where we started our ten day yoga travel adventure. First we went to Otovalo, a city in the north (an outdoor market I went to earlier and wrote about in this blog), then we went to Puyo, the last city before we ventured deep into the Amazon rainforest that was close, super south, to the border with Peru. There I learned about the ancient indigenous Achuar culture and participated in their traditions, rituals, daily activities and cultural exchanges. Then we explored the relaxing hot springs in Banos and finally ended our journey by returning to an interesting hotel in Quito, Café Cultura. Every day we practiced yoga in the most incredible natural settings and I hope to continue my practice when I return to the states.
I stayed in Quito for a couple days just hanging out with my family and newfound friends before I cried my eyes out when I had to leave and return to the Bay Area.
Tomorrow I start school! My summer adventure is over, but my life adventures are just beginning! I will write about my summer in more detail with a day-by-day replay when I have a moment, since this is my senior year and it is pretty hectic with classes, extracurricular activities, SAT tests, college applications, catching up with friends and having a life, so I just am being real and letting everyone know what’s up!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Today I woke up at 6:00 am to meet up with my Toxi-Tour Guide and began our tour of all the terrible destruction to these once beautiful lands. A Toxi-Tour is an ecological excursion throughout Lago Agrio in which we trekked to different polluted sites, contaminated by ChevronTexaco, and observed the reality of the pollution in this area of the jungle. I understood that a Toxi-Tour could be really depressing and scary to see first hand since all the crude oil has left a terrible scar in the once beautiful environment. But I never could have been prepared for the reality of this horrid abuse and its gloomy effect of not only leaving a toxic garbage dump but causing much illness to these once healthy peoples.
I met up with Donald, another employee of El Frente, and he showed me some oil pits and other ridiculously polluted areas. The first thing I saw was a 25 foot oil pit, the size of a city bus, that had been there since the 1960s, and Chevron said they had already cleaned it up. There was an orchard of coffee beans next to the pit with their roots growing directly into the oil lake and, this coffee got shipped and exported all over the world. The farmer we ran into even said that some of the beans get sent to Starbucks! Donald went out into the middle of the lake on a little raft and started to pick up the crude oil with a stick. I leaned against a tree and got oil all over my clothes and hands and I couldn’t get it off. I started tot think what if you had to live like this everyday?
And then a local farmer cut his way out of the bush with a machete, fully covered in oil and gunk as he chased his oil covered pig. He stopped when he saw us and started wailing and complaining about how his family didn’t have anything to eat, everything tastes like oil and he is losing his vision. He was right, the waft of oil fumes was ridiculous and it felt like you were in a jungle oil tank. I had raging headache that I could not imagine living with every moment in my home.
We spent several hours visiting other oil drilling sites, oil contaminated rivers, people living in the area, oil wells, oil refinement stations, oil fire torches, spoke with workers of Chevron and just breathed in the oil in the deadly environment. I am so glad I went but it was ridiculously heart breaking.
I said goodbye to my tour guide and took the bus back to Quito. For the next seven hours, I thought about how I could help make a positive change in this violated part of our world…

Here is the trailer for the documentary Crude and it shows the places I've been visiting and what I have been working for:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cofan Jewelry

The first half of my day was spent on the bus from Quito to Lago Agrio. The 8 hour bus ride was quite interesting. I already mentioned the Quito bus situation and how the buses can often be an adventure but the inter-provincial buses are even more intense. My friends informed me of this fact, but I had no clue the buses were really like their descriptions. They play bad, B-rated 80´s action films all dubbed in Spanish (but not even dubbed well, all the characters sound like the voice of a middle-aged Ecuadorian man) and, when the bus is not blasting movies, it blares hard core Reggaeton or romantic love ballads in Spanish. It is quite an experience and I highly recommend it!
Finally I arrived in Lago Agrio. I took this solo trip to see the environmental disaster that Chevron has been trying to hide. By now, I have seen the documentary Crude a few times, read and saw the terrible pictures in the book Crude Reflections, and now it was time to see the pain and suffering for myself in 3D, real life, real time. I also set up this trip to meet with the Cofan, an indigenous jungle people of the north of Ecuador. They make colorful jewelry out of seeds, feathers, and twine from local plants, and I am interested in working with them to bring their wonderful worldly crafts to the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.
So I got off the bus and took a cab to my hotel. Lago is oppressively hot, but I had a room overlooking the main drag with a cooling fan. I met up with Emerheildo, an indigenous leader of the Cofan people of the north who represents their crafts and trades. He also stands up for the rights of these people of the jungle against the American big oil companies, as well as working for indigenous human rights in general. He is a really wise, interesting and bold man. We talked and walked around Lago and ended up at the Cofan Indigenous Store, which sells crafts from the women in the village to the people in the city of Lago. They sell an assortment of things, ranging from bracelets to necklaces to bags to almost every accessory you can think of, except with an original homegrown twist. I hung around the store for a couple hours, talked with the people and took pictures of these original creations. I spoke with them about creating a fair trade and selling their crafts in the US, how that could be really beneficial for everyone. All of us seemed excited. I hope to talk with some friends and contacts when I return to the states so I can make this idea come to life.
I spent the rest of my night alone watching over the unattractive urban concrete streets of Lago Agrio, observing all from my hotel roof perch.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Chillin in the jungle

After the Crude film première and a fun night of local after parties in Tena, we slept in late at our orchard garden hotel. When I finally woke up, I got out of bed and swam in a swimming pool that looked oddly like a polar bear pool you might see at the zoo. We also swam in the river near by. It was a chill hang out day in the jungle. I went on hikes with my work mates and explored the amazing land of the Amazon rainforest.
It felt so good to be here in the real wilderness. I could breathe better since the air was so fresh and I noticed that I became more one with the earth. I know it might sound corny but I felt really connected to our planet and was devastated when we had to leave.
We left Tena on a bus. I stood up for most of the four hour ride but it was okay. I did finally get a seat with my friend and immediately fell asleep. But I almost sleep too hard in any car, bus or train and I almost missed my bus stop, but I woke up on time.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The premiere of the documentary Crude

This morning I went with a few of my work buddies to Napo, a cute little nearby town along the the Napo river in the jungle. We went swimming in the river and spent hours jumping off the rocks. Then we returned to our hotel and went swimming in the swimming pool, and then (because obviously I can’t get enough swimming!) went to swim in the creek near the hotel with some buddies.
After all my swimming extravaganzas it was late and we needed to get ready for the premiere of the documentary film Crude. So we showered and went out to town. The premiere was shown in a coliseum in the middle of Tena. El Frente had bused people in from the jungle, and many people from Tena and nearby also came to watch this film. As I mentioned in my posting yesterday, this film is about a lawsuit against ChevronTexaco about their destruction of the environment in the Amazon region in the north of Ecuador. The film showing was a success. The stadium was full and many other important environmental people from Ecuador attended and spoke. The local people believed that the film told their story well, and hoped that it might cause the the world to hear and do something to help.
You can find out more about this from El Frente's website:

Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting near the rainforest!

This afternoon me a group of us from my work piled in a little cara and drove to Tena. Tena is a city a distance south of Quito that is located at the beginning of the rainforest. We went there because tomorrow there will be a premiere of the film Crude, a documentary about the devastation and pollution in the Amazon caused by ChevronTexaco failing to remediate toxic oil waste after Texaco stopped work there, which has caused serious injuries to the indigenous peoples there and polluted the water. As I’ve mentioned before, the reason I came to Quito this summer is to work as an intern in the Quito office of an environmental group that is assisting the indigenous people get justice, El Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia (the Amazon Defense Front).
I am so excited because, this is the closest I have been to the Amazon in my life, and because my work in supporting El Frente has brought me here. We left Quito late and got to Tena around eight. We are staying at this nifty hotel in the jungle in an orchid garden and an island full of monkeys! Such nature and beauty! We are staying for 2 nights and 3 days because as well as showing the film their will also be cultural events, dances and conferences.
After we arrived in the hotel we met up with the rest of our group and decided to go to town and eat fruit salad. We arrived in the middle of Tena, in the colonial plaza filled with colonial architecture, and ate fruit salad in the drizzling rain. This was the first time that when I breathed I could feel the rainforest!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I am falling in love with plantains! I have been exploring and discovering all these new kind of ways to eat plantains and I am so excited. Ecuador is the largest exporter of bananas and plantains in the world, so the people here sure know how to make many things out of them!
The most common way here to eat plantains is fried, like chips. They are called chifles, they are either savory from green bananas or sweet from yellow bananas, I love them. Another way to prepare plaintains is on the BBQ with cheese and mayonnaise. The also make round balls of plantains and fry them and sometimes put cheese or meat inside -- these are called bolones. These are just some of my favorites, out of the millions of more ways to prepare plaintains.
I know it might sound strange, but these foods are so delicious and exciting that I am going to miss having them so available after I leave.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Time for some kickboxing!!

Today I woke up at seven am and hopped on a bus and went to my first morning of kickboxing classes. I was nervous because I have never done kickboxing before but, I feel it is something I need to do. I want to learn self defense and learn martial arts in general.

But when I got there I lost my nerve. The instructor is really nice, and understanding. He is hard and firm, but he also listens and gets it. During the class we did a bunch of different things like: running, push-ups, crunches, kicks, punching, and kick boxing moves. I really enjoyed the class, it’s a boys class but it was still fun and I felt I could keep up all right. I am definitely sore, but a good type of sore and am excited to see what I learn in my next class!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Traveling Quito streets solo!

Today was the first day that I navigated the Quito streets and the various forms of public transportation all by myself. Almost everyday I take the bus with my sister Cande, but today I went solo bolo. I caught the bus in front of my house and then got off and transferred at at a big intersection. I sat on the bus for a half an hour and then disembarked my bus at the main bus station in Quito. At the station I walked to the trolley station and got on the trolley that runs through the center of Quito and I got off at different stops for different destinations.

All the buses here are green and are called whatever the driver wants them to be, there is no uniform name for the buses. My first bus was called Espejo (mirror) and my second bus was called Jesus Cristo mi Savor (Jesus Christ is my Savior). The buses don’t really have set routes, just destinations, they also don’t have time schedules, they come when they come.

Once on the bus, you are bombarded with loud music from the radio. These buses and trains are tight, like in the same level of New York subway tight: these buses pack people in like sardines in a can. Besides the cramped quarters, there are street vendors who hop off and on the bus selling oranges, gum, lottery tickets, and candy. Even though it sounds like craziness, these buses are quite simple and inexpensive to navigate. A bus ride is definitely an experience, but I love new adventures and for me every bus ride is exciting!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Visiting the Parade

Today, Luptia, Gustavo, Carmen, Salome and I, went to Cayambe for the weekly indigenous dance parade. I was ecstatic. I was so excited to see the beautiful traditional clothing of the people and to see such a sacred festival.

When we got to the parade I was not let down at all! The dancers chanted and jumped up and down and paraded in the streets below the mountain for hours. The dancers wore very colorful clothing and native adornments. The men wore llama fur pants, a cream colored shirt, many festive and vibrant scarves, and a hat or mask with all the colors of the rainbow in ribbons flowing off of them. The women wore long crinkled yet flowing skits intertwined with gold in a variety of colors, a cream blouse, hand woven shawls and dozens of gold chains decorating their necks. It was amazing to see the women and men and occasionally children intertwining and weaving in the streets, stomping, screaming and drinking chucha (a traditional native hallucinogenic drink distilled from corn).

Besides the dancers, the streets were alive and pulsating as well. All the vendors came out and were selling traditional dance food: empanadas de queso (cheese pocket things), empanaditas (empanadas with nothing inside, just deep fried bread), cornballs, green beans, and bistec. Every storefront has their deep fryer open and is selling food to the people. There is also a carnival type area and a park as well. The carnival had a ferris wheel, a jumpy house, a fooz-ball table, and ball house and other attractions. This festival was definitely happening! We only stayed for about five hours, but it was amazing. I want to dance like that!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Prom from midnight to 6am.. dancin' time!

Another reason I came to Latin America, other than to learn Spanish and help the environment, is to immerse myself in another culture. I have been enjoying, observing and participating in Ecuadorian life. There are many different types of people in Ecuador and it is interesting to see how they interact with each other and in the world as a whole.

I have been hanging out a lot with my Ecuadorian sister Cande and her friends. I have been spending time with them on the weekends and during the week doing various activities, but today I did lots of things in one night. First we went to a concert of Mono Especiala, a funk group with beat boxers and break dancers yet sophisticated with a European vibe. I loved it!

Then our friends picked us up and about ten of us went to a discotheque called Club Blues. I have been there several times and like it a lot. I love the vibes of the club and the music. And on Thursdays women are free, so that was a plus.

By this time it was about midnight and it was time for the last event of the night -- prom. Prom here is very different then the US. It starts at midnight and goes to six am, each school has about three different types of proms and parents are invited. Another set of friends picked us up and we changed in the car and went to prom. The comparison of two very different events with the same name was fascinating. I enjoyed both of them with their differences. This prom had bands that played tropical-pop, Latin classics, and reggaton, and they served quiche and steak. Anyone can go to prom, so there were tons of people. It was a blast. I was on the dance floor all night, dancing until the sun came up!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Spanish Lessons!

Today I started my Spanish classes. My teacher is Cris, she is really cool, and she is worldly, fun and interesting! We met in a café in the Mariscol, a touristy yet interesting sector of downtown Quito, and we began professional Spanish learning. I have taken 3 years of Spanish in high school and traveled in Spanish- speaking countries, so I have decent basic Spanish skills. I can function fine in normal conversations and I understand what’s going on 90% of the time. I have been speaking only Spanish (well, occasionally Spanglish) for these past three weeks. But obviously I have a lot to learn, and even after one class I feel more on top of my game and positively improving.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back in Quito

Transitioning back form my luscious jungle island paradise to the cold fast streets of Quito has been one of the hardest thing in my trip thus far. I felt so at home and so loved on Mamitupu surrounded by beautiful people, a dream like environment with art and culture of my dreams! I love Quito, but it is different, it is grimy and fast-paced and city. So today was by far my hardest day in a while. I would close my eyes and feel myself sitting on the beach with my friends and feel the breeze and the smells and I would get sad. I have different images and moments playing over in my head and every time I thought these thoughts I would cry. Everyone thought I had lost my marbles. I am the type of person who doesn’t feel the sadness or memories right when they happen, rather they hit me after it’s over.

But besides being an emotional mess, I did get stuff done. I found a Spanish teacher, recommended by another intern at El Frente, and set up our first class. I also signed up for kick boxing classes that start next week.

I had an intense day with random flashbacks of my Kuna dreamland, but overall I am glad to be back, I missed my Ecuadorian family, so that is a good thing. But overall I keep thinking about Mamitupu and how my one week island adventure has changed my life forever.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Leaving the San Blas Islands

Today was a hard day. A day of transition, a day of change from simple and beautiful to complicated and ugly. We woke up and loaded our possessions in Pablo’s canoe and headed out. All our friends waved us good-bye and Natalia and I both cried as we left our gorgeous island paradise. We paddled and then walked to the airport through the ocean reefs and the island jungles.

We ‘checked in’ at the airport -- writing our names on a list and putting our bags on the landing strip. Then our plane came. We were both in tears and horribly sad to leave. A memory I will have forever is the door slamming all the Kuna people joyously bidding us farewell, and Pablo whispering, “we really will miss you.” This image will be in my head for years.

We landed in Panama City and tried to make the best of our day in Panama. Panama City is not the city the tour books had said it was going to be. It is dirty and poorly built. The “beach” is all dried up and the water is literally black. I love the culture and the people in Panama City, they re beautiful and loving, but the landscape is hard to come to after a beautiful island paradise.

We tried to make the best of our day in Panama by visiting the Panama Canal. I had thought I wasn’t going to like the Panama Canal, but I loved it. I was fascinated by the science and how it works and how the architecture and technology behind it is so interesting. It was hard to be inside buildings with lights and a bunch of tourists and function in normal society, but I was pleasantly surprised by the museum and enjoyed myself.

We left the Canal and went to the airport. We sat in the airport for hours waiting for our airplanes. Natalia was headed to Bogota, Colombia, and I was headed back to Quito, Ecuador. Her flight boarded before mine so we had to officially say good-bye. We had been really emotional and really missing the San Blas Islands and trying to be in denial of it all ending, but this was it, our Kuna adventure was over. After we hugged our goodbyes, I watched her board the plane , saw the hatch close and the plane fly away. I was all alone. Then I got really sad, and wanted to fly back to the islands, but I waited five more hours in the airport for my flight for Quito. I boarded my plane and took my seat and daydreamed into sleep about the wind lapping the leaves of the palm trees against the shore…

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Time to dance!


We woke up and the indigenous Kuna dance group was already here. We had overslept and all the town of Mamitpu was at our cabana waiting for the dance show to begin. The dancers performed two fifteen minute songs. They were really special, the women and men wearing traditional Kuna clothes and playing and dancing to traditional music. I was impressed by their skill and their dances and songs. I liked it so much! All the town was there and they loved it too!

Afterwards there was a party where we dressed up in traditional Kuna attire and took pictures. We gave hot chocolate and coconut bread to the dancers and we hung out and talked for a while with the people. I went swimming with all the other dancer girls on the beach, and just talked and hung out and chatted about our different worlds.

After the dancers left Natalia and I went snorkeling. We paddled out in a canoe with Jacinto and explored the underwater mystery of the sea. We returned and ate our last amazing Kuna meal and started to get really sad. I really love it here, the culture, the people, the environment. We were both really depressed we are leaving our real home, but we tried to make the best of our last night. Natalia and I as well as all of our newfound friends hung out in the hammocks till the wee hours of the morning. We sang show tunes and played charades and just in general laughed until we hurt. We took night hikes around the island and beach absorbing the stars and the moon, trying to imprint every minute of our adventure into our minds, so whenever I am feeling down and alone I will remember Mamitupu.

At 2 am Natalia and I finally faced the dragon and decided that we had to pack and get ready for our flight less than four hours away. Packing was hard, but all our friends stayed up with us and helped us pack. We finished quickly, and took one last walk around our beach saying good-bye, and then we went to sleep, falling asleep for the last time to the sound of the lapping waves, the pounding rain and the subtle shuffling of crabs.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Fortune Teller

Today you could feel the storm coming the moment you got up. The air was a hot breeze, whipping the palm trees into frenzy with heavy looking storm clouds overhead. But Natalia and I still did our morning ritual of Mamitupu beach yoga, because it was one of our favorite things and helped us start the day out fresh.

We have today and one more full day left on our dream island, so we wanted to maximize our time. We did many things, such as going to an abandoned island with my friends and going to a carnival at the grade school. But the most interesting thing today was our meeting with the Nele. A Nele is a Kuna fortune teller/ shaman / spiritual leader, and several days before we had asked questions of the Nele about our life, and he had drunk tea and smoked cacao and talked with his wooden spirit dolls before he went to sleep and asked them about us and imagined and read our future in his dreams.

I was really excited and nervous to hear what he had to say. I am not going to base my life around his prediction, but it is definitely interesting and a learning experience. So when he walked into our cabana area I stopped playing toss with all the kids and sat respectfully while he spewed beautiful Kuna words. His words were then translated to Spanish and here is the gist of what he predicted for my life:

I will go to College and love it. It will be hard, and he does not know what I will study but whatever I focus on I will have a passion and love for many years after. I will have horrible headaches in the beginning of college but if I keep taking my vitamins all my health problems should go away and new ones should not appear. My family problems from now on will not be solved in court they will be solved heart to heart and someone should come to you soon apologizing about what happened in the past. Lastly he said, I will find a man soon in my life, that he will be here to stay and that with that man I will have four children, two boys and two girls. In closing he said, overall your life will be smooth and you will love it all as long as you keep your body, and especially your blood, strong.

This was fascinating for me, because even though I only asked him about my future in school and in my career, he gave me guidance about unasked questions I have about my family and about my relationships in the future. I feel really good all of what the Nele said about my future and family, but the idea of four children of my own creation is a lot for me to handle at this point in my life!

After we received the forecast of our futures, Natalia, Pablo, Jacinto, Diggy (my friend) and I went to another deserted island and laid on the beach, collected sea shells and ate coconuts. We returned just when the storm began coming in full force.

Later that night we were woken from our slumber by the loudest lightning and thunder and rain we had heard in our lives. Every night there had been tons of rain and noise and light, but tonight it was ridiculously intense. Natalia and I could not sleep. The thunder shook our bed, the lightning was brighter than daytime, and the cracking and pounding sound of the thunder sounded like it was cracking on top of our heads. We left our cabana and snuggled in the hammock, under the shelter of the look-out hut, and ooh-ed and awed at the magnificent power of nature. I fell asleep after hours of watching nature’s opera, fading away into the pounding rain and the trickling ocean.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My amazing trip with the Kunas

Today I learned how to make molas. Some of Pablo’s family members taught Natalia and me, and we were surprised at how difficult it is and how slow we are. It was quite exciting. I am making a parrot mola, and I love it! It is totally hard and meticulous, but it makes me more inspired to create recycled and interesting clothes into new fashions when I return to Ecuador and start projects and shows and then when I go back to the US!

I have to mention this, because it made my trip amazing: the food. Our cook/diving guide/nature leader/friend Jacinto makes some of the most soul-healing food I have had in my life. I can’t pinpoint what makes me crumple for his cooking, but I think it has to do with the love in all the food he prepares. Its sounds corny, but you can totally taste it. He just mixes and matches interesting things one would never think would work, and makes them taste fantastic together. I also just love tropical food in general, I am in love with plantains, yucca, lentils, coconut rice, pineapple, mango, and coconut, and I don’t know what I am going to do without them when I leave!!!

We spent the whole day lounging in the hammocks stitching molas, but when the sun went down we went to town and went to a traditional Kuna wedding. First the woman is thrown in a hammock with a cloth over her head. A fire is put under her hammock and all the women and children gather in that cabana and sing and light candles and prepare her for her wedding. The men go out running around the island looking for the groom. The bride and groom happened to be around fifteen, but that is normal here, they all marry young. They run around in groups singing. It is kind of like a big game of hide and go seek. After a while the men find the groom and pick him up and run around the city singing, “ he is for you, he is all yours, he is for you” and then they throw him in the hammock too. If he gets out of the hammock once or twice the men go and chase him down but if he escapes a third time that means the wedding is off. But in this case the groom stayed in the hammock and the bride and groom are pushed around and catcalled and then they were pushed out of the hammock and all the people that touched them are forced to strip in the middle of the hut and bathe. The boy and girl (the bride and groom) go back to their respective homes and can’t see each other for a week. The festival does not end there. The next day the boy needs to go out to the jungle hours and hours away and climb the tallest tree and cut firewood and bring it back to the mother-in-law for a week straight. Then if the parents like the groom he can move into their house with their daughter.

We retired back to our cabanas and sat on the beach watching a solar eclipse with Pablo, Jacinto, Natalia and me singing at the top of our lungs to the stars, the lapping sea and the glowing orange moon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Beautiful Nature at the San Blas Islands, Panama!

The nature here is beautiful! I never want to leave!

Today was a day fully dedicated to exploring our surrounding environment! First, Natalia, Pablito, Jacinto, Emilio and me hopped in a canoe and paddled off to a deserted island. It was so cool! The island was about 25 meters big, with sandy beaches and several drooping palm trees scattering along the island -- it was just like the stereotypical desert island you think of getting stranded in a movie! We snorkeled for hours around this island, watching all the beautiful fish, corals, sponges and other amazing and diverse sea life. We saw baby octopuses and sea cucumbers and explored underwater hot springs. It was glorious!

Then we languished in the shallow waters of our little island and played and talked in the sand for hours! We would have stayed all day, but we realized we were getting sunburned and a sand crab had pinched my finger hard.

After our solitary island paradise we went to the field (the name of the jungle where they harvest) to explore the average day of a Kuna man. The men’s day is very different from the women’s; usually the men wake up at 4 am and paddle four hours out across the sea, to the land and then up a river. Every family and every man has a piece of land that they visit daily and harvest food from their land. The men harvest coconut, pineapple, mangoes, yucca, plantains as well as animals like boar, guinea pig, fish and chicken for hours. Then they paddle back down the river through the rough river mouth and back to Mamitupu, where they spend the rest of the day circling the island trying to sell their goods. So we voyaged out there alongside all the other boats. We paddled around the river, which was so rich, humid and hot. We were getting eaten alive by mosquitos so we hopped into the cool refreshing river water -- only to be told by Pablo that it was swarming with crocodiles! So we scrambled back in the boat, even though our friends said no one had ever been bitten by crocs. But we would rather be safe then sorry!

Then we paddled out of the river into the ocean and found a perfect place to snorkel. We were all suited up and ready to go when the most experienced breath diver, Jacinto, said I shouldn’t go in because I was white. I was curious why that mattered, and learned that there are a lot of sharks in this one spot (far from our island, mind you), and that swimming on the surface I would look like an underbelly of a seal and I might be more tempting to the shark. The sharks had never attacked a Kuna, but they had attacked other races of people. That was enough to keep me in the boat. This made me think about why and how the Kuna achieved such equal and respectful yet coexistence with all the “dangerous” animals of the tropics, and made me respect the Kuna people even more and admire their true magic.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Kuna people

Today we got a lot accomplished and started to make a positive change in this community! One of Kuna Prints’ goals as a company is to benefit the artisan community by selling shoes and giving some of the profits and assistance back. I feel very passionate about helping others, without invading and changing their customs and traditions and ways of life, but by just assisting them to flourish in their own unique way.

We started by first going to the grade school and met with the principal and all the head teachers and talked with them about what they needed to improve in their school and education overall on this island. The grade school is taught in rickety concrete buildings with cracks and holes, and a dangerous rusty fence. They want to tear down the schoolhouse and in its place put up traditional houses made of natural materials with natural airflow, so that the students can learn in a peaceful and natural setting. The school needs basic things like pencils, maps, electricity, books, and many other countless things. Natalia and I are excited to help the gorgeous Kuna people improve their education and make it better for all the students.

We left the school and went to the health clinic, and we got a wish list of what they need. We are going to do our best to get the things the doctors want.

Then we had the biggest accomplishment of the day: we joined all the important Kuna leaders (Silos) of the various San Blas Islands, in one room in one of their top-secret official meetings. We shared with them our goal and dream to give back to this community as individuals and with the shoe business, and that we wanted them to support us and help us when we sent stuff to them or when we come back to help. I was nervous because the Silos were very serious when our statement was being translated, but they responded warmly and they are excited and proud we want to help them and fully support us. They wrote us a letter so it is all official; we are really on our way to making a change!

Natalia and I were ecstatic! We went back to our cabana and celebrated with all our friends. Natalia had brought a suitcase full of things to give away to the people, like pencils, shoes and toys, so we happily spent the rest of our day distributing our goods to the people on the island.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ended the day dozing off under the coconut trees...

Last night was yet another stressful and intense night that I will remember for a long time. I woke up with a raging case of diarrhea. (I am not trying to be to graphic, I just am trying to share my true, real and raw experience.) So I ran out in the middle of a ground trembling thunder and lightning explosion to the bathroom cabana. I had gotten yet another horrible allergic reaction to my malaria pills. After the allergic rash I had come down with on my first day of travel, I had switched to another type of anti-malarial medication the day before (Natalia had brought it to me from the States). So at 3 am on our little island home during a middle of the gnarliest thunderstorm in my life, I was reacting to these new drugs. Natalia gave me a pill to deal with my symptoms, which saved me, and I attempted to go to sleep. I finally succeeded just when the sun started rising.

Even though I was running on barely any sleep and feeling a little off, I did a lot today. In the morning Natalia and I and our trusty Pablo voyaged to another island called Oshtupu, in a forty-five minute canoe ride, for a day adventure. Oshtupu is a more developed and more highly populated island then Mamitupu. It was like going from a little country town to the middle of New York City, except Kuna version. This island has panaderias (bread stores), offices, a post office, a bar, and a clothing store. It is very different from our little island. We wandered around the mud-packed streets observing life here. Then we went on a quest to find a group of traditional Kuna dancers or musical group that we could film or record. We felt it would be a cool thing to record and share with the world on websites and in different venues how amazing the Kuna people really are. The Kuna people have a rich culture full of art of all kinds, as well as a luscious and exotic language. I love the sound of their language. Most of the people don’t speak Spanish, only Kuna, so it is even harder to communicate and find things out. We wandered around the streets for a while aimlessly, as there are no street names or building addresses, until we found the man we were searching for, and we scheduled this dance fiesta to take place this Sunday. I am so excited to see the Kuna people’s traditional art in action, and to have the opportunity to film it.

We left the island and returned to our heavenly beach and lush cabanas. We spent the rest of the day exploring the island, walking through the town, seeing the school, the medical clinic and the coconut oil store, in general just visiting the people and getting to know what life is like here. Then we fell asleep reading in hammocks and dozed off under the coconut tree as the lap of the ocean lulled us to sleep. It was divine!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Into the Jungle!

We disembarked from our 21-person plane, in the middle of a jungle island during the sunrise over the sea. We walked over to the airport “terminal,” which was actually more like a bamboo hut next to a landing strip in the jungle, and met our guide/friend and worldly traveling buddy, Pablo Perez. He led us through the lush and pungent jungle to the ocean where we packed our possessions in a dugout wooden canoe, and paddled to our magical Kuna Island called Mamitupu.

Here’s a link to a description of this fantasy island:

The first day in Mamitupu was crazy! Pablo, a community leader of sorts, gathered all the Kuna mola-making women together in the school courtyard for a market. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have seen in my life thus far. All the women wearing their traditional clothes (mola shirt, arms and legs wrapped with many lines of beads, traditional skirts) with all their tons of children threading in and out of the crowd while their mothers set up their molas on the floor of the school for the market. It was beautiful and sort of a dreamy whirlwind, as we had just gotten to the island and stirred up such a creative frenzy so quickly. I was overwhelmed with the variety and skill in all the molas, there were probably a thousand different designs and prints sprawled in my path. I bought several and helped Natalia select more then 100 molas from the women. Mamitupu, which means mother earth in Kuna Yala, has not had tourists in years (and never children or teens), so our presence greatly affected the community in a positive way.

After our flurry of handcrafted fun, we were exhausted. We returned to our cabana and changed and went for a swim. Our cabana consists of a bamboo and palm leaf hut, with a bed, a light bulb, with a separate cabana with a toilet and a shower. I was pleasantly surprised to have running water and a flush toilet. These are rare luxuries in these parts and we are extremely fortunate! Everything is beautiful here, the forests, the islands, the ocean, the people, I am so excited to explore and experience more in these fantastic San Blas Islands. I can't wait for tomorrow!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Arriving in Panama

I left Quito and flew to Panama today, arriving at the Panama City airport about ten at night, and all the travel ease and luck that I had had up to this point disappeared. I waited in line for an hour for a customs paper that they didn’t have, so I tried to push my way through another line (well, it was more like an angry mob) to another customs paper seller, but by the time I got to the front of that line he had run out of the paper. Finally -- three hours later -- I was out of customs and in the hot muggy Panama streets. Except there was one problem -- my friend Natalia Swanson (who was flying in from the States) wasn’t there to pick me up. I walked around the airport for an hour looking for her, and then decided she must have gone to the hotel with out me. So I tried calling Natalia on both my Ecuador cell phone and my US cell phone, but neither of them works in Panama. Then I tried to call her on the pay phone, but that didn’t work because I only have Ecuadorian coins and no Panama coins. So I was pretty stuck. I was frustrated and nervous, but then found an information desk and pleaded to use their phone, and I called the hotel and Natalia was there. Her flight had been messed up too, so she couldn’t pick me up. So then I decided to take a taxi our hotel, Hotel Costa Azul, and when we arrived the taxi driver charged me $38 dollars, just to go from the airport to the hotel. I felt that was a ripoff, and I was already in a bad mood and all stressed, so I got in a fight with the cab driver for about ten minutes. Finally he lowered the fare to $25, which was still a lot but I was too exhausted to fight any more.

I arrived in the hotel room and Natalia was there, and everything changed. I was totally happy and chill being united with my cosmic soul sister Natalia. Natalia is from Colombia, and has a company called Kuna Prints and Mama Shaman, which makes shoes, bags and other accessories out of recycled molas. Molas are hand-sewn cotton panels made by the Kuna indigenous people using a unique technique, sometimes called “reverse quilting.” Molas are extremely colorful, with intricate and detailed designs of images from nature or Kuna history. The Kuna women wear these art pieces on shirts, with a matching patch both front and back. Natalia and her company travel to various fairs and art festivals around California selling their amazing, and colorful shoes. I met Natalia at an environmental gathering, and just bonded with her instantly. Since then, I have worked at fairs with her and contributed to the business. Last March, Natalia told me that she was going to visit the Kuna Indians at the San Blas Islands in Panama, to experience their life and to trade with them, and asked if I wanted to join. What an opportunity! I had to fundraise and plan more, but I did, with help from my parents, and Natalia made it happen.

Here’s a link to some information about molas, from Natalia’s website:

Natalia and I were both exhausted after our crazy days of travel. So we went to sleep -- but after about fifteen minutes there was a three-minute long 5.0 earthquake. We both freaked. I am used to earthquakes being a San Franciscan, but our native earthquakes are usually short and sweet, by the time you figure out it’s an earthquake it’s over. But this was different. It was long and intense, and we both had time to wake up, think and freak. We jumped in the same bed and held each other until the quake was over. Then we tried to sleep again, but we kept getting interrupted by phone calls and the adrenalin running through us, and we didn’t get to sleep until around one a.m.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My first Ecuadorian concert

I attended my first Ecuadorian concert with some of the local girls I have met here -- my Ecuadorian hermana (sister), Candelaria, and some of her friends. We saw an alternative rock/ska group called Cafe Tecvba. As a local friend explained to me, “Café Tecvba is like the Beatles of Latin America, well no maybe the Red Hot Chili Peppers, because, everyone likes them.” The concert was very inexpensive and held in a local stadium in South Quito. I really wasn’t sure what to expect going into the concert, but really enjoyed the dance rhythm and energy of the music. The band had four different screens behind their stage that showed different images in coordination with the beat and the songs playing. They had very creative and interesting visuals like images of eggs frying, aspirin being dropped in water, incense burning, and paint being spilled and picked up again. It was so raw!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Otovalo market

I found one of my favorite places in the world today -- Otavalo. Otavalo is an indigenous community several hours outside of Quito. Twice a week there is an indigenous people's marketplace in the center of town. I loved it! I loved the culture and the vibes and all the different traditional crafts of the people. The crafts at the Otavalo market are very spiritual and full of color. The indigenous people -- the Otavalenos that live beneath an active volcano -- dress colorfully in native weavings. I bought several things from the market: some handmade colorful patchwork bags, woven belts, handcrafted earrings and a rainbow woven headband. The market spans more then five miles, with an assortment of different unique crafts, indigenous art, colorful clothes and local food. My idea of a dreamland!
I took this trip accompanied by my Ecuadorian madre, Lupita, and her best friend, Carmen. The drive from Quito to Otavalo was amazingly beautiful -- it was misting but warm, and the steep mountainsides overwhelmed me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

One of the reasons I came to Ecuador is to work as an intern with El Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia (the Amazon Defense Front). I am passionate about the environment and the preservation of the world’s true beauty and am thrilled to have this experience. The Frente helps restore the Ecuadorian rainforest and is the advocate for indigenous people whose communities have been polluted by a huge oil company. More than ten years ago, Texaco, which had drilled for oil in the Ecuadorian jungle for decades, left without cleaning up its mess, leaving toxic waste pits that were completely unremediated. ChevronTexaco's mess led to oil leaving into the rivers, the water that the communities drink and wash in, ultimately causing cancer, deformation and death in the local indigenous communities, and killing plans and animals in the rich ecosystem of the jungle.
My current task is to be their youth social networker. I am creating accounts on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, getting the real truth out about the damage to the rainforest and the indigenous communities here, and how people can get involved. I love this organization. Its energy and mission inspire me.