Posts Tagged ‘volcano’


I started my summer of 2017 by spending a couple of weeks in Nicaragua studying at a Spanish school.  I opted NOT to do a homestay this time, staying at the school’s hotel instead.  This meant it was more convenient for me to get to and from class (I just had to walk downstairs) and my lodging was more comfortable with a private room and a real shower, but it also meant speaking a lot less Spanish outside of class because my afternoons and evenings were spent surrounded by Americans not interested in practicing their Spanish with me.  You ganar some, you perder some.


Open-air grammar “classroom”

I had two hours of grammar class and two hours of conversation class each morning, then a school-arranged outing each afternoon.  I made some traditional Nicaraguan snacks baked in a wood-fired oven, swam in a volcanic crater lake, visited some nearby towns, peeked inside an active volcano, hiked, went to a beach, and spent a day in Granada.  It was, as the Nicos say, tuani (cool).


Laguna de Apoyo, a large lake in an old volcanic crater. Perfect temperature and gorgeous.


Swimming in Laguna de Apoyo.


Masaya Volcano

I then spent a few days on my own at Isla Ometepe, a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.  From my school in the tiny village of San Juan de la Concepcion, I took a minibus to a nearby city, a taxi to the bus terminal there, another minibus to Rivas city in the south, another taxi to the ferry terminal, a ferry to the island, and a final taxi to my garden hotel on the island.  The transportation was amusing, and the destination was gorgeous.  Worth the crowded hot buses.


Beach walk on Isla Ometepe

The thing that really struck me in Nicaragua was the poverty.  I’ve traveled (and lived in) plenty of poor countries, but there was something about Nicaragua that made me see it more.  Maybe it was because I was living in the school with a bunch of Americans who had all traveled extensively (as have I), which made a stark contrast with the locals who worked at the school and lived in the town.  Maybe it was because I talked a lot with my conversation teachers about the lack of job opportunities in Nicaragua, and the amount of Nicaraguans who migrate (to Costa Rica, the U.S., and other places) for work.  Maybe it was seeing the social projects that my school organizes to help kids in the village. Probably it was a combination of all of the above.  It’s a shame, because I found Nicaraguans incredibly approachable and friendly, and the country, full of volcanoes and lakes, absolutely beautiful.

More pics available here!


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I made a list of 13 goals before I moved to Ecuador.  Let’s check my progress, shall we?

  1. Really improve my Spanish.  Fail.  I mean, it IS better than when I first arrived (when I had a jumble of Turkish, French, and Indonesian tumbling out of my mouth).  My fluency, vocabulary, and grammar have improved, and I’ve picked up some Ecuadorian features of Spanish.  But honestly, I haven’t studied or practiced as much as I should have.  For my job, I almost always use English since I work with English teachers.  And most of my friends, including the Ecuadorians, speak English.  Obviously I get by, but my Spanish can still use a lot of improvement.  Que bestia.
  2. Learn a few words of Quechua.  Technically I guess I accomplished this – I know 4 words:
    guagua = baby
    chuchaqui = hungover
    yaguar = blood
    cocha = lake
    Why these 4?  Because they’re commonly used among Spanish speakers or for location names.  I had been thinking more along the lines of “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” etc.  Oh well.

    This family speaks Quechua. I do not.

  3. Become a better salsa dancer.  I’m proud of this one.  HUUUUUGE win!  I took classes at a dance school for 2 months, then hired a private instructor for my remaining 8 months.  I usually went out dancing at least once a week (sometimes more).  In fact, I’ve become a regular at TWO salsatecas!  I LOVE that the bouncers greet me and let me in free now.  I LOVE that I can show up at any salsa club and know or at least recognize other regulars.  I LOVE when a new guy asks me to dance, assuming I’ll be bad like most gringas, and then realizes I know what I’m doing and starts doing more complicated figures with me (and says something like “You dance well!”).  I LOVE when I’m dancing really well with a partner and a little crowd watches us (cuz that has happened – more than once!).  I ABSOLUTELY LOVE that I have worked myself into the salsa community. 
  4. Visit the Galapagos Islands.  Did I ever!  I spent 2 weeks on the islands (visiting 6 of them) – partly for work and partly for fun.  This was a life goal – accomplished.
  5. Take more people pictures.  A work in progress…
  6. Go snorkeling.  Did this in the Galapagos.
  7. Go hiking.  I went on a few hikes around Quito, and in Mindo and Cajas National Park.  But I’d like to do more hiking in the future.
  8. Eat lots of Ecuadorian food.  Check, definitely.  This one was easy because I like most Ecuadorian dishes I’ve tried.  I’ve eaten several bowls of locro de papas (cream of potato soup).  I’ve enjoyed more batidos (fruit shakes) than I can possibly count.  I’ve had all sorts of ceviche (it’s much better on the coast than in the highlands).  And I ate cuy (guinea pig) twice.  I know a ton of traditional dishes, have learned about many exotic fruits that don’t even have English names, and recognize most offerings on restaurant menus.  I know my way around Ecuadorian food.
  9. Learn to cook some Ecuadorian dishes.  Check.  I took an empanada cooking class, and I got an Ecuadorian cookbook when I attended a second cooking class organized by the Embassy. 
  10. Visit local markets. Yep.  Went to the big one in Otavalo twice.  And went to local markets in Quito several times. 
  11. Travel to Cuenca.  Double check.  I spent a weekend there for fun, and later spent a week there for work.
  12. Not get malaria.  Not a problem living at 9000 feet, but I also managed not to contract any tropical diseases when I went to the coast or Amazon regions.  Whew.
  13. Have some gosh-darn visitors.  Señor Adam visited for a month, and Señorita Maura joined us for 2 weeks.  And mi hermana Carolyn came for 2 weeks.  Win, win, win!

Inspired by a post some Peace Corps Volunteers in Ecuador wrote, here are a few other statistics to recap my first 10 months in Ecuador:

Workshops given:  57

Volcanoes seen: 11.5
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Ruminahui, Tungurahua, Illiniza Norte, Illiniza Sur, El Corazon, El Altar, Cayambe, Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotocachi (well, part of it)

Chimborazo Volcano, the tallest in Ecuador

Provinces visited:  13/24
(Esmeraldas, Imbabura, Pichincha, Manabi, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Bolivar, Guayas, Santa Elena, Galapagos, Azuay, Napo).  Granted, some of the provinces I didn’t visit are kind of off-limits to Americans due to FARC activity, drug trafficking, and other not-so-pleasant border issues.  But I hope to visit more provinces in my second year.

Dance clubs visited in Quito: 15ish (there was a lot of dancing these past 10 months)

Hearing loss sustained from all that dance club time:  What?

Books read:  20
Morning runs in Parque Carolina: about 2-3 per week

Illnesses: 5 or 6 head colds plus some sort of upper respiratory thing that had me coughing for a month (this is way more than usual for me.  I suspect Quito’s pollution and the custom of greeting people with a kiss on the cheek were contributing factors).  A few cases of upset tummy (about normal when traveling/living abroad).

Earthquakes felt:  3 (one in February, and two in October)

Number of men seen urinating in public:  Unfortunately, this is a weekly occurrence – I lost count way back in February.

Crime victimizations:  2 cell phones pick-pocketed on the bus (one in May and one in October) and 1 jacket stolen at a dance club (although I was stupid to set it down on a speaker instead of using the coat check).  I guess this would also be the appropriate place to note my friend Adam’s “comically non-violent” mugging when he visited, although I wasn’t with him at the time.

Cost of pirated DVDs: $1.25 – $1.50

Average taxi ride cost: $1.50 – $2.00 during the day (when taxi meters are in use), about $3 at night (when I have to negotiate with the driver)

Cost of a local bus ride:  $0.25

Average high temperature in Quito: about 68 degrees F, year-round!

Average low temperature in Quito:  about 50 degrees F, year-round!

Blog posts written about Ecuador:  27 counting this one

Number of times I felt lucky to live and work in Ecuador: nearly every day!

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(This blog post is brought to you by the letter H.)

Baños is a small, touristy town at the foot of the Tungurahua volcano in the Andean region of Ecuador.  My sister Carolyn and I spent a weekend there, which wasn’t nearly enough time to take advantage of all the activities it offers.  But we did partake in a few.

Hiking:  It’s a gorgeous mountainous area, so we walked around it a bit.

Hot stone massage:  The thermal baths sprouting from the surrounding volcanoes have given rise to a huge, dirt-cheap spa industry.  We had 80-minute massages with facials for $25.  Luxurious, without the luxury prices.

Horseback riding:  I was shocked to find out my sister had never ridden a horse before, so we went horseback riding in the mountains.  As expected, I was sore the next day, but it was well worth it.

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Independence in Quito

Did I ever tell you how I spent my 4th of July in Quito?


Well here, let me show you…


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I’m coming to the end of my fellowship and am preparing to fly back to the U.S. soon, which of course prompts all sorts of reflection on my past 10 months in Indonesia.  I’m ready to go to the U.S., but there are definitely things I will miss about Indonesia.  And there are definitely things I will NOT miss.  To wit…

Things I will NOT miss
Things I WILL miss
paying $3.00 for a can of garbanzo beans paying $4 for a pedicure or $6 for an hour-long massage
expensive crappy wine mango juice, soursop juice, fresh young coconut juice
views like this:

views like this:

being called to every time I go out in public: “Hello Miss!”  “Hello Mister!”  “How are you!”  “What is your name!”  “I love you!”  “Good afternoon Mrs.!” “Bule!” (which means “white person” or “foreigner”) being treated like a celebrity
a national cuisine in which roughly 80% of the food is fried (usually in palm oil) fried tempeh
being asked where I live, if I’m married, if I have a boyfriend, or how old I am, often by complete strangers being told I am beautiful, often by complete strangers
slow internet a portable modem that allows me to go online almost anywhere, regardless of wi-fi service
watching people answer phone calls and carry on conversations during meetings and workshops cheap (we’re talking $3 for an hour-long call to the U.S.) and easy pay-as-you-go cell phone service
public smoking pretty much anywhere

photo by Maura Phelan

volcanoes (smoking or otherwise)

5 am calls to prayer (loud and annoying) 6 pm calls to prayer (reassuring and soothing)
my neighbor’s rooster, which crows ALL. DAY. LONG. the neighbor ladies who chat with me (“Where are you going?”  “You are so healthy.”  “You are so beautiful and sexy.”  “You are so polite.”) and bring me snacks.  And the security guards in my neighborhood who all say hello to me during my walks (“Good evening Mrs.”), even when I pass them 3 times during my loop.
breakdowns in communication the ease and frequency with which people smile
never totally knowing when a scheduled meeting will actually start the relaxed pace of life
litter bougainvillea
finding things like this in my house:

(it took me 10 months to work up the courage to photograph one of these monsters instead of running away from it squealing like a little girl)

finding things like this in my house:

(they eat bugs (although I’ve never seen one take on a 4-inch spider) and they’re cute, but I did get a little tired of cleaning up lizard poop)

public restrooms with no soap, and knowing most Indonesians don’t carry/use hand sanitizer (there’s a reason the left hand is considered dirty around these parts – it usually is!) cream baths (a misnomer as this does not involve a bath but is actually a deep-conditioning hair treatment coupled with a head/scalp massage)
always wondering if I will get sick when eating at a new place (because of poor hygiene, limited refrigeration, no FDA regulations, etc.) when waitstaff at places I frequent remember what I like to order and how I like to order it (no rice, sauce on the side, etc.)
the noise (I somehow brought up noise ordinances in my writing class the other day – my students were both awed and horrified by the concept of volume regulation) buying pirated movies for $1 each
indirectness a flexible work schedule that allows for a lot of travel
rice at nearly every meal (and being questioned when I don’t eat it)

This is what an Indonesian airline gave me once for a flight delay: 3 fried things and a big ol' scoop of rice

rice paddies
(they’re beautiful)

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Living in Indo brings highs and lows, often in the same day.  For example, it was pretty cool touring the Dieng Plateau in central Java with a coworker and my ELF friend Abbie, who was visiting from Jakarta.  Getting out of the city, walking around a volcanic lake, and enjoying fresh air and scenic views were all good things.

Twelve hours later we returned to Semarang to meet my ELF friend Sarah, who also came to visit for the weekend.  All 3 of us had been traveling all day, so we thought a girls’ night in, complete with Pizza Hut delivery, a couple bottles of wine, and brownies sounded like the perfect way to end the day.

The next 45 minutes played out something like this:

I tried several times to call the Java Mall Pizza Hut (the one closest to my house), with no answer.

I searched the Indonesia Pizza Hut website to find other locations in Semarang to call.

(for your reading pleasure, everything in blue has been translated from Indonesian into English)

Me: [calling 2nd Pizza Hut] I want to order delivery.

Lady 1: What do you want?

Me: I want one large Vegetable Favorite pan pizza.  But I want half of the pizza with ground beef.

Lady 1: One large Vegetable Favorite, one large ground beef pizza.

Me: No.  One large Vegetable Favorite pizza.  On that pizza, I want ground beef on half of the pizza.

Lady 1: Vegetable Favorite with ground beef?

Me: Ground beef only on half.

Lady 1: Ground beef.

Me: I want ground beef on half.  All of the pizza Vegetable Favorite.  Half of the pizza with ground beef.

Lady 1: One moment.

Lady 2: May I help you?

Me: One large Vegetable Favorite pan pizza.  But I want ground beef on half of the pizza.

Lady 2: [something about 4 pizzas, or a pizza with 4 toppings.  And at one point she said something about seafood.  This was not going well at all.]

Me: No.  No.  Ok.  Forget this order.  Here is a new order.

Lady 2: Yes, please.

Me: One large Vegetable Favorite pan pizza.  And one personal pan cheese deluxe.

Lady 2: One large Vegetable Favorite pan pizza and one personal pan cheese deluxe?

Me: Yes, correct!

Lady 2: Where to?

Me: Graha Wahid.

Lady 2: Oh, I’m sorry.  We don’t deliver to Graha Wahid.  You need to call a different Pizza Hut.

Me: [sigh]  The one in Java Mall?

Lady 2: No, the one in DP Mall.

Me: Oh, ok.  Thank you.

Lady 2: I’m sorry.  Thank you.

I then called the Pizza Hut in DP Mall.

Lady 3: Hello.  Pizza Hut.  How can I help you?

Me: I want to order delivery.

Lady 3: Ok.  Where to?

Me: Graha Wahid.

Lady 3: I’m sorry.  We don’t deliver to Graha Wahid.

Me: But the Pizza Hut in Simpang Lima told me you do.

Lady 3: No, we don’t.  You need to call the Java Mall Pizza Hut.

Me: I called them many times.  There are no people there.

Lady 3: You need to call the Java Mall Pizza Hut.

Me: But there is a problem with the phone number.

Lady 3: I have another phone number you can try.

Me: Oh good.  What is it?

Lady 3: [numbers]

Me: Ok, thank you.

Lady 3: Same to you.

I then called the new Java Mall Pizza Hut number, only to hear a recording telling me the number was not yet in service.


I tried the original Java Mall Pizza Hut number a few more times, but still got no answer.

We 3 ELFs reconvened.  Plan B: McDonald’s delivery, but we needed a phone number.  I searched online for a McDonald’s Indonesia website.  The phone number they listed wouldn’t work, but they had an order form online.  This is pretty amazing for a country that is about 8-10 years behind the U.S. in connectivity.  We submitted our order and waited.
Would they call us to confirm?
Would it actually work?
Was the order lost somewhere in cyberspace?
How long should we wait to see if the McDonald’s order worked?

It was going on 9 pm.  We were worn out.  We were hungry.  And we really wanted that wine with dinner.  But we finally resigned ourselves to going out for food.  I called a taxi, we changed out of our pajamas and back into regular clothes, and waited for a ride to a restaurant.

And waited.

And waited.

At long last, we heard a motor outside.  We walked out to find our taxi waiting for us.  But wait, there was a motorcycle behind the taxi.
A motorcycle with a box strapped to the back.
A motorcycle with a DELIVERY box strapped to the back!

Me: Are you from McDonald’s?

Man: Yes.

We 3 ELFs: Aaaaaaahhhhhh!  (squeals of glee)

We dismissed the taxi, collected our order, and retreated back into the comfort of my house, where we could enjoy our burgers and wine and brownies all while venting over the frustrations of living in Indo.  After the epic Pizza Hut fail, McDonald’s and their advanced technology came through for us.  Ba da ba ba baa…

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Volcano Hike

My friend Abbie and I recently traveled to West Java to give plenary speeches.  We made a long weekend of it so we could explore the area around Bandung, including a day to visit some nearby volcanic craters at Tangkuban Prahu.  We had a pretty perfect day.  No major problems taking public transportation 40 km or so to the park, gorgeous weather just the right temp for a day hike, little to no crowds at the craters, beautiful scenery and fresh air.  Plus the volcanoes themselves were awesome: rugged and fuming and rocky and sulphurous, filled with turquoise lakes and bubbling hot springs.  We both agreed it was a good day in Indo.

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