ellen vs. the volcano volcano

This is my personal blog and does not reflect the views and ideas of the US government or Peace Corps

17 January 2006

Oh, how time flies. Can you believe that it’s been over 6 months? And about 3 since I’ve updated this blog? Amazing. Well, get ready, ‘cause a lot’s happened- Lets start.. I guess with Halloween, because that’s where I left off last time. I’ll keep it short since that was a long time ago, and who really cares now, right? Cuenca- it’s great. I went to Cuenca 6 years ago, and I don’t remember being that impressed with it. Well, I’m now going to tell you that it is awesome. It could just be because of the change in company, not that my grandma and uncle aren’t fun, but Peace Corps volunteers gathering for Halloween are a whole bunch of it. Plus, Cuenca is really nice. It’s clean and there’s money there. And the party. It was great. About 75 volunteers showed up, and there were some great costumes. I was a bat, but I have no pictures. A damn shame, ‘cause I looked good. Sorry. I think the winning costumes were the ghost busters; no waffle man, but creative.
Then came my trip to Pachijal. This is my friend Katie Jones’s site, and it’s everything I ever wanted in a peace corps experience. She lives in a little village in the cloud forest, in a wooden house with a porch and a hammock and bathes in a beautiful river in her back yard. If anyone comes to visit, this might be where I take you, and pretend like it’s my own.
Thanksgiving was a great time. I went to Riobamba where about 15 volunteers came to go to Walter’s hacienda for a veritable feast. Walter came to Ecuador in the 2nd group of volunteers here 40 years ago, and forgot to leave. It happens a lot. We stuffed ourselves silly on turkey and smashed potatoes, and played with a lot of dogs. Walter has a little German Shepard pup (and by little I mean huge), and Mary Catherine’s pup was there, and Pita was there. I guess this is a good time to officially introduce Trompita, or Pita for short. Yes, she’s my pup. That I can recall, a dog is really the only thing that I have been seriously been deprived of my whole life, so when my friends in my community gave her to me, I couldn’t refuse. She’s great.
The next discovery I made was this wonderful crater lake called Quilitoa. My friend Matt and I went on this little day hike jaunt one morning, and I loved it so much I went back with this good lookin’ Belgian guy named Bjorn 3 days later. This time we camped out, and boy did it remind that I love camping. In volcanoes. Actually, that’s the first camping in a volcano that I have done to my recollection. It was beautiful, and I have to sleep in tents more often. Pita loved it too.
So, I guess that since I heard you could camp on the beach in this amazing little fishing village called Monpiche, I had to go. Renee lives in Esmeraldas, so I met up with her, and down the coast we went to meet some others on the beach. Beautiful. I hate all of you PC people that got placed in the beach. I might miss water more than camping. But camping on the water? Yeah. Then, back towards Esmeraldas for the big 24. The birthday was spent in a little drinking town called Atecames. Lots of fun, lots of booze drunk from coconuts.
I had 3 birthday parties- the drunk one in Atecames, the one in my community where I was given a whole rotisserie cuy (or guinea pig for those of us who know the cute little pets) on a giant plate of papas, and left alone to figure out how to eat it, and the traditional family one where my aunt Esmilda made my favorite spaghetti for the joint party for Uncle Matt and me. Does life get much better?
Yes. Who else is lucky enough to have family here to spend Christmas with? It was almost as good as home, especially since Alex is 8. Eight year old boys love getting presents, so excitement was abundant in the house. Then, to the beach… again.
New Years ’06 was a good one. Never even got arrested. It was spent in Salinas, on the southern coast. Some call it the little Miami beach, but since I’ve never been to Miami, it’s just Salinas to me. And it’s awesome. The tradition here is to burn the old year, so they make silly paper mache people, and light them on fire. Well, on this beach, there were about 50 fires with about 100 life-sized old year dolls in each. It was a hell of a bonfire. Or about 50 hell of a bonfires. It was great fun. We stayed for a few extra days ‘cause it was so cool. There was also some boats, one having sails, a boy, sun, sand, and more booze, so why leave? Well, because I left the dog at the uncle’s and I missed her. Oh yeah, and work.
I promise that between these fun times there is work. It’s just not that exciting, so it doesn’t make it here to the blog. I am accomplishing goals, and getting things done, so it’s not really just all travel and leisure as it looks here. I swear.

  • yes, there´s pictures!
  • 20 October 2005

    Good news from October

    I guess it’s time for another update. Some fun things have happened and some good inspirational things at work. Work first-
    I had my site visit with my APCD last Thursday, and I was a little nervous. But, it went better than expected. I was nervous because I spend a lot of my time with my counterpart telling him that I want to do things totally different than he wants me to. He thinks, still, that I should spend my time in about 100 different communities and give them the talk that he does then leave and expect them to work just like he wants them to. We already know that this doesn’t work because I have gone to some communities that turned in a list of for the committee that he wants them to form and said, “ok, lets meet!” and they say…. “what is this for…. Who is on that committee?” So, my job, I say, should be to be in the community motivating them.. and deing other PCV stuff too. The community asked me to do a women’s group for income generation- I was stoked and when I told Mayor Navas he told me to invite another volunteer to do that crap and to focus on forming his committees. So, back to the meeting part, I was nervous that my APCD was going to tell me to work like Mayor Navas tells me to, and just deal. He was totally on my side… it was great. He explained, like I have been every day, how any form of development helps people organize and feel self worth better, and that this will all benefit Civil Defense’s plan, and how that is what a PCV is. It was great. Later when Mayor Navas wasn’t there, he told me how Militares were super hard to work with, and he understands if I am frustrated and if I have any problems to just let him know and he will support me on anything. It was great. He also suggested some fun new things to do in my classes and groups.
    Fun stuff- J was here!!!!! It was the greatest week ever. I was so incredibly glad to see her. It was a great time to take a week spent with a familiar face- not only did it remind me that I have people that love me, but made me see how much I love some people here. I really wanted to share them with J, and that showed me how important they are to me- Some volunteers, and this awesome family that lives in Quisinche, and my uncle’s fam (already knew they were the most important people in my life though). I would have loved to take her to La Chimba too, but it wasn’t in the cards.
    We spent a few days in Pifo with Matt, Esmil and Alex, a few days by Tungurahua, with another Matt, and volunteer from Riobamba, and some time in Quito. What I can remember, it was all good times. There might have been some alcohol comsumed. She treated us to the Marriot the last night, so after I took her to the airport I went back and slept by the pool. My friend Megan came too- Might have been the worst idea ever. Apparently she has blisters on her back, but I just couldn’t sleep on my front or back for like 4 nights, and now itch. Not peeling yet, but looking forward to it.
    The other great news is that I now have two of what might be the cutest kittens in all of Ecuador. Yes, they are playing with their toy mouse as I type. China cat sunflower is the cream one and the ring leader. Chimbo, the grey one, is incapable of doing anything that China Cat isn’t doing. I thought he was going to be angry his whole life, and never loving, but now I believe he will be the lap cat because he prefers to just watch and take it all in, whereas China cat is exploratory. They have both really come a long way though, as they were wood pile cats when I got them, and super hard to catch, being antisocial and all. Now they sit on my lap and eat my food and torment each other non stop. It’s great cheap entertainment.

    Kittens on the "bookshelf" staring each other down


    Kittens after they knocked the "bookshelf" over


    they´re cute

    Later today Dan, volunteer from Salcedo, about 30 min from here, is coming to help me start the Latacunga Brewing company. Thanks Pops for sending the ingredients! I think I have figured out a working make-shift equipo, but I will let you all know what happens. Cross your fingers for me, as I am quite sick of Pilsener (and Club and Brhama, which all taste exactly the same). Plus, if I have the only other beer in all of Ecuador, I can use it to make friends!
    That’s it for now, I’ll write again after the sweet Halloween bash in Cuenca next weekend- it’s Halloween then the fiestas of Cuenca, so it should be a good bender, as I’ve heard it described before.

    29 September 2005

    To Work!

    Now that I am out on my own, I feel like I am actually doing productive volunteer work. Last Monday I got cut loose, and went out to JoseGuango Bajo. I met up with the Teniente Politico, I think the equivalent to a mayor, and we he showed me the schools. There are 3 in JoseGuango, but 2 close to the center that I will be able to get to on a regular basis. So, I went into the schools and talked to the teachers. I am going to be teaching natural sciences/ geology/ volcanology to 5 classes from 4th to 7th grades- Tuesdays in the center, Wednesdays in Quisinche. We are first working on understanding the volcano, then on how to save ourselves from it.
    The teachers also want to start women’s group with the mothers of the school so they can learn various skills and how to make stuff to live off of if their agriculture land is taken out by a lahar. This is extreme forward thinking for any group of Ecuadorians and I am stoked to start this up.
    There are 7 neighborhoods in JoseGuango, and I will eventually be working with the local emergency committee in each of these barrios. I have had one meeting thus far, with the center neighborhood, and it was so very true to Latin American PC meetings that I have heard so much about. The meeting was planned with the president of the neighborhood on a Monday for a Friday. We were going to invite the whole barrio, and re-elect members of the committee. He failed to invite anyone until the day of the meeting, so about 8 people showed up, not including the president himself, who I guess found something better to do. He apparently also failed to tell them why we were having the meeting, or actually told them I was going to give a charla, because they were mad at me when I didn’t have a talk prepared about…. Well they would have liked anything at the time. So, with out anyone from the old committee, and no president, we didn’t elect a new one, and I just winged it and told them about the committees, what’s expected of them, and the importance of being prepared. I threw in a few case studies of successful evacuations and unsuccessful ones. It really worked out well, and was a great meeting in my eyes. I have another one tomorrow with the neighborhood Quisinche (where the other school is). I hope it goes better, but I’m not expecting too much.
    I started teaching this week. I was a lot of fun. I went Tuesday to one school. I have 5th, 6th, and 7th grade classes there. They all listened as well as can be expected, and maybe learned something. We played learning games, and I think they liked them and had fun. Hopefully they’ll remember that if nothing else- then geology is associated with fun!!! Lucky kids to have me around, eh? The next day I went to Quisinche, and taught a 4th-5th class, and a 6th-7th. I was worried about 4th graders, but they were way more attentive than this 6th-7th. These older kids were terrible, and not nearly as smart as the other school. They can’t even catch a ball! I guess we should have played catch soccer-style. Anyways, after school, I went to lunch at La Presidente of Quisinche’s house. It was very nice, she is super sweet, and I think will be good to work with, being semi-motivated. Her rice was delish. My meeting with her and her committee is tomorrow.
    Yesterday there was a nice looking plume from my volcano. It was almost 2 km high or so. Just gases, and probably just H2O vapor from the snow it got this weekend, but the most visible activity I’ve seen from it. Pete, the volcanologist in Quito, called down here to get my perspective on it, and asked me to watch it and note what it does all day, but the clouds came in about 20 minutes later. Sorry Pete.
    This weekend 2 volunteers in Riobamaba (about 2 hours south of here) celebrate their birthdays, so I will be going down there. It will be fun. Maybe I’ll even take some pictures. Hope all is well in whatever part of the world you are reading this from.

    19 September 2005

    Tomorrow i start working in Joseguango Bajo. The mayor guy there is stoked to have me working with his people. The parroquia in general is very well organized, and i hope that i can do lots of good stuff there. I am really excited to be doing something real finally, and to have my counterpart out of my hair.

    I spent the weekend with my buddies in Quito. Sunday we went to one of the boss´s houses, ate delicious food, drank beer, and watched american football after cheering on the folks running in the Quito half marathon.



    The first day with a good view out of my window, ironically, this was also the first day it rained

    07 September 2005

    I am going to be posting photos on yahoo photos for the ease of downloading. The new albums are Cotopaxi, Quito and swearing in, and Santo Domingo trip. Find them here:

  • Ellen´s yahoo photos
  • Quito! Aug 28- Sept 3

    The chartered bus left Cayambe at 9 am Sunday morning, with about 10 bottles of booze. Ellen’s was tequila, and nobody could believe that I would down it that way that early in the morning.. everyone else mixed their drinks, or at least had chasers. Thanks T-rex and Mexico for teaching me how it aught to be done. I’m pretty sure that when we got to Quito we went to lunch then to a bar. Roberto got so drunk that people had to drag him onto the hostal, and the lady was a total bitch about it, threatening to have Peace Corps send him home for drinking- obviously she knows a lot, and is very influential to Peace Corps. So, being a little drink myself, I sort of called her out on it, and then had to listen to her bitch about it for like an hour. Oops. So, then we went back out drinking. There’s a sports bar by the PC office, so went for beer and chicken wings.
    Wednesday morning was swearing in. We all got dressed up, and felt like we were going to prom.. kind of silly.

    *my best buds and I at swearing in

    It was a nice ceremony, because it was short. Then there was a VAC picnic (volunteer action council, or something like that). We got to meet some other volunteers, and for some reason I got elected to VAC. It’s like PC student council, when did I ever care about student council? Oh well, it’s an excuse to go hang in Quito every once in a while, and have PC pay for it. That night we moved to the Marriot. Though it sounds excessive, and it is, PC gives us 12 bucks a night, and with 4 in a room, it’s only about another 15 per person out of pocket. And, luxurious for those of us who had been living in the campo, and will be again for the next 2 years (that’s not me). The next 3 nights were quite fun and involved booze and good food. Then we all said our goodbyes and were off to our sites on Saturday. Being as lucky as I am to have family here, I went to Pifo, and Matt and Alex came to Latacunga with me for a sleep over in my new place. We ate pizza, played monopoly and watched the Simpsons. I love my life.

    *Me and Katie out on the town

    Tungurahua Observatory- Aug 22-25

    Ah, yes. The reason I fell in love with volcanoes. Tungurahua. Now, one of my jobs here is to spend time at the observatory. This was my first stint, and made me quite excited for more. For the first hour or so, with the volcano despejado and smoking, it was super exciting. After that, I read a lot. In reality, there is not a lot of active work involved when it comes to volcano watching, but it is cool anyways. The observatory is placed in an old hacienda, it is very nice- I had the room with the walk in tub, too bad there was not enough water to take a bath. The next exciting part was when we went out to check some instruments, and talk to people about ash fall- it’s very scientific: when you see a guy on the road, you ask him if ash has fallen in theses here parts, and then report it. The best part, however, was the road that we drove on. It was just re-opened, and obvious why. Every 500 yards or so, it had been totally washed out by lahars. We had to drive up each quebrada, and cross further up hill, either over the lahar, or a sweet sketchy wooden bridge that the buses had no reservations about, so I guess our little Vitara shouldn’t have worried me at all. The people were trying to engineer lahar paths by making concrete channels…. Questionable. Then we got to go into Banos for supplies. The first time for me, as it was evacuated 6 years ago when I was here (turns out, my counterpart was the guy who called for the evacuation). Thursday morning I got on a bus back to Latacunga, only to leave Friday morning to back to Cayambe for the end of training.


    Santo Domingo and the Tsa-Tchili people- Aug 17-19

    Peace Corps, with a little coaxing, finally let me go on one of the trips to see another part of Ecuador. We went to first to Santo Domingo, a large, dirty and dangerous “coastal” town, about 4 hours from the ocean- considered coastal because it is down hill from the Andes. There, we stayed in a convent, and lived it up- it feels good to drink in the house of the lord, while giving charlas on “como planear mi vida.” The next morning we got up to go visit a site with the Tsa-Tchili people of the coastal jungle. There are only 7 tribes of these people left, but they are amazing. They live in communal villages where the traditional wrap-like skirts and the men paint their hair red. This is done because they believe that this is what saved them from dying of disease, as their relatives did, when the Spaniards came and conquered. We went on a little jungle hike and they showed us the plants, edible and medicinal, that grow in their forest, and we got to wade in a sweet river, and cross it on a super sketchy bridge.
    That night we went to Puerto Quito, now in the transitional zone between the mountains and coast, and stayed in a nice little hotel with a pool. We raced all evening, to one end, chug a beer, and back. The trainer, Perla, won every time- she rocks. This dude Ben cut the shit out of his leg trying to jump over plastic chairs into the water, and by trying to jump over them, I mean running right through them. Good times all in all- a nice break from everything else.

    10 August 2005

    Work update

    I am now more or less in my site. I love latacunga. I have spent the last week figuring out what it is that i will be doing, and now i know, almost mostly. Civil defense has a plan to get each small barrio from mulalo (15 km north of Latacunga) to salcedo (10 km south of Latacunga) to form a "comite local de emergencias". These are groups of people from the community that are in charge of educating themselves (using civil defense as a resource), and educating others in the community about disasters, preparedness, action and relief. They are also in charge in the event of an emergency. So, it´s civil defence´s job to get people motivated to start these commitees, and they do a good job of it, but i will be their resource to spend time in the communities to work with the people forming the groups, and help them to find the resources to educate themselves, and make sure that they know how to be prepared. I think that civil defense wants meto be in all these barrios at once, but i am going to pick a few that really want to work with me and really need the help, and focus on them, at least to start. I met the presidents of 3 parroquias (kind of like counties), summing to about 50 barrios (about 35 of these are in the hazard zone), and that is not even the beginning of the areas in risk of lahars. lots to do, and i am very excited about it.
    Yesterday i went with my counterpart, Marcelo, to Salcedo to give a talk to about 75 kids. it was great fun, although the curriculum needs badly to be changed, it is set up for adults, and even then it is boring. this is a job i am excited to take on- I really want to work with kids and make that a bigger focus for civil defense.
    I am also now in my apartment! it is beautiful, and no PCV should live like this. three, yes, count them, 1-2-3 bedrooms. what am i going to do with all those? I guess i´ll have to have some visitors.. all are welcome at all times. a huge sala/comedor, and a tiny kitchen and tiny baño. it´s great. I also got hooked up by civil defense with a stove, gas tank, silverware and dish set, and some mattress pads. it is still falta a real bed and furniture, but i don´t get my settle in allowance until i swear in. I´ll live. It´s back to Cayambe for a while this thursday, then i think i am going to spend a week at the Tungurahua observatory. Life is grand.
    Last week i went to the Cotopaxi park, and up to the refugio. it was amazingly beautiful to see the glacier that close. it was windy as hell. next time to the top!
    Also, Peace corps issued me a cell, so call whenenver you want. 011-593-9-966-5394
    I posted an odd selection of pictures- check them out.

    29 July 2005


    I arrived in latacunga yesterday to work with Becky williams, the student from buffalo doing her masters field work. things are going well, she is almost done, and is doing a good job of showing me around. I am staying with oswalso nevas, the head of civil defence, and my counterpart- today was going to me the first training session/workshop i was to attend in a barrio of latacunga, but of course while i was at the office this morning, it was cancelled. welcome to working in ecuador! I am pretty much here for good now except some small trainning sessions that i will travel to cayambe for, and for the swearing in ceremony at the end of august.