Last Sunday, I showed up an hour and a half early to “El Estadio Olympico Atahualpa,” for the much anticipated qualifying game between two heated rivals: Ecuador and Brazil. I fought my way through thousands of die-hard fans to find a front row seat at mid-field. Incredible. The teams tied at one goal each, but the tension was as thick as the smoggy heat which smothered the open, green field and all of us as well. Although I was obviously rooting for Ecuador, alongside two other American student-teachers and forty-thousand screaming maniacs, it was a real treat to see my soccer heroes from Brazil, not two-hundred feet away from me. I actually saw Ronaldinho, Robinho, and other magically-talented, world-class professionals practicing and playing right before my very eyes. Brazil did not play their best, but they tallied the first goal. However, with only minutes remaining, Mendez broke past three players, crossed the ball into the middle, another player chipped it with Julio Cesar blocking it; but the ball bounced hard off of his chest, and the substitue, Cristian Noboa, nailed home the loose change—shaking the back of the net, and next the entire stadium.
On Wednesday afternoon, I returned to the rowdy arena to watch the Ecuadorian National Team play against their other elimination opponent, Paraguay. I have to say that this game was even more exciting. I arrived late, and was forced to stand in the same place for the entire game; however, I was alone this time, so I really immersed myself in the Ecuadorian crowd, sang along with the “Barras,” (soccer songs which support the home team and discourage the other) and jumped with excitement or groaned with disappointment as our heroes for the day moved a size-five sphere around the bright green pitch. I did not see my Brazilian heroes this time, but Paraguay put on a better performance, and Ecuador dominated most of the game. This time, we scored first. Everything appeared to be over and done with, when in stoppage time Paraguay drilled in a last-minute goal to tie the game at one. After this upset, we all returned to our homes discouraged; however, I was thrilled by such an incredible opportunity to see this great sport—played with such enthusiasm, and supported by the heart of South America.
On a sunny Saturday morning, I awoke with nervous excitement and hopped out of bed. It was early, as most of my days in Ecuador begin, and I prepared to leave for the highest active volcano on earth, Cotopaxi. Craig and I planned to go all the way this time—all the way to the summit. During the previous week, we hired a guide and rented the necessary equipment from a local company, in Quito. As we climbed our way up to the refuge—which sits serenely at 4,500 meters on the lower part of the supremely beautiful Cotopaxi—I felt good. We prepared the two weeks in advance with four plus mile runs and some other exercises. However, it was not enough. We were told to go to sleep at 7:30 p.m., and we would rise at 11:00 p.m., beginning our climb at midnight. Although it was snowing when we arrived to this sky-piercing monster, the weather had cleared completely when we exited the refuge at the chosen hour of 12:00 a.m. The stars shined in the dark night sky, and the feel was electric. After strapping on our crampons, securing our bags, and picking up our ice-axes, we started on what would be the hardest physical challenge I have ever pursued.
The newly-fallen white blanket on Cotopaxi would cause an array of problems—more snow than our guides had seen in quite some time. We climbed into the atmosphere one lung-bursting step at a time—traveling further from civilization, and closer to the jet-black night sky. As we climbed toward the 5,800 meter peak—about a six-hour journey—my very being was challenged. The higher we traversed the less oxygen I could inhale, the colder it became, and each step proved harder than the last. I noticed my lack of sleep on this twenty-four hour excursion, first. Next, my stomach and my head started to ache and send small bursts of panic to my nerves. I remained calm and took the necessary breaks. I pushed my body to the limit and past it, only deciding to turn around after hiking and climbing for about four and a half hours—and up more than sixty-percent of the snow-covered mountain. I could not do it much longer, and I knew in the back of my head that I still had to get down the mountain—which proved to be no easy task, either. I was strapped to my guide the whole time, and he helped me when I needed it; but the climb was to be mine, and all of the decisions as well. It was a hard mental decision to turn back, but was easily coaxed by my physical exhaustion; I could barely keep my eyes open, and the cold and altitude sucked the energy and resistance out of me. I came down during day-break, descending at a faster rate. However, the technical and steep sections of the mountain were in some ways more difficult on the way down. I made it back to the refuge at around 8:50 a.m., exhausted. As we drove away from Cotopaxi I had a feeling of disappointment and frustration that I did not summit the white giant; at the same time, I also felt a sense of mental and physical strength and fortitude that I made it up such a difficult mountain—and higher than I have ever been before on this earth.
Today is a day of recovery and relaxing, following a tiring Friday and Saturday. Following a long school day on Friday, I quickly changed clothes and headed to the indoor soccer field near my home. I was able to play in an enthusiastic “pick-up” game for a little over an hour. Following the game, I used the facility to practice my ball skills and shooting. I left the field to return home for dinner and rest. After planning Saturday morning’s adventure with my friend, Craig, I fell into bed early—catching some much-needed sleep.
I awoke early on Saturday morning to prepare for the strenuous climb up the volcano, Pichincha, which overlooks the entire city of Quito. Our plan: to summit Pichincha’s highest point, in preparation for next week’s climb up Cotopaxi. After taking the lift up to the trail-head, Craig and I started on the dew-stained path of the infamous volcano. After hiking for more than two hours, and climbing with our hands and feet for a short time, we were on the 15,696 foot summit of the sleeping giant. My lungs burned slightly with each inhalation of the high-altitude air. At the rocky summit we were in a cloud, so the views of Quito escaped us. However, this was a difficult and exciting journey, and great training for the snow-capped Cotopaxi—which we will hopefully attempt next weekend.
During the week, I get somewhat bored if I stay in my host home every night, and never get out to explore. So, I take many opportunities to immerse myself in this culture by going out to restaurants, (whether they are my favorites, or new ones) stopping at La Baguetteria for “Pan de Yuca y Café,” playing soccer in the small park in my neighborhood or with locals, hanging out with friends I have made at Colegio Menor, or watching soccer and rooting for the Ecuadorian side. I try to get out and enjoy this culture, this language, and this food whenever I can; it is always worth it.
I woke up just after daylight on Saturday to get dressed, eat breakfast, and head to the bus station. Mindo, Ecuador was our destination, and it was a great weekend to go. We arrived in this small town west of Quito, which is surrounded by cloud forest, in about three hours; we were held up a few times by the typical mudslides. We checked in to our beautiful but inexpensive hostel, and went to lunch in the middle of the tiny, serene town. After lunch we went straight to the cloud forest hike to the one-hundred and fifty foot “La Reina” waterfall. It was gorgeous. I enjoyed standing only feet away from the powerful giant of the thick woods—being sprayed with both water and mist. After the hike, we went to the local “Frog Concert,” to hear the many frogs, and to search for many species of such animals and others, in the night. We had a good time, as we got a chance to see hummingbirds, different species of frogs, toads, and spiders. After eating a wonderful Ecuadorian dinner, we slept to prepare for Sunday’s activities.
Sunday morning was also an early one, with my friend Craig and I doing a five to six mile run through the rocky roads of the bright green hills of Mindo. After the run, we ate a great breakfast and went to the zip-lines. We all did a total of ten zip-lines—each one stretched over deep valleys of thick forest, and overlooking beautiful landscape. The canopy tour was extremely fun, and I tested my wits by shooting down the cable upside-down and backwards, as well as in “The Superman” position on the longest and highest cable, which does not need an explanation. It was incredible. Another great weekend in another fascinating place—in the same awe-inspiring country.
To sum up this weekend in two words: exhilarating and exhausting. I rolled over to turn off the loud alarm, which pierced the dark silence of 5:45 in the morning. It was Saturday, and it was far from over. I hopped in the shower, made a solid breakfast—with the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and caffeine—and threw my things together for the day’s journey. The day before, my good friend Craig and I decided to go to the highest active volcano in the world: Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi triumphs over the background of Quito, on clear days only—and Saturday it was waiting patiently in the bright distance; the perfect snow-covered cone smiled at us as we ventured toward it in a taxi that we rented for the day. We arrived at the base of the mountain ready to go, and it was a steep, difficult climb. Craig and I paced ourselves, and we reached the refuge from the parking lot in about thirty-five minutes: half the estimated time. We paused at the refuge, took a look around, and headed for the snow-line. We reached the snow and ice in about thirty more minutes, and were at an estimated 15,000 feet: the highest I have ever been on this earth. We were fortunate, for the weather was so good that we could see the peak throughout most of the afternoon. Being that close to such a stunning and powerful work of nature was vitalizing. We rested for a while, taking beautiful photos of the peak and the surrounding natural Ecuadorian architecture. After climbing a little further into the snow, we decided it best to wait until we can summit the great mountain—hopefully in the next month.
Sunday I spent the day traveling alone to the artisan market in Otavalo. The scenery on the bus was amazing, but the ride was long, and I was still tired from the journey the day before. Also, compared to the adventure to Cotopaxi, I was not as thrilled about my present trip, although it was enjoyable. I spent a couple of hours in the unique city of Otavalo—enjoying its views, and conversing with the Indigenous Ecuadorians, who were selling beautiful hand-made crafts. I bought a few things for my girlfriend, my parents, and myself, and headed back to Quito, tired and ready for the adventures of tenth grade.
This weekend was a relaxing one overall, especially after visiting the heart of the jungle for four days. However, there are always little adventures here, and I usually learn something from them. On Friday, I was itching to play soccer, and I had seen a few indoor fields to play in. My host-mother dropped me off at one of the fields, but the owner explained that without a team, I could not play. So, disappointed—I took the bus to another field—with the hope of playing. After talking to the owner of the other field, the result was the same: I could not play without a team, because “pick-up” games are only on certain days. However, I waited around and asked a team if they needed an extra player; I got my chance! I played well, but twisted my knee towards the end of the indoor game, and have nursed it the rest of the weekend. On Saturday, I went with my host family, and their family, to a good Ecuadorian restaurant in Quito. The food was excellent, (as I have eaten there before, as well) and I enjoyed their company. The coolest thing about this entire weekend was that I felt comfortable engaging in all-Spanish conversations with the guys at the soccer field, taxi-drivers, restaurant employees, and my entire host family. My Spanish is improving each day that I am here, and I am more and more comfortable conversing in my second language. Although I miss my loved ones, and other aspects about the United States, I must say I am growing more comfortable in this small South-American country; I love Ecuador.
This past weekend began the four to five day holiday of “Carnival.” For this special vacation, the other student-teachers, a few full-time teachers from Colegio Menor, and I went deep into the Amazon Rainforest. Ecuador is truly an amazing place—and “El Oriente,” or the eastern part of Ecuador—covered by jungle, is clear proof of that fact. We stayed at “The Samona Lodge,” along the Cuyabeno River, in the Cuyabeno National Reserve. This reserve covers a huge span of rainforest, and thousands of different species of plants, animals, and insects—many of which I saw and experienced during this past four days and three nights. This rustic lodge, nestled deep in the jungle, was alive with tarantulas on our roof, roaches under our beds and on the walls, a large tree frog in the shower, and nocturnal monkeys sleeping in a tree behind one of the cabins. Needless to say, this lodge and its surroundings provided a constant adventure.
Over the course of four days, I hiked through the Amazon Rainforest during the day and at night; I canoed through its rivers; I swam in its waters; I met and ate with its indigenous peoples. Also, I spotted wildlife all over, such as: an eighteen-foot female anaconda; two species of tarantula—both the pink-footed tarantula the size of my hand, and a baby black-footed tarantula; many fishing spiders; the wolf spider; the tail-whip scorpion; multiple types of frogs; a baby snake; multiple caiman crocodiles—which we uncovered by the reflection of our flashlights in their beady eyes, at night; hundreds of birds—diverse in species; a pink river dolphin; butterflies of brilliant colors; a poisonous caterpillar and centipedes; four species of monkeys; a three-toed sloth; piranhas—one of which I caught while fishing with meat; and much more. I felt more in touch with nature, with life, and with myself the more time I spent in the heart of the wild. The food was excellent and so was the staff. I learned about the jungle, and about Ecuador. This was indeed one of the best trips I have ever taken; a trip simply made for me.