Archive for October, 2011

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Alex: Raglan Surfing

October 26, 2011

Two weekends ago now, a group of friends and I stayed and surfed in Raglan. The experience was the type of surreal that I am quickly running out of creative ways to describe.

I came to New Zealand with three things in mind that I needed to do before leaving. The first, my real reason for being here at all is to conduct research. The nature of that research has mutated over time, but I have certainly done quite a bit of that. The second was to get a ta moko. I’ve made an appointment. The third was to go surfing, at least once.

When we (finally) arrived in Raglan, we stayed at this adorable, very hippy, hostel. The rooms were all old converted train cars, and the woman running the desk was this French woman who carried a duckling around most of the time. Like I said: adorable place.

We drove out to a point to see some fantastic views, and split into two groups. My group went down to the beach. I swam in the ocean which was surprisingly warm for mid-spring. I think I can finally say that I have gotten the hang of swimming in an ocean. Keeping mouth closed: check.

That night we went to a bar to watch the Irish get defeated by Wales, and watch Les Bleus beat the English. I was exhausted from swimming and being exposed to sunlight, but we stayed. In between games a few of us wandered around Raglan (not a difficult task, there’s not much to wander). We found a skate park covered in graffiti that made me pine for my skateboard (bad pun, sorry).

The next day the real fun began. We went surfing.

I live, and have always lived, in a place that is thousands of miles from the nearest ocean. One needs to drive for days without sleep to reach salt water from my home. Surfing for me has always had sort of a magical mystique. I suspect this is because it was so foreign, but also owes something to my love of other board-sports.

Surfing always seemed so serene and almost transcendent. Transcendent is not a word I use lightly. In my mind surfing was the perfect way to connect with the world. Floating out in the ocean, there are no distractions. There are no deadlines, no assignments, no worries but the tide and the waves.

Before my trip to New Zealand, I could have counted on one hand the number of times I had seen an ocean, much less been in one. I am always excited to spend time in the ocean. That said, I thought I was going to die there. Within the first ten minutes of surfing, I got in over my head and was swept out past the wave break. I had no idea until I noticed that even the experienced surfers were further in than I was. I spent the next hour frantically paddling my way back in. Moments before I became exhausted and was about to start screaming for help, I caught a lucky group of waves that brought me in.

I could not wait to get back to surfing.

So I did, with limited success. I had made the mistake of choosing a board that was short and therefore difficult to stand up on. I had also wasted a significant portion of high tide out at sea.

I didn’t manage to stand up, but it was still one of the most fun experiences I’ve had. I cannot wait to go again.
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Margaret: 假的 – jiǎ de – fake

October 25, 2011

One of my American friends here grew up on the east coast and is attending a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania studying business.  Some weeks ago a few of us were out for drinks when he asked us what cities he should try beginning his career in after graduation.  Naturally, I suggested Minneapolis – I’ve always seen it as a great place to be a young professional thanks to a good local economy and several Fortune 500 companies.  Beyond that, the city literally sparkles.  There’s a distinct Midwesterness about it.  Lakes and lush green parks nestle into urban areas, cut and crisscrossed by 84 miles of off-street trail, while the old brick buildings of the mill district remind of boom time long ago when the city was the flour milling capital of the world, all thanks to the mighty Mississippi – as if we needed even more beautiful shoreline.  One of my favorite images of the city is the view from Lake Harriet.  Take away the skyscrapers and you’ve got the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Can’t.  Beat.  That.  My friend, however, was less than interested.  “Uhhh what!?  Why would I EVER go to Minneapolis?  Isn’t it like just a farm?”

When I close my eyes and think about home, I see the St. Paul campus in all its midsummer glory, surrounded by the wheat and the corn and the barley and blue sky and big white clouds.  I see myself in the heat of the greenhouses during a blizzard, working late into the evening.  I see myself waking up before the sun to bundle up and trek through subzero wind chill to the cozy Al’s Breakfast for a short stack drizzled with real maple syrup.  I see myself leaving a lecture, inspired, mind completely blown.  I see myself getting dressed up on a Friday night for a date in Tea Garden with my O-chem book.  Call me a nerd (please!) or nostalgic, but these are the things I miss so much that I haven’t been able to recreate here.  Minnesota is a great place, and I always knew that, but I think it took leaving for it to really sink in.  It’s the human condition, isn’t it?  I’m here missing home, and in a year, I’ll be home missing China.  Shucks…

I’ve sort of been down and out this week, increasingly dissatisfied with my phony Chinese life.  I used to always look down upon all the rich hipster kids from the University of Minnesota who go away on their dream study abroad vacations to Spain or Paris, where they have classes in English with other students from the U.  They take a million pictures of themselves in bikinis on the beach or at clubs until three in the morning and post them in obnoxiously titled album on Facebook to show the rest of us how much better their little fairytale life is than our own in sad Minnesota.  Then when they come back, they banter on and on about how “living” in Valencia have them a wider worldview and increased cultural competency.  I always thought, “I’m going to China.  I’m actually doing something real with my experience.”  And yet here am I, with the stereotypical travel blog, living a life as fake as the fake 100 yuan notes that fake cab driver handed me at four in the morning after a night out a few weeks ago.  I’ve got nothing on those hipster kids after all.

Many people (mom!) have false ideas of what studying abroad is like.  “You’ll get there and you’ll interact with the culture and you’ll make all these great Chinese friends right away and on Spring Festival, one of them will invite you home to their electricity- and modern sanitation-lacking village where their mother will teach you how to make dumplings and their father will teach you how to play erhu and they will invite you to name their newborn nephew.”

Easier.

Said.

Than.

Done.

In reality, my fake Chinese life is mostly devoted to trying to stay sane.  I spend so much energy each and everyday staring blankly up at my professors for six hours, trying not to get killed by a bus on the way to school, and finding a seat in a cafeteria packed three times its capacity that I don’t have anything left to give.  What do I do to try to stay sane?  Eating Skippy peanut butter out of a can with a spoon. Gouging myself on Snickers that taste a little off.  Going to WuDaoKou, the expat student area, to sit in an overpriced coffee shop eating an overpriced pathetic attempt at a panini and drinking overpriced tea bag tea with other lazy expats who, like myself, are too scared of real China to leave the cozy confines of the cafe.  Going through the motions until Thursday when I start my weekend early by dressing up and going out to expat bar areas with my American friends whom I pretend to like more than I do to dance the morning away until I roll out of bed the next afternoon and do it all over again.  Three times.

Fake Life Confessions:

I have no Chinese friends.  My language partner is Korean.  And I quickly discovered that the one Chinese friend I did have (her name was Smile) was using other foreigners and me for our English.  She told us she goes to Beida, but we found out she’s not even in college, and she’d blow up my phone every other day saying, “I’ll be waiting for you (insert place) at (insert time),” without even asking me if I wanted to meet or if I was free.  Most of the time, I feel conversing with a Chinese person, even if they’re conversant in English, takes tons of energy and effort, and I find that if given the choice, I will always choose returning to Zhongguanxinyuan to pass out over “hanging out.”  Do Chinese people hang out?  I don’t even know.

I haven’t relaxed in two months.  The trials of each day leave me absolutely exhausted, and unfortunately I have yet to uncover a method to relieve my daily agitation.  In America if I’m feeling stressed out, I can hop on my bike and be on a trail in ten seconds.  Think there is such a thing as trails in Beijing?  Think again.  If I had a bike, I’d be subjected to crazy driver-laden streets, and my bike would likely be stolen within a few months.  Go for a run, you say?  Have fun getting lung disease.  Beijing doesn’t really do parks either, unless it has an admission fee, a few hundred years of history, and about a thousand daily visitors.  I can’t relax when my roommate is around, which she always is, even on Friday and Saturday nights.  I’ve already read the two English books that I brought here (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and a biography of Norman Borlaug of course), so I’ve started watching bootlegged movies on the internet.  I don’t even like film.  Maybe after this year though, I will cease to be made fun of for all the movies I haven’t seen…

I haven’t been anywhere in the city besides the university and three expat hangout areas.  My life is a constant rotation.  Beida, WuDaoKou, Beida, Sanlitun, Beida, Beida, Houhai, Beida, WuDaoKou, Beida.  I really haven’t even done anything else here besides school; shopping for fake goods at fake markets; searching for sad attempts at pizza, burgers, and sandwiches; and going to bars and clubs where white people are the majority.  One of my favorite restaurants, Pyro Pizza, is styled exactly like an American college bar, completely with beer pong tables, banners hanging from the ceiling that read “WuDaoKou Football Champions 1977,” and large glass beer steins filled with fake Budweiser.  I can close my eyes and pretend the gophers just lost and I’ve gone to Campus Pizza with some friends after the game.

I love McDonalds.  My girlfriend asked me the other day what I would eat if I could eat anything in Beijing.  I would eat McDonalds.  Hands down, no competition.  Although last weekend I went to the city’s only Burger King, and I must say, their fries are better.

China’s culture is increasingly more fake.  They’ve become obsessed with the West in every way and want more than anything to become rich like America.  Women will bleach their skin white and undergo blepharoplasty cosmetic surgery to create a double eyelid.  They love Nike, they love The North Face, they love Starbucks.  Buddhism is becoming commercialized.  They built a fake section of the Great Wall to capitalize on tourism.  Enough said.

My fake Chinese life has left me exhausted, and I haven’t left the confines of my cold tiled dorm room this weekend save for a frustrating erhu lesson.  Mom sent me a wonderful box full of twizzlers, peeps, granola bars, smarties, etc. and I’ve made dinner out of it for the past two nights and didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about it.  When I woke up this morning, my skin had broken out entirely, worse than it’s been since my middle school pizza face days.  Oh hey body, looks like you forgot all about high fructose corn syrup.  Ahh fake sugar, how I’ve missed you.

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Emily: Letters from Barcelona—weeks 6 & 7

October 24, 2011

Dear Montserrat: What beautiful hiking trails you have! It was nice to be out of the urban metropolis of Barcelona and in nature. 

Dear Salvador Dali: You were a crazy man, and your artwork is no less crazy; yet at the same time, I really enjoy looking at it. Thank you for introducing me to a new way to think and look at things.

Dear School: You are picking up. I have midterms this week. I was always hoping that studying abroad would be more “living” abroad and not “studying”.

Dear Passeig de Gracia: Every. single. day. I walk down you to get to my classes. I have never been one to feel like I need designer clothes (Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Jimmy Choo) but really, making me walk by these stores day after day is driving me crazy!

Dear Holmes Place Gym: Your trainers look at me like I am crazy when doing my workouts. One woman (a Canadian living here) told me she knew I wasn’t Spanish because I was working too hard and sweating too much. I’m taking that as a compliment.

Dear Autumn: You have finally arrived in Barcelona. This means no more back sweat from my backpack, AND I was able to break out my pea coat I got on sale last March. Thank you!

Dear Sister: Yesterday you completed your second full marathon! I am so proud of you! I can’t wait until we can run together (me a half-marathon, you a full!)

Dear Spanish Cooking Class: You are probably one of the most fun and coolest things ever! I am inspired to take a cooking class in each country I travel to! Plus, I am way excited to cook some authentic Spanish cuisine for my friends and family!

Dear Family: 59 days until you are here! I cannot wait to show you España!

Dear Spanish Keyboard: Seven weeks in, I think I have finally figured you out.

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Chelsea: Bye Bye Quito

October 24, 2011

his is the first blog post I write with tear-filled eyes…

Unfortunately, I leave Quito tomorrow morning…and with that I also leave behind many friends and a wonderful family. Although I will be back throughout the next couple weeks, it’s starting to set in how little time I have left here and I can already feel my heart breaking!!

…here’s a recap of the weekend:
On Friday, I finished my last day of class with an essay and presentation! After classes I was able to finalize all of the details for my trip to Peru (which I leave for this Friday, ahh!) and spend time with some friends! That night, I went with two friends to La Ronda, a more historic part of Quito which is beautiful at night! We ordered hot chocolate and huge empanadas (that are incredibly delicious) that we couldn’t even eat half of – definitely should have shared. Afterwards, we walked around the streets a little bit, went into a few shops, and just enjoyed the beautiful night!!

On Saturday, my brother had classes all day to make up for a vacation day next week (how horrible) and my parents had to work in the morning. But, afterwards we made chocolate chip cookies – unfortunately they turned out a little bit flat, but I still managed to sneak a bit of cookie dough to eat. I spent the afternoon with my family and then went out (at 4:00, haha) with my friend Liz and a few of her Ecuadorian cousins here. After getting a little lost (I was glad to know that Ecuadorians too got lost here!!), we arrived at a high school dance…no joke. But, it was actually a lot of fun! Here, you can buy alcohol and smoke inside – so it was a little different atmosphere, and it wasn’t all high school kids – it was mostly people our age! Overall, it was a lot of fun and many many hours of dancing!

Today was a great last day with my family! I went with my mom to her job a little over an hour away. Besides running her own daycare, one day a week she works as a psychologist for a school/daycare and today she was holding a conference for parents at the school. It was really interesting and I’m glad I got to attend! Afterwards, we went to a restaurant with the family and I willingly (I even asked!) to try fried sheep’s blood. I know, what has gotten into me? Don’t worry, I’m still freaked out by vegetables on my sandwich. But, surprisingly it was actually pretty good – it just tasted like a spice!!

Afterwards, on the way home, my brother fell asleep on me – it was adorable, and I finally feel like I now have a younger sibling! Then, we came back home and my mom and I fell asleep on her bed watching Finding Nemo…totally precious. As we were making dinner, my mom and I were talking…and this turned into crying. My mom has such a big heart and really considers me her child! It was super sad to realize that I’m actually leaving tomorrow, but luckily I’ll get to come back! Later, I watched a little bit of Willy Wonka with my brother and he read me a Franklin the turtle book, which definitely took me back! 

…now, I’m avoiding packing! It’s hard to pack up again, not knowing what to expect. Although it will be hard to be totally by myself and not see my friends anymore and to move in with a new family, I know that it will be an equally interesting / fun experience! So, here’s to starting a new chapter of my life here in Ecuador, that is if I ever get packed…

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Emily: Growing a bead in Udaipur

October 23, 2011

All anyone talks about over here is food they miss, movies they’ve seen, what every moment before INDIA was like. Not allowed to mention Chipotle, like the place is a dead grandmother or something.  Giving the benefit of the doubt, I think, “maybe the sugar sweet, bad breath words that puff from pink lips are to keep REAL thoughts from forming sentences?”  beat around the bush so much, the bush may as well not exist.  just beating the minutes by.  easier than speaking of UNCERTAINTY – what am I doing here?  easier than the CERTAINTY of REALITY.  white-haired child outside your gated home, but leftovers go to the Cow.  Powerful people see moving pictures of white-haired men holding children with bloated bellies on top of garbage piles, but Harry Potter is more realistic.  more a part of their bubble situation.

Living in my own “intellectual” bubble, how can i pop it?  I’ve got a program to follow, don’t stray from the group.  try to reconcile with my conscience – shopping trips stimulate the economy?  not just a tourist?  can i be anything but?  try to talk to locals – five minutes later you’ve got their number, a marriage proposal, and there’s a couple hundred images of you bouncing between satellites and Indian cell phones.  just another “girl friend” for them from AH-merikka to show off – another notch on their camel skin belt, trousers, collared shirt tucked in.  so much for being vegetarians – not because it’s healthier for the body, the planet – consecrated by Religion, gods forbid it be Cow flesh.  forget trying friends with the girls – dark eyes dart or stare, silent. maybe they’re screaming inside too? a moth landed on my shoulder.  reminds me of home.  he doesn’t stay long.  miss him already, wouldn’t mind a friend close in proximity to be intimate with.  privileged, i don’t need to spend my hours trying to keep my stomach full.  idle time and idle hands, full of thoughts.


got a boyfriend and a beard to keep the creepers off me

first day of “work” tomorrow.  been settled into Jagran Jan Vikas Samiti for a few days now.  great place, has vibes like my grandma Barb’s home.  days move like minutes, i’m thankful. nothing really accomplished in these hours.  dozens of hands in this place, what work is being done?  couldn’t tell you yet.  i have Hope that visiting villages will introduce me to people. to relate with, work with.  issues i can address.  sounds like i’ll be updating websites, collecting data, researching, writing grant proposals.  should get used to not SEEING progress?  expecting little, hoping for much more.  will make the best of it.

enjoy allen ginsberg, Dec. 1962, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

What vanity? What possible divine
blessing on all this Politics.
What invocation beyond Millions
of Votes for 1960 Hopes
What rat Curse or Dove vow slipt from my hands
to help this multitude
Smirking at the ballot box, deceived,
sensible, rich, full of onions
voting for W.C. Williams with one
foot in the grave and an eye
in a daisy out the window

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Grace: Ba baneen yoon!

October 23, 2011

So tomorrow I’m leaving Dakar at 7 am and taking an 8-ish hour bus ride down South to Nioro Alassane Tall. Don’t bother looking it up on Google Maps, you won’t find it, but it’s in the southwest area of Senegal, just north of the Gambia.  There is very limited electricity and running water in the village, and I will be living in a hut, sleeping on the floor and showering with a bucket.  I’m actually really looking forward to the experience, to getting to know the people in the village, to my internship at the Poste de Sante.  And if I can’t survive 6 weeks of living conditions in a village, that’s pretty pathetic since the majority of humans since the beginning of time have lived their entire lives like that. 

Unfortunately though, my computer was stolen last Thursday (wahhhhh), which means my planned excursions to the nearby-ish town to find internet and feel part of the world again are now not going to happen.  So if you’re in the habit of checking my blog everyday, stop doing that.  And have a Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, good November, and I’ll see ya in December!

p.s. “Ba beneen yoon” means  “until the next time” in Wolof.

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Hilary: Looking forward…and backward

October 23, 2011

Today I find myself in the middle of the last Saturday in Quito before I start a six-week internship on Monday!  I have enjoyed my time in here, but I am ready to say chau, hasta luego!  For I know it will be all too soon when I am back in Quito on a Saturday preparing for my flight home.

On Monday, I am moving to Cotocachi, north of Quito by about 2 hours and about 20 minutes away from one of the world’s biggest artisan markets in Otovalo.  I will be living in Cotocachi and working in a school called, Nascota Puento, in San Pedro (about 15 minutes by bus).  I will be living with Marcia Tapia, a very experienced and influencial teacher at the school.  For the six weeks, I will be teaching English and helping the English staff plan a better English program.

My goals for this program are for the English curriculum to be: relevant to the students, the families, and the community; for the English to be of a high quality (yes vague, but I don’t feel I’m qualified to extrapolate); for the classes to be interactive, dynamic, and sequential; and for the program to be open, flexible, and adaptive for the future.

It’s been real Quito; my favorite things to do:

  • Going to the teleferico and climbing pichincha
  • Going running in the Carolina (big park)
  • Dancing to live music (rare, but it happens)
  • Shout out to the salsa club Mayo 68, excellent music, great dancers, safe and friendly place!  It is in the Mariscal, but its all locals!
  • Eating breakfast at the Colombian pan store just down the street
  • Listening to the music on the buses
  • Watching free Andean dance shows
  • Getting serenaded by guitar trios
  • Drinking candelasos in la ronda (A candelaso is a hot drink kind of like a cider with sugar cane alcohol)
  • Running into people who recognize my dreads but never my name
  • Watching telenovelas with my host-mom in her bed when I don’t want to go out
  • Only paying 25 cents to go all the way across the city
  • Walking through the Artisan markets
  • Meeting Mari at the supermaxi in Cumbaya
  • Forgetting how to speak/write in English
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Whitney: MskMskMskMskBoomBoomBoomBoom

October 22, 2011

Last night I went to a party for the international students of Berlin at a club called Kino International and it was really really fun! I went alone and (thankfully) ran into some awesome people right away as we were waiting outside to get in. Our group was made up of a boy from Canada, a girl from the US (me), a girl from France, and a girl from Turkey. You can’t get much more international than that! We went in and there were four different dance floors that each played a different genre of music – as you can see from the title of the post, one of them was techno 🙂

So we danced the night away until about 3am and then we decided to take off, and the funniest thing happened as we were leaving. This guy who was waiting in line to get into the club asked us why we were leaving so early and whether or not it was worth it to go in! At 3 in the morning! So I told him that it was indeed a good time inside and that we were only leaving because we were tired. I felt a teensy bit lame, but hey – IT WAS 3 IN THE MORNING.

After I parted ways with my new friends, I had a completely new obstacle to overcome: getting back home and into my bed (preferably before the sun greeted the city). I had to take three trains to get back to the Steglitz neighborhood, but I made it without falling asleep or boarding any wrong trains. I finally plopped into my bed at 4:18am. It’s now almost 3pm the next day and I am sitting in my pajamas with a cup of hot tea, wishing I could remember where I packed/unpacked my ibuprofen. Nice work, Berlin. Nice work.

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Chiyo: Brick Lane

October 20, 2011

Fall Break has officially started, and I couldn’t be happier. I had a full day of classes, and the second class I have is my pop culture class, where every other week we go on a field trip. Today, we were going to the National Gallery, but upon my arrival I was greeted by Olivier, who is part of the internship team, and informed me that my professor had to cancel class due to a family emergency. So I waited for my two friends to arrive, and we went around Covent Garden, and Leister Square before my roommate and I had to go to Brick Lane for Curry Night. 

After we were done wandering around Covent Garden and Leicester Square, my roommate Diane and I took the tube to Brick Lane, and ran into our friend Vince, and ended up stopping in a record stop that he knew of since we were early. It was a very chill atmosphere, and we spent a good amount of time in there before heading back to the front of Brick Lane to the restaurant, we had some more time to kill so we stopped at a pub for a pint and to catch up with one another. When we arrived at the restaurant, a lot of other CAPA students had already gotten there, and we had a table to ourselves. The food was absolutely amazing, and my first time trying Indian food. We had 3 courses overall, and each course got better and better. We definitely had “food babies” by the end of the night. Once we were all done eating, we decided that if we needed to use the Lou, we would get off at the next stop and stop in at a pub for a pint and continue on until we got home. I gave up after two stops because I knew I had to get home to skype someone, and I still had to pack for Fall Break, where I fly out tomorrow morning. Back at the flat I am scrambling to get ready for tomorrow, and I can’t wait to embark on traveling to Eastern Europe for the next ten days. No internship, or class, and just me and my friends relaxing, having a good time. This time that I have been abroad is flying by like no other, and I can’t believe I have less than two months left here before I’m back in the states…It is already starting to feel bittersweet, especially because November is already filling up with events and things I am doing. 

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Me

Chillin before our field trip to the National Gallery

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Chelsea: Cuenca & Quito

October 20, 2011

I’ve had a great past week here in Ecuador! After classes last Friday I flew with two friends to Cuenca, a city about 6 hours south of Quito. After a quick flight (35 minutes in the air!), we landed in Cuenca and had the night to walk around the beautiful city! It seemed a lot like Europe to me and was so much cleaner and youthful than Quito!

An incredible sunset from the airplane – definitely a sign of a fantastic trip to come!

The beautiful city of Cuenca!

Overall, a fantastic weekend in Cuenca! We ate at a few good restaurants, walked around the city (it felt so good to finally be able to walk again, because we rarely get the chance in Quito), visit an incredible art market (Cuenca is known for its art, ceramics, and jewelry), and go out dancing with some Cuencanos that we met on Saturday! Unfortunately on Sunday, we had to leave. I definitely want to return – it was such a beautiful city and a fun weekend with friends!

This week is my last week of classes in Quito! I had a final exam in Spanish on Monday and my last essay due tomorrow…but luckily, we had yesterday and today off to write our essay! …and of course, that means time to explore Quito! Yesterday, I went with some friends to walk around Quito a bit. In the afternoon, we went to the Historic Center of Quito and went inside the Basilica! It was absolutely gorgeous and we climbed all the way to the top of the bell tower and steeples…there were a few really scary ladders and steps we had to climb, but we did it and it was a great view!

…off to adventure a little bit more this afternoon before actually writing our essay for tomorrow!

All in all, I can’t believe this is my last weekend in Quito! I’ve become so comfortable with my daily life here and it’ll definitely be hard to leave my family here – they’re already making me sad every time they talk about it! But, it should be a great last weekend here and then I leave Monday for Latacunga (about 2 hours south) to start my internship in micro finances for the next 5 or so weeks! Time is flying by – I can’t believe my time here is already halfway over!

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