Week Four: Palmar

29 06 2011

Day 23 – 20 June 2011

Today was a day of so many highs and new starts.  We drove from Riobamba through Guayaquil to get to Palmar in a private bus that seated 9 for the 12 of us.  We passed our luggage off into the hands of the driver who then piled it high on top of the bus and then secured it all down using a tarp and lots of rope.  Rita, Sarah, and Shane sat on the back seat that fit three.  Kate, Dan, and Wick squeezed on the middle seat that barely fit the three of them, and then Thailer, Anne, Carly, and I squeezed four across on the seat that faced the rest of the bus.  The seven of us in the front had to weave our legs together, put them on top of the other people (aka Carly and Dan), or stretch them out in any open space we could find like Thailer maneuvered with her long legs.  The first half of the trip was miserable and hysterical at the same time.  We made a brief stop at a gas station and filled up with typical road trip junk food like cookies and Doritos and then were back on the road.  The break rejuvenated us, and we were all much livelier in the bus afterward.  For lunch, we stopped in Guayaquil.  We drove by a McDonalds, and Dan and I were both sad that we weren’t going there for a taste of America’s greatest delicacy.  Little did we know that we were stopping at a mall instead, and this was no normal Latin American mall, but it truly was a glimpse of heaven, or at least of America.  When we made it to food court was when the celebrations actually began.  First, we saw a Cinnabon, then a to-go coffee shop called Sweet and Coffee that looked like Starbucks.  Then, we walked upstairs and were warmly greeted by the familiar signs of Subway, Burger King, sushi, China Wok, and Pizza Hut.  My jaw was on the floor for at least five minutes as I walked around and basked in the glory of American food.  I got a Whopper with cheese with fries, and it tasted just like America.  Wick and Dan got sushi and finally satisfied their cravings, and everyone else got Subway, pasta, or Chinese. When we finished, we walked around the mall before reentering into the clown car that was our bus for the remaining two hours.  Full, happy, and missing our siestas at our homes in Cuenca, most of us napped for about an hour until we reached the first small, coastal city that again reminded us of the American shores.  We finally made it there around 5:30 and parked in the center of town where we met Miguel and Marcelo, the two men who are guiding us throughout the week.  Miguel is an asesor with Soluciones Comunitarias, and Marcelo is in charge of the Neojuventud program for the youth in Palmar and runs the center, the gym, the internet café, and the panaderia that are all in the center of the town.  I can already tell they are both going to be pretty cool guys, and I am looking forward to hearing more about their life stories, their inspirations, and their visions for Palmar.  After meeting them, we walked everyone to their houses from the center.  We were a gringo parade for all of the town to see.  With our new families, Wick and Dan are brothers, Anne and Carly are sisters, and Sarah and I are sisters.  Rita and Thailer are next door neighbors, Kate has a great pad with a TV, computer, and balcony overlooking the beach, and Shane is Miguel’s brother for the week.  Thus, we are all close here in Palmar.  We live near each other, we are “brothers and sisters”, and we are close friends.  After the group dispersed to go to our new families for the night, Sarah and I ate dinner with our dad, Daisy, and her husband.  Our mom prepared fried fish called Trumpeto, or trumpet fish, along with rice (standard), fresh orange juice, and plantanos chips that are delicious.  Then, Sarah and I came upstairs to our room that is complete with two very comfortable twin beds (the most comfortable bed I’ve had in Ecuador—good job, Palmar!), mosquito nets, a TV and DVD player, and at least 100 DVDs.  We got ready for bed, brushing our teeth with bottled water to avoid getting sick.  Afterward, we tucked ourselves into our beds and mosquito nets and went to bed for our first night sleep in Palmar!

Day 24 – 21 June 2011

I woke up this morning after a great night sleep.  The mosquito net reminds me of being a little kid building a fort every night.  I haven’t really seen many bugs, and I don’t really know why we need mosquito nets, but maybe I haven’t seen them because they are working.  Sarah and I woke up, got ready, and ate breakfast of fresh orange juice (still so good—can’t get enough of it), instant coffee (aka hot water that I poured coffee grinds into with sugar), and crackers and jelly.  An interesting meal, but good nonetheless.  We walked to meet everyone for yoga but found that most people were running on their own, so we met with Kate and walked along the street and water for an hour until we met at 9:00 to start the day.  We first watched a video about Neojuventud and heard Marcelo talk briefly about its efforts in keeping children in Palmar out of trouble and away from drugs and alcohol by giving them a place to hang out and things to do like work or help the community.  He is a passionate, driven, and dedicated man who loves Palmar and children and wants to give them the best by giving them opportunities.  I can’t wait to learn more about him and his efforts here.   Then, we planned our charlas for the week, which are on client services, hygiene, and quality control.  This week, we used the internet for research a lot more and are planning to teach more and use posters with the information written for them to see in response to our last two charlas.  I think these will be even better now that we have experience and practice on our side.  In the afternoon, we were supposed to go to the mangroves, but with the tides being low, we ended up walking through a lot of mud to see some rather lame plants.  Dan and Wick both freaked out about the crabs in the mud which was hysterical, and then Miguel and Marcelo decided we would go back in a boat another day when the tide was higher.  Instead, we went on a barefoot (if you count feet coated in thick mud as barefoot) hike up a steep side of a mountain that ran into the ocean.  At the top, the trail flattened out, and we walked through dry dirt for a while, adding to the coat of mud still caked on our feet.  We eventually got to a road and walked passed bushes that looked dead except for one or two pink flowers in bloom and trees that smelled of peppermint.  We walked down a long flight of stairs made from rocks down the other side of the mountain and arrived at Playa Rosada which is a beautiful, calm beach with thicker pink sand.  Dan, Shane, Rita, Thailer, Anne, and I all swam in the ocean amid the qualms and warnings of the leaders and the Ecuadorians who said there were big under-currents and huge waves.  The waves were in fact huge, but that only lured us further out to meet them.  Dan flipped over waves while I screamed and ducked under most of them, but we had a blast, and I am so glad I went swimming instead of worrying about being wet on our walk back.  After I got out, Sarah and I started doing handstands on the water’s edge, and then Dan and Shane joined us.  When we were all tired, we walked back a shorter way which included a hand-made, wooden ladder that was somehow attached to the side of the mountain.   At the bottom, we were greeted not by sand but by the water due to the changing tide.  As we stood there, we were told to swim across if we could, so most of us followed instructions and did.  Suddenly, a boat appeared to rescue the rest of the group and take the across without getting wet.  Then, we all walked back to our houses for dinner.  At 9:00, we met with everyone to walk and sit on the beach until 10:30, and we just sat and talked while Rita acted as DJ over Wick’s iTunes.   Then, we walked home, washed our feet, and got ready for bed.  Now, I’m going to get under my fort/tent/mosquito net for another great night as I am sung to sleep by the rhythm of the waves and the serenity of the beach.

Day 25 – 22 June 2011

This morning, I woke up at 6:45, 15 minutes before my alarm, and lay in my bed, falling in and out of sleep until 7:00.  Then, Sarah and I walked to school to have another morning of preparation before our charla in the afternoon.  We made posters and finished writing, translating, and proofing our documents and scripts.  I sweated as we worked, a huge difference from the three layers I have been wearing in Cuenca.  We also brainstormed our ideas and game plan for the SMS messaging and the NutriButter product proposals.  I checked my email for the first time in a few days and emailed a few people the link to our SEC blog website because I am writing the blog entries for this week.  Then, Sarah and I walked home for lunch, and we ate ceveche which is a colder, soup-like dish with shrimp and vegetables like onions, peppers, and tomatoes in a citrus base of lemon and orange juices.  We ate it with rice, plantain chips, and orange juice, and it was a delicious meal.  We walked back to the center of town to prepare for our meeting, and we made a to-do list for our product research.  Before walking over, we saw an iguana across the street.  As Wick tried to trap it in a corner, a dog came bounding down the street which sent the iguana running for dear life, and right into Carly’s feet.  It ran into the internet café, and Miguel grabbed it by the tail, but then, out of defense, the tail broke off but continued to move.  It was absolutely disgusting and fascinating at the same time, and we all laughed as we passed around a moving tail.  Then, we walked to the beach store behind NeoJunventud where members of the community were waiting to hear our charla about hygiene, customer service, and quality control.  We had one of our biggest and most enthusiastic groups yet, and the presentations thus went very smoothly.  From the glitter game to demonstrate the spread of germs to the sociodramas with audience participation, the community members learned and retained so much information and were so appreciative at the end, offering their thanks and praises to us.  Many told us of their visions for Palmar to become a beach that tourists love more than just another fishing port, and it was inspiring to witness so many people who were acting passionately for others and their community.  After a big group picture with small Ecuadorian women, kind men, and the gringos, we hustled out to the beach to play and catch a few rays of sun before it began to set.  We played Frisbee and soccer, talked on the shore, and played in the ocean (at least, Dan, Rita, Anne, and Thailer swam), and then went home for dinner.  Then, we all headed to the beach.  Wick and Dan made a fire pit, and we all worked together to start a fire that turned out to be a great success.  As we sat around the fire (Shane was the only one missing because he was studying Spanish), we talked about who we missed and what we would be doing during a normal day if we were not in Ecuador.  As Dan and I were collecting fire wood, Alex, the man in charge of our charla, brought us papas, fried plantains, lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and a roasted chicken.  We called Sarahita who then came and joined us to dine on the food offerings, and then the conversation died down alongside the fire.  We all walked back home, and now I am so excited to get under my canopy for another great night sleep.

Day 26 – 23 June 2011

We did research this morning for the SMS technology and NutriButter, and I worked on texting research that was actually very interesting.  After our lunch break, we walked back to the center to go on our first marketing campaign since we did not do one in Riobamba.  We rode on two buses to get there that were very hot and rather dark on the inside, and they looked like they belonged in the seventies.  We met by the church in the small town about thirty minutes away from Palmar.  We all filled out brochures and handouts for the town and then broke off into groups to walk around the town to talk to everyone about the campaign on Sunday.  We walked from house to house, passing papers through metal guards around windows and trying to convey the message that we are having a campaign on Sunday.  When they gave us blank stares because they could not understand our American Spanish accents, our leaders would step in and say everything again.  As we went on, it was cool to see our progress, and by the end, I think they actually understood us completely by the end.  Some highlights from marketing: pigs everywhere, goats eating leaves from trees, huts on stilts for houses, tiendas in every other house, and petting a deer.  We finished the campaign, and Carly, Kate, Liz, and I celebrated with Magnum almond and chocolate ice cream bars.  As we talked to the tienda lady, we found out that there were no buses back to Palmar.  Ellie (an ascesora who is also Anne and Carly’s sister) talked to a shirtless man on the side of the road and rigged us a truck back to Palmar, so we rode the thirty minutes back in the bed of the pickup truck.  As we sat on the edge of the truck bed, Liz talked about her thoughts about life after this summer, and Rita, Dan, Shane, Sarah, and I talked about what we were thinking about doing after we graduated.  We all went back home for dinner, and Sarah and I had fresh, crisp, and delicious fried shrimp that our mom cooked and took directly off the stove and onto our plates.  After dinner, we all walked to Liz and Sarahita’s house to hang out with everyone briefly.  We also were able to see Thailer, who had an IV in her arm after going to a clinic two blocks into town for dehydration.  We talked to Liz’s brothers for a little while, walked to a tienda to satisfy her “ganas de chocolate”, and then walked home.  Today was a fruitful and filled day.  Tomorrow morning, we are getting up early to drive to another beach to go whale watching.  A girl we met tonight outside of NeoJunventud who has been in Palmar for two years working as a Peace Corps volunteer said that whale watching was incredible, so I am so excited to go.

Day 27 – 24 June 2011

Today was a good, annoying, ridiculous, incredible, hysterical day.  The good—we woke up this morning to take a two hour bus ride to Puerta Lopez to go whale watching.  The annoying—we got there at 9:00 for our 10:00 tour that didn’t start until 11:30.  We went to a restaurant for the first hour where Rita, Dan, and Wick ordered the “Big Burger”, which first came out without any hamburger meat, at 9:45 in the morning, and then we walked up and down the gringo-filled streets with beach cabanas on one side and artisan tiendas on the other.  The ridiculous—we stood on the beach next to our boat for twenty minutes listening to him talk about whales.  Who cared?  No one.  We just wanted to see them dive and jump which we could not do from the beach.  After waiting two hours until they had more people to make business off of, thirty minutes of which were spent on the boat with smelly, mildewed lifejackets on as the waves sent us back into the sand over and over again, we finally took off.  Liz quickly got sea sick (but didn’t throw up!), and Shane took a nap during part of it, but once we got out to see, we all were in better spirits.  Speeding over waves that like roller coasters in the middle of the ocean, we slowed down when we spotted a spray of water out the window.  Rita, Dan, and Anne went to the front of the boat (where Dan napped for fifteen minutes before engaging in the whales), Kate, Carly, Wick, and I went to the top, and Shane, Liz, and Sarah stayed underneath where they felt safer but also sicker.  We had a couple join us up top who had a video camera recording the entire time, and they ensured that the group of gringos made it into their home videos.  The woman also took a picture of every movement in the ocean and thus missed pretty much all of the whales themselves.  We were also joined by a woman who was sunburned and seasick, a deadly combination  The incredible—we watched countless whales who had migrated from Antarctica to Ecuador for three months to mate (thanks to Don Cherry for that info) as they jumped and dove through the ocean.  We saw one that jumped out of the water completely and many others that revealed their bodies and tails.  Most traveled in groups of two or three.  They were enormous yet graceful at the same time, a masterful feat.  After the whales, we went to an island where some people, including Kate, went snorkeling while the rest of us sat on the front of the boat chatting, except that Shane was still napping.  We headed back to shore and ate at a great Colombian restaurant that was decorated and designed for tourists yet fresh and authentic in their cuisine—our favorite balance.  The hysterical—we made it on and off the bus that took us outside of Palmar but then could not find the bus to get to Palmar.  Instead of walking in the dark, we asked a man driving a van if he could take us.  When we got in the car, we fake-called someone and read the license plate number aloud with a description of the car so that we would not get kidnapped.  We planned to meet at 9:00 for another beach fire but instead met at Liz’s house and then came to my house with our cousin, Ellie, who is also an asesora.  Wick, Shane, Anne, Kate, Sarah, Carly, and I all came over (Sarahita and Liz were lame and decided not to come, and Dan, Thailer, and Rita were all already home for the night), and we sang karaoke until midnight.  Some of the highlights, which were either the very best or very worst songs we sang, were Barbie Girl, Hit Me Baby One More Time, Hotel California, My Heart Will Go On, As Long As You Love Me, and Gasolina (our final choice which was our worst song in terms of performance but the best grade of the night).  In all, today was relaxing, exciting, adventurous, and simply fun—a perfect day off.

Day 28 – 25 June 2011

This morning, we met to go to the mangroves which are essentially trees growing in the salt water.  We walked through the fishermen coming in from the night of fishing, and then we boarded a blue boat and sat on the sides as we rode through the trees/bushes.  The trip only lasted twenty minutes at the most, but instead of getting out, Miguel took us out to sea to see what we interpreted as ostriches.  We were surprised when he pulled up a trap of oysters (a dumb mistake on our part, obviously).  Rita, Anne, Dan, Carly, Liz, and I all slid the fresh, out-of-the-ocean sea creatures off the shells and down our throats, and they actually did not taste like much more than sea water.  Rita, Shane, Anne, and I all jumped off the boat in the middle of the ocean and went swimming, and then we reboarded the boat by climbing up the propeller and rode to Playa Rosada just to look at it and to ride in the boat longer, and then we came back to Palmar.  Because the sun was out for the first time all week, we laid out on the beach for an hour or two before lunch.  We all met up again for our second charla of the week at a restaurant/tourist hang-out that a group is building.  We had around twelve people join us, and we again presented on hygiene, quality control, client services, and nutrition.  After the charla, we gave surveys to about six people and let them try the NutriButter product (which they all liked!).  We all went home to chill and eat dinner.  At 8:30, we met at Liz and Sarahita’s house to go to their 17 year old sister’s birthday party, which their mom said was also our going away party—she is the sweetest, and they are definitely the best family in Palmar.  It was a “White Party” so we came in style (everyone except for Dan and Shane who “didn’t have anything white”), and Wick came in a white shirt, shorts, socks, and tennis shoes.  They had a DJ, colored disco lights, chairs all around the outside, and a great food table with lights and candles for decoration.  It was awesome—definitely one of the coolest parties I’ve ever seen.  We were the only guests for the first twenty minutes.  Then, three of the birthday girl’s friends came and immediately broke out into a choreographed dance that two of them knew, complete with swing moves, salsa steps, sliding on the ground, a handstand into a flip over the guy, and a full backflip in the air over the guy’s arm.  Needless to say, we all circled around them by the end to watch with our jaws on the floor.  Shane rotated through the girls, teaching everyone how to swing dance and salsa, and the rest of us made the classic dance circles, bopping while each of us took turns being in the middle—so junior high.  Sarah and I left at 11 which was apparently early for an Ecuador party, and after we left, they had fireworks.  For the second night in a row, the bar next door to our house was blasting music so I again slept with earplugs in, but the music appeared to be no problem as I went straight to sleep.

Day 29 – 26 June 2011

Today was our last full day in Palmar.  We met at 7:30 at NeoJuventud to go to the campaign.  We were pumped to have our own private transportation so that we wouldn’t have to take the public buses when an old, Carolina blue pickup truck pulled up, and we were quickly reminded of the different standards here in Ecuador.  We were packed in the bed of the truck while Thailer had the front seat all to herself.  We talked about camp songs for most of the way to entertain ourselves, and between Rita, Kate, Carly, Anne, and me, we had almost all of them covered.  We arrived in the town, set up the tent and products, and blew up balloons for decoration.  We worked with the four asesores from Palmar—Miguel, Ellie, a younger guy, and a younger girl.  We had a slower day compared to our first campaign.  Our most memorable customer was a man who was drunk from the night’s festivities, but Shane choose to look past his slurred Spanish phrases and stumbling steps and tried to give him an eye exam.  Some people helped with marketing again, others did surveys on SMS technology and NutriButter, and the rest stayed at the campaign to help.  When the pickup truck arrived again, we packed up the products and loaded back into the truck for the forty minute drive home.  We made it back in time for a later lunch, and Sarah and I had vegetable soup and then chicken and rice with mashed potatoes.  When we met back up later in the afternoon, we walked to the beach with Rita and Thailer and met with Dan and Wick.  Dan, Wick, and I threw the Frisbee while Rita and Thailer swam for one last time, and Sarah played in the sand.  When Kate joined us, we sat and talked while Dan, Rita, and Thailer went on an adventure to find coconuts.  We all raced over to the internet café to get the first open computers and found Shane working on our projects for SEC (all this time, Carly and Anne were busy taking a four hour nap from 2 until 6).  We all met at 8:30 to make a fire which ended up being 9:00 but were just in time in Ecuador.  By 10:00 and after many failed but persistent attempts, we had one last fire on the beach and talked until 11:30.  We all have really enjoyed Palmar and love the people, our families, NeoJuventud, Miguel and Marcelo, the fresh fish, the beach, the boats, Liz and Sarahita’s Peruvian brother and Ecuadorian brother and sister, the fires, and the sound of the ocean.  Everyone is so excited to meet back up with the other group and make our favorite stop at a mall in Guayaquil for lunch on the way.  Right now, I’m just excited for my last night under my tent in my comfy bed.

(Elizabeth Smith)

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