With 2 more weeks in Mindo

Graham Collins - Ecuador

April 23, 2013

I don’t believe that I have blogged anything in the last four months. I suppose I should apologize. I owe ya’ll more. I have been avoiding internet and pretty much all life outside of Mindo. It would have been easy for me to give you some simple updates, so please forgive me. Frankly, I haven’t a clue where to start. My only connections to life in the states have been my program, the few tourists that I can’t manage to avoid, and these books. I think that reading so much in English has inhibited my Spanish, but I also think that all this time spent reading has been beneficial and refreshing. I am also glad to say that I AM INDEED CONTENT WITH HOW MUCH SPANISH I HAVE LEARNED THIS YEAR! There is one goal certainly fulfilled. Today, I was even complemented on my English. You see, a friend was helping some Californians who didn’t speak Spanish. I addressed them in practically flawless English, to their great surprise. Somehow they thought I was from here (This makes more sense to those who have been to Ecuador and know that many Ecuadorians look just like the typical white “American”), presumably based on my comfort in Spanish. Experiences like this one are incredibly encouraging.

I desire to write a well-organized and thoughtful post, but I don’t think I have it in me. I have many thoughts zapping around in my head that are, well, thoughtful. Yet, they are not well-connected. There is no flow. I cannot bridge from idea to idea. I don’t even know how to grasp these squirming ideas as they flutter through my mind. Perhaps after much more reflection, I can write something that is somewhat coherent. For now, we must be satisfied with my dislocated mental state. I haven’t taught an English class in a long time (thank goodness!). My work has consisted mainly of the old people project. I did help at summer camp for a bit, and that was not the most enjoyable and fulfilling work for me. So many kids! I have learned that I have a very hard time working with those who don’t listen. I have greater respect for many of the teachers in my life that don’t receive the respect and attention that they deserve. I also know that I shall not follow a career that will lead me to this practically insurmountable challenge. I have started a charla series as well. I have a few projects that I need to do in these final days here. For the record, I am writing this on the 27th of March, a Wednesday that is thirteen days before my departure from my town of this time. I have to translate all of the menus of Mindo into English for the tourists who arrive and would appreciate something more familiar. There are many words that aren’t very well-known. For example, obscure types of mushrooms, the several words that mean “smoked”, and random parts of animals. Therefore, I hope it will be valuable for these restaurants to have English menus. Several have asked me to translate them, and I think that this will be a
worthwhile project.

Another task: I want to make it to Nanegalito to eat fritada. It is about an hour from Mindo, and it is famous for its fried pig. I desire to make a trip there, expressly for this purpose. Additionally, I hope to climb some waterfalls with one of my friends here. A friend of mine is a guide for canyoneering, and we plan to take a trip together before I leave. I hope to be able to see my (host) grandmother’s farm. I am in her house at least four times a week, but I have never made the trip to her farm. I am hoping that my dad can take me there soon. This Saturday, we have planned for one of my going away parties. Time to dance some more salsa with my friends from one of the chocolate factories! I even get a cheesecake out of the deal. It is expected to be a good night. It will be hard to start saying my goodbyes, though. I have a few special meals from back home planned to make for my host family. They have been wonderful, and it is going to be hard to leave them. I plan to film the places that I frequently pass, as well. Once back, I can watch the videos and remember where I’ve been. Of course, I will also film some of my friends here so I can reminisce. How strange that I haven’t a single photo of my two best friends here! In regards to my free time, I have been passing it a big differently during 2013. After dinner, I still normally read for a couple hours. During the day, I go to the chocolate factory up the hill to help my friends still. I have been going there less frequently, though. I still hang out with my friends who are artisans (of chocolate, jewelry, metal-working, carpentry, or what have you). I have been spending a lot of time at an Italia restaurant in Mindo that has been called the best in Ecuador, if not all of South America. I have been friends with the owner for a while, and she has taught me a lot about cooking. Her daughter also came home from college for a spell, and we quickly built a friendship. The mom teases me about her, but I still go to the restaurant pretty much every day to greet my friends there. Monday, I was taught how to make gnocchis from scratch. Today, I helped peal my share of what she said was 240 pounds of tomatoes to make tomato sauce (Life gets real for holidays in Mindo, and we’re bracing ourselves). I have also passed a lot of my time doing exercises. I was preparing to go to Cotopaxi, which was beautiful. Now I am just running and hiking. Oh, but about Cotopaxi—that was a great time. Nate (A wonderful fellow) and I had prepared ourselves physically. We spent a couple days in Quito to acclimate. Then, we went to Cotopaxi National Park on a Sunday. The weather had been perfect that morning, and all was going as planned. What you do is you get up at midnight and hike because it can’t be done with the unstable snow that comes with sun. However, when we went to rest at 6pm, it started snowing. There was a storm. I didn’t think much of it; Cotopaxi is a snowy place. If we had been more experienced, we would have known better. Anyways, we started off at midnight, making great time. Our guide said we’d probably make it in 5 hours, when it normally takes 6. We had our krampons, ice picks, and everything, and we we’re feeling like champions. Then, we approached a deep crevasse. The ice bridge had fallen in the storm, and it was impassible. We looked for two hours for an alternate route, finally found one, and continued, tired yet expectant. As we made it higher and higher, the snow became thicker. We went slower and slower. An avalanche came from the peak, and through the darkness we heard it fall to the left of us. It was at this point that our guide informed us that the loose snow would make it impossible to summit. In fact, none of the groups would be able to summit our day. I was incredibly discouraged at this point, as we chose this trip intending to summit something great. Nate maintained a better attitude and continued with energy. Yet, my energy seemed to go with the hope of making the summit. Sure, we were in fine shape and were physically capable. Yea, we were properly acclimatized and breathing fine. The knowledge of impotence was weighing me down.

Eventually I was able to get out of my fog and appreciate what I saw, I think because of the sunrise. You see, we were hiking in black darkness with headlamps, unable to see anything. The spectacular presence of the mountain, only hinted at before, was revealed with the sun. The deep cracks, the stark cliffs, the sculpted ice was more than could be taken in. It was some of the prettiest and most powerful, touching terrain I have ever seen. I suppose the light also did us harm in two ways. When we fell, we saw that we were headed to nothingness unless caught quickly. Also, the snow became looser. Yet, we had an abundance of energy and descended incredibly quickly—Perhaps too quickly, as both Nate and I received hefty headaches upon arrival at the refuge. In our hour break before descending to the parking lot, we both reclined our heads on the table in misery. It was a bittersweet victory. We didn’t grasp the cumbre (summit), but we certainly won with the beauty we encountered and the experiences that we now have. Though we didn’t conquer the mountain, we certainly are glad for this trip. I returned to Mindo Monday night and slept 14 hours straight, until my host dad woke me up slightly worried. You see, from Friday morning to Monday night, these four days, I got a total of four hours of sleep. Every waking hour was worth it, and that enchanting sleep at the end washed my soul clean of any preoccupations I had felt during the trip.

Well, I interrupted every chain of thought that I started. At least I was consistent in my lack of order. I suppose I should finish with how I feel. I feel gloriously happy and terrified. I am quite worried about returning to the States. I don’t know what I am going to do or how I will feel. I know I will miss the meaningful relationships that have come to be in my time here. Also, I am trying to maintain an artificial state of mind. You see, to follow naturally, I would be sad now. Things have passed that should result in sadness. Yet, I am lying to myself and those around me. I want to enjoy my ultimate days here, and I think that, to do that, I need to push aside for a moment the unhappy going-ons. I cannot right now try to reconcile some challenges in my mind, and instead I must rejoice in what I do have right now, which is an abundance of blessings. While dishonest, I have decided to finish content if possible. As of this moment, I am managing quite well.

Graham Collins