Butterflies and goodbyes

It’s never fun to say goodbye! I can’t believe how quickly a month passes. I truly believe, more than anything, that the people make a place special, not the scenery and the tourist-y spots (no matter how enjoyable these things are). This week at work the interns organized a small pizza party for me as a goodbye. This touching gesture has left a lasting impression on me! My last day was arguably the busiest work day we’ve had in the past month and they managed to squeeze in a pizza party at lunch before I left. How thoughtful 🙂 my mama ecuatoriana has also made this trip super special, taking fantastic care of me. Like I said, it’s the people! That’s what makes or breaks your experience.

Friday afternoon I left for Mindo for a quick, less than 24 hour, trip to the cloud forest. It’s only 37 km from Quito so it was doable in that time frame. Mindo is probably the smallest town I’ve been to Ecuador. They didn’t even announce the Mindo bus stop when I was riding the bus there! Thank goodness a local told me I should get off!! 

First stop here was the tarabita and waterfalls. The tarabita is a 530 meter cable car ride through the cloud forest. It was beautiful and I felt much more safe on this tarabita as compared to the one in banos. Afterwards is a hike to the waterfalls. You can choose how much time to spend there. You’re given a map with all the waterfalls and approximate hike times to each. It’s a pretty grueling hike and my legs will be sore tomorrow, but it’s so worth it. Lots of steep inclines!! I believe I hiked like 7-8 miles today. The forest has a peacefulness about it that you won’t find anywhere else.

Next stop, butterfly farm! When you say you are going to Mindo, the first thing people say is go to the mariposario. The ticket price is higher than ecuadorian standards ($6 entry fee), but the place is well-kept and one of the nicer places in Mindo. There’s a guide who explains the life cycle for 10 minutes then you are free to explore on your own. Side note: they, hands down, had the nicest restrooms I’ve used in Ecuador.

After a 2.5 hour bus ride back to my house in Quito, I ate my last supper at my homestay and departed for the airport. Where I’m now currently sitting awaiting my red eye (with some pretty wonderful free wifi, I might add).

It’s been quite a journey! Ecuador siempre va a tener un lugar especial en mi corazón 🙂



A weekend of adventure

Baños, Ecuador is known for its adrenaline inducing activities and that’s where I was headed this past weekend. It has a reputation here as the backpackers must-see location so I decided to check it out! Baños is only a 3.5 hour bus ride from Quito (unless there’s an accident on the highway and it ends up taking you 5+ hours to get there). Arriving at the bus terminal, there’s a host of representatives from hostels waiting to give you the best offer and take you to their hostel. I had made a reservation on booking.com because they have free cancellation and you only pay when you stay, but one of the guys gave us a deal of $8/night at the bus terminal and I just couldn’t pass that up! After exploring the small town on Saturday, the first place on the agenda was Casa del Arbol, a treehouse with a swing on the edge of a mountain. Don’t worry- I was securely strapped into the swing! Turns out Casa del Arbol is a small park with more than one swing and great places to get views of the surrounding town. 

Upon returning to the town center, I stopped for lunch at a fantastic little cafe called Honey coffee and tea. I had been craving iced coffee, like real iced coffee. The funny thing about Ecuador is that they produce wonderful ground coffee yet most of the locals serve instant coffee. So needless to say, after weeks of instant coffee, I wanted the real deal. I also like this place because they help the stray dog population.

Now it was time to go on a ziplining and hiking adventure. 6 lines for $20 is pretty darn good! You hop in the back of a truck and it whisks you up to the mountains where your ziplining adventure begins. Now this was my 4th time ziplining so I wasn’t scared but it was funny to see the reactions of other people on the trip, especially when the tour guides wanted us to zip line upside down! Super fantastic views of waterfalls, and I highly recommend this as something to do in baños.

Another thing baños is known for: nightlife. Gringos and locals alike flock here for the nightlife, so I had to check it out. What I didn’t realize is what is considered part of the nightlife in baños: taking this party bus (called chiva) up to the side of the mountain, getting great nighttime views of the town, a free magic show, and a alcoholic beverage called canelazo. All this for $3! Although I wasn’t a fan of the canelazo (it’s a cinnamon based hot alcoholic drink), the party bus ride up the mountain was a blast! The chivas jam out to reggaeton, merengue, and lots of other Latin music. 

Sunday was the day for waterfalls! Also in a Chiva, these organized tours consist of driving around to the various waterfalls and stopping to take pictures. There was a group of students from Illinois on our bus and we made it truly a party bus 🙂 dancing to reggaeton on the back of a moving bus is another type of adrenaline inducing adventure!!
The most famous waterfall is called pailon del Diablo. Words can’t even express how beautiful this waterfall is! And very powerful as well! After a 15 minute hike across some sketchy looking bridges, you are able to see the waterfall in its entirety.
Last adventure on the waterfall tour was called the tarabita. It’s a cable car that moves surprisingly and alarmingly fast across a valley to get good views of a waterfall. I may have screamed. This cable car moves wayyyy faster than you think it will.

All in all, I highly highly recommend banos for anyone who travels to Ecuador. It can’t be missed! I have so many pictures from this weekend trip and I wish I could put them all on this blog post, but unfortunately the wifi is super slow and all the pictures would take 20 years to upload. Seriously though, the 2 pictures on this blog took an hour to upload!

Week 3 Reflections

I’m taking a break from my homework assignment to write this blog. Today another student and myself were assigned an article to read on sepsis and present to the other doctors and interns next Wednesday. It’s a nearly 60 page article! That I need to read, translate, and develop a presentation on. Yep, the article is in English which is how I ended up getting involved!

I talked in a previous blog post about differences in the types of cases that I’ve seen here versus in the US, but this week I learned that some things are universal. Fat dachshunds with bad teeth, cocker spaniels with raging ear infections, and kittens that like to sit directly on top of your paperwork 🙂 just to name a few! The clinic has been pretty busy this week. One of best parts is talking to the students and hearing their experiences. For instance, most students live 1-2 hours away by public transportation. This blows my mind! It just isn’t commonplace to move away from home to attend university, because of this students attend the closest university to their house. 

The students also like to practice English and ask me what certain things are in English, this is always a fun game 🙂 

It’s probably about time I told you all about my latest embarrassing language mess up. Isopo is the Spanish word for cotton swab and I previously did not know this. So one day an intern asks me to go to the pharmacy to get a cotton swab but I heard her say “sopa” instead of “isopo”. I gave it a moments thought and decided it was weird that soup and cotton swab were the same word, but didn’t think too much of it because they needed that cotton swab now. So I marched myself up to the pharmacy counter and asked for “sopa”. The pharmacy Doctor looked at me with a very strange expression and said “soup?” I heard in the background an intern yell “no necesitamos isopo no sopa”. So there you have it, everyone heard me go up to the pharmacy and ask for soup, haha.

After work and before dinner, sometimes I walk around for exercise (something I’m missing in my life and desperately craving) and most of the time I end up walking around campus. La universidad central del Ecuador is huge. I still don’t think I’ve seen it all. There was this one mural that stood out to me: “one academic exam doesn’t define your life”. What a fantastic reminder because more often that not, I get caught up in exams and scores, but it truly isn’t everything.

Vamos a la playa

Since the real Galapagos is too expensive, I opted to spend the weekend at what ecuatorianos call the poor man’s Galapagos otherwise known as Isla de la Plata. To get to Isla de la plata you have to take an 8.5 hour overnight bus ride south to the coastal town of Puerto Lopez from which you can take a boat out to the island. Puerto Lopez is a small, poor town that subsists off of fishing. Upon arrival into the town, I was less than impressed. The beach of Puerto Lopez was dirty and definitely not for sunbathers!! I don’t think it helped that it was chilly and overcast on Saturday as well. My friend and I met up with another ELI abroad volunteer stationed in Puerto Lopez and headed to Los Frailes beach about 15 minutes away from Puerto Lopez, in the protected national park Machalilla. This beach was much cleaner and prettier! 

Sunday was the day we decided to tour Isla de la Plata, and thank goodness we chose Sunday because it was beautiful and sunny. Not overcast and chilly like the day before!! This is an all day excursion. The boat ride to the island is about 1.5 hours of choppy waves (which are my absolute favorite kind of boat rides!!) and you get to do some whale watching along the way. Puerto Lopez’s claim to fame is whale watching and the tour guides 100% guarantee you’ll get good whale sightings. Once you arrive to island there’s a guided 1.5 hour hike (or the longer 2.5 hour hike if you’re feeling bold and not wearing flip flops like me). We got to see tropical birds like the blue-footed boobie, turtles, Sharks, and the island’s vegetation. It’s the dry season right now so the island somewhat looked like a desert. After the hike was snorkeling! Of the percentage of the time we had to snorkel, I think I spent 30-40% of that time actually snorkeling and the rest just swimming around and enjoying the ocean 🙂

We returned to Puerto Lopez around 5:30 and had 2 hours to kill before heading to the bus station. Because I so desperately needed to shower after hiking and swimming in the ocean, I found public showers along the beachfront, which were actually just a series of showers in someone’s house where you pay 75 cents to use it. That was quite an experience…

One of the really cool parts of the coast is that they have what’s called moto-taxis. It’s like a cross between a golf cart and a rickshaw and this is how you get around via taxi. I think this is something we need to adopt in the US because it’s so cool!

So here’s the cost breakdown for this weekend. I feel like this is important to know because no one in Puerto Lopez accepts credit cards. It’s cash only so make sure you bring enough! Places in the big city of Quito barely accept credit cards. This country is basically cash only.

Hostel for one night: $10/person

Isla de la plata tour: $40

Bus ride to and from Puerto Lopez: $28

Taxi from bus station to house and from house to bus station: $10 each way

Food: $3 for breakfast, just snacked at lunch so $2, and dinner around $8-9

Despite my first impression of Puerto Lopez being less than stellar, I warmed up to the place. I just had to realize that the town/beach has a purpose and that purpose is to make money of off fishing and not to cater to sunbathers! The town wants to be more inviting to tourists and some stretches of the beach are cleaned up with nice hotels built there, but there just aren’t  sufficient funds from the government to continue.

Hasta la proxima vez!

Meet Oso

Oso is a 3-4 month old mixed breed puppy that was brought in by his “owners” for a fractured jaw (possibly due to being hit by a car). After leaving him for the day for hospitalization, they never returned. Oso has pretty much won the hearts of everyone at the clinic!! His fractured jaw was repaired last week (I got to see the entire procedure!) and the nails stabilizing his bones are due to be taken out in a month. The poor thing had fractured both sides of his lower mandible as well as the symphysis. He still needs a forever home 😉

Dogs that have been hit by a car are a fairly common occurrence at the clinic. That’s a change from what I’m used to in the US. Also, we see lots of pyometra and skin cancer. I have some theories here! First, dogs are out in the street more often here. It’s not uncommon for an owned dog to not have a collar or a leash. The owners just anticipate it will follow them. I think this is why HBC (hit by car) are more common. As far as pyometra goes, spaying/neutering is far less common which is likely the reason we see a pyometra every day. Yes, you read that right. There has been a pyometra case every day since I’ve been here!! Quito is at a high altitude where the UV rays are much stronger. This is my theory as to why skin cancer is more prevalent. Also combined with the fact that most dogs are outside dogs, that makes my theory more likely!

In other news, I tried ecuadorian Chinese food on Monday when some students and I decided to go out for lunch. Chaulafan de chancho was the name of the dish and it was delicious! Let’s just say it tastes more ecuadorian than Chinese though.

Stay tuned as I’m going to the beach this weekend 🙂

It’s a small world after all

Yep I rode that ride at Disney world earlier this summer, but that’s not what this blog post is about 🙂

Mi mama ecuatoriana has 2 bedrooms for volunteers. One of them is mine and the other belongs to a volunteer who works with indigenous populations at an NGO. And you’ll never guess where she’s from. Atlanta!! Crazy how that works. 2 people from the same city meet up here in Ecuador. She’s been here since the end of May and is pretty much an expert on this beautiful country so yesterday we both went to a famous market north of Quito called Otavalo. 

Otavalo is a small town and primarily relies on tourism. The marketplace is huge and sells everything from scarfs to ponchos to indigenous jewelry and everything in between. I got almost all of my gifts for people at this market. Bargaining is expected so I never paid “full price”. To get to Otavalo is a 2 hour bus ride from Quito (after a 30 minute taxi to the bus station from my house). The rule of thumb here is buses cost 1 dollar per hour on the road. Cheap as compared to the US!

Once in Otavalo, we went to a waterfall just a few minutes from the town center: la cascada de peguche. It’s considered sacred to the indigenous population. Just a small 10 minute walk gets you to the waterfall.

After passing some time relaxing at the waterfall, we headed back to catch the bus to Quito. 2 hour bus rides aren’t so bad, especially when you get phenomenal views.

Today was all about the views. I got the opportunity to ride the TeleferiQo, which is an aerial tram that whisks you up to a platform near Rucu Pinchincha so you get impressive views of the city from 12,000ft up!

Next, we headed to el panecillo which is a statue of la virgen de Quito. It’s easily one of the monuments native quitenos are most proud of. You could see families flying kites at the park next to the monument, enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

Finally, ended the weekend by doing a little more shopping. This was accidental shopping however, because the intention was to go to the Foch, which is a plaza where most gringos hang out. It’s like a different world at this plaza- tons of upscale restaurants and hotels. But on the way there we got a little twisted around and ended up at an artisan market, which worked out perfectly as there were still some gifts I needed to buy!

Hasta la proxima vez!

Almost one week in

With tomorrow being Friday, the weekend is just around the corner. I’m finalizing weekend travel plans as we speak so we’ll see where I end up!! As I’ve learned through previous travels to Latin America, sometimes things don’t always go as planned!!

So how has my work week gone? As well as I could have hoped for! Right now I still do a lot of observing but they do let me draw blood and place catheters so that’s awesome. This week I was assigned to observe/help in surgery. I saw a spay and a femur fracture repair. In the operating room there is the surgeon, his assistant who is a student, the instrument passer who is also a student, and the anesthetist (also a student). 

Here’s what I’ve gathered about the hierarchy here: the clinic has doctors, interns, and a rotating group of students from other years. The interns have primary case responsibility and the students help out. Doctors make the final call on anything. The students are mostly 6th year students (we’ll get to that in a minute) with a few other years sprinkled in. The students typically don’t stay the entire day. I’ve noticed they leave around 1 for lunch and that’s it for them. Interns stay until the clinic closes at 4.

So vet school here is 6 years and there is no bachelors degree beforehand. Students enter straight out of high school. They think my 8 years of schooling is a long time! However, lots of people take time off after high school to work or do something called preppa. Preppa is better preparation for college as many public high schools don’t adequately prepare students for college level work.

Here is where I go every day:

When I come home from work, I relax until dinner time. This consists of either reading a book or sleeping. Dinner isn’t served until 7:30 since lunch is late (1ish). Lunch is the biggest meal of the day for ecuadorians. A typical lunch starts off with a soup and then comes a plate with rice, veggies of some sort, sometimes beans, and some type of meat. Most commonly the meat is chicken or pork. The best part, hands down, is the fresh fruit juice. This juice comes with breakfast and lunch. I could drink it by the gallon!!! So far, Mercedes has served me pineapple juice, strawberry juice, and orange juice.

Final thought for the week: I should have packed more sweatshirts. It gets downright cold here at nighttime! The weather in Quito ranges from sunny and 75 to hailing and everything in between.

I made it!

Yes, I’m alive and thriving in Ecuador!
I landed here around 11:30 on Saturday night and took a bus to meet my program coordinator and host family in town. The airport is about 50 miles outside of Quito. Mi mama ecuatoriana is Mercedes and she is the sweetest!
Mercedes and I have had the opportunity to talk about many topics over meals. As my host mom, she cooks for me and even does my laundry!! The first breakfast I had with Mercedes was nearly 2 hours. We talked about our families and of course, dogs. About 2 years ago her dog, Chiquita, passed away of skin cancer (it sounded like metastasized mast cell tumor from the way she describe it). Mercedes went through chemotherapy for Chiquita and everything! This surprised me the most- that canine chemotherapy is readily available and utilized by ecuatorianos! 
A fun note about the climate: temps run about 75 during the day and drop to 45-50 as soon as the sun sets. So Quito lives in a state of spring-like weather. This can be difficult to pack for, but I mostly brought jeans, tshirts, and light jackets. For my travels to the coast, I brought shorts. I’ve noticed that Quito locals don’t wear shorts. The majority wear jeans. 
Sunday I took a tour of Mitad deal Mundo, a town about 15 miles north of Quito that houses the equator line. There are 2 places you should see when here: museum Intinan where the actual equator runs through and the famous monument that everyone takes a picture by (this was believed to be the equator line until modern science proved otherwise). At museum Intinan, I did a tour with demonstrations of how things are different right on the equator line. For example, water drains straight down. Balance is supposedly much better (as you can see my balance is still off no matter what). And apparently you weigh less right on the line and your strength is diminished as well. 

Before doing the tour of Mitad del Mundo, I saw the stunning views of la reserva geobotanica pulahuahua. There’s a farming village nestled in the valley and the people of this village climb up everyday to reach town. I walked a little bit of the way down the path, but didn’t want to push my luck on account of altitude sickness.

A note about Quito: it sits at 2800m. Atlanta Georgia where I flew from sits at 500m. There was a big change in altitude here!! Each breath contains less oxygen and therefore the body has to adapt. The moment the plane landed, I was hit with instant dizziness and had to sit in my airplane seat for a few minutes for the nausea and dizziness to pass. After that I haven’t had any dizziness episodes, but I am definitely short of breath. No marathon running for me. I move pretty slowly to avoid hyperventilating. Each day is better though! The program coordinator said it takes about 3 days for volunteers to adjust to the change in altitudes. This sounds about right considering it takes this long for my body to crank out new red blood cells to accommodate my oxygen need. For my vet med friends, I’m about to have an absolute polycythemia!!
I digress-Monday I took a tour of Quito which was included in my program fee. Mitad del mundo was extra money but not terribly expensive because things are much cheaper here. The city tour guide was the son of my program coordinator and he was super knowledgeable about Quito. There are so many beautiful churches here-some of the most beautiful and oldest in South America. I climbed the largest and took photos of the breathtaking (and yea, quite literally breathtaking considering I was still fighting altitude sickness) views. I climbed up most of the church But couldn’t do the final climb. I may have a small fear of heights…
Tuesday I began official work at the clinic. The director of the school met me and took me to their community clinic. They do quite a business here! The lobby was full all day long. I was just sort of thrown in there, baptism by fire! The dog I spent most of the day with was a large lab that had trouble breathing and probably some sort of tumor. I spent the day with her mostly giving her fluids and oxygen. She was diagnosed with hypothyroidism which would explain some of her problem, but she still had pitting edema. Unfortunately due to her advanced condition, she coded and died at the clinic that day. I also spent the day learning how the clinic works. There are several rooms for clients, 2 treatment rooms, a couple of surgery suites, and a separate area for X-rays and ultrasounds. Clients are permitted to follow their animal around in the treatment area and X-ray, they even help restrain! This is very different from the states. For us, it would be a liability to have the owner restrain their pet. Another major difference I noted was that everything lives in the pharmacy and must be checked out. When I say everything, I mean everything from medicine to endotracheal tubes to syringes. 

The students, while busy, were friendly and introduced themselves to me. It is mostly staffed by students with a few floating doctors (I think I counted 3 doctors today).
All in all, the first few days have gone well!

Getting ready for Ecuador!

Tomorrow is the big day! I leave for the beautiful country of Ecuador for a month to intern at a veterinary hospital in Quito. The entire thing was arranged through the help of the international programs office at Purdue and through ELI abroad.
 My plan is to blog as frequently as I can (I anticipate having internet access 3-4 times a week) to keep friends and family (cough mom cough) apprised of my journey. I also want this blog to serve as a resource for those considering the same program in the future.

When I tell most people that I’m off to Ecuador for a month, I get mixed responses. Some people think it’s awesome while others wonder why I felt the need to travel to get veterinary experiences that I could get in the US. This trip is more than just studying veterinary medicine for me- it’s the opportunity to explore a land and culture. 

let the packing begin!

The 2 questions that come up most often are 1) why Ecuador?  and 2) how can you afford to do this?

So why am I going to Ecuador? I knew I wanted to spend my last summer vacation abroad and I preferably wanted to spend it in a Spanish-speaking country to continue to further my language abilities. I consulted with the international programs director at the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine and narrowed my choices down to Brazil, Spain, and Ecuador. I ruled Brazil out because Portuguese is the language spoken there and that didn’t fit one of my criterion. Spain, while gorgeous I’m sure, was slightly out of my price range. So Ecuador it was!

How am I affording this? Simply put, my school gave me a scholarship that covered the program fee. The fee from ELI abroad includes housing, meals, transportation to and from the airport, in country support, etc. The government gave me a nice tax refund this year and I used that to pay for my flight. My only out-of-pocket costs during my month stay will be excursions and meals outside of my host family’s meals. Not too shabby for a poor vet student!

Me voy para Ecuador!