In the Shadow of Tungurahua

Galapagos, No Pasa Nada, Siga No Mas, Cuenca. Travels in Bolivia, Chile & Argentina and  Travel Tips for the Ecuadorian Andes


Jane O'Brien: traveler, writer and teacher

E-mails to her dad.


This is Jane O'Brien from Quito, Ecuador

Who knew that getting on a public bus would be so difficult!  First, you have to flag them down and hope that they will "stop" for you and then when they do head your way, you better jump quick, because as soon as you place one foot on the step, you can be sure that the driver will slam on the accelerator and that Newton's law will take effect. Remember that you have to inform the driver of your stop at least a block before you get off, that there are no bus stops and no regulated times for stops, and you can be sure that the same policies for getting on the bus hold true for getting off of the bus.  If you fall down jumping off of the bus or if you don't know where you are or really where you're going, you better hope that someone is nice enough to help you or you're just out of luck.  The good news is the bus drivers play really loud, pop music to keep you alert and ready.  Welcome to life in a third world country. 

Obviously, I have stopped worrying about such far-reaching concerns as the yellow alert on the Volcano nearby or the abstract notion of an earthquake, but have been preoccupied with just the normal daily life of getting around.


I don't know if you have read the New York Times or not, but I thought that I would inform you about the volcano here.  It seems that we are in yellow alert and that Volcano Pinchincha has been releasing vapor clouds.  I road up in the elevator with one of the scientists who has been studying the volcano and he told me that something happened with it today.  I asked him when he thought it would explode and he said that he didn't think it would explode at all.  Pinchincha has been on yellow alert for a year.  Today, we talked about the volcano in class due to its recent activity.  We all have an evacuation plan if it changes to orange alert.  Orange means that at some time, the volcano will erupt...Red means that it will erupt very quickly.  The major concern for Quito is the ash...The lava shouldn't flow this way.  I'm only here for a couple more weeks, but I just thought that I would keep you informed.  They say that it isn't very likely that it will erupt this month, but as with most natural disasters, you should prepare for the worst--just in case.  If the volcano does erupt while I'm in Ambato, I should be far enough away that I'll be all right.  I don't think that I have anything to worry about, but I just wanted to keep you informed.  I don't know what the U.S. papers are saying about the volcano.  The vapor clouds could mean that it is releasing pressure slowly and that is a good thing.  If the worst does happen, you can call 1-800-4-TEACH-0 to find out if I'm okay.  We should be in Otavalo.  There is also a website at in my class gave me the website, so it should be right.  Again, I don't think there is much to worry about.  I just wanted to keep you informed.  Other than that, I'm going to Ambato tomorrow, I had a salsa lesson today and I start teaching tomorrow. 


I don't know very much about my town, because my family took me to Baños all weekend. The countryside is beautiful around there  --Wild morning glory vines, green mountainscapes, water falls, etc. 

Jane with her Ambato family: Laurie, Jorge, Gloria, Jorge Louise, Gabriel, Alexandria and Jenny

I want to rent a mountain bike and go from Baños to Puyo.  The road is downhill all of the way and you supposedly have to cross waterfalls and rivers in order to get there.   My Ambato family were described as the super family and I really discovered why.  First of all, all of their immediate relations eat lunch with them everyday, so there are always tons of people in the house.  They are also  very intense.  I think if they lived in the U.S., they would have 2 mini vans, both coach soccer teams and would be very involved in every school function.  It's really funny, because when I can't understand them, they think that if they talk louder, I'll be able to understand them.  It seems that if you can't understand a language, it's automatically assumed that you have a hearing problem as well.  They are also very helpful, very nice and have really taken me in as part of their family.  It will be interesting living with them.  I might become a lot more motivated as a person.  Other than that, I did my laundry today, which was an experience.  It took me three hours to wash by hand and I think I stretched out all of my t-shirts.  My host (Quito) sister (1 and a half) thought it was really funny to spray me with water and drop soap in my rinsing water.  She was so cute about it, that I couldn't get angry with her.  It was really funny, the things I remembered as I was washing and drying my clothes.  First, I dried my shirts flat on plastic bags on top of the cement roof, so I wouldn't get them dirty.  Then I remembered that pavement acted as a convector and I removed  the bags and my shirts dried twice as fast.  I really can't explain what a weird feeling it was washing my clothes on these huge stone slabs, but it was definitely a challenge.   After I finished, my host mom told me that while the washing machine (one of the few families who have one in Quito) was broken, someone was fixing it tomorrow and that I could've had the empleada wash my clothes.  I'm glad that I heard this after I finished.  Then, I met my teaching partner and she told me that there was a real Laundromat where people would wash and dry your clothes for you in real machines for cheap prices--I will take advantage of this in the future, but I guess I live and learn and learn and live.  I hope that they have a Laundromat in Ambato.  If they don't, I will have to invest in some polyester, because the cotton shirts will fade and wear thin and stretch to very bizarre shapes.  I'm hoping that drying them will bring them back to normal.  Now, it is pouring down rain and everything that I slaved over is probably soaking wet and my energy wasted.  I know that it is probably  boring to hear about my laundry experiences, but I find it really interesting and funny.  

I probably should've spent this time telling you about the drive from Quito to Ambato--well, I'll give you a glimpse--For me, Ecuador seems to have a vitality and a sloppy beauty--the ruddy green, purple, yellow and red patchwork fields of the Northern Sierra spill into small purple, yellow and white flower farms, which slide into the houses, which are either third world architecture or colonial with terra cotta roofs.  The pigs mix with the roosters and ducks and dogs and cats and the cattle, who dip their heads under the fences to take a nip at the grass along the highway.  Trash borders the grass and the road.  All of this flows downward to the fervent green and darker purple patchwork of the Lower Sierra.  For me, it's hard to differentiate where things end and where things begin.  I don't know if that makes sense, but that's the best way to describe my bus trip.  It was really beautiful.   Other than that, there are eight people, including me, in Ambato.  I think I will like working there.   

I don't know about the vapor clouds, but Quito has been on Yellow alert for a year.   I'm hoping it won't erupt!  You can look up Pinchincha on the web to find out more about it.  One more thing, last night, I went to a salsa club and they played all of the same kind of music that Emily plays on her radio station.  It wasn't very crowded and the people are exceptional dancers--It's like watching a movie.  I have never seen people dance so beautifully.  I will learn how to salsa, before I leave South America. 


Maybe I'll get to a point where I can watch Spanish movies--It will just take a while.  My Spanish comes in waves.  Sometimes I can speak a little bit and sometimes I can't speak it at all.  I hope that in a few months I will have improved drastically.  Yesterday, I went to the big market in Otavalo.  The fabrics and beads were very beautiful and looked a bit like a Klimt painting.  The market was very similar to most other markets (except the ones in Vietnam, of course), but was interesting.  I think that they had more rugs at this market than at anywhere other market that I've been to.  I'll try to pick one up before I come home for good.  

I leave for Ambato next weekend.  One thing that I want to take advantage of are the markets.  Ambato has the biggest markets for the locals and serves as a meeting place for the surrounding indigenous tribes.  I want to learn as much as I can about their cultures.  It's so funny how the tribes here dress so similar to the tribes in Vietnam.  Physically, they are very different, but the colors and styles of clothes are almost the same. 


Ambato has been declared a safe zone from the volcano. I don't know if this includes the earthquakes, which often coincide with volcanic activity (earthquakes increase as the volcanic activity increases).  I hear that one of the foremost volcanologist is studying Tungurahua.  It's funny, but even with all of these crazy disasters, I don't want to come home.  I'm really enjoying myself here and I think that after this year, I will have learned a lot.  Besides, I think that I crave feeling wonder like some people crave drugs.  I like to feel raw to the world and I like to feel aware.  When you go to a foreign country, your antennas run high and I like this feeling.  Perhaps this year, I will be able to write.  I hope so.  I have a hunch that I will have plenty of time to do so.  I also want to work with the indigenous cultures here.  In Ecuador, a lot of history is still passed on by word of mouth and I would like to be a part of something that is so alive.  I wonder if each person who tells the story of his/her culture feels like he/she is more a part of the history or as if he/she puts their particular spin on past events.  I suppose that's what revisionist and post-revisionist historians do to our own history.  Okay, I should go, but again, I'm excited to come home and watch my cousin get married as well as see everyone. 

Oh, I hear in the Galapagos that people see Whale Sharks (people think that this is the type of fish that swallowed Jonah).  Snorkeling in the Galapagos is nothing like snorkeling in the Caribbean.  The fish are all bigger.  I hear that you can look down on thousands of hammerhead sharks.  It sounds a little scary to me, but probably beautiful all the same.  I hear the swimming iguanas are the scariest.  We'll see how my life unfolds here, before you guys decide where you want to go.  If I become close with an indigenous tribe, you might want to learn about them. 

We'll see what happens.  Did I tell you that I'm teaching a short story class!  ¡Que Bueno para mi!  That's all, except that I love and miss you!


I'm doing well, but am a little sad, because I leave for Ambato today.  I have made some new friends, but unfortunately they are all in different towns.  I guess that I'll have places to visit.  I'm also a little nervous about Tungurahua volcano near Ambato.  I just don't know if I'm being paranoid, because the embassy has declared my city a safe zone.  I'm hoping that if the alert turns orange, they cancel my classes and I can take a vacation far, far away from any volcanoes.  I'm just not a big fan of natural disasters.  I hope all is well with you.

9/29 Ambato

Thank you so much for writing me about the volcano.  Right now, in Quito, Pinchincha has gone on orange alert.  This means that the volcano will erupt in a matter of days of weeks.  In Quito, there is a thin layer of volcanic ash covering the city and the volcano hasn't even erupted yet.  When the alert turns red, they will close the airports.  Red means that the volcano is erupting or will erupt in a couple of hours.  On the news, they keep on reassuring the people from Quito by saying, Pinchincha is only moderately dangerous...Tungurahua is the kind of volcano that is really dangerous. 

I've definitely discovered that there is a major cultural difference between Latin America and the United States in that they don't think anything bad will ever happen.  For instance, the volcano alert has changed to orange, the volcanologists say that the eruption of Pinchincha is irreversible--It's just a matter of time, everything points to the fact that it is about to blow, but my family in Ambato keeps on saying, ''No te preocupada, No pasa nada, etc., etc.''  They will also listen to the news about Pinchincha, which says that the scientists have just discovered that Pinchincha has lava, when before they thought it only had ash and then they will have an argument over whether or not, there really is lava in the volcano.  On the news, they go on and on about the volcano, they tell everyone to remain calm and then they have meringue lessons and a short blurb about poisonous snakes.  This, I find strangely amusing.  But, in all reality, I'm a little scared to go to Quito for my flight.  I don't even know what the volcano eruption will do to communications or electricity or water.  In some ways, I wish that Pinchincha would just go ahead and erupt, so that we can get it all over with, but then I know that I will be eating my words when it causes problems for the whole country.  The problem with leaving from Guayaquil is that it takes a long time to get there, so I would have to take off more time from work, but at least I won't have to face the risk of a volcano eruption.  If I were to leave from Guayaquil, I might think of coming back on the Sunday after Blake's wedding.  Maybe you guys could see if it is even possible to change the tickets.  If you could change the tickets, another problem arises, because I don't even know how I could pick them up.  I obviously couldn't go to the American Airlines office in Quito.  So, maybe you guys could check into the possibility and we can wait 2 or 3 more days to see what is going on with Pinchincha.  I do know that when the volcano does erupt, it will be a very scary sight in Quito, because day is supposed to turn into night for a few hours.  The good news is that they aren't expecting any Terremotos (earthquakes) just little trembloritos (little tiny earthquakes).  Other than that, my classes are going well.  I hope that I get to come home for Blake's wedding, because I really don't want to miss this occasion or seeing my family.  I also want to pick up some books and poetry for my class.  If I can't, maybe you guys could send me some.  

I also really like my family here.  Every night, we all pile into my host sister's bed and watch telenovellas, which are hysterical and overly dramatic.    

 that's all I have to offer.  Oh, I couldn't get those pictures that you e-mailed me. 


I definitely want to come back to Ecuador...I feel like maybe I'm crazy for doing so, but I really like my experience down here.  I am learning Spanish, I enjoy teaching (I get to do a lot of acting, when I show the students what a word means), and I also like Ambato.  While it is not a very pretty city, it's a small city, the buses stop for you when you get on and off, the people are nice, my family is great and the town often smells like fresh baked bread.  Plus, there are a lot of indigenous people living in the surrounding area and I want to learn about their culture.  It's just a shame about the volcanoes.  Furthermore, I think that I will write down here.  I've been writing a lot in my journal and I love my computer, because it's really fast.  I asked my director about what the school would do when Tunguhuahua turns orange and she says that she doesn't think that it will for many months and that we will follow the procedures set by the authorities.  It is good that we are 20 miles away and I hear that the crater is facing Riobamba, although I don't know if this is true. 

In any case, I might take a little vacation when it erupts, because I would rather avoid the whole thing altogether.  Other than that, I'm starting my writing class off with a Raymond Carver short story, called Distance.  If I get to come home, I would also love to get In Our Time by Hemmingway.  I would love for my class to compare the two styles of writing and how they affect the themes of the stories!  Okay, I love you and I miss you.  Thanks again for all of your help.


There was a huge explosion in Pinchincha yesterday and there is ash falling over the whole city.  It actually hasn't full on erupted yet (the lava hasn't come out of it), but it is having major explosions.  They have consequently closed both the airports in Guayaquil and Quito.  I'm hoping that it will stop raining ash by the end of this week and I will be able to fly home. (Jane was planning to return home for her cousin's wedding) The good news is that Pinchincha isn't the same kind of volcano that Tungurahua is.  It doesn't have the lava that comes shooting out of the top, because it isn't cone shaped.  Rumor has it that the state department doesn't doesn't think that it will full on erupt for a couple more months.  Tungurahua, however, is really smoking.  I can see it smoking from Ambato.  I have a great picture of it, if I can ever come home and show you.  It will be a big deal when Tungurahua erupts and they are expecting Tungurahua to erupt sometime next year.  I'm hoping that it will be sometime after the end of July as I will most likely be home then.  All this volcano stuff is really crazy, but I feel that I am safe from harm.  Quito isn't in very much danger aside from the ash fall and mudslides in certain neighborhoods.  Baños, however, is supposed to be demolished when Tungurahua erupts.  They are doing practice evacuations from Baños to Ambato right now.  The funny thing about the whole thing is that quite a few stupid tourists have flocked to Baños to see the volcano.  A few Australians decided to climb it yesterday.  There were three explosions and the Australians were all injured.  It takes a lot of brains to climb a volcano that is having explosions quite frequently!  So, this is all of the information that I have on the volcanoes.  I hopefully will be able to see you next week.  


Well, I turned on the news today and there was another big explosion in Pinchincha.  Even though I wish Pinchincha would stop exploding, it was a spectacular sight.  I don't think I have ever seen anything quite like it!  If I can't come home, I would really like someone to bring me a copy of Johnny Cash's version of Ring of Fire.  I have it stuck in my head today.  I realize that I am lucky here, because at least I have the option to leave if something goes really bad with out having too many strings attached.  The one thing that I really like about Ecuador is that they are extremely family oriented.  All of the family (including the extended family) see each other almost every day.  They also eat lunch and dinner together everyday and the extended family usually comes over for one of these meals.  I think with all the hard times that people experience in Ecuador, they have to stick together in order to survive.  That's about all in my life.  If you get a chance, you might look on the internet to see if they have pictures of Pinchincha exploding, it's really spectacular.  We'll wait and see what happens about me coming home!


The explosion on Monday wasn't that dramatic aside from casting a cloud of ash over the whole city of Quito.  The one yesterday on Thursday, October the 7th, was spectacular.  They probably haven't posted the pictures on the web yet.  It supposedly made American CNN on the weather part of the news. 

It looked like an atomic bomb had gone off.  I'm hoping that the ash will fall over the next few days and that they will clean everything up by Monday.  If there isn't another explosion, I should be able to fly out of Quito.  I didn't know that Cotopaxi was on the site as well.  I think that Cotopaxi is only on white alert.  It has been on white alert for many years and isn't that much of a threat.  If Cotopaxi goes to yellow or orange, I think that WorldTeach will probably evacuate Ecuador.  It supposedly has caused massive problems in the past.  Tungurahua and Pinchincha are the only ones we have to worry about right now.  I think that Pinchincha won't be that dangerous for Quito, because it is a different kind of volcano.  There probably will just continue to be ashfall over the city for a while.  They have even changed the alert for Quito back to yellow.  I feel sorry for the people in Quito, however, because they have cancelled all classes and there probably isn't anything for them to do, but wait the natural disaster out.  When I have children, it will definitely be interesting to tell them that I was near two active volcanoes when they were erupting! 

I get a little frustrated with my family here at times when discussing natural disasters, because no matter what, they will always say ''No Pasa Nada,'' and if I seem like I'm a little nervous, they seem to get offended.  They insist that flights are flying out of Quito, even when the news says that the airports are closed.  Then, someone hears what the news says about the airports and they have an argument about whether or not the airports are closed, while the news story about the airports is on the television.   Consequently, I can never hear the whole story about what is going on.  Usually after the news story is over, they all agree that the airport is closed and then are quiet.  I think that they probably don't want me to be unhappy and I have consequently given up being able to listen to a whole news story.  Latin American culture is to live in the moment always and this can be the source of a whole lot of fun and also the source of a great deal of frustration.  I can understand how you could get that attitude.  If my economy was horrible, my president nicknamed 'El Loco' had fled the country after stealing millions of dollars, the presidents of my banks had stolen all of my money and also fled the country, I had earthquakes rather frequently and there were several active volcanoes near my city, then I would probably give up all of my ideas of control over my own life and adopt an attitude of carpe diem as well.  Therefore, I can understand the origin of the attitude; it just takes a little getting used to.  So, that's my life. 


Well, so far Pinchincha hasn't erupted again, so I might be in luck for flying out of Quito.  They have changed Quito back to yellow.  I have a friend who was in Quito when one of the explosions happened and she said that she went in to have dinner and when she came outside of the building, the whole sky was white and that everyone was wearing masks.  I'll be bringing my mask with me.  She said that you feel as if you have a gray film covering you all the time and that you can never get clean.  While it may be burdensome, it won't be life threatening.  I think that they're even going to try and open the schools on Monday.   I can't wait to see you guys either.   Today, I'm going to a small indigenous market in Salasaca and I might be able to get some presents.  I'll tell you what, I'll definitely gain a great deal of education about volcanoes this year.  You know, I'm not as afraid of them as I was when I first got here.  At  least the volcano gives a great deal of activity and warning before it erupts.  Hopefully my pictures of Tungurahua will turn out and I can show you how spectacular these volcanoes are.  I also have a newspaper with a picture of Pinchincha's big explosion.  Take care and I will hopefully see you on Wednesday.


    The three Brits and I piled into the back of Chito's truck along with three other Ecuadorians, whom I had never seen before, on a crisp sunny morning.  I didn't know Chito either, but he owned a convenience store across from the Brits´ apartment and had reportedly been a big help to them, even allowing the young group to use his washing machine on occasion.  He greeted me with a huge smile  and like everything else I did in Ecuador, I went by faith and decided to trust him completely. 

     I had initially been propositioned to go on the trip to Puyo by one of the Brits, a 20 year-old girl who taught English with me at the university.  As the road to Puyo was rumored to be one of the most spectacular in Ecuador, I agreed readily only to find out later as we sat in the bed of the truck, me with my back to the cab to shield me from the wind, that Chito had changed the plans and that we were going to hike the waterfalls in Baños instead.  The Ecuadorians joked in Spanish about the possible eruption of Tungurahua and my friend who invited me, told me that she had run into some scientists from Baños the previous day who had told her that the seismic activity in Tungurahua was off the charts.  A biologist, who had lived in Baños for 4 years, had opted to move, because no one was really sure what would happen with the volcano.   

Jane and friends near Banos before volcanic action.

Jane and friends near Baños before volcanic action.

I already knew that 3 weeks before, the U.S. Embassy had placed a travel advisory against staying over night in Baños due to the yellow alert given to nearby volcano Tungurahua.  I knew that it probably wasn't a smart choice to explore the town, but I also knew at the same time that I had no choice in the matter.

 Since I had come to Ecuador, a month and a half before, I had been reckoning with my own notion of control.  In Ecuador, when buses were late, you waited for the next one even if that meant four hours later; when your money or luggage was stolen, you accepted the fact that there was absolutely nothing that you could do (the police weren't there to help you, they were there to take bribes); when someone told you that you could get internet/phone service/cable in 2 weeks, you accepted that it could take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years;  when people insisted that the water never went off, even though it had been turned off for several hours everyday that you had been there, you nodded your head in agreement; when you were told to meet someone, you accepted the fact that she/he might or might not show up or that you might have to wait a few hours to meet with him/her.  Overall, you accepted the fact that you would probably have to wait, because decisions were not your own, because you had no control over what happened and because there was nothing else to do.  I had come to terms with the fact that I had no control. I realized that in the past, it had only been my own human vanity that had led me to believe otherwise.

 With this knowledge in mind, I eased myself back against the cab and enjoyed the rush of the wind in my hair and against the side of my face.  I studied the lacework crops on the mountainside, the rainbow clotheslines strung from whitewashed houses to trees, the spindly cactii scraping the road, the grass slipping to streams, the people farming their crops and then all this brown,  red and yellow green fading into the cloud forests as Chito drove us to lower altitudes, lusher valleys, higher mountains, more dramatic drops from the side of the road which led straight down to the river.

 It was a beautiful day and we drove around those winding roads, underneath the beating water of stray waterfalls, stopping for short hikes along the mountainside to catch glimpses of the more dramatic waterfalls.  But these waterfalls weren't what was so beautiful about the hikes.   It was the hike itself wit the gold, orange, pink, red and white showers of hollyhocks and various other flowers in the deep green.  And the butterflies!  So many butterflies fluttered through the air that it seemed as if someone had thrown a handful of iridescent glitter all around us.  The whole scenery affected me like a drug and I forgot about the shadow of whitecapped Tungurahua which although obscured by clouds, loomed above us.

 It wasn't until we were driving back that I remembered the volcano's presence.  We stopped on a bridge to admire the view.  Ahead of us towered the black volcanic rock of a mountain exposed from the cutaway of the road.  I watched as an eagle soured in and out of the crevices of the smooth rock.  I looked at the small road ahead of us, which seemed molded and shaped by the fingers of the two sides of the mountain.  The six of us sat in our maroon truck in awe of our view:  the white rapids below, the sky above and the black, rock mountain ahead.  And suddenly, I became all too conscious of the fact that we were like matches in a matchbox in the hands of a child.

 Two weeks and a few magnificent explosions later, the geophysicists and the Ecuadorian government changed Tungurahua to orange alert.  The people from Baños were evacuated to Ambato due to the fact that the volcano was expected to erupt in a matter of days.  Although Ambato is only 25 miles away from Tungurahua, life for me and the rest of the people here continues on as normal as possible.  People continue to work, to crowd the streets, to sell their vegetables in the markets.  I continue to teach, to grade papers, to prepare my lessons for class.  There are haunting reminders of the near future eruption like the evacuation and earthquake drills in my classes, the random entrepreneurs selling masks and gogles on the streets, the everyday conversations about the volcano.  I can't decide what is more surreal:  The fact that I am living near an active volcano or the fact that I am teaching and going about my life as normal in the wake of the imminent eruption of that volcano. 

 I, like everyone here, console myself with the knowledge that Ambato has been declared a safe zone (even the U.S. Embassy agrees this is true), that it is against all the laws of gravity for the mudslides to travel thousands of feet uphill to reach us, that lava never travels more than 20 miles, that we should be for the most part, protected from the major killers of volcanoes.  I try to forget that this is nature and by its very essence, unpredictable, that we will, in all probability, get ashfall and have no idea how much, that no one seems to remember what happened the last time it erupted.  I ignore the rumors and try to go by what is true.  Like so many other things here in Ecuador, there is nothing we can do, but wait......

Editor's note.   Jane did get to fly back to the US.   However, Pinchincha went to an orange alert and continually dumped ash on the Quito airport, closing it.   American Airlines changed Jane's reservations to Guayaquil and she took a six and one-half hour bus ride to Guayaquil.   She arrived at her hotel and immediately called to confirm her flight.   AA notified her that they had canceled her flight due to lack of passengers and that the only other flight was full.   Having learned how to deal with American Airlines, Jane immediately broke down crying, telling the agent how essential it was that she make it back for the wedding.   The agent asked her to call back in thirty minutes.   When Jane did, space had miraculously been found for her.

When Jane arrived home, her dad asked her if she had asked American to pay for the bus ride since they had changed the departure airport.   Jane hadn't.   Her dad asked her what the bus had cost and Jane said, "$3.50."   

While Jane was in Amarillo, Texas, Tungurahua was changed from a yellow to an orange alert.   Even with the increased danger, Jane wanted to return to Ambato and the life she was loving.


My family and I went to the top of a hill in Ambato and watched the volcano have many explosions today.  You could see the black clouds pluming up to the sky.  I read in the paper that Tungurahua is having an explosion every three minutes!  The scientists think that it might erupt tomorrow due to the full moon.  It's strange that everything is tied in together.  Then again, they really don't know.  When it erupts, I will be forced to stay indoors for a few days due to the hazardous chemical compositions in the ash.  This is not comforting to me, but so far, we have not gotten any ash even with all of the explosions.  Hopefully, everything will be okay.  Honestly, unless you read the papers or looked at the volcano, you would never know what was going on.  Last night, I went to dinner with the people from the British Council and then went dancing.  Tonight, they are having a party.  

I guess that's all, but I'll continue to write until something happens with the volcano!  Oh, the discovery channel and National Geographic are down here to watch the volcano erupt.  I haven't seen them, because they are staying in a town that is closer to the volcano than Ambato.  It's in the safe zone, but it makes me feel a little better that these people are closer to the volcano than I am and they are still in the safe zone!  Keep you informed. 


I have a party this weekend and also a vacation until Tuesday.  I might be going to the beach with friends!  November the 2nd is the Day of the Dead and everyone makes and drinks this fruit punch, which consists of blackberries, honey, tangerines, pineapples and other kinds of fruit.  The consistency is thick and it is usually served hot.  You dip Muñecas (bread shaped like little dolls) into the colada morada and eat.  My host mother made some and it was very tasty.  

Last night, I had a dream about Em's wedding.  I dreamt that I showed up and then forgot that I was supposed to be in the wedding.  I realized that I needed to put on my maid of honor dress, when they started playing the music.  When I got inside the inn, Emily wasn't even dressed yet (she was an hour late already) and I had plenty of time to get dressed.  I love having other people's anxiety dreams for them! 


Things are going fine here. The volcano is really spouting lava, but still hasn't exploded. I don't know whether or not they have pictures on the web, but it is really beautiful.   Unfortunately, there are a lot of horses, cattle, cats, dogs and various other animals left in Baños that will die when the volcano erupts. It's really sad. 

That's about all in my life. I'm going to Quito and the coast for my Holiday this weekend. It should be fun. I hand sewed my costume--a butterfly--and the wings look like they were done by a 1st grader since I have never sewn before. Maybe I can be an abstract butterfly. 

Other than that, I have been asking people what other countries we should visit.  Bolivia is supposed to be really nice. This girl that works with me went there a year ago. She took a tour of the old mines that she said was incredible. While this doesn't interest me, she said that the stories the tour guide told were what made the tour. She raved and raved about it.  Bolivia is really high--higher than Cuzco, so we would all be affected by the altitude. I'll try to find a tour book for South America and read up on everything. Also, it is very easy and inexpensive to get to Cuba from here. I might go sometime this year. I don't know if you guys would be interested in going or not. I wouldn't mind going to Chile, Argentina or Brazil as well. We would have to fly to any other country. I have my ''in-service'' in Cuenca at the end of November. This is a meeting with WorldTeach. I will be able to tell you if it is worth visiting after that.


I'm in Quito. I awakened early so that I could go to Otavalo (the huge market) today, but I decided that it was stupid to go on a bus for 2 hours just to shop. I'm pretty sure that I can find some things here in Quito. Now, I'm going to do my Christmas shopping here and relax, maybe catch a movie.  

Other than that, we had parties in my classes on Friday. I thought that I would be a cool teacher and bring my CDs so that the students could listen to them. In one of my classes, however, a 16 year old girl decided to sing instead of listening to music. She had one of the most amazing, strong, deep voices that I have ever heard. Usually, when 16 year olds sing, their voice falters or they sing quietly due to their insecurity.   This girl had a voice that carried well and she was not

afraid to sing loudly. I couldn't play any music after I heard her because I felt that it would all sound bad in comparison. That was a big treat.   I also expressed my disappointment that none of the students had brought colada morada or muñecas to class. One of my students snuck out of class and brought me both a glass of colada morada and a muñeca. It's nice being a teacher sometimes. 

I'm often afraid that I'm a little bit of a mean teacher, because I don't let my students get away with anything (When I catch them cheating, I make them copy the whole chapter word for word, If I catch them cheating on a test, I give them a zero, etc. etc.). I guess that's all. Tonight, I have my party and tomorrow, I should be going to the coast. 

There's plenty to do in Ecuador, but it just depends what you want more of. Ecuador is more of a place to enjoy nature and visit the indigenous tribes. My bus rides are some of my favorite parts about being in this country. I think that you would want at least one full day or two days in Quito (maybe even one night so that we could go to the salsa bar). I went to the Guayasamin (artist) museum today, but it was closed. The grounds themselves are beautiful. There are some nice hostels (they are usually small and in renovated houses) here that wouldn't cost more than $35 dollars a night. I like these better than the hotels.  They are quainter, seem cleaner and some of them have gardens. You wouldn't have cable TV, but you would have comfortable beds, comforters and hot water. As I said, before, I will know more about Cuenca at the end of November. You might also want to either come at the beginning of my vacation or at the end (I'll have to find out the exact dates of the festival in Ambato), because you might want to sit in on one of my classes and watch me teach. This, might make me nervous, however. 


Well, I got back to Ambato from Quito today.  My host mother informed me that we received visible ashfall this morning.  I can see the first signs of people wearing masks.  I'm going to pack a small bag, so that I can evacuate if necessary when the alert changes to red.  Chances are that I'll probably be stuck in Ambato, but it's worth a try.  We will supposedly have a three-hour grace period before the ash reaches us.  It will be scary here when the volcano explodes and I'm not looking forward to it.  My host family went to a little town near the volcano last weekend and watched the volcano explode and spurt lava.

Other than that, I had a nice Halloween and a nice time on the beach. A lot about the trip was very Ecuadorian.  We went with some Ecuadorian friends of my friend in Quito.  First, we were supposed to leave at 11:00 in the morning.  The Ecuadorian friends, who were going to drive us, showed up at 11:45 with a lot of apologies and explained that they didn't have a car that would get us down to the beach.  Then, we decided to rent a car.  That was a long drawn out process that took about 2 hours, so we didn't actually leave Quito until 2 o'clock.  We took the ''4 hour'' drive, which actually took ''6 hours'' and we were all exhausted when we got to Atacames.  The guys we were with decided that they wanted to drink on the beach and we didn't get back to the house until 4 in the morning.  We had no decision.  Here, the people don't care if their friends are tired, they just tell them that there is a nice hammock they can sleep in (never mind the blasting stereos playing two different very loud songs at the same time).  When everyone finally gets back to the house, never mind the fact that several people are trying to sleep, the Ecuadorians pull up chairs, blast music and invite all of their other friends to party in the middle of the room where everyone is sleeping.   The next night, everyone repeats the same behavior, stays on the beach until 7 in the morning (the Ecuadorians drink much more than I ever thought was possible) and then goes back home to sleep for a few hours.  Allison (one of my friends) had to teach the following day, but we got a late start leaving our town because the battery was dead.  There wasn't anyone around to jump it, so we had to charge the battery for an hour and a half.  Even though Allison had to get back to teach the next day, the Ecuadorians couldn't give up getting ceviche on the beach which would tack on another couple of hours to the trip.  She consequently took a bus, because she really needed to get back.  The Ecuadorians, however, couldn't understand why she had to go home and mistook her behavior for anger rather than necessity--why would she leave when we were about to eat the best ceviche in the world?--Here in Ecuador, you never have to be anywhere at any certain time, so why should you be upset about waiting.  

I had a really good time, except for a few frustrating moments. The beaches were nice and the water was warm.  The towns are interesting, play great music, but are very dusty and have tons and tons of vultures!  I guess that's all.  I would appreciate if you wouldn't put any of this on the website.  I just wanted you to know that there are some serious cultural differences in logic down here.  Here, you don't think people want to leave, because if they want to leave, it means they aren't having a good time.  Instead of taking them home, you try to get them to have fun, drink more, and then offer them a hammock so that they can rest their eyes and return to the party.  It's really funny.  That's about all.  Wish me luck in Ambato.


The Mama Negra parade brings out the colors.

Note that the man is carrying a cooked pig.

Things are going fine here.  Last weekend was the Mama Negra festival in Lactacunga.  I don't know what the festival was for or who Mama Negra is, but the most important officials in Latacunga paint their faces black, dress up like women and ride a horse.  Other people carry huge roasted pigs on their backs with bottles of Traiga (hard, hard liquor).  Women wear colored scarves on their heads and dance.  Someone runs through the crowd with a bucket and a ladle and disperses the Traiga to the public.  The whole town is a parade.  It was really fun, except when I first got there, my poor rain jacket became the victim of a razor blade.  I only had about 20 dollars worth of sucres with me and they didn't get any of it.  I think that they probably got a handful of dirty Kleenexes instead.  My poor jacket, though, was worth more than anything I had in my pocket and now I don't have a raincoat.  Such is life.  I didn't let it spoil my day and I enjoyed the festivities.  I don't know if I told you this, but people in Ecuador party very hard.  If I had drunk all that my Ecuadorian friends were trying to give me, I don't think I could've remained standing at the end of the day.  It is really hard to refuse your friends here, you physically have to turn your head or run away from the bottle in order to refuse offers to drink.  People just want you to have a very good time.  I, however, know my limit of a good time and left early so that I could still walk and make it home.  I was thankful that my family had a plate of fried chicken and French fries waiting for me when I got home.  



It seems there is more to a volcano than just the normal lava spurting, ash blowing, incandescent rock shooting activity!  In fact, some unidentifiable and identifiable objects seem to be hanging out by the volcano as well.  In one of the photos in the newspaper last week, the devil's head could clearly be seen in the lava that was spraying out from the volcano.  My host mother tells me that the volcano is a natural phenomenon and that anyone could make out any shape that they wanted in the volcano's lava or clouds, but who can argue with a photograph?  The nose, the mouth and the horns could definitely be seen in that lava.  Does this mean that the volcano is even more dangerous?  Who's to say?  Now, to make things even more exciting, lets add U.F.O.'s to the picture.  Could it be that those pesky aliens are not only attracted to abductions, but also enjoy the sulphurous smoke of a volcano as well!  That is what yesterday's newspaper had to tell me.  There was another photo on the front page with close-ups of oblong objects.  I certainly couldn't identify them as any particular object.  Who knows what hides in the depths of that volcano.  Afterall, no one even knows how long it has been dormant.  Some people tell me the last time it erupted was in the 1940's; other people say a century ago.  What's 50 years more or less when you are talking about a huge natural disaster? 

Seriously, the volcano has been quiet for about a day (no great explosions).   The scientists say that this could mean that it is gathering its energy for one great big explosion this week.  I've now become numb to the word peligroso (dangerous), which I heard about 15 times in one paragraph on the news.  Honestly, I don't think anyone knows what is going to happen with this volcano and I really don't know what to believe as the newspapers are commenting on the devil in the volcano and the possibility of U.F.O's encircling the smoke.  I do know that I should not read any more information about Mt. St. Helens on the web (Tungurahua is the same kind of volcano), because the threat of an eruption like that one doesn't do me much good either.  This is all very exciting and interesting.   

Oh, I found out what the Mama Negra festival is for--It's to commemorate all of the work the Afro-Americans did when they were slaves in the sierra.

11/13 message to her sister, Emily

Don't worry about not sending me any mail, because it couldn't get to me even if you did send it. They have stopped all regular mail between Ambato and Quito due to the dangerous nature of the volcano. I can't send anything out and I can't receive any mail either. Isn't that comforting to hear--What happened to the safe zone?  I also don't know if air-mail is getting to Quito, because Pichincha has gone back on orange alert and they closed the airport the other day due to more ashfall (the last explosion in Quito was supposedly 4 times as big as the one I had a picture of). You know, they say that it could be a year before Tungurahua erupts or it could erupt tomorrow in one massive explosion. I'm hoping that it won't erupt until next year because the more energy that leaves it, the better. One of my friend's great grandfathers lived through the last eruption and said that the sky in Ambato turned black with ash for 4 days, no one could leave their houses, there were earthquakes, and they lost all power, water, etc. I can wait for that to happen and for some reason, I feel like Tungurahua won't erupt for another year. I didn't want to make this e-mail all about the volcano, but I have to tell you about this. Last night, I went to a place that was 7 km (around 4 miles) away from the volcano and spent the night watching the volcano throw out incandescent rocks like shooting stars and then bubbling out lava, which ran down its sides for a few seconds and then cooled to black. The volcano seemed higher than the stars which twinkled around it. It also fumed out great expanses of black ash which obscured parts of the sky. We were in a camp occupied by many Baños people who were forced to give up their homes and now live in a community of tents. We sat around a fire that heated a huge black cauldron of sugar cane juice and listened to someone from Baños playing the guitar and singing songs about Baños and the volcano. It was incredible. I stayed up all night and in the morning watched the sun come up over Baños. Tungurahua gave us one more great explosion in the morning and the clouds mushroomed out in multiple explosions from its crater. Because of the sunrise, their was a pink plume of smoke coming out of the volcano. It was beautiful. As the sun rose, the smoke turned gray and yellow due to it's chemicals (sulfur and mercury) and was also beautiful. Last night, we could see a massive explosion from Ambato that was very red. I think that has something to do with sulfur, also. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm glad I went. I'm going to compose a letter about the experience to send to everybody, but as I got little sleep last night, I'm too tired to do it now. 

Other than that, Latin America is as fun as ever. Tonight, I have a birthday party, and I'm sure that we will drink, dance and have a good time. I don't have any close, close friends, but am friends with a lot of people here and am having a good time with them. I also don't have a cute boy. 

I think Ambato is a little like Amarillo in that people get married around my age or go to Quito and so I don't have anyone in mind. That's okay, I'm as indifferent to love as ever. I better go and I will talk to you later.


Today, there is quite a bit of ashfall.  A lot of people are wearing masks.  I'm getting angry, because people keep on walking in and out of the internet cafe and leaving the door open.  Here, they are wearing masks outside because of the ash and then leaving the door open so that there will be ash inside the building as well.  It just takes a little bit of common sense!  I don't think I'll stay in here for long.  I called on Friday to see if I could get internet access from my house.  It turns out I can.  On Wednesday, I'll go by the store to get it.  I want to go outside as little as possible while this stuff is falling.

 Other than that, we went to see the volcano erupt during the night last weekend.  We were only 7 kilometers away from the volcano and it literally was right in front of us.  We were in a camp occupied by the people in Baños and surrounded by many tents.  One guy played the guitar all night and sang songs lamenting Baños.  We saw the volcano throw out incandescent rocks like shooting stars and spurt lava several times during the night.  It also had a huge plume of black smoke, which obscured the stars, but at its sides, the stars twinkled bright.  I tried to take a picture, but for some reason, people didn't want you to use a flash, so I don't know if it came out.  The next morning a pink plume of smoke rose from the volcano as the sun rose and it was magnificent.  Then, before we left, the volcano had a huge explosion and the clouds mushroomed on top of each other into a great cloud. 

 Listen, I've got to go.  I'm going to write a longer, more descriptive e-mail to everyone describing this experience later.  Right now, I'm getting so annoyed with the people walking in and out of this cafe, holding the door wide open, that I can't write anymore.  I think someone comes in every 5 seconds and stands with the door wide open.  I can taste the ash in my mouth and this makes me nervous.  People here don't understand that the ash is dangerous to breathe.  They don't realize that sulfur and mercury aren't good for you.

Better go!


There are certain things they told us to do if we got sick here. The first is to never go to a doctor in the smaller cities as there are supposedly only a few well-trained doctors in Quito. The second is to always bring a hypodermic needle with you if you do get sick. 

On Monday, when the sky was gray with ash, I started feeling ill in my last class. I called off class early, got my things together, and started to walk out of the building. The minute I stepped into the hall, I started to throw up. After spending a long time in the bathroom, my students drove me home. I informed my family of my illness and proceeded to throw up every 20 minutes until I started to dry heave. I couldn't keep even a sip of water down. My family asked if I wanted to go to the doctor and I told them that I could wait a little longer. I called the people at WorldTeach and they said that going to a doctor would probably be a good idea. This sounded much better to me than a two and a half hour bus ride to Quito. So, we all piled into my host parents car and drove down the windy bumpy roads to the doctor. 

My whole body ached and my stomach swam with nausea. The doctor examined me and informed my host mother that I had food poisoning. She told him that this could not be possible as I had only eaten at home and that she only cooks fresh food and that she soaked the lettuce in bacstop, and on and on. The doctor only shrugged his shoulders and repeated that I had food poisoning and then looked at me. At that time, I could only say that I felt horrible and that my stomach felt really bad. I was doing all I could to sit up as my host mother argued with the doctor. I just wanted to come home; I didn't care where the food poisoning came from. But, my host mother questioned further, ''Could it be the ashfall?'' she asked. 

"No," the doctor said.  "Did you eat on the street?" she asked me. No, I said. On and on, until after 20 minutes, we finally left to go to the pharmacy. The first pharmacy didn't have the medicine we needed. The next pharmacy did, but my host mother said that I would have to go into the pharmacy with her. I couldn't understand the reason for this, but did what I was told. Doubled over, I found my way to a chair in the pharmacy. At first, the pharmacist couldn't find the medicine. Then, my host mother told me that I would need to get up and go into the backroom. Again, I couldn't understand the reasoning for this, but managed to barely walk to the backroom where there was a mattress. I thought that the pharmacist was offering me a mattress due to my illness. Then, I saw that a 17 year old boy held a needle in his hand. 

I started to cry. "Is it clean," I asked. My host mother told me that he had just taken it out of a package. Then, my host mother told me to put my head in her lap and I soon realized where the shot was going. I really started crying. So, with my head in my host mother's lap, the boy pulled down my pants and stuck the shot into my butt. I was sobbing. The shot hurt so bad, never mind that it was a 17 year old boy that was giving me the shot. Then, we went home. I still dry heaved every hour all night long. I didn't have the time or the thought process to put on my shoes before going to the bathroom and my host mother would come into the bathroom and lecture me on how important it is to wear shoes when you are sick. I couldn't answer. My head was in the toilet. As I said before, sometimes I really love my family here and sometimes I get really frustrated. The other night was one of those occasions. Yesterday, I didn't throw up, but had only a low fever. Today, I feel better--a little weak, but better.

Okay, I better go. Oh, I didn't know that our volcano was erupting any more than it had been erupting. We are having quite a bit of ash in the air. The sky is gray with it. I hear that this whole process could go on for two years. Who knows if we are to have a big eruption or not. I'm hoping that the wind will change direction, so we won't have as much ash. I love you and I miss you.

Oh, I loved the picture. Who drew it? It looks just like me except for the gas mask. I only own a cloth mask like a surgeon would wear. They don't sell the other kind here. But, don't change a thing. I love the picture. When I get time, I'll write a more descriptive piece about seeing the volcano. I have fallen behind in grading papers due to my sickness.

Editors note:   Lab tests revealed that Jane has bichos.   The literal translation is "tiny beasts" or, as we know them, amoebas.   She also has a kidney infection.   With the miracles of modern (or at least third world) medicine, she should be completely well within a week, mas o menos.


I don't know about mercury in the ash. I hear so many different things that I don't know what is true. I know for sure that there is sulfur in the ash. As this is Ecuador, I probably don't know much more than you do, but all of your fears I have already thought of. I, however, don't think that the ash caused my sickness as I am better today and no one else is sick. I think that I just got food poisoning.  I do know that my friend's great grandfather lived through the last eruption and this is comforting to me. I really don't know anything else, but there are eruptions all over the world and the people seem to live through them. 

The good news is that Tungurahua doesn't seem to having big explosions like Mt. St. Helens. It's better that it is having these smaller eruptions and releasing its energy. In a way, it's better that I got sick yesterday, because at least, I wasn't outside in the ash. That's about all. 

Oh, about sending things--The post office is closed. I originally heard that it was closed due to the Tungurahua and that the people from Quito didn't want to deliver mail here. Now, I hear that all of the post offices are closed because there is a strike. This has been confirmed by the people in Quito. See what I mean about rumors. That's about all. I'll ask around and see when it is going to reopen.

Good News--I just ran into one of the WorldTeach people and she said that a girl called one of the volcanologists about the ash and he said that right now, it is not that bad for our health. He said that it is probably worse breathing in the car exhaust--which we all do everyday. This makes me feel a million times better.


I went to Otavalo and did some Christmas shopping.  I also stayed the night in Ibarra.  It's a really nice, sleepy, little town with whitewashed buildings, terracotta roofs and cobblestone streets.  Surrounded by very green mountainscapes, it looks as if it probably hasn't changed that much in a century. 


I think my sickness took a lot of the inspiration out of me.  I'm still really tired and literally can't seem to keep my eyes open later than 9:00 at night.  This leaves the mornings for me to grade papers and plan my classes.  I seem to be really short on time in the last couple of weeks.  You can tell everyone that I had bacterias, amoebaes and a kidney infection.  I took my amoeba medication on Friday and Saturday and have now started my antibiotics for the kidney infection and the bacterias.  I think the medication must be pretty strong, because it gives me sharp pains in my stomach.  Other than that, I have to prepare my classes for Thursday and Friday since I'm going to Cuenca on those days for the WorldTeach Conference.  I hopefully will come back refreshed and completely well.   

Other than that, the dollar makes the news every night.  The sucre has risen from 11,000 sucres to the dollar when I first got here to 19,000 sucres to the dollar.  It doesn't seem to be going down.  This country is in bad, economic shape.  Did I tell you that the government's way of solving the problem is to increase the prices of electricity, phone, water and gas? It's really ironic for the people, because a lot of the reason why they are in such an economic crisis is because their politicians have been so corrupt.  The same people that have stolen money from them seem to be making the people pay for the government's mistakes.  This is why there are so many strikes.  You can also see why there is so much crime.  I think that the people have become desperate. I think that there should be a better way for them to get out of this, but who knows what that is. 

This also causes some guilt/uncomfortability for me since my currency is the dollar.  There is no social faux paux here about asking what things cost or how much you spend.  In Ecuador, the dollar is not seen as an item used as currency, but as gold.  The people cannot believe me when I tell them how much things cost in the United States.  Here, the American dream is also still alive.  When I first arrived, they had a recent Ecuadorian immigrant on the news, who had a huge house, a limo, a full-bar and a lot of other material items.  I think they say that he had only moved to New York a few months before.  This promise of a better life hasn't been tarnished for the Ecuadorians like it has for the North Americans.  I remember my Bosnian student telling me that she thought that the U.S. would be a lot different.  She thought that everyone would have more money.  It's all very sad.   


Today, I went to a cafe to prepare my classes.  As I was watching a man and a woman hang photos of revolutions and protests, I noticed that the cafe was playing Christmas music.  The arrangement had been adapted to the Andean folk music and sounded really haunting with all the wind instruments.  It's strange how holidays feel when you are abroad.  I was staring at blooming red, white and pink geraniums bathed by morning sunlight.  It must be a perfect 70 degrees outside.  

I had forgotten that it was even Christmas time, but the music reminded me of one year when I went to New York City to go Christmas shopping.  I must've been a freshman in college.  Midday, it started to snow and as the day progressed, the snow became a full-blown blizzard.  Few people were on the streets, but I was determined to walk from store to store, neighborhood to neighborhood to get presents for everyone.  Every store played Christmas music and offered hot cider and everyone was really friendly.  The street vendors continued to sell the hot, candy peanuts and the streets were full of their sweet and roasted smell.  I had started the day with a cold and by night time, when I was ready to go home and the wind had picked up, rushing through the spaces in-between buildings, I had gotten a full blown respiratory infection and was exhausted.  For some reason, the extremity of that day, the hot of the stores and the cold of the streets, my sickness, the Christmas carols and the smell of the candied peanuts cooking, will always remind me the most of Christmas.  I have been in Amarillo when the sky glittered with the dust of snow, when the trees were bridged over the streets with ice, when I have spent most of my time with my family and had the excitement watching my friends and family opening their presents, but I think that day in New York will always represent Christmas to me.  I have no idea why.  

Other than that, I thought that I would tell you about the writing class that I'm teaching.  The other day, I bought a sack of tangerines at the market.  I brought the tangerines to the class and gave each person one.  I told them that they were welcome to eat it.  I asked them to imagine that I was from a different country (which I am of course) and that I had never seen a tangerine or a fruit before.  We had gone over analogies, metaphors and similes the previous day in class.  I told them that they had to describe a tangerine to me without using the words citrus, fruit or tangerine.  I told them to be sure and include what it tasted like, what it smelled like, what it looked like and what it felt like.  This is what they came up with.  I was impressed. 

Like an orange planet held in a hand

It has skin smooth like leather

with a smell sweet like a tropical place

and a taste as sweet as candy

Opening it, it is the sound of

someone tearing a leaf from a tree.  

Then, I divided them all up into groups and gave each group a magazine picture.  The groups had to write a descriptive paragraph about the photo with out mentioning the name of the subject of the photo.  When they were finished, I had them read it to the class and the class guessed the subject of the photo.  It was a fun class.  I like teaching the creative classes much more than the analytical essay classes, but they need both. 

Oh, you know, being away you realize not only how strange Ecuadorian society is, but also how strange your own society is.  I think that I might've lost ten pounds when I got sick, because all of my clothes are loose on me.  When I went to the conference, a girl asked me if I had lost weight.  I told her that I thought I had and she replied that she wanted to get bichos so she could lose weight also.  It's amazing how concerned the people in the United States are with their weight.  You couldn't pay me to dry heave all night again and get a shot in my butt.  I'm trying not to do that again.  It wasn't a pleasant experience.


Bumpy, winding roads; dust in my eyes and my nose; a dusty film over my skin; grit at the back of my tongue; a bus without a good shock system; a bus driver who swerved to hit more holes than he missed; and a back window which wouldn't remain closed. This was my ride from Ambato to Cuenca. A seven and a half hour bus ride. We left at 7:30 in the morning, piling our bags on the roof of the bus. I made the unfortunate choice of sitting over the back wheel. I would pay for this later when I was winded each time we hit a major dip in the road. 

With the scenery itself, I was disappointed. Where were my cloud forests, my patchwork fields, the great variations of green that I had seen on my other bus trips?  Of course, we had some green, some quaint houses and farms, the usual indigenous people pulling their sheep or cattle up the side of the mountain, but the majority of the trip was brown.  Brown rock jutting up from out of nowhere; only brown and shades of brown without anything obscured, anything hidden, nothing left to the imagination.  The sun was harsh and strong on the mountains, and it revealed every brown corner and crevice of rock.  It was ugly; ugly in the same way that a baby bird is ugly. The backbone of the mountain range had not yet been softened by the green down of grass and produce.

Needless to say, I was happy to arrive in Cuenca, and Cuenca was as charming as I had believed it would be.  I had read in many guidebooks that Cuenca represented many tourists' idea of the quintessential Ecuadorian town.  I believe this to be a lie.  It is very European and very colonial with cobble stone streets, wrought iron balconies filled with flowers, whitewashed buildings with terracotta roofs, good international restaurants, and nice hotels.  The city is clean, even the river is without trash.  The markets are quaint: food is arranged to be aesthetically pleasing, and rows of produce are shaded by striped canvas awnings.  

There are outdoor flower markets, indigenous women walking the streets carrying baskets of flowers on their backs.  People literally sing when they talk--at least that is what every Ecuadorian says about the accent in Cuenca.  I loved the city and I might live their for a month after I finish teaching.  This is not to say that I don't love the other cities in Ecuador, but there really is nothing that is not to like in Cuenca.  It is the epitome of pleasant.

However, I was not looking forward to my bus ride back to Ambato; and I reluctantly boarded the bus at 2:00 in the afternoon at the end of my weekend.  I now understand more than ever why Monet painted the Notre Dame Cathedral at three different times of day. What was brown and harsh  now absorbed the shadows of the sun.  All I could see were black humps rising out of a bottomless ocean of clouds.  Every once in a while in the valleys of the mountains, we caught the pink and blue remnants of the sun. Although the glimpses were only for a few seconds, they were spectacular.

We continued our drive from the lower to the upper sierra; the sky became darker and more gray; and I could feel the great depths of the drop offs as I watched the tiny road snake ahead of me along the side of the mountain. Once again, I recaptured a feeling I have often had in Ecuador: the feeling of being in a nowhere land--something between terror and awe and somewhere between earth and sky.


Yesterday, I had to throw a kid out of my class and I felt a little guilty.  I think that the guy might have attention deficit disorder and he cannot be quiet for one minute.  Yesterday, I kept on telling him to be quiet and he would answer, ''Don't Worry.  Be happy,'' and then continue talking.  Finally, I told him that if he couldn't be quiet, he would have to leave my class.  Once again, he answered, ''Don't worry. Be happy,'' and continued to talk.  I told him to pack up his things and get out of my class. 

Disciplining people is hard and I really hate sounding like a teacher.  Now, I can understand why teachers get burned out after a number of years.


The guy, whom I kicked out of class, showed up late to class yesterday. He had his friends tell me that he killed himself. I guess that he wanted to give me a guilt trip. I said, ''If I'm the only reason that he killed himself, he must have a really boring life.'' A few minutes later, he showed up to class. People can be so silly.


I have been substituting for Josh's class and today when I told them that it was my last day, everyone groaned.  This really made me feel good.  They even asked to take a picture with me after class.  There is nothing like feeling like you have done a good job at something.  I really enjoyed the class.  There were 40 students and they were all very nice to me.  One of the students even gave me a plum.  


One of my friends’ host sister threw a Christmas Dinner last night and we all made Christmas cookies.  It was really fun.  Another one of the volunteers is a good friend with some indigenous women from Salasaca and I spent a great deal of my time talking in Spanish with them.  They are both really nice and invited me to their house in Salasaca.  I think that I'll probably take them up on their offer.  

It was also nice to speak Spanish.  Two weeks ago, I told my family, ''Yo necessito praticar mi español.  Yo quiero hablar en español con ustedes.''  My family said, ''Tu hablas bien,'' meaning that I speak well enough and that was the end of our conversation.  They don't really talk that much aside from telling me to eat more or drink more juice.  We have the TV on for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  If I'm eating breakfast alone, sometimes someone will come in and turn on the TV for me as if I have forgotten to do this.  This is not very good for my Spanish.  Oh and my host sister, who is my age, wakes up and turns on the TV, watches it for an hour, then goes to work, then comes back, turns on the TV, lies in bed and watches it until she goes to sleep!  I'm glad that you guys didn't allow us to have a TV in our rooms.  

Tonight, I have a wedding to go to and it should be fun.  I'm sorry I am not going to be home for Christmas.  Hopefully, this will be the only year that I will miss Christmas in Amarillo.


It's Christmas here. The lights blink and play the same Christmas tunes over and over again until they become almost as enjoyable as a car alarm. Today, I went to the dry cleaners and was again confronted with the fact that there is no such thing as a line in Ecuador. Even though I had been waiting patiently for the attendant, a brassy woman jumped ahead of me and asked for her clothes. Instead of asking her to wait, the woman helped her before me. This is Ecuador where the rule for being served seems to be the loudest and most pushy person wins.

There are times when I ask myself why I decided to come to Ecuador. I think that before I boarded the plane, you even said, ''Going down there is the easy part. The hard part comes from figuring out why.'' When I first decided to come here, the responses were varied. People, whom I bumped into on the street, said, ''That's so exciting. I would do the same thing if I were you.'' (Truth is, I would've said the same thing to them, if the roles were reversed). Others stared at me in disbelief and commented on my bravery or my craziness. While I don't object to someone questioning my lucidity, I don't think that either craziness or bravery brought me down to Ecuador. My family and close friends all supported me and listened with interest as I talked of my plans. And you, of course, supported me, but for reasons of your own, said that you would prefer me to stay home. Ironically, this sentiment probably helped me to gain the courage to go so far away from home.

I have an old friend, however, who knowing me perhaps too well, said, ''Why do you want to go to Ecuador?'' When I replied that I wasn't sure, he accused me of trying to escape my problems and my life. He also accused me of trying to follow a trend set by many twenty-somethings, trying to find oneself in a land far from home. While his accusations were said out of anger from wrongs I had done him in the past, I would be lying if I said that I had not thought about his questions before. I knew that the latter was not true (I don't think I've ever had a problem knowing my identity), but the former I wasn't so sure about. Was I trying to escape my problems? We all have sensitive issues tied close to home, but I wasn't so sure that I was trying to escape them. This was the thing that worried me the most before I came to Ecuador, a lot more than the prospect of living in a developing country for a year.

However, after the first day of arriving in Ecuador, my original worries about why I came down to Ecuador ended. My experiences themselves seem to answer that question. I know now that the reason I came down here is because of a feeling in my gut that has always prompted me to seek out new experiences. The answer is in my happiness in trying something new and allowing myself to feel wonder. Even with all the challenges to my daily life, the volcanoes, which seem to have become just another aspect of living in Ecuador, and the other problems which arise from living in a foreign place, I am happy that I did this for myself. Furthermore, it has made me appreciate how lucky I am to have had and continue to have such incredible experiences and such great relationships with my family and friends. Now those questions I had thought about before I left, the soul searching I did about my reasons for leaving home, all seem obsolete. Well, perhaps I am wrong about one thing. I might do a little bit of learning about myself when I'm down here, although I won't know what I've learned until I return.


Write Jane

Galapagos, No Pasa Nada, Siga No Mas and CuencaTravel Tips for the Ecuadorian Andes.

Travels in Bolivia, Chile & Argentina

Other volcano updates: World Teach