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Arriving in Antigua, Guatemala, the final destination of our tour in Central America.

Antigua has a lot of colonial buildings throughout its city.

There’s a beautiful park in the center that seemed to always be filled with people.

The Flag of Guatemala next to the Flag of the city of Antigua.

Guatemala is known for its Salsa Dancing!

My mom and I hiked to the top of a hill to see a view of the entire city. Behind is El Volcan de Agua. (Water Volcano)

The cross sits at the top of the hill.

Last group dinner together. So sad!

The Guatemalan natives selling food and hand woven materials.

Reunited with my family at LAX once again after a long time abroad!

The day after Christmas we hopped into our van with our tour group to go to our final destination of the trip: Antigua, Guatemala. Once again we had to get up at around 5am for our early departure. As we left Honduras, I think we all started to acknowledge the fact that our time together was almost over. Technically, that was our last official day together. The next day was “Departure Day” so there was no planned meeting time/event to see everyone again. During the ride over to Guatemala, some people were becoming frustrated with the driver. I even started to become a little restless. If there was an award for “Slowest Driver of the Year,” I think our driver would be a very competitive candidate. You couldn’t count all the buses, trucks, and cars that sped past our crawling vehicle. Though we probably arrived a couple hours later than normal if the driver had just driven at the pace of the road, we were all happy once we made it to our final destination. The appearance of Antigua, Guatemala reminded me of Cusco, Peru. My English friend Gemma actually commented that to me as well. When we arrived, we checked all our bags in and then 30 minutes later, our group left the hostel for an orientation walk of Antigua provided by our guide. She showed us all the places that we could go and see on our own since some of us would be staying a few extra days in Antigua after the tour was officially over. My mom and I had booked one extra night so that we could have a full day to explore the city and rest before we traveled home on Saturday. After our orientation walk we all went to a Greek place for lunch where they served Pita Wraps and Falaffel. My mom and I shared a Chicken Tandoori Pita Wrap. It was incredible. I have now decided that Greek food has become one of my favorites. After lunch we perused the markets and then headed back to the hostel to rest before our final group dinner. I have to admit, I felt a little sad during our dinner as I thought about the likelihood of ever seeing any of these people again. We would all be departing to our own countries within the next few days. During dinner a couple of people made a few speeches/toasts to the time we experienced together. Our guide reflected on her time with us as well. After dinner, everyone wanted to go out for a few drinks for one final “hurrah!” A couple people weren’t super interested in going out that night, and said their farewells right after dinner. My mom and I should have joined them, but we thought that maybe we could talk with everyone a little bit more since it was our last night, so we decided to go to the bar as well. Apparently it was “Lady’s Night” and girls got in for free along with 3 free drinks. The guys had to pay both for their entrance and their drinks. I started asking my friends how that wasn’t gender discrimination? I don’t know if that’s how bars work in the United States. I’m pretty clueless when it comes to that. Anyways, we went in and the minute I stepped in, I wish my mom and I had just left with the other two people who went back to hotel. It was super crowded, and the music was blasting. The only way you could communicate with someone was if you screamed in their ear. I just plugged my ears. I had read a little bit ago in my morphophysiology book about the limit of decibels your ears could handle before damage would be caused. I knew that the decibel limit had been shattered by the volume of this music. My mom and I looked at each other knowing that we both wanted to leave even though we had only been there for less than a minute. We weren’t going to have “drink,” we hated how loud the music was, and we couldn’t even talk to anyone. So after 5 minutes, we told everyone that we were going. It turned out that everyone would still be there the next morning, so we all planned to go to breakfast. When they told us that we didn’t have to worry about saying a proper goodbye since we would have the opportunity after breakfast the next day. As we left the bar, I absolutely could not understand what was so attractive about going to a bar was. It was terrible. Seriously, it is beyond me how anyone could call that “fun.” As my mom and I were walking back, we realized it was 10:30pm and no one was in the streets. It is never a good situation when you are in a Latin American country and it’s dark out without any people around. My mom and I started to get a little apprehensive as we walked the streets back to our hostel. While we were hurriedly walking, a group of people a little ways in front of us got into a car. If the car had just driven away, we would have become so anxious. The car was literally just sitting there with its head lights on pointing towards us as walked closer to us. I think I might have held my breath as we walked by it, as I braced myself if the people jumped out of the car at the last second to attack us. A few moments later, we had passed the car and nothing had happened. I guess you can get a little paranoid when its late at night and no one is around, but I would rather be the most paranoid person in a situation like that than to be ignorant of my surroundings. Because of our current circumstances, the walk to our hostel seemed longer than normal, but when we finally got there and entered the door, I think both my mom and I took a giant breath of relief that we had made it there safely. We both looked at each other and let out a little laugh as all our anxiety disappeared. We then headed to bed for a peaceful night of sleep.

                The next morning we met up with everyone for breakfast. This really would be our last time seeing them all, so it was even sadder than the night before. We went to the restaurant next door since a good number of people would have to leave for the airport within the hour. On a side note, I commented to my mom before breakfast that I was going to start eating healthier since my eating habits during the past few weeks hadn’t been the best choices. As we got the menu, I quickly changed my mind and within a few minutes I was telling the waiter that I wanted a nice fluffy nutella crepe. Haha, my “healthy streak” didn’t last too long. My mom laughed at me because whenever we go on vacation I always justify eating more sweets based on the fact that “we were on vacation.” Anyways, that nutella crepe was sure tasty, and I enjoyed every delicious bite of it. While I was in the middle of enjoying my crepe, a good portion of our group got up from the table. It was time for them to go. They had all scarfed down their breakfast in a rush so that they would be ready when their shuttle came to take them to the airport. This time we really said bye, and I gave them all hugs extending the invitation to anyone of them to come to California if they ever wanted to visit the best state of the USA. They returned the invitation to us if we were ever in their countries. It’s pretty cool have friends all over the world. When they had left, I was glad I had ordered my nutella crepe. Tasty treats seem to make sad moments pass by a little better. When the rest of us had finished our breakfast, my mom and I said our final good byes to them as well. Most of them were staying a day or so extra but they had changed hostels since our hostel was full. My mom and I were one of the few lucky ones that got an extra night at the same hostel, so we didn’t have to move. So we said our farewells and wished everyone the best as we all departed on our separate ways. It was sad, but we all had become friends on facebook so we can at least keep in touch with each others lives through that.

                When we were on our own, my mom and I decided to go on a hike that led to a giant cross at the top of the hill. It was a beautiful walk, and the view from the top of the hill was wonderful. After our hike we went back to the hostel to rest for a couple of hours. We then decided to go to the Mayan Ruins of Antigua. There was also a museum that had been built alongside the ruins, so we had a lot to see and were there for a couple of hours. By the time we had finished there, we were pretty hungry. We decided to go back to that Greek place with the pita wraps that we had yesterday because it was just THAT good. We enjoyed every bite of our lunch. After lunch we walked to the city’s cathedral and the supermarket. We wanted to get some granola bars for breakfast the next morning since we would leave at 4am to head to the airport. When we got to the cashier to pay, we found out that they only accepted their local currency, the “quetzal” rather than US dollars. In every Central American country you could pay in US dollars despite the country having their own currency. Of course the one time we didn’t have enough local currency and could only use US dollars was the time they didn’t accept them. Oh well. No granola bars for breakfast then. We then headed back to our hostel because it was getting dark. We didn’t want a repeat of the night before. On our way, we stopped and got some frozen yogurt for dinner. We were so full from lunch that we just wanted some light and sweet to eat. We could pay in dollars there, so it was no problem. That frozen yogurt was incredibly refreshing. We didn’t do much when we got back to our hostel. I actually went to bed at around 8:30pm since we had to get up at 3:30am the next morning.

                Which brings me to where I am now, sitting in my room in California after a long day of air travel. As I look back on all my experiences I have had, I cannot help but just thank the Lord for blessing me with it all. There were good times and there were certainly bad times, but I learned and grew from all of them. My life will never be the same after my time in Latin America. I have met people who have impacted my life, changed my perspective, and given me insight to things that I had never thought of before. I have seen the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. I have made countless friends from all over the world, lived in areas where no English was to be found, and have gained innumerous life experiences that are worth more than gold. But most importantly, may it all be to the glory of Christ, my Lord and Savior. He has given me an adventure of a lifetime, and I look forward to many adventures to come. So with that said, that’s a wrap my friends. My travels in Latin America have officially come to a close. Until the next adventure….hasta luego!

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Welcome to Honduras!

We toured the Copan Mayan Ruins for Christmas Day!

Yes, I am wearing tinsel to get in the holiday spirit. haha

Mom loves the Mayan Ruins! Wooh! 

One of the many Mayan sculptures that we found in the Copan ruins of Honduras.

The beautiful Macaw, which is the national bird of Honduras.

Homemade tamales for Christmas Dinner!

My friend Biliana enjoying an amazing piece of cheesecake with her coffee milk shake. A delicious way to end our Christmas evening!

Christmas day we had to get up early to head to Copan, Honduras from El Salvador. It was evident that our driver wanted to make it back to his family as soon as possible to spend Christmas with them because the average travel time was usually 8 hours to get to Honduras. Our trip took 5 hours or less. Though it was wonderful that we made it to Honduras with 3 extra hours we had not expected, during the trip almost everyone got motion sickness from the fast driving on the curvy roads. I luckily had my motion sickness medicine so I didn’t feel it at all. But people who normally never experienced motion sickness were feeling a little queezy. It was a relief for them when we all made it to our final destination. Since we were really in Honduras for only half a day and a night, whatever we wanted to do in Honduras had to be done that afternoon. Within an hour, we were off to the Copan Mayan Ruins. The ruins were beautiful and we had a guide who was incredibly knowledgeable and witty. The tour of the Mayan Ruins took about 3 hours. It was a long tour, and some people who were only interested in taking pictures rather than learning about the Mayan’s history were becoming impatient and wanted to just return to the hotel. My mom and I on the other hand were thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I mean, when do you get to spend Christmas in a completely different country exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization? “Not too often” is the answer to that question.

                When we finished the tour some people from our group had booked a night at the hot springs. The rest of us decided to save some money and just take a nice walk back to the hotel. When we got back, the mom of one of our guides was waiting there for us with home-made tamales! Our guide Ivanna is from Honduras, so it was really special for her to be able to see her mom on Christmas day. According to Ivanna, tamales are a typical food that is made specifically for Christmas. So we got to eat some of the delicious home-made tamales that Ivanna’s mom had cooked for us for dinner. After we had devoured the tamales, we thanked her mom and wished her a very Merry Christmas. Since we had just eaten dinner, we all decided that we wanted to go out for dessert. When we got to one of the few cafes that was actually open on Christmas day, we had a very small selection of desserts. We could get cheesecake, flan, or milkshake/ice coffee drink. My mom and I decided to split a slice of cheesecake. My expectations were pretty low for this dessert. Based on past experience, all the desserts I have had in Latin American cafes look really good but generally lacked taste. When we were served the cheesecake, and I took my first bite, I was pleasantly surprised! This cheesecake was AMAZING! It tasted just like a slice of cheesecake from the U.S. After my reaction of joy to the cheesecake (I don’t hide my emotions very well when it comes to food), everyone decided to order their own slice as well, and everyone made the same “mmmm” sound after they took their first bite. The cheesecake was exceptional. We all joked that we wanted to buy an extra slice for breakfast, but it turned out we had eaten all of the café’s cheesecake. The café literally had none left, except for maybe one packaged slice sitting in the fridge. It was the perfect end to our Christmas evening. My mom and I went to bed exhausted from the day. We would have to get up at 5:00am the next morning to head to Guatemala. Honduras passed by very quickly, but it was very special to spend Christmas there.

                Today is officially my last day of my Latin American adventure. Tomorrow my mom and I leave at 4:00am to head to the airport to fly home. I will have one more post about Guatemala and my final reflections on the past 6 months I have experienced in Latin America. I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and are looking to a Happy New Year!

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Pupusas! A specialty of El Salvador. They’re absolutely delicious.

Our pupusas were made straight from the dough. That’s what I call “cooked to order!”

These El Salvadorians were pretty impressive with how much they can balance/carry on their head.

Group Dinner! Always one of my favorite times of the day with the tour.

Mom and I at the top of the mountain of Ataco, El Salvador.

Group picture of those that decided to do the 4x4 truck tour of Ataco, El Salvador.

The dough to make corn tortillas. The mom at the house of the family we had lunch with was making these fresh.

The El Salvadorian mom and her adorable kids. Lunch with this El Salvadorian family was a very special time.

They really liked the apples we gave them!

Mom really liked them too. haha

The hot springs we went to after our 4x4 tour of Ataco, El Salvador.

Christmas Eve in El Salvador!

An “interesting” Christmas Eve dinner. It certainly made a great dinner for memories! haha

For the past three days we have been in the beautiful country of El Salvador! It took about 12 hours to travel from Poneloya, Nicaragua to the city of Suchitoto, our first destination in El Salvador. Once we made it to Suchitoto, there wasn’t much time to do anything there except go out to dinner as a group. I was so tired I didn’t even order anything to eat. I just got a drink. My mom just had a bottle of water. There were a few others in the group who had their heads on the table resting from just sheer exhaustion. We were all pretty tired from the day. After dinner, the majority of us all went straight to bed in the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

                The next day we had until the middle of the afternoon to explore Suchitoto before we had to hop back on the van to get to Ataco, the next city we would be staying in El Salvador. In Suchitoto, our group went out in the morning to try “pupusas” a type of food that is El Salvador’s specialty. A pupusa is basically a tortilla filled with either cheese, beans, squash, meat, etc. or a mixture of something. They were absolutely delicious. The locals made them right in front of you, so they were extremely fresh. The cook would literally take the tortilla dough from a bowl, fill it with what you wanted, and then set down on the fire wood stove. Everyone loved the pupusas, and we couldn’t believe the price! A good sized pupusa was only 60 cents. All the people in our group left full and happy from that little local eatery. After pupusas our group split up and everyone sort of explored the city on their own. It was extremely hot, so my mom and I decided to just sit under a tree on a bench within the city’s main park. It was very relaxing. After sitting there for a while, we went to a little café to get smoothies, which were incredibly refreshing. A little while later it was time to hop in the van and head to the city of Ataco.

                Ataco was only 3 hours away so we got there in the early evening. Upon arrival to the hostel, a tour agency came and told us about their tours that we could do in Ataco the next day. My mom and I opted to do the tour with a 4x4 truck which went high into the mountains with beautiful views and ended at the hot springs. We would also have lunch with a local El Salvadorian family. After everyone had chosen what they wanted to do, we had about an hour to rest before dinner. We ended up going to an American grill restaurant. It had burgers, fries, nachos, and all the super healthy American dishes. It was actually kind of funny because some of the people from England in our group were asking me what certain American dishes were. “Christine, what are…chili cheese fries?” hahaha, I answered, “Well, they’re fries with chili…and cheese on the top.” I’ve learned so many different terms from my English friends. When they think of French fries, instead of calling them “fries,” they call them “chips.” And for “chips” they call “crisps.” Mosquitoes are known as “mozzies,” window shopping is known as “going for a mooch,” pants are “trousers,” jackets are “jumpers,” popsicles are “ice lollies,” silverware is “cutlery” and ice cream sandwiches are some very different word that I can’t remember. There are a lot of other examples but I can’t think of them at the moment. We always laugh when we find out of these “discrepancies” between our uses of the English language. Anyways, back to dinner. I hadn’t had a burger in a really long time, but it was quite tasty and I think everyone was satisfied with their “American dinner.”

                The next day we got up for 4x4 day tour and met up with our other friends who had decided to do the tour as well. You could either go inside the truck or ride in the bed of the truck. I of course jumped immediately in the truck’s bed. We saw beautiful sights as we climbed our way up the mountain. It was super rocky for a large portion of the trip so the group of us who were in the bed of the truck were clinging to the sides so that we wouldn’t slide around or ram our shoulders/backs into the sides of the truck’s bed. It was fun, but I have to admit, every time we had a little stretch of smooth, paved road, it was very much appreciated. Once we made it almost to the top of the mountain, we all got out and hiked the last bit for about 20 minutes to the very top. The view was incredible and we took in its beauty for a good half hour before we headed back down to eat our lunch with a local El Salvadorian family. The family had 3 little kids. They were some of the cutest kids I have ever seen in my life. We all took pictures with them and gave them little candies and treats that we happened to have with us. The mom was making homemade tortillas straight from grinding up the corn and kneading the dough and such. She gave us a tortilla to share straight from the stove. It was absolutely delicious. After lunch we headed to the hot springs in Ataco, which was incredibly relaxing. I fell asleep a couple of times in the hot spring, and enjoyed napping on the hammock there. After enjoying as much as we could there, it was time to head back to the hostel. When we arrived, we had a couple of hours to wash up and get ready to go out for our Christmas Eve dinner where we would also do our Secret Santa gift exchange. Dinner was interesting to say in the least. I ordered fish, but rather than fish coming out, some sort of “mystery meat” was served. It had the texture and appearance of a slab of pork, but had a slightly fishy taste. Multiple people tried a bite of it and tried to decipher what exactly was on my plate. We concluded it was a crossbreed between a pig and a fish. So for my Christmas Eve dinner I had a slab of fishy-pig meat. Yum. Haha, after everyone had finished eating we did our Secret Santa gift exchange which was of course very fun. My Secret Santa was Vlast (yes, Vlast is his name), the Canadian guy in our group who had actually grown up in the Czech Republic. He got me a little coin purse from Nicaragua and cool woven bracelet. I was the Secret Santa of Biliana, who was Bulgarian, but moved to Germany for 10 years and currently has lived in Switzerland for the past 5 years. It was so fun! We all took a Christmas Eve group picture with some of us wearing Santa hats or hats with reindeer antlers on them. I of course had the reindeer antler hat. We then headed back to the hostel and lit up fireworks. It reminded me so much of the 4th of July. But having fireworks like that was not very common for the people from the UK, so they were really having a blast. There was a particular firework that exploded and made a shotgun kind of noise that was frighteningly loud. When we all heard it the first time, everyone jumped and some actually ducked and took cover. The funny thing was, was that each of these “shotgun” fireworks would blast out one deafening loud noise and then a few seconds later an identical deafening blast would fire again. So the first time after we all were freaked out by the first blast and had calmed down for a moment, a second frighteningly loud blast came and we all jumped/screamed again almost in unison. We were laughing so hard after that firework. It was so fun. Soon it was time to head for bed because we had to get up early and be ready to leave at 5:45am to head to Honduras on Christmas Day. I am currently in Honduras writing this and will put up a little blog post about Honduras tomorrow or the next day when I am in Guatemala. So until next time….Merry Christmas!

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Riding the “Chicken Bus.”

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My friend from England having her first fish with a head. Hahaha

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The Nicaraguan Flag.

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On the beautiful island of Ometepe.

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Mosquito nets for our beds as we stayed with Nicaraguan host families of Ometepe island.

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Enjoying the natural springs with our new international friends on Ometepe Island.

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Mom enjoying her coconut drink.

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Pina Coladas!

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Driving the ship. Haha not really, just a photo.

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On top of the Cathedral in Granada, Nicaragua. 

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Riding on the back of a truck! Never gets old.

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Touring the 365 mini islands on Granada Lake.

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Celda means “Cell.” This was a prison cell during the Nicaraguan dictatorship in the fortress we went through in Granada.

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Volcano Boarding on the active volcano of Cerro Negro in Leon, Nicacaragua.

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The beautiful sunset on the beach of Poneloya, Nicaragua.

The hostel we stayed at in Poneloya, Nicaragua. Basically a big beach house.

The beach house we were staying at had a little place where they could bury turtle eggs! Here is a new set of turtle eggs that they’re going to bury so that they can hatch.

Burying the turtle eggs!

Monday morning we left for Ometepe, Nicaragua bright and early at 5am. We drove for about 5 hours to the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was a long travel day. Once we crossed the border, rather than having a private van waiting for us to pick us up, we had to take the public transportation. Now, I was used to what public transportation was like in Latin America but this was a bit of a culture shock for the rest of the group. We boarded what our guides called, “chicken buses” because often times you will see natives carry their chickens on the bus with them. We had to throw all of our bags/luggage on the top of the “chicken bus” and then cram our way onto it. It was packed and just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be another person that could fit on it, another Nicaraguan would squish his/her way on. We were on this bus for about an hour before we got off. When we got off, and our guides asked us what we thought of the “chicken bus” some of the girls from England said it was a “bit overwhelming” for them. But they acknowledged and appreciated that that was how some Nicaraguan people traveled on a daily basis. Once we got off the bus we sat down a little shack to get a quick lunch before we had to board the ferry to make it to the island of Ometepe, our final destination for the day. For lunch, there was another “culture shock” experience for the English girls. My mom and I ordered chicken and our English friends ordered some fish. They were shocked once their fish came out. It certainly wasn’t what they had expected. Rather than the fish being a filet with just its nice flesh laid out to eat, the entire fish with the head and eyes was on their plate. It was literally a fried fish. Now this was completely normal to my mom and I. My mom grew up with eating whole fish like that in the Philippines and even in the United States when my mom and I would go to Chinese supermarkets we would get a whole fish fried with its head and eyes still attached and such. When the waiters brought out their fish and I saw their face, I busted out laughing. I think I was laughing for a good 10 minutes straight. I just couldn’t stop. It was absolutely hilarious. Their faces were mortified. Even thinking back on it now I’m chuckling to myself as I write this. It was just SO funny. When the waiter left, they didn’t even know where to begin cutting to start eating their fish. My mom gave them a few tips on how to eat it. That might have been the hardest I’ve laughed my entire time abroad. Too good. After lunch, we had to catch the ferry and head over to Ometepe island. The island was beautiful and rather than all of staying at a resort together, we were all distributed into homestays where we had a host family. My mom and I had a wonderful family. They were incredibly friendly. When we went got to our room, we found out that we had mosquito nets around our beds. My mom commented that it was “just like the Philippines” when she grew up. After an afternoon relaxing in the hammock and having a group dinner, we went to bed. We got up in the morning with the grandmother of the family cooking us breakfast. She was so kind. There was one catch with our host families. None of them spoke any English, they all only spoke Spanish. Now this wasn’t a problem at all for my mom and I, but as you can imagine, it made for quite some awkward moments for the rest of the group. I’ll talk about that later. During breakfast, I learned that the grandmother was 71 years old and had lived on Ometepe island her entire life. She told me what she and her family were going to do to celebrate Christmas and the New Year and I shared with her about what we were going to be doing. It was great talking with her. Afterwards we met up with a few people from our group to go to the “Natural Springs” on the island. At the Natural Springs my mom and I had a giant coconut filled with coconut water. There’s nothing like vacation than having a coconut to drink from on an island relaxing within its natural springs. After this we headed over the main beach where my mom and I had a piña colada. Once again we looked like typical tourists on vacation. It was such a refreshing and relaxing day. At night instead of us eating dinner all together as a group like we usually did, we ate with our host families. The mom asked me where I had learned Spanish, how long we had been traveling, what other places we would be going, etc. I asked her how she prepared the delicious Nicaraguan food and about her family. We had to leave after an hour because we had a group meeting. As we left our house, we bumped into a couple girls from our tour group who were heading over to the group meeting spot as well. The first thing they said to me was how incredibly awkward their host family dinner was. They knew no Spanish and their host family knew no English. So they said that they all just sat there in silence for about 45 minutes slowly eating their food not knowing what to say. They said it was the most awkward dinner they had every experienced in their entire life. I again started cracking up as they were describing their dinner. They started laughing too. Oh man, these people were hilarious. At our meeting we found out we would be leaving at 5am again to head to our new destination in Nicaragua: Granada. The travel was about 3 or 4 hours, but we were leaving so early because we wanted to catch the 6am ferry to the mainland. It wasn’t a problem for anyone in the group to wake up that early. The dogs, pigs, and roosters on the island made sure of that. At around 4am, the dogs were howling, the roosters were sounding off their wake up calls, and the pigs were oinking. When we got to Granada we had time to relax a little before our guide took us out for an orientation walk of the city. After we had lunch together some of the group decided to go get massages. My mom and opted to go to the market and eat gelato. We were very pleased with our gelato decision. Afterwards we went back to our rooms to nap, and then headed back out into the city to go to the top of the Bell tower on the Cathedral and then to the Chocolate Museum where we got free samples of chocolate tea and hot chocolate. We then went out to dinner with the group an hour or so later. Dinner was great. It was outside on the main street and there were street performers in front of our restaurant trying to make some tips. They were amazing hip-hop/break dancers and we all were amazed at their talent. After dinner we headed back to our hotel to sleep. Every day is always so full, and we’re always incredibly exhausted when the day ends. The next day we woke up to go out to breakfast with the group. Our guides had advertised this one breakfast place as having the “BEST chocolate pancakes EVER.” I had been stoked for these pancakes ever since our guides told us about them a few days before. I thought everyone was going to order them, but I turned out being the only one! I couldn’t believe it! I would like to say that they missed out some AMAZING chocolate pancakes. After breakfast we went on a boat tour to see the 365 mini islands that were on Lake Granada. The islands were beautiful and it was really fun learning some information about them. Apparently 80% of the islands are inhabited by people, and if you want, you can buy a mini island for a whopping $180,000. On the mini-islands we saw howler monkeys. They’re definitely called howler monkeys for a reason. When we got close to them on the boat, they started, well, howling! I had never heard what a howler monkey sounded like before, but they certainly can make a much louder noise than what their size indicates. After the boat tour we went to a market just outside the city of Granada where the natives sold lots of souvenir-like things. My mom and I had already been to so many markets like this, but we still enjoyed walking around and looking at all the knick knacks, hammocks, and such. After the market we went to the fortress of Granada where we had to take flashlights and go down into the fortress that was hidden from the outside. There were multiple things that I took from this tour of the fortress. For one, it was filled with bats. I thought this was really cool. They were so cute! But on a deeper, much more serious level, I was really disturbed from everything I learned about that place. The fortress had a lot to do with the Nicaraguan dictatorship and the country’s dark past. We saw rooms in the fortress that had been prison cells for Nicaraguans and we learned about the terrible torture methods that the prisoners had to go through. The guide told us to turn off our flashlights. When we did, we found that the place was pitch black. One of the torture methods was to stick the prisoners in these pitch black cells and then after a few days or weeks, they would take the prisoners out to the bright light outside and force their eyes open so that they would go blind. For food the prisoners would be given meals that had been poisoned so that they would become extremely sick but not enough poison to kill them. There were “psychological torture” cells where prisoners would be stuck in cells where the guards of the dictatorship would pour feces and excrements down into the walls onto them. We then saw the “physical torture” cell where our guide told us that male prisoners would be changed up and nails would be hammered into their genitals and girls would be raped on a daily basis. It was terrible, and it reminded me how evil sin and humans can be. When the dictatorship ended in 1979, (which is shockingly recent), survivors that still live today were released. One of the women who had been held came forward and shared of her torture experiences with the public. She had been held for 3 months and said she had been raped nearly every day. She still has extreme psychological issues, and for good reason. Even as I type this, I can’t help but feel disgusted by the evil that people are capable of. It was not an enjoyable experience learning about everything that took place in that fortress, but it was certainly enlightening. We didn’t do much after the fortress since a good part of the day had been spent. We went out to dinner s a group ad called it a night.

                The next morning we left for the cities of Leon and Poneloya. Before we left, we went back to that chocolate pancake place again. I was quite thrilled with this of course. After a delicious chocolately breakfast, we hopped on our van and headed for the city of Leon. I would be going “Volcano Boarding” in Leon, and was super stoked for it. There were two ways you could go volcano boarding. You could go down the volcano like you would snowboarding, or you could do it like you would sledding. Sledding was recommended because you could go faster, and generally it’s more fun for people doing it their first time so I opted to go sledding down the volcano. When we got into Leon our group split up. Those that wanted to go volcano boarding went in a group, others went to go on a city tour in Leon, and the rest of the group continued onto Poneloya where we would be staying for the next two nights. When the volcano boarding group hopped into our van we found out that we had about an hour to drive until we made it to the volcano of Cerro Negro. The ride started out fine, with all of us chatting away listening to some Nicaraguan music. I don’t know when it happened because at times when I’m in the car riding, I do some serious day dreaming and often don’t notice what is happening around me. But at some point, the Nicaraguan music had been turned off. This van had little TV’s on the dash board, but it wasn’t meant for the people in the van, they could only be seen by the driver and the person in the front passenger seat, which happened to be our volcano boarding guide. At some point, they had turned off the music and started watching a movie. So all of us in the van were listening to the sounds of their movie, in Spanish, and rather than us being able to watch the movie, we were only watching our guide and our driver watch the movie. As we watched our DRIVER watch the movie, we started to get nervous. Not only was I annoyed at them sitting there nonchalantly watch their movie that we couldn’t see as we listened to the sounds of their movie, I also became increasingly concerned as I saw the eyes of our driver looking more at the screen than at the road ahead of him. Not only was it extremely unprofessional, it was very dangerous what these guys were doing. I finally blurted out, “Are we almost there?” in a voice that was in a slightly passive-aggressive tone. They volcano boarding guide turned around and said, “yes, yes we are almost there.” “Then, can we listen to some music please?” I asked in an even more passive-aggressive tone. He looked at me for a second without saying anything, and responded with a very challenging glare. He then said that they “didn’t have a very wide selection of music.” Before I could say anything, Sarah, my friend from England jumped in, and firmly said “Any music will do.” We were all quite annoyed with how unprofessional/dangerous our guide and driver were. The guide didn’t say anything and just turned off the mini TV’s. I think he put on the worst music he could find because the “music” was literally some twinkling noises when just earlier we had been listening to some authentic Nicaraguan music. As long as the driver was looking straight ahead on the road, we didn’t really care. Once we got to the volcano, the rest of the group complained to our guide about how upset they were with what had just occurred. I just sat back and listened. The guide proceeded to explain that there was nothing he could have done since it wasn’t his van, it was the driver’s. We had heard enough of his excuses. We just wanted to start hiking up the volcano. It was actually pretty funny heading up the volcano. The group I was in wasn’t exactly in the best physical condition. There were 5 of us total, including me. Two of them were smokers and the other two were just not in great shape. One was overweight and the other probably didn’t do much cardio training at home. We had to carry a bag that had our jump suit in it (we had to wear ridiculously giant jump-suit as we went down so that we wouldn’t cover all our clothes with ash and volcano dust), along with our board. The girl who probably didn’t do much cardio training at home couldn’t even carry her board for a minute long. Our guide had to carry his board along with hers. Our guide, rather than leading the way, had to stay back with her since she lagged so far behind. I ended up leading the group up the trail. After stopping a few times and waiting for them to catch up, I eventually decided to just keep going all the way to the top and sit and wait for them once I got there. I wasn’t even walking at a fast pace. I was merely just walking and not stopping. After climbing the volcano for a good period of time, I turned around to see how far off they were. They were tiny specks, but I could still make out that it was them. When I reached the spot where we would ride the board down, I sat down and just took in the beautiful landscape that was in front of me. In the middle of the top of the volcano I could see it smoking, and the rocks were a beautiful mixture of colors that I had never seen before. It was really cool. Finally once everyone got there we put on our giant jumpsuits and got ready to go down. Our guide went first to show us how it was done. I was the first one to go from our group, and once I sat down I just took off. All the gravel from the volcano was flying up into my face. It was a good thing I was wearing goggles. I was having a blast flying down the side of the volcano. Once I got to the bottom, my face, aside from the parts that had been covered with the giant goggles, had a layer of volcano dirt. It looked like I had a little beard or something. Haha, it was so funny. We all took pictures once we all got down to the bottom. One girl was scared, and it took forever for her to come down. I think we waited for a good 20 minutes. Everyone else in the group was getting mad at her because we had a ferry that we had to catch, but I felt bad. You really can’t rush people into going when they’re scared. She eventually did make it down and we made it to the ferry easily on time. Needless to say, Volcano Boarding was quite the new experience for me. We had to cross a little river to get to Poneloya.  The place we stayed at in Poneloya was basically a big beach house. We got there at night time, so we basically played some cards, hung out, and then went to bed. This time instead of us having our private rooms divided up by 2’s, we all slept in a giant room, dorm style, in bunk beds. It felt like summer camp.

                The next day we had nothing on the schedule except to enjoy the beach, relax, and rest. And that’s exactly what we did. My mom and I went on an early morning walk along the beach and then the rest of the morning I sort of lounged around in hammocks and slept listening to the waves. Later in the morning I went into the water with my English friends Gemma and Ben. It was so fun swimming in the ocean again. Afterwards Ben and I played quite a few rounds of the card game “Speed.” I kept beating him, and he didn’t want to stop until he won. It was hilarious. After a myriad of rounds of cards, I went up to the dorm and took a real nap for a couple of hours. It was great. I then went back down and started writing this blog. My mom and I then decided to go on another walk along the beach, but instead of the sunrise, we went for a walk to watch the sunset. It was gorgeous, as all sunsets are. When we got back I had some dinner and we had our group meeting. And that leaves me to where I am right now, sitting in a hammock writing this blog post about my adventure in Nicaragua. Tomorrow we leave on a very long travel day to enter the country of El Salvador. Apparently in total, we’ll be traveling for 12 hours. I don’t even want to think about the total amount of travel time. I’ll just take it section by section from different van to different van that we have to change to. At least I get to relax and just watch the countryside as we drive through. I find car rides relaxing, since I get to just sit in silence and day dream while watching the landscape outside. Well, my chapter in Nicaragua has come to a close. I only have 1 more week in Latin America. Next week I will be home, back in California. It’s crazy to think about how much time I have been abroad. In total, I will have been out of the country for almost 6 months starting from when I left for Argentina in July. What an incredible experience it has been. I have 3 more countries to go! El Salvador, Honduras, and finally Guatemala. And I can’t wait.

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I am seriously having the time of my life right now! Not that I wasn’t already, but these past few days have just been so fun! My mom and I flew into Costa Rica from the Galapagos late Tuesday night. Upon arrival we immediately got a taxi to head to our hotel that would begin our tour. But when we got there, a man representing out tour was standing there waiting for us. He informed us that this hotel had been overbooked and instead of separating our tour group into two different hotels, the agency decided to move us all to a different hotel. So we hopped back into the taxi accompanied by this man we just met, and headed over to the new hotel. Finally after a long day of travel, we were settled into our room. I just crashed in bed and knocked out for the night. Looking back, it’s crazy thinking about how many modes of transport we had changed that day to arrive at our hotel. From the city of Puerta Ayora in the Galapagos we took a taxi to the bus station. Then we took a bus to the ferry dock since we had to change islands to get to the airport. At the ferry dock we took a boat to cross the channel to Baltra island that had the airport. Upon arrival we changed into another bus that would take us from the dock to the actual airport. We then took three planes (2 layovers, one in Guayaquil, and one in Panama) to get to the San Jose airport in Costa Rica. From the San Jose airport, we had to take a taxi to our hotel. From our original planned hotel, we took another taxi ride to our new hotel that the group had changed to. So a taxi ride, a bus ride, a ferry ride, another bus ride, three plane rides, and two more taxi rides later, we had made it to our hotel. Talk about a day of travel. We used all modes of transport in one day: land, water, and air. That’s kind of cool to say. It probably won’t happen again. At least I hope it won’t. That was one long day of travel.

                Wednesday was our “catch-up day.” We had nothing planned except for our 6:00pm meeting orientation with our tour group where we meet everyone that we would be traveling with for the next 17 days. Since we had been traveling for about 2 weeks non-stop, Wednesday was our day to catch up on sleep, to relax, and just rest for the day. So that day we did exactly that. We had a lazy morning, and enjoyed a nice breakfast that the hotel provided. Later on in the afternoon, we walked down to the main street/avenue of San Jose that had all the shops, street performers, and local people. I couldn’t believe how packed it was there. It was a regular Wednesday afternoon, and I felt like I was squishing past people as I walked down the road. My mom stopped and played some cards in the local park, got an ice cream cone, went to the local supermarket for some water, and then headed back. Nothing to exciting, but it was nice to “take a breath” so to speak, after a lot of traveling. When it was 6:00pm we headed over to the lobby for our orientation of our tour. It was so cool meeting everyone. There’s quite a few people from England, a guy from Ireland, a guy from Canada who actually lived in the Czech Republic growing up, a girl from Austria, a girl from Australia, and a girl who grew up in Bulgaria, lived in Germany for 8 years, and currently resides in Switzerland. My mom and I were the only people from the U.S. In total, there are 14 of us. I loved meeting so many people from Europe. I had been in the Latin American culture for practically the past 5 months and on this trip I have learned so much about their cultures and languages. I often talk in a “British accent” to all my England friends, and they find it absolutely hilarious. We would be leaving the next day at 7:00am sharp. After our meeting, we all went to a “team dinner” just across the street. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone a little better. Once we were done eating, I headed right to bed, excited to start the next day’s adventure.

                To my surprise, when I arrived at the bus at 7:00am, everyone was actually there ON TIME. I couldn’t believe it! For the past 5 months, whenever there was a “set-time” no one actually showed up at that time. This definitely showed the difference between Latin America’s concept of time and then Europeans’ and North Americans’ concept of time. This is one aspect of Latin American culture I will not miss. We were in the van and driving out by 7:03am. It was perfect. So, we were off, heading to our first stop “La Fortuna” in Costa Rica. While we were driving, people couldn’t help but comment how narrow some of the roads in Costa Rica were. So many times our driver had to squeeze by the oncoming lane of cars. One time, it was just too narrow. He tried to slowly inch his way past the oncoming car on the opposite lane, but as he did so, the tires on the right side of the van fell off the paved road and into the little ditch of dirt and plants just outside of the paved road. The driver stepped on the gas, but all we heard was the roar of the engine and the wheels spinning violently, yet, we weren’t moving. Almost in unison, all of us murmured, “uh oh…” We were stuck. The driver told us to all go to the back of the van to shift the weight there. He was going to try to reverse out of the ditch. There’s nothing like immediate bonding with people you just met when you’re all cramped in the back together of a van. Shifting the weight to the back didn’t help. He then said to shift our weight to the left side of the van. We did as we were ordered. Yet again, this plan was to no avail. He then told us to all get out of the van and push on the front of it as he reversed. So we all exited one by one and headed to the front. I couldn’t help but start giggling. You know when there are moments when you know it’s totally inappropriate to laugh, but no matter how hard you try, you start laughing? I think this could be classified as one of those moments. Sarah, a girl from England, started laughing with me. “This is hilarious,” she commented to me in her British accent. This of course made me laugh harder, and when I looked up and saw everyone pushing and the driver stepping on the gas to reverse with the van not even budging, I start laughing even more. Sarah and I were cracking up. Eventually another truck came by and stopped as a “Good Samaritan.” He happened to have a rope in the bed of his truck, so he hooked it up to the back of the van and his truck. As he drove forward trying to pull the van out of the ditch with the driver slamming on the pedal in reverse, the van started to move. We all started cheering! In a matter of a few seconds, it was out on the paved road again. Without further ado, we piled in the van again and headed on our way. Such an awesome way to start our travels. Once we finally arrived in La Fortuna, my mom, Vlast (the Canadian guy), Silkeh (the Austrian girl), Barry (the Irish guy), and I headed out to walk to a waterfall. A large portion of the group went White-water rafting. I of course would have loved to go, but the price for rafting in Costa Rica was 4x the amount it cost in Ecuador. It was ridiculous! I couldn’t believe the price. I have now learned that Costa Rica is absolutely the most expensive Latin American country you could ever go to. Things that cost me 50 cents in Ecuador cost $5 in Costa Rica. Oh for example, today I saw an identical Alapaca jacket that I could have bought in Ecuador for $13. It was priced as $42.50. I kid you not, it was identical in every shape, way, and form. It wasn’t different material or of a better quality. The only difference was its jacked up price. Ridiculous. White-water rafting in Ecuador is $25. They include lunch, a wetsuit/equipment, the actual rafting itself, pictures and a video of you rafting, and transportation to and from the river. In Costa Rica, the cost is $87 for rafting, no wet suit, and a lunch. If you want pictures (no video), it’s another $25 (the price of everything in Ecuador). It’s insane. So since I had already gone twice in Ecuador, I opted out of rafting this time and decided I wanted to explore La Fortuna more. Anyways, so we were off walking to the waterfall. We were told that it was about a 3km walk to the entrance of the trails to the waterfall. LIES. It was more like 7km, and after walking 5km and seeing the time was 4:00pm (the trails closed at 5pm) we realized we didn’t have time to see the waterfall before it closed. Plus just entering was $10, so it definitely wasn’t worth it to just go down and go right back up without really enjoying it. So we walked all that way for nothing. At least we got to know each other along the way! We then caught a taxi and headed back to our hotel. I couldn’t believe the price of the taxi ride. It was $6, and to everyone else, they didn’t think it was that much. But for such a short ride, it would have been maybe $1 at the most in Ecuador. The prices in Costa Rica have been quite hard to swallow after living in Ecuador for the past 3 months or so. That night, we all went to the “Hot Springs” which included a buffet dinner. The hot springs were amazing! The water was so warm and there were incredible water slides that I of course, had a blast on. There were pools of warm water, hot water, and extremely hot water. There were also others that were of cold water and look warm water. There were so many water slides, and great places to converse with people. That place was so cool. I was really enjoying it. After hanging out in the hot springs for a couple of hours, we all dried off and headed to dinner inside the hotel that had the hot springs. The dinner was delicious and I definitely ate too much. What an amazing night.

                The next day I woke up and got ready to get wet again. My mom and I, along with a handful of others in our tour group had signed up to kayaking in Lake Arenal. Some of them wanted to do “Stand Up Paddeling” in the Lake, but it didn’t matter what you chose, we all would go around with the guides and do the same thing. It was funny because the guides would try to make all the people on paddle boards fall off. It was really fun just watching from the kayak. The lake was beautiful. It was surrounded by beautiful trees and the entire landscape reminded me of something from Tarzan. My mom really enjoyed kayaking as well. Afterwards I went Canyoneering, which is when you repel off waterfalls. This of course was one of the highlights in Costa Rica. It was so fun going with my new friends in my tour group. It was all of their first times going, which also makes it more fun. I had already gone in Ecuador, so I already knew what to expect. It was a blast, and it certainly did not disappoint anyone’s expectations. At night we all gathered for dinner again at a Costa Rican where I had a typical plate of rice, beans, and chicken. Rice seems to be the common factor for typical plates of food in Latin America.

The next day we left for Monteverde, another city in Costa Rica. We had to take a ferry ride to cross Lake Arenal in order to get to another van and head to Monteverde. The ferry ride was very peaceful and I thoroughly enjoyed just looking at the surrounding scenery. When we finally arrived in Monteverde, we all went to a Mexican shack to get burritos for lunch. We were all starving. All of us ordered giant burritos, and I’m still surprised that I was able to eat all of it! It was really good. After lunch, we had time to relax a little before we went horseback riding. My mom hadn’t been horseback riding for about 10 years, so it was really neat that she was able to hop back on the horse and go again. We went at the perfect time of the day. In the middle of our horseback riding, the sun was starting to set. It was gorgeous. This was the most beautiful horseback ride I have ever done in my life. When we were on open green pastures we could go as fast as we wanted on our horses, so of course I got my horse to a full gallop. Galloping is probably my favorite part about horseback riding. Those of us in the group that decided to go horseback riding had a blast and we were all very pleased. That night we went to a typical Costa Rican restaurant. I tried “Gallo de Arracache” which is a typical “snack” sort of food that Costa Ricans eat. It reminded me something of a burrito, but it was different. I don’t know how to really describe any way else, but it was quite tasty! I went to bed afterwards and slept in a little bit the next morning.

Before we went to bed the night before, we were assigned “Secret Santas” since we would all be spending Christmas together in El Salvador. So my mom and I went into down the next morning to find something for the person we had been given. I quickly found a gift for my person, but my mom still has yet to find one. I told her she has 10 days, so that’s still plenty of time. Afterwards, I went ziplining. It started to pour while we were going, which of course made it more fun. We also went on something called a “Tarzan Swing” which is kind of like a swing, except you are strapped in with your harness and you start from a very high platform. When you jump you free fall for a couple of seconds until the ropes catch you. You then swing super far out back and forth. It was so fun! We then got to do the “Superman Position” on the very last cable (which was about 1 km long). I took a video of it as I went. Ziplining was great. Afterwards we came back and rested a little bit, until it was time to go on our Night Hike. Immediately when our hike started we saw a sloth in the trees! It was awesome! Sloths have now become my new favorite animal in Latin America. They’re so cute! We also saw a tarantula, a venomous snake, a lemur type animal, a few native birds, and lots of spiders spinning giant webs. The Night Hike was a good time. When we got back, we had a “pizza party” and ordered a bunch of pizzas to share for dinner. Tomorrow we leave for Nicaragua, and we have about 8 hours of travel total ahead of us. We leave at 5am. So I should probably get to bed now. Gracias por leyendo!

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Just arrived! Taking a ferry from Baltra Island (the airport island) to Santa Cruz Island where we stayed.

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Exploring Santa Cruz Island!

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The landscape of Santa Cruz is incredibly diverse. Absolutely incredible.

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All of those past pictures, including this one, are on Santa Cruz Island.

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Taking a “Boat Taxi” to get to different parts of the island.

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This reddish-pink color is due to algae in the water.

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The beautiful bay of Santa Cruz Island.

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Our “captain” for our excursion to South Plazas Island!

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My little camera stood no chance to this German’s mega-camera!

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Sea Lions!

Tropical Crabs of the Galapagos.

Mom sure loved those Cacti! haha

Land Iguanas, found only in the Galapagos.

These red-eyed birds are also only found in the Galapagos Islands.

Lunch on the boat!

Snorkeling! Probably some of the best snorkeling in the world is in the Galapagos.

White-tipped Sharks.

Marine Iguanas! Definitely can’t find these creatures anywhere else in the world!

The famous Frigate bird of the Galapagos with its mate.

Baby frigate bird!

The renowned Blue Footed Boobie Bird!

Giant Tortoises. Also indigenous to the Galapagos.

We love the Galapagos!!!

Friday we landed on Baltra Island, the only island of the entire Archipelago that is solely an airport. When we arrived, I had no idea that we still had quite a ways to go before actually entering our hostel. From the airport, we had to take a bus to the shore of the island. Then we had to get into a ferry to cross over to Santa Cruz Island, where all the lodgings were located. Then from this side of the Santa Cruz Island, we had to take a taxi to the get to the other side of the island in order to arrive where all the lodgings are located. You travel quite a bit just to get to where you’re going to stay on the Galapagos.

                Once we had made it to our hostel, we decided to go to lunch and then to a travel agency to book excursions to different islands the next three days. We ended up picking the islands Isabella, South Plazas, and Seymour. Once we had booked the excursions, we took a little “water taxi” to cross the bay to another part of the Santa Cruz Island. We walked to “Las Grietas” where there was a ton of lava rock, and wild colors of water because of the algae that inhabited them. At the end of “Las Grietas” was a beautiful lagoon where you could go swimming. Unfortunately I didn’t have my swim-suit on, or I definitely would have jumped right in! It was starting to get dark, so we decided to head back to the shore to take another water taxi to get to the main part of Santa Cruz Island where our hostel was located. We were pretty tired with all of our travels that day, so we called it an early night. Our excursion the next day left at 7:50am.

                Saturday morning we woke up at 7:00am so that we would have time to get ready, go down and eat breakfast, and then head over to the designated meeting site. When we went downstairs for breakfast at 7:25am, the owner of the hostel Rafael looked a little surprised to see us. I asked him if we could have breakfast (the hostel provided breakfast from 7:00am-8:00am) since our excursion left at 7:50am. He then said to me, “pero, son las 6:25 de la manana ahora.” (but it’s 6:25am right now). At first I thought I just didn’t understand his Spanish correctly, so I repeated what I said. He nodded, acknowledging that he understood what I was saying, and gave me the same response, this time, pointing at the clock. And then it dawned on me, The Galapagos Islands is 1 hour behind the time of Ecuador’s mainland. We had gotten up thinking it was 7:00am, but it was actually 6:00am. When we realized our mistake, we all started laughing. My mom and I decided to walk to the pier and watch the sun rise over the calm waters. It was beautiful, and such a peaceful morning. We then returned to the hostel, ate breakfast, and headed over to meet with our tour group. We were going to the island “South Plazas” that day, but in order to get to the island, you have to take a bus to the other side of the island where the port was. It turned out that our group was incredible small. Normally they have a group of 20 people, but today there were only 6 of us, including me and my mom. When we boarded the magnificent sea vessel that we would be taking to South Plazas, my mom and I went immediately to the bow of the ship, and relaxed as the motor gently hummed and the breeze of the air swept by. The boat ride was amazing. Once we made it to South Plazas, we took a small motor boat to transport us from our main boat to the island. Upon landing, we saw a myriad of sea lions and tropical crabs. Walking further up the shore, we large land iguanas of varying colors and the famous “marine iguanas” that swim in the ocean. These iguanas are only found in the Galapagos, and no where else in the world. As followed our guide, we saw flocks of birds flying all around the island. It was incredible to see. The birds’ nests were lodged on the side of the island, and they just kept flying and circling on the side of the island. One of the guys in our group had a giant camera. His camera reminded me of a shotgun. He literally had to cup the lens underneath with one hand and click with the other hand whenever he took a picture. My puny little camera stood no chance. I didn’t even know that cameras came that big of a size. Haha, oh well, I kept clicking my little powershot camera at everything I could! As I was fascinated by all the wild-life that surrounded us, my mom kept making comments about the cactus. Haha, she kept saying, “Wow! Look at this cactus! Christine, look at THAT one! Take a picture of me with the cactus Christine!” I started laughing, and replied, “Wow, mom you sure do love those cacti.” Haha, it was really funny. I took quite a few pictures of my mom next to different species of cacti. After spending a 1.5-2 hours on that island, we boarded the motor boat again to get onto to our main boat. From there we ate lunch and headed over to a different island where we would jump into the water and go snorkeling. Out of group of 6, only 3 of us when snorkeling. I went with 2 Argentine guys. The guide took the rest of the group along the coast of the island to look at pelicans. I snorkeled every day I was in the Galapagos, but this one was my favorite. As I swam, I saw colorful coral reefs, beautiful tropical fish of all shapes and sizes, and of course the clear turquoise water of the ocean. One time a school of baby fish quickly swam past me and all I could see in behind of them was a giant black fish coming my way. “Uh oh,” I thought, as I nervously saw the giant fish coming towards me. But as the giant fish came nearer, I realized that it wasn’t a giant fish at all! It was another large school of “Dori Fish!” (Remember Dori from the movie Finding Nemo?) I know they’re technically angel fish, but I like to call them Dori Fish. They were giant Dori fish too. They kept heading towards me and I thought I was going to swim right into them. But at the last moment, they dove beneath me. I tried to touch one of them but wasn’t able to. They were so pretty. As I smiled and continued swimming on my way, thinking about the Dori Fish, my elation turned immediately to fear. Right in front me was a white-tipped shark. “Shoot…” I thought to myself. My eyes were peeled to that shark. I wasn’t about to let it out of my sight. I slightly swam to the side to try to avoid it, but that didn’t make me feel any safer. I just kept thinking about that surfer girl who got her arm chewed off by a shark. I then started to think about how my life would drastically change if I lost a limb at that moment. I held my breath as the shark slowly crawled its way past me. When I felt it was a safe distance away to start moving again, I began to take large, strong strokes to avoid splashing as much as possible. The two Argentine guys in front of me looked back and excitedly pointed back at the shark and asked if I had seen it.  Still a little freaked out by the shark being so closed to me, I nodded my head and smiled. As I swam forward, I kept taking little peaks back to see if the shark decided to turn around and follow me. It didn’t. But nonetheless, a spontaneous “shark attack” was not on my bucket list. When we boarded the ship, I told my mom what I had seen. She had enjoyed her peaceful motor boat ride of pelican sightings. As we headed back to the main Santa Cruz Island, my mom and I planned on going to Tortuga Beach once we got back. Since “Tortuga” means “turtle” in English, I expected to see a beach full of turtles. This was not the case. The reason why they call it “Tortuga Beach” is because that’s where all the turtles have their nests, but they weren’t seen at this time of the year. Oh well, it was a very pretty beach, and of course it reminded me of California…home. The trail we had to walk in order to get to Tortuga Beach had a ton of cacti. My mom was THRILLED. “Christine take a picture of me with THIS cactus!” I don’t know why she loved those cacti so much. Haha, I suppose they were pretty neat looking. Once we arrived to Tortuga Beach we saw quite a few marine iguanas so that was pretty cool! As we headed back, we decided to get something to eat and then head to bed. We had another full day excursion to another island tomorrow: Isabella Island.

                Isabella Island is the biggest island of the entire Galapagos Archipelago. This time we had to meet at 6:50am for our departure to the island. We had a bigger group. There were about 16 of us in total. We piled onto a boat and sped away towards Isabella. Isabella Island was about 2 hours away from Santa Cruz. Once we arrived, we took a little motor boat from the big boat to get onto the island like we had done yesterday. This part of the island was teeming with marine iguanas. Literally everywhere you looked, there was another marine iguana. I took way too many pictures, but they were so cool. The place was crawling with them (haha no pun intended). Marine iguanas were one of the animals I was really looking forward to seeing. I still remember learning about them in my freshman biology class in high school and thinking it would be so neat to one day go to the Galapagos. And here I was, finally seeing them first-hand. We also saw a lagoon filled with white-tipped sharks (the same type of shark I swam next to the day before while snorkeling), and in another lagoon we saw sea turtles. After walking all over the island, it was time to go snorkeling again. I saw a Galapagos penguin, a blue-footed boobie (another animal I had learned about in high school that only exists in the Galapagos), and of course tons of tropical fish. Those that chose to go snorkeling only went for about 15 minutes. I used up my entire hour of time snorkeling. Our guide had to call me in. Everyone was just watching me from the boat snorkel. I guess I had lost track of time. Woops. We then headed to the main shore and had lunch. During lunch, I found out the guy I was sitting next to was from Switzerland. He spoke four different languages: French, Spanish, German, and English. He told me he went to England to learn English, Spain to learn Spanish, French was Switzerland’s language, and the majority of citizens in Switzerland learn German when they are children. Therefore, he knew 4 different languages. It’s so cool how living in countries of different languages is so accessible in Europe. What opportunities there are! After lunch, we saw a lagoon of flamingos. The flamingos would dig into the sand in order to find shrimp to eat. The shrimp contribute to their pink color. As they dug in the sand with their feet, our guide joked that “they were dancing the meringue.” Haha, they sort of did look like they were dancing the meringue. So fun! When we hopped on the boat to head back to Santa Cruz, my mom got sea sick. I felt really bad but there was nothing I could do. It was pretty bad. We’re just thankful she had an empty plastic bag in her backpack. When we arrived on shore, we went back to our hostel so that my mom could rest. After she felt better we went to get something eat. She just had a light vegetable soup to settle her stomach more. Though, my mom ended up feeling sick on the ride back, the overall excursion to Isabella was wonderful. I was exhausted, but couldn’t help getting excited for the next day’s excursion: Seymour Island.

                Monday was our final full day in the Galapagos. We had heard great things about Seymour Island, so we were both looking forward to the day’s excursion very much. As we got onto the boat, my mom and I went straight for the bow of the boat to relax in the sun as we headed out. A mom and her son joined us. It turned out they were from Chile. Her mom explained that this little vacation was a present for her son’s 15th birthday. I must say, that is quite some birthday present! Before landing on Seymour island, we actually traveled to another part of Santa Cruz Island to explore its beach. The sand was incredibly white and immediately we saw tropical crabs. Our guide went over and picked up a crab from the rocks. But the crab wasn’t moving. I assumed it was just a dead crab, but he then explained that it was a shell that a crab had sort of “molted” out of like a reptile molts its skin. I had no idea that crabs did that! When he allowed us to have a closer look, it was true! It was just the outer shell. It was very neat to see. We then continued along the white sand to another flamingo lagoon. Along the way we saw another white-tipped shark, marine iguanas, and sea lions inhabiting the island. Once we had explored the beach, it was time for my third-round of snorkeling. It was burning hot, so I was excited to hop into the Galapagos waters. Once again, the snorkeling did not disappoint. It amazed me how many colorful fish there were, and this time I tried even harder to touch one of them. I, of course failed again, but it was quite fun chasing them and trying to touch them. As I was snorkeling away, I looked up and realized that there weren’t any other snorkelers out there with me. When I looked to shore I saw a group of people piling into a tiny motor boat and heading towards the boat we arrived on. “Woops…” I thought to myself. I was the last one again. I quickly swam to shore and got on the second motor boat. There’s nothing like snorkeling that causes you to lose track of time. As we headed to Seymour island, we ate lunch together. This time I met a couple from Argentina. They were from the province of Misiones, which is where the Iguazu Falls are located. I went there when I interned with the missionary family in the summer. That place is absolutely gorgeous. No words will ever truly capture its beauty. I shared with them my experience in Corrientes, Argentina and told them that I knew a couple of people from Misiones as well. One of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting people from all over the world and exchanging stories with them. I’ll never get enough of it. After we finished lunch, we arrived at Seymour about 20 minutes later. Once we were all transported to the island, we immediately saw tons of Galapagos birds inhabiting the island. The famous “frigate bird” with the large red bulb in the front was everywhere. This bird, along with the blue-footed boobie bird, is largely advertised in pictures of the Galapagos. We saw baby birds, marine iguanas, land iguanas, more cacti (to mom’s delight), and more sea lions. I was just snapping pictures left and right.  The sun was beating down on this island. I had already gotten sunburned from the day before, and today wasn’t making my sunburns any better. I kept trying to inconspicuously hide behind people’s shadows in our group to avoid the sun. It was like having moving shade. I don’t know how effective that was, because I’m still terribly sunburnt from The Galapagos, but it was totally worth it. After walking for a couple hours and seeing everything on the island, we headed back to our boat to get back to Santa Cruz island. Our last excursion had come to a close, but we still had things that we wanted to do on Santa Cruz Island. As soon as we got back to the main village, my mom and I walked to the Giant Tortoise sanctuary about 20 minutes away. We saw baby giant tortoises, and full grown ones. They were HUGE! In addition to them, we went to “Darwin’s Research Station” and read about his theory of natural selection with the famous finches. This was just so neat. Again it reminded me of my high school biology class, and how I really wanted to go to The Galapagos one day to see it all first hand. I can finally say I did it. My mom and I joke that we want to go back to the Galapagos on a cruise. If you book a cruise to see the islands on the Galapagos rather than just taking day excursions from the island you have your hostel/hotel on, you’re definitely going to be spending thousands of dollars more. Of course on cruises, you see islands that you couldn’t see if you were only doing day excursions, so it’s a give and take. But any island that you go to on The Galapagos is special and absolutely incredible. After we left the Giant Tortoise Sanctuary and Darwin’s Research Station, my mom and I went to the beach and just took in the beauty of the scenery. We then ate a good dinner, and headed back to our hostel. It was our last night, and we would leave the next morning to head to Costa Rica for the start of our Central American tour. I am currently in my hotel in Costa Rica writing this blog post. The Galapagos was truly amazing. Even though I’m have a reddish tint all over my body from being sun-burnt, I can’t help but smile at all the adventures we had in The Galapagos. Our Central America tour is 17 days long. It goes through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and ends in Guatemala. I’m planning on writing a post for each country. I took a look at the list of people in our group, and it’s so cool! We have people from Ireland, Australia, Germany, Canada, England, and of course, my mom and I from the U.S.  There’s about 16ish of us total. We have a “group meeting” tonight, and tomorrow we officially start the tour. Latin America has truly stolen a piece of my heart. I can’t wait for all that is to come. Until next time….

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I’m going to miss my professor so much!

A farewell dinner.

Mom!

Mom with the Iguanas. She didn’t want to pet them, but eventually she did. Wooh!

At around 11:30am, we got off the plane and stepped into the city of Guayaquil. My mom had wanted to see where I had been living for the past 3 months before we headed to the Galapagos. When we checked into our hostel, we immediately left for lunch. We were pretty hungry. I took my mom to this place to have “Arroz y Pollo con Menestra.” (Rice and Chicken, with this Ecuadorian type of bean dish). This meal is the most common dish that Ecuadorians eat, and my mom wanted to eat some typical Ecuadorian food. She thought it was quite tasty! Afterwards, we took a nap. We were pretty exhausted from our travels in Peru, and of course from getting up very early for our flight that morning. At 5pm we met up with my Spanish professor. I was really excited to see him again, but it was a bittersweet. This would be the last time I would see him. I don’t know if I ever will see him again, but at least there’s always the internet world to keep in touch. He certainly impacted my life, and my experience abroad here in Ecuador would have been very different without him. My mom had brought a bag of Ghiradelli caramel chocolate squares to give him as a good-bye/thank you gift. Once we met up with him, we walked along Malecon 2000, the Riverwalk and showed my mom all the main parts of it. It was cool having him there since he was kind of like a mini-tour guide. After we finished walking the Riverwalk, my mom and I had already pre-planned on treating my professor to dinner at his favorite restaurant. It was a wonderful dinner and we had quality conversation. It was pretty sad when it was time to say good-bye. Without my professor, my entire semester abroad would have been completely different. Having 2.5 hour classes every day with someone for 2 months definitely leaves an impact on you. I thanked him for everything, and we agreed that we would stay in contact every now and then throughout the years. As my mom and I walked back to our hostel, we were pretty tired from the day. We ended up going to bed pretty soon and were happy with the thought that we could sleep in and had nothing planned the next day until lunch. As you may have expected, we slept in, and got ready to go to the lunch. We were meeting my on-site director, Claudia. I certainly wasn’t nearly as close to Claudia as I was with my Spanish professor, but she told me she wanted to my mom, and my mom also wanted to meet her. We met her at the Iguana Park. My mom was certainly amused with all the iguanas walking around. I finally convinced her to pet one. Haha, it was really fun. Claudia showed up with her aunt, and the four of us walked to the Riverwalk to go to the food court for lunch. At the end, as we said our good-byes, Claudia told us that she would probably be in Orange County (the area of California I live in) during the month of May. She said if she was there she would send me an email and that maybe we could get together again. I don’t know the likelihood of that happening, but it was a nice gesture. After we said our good-byes, my mom and I headed over to the “Mercado Artesenal” to look at all the different souvenirs and such that had been handcrafted by the natives. We then stopped at my language school where I said my good-byes to the staff there whom had given me a friendly hello every time I had walked through the school’s doors. I also introduced my mom to the owners of the gym I went to every day. They were such nice people. I ended up asking them if I could get a picture with them to remember them by. They were delighted, and quickly jumped up from their seats as my mom snapped a picture of all of us. At night my mom and I walked up the steps to Las Peñas and saw the entire city at night. It was absolutely beautiful. As the day ended, we packed up all our bags and went to bed semi-early. We would be going to the airport in the morning to head to our next adventure: The Galapagos Islands. I am currently in the Galapagos writing this right now, but I wanted to put up a separate post for each sort of “block” of my Latin American adventure with my mom. As I left Guayaquil, I realized that this would be the last time I would be in the city for a very, very long time. My semester abroad there was full and rich with experience. What an amazing journey. I feel I have grown so much since the time I first stepped on the plane to enter Latin America. Well, be on the look out for a blog post about the Galapagos in the next couple of days. I’ll let you know, that the Galapagos is incredible. It is absolutely gorgeous and full of organisms that exist no where else in this world. It’s pretty much paradise for anyone who loves nature and wildlife. Well, I’m not going to say anymore. You’ll just have to read more about it later on! Hasta luego!

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Alapacas and Peruvian natives of Cusco.

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The main square/plaza of Cusco.

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We went to a traditional Peruvian Folklore Show!

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The Incan Ruins at Pisac.

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The Ollantaytambu Incan Site.

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ALPACAS!

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A native weaving a belt of Peruvian images.

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"The Incan Wall" in Cusco. This guy "stands guard" of it.

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hahaha, Mom.

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Another picture of the Ollantaytambu Inca Ruin Site.

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MACHU PICCHU!!!

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Hiking part of the Inca Trail.

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"La Puerta del Sol" (The Sun Gate).

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WOOOH!

Wow, what an adventure. Peru has definitely become one of my favorite countries in this world. Saturday I arrived in Cusco, Peru and finally got to see my mom after months abroad. We excitedly got into our taxi and headed into town to our hostel. Cusco is a beautiful town, and has tons of people from all over the world. It is so touristy that if you didn’t know a word of Spanish, you would get along fine. Every hotel, restaurant, shop, etc. has Peruvians that can speak English. Despite this though, I think that they all still greatly appreciate it if you use Spanish. I always used my Spanish and despite having an obvious accent, they loved communicating to me in their native tongue. I think that as North Americans we sometimes feel privileged as though other countries need to cater to us and our language. I think that when a North American (I specify North American to talk about U.S. citizens since the term “Americans” refers to all those living in South, Central, and North America) has taken the time to learn their language, it is something significant to them. Anyways, we got to our hostel around noon. We were pretty hungry, so after we checked-in, we headed to one of the local eateries for lunch. I had some Peruvian pasta, which was quite tasty! Afterwards we took decided to go on a double-decker bus for a tour of the city. It was really funny, because for a while we were the only ones on the bus, and the tour operators didn’t want to start the tour until there were more people aboard. So for about 45 minutes we just kept circling the town square which is very tiny. We literally were just making circles. It was hilarious. My mom and I were laughing because it was obvious that they were trying to look like they were doing something without actually leaving for the tour. Finally the bus filled up and we took off. We went to the top of Cusco and met some native Peruvian girls who were only about 10 and 8 years old with their pet alpaca. So COOL. I want my own alpaca. After the tour, we walked around the town and headed back to our hostel. It was still pretty early in the night, but we were exhausted. I had gotten to the airport at 3:30am that morning and my mom had been traveling nearly for 24 hours with 2 layovers in her flight to arrive to Cusco. So we ended up going to bed at around 9:00pm that night.

                Sunday we slept in and caught up on all our sleep. We didn’t have much planned for the day. All we had to do was check-in with the tour agency that we would be leaving with the next day for our trip to the Sacred Valley and then to Machu Picchu on Tuesday. Our instructions were pretty clear. The agency told us to check-in with them the day prior to our departure. I found where they were located on the map, and after we ate breakfast, we headed over to their office. When we got to the location of their office, we showed up to a locked door. I then asked around the local shops that were open what time the office opened. Surely, the agency wouldn’t tell us to check-in with them on a day that they were closed…but no. They were indeed closed that day. Now my mom and I were a little bit stressed. We didn’t have any of our tickets for the buses/trains/meals and such that went along with our tour and we had no idea where we were supposed to meet to get picked up by the agency the next day. We then went back to our hostel and tried calling them, but there was no answer. Out of desperation, we returned to the office and my mom was like, “Let’s just try knocking.” We didn’t have any other option, so we tried it. To my surprise, someone answered, but it wasn’t from the agency. It turns out the agency shares space with a little hostel, and the person that answered was the owner of the hostel. We explained our situation and the owner told us that the managers from the agency were currently in Argentina and there was a fill-in person for them until they got back. This certainly wasn’t very comforting. They gave us some contact information, and I sent them an email back at the hostel. Finally the managers replied to me and told me someone would be coming to our hostel to give us all our tickets and go over the itinerary. I was pretty annoyed at that. The agency should have given us some sort of information, but I guess I was so relieved that I didn’t really care. We finally got all our information around 3pm. For lunch we went to this little restaurant and decided to have some real Peruvian food: Alpaca. Yes, I confess, I ate part of what was once a cute alpaca. It was absolutely delicious though! Later we went to the Chocolate Museum and got some chocolate tea. Chocolate Tea has now become my favorite tea. It tastes has the delicious taste of chocolate but 0 calories. Win. At night we went to a traditional Peruvian folklore dance program which featured a Peruvian orchestra that played music that the Peruvian dancers performed to. It was pretty neat to watch.

                Monday was the start of our tour. The agency picked us up and we boarded a bus. We saw incredible Inca ruins in Pisac and Ollantaytambu, and I was amazed as I learned how the Incas created these magnificent structures. At lunch, we went to a beautiful place that had Alapacas grazing in a pasture just below where we were eating. Of course after I finished my lunch, I went straight to the Alpacas. Chillin’ with Alpacas had become a wonderful pastime of mine. It was a bit ironic because in the buffet lunch there were multiple dishes of alpacas. So as I was looking at an alpaca graze the grass below me, I was eating part of one of its relatives…

                When it was around 7pm, we had finished seeing the Sacred Valley and boarded the train to go to Aguas Calientes, the Machu Picchu city where everyone has to go to in order to get to Machu Picchu. We left the tour group we were with as the rest of the group went back to Cusco on bus. We had a separate package where we would stay the night in Aguas Calientes and go to Machu Picchu the next day. There would be a person waiting for us with a sign when we arrived in Aguas Calientes later on that night. My mom and I already had some reservations about this, because our tour company did not tell us the name of the hostel that we were staying at. Nor did we have a cell phone that we could call a number if there wasn’t a person holding a sign waiting for us when we arrived. We decided that it wouldn’t be a problem since, after all, we had paid good money for this tour and everything should be taken care of. WRONG. Once we got there, there were a ton of people holding signs as the majority of the people on the bus had booked some sort of pick-up/tour with all different kinds of agencies. We looked everywhere but could not find our names. As a few minutes passed, and the crowd of people that had exited the train started to disappear, I began to get worried. Where was our guy? Within a few minutes, my mom and I were the only ones standing there, alone, in the dark (it was 9pm), with no idea what the name of our hostel that we were staying at. “This is ridiculous,” I thought to myself. I told my mom we should just wait there and see if someone shows up with a sign. My mom was pretty stressed but wasn’t saying anything. I could just see it on her face. Locals in the town saw us standing alone at the train station and started asking us questions to see if they could help. I told them that there was nothing that we could really do. We didn’t know where we were staying, and it was too late to call our travel agency since their office would have been closed by then. Finally, after 20 long, worrisome minutes of standing there alone at the train station someone showed up with our names. He called out “Christine and Judy Licata?” Immediately all my stress and fear turned into anger. I couldn’t believe how non-chalantly he called out our names as if it was the middle of the day and there were tons of other people standing around waiting with us. I immediately yelled at him, “Que PASO!?” (What HAPPENED!?) I don’t think I have ever yelled at a stranger whom I just met in my life, but boy was I furious at that moment. He started to give me some sort of answer about “closed rooms” or something but I didn’t care. I shook my head as I grabbed my bag. I had already made up my mind that whatever “reason” he had for being late was ridiculous and unacceptable. I glared at him, and said, “Puede llevar mi maleta?” (Can you carry my bag?). It was more of a command than a question. The guy knew I was pissed the moment I had yelled “Que paso” at him. He answered, “Si, si, claro que si.” (Yes, yes, of course yes). My mom doesn’t speak Spanish but she clearly understood what the conversation was. She just quietly walked along as we headed to our hostel. I wasn’t finished yet. I don’t think I’ve been that mad at total stranger in my life. “Usted habla ingles?” (Do you speak English?) I demanded. “No..no…” he meekly replied. I had a feeling that he did speak English but he wasn’t about to admit that especially with me so fired up. I knew there was no way that the agency we had booked this with would have someone who didn’t speak English come pick us up since the entire time there had always been people that spoke English. Once we got to the hostel, I started to cool down. The guy quickly grabbed our keys and took us to our room. It wasn’t much of a check-in. He avoided making eye-contact with me. When I left the room for a moment, I saw my mom talking to him. He definitely spoke English. As soon as he saw me coming back, he immediately switched to Spanish and pretended like he didn’t understand English. When he left, my mom started laughing, and told me the guy was scared of me. I felt a little bad but I guess my fear of standing there alone not knowing where to go at the train station got the best of me. The next time I saw him, I kept smiling and saying “gracias” to everything to try to make up for me yelling at him earlier. Oh well, he was probably glad once we finally checked-out the next day. Haha

                Monday we got up at 5:00am so that we could hop on an early bus up to Machu Picchu and get there before the morning crowd came. When we arrived, it was evident that Machu Picchu had exceeded the very high expectations I had had for the past few months. Machu Picchu was incredible. There really aren’t words that I can use to describe its majestic beauty, especially early in the morning within its crisp climate surrounding us. Besides the Iguazu Falls in Argentina and the Alishan Mountains in Taiwan, Machu Picchu is the most beautiful place I have ever been to in my life. The ruins are so intricate, and it’s crazy to imagine how the Incans built all of it with the technology of their day. I took a massive amount of photos that day. After about an hour or so of exploring the ruins ourselves without hardly any other people there, we had to head back to entrance to meet up with our tour group. We went on a 2 hour tour learning about the Incans and everything about Machu Picchu. Our guide was pretty impressive. He could speak 5 different languages. Spanish (obviously), English, Portugese, Quechua (the indigenous language of Peru), and German. Very impressive. After our tour my mom and I hiked part of the Inca Trail (It was a 2 hour hike round-trip) to the “La Puerta del Sol” (Sun Gate). It was a beautiful hike. One day I want to go back to Machu Picchu and hike the entire Inca Trail. If you do not know, there are multiple ways you can get to Machu Picchu. You can hike the Inca Trail that was used a means of communication within the Incan Empire years ago which takes about 4 days on average to hike. The hike ends in Machu Picchu. Then you can hike Huayna Picchu which is the famous mountain that everyone sees in pictures of Machu Picchu. But in order to do these things, you have to book them in advance since there is a limited number of tickets. For the Inca Trail, if I remember correctly, you have to practically book that a year in advance. To hike Huayna Picchu (they only allow 400 people per day), you have to book it at least 3 months or so in advance. They do this so that the Inca Trail and Huayna Picchu isn’t overly crowded. You can also hike the actual mountain of “Machu Picchu” but you also have to get separate tickets for this. Machu Picchu isn’t as popular, but you still would want to book it at least a month in advance. These are all just side adventures to the main site. At the main site you see all the ruins, can hike part of the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate, and hike to the Inca Bridge which is about another 1 hour hike. There’s so much to see and do. Oh and just to explain the significance of the names, “Machu Picchu” means “Big Mountain” and “Huayna Picchu” means “Small Mountain.” There’s also another mountain called “Happy Mountain” but you can’t actually climb it. These are all terms using the language of the Inca’s civilization. After we had spent maybe a good 7 hours there, we had to head back down the mountain to catch our train back to Ollantaytambu. Before you leave, you can get a “Machu Picchu stamp” in your passport, where obviously, you can’t get anywhere else in the world. Of course I got one as a little souvenir/memory of my amazing experience there.

                Once we hopped on our train, we met a couple who had done the Inca Trail for the past few days before, and that morning hiked Huayna Picchu. So cool. They said that Huayna Picchu was pretty difficult to climb, but was gorgeous at the top. It’s so fun talking to other people and hearing about their experiences. When we got off our train, there was someone waiting for us to pick us up to go back to Cusco. This was the kind of service we had expected the night before, but no matter, we got to where we needed to be. The ride back to Cusco was about 2.5 hours. Once we got there, we ate some dinner and this Peruvian restaurant. I had alpaca again. Seriously, it’s just so tasty! My mom and I split a Peruvian soup, which was also insanely delicious. Peru definitely knows how to cook! We then headed to bed because we would have to get up at 3:30am to head to the airport for our flight to Guayaquil. What an adventure Peru was. Such an incredible trip. We have so much more ahead and I can’t wait for all that is to come! 

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My new friend Jennifer at the clinic! She’s only 18 and she’s getting married in a couple of months! Crazy!

Nube!!! The awesome helper of the house! I’m going to miss her.

My last day at the clinic with the doctor and the nurse. What an experience it has been there! I’ve learned so much.

Chillin’ with my Spanish professor. It’s always a great time of conversation whenever we can meet!

The holiday season has come to Guayaquil!

Santa Claus, or “Papa Noel” as the Latin Americans call him! 

So Sunday I arrived back in Ecuador from my amazing visit in Argentina. I had nothing going on in the afternoon until college group. This would be my last time I would see my church Ecuadorian friends. When I got to the church, everyone asked me, “Cuando te vas Christine? Cuando te vas???” (When do you go?). They all knew that I was leaving pretty soon after returning from my trip to Argentina. I told them that I was leaving Saturday to meet my mom in Peru and start our Latin American travels. It was pretty sad, but we didn’t dwell on it. We just had a good time like normal. While I was waiting for my taxi to come, my friend Grace asked me if I wanted to have some “green mango” since mango is my favorite fruit. I shrugged my shoulders with a smile, and said sure! She brought out some 3 green mangos and a plate of salt. She then cut one and handed it to me. The inside of the mango was green too. It basically was an extremely unripe mango. She pointed to the salt and instructed to me that I was supposed to put salt on it as I ate it. So I did. When I took a bite, it was super crunchy like an apple since it was so unripe. And it was extremely sour. The salt didn’t help the taste at all. Grace and my friend Maria who was with us, were chomping down on their mangos happily spreading generous portions of salt on their mango with each bite. I was trying so hard to not make that “puckered-sour face” that comes when you bite a lemon. It was just so tart. Grace looked up at me with a giant grin and said, “Te gusta?” (Do you like it?) with hopeful eyes. Maria looked expectantly at me as well. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything about how tart I thought the mango was, and how I honestly was struggling to eat it. I just smiled, and enthusiastically said, “Si!” They both laughed with approval and continued chomping away. As they were sped through eating their mangos, I slowly continued to take bites, working my way through. I was secretly hoping my taxi would come soon so that I would have a break from the sour taste. Finally my taxi did come, and I still had 2/3rds of my mango left. Grace insisted that I take it home with me. Not wanting to disappoint, I carried that mango with me in the taxi all the way back to my house, where I confess I immediately put it in the trashcan.

                The highlight of Monday happened in the clinic. A girl named Angie (who was actually a classmate in October in my morphophysiology class) walked in with two giant lumps bulging out from her underarms. They looked like some kind of growth. The doctor wanted me to watch her remove these lumps. The procedure started out normal by sterilizing the equipment and then cleaning the area of the skin that would be operated on. But soon after, I couldn’t believe the procedure I saw. Without putting any type of numbing agent within Angie, the doctor took a scapel and literally sliced right through the skin. Immediately blood poured out. Angie made an agonized face of pain, but that didn’t faze the doctor. We had a lot of paper towels underneath to catch the blood. The doctor then made the incision wider by taking scissors, poking them through the slit that was just made, and opening the scissors to widen the hole. Throughout this whole time, Angie was squirming and kept making sounds of pain. It was hard to watch her face, so I just stared at the spot that the doctor was working on. I hate seeing people in pain. The doctor then gushed out a ton of pus and blood that were the culprits of the large bulge. After this, the doctor inserted some gauze into the giant hole she had slit open in Angie’s skin. As she was stuffing the hole with gauze, Angie began to cry and wimper with pain. It was actually really impressive watching the doctor work. It seemed the doctor didn’t hear any of Angie’s cries of pain. She worked swiftly and smoothly. I was practically sweating watching the procedure because of Angie’s faces of agony. I even thought at one point that someone could do this a torture technique, that’s how much pain was shown on Angie’s face. Once the doctor and finished with one arm, she then told Angie to lie down on her other side to attack the other large bulge. I felt bad for Angie. She was only half way done. When the entire procedure was over, and Angie was all bandaged up, the doctor stepped out of the office for a moment. Angie was just sitting there, still crying a little from the pain. I asked if she was ok, and that I was really impressed with all the pain she endured. She gave me a small smile. I smiled back at her, and hoped that her pain had subsided a bit. I still couldn’t believe that the doctor used a scapel to cut out the bulge without using any type of pain-killer in the area. But at least, Angie’s bulges were gone. So that was the most exciting thing of the day. I thought I had seen all there was to see in the little clinic that I work in, but I stood corrected based on Monday’s events.

                Tuesday in the clinic I got to know the new intern for the week. Her name was Jennifer. She was 18 years old and it was fun learning about her. She apparently commutes 2 hours every day just to get to Guayaquil. So in total, she commutes 4 hours a day. She also told me she was going to get married in February. When she told me this I thought she was joking. But when I realized she was serious, I couldn’t believe it! She just seemed so young to me. She said that she had been engaged since she was 16. The other crazy part about it, is that her fiancé is 7 years older than her. So right now he’s 25 and she’s 18. I guess it seems like a huge difference since they’re younger right now, but still I was just very surprised when she told me this. We both laughed when I had gotten over my shock. I asked her why she wanted to get married so young, and why she didn’t want to wait a couple of years until she finished nursing school. Apparently here in Ecuador, if you’re married, you get paid more money by law. Since the average person gets paid $12 a day and around $300 a month here in Ecuador (yea, you read that right), any increase in salary is huge. So my new friend Jennifer will be getting married in February. Actually she’s getting married the same day as my birthday. I joked with her that on my birthday I’ll send her greetings and congratulations for her marriage. Still crazy to think about.

                Wednesday the doctor taught me how to put in stitches. I had to buy a piece of meat from the supermarket to practice on. There were three different types of stitches she taught me. The first one was the type of stitch is the kind that you would imagine on Frankenstein, where each stitch is done individually and then the string is cut and tied. The second one is was more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The stitches are actually woven within the gash and then when they are tied off, you can’t really see them. The third type was for very, very deep wounds where the stitch would actually overlap itself to seal off the wound. I thanked the doctor for taking the time to teach me all of it. Every time she showed me how to do a stitch, she would hand the tools to me and I would have to practice doing what she just taught me until I got it right. It’s so cool think about how much I have learned in the clinic, especially knowing that it was all taught to me in Spanish. This medical internship has been an awesome experience.

                Thursday, which was known as “Thanksgiving” to those living in the United States, was a normal day here in Ecuador. It was my last day in the clinic, and the doctor, nurse, and clinical staff all bought me a little present and said that they were going to miss me. It was really sad. I hate good-byes, but I thanked them for everything and all that I had learned there. They are incredible people. The doctor is hilarious and she taught me so much. I’m really going to miss her sense of humor and seeing her medical skill day in and day out. After I said my good-byes to the people in the clinic, I headed over the Iguana Park to meet my Spanish professor before I left for Peru on Saturday. I will see him one last time next week with my mom when we both are here in Guayaquil for a couple of days before we head to the Galapagos Islands. I had an awesome time with my professor. We talked about my trip to Argentina, what he had been doing, and basically just talked life. If you haven’t read my earlier blog posts, I’ll just reiterate that my Spanish professor has really impacted my life and he was the most influential person in Guayaquil during my time here. In Guayaquil, there are also a lot of Christmas decorations and festivities going on here in downtown, so we saw “Papa Noel” (Santa Claus), Christmas trains, reindeer, a children’s Christmas choir, and so much more. It was so fun seeing all the lights and the giant Christmas tree on the main street of downtown. I then said my farewell to him, and headed back home.

                Today, I am packing up all my things (which is seriously quite the task). I bought way too many souvenirs and alpaca sweaters when I was in Otavalo in September. I just got really good prices on them since Otavalo is a huge bargaining market. Note to people who are going to study abroad: Make sure you leave a good amount of space in your luggage when you leave the States so that you have room to take home all your souvenirs and things you buy abroad. I came here with space, but definitely not enough. But I got everything packed away using every packing strategy I could remember (this included sitting on my suitcase in order to zip it up). Tonight I’m going to be going out with my on-site director, Claudia, for an “All-You-Can-Eat” Crab dinner. She called me yesterday and said she wanted to take me out before I left. I certainly wasn’t going to refuse a bottomless Crab dinner. Haha, so today is a pretty easy going day as I get ready to head to the airport tomorrow at 3:30am for my 6:00am flight. It still hasn’t quite hit me yet that my time in Guayaquil is coming to a close. It might be because I still have about a month of traveling Latin America with my mom, but I’m sure the feeling will hit me soon enough. What an incredible experience it has been. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that, but I don’t know what else I can say. I give God all the glory for this amazing adventure I have been on.

                This next month I will try to put up a blog about each country when my time there has finished. I don’t know what the extent of my internet access will be, but I will for sure be typing everything and posting it when I get a chance! Here’s to one more month of Latin American adventures! Wooh!

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Meet the “High-Mobile.”

Good times with Nancy and Noelia!

El Paso de la Patria with some amazing friends.

Nothing like a good picnic lunch of empanadas and alfajores!

Ice Cream! Ice Cream! We all scream for ICE CREAM!

Belen’s birthday!

A night of bowling fun!

Thanksgiving with Argentine loved ones.

Once last picture before our farewell.

Home-made PUMPKIN PIE!

And just like that, my time in Argentina has come to a close. What an incredible time it was! As I leave my friends in Argentina, I can’t help but wonder when I will be able to see them again. But something tells me that this will not be my last time in Corrientes, Argentina. Alright, so time to summarize the past few days…

                Wednesday, I learned to drive stick shift. Yup, you read that right. Levi and Holly taught me how to drive stick shift on the roads of Argentina. Levi had verbally told me how to drive stick, so in my head I could verbally recite what someone needed to do, but I had never actually done it. So after lunch when there wasn’t much going on, Holly comes over to me and Levi as we’re playing cards, and says, “Ok, you ready to drive?” Levi quickly snatched up all the cards on the table and before I knew it I was behind the driving wheel stepping on the clutch and putting the car in first gear. Oh, before I go further, I would like to give a better image of what was happening. The High’s car is a bit different than what you would normally picture in your head. Some time ago, someone jammed the wrong key in the ignition so that it was lodged in there and they couldn’t start the car. As a result, Kevin completely dismantled the ignition section, watched a couple YouTube videos on how to hot-wire a car, and now every time the High’s start the car, they fiddle around with a couple of wires to jump start it since the key ignition is non-existent. Basically, the High’s could be car-jacking professionals. Ok kidding, they would never do anything like that, but that’s what I first thought when Kevin showed me how the car worked when I first came to Argentina in the summer. Ok, back to my “stick-shift driving lesson.” So I slowly let off the clutch as I pressed down on the gas. It actually wasn’t that hard. Once we were moving, Levi said, “Now switch to second!” Easy enough. It definitely didn’t feel natural though. We started to drive around the block. Oh, and the steering wheel on the High’s car is really stiff to turn. Well, maybe it’s not stiff for them, but compared to my car in the States that I’m used to driving…well it just required a lot more effort than what I would have imagined. Granted, I haven’t driven a car for practically 3 months, so it is entirely possible that I forgot how much effort it takes to turn a steering wheel. Ok, so once I sort of exited the neighborhood, Levi then told me, “Ok 3rd gear!” So I switched the third gear, and literally the moment I had fully switched to 3rd gear, Levi goes on to say, “Now, 4th GEAR!” Now, I knew that with higher gear you switch to, it means you have to drive a faster rate, and there wasn’t much road left to drive, so I was a little hesitant at first, but I figured, “eh, they know what they’re talking about.” So just as I was switching to 4th gear, Levi blurts out, “Turn right HERE!” at a corner that was literally 3 seconds away. I was still in the process to switching to 4th gear, and in my head I knew if I was turning I would have to slow down, which logically would mean I would have to switch to a lower gear, but Levi and Holly didn’t tell me that so I figured, “well, maybe I don’t have to switch to a lower gear.” (This whole thought process is happening within those 3 seconds I mentioned). Just as I had finished that thought and I was beginning to turn the wheel, Levi then blurts out “Switch to second! Switch to second!” Now remember, just about 3 seconds, literally, 3 SECONDS, before Levi had told me to switch to 4th gear. I hadn’t even gone half a foot in 4th gear, before he’s blurting out “Turn right HERE! Switch to second! Switch to second!” I am possibly making the scene look more chaotic than what it actually was, but this is how chaotic it was in my head. This scenario didn’t happen just once. It happened literally 3 times, before I just had to come out and say, “So am I supposed to always be in 2nd gear every time I turn!?” You would think that would be something said from the beginning, but no. When they answered, “yes” I couldn’t help but wonder why I wasn’t just told that from the beginning rather than repeatedly being commanded last second within every mid-turn to switch to second gear. Oh well. I definitely stalled a couple times in the street. There’s nothing like learning to drive stick-shift and stalling at a stop-light with a line of cars behind you! Haha, after about a half hour we made our way back to their house and I parked the car. I never would have thought that I would have learned to drive stick shift in Argentina in a car that is started by a hot-wire ignition. Too GOOD. I’ll definitely be telling that story in the future.

                When we got back to the house we hung out with my friend Noelia. About an hour later, Nancy came over. Once Nancy came, we skyped my friend Rylie who is studying abroad in Italy. Nancy is fluent in Italian, English, and Spanish. So I thought it would be fun to see Rylie converse with Nancy in Italian.  In theory this sounded great, but in reality we ended up just speaking English. Haha, oh well. It was great talking to Rylie again and I look forward to exchanging stories with her when we’re both back at Point Loma (we’re also roommates at Point Loma). Noelia had to leave around 8pm, but Nancy stayed until almost midnight. I had so much fun hanging out with Nancy. Nancy is probably one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. She’s incredibly witty. Her jokes take intelligence to create. It’s pretty incredible how she’s fluent in 3 different languages and has never left the country. And the thing is, she understands the language too. I can say anything in English and she’ll understand what I’m saying. Even when I try to speak as fast as I can to trip her up, she still understands! It’s nice having her around. She’s pretty much a walking “Spanish-English dictionary.” Haha, she’s quite amused whenever I tell her that. We ended the night with some amazing home-made pizza that Holly and a few rounds of cards. Nothing gets much better than good food and quality conversation. Needless to say, Wednesday was a pretty good day.

                Thursday, as usual, Holly, Levi, and I went to the gym. But before going, we made a chocolate cake for Belen. We would be celebrating her birthday later on at night. Her birthday is actually next week, but since I won’t here at that time, we decided to celebrate it early. We could only spend about an hour at the gym, because we would be picking Belen and Nancy up downtown at around noon to go to “El Paso de la Patria” which is a beautiful little town about a half hour away. We drove to the designated place where we had agreed to pick them up, but they weren’t to be found. Once again, I was reminded of how different the concept of time is in Latin America from the United States. Needless to say, they didn’t show up until around 1pm. Haha, I don’t know if my A-type personality could ever fully get accustomed to that concept of time. But finally, we were on our way. Once we got to El Paso, we set up a blanket for a picnic of empanadas, chips, juice, Argentine biscuit rolls, and an onion/cheese pie. Oh, and of course there were alfajores (Thanks Holly! Haha). We then walked along the beach (it was a river beach, not an ocean beach), took some pictures, relaxed, and enjoyed some great conversation. Levi, Belen, Nancy, and I started to tell each other jokes in our native language to see if we understood the joke. Every time we had to explain the joke, which of course killed the joke, but it was fun nonetheless. After spending a wonderful afternoon talking  on the beach, we then went and got ice cream more in the center of the town. There’s nothing like ice cream on a hot, sunny day! We then drove back to the High’s house where we hung out, and I showed my Argentine friends some pictures of my experience in Ecuador. We then picked up Belen’s sister, Faatima, at her house to come over to the High’s house as well. We had burritos for dinner. My Argentine friends had never had Mexican food before, so the whole concept of rolling up a tortilla into a burrito was foreign to them. Never in my life have I had to explain how to roll up a burrito, but alas that night an explanation was necessary. They all thought the burritos were quite tasty! So I guess Mexican night was a success. After we finished eating, we turned out the lights and brought out the cake we had made for Belen in the morning with candles on it. We sang Happy Birthday to her, and of course, she blew out the candles. The entire day was awesome.

                Friday, Levi, Holly, and I started the day as usual by going to the gym. Later on in the day, Levi and I went to go see “The Hunger Games 2!” I had been waiting to see that movie ever since I saw it preview in April when I saw the first movie. I read the entire book series in a week. The series is THAT good. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the movie on opening day! The movie did not disappoint. It was as good as I had expected. Afterwards we went to our friend Tess’s house for a visit. I hadn’t seen Tess that much, so I was glad that I had a chance to talk with her before coming back to Ecuador. Tess told us how she was applying to a program where she would come to the U.S. for a month and that she had been working hard on her personal statement. I certainly hope that she gets accepted to the program! It would be so cool if she could come to the States! After meeting with her, we then went and met up with Belen, Nancy, Faatima, and Javier to go bowling. Amelia and Hannah met us at the bowling alley. Everyone had gone bowling before except for Belen. When Belen stood up to throw her first bowl, I’m sure the majority of us were expecting her to get a gutter ball. Quite the opposite occurred. She ended up getting a strike on her very first bowl!!! I don’t think there are that many people in the world that can say that they got a strike on their first bowl. Well, Belen is one of those people. Afterwards, she ended up getting gutter balls, but the only thing I’ll remember is how she got that strike. Haha, it was pretty darn cool. When it was about 10:30pm, we decided to go get some dinner. Yea, Argentines eat super late dinners. In fact, Nancy told me that 10:30pm was actually early for her. She normally eats dinner at 11:30pm or midnight. I’m definitely fast asleep by then. So we ended up going to a pizza parlor called “Pizza Hot” (different from Pizza Hut). The prices in Argentina are quite amazing. To feed 8 people with drinks, the entire cost of the bill was about 120 pesos, which is the equivalent of $12. If only prices were like that in the States…

                We didn’t get back to the house until after 1am. The next day was Saturday, my final day in Argentina. Saturday was when we celebrated Thanksgiving with all the Argentines. It was their first Thanksgiving. I was thrilled since I wouldn’t have celebrated Thanksgiving in Ecuador, and we could share this part of our U.S. culture with the Argentines. All the food was pretty foreign to them. They had never heard of “stuffing” and some of them had never tasted turkey before! After we were all filled up with some good Thanksgiving food, Holly then brought out the 3 home-made pies she baked: Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie, and Lemon Pie. I was already stuffed with food, but like every Thanksgiving I pushed myself to try each kind of pie. I couldn’t finish it. Such a struggle. But oh so good. All of our Argentine friends enjoyed their first Thanksgiving. Belen, Faatima, Nancy, and our other two friends Sofia and Alejandro came. After we had finished our Thanksgiving feast, it was time for them to go. I didn’t want to say good-bye, but I knew that it was obviously inevitable. Sofia and Alejandro walked home since they lived so close, but we ended up giving Nancy, Belen, and Faatima a ride home. I gave each of them a huge hug as I said bye to them one-by-one. It was pretty sad. The hardest part about these kind of good-byes is that you don’t know when you’re going to see them again. Those are the kind of good-byes that I struggle with the most. If I know I’m going to see someone in the near future, it’s not as hard to say bye, since I can look forward to a definite date in the future when I will see them again. Anyways, I said farewell to my dear Argentine friends, and we headed back to the High house.

                Back at the High house, I figured I should probably pack my bags since we would be driving to Asuncion, Paraguay (to get to the airport) in a few hours later on. I’m always a procrastinator when it comes to packing, but it usually never takes me that long. When I had finished, Holly and Levi thought it would be a great idea if I went out and practiced stick-shift driving again. So we went out to the “High-mobile” (and yes, I am going to refer to their car as that from now on). It was super hot in the car, which didn’t make driving stick-shift any more comfortable. I of course stalled a series of times. I ended up having to wait three cycles of at a stop-light because whenever it turned green and I tried to go, it would stall before I moved at all. I don’t think the cars behind me were super thrilled with me in the front. Well, eventually I made it back to the house. I stepped out of the car wet with sweat. Another great experience in the High-mobile. When I got back into the house, I ended up having an awesome conversation with Hannah. She and I didn’t have much of a chance the entire time I was there to really hang out and catch up. I wish I had had more time to spend there, but of course I am thankful for the time that I did have. Around 5:30pm, it was time to say good-bye to Hannah and Amelia as Levi, Holly, Kevin, and I hopped in the car to head on to Paraguay. We ate dinner at the mall in Asuncion, and then by midnight we were in the hotel to get a few hours of sleep. We had to get up at 4:30am since my flight left at 7:00am. As soon as I closed my eyes, it seemed as though seconds later Holly was waking me up. Those hours of sleep went by way too quickly. When we made it to the airport, I checked in my bags and said my final good-byes to Holly, Levi, and Kevin. I am so thankful for them. What an incredible experience Argentina was. Corrientes will always have a special place in my heart. As I hopped on my plane, I thought about all the fun that I had and the memories that were made. I flipped through my pictures, and just smiled at all the good times. I prayed and thanked God for it all, and giving Him the glory. I have one more week in Ecuador before I start my Latin American travels with my mom. I can’t wait to see her again and all the fun that we’re going to have! God is just too good.