Monday, January 26, 2009

Mid-service Conference on the Coast

I've been gone for a few days, the reason being that I was at a Mid-service conference on the coast with the rest of my organization. I'm not going to explain the entire weekend, but rather go over some of the more interesting points. The volunteers from the Cuenca-Loja-Vilcabamba area left on Wednesday morning to make the long drive to the coast and get in nice and refreshed on Thursday afternoon.

Instead of taking the public transportation, we hired a private van from the University of Loja, as one of the volunteers who works there was friendly with the driver. A private van should make the trip quicker, but since the van had a lawnmower sized engine, it took much longer. It was also more expensive, but we were getting reimbursed for most of the expenses of the travel, including the hostel and meal stipend. It was still fun to ride with our old friends and catch up.

Leaving from Cuenca around 1 p.m., we headed through Cajas National Park towards Guayaquil. We were unsure if the indigenous strike would cause problems, but we were happy to find there were no issues, as the government had promised to crack down hard on anyone arrested. Around Guayaquil we got a little lost and as a result, the drive took a few hours longer than it needed to. We agreed to spend the night in Montanita, a well known beach town that was big with surfers and gringos. We wouldn't even get there until 9 p.m.

We were glad we got a chance to see the town, but I think for the most part it was a bit of a let down. It was extremely touristy and expensive, and I felt embarrassed just walking through the one dirt road in the main part of town. Music blasted all night, so even after a long day of traveling, we couldn't get any sleep. Once the music finally ended around 3 a.m., loud Chileans congregated outside our room and were being loud, obnoxious drunks. I finally got up to tell them to shut up, but that didn't seem to help. Once they left around 5 a.m., drummers walked through the streets banging to a dull beat for about an hour and a half, until finally there was silence, but by that point it was still so humid in the room that sleep was nearly out of the question. After all of that, it actually felt like we'd gone out and partied.

We went up the "Ruta del Sol," a well known road that runs along the coast and goes through several towns. Montanita is only a 40 minute drive from Alandaluz, the hotel where we were staying, just south of Puerto Lopez, so we were the first ones there around 2:30 p.m. The hotel was an eco-friendly resort in the middle of National Park Machalilla. With our own private beach we were able to relax with our friends and reunite, talking about the last 5 months in Ecuador. None of us could really believe that 5 months had already gone by.

Though we were there for a conference, it was pretty laid back, and no one was being run too hard. We still had time to relax on the beach or do whatever, and beach football and Frisbee was also included in the schedule. The sunsets on the beach were awesome, watching the sun quickly fall beyond the horizon, directly westbound, just slightly below the equator.

On the last night we had a bonfire and sat around as the bamboo burned and wheezed, some people making smores as it went on. This was only my second time really visiting the coast, and I still find it amazing how different the cultures between the coast and sierra are. They are like two different countries in a way. For example, on the coast everyone hangs out outside of the house because it's just too hot inside, but in the sierra everyone is bundled up and cold inside the house. As a result, the cultures of how to interact with people is different.

On Saturday we ended the conference and went our separate ways. Our van group stayed at the hotel for a couple of hours to eat and go to the beach one last time, then started the long trip back. We left Alandaluz at 2 p.m. and didn't get to Guayaquil until 7 p.m., where we stopped for dinner and to drop off another volunteer. The rest of the way back it rained and the van went slowly up the mountains through Cajas. We had to stop at one point because an enormous tree had fallen into the road, blocking all traffic. The whole area was prone to mudslides. As more cars came to stops, more men came out with machetes and cleared the tree. Finally, we got into Cuenca at 1 a.m. The Loja people still had at least 5 hours ahead of them. It was a long trip, and we all felt sore like we'd been hit by a bus, but it was a good trip. And now it's time to get back to teaching.

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