Sunday, August 12, 2007

Oh, the Places We've Gone...

Daily Occurrence: Dave and I look at each other, eyes going wide with astonishment, and whisper, "Can you believe that we are in Ecuador?"

We just can't seem to grasp the reality of our lives. The last two weeks have brought experiences and sights to our lives that we never expected to be a part of. It is overwhelming, exhilarating, and sometimes exhausting.

Dave and I travelled with a group of teachers this weekend to a small coastal town called Puerto Lopez. We went through many villages along the way where we had to dodge wild pigs, stray dogs, and manage to not be deterred by the two kids holding a rope across the road, creating a make-shift tollbooth. We passed buildings that were falling apart, but still housing a family of ten or more. A lot of poverty, a lot of filth, and a lot of need. When we reached Puerto Lopez, all I saw at first were the stray dogs and the broken up roads. But once we were out of the van and walking through the main street of town, we came across the people. Everyone we met was so kind, helpful, and truly happy. I spent the majority of the weekend with questions bouncing around my head, "what do I truly need to be this happy? What do I have that doesn't fit into what I need?"

I also know that we played a very important role in Puerto Lopez. A role that helps to sustain the livelihood of the residents in this small coastal town. We were tourists, and they were happy to have these American gringos, who were so willing to spend money, passing through their village.

We stayed in a small, but very clean, hostel that was a couple of blocks away from the beach. The walls were a bit thin, but the bed was comfortable and the shower had actual hot water. After we had settled into our rooms and dropped off our luggage, we found a wonderful beach side restaurant that served the best seafood I have ever had. The group of us ate, talked, and laughed the evening away and returned to the hostel tired and very full.

The next morning we walked down to the beach again and waited for the small boat that would take us into the Pacific to watch the migration of the whales.

The boat ride was about four hours long, much of it spent in search of the whales. There were about twenty of us on the boat, and all of us were eagerly searching for any sign of the migrating animals. When we spotted a burst of water breaking the ocean's surface, we all pointed and called out. The boat would then slowly make its way to where we thought the whales might be traveling. I was sitting towards the back of the boat and once it had slowed a bit, one of the guides motioned for me to climb up to the very top. I had the best seat in the house. Before I knew it, we were right in the middle of a group of whales. They were breaking through the water at twenty yards away. I could see their huge forms underneath the water before they would dive up and dive back down. There were at least six whales swimming around our boat, coming towards us and then turning around. I think they were curious about this large shape that had suddenly joined their play time. It was breathtaking and the most incredible thing I have ever seen. I have decided that one of the most beautiful sounds is hearing the whales break through the surface of the water.

As we headed back to shore, Dave looked behind him and saw the whales jumping out of the water.

When we got back to land, we ate lunch at a place called the Whale Cafe. The owners were American and I hate to admit that it was a nice break to have the menu in English. The food was also delicious and overlooked the fisherman on the beach. Dave and I went for a swim in the incredibly warm ocean before dinner and was even able to squeeze in some shopping at the artisan market.

When we headed back to Puerto Azul, we stopped in little villages along the way. We went to Montonita, the hippy beach, and to an incredible pie shop. We stopped at nursery's and artisan markets. Dave and I even bought new wedding bands made out a Tagua nut for only $1. We didn't want our original bands to get damaged by the weather or stolen by someone who take the bands as signs we have money.

The weekend was also a wonderful time to get to know some of my coworkers and for Dave and I to start building a network of friends here. I can hardly wait for the next adventure!