Days 11 & 12 - The Home Stretch

Unfortunately for the faithful blog readers, Johannes got stuck doing the dishes tonight, meaning that I am getting the chance to write one of the final blog entries of the trip (I was Johannes' only competition for blog writer before the trip, so I'm pretty pumped).

Today was our final day working at the Quichinche school, where we finished our 32-computer lab, as well as teaching a class to the teachers of the school. The team was suffering from a severe case of acute minesweeper-itis yesterday, while simultaneously dealing with the virus ridden computers already in the lab site (which made our completion of the lab all the sweeter). Even with the lack of internet, the computers provided by our partners were more infected than an entire hospital ward full of swine flu patients.

It was relieving, however, to relax yesterday afternoon with Paul's friend Segundo, who he met on his first trip to Ecuador. Although the 15 minute stair climb was no joke, considering the altitude, the reception from Segundo's family was very warm. A game of basketball on the world's most slippery, dangerous cement was quickly ended by the fall related injuries of Johannes and Nathan, causing the team to look to it's favorite standby sport: soccer. The game was a 4-3 nail bitter that left both sides covered in field dust, tired, and ready to hit the showers.

Our afternoon today after the completion of the Quichinche school was much more relaxed, involving only excursions into the crafts market, visits to the ice cream shop, and dinner at Radio Bahai. Seeing as how it was our last dinner in the Bahai camp (some sort of party, starting with what seems to be an ungodly long bus ride has been planned for tomorrow) the team chose their “last supper”  carefully. The overwhelming request: NO RICE! Personally, I'm looking forward to my first hamburger upon returning to the U.S.


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Day 10 - Crimp-a-thon

Today we began stripping the existing computers at the Quichinche school of their useless software, which were eating up their precious few megabytes of RAM. In this process we found quite a few, shall we say, “interesting” files on their hard drives, including cartoon pornography (Abe's virgin eyes were spared), and believe it or not, something a lot worse.

While some worked to finish operating systems on the computers, others began crimping cable, which, if the Baha'i School was any indicator, would be a long and arduous process. However, due to the combination of Samma and Kate's neat labeling that was severely lacking in our last lab, and the discovery that every wire that didn't work at the Baha'i school just wasn't crimped hard enough, the cables of this lab proved to be much less of a chore.

In other news, Amazing Abe had a much less eventful day. He fell ill briefly, but was revived when CJ offered him enough Vitamin-C to kill a Rhinoceros. Also he saw no kitties.

A few people sustained minor injuries in fierce rounds of Spoons, and yet more were wounded on the battle ground that is Extreme-Spoons. As we speak, I type my dying words, with a spoon through my spleen. Mom, Dad, don't give any of my stuff to Eli.


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Day 9 - Human Economics

Today we started work in earnest at the Quichinche school, and the thrill ride to the school in the back of a pickup was matched only by the heartwarming reception from the people there. Their generous hospitality included Dragonball-Z cereal (which was ragin') and yogurt for a snack, and a hearty lunch to replenish us after a hard days work of customizing operating systems.

While we waited for the bus, a small boy approached Nathan and I with the proposition of a pickup soccer game. We kicked the ball with him until the bus came, when he asked us “tienes agua?” “Do you have water?” We couldn't help but donate our water to the little boy who ran to his friends with his trophy.

After we got back we briefly ventured into the market, entering with no mischievous intent, but leaving having more than satisfied our quotient for trouble.  We finally left the market, much to its collective relief, and returned back to Radio Baha'i.

Abe continued to be tortured mercilessly, being locked in the shower by the mysterious outside locks of the stall doors. Also he saw a kitty. Stay tuned for more of Amazing Abe's Awesome Adventures!!!


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Day 8 - Week 2

Today we attended a Catholic confirmation ceremony wherein Paul was the godfather or “Don Pablo” to one of the children. The church was extremely crowded so us gringos were relegated to the doorway or outside. While we waited for the ceremony to end, CJ became the official property of a low metal awning, which asserted its authority by giving CJ a massive wang to the head.

After a bit of a wait, the ceremony ended and we walked in a bit of a procession to Maria's (Paul's friend and the mother of his godchild) house for lunch. We got a brief tour of the house, discovered that roosters can indeed have Afros, and visited the guinea pig room. We were served delicious soup and when we were finished, a special treat was brought out. A guinea pig, on its back, fried, and basically as intact as it was in life, was delivered on a plate of potatoes. Although a few people neglected to sample the interesting new food, others, including myself, sampled meat from the limbs, body and even the head.

We bussed home and are taking a relaxing afternoon before we begin work at the Quichinche School tomorrow. Last night's dinner was a luxurious Italian meal complete with a pan flute serenade. Tonight, however, we venture into the streets to fend for ourselves, left only with five dollars and our wits. It's basically like Survivorman only cooler. Wish us luck.


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Day 7 - Laundry Day At Last

Today is our laundry day which means that finally the 4 pairs of socks I had brutally defiled over the course of the week could once again be made holy. Some people woke up early to go to the animal market but I opted out of the 6:30 wake up call to give my legs a rest from the last day. We walked to the laundromat early this morning, our pillowcases full of clothes in tow.

We then prepared ourselves for the gauntlet that is the Saturday market. Harangued by countless street vendors, we trudged our way through the massive crowd until we reached El Dorado: the Saturday craft market. The legends of knitted masks and alpaca sweaters had been fulfilled. Neil, Abe, Nathan and I put on our bartering goggles and dug in. We hustled jersey salesmen and smooth talked the sweater lady, and everyone spent all of their hard earned dough buying shiny things for their parents. As our group emerged from the fray with our bounty we were truly the kings of the market.

After the coronation, we returned back in enough time for me to finish the most depressing book of all time (The Road) and then head out to the crater lake, Quicocha. We took a short boat tour, enjoyed the views and collected our complimentary hot cider and then packed it in.

Everyone is looking forward to our fancy night out including Sorrenne's birthday dinner and cake back at Radio Baha'i. Don't ruin the surprise.


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Days 5 & 6 - Stand Trek

Again, my apologies, one of those days arose wherein there was no time to blog. Yesterday marked our last day working at the Baha'i school, and the teaching process was curtailed by the fact that most of the kids already knew what we were supposed to be teaching them. We also sent a scout team ahead to Quichinche, where they were greeted with a lavish meal of white rice and butter and other such delicacies. Hopefully they didn't just roll out the red carpet to lure us in, only for it to be an all too real remake of Hostel.

The end of our saga at Escuela Baha'i marked the beginning of quite another story of its own: our journey to the Cloud Forest and hot springs. The two and a half hour public bus ride was manageable on the way up, save a few scary moments on the edge of a road that abruptly ended in a sheer cliff face. Once we arrived we were received warmly and taken to our ornate dwellings wherein we would spend the next day and a half with warm showers and permanent bedding. The great anticipation for the hot springs was torn down as quickly as it had appeared, as the “hot springs” came into view. They were little more than glorified swimming pools with warm water. As we got in, everyone shifted from the gringo end of the pool for the duration of our stay.

The morning brought a new day in our little paradise of picturesque scenery, rushing water and lush, dense forest surrounding us. The group hustled to get back from the seductive hot springs and back to our bus stop by 3. In the bustle of cleaning up one of the boy's rooms, Abe had the misfortune of being Neil's victim as he tearfully watched his toothbrush depart from Neil's clutches, carom off the wall and into the trash can filled with the excrement covered toilet paper that the plumbing couldn't handle. (He got a new toothbrush.)

As we boarded the fluorescent blue bus we had little idea what was in store for us. As we tentatively entered the humid, dusty bus, we noticed to our utter dismay that every seat was stuffed and a few were already standing, a fate we soon came to know. The two and half hour joy ride that we had on the way up turned into a three and half hour epic, wherein we occupied the aisles, door bay and even the roof. When we were finally delivered into the busy bus bay, we thanked our respective deities that we could finally depart the overcrowded container that encapsulated human sardines.

I'm far too tired to type coherently and eloquently, so this is all I can churn out before i fall asleep on my keyboarrddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddzk;xdkk;kbn;k;d. I'm back what'd I miss?


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Days 3 & 4 - An Action-Packed Double Issue

First off, let me apologize for not posting yesterday. It allowed no room for the musings of the Tech Crew/Blogger. To my delight, the night before last went rooster-free, but there was a placeholder for the overzealous poultry in the shape of a party that reached full swing around 11:00. The morning saw a temporary split in the TSC crew in order to send a few people as early envoys to the Baha'i school in order to finish up work on customizing the operating systems. However, due to a mis-communication, we only got working about 30 minutes before the other group arrived. We started crimping, much to Abe's chagrin, and got (most of) the computers to acknowledge one another's existence over our network. Abe's flash drive also managed to accrue a virus, but not without the infallible input of Charles James Graham Esq.

We returned to Radio Baha'i for speedy sustenance only to be herded off to Quito for a soccer game. To those who were in the dark on this matter, this was the event I was eagerly anticipating before a single thing was planned for this trip. The game was the Quito team, Liga, against another South American team called Club Libertad. I was a little disappointed at first at the turnout of fans to the event, but slowly and surely the fans trickled in until the supporters section was a teeming mass of passion, one jumping fanatic indistinguishable from the next. The game was a rousing 1-0 victory for Liga, a scoreline that seemed vulnerable at times, but proved the doubters wrong upon the referee's final whistle. The bus ride? Worth it even if it were 20 hours, let alone the measly 4 we drove round-trip.

Today came sans sleeping disturbances save the errant snore from Neil. The work at the school consisted of tedious taping and nefarious networking, both of which proved far more grueling on the existing computers of the Baha'i School, which were rife with viruses and other assorted crud that ate up the RAM like the fried plantains we eat for lunch.

We returned, battered but not defeated, and took a quick bus ride up to the Peguche waterfall. Neil and CJ were forced to wedge their heads sideways under the bus' unforgiving ceiling, a source of much humor to gringo and local alike. The falls themselves were beautiful and as the group demonstrated, more than filled with opportunities for ample photos. Our last excursion of the day was to a music shop where we saw traditional pan flutes made and dealt with a rather distracting stray dog who followed us in there.

Tomorrow afternoon we set off for the cloud forest, a weekend getaway much deserved by the hardworking group. And for anyone who was wondering, Lynna is still alive and Madeline loves her mother. (I seem to have become a carrier pigeon.)


Guest Message From CJ:

To the parents of Ben, Kate, Hannah, and Samma; you may or may not see your children alive ever again. What started as a harmless boast in the Houston Airport over a game of Canasta nearly turned violent upon our arrival in Otavalo. I was forced to intervene at several points when the hyena-like jeering of the Samma-Kate team nearly had Ben, a relative newbie to the game, stuttering with rage. You may be skeptical, but when Leah asked what all the hubbub was about, I told her that this was the only card game I had ever witnessed that was based around sarcasm, condescending speech, and copious insults. I took the game after they finished to insure that they wouldn't have a chance to play again.


Day 2 - Casa Del Rooster

11:00PM, 1:00 AM, 3:00 AM, 5AM, and every hour and minute in between. All times the neighboring rooster deemed appropriate for a blood-curdling wake-up call. This rooster must have immigrated from a different time zone because there is absolutely no way the sun is up at 1:00 AM. After the entirety of the boys' room had finished issuing threats of drugging the rooster and other more extreme alternatives, we lugged ourselves out of bed and into the showers. The shower lures you in with that knob affixed with a little red dot that has become the universal sign for “hot relaxing water.” It delivers on that promise for about 30 seconds until to your utter dismay, the shower you once viewed as your ally stabs you in the back viciously, delivering a payload of freezing water that would make a Polar Bear squeal.

Today was our first day at the Baha'i school, to which we delivered 10 computers. The computers were delivered by pickup, but the majority of us were transported by taxis, which judging by the speed of the drivers, were modified to include jet engines. The errant Ferrari sticker on the back of my cab was a warning that went unheeded. Stop signs were stoptional, yield meant right of way, and hills and hairpins were seen only as an opportunity to show off the F1 handling of the taxis. The main job for today was to customizing the operating systems which involved checking and un-checking a lot of Spanish options that gave me no sort of clues as to what I was doing to the poor computer. It was a long and grueling process that proved rather frustrating at times, but yielded the rewarding result of well-running computers for the Baha'i School.

Before we installed our computers, we found a computer running at 8 MHz (if you pressed “Turbo” it ran at 33, but we were afraid the computer would detonate), the ones we brought run at 2300+ MHz. Upon our return, we ventured into the market, the land of bartering and bustling. Our interaction with the Ecuadorian group staying at Radio Baha'i has increased exponentially, especially in games. Jenga is a popular pastime, but our guys really don't lay off. I mean, if someone came to visit my country and then left my Jenga tower on three single bricks within the first turn, I would consider it an insult to my nation. Things have become a lot easier since we settled in, but soccer and outdoor games continue to be a battle against the thin air. I hope that the altitude pills and time will eradicate the problem of gasping for breath after juggling the ball.

Until tomorrow, Johannes


Day 1 - Ready to Rumble

Hey everyone,

Johannes here, fresh from my Rocky-esque mano-a-mano with altitude and its resulting affects. (I won) We were held up at customs because apparently the nation of Ecuador was fed up with the notorious Paul Blackburn and would have none of it when he tried to return to the country. We hopped on a bus this morning, stopping only once to visit “The Equator”, who, I'm pretty sure, based the name, is a Math Genie who can solve any equation (correct me if I'm wrong) (Edit: I'm wrong). We soon arrived at the Radio Baha'i building in Otavalo, where we will be staying for the duration of the trip. The guys' room is stacked with tubs and has a few low hanging bars inconvenient for the likes of Neil and CJ, our resident Yao Mings, but the soccer field in the middle provides an amusing diversion provided the altitude doesn't do you in by the first  minute. Tomorrow marks our first expedition to the Baha'i school, and a TSC group slightly more acclimated to the elevation. But for now I must say goodbye, as our inaugural Jenga game awaits. Radio Baha'i is bristling with anticipation for our brick-pulling prowess.

Until tomorrow,

Dr. Johannes Harkins

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Day Negative 1 - Anticipation for Ecuador

Hey Everyone,

I thought I would try a test post back home before we left so as not to be completely baffled if the blog acts up in country. With our flight less than 24 hours away I can't help but wonder if the trip will be more like "Ernest Goes to Camp" or "Slam Dunk Ernest". Oh well at least it's not "Ernest Goes to School". The 3 greatest movies of all time aside, I know that the rest of the group share my excitement for the trip and can't wait to be dragged out of bed at 4:00 AM only to be relocated to the bustling building known as Sea-Tac International Airport (I hope security lives up to its billing as a nonstop thrill ride). I hope to be updating the blog daily with pictures when possible.

Adios, (I've been brushing up on my Spanish)


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