Friday, June 15, 2012

the time I said "gracias" to about five thousand english-speakers

So, here I am in the Miami Airport, on my way back to the United States. I have a seven hour layover and I’ve decided to take a break from accidentally speaking to everyone in Spanish (it’s happened multiple times now) to blog. In these last weeks, everyone asked me how it felt to be going home so soon. “I don’t know,” I’d say. “No no, I mean how do you feel about going home?” they’d repeat, thinking I hadn’t understood the question. “I don’t know,” I’d insist, and maybe give them a "it feels really weird" to satisfy them. But I say it because it’s the truth. I didn’t really know how I felt about going home, and I still don’t, even though I’ve now said all my goodbyes and I’m in the country. If you ask any exchange student they’ll agree with me. Going home is the hardest part of an exchange year. You have so many conflicting feelings… being excited to see your friends and family, but dreading saying goodbye to your other friends and families.  You might be thinking, "but Irene, how can this be any harder than the beginning of an exchange year? You were leaving things behind and looking forward to different things then, too." And I’ll admit that that’s true, but it’s much more complicated now. The two sides of my emotions – sad and excited – were much simpler then. Now those feelings have more layers. My sadness at leaving Ecuador is much deeper, because there’s the possibility that I will never, ever see the people I said goodbye to again. And even if I do, it will never be the same. I will probably never have an experience like this exchange year again. My excitement to be going home is more difficult, too. Sometimes I feel almost guilty to be excited about going home. I get worried, thinking if I'm excited to go home, does that mean I did my exchange wrong? Shouldn't I want to stay in Ecuador forever and never go back? And of course when I really think about it, that's silly. You can't apply a words like "right" or "wrong" to an entire year. But thoughts like that still put a damper on my excitement. Also, I've heard a lot about reverse culture shock - when people come back from exchange and have a hard time re-adapting to home life - so I have nervousness loaded on top of the excitement about going home. 
So, yeah. Maybe I don't really know how I feel to go home. But I know I loved this year. And I know I've changed for the better during it, and I look forward to what adventures come my way next. 

Since I'm at home now, I don't think I'll post anymore. So I want to leave you all with this, something a wrote about my year.

What is an exchange student?

An exchange student is someone who can become best friends with someone in five minutes flat. 
An exchange student is someone who has no idea what the hell they’re eating, but they know they love it.
An exchange student is someone who knows the true meaning of the word “lonely.”
But also of the word “friend.”
And the word “gratitude.”
An exchange student knows how to enjoy the little things.
And how to really enjoy the big things.
An exchange student understands how little they really know about themselves.
But they really understand themselves better than anyone else does.
An exchange student is a learner.
A teacher.
A risk-taker.
An explorer.
They're someone extremely brave, and maybe a little crazy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

This post includes a picture of a penguin.

Alrighty, people of the internet. I have a giant amount of content to fit into your tiny attention span. So let's get started.

Yes, ladies and gents. At the end of March I went to the birthplace of the Theory of Evolution, the land of giant tortoises, and otherwise really awesome place. Let me just start off by saying that my ridiculous "waterproof" camera decided to not be so waterproof after all, and so I don't have any photos from this point on. But do not fear! I stole some of my friends' photos off Facebook, which I'm pretty sure is less illegal because they're my friends. So, some highlights:

Arguably the awesomest parts of the Galapagos are the animals. Therefore, you just saw some pictures of animals.

 Other awesome part about Galapaos - the beaches. They have sand like this (it was like walking on flour):

and water like this:

So, yeah. We also jumped off some cliffs and walked through lava tunnels, from back when the islands were being formed from underwater volcanoes. Also, we did tons of snorkeling where there were AMAZING fish and sea turtles (that we rode) and sharks and sea lions and sea stars and sea urchins but to review: underwater camera = broken. So that's a ginormous bummer, but I guess it just means I'll have to go back some day to get pictures of the underwater wildlife :).

The Ecuatour is the the tour of Ecuador, as you may have guessed. It went all around Ecuador, mostly in the mountains, but also a bit on the coast.  

Inca ruins!

                     On the equator(ish)                                              We went behind this waterfall. It's in Baños.

      These  >>  
are just some llamas and alpacas in their natural habitat. No biggie. 
  This guy is making textiles in an ultra-traditional way.

There was a country-wide Rotary conference at the end of our trip, and we blazer-clad exchange students loyally made our appearance. Pictured are those of us from the United States

So, it was the last Rotary trip, so it was really really sad. We had to say goodbye to all the exchange students who live in far away cities. I've got all sorts of plans now to visit nearby towns and, further in the future, to visit people all over the United States and Europe. Besides the goodbyes, it was generally an awesome trip, but let's be honest: ten days with a minimum of 3 hours in a bus each day is kind of rough. But we did do a good job of going to all the coolest places in Ecuador, so it was definitely worth the travel time it took to get between them.

New Family + School
Right after I got back from the Ecuatour (the very next day, in fact), I both changed families and started school again. I started in a different school than I was in in the fall. It's called La Inmaculada, and it's a Catholic school, which is kind of new and different and interesting, but it mostly just means that my uniform is a sailor outfit and we say some prayers every now and then. It's right right right by the beach, and my classroom has a balcony over the beach. The doors to the balcony are open all day and its all beautiful and stuff. 
As for my new family! They're wonderful. I have a brother who's 17 and a sister who's 14 or 15 but I'm an awful sister and don't know which one it is. I live really close to my school, and my house is also right across the street from the beach. I can see the ocean from my bedroom window and hear it when I sleep. Also, speaking of the ocean, since my city is a peninsula, when I walk home from school I can look to the left and see the ocean, and look to the right and see the ocean. If I still had a camera you could enjoy beautiful pictures of views of the ocean, but instead you get this drawing I made on MS paint, which is almost as pretty: 

So, those are all the big things that have happened. Little (in comparison) things include that my uncle visited, two new Brazilian exchange students came (below), I had surf classes during the summer (also below)... and I'm sure lots of stuff I just can't think of right now. So, yeah! Life is good!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Monkeys and Parrots and Snakes, OH MY.

Hey there, internet. So, a few weeks ago, I got back from my Amazon trip. It was crazy awesome. I don't want you to read that and think, "oh, it was mildly entertaining." Because no. It was crazy awesome. Seriously. We were actually only there for two and a half days, but for the amount of sleep we got (very little) and the amount of activities we managed to pack in (very many) it seems like longer. Since reading long descriptions of stuff is boring, have some photos:

We were staying at a lodge in the middle of the rain forest, so that meant a two or three hour canoe ride from the road to the lodge. Luckily, long canoe trips through the Amazon aren't boring. We saw parrots! And monkeys! And lots of other stuff you cant take pictures of, like electric eels! And pink freshwater dolphins! And hidden toucans!

After we arrived that first day, it was already dark, so, naturally, we went on a night hike through the jungle to look for nocturnal insects. We saw the giantest bugs I've ever seen, a tarantula, some frogs, and a bunch of spiders, like this tiger wolf spider. The guide told us was extremely aggressive and poisonous and really good at jumping. Yay...

The second day, we went for a hike through the rain forest, which is, I'm here to tell you, very difficult to take pictures of without them turning out just green. But it was really jungley and awesome and the guide showed us all these plants we could use for medicine and food and water and everything. Also, we found a baby poison dart frog! Which, it turns out, are even harder to take pictures of than the rain forest, so here's a stolen picture of it from my friend's facebook. In the afternoon we went fishing for piranhas and I caught two! It was actually pretty terrifying the way they were swarming around the boat, but somehow we all survived. Although one kid did fling one into the boat after catching it, and we all thought we'd have to deal with being toeless for the rest of our lives, but somehow all our toes survived the fishing trip, too.

  After piranha fishing, we went for a swim in the beautiful lagoon during a beautiful sunset. Later, we went alligator watching (just to clear it up, yes. We're piranha fishing and alligator watching in the very same waters that we're swimming in) and, in addition to many alligators, ended up finding a boa constrictor hanging out on a tree. The guide decided it was a really good idea to climb the tree and shake the branch the snake was on, so we were all standing in the pitch black jungle preparing for boa constrictors to fall on our heads. In the end, he broke the branch off and brought it down for us to touch and photograph the snake. 

The third day we went to visit communities of people who live traditionally in the depths of the Amazon (three hours further from civilization in canoe). The first community we went to had some pet monkeys that we played with. It was great because they would jump from person to person and swing off our arms like we were trees. It's kind of awkward, though, because in that community we didn't really talk to anybody, just played with the monkeys. In the second community, we learned how to make flatbread out of yuca, which is, by the way, delish. Later we talked to the shaman of the community, and he told us about what he does.

That night we went back to the lodge for dinner and packing. Afterwards, five other exchange students and I went down to this deck that's in the forest, a little separated from the rest of the lodge. We ended up staying up all night talking and playing guitar and singing and eating dry cornflakes and playing games . We had to leave early to catch the flight back to the coast, so breakfast was scheduled for 4:45. At about 4, we saw the light on the kitchen go on. We ventured up, since we really wanted to make patacones (fried plantains). We talked to the kitchen workers and asked if we could, and also if we could help make breakfast. They said yes. So there we were, at 4 in morning, making patacones and peeling mangoes in the middle of the Amazon rain forest. What a crazy life I have. 

Also, what shiny pants I have.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

La Vida Loca

The other day, I had a mini-breakthrough. I was lying in bed after one of many action packed days and thought to myself, "I am now happy 100% of the time." And it's true. I mean, sometimes I miss my family at home, sometimes I'm frustrated with my host parents, but underlying the homesickness and frustration or what have you is still happiness. I explained this to my mother (my psychologist mother, it must be noted) and she compared it to being physically healthy but getting the sniffles sometimes. Everyone has that friend who's sick all the time and you feel like telling them to just grow an immune system or something and, to extend the metaphor, I used to be that friend. Now, though, I don't feel so fragile. In a nutshell, I think I'm emotionally stable! Yay! It's funny how much my perspective on some things has changed. Nowadays being emotionally stable is a cause for celebration and a 50 cent bottle of water is an outrage. Another example: the other day my host mom told me that she was conducting job interviews for some people who wanted to work in the tourism department of the county building (where she works). She asked me if I would help her by giving a portion of the interview. I was pretty terrified. But then she told me that the part of the interview I would give would be in English. And suddenly it wasn't a big deal anymore. Brush aside the fact that I've never given a job interview in my life, the fact that these people would be at least ten years older than me... I knew that it could have been so much more difficult, and I saw being able to speak English as such a gift.  Like I say, it's a complete change of perspective.
Anyway, while I'm sure this is all very interesting to you, I do more than just sit around and philosophize here in Ecuador. You may or may not have noticed that I named this blog post, "La Vida Loca." It may be a little cliche and overused, but it's true. Right now, my vida is feeling a little loca. But good loca. I'll run you through what's been going on in my wonderful, loca vida. 

12/16-12/18: Visiting Valborg
After lots of planning, my friend Johanna (from Germany) and I went to visit our friend Valborg (from the Faroe Islands) who lives in Portoviejo. Portoviejo is a decently big city that's a little over an hour away from Bahia, where Johanna and I live. We went to the mall and to the movies, some luxuries that don't exist in Bahia, hung out with the zillions of other exchange students in Portoviejo, visited Valborg's school. The last day, we went to Crucita, where part of the last Rotary trip took place. I think I wrote a little about it earlier, but to refresh your memory: it's really great and looks like this:

12/25: Navidad
Christmas was a little weird for me. Everyone says that Christmas is hard, but they get through it because of the cool customs of the host country. Unfortunately, my host family decided not to celebrate Christmas this year. Christmas Eve, which is when they celebrate Christmas here, my family told me they'd take me out to eat that evening. So, the homesick me decided it would be a really good idea if I spent the afternoon listening to Christmas music from home and talking to friends from home on Facebook. I admit, I could have played that much, much better. That evening my host parents took me out to eat. They knew that I like pizza, and apparently had no qualms about pizza for Christmas dinner, so we went out to eat pizza. I had to remember that it was really, really sweet of them to do that for me when neither of them even likes pizza, but it was kind of rough. We went home afterwards and went to sleep and that was it. The next day, when I normally celebrate Christmas at home, I went to the beach all day with a bunch of my friends and we played soccer and frisbee and went swimming, then went to watch a movie at someone's house afterwards. It was the perfect day and I was so very thankful to have them to take my mind off being sad. Before I knew it, it was 26th, the holiday season was over, and I was just so relieved. 

12/31-1/1: Año nuevo
New Years here was a completely crazy experience for me. It was culture galore. Also it was warm, which was so strange for me. I have a tradition with my friend back home that at the stroke of midnight on New Years we run out into the snow barefoot. Needless to say, not so possible here. So culture! They burn giant paper mache dolls (año viejos - to represent the old year) at midnight, and it was so cool to look up and down the streets to see little fires all over. Also there are all sorts of things you can do to get good luck in the new year: eat 12 grapes on the 31st, wear yellow underwear when the year changes, or just wear yellow new years day. Also, if you walk in circles holding a suitcase on the 31st you'll travel in the new year. But back to what I did. Bazillions of people come from the mountains to the coast (specifically Bahia) for New Years, so the streets were packed. Everyone just wandered around, setting of fireworks, watching fireworks, burning año viejos, and just hanging out. That's what my friends and I did too, and somehow we managed to stay out until almost four doing that. As a sidenote, New Years came with a little bloodshed on my part as I ran into a trashcan trying to escape a firework after the fuse was lit. All turned out okay, but I certainly brought in the new year in a memorable way. 

1/3: School's Out!
So I'm in Ecuador, on the coast, which means school goes southern hemisphere style. So I came in the middle of the school year, then finished early January. I'll start up again (at a different school) in April. So yeah, I've got three months of break right now, which is beyond fabulous. My friends and I go to the beach, watch movies, go to the gym, take day trips to the big cities... And to top it off I start guitar lessons the first of February, and if I can convince my Rotary Club to let me, I'll get surf lessons too. 

1/7: Change of Host Family
One evening the Rotarians came and took me to the house of a family I had never met or spoken to in my life. I was so terrified. After living with them for more than four months, I knew my first host parents and they knew me. We had a good thing going. But when I arrived, my new family was so warm and welcoming. Introductions: my new mother is called Maria and my father Luis, but they insist that I call them mami and papi. I have a 9-year-old brother Josue who is probably the most adorable person on the planet. Here's a family photo:
Don't worry- you haven't lost your ability to count. There are indeed five people in that picture. That's Fabio, their first host son. I also have some cousins who are my age and are at the house all the time, so I've become pretty good friends with them. After more than two weeks with my host family, I've gotten into a rhythm here and no longer wonder why we always drive past the turn to my old house when we're going home. I adore my family and am very, very happy here. 

1/15: Fabio Leaves
I can't pretend to have been especially close with Fabio, but the day he left was still a landmark because now I'm the experienced one. In the beginning of February two more Brazilians will come, and we'll be the ones who know the language, who show them the ropes. When I first came it felt like Fabio had been living in Bahia forever, but it was just a month more than I'll have been here when the Brazilians come. I wonder - will I seem like I've been here forever? Will they think I know as much Spanish and as much about Bahia as it seemed Fabio knew when I came? Will it feel like I leave so soon after they arrive, like it seemed Fabio left such a short time after we came?  It seems crazy to me to think that the answer to any of those questions could be yes, but they probably are. Which is so crazy.

That brings me up to the present. Here are some things happening in the near future (I swear I'll keep it short)

1/25-1/27: Mompiche!
Yeah, January 25th is technically today, and in seven hours I'll be boarding a bus to Mompiche. Unfortunately, the thing about blogging is that is seems like once you start you can't stop, and once you stop you can't start up again. BUT. If you'll remember really really far back, Mompiche was where I had Spanish camp. It's a 5 star resort, and if you Google image Mompiche Decameron you'll discover that it's probably the most beautiful hotel on planet Earth. Yay.

1/29-2/2: AMAZONIA
Rotary trip to the Amazon rainforest. I'm so excited. Since I said I'd keep it short, here are some highlights I picked up from the schedule: piranha fishing in the Amazon river. night hike through the rainforest to find tarantulas. hanging out with some indigenous folks chatting with the shaman. And we do all this while living in a little village in the middle of the rainforest.

2/28-3/2: Uncle Paul!!
This is also an extremely exciting topic. My uncle is coming to work in Quito in March and beforehand he (and maybe my aunt) and I are going to spend a few days together!! We'll see a little of Bahia, then go off to bigger and better places. It should be legendary.

So! As you can see, I am living the life here. As far as I see it, I have every reason to be happy 100% of the time. I love my life. 

Monday, December 5, 2011


Somehow, another month has slipped by without a blog post. So, I've decided to talk about something I really haven't talked about so far: school. That's probably because up until now, I'd been going kind of sporadically, missing days here and there and then a couple weeks of travel. But now I'm on my 11th consecutive day of school after getting back from vacation which is, if you can believe it, the most consecutive days I've been to school so far. So, school goes from 7-1ish, which usually ends up being more like 12:45, for some reason. We're supposed to have ten classes a day, but between teachers not showing up and numerous free hours, which the students convince the teachers to have, we only end up having six or seven. My school is called Vicente Hurtado. Its a k-12 school, but there's only one class of each grade, so it's still pretty small. It's a private school, so we wear uniforms! But they're actually not that bad. We wear jeans and off-white polos that have the school logo (the thing on the right) on them. On Wednesdays and Fridays, when we have gym class, we get to wear our super fly green sweatpants with the polos. If you've never rocked green sweatpants and a polo, try it out sometime. It's loads of fun. As for the physical school itself, it's basically a walled-in block: 

The school from the outside
There are two strips of buildings on either side of a soccer/basketball court, and then a barren wasteland (which I think in theory is like a field for the children to frolic in) at the end of that. Other than that there are a few little shelter things where we sometimes have English class (because we split into two groups, and half the time we stay in the classroom, half the time we leave), a playground, a snack bar, and the bathrooms. 

The soccer/basketball court, and one strip of classrooms
A bit of the barren wasteland (with a child frolicking in it) the playground, and one of the shelter things. You can also see some of the lovely paintings on the inside of the wall

Outside of the walled-in area, across the street, is the office. One thing about school that confused me for a while was the way the grades were named. The first confusing thing is that kindergarten is called primero (which means first), first grade is segundo (second), and so on.That goes all the way up to ninth grade (or decimo). Then, the second confusing thing happens. Suddenly tenth grade is called cuarto (fourth), eleventh is quinto (fifth), and twelfth is sexto (sixth). I have no idea why. The third confusing thing that happens is that occasionally cuarto is called primero de bachillerato (which I think is kind of like high school, even though it's not separated), quinto is called segundo de bachillerato and sexto is called trecera de bachillerato, which honestly makes more sense, but it's also a lot less common. So, while it can still be kind of confusing, I just remember that whenever someone says cuarto or primero de bachillerato, that's me. Speaking of my class, here's a picture of my classroom:

And here is a picture of the lovely gentlemen of my class: 

Unfortunately I do not have a picture of the rest of us, but I think you can probably survive without it. All in all, there are, I think, 25 of us. We have almost every class together, other than the ones we split into groups for. For example, on Tuesdays half of us have chem lab and half of us have technical drawing, and then on Friday it's in reverse. That last example was also a really great example of how we have kind of obscure classes (such as chem lab, technical drawing, programming, etc...) but don't have other normal classes (like history).  One semi-notable thing about classes is that in math or physics or something where the teacher or a student is doing a problem on the board, nobody really pays attention. Then, when they're done, there's a little break so everyone can copy it down. I seem to forget that on a daily basis, because I'll be taking notes as the teacher is going along, like I'm used to doing in the States, and then class will stop for 10+ minutes and too late I'll remember how it's done here and have nothing to do. Also, I can't imagine that the other students can learn so well that way. Another interesting thing about school is that we have recess! This is the time when students roam freely, soccer games are played, and the snack bar is open. About the snack bar. It's actually kind of terrifying, becasue when recess starts, a mob forms around the snack bar. Everyone is shouting what they want, shoving handfuls of money through the barred windows. I always tell myself that I will get the courage up to shout what I want, but before I do, either one of my friends asks what I want and shouts it for me, or the people working at the snack bar ask me directly what I want. However! The most exciting thing about school is that it ends in the beginning of January for break, and doesn't start again until April! Also in the beginning of January, I'll switch host families, though I don't know where to. Anyway, that's all for now. Chao!

Monday, November 7, 2011

English in Spanish

One of the craziest things that I'm learning how to do here is to speak English in Spanish.
Ecuadorians use some English words, but they pronounce them way differently. For example, when they say "cornflakes" it's sounds like "coneflay" and when they say "facebook", it becomes "fayboo," or just "face" (which is always fun because then they say things like "I'll put this picture on your face").  This actually leads to a bit of a dilemma for me. Since I speak English, I know how to pronounce the English words correctly. However, I worry that if I say "facebook" or something the way we say it in the States, they won't understand me since it's so different. But seriously, I just feel so ridiculous saying "fayboo."
Another exciting use of English here is on clothing. I have yet to see a t-shirt that has Spanish writing on it. Everything is in English. But the thing is, a lot of the people here don't know what their t-shirts are saying. For example, I once saw a little girl with a t-shirt that said "make love, not war" on it. I assume that she, and her parents who bought it for her, didn't understand why an 8-year-old should not be spreading that message to her other 8-year-old friends. In addition to slogans like that, another big thing is the fake university/sports team stuff. We have things like that in the States, but at least they make up names and make it seem a little legit. I saw a shirt here that just said "sports team" on it.
That's all for now, but I'd just like to leave you with the knowledge that I have not been to school for over three weeks, thanks to travel, school vacation, and exams I don't have to take. I love being an exchange student.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Odds and Ends

I really like reading all the other exchange students' blogs and seeing how consistently everyone has been slacking off on their blogging.  It's really fun because I know that, just like me, they're busy with exchange student life. And by exchange student life, I'm pleased to say that means making friends, trying crazy new foods, and lots of travel. So, in the last two and a half weeks I went on two big trips. The first trip was with all the exchange students in my Rotary district, which also happens to be all the exchange students in Ecuador. The trip was a tour of Manabi, which is this province: 
If you're observant, you'll notice that it's on the coast. Which means lots of beaching. And if you're really observant, you'll notice that it's also the province that I live in. Which means I'd already been to some of the places we went. However, since this is Ecuador, it was certainly no less exciting or fun. Since I have a lot to cover in this post, I'll refrain from explaining the entire trip in great detail, and hope these photos will suffice:
One of the loverly beaches we visited
We could go on a boat ride down this river with bazillions of pelicans

Another one of the beaches, this time with sports! On the right there's a volley ball tourney and the left a soccer tourney  that we could make teams for and join. At this beach they also had banana boat rides!

All the exchange students atop a hill in Crucita

A Chiva ride through Portoviejo. If you can't tell, there's a band on top. 

We visited a market thing in Montecristi, which is where Panama hats come from. Hence the lady making one. 

We also visited this museum/morgue of some really important person. I don't really speak Spanish, so I don't know what it was about, but at least it looked cool.

This is the hotel we ate lunch at one day in Manta. It was pretty. But there was sand in all the food, because the floor of the restaurant was sand.

The second big trip I went on was a spur-of-the-moment decision two days after I got back from the Manabi tour. My host brother and his wife and daughter were in the process of moving from Quito (the capital) to Bahia (where I live) and were going back for a week to say their final goodbyes, bring the last of their stuff to Bahia, etc... Anyway, the point is that they invited me to come! So we made some calls to Rotary (travel without host parents is not usually allowed), calls to my school, and then we were on our way. We took a bus overnight to Quito, which was nothing short of terrifying. Bus drivers in Ecuador drive just as fast and furiously as car drivers, but buses are a lot bigger and, as it seemed to me, tippier. If you don't know, Quito is in the mountains, so the bus ride involved lots of whipping around corners on curvey mountain roads in the pitch black. Luckily we completed the six and a half hour bus ride unscathed and I was able to see the lovely city that is Quito. Again, I'll just show you some pictures with brief blurbs about them, though I have to warn you: my sister-in-law decided to be in charge of the camera so I could be in the photos, and she didn't exactly take pictures with a blog in mind. So I have few pictures of my two favorite parts of Quito: the mountains and the graffiti art, and just lots of pictures of me. So, if you want to see the Quito in all of it splendor, you can go here or here to the ever helpful Google Images. Anyway, here are some shots of what I did in Quito:
This is me and the view of Quito from the statue of Mary in the middle of the city

Me and the statue itself

One of the churches in the old district of Quito

In Imbabura, a province just North of Quito

On the equator! Sort of. This is the monument, but the actual equator is a bit further North, as they discovered later with some exciting GPS jazz.

Another exciting thing that happened while I was in Quito is that I experienced my first earthquake! After a quick Google search I discovered that the epicenter was 17km North East of Quito and that it was a magnitude 4.0. I mostly have no idea what I just said, but basically I just woke up in bed feeling like I was on a bumpy bus ride, so it wasn't that big of a deal. 

So, as of October 21st I'd been here two months, and now I've been here a bit over ten weeks. So, a few notes about the grand scheme of things. 
In the first couple months, exchange students normally go through the "honeymoon phase," where they're super excited about everything and everyone's excited about them, and then afterwards, once everything settles down and such, start to feel more homesick and culture shock. That's not really what happened to me. I didn't really have a honeymoon phase, and after like the first whirlwind of a week, started to be homesick. After a couple weeks of that, around my one month mark, I started to feel at home here, and be less homesick. That has carried on swimmingly, and, though I always watch for the signs of culture shock and homesickness (it sounds weird that I have to watch for it, but sometimes it really is hard to tell when it's happening to you) in case I have another bout coming, I think my contentedness is here to stay. 
Another thing that has been happening in these months is SPANISH. Lots of Spanish has been happening. Being spoken to me, being spoken by me, and just in general bumping around my head. A few people have asked me if I've had dreams in Spanish, and my answer is that I unfortunately have not had any true Spanish dreams. BUT. I did have this really exciting dream that took place in my city. I was basically just riding the bus around (a skill I've obtained here. more on that in a second) and talking with people. However, since I don't really know enough Spanish to fabricate entire conversations in my sleep, everyone had some excuse about why they were speaking English. Some people were learning it in school, some people had moved from Canada, and there were some eccentric British people there for some reason. Anyway, the good news is that even though they all spoke English, my dream self kept wanting them to speak Spanish to me, and I was about to delve into a Spanish conversation with the Canadian kid when I woke up. It would seem to me that Spanish dreams are just around the corner. An additional anecdote that's kind of related to me and my Spanish speaking is that while I was in Quito I was watching a movie with some family friends of my brother's and they put English subtitles on for me. Upon seeing this, a kid turned to me and was like "sabes ingles?" which means, "you know English?" Granted, I hadn't really spoken any Spanish to him, so it's not like I have a flawless accent or anything, but at least he didn't immediately peg me as a foreigner, as most people do. I like to think I've lost a little of that confused, wandering around look.  
Buses! Yes. I have grown to know that it costs 18 cents to go anywhere in the city, but everyone just gives them twenty cents and they don't give change back. I've learned that if you're on the bus and some kid puts a piece of candy on the seat next to you, you give it back to him immediately or you'll have to pay for it. I've learned that if you're sitting on a bus waiting for it to leave and a guy holding a half empty bottle of vodka gets on, you get off. And then you get a taxi. Which is also a very new thing for me. I think I could count the number of times I'd been in a taxi on one hand before coming to Ecuador.  However, it's enough for me to know that taxiing here is a whole different thing from other places. Bahia is a city of about 30,000 people, so most people know the cabbies. They'll chat with the them and even sit in the passenger seat even if there's room in the back seat. Again, I'm no expert on taxis in the States, but I'm pretty sure that would never happen there.
Another very important aspect of an exchange year is FOOD. I know earlier I was kind of complaining about it, but since then I've discovered that there is more to life than eggs for breakfast, chicken and rice for lunch, and grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. It turns out that something people really, really like to do here is parrilla, which means grill. And they don't do no mamby-pamby hamburger grill-out. They go all out. For example, here is the inventory of what I was given during one parrilla: a cob of corn, four hot dogs, a grilled chicken breast, a steak, a pork chop, two baked potatoes and a salad. I managed to eat about half of that, and afterwards I thought I was going to throw up or pass out or something negative like that. Luckily, though, nothing negative happened, and the food didn't even go to waste. Some of the other people were able finish my food after they ate all of theirs. Honestly. Another new and different food that exists here is the hamburger. At first glance, not so new and different. But honestly, they're pretty crazy here. In addition to the typical cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onions on the burger, they add cucumbers (not pickles - cucumbers) and fried eggs. Like, seriously, if you just go to one of those stands on the street and order a hamburger, it comes with a fried egg on it. And before I move on from the topic of food, I have to mention the rice. So much rice. They serve spaghetti and lasagna with rice. They serve soup with rice. They serve french fries with rice. And they're all really convinced that rice here is way better than rice in the States, though to tell the truth, it really just tastes the same to me. 

SO. I think that's about enough to make up for a month of not posting, though before we part, I want to leave you with some more photos. I've posted lots of pictures from trips and such, but not very many that I've just taken around town. Bahia is a beautiful enough city that I owe it to it to share some of the snapshots. So, here you go: