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2023 Ecuador Semester Blog #3

Hello again my lovely friends! We left off at our arrival in San Clemente, which was a crazy day filled with many changes. I almost can’t picture that day, just finished biking part 1, unaware of all the magic we were about to experience. Let me take you with us:

Circling up with our new families in San Clamente

Ian, Willow, Mollie & Izabo circling up with our new families in San Clemente

October 6, 2023: San Clemente Day 1
We all had quite different mornings in our different households. Willow and I rose at 7:30 AM and assisted in the making of masa tortillas (thick and delicious). We roll balls of dough in our hands and flatten it before placing it on the outdoor griddle. 

Verena, Atreyu and Jasmine in the welcome circle

Others got up early (Verena and Iris: 5:30AM) to help with chores before their delicious breakfast. One thing we were not warned about before coming to San Clemente was the hazardous amount of delicious food that would be placed in front of us. Our first meal consisted of masa tortillas, yogurt, marmalade, cheese, scrambled eggs, jugo de mora (blackberry juice), and tea. Willow and I walk slowly to meet the others, our bellies heavy with deliciousness. 



What was your favorite food in San Clemente? 

Willow: Empanadas de queso con miel (Cheese empanadas with honey)
Iris: Camote (very similar to sweet potato)
Jasmine: Masa tortillas
Verena: Bananas with chocolate sauce
Anders: The small tortillas– what were they called?
Julian: The same as Anders with with a little corn
Eamon: Pureed potatoes
Angela: Sopa de quinoa con tostado (quinoa soup with tostada)
Tashi and Jack: Humitas (a delicious cakey dessert wrapped in a banana leaf)
Roberto: Pork
Tupak: Chicken soup
Atreyu: Tamales… or… pollo con arroz y ensalada y papas y tostada (chicken with rice and salad and potatoes and tostada)
Skyler: Tamales… or… Guanábana yogurt with strawberries and banana and granola
Ian: Eight banana empanadas… or potatoes… with lots of salsa picante (hot sauce)
Mollie: Majado (crushed plantain) with fried eggs
Bridget: Empanadas de plátano con miel (banana empanadas with honey)


Being apart after 31 nights of sleeping in the same field or tent or lot was an odd feeling. When we reunite this morning for morning meeting I can feel the energy of our group in a new way. Our morning meeting is at Wilman’s house (a resident of San Clemente) which is also Iris and Verena’s home for the next 11 days. It has a beautiful yard and two structures– one a kitchen and the other with bedrooms and a communal space. There is a kitten running around that Verena and Iris have named “Beetle” because of its passion for catching the many little colorful bugs that fly and crawl around San Clemente.

Wilman teaches us a class on the history of San Clemente. We learn about the Andean Cross, a powerful symbol for the people of the Andes. Each end of the cross represents a different element, and each element has its own significance to the people. 

The Andean Cross

North (Norte) → Air (Aire)→ to speak, share, and pass along knowledge
South (Sur) → Earth (Tierra) → food and diversity
East (Este) → Sun (sol) → warmth
West (Oeste) → Water (agua) → the direction of the ocean from Ecuador. Water brings life!

Each of their traditions connects back to the Pachamama (“Mother Earth” in Quechua). 

We return back to our houses, which for some means staying in place and some means a 25 minute walk (Ian and Julian would not let us forget that). Lunchtime brings two courses– soup and then another large course, which is a new rhythm we will get a little too used to during our time here. We are then given some time to rest before returning back to our classroom.

We meet our Spanish teachers for the next number of days: Kati and Mayra. We go around and say our names, many of which are difficult for them. When Ian says “I’m Ian!” Kati replies, “You’re Eel?”. Right from the beginning we are sharing laughter with our teachers, who will give an abundance of helpful information to us. We move into two groups: Kati with Spanish beginners and Mayra with those who hope to progress a bit farther. My morning in the intermediate group is filled with laughter as we navigate different scenarios and sentences. 

We return home for a delicious dinner and dessert before sinking into our soft beds. (My and Willow’s beds had six blankets each!).

Willow and Verena embroidering

October 6, 2023: San Clemente Day 2

The days at San Clemente have a peaceful rhythm– we get up, we have breakfast, we go to class, we have lunch, we have a craft of some sort in the afternoon, we have dinner. But each day was so unique! 

But today we have a really special lunch– every family gathers at Wilman’s house and brings a dish to share. The table is completely crowded with arrays of vegetables, meats, juices, and soup. We sit in circles outside and our normal–and by normal I mean completely weird–conversations ensue. 

_____________________________________________________________________BLOG BONUS #2

The things you would hear at lunch if you were an ESP student:

“What do you think about public nudity?” -Unknown
“Is that the shirt you’ve been wiping your nose on? It’s pretty drippy…” -Eamon
“Did you see that moment when I knew if I didn’t eat it I’d have to share it?” -Ian through a mouthful of Izabo’s unfinished dessert.


We clean up from dinner and prepare for embroidery. We will all embroider a shirt with the help of our families during our time here. We crouch over our journals for many moments sketching our designs– and discover that almost all of us choose some variation of the sun, the moon, and the Andean Cross. 

We head home (home!) and engage in our evening activities: journaling, sewing, and helping around the house. Willow and I wash our dirty bike clothes. As I stood there alone I felt a moment of poetic introspection coming on, and I think:

“Here I am washing my soiled sweaty bike clothes outside with the sun setting beyond the gorgeous Andes mountains surrounding me and diarrhea sloshing around in my stomach; I am truly here, truly living, truly being.” 

Saturday, October 7, 2023: San Clemente Day 3

This morning we had minga, or a service project, constructing the road up to Roberto’s house. This means gathering rocks from the river, digging a trench in which to place them, and then placing them strategically beside one another, attempting to make it as flat as possible before filling in the gaps with dirt. We baffle at the fact that every road in San Clemente was made this way, with such intention by hand. After a break that consisted of ice cream bars and bread we end our work with a line of throwing rocks. 

Sunday, October 8, 2023: San Clemente Day 4

I am feeling better today, which I know you were all wondering about! We have class at Nancy’s house today (San Clemente resident and Mama of Anders and Eamon). 

_____________________________________________________________________BLOG BONUS #3

Things you would hear as an ESP Spanish student: 

“Que es la caca con agua?” (Ian trying to figure out the word for diarrhea)
Teacher: “Do you know what diariamente means?” Student:“I think that’s what I have!”
“What are you doing?” “Trying to enhance my snot by breathing in the smoke.” (Pre-snot rocket competition)
“So I’m a man now?” (Willow correcting grammar)
“Como se dice jawline?” (Skyler when asked to describe Eamon)


After lunch we gather at the soccer field for a game of futbol. The teams are Krokan’s vs. San Clemente locals. Some of us take on the field like pros coming out of retirement (I’m looking at you Verena) and others simply aspire to be a screaming human blockade (that’s me!). From the field we can see a beautiful view of the mountains. My favorite moment of the whole game was when the ball got stuck in the tree, and as all of us short people tried to get it out Ian ran over yelling “Un memento! Un memento!” And all the locals laughed watching the tall man pluck the ball like a low hanging piece of fruit from the tree. 

Monday, October 9, 2023: San Clemente Day 5

Willow and I bring the sheep and cow with our Papa (Edwin) to the far pasture today. I marvel at the unique sounds of Quichua exchanged between Edwin and those we pass. Quichua isn’t like any other language, the sounds are so unique and have been passed on, preserved, for generations.

Tashi felting

After a normal morning of Spanish class we walk to Tupak and Fer’s house to discover a new project– felting hats! We spend a large chunk of the afternoon picking sticks, leaves, and dead spiders from alpaca wool. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023: San Clemente Day 6

Nothing out of the ordinary today! But here’s a blog bonus: 



Juices in San Clemente (I suggest googling the different fruits): 

  • Jugo de Mora
  • Jugo de Guanábana
  • Jugo de Guayaba
  • Limonada
  • Jugo de Piña con avena
  • Jugo de naranjilla
  • Jugo de maracuyá
  • Jugo de mortiño


Wednesday, October 11, 2023: San Clemente Day 7

Personal note: After many failed attempts I achieved making a heart-shaped pancake this morning!

We finish our hats today and are able to add little designs to them. I make a flower, hearts and a mushroom. Skyler makes a snail (AKA a slug with a house). Ian declares his is a mountain and felts two little llamas on top. 

Verena and all the hats

Tomorrow we are going to hike Imbabura, and we are instructed to bring a gift for the mountain. Willow and I ask our family’s opinion on a gift over dinner. Edwin gives us suggestions and heartfully agrees with the act of gift giving to the mountain, saying, “When you go to someone’s house you don’t just go in, you knock first. It’s the same for the mountain.”

Eamon, Iris and Anders modeling their fine felting

We go to bed, our alarm set for 3:15AM. 

Thursday, October 12, 2023: San Clemente Day 8 

We’re headed to the mountains!

3:15AM: we are up and get ready to go. 

4AM: A delicious breakfast; I didn’t know I could be so hungry at 4AM. 

4:30AM: we meet at the church and wait for each group member.

4:37AM: Ian cracks open his snack bag. 

We hop in trucks– many of us in the back. Ian, Julian, and I are in the back of Edwin’s truck with Willow and Jasmine in the cab. We are driven up and up and up, the view of Ibarra’s lights becoming more and more distant and ethereal. However, the morning takes a turn when the truck breaks down and we all walk a few kilometers up, throwing out our hitchhiking thumbs with no luck as the others fly by in their respective trucks. We reach the trailhead and begin our climb. It is very steep, filled with new plant species, flower crowns, singing, much needed water breaks, and the dogs that accompanied us sprinting up ahead. At one point we encounter two hikers and ask where they are from. When they say “Alemania” Julian throws his hands up in the air, yelling “Du sprichst Deutsch?” (You speak German?) down the mountain to them. 

We are forced to leave a couple friends behind before the technical part of the climb, during which we must pull out the harnesses and carabiners from our backpacks. Tupak goes ahead to set up the ropes and we follow, eager to make it to the summit. Many of us make our offerings. 

Climbing up is exhilarating and takes a lot of focus. We reach the summit at 12:04PM. The view is clouded but we relish in the feeling of all we achieved, nonetheless. (Personal note: I can now say I’ve had my hair cut on an Andean peak with a handmade knife. Thanks Eamon) As we eat lunch the sky begins to clear, we see a stunning view of the lakes and peaks and towns below us. We can see the snowy top of Cayumbe (another mountain), which has become a landmark for us in our travels throughout Ecuador.

We make our way back down– first down the rocky part with ropes, then reunited and down the steep dusty trail. Our faces get coated with a layer of dirt kicked up from the dry ground. We sing and laugh and trip and fall and get back up. When we make it to the bottom we circle up to share appreciations from the day– for the mountain, the people, the many sacred moments we shared. We load back into trucks and safely make it down together, our shoes filled with dirt.

Showers feel so good tonight, dirt seeping everywhere. 

Friday, October 13, 2023: San Clemente Day 9 

We are up early again today (not quite as early, only 6AM) to go to Otavalo! We meet at the bus stop at 7:30 and hop on the bus. Today is quite a special day– we get to meet the author of the book we have been reading: The Queen of Water by Maria Virginia Farinango. Jasmine and I stand in the back of the bus together reading, bumping back and forth. 

We transfer busses in Ibarra, arrive in Otavalo, and then take a taxi to Maria Virginia Farinango’s house. It is surreal when she opens the door– the person we have been reading about for so many weeks is now standing right in front of us, reaching out her hand to shake. We sit down and receive a presentation about her life and the book– it’s incredible to get so many visual and in depth representations of things we have just read about, on top of literally walking and breathing in and seeing the place where the book takes place. 

Afterwards we walked to the Otavalo market and get paired up into shopping buddies. As we walk around we are entranced by the sound and color and life. People yell to us in all different languages– English, Spanish, German– trying to see which one will stick. Ian is my partner and asks every vendor, “Tienes llamas?” Luckily his wish comes true; he buys a llama blanket and a llama sweater. Everything from overalls to earrings are purchased, and when we gather back together we show off our new goods. As we walk to lunch almost all of us are wrapped in new sweaters.

Ian and Bridget in the Otavalo market

Saturday, October 14: San Clemente Day 10

This morning we have minga once again, this time tilling land at Tupak’s house. It feels so good to use our bodies for something so productive and helpful. Peuke sits on the side of the field and watched, making mud castles.

Minga at Tupak’s house: Bridget, Angela and Julian help in the field

Our last Spanish class contains many antics. Mayra doesn’t know the word for wrestling so Ian and I exemplify– I lose, although I don’t think we’d be in the same weight class. Ian dances for all of us while we sing “I Am Woman” by Emmy Meli. Willow laughs so hard when we find the word “provocativo” in the dictionary. Then we intermingle classes and share skits. Julian and Anders make us all laugh when they somehow make their skit about asking directions into a (provocativo) love story. The intermediate class shares one about missing family during Christmas, and we all sing Feliz Navidad afterwards.



What is your favorite new word or phrase in Spanish?
Julian: Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa dentro (bottoms up)
Eamon: Mascotas (pets)
Skyler: Chancho (pig)
Ian: Llama (llama)
Mollie: Gallina (Chicken) or Ayudar (to help)
Willow: Que Chevere! (How cool!)
Iris: Ragui Shunkulla (Quichua for “thank you with my heart”)
Jasmine: Casi (almost)
Verena: Abajo (down) 

What is your favorite new English term you have learned?
Angela: …
Atreyu: Behind me!
Roberto: Dirty Dooker


After dinner we are dressed by our families in traditional indigenous clothes and walked to a dance party at Nancy’s house. Everyone looks beautiful– the girls wear colorful skirts and frilly shirts and the boys sport ponchos that reach down below their arms. Traditional music is played on guitars, accordions, mandolins, and more. We dance in circles together. Mollie plays “California Pines”, a beautiful song we have all learned and love. For the last song we circle the instrumentalists as they play, the music filling the room and our hearts.

On the way home I saw a tarantula for the first time! Tashi, Willow, and I all screamed as our families laughed.

Sunday, October 15: San Clemente Day 11

Willow and I make pancakes this morning. Willow makes so many fun shapes: a heart, a sun, a disproportionate cat. “It looks like it has a tit like a cow,” our mom says. 

Today is a rough day for our group. We have to say goodbye to our Izabo, who is such a vital part of our family, but has to leave semester today. Tears are shed, hugs are exchanged. We love you Izabo, to the moon and stars and back! 

We have another game of soccer that evening before going to the instructor’s house for a pizza night. We spread out dough, add toppings, and bring it to the oven before sharing with everyone. We play music and some people dance (Julian gets very into Let it Go). 



Spanish/English miscommunications

  • Ian’s family asks him if he’s ever been at high altitude before, and in an attempt to tell them he lived with his cousin in Colorado he says, “Yo vive con mi hijo en las montañas” (I lived with my son in the mountains).
  • On the first day of Spanish class we are making conversation and Iris asks Eamon, “Tienes mascotas?” (Do you have pets?). Not knowing the word “mascotas”, Eamon replies, “Cuantos?” (how many?). Iris repeats– “Tienes mascotas?” and a confused Eamon says, “asi asi” (so-so). 
  • As Willow and I walk home on Tuesday with our Mama we see Imbabura in the distance. Willow, meaning to call out, “Hasta jueves Imbabura!” (Until Thursday Imbabura!) calls out, “Hasta huevos Imbabura!” (Until eggs Imbabura!). 
  • As Iris tells her family about climbing Imbabura with ropes she attempts to explain that some people choose to do it without ropes (cuerda): “Algunas personas escalan sin ropa,” she says (some people climb it without clothes). 


Monday, October 16, 2023: Bikepacking Home Day 1

I wake up and wish to absorb every detail of my beautiful room. Willow and I gather our things together and leave our room. I can’t process that this is goodbye. We sit at the table for one last feast of a breakfast and reminisce on all the good times: laughing during meals, walking to class, riding in Edwin’s truck, hearing stories about San Clemente, filling up our flush bucket when there was no water… 

As we ride to Geova’s house in the back of the truck I marvel at how incredible San Clemente is: the view of the mountains and Ibarra, the friendly people, the motorcycles flying by, the vegetation and animals lining the streets.

We pack our bikes and gather in a circle. Each family says goodbye one by one, and many tears fall to the fresh ground. “Muchas gracias” is the most said phrase of the day. 

We take off down the hill we once climbed up with heavy but grateful hearts. It’s not long until we turn a corner and encounter the first bit of our many uphills for the day, followed by a couple intimidating single tracks. We have lunch in a beautiful forest where Iris teaches us a gorgeous three part song that seems to blend perfectly with our magical surroundings.

We end our 20 kilometer day at a church in a small village. We set up tents and get food ready. We are on expedition once again. 

Julian, Roberto, Mollie, Iris and Ian pulling tricks

Tuesday, October 17, 2023: Bikepacking Home Day 2

We start the day told we are doing 40 kilometers and a ton of uphill. Hooray! We take off and take on hill after hill. We feel some deja vu as we navigate some roads that we traversed on our expedition to San Clemente. 

We are told we can get ice cream and exclaim with excitement– it feels much deserved after such a hard morning— just to find the ice cream place is CLOSED. Our spirits are at an all time low. Roberto disappears, and we say “Look, it’s gotten so bad even Roberto quit!”, but moments later he returns with a bag full of ice creams! He had hitched a ride with someone down the hill to the last ice cream place. Classic Roberto! We sit and enjoy our ice cream on the side of the road. 

Ice cream break

We have an intense 3 kilometer climb that most of us choose to walk. Skyler and Julian make it to the top first and then run back down to push others to the top.

We bike and bike until it’s dark out. 50 kilometers (yes, 50) later we haven’t even made it to our planned campsite (those maps are hard to read). Luckily we are taken in by a kind family who allows us to sleep in their spare room. We line our sleeping bags from wall to wall, all so tired. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023: Bikepacking Home Day 3

“This is freaking torture!” Julian exclaims at 2:30AM as a cheerful yet repetitive ringtone goes off in the room next to ours. There is much commotion, everyone lifts their heads and looks around in the darkness, some more upset than others. Jack says no when Julian asks to go inside and turn it off. Eventually it stops abruptly but then begins again quieter than before. “It followed me into my dreams,” one person complained in the morning. “Yeah, probably because it was still on,” another replies.

We get up for real at 6AM and prepare breakfast. There is a very fat chicken that Anders is obsessed with. “That chicken is so fat– it can’t even walk! Look Bridget look!”

We get on bikes and start traversing. So many uphills– yay!

Some uphills are steep and some gentle, but we take all of them with the excitement of knowing we are about to set foot on the Continental Divide! We get on a busier road (one car about every 10 minutes) before finally reaching the top. Willow, Julian, and Ian all pee and wonder which ocean it will reach. 

Then came the most amazing part of the day– flying 11 kilometers downhill. It is long and fast and breathtakingly beautiful. A view of Cayumbe greets us to our left, on top of many flowers and mountains and valleys. We go around turns and whoop into the cold air and see a house plastered to the cliff and wonder what it would be like to live there.

Verna, Skyler, and Bridget enjoying the ride down

We stop a couple times and Ian’s breaks are so weak at this point that he flies past us yelling “Lo siento!” and often has to use his feet to fully stop. Tupak and Ian stop to problem solve this while the rest of us continue down the hill. We reach the bottom shivering and wait for Ian and Tupak. We see them turn the corner and double over with laughter when we see that Ian’s bike has been attached with rope like a leash to Tupak’s bike so Tupak could break for him. 

Ian and Iris ripping downhill

We camp at a hot springs resort under a pavilion. Before going to bed we take hot showers and soak in the natural hot springs. There is also a freezing river that many decide to dip into once or twice (or seven times if you are Julian and Jasmine). This is a luxurious end to a hard couple of days. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023: Bikepacking Home Day 4

We took a much needed rest day at the hot springs to reset. We are able to sleep in, wash clothes, journal, take time alone, and of course go in the hot springs. 

Friday, October 20, 2023: Bikepacking Home Day 5

We are lucky to get a ride in a truck, bikes and all, back up the road we flew down a couple days ago. Many of us yell with excitement as we fly around the turns while others hide our faces. We giggle at how funny we must look– the bikes can’t be seen so we just look like a bunch of people with helmets on in the back of a truck. 

We reach the top of the hill and begin biking. We can hardly see on either side or in front of us due to the fact that we are literally biking through a cloud– which is why they call it the cloud forest. 

Mollie, Angela enjoying the descent

We enter the Paramount (which means anything above 4,000 meters) and it begins to rain– we pull out our raincoats and continue. My fingers feel frozen and I have to use my whole hand to shift gears. We find a wild camp by a dam, all quite cold and wet. Tents are set up and our wonderful water manager Mollie and I go on a whole adventure to procure water from a stream across the dam. We return to camp with full water bladders and soaked shoes. We eat lunch together before slipping into our tents for a few hours to warm up and relax. 

One of many, many steep uphills



A poem about the Paramount by Verena: 

In the darkness up
Past the church with the painted window
The sleeping dog doesn’t move, but sighs in it’s sleep
Past the long leafed, sharp tipped yucca
Through a corridor of long limbed spindly elesio trees
Up until the moon rises over the sierra
The Queen in her boat rocking in the mountain peak
Up into the darkness in which there is so much light
Past cows and cottages and terra cotta roofs
A house has a light on, all the way up here
Someone still lives nestled in the mountain’s strong arms
Up until the clouds stripe the sky blue gray and the light of the sun sneaks in without you noticing
And so much higher still to climb
Up until every breath reminds you
Of what you take for granted

Iris and Willow savor the view of colorful flowers against the mountains


There is a view of a beautiful snow capped mountain from our camp. Skyler attempts to guess which it is: “Cayumbe? Cotopaxi?” And then in an attempt to say “Chimborazo” spits out “Chimbazuru?” Roberto and Tupak laugh. Then Eamon whispers to him, “Antisana,” and he guesses, “Antisana?” And goes “I knew it, I knew it!” Chimbazuru becomes our new favorite term.

Saturday, October 21, 2023: Bikepacking Home Day 6

After a delicious and warm breakfast of oatmeal we start the day with a healthy amount of downhill. This soon shifts to up, but it feels worth it when we find a beautiful flowing stream coming down from the mountains and refill our waters. Eamon and Verena climb down and Eamon does a split across the rocks to reach the optimal flowing water. 

Mollie takes the second wipe out of the trip on a rocky downhill, but is ok. She tells me her thought process was: 1) Are my legs broken? No, oh good. 2) People could run over me– “Guys don’t run over me!” 3) Oh darn, I bet my sleeping bag got popped again. She has her priorities in order. 

Pitstop at a lagoon

As we continue, suddenly cars become more prevalent, which makes sense as we reach a busy road that leads us to our second hot springs campsite. We park our bikes in a clearing that will become our campsite. We get out lunch (meat and cheese wraps– just cheese for me, with lots and lots of mayonnaise and some chips). We set up camp and take a while to relax and let things dry before going to the hot springs. Tashi arrives after her days off and we swarm her with excitement and love and questions. Then we are served a wonderful dinner at the hot springs restaurant before heading to bed. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023: Bikepacking Home Day 7 

We go in the hot springs once more this morning before a bountiful breakfast from our resupply last night: machica, yogurt, bread, butter.

Our camp in Angela’s yard

Today we will be going to Angela’s house, so Angela is our leader of the day. We go single file up a paved road before back onto dirt like we’re used to. We pass a lagoon and take 15 minutes to swim. We all sink ankle/knee deep (Jasmine) into mud. We get back on bikes. Uphill for 11 kilometers– hooray! The last few hills are the worst, but it’s all worth it when we meet Angela’s mom and sister at the top– they hug so tightly. We park our bikes in her yard and meet the rest of her family— her father, older sister, and little cousin. We are invited inside for jugo de Naranjilla, and meet her puppy Tobias (who is soon to be renamed Chimbazuru when Angela tells her family the story).

The view of Antisana from Angela’s yard



Another Spanish/English miscommunication:

Ian is the last one to be served juice, which here can be an omen that you will get married in the next year: Angela’s dad says to Ian, “En este año te casa” (this year you will get married) and Ian, confused, replies “No, we only keep apple juice in my house.”


We journal and talk and play games to finish out the day. I personally spend a lot of time running around with Rafa and Julie (Angela’s little sister and cousin), chasing them and being chased. They take my sleeping bag and put it over their heads to make themselves ghosts, and soon Eamon and I spend a large chunk of time running after them and yelling “Cuidado!” as they banged into tents and trees. It feels so special to be able to connect with Angela’s family. 

At Angela’s house with her family

We have a delicious dinner of rice, fish, and potatoes before slipping into our sleeping bags to sleep. 

Monday, October 23, 2023: Bikepacking Home Day 8

We step outside our tents and treasure the incredible view of Antisana we have from Angela’s back yard. “Desktop background!” kept going through my head. We see the guinea pigs and bunnies– “Ian look! This guinea pig has a full body mullet!” -Eamon.

We climb in a truck and get driven, the wind whipping through our hair, to Angela’s father’s second piece of land to do some service there. “We should really start counting how many random trucks we ride in the back of”- Ian. 

Eamon, Anders, Skyler, Roberto, Ian, and I spend the morning digging up a path in an attempt to make it flatter; everyone else works with the animals (and lays in the grass). Julian comes and joins the diggers near the end, making us laugh by acting like he had done as much work as us– “Great work guys! I’m soooo tired.”

We enjoy a breakfast of Rababu before getting on bikes. Willow makes a colorful cardboard sign that says “200 Kilometers Biking Home to Palugo!”

Willow’s sign is ready for the final day of bikepacking

The uphill is hard as ever, but we have plenty of rest of and plenty of snacks. Today cliff bars feel like the most delicious food on earth. I decide someday I want to make a cliff bar cake by layering them on top of one another and then pouring melted chocolate on top. How delicious would that be?

After our 5K Climb there is 30K downhill. Within the first few minutes many of us catch air and two flat tires ensue from Atreyu and Eamon. We wait and journal as our gear managers get to work fixing. Then we keep going! But Mollie’s bacon from her last flat pops out and we stop once again. Then a stretch of exhilarating downhill— I love the feeling of freedom and independence flying down a hill can give you, you have to be so focused and can’t talk to anyone. Just as our legs and arms feel as though they might fall off from the rocky terrain, Jack’s tire goes flat and we wait a while longer. Just as we are ready to leave Julian makes joke saying, “Oh no guys my tire is flat! Haha just kidding!” We all groan, “Stop it Julian!” but turn to see that is back tire is in fact flat. So, we wait just a while longer. 

The mechanics hard at work

The rest of the day is metaphorically but not literally smooth. We go down many more rocky roads before walking a bit on the main road. Tupak buys us ice cream and bread and we complete our last stretch to the Palugo gate. The gate opens (Roberto pretends he  is pushing it– so strong!) and we bike our very last uphill to the barn. Friendly faces greet us and say “Welcome home!” and “We’re so proud of you!” We circle up and put our arms around each other.

Arriving home to Palugo

The resupply from San Clemente comes and it feels like Christmas– our llama sweaters and other goods from the market along with clean (CLEAN!) clothes. We clean up and shower before a delicious dinner of burgers and fries. 

We have time to journal and relax in the evening. It feels so right to be back here, Verena’s feet dangling above me in our sweet bunk bed filled cabin. Goodnight lovely humans <3. 

Love and gratitude, 

Bridget and the 2023 Ecuador Semester