When we landed in Atlanta, we went through immigration that was backed up. The guy at immigration said we wouldn’t make our flight. Apparently, our seats had been given away 10 minutes prior to boarding. After an incident with Muriel on the escalator, Janel went to the help desk. In the meantime, we took the walking sidewalk to concourse B to see the jungle artwork. The seats there were extra comfortable and Muriel put up her knee.

We walked to our gate to get seat assignments. When we boarded, our seats were in the very back, rows 32 and 33. When we landed in Minneapolis it was 14F and I could see my breath. Then we boarded a very large and under booked plane. Many of the people were seated in the back with about 90 available seats in front of us.

We arrived in Bismarck; many of us were ready to go back to Ecuador since it had been 60F the entire time. Here is was 28F. We were sad our journey had ended, but glad to have made new friends in Ecuador.


God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again


We slept in because breakfast wasn’t until 8:30a. We had all of our luggage and hauled it to the gate. We loaded the bags into the bus. We were stopping at the outdoor market because Blanca needed to get something. When we got other market we all went walking. I stopped at the info desk for a map first. Muriel found what she was looking for, continuous scarves. As we walked back through the market I saw a wooden mask that I liked.


We took off toward Tocagon in the bus to meet up with the community. At about 11am, we arrived, and they were ready for us. The place was cleaned up and ready. They wanted to do a dedication ceremony for the help we had given them. They gave Janel a plaque, then they gave us all scarves and hats one by one. Then Blanca gave us scarves (Amber helped her pick them out). Each church represented got a cloth to hang in their church, there were 8 total. Ken, Rene, and Curtis got wallets. And we gave Marilyn and Mary Katherine gift bags, we had given Luis and Blanca gift bags the night before. We all got up together and sang ‘God be with you ‘til we meet again’ and we also did the Adam’s family Prayer, snapping our fingers along with the Adam’s family theme. As we were leaving we said our goodbyes, Marilyn gave me a hug and told me to take care of myself. I told her to do the same. Then we were off to eat. I got the soup with the chicharrones on the side. All of the soup came with corn nuts and avocado.

After we left there we went to the Middle of the World in Quito. We took cheesy tourist photos on the line and walked into the tower to get our passports stamped. We climbed the stairs to the top looking at the exhibits on the way. The view was amazing. Ken was standing at the top of the Christian museum waving at us. Rene and I walked into the artist’s studio where he painted with luminescent paint. We took group photos and headed to the bus. We were headed to the airport, from the Middle of the World to the airport it took about 2 hours. The traffic was bad, bumper to bumper the entire way.

Our flight had been delayed so checking in wasn’t a big deal. When we got through checking in and airport screening we were given roses.  We relaxed and charged our phones. I sat next to a man from Frankfurt, Germany. His wife was from Ecuador.

The closer it was to boarding, we were laughing about nothing and the most absurd things. We tried sleeping.

Greatest Blessing


Blanca gave us Ecuador bracelets at breakfast this morning. When we got to the site, we started painting the big room and the two smaller rooms that were left. There were 6 of us in the room singing, and Blanca came in to record us and do interviews. At 10:30am, it was break time. We had oranges and crackers.

We painted until 12:30pm, as we could from the ground up. Only the high half of the room remained. Karla did the second coat on the ceiling. At lunch we got lentils, chips, pork chop and rice. After eating, Luis gave us all chocolates for Valentine’s Day. Ken gave Sebastian the footballs for the community center. We went outside and three boys needed people to play football with them. We played and lost. We even tried two goalies on one side and still lost. The end score was 7-2.

When we got on the bus we were all exhausted. It started to sprinkle and rain on our way back to town. The rain was cold but beautiful. It hadn’t rained the entire time we were there.

For dinner we had papaya oatmeal drink, avocado with corn salad inside. I ate the salad but gave my avocado to Luis and Blanca. Then we got shrimp with rice and plantain chips. For dessert we had tree tomatoes in sugar syrup. It was super sweet. Ken gave a gift of a football to the little girl whose parent worked in the hotel. Then thanked them for all that they had done for us.

Blanca (FEDICE) had gifts for every church that was represented and we got our passports back. We had stored them in the hotel safe. We did the Ash Wednesday ceremony by putting ash on everyone’s forehead in the shape of a cross, and celebrated Valentine’s Day.

I heard a clicking noise outside the room, similar to a clicking pen. We went to check and it was Rene with spray! We laughed and played like children spraying each other all the way down the hallway.


Curtis: At first he was reluctant to come since he is not a group person, but he enjoyed every minute of this trip.

Amber: She felt very useful today.

Muriel: Today was a good day, she helped Blanca with interviews and then was interviewed too.

Hugo: They finished the work, during the day sharing with all of you is a special time. I am so grateful that Rene is my friend.

Blanca: Today was another special day. Now it is time to say good bye and it is so hard. Thank you so much for coming here and working so hard.

Luis: Today has been a wonderful day and I always enjoy being with the kids.

Marcy: I think this has been one of the greatest blessings, coming here and meeting you. I am so grateful to the people and for Janel for arranging this.

Meghan: The other day Karla asked me if I stepped out of my comfort zone coming here. At first, wasn’t sure because I never live inside it. But I think I did!

Lindy: In the morning a little boy came to help paint and he tried all the brushes and techniques.

Jan: I’m not good at speaking but this has been a wonderful experience and making new friends.

Karla: It has stretched my faith being here and working with these people even if we couldn’t talk. I enjoyed the singing if we didn’t always know all the words.

Lori: Today was a good day but a sad day to see all the kids go.

Rene: This trip has been wonderful meeting all of these wonderful people. Thank you all so much.

Ken: This has been a beautiful experience and I am happy I had the opportunity.

Blanca: thank you so much again, as Hugo said,

it is a great opportunity to learn from you.


Painting and Singing


Today’s breakfast was papaya, bananas, pineapple and watermelon with a small cup of yogurt and cantaloupe juice. Today is the last day of carnaval, so we headed back to the hotel for our foam spray.

We grabbed our can and Luis asked who was ready. Blanca sprayed him in the back. Lori had a double barrel at one point and she pointed them at Luis as she got on the bus. When Ken got on, he pointed them at Luis and other people as well and said that “He wasn’t late.” We all had our spray. We arrived at the Tocagon at 9:08am

Blanca got everyone organized and then we started painting the ceiling in the large room. Lori and I ended up in the bathroom to paint. The long stick we were using with a roller on it was too long. They cut off a section of the stick near the bottom, which made it easier to move through the small room, but harder to reach the ceiling. Lori painted where she could and we maneuvered the pole into the bathroom stall at an angle so she could get the ceiling. Blanca suggested we paint the backside of the wall too. So Lori and I switched spots. The toilet lid was not sturdy enough to hold me so she gave me a chair to stand on. I stood on it and painted the ceiling. My arms were getting tired and my neck was bent all the way back. Lori and I started singing. Ken came into the bathroom to help paint the ceiling. I was glad because at this point I was using the concrete stall wall to pivot my brush back and forth. I helped paint the wall and soon we were singing Kumbaya. The acoustics in the bathroom were absolutely amazing. We also sang B.I.B.L.E. We enjoyed our time in the bathroom, everyone else was trying to sing with us but we couldn’t hear them because our own voices were bouncing back to us.

We took a break and got rolls filled with queso fresco. We all went back to work on one room. Some of us painted the top of the wall with rollers, some with brushes, and some on scaffolding. Some left to do grout work, or to paint the ceiling.

At lunch we got 2 empanadas; one green banana filled with meat and rice, the other was filled with cheese. They were both delicious. We also got a banana and chocolate and a choice of pop (coca-cola, strawberry, or orange). Muriel gave me her extra empanada, and Mary Katherine did the same. Luis and I danced at lunch. I grabbed his hand and started dancing, he did too. I smiled from ear to ear.

After lunch, we went back to the first room to finish. Karla and I got on the scaffold to reach the high points on the wall that were easier to be done with height. After that room was finished, Curtis painted around the door frame in the large room. Jan painted near the window and I painted on the other side of the door frame. The bus pulled up and I saw all the Vacation Bible School people getting on it.

Before dinner, Marcy, Karla, Ken, Muriel, and I went to the Aki grocery store next door. I did go down the chocolate and candy aisle and grabbed a bunch of things. I enjoy grabbing candy from different countries to share. I also found football related trading card stickers. Ken was telling me he collected baseball cards when he was younger and that he still has them. I gave one to everyone at dinner.

For grace we did Ken’s Adams family prayer. For dinner we had quinoa soup with chicken and carrots, meat with peppers, rice, fries and figs with cheese.


Karla: We share words but don’t always understand words, but we smile they smile.

Curtis: Karla, Jan, Meghan and I were talking about how it is easy for them to go to church here.

Marcy: Is getting exhausted, but enjoyed the fact that there were more people for first aid. They practiced wrapping.

Jan: She enjoyed painting and the people.

Blanca: Marcy’s class went from 41 to 64 people who were very interested to learn. What Marcy teaches is very important to the people.

Hugo: What was important to me were the people painting and singing.

Lori: The singing this morning was great. It made the work go faster. VBS was great, we had more children. Mateo looks just like my grandson from Pakistan.

Rene: The people are joyful people. We paint in the morning, unforeseen, but in the afternoon we work together with the people. I enjoy working with Hugo, we have great conversations.

Luis: Another wonderful day working with the kids. He is so proud of Muriel, Lori, and Amber with how they play with the kids. They sang, played with the kids and Carnaval.

Meghan: Had a pretty fun day, but am exhausted. Enjoyed the singing this morning and about 30 seconds of dancing at noon.

Janel: Was very impressed with how quickly we got to work and how much we got done.

Lindy: At first aid, I felt blessed by the people. Blanca had us do Janel’s exercises. People were so excited, took lots of pictures and were appreciative.

Ken: As you know, I enjoy singing.

Muriel: I had a wonderful day this morning. I got to hold a beautiful smiling baby for an hour. At VBS a little girl came up and held my hand.


Working Day


This morning was scrambled eggs, rolls, and coffee. Today was our first day to work. We took off to Tocagon, unloaded our equipment and got started. The plan for the day was to grout the floors. Everyone was working and I walked around trying to figure out what to do, until the bus driver handed me some grout and a tool. I was excited. We got a quick run through on how to grout. First we were told to use it sparingly, then someone else told us to just use a lot to make sure the holes were filled and move on as quickly as possible. We started in one room in the farthest right side of the building. When we finished that room, we moved to another.

At 10:30am we were told to take a 10 minute break. For snacks we had crackers and drinkable yogurt. Then we continued grouting until lunch. We got an American style lunch the first day; a 350ml bottle of coca-cola, a chicken salad sandwich and a bag of chips. There was a mustard sauce to put on the sandwich. There was also extra sandwich filling. I added more filling to my sandwich, and then I made nachos with my chips. I put the sandwich filling on the chips and added the mustard sauce. Mary Katherine did not want the rest of her sandwich, so Amber and I split a half of a sandwich. We had to coax Rene to eat and stop working. There was no leftover waste.

After lunch we separated into three groups. One group went to Vacation Bible School, one group went to first ad, and the other group stayed to finish grouting. The second half of the day we had locals help us with the construction projects. It was me, Karla, Curtis, Rene, Hugo, Jose and Sebastian. Rene was washing the floor to remove excess grout. I asked if he needed help when he said that he was having so much fun that he didn’t want to share. I told him he was supposed to say, “I am having so much fun white washing this fence, you should give it a try.” He laughed. Karla ands I chipped in and used steel wool to clean the floor. I got a dustpan to collect the dust. Curt and Jan were in another room painting the ceiling.

Eventually, Karla, Jan and I went outside to play with the children. Hugo asked if I had ever heard of Ecuador before. I told him that I had and that I learned about the mountains and jungles. We took pictures with the children. Jan asked Hugo if we should go up and paint. He told us tomorrow. It was 4pm but scheduled to work until 5pm. Karla and Curtis started painting the grey brick wall on the opposite side of the bathroom. They were finishing when I sat down and the others arrived back from Vacation Bible School. Marilyn asked for someone to go with her to purchase water for everyone. I went with her. We were headed to the Aki grocery store next to the hotel, but we noticed how bad the traffic was backed up on the opposite side of the road. We assumed it was due to carnaval. When we got to the store she remembered he forgot her card and we were off to her house. She parked and I went inside, and played with her dog. I was greeted by Isabel and offered a piece of lemon pudding cake. For dinner we got chicken and potato soup, pork, potatoes and corn, and strawberry mousse and orange juice.


Curtis: Wonders if he was really helping.

Lindy: She was doing first aid and was surprised by how interested people were.

Karla: She enjoyed working with everyone today, and blowing up balloons for the kids.

Meghan: Felt awkward this morning until she was given tools to work

Jan: Had a great time working and playing with the kids.

Amber: Noticed that the kids enjoyed the games that they played at v.b.s.

Hugo: Every time people from the USA come it gives him more opportunity to learn.

Blanca: Today was a different day, getting everything ready for 1st aid and VBS

Lori: Cleaned and swept in the morning. The kids for VBS didn’t show up right away but they came in as pairs then 4s and 6s, and ended up with 22 kids. They played, sang, colored, and had fun. The pastor came and had a color book and cross that he kept.

Murial: In the morning I washed doors and in the afternoon I went to VBS. They played hot potato with tennis balls and balloons. And got a hug from a little girl.

Marcy: Opportunity to teach a subject she adores, and they were very interested. There was an hour of ask the nurse questions. After we practiced wrapping, I got so many hugs and kisses, and one lady said she was sure she had seen me on TV.

Ken: Last year if someone would have told him he would be going to Ecuador he would not have believed it.

Rene: He was told an economical way and less economical way to grout floors.

Luis: He can’t do a lot of heavy lifting but he made sure everyone was doing their job. He made sure bathrooms were cleaned for VBS. He registered the children and had lots of fun.

Janel: Enjoyed the day, working with Marcy. Glad that people came out of their comfort zones and good to see the strengths everyone had.


Wedding and Holiday


We woke up and showered. My shower was a mixture of waves of hot and cold water. We went to breakfast where we had eggs with peppers in it and bread and piña colada juice.

We got in the bus dressed in our Sunday best for church. When we arrived at San Rafael parish in Tocogan we stood outside and shook hands with the wedding party. We greeted each other the entire way. When we walked into the church, the majority of us had to duck under the banner. Then we were told to sit in the very front row, on the right side of the church.

The music they had playing was accompanied by a band; guitarist, drummer, keyboardist, a lead singer and two back ups. The lady singing put a lot of feeling into the words. It was the expressions of her face and the sounds of her voice that gave it away.

When the wedding family entered they sat in a row of chairs further in front than where we were seated, but in the center of the podium. The men had blue ponchos, white pants and sandals. The women had their hair wrapped in black cloth and were wearing dark blue dresses.

The pastor told his congregation about us, Blanca and the project. He had Rene come up to translate from Spanish to English. He looked terrified. After both speeches, we all went up and were introduced separately. Janel came up and gave her message to the wedding party.

A live chicken was given to the wedding couple. We went up to sing our song in front of everyone. It was just our voices and clapping. We tried to get them to repeat the line back to us, but we did the lines twice. After, we gave the couple our gift to them.  The couple knelt on the floor covered in flower petals, signed the wedding license and were told to hug. It was at this point where we left. Many people waved as we left. Outside a car was covered in a ribbon.

We went to Sebastian’s house to see his projects. From his own house we could see his projects. He had been building huts made from reeds and seed bags. They were similar to the huts that his ancestors lived in. He had them rented out already and his plan is to expand them into other villages. It is a bed and breakfast and they give adventure tours as well.

Then went back to the hotel for lunch. They served rice with ceviche (with shrimp) soup and plantain chips. And Oka cake for dessert. I am told you can put the rice in the soup, or put the soup on the rice, there are no rules. So I scooped up some rice and put some of the ceviche on my fork and ate it like that. I enjoyed the cold soup. The oka reminded me of some kind of bread my mom used to make, but I am not exactly sure which; maybe warm banana bread, or chocolate zucchini bread.

We had about a half an hour to rest before we were going to Peguche Cascade. It was a short drive to the falls. Amber wore her raincoat. I should have put on my poncho. We walked up the hill, people were selling spray everywhere. People were selling food that smelled delicious too. We started walking toward the falls, people were spraying people, and getting them with ink and water. I got sprayed in the ear. We sprayed people who sprayed us, it was all in good fun. The rock walkway to the falls was slippery and the group was held up. Up ahead people were asking a local about what was going on ahead of us.

He suggested that we take a different route and he showed us the way. We stopped at the fertility tree. He told us that couples come to the fertility tree if they are having a difficult time conceiving. They pray under the tree and write their names in it. But he told us that he has six children and that he comes to the tree to pray for the strength to be a good father. As we walked by I touched the tree.

The guide helped Muriel up the path. There were very steep steps, I was walking behind Ken who seemed to be having a difficult time. We stopped part way up, Amber asked why we stopped because she needed the momentum to make the stairs. I told her I was being respectful. At one point during the climb I stuck out my hands because I was afraid that he would fall backward. He started up again. I watched his feet. When we got the view point I watched him place his foot on a spot where an old board was missing and then take the rest to the top. I asked him if he was doing okay, giving him a thumbs up thumbs down motion. I can’t say I wasn’t worried. After about a minute or two he said, “It isn’t that I am out of shape, it is the altitude.”

When Muriel made it to the view point, we all cheered. We took group photos, I didn’t enjoy being crowded. Marcy accidentally dropped Muriel’s camera. The lenses popped off, Mary Kathryn tried to put it back together, but she wasn’t successful. Muriel told her not to worry. I got down from the platform and watched Ken come down those stairs. I made motions of asking if he needed a hand down that last sketchy step. He put his hand on my shoulder and I put my other hand on his waist. Rene, Ken and I took pictures in another area. The guide took the pictures. When people where leaving the viewing area I ran back over there to give Muriel a hand even though she had a hand on the other side. Ken helped everyone up a gigantic step on the path and we continued on down the hill. I got sprayed in the ear and Amber got inked in the face. She laughed because she was part of the community. When we got back to the bus we went to Marilyn’s house.

The bus stopped outside her house and, as someone was about to exit the bus, a car zoomed by. She thanked them for not running her over. So as we exited we made sure to check for traffic. When we went in, we were greeted by Isabel. The house was amazing. There was what I can only describe as a terrarium outside as the house wrapped around it. It was beautiful to view from the dining room.  We all moved ourselves around the table for cornbread and coffee. Marilyn’s husband Glenn came out to join us. As a group we chatted about the day, my book, and Glenn changing his mind from tea to chocolate. We enjoyed Glenn’s company and I am sure he enjoyed ours. I was given a second piece of cornbread and ate it too. I had a great time, I also shared pictures of us sleeping at the airport in Bismarck with everyone.

We came back to the hotel for dinner. It was hominy covered in cheese or what reminded me of street corn spices, potato soup and peaches. Karla got her suitcase today! I crashed early that night, as did Muriel. They exhausted us and we were out by 9pm.


Lori: Enjoys the church service and the Evangelical wedding was unusual, with the children running in and out and getting up front during the ceremony.

Luis: Did his good deed getting Karla’s suitcase.

Blanca: She enjoys seeing us play like children with the spray. And she is thankful that we shared more than just work.

Jan: Was surprised that they gave chickens as gifts during the wedding.

Marcy: Is always moved by music, especially in the church service.

Ken: Has great faith for the bus driver, getting around small corners and getting us where we need to go.

Meghan: Was impressed when it was suggested we go a different route to the falls. One that was less crowded and slippery.

Curtis: What stuck in his mind was the girl singing in church and doing part of the worship.

Rene: Many things are similar to Puerto Rico, and he was impressed that the community could share this holiday like a game and no one got angry.

Karla: Was impressed by praise service in church and Sebastian’s project.

Muriel: Was impressed with the wedding and how the church service was full.

Lindy: She was impressed by the flower girl who went through her grandfather’s bible and also that the groom had a Bible.

Amber: Noticed small details like women aren’t afraid to breastfeed in public, and how getting sprayed made her feel like part of the community.

Janel: She felt like we were intruding on the weding and church service and hopes there was no offense. She was also impressed by Sebastian’s eco-friendly buildings.



A Day of Adventure


The morning started out with a small omelet with peppers, raspberry juice, coffee and rolls with butter and jam. We also said grace.

We left for the Otavalo market, and we paired up with a Spanish speaker. I chose Luis, and so did Karka and Lindy. First he took us down one way, but then took us another way to see different things. We passed spices and chess sets. We stopped at a lady that would take care of us, and give us deals, so we didn’t haggle. I believe we bought the majority of our things there. She had scarves, blankets, shirts all of different patterns and sizes. I got a blanket, a shirt and 2 scarves (one masculine and one feminine). We walked around and stopped to look at stuff and haggle. Luis would scold us if we didn’t haggle because that is part of the game. Lindy found a carnaval mask for me. The mask was one sided and woven with 12 woven mounds to signify each month in different colors. We stopped for jewelry and trinkets. At the end, I bought a very large can of spray for carnaval because we were in the spirit. Lindy bought one for Luis. He was excited.

When we got back to the bus a few people were going to be late. Blanca said they should have to pay a toll. I put on my mask and scrunched myself between the seat back and the seat I was sitting on. Propped up, I waited. As they passed by I sprayed them, just a little bit to make them jump and be afraid. Then Jan and I had an all out spray competition on the bus. There was spray all over me and her, we fought over the same can for a while until she called truce. Truces always feel one sided.

When we got to the hotel, we had to fight to get off the bus. Luis was ready to spray. Karla offered to take my things if I would cover her. I tried my hardest spraying him while trying to distract him long enough for Karla and me to get off the bus. I waited for Luis to get off the bus. We had a spray fight and he hid behind Blanca. I ran back making Blanca collateral damage for getting Luis.

For lunch we had chicken tortilla soup, rice and beef tongue with avacado, and vanilla ice cream with raspberry sauce and chocolate chips. Pineapple juice accompanied.

In the afternoon, we took off to Culcocha Lake. The cost of the ticket was $3.50. With the ticket for the bus tour you also got a postcard and a free drink after. When it was our turn we loaded on the boat and off we went. Enjoying the calmness of the water, the views, and going through the over grown reefs we stopped on the backside of the island. The second boat that was behind us also stopped, but their boat drifted toward my face. I yelled, and a few of us stuck our hands out to prevent a boat collision with my face. There was a lot of angry people because of this carelessness.

About 3,000 years ago a volcano erupted, causing a crater but it has been calm since. There are no fish in the water due to the high sulfuric content. The water comes from rain and mountain run off.

After our boat ride, we got a free drink with our ticket. I believe it was called carnelasa. It was berry and citrus with cinnamon. It was so hot it burned my tongue.

We quickly hopped back on the bus to leather town. It was a small outdoor market. Out where we were going to meet, there was a statue of a woman holding a harp. There was also a catholic church across the street, they were in session.

When it was time to get on the bus, we all did except Rene. We had lost him. The bus driver tried to manuver the bus by backing up and taking that road. Luis had to direct him because it was tight. We headed down the road a few blocks passed the church, Blanca got off and I tried to call him. I texted instead. The bus driver backed up the hill and eventually everyone got back on. He told us he went to buy a leather jacket. Cash would have been cheaper, but he couldn’t get the ATM to work so he paid with card.

We got back and had some free time. I could hear Ken talking outside and Rene came out and said he wouldn’t bother me because I was writing. I told him he could talk. He told me about the American he saw at the market the day before. He didn’t buy anything he just took pictures of everything. He compared it to trying to get a photography award for poverty. And we talked more about how some people only focus on what we perceive as flawed and not the people and beauty that surrounds us.

At dinner, we had more carnelaso type tea. This one was yellow, citrus and cinnamon. We had potato soup with cheese and cilantro, fries, steak medallions, and cold salad with peas and apples. After dinner they told us we were going to a restaurant with live music and have dessert and coffee.

We went to Sisa, and I got a frappuccino and blackberry cheesecake. We laughed with Jan as she was making fun of herself. I haven’t laughed so hard in a while. Some of our crew were trying to figure out what was going on.

Marilyn brought two extra people, one was Isabel. They are nice people. We took goofy photos outside. Amber and I flexed for the camera. I made a gesture of pulling up my pant leg and sticking out my thumbs. Janel laughed. I repeated it as the bus came closer. He opened the door, I yelled “It worked” and bolted onto the bus. Janel suggested that Luis and I are kindred spirits, but I am sure Amber and I are too.