Temples, Rafting, and Volcanos: News from GIS

Paige ’15, Mongolia, 4/11/2015
So today was our first official day in Mongolia! We traveled the streets of Ulaanbatar in the bright morning after eating a delightful breakfast filled with bread with jam and butter, mint apple juice, and a delightful selection of cereal. After our walk we searched through a market filled with some very interesting items unlike ours at home . . . We went on a tour around a temple that had a twenty-six-meter-tall, hollow bronze Buddha. It is filled with medicinal herbs, an entire ger (furniture and all), many mantras, and a lot of scrolls. After trying not to trip on the way out of the temple (we had to walk backwards so we weren’t turning our back on the sacred statue), we walked along to another building filled with praying monks and sculptures made out of goat fat (yummy). We also saw the work of a GIS group from years back that planted beautiful rows of trees in a public park near the Gandan Monastery. The trees have grown and are enjoyed by all . . .

After lunch we went to a hill where we could see all of Ulaanbatar from the top. After our small hike, we sauntered off to a building in a closed-down amusement park where we got to listen to Tim and Gina’s lovely rendition of Jessie’s Girl in a room that Badnaa rented out for us for the hour to sing to a karaoke machine. My favorite part in particular was when Noah knew all of the rap lyrics to Airplane. All-in-all, it was a perfect day that was completed by watching a concert of traditional Mongolia throat singing, dancing, contortion, and music. We topped the night off with a meal at a castle in the amusement park where we had a squash soup and pasta.

Katrina ’16, Ecuador, 4/12/2015
Today was a day of feeling both small and powerful. We had a scenic drive from the Mama Hilda hostel to the town of Quilatoa through a patchwork of green fields on the steep pitches. In Quilatoa, we took in the view of the piercing blue water surrounded by jagged peaks before beginning our descent into the crater. The trail immediately dropped and continued to until we reached the sandy beach of the caldera lake. The water was sparkling and a deep pensive blue that was a shade I have never seen before. As I stared out into the water, I thought about the force of nature and how this “blue hole” (as dubbed by members of our group) was formed by a magnificent volcano erupting and leaving a hole surrounded by a ring of mountains. I was astonished and humbled by the power that nature has to create this huge basin. I felt so small in the world, though also so appreciative of everything around me. As we spent the next hour steadily climbing back up the trail into the town, I thought about my place in the world and how although I am small, I am also powerful. Powerful enough to push myself to hike up the trail, despite the elevation and steep slope.

In the town of Quilatoa, we stayed for a bit to watch wedding festivities consisting of a band playing traditional music and the native people clad in beautiful clothes dancing together. This was a beautiful event to witness. It warmed my heart to see the people so content. We also took part in a traditional Ecuadorian cuisine; Einstein bought guinea pig (cui) for us to try.
We then got back in the van, relieved to take a seat after our hike, and drove to a beautiful restaurant for lunch and then onto Baños to stay the night.

Exhausted, I will go to bed tonight with many things to be proud, happy, and pensive about.

Jess ’17, Ecuador, 4/11/2015
The hustle and bustle of the cars and the city seemed to all flow in a single rhythm, every movement flowing together to create something amazing, every car in a different direction, and the sounds of horns honking never ceased, even at 3:30 in the morning. Everywhere you looked there were buildings with more people, more cars, more noises, more things to offer around each corner. Pollo Campero is the McDonalds of Ecuador, Holister jeans are found on almost every teenage girl, and barbed wire is the most high in landscaping decoration. Already, it seems like this new land is full of surprises and opportunities.

Eloise ’17, Ecuador, 411/2015
As we relax and play in the hammocks outside our hostel, the group reflects on the day. As a team, we conquered our first long hike. We hiked from our first hostel in Isinlivi to our second in Chugchilan. It was 14 kilometers through a ravine and consisted of some flat trail with breathtaking views, a steep descent to a small suspension bridge to cross the river, and then a grueling but rewarding uphill climb. Along the way we made some new friends with the local dogs. Two of them took to us so quickly that they decided to join us throughout the entire hike. Even now as we quietly swing I can feel their small, lean backs brush up against the underside of my hammock. It’s pure torture not being able to pet them, but the risk of fleas is making Ms. Durkan and Mr. Einstein sweat.

In the middle of our hike, our group decided we needed to stop at a promised tienda (shop) along the way to stock up on some much needed liquids. The altitude really takes its toll on our bodies, so everyone was grateful. After almost walking right past the tiny shack, the tienda turned out to be completely vacant. The group decided to walk into the nearby town to stock up anyways. As we walked down the path into the tiny town square we found that the town was, also, empty. The whole place consisted of a small church, a small building for a shop, a pump for some water with a concrete wall behind it, and a bunch of small stick houses where we assumed the inhabitants lived. The church and the store were both painted white with brightly colored roofs. The silence of the town was the first thing I noticed. Then, looking around, I saw that there was only a small girl leaning outside the church, regarding us with a mixture of fascination and suspicion. Immediately, our canine friends went to go assert their dominance to the other dogs of the town. Over the loud barking our guide informed us that the entire town was in mass at the church. Our group went to go sit on the small stoop outside the store and wait until mass was finished.

As I unwrapped my sandwich to take my first bite I started to notice a small noise coming from across the grass and dirt of the town square. I looked to my peers to see if they noticed, but they were mostly laughing and talking about the delicious plantain chips we had packed in our lunches. After listening intently for five minutes I realized the sound was coming from inside the church. The entire community had gathered together to sing and prey. Though I tried, my Spanish is not yet skilled enough to figure out what they were singing about. I just heard the sweet melody and listened to all the different voices singing in a way that was obviously very strictly rehearsed. One by one as I listened to the song, small children were coming out to watch us foreigners wrap our blisters and talk about the strange new foods. We tried to wave and smile, but they were all to timid to respond. Then, slowly, the rest of the community came out to join us. I watched them laugh and smile and talk amongst each other just as our group had just been doing. Even though I wasn’t included, the sense of community was overwhelming.

Above photo is post-cui (guinea pig) tasting!

Mariana ’17, Greece, 4/11/2015
After a long train ride we set up the camp and took another bus to the rafting place. It looked like a gas station. In my raft was Brady, Antoine, Thomas, Elle, Jacob, and me! Antoine hit his knee when he tried to attack the other boat (don’t worry, he’s totally fine), and Thomas fell into the water when we crashed into a rock. I kept laughing at everything, just because. We could also see the monasteries from the river, and they were gorgeous. It was a really fun day!

Meg ’17, Greece, 4/11/2015
Last night, after our dinner, we headed to the church in town. Before the building was in sight we could hear the priest’s sermon over a speaker in the bell tower as the sound floated down the streets. The church itself was packed and full of hushed whispers in Greek, French, and English while the priest, dressed strikingly in white robes embroidered with gold and seated in a grand throne, spoke to the village. The ceiling was comprised of ornate frescos detailing a wide variety of religious figures and stories. The priest finished speaking and a male quintet began to sing as everyone piled through the doors. We waited outside for Claire, Mariana, Hill, and Tanner since they’d managed to reach the front of the church right where the priest sat. They came out bearing 13 long, yellow candles. We lit ours and joined the procession of all the people in the church following a life-size crucifix and a litter with an image of Jesus Christ inside. Two young men in their early twenties led the procession followed by about six boys in age order (there were two adorable kids who couldn’t have been more than eight!) and they were all clad in spectacular colored robes star to those that the priest wore. When they began to walk, the priest and the singers followed, along with the crucifix and the litter. Then we all poured into line behind them. Walking with all of those people felt profoundly humbling. Everyone there was a part of a greater community and that feeling of purpose and togetherness spread through the the town as we walked. During our circuit there was also a great deal of fun! We walked very slowly to keep our candles from blowing out as the wind picked up. When our flames inevitably disappeared, we dashed to another member of the group to relight off of their still lit candles. We shared light, made quiet conversation, and enjoyed the feeling of hot wax in our skin as it molded around our fingers and hands. Antoine and Thomas were especially successful in that area, almost completely coating their hands. The rest of the group was fascinated when their wax was so precise it held the shap of their fingerprints. Mariana was affectionately dubbed a witch when her candle never went out. We finished the night by placing our candles in a shrine attached to the church. It was definitely my highlight so far!