Monday, January 31, 2011

Luck be a lady...

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is scary. Matthew and I talked last fall about my getting a master's degree or trying for National Boards. We decided I would go for National Board certification, so I applied last October online. A few weeks later I received a blue box with lots of labels, envelopes, CD-Rom, and forms. I am very bad at self-instruction, i.e. reading comprehension. I always have been.

My first apprehension began when I read that I was supposed to have 3 years in the same district. Since I was only 50% for three years, those account for 1.5 years! I have one year of full-time last year. You can do the math, so I thought, "Maybe I'm not eligible yet." It turns out there is an employment verification form that I was to duplicate for each district. Again, that whole poor reading comprehension thing bit me.

OK. Long story short, I have procrastinated until the absolute last minute, as always. All of my forms were due to be postmarked today. So I get up this morning, ready to send in everything I have: License Verification including a copy of my license; Education Verification (which I paid to have sent to me via email); and one of two Employment Verification forms. As I am driving to the post office after school, I realize I forgot my labels! They were at home. So I raced back home and grabbed my blue box, and I raced back towards town. Now, keep in mind that I live in the boonies so it takes 30 minutes for me to get back to town.

I get stuck behind one very slow character, meanwhile I am on the phone with NBPTS to make sure I was not panicking only to find out that I have made myself ineligible. I guess I wasn't the only person freaking out, because the gentleman on the phone was very calm and talked me through the fact that it will be OK.

I finally get to the post office, walk in the doors, and am denied. They closed at 5:00, and I looked at my phone which said 5:01. No joke. The lady behind the door mouthed, "I'm sorry", and I tried not to burst into tears right then and there. After some customers came and went, the same lady asked me what I needed. I simply told her that I needed this envelope postmarked today, and I also realized they no longer had a copier. :/ She asked how many copies I needed, and I said, "Just one."

She let the last customer come and go, and she came out into the lobby locking the door. She offered to make my copies (which turned out to be 5 copies, not 1), and graciously did not pick up the outgoing mail until my envelope hit the pile. I can't express how grateful I am for this kind woman's act.

I wonder if I had not been behind the slow poke, would I have made it to the post office at 4:58 and gotten in the door? All I can say is that I am very grateful, and I don't plan to procrastinate on sending in my blue box with all my papers and video. I have 2 months to get it done. I just keep telling myself, "I can do this." I have an enormous support system of friends who have been through the process (including one administrator).

I wonder if this woman was sent to make me really appreciate and understand the commitment I need to make for this process.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

New Year's Eve, Day, and Leaving

Friday, New Year's Eve, I was THRILLED to be going to Isla de la Plata to see the Blue Footed Boobies. I got to drive the car (which was a stick shift!) to Puerta Lopez. Mariscal gave me very good directions to find the tour office. I arrived to speak with a gentleman who spoke no English. Luckily, my tour guide arrived, and she spoke English. I didn't realize how dependent I was on Matthew to translate everything! I know a word or two, but obviously not enough. I arrived early so I had time to kill. I walked to the pharmacia to buy bug repellent and a bottle of water. It was finally time to go when a family arrived with a puppy. Really? So we had to wait on them while they took the puppy home. They really thought they could bring a dog to a bird sanctuary. Anyway...

Everyone removed their shoes/sandals and put them in a bag. We all walked in the water to get into our boat. By this point, everyone knew I spoke virtually no Spanish. Some of them asked where I was from, and we would converse as long as their English and my Spanish would allow. They were all so nice. The boat ride lasted an hour. This is one of my favorite pics as we left Puerta Lopez.

Our boat arrived to Isla de la Plata. Our guide told everyone something about lunch being later and gave us a muffin and bottle of water. The boat pulled ashore, and we climbed out. After finding our shoes/sandals in the bag, everyone goes to the foot washing station to get the sand out of toes. Yes... this is a communal foot washing area. I'm not sure how often/if at all the water is 'freshened'.

After getting my Chaco's back on and a potty break, off we went up a long trail. We hiked for maybe 20 minutes before we spotted the first Booby. We were all so excited that we took a hundred pictures of this family feeding the baby. Super cool!

Here we are taking pics of another Booby family (which was more common than originally thought). I love this picture because of the orange cover you see in the background. There was an older, grandmother traveling with us. Her grandsons kept her covered with this wrap. The duo up front with me (if my poor Spanish served me at all) was teasing that she must be a saint. It was pretty funny.

These two were hanging out on a cliff edge.

The Booby babies get so big! They stay in the nest for three months, and then they are read to fly. They don't get the blue feet until they are sexually mature.

This is my poster Blue Footed Booby.

All in all, my two hour hike around this Island was incredible! I did not post any pictures of the Frigate bird because they are mean. Their feathers do no allow them to get wet, so they can't dip down into the water for food. Frigates can only skim the surface of the water hoping for a fish. If they have no luck, they will beat up a Booby in the air until it throws up the fish it caught. I don't like Frigates.

After our amazing hike, we get back on the boat and travel around the island. We were served watermelon, pineapple, and a couple of little sandwiches. By the time we finished, we were anchored and ready for snorkeling! I was super excited for this, too, because I had done it in Nassau, Bahamas and Cozumel, Mexico.

I get my flippers and mask last, and I ease into the water. I swim out a little and can feel the currents. I am not a strong swimmer. I tried to put my face in the water, breathe normally, but I just couldn't do it. I was panicking because of the currents, so I swam back towards the boat. One of the gals was hanging onto a life saver and looking down into the water. Brilliant! I latched on, and the guy on the boat sent one out just for me! I floated for a good 20 minutes. I saw some pretty corals, clown fish, trumpet fish, and a "Dora" fish. Needless to say it was pretty awesome.

It was time to head back. The water was super rough! Everyone would scream and laugh when the boat rose up and slammed down into the water. Then one of the engines went haywire, and we stopped dead in the water. It was scary because we were at the mercy of the waves! Finally the engine worked and no one was laughing anymore. We were all worn out too. After arriving to shore, I was trying to tell people "Thanks" and "Bye" and they told me "Ciao". It was cool.

I drove myself back to Finca in time to find Matthew napped and refreshed after a hard day of surfing. One last dinner at El Paso. It was bittersweet because I really liked the couple that owned the place. They even brought us to the kitchen so we could see how they cooked our meals. They even sat us a the table that could see the T.V.

After supper, we commenced to celebrating the New Year. At about 10:00pm, I HAD to take a nap. At two minutes until midnight, Matthew woke me up in time to see the fire and kiss at midnight! But then someone said their phone time had not hit midnight yet, so we counted down for a second time. It was great! Everyone walked out to the beach because there seemed to be fireworks, but it wasn't as exciting as it had seemed. We returned to Finca and the more intense people went to the other town for an all night celebration! Matthew and I stayed at Finca with a cool couple from Columbia.

New Year's Day we slept in. It was our last day at the beach so we headed down for some reading. Matthew finally decided to get a board and do one last round of surfing. I'm so glad he did, because it went so much better than the day before. I was coming close to finishing my book. We had one last dinner at Finca with our new friends from New Zealand (who taught English in Cuenca), Switzerland, Germany, and Puerto Lopez. Since we had a car, we offered our friend from New Zealand a ride back to Guayaquil so she could catch a bus back to Cuenca. We got up at 4:15ish and left Fina Punta Ayampe by 5:00am. By 8ish am we made it GYE airport. We said good byes to our new friend. Matthew settled with the car rental while I tried to pay our taxes to leave the country. I was already stressing. It was so silly of me! We had more than enough time. We got our boarding passes (which you need to do first!), paid our taxes, and went through security. Matthew and I had plenty of time to eat a good breakfast, and I had time to finish my book.

Short story long... big plane back to Miami (I got to watch "Eat, Pray, Love"). We had a 4 hour layover, then it was back to Atlanta. We arrived at 9:45pm (remember we had been up since 4:15am). We find the truck and off we go! I had already called in for a sub for Monday, so I let Matthew sleep while I drove. We pulled up to the house around 1:30am. Almost 22 hours later! I slept in the next morning, did all the laundry, took a nap... it was a great decision.

I LOVED our trip to Ecuador. I feel like my pictures were not as good as our Mexico trip, but I think our extended beach trip was worth it! I hope we return. Finca Punta Ayampe was a wonderful place to stay, if anything, just to have Mariscal take care of you.

Ecuador is growing, and all of the roads were new. The country is growing, and I hope tourism continues to grow in this country. If you are a resort only kind of person, I don't recommend it. If you are willing to 'rough it' a little, then this will be your kind of place! The people are so very nice and the scenery is so beautiful!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Days 3 - 5, Ayampe, Ecuador

After a very long ride from Cuenca, we made it to the beach! It was a very long drive back across the mountains, and the drive back through Guayaquil was intense! Three lanes became five, and we weren't 100% sure which way to go. I did manage to ask someone while we were stopped in traffic. I was quite proud of myself since I had chosen the correct road, Nueve de Octobre. I'm not sure what significance that road has in history, but it was our road.
I convinced Matthew to hang a hard right to get out of traffic, then a left so we were parallel to the awful road, and it was only a couple of blocks before we turned on our La Via de la Costa (road to the beach!).

We drove, paid our tolls, drove some more, and after about 2 more hours of navigating...

Needless to say, we made it to the beach! It was so very beautiful. It was warm, the breeze was nice, and the colors of everything was amazing. The road were not marked well, but there was one sign pointing to Ayampe. There were locals who had not even heard of it! We did not see signs for Finca Punta Ayampe (our hostel), so we asked a family. They had no idea! Long story short, we went the up the only other road and found it. We rang the bell, met our host, Mariscal, who showed us to our room. It was just enough. At least we had a mosquito net! A first for me, but Matthew kindly pointed out that it just made me feel more like a princess.

These are the signature rocks you will see in most pictures of Ayampe.

The first night (Tuesday), we ate at the restaurant and didn't do much exploring because we were exhausted.

I was instantly in love with Ayampe! Our host, Mariscal, was so wonderful. He wanted to make sure he took care of us because we were on vacation. He served a simple breakfast of toast and coffee. Mariscal told Matthew about the local surf instructor, Ryan. He and his wife, Vanessa, are from Canada and opened a surf school called Otra Ola.
Puerta Lopez was the next major town over, so we went to find flip flops and check out the town. They have phone booths which we later used to phone home. We returned to Ayampe for a little lunch and beach time. Matthew and I walked over to Otra Ola to ask about lessons. Matthew had emailed Vanessa a couple of times inquiring about lessons. Vanessa also does a yoga class in the mornings, but I never took advantage of it. Ryan returned from a lesson and talked to Matthew about the next day. Ryan was going to town to pick up some new boards and did not know if he'd be back in time for a 3:00 lesson, but "the waves will still be there the next day."

The next morning, Matthew and I had our morning coffee until the kitchen opened. We decided to drive to Puerta Lopez again and had breakfast there. It was very good and only $3 for the both of us. We headed back to Ayampe for some beach time. I sat and read my book, and after a while, Matthew went to Otra Ola to see if Ryan was back. About thirty minutes later, Matthew is walking up the beach with two boogie boards!!! It was awesome and scary! These waves are so much bigger than the ones on our coast. I caught some pretty good ones that raced me to shore. We returned the boards a couple of hours later, and Ryan still had not returned.

We decided to try something different for supper, so we walked back up the "main" road. A couple owned a restaurant called "El Paso", and the food was amazing! Matthew asked Arycele to make his food 'pica' (spicy), so Arycele picked some peppers off a bush growing right next to the deck. Matthew said it was just right! We also witnessed the most beautiful sunset that continued for at least 30 minutes.
Thursday was just a chill day. We took another morning trip to Puerto Lopez and made a couple of phone calls to the states. Matthew went to his surf lesson, and I hung out in the commons area at Finca Punta to read. I had gotten too much sun Wednesday, so I was all about the shade. I met a woman from New Zealand who was teaching English at a school in Cuenca! She was a surfer and had come to Finca just for that purpose. We talked about all kinds of stuff, including the obnoxious American that visited Finca the previous day. Let's just say, he was a loud know it all.

I spoke to Mariscal about Isla de la Plata. It is called the "poor man's Galapagos", and I wanted to go! Friday was New Year's Eve, so Mariscal called to see if they were giving tours that day. Much to my luck, they were, but they couldn't pick me up! Matthew had surfing plans, so I drove myself to Puerta Lopez. Well... NO PROBLEM! I had ridden with Matthew the past two mornings, so I felt pretty comfortable driving myself. I was going to see some Blue Footed Boobies!!!!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Days 1 - 3 in Ecuador

Mom and dad stayed at our house, and they had to drive up Christmas Eve because of the prediction of snow. Matthew and I left for Atlanta on Christmas Day in a flurry. We arrived in Atlanta with no snow! I called mom and she said there was already 5 inches at our house! We go through security with no problems. Our flight was for 1:00pm, so we had time to eat some lunch. Matthew and I were seated on the exit row, which has a lot of leg room! We make it to Miami for a four hour layover. There was nothing to do there except belly up to the bar which was conveniently located right next to our gate. :)

We were on a BIG plane to Guayaquil which arrived at 12:45pm. We got into our hotel around 1:15am and slept in a big, comfy bed. The next morning we went back to the airport to get our rental car. It special. A little Nissan with the sideview mirror that was about to fall off! Plus one or two of the tires were a little flat. We drove to a gas station with the Hertz guy and filled them up.

Off we went to Cuenca! Here is the map I had to help navigate.

It took a little more than 3 hours to drive up over the Cajas Mountains, which were beautiful despite the fog. Matthew could barely make out the road in some places because of the fog, and the roads were very curvy. We took a wrong road getting into Cuenca, so we ended up taking the long way into town. I saw a Christmas parade with people dressed as the 3 wise men, and children dressed at Santa Claus. This is the outside of our hotel.

The city had several beautiful churches.

These were the Cajas Mountains for our drive back. It wasn't as foggy, but there were some places.

Our stay in Cuenca was pretty low key. There wasn't a whole lot to do except walk around and marvel at the architecture. Since it was the day after Christmas AND a Sunday, there were no bars open. Our room was very quaint with lots of closet space. A/C and heat were not needed in this area. The temperature was upper 40's at night and in the low 70's by day. Breakfast was typical: coffee or tea, fruit, bread with butter and jam, and scrambled eggs.

Monday, we walked to an art museum called Museo del Banco. It was nice, but there weren't any descriptions or dates on anything. I spied a Bird Zoo at the bottom of the hill, so we checked it out.
We found a little restaurant for lunch. He didn't take our order but served us a typical almuerzo (lunch): Some odd hominy/corn snack, soup, then a slice of beef with rice and salad (cabbage and carrots with lemon vinaigrette).

The city of Cuenca was sleepy, but I think most people stay there to spend the day hiking in the Cajas. Monday night we met a couple visiting their daughter who was studying in Ecuador. They were pretty interesting, and we stayed up talking.

Tuesday morning, Matthew tried to crank the car, but the battery was dead! He found a taxi driver who helped him jump it. We were starting to wonder about the trustworthiness of this vehicle. I was ready for the beach!!!!!

We drove back through the Cajas and back through Guayaquil. That was interesting! There aren't really any lines on the road, and if there are, no one uses them. 3 lanes could become 5, for example. I didn't take any pictures because I was navigating us through downtown Guayaquil. Luckily it was a grid, and Matthew managed to get take a right and a left to be parallel with the crazy main road. They name roads after dates, and we were looking for Nueve de Octobre (9th of October). We found it at last, and it led us to the Coastal Highway. It was three+ hours from Cuenca to Guayaquil, and another 3.5 hours to the beach. Matthew did a great job driving. I was ready for four days of sun and relaxing!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Preparing to Travel to Ecuador

I have summers off, yet that is Matthew's busiest time. Needless to say we rarely get to vacation. This year's destination was Ecuador. Everyone asks me, "Why Ecuador?" Well, Matthew picked it for surfing, and it sounded interesting.

The fun begins by researching plane tickets. We found a direct flight with Delta from Atlanta (ATL) to Guayaquil, Ecuador (GYE), but tickets were going to be $1,300 EACH! Matthew kept searching Orbitz, etc... he found a flight that goes from Orlando to ATL then that same exact flight to GYE for about $750 each. What's up with that??? So we purchased those tickets thinking we would call to say we missed out first flight, but we would get to ATL.

The more we researched this idea and spoke to the girl who rents our old house, the more we realized this wasn't going to work. She works for Delta, and she tried to change our tickets. We were going to have to either buy tickets to Orlando for $80 each, or end up paying the difference in plane tickets at $800 each. OK. This is getting ridiculous. To top that off... I realized that our flight back was at 12:15AM New Year's Day. That clearly was not going to work.

New plan! We canceled those tickets for a fee, but we get to keep our credit with Delta to use within the next year. We found an American Airlines flight which was our 2nd choice anyway. The reason we did not pick it was:
1. A four hour layover in Miami
2. We got back in ATL at 9:45PM Sunday night, and I have school Monday

Well, those reasons didn't look so bad after the first ticket debacle. OK. Sweet. We are good to go to Ecuador, now we need places to stay.

I booked us for our first night at the Marriott because our arrival was for 12:45pm. After some searching, emailing, and one phone call, we had arrangements for lodging.
We also arranged to rent a car for the week. We even know where our passports are located. Sweet! We are good to go!