Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thank you! Gracias!

We'll wrap up this blog with the words of thanks sent by Ralph to the mission leaders....

David and Hector and Victor...

Thanks so much for all you and others did to make our Rotary trip to
Guayaquil a fantastic experience.

It was great for me for three reasons.

First, it was very meaningful because of the several thousand people
we served. We accomplished the primary purpose of our trip, to assist
so many Ecuadorians with vital medical help they otherwise would not
have received. I think we made a difference. The one thing missing
for me was being there when folks received their glasses. That would
have made it complete. I was humbled by the way so many don't have
what I take for granted, the ability to have excellent medical care.

Secondly, working with other Rotarians (and non Rotarians) from other
clubs in our area and especially from other countries. So many great
people with big hearts and gracious spirits. The Club Rotario
Guayaquil Sur was a fantastic host. They took care of us and hosted
us very well.

Finally, I was so excited to be in Ecuador again after having lived
in Quito for two years in the mid 60's. I saw new places and visited
Cuenca, the one major city I never before visited.

Having led several intergenerational church work camp/mission trips
to the Dominican Republic in recent years, I enjoyed being a
participant and others being in charge of the big and small details.
You managed so much behind the scenes stuff and needed to make
adjustments so many times and deal with things one couldn't
anticipate. I think we all handled surprises, vehicle breakdowns and
changes in a good spirit. Whatever happened was part of the experience.

Thanks again for your leadership!!
I'm ready for another Rotary mission.


The Journey Home

Early Monday morning we gathered our equipment crates and carry-ons and boarded the bus for the airport. We loaded 24 of the crates onto the bus (2 for each of the 12 of us heading back today - the Galapagos crew will bring the others back with them) and headed out to the airport. About 2 seconds after Ralph commented that we were leaving 4 minutes earlier than we planned, and about 3 blocks from the hotel, mission leader David Ritter questioned if his bag had been loaded into the bus ... it had not. So, back to the hotel we went to find David's bag.

Things went well at the airport and we soon were airbourne over the Andes on the way to Miami. From the air, Ralph pointed out where he had lived in Quito in the 60's and we were able to see several volcanic lakes.

In Miami, we had to reclaim our crates and go through customs and then re-check the crates. This used up most of our 90 minute layover.

We arrived at National in D.C. on time, 7:30 pm, only to find out that 6 of the crates still were in Miami. After filing the lost-baggage claims, we boarded the bus for the trip back to York. Everyone agreed to a McDonald's stop since we hadn't had time for a dinner break. We arrived in York around 10:30pm and were back in Etown about a half hour later.

Our Final Day in Ecuador - Trip to the Coast

About half of the Pennsylvania group flew out this morning for a 3 day visit to the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos sit in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles west of continental Ecuador.

The rest of us, who needed to be back at work, school, etc. and were unable to afford the additional time away from home, were originally scheduled to fly home today. However, American Airlines was not willing to honor our group rate on a Sunday. Therefore, we had a free day for sightseeing.

A day after our journey into the Andes Mountains, most of us decided to take a trip to coastal Ecuador. The Ecua-Andino tourism company (owned by Rotarian Victor Chiluiza who was the logistics coordinator for the entire mission) provided us with a small bus and tour guide Shirley.

Our 60 mile trip took us to Puerto El Morro, a small and humble fishing village. At the end of a pier, we adorned our lifevests and got into a small outboard-powered boat.

We navigated through a channel bordered by mangroves until we got to an area abounding with wild dolphins. We spent at least a half hour here watching the dolphins swim around and occasionally jump out of the water beside the boat.

We then journeyed 30 minutes out into the Bay of Guayaquil to Isla de los Pajaros (Island of the Birds). This island is home to 20,000 sea birds, mostly the Frigatebird. We disembarked our boat by using wooden planks spanning the muddy shore area and grabbing onto a mangrove to pull ourselves up to a trail.

The trail took us around shrimp ponds to the nesting area of the Frigatebirds. The Frigatebird is a large sea bird with a 3 or 4 foot wingspan. They have the largest wingspan to body weight ratio of any bird. The males have inflatable red-colored throat pouches that they inflate to attract females when mating.

Our walk took us right through the sites, smells, and sounds of 20,000 nesting birds. We were within "touching distance" as these large seabirds were taking off and flapping over our heads the entire time. It was a surreal experience. Fortunately, and amazingly, none of us were left adorned by any bird excrement.

On our way back to Puerto El Morro, we had a brief encounter with the dolphins again and then came upon a flock of pink herons.

Back in the bus, we traveled onto the beach town of Playas where we had a seafood lunch in a local open air eatery. We then spent a little time looking at the wares of local artisans along the beach.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Aventura en la Cordillera de los Andes

written by Ken...

Saturday morning started off with an early breakfast at the hotel and then we boarded two buses around 6:30 for our Aventura en la Cordillera de los Andes (adventure in the Andes Mountains). We were
heading to the city of Cuenca, Ecuador which is about 4 hours east of Guayaquil in the Andes Mountains approximately 8,000 feet above sea level. It is the third largest city in Ecuador with approximately 467,000 inhabitants and was named for Cuenca, Spain.

Our trip started out pretty uneventfully with a flat drive through the banana groves and small towns that lay scattered along the main road. Before heading up the Andes Mountains we made a quick pit stop in one of the small towns where we all stocked up on snacks and drinks. Only problem was that most of the drinks were at least 1 year past the expiration date and some of the chocolate we purchased looked like it was 20 years old. I guess they don't sell too many items to the natives but are glad to see us Gringos stop in and buy anything that looks edible!

We started up the Andes Mountains on roads that were in some state of construction almost the whole way to Cuenca. The cars, trucks and buses on the road had no fear of the heights, sharp turns and long drop-offs as they would pass going up hill or down hill, in both the fog and the sunshine. The best way I can describe it is a NASCAR race through the mountains. After about 1 hour of climbing up the mountain roads the bus that Ralph was riding in broke down. They were not going to be denied getting to Cuenca however and were able to hitch a ride on a public bus into the city. The sights during our long drive up and over the Andes Mountains were beautiful as we saw llamas, mountain lakes and beautiful mountain peaks and ranges. Many of the views were postcard material.

Once in the city the bus that Joe and I were on decided to lunch on traditional Cuencan fare. We ate a restaurant called Marabu whose specialty was roasted pig and cuy. In case you were wondering, roasted cuy is another name for roasted guinea pig. All of us tried a little piece of the meat (it tastes like chicken) but ordered the more traditional fare of roasted pig. We shared quite a few good laughs over that meal!

After lunch we went to the local market and spent some time walking through the streets of Cuenca. We then proceeded to the highest point in Cuenca to a look-out over the city. The city was a very beautiful city with most of the buildings made out of a red brick with stucco type roofs.

Around 5 p.m. we headed back up the Andes Mountains to return to Guayaquil. Once again after only going about 1/2 hour up the mountain the bus that Ralph was on broke down again (was Ralph the common thread here?). A replacement bus was called and everyone was able to return to Guayaquil safely although a bit later than expected.

It was a long day but it contained many memories of the sights and sounds of the Andes Mountains and the people of Cuenca and the towns in between.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Observations on Ecuadorian traffic and the road system....

Ecuadorians do drive on the same side of the road as we do.

Many of the streets/roads have lines painted on them. However, nobody seems to pay any attention to the lines. If your vehicle fits somewhere, it's a lane. Motorcycles go right in between cars at traffic lights. Cars, buses, and trucks drive on the shoulder. Beeping your horn is the way you let the person beside you know that you are creating a new lane and they shouldn't drift into your car.

Many streets and highways have fairly high curbs separating lanes of traffic. This is probably to prevent too many lanes from being improvised.

Also, a full stop at a stop sign appears rare. When traffic lights are out because of the rotating black outs, you need to slowly edge your nose into the traffic until someone stops. Then your lane appears to have the right-of-way.

Horn beeping is very common for many reasons. However, no one seems to get upset or use hand (or finger) gestures.

Busses are plentiful in Guayaquil. In the city, elevated platforms are often in the center of the streets with "bus only" lanes.

Interesting, there seem to be a lot of newer vehicles on the roads. Chevy and Toyotas appear to be popular.

The roads are in fairly good condition in the city and the highway system appears well designed. Outside the city the roads sometimes are a little more bumpy and sometimes very bad. A lot of the larger boulevards in Guayaquil have very nice landscaping and the city does a great job keeping trash cleaned up. At different places in the city, you can see tile art designs decorating highway bridge underpasses. This has successfully cut down on graffiti.

Gas is $1.48 per gallon. Yes, per gallon, not liter. This is due to the fact that Ecuador is an OPEC member and the government keeps the price controlled.

Friday, November 13, 2009

¿Qué hora es?

Friday November 13...

To get another perspective on the mission, President Joe asked Ken Wolfe to write today's message.

Today was the sixth and final day of the mission. We saw 266 people today in the vision area which puts our 6 day total at 1,674 people who were helped in some manner by the eye team. In total, between the eye, dental and medical parts of the mission we helped over 3,000 people in 6 days. A pretty incredible total. Most of these folks will have a much better quality of life due to the assistance that was provided by this Rotary mssion.

I believe the plan was to see around 175 people today so that we would have time to pack up our equipment which we were able to leave at the hospital all week, however, the people kept streaming in, and we ended up seeing almost 100 more than we had originally planned. That was how it worked all week as we worked well after 5 p.m. on most nights due to the number of individuals who needed help. Even though it was tiring we all agreed that we would do what it takes to help as many people as possible.

There was some feelings of remorse realizing that this was the last day that we would be able to help the great people of Ecuador. There remains so many more people who could use the help that we were able to provide.

After the equipment was packed and accounted for we exited the hospital to load our equipment and board the bus back to our hotel. One problem-our bus had a mechanical failure, so we were without transportation (a Friday the 13th coincidence?) As a result we sat around for about 45 minutes and waited. (One thing I learned is that when you are on a mission trip like this, things don't always go as planned, so you have to be flexible and patient).

Ralph and I, along with a Danish doctor and her daughter, eventually jumped into a taxi (being named a taxi was being gracious as it was one of the smallest cars I have ever ridden in) and proceeded to have a very harrowing ride back to the hotel. The roads are utter chaos with cars, trucks, busses and motorcycles constantly cutting across lanes without warning. You feel fairly safe in a bus but in a taxi the size of a large envelope, it is a little disheartening! Right after Ralph and I left in the taxi they were able to get the bus running and everyone else returned to the hotel in the bus.

The Rotary Club of Guayaquil Sur invited everyone on the team to one of their member's residences for a party tonight but only Ralph attended. Joe and I and our daughters opted for dinner at the hotel and a more relaxing evening here since the party was expected to last until at least 10:30 PM, and probably much later, since nothing seems to run on time here in Ecuador.

Tomorrow we must leave at 6:00 a.m. for an off-day trip to the Andes Mountains.

Changing Lives...

Thursday November 12…

Day 5 of mission. The poverty of some of the local people is evident in these photos. The crowds were better controlled today and the clinic is running smoothly. We saw 328 people today- more than any other day. We have now run out of sunglasses which we were using for people with pterygiums - a growth of the conjunctiva onto the cornea resulting from sun UV exposure. We have well surpassed our expected 1000 patients and have 1 more day to go.
Ken got to move from the visual acuity station to the optical area. Ralph has been working in the refracting lanes, interpreting Spanish for the Danish optometrists. Katya and Andria are mainly working in the visual acuity or frame selection areas. I am checking ocular health. The people are very appreciative of the help they are receiving. Ken even got a kiss on the cheek today from an 80-year old woman.
It surprises me how some of these people have been able to cope with the level of poor vision they have. For some, receiving their first-ever pair of glasses will completely change their lives.

The mission team enjoyed a cruise up and down the Rio Guayas this evening on the Henry Morgan, a restored Spanish galleon. The city is beautifully lit in the dark.