Wednesday, December 18, 2013

57 Hours Later... The Longest Journey

By Stevee Chapman reporting from the Galapagos
57 hours. That's how long it took me to reach my final destination. What I thought would be a straightforward trip added up to an adventurous 57 hours.

For most students, getting a much-needed break at home is the light at the end of the dark tunnel following finals week. However, this semester the light at the end of my tunnel didn’t shine from home, but from an entirely different hemisphere.

Traveling itself isn’t as foreign to me as it once was. In the past two years I have had the opportunity to travel to 10 different countries around the world. However most of those trips I’d been in the company of friends and classmates. What made my trip to the Galapagos different was that this time, I’d be completely on my own, at least for a while.
Tools of Backpack Journalism

So, on the Friday night in which final exams were complete, I got in my car at 10:00pm and drove overnight to Seattle to catch the first leg of my journey.  The flights themselves were pretty uneventful. Besides the fact all of them were delayed for one reason or another, things were going pretty smoothly.  Sure, I was tired, but traveling takes it out of everyone. By the time I reached the Guayaquil airport in Ecuador my tiredness was being replaced by a growing feeling of excitement.

"Just one short flight, and I will arrive at my destination," I excitedly thought to myself as I cleared customs, and headed to check in with the airline worker at the counter. 

As I began to check in, the woman began explaining where I needed to go. Half way through she paused as she glanced down at my boarding pass. 

It's gonna be a long day
"I'm sorry," she said. "I thought you were going to San Cristobal." 

She then proceeded to tell me slightly different instructions, and as she did, I became confused.

"I am going to San Cristobal," I said, cutting her off mid-sentence.

"This flight is to Baltra," she explained.

Slowly, I felt my previous rush of excitement being replaced by a growing sense of dread. Surely there must have been some kind of mistake, I dug through my papers realizing that all my itineraries confirmed what they were telling me. The Seymour airport wasn't in San Cristobal as I had previously thought, but Baltra, an island that felt like it may as well be a world away.

Panicking as I entered the terminal, I took out my laptop and began emailing my professors and trip
Layover Survival Kit!
coordinator. Luckily, the instructions in one of my packets had an emergency plan in it, that explained how to get to San Cristobal via the airport in Baltra. Boarding the plane I felt slightly more confident. Once in Baltra I would take a bus ride from the airport, get on a ferry to the island to Santa Cruz, then take an hour bus ride into to Puerto Ayora. There, I would buy a boat ticket to San Cristobal, my final destination.

Directly off the plane I went to collect my luggage, only to find it had not arrived. Now not only was I on the wrong island, I was on the wrong island in the same clothes I'd been wearing now for two days. Just my luck.

The ticket counter where I was supposed to buy my bus ticket  was also closed, so I got on the airport bus hoping that if and when I crossed the ferry, there would be a way to buy a ticket once I got there. The bus from the airport did drop me off at a ferry, which so far was the first good sign I received in a while. As soon as my feet touched land off the ferry, I rushed to the bus with the company letters I was told to get on.

Headed to the wrong island, but the
view from the plane is cool
"Is this going to Puerto Ayora?" I asked the man outside who looked like he may be the driver.

"I don't know, I don't I'm not the driver, I just look like I am," he cheerfully said in a thick Australian accent.

The man, who I later found out was named Doug, helped me onto the bus, and as we stepped on, it immediately began its departure.

"I'm headed to Puerto Ayora, and everyone else seems to be as well, so let's hope that's where its going," Doug told me, seemingly without a worry in the world.

The bus was hot, and filled to what was definitely way over its maximum capacity. All the seats were filled, and so was the aisle. Doug, the last one on the bus was squeezed against the door, and I stood on one of the steps.

The crowded bus ride across Santa Cruz
Finally after an hour of a slow and bumpy ride, the bus driver let us off. I immediately rushed to the pier to ask about a boat to San Cristobal.

"Oh no, you just missed it," explained the workers in the information booth.
Lost my luggage - just my luck.

They told me the next one wasn't until the next morning at 7:00. Wrong island, no luggage, missed boat. It seemed like my losses were really out-numbering my wins at this point. I left the pier and crossed the street where I saw a shop advertising boats to San Cristobal. Their price was $30, which was what the information I was given said it would be. I went inside and bought my ticket. The lady told me the boat would leave at 7:00 am sharp, so I should be sure to get there by 6:30 am.

I found a hotel with Internet for the night, sent emails to my parents, professor, and coordinator, assuring them that I was still alive and safe. After exploring Puerto Ayora a bit, I went back to my room and got what I felt to be some well deserved sleep.

Enjoying the Beautiful island of
Santa Cruz While I can
The next morning, I woke up before the sun. I got the the boat docks by 6:15, because there was no way I was going to miss the boat. The dock began to fill, and the time passed. I began to worry that maybe I was at the wrong dock. 7:00 rolled around, and still, no boat had come. Finally, a group of travelers approached the dock with luggage. I handed my ticket to the lady with a clipboard. I was nervous she'd tell me this was the wrong place, but thankfully she took my ticket, and
Santa Cruz wildlife
 led me into the boat. The ride was pretty smooth, and only took an hour and a half. This also worried me at first, because theinformation I was given said the ride would take 2.5 to 3 hours. Thankfully, I spotted a "Welcome to San Cristobal" sign. For the first time since arriving in Ecuador, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

After what felt like the longest voyage to the islands since Charles Darwin's in 1831, I have finally arrived.

Finally in San Cristobal! Giving in for the day and becoming one...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Backpack Journalism Video - Sri Lanka

Murrow student Mindy Rossner shares her experiences about her time in Sri Lanka with Murrow News 8 anchor Brandon Wahl.


About Murrow's Backpack Journalism Program

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A little R&R&R&R

We arrived in Antigua, Guatemala Friday afternoon.

A beautiful city to the north of Zacapa, it was once the capital of Guatemala before the capital moved to Guatemala city.  Originally called "Antigua Guatemala", literally meaning "old Guatemala", you can see the mixture of centuries worth of architecture. Ruins of buildings stand next to small houses along the same street.

Founded by the Spanish in 1523, the indigenous Mayan people of the region were enslaved.  However, they rebelled against the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado and forced him to find a safer place to live.  His wife Beatriz took over the city but was killed, along with many other citizens of the city, in a mudslide in 1541. The third time the Spanish rebuilt the city, a series of earthquakes destroyed a lot of it in 1773.  This event was the final push to move the capital to Guatemala City.  As the capital grew, the indigenous people and citizens of Guatemala returned to Antigua to rebuild.  It still prospers as a major tourist destination today.

The city is overseen by three volcanoes.  They are called Agua (water), Fuego (fire) and Acetanango, an indigenous Mayan name.  The largest of the three is Agua, seen below from the Cerro de la Cruz, Cruz of the Hill.

Antigua is a beautiful combination of old and new.  Preparing for Semana Santa, or the Easter festivities, purple banners hang from many buildings.  Semana Santa is an important holiday in Latin American countries.  An old building in downtown Antigua houses religious figurines ready to line the streets.  Men will actually carry a real life crucifix through the streets as an honor as well.

Hearts in Motion brings its students here for what I like to think is a little R&R&R&R.  Students get some relaxation, exploring the city, shopping, eating and spending time together.  Other students indulged in a little recreation, either choosing to go ziplining, hiking or on a tour.  For a lot of people this is a time of recuperation.  Either with stomach issues or serious bug bites, it is good to have so many medical personnel surrounding us.

However, the final R, and the most important I feel, is that it is a time of reflection.  It is easy to go through the motions and just experience what happened in Zacapa and to move on.  But for a lot of people, including myself, I believe that this is not a trip that will stay in Central America.  Some people have started considering changing their majors to a medical profession or have already started planning on returning.  Others' hearts have changed so much and have been humbled by their experiences that their heart is permanently in motion.

Tomorrow we return to the United States.  No matter the original reason that a person joined Hearts in Motion, I know for myself personally, and for a lot of people I spent this time with, we will not return the same.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Serendipity in Sri Lanka

A candid moment shooting a volunteer meeting
I end this blog the same way I started, with a list of figures.

Seventeen bug bites, 12 time zones and one parasite later, I am back in Washington state, alive, well, and very nostalgic. 

It may simply be my body attempting to get back on Pacific time, but I feel like my experience in Sri Lanka was just a dream. The people I met, the places I visited and the cultures I was immersed in have changed my life. My time in Sri Lanka was a priceless memory, and one that I will never forget. 

As a way to conclude my blog, I want to provide a list of my fondest memories from my trip. These memories can also be applied as helpful tips for anyone planning to travel to Sri Lanka:

The gecko who found a home in my pillow
1. Waking up to a gecko on your pillow is actually quite common.
2. White rice and curry are appropriate for breakfast…lunch…and dinner…everyday.
3. If you ask a Tuk Tuk driver if you can drive, they will let you, whether you are qualified or not qualified, like myself.
4. Do not drink the water…ever…ever.
5. Taking photos and video will provide lasting mementos of your trip, but taking a moment to breathe in your surroundings can be an even more meaningful memory.  

My last enrichment with Pooja

Taking a step back and figuring the detail I will miss the most about this country was actually quite easy for me. I will miss my sweet elephant, Pooja.
Although I was not the fondest of this creature at first, with the lovely presents she would leave me in her bed each morning, (if you have been reading you will know what I am referring to), I grew to love Pooja. 
I will miss the way her trunk stroked my hand as I bathed her in the river. I will miss the way her eyes lit up when she saw a piece of cucumber in my hand. But most of all, I will miss her gentle demeanor, so calming for a jet lagged student journalist, thousands of miles away from home. 

The book cover of Three Princes
Now I should address why I decided to entitle my blog Serendipity in Sri Lanka. The first noted use of the word "serendipity" in the English language was by Horace Walpole in the 18th century. Walpole created the word from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip. This tale follows the story of three heroes who were always making discoveries by accident, curiosity and intuition. As an eager journalist looking for story after story in Sri Lanka, I thought it was an aptly title. Serendip is also the ancient Persian name for Sri Lanka.

And so, I bid Sri Lanka, and this blog, a goodbye. Or as Sri Lankans would say, Samoo-ghana. I thank everyone who helped me experience serendipity in Sri Lanka.
My last day in Sri Lanka, taking in every moment

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Lifeblood of MEF

The volunteers at MEF are the most essential element in keeping this foundation thriving. The diversity among the volunteers is evident.  

Sign at the MEF museum describing their volunteer program
They come from all over the world to offer their own unique skills and talents in aiding elephants in need. In my time here I have met individuals from Australia, England, Denmark, China and even a volunteer from Washington state. Volunteers may stay for as little as a few days or weeks at MEF, while others are here for months, or even years. 

Meager conditions the volunteers live in
The first volunteer I met after arriving at MEF was a Canadian veterinary science student named Kjira Wells. Taking a year off from college, Kjira has been volunteering at MEF for two months so far. I expected to hear her complain about never-ending mosquito bites, endless dung counts and icy cold outdoor showers.  But Kjira could only speak of her experience at MEF with a grin from ear to ear.

Kjira working on a craft for local school children

She explains that the reason she chose to work at MEF was the hands-on experience one can have working with a wild animal. As a vet student, Kjira felt that there was only so much the classroom could teach her. Applying her knowledge in the field, she says, has helped her learn more than anything she has learned in school.

This was her last week with MEF. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she commented on her time at MEF in her final group meeting the evening before her departure.

“This has been the best time of my life, and I’m just not ready to leave.”

Emma Cooper traveled from Australia to volunteer at MEF, an organization she stumbled upon online. Wanting to take time off from school and satisfy her animal-loving character, Emma felt MEF was the perfect fit for her. She says one of her favorite tasks is managing the fruit stand. She loves to sneak the elephants treats of pumpkin, cucumber and mango in between tourist rides.

Emma sorting out treats at the fruit stand
Emma and I were assigned the task of caring for Pooja. After working with Pooja for only a few days, Emma says she has as indescribable bond with her elephant.

“Pooja! I love Pooja! I had this weird connection with Pooja. I just thought, I don’t know, she’s the young one, she’s a bit of a wild child, I was a bit of a wild child, so kindred spirits. I love her, she’s so cute.”

Emma still has weeks to go until her time at MEF is up. Since her experience has been so fulfilling, she says she plans to return to the foundation later in the year for an indefinite amount of time. 
Georgia's first time riding her elephant
Georgia Peyser tells me that the best part of the entire volunteer experience at MEF is the last day. While this may seem like a bit of a contradiction from what other volunteers have said, the student from Cornwall says the last day is the best because a volunteer finally gets to ride their assigned elephant. As today is Georgia’s last day, her most anticipated moment finally arrived.

“That was the coolest thing ever! Maybe that’s why they make you wait for the last day because we’d never get anything done but ride elephants!”

Georgia's elephant having a little fun...
While riding her elephant was the highlight of Georgia’s trip, she says what made her time at MEF so special was how important workers at MEF made her feel. She explains that almost immediately after a volunteer arrives, they are responsible for tasks that are vital to the elephants' welfare. 

This, she says, made her feel like a useful member of a team, which made the friendships she forged all the more real. Georgia says she would not hesitate for a second returning to MEF in the future.

Whether it is running the fruit stand, painting an MEF building wall, or bathing a filthy elephant, the experience that MEF can offer a volunteer proves to be one of a kind.

Yours truly working the fruit stand