Yupai Chani

“Did you see the little dead bodies?” That is what Lilly asked me Thursday night. Okay, relax, it’s not what you think. We had a farewell party before we left Agato and the families cooked us their local delicacy – guinea pigs. So, when Lilly inquired about the little dead bodies she was only referring to the trays of skinned guinea pigs. See? Not disturbing in the least.

The farewell party was a great end to our stay in Agato. Our host families looked after us so well, feeding us meals of sopa (soup not soap), a hundred different types of corn and the biggest breakfasts I’ve ever had. Even our Spanish teachers cooked us these delicious batter covered fried bananas. Come Thursday night it was our turn to share some American/English food with the community. So of course we cooked the iconically Italian pizza… I think it was probably one of the few times in history that pizza has been cooked in the same pizza oven as guinea pigs.

It just so happened that our final night in Agato coincided with the Fall Equinox which meant we got to take part in a traditional indigenous ceremony. The Equinox is a big deal to the Agato community as it is a time for them to give thanks to Mother Earth for all that she provides: water, food, sun, everything we need to live. As a large proportion of their food is home grown the need for good weather is vital to the community. The ceremony really was like the tribal culture you read about. We sat in a circle, with various idols placed in the centre interspersed with fruit and veg which was later to be shared amongst us. Everyone was in traditional dress (yes, even us!) and the man leading the ceremony began. There was talking, chanting, drumming, singing and music played on a pan flute. The leader of the community then lit some wood in a bowl before blowing out the flames and using a feather to waft the smoke over each person in turn. If I’m completely honest with you I still have no idea why we did this but everyone seemed to use the smoke to wash their faces and hair so I’m 90% sure it was some sort of cleansing ritual.

After the ceremony we headed inside to eat and we all got to try the ‘little dead bodies’ which had, thankfully, been cooked by this point. I got freaked out by the little bones but pretty much everyone else liked it. So to any guinea pig owners out there who are trying to decide on tonight’s dinner…

Everyone then moved on to pizza which went down a hoot and filled us all up for the entertainment part of the evening. Each of the families we stayed with helped us prepare a little something to share with the community. Fritz and Alex recited speeches in Kichwa (the Agato communities native language) which was impressive. It is possible it would have been more impressive if they had actually understood a word of what they were saying. Marnie and Lilly counted to ten in Kichwa whilst Kenny and I performed a song with our family – me stumbling on the pan flute and Kenny masterfully shaking some shells.

The women then performed a couple of traditional dances for us and we finished the evening off by saying thank you for the food and drink Agato style. Mere words were not to suffice as we all crowded round in a circle, the musicians in the middle, and danced and drank and danced and stomped and sang, the little Agato kids on the shoulders of the American boys.

We’re now back in Quito, (best to skim over that five hour journey as fast as possible) and heading off to the Tsachila Tribe on Monday. I’m sad to say I will no longer be blogging from Ecuador as I’m heading back to the UK with a significant limp in my step. No need to fret though as I’ve plenty of stuff to blog about from the last month.

I’ve had an incredible time here in Ecuador and I’ll miss the amazing people I’ve met. I wish the rest of my team the best of luck with the remainder of their travels. If you want to follow their progress then visit The Leap blog. We may not understand much Kichwa but there is one phrase that I hope to remember – Yupai Chani – which means not only thank you but thank you from the bottom of my heart. So to the people of Agato, to the families we stayed with that made us feel so very welcome, caring for us when we were ill, sharing with us their customs, their laughter and their lives and to all the friends I’ve made, Yupai Chani and farewell.

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In a town called Agato…

Update number two for you lucky people with access to hot water. We said goodbye to Quito last Friday and travelled up north to Otavalo. For the last week we’ve been staying with the indigenous people of the Agato community. A few of the families have taken us into their homes so we really get to experience what life is like for them. As you might have guessed from my opening sentence for some of us that means no hot water.

The lack of physical heat, however, is more than made up for by the warmth of our host families. They’ve taken care of us from day one, cooking us meals, giving us blankets and making us special medicinal tea to help settle our stomachs (or in my case throat when I came down with a cold- isn’t Ecuador supposed to be hot?). They are also wonderfully patient with our slowly improving Spanish. The Agato community technically speak two languages, Spanish and their native tongue, Kichwa (pronounced ki-chu-ah) so we’re also picking up a few words of that as well. My favourite phrase, (other wise known as the only phrase I can remember) is Alli Tuta – good night.

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On our first day here Charlotte (our team leader) took us to the market in Otavalo. Many of the local communities, Agato included, have stalls there where they sell hand crafted items. Lilly and Marnie’s host mother makes these beautiful dream catchers which I think she’s going to teach us how to make this week. We’ve already had a go at making necklaces and visited a local musician.

The Otavalo market was like nothing I’ve seen before. At one point a girl walked by dragging a cardboard box full of live guinea pigs behind her followed by a woman carrying a chicken under her arm. We all had fun haggling with the stall holders (some more successfully than others) and got some cool souvenirs to take home. I bought some T-shirts and a stone tortuga (tortoise) who later lost his head.

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We spent the week helping out around the community during the morning and having Spanish lessons in the afternoon. The Agato community have this amazing thing called Minga. Basically what happens is when one family needs something done the whole community comes together to help them do it. So when the family I’m staying with needed to plow the fields instead of it taking one person a week, we all got it done in a single morning.

I think my favourite project of the week was building a playground for the local preschool. We put in a swing set and built a tunnel out of old tyres. Then we got very colourful painting the tunnel like the rainbow. I’m still finding flecks of blue paint on my skin.

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We just got back from our weekend trip to the hot springs in Chachimbiro where we relaxed in the naturally heated pools and dined out at a local restaurant. Although I use the word restaurant hesitantly. Our Spanish may be improving but last night made sure to keep us humble. I think the dinner is best summed up by Lilly’s words “I think ordering could have gone better”. Considering we had no idea what food we were eating, three people ordered pastries instead of a meal (unintentionally) and my dinner never turned up, I’d say “ordering could have gone better” is the understatement of the century. I’m pleased to report lunch today was far more successful and we are now safely back in Agato where our wonderful host families cook us all sorts of local dishes. Soup with popcorn being my favourite so far! Although I did try guinea pig…

We’ve one more week to go here in Agato, more foods to try, places to see, things to learn and people to meet.

Quito Días

So we survived the week which I’m starting to think is not a given in a place where the taxis’ have no seat belts and the buses are akin to kiddie roller coasters. We also managed to speak some Spanish and we are yet to get lost. What can I say, it’s a week of successes.

On Tuesday we took a bus tour around Quito which gave us fantastic views of the city. Ecuador is an odd combination of modern and old, run down and beautiful. You’ll find a glorious gothic church with a snow white neoclassical building on one side and a half built, narrow,concrete shop on the other. I described it as higgledy piggledy which got me a number of strange looks from my all American team mates and was followed by ten minutes of explaining what said phrase means.

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The next day we headed to the equator line where Lilly, who is from New York, holds the true title of success as she managed to balance an egg on a nail. Alex, another of the leapers on the team, stands by his declaration that the equator line physics is a hoax. I, on the other hand found it pretty fascinating. There’s this thing called the Coriolis effect which means that in the Northern Hemisphere water drains anti-clockwise and in the Southern Hemisphere it drains clockwise.

After we visited the museum Marnie (who by the way used to be a baby model) showed me the ropes at Subway. That was one of the more normal meals we’ve had this week. I think I’ve tried more new foods in the past week than I have in the past ten years. On Wednesday we had this soup with a root vegetable called yuca, a type of corn called choclo and plantain which really is a savoury banana. The breakfasts at the hostel have been my favourite meals. Cereal and toast has gone out the window. Ecuadorian breakfasts consist of bread, some form of egg and fruit or salad. We’ve also discovered that Alex will happily finish off anyone’s leftovers.

Kenny and Fritz are the two other members of the team. Kenny is our very own ice hockey extraordinaire and Fritz, our resident German. We’re all still getting to know each other but, like I said, we made it through the first week and have arrived safely in Agato for the next part of our trip.

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Get ready Ecuador… I’m coming for you!

And so my Ecuadorian adventure begins…

In a few days time I leave for my gap year trip with The Leap. There’s some crazy packing and preparing going on at the moment but I thought I’d make some time to let you know what’s going on. I’m psyched to say that, over the next two and half months, I’m going to be blogging for a small group of us intrepid explorers as we head out to Ecuador.

Well, I say intrepid but I for one am terrified and, with only a few days to go before we leave, I’m pretty sure my team mates will be too. It’s the good terrified though, the ‘I’m going to be travelling around a foreign country doing crazy things like bathing in a river and snorkelling with sharks for ten weeks’ kind of terrified.

I’m twenty-one years old but due to some unfortunate health problems I’m a bit behind on the whole life experience thing. When I fully recovered I realised that, for the past few years, I hadn’t really been living, I’d been surviving so I decided it was about time I had some fun. Now, I’m sure there are a few of you out there who seek less extreme ways to have fun but I’ve always been one to ‘go big or go home’ and when I read about the trip to Ecuador run by the Leap I knew I wanted to do it.

Here’s a brief outline of our itinerary so you can decide for yourself if being a leaper takes your fancy:

  • Our first three weeks are spent with the Agato Community helping out wherever with whatever they need. The families here are kind enough to take us into their homes and I can’t wait to learn about and experience the way a community so far from my own little town in England lives.
  • After this we head out to stay with the Tsachila tribe (My first question when we get to Ecuador is going to be ‘how do you pronounce Tsachila?’) This is the part of the trip I am by far the most excited for. I read a lot of books and ever since I read Iva Ibbotson’s ‘Journey to the River Sea’ when I was ten I’ve been fascinated by tribal communities. There’s little information about the Tsachila tribe online so I hope I can convey a stay that I’m sure will be awesome (in the truest sense of the word).
  • The adventure week comes next. Ironically I think this is the week I will be most comfortable with given that my usual sports consist of wakeboarding, snowboarding and climbing.
  • Then off to the Galapagos. On the island of San Cristobal we will be helping with the conservation efforts at La Hacienda Tranquila Project.
  • Finally, we spend our last few days in the Amazon Rainforest. I feel I should point out ahead of time that I am terrified of spiders … and snakes… and a range of other creepy crawlies. So that week’s blog may contain a lot of screaming and if you ever get the chance to read my notebook version, expect very shaky writing.

So, that’s it, in a nutshell. I can’t wait to meet, and introduce you all, to my team mates. Once I’ve overcome the first hurdle of an eleven hour flight, followed by another two hour flight and made it to Ecuador, that is.

Book of the Month: July 2017

It’s that time again. Well, technically it’s past that time, I’ve been crazy busy the last week and haven’t had much time to blog but as they say; better late than never.

July’s Book of the Month is written by an author I used to read when I was younger. She’s truly an amazing writer so I was thrilled when I came across a trilogy she’d written during the years I hadn’t been reading as much (turns out boarding school takes up a lot of time). The author whom I speak of is none other than Meg Cabot. I’m sure many of you will have at least heard of, if not read, The Princess Diaries series. Like many before and after me I loved those books but I also fell in love with two of Cabot’s other series: The Mediator series and 1-800-Missing series. We’re going to start doing a ‘throw-back’ blog post collection so I’m sure you’ll hear more about those two gems in the future.

But for now, back to the present, the Book of the Month for July 2017 is…

Abandon, by Meg Cabot

The Abandon trilogy was every bit as good as the Meg Cabot books I have read with an added edge of darkness that left a tingling in my veins (no joke. It’s when the feelings are so strong you can physically feel them in your body; the butterflies when you’re nervous, the electricity under your skin, the stabbing in your chest when the terror creeps into your heart. When a book makes you feel like that, when you’re so excited to read it you can’t help but grin like a madman, then you’ve hit the jackpot.) That’s what it was like for me once I started reading Abandon. Just to give you a little taste…

‘Anything can happen in the blink of an eye…So who cares what happened to Persephone? Compared to what happened to me, that was nothing.

Persephone’s lucky, actually. Because her mom showed up to bail her out.

No one’s coming to rescue me.

So take my advice: Whatever you do – Don’t blink.’

In case you hadn’t guessed from the extract Abandon is a inspired by the myth of Hades and Persephone, Hades being the god of the underworld and Persephone being the woman he abducted. Like all other Cabot books I’ve read Abandon has a kick ass female protagonist but unlike some of her other books Pierce Oliviera doesn’t start that way, at least not on the outside. Of course, the magic of reading is that we get access to the character’s head, and underneath it all, Pierce Oliviera is fierce, loyal and very, very scared. A year ago Pierce died and went to the underworld. She escaped. Now the guy that tried to keep her there is back and he’s not happy.

I can’t write about this book without mentioning the motifs. One of the reasons I love the Abandon series so much are the motifs that Cabot threads throughout the trilogy. Phrases and themes are beautifully woven into the books. You don’t always notice when a book is missing good motifs but when they are there it’s heaven. (Ironic given the subject of the book). The motifs in the Abandon series make the story rich and complete, they bring everything together and ground you throughout the story. I don’t know how else to describe it other than to say it was beautiful. So I guess you better go read it and find out for yourselves.

 

YALC: Comic Con for Book Nerds

Question:

What do you get if you put a whole load of young adult authors, agents, publishers, books, freebies, goodies, sweets, microphones and hundreds of people who like to read all in one place?

Answer: 

YALC!

So this Sunday my partner in crime (AKA: Sasha, AKA: Sashimi, AKA: Alexandra, AKA: Alejandra, AKA: Grandma) and I headed to London for the Young Adults Literature Conference (AKA: YALC, an acronym which, by the way, I love and Sasha hates. What’s that saying about everyone being entitled to their own opinion even if it’s wrong…)

After watching the new Power Rangers film the evening before we got up in the middle of the night (AKA 7:00am) to start our journey. Two and a half hours later a very nice man working at the London Comic Con and Film Festival (of which YALC is a subdivision) directed us to the right gate which turned out to be the wrong gate so then another very nice man directed us to the right gate which was, in fact, the right gate so we were only five minutes late. And what fun is a day out if you don’t start off by being late?

After getting the lay of the land (AKA: learning where everything is so I don’t get anxious and have kittens from being in a new place) we snuck in late to the Publishing 101 talk. This was a wonderful chat about how to get published run by some lovely agents, one of which I realised half way through I had sent a submission query to when I was fifteen (queue blushing cheeks from minor hero worship and a recollection of my embarrassing childhood shenanigans. Needless to say I got a gentle rejection letter. Now, I say embarrassing and I do find myself a bit embarrassed when I think about it because in hindsight I can see that the book I sent off was no where near ready to be seen by agents but embarrassment often implies regret but I feel it’s important to point out that the two don’t always come hand in hand. I don’t regret sending my work to some agents when I was fifteen because it was something I felt I needed and wanted to do at the time. Maybe it was naive but that’s okay because you can’t go on to be experienced unless you’ve been naive first. And I actually got some really good advice from a couple of the agencies (but that’s for another time, I’m getting sidetracked and I have probably just broken a cardinal law of grammar by using brackets within a brackets.)

Publishing 101 was great we followed it on with Publishing 102 which looked at the other side of the coin: how to get a job in publishing. For my fellow boat rockers out there you will be pleased to here that a job in publishing is not dependent on a University Degree. In fact, even if it was that needn’t stop you trying. Wouldn’t be rocking the boat very much if we just sat back and did that would we?

The publishing talks were followed by a peanut butter and jelly toastie which, for the sake of your stomach, tastebuds and sanity I advise you never to try. Sasha got the better deal with a ham and cheese toastie (but alas, lactose intolerance) It did, however, provide the sustenance to keep us going for the rest of the day.

We had a mosey round the book stalls (did you know Anthony Horowitz has written a new Alex Rider novel?) before heading over to the stage to watch a panel called ‘Life Advice’ chaired by Chelsey Pippin with Hannah Witton (Author of Doing It, Sara Barnard (Author of A Quiet Kind of Thunder) and Holly Bourne (Author of the Spinster club series). I hadn’t heard of any of these authors before the panel but they were great speakers who had everyone laughing whilst also giving some very sage advice, which, of course, we mustn’t take. My favourite part had to be when they introduced us to The Wormtail Test. This is a way to find out whether a relationship is healthy or not. Take the film The Notebook for example. When Ryan Gosling hangs from a ferris wheel threatening to kill himself unless you date him then it’s romantic, if Wormtail did it… not so much. I went out and bought Hannah Witton’s book Doing It today and I can’t wait to read it.

After the panel talk we attended a writing workshop lead by Katy Cannon (Author of And Then We Ran). She got us writing pitches for a works in progress and gave some really great advice on how to condense a full length novel into one sentence. Then we outlined two book ideas in ten minutes. The first went like this:

A young offender named Timothy is trying to leave the country with his dog Stewarpt (the ‘P’ is silent). They head to Blackpool to see the illuminations before they go. Whilst there, Stewarpt is dognapped by the Prime Minister who takes him back to 10 Downing Street where Stewarpt enters into a fight for his freedom with the Downing Street Cat, Larry. Timothy heads to the Houses of Parliament to rescue his dog, on his arrival the Prime Minster sees how courageous and good-hearted Timothy is for risking arrest to save his dog and excuses him of his crimes. Timothy and Stewarpt are reunited and free to go wherever they like without fear of prosecution. The End.

The workshop was followed by a panel talk with Patrick Ness, yes I said Patrick Ness! But I’ll let Sasha tell you about that one…

Ta ta for now,

Charlie (AKA: boat rocker in the making) x

Book of the Month: June 2017

June’s Book of the Month featured briefly in yesterdays post ‘Holiday Reading Bonanza‘. I wasn’t expecting much when I bought it and had in fact passed over it numerous times thinking it was just another Supernatural YA with a frustrating love triangle. I guess I should remember that the reason there are so many of these is because the premise works. That doesn’t mean it can’t get a bit tiresome when you feel like you’re reading the same story just with different characters. If, however, the writing is good and the story is fresh then you may have to let go of your prejudice against love triangles and give it a chance.

Thanks to the Kindle’s sample function I was able to test out the book to get a feel for the writing before I purchased it. The second I finished the sample I was pressing ‘buy’ and diving right back in.

So, with no further adieu, June’s Book of the Month is…

Born at Midnight by C.C Hunter 

Thinking she’s being exiled to a summer camp for troubled kids Kylie is in for a bit of shock when she realises the most troubling thing about said kids is that they are not human. For me, the greatest hook in this book (hehe, that rhymed, uh sorry, back to business) is that nobody knows what Kylie is. It isn’t a flat out ‘oh you’re a vampire now, here’s some blood, hop on board the Vamp Train to Transylvania’. No, there’s a real mystery (or ten) thread through each book in the series and you have no choice but to keep reading until the mystery is solved. Be forewarned that you are likely to figure out the mystery before Kylie does but I think that adds to the fun. That way I get to sound like a madman shouting at the book like you do when you’re watching a horror film and you know that ‘she shouldn’t open that door’.

The second thing I loved about this book was Hunter’s characters. So often I’ll read a book and I’ll connect with the main character and maybe his/her closest friend and that’s about it. I found myself falling in love with every character Hunter created. Even the bad guys. They were so well written that I wouldn’t be surprised to see them walking down the street and waving at me like an old friend. Okay, so maybe I would be a tad surprised… but the point is they were so much more than names on a page, which makes everything that happens to them and everything they do that much more engaging. They brought Shadow Falls to life and made it a place I never want to leave. Thankfully Hunter has written a lot of books so as of yet I haven’t had to.

‘ “If you’re going to tell me that I’m going to start howling at the moon, eating people’s cats, and will spend the rest of my life having to get waxed if I want to wear a bathing suit, then I don’t think I can handle it, either. I like cats and I tried waxing once, and that hurt like a son of a gun.” She dropped her hand between her legs, remembering…’

Born at Midnight, C.C. Hunter