Friday, August 26, 2011

Second Week, Second Year

Well I am officially done with my second week of my second year of med school. The problem with being a second year is that you're no longer a first year. As a first year, no one expects you to know anything at all. When you're a second year, I think people assume you know sooooomething. Since the expectations are higher, it's just that much more disappointing when it turns out you still don't know anything at all.

Since I am living in the exact same room in the exact same building with the exact same people, the beginning of this year felt a little bit like the Twilight Zone or Groundhog's Day. Nothing has changed. On the first day of class, everyone even sat in the same spots in the lecture hall as they did all of last year. Other than the requisite, "OMG hiiiii how was your summerrrrrr?" conversations, it really felt like we had taken a week off from class, not an entire summer vacation.

There are two big differences from last year though:
  • The first is the presence of all the new first years! I was finally getting used to all the people I would see around campus, and now there are all these new faces that I don't recognize at all.
  • The second is what should be the absence of last year's fourth years. Their absence wouldn't be so weird since I knew very few of them, and they were not on campus very often anyway. But the lack of absence is funny. For example, the other day I ran into last year's student council president (who I guess is doing his residency here at NJMS) wearing a LONG white coat. Just a few months ago we were emailing him about the lecture hall being too hot, and now he is a DOCTOR. Like a real, live doctor. Sometimes I forget that that's what will happen when we eventually finish.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Galapagos - Part III

Now for the fun stuff! As much as I'm sure everyone wants to hear a minute-by-minute, day-by-day account of the Galapagos Islands, I'm just going to give the highlights.

Most of our excursions consisted of some combination of the following activities: hiking, snorkeling, beach, and taking pictures of/learning about animals. Jenna and I also added a few of our own activities:
  • a fun game called "don't throw up or have diarrhea on the island," a game that's harder than it looks
  • an actually fun game called "if the animals could talk, what would they be saying right now"
  • and three, "how close can we get to take this picture before we scare the animals away"

One of the best activities was a beach that was just completely filled with sea lions. Sea lions have two completely different personalities. When they are in the water, they are so elegant-looking and cute (yes, they can be both) and active. On land, they are gross. Smelly and lazy and covered in flies. Plus, they don't really have back legs, so they can't move very well on land. They would get up and start walking somewhere and then just give up and flop back down. "It's too harddddd to walk because my back legs are stuck together, I'm just gonna lay here instead." On another day, we actually saw a newborn sea lion with it's mother. Female sea lions are apparently pregnant for 11 months out of every year!

a pretty sea lion just as it came out of the water

a sandy, lazy sea lion (and me!)

On one hike, we got to see lots of blue-footed boobies and albatrosses. Albatrosses, like the sea lions, have trouble walking. Their necks are way too long or heavy for their bodies, so with every step they have to sort of swing it from side to side to be able to move. Apparently it was mating season for the birds while we were there. Albatrosses mate for life, so they have this little dance that they do to be able to recognize their mate from last season. The boobies however are a bunch of sluts - all they do is show off their beautiful blue feet to another booby and they're ready to go.

albatrosses, trying to walk

blue-footed boobies: really blue-footed

teehee, blue-footed boobie sex

My favorite bird that I saw though (even though it's so not exciting) was the mockingbird. They are so freaking cute. In the olden days, sailors would lure the mockingbirds in by giving them water, then killing and eating them for food. So the mockingbirds still expect humans to give them water, so they literally would go up to one person and flitter around for a bit (but get no water, because we're not allowed to give them), then move to the next person and flitter around, and so on and so on. They reminded me of a really annoying little kid who just wants the older kids to like him and has wayyyy too much energy. "Hi! Want to play?! Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me! No? Ok, how bout you? Hi! Be my friend! Pay attention to me! Hi! Hello! No? Ok, next person..."

The animals we saw the most of were the iguanas. They were fatties. And everywhere. And because they're cold-blooded, they are constantly searching for the sun and finding ways to stay warm. So there were two ways you could see the iguanas - either in a giant clump all piled together for body warmth, or all in a line facing the same direction (towards the sun). The second formation was almost creepy - it looked to me like cult members all patiently waiting for their divinity to descend to the earth or something.

iguana orgy, trying to stay warm

waiting for the messiah to descend

Seeing the sea turtles while snorkeling was the best, but we also went to a tortoise breeding place on our last day. The tortoises are endangered, so they've been raising tortoises until they're five years old, and then releasing them back into the wild. What's kind of cool is that they don't actually know how old the tortoises can live to because they've only been studying them for 50 years, and after 10 years old, it's actually impossible to tell how old the tortoise is just by looking at it.

giant tortoise

baby tortoise

We also saw some white-tipped sharks - we saw one (our guide insists there were six, but I'm not so sure) while snorkeling, and the rest on a hike looking down into a little bay that the sharks like to hang out in. We also saw lots of crabs, flamingos, briefly some penguins, lots and lots of fish while snorkeling, and some really beautiful beaches.

To see more pictures, you should be friends with me on facebook. If you would like to see ALL 700 pictures from Ecuador, please just let me know and I will find some way to deliver them to you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Galapagos - Part II

We went to bed early the first night (early means early - like 9:00). We were told we were setting sail around 1 am to head to the next island. So we're sleeping, no problem, when all of the sudden I awake in a PANIC. We are rocking back and forth so hard, I was convinced we were sinking. Everything had fallen off the counter (and you could hear my pill box of cipro, the antibiotic for my stomach issues, rolling back and forth on the ground), you could hear the thud of the soap and shampoo as it fell in the shower, and I was holding onto the bed for fear I would fall out. I have a habit of half-waking up in the middle of the night and thinking things are happening that aren't. Was this one of those times? I couldn't tell. I needed a second opinion. "Jenna? Are you feeling this???" "Are you kidding?! How could I not be?" It was real.

I don't think we slept another minute that night. Every few minutes one of us would groan or be like, "I can't believe this is happening for real" or, "Do you think this is a thunderstorm?" but there was definitely no sleeping. To add to the ambiance, you could hear someone throwing up across the hall.

In the morning, we asked the two couples who had been on the boat for three days before us if the last night had been a crazy thunderstorm or something. "That was the calmest night we've had so far," they said. At first, I thought they were joking - how could that have possibly been considered a good night?? But it turns out they were being completely honest. And each night was just as bad. But we started taking mareol, a dramamine equivalent, before we went to bed each night. We still didn't sleep through the rocking, but at least we weren't nauseated from it. We also only sailed for a few hours each night, so we would go to bed really early and get in a few hours of sleep before we set sail and started our roller coaster ride.

Jenna got sick the day after I did (we were quite the popular pair on the boat, let me tell you), and after we were both "better," we basically just had a low but constant level of sea-sickness plus an inability to keep any food inside of us for the rest of the trip. Definitely unpleasant, but more manageable than when we started.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Galapagos - Part I

Throughout our trip in Ecuador, Jenna and I each had jobs - I was the planner and the blogger (duh), and she was the navigator. As other things came up, we jokingly would add them to our jobs list. However, the night before we left for the Galapagos I got a really nasty stomach bug that kept me up all night and had me constantly running to the bathroom into the next day. So on our way to the Galapagos we decided my one and only job was not to throw up.

On the plane, I joked to the man sitting next to me that I was the girl you see in the airport and pray, "Please don't let that girl be on my flight, please don't let her be on my flight." Luckily (for him more than me) there was no vomiting on the plane. We had a connecting flight through Guyaquil, and about 20 minutes after take-off on the second flight, there was an announcement that there were technical problems and we were turning around to go back to Guyaquil. Conveniently, I was too sick to be terrified that we were flying with technical problems.

On our subsequent hour delay, the airline kindly gave us vouchers for food which of course completely overwhelmed the one open sandwich place as the entire plane-load of people descended upon them at once. Of course everybody was frustrated, but there was one Russian man who was so unbelievably rude - he was shouting at the man behind the counter in broken English (which is funny, because the man behind the counter only spoke Spanish, not English) about not getting his money's worth from the voucher. Plus he and his wife already had food, and he still pushed through everyone still on line and waiting for food so that he could get more. Jenna and I helped translate into Spanish and after he got his extra pastry (PHEW, one more free dessert was definitely worth all the yelling), he didn't even acknowledge it, or say thank you to the man, and walked away.

So we get a new flight, make it to the Galapagos, and get on a bus to take us to our boat, the Estrella del Mar (star of the sea). Who was the first person we see that is on our boat? You got it. Angry Russian man (with his equally angry wife).

Our boat was our home for the five days. Our basic schedule was: eat breakfast on the boat, go on an excursion on the island, come back to the boat for a snack, go on another excursion, come back for lunch, go on an afternoon excursion, come back for snack, shower, eat dinner, go to sleep.

The boat held 16 people plus the crew members - our guide Enrique, the captain, the cook, the bartender, and others. We were the only Americans on the boat. There were two couples who were a few years older than us (one Swiss couple, the other French and Finnish), a family from Belgium with three sons more or less around our age (the parents of which now live on Lake Hopatcong in NJ - is that weird or what?), two men from London, and the Russian couple.

The boat looked like a cruise ship in miniature. And I mean miniature. The suitcase Jenna and I shared barely even fit into our room, and we couldn't walk past each other in the room - if one person wanted to go to the bathroom, the other person would have to get onto one of the bunk beds to let her pass.

The first day, right after we landed, we immediately went snorkeling which actually made my stomach feel SO much better. We saw some sea lions, sea turtles, a sting ray, and very beautiful fish. I have to admit, I was the biggest spazz in the world. Water kept getting into my goggles, I couldn't tread water very well with the fins, my hair was all over the place, I kept breathing in water. I was a mess. But, fear not, I got the hang of it after a few minutes and could actually enjoy it.

We had no idea how many more animals we would be seeing for the rest of the trip. So that first sea lion we saw was SO COOL. They really are adorable in the water though. They swim right around you, and they're so playful. The giant sea turtle we saw looked exactly like they do in Finding Nemo - just taking his time, swimming along, no rush dude. The sting ray was pretty relaxed too, slowly making his way along the bottom. I have a vague memory of swimming with sting rays with my family when I was younger, but the novelty was definitely still there.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Becoming A Doctor

I really can't wait until I get a little further in my education so I can feel the same way...

Why Would Anyone Choose To Become a Doctor?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Adios Ecuador

Hello for the last time from Quito! We are in the airport waiting for our flight to take off - we have about an hour more here. The Galapagos were absolutely amazing, we had a really great time there! We are definitely ready to come home though. Tomorrow when I'm back on my real computer, I'll fix all the typos and terrible formatting of the last posts, and write all about the Galapagos.

Can't wait to see everyone!

Friday, August 5, 2011


On Saturday we took a trip to Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in Ecuador. It was so beautiful out in the morning, so we were very excited not to repeat our Teleferiquo experience of not being able to see anything as we hiked. We met at 7 am to take a really really long bus ride to the volcano. Here we are stuffed like sardines in the van, happy as clams because we had no idea yet what we were in for. Little did we know what the weather would turn into.

Here's a picture of Cotopaxi after we hiked and had come back down. Please take note of all the snow.

The higher we drove, the colder it got and the snowier the ground got. By the time we reached the starting point of our hike, it was snowing and freezing. While they told us to wear "warm clothes," I was expecting Quito weather, not a hail storm. Because as soon as we started hiking, that's what we encountered. Hail that hurt your face if you try to look up for even a second, and a few inches of snow on the ground mixed with mud that seeped into your shoes with every step.

Look how happy Jenna was to be hiking in these amazing conditions:

On top of that, because we were so high up it was sooooo hard to breathe. At least that was expected though. But I was still surprised at how much trouble I had. I was laughing at myself because every step I took it felt like I had run a marathon. But every time I laughed, I got so out of breath that I had to stop walking. It was so hard!

Finally we made it - 4800 meters! That probably means nothing to everyone in America, but I have no idea how many feet that is. I do know it's lots and lots of feet though. [update: this is 15,748 feet; for a frame of reference, Denver, the mile high city, is 5,280 feet]

After reaching this hut in the picture, we were going to take a break and then continue hiking up to a glacier. But because the conditions were soooo bad, our guide decided it wasn't safe. So we hiked back down the way we came to where we started, where we were going to mountain bike the rest of the way down. Jenna and I made it about halfway down on the bikes, but ended up getting in the truck for the rest of the way. The brakes on the bike were really stiff, so we were afraid the whole way we wouldn't be able to stop if we had to - which was terrifying because it was extremely bumpy and wet, and there were lots of curves with cars coming both ways - once it started pouring, we decided we had enough, and into the truck we went (which was following behind us the whole way).

So basically we drove 4 hours, hiked for one, biked for half of one, ate "lunch" (I put that in quotes because we got chips and guacamole, fruit, bread, and soup - where's the protein???) and then drove 4 more hours home.

Fun fact though. Our guide told us on the way to Cotopaxi that the last time it erupted was in 1876. "Don't worry about it erupting while we're here though, it has a cycle of about 130 years." Uh, do the math on that one.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Last Thursday night was one of our friend's birthdays, so we went out for dinner and for some drinks. Considering our normal bedtime here is about 10:00, it was by far the latest night we've had. Without going into details, Friday morning was the worst I've felt in a long time. But a few people were going on a class trip in the morning to try cuy, a delicacy here.

What is cuy? Guinea pig. Jenna had absolutely no interest in trying it (100% completely understandable), but I felt like since I'm here, I had to try it at least once. Let me just say: Ew. And if that's not enough, see the picture below of how it's served:

Looks gooooood, right?

It smells like fish. It tastes like salt. You eat the skin, but it's so tough and difficult to bite through. The meat itself is oook, apparently it tastes like rabbit (according to the Germans, I've never actually eaten rabbit), but there are so many bones that it was so hard to eat.

Now imagine having that meal when you are so hungover that you already wanted to die.

But at least I can say I tried it. And now I never ever have to again.

Side note: you're supposed to eat the head and feet too. We went with two professors who ate like every bite that us students couldn't eat, and then took all the leftovers home. I guess if you're raised with it, it's different.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


When travelers here go to the beach, a lot of people choose Montanita on the South Coast. it's a huge party town, known for playing music till 7 am, its drugs, and its beautiful beach. Since Jenna and I are not the bigggest party animals we know, we decided to skip Montanita and choose somewhere a little more laid back. We were told that one of the most beautiful and remote beaches was Canoa. Since it's on the North Coast, and Quito is north, we also figured that it would be easier to get to than the beaches on the South Coast - not so much though.

Unexcited about taking the 7+ hour bus ride to the shore, we instead took a half hour flight to Manta, one of the biggest cities along the coast and figured from there we would hop on a bus to Canoa, which we were told would take about 2-3 hours. Easy enough, right?

Except that while waiting to board the plane and talking about our plans, a man ahead of us (who turned out to own one of the hostels in Canoa) turned around to let us know that there are no busses to Canoa from Manta. "Uh, so how are we supposed to get there?" we asked. We ended up sharing a 2 hour taxi with him for $40.

And thank God we were with him, because otherwise for sure we would have thought that we were being taken far into the wilderness to be killed. It was 2 hours of a pitch black drive over dirt roads almost the whole way. Our new friend told us we were taking a slightly longer way because the road was smoother. That just seemed impossible though because it was the bumpiest car ride I've ever been on in my life, so I can't imagine what the "bumpier" road must have been like.

Being the obsessive-compulsive girls we are, we had tried to book a hostel in advance, but were told by all of them that they don't take reservations and you have to just show up. So we got to Canoa around 9pm and head over to our first choice hostel. "No rooms left." Eek, ok. We head next door. "No rooms left."

So let me paint this picture for you. All of Canoa is about three streets wide. There's one street that runs along the beach, and this is where all the hostels and bars are. So everyone is hanging out all over, and Jenna and I are walking, tired and starving (since we figured we'd wait till Canoa for dinner), and lugging our backpacks from hostel to hostel, to be told at just about all of them that they had no rooms.

Finally we found one which was horrible. Screaming kids, roosters outside, smelly sheets, no hot water. We dropped off our bags, went to Surf Shack for some pizza (could we be any more touristy?) and got some delicious drinks at the beachfront bars. The next morning, we booked a better hostel, and went to breakfast at our new friend's hostel. Pretty sure the restaurant was built on a beehive though, because as soon as the food arrived we were so attacked by bees that we couldn't even finis our meal. We did get a pina colada to make us feel better about the situation, but it didn't help all that much.

But fear not, the day did get better! It turned out to be really sunny, and the beach really was beautiful. It's surrounded on all sides by cliffs, and the water was sooo warm. We took a really long walk on the beach, and spent the day laying out and swimming (and of course, ceviche for lunch).

(note: picture taken on day 2, the gray day)

The next day was gray, so we took another long beach walk, and headed back to Manta early to see if we could get on an earlier flight. Silly us to think that would be a good idea - no one works in the airport until 5pm since the first flight wasn't until 6:30, and it was Sunday, so every single restaurant in Manta was closed. Finally we found one, got some lunch and hung out for a few hours, and then couldn't get on the earlier flight anyway, so we got to hang out in the airport for a few hours too. So fun!

We were pretty happy to be back in Quito to say the least. But our friends had gone to Banos for the weekend and they said it rained the whole time. Plus they had elections in Banos on Monday, so no bars were open for the whole weekend (you can't vote hungover, everyone knows that). So overall, fairly unlucky weekend for everyone.

but yay, tropical drinks make everyone smile!