November 28, 2004
Hope you all had a special Thanksgiving. The first week of November, Kirk and I went to Ecuador. Going there in the first place required a serious leap of faith. It was a leap of faith from the start because I had only known the people who invited us via email for several months. For all we knew they could have been axe murderers. We also had to take a leap of faith that what we were about to engage in was going to be worth the trip, worth our time, and most of all, rewarding to us and those whom we were about to meet. That leap of faith turned into one of the most treasured experiences of my lifetime! (Please read diary entry dated October 15 to find out why we were going to Ecuador in the first place.)
We were greeted with warm and loving arms at the Quito airport, and from that moment on we knew it was going to be great adventure. We started the next day quite early for a 100 km bike trek from Quito to Latachunga. We had a motorcade escort, which seemed a bit extravagant to me at the start, but as the ride continued, ahem, we needed them. And I thought LA traffic was crazy! It ain’t nothing! Kirk and I were with about 15 cyclists, and in usual crazy cycling fashion, we started out nice and mellow through the town, but as we headed out into the countryside, the pace really started picking up. Guess who was responsible for that charge? My lovely boyfriend, Kirk! He is one of those annoying people who doesn’t ever need a warm up. No, he can pretty much attack from the start, and I need about a gazillion hours to feel like I am ready to go hard. Keep in mind that we were 9,000 feet above sea level and climbing to 12,000 feet.
Everything seemed fine for a while until this terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach indicated it was time to puke. I had altitude sickness and it was embarrassing. I was off on the side of the road throwing up while cars were whizzing by staring at me heaving in the bushes. It was not pretty to say the least. In typical girlfriend mode, I was ticked off that Kirk left me behind. However, I decided to get a grip – literally. I figured that I would hold on to one of the motorcade cars until I got back up to him. That way he’d never know I got dropped or was sick in the bushes. Ha! The ride ended at a lovely rose farm that one of the cyclists, Juan Alfonso, owns. I had never been to a rose farm in my life and I highly recommend that you visit one. We showered and were presented with a delicious lunch (lunch is the big meal in Ecuador) and we ate like pigs. Music was playing and some people were dancing, and we felt that we were truly part of the Latin culture. I would have needed a few stiff drinks to get me up dancing in the middle of the day like that so I sat it out, which was quite sad of me.
The trip continued to be like a fairytale. Everywhere we went we saw beautiful people. The people of Ecuador were fantastic and the country was so inviting.
We finally got down to business on that Thursday. I arrived at The Center for Hope, Ecuador and found the place to be far more amazing than I ever could have dreamed of. It was vibrant with color. It was not at all like a hospital. The patients were all unique and touching. The therapists and psychologists were the heartbeat of The Center. Many of them work for free at The Center because most of the patients suffering from eating disorders cannot afford to pay for treatment. The staff gives of themselves and their time just because they believe in The Center and what it can do for their beloved South America.
It is difficult to raise money to combat eating disorders in Ecuador. Many companies give money to people who don’t have enough to eat, but not to people who can’t eat because they have a disease. Understanding an anorexic in South America is like me understanding Chinese: it just ain’t happening any time soon.
While I was there I did do some good P.R. for The Center. I was interviewed and took pictures for the Ecuadorian equivalent of People magazine, which hits newsstands in December. Hopefully that will help raise some awareness. Also I taught a spinning class, which I was scared to death to do, but we did it as a fundraiser for The Center. They hired a DJ for the class and the room was packed. What a blast! (Thanks for helping me to prepare, Riley.)
The Center is run by Monica Guarderas and her husband, Andres Portilla. Basically they bankroll the place with their hearts and their money. The Center can’t survive much longer without some serious cash flow coming in. They need donations and grants from major corporations and they have gone everywhere in Ecuador seeking the funds, including the government. They get $2000 dollars here or there, but Ecuador just does not have the money that we have in the States. I returned home with a newfound mission: I want to help raise money for The Center so it can stay open for now and forever. It is a very special place that is just like the place I have dreamed of opening here in the U.S. The place has character, love, color, hope, and the most effective method of treating patients that I have yet to come across. They deal with the “whole person” approach and they use therapists, nutritionists and psychologists as a team to treat the patients’ physical self, emotional self, mental self, and spiritual self. Incredibly they have almost a zero rate of relapse. You can’t say that about too many rehabilitation centers.
If you want to visit their website (warning: it is in Spanish), go to http://www.american-stores.us. If you have any ideas about how to help fund this place of life and love, please e-mail me through my Web site. I know that together we can make great strides.
Thanks for reading. It means a lot.
Equador Photo Gallery