Monthly Archives: October 2010

Printed By-Line: digital and print

topic of my News21 article

This is completely un-related to travel, however I could not resist the urge to spread the good news. My in-depth article that I wrote for News21 on employer sanctions was published in PRiNT and ONLiNE. This is the biggest accomplishment – to date – in my journalism career.

Background: I was chosen as one of 10 fellows for the Carnegie-Knight News21 Initiative, which includes 12 universities across the nation and is headquartered at my Alma Mater: Arizona State University. I was one of two undergrads accepted into the program and was the FiRST to get my story published out of the ASU group. The summer fellowship focuses on innovative story-telling. This year there was much more emphasis on impact and newsworthiness.

The nation’s leading journalism schools come together in this unique program to experiment with new forms of in-depth and investigative reporting.

Students travel the country to report on critical issues facing our changing nation and then find innovative ways to tell those stories.

my story leading the AzCentral home-page

Each school spent all their time and attention investigating and reporting on a specific subject area they felt they could write about accurately.

In Arizona, our group focused on immigration issues. Being so close to the border we felt this was appropriate.

My project:  It dealt with employer sanctions, which are laws that states pass in order to combat the hiring of undocumented immigrants in the workplace.

To narrow the focus and make a better comparison, I looked at two states: Arizona and South Carolina.

Both had incredibly similar employer sanctions laws. However, only one has been able to successfully educate their state businesses, enforce their immigration law, and prosecute or violate those that do not comply. Which state, you may be wondering? I’ll let you find that out for yourself. Here is the introduction to my article, which can be read online at AzCentral:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — When it comes to cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, Arizona may be getting the headlines, but South Carolina seems to be getting results. Only three businesses – all in the Phoenix area – have been prosecuted in the nearly three years since Arizona’s highly publicized employer-sanctions law took effect.
During that time, not a single business outside of Maricopa County has been punished for hiring illegal immigrants. By contrast, South Carolina has cited more than 200 businesses for being out of compliance since that state’s employer-sanctions law went into effect in 2009. South Carolina officials say that their efforts have paid off with far fewer illegal hires.
The two states have radically different approaches on how to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants.
South Carolina’s system gives authorities the power to scrutinize businesses’ hiring records and the state has a comprehensive program to educate employers about the legal consequences of hiring illegal immigrants. If auditors find illegal immigrants on the payroll, employers are cited, fined and forced to fire the workers.
In Arizona, county prosecutors must build an individual court case against each employer suspected of hiring illegal immigrants. And they must do it without easy access to the employer’s records, because the Arizona law does not provide subpoena power for those types of investigations.

Visit AzCentral to read the full story. Take a look at other immigrations stories covered in the 2010 News21 program at Arizona State University.


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Skipping to #2 on the Must-Do List

double waterfall in baños, ecuador

It’s no travel secret that we all make lists to help ourselves organize the Top Things We Must See and Do in the city or country we are visiting. After perusing Websites and talking to other travelers to get their advice on what is a must and what is a must-not, that list has been drawn up in a fashion similar to the Bill of Rights. However, certain circumstances in our control and out of our control prevent us from scratching through all those items. This is precisely what happened to me during a recent weekend trip to Baños, Ecuador.

tarabita takes you even closer to the waterfalls - baños, ecuador

The city’s name, which means bathroom or baths, is known for it’s hydrothermal springs that are located all across the region where you can soak in hot or cool water, which are heated by the active Tungurahua (means “Throat of Fire”) volcano or cooled by the fresh spring water. The greenish shade of the spas are due to the minerals and many people (foreign and locals) flock here to dip into the soothing water, especially during the weekend. The city is also known for the many waterfalls that pour out of every crevice in the region.

If Mother Nature decided to visit you during a trip to Baños (as was my case) do not fret because there are plenty of other activities to do.

I skipped to my #2 on the Must-Do List for Baños. My friend had mentioned this awesome bike ride that takes you to quite a few waterfalls. For only $5 you could have an open road to cycle and waterfalls to explore. Sounded exactly like something I would love. I was sold at mountain bike. Who am I kidding? I was sold at the prospect of an open road that made its way past a total of 19 waterfalls. At breakfast the group was still trying to figure out their plans. I was pretty much set-in-stone with mountain biking. The others were deciding between horseback riding, soaking in the hot springs and taking this walk on a trail in the hillsides. We eventually dropped everyone off at their activity destinations. Three ended up going horseback riding. Two ended up taking the easy hike around the town. I was the only one who chose the: La Ruta de Las Cascadas.

One road. One bike. One cyclist. MANY waterfalls. MANY memories.

raging river in baños, ecuador

It wasn’t long after the start that I passed the Agoyan Dam that helps control the flow of the powerful Rio Pastaza, which is one of the tributaries to the Amazon River. It rages through the mountains in Baños, cutting gorges and valleys with its mighty force. As I continued on my way I couldn’t help but stop and stare at all the green I was seeing. You can’t blame me, I’m an Arizona native. All I am used to seeing are saguaro cacti, dirt and rocky mountains. Here, the mountains looked like massive, lush hillsides. The clouds were flying low beneath the peaks and with close attention you could see water trickling down the crease of the mountain ranges as they twisted and turned throughout the land.

cycling the cobblestone ruta de las cascadas - baños, ecuador

Not too much farther along is the first tarabita (a cable car) that takes you right up to two blasting waterfalls. It stops long enough for plenty of picture-taking opportunities and time to take in the organic beauty of nature’s grace. I got back on the bike (the renter’s provide a chain and lock so it won’t get stolen along the way) and headed through a tunnel that opens up along a hillside. The cobblestone roadway creates an ascetic like no other.

I felt like was riding along the mountains and valleys of some European country and not a third-world nation in South America.


As I followed the trail, it took me over a few bridges all designed in their own unique style. The one that stands out the most is brightly colored in a yellow that contrasts against the green landscape. This bridge is bustling with buses, people and cyclists for one very important reason: the chance to brave-up themselves or watch fearless others take the plunge off the side and swing over the rushing river. While I was there I saw a girl and man both take the leap. known as “puenting”.

a man preparing for his puenting leap - baños, ecuador

I’ve heard stories of it being an incredibly painful experience because it is just a rope-chord  and not a bungee chord. Apparently you fall and literally snap after the rope catches and swing back-and-forth.  A man underneath will toss you another rope to pull you over to the side and unhook your harness. Anyway, both of them survived. I knew if I took the jump and lived to tell about it my mom would have killed me as soon as I stepped off the airplane back in Arizona so I opted out.

manto de la novia waterfall - baños, ecuador

I kept cycling on to my next tarabita ride to the Manto de la Novia (Mantle of the Bride) waterfall. This waterfall and the next few were not as crowded as the very first and very last. I had to wait a bit for the tarabita because as soon as my group was waiting to get on, the other group was zipping back up to the dock and smoke had started puffing out of the pulley-area. They fixed it within 10 minutes and then I was down on the ground and crossing the bridge to get within the splash-zone of the two waterfalls.

My most frightening experience came during the Tarabita San Pedro ride. I hiked along a river near the top of the waterfall until I stepped down a steep staircase and found a serene solitude right at the bottom of it. No one else was round. This was probably my most favorite waterfall out of all those I saw.

the stair case I climbed down to reach this waterfall solitude

I walked through a beautiful mini-forest with a variety of multi-colored flowers, was pointed to the hike by random, home-made wooden signs posted on the wall and porch of a house, trekked through mud and water along the river, was so close to the waterfall drop I was clinging to the railing and muddy hillside, stepped down the steel ladder and was  by myself with such an amazing spectacle. Nature is truly appreciated when alone.

The scary part: during my tarabita ride back, the little girl who opened the door had seemingly forgot to lock it properly. As soon as I had started moving and was hundreds of feet in the air, the door swung open! I was shocked and didn’t know how to close it so I had to hold it shut for what seemed like a 30 minute ride back. When the guy came to let me out, I easily opened the door and stepped down. I didn’t even look at him to see he had shown any sort of concerned expression. Instead, I went and unlocked my bike and rode off wanting to forget about my near-death puent out of a tarabita.

view from a tarabita - baños, ecuador

During my journey along the Route of Waterfalls I was passed by cars, go-karts (you can rent those in Baños) and even by a man leading his mule. You truly get a taste of Ecuador as you pass through small towns such as Rio Negro and Rio Verde, seeing stray dogs and clothes hanging out to dry on their rooftop lines.

This road is full of culture just as much as adventure.

Rain, which started trickling down early in the morning, got heavier during my ride. By the time I reached my final destination I was soaking wet. That didn’t stop me from making the hike through a well-maintained system that promotes water consevation down to: Pailon del Diablo. This is the main waterfall attraction in Baños. Known as the “Devil’s Cauldron”, not because of it’s super fury of water that falls into a whirlpool before gushing down the river around massive boulders, but because it is said you can see the devil’s face in the rock formation near the side.

el pailon del diabo - baños, ecuador

There are three platforms you can walk down stairs to reach. No matter what level you are standing on you will get soaking wet from the waterfall’s power. The best part, you can climb (well crawl) through these uphill tunnels and squeeze yourself to another area closer to the waterfall. A few people at a time can climb more stairs that lead you directly behind Pailon del Diablo to see it from a different perspective.

I was waiting for the raging waters to cause a landside and trap me. I did not know how the rocks were still in place.


After I spent my few precious moments appreciating the amazing image before me, I took my soaking clothes and squishy shoes back out to unlock my bike. One of the lovely perks of riding your bike on La Ruta de las Cascadas is people know you’re probably tired afterward. There is an area where flat-bed trucks wait for a group of cyclists to load up in the bed of their vehicle to drive back to Baños for about $1.50 USD. It’s convenient and you get to talk with other bikers about their day and their ride.

behind the pailon del diablo waterfall - baños, ecuador

My day ended up being brilliant.  Probably more fun than soaking in a crowded hot spring. I got muddy and I got soaking wet. As a girl who would rather get dirty by exploring this planet, I can honestly say that having my #2 end up in the #1 position was not a bad move at all.

In fact, I would  write La Ruta de la Cascadas in Baños, Ecuador as number one on any of my friend’s must-do list and also remind everyone to keep their own list’s open to revisions.


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Chasing Waterfalls: La Ruta de Las Cascadas

You can rent a bike in Baños, Ecuador to cycle the route that takes you along the mountains and valleys where numerous waterfalls are located. A majority have tarabitas that you can ride for $1-1.50 USD to get really close to the falls, or to a bridge where you can walk to the waterfalls or even hike. Definitely worth a few hours of your time. Especially the end, where you can see the powerful Pailon del Diablo.

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Why hostels are a lot more all-inclusive than a hotel or resort

the secret garden hostel in the cotopaxi province of ecuador

In the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador is the Secret Garden. It takes a 30 minute taxi ride, then a 45 min bus ride and then another 30 minute truck ride to reach this remote, eden in the middle of vast plains coated in all shades of green and interspersed with rolling  mounds. The red paint of the hostel walls make it stand out vibrantly against its surroundings. Each building serves its own unique purpose: the dormitory for travelers, the camping awnings, the outhouse, the jacuzzi solitude, the stables, the greenhouse and the main building where most of the visitors spend their time. There is a fully-loaded kitchen where chefs are baking all day, the two dining rooms, living room with a fireplace, and the adjacent shower and toilet room, which is connected by a door.

hammocks for guests to relax and enjoy the breath-taking scenery

Why is this hostel loads better than your typical hotel or resort? Because The Secret Garden hostel offers top-notch service, breath-taking views, all meals and provides you with enough daily activities in one complete spot. What hotel or resort could give you a family-like feel the second you step onto the gravel driveway and close the door to the truck that picked you up at the bus stop? None that I can think of off the top of my head. The smiling hostel greeter came out and shook our hands, welcoming us inside while asking numerous questions to get to know us immediately.

We barely had time to set our bags down before she ushered us to the table for lunch: a delicious kale soup and plenty of home-made rolls with currents of steam emanating from their brown edges. As soon as we began slurping she let us know that one of the hostel volunteers would take us on a waterfall hike after we we got the chance to settle into our room. Once again I must ask, has any hotel or resort clerk done this for you? I didn’t think so.

the trekking boot collection at the hostel

The two volunteers took us to our dormitory room and figured out the beds that would be free that night and let us get organized. As soon as we walked back into the main house, we were told to go get our trekking boots. They had plenty to choose from and we each found our size. We were asked if they were comfortable and then set off down the path, over the hills and through an opening in the forest that only a guide would know of its location.

Our boots trekked through streams, over boulders, up hills, through mud, over trees, under trees, down hills, and along cliff sides to see two cascading waterfalls flow into clear ponds. The rushing water couldn’t be heard outside of this hideaway haven of nature that was only being captured by our eyes and lenses. As soon as we left the forest refuge, the candles were being lit and sparkled in the windows of the dining room where the table was being set for dinner. Were candles lit at the last dinner you ate at your resort? Did they even provide a free meal with dessert? Probably not.

one of the waterfalls we saw during the trekk

That evening, a wood-burning fire crackled in the living room where all the hostel guests sat on couches, in chairs and on the rug on the floor journaling, reading, listening to music, looking through pictures and conversing with one another. The hostel owners arrived with their children at that time and welcomed everybody like they were part of their family. The kids ran around playing for a bit before being told to get ready for bed. Last we saw of them was them in their pajamas and bare-feet running off to their bedroom. The hotel volunteers stood up and told us of the itinerary planned for tomorrow. If anyone was interested in  horseback riding they were asked to sign up. My friends and I did. Each only $30. One by one each traveler departed through the bathroom door to get ready for bed.

Soon, we did the same. By the time we got to the dormitory and opened the door we felt the heat embrace us from the burning coals in the heater that warmed our room. We climbed up and slid into our individual bunk beds and enveloped our bodies within the thick, down comforters before we let our heads hit the pillows. Once the last of our bedroom guests did the same, the candles in the windows were blown out and darkness folded over our eyelids.

horseback riding in the cotopaxi province of ecuador (photo: rachel tavel)

In the morning, we ate our breakfast, which was served earlier for those going horseback riding before the regular time. We brushed our teeth and all met at the stables where we selected our horses, were fitted for the stirrups and made sure we were comfortable before setting off on the six-hour ride. We were allowed to go at our own pace, which meant most of us were galloping away.

Once we reached the top of the Rumñahui Mountain, we got to see the Cotopaxi volcano from a closer distance. The guide served us tea and some sort of cake to warm us up because of the freezing and harsh, blowing winds we faced at such a high altitude. Did your hotel or resort hook you up with tours like this? Oh, right, they just passed you a bunch of brochures from other people in the area they most likely know nothing about.

cotopaxi, the tallest active volcano in the world

We were met with fresh rolls and steaming soup once we returned to the hostel. After that, we got in the back of a truck that took us all the way back to Quito for the same price as the taxi and bus. We saved time and our bodies from more pain after six hours in the saddle. My final question is, did your hotel or resort have this much to offer in terms of service and value? Or simply, atmosphere and people?

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Waterfall Trekking & Horseback Riding

My friends and I spent the weekend in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador. It is home to the Cotopaxi volcano, which is the second highest summit in the country. We stayed at the gorgeous Secret Garden hostel, which had a guide take us trekking in the forest and along the streams to waterfalls. We also went horseback riding for six hours up to the top of a mountain for a closer look at the volcano. Here is the video:

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Past the Paints: Capilla del Hombre

la capilla del hombre art gallery

The Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man) is a gallery that showcases the artwork of Oswaldo Guayasamín, who was a Quechua Indian, and master painter and sculptor. Sadly, he passed away in 1999 before his gallery was completed in 2002.

The two-story building does not have all the pieces that Guayasamin completed, but presents a good variety that allows you to get the full effect of this man’s brilliant style and legacy.

The museum is open Tuesdays through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Cost of admission was pretty steep when my friends and I went but we managed to get in for $2 USD, which is the price for students, even without any identification. I believe that speaking Spanish definitely aided in our mission for the lower price.

some of the faces in a series, look at the colors and emotions

After a friend’s death during a demonstration in Quito, Guayasamin’s artwork soon turned into the expression of the people and world that he lived in. Eventually, his travels throughout Latin America provided him with a vision that translated onto the palette’s where his brush stroked.

La Capilla del Hombre became a dedication to the Latin American people. Guayasamin painted their emotions in series and solo pieces filled with all sorts of shades and colors.

At the bottom of the museum there is an area where you can purchase Guayasamin’s artwork. Some are re-prints whereas others are originals at an extremely great investment price. Everyone was pretty much getting their hands on some piece of his work to take home with them. The hardest part was deciding which one because they are all truly breath-taking and thought-provoking masterpieces.

the mural painted on the ceiling of the cone

You can see the pain in each of the unique, individual faces. I think the brilliance of his work shows in the fact that Guayasamin could use whatever colors he wanted (i.e. blue, orange, yellow) in the faces of his subjects and yet, your eyes and heart immediately see and feel the emotions he is portraying. The positioning of the bodies was enough to set the tone of the painting. One mural that continues to come to mind is the white, skeletal bodies against the black backdrop reaching for the circular light shining down upon them. It is one of the most memorable because it is painted on the inside of the cylinder cone on the ceiling, where the circular hole is open toward the sky, as if to say their souls are reaching toward heaven.

the tree of life, where guayasamin's ashes are buried

The museum was built on the grounds of Guayasamin’s estate. Visitors can walk up to his house that overlooks Quito and the Pichincha mountain range. In the corner of the grass yard is a tree. He planted and cared for it. Upon Guayasamin’s request, his ashes were buried beneath the leaves and branches of the tree on March 10, 1999.

The day of his death, an archaeological excavation found a 1,000 year-old Pre-Inca ship, along with 13 tombs. A museum was set up to preserve the indigenous artifacts and educate the public.

Though he may have passed, Guayasamin’s artwork continues to live on revealing the lives of the Latin people and the land from which he was born.

Beneath his paintings are the anecdotes of the past.










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Wheels & Paints

Every weekend Quito becomes a quiet city. The sidewalks are empty and the noises seem to cease, creating a peaceful solitude. However, when  Sunday arrives certain streets in Quito are closed and no cars are allowed. What is? Loads of cyclists and runners.

This past Sunday my friends and I walked around exploring Quito and visited La Capilla del Hombre, an art museum that offers breath-taking pieces that make you really ponder life in all it´s happy and sad glory.

Here is a video:

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The [Im]possible Postal Mission

For those who study, work or live abroad for a long period of time, a care package is a welcome gift. However, the process of obtaining it can be extremely complicated.

the care-package my parents sent me

My parents were kind enough to pack a box full of chocolates and other assorted items that are twice as expensive here in Quito, Ecuador. Yes, a tiny package of peanut m & m’s that you could pick up at the side of the cash register for $0.75 in the States is about $1.50 here.

Completely not worth it, especially when you´re saving up for a Galapagos Cruise.

The package was shipped about 2 weeks ago with the address to my work office. I figured I would have got it last Wednesday or Thursday, however I blame the attempted coup for post-poning it. I finally received the post office´s notice paper that my package was available for pickup on Monday.

However, the post office is only open from 8 am to 12:30 pm and then from 2 pm to 3:30 pm so it made it incredibly difficult to plan around because I work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break usually between 12:30 and 1:30 pm.  I decided I would wake up early and go to the post office before work.

Once I arrived I had to take a ticket from one of those machines you see in the meat area of your grocery store. After a few minutes my number came up on the screen hanging over the window counters. I handed them the notice and they requested two copies of my passport as well as $1.25 for who knows what reason. I was then instructed to go sit down on one of the benches to wait for my number to be called again.

not pictured: two pairs of pants and my pirate book

This is where the long wait happens. I think 30 minutes passed by before my number popped up on the other screen hanging over the door.  I was escorted through another waiting room to one piled high with boxes of all sizes and colors. We stood in front of a table. They brought my box in and after a bit of a language clash, told me that I had to pay because it was overweight. A guy walked me to a little desk area with a computer in the waiting room we walked through to plug the numbers and tell me how much I owed: $37! Ridiculous, my mom already paid more than $50 just to ship it to me.

Note: Make sure you tell anybody planning to send you a package to make sure they mark that it is a gift so you don´t have to pay more when you pick it up from customs.

The lady then opened up my box in front of two other workers to go through the contents, making sure what was said to be in there according to the paper my mom filled out was truthfully in there. After that was done and the guys forced everything back in, smushed it down and taped it back up (yeah, it took two guys), the lady led me into the small waiting room. ¨Sit down,¨she said, pointing to a chair across from three desks.

After she finished helping one guy, which took about 10 minutes, she looked at me. ¨Sit down,¨she said, pointing to the chair in front of her. She typed and typed for what seemed like 20 min. Looked at me, ¨Telephone?¨I replied, ¨No.¨ ::type type type:: Finally with the push of a paper clip, she handed me my packet of papers and told me to go pay at the bank.

I waited for the guy at the bank to finish his transaction and an impatient Eucadorian lady to push her way up to the window and get a piece of paper before I went up to the window. I slid my two $20 bills under the glass and waited for him to give me my change and paperwork.

Went back to the counters that I first visited and handed over my paperwork. The guy took it, turned around and went into the Box Room. He came back out with my package and handed it over. This took roughly over two hours and was not even during a busy time of day. Be prepared with your book or i-pod to keep you company and good luck!


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Just another coup, Just another day

some of the military on patrol

I’ve been getting loads of people asking me how I’m doing and what the current scene is here in Quito, Ecuador after the recent coup d’état attempt by the national police last Thursday. The police, upset over a law that President Rafael Correa would potentially pass that would cut the bonuses they received once promoted, tried to allegedly take control of the government by overthrowing him.

They used tear gas, took over landing strips at the airport, blocked roads with flaming tires and apparently held the President hostage in the hospital where he fled to get treatment due to inhaling the tear gas. This is not the first time something like this has taken place in Ecuador. Three previous presidents had been pushed out before their time in office even ended. Violent protests are also not unfamiliar in South America. Numerous have been organized in Argentina – sometimes happening on a weekly basis. People should remember that protests and other attempts of taking what you want to get what you want are extremely common down here.

military on duty

The chaotic scene in Ecuador pretty much ended the same day it began. After the President was rescued from the hospital by his supporters, which sadly ended with some dead in the crossfire that took place between 500 people, he gave a lengthy, passionate speech at the Presidential Palace to a massive crowd. It seemed almost movie-like: the conflict (the law), the climatic battle and hostage  scene, the rescue and then the speech that left us all with a happy ending. My roommate even mentioned, “how Latin” the whole ordeal turned out to be.

The eery, quiet night in my town ended as soon as the sun rose to a beautiful morning. People were walking all over the place, acting like nothing happened. Black ash stained the road across my apartment where the tire was burning, but other than that the coup had left me unharmed. My friend and I were able to walk everywhere we needed: laundry mat, post office, lunch in Mariscal and even the supermarket (which is in a rough spot). We had no trouble and no worries.

walking unit on amazonas in mariscal district

Today, our area had turned back into a ghost town. Not because of the coup, but because it was Sunday and like every other Sunday the streets are closed so people can run, walk, or the popular activity: bicycle. The only difference this time was that there were plenty of military patrolling the streets, carrying their big rifles. None seemed too worried though, going on smiling and laughing with each other, probably because they felt comfort and security with the military personnel being present.  While my friends and me were walking up the street we heard this loud


watching on the corner

and we all jumped around with darting eyes to see where it had come from. We could see the military immediately look to find the source of the sound as well. A guy’s bicycle tire had popped and flattened. As soon as people found out they went back to normal. However, it was an eery reminder that although things are fine on the outside, deep down inside we’re all still a bundle of nerves with the recent events still fresh on our minds.

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