A Dozen Months Equals a Year
27 March 2015 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
Nancy and Burger Zapf
We can't seem to get enough of this place. For the 12th time Burger spent nearly a month providing ENT medical and surgical care to the indigent peoples of southern Ecuador. Check out our latest report, above. And CLICK HERE FOR SOME GREAT PHOTOS!
Our return trip was an adventure: The late afternoon flight from Loja to Quito was canceled due to fog (the landing strip is in a valley surrounded by high mountains). So we took a 4-hour taxi trip to Cuenca, the nearest city with an airport. Ecuadorean taxi drivers are notorious, passing on blind curves and driving at breakneck speed in rain, fog and darkness. Not to mention the very real danger of a landslide around every bend. Luckily we made it to Cuenca safely where we spent the night and flew to Quito next morning. We were able to rebook on a later flight from Quito to Miami. It was good to get home to Florida sunshine!
Mission Clinic 2012
15 December 2012 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
PDF file: 2012 ENT Team photo report of our medical volunteer month at the Mission Clinic in Guadalupe, Ecuador.
In November we traveled to the steamy rainforest of southern Ecuador for our annual month of volunteering at the Guadalupe Mission Clinic. It was the eleventh time that Burger has put his surgical skills to use there since 2004, fixing the ears and noses of 125 mostly impoverished native people who live in the shadow of the Andes Mountains. Our team saw over 600 patients and fitted over 80 donated hearing aids.
Volunteers pay their own way to get to Guadalupe, but once there we enjoy comfortable room and board gratis. Read about the special challenges that faced us this visit in the PDF report, above.
Click the link below to our captioned photos, including the Thankgsiving "beach party" on the river bank, hosted by the Clinic staff.
Medical Mission Guadalupe 2011
15 October 2011 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
Here's our 2011 ENT Team photo report about our volunteer month in Guadalupe, Ecuador, which was Burger's tenth stint since 2004. He especially loves doing ear surgery and cleft palate cases. How awesome to see a severely disfigured child transformed to normal!
I helped out with patient data entry and even some assisting in the OR. Weekends we went hiking in the Andes Mountains, staying at our favorite Copalinga Ecolodge just outside of Zamora, run by a Belgian couple who serve wonderful European meals.
Click here to learn about the lodge, which attracts birders and butterfly collectors from all over the world: COPA LINGA ECOLODGE
I'm now on the board of the U.S. Foundation that supports the Clinic with tax-deductible donations. While Burger solicits for medical supplies, I help fundraise and search for volunteers for our team, all online from wherever we are.
Here's a link to the Foundation page of the Guadalupe website:
FRIENDS OF THE MISSION CLINIC OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE, INC
One of my projects was to create a FaceBook page for the Clinic, click here (you don't have to be a FaceBooker to view it):
FRIENDS OF THE MISSION CLINIC
Medical Volunteering in Ecuador
18 January 2011 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
Nancy and Burger
SSCA Commodores' Bulletin Jan. 2010: Volunteering in Ecuador
Hobnobbing with El Presidente's Security Force
21 November 2010 | Catamayo Airport, Ecuador
Dozens of armed soldiers were swarming around the Catamayo airport when we got there, awaiting the departure of the President of Ecuador aboard his private plane. Three military pilots in khaki jumpsuits ate breakfast at the table next to ours and were eager to practice their English with us ... well, maybe with "La Chica" Steffi more than with us :).
Just as we boarded our plane for the hour-long flight to Quito, an SUV convoy approached the airport and the soldiers all snapped to attention, a brass band preparing to play. On the one hand we were disappointed to just miss seeing the President, but considering the near-coup that took place in Eucador just a couple of months ago, we were glad to be on our way.
Once in Quito, we checked into the Hotel Cafe Culture, big on old world charm and decorated with murals on walls and ceilings. After a long restorative nap we ventured out to shop at the handicraft market across the street. At over 9,000 feet it can be very chilly in Quito, so after dinner we enjoyed the warmth of the fireplace in our cozy candlelit room. Tomorrow morning we'll fly on to the States, always a bit of a culture shock when returning to the "first world" but one that we look forward to, and especially to spending Thanksgiving together with our growing family.
Photo: Soldiers awaiting El Presidente at the airport
Sleepless in Guadalupe
20 November 2010 | Guadalupe to Quito
Fireworks lit up the sky. Huge loud speakers blasted music from a live band, so loud that we could feel our feet vibrating from the ground beneath us. Beauty queen contestants performed with singing and dancing and multiple costume changes, culminating in the bikini line-up. The streets teamed with hundreds of people, many who came by bus from surrounding villages. Street vendors sold mucho beer and local delicacies. It was the annual celebration of the founding of the town, just 43 years ago. And it was our last night in Guadalupe.
Burger and I retreated across the swaying foot bridge to our room before midnight, but the music followed us and lasted throughout the night. Sleep was almost impossible, even with earplugs. The boom boxes were still going strong at 5 am when we arose bleary-eyed and dragged our luggage back across the bridge to the awaiting taxi. My concern that the taxi driver might oversleep was unfounded, but now I had a new worry: did he get any sleep last night? Was he sober?
Steffi had partied almost all night long and was in even worse shape than we were for the two hour ride to the airport in Catamayo. We could barely appreciate the spectacular scenery as we traveled from the tropical Amazon side of southern Ecuador, up and across the backbone of the Andes and then down again to the dryer climate of the western flanks. Our sleepless state and the serpentine turns along the mountainsides combined to make us all queasy, so we were glad to arrive at the airport in Catamayo two hours later.
Photo: Burger enjoying "meat popsicles" at the Guadalupe festival.
Wining, Dining and Dancing in Farewell
19 November 2010 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
Whenever volunteers leave the Mission Clinic there's a farewell party for them. Now it was our turn. Platters of local specialties (most of them carbohydrates of one form or another) were delivered to the verandah of the Residence and a grateful patient provided a case of red wine. After Padre Jorge thanked our team for their service, we wined and dined and celebrated together.
Photo: a sumptuous meal prepared for our farewell party
Problems and Progress with Third World Medicine
18 November 2010 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
For several months now, Padre Jorge has been struggling with Customs to release medical supplies shipped to Ecuador from various foreign donors, but the bureaucrats are not budging. There are reasons, of course, such as political power struggles involving church and state and protectionism and a newly elected regime, etc., but the bottom line is that over 150 boxes of supplies are sitting in a warehouse in Guayaquil collecting dust while they are urgently needed at the clinic. Now they are even asking for exorbitant storage fees! A hired lawyer has racked up over $1,000 in fees but so far the prospect of getting the supplies released is looking very dismal.
Luckily the situation has not affected us, as our team had no problem bringing enough meds and anesthesia supplies with them for our needs.
Yesterday we saw a very distressing case. A young man, 16, came to the
clinic with a hugely swollen cheek. A benign but deadly tumor was diagnosed at a cancer center in Ecuador two years ago and has now grown so large that it´s barely operable, certainly not here. His sister claims he was sent home to die, not having the means to pay for surgery, supposedly $14,000 (imagine what it would cost in the States!). Hard to believe that he wasn't referred to a university hospital in Ecuador for pro bono treatment. The clinic staff is now trying to pull strings on his behalf, and a letter has been sent to the Vice President of Ecuador. An internist from Yale is here right now and will also see what he can do. He is one of the founders and chief fundraisers of the clinic who we met several years ago in Connecticut.
By the end of the week Burger, Stefanie, and Matthias will have seen 600 patients and performed well over 100 ENT surgeries during our month here. The word has spread that he has added cleft lip and palate repair to his repertoire, and I've witnessed several little children miraculously transformed from severely disfigured to almost normal appearance in just an hour or two of surgery. Initial cleft lip repair can be performed on infants as young as ten weeks, yet it is not unusual for four year olds and older to show up here with no previous treatment.
Tomorrow is our final day here, and it has been a very rewarding experience to say the least. We look forward to returning again next year.
Photo: Burger and his 2010 ENT team, from left Amanda, Nancy, Burger, Stefanie, Matthias, Hannelore, Fritz, and Bianca
Recharging Our Batteries at Copalinga
14 November 2010 | Copalinga Ecolodge, Podocarpus National Park
We were so delighted by our stay at the ecolodge Copalinga last weekend that we wanted to share it with the other volunteers at the clinic. So I made the arrangements and on Friday afternoon the whole gang, eleven of us, piled into three taxis and off we went, arriving just in time for cocktails and dinner. The owner Catherine was so pleased by all the business we brought them that Burger and my bar bill was on the house.
On Saturday everyone set off with their lunch packets and went hiking in Podocarpus National Park or on the steep mountain trails behind the lodge. Later we returned to the verandah for bird watching. A British couple was at the lodge too, together with their guide and driver. They came with a van full of professional equipment to photograph birds for their business, www.worldwildimages.com.
We celebrated Stefanie's birthday on Saturday night with a beautiful cake made by a baker in nearby Zamorra. The cake exceeded the high standards of the volunteers, who are all from Germany or Switzerland except for me.
By all accounts the weekend was a smashing success, bringing us closer together as a group and refreshing us for the coming week, our last one here. Now we're back in Guadalupe and preparing a special dinner in honor of Regula's birthday which is today. Burger's baking an Austrian Sache Torte from a chocolate cake mix I brought along. Regula is a dental hygienist from Zurich and she kindly cleaned our teeth last week.
Photo: Dinner at Copalinga. From left: Jeanine, Tanja, Regula, Steffi, Burger
Big Brother Is Watching You
12 November 2010 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
I added a counter to our Sailblogs last week to see how large our "readership" is. Many more than I thought, as it turns out! Over thirty people visit our blog on average per day. And the counter gives all sorts of tracking data. Folks are signing on from all over the world, in Europe, Asia, India, Australia, etc. If you're interested to see what the counter reveals about you, scroll down and click on Sitemeter on the right hand side of the blog page.
Photo: Pepe and his band entertaining us at the nuns' party
Hopping Frogs and Dancing Nuns
12 November 2010 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
In a village not far from Guadalupe, frogs are farmed for export to Chinese restaurants in the US and elsewhere. I always wanted to try them, so I arramged a frog dinner yesterday, for those brave enough to try them. For the others there was tilapia, also raised locally. The frogs and fish were delivered live, and the two Columbian cooks were up to the task of preparing them. "Tastes just like chicken," was the majority opinion of the frogs.
No sooner had we finished our meal than we were invited to a party by the nuns, in honor of two people who were leaving today. These nuns sure know how to party! We started out with a champagne toast, and everyone ran around clinking glasses with one another. One of the cooks taught us a special Columbian toast. Cake was served while a trio serenaded us, led by Pepe, the Mission's handyman, who later served as disc jockey.
When the salsa music started the nuns and the cooks were the first on the dance floor, and wow, could they dance! Short, stout and in her sixties, the head nun stole the show and outdanced everyone, and gave some lessons. Padre George also proved himself very adept. By the time the party broke up after 10 pm we were all drenched in sweat. We headed to our rooms for hot showers and a good night's sleep.
A Day in Our Life at the Mission Clinic
10 November 2010 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
After eight years of retirement it's odd to be back to a Monday-Friday routine, though just for a short time. Burger and I usually start the day at first light (around 6 am) and make ourselves breakfast in the community kitchen. We eat outside on the large veranda, trying to identify the many birds fluttering among the trees. Though it gets pretty hot and humid during the daytime, it cools off at night and the mornings are lovely.
Most mornings we take a brisk walk along one of the several paths that skirts the river or climbs into the foothills. Then it's back to the Residence for a quick shower and change into hospital scrubs, our uniforms at the clinic. Work begins at 8 am, and there's usually a long line of patients waiting to sign in. Some of them travel for many hours by bus to get here, sometimes sleeping outside the clinic at night.
This is Burger's ninth visit to Guadalupe since 2004, and he's developed a reputation that brings patients from many miles around. He's busy with surgery all day, seeing preop and postop patients between cases, which range from rhinoplasties to ear surgery to cleft palate repair. He has an "apprentice" this year, Stefanie, a senior ENT resident from Germany who's eager to learn as much as she can from "the boss."
My job is to assist Matthias, another ENT doc from Germany, who sees patients and fits hearing aids. I greet the patients, enter diagnosis and treatment data into the computer, and help out wherever I'm needed. Originally from East Germany, Matthias' second language is Russian, not English. So I translate from German to English for Amanda, the American nurse in charge of the clinic. Amanda in turn translates from English to Spanish for the patients. Our three-way communication may sound a bit complicated but it actually works quite smoothly. Amanda and I, being the only two Americans here, have struck up a friendship and enjoy chatting over coffee whenever there's a moment's lull. She's been working here full time for a number of years now.
At noon we all take a break and walk over to the nunnery, where cooks from Columbia prepare and serve our meals. The food is good and ample, and we all share with the washing up afterwards. Then it's back to work till dinner at six. Sometimes we're done early enough for sundowners on the veranda. After dinner we usually take a stroll across the hanging bridge to the village, where small shops are open till eight and children and dogs are out playing in the cool of evening. Everyone greets us warmly, recognizing Burger from his years of service here. Then it's back to the residence to socialize a bit or watch a movie before turning in for the night. Our room is very comfortable with private bath and beautiful views overlooking the green valley and surrounding high mountains.
Photo: farewell party for some of the volunteers on the verandah
Weekend Getaway Part III: Sunday Market in Zamorra
07 November 2010 | Zamorra, Ecuador
Next morning after a sumptuous breakfast, we checked out and made our way to the Sunday market in Zamorra, a small town on the way back to Guadalupe. There we bought fresh shrimp and wine for Sunday night dinner with the other volunteers. We caught a bus that returned us to Guadalupe, refreshed and ready for the next week.
A new couple has just arrived from Germany, an anesthesiologist and his wife, an anesthesia nurse, who will be working together with Burger in surgery for the next two weeks.
Time is flying, hard to believe that we're already at the midway point of our month here. I now have an incentive to learn more Spanish, since from now on I'll be accompanying Burger here.
Photo: fresh chicken at the Zamorra Sunday Market
Weekend Getaway, Part II: Birders and Butterfly Hunters
07 November 2010 | Copalinga Ecolodge, Podocarpus National Park
We checked out after breakfast and took a taxi to another hotel that was close to the entrance to the Podocarpus National Park, a tropical cloud forest at 3,000 feet. This time we were in luck! Copalinga is a very special place. Run by a Belgian couple, it's an ecolodge attracts birders and other eco-tourists (www.copalinga.com). We were shown to a luxury cabin ($45/night) with a balcony that looked out on our own private garden, with bird of paradise and hisbiscus attracting all kinds of humming birds, tanagers and other exotic birds. We were given a box lunch and took off for the Park, where we hiked up and down trails to a waterfall and ate lunch sitting on boulders that overlooked a rushing river.
We returned late afternoon to a hot shower and a nap, then joined the other guests on the veranda for a three course gourmet dinner ($12 pp). It was a lovely evening, chatting with two friendly American couples who were there collecting butterflies for the University of Michigan.
Weekend Getaway, Part I: From Bad to Worse
07 November 2010 | Zamorra, Ecuador
After a busy week at the clinic, we took off on Friday afternoon for a little tete-a-tete weekend. But things got off to a bad start: We hitchhiked the first part of the way to our hotel, then caught a bus for the second part. We were in such a hurry to exit the car for the waiting bus that I forgot my belly-bag, full of cash, credit cards, camera, etc., in the car. Oh no, and we didn't know the man's name! But we had mentioned to him the name of the hotel we were headed for. Would he notice the bag in his back seat and return it to us? Or should I cancel my credit cards? But first we had to get to the hotel.
What a disappointment! The hotel was supposed to be the nicest around, with a swimming pool and good restaurant. But it was located just up a hill from the main road, noisy with traffic, and the swimming pool was tiny and uninviting. Our room was hot, the shower was cold, and every little move caused the bed to squeak horribly. The restaurant food was poor and they didn't even have any beer or coca cola.
But then our luck turned, at least in part. My belly-bag was returned to me by the kind man who had given us a ride. The hot water in our shower was fixed. We had a good night sleep, but were rudely awakened at 6:30 am by an extremely loud machine on the property, possibly a wood chipper. What were they thinking?!
Thoroughly awake, we made our way to breakfast and I asked for café con leche. Guests at a nearby table were drinking coffee but mine didn't come and didn't come, though breakfast was served. I asked the waiter what was the problem, and he said they were still getting the milk. Just then a dozen or so cows came down a path and disappeared behind the restaurant kitchen. Shortly thereafter my coffee and milk finally arrived ...
Landmines and Hostile Indians
03 November 2010 | Nagariza River, Ecuador
"Peligro, Explosives!" read the sign, with a skull and crossbones added for good measure to alert us of the danger ahead. We had reached the Peruvian border, where landmines remain from from a border skirmish that took place here 15 years ago.
On Friday evening after a long day at the clinic, five of us piled into a taxi-van for an arduous three-hour drive along rough, unpaved winding roads. Upon arrival at a rustic little hotel, we stumbled out and were shown to our cabins. After checking all around and under the bed for tarantulas and other creepy-crawlies, we dove under the mosquito net for a good night´s sleep, disturbed only by the hoarse crows of a rooster at 4 am.
After a breakfast of yogurt and fresh fruit (locally grown mangoes, pineapple and bananas), we walked down to the river bank and climbed into a 30+ foot long metal canoe for the trip up the Nagariza River. The water was so shallow in places that we had to get out and walk while the three member crew dragged the boat over the rocks. At other times we motored against strong whitewater current, narrowly avoiding boulders and logs. We passed through a beautiful green gorge and past Shuar Indian villages to a landing where we scrambled up the bank and had lunch. Then we hiked for about an hour up a trail through dense jungle that brought us to a narrow passage with steep rocky walls called the "Mil de Illusiones" (our guide didn't know why it was called that) near the Peruvian border.
On the return ride down river we stopped to visit a Shuar village, and were ushered inside a large thatched roof hut by a bare-chested man wearing a jaguar tooth on a cord around his neck. Several people stood around the room while a young man lay on the floor. "Is he ill?¨" Burger asked politely, and got a lecture in reply: the problem was spiritual, we were told, and the Shaman uses traditional methods of healing. The villagers don't want modern medicine or interference into their affairs. We all felt a little threatened by an atmosphere of hostility toward us, so we signed the guestbook, bought a few bead necklaces, and quickly took our leave. It was a quick trip back to our hotel for hot showers, cold beer, dinner and a relaxing evening on the verandah. We returned next day to Guadalupe, refreshed and ready for a second busy week.
Happy Birthday, Schatzi!
27 October 2010 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
Happy Birthday to my Schatzi, celebrating his birthday together here in Guadalupe, Ecuador today. The nuns decorated the dining room with balloons, flowers, cake and candles, and sang Happy Birthday in Spanish.
Arriving in Guadalupe
26 October 2010 | Guadalupe, Ecuador
For the first time, I accompanied Burger to the Mission Clinic in southern Ecuador where he's been doing an annual month of ENT volunteer work for several years now. His reputation is well established and over 70 patients were waiting to see him his first day, resulting in a full surgery schedule for the next few days. Having been his practice manager for years, I've been put to work greeting patients and entering data. It's an adjustment going back to work after eight years of retirement!
You can see photos of the clinic and our life here at www.guadalupe-ec.org.
It's a two day journey just to get here: we flew from Albuquerque to Quito on Saturday. Early next morning we took a spectacular hour's flight from Quito to Loja, with the peaks of the highest Andes mountains sticking out from the cloud cover below us. Then a three hour taxi ride, squashed together with three other volunteers and all our baggage, along winding mountainous roads to the remote, tiny village of Guadalupe.
It's very beautiful here in the jungly foothills of the Andes mountains (elevation 1500 ft), and we're enjoying warm but not hot days and cool nights. I can hear horses neighing and roosters crowing as I write this.