Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Surfrider Foundation, Poseidon Resources Battle for Best Desalination Plant proposal

Tod Muilenburg remembers there used to be plenty more local marine life when he was in high school in the ‘80s than there is today. Muilenburg, who loves to scuba dive, is a long-time Carlsbad resident who teaches college preparation marine science at Carlsbad High School, in Carlsbad, Calif.

He has heard, over the years, and lately, about a company called Poseidon Resources dueling with a national non-profit environmental group called Surfrider Foundation. Muilenburg, who knows all about marine organisms, thinks it is sad, along with the “old-timers” who love the ocean, that marine life at Tamarack Beach is almost non-existent. Tamarack Beach is a popular surf break in Carlsbad.

There has been much ado about numerous things within the environmental world of surfing in San Diego County as of recently, regarding a desalination proposal by Poseidon Resources that Surfrider Foundation is not happy with.

On Wednesday April 8 at 9 a.m. a Surfrider representative attended a San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting to hear what Poseidon representatives had to say. Poseidon had to attend because it had to prove, from a 2006 permit condition of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES), that it followed guidelines of that condition – the condition was to allow Poseidon to better detail impacts on marine life.

Desalination, simply put, is the removal of salt from ocean water for drinking purposes. A Carlsbad power plant (a.k.a. desalinization plant, a.k.a. the Encinas Power Generation Station, a.k.a. the Encinas Power Plant) already exists. According to Poseidon representative Scott Maloni, the power plant is over 40-years-old and only has two of its five generators working. He says that these two working generators only use 60 percent of seawater to be turned into drinking water. This plant is also killing marine life, so Poseidon wants to use a vacant four acre spot of land nearby the Carlsbad power plant to create its own miniature desalination plant.

Surfrider Foundation’s main contingency with Poseidon is that Poseidon will actually increase marine mortality if its proposed plant is approved, more so than the already-existing old plant.

“Prolonging life of the (current) power-plant is killing marine life,” Maloni says. “If you peel back the onion, (Surfrider) will admit that … the project itself is not harmful environmentally. They are concerned about the precedent of future plants. They are worried about this being the first of many, even if public policy is on their side.”

This is true. According to a March 30 e-mail sent to members by Bill Hickman, the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego Chapter Coordinator, “The Surfrider Foundation and our partners in the environmental community advocate for establishing proper standards for these facilities … for the first desalinization project in Carlsbad. The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board will be making a very important decision in early April regarding requirements of an ocean desalinization facility – which will likely set precedent statewide.”

The e-mail also states that Poseidon is not taking the best design, location, and choice of technology into account.

The issue gets fishy, though, when you consider that Poseidon sometimes contradicts what it says. For example, “Our concept is that the power plant in Carlsbad uses 600 million gallons of water a day,” Maloni says. “Our desal plant will tap into the discharge. We take the plant’s discharge and turn it into drinking water. We have no marine life impact. The power plant takes in the water, not us … ”

Maloni says once Poseidon’s plan is approved, the second power plant will work in conjunction with the over 40-year-old semi-operable Carlsbad desalinization plant, and will cause environmental impact.

In Maloni’s first interview, while talking quickly, he says Poseidon will use the two newer generators, which will have 600 millions of gallons of water a day passing through them. Yet, he says the power plant uses only about 275 millions of gallons of water a day. Does that mean if Poseidon’s plan is approved, they will have 600 millions of gallons a day of ocean water being sucked through? Yet in the second interview, he says Poseidon is only required, by the NPDES permit, to use 304 millions of gallons of water a day.

Surfrider wants zero marine life mortality. Poseidon will create marine life impact, but will create a 55.4 acre site of wetlands to offset its impact with its proposed power plant that will suck in marine organisms.

“We are required to offset all the water we use, which has impact, by creating the 55.4 acres – mitigation acreage” Maloni says. “But if we’re flowing more water than the (current) power plant, the impact is our impact. But if we flow less water than the (current) power plant, it is their impact. It takes two gallons of water to make one gallon of drinking water.”

How does marine life get killed during the desalination process?

One way marine organisms get killed is by having the water salinity, which is the salt content, level too high, according to Muilenburg. He feels that if Poseidon’s plan were to be approved, and if Poseidon were to increase the salinity level of the ocean while it discharges the second, unusable gallon, it probably won’t affect humans. Yet, Muilenburg is quick to relay his environmental concern.

“Critters live in there, but will the local marine life notice it? Maybe, if the salinity is slightly higher.”

According to a PDF titled Flow, Entrainment and Impingement Minimization Plan, which was shown to the decision-makers of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board by Poseidon,
“… the proposed desalinization plant operation would cause a de minimis increase in impingement and entrainment of marine organisms.”

Maloni says “Impingement is when larger fish are pressed up against the screen and they can’t get off the screen. Entrainment occurs when micro-organisms get sucked into the screen and die because of the turbulence. How do we offset the impact of marine life? By the mitigation acreage.”

Surfrider representative Jared Criscuolo, who attended the April 8 meeting, was not available for comment.

According to the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego chapter Web site:
“Surfrider filed suit against the California Coastal Commission (CCC) [in 2008] for inappropriately granting a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) to Poseidon Resources for its proposed Carlsbad desalination facility. The lawsuit alleges the CCC acted prematurely, without fully understanding the environmental impacts of the project or how such impacts would ultimately be mitigated.

“Because Poseidon seeks to take advantage of highly damaging seawater intake infrastructure currently being used by the Encina Power Plant, and the power plant is in the process of abandoning the intake technology altogether, Surfrider's suit seeks to force Poseidon to assess the impacts of its facility as a ‘stand-alone’ project.”

Environmental watchdogs, like Muilenburg, may have to contend with Surfrider Foundation. Even Maloni admits that Poseidon will be working with the owners of the old Carlsbad power plant, although he guess the plant will be decommissioned in about 15 or 20 years. It may be as if Poseidon really hasn’t thought about the best way to reduce impact, if they want to continue using only two-fifths of an already decrepit power plant.

Maloni says the hearing went well. He says the staff of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board “had argued we needed double the mitigation acreage.”

However, he says the directors – the decision makers – agreed with Poseidon.
“We accept they will approve the minimization plan,” he says. “We think we’ve clearly demonstrated that 55.4 acres is sufficient.”

Sometime in May the San Diego Regional Water Quality Board will decide if Poseidon followed the NPDES permit satisfactorily. Until then, Surfrider Foundation will have to hold its breath and hope that Poseidon’s plan – any part of it – will not be approved.

Update: Poseidon Resources did receive an OK to build a new plant in Carlsbad.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Students and Educators Feel Constraints of Budget Cuts; Stress to Continue for a Year

Here is a brand new article I wrote for an assignment. I really think it showcases some statistical and human viewpoints about the budget cuts affecting educators and students in the state of California. Of course this isn't all inclusive, but I hope you learn something from this. It seems as if every time I read something about budget cuts, no matter how many words my eyes skim over, no one really tells you anything. All people say is that our state is experiencing financial stress. Well why? No one asks this simple, important question. Enjoy!

Campus springs to life with the hubbub of students walking quickly to class. Thousands of students circle the campus parking lots like bees swarming a bee-hive, hungry for honey: a parking spot. Others park in residential neighborhoods and walk 15 or 20 minutes to campus, oftentimes sweating in the profusely hot Fullerton sun.

Commutes are long. Tensions are high. Homework is due. Buildings are hot. Too hot. Air conditioning seemingly hasn’t been felt in any classroom. Pocket books have been hurt. As students registered in the summer for the fall 2009 semester, sighs of relief were passed as they signed up for the classes they needed, yet surprised at the new tuition increase. Others, like seniors, couldn’t get every class they need to graduate.

As tuition rates increased in the beginning of the fall 2009 semester by $300, as teachers received a 10 percent pay cut, and as both students and professors deal with furlough days, school days are starting to exhaust educators and those being educated.

“(The administration) will say things like ‘It’s hard, but we need to educate our 35,000 students and not compromise on quality,’” said a CSUF professor who wishes to remain anonymous. “Well, quality is compromised. They can pretend, but it’s compromised. My students aren’t getting what they should be getting from me.”

When students registered in the summer for their fall 2009 semester classes at California State University, Fullerton, tuition rates increased by $300, to much surprise. Tina Ho, a senior, feels outraged by everything that has occurred this current semester, especially the tuition fees and the new 2% charge to pay for tuition with a Visa card online.

“How absolutely insane is that?!” Ho said. “I mean, knowing that most students will have to charge some fees on their credit cards…and knowing that that is the most used (payment method) and to charge you interest on top of interest you already have to pay… things like that absolutely drive me up the wall.”

The Board of Trustees voted for the $300 tuition increase. This increase has often left students scrambling to find this extra money. Ho was laid off from her job last month, but luckily she has financial aid. The financial aid covers her tuition, but not the price of textbooks.

“So when tuition first increased I was quite worried,” Ho said. “$300 isn’t a small amount for students.”

Fortunately, since Ho is a senior, she did not have any trouble registering for classes, but this isn’t the case with all students statewide.

Farrah Beattie, 25, is a student at Palomar Community College in San Marcos, California – a school that teaches more students than CSUF, in a much smaller physical campus. Beattie has been at Palomar for seven years, only taking one or two classes per semester. When registering for this fall semester, she couldn’t get an important math class she needs for her major. Rather, she must take the class in the spring, thus postponing her more.

“I had tried to crash the class on two separate days, both of those I sat in the very front, crowded at a table. The head count was around 47. There seemed to be a universal stink-eye staring at me the whole class time. As class ended, students were mockingly wishing me good luck with crashing.” Beattie was tenth on the waitlist and didn’t get in to Math 205.

Beattie feels, just as CSUF students feel, that Palomar is too crowded. She feels that incoming freshmen should not have priority over her. And, since Palomar lets anyone in, she feels that the school officials should start requiring an admission essay to be written, to weed out the serious students from the lazy ones, just like UC and CSU schools require.

While overcrowding is a concern at CSUF, there is a reason why. This semester is different from previous semesters because the CSU system, which is headed by the chancellor, has set an enrollment cap. Students, especially seniors, cannot get the one last class they need. The CSUF professor who wishes to remain anonymous has said that:

“We get funding from the state based on enrollment. It’s based on bodies in chairs. And if we go over the target, the state has set for us…we actually lose money. So the school is trying to hit a very specific target. If we go over, we can’t afford to lose any money right now. I’ve got classes of 45, but the classroom can seat 55.”

Students can only take 16 units maximum; if they’d like to take more, they must petition the school and even then, students might not be allowed to take more units.

This enrollment cap and unit cap set by the CSU system goes hand-in-hand with furlough days. A furlough is a leave of absence. The anonymous professor loves teaching, but feels that extra students equates to extra work, so she is relieved there is a cap. However, although she teaches 45 students, rather than the 55 maximum for each class, she and all CSUF professors and staff employees deal with furlough days.

Everyone received a 10 percent pay cut in lieu of being laid off, and this means that professors have 90 percent of the time to grade papers, prepare lectures, and conduct research, with 90 percent of pay. Aside from four furlough days which occurred campus-wide in mid-October 2009, each professor at CSUF has selected his or her own furlough days on top of the school-wide furlough in October. When school isn’t in session as much, professors fall behind in the curriculum.

Everything is interrelated in this budget-crisis era. Enrollment caps are set. Professors and faculty are furloughed. Work must be completed in less time. Waitlists are set. The computer takes care of the waitlist/enrollment process, which eliminates human workers.

Chuck Marchese, a Regional Field Representative for the California Faculty Association agrees that students and professors at CSU schools have felt this impact. He listens to faculty grievances, works with faculty members to fight the budget cuts, organizes student protests and helps with lobbying the California government on behalf of the Cal State University system, among other tasks.

Fewer students were admitted to the CSU system, there are fewer class and course offerings available, it will likely take students longer to graduate and student fees continue to rise,” Marchese said. “Because of the furloughs, faculty will receive almost 10 percent less in salary for the year, plus they did not receive the salary increases they were entitled to last year. For a variety of reasons, e.g. increase in class sizes because of fewer course offerings, most faculty actually had an increase in workload coupled with a reduction in pay."

So why has the Board of Trustees set a very specific enrollment cap and why are faculty furloughed? To save money. But, before this crisis-semester, for the school year of 2008-2009, all 23 CSU campuses received about $2,970,706,000. The 2009-2010 budget allocation from the state to be given to the CSU system was supposed to be $3,271,876,000 – to be split amongst all campuses. Rounding down, this $3 billion dollar amount is stated in a PDF from the System Budget Office of the CSU system, written March 5, 2009. However, at the start of this fall 2009 semester, the entire CSU budget was slashed by $571 million. The California legislature committed the slashing.

When students registered for classes in the summer, they did not have any idea why the tuition increased; meanwhile budget cuts were being discussed in Sacramento.

A revised PDF dated July 31, 2009 from the System Budget Office states that: “On July 28, 2009, the Governor signed budget bill ABX4_1 from the Legislature’s Fourth Extraordinary Session that amends and supplements the Budget Act of 2009 to close the additional state budget shortfall. As a result, CSU incurs a $571 million General Fund budget reduction in 2009/2010.”

The amount in the March 5, 2009 PDF is $3,271,876,000. This amount minus $571 million equals $2,700,876,000 (about $2.7 billion) to be split amongst all 23 CSU campuses. The July 31, 2009 PDF says the 2009 to 2010 (fall 2009 semester to spring 2010 semester) amount to be given to the CSU system after the assembly bill was signed into law is to be $2,337,951,649 ($2.3 billion). Adjustments were made in the newer PDF, but $2.3 billion isn’t much to be spread to all 23 campuses.

One of the reasons tuition increased is because it costs money to run each campus. Professors and staff must be paid. Buildings must be maintained. But just how much does it cost to run each campus? No one seems to know, as it depends on campus size and number of students. However, the March 5, 2009 PDF states this:

“Mandatory costs are expenditure obligations the university must pay whether or not funding is received from the state or from student fee revenue. Mandatory cost obligations were identified in the CSU 2009/2010 budget plan that was adopted by the CSU Board of Trustees at its November 2008 meeting and include increases in employer-paid health benefits, dental benefits, and energy costs (and) the 2009/2010 faculty Post-Promotion Increase program…”

There are several things the Board of Trustees has tried to do to save itself from more debt, such as tuition increases, furlough days, and ten percent pay cuts all across campuses. What does Marchese feel the Board of Trustees should do to improve the situation?

The Board Of Trustees needs to aggressively lobby the legislature and Governor for adequate funding, support revenue bills such as assembly bill 656 which will generate approximately $1 billion a year funding for higher education, and open the books of their campus auxiliary funds which likely contain monies that can be used for restoring classes,” he said.

And how are the Board of Trustees actions affecting professors?

“I don’t know my students as well as I’d like to because usually I have fewer classes” said the CSUF professor. “I think it’s important to know your students. And I really like my colleagues here. They’re really nice and they’ve been really supportive. But morale is low.”

Tina Ho feels like morale is low for students, too.

“Is there even any morale left?” Ho said. “Honestly, we are students, and last time I checked, being a student means we don’t have much money…” Ho also mentioned that she’s very upset that parking permits now cost so much more than they did a year ago. Permits are now $162, versus $144 a year ago. Although CSUF is in debt, is it ethical for the people in charge to increase the price of permits, knowing there are not any more available spaces?

“It makes me angry just thinking about it,” Ho said. “I think it’s unfair and the biggest rip-off. I don’t even understand it.”

Students aren’t the only confused ones. Professors are given different, changing answers.

The anonymous professor said that she is upset because everyone received a 10 percent pay cut. She would have preferred that the top administration people who make hundreds of thousands a year to perhaps have received a 15 percent pay cut, and the bottom administration workers should have received perhaps only five percent pay cut. However, a discussion wasn’t allowed, and everyone received the same 10 percent pay cut.

The average administration worker working on campus received a pay cut and works fewer days. There is only 90 percent of the time to complete important paperwork – amongst paperwork pertaining to everything students do.

By voting for governor, lieutenant governor, and the superintendent of public instruction, voters vote for these candidates as Board of Trustees members, according to “Politics and Government in California.” The governor also appoints other members, so the public does not have a say in who gets chosen. The Board of Trustees lobbies to the California legislature, but since the public doesn’t really know who many members are, students have to contend with their decisions.

Professors expect furloughs to occur for the next two or three years, although they only know that the spring 2010 semester will in fact be another semester full of furlough days and enrollment caps, according to the CSUF professor. And what are Marchese’s thoughts? He said that furloughs technically end in June 2010 but are contingent upon agreements between the CSU (i.e. Chancellor and his staff) and the California Faculty Association.

Technically the furlough agreement that was negotiated between the CSU and CFA expires at the end of June…” Marchese said. “Any and all matters related to terms and conditions of work, including for example furloughs, are subject to bargaining between the CSU and CFA.”

Although morale is low overall, advisors and counselors do their best to give students correct answers regarding reaching graduation goals. Professors really do love helping students and do care.

“I still really enjoy working with students and helping them when I can” said the CSUF professor. “And I really like what the Cal State System is supposed to be. Which they’re (the government) slowly destroying. But it’s supposed to make higher education accessible to folks who otherwise might not be able to go to school. It’s just supposed to create a solid, educated workforce for the state, which is important. And I really like the idea of being a part of that…Education is really important. It’s (still) a great investment.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

10 ways to help our oceans

Here are ten tips, verbatum, from a Surfrider Foundation brochure, that I think are just wonderful! We should all conserve in any way possible.

1. Pick up your pet's wastes. Pet waste that reaches the ocean can make both people and marine life sick!

2. Conserve energy. Switching to energy-efficient light bulbs and other energy saving activities helps to slow climate change. Global warming will have dramatic impacts on our coastlines.

3. Hold on to your butt. ...Make sure you dispose of your used cigarrettes in a proper waste container. Cigarette butts are the number one litter component found on the beach!

4. Don't hose down your driveways. Not only does this waste water, it causes oils and other pollutants to end up in our oceans. Use a broom and dust pan instead.

5. Use native or climate-adapted plants in your garden.

6. Always dispose of used motor-oil properly. Never dump oil in a storm drain or field. Instead, take it to a gas station or approved collect area for recycling.

7. When you go to the beach, make sure you not only pick up your trash, try and pick up at least one piece of somebody else's trash.

8. Cut back on your use of fertilizers. Excess fertilizers that make it into our waterways can cause harmful plankton blooms that can harm fish, marine mammals and other sea life.

9. Avoid using single-use plastic bottles and bags. These ... plastics often end up on our beaches and in our oceans, where they harm birds, sea turtles and other marine life. Instead, use refillable bottles and reusable bags and containers.

10. Join the Surfrider Foundation! (You don't have to, but this was on the brochure)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

CSU Budget Crisis

Ok, so I attend a Cal State University school. A school that is in deep financial distress. This semester is unlike any other semester. Furlough days have been introduced. (I admit, I had to look up the actual meaning of 'furlough' - It means a temporary leave of absence.)

Student fees/tuition have just increased by a total of $300. On the first day of school, all my professors discussed that there would be certain days we'd have no classes. They would get a 10% pay cut, hence the reason why they will not come to work (the classroom) or be checking e-mails from students, etc. They will be doing zero work. This makes complete sense. Why work when they won't be getting paid for the days they have to miss?

Thinking that this is a bad situation (because every professor in the school is getting a 10% pay cut), one of my professors pointed out another issue. The professors already voted against tuition increases, but the tuition increases occurred anyway. But, if it weren't for every professor taking furlough days, the tuition increase rates would have been even more, according to one of my professors.

When I heard this, I thought to myself: What wonderful professors I have. What wonderful professors my school has. They are little fish in a big pond fighting for even littler fish: their students. When I heard this, I really, really admired the professors. I had no idea the CSU budget crisis and the state budget deficit hit home incredibly hard until a few days ago.

The budget crisis directly affects students, including myself. For example, the website of my school frequently doesn't work when I'm trying to pay fees, etc. Hence the reason why I've always paid fees in person (yet ironically, a big sign hovers over the students on a big window, urging us to 'Pay Online'... ah, if only technology worked all the time...)

Certain buttons like "submit" or "next" didn't work yesterday. Hence the need for IT, internet-savvy people. We cannot get rid of the IT people! We can't!

Oh, and the biggest downfall of all is that wait-lists have become obsolete (as far as I know) - in the past, when there have been physical spaces available in classes, and an enrolled person didn't show up the first week of school, they were dropped, and a permission code was given to person 1 and 2, etc, on the waitlist.

Furthermore, I have heard that enrollment will be down in the spring. This means that the school will probably accept fewer students.

And, students can only take 16 units or fewer per semester. What about the students who need to finish school asap and who want to take 17 units? Oh, well.

(There is an option, but that includes petitioning the school:

"If the student is a candidate for graduation for the fall 2009 term:
  1. The student must speak to their dept. advisor and get signature approval of the excess units on the excess unit request form. The form is available in ** (classroom # deleted)
  2. Attach a letter to the form explaining the situation and a copy of the [transcripts] confirming that this is the remaining outstanding requirement for graduation.
  3. The excess unit forms will be reviewed for possible processing for confirmed fall 2009 candidates if the approved excess units will complete the final course requirements for graduation. All of this is subject to Academic Affairs approval of processing any of the excess unit forms.

If the above supporting documentation is not attached, the excess unit request will not be considered."

After reading this e-mail, I just knew that after doing this work, it is probably unlikely that a signature will be garnered from an advisor, and that it will also be approved by the academic affairs entity...What is a student to do? The staff also have to take furlough days, and staff hours were already drastically reduced last semester.

Now, the professors say they have no control over the system (i.e. the all-powerful computer and the all-powerful school).

Apparently, the chancellor of the entire CSU and the Board of Trustees is responsible for this. Now, I wonder: According to, my school has about 37,130 students. Multiply 37,130 x $2,046 (new cost of tuition, excluding books, health fees, etc.) = $75,967,980.

Where the heck is this $75 million-plus going??? Why isn't this $75 million-plus money applied to the CSU financial crisis to drastically reduce the debt? And just think: there are 23 CSU campuses.

Something is severely wrong here: Where is all this money going?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Here is a post from another blog of mine: It's a water blog from a site called (and it's a wonderful site):

It seems as if most people would be able to understand that golf courses take a lot of water to keep the grass perfectly green.

But does anyone ever wonder, at least in Southern California, why our desert/Mediterranean landscapes are degraded and built over by contractors from who-knows-where?

I think it's funny how the natural landscapes are intercut with roads that are so-called "shortcuts." But then the shortcuts are intercut with other "shortcuts" and then the result is a stoplight every 20 feet. (Stop lights that, by the way, only stay green long enough to let one car go through.) Medians on the roads are created and planted with beautiul, tall mixes of trees and plants. Trees that sometimes look like they don't belong. Trees that look forest-y. Trees that are brought in from somewhere else to replace the trees that were just cut down.

Nature is demolished, and in turn, to compensate for the fact that buildings are built over the land, landscapers are hired to plant plants around the buildings. Plants that are too manicured-looking. Plants that don't go with the landscape. Plants that might not be drought-tolerant.

Southern California has an arid/semi-desert environment and it is NOT normal to bring in plant life that isn't from here. Plants that require less water/maintenance is a must. Does anyone care?

Why does every city in SoCal let developers come in and completely degrade nature?? Places where I took child-hood and teen walks are no more.

It is quite sad how SoCal is a concrete jungle. Does anyone care? Does anyone care enough to attend a city council meeting, or e-mail a city councilman?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ecuadorian Adventures

Recently, I was in Ecuador for a very short time for certain reasons. Traveling to Ecuador for the first time was also the first time I had traveled to Latin America. It was a beautiful, poor country with incredibly friendly people. I did see a total of three gringos when I was there - a couple, and another lone traveler. But people there were very nice to me. Little kids would run up to me and ask me (of course in Spanish), "What is your name? Where are you from?" They were so adorable!

I stayed in a friend's husband's family's home. Most people there have store fronts attached to their homes, where bottled water, shampoo, soap, and some food is sold. CVS Pharmacy does not exist there. No big box stores like Ralphs, Target, or Kohls exist. The only fast food restaurant I saw was KFC in the Quito airport. Whole chickens (feet and all) are brought into homes, and slaughtered pigs hang in certain places around the town square. Being a vegetarian, I tried not to look repulsed, while I secretly told the dead animals, "I'm sorry you're dead." The sanitary conditions of Ecuador are not anything like the U.S.

Outside of most houses I saw, cement water basins existed. I think they were an old-school version of modern-day water basins, as if this water was for a rainy day. I was lucky when I took a shower with hot water.

Laundry is done, probably once a week, by laundry service companies, and all clothes are usually washed by hand. Even women who have washing machines usually scrub the clothes with soap and a sturdy, whisk brush. Drying machines don't exist there. The clothes are all hung up to dry, on clothes lines, usually on top of roofs. When I saw the landscape littered with litter (in certain areas), and squished, poor homes huddled too close together, I also saw lots of color - from the clothes hanging on the rooftops. Lots of stray cows and stray dogs roam the streets. They are friendly, but it was evident that no veterinarian clinics exist. I kept seeing a black dog, with a white chest, that only used three of its four legs. It broke my heart!

Every car is little and every car is a manual. While certain congested city areas made me think of a Latin American New York City, I thought: these people have it right. No one cuts each other off without the other driver wanting to hurt them. Everyone uses the signals on their cars. Most roads don't even have lane lines painted on them, yet all the cars never once hit each other (at least, I didn't see any accidents). The cars came awfully close to each other, but never hit each other.

I heard that people in Italy drive frantically, yet their cars and mopeds always screech to a halt - people will not run red lights. I think plenty of accidents happen there, here in California, and everywhere on the roads, but it's nice to think that at least people don't run red lights in Italy and in Ecuador.

Wearing seat belts in Ecuador is not a law. Some cars have them. Some cars don't. Maybe seat belts aren't necessary, because, well, they figure out how to not crash into each other. It is not illegal to drink beer while drivers are driving or passengers are passengers in a moving car.
I was very grateful to return home, because seeing Ecuador reminded me of how lucky I am. Yet, I think we Americans can learn a few things by traveling to Ecuador, too, or at least traveling a bit away from home.