I owe you an explanation for my absence (and you’ll get WAY more details than you could ever want, don’t worry).
To summarize, here’s a map:
After my last final on December 20, I flew home to London for winter break. On January 2, I flew to DC for a huge astronomy conference. There, I presented my research as a poster, was judged by various graduate school representatives (some of whom tried to disguise the fact that they were representing graduate schools, some of whom said “you applied to our graduate program! tell me about your research.”) and asked Neil deGrasse Tyson a question. On January 10, I packed all my fancy conference clothes and my laptop into a little suitcase and dropped it off at the hotel reception, then slipped the luggage tags under my friend Eric ’14’s hotel room door. I slung a 60L hiking backpack onto my shoulders and flew to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
Theories about why I was in Ecuador? Study-abroad? Research? Definitely some kind of work, right, since all MIT students go crazy and do lots of work in exotic places during Independent Activities Period?
Nope. Believe it or not, I used IAP to go on a three-week vacation, as a celebration of all the stress of senior fall: graduate school applications, fellowship applications, classes, research, dorm government, job interviews. And believe it or not, restoring one’s sanity is a totally acceptable use of IAP! I turned my cell phone off, set up an auto-response on my e-mail account saying that I wouldn’t be checking it regularly, and peaced out with Raphael (who I met during my internship and who was also at the AAS conference) and Raphael’s friend CL.
Here’s the sequel map. The red dot in the north is Quito, the city we started and ended in. We first went south, then to the coast, then up the coast, then back to Quito. That spot all the way east is a lodge in the Amazon rainforest: we took a four day Amazon tour before flying out of Quito and returning to school.
Somewhere among all those little black arrows, I climbed to the top of a cathedral’s bell tower, hiked the full rim of a caldera (it took ~five hours), went ziplining through a cloud forest, rappelled down waterfalls, fell 40 feet screaming, went horseback riding, rode a lot of buses, learned un poco of Spanish, lay on the beach, stroked a baby caiman, took a lot of malaria pills, and woke up to the sound of a cacophony of howler monkeys.
I kept a journal during my travels (I knew that otherwise I would never be able to keep the details straight) so I’m going to transcribe it here and add context, pictures and videos. Brace yourselves!