Tuesday, September 29, 2009

a regular day

So the videos from Mindo are refusing to upload...great. I'm in the middle of a normal day- I had Conversation and Jewelry Making today. I have an exam tomorrow AND Thursday, and I'm working on a pair of earrings in my jewelry class. I'm getting ready to leave campus and go to the post office, find a coffee shop, get some coffee, go running, study for that exam with Amanda, and then am expecting a phone call from John. It's beautiful here- sunny and windy and warm and perfect. I missed home a lot this weekend, but of course I am glad to be here. Nothing really exciting to tell you today...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

mindo!

I've had a TON of homework this week...but finally: MINDO! Mindo is a rainforest/cloud forest about two hours by bus away from Quito, which made it an easy weekend trip. We got there Friday night and were immediately in awe: mountains covered in jungle on all sides, and the clouds were so low that they covered half of the mountains. Mindo is a tiny, sleepy little town with one main street and a plaza and lots of little hostels on the streets leading away from town. It was getting dark when we got there, so we wandered around trying to find our hotel...easier said than done, but we finally found El Descanso tucked into a little corner a couple blocks away from town. Our hotel owner, Rodney, was PRECIOUS (he gets a precious heart!) and has the cutest 6-year old boy named Ismael, and they came upstairs just to say goodnight to us. Awww.

Saturday morning we got woken up REAL early by a rooster (I was not happy). After we ate breakfast and watched the hummingbirds in the hotel garden, Rodney drew us a map to the waterfalls and the canopy tour and we headed out of town on foot. It was a 2km walk to the canopy tour, which was 10 different ziplines across the jungle. It was kind of terrifying but pretty cool...the view was BEAUTIFUL. Afterwards we walked another 3km uphill to the waterfalls. We had to ride this cable car thing way up in the air across a valley, and it was awesome! Then we decided to hike to Cascada Reina, only to get 25 minutes into the hike and realize the we chose the wrong one (we wanted one that was closer). So, we had to turn around...it was an intense hike, too: the path was literally only a couple feet wide and there was an immediate dropoff down the steep hill into the forest. Talk about scary. We finally got back to our starting point and found the other trail, and ended up getting to another waterfall in another 25 minutes or so. It was beautiful...you can go swimming and jumping off cliffs. Imagine: we were swimming (well, wading...it got really cold) by a waterfall, on a mountain, in a rainforest, and then it started raining...it was so so cool.

The hike and walk back to town was a long one...we walked 6 and a half miles, not including how far we hiked! We were exhausted! We had batidos (smoothies) and ice cream at this awesome little outdoors hut that had SWINGS for seats. It was awesome. After that, and eating at a nearby restaurant, and then spending an hour walking around the tiny market and buying jewelry (I had an awesome conversation about jewelry making with one of the guys there!) we headed straight back to the hotel, showered, and wrote postcards until we fell asleep.

Sunday morning (after getting woken up by roosters again) we walked about 3km to the butterfly sanctuary. We should've only walked 2km, but we misread the directions. That was kind of the theme of the trip..."Ok, we just went the wrong way. AGAIN." It was cool, but not really worth the long walk. However, on the way back to town, we stopped by the river and waded and relaxed for a while, which was wonderful. Then, we caught the bus back to Quito, exhausted but thrilled with the weekend.

Here are some pictures from Mindo...I took lots of videos too, but I'll put all those on another post. Enjoy!


Hummingbirds in the garden outside of our hotel.


The rainforest!!


Getting ready for the canopy tour!


Rainforest again.


And again.


FINALLY, A WATERFALL!


Beautiful.


LOOK HOW BIG THAT LEAF IS!!


Another view of the jungle.


The butterfly sanctuary!


Getting ready to catch the bus back to Quito.

Friday, September 18, 2009

another week!

Sorry it took me an entire week to update! I have been pretty busy- life is starting to pick up, my days are falling into a routine, and I have more to do with every day. I’ve actually had homework this week…it’s gonna take some time for that to sink in, ha. My classes are going well in general. I have two classes Monday through Thursday, and Fridays just have to go to campus for an hour or so to work on my jewelry for my jewelry making class. During my breaks, I usually end up finding a quiet spot with my laptop and a coffee to Skype with family/friends and catch up on my emails.

Last weekend was great- very relaxing and fun. I went to La Mariscal, which is the nightlife area of Quito, several times with some friends and had a good time walking around “gringo-land”, people watching, sharing stories, and speaking in English. I had to take a taxi home both nights, as it was pretty late, and the taxi drivers were very friendly and I ended up spending the 15-minute drive chatting with them. They both told me my Spanish was really good, although maybe they were just being nice.

This week has been full of long days…I had a test in my lit class, had to go to a museum for another class, and it’s been raining almost every day here. Still, every day is an adventure, including walking around a building 3 times before finding the right museum, sprinting through the monsoon to catch my bus, walking through Quicentro (a mall) and marveling at how expensive Payless Shoes is here (it’s like 3x as much!), and seeing a forest fire one night on the slopes of el Pichincha, the volcano I can see from my bedroom window. I totally thought it was lava, and that the volcano was erupting, but then my taxi driver informed me that it was just a fire, que triste.

Saturday evening, Mami and Papi and I went to Centro Historico and met up with the girls I have been spending most of my time with- Lauren, Josefin (who is from Norway and speaks like 5 languages!) and Amanda, who is a senior at Western this year. Centro Historico is the old part of Quito, with tiny little streets, big plazas, and colonial arquitecture. It was absolutely beautiful- it was too late to really go around taking pictures when we got there, so I’m definitely going back for shopping, good food, and a picture taking spree.

Mami showed us girls lots of awesome shops that we would never have found otherwise, and we all ended up spending money even though we swore we wouldn’t. I bought two pairs of earrings…surprise! We then followed Mami and Papi to Calle Ronda, which is a long street full of little bars, restaurants, and shops open late into the evening. We walked the length of the street, then stopped in a restaurant for a snack and hot drink. We all got hot chocolate, and apparently in Ecuador it’s a tradition to serve hot chocolate with a slice of fresh white cheese on the side (as Mami explained to me when I looked at my hot chocolate and cheese with a confused expression on my face). She also told me the following phrase, which has become my new favorite saying: “Chocolate sin queso es como un abrazo sin beso!”, which means “Chocolate without cheese is like a hug without a kiss!” I love it.

We also had an enormous empanada de viento, which was a flaky, sweet empanada served with some kind of sweet sauce, and canelazo, which is my new favorite drink. It’s got naranjilla (a type of fruit), water, sugar, and canela (a type of liquor) in it, and is served hot, and it is SPECTACULAR. You can get canelazo at just about any restaurant in Ecuador. The place we were at had live music, and a bunch of young adults eating there got up and danced for a while…it was awesome. Mami and Papi were such great tour guides the whole night- I officially have the best host parents ever…everyone keeps telling me so. Mami just takes everyone in and cares for them, and Papi is the perfect grandfather.

It was really cool to switch back and forth between two languages the whole night- I ended up doing it more than the other girls because I didn’t want to be rude and speak English in front of Mami and Papi when they can’t really understand it. My Spanish is getting better every day- my confidence in my ability to communicate is growing stronger, and although I know I still have LOTS to learn, I’m not falling into bed exhausted every night from focusing so hard on how to communicate. It’s beginning to feel natural to wake up and not speak any English until lunchtime when I’m eating with a friend.

That’s about all for now…here are some pictures from the night in Centro Historico and from around town. I am going to Mindo, which is a rainforest 2 hours away from Quito, this weekend with Amanda! I’m super excited! I mean…the rainforest! Woah!


Lauren, Josefin, Mami, me, and Amanda in Centro Historico.


I almost had a heart attack when i saw this.


This is a real person!


The empanada de viento.


View of Quito at night. Beautiful.


Elías, my host brother, and our crazy dog, Nacho.


Chilling on my bed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

granadilla

Yesterday, I had a granadilla for the first time. Ecuador has more fruits and vegetable than anywhere else in the world, according to my host family, so I've been trying all kinds of new fruits that I've never heard of before. Usually I just try it and don't ask questions, because they always taste good, but when Mami handed me half of a granadilla with the biggest smile on her face...I wasn't quite sure what to do. Or how to eat it. It kind of looks like an alien fruit, you know, it has these little white tentacle things coming out of the sides and the inside is full of black seeds all covered in this clear goopy stuff. I bravely took a spoonful and tried a bite, making the mistake of chewing the seeds.

"No no no mi hijita!"

Apparently you just swallow the seeds and goop whole. Okay, take two.

And it was actually pretty good. It's really sweet...I think they are eaten as desserts here. Anyway, like I have told so many people...everything here is an adventure.

Monday, September 7, 2009

otavalo

This weekend, some friends and I went to Otavalo, which is about 2 and a half hours north of Quito by bus. Otavalo is a smaller town that is legendary for its Saturday markets. The volcanoes Imbabura, Cotocachi, and Mojanda surround Otavalo, and the population is made up mostly of Otavaleños, an indigenous group that still dresses and lives traditionally.

We got there late on Friday night only to find that we had arrived on the first night of Yamor, which is an annual harvest festival and the biggest festival celebrated in Otavalo, lasting 8 days. There were TONS of people there for the opening festivities, which included a parade, lots of beer and street food, and music. Our reservations at the hotel had not been saved, so it's a good thing we spoke Spanish, or we wouldn't have been able to get a hotel room what with all the people in town! The hotel ended up being spectacular and the five of us paid $15 for the night and breakfast.

We got up early on Saturday morning and decided to go to the animal market first. This is where the Otvaleños buy and sell all sorts of animals: sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, puppies, turkeys, etc. It was loud and crowded and dusty, but it was really cool to see this part of their culture.

After the animal market we went to the Feria de Otavalo, which is the main market and the highlight of the trip. This market was probably 4 blocks wide in every direction, beginning with the central plaza. There are booths after booths of handmade things: gloves, socks, bags, tapestries, hats, jackets, jewelry, chess sets, trinkets, pottery....anything you can think of, it was there! And imagine the beautiful bright Latin American patterns and colors. I didn't know where to look next! The artwork is by far my favorite...Ecuadorian art is beautiful. The prices are very cheap, but the vendors will raise the price when they see you if you're white, so we got some good practice with our bartering skills and were usually able to buy what we wanted for a decent price.

It was a long day of walking around with our backpacks and purchases, but was absolutely worth it...so much fun! We got to see another part of Ecuadorian culture as well as buy some beautiful things. Also, seeing the mountains on the way back to Quito was absolutely breathtaking. I'm hoping to go back again near the end of the semester with my host mother- she said she would go with me to get me better prices. Here are some pictures from the weekend!!


One of the tapestries in our hotel room.


The animal market!


Traditional Otavaleño dress.


The beginning of the main market.


Beautiful jewelry!


An example of the bright colors and patterns you see everywhere.


Some of the artwork-this is my favorite market item.


Amanda, me, Josephine (she's from Norway!) and Gina eating lunch.


One of the many murals we saw.


Feria de Otavalo! This is in the main plaza.


More jewelry! I am gonna come home with more jewelry than I will ever need!


A really cool street lamp.


The fruits and vegetable market.


El Imbabura: a volcano!


El Imbabura again.


El Cotocachi (another volcano, I think)




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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

saludos de ecuador!

I've been in Quito, Ecuador for almost two weeks now...it still doesn't feel real at times. I keep thinking that I'll wake up and everyone will be speaking in English again, or I'll suddenly remember that I'm not leaving in a week- I'm here for the long haul. Sort of. Four months.

I guess this should be a longer post, since there's so much to tell already. I will be here until December 20th taking classes at the University of San Francisco-Quito, the top private liberal arts college in Ecuador. I'm living with a host family that was picked for me by the school, and it has been a great match so far. Ximena (pronounced Hee-MAY-nuh) and Fernando Lopez are the grandparents. Marie Fernanda (who we call Fer) is their 30-something years old daughter, and then there's Fer's 9-year old son Elias. They have a small house about 5 minutes from the airport- the house literally shakes when planes come and go. I have my own room and bathroom.

They are all very warm, loving, and caring people. I call Ximena and Fernando Mami and Papi, and they have really taken me in and helped make the first couple weeks easier. They are understanding of the language barrier- although I am definitely proficient in Spanish, I still have alot to learn. They are good about repeating themselves and explaining things to me until I understand fully. My family has been wonderful about helping do important stuff like: registering my visa, obtaining a censo (an Ecuadorian ID card), changing my traveler's checks, and finding my way around Quito.

Mami is an AMAZING cook! The typical Ecuadorian meals are as follows- breakfast: fresh bread, homemade marmalade, fresh homemade fruit juice, eggs, tea/coffee. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is served around 1 or 2pm; it consists of soup and then a main course of rice, potatoes, and some kind of meat...we've also had empanadas and sandwiches. Dinner is served between 7-9pm and is bread, cheese, and coffee or tea. There are all sorts of different fruits here that we don't have in the US and I am really enjoying trying them all. My favorite so far has been pineapple juice...it's delicious! As is the coffee here- we have legit Columbian coffee almost every day.

Quito is a huge, long, sprawling city and is also very diverse. It is in the Andes mountains, and on the west side (I think) is an active volcano called Pichincha. The streets are narrow and crowded with taxis, cars, buses, and people. The drivers here are crazy! To get to school, I have to walk about a mile from my house to the bus station on one of the main roads called la Avenida Rio Coca. At the bus station, I hop on a green bus with a CUMBAYÁ sign in the front, and from there it's a 20-30 minutes bus ride to Cumbayá, the suburb of Quito where the University is located. Any bus ride here is only 25 cents, no matter how far you go! It's an amazing journey to school every day- we go down the mountains and into the huge valley, and the view is absolutely breathtaking...mountains against a blue sky, the crowded valley below. It makes me feel so lucky to be here!

I have class in a few minutes, so I had better get going. More to come later.