Sunday, January 31, 2010

Birthday and la Isla de la Plata!

Since we were planning on taking a night bus Thursday night (the night of my birthday) we all went out in the Mariscal for my birthday on Wednesday night instead. It was so much fun, maybe a little too much fun – we were all a little chuchaki the next morning for school…. It was strange not celebrating at home, but I feel so lucky that I have so many amazing new friends here to celebrate with.

All that was followed by an amazing weekend on the beach! We took the night bus to Puerto Lopez; left downtown Quito at about 8:30 pm and made it to the beach around 10:30 the next morning (there was an accident on the freeway so we had to stop for a couple of hours). These guys picked us up from the bus station in their “taxis” and took us to their hostel - a beautiful cluster of little beach huts right on the water. It was like something out of a story book. We changed into bathing suits and walked to the market for lunch. Nothing looked very promising but we were all ready hungry so we settled on one of the stalls in the market to wait for our food. Taught us all not to judge a book by its cover – the food was incredible, and we all ordered Batidos to go with it – a rich milkshake-type drink made with really fresh fruit. Yum.

Ecuador 2 007 Ecuador 2 008 When we got back to the hostel the owners had set up a bunch of hammocks for us under a little shelter on the beach. We spent the day playing in the water and reading in the hammocks. It was paradise – so relaxing and peaceful. There were Batido stands lining the waterfront, so we indulged in a few more of those before the day was over too…

Ecuador 2 009 For dinner we went to a little restaurant on the water where we could watch the sunset, and all ordered almost the exact same meal (spaghetti with either squid or shrimp) and it was AMAZING. The best seafood I’ve had in a long time. And we got to enjoy it while watching the sun set over the fishing boats that had most likely brought it in to shore that morning.

The next morning we got up early for our trip to La Isla de la Plata. The owners of our hostel set us up with guides to take us to the island, and they dropped us off at the other end of the beach where we all boarded the boat we were going to take. There were eight of us and then another group of about ten people a little bit older than us from Quito. After a beautiful ride to the island we were taken on a trail up into the island to see some of the unusual wildlife, only seen here and on the Galapagos. We got to see the famous blue-footed-booby! Along with tons of other birds wheeling and diving around the island. It was incredible. I forgot my camera on the boat but this is what the birds look like:

After our walk we got back on the boat and our guides gave us lunch, and then took us round to the other side of the island for snorkeling. It was so cool, the fish there were so colorful, and there was one moment when I swam above a HUGE school of tiny fish, and they extended right to the edge of my vision in every direction. I stopped kicking and just floated because I didn’t want to disturb their swimming patterns. I felt like I was in one of the scenes in Planet Earth.

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On our ride back to the beach the other group with us taught us a game called something like “tingo-tango,” which was more or less hot potato, and if you got caught out you had to get up in the middle of the boat and do something embarrassing. It was hilarious, and our guides got a huge kick out of us all acting like 5 year olds.

We made it back to Puerto Lopez around 4:30 or so, just enough time to shower off, pack up and get dinner before getting on our 8:00 bus back to Quito. Such an amazing weekend. This is a picture of our group with our new friends from our island trip:Ecuador 2 022

Tomorrow morning we’re off to Santo Domingo with CIMAS for a week of looking at tropical medicine. Still hard to convince myself that this is school…

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Busy week

Today is my first real day at home since last thursday! I've been able to steal some pictures from other people so I'm putting a few up here.
This is most of the Baños crew...
And here are some from Canyoning...

Quick update on our recent trips:
Monday and tuesday we were in Otavalo, a city about 2 hours north of Quito. Its beautiful, and home to the biggest market in South America, but we were there for a slightly more academic reason :) We visited an incredible Jambi Huasi (the Kychwa word for House of Health) that combined western and indigenous medecine, such that the patients who visited the clinic had the option to choose whichever method they preferred.

We had the opportunity to watch a traditional indigenous diagnostic method: limpia del Cuy. Now Cuy is Guinea Pig, an animal that is native to the area and heavily tied to many indigenous customs here. This particular diagnostic method involves the Yachac (aka Shaman) more or less smacking the guinea pig all over the torso of the patient (in this case Sam who bravely volunteered). The Yachac then cuts it open to diagnose the patient based on the state of the internal organs of the Cuy. Very interesting but a little gross at the same time.
We also had the opporunity to hear about indigenous spirituality from another local Yachac - it was fascinating, and afterwards he took us all out into the forest and did a wecoming ritual with us wich was amazing.
We were also staying in the most beautiful hotel, and these were our two new friends that were waiting for us outside our door the next morning...

We spent thursday and friday in Riobamba, which is a few hours south of Quito, where we toured another clinic and hospital, both of which also attempted to combine indigenous and western medicine. We also split up into groups and spent some time in clinics in a few really rural communities, which was really cool. Everyone here is so welcoming it is really incredible.
We also had the opportunity to visit a Yachac's house, way out in the middle of nowhere, and she took us around her garden. It was amazing, full of hundreds of different kinds of plants all with a different purpose. There was also a lot of fruit that she let us try :)
Friday we visited a local Quito hospital and learned a little more about the public health system here; starting in the beginning of January the government in Ecuador has made a goal to pay for all health care costs of its citizens. We all had a lot of questions about how that has been working so far, especially considering the recent push for healthcare changes in this direction in the US.
Then yesterday (saturday) we got up early and took the bus back to Otavalo to spend the day in the market. It was really hot and sunny and I think we all spent more money that we expected to but it was definitely worth it.
Backtracking a little, Friday night we went out in the historical district in an area called La Ronda, which is these two incredible streets FULL of people and lined with tiny little bars and restaurants all with different atmospheres and playing different local music. We wondered around for a while and finally settled on one called El Coyote, and ordered wine and appetizers and ate and talking looking out over this beautiful colonial courtyard with a distant view of the surrounding hills all lit up from the lights of houses.
Then last night, my neighbor Andrea who is Ecuatoriana but is going to college in New York, had her going away dinner before heading back to school for her spring semester, and we went back to a restaurant in La Ronda called La Vista Hermosa, which was this incredible open air restaurant on the roof of a hotel, from which we could see what felt like all of Quito. It was by far the swankiest place I've been so far here, and the food was amazing, but the filet mignon still only cost $10.50! I'm getting so spoiled by prices here.
Have to go and work on an essay (little reminder that all of this actually counts as school) and then this afternoon a few of us are going to go and climb the basilica downtown!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

First trips

Primeramente my camera is broken - and not because I dropped it for once! Someone else did. Hah. But my darling mother is sending me her old one so hopefully it will make it here within a few years and I can start actually taking pictures of my trip.

It is amazing how I went from feeling like I have all the time in the world here to feeling like I'm running out of time already to do everything I want to! This is such an incredible country and I'm starting to think that two months from now I'm going to feel like I've barely scratched the surface.

I've logged so many hours on buses over the last week but its been so worth it. Last friday afternoon we had a tour of colonial Quito and learned how to ride the buses, just in time for our trip to Baños! We only had a two day weekend but a group of 10 of us decided to go for it so we hopped on a bus after our tour. We arrived in Baños pretty late and suddenly realized that it was a little naive to expect to find a hostel with 10 beds open, but luckily we ran into this great (and also extremely pregnant) lady named Carla whose hostel was full but she set us up in her friend's for the night. It was not in the best condition but we were tired and grateful for a place to sleep. The conditions of the room ended up making the night completely hilarious. We managed to break a chair, and the ceilings were so low that there was also a small incident with one of the guys colliding with one of the lightbulbs resulting in an explosion of glass all over the bathroom and the rest of us collapsed laughing on top of each other on one of the lumpy beds. Always an adventure. We also realized at about 4 in the morning that we were right next to a compound of several roosters, which made for a lovely wake up call...

The next day definitely made up for it though. Dear little Carla came and got us in the morning and took us to her hostel which was beautiful and had the most incredible breakfast ever. After fresh pineapple and strawberry juice, eggs, pancakes, papaya and pineapple and fresh bread from the top floor of the hostel complete with views of the jungle and waterfalls, she set us up with guides for canyoning. Our guides were hilarious, and after a crazy ride in a rickety van up into the jungle we got dropped off at this little hut where we changed into wetsuits and harnesses. We then hiked up a little further until we got to the top of the Rio Blanco and from there rappelled down four waterfalls and then got to slide down a short one and the bottom. SO FUN.

After we went back into the town and had Fondue for dinner which was amazing and only $10! But even that felt like a huge splurge considering how much we usually spend on meals here. After dinner we changed back into our bathing suits and relaxed in the local hot springs (naturally heated by the nearby volcano which was apparently erupting at the time but we didn't know). We went back to the hotel to change to go out,and then accidentally ran into our guides outside a bar and they bought us a round of fire shots! The bar was really fun so we just decided to stay there for the rest of the night. The DJ started mixing in american music for us, and it was really fun dancing and hanging out with the locals for the rest of the night. Such a great first trip :)

We had our first CIMAS field trips this week too! But more about those later because I'm exhausted and need to get to bed becuase we're getting up early to go and visit a local Cancer center tomorrow - should be really interesting I can't wait!

Buenas noches x

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Crossing the street here is like Frogger. I'm completely serious - if its a four-lane highway, people just cross one lane at a time and wait in between them for the cars to slow down. Its insane. And there is no such thing as the little green or red man telling you when to cross, you just kind of have to guess. Always an adventure here. Also, cab drivers are completely crazy. A bunch of us went to an area called el Mariscol (los Ecuatorianos call it Gringolandia) and we counted how many red lights our taxi driver ran through on the way home - 9. Granted there was no one out and he only charged us about $3.50, but still. Also drivers here honk constantly - at every intersection and at all pedestrians, which I guess is their attempt to make up for the lack of crosswalks.

Here is picture of part of the view from CIMAS. It wasn't very sunny when I took it so I bumped up the contrast so you can kind of see the buildings (and Dad you would be proud I made it a panorama!). I think they built the foundation on land that was once a recreation area, and they kept one of the soccer fields and one of the basketball courts which are fun to run around on during our breaks.

These are my host brothers, Diego y Andres (I told them they had to let me take a picture so that I could show my hermanita back in seattle mis nuevos hermanos!). They are so hilarious, and really helpful with my Spanish. They call me their hermanita or Emilita, and they're really interesting to talk to about how they feel about foreign policy, the current political situation in Ecuador, etc. We also had a long conversation about good chocolate the other day, and when I came home that afternoon from school there was a huge bar of dark chocolate wrapped on my bed that they had bought for me! As I speak they are playing guitar hero with a couple of friends and they convinced me to play too (for the first time ever). They are playing to Beatles songs - "We all Live in a Yellow Submarine" sounds so much funnier with Ecuatorian accents.

There is an incredible fruit stand across the street from CIMAS, and they sell these giant green pod (think a HUGE green bean), with these big black seeds inside convered in white squishy stuff which is the part that you eat. They're called Guavas here, which was really confusing because they are nothing like what we call guavas (which are called Guayaba here).

We have already had the opportunity to listen to some of the most amazing speakers. Yesterday a famous periodista Ecuatoriano came in and gave us an amazing summary of Ecuadorian history. Today a man came in to discuss the differences between indigenous and western culture, and the lasting impacts of colonialism and early European hegemony. He talked about why the western world has come to have such fixed ideas about the linear passing of time, something that in reality is completely relative. In indigenous culture (and kind of in Latin America in general) time is considered to be circular. He also talked about how North and South came to be so fixed, even though in reality one could orient themselves any way they liked, north doesn't really mean "up" in the way it has come to. He also talked about the significance of Peyote, which is considered a medecine for purifying your body in indigenous culture, and told us about one of the times he took it and what it was like participating in an indigenous ceremony. Very interesting.

The weather has been so much nicer than I expected - it was really hot and sunny again today! Luckily I haven't burnt yet but almost everyone else has (I've been really careful about sunscreen) because the sun on the equator is so so strong.

Whitney and I have discovered the most amazing donut place! Mama, they taste just like the ones we get in Italy! They're delicious. A bunch of us also discovered an amazing empanada place last night right near where we all live. Also a friend and I have found a great salsa studio - we're going to try to start classes soon. His family is Guatemalan so he kind of grew up with salsa, but we want to get really good so we can go to some of the intense cuban salsa clubs and not look like complete idiots :)

We have a city tour Friday, then a bunch of us are going to go to Banos for the weekend!

Espero que tengan buen dia! x

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Settling in

Friday morning the CIMAS bus came and picked us all up from our hotel and took us to the fundacion buildling in northern Quito. The facility is brand new (they just moved into it in November 2009) and it is incredible. It must have arguably one of the best views in Quito and the buidling was designed with huge bay window and terraces so that you can see it from anywhere you are standing - I don't know how I'm going to get any work done, I couldn't stop looking outside the whole first day. I'll post a picture when I can.

After an introduction to the program and a safety briefing from the US embassy (I can now accurately identify a safe taxi, among other things) we met our host families! My immediate family consists of my mother Catalina and her son Diego. They are both really warm and open, and Diego speaks really good English so when I'm at a complete loss of what to say he helps me out. However, as i'm learning is common in Latin America, visits by members of their huge extended family occur almost daily.

Friday night we were joined by lots of cousins and their wives, children and fiances. It was a little overwhelming because they were all speaking really fast, but it was fun to meet everyone. Baby Maya had just learned to walk that morning so she was practicing all over the apartment - so cute! She stayed the night so I got to spend the next morning playing with her. Here she is:

Had a nice relaxing weeked to unpack and settle in - my new home is lovely. It is a comfortable apartment on two floors, with amazing view of the city from every window. This is mi vista from where I'm sitting now:

My host mama is so great - she makes fresh sqeezed juice every morning because she likes her jugo frescito, and its so delicious! She uses all these fruits I've never heard of before which is really fun. And she just brought me fresh popcorn (made on the stove of course, because she says it is much better than the packet kind). Apparently the word for popcorn changes from country to country here.

Also, random note, Ecuatorianos use the word "chevere" ALOT. It means cool, exciting, fun, etc. Apparently its used only in Ecuador. I've also learned some less savory palabras de Ecuador, but hopefully I won't feel the need to use them too often...I feel weird using chevere though, since I'm not actually from here.

I'm about to go to a movie with one of las hermanas de mi vecino who goes to college in the US but is home right now on vacation, and then tomorrow is my first day of school!


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Finally in Quito! I´m not quite sure what I expected but this is so much better than I could have imagined. The city is so bustling and everyone has been so kind and welcoming. We have all definitely felt the change in oxygen levels though, we were all out of breath just from climing up the stairs to put our bags in our hotel rooms last night !

Had the most amazing first day - we spent the morning in a beautiful park and met the cutest little girl called Lina whose mother had a stall in the textile market in the park.

We walked to the historical district for lunch and found a huge food market. We couldn´t tell what anything was so we asked a man what his meal was called and all ordered that! Hopefully we´ll pick up on these things a little more after a few days.