The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (with visitors from the US)

Hooray! We graduated for the summer! The past week and a half has been a whirlwind. I did a bit of juggling between writing my final paper and spending time with my dad and sister, Tira, who came to visit from Idaho. The weekend before last, we went up north of Quito in the Andes near the town of Ibarra. As anyone who knows my dad (and me) would expect, we spent the day on Saturday enjoying the murky algal waters of the natural hot spring resort of Chachimbiro. It was super relaxing, despite my looming finals. Early on Sunday morning, Tira and I got to do a bit of horseback riding around the resort. It turned out that it wasn’t such a good idea to ride a 6-mo pregnant horse up a steep mountain, so I decided to walk on the return instead limp along and risk hurting the mare. After the horses, we hopped in an unmarked taxi with another couple that the hotel owner pointed out for us. Tira and I chose to sit in the back of the truck rather than crowd inside the cab. Unexpectedly, the driver loaded in two empty gas tanks that stunk up the rest of the otherwise gorgeous drive. We got on a bus headed to Otavalo, the well-known artisan market, after the driver dropped us off in a small town of Urcuqui. Taking all these different buses and connections took a lot more time than just traveling in a private vehicle like I did before with CIMAS, but the experience is so much more intense (and cheaper)!
In Otavalo, we looked around and bought more blankets than we should have. Fortunately my purchases were limited because my credit card wasn’t working in the ATM that they had there. For some reason, my card doesn’t work in most banks in Ecuador, so I have to keep my eye out for all the Banco Internacionales if I want to take out cash. We were thinking of going to see a bull fight in Ibarra on our way back. I was the only one who was really into that idea and shopping in the market took a while, so we headed back to Quito instead.
During the majority of last week, I worked on my final essay. Even though I stayed with the theme of family, the focus changed quite a bit. I ended up talking about the impact of modernization on the family. My dad and Tira spent the weekdays visiting Tena, which is in the Amazon, so I got a lot of work done. Moreover, another group arrived at CIMAS, so I got to know a few more friends before the SU crew graduated on Friday. The staff at CIMAS sent us off with a certificate, a t-shirt, and delicious, surprise lunch.
More on the transportation system in Ecuador: the public transportation/bus system is pretty extensive here. Even so, I found out when I tried to buy tickets on Thursday to go to the coast on Friday night, that in the summer, everyone is on vacation, and they go to the coast on the weekend, and we had quite the adventure, getting five people (dad, Tira, Colleen, KC, and me) to Puerto Lopez. Although we only spent about 13 hours in total from our houses, we had to take a 2 hours bus ride in Quito to Quitumbe, the southernmost bus station. There we shuffled frantically from bus company to bus company trying to find five seats on a bus headed even in the direction we wanted. Finally, one company opened up a new bus to a city near where we were headed and we took that to Puertoviejo. The overnight ride was stiff, and we all had to keep our bags right with us to make sure we didn’t get robbed, like the couple we met later in Puerto Lopez, who had their wallets and phones taken on their ride. In Puertoviejo we made a transfer to a new bus, and then again to a third bus since our departure from Quitumbe, all before 7am.
At last we made in to Puerto Lopez! The streets were full of solicitors from travel agencies trying to take us on their tour. Lots of yelling and in-your-face sort of sales. We decided to wait and look around for more options.
Our first hostel was on the malecón (beachfront) and it reeked of fish when we got there. The rest of the experience there was subpar, but we stayed in Hostel Itapoa the second night and it made up for the shortcomings of the first night’s accommodations with lots of cats, a lovely garden, delicious breakfast with a view of the ocean, and a convenient list of reasonably priced tours.
After we dropped our bags off at the first hostel, we spend the rest of the day napping on the beach, playing in the ocean, and eating some fresh ceviche (mine was octopus. Yum!) To my dismay, we were all pretty tired by the end of the night, and after only one drink we had to retire to our rooms. The bed was a big upgrade from the bus the night before, so I slept well even though I could hear the festivities down on the beach until the wee hours.
The next day, we changed to the new and improved hostel a few blocks down the beach. The pedicab, or mototaxi ride that we took to the national park turned out pretty great. They are the primary mode of transport in Puerto Lopez using what looks like a buggie welded onto the back of a motorcycle. We got a great deal of only $1 per person sharing one taxi on our way to Machalia National Park because the driver fancied Colleen. It was a squeeze for the five of us in one and we had to use our feet just a tiny bit to help it get up a hill of two. On the way back, he even invited us all to go dancing with him and his friends.
The best part of Puerto Lopez was Los Frailes. The beach in the national park was nothing short of paradise. It was impeccably clean with clear, turquoise water that was never cloudy because the sand was made of heavy coral particles that sunk to the bottom. We took a short hike through the dry tropical forest to a viewpoint and from there we went a bit further to a beach that was practically empty. As we were leaving, we saw the sign, warning us not to swim there because of strong currents. Oops! Nevertheless, we spent the day with that beach all to ourselves. Both of my friends tried snorkeling for the first time and we all had a blast. I even did a bit of characteristic skinny-dipping. ;]
We saved the best for last. On Monday, instead of going to my orientation for classes at USFQ, I went on a whale watching tour and visited the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”, or the Isla de Plata. On the 23km boat ride to the island we saw dozens of whales partaking in their annual courting and mating rituals (lots of jumping Humpbacks). They pass by Ecuador between June-September on their annual migration path. We hiked on the island for a few hours and got to see lots of pairs of Blue-Footed Boobies as close as arms-length away. Everything was very dry, and looked like winter in the states because all of the trees loose their leaves in the dry season. I would love to go back and check out the island in the rainy season when it is so lush that sometimes the paths grow over in a matter of days. After the hike, we did some of the best snorkeling I have ever done, right off the island in a protected cove. I felt like I was witnessing some kind of Finding Nemo reenactment.
The trip back was not so fun: I was sad to leave and my legs hurt because of the salt and the cold (horrible combo). We didn’t have as much time as we had anticipated when we got back, so my dad, Tira, and I basically just showered, put our wet stuff in our bags and headed to the bus station. Krista and Becca, two other girls from CIMAS, arrived earlier that day and we barely saw them in passing as we hurried to catch our direct bus to the Mariscal in Quito. Even though I was sad to say goodbye to all four of my friends, I didn’t realize at the time how much I would miss those girls. After only two days, I’m feeling a bit lonely in Quito without them.
Next, I left my beloved host family to go a whole four blocks to my new host family. In general, I’m pretty sad to leave my old family, so it is a good thing that they will still be close by. I was surprised to be greeted by a smiling housekeeper, Lida, and an older host brother, Juan Andres that I didn’t know I would have. I met my new host mom and sister the next day, and they all seem nice, but it’s still too soon to say how we will get along. Juan Andres took me on the buses to the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito, my new school. From our brief introduction, he reminds me a lot of my ex-boyfriend, which is a bit weird.
Anyways, the university is gorgeous! It’s like a tropical version of SU: about the same size and it has the same Jesuit-y feel to it. Today, I got up at 5am to take a bus at 6am for my 7am mountain climbing class. I was a bit concerned that my host mom wasn’t up when I left, and I found out the night before, she fell on the stairs and went to the hospital. I felt bad because I didn’t have a clue what happened until after school today! During my first day with my conscience protected by ignorance of the fall, I was off to classes. I met one other study abroad student from Michigan names Maura, who I spent a good part of the morning wandering around with. Besides her, I made a few Ecuadorian friends in my climbing class, met a guy names Jon in the library, and Jean Carlos after sitting in on a Beginning French class. As a general rule, I’m trying to avoid to groups of other gringos, because I would hate getting to the end of my trip having made only friends from the U.S. I’m sure we will end up being friends, but I am focusing my energy on making friends with nationals for now. I was exhausted after my last class, Marine Ecology and Oceanography. I had a bit of trouble getting on a bus to come home because I didn’t know where the stop was. When I got on the bus, this really grandma shared her seat with her grandchildren so that they could offer me a seat. No one had ever offered me a seat here unless they were leaving, and I really appreciated the gesture. I’m not going to lie, because this transition between programs has been difficult for me, but I know that things will get better as long as I can appreciate the beauty in the small things.

-Alora

Just Being Together

Day 1: On the first day we went to the site of the pyramids of Cochasqui which were dedicated to the queen Quilago. For the most part they looked like grassy hills with some credible organization. In a few places the ancient formations that distinguished a masterpiece and natural coincidence had been preserved and restored.
During the second part of the first day we drove through Otavalo. I pointed out a bright, castle-like building on the hill and boy was I surprised when my joking supposition turn out to be true and we headed right up there to our hotel. That evening we met a shaman. He shared a lot of interesting thoughts with us that I would love to share in more detail if anyone is interested. One thing that stood out for me was that the Quichwa people believe that humans have four distinct bodies of equal importance: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. He also said that we are not more or less than nature because we are nature. After our gathering, someone asked him how Quichwa culture viewed homosexuality. Apparently they have a live-and-let-live sort of philosophy. The balance and division of male and female within each person is an integral part of their beliefs. That presentation was undoubtedly the most mentally and spiritually stimulating part of our trip for me.

• Day 2: The second day we stopped by a workshop for indigenous instruments. They made a pan flute right in front of us and then played some traditional music. We made a short stop in the world famous artesian market of Otavalo where I learned the art of bartering from our leader so I could buy blankets for the best possible price. After the market, we went to meet our families in San Clemente for the first time. I stayed with KC and Colleen in a mother-in-law room on a farm halfway up the volcano Imbabura overlooking the city of Ibarra. Our family started joking with us right from the start. The two younger sisters, Margarita, 14 (though she told us she was 22 when we first met) and Yarina, 10, took us to bring home the cows (Lucera, Blanca, and Estrella) from the pasture and then our father, Mauricio, showed us how to peel potatoes with a knife (new skill for me!) on our first night! Besides the cows they had a family of dogs, two alpacas, and chickens.
• Day 3: The main activity of our first full day on the farm was degraining dried corn. They have more types and colors of corn than I even thought was possible! All the bad kernals were saved in a separate bag for chicken food. The rest of our day consisted of napping in the sun on the front lawn, which I found to be a common activity for us. That evening, Mauricio and Juanita (our lovely host mother) taught us the numbers in Quichwa. We also found out that the Quichwa spoken in San Clemente is distinct from the Quichwa of Otavalo (half hour away) as well as the dialects up and down the Andes.
• Day 4: We met with the rest of the group and took a tour of the community medicinal garden led by the heads of our families. KC, Colleen and I took a long nap and awoke to a visiting gringo who had returned to visit the family a year after he had volunteered there. He only stayed one night , but he took Yarina to Ibarra to buy a cake for Juanita’s birthday. Meanwhile, we went down the hill with Margarita to her dance practice and watched her do some traditional ” jump, jump, one, two, three!”. She told us about her dreams of having a quincenera party and going to France on our way back. We celebrated Juanita’s birthday with the cake and a bottle of soda and then danced in the kitchen afterwards. That night, we started reading the copy of 100 Years of Solitudethat we found in our room, and read half of it over the 10 days we stayed there.
• Day 5: We walked over to the others’ house for our first minga. The idea of a minga is for multple families to get together to help each other with a big project. We made adobe bricks with earth, water, sun, our feet, and a mold. After working, we shared a delicious community lunch. One person ended up leaving because they weren’t able to adapt well enough to the comunity. We were all disappointed, but it was better that he left, instead of bringing the rest of us down. I took a hot shower after our work, which was marvelously unexpected. Hooray! At dinner, Mauricio asked us if we could stay forever. I didn’t know what to say, but he was so sincere that I made a promise to myself that I would come back to visit sometime before I leave. This also marked the first night that Juanita braided our hair with heart braids.
• Day 6: The next day I was sick. I stayed in bed with what felt like a fever, stomach ache, and headache. I know I was really dehydrated and I’m not sure what else. Juanita brought me avocado leaves to help my head. Fortunately, I felt mostly recovered by dinner and I was almost 100% the next day.
• Day 7: We cleared weeds with picks and hoes to double the size of the garden for our second minga. I got two prime blisters. Right when we thought we were going to leave, we ended up moving a rock out of the ground, the size of an alpaca! It was so big that I hardly thought we would be able to move it, but we worked together with all of the families and lifted it right out of the ground with lots of leverage and teamwork. That night I discovered the joy of peeling lima beans and the secret to making Juanita laugh.
• Day 8: We started off the morning with the sweetest pancakes I’ve ever had; we didn’t even need toppings. After that, we met up with the others to take a bus to another community by the river. We carried our own lunch and food that we gave as an offering to the river and Pacha Mama (mother Earth) after about an hour of walking by the river. On the way home we did a lot of walking, took a bus, and rode in the back of a truck. There was another braiding session after dinner and Yarina taught me how to do a “trenza de cuatro”, which is basically a fishtail braid.
• Day 9: Summer camp is way chill in San Clemente. I painted faces on homemade dolls and played soccer with the kids. I let one boy take pictures with my camera; a win-win situation. We all joined in the community lunch and then headed home to rest. I tried sugar cane for the first time; it was good, but too gritty for my taste. We played soccer again at the house: the only activity that we did with Nelson, Jessica’s (the 17 year-old sister) boyfriend and the baby daddy of our one month old niece, Amalie.
• Day 10: Another day with the kiddos. We helped make kites, which was surprisingly difficult so the one I helped with just spun in circles and skipped behind the girl. The community lunch was probably one of my favorites, with chicken, noodles, juice, and more. Back home we did some quality chatting, degrained some sara (Quichwa for corn), and saw the most of Jessica, the 17 year-old sister, at dinner of our whole stay.
• Day 10: The last minga was at our house in the hill. Despite the gnarly blisters I got, I thoroughly enjoyed the power of using picks to break up the hillside to prepare the foundation of a new guest house. That evening, we hosted the final community dinner and right before everyone arrived, Juanita brought out their traditional clothes for us to wear at the party. We fit a whopping 20 people in the modest kitchen of our family!
Day 11: We got up early, the last day so that we could go milk a cow during our visit to San Clemente. I scared that poor heifer two times because I guess I move too fast!

-Alora

Who Are Whe?!

Alright, let’s talk about the Amazon. It was soooo green! Like after making everything else, the earth still had to fit in half the quota of the plants and animals somewhere, so it all just squished into a narrow, tropical strip around the equator. I saw spiders the size of my palm, puzzled over the forms of new flowers, and gorged myself on every stage of the cacao fruit up to delicious handmade chocolate. In less than four days, it became clear that I am going to live in the rainforest someday.
My group toured in and around the city of Tena, Ecuador as part of the cultural component of the program. We hiked across gushing Amazonian rivers, through jungle mud that sunk like quicksand, and learned about the medicinal properties of plants used by the indigenous tribes along the way.
One interesting cultural experience was when we went to an Amazonian Quichwa Tribe, Shiripuno, that has preserved a traditional way of living. After watching the women of the tribe perform their dance, we joined in the indigenous dance along with a random group of French people! The women didn’t give us instructions or anything, they just showed us how and away we went.
On the second day, we also happened to feed some monkeys, before hitching a ride in the canoes. Motor canoeing in tropical rivers is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE MODE OF TRANSPORTATION! Even so, I was more than happy to jump in and swim for a bit before we arrived at the Animal Rescue Center. It was like a zoo, because we saw a lot of larger animals at the rescue center that we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. But the cool part is that the animals that arrive at the center only stay until they can be released back into the national park.
I’m really grateful for our knowledgeable tour guide, incredibly friendly driver, and steadfast teacher who all worked so hard to make the experience as amazing as possible!

Alora

Que lindo el Mindo!

On Sunday, we got back from our first weekend trip in Ecuador. The seven of us went to a town called Mindo. Mindo is located in the cloud forest in the Andean Mountains to the north of Quito. The city is has a number of attractions for tourists that fuel the local economy. It was about 2 hours away by car, which we arranged with some help from CIMAS. Unfortunately, it was super expensive- $26 per person vs $4 on the bus. Next time we are going by bus. The driver was nice and the car was definitely safer and more direct than the bus though.
We left for Mindo at 8am on Friday since we didn’t have class. When we got there, we convinced the driver to take us to the hostel that we had researched on the internet, the Rubby Hostal, instead of the one with a pool that he knew. It was basically this woman’s house where she and her children rented out beds to travelers. The best part was the hammocks on the pourch upstairs. We spent many hours napping and watching games of fútbol (soccer) across the street.
Immediately after situating ourselves in the hostel, the driver set us up with a guide who took us up to go zip-lining. It was so beautiful to fly through the trees, and I wish we could have gone on more than three lines, but I’m glad that we didn’t because one girl was very afraid to go on the lines. We were all proud of her though because she came along and made it through even though she was super scared!
After zip-lining we ditched the guide (we didn’t really need a guide or want to pay for one), and took a four hour siesta (nap) at the hostel. To follow up, we went to a place called El Quetzal where they make their own chocolate and have a tour of the whole process. Even though I have been to the Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle, this was a totally different experience. We got to go through the whole process from seed to bar, including sampling along the way. It was so cool to actually try the fruit of a cacao, as opposed the seed that chocolate is actually made of. We also tried the miel de cacao which is the liquid that the can extract from the cacao paste. During the tour we met two other travelers who were visiting from Quito. I also tried the cerveza de jengibre (ginger beer) that they make at the factory.
After dinner we wondered around the main street a bit before going to the local bar, where we ran into our guide from zip-lining and the chocolate factory, as well as the other travelers that did the chocolate tour with us! It definitely showed how small the community was!
The next morning we went on a hike to see the cascadas (waterfalls). When I asked the guide which path we should take, he said to go right to the Cascade de Reina, which was only 15 minutes there and 15 back, and there wasn’t anyone else on the trail. When we took that path, we found out that I misheard him, so we actually had about 50 minutes each direction! The waterfall was super pretty and I went swimming just a little bit :] It was also awesome to stop along the path to look at the intricate ecosystems that were right along the path. I totally understand how Ecuador is home to such a huge amount of biodiversity. If we had had more time and energy, I would have loved to go to all the other waterfalls, but we only went to the one.
We pretty much spent the rest of the afternoon resting at the hostel. I’m not really one for unscheduled time, but for some reason, I felt completely relaxed and comfortable hanging out on the porch.
On our last day, we went tubing on the Rio Mindo (Mindo River). Very similar to floating the Boise River, but it was almost all little rapids because the river was pretty low. And we went down on a raft made of seven tubes tied together with ropes instead of a proper “raft”.
After that, we walked a few kilometers/miles to look around the mariposario (butterfly exhibit). The others liked it a lot, but I thought it was a bit overrated and I think I could have had more fun elsewhere.
Needless-to-say, I had a great weekend, considering that having butterflies eat banana out of the hang was my least favorite part! I had so much fun spending my first weekend in Ecuador relaxing in the cloud forest of Mindo. I think I definitely want to go back at some point during my time in Ecuador.

Alora

The Rainbow in the Closet

This weekend I hung out in Quito so that I could go to the Marcha del Orgullo LGTBI Quito (Quito Pride Parade)! Only three of us decided to forego the chance to visit Baños with the rest of the group. I ended up spending most of the weekend with my family, which was a lot of fun. It was pretty significant for me that my older host brother even said he wanted to come to the march with us, even though he ended up having to drive my host mom to do her daily perfume deliveries.
On Saturday afternoon, KC and I set out to fun Quito Pride in La Mariscal, the part of the city that they call Gringolandia because there are so many tourists. We showed up a bit late, and decided to wait near the end of the route. After about an hour and a half we connected up with Gabe, who also stayed in Quito for the weekend, but the parade hadn’t arrived yet!
Finally we went looking for the parade. When we found it stopped in the road, blocks away from where we had been waiting, it was clear why there had been such a delay. I took a video of the whole thing, and even then, it was only eleven minutes! I expected the turn out to be small since Ecuador is a pretty conservative Catholic country, but I was still surprised how small the turn out was. For a city about four times the size of Seattle to have a Pride parade with less than a fourth of the people, gave me a greater appreciation of what it means to be openly gay in Ecuador.
After the march, everyone gathered in the Plaza Foch for some inspirational speakers and a few performances. We had a chance to see two performances before we left.
I have a deep respect for all the brave Ecuadorians who came out to show there pride and stand up for their rights. The culture here is not very open or educated on LGBTI issues or concerns. I know they might have a long way to go, but I know my people will get the respect and equality that they deserve!

Alora

Initial Observations

So much has happened in the past few days! After I arrived in Quito on Monday night, a chofer (driver) from the CIMAS program picked me up from the old airport, and I stayed at a hotel called Savoy Inn. Tuesday morning, my host mom, Catalina Asanza, or Caty, came with her older son, Jorge, to bring me to the house briefly before taking me to CIMAS. The house is beautiful, but I was a bit surprised to find out that they had two cars. Also, I was a little confused at first because Caty showed me into her room, because there is another exchange student staying in the room that will be “mine” after she moves out on Friday.
After dropping off the luggage, they drove me to CIMAS. The location feels like a castle, with a view of Quito that defines awesome. Like all the buildings, CIMAS has very tight security, including ~20-foot walls with spikes on top and even a doorman. Everything is very spacious inside the walls, including a field for fútbol (soccer), especially compared to the tiendas (shops) and casas (houses). There is even a computer lab and kitchen that we can use.
Honestly, I don’t remember much about the first day of class. I was pretty preoccupied with all the new sights and experiences. Also, I was surprised to discover that this specific program for Literature, Culture, and Language is entirely students from SU: seven of us. But I do remember that our maestra (teacher) Emilia was very nice. At one point she started talking about the woes of Wal-Mart, and she started talking so quickly and passionately that none of us could understand her!
Throughout the day, we have a half hour break, and a 1.5 hour lunch. I am a huge fan of this schedule. I think that it reflects the cultural de-emphasis of punctuality and timing. So far, we have spent our breaks lounging on the grass and walking down the block to buy bread from the panadería and fruit from the fruitería.
After my first day of classes, I rode the bus home with Caty. That is an experience in and of itself! At home, Caty made dinner while I chatted with her sons, Jorge and Galo, as well as her husband’s brother, whose name I can’t remember. I found out that her husband had died just five months ago! I don’t know what to think, because the family has only spoke of him that one time when I found out that he passed away. I will have to keep my ears open for more on that. At dinner I also met Alejandra, who is the other study abroad student. We had a fish soup that was super-delicious and I even ate two bowls!
After dinner, I went with Caty and Jorge to deliver perfumes that she sells. It was interesting to see new places in Quito, but I was so tired that I fell right asleep when we got home at 9pm. Even after the first night, I was dreaming in Spanish!
On Wednesday, we had a safety presentation by the U.S. Embassy. The presenter was a bit insensitive and too full of himself for my taste, but I suppose it is good to understand the risks. The U.S. state determined risk level here in Ecuador is critical, which is the same as countries such as Iraq and Haiti. He emphasized how important it is for us to stick together, take the certified taxis (orange license plates and a registration number), and if we get robbed, the most important thing is to comply. After that presentation, the director of CIMAS talked to us about the realistic risks. His main point was to not drink in excess, because that is the primary reason that foreigners get into compromised and dangerous situations. All of the information was a bit sobering, but it was pretty much common sense.
After school, the whole group went with my host mom so that we could get phones at the regional center for the provider we chose, which is a block from my house. We decided to all get the same provider, Claró because apparently they have the best coverage throughout the country, whereas the competitor is not so great outside Quito. That entailed A LOT of walking to everyone’s houses to get money, and A LOT of waiting at the center in order to get all the phones. We all decided to forgo the dancing and get some rest after that ordeal.
One experience with my host family that was interesting and a bit uncomfortable was when Caty asked me if I had a mamá. I told her that I had three; my dad’s wife, my mom, and her partner/wife. After a moment of pause, she told me that she understood what I was saying and then changed the subject. The next day, she told Jorge that I had three moms when we were talking about their nanny. Both of them told me that they respected my family and me very whole-heartedly. The thing that stood out most for me in this experience was how atypical it is to discuss sexuality, even in the home. Perhaps I am generalizing when I say that this is a taboo topic throughout Ecuador, but it was definitely uncomfortable to bring up anything related to the LGBTQ community.
Thursday was a very interesting day! Also, it was probably the first day that I started to feel normal again, emotionally and physically. We learned about the provinces of Ecuador in our grammar class (?) and then we went to a local mercado (market) that sells fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and other things. We went in pairs to learn about and buy one new fruit that we had never seen before. It was very similar to the markets I have been to in Mexico, but much smaller. When we got back to CIMAS, we all shared what we had learned about the fruit and then discussed observations we had. It was a very informative discussion about Ecuadorian culture and inequality. I was very surprised to hear that people from the middle and upper classes don’t shop in these awesome mercados because they don’t want to be perceived as poor.
I took the bus home by myself for the first time, and everything was great! Then Caty showed me how to make a typical chicken dish for dinner. After eating, Alejandra got home from her last day at CIMAS, and then we left to go to a local volcán (volcano) called Pulalahua. Although we didn’t stop at the monument at Mitad, this was my first time going south of the linea occidental (equator)! It gets dark very quickly here, so by the time we arrived at the volcán at 6:30pm, it was very foggy and mostly dark.
We came back home pretty quickly since we couldn’t see anything. Upon arriving home, I finally got keys to the house! Then I had to pack up my stuff to move into the new room and small bag for my weekend trip to Mindo. I’m excited to go on my first excursion, and this place looks superb. We are going as a group in a van that CIMAS organized for us that leaves at 8am. I will tell you all about Mindo next post, and hopefully will have lots of pictures!

Alora

On angels’ Wings

Finally, I’ve made it safely to Quito, if not a bit late, and I’m on my way to the Savoy Inn Hostel. This story starts a little less than a week ago.
It’s Tuesday before I leave to Ecuador. Only five days until I’m on my way. Just for good measure, I decide to call up the Ecuadorian Consulate to make sure that they have sent my passport with the student visa that I applied for two Fridays ago. That was a bit of a serendipitous common sense because the lady at the consulate tells me that my passport not only hasn’t been returned, but also, low-and-behold, I’m missing two documents and I sent them the wrong application! Did I mention that they also needed to send me some documents that I needed to sign and return before they could finish processing the visa and return my passport? Plus, I hadn’t sent a large enough return envelope, so that lost me even more brownie points with el consulado.
Thus began a frantic week of calling the consulate, my program advisors and practically anyone I could think of who could help get my passport on time. After about three days of repeated calling, I was pretty close with Beatriz over in the Ecuadorian consulate. By some miracle, she decided to let me fax in the paperwork so that she could start processing the visa before I returned all those signed documents. Somehow, the consulate, postal service, Fed-Ex, my parents, and my passport all synchronized for a few harmonious moments, and my visafied passport arrived in the mail on Saturday, less than 24 hours before departure.
This was not the part of the story that caused my delay, but it definitely marked the first lesson that I learned from Ecuador (via the Consulate). I’m not sure how to put it into words, but I would be something like trust in others. My aunt told me last week that I have a huge guardian angel energy. If so, I’m fairly certain that Beatriz at the consulate was working in cahoots with my angel through the whole visa situation. Maybe this trip will be more “spiritual” or whatever you can to call it, than I thought.
Once I got my passport, I everything went smoothly, including the wedding of my good friend, until I got to the Boise airport. Well, I guess you could say it was when I got to the gate, where we were delayed 20 minutes for the flight to San Francisco. Then we got delayed 20 minutes again as we hovered over SF. Our final arrival time was one hour later than scheduled, which was the exact time of my layover before my flight to Houston. So I missed the flight to Houston along with about 10 other people on my flight and 10 other flights in the SF airport. And we all stood in the customer service line for a good 2 hours, meaning that I missed the second flight to Houston. Finally I got to Houston a few hours later, but that meant that I missed my 5pm flight to Quito. My airline did not send me on another airline or even find accommodations for me in Houston, because the delay was caused by weather… which they can’t control. : [
That delay was definitely a bummer, but there was a bright side. I met a lovely lady at the customer service desk in Houston named Betty who made sure my luggage was still going to Quito and gave me a United Airlines overnight packet. I ended up staying the night in the Houston International Hostel and meeting a lot of pretty cool people, and one rather egocentric rapper. Also, I got to visit the Houston Holocaust Museum and Fine Arts Museum.
It took me all week to get around to writing the blog post and now I’m on the plane to Quito. For some reason, it still hasn’t hit me that I’m going to be in Ecuador and I’m not coming back. I’m excited and a little bit nervous to meet my first host family, which consists of three young men (ages 19, 19, and 23) and a single mother. They are picking me up from the hostel tomorrow at 8 am. I’m done for now, but stay tuned for more later!

Alora

ecuador photo