Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Puerto Lopez

Puerto Lopez is a small beach town about 4 hours from Guayaquil by bus. Its main attraction is whale watching that occurs between the months of July and October--but are most popular during the month of August--while the whales migrate south to find warmer waters. My main reason for wanting to go though was to go to Los Frailes, a virgin beach in National Park territory (Parque Nacional de Machalilla) that is considered one of the most beautiful beaches of Ecuador.

This week is vacation week for the majority of the international students, so I went with a few people who would be returning to Guayaquil on Sunday and another group of about 8 continued traveling north along the coast after Puerto Lopez. The courses taught in English get a break this week but since I have one course taught in Spanish I had to stay back with just a few other international students. Next week we'll have only classes Monday and Tuesday and the rest of the week off for Dia de los Difuntos--Day of the Deceased and other celebrations throughout Ecuador.

On Friday morning I headed out for Puerto Lopez with one of my friends, Sharae. The start of the trip signaled to us that we were in for an interesting weekend. When the city bus stopped at the terminal a mob of male domestic and blue collar workers looking to get on the bus for work swarmed the bus and started pushing it and shaking it. I thought for a few seconds that they were actually going to tip the bus over, and the bus driver was not amused either, so he was refusing to open the doors to get in or off. After they calmed down momentarily the doors swung open and the fighting to get on the bus began again, while I had to push my way off.

Right after that incident we crossed the street to get to the terminal. As we were walking by the bahia (black market) to the side of the terminal a man started approaching us coming from the terminal. His eyes were glazed over, he couldn't walk in a straight line and he had his arms kinda flailing side to side. We tried to walk farther to the left, away from him but he came right toward me, made some unhuman growl and grabbed my arm. I immediately smacked his arm and pushed him off me and he just kept walking, while the people that watched around us just laughed at me. Although it shook me up a little it was relieving that the man was so clearly not capable of actually doing any harm to me because he had almost no motor skills at that point.

The rest of our trip that day was relatively peaceful, arriving around 12 to a pretty empty town, finding a cheap hostel for 7 dollars each and heading to the beach while we waited for the other girls to arrive. Since we all had been exhausted from our exams all last week, and there was also nowhere to go at night, we just stayed in our room and went to bed early to wake up for Los Frailes the next morning. We ended up taking mini chiva carts (basically a motorcycle with a cart attached behind it for two people) for the 20 min or so ride to the beach, and picking up local fruits on the way at the main market for our lunches. It ended up being $5/cart each way and they stayed at the beach to wait for us until we were ready.

The beach was absolutely amazing--making me miss having a camera. Just about nobody was there--just a few couples were there during the entire afternoon, the weather was pretty warm and the water was crystal clear. When we got back to Puerto Lopez we met up with the other group traveling for the rest of the night. The beach is lined with a chain of mini bars that have chairs and hammocks (I prefer the latter) available for the customers. Being the only gringas around we were an apparent target but I was glad to stay in the 7dollar hostel where we didn't get robbed, rather than the 5 dollar one where that was an issue. Thankfully, we were all able to make it out of Puerto Lopez safely--either back to Guayaquil or onto other travels.

After my weekend at the beach, on Monday I had a field trip with my international trade class to Cuenca. I love Cuenca, so I was excited to return but it ended up being a lot less exciting than I'd hope. It was a 4 hour drive to a 4 hour lecture in the university on the outskirts of Cuenca, before driving four hours back. The celebrations were already starting that day but since we didn't spend any time in the actual city, I wasn't able to see any of it. Next Wednesday I'll be heading out to Cuenca with Dave, when the celebrations are really in full swing, and pictures will finally be posted. Until then I'll be in the Guayaquil area for the most part, while everyone else has their vacations in the Galapagos, Peru or Colombia.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

La Nariz del Diablo

I've been pretty busy with school and realized I had not yet written about the train I took a few weeks back to La Nariz del Diablo. I ended up heading there with some of the French speaking international students so it was a good weekend of mainly Spanish (with them occasionally reverting to French or me reverting to English). The train typically runs between Riobamba, a city that I had stayed in when we had traveled to climb Chimborazo, and a small town called Alausi. Our original plan had been to take a bus into Riobamba, stay the night and take the train ride in the morning. However, we found out that the tracks near Riobamba are currently in construction so we instead decided to head to Alausi.

When we got to the bus station around 10 am we found that the next bus to Alausi (direct) wouldn't be leaving till 130. My friends wanted to get going as soon as they could so we decided to take an indirect route--first going south toward Ingapirca--Ecuador's most notable Incan ruins, and then catching a second bus on the side of the road to Alausi. The bus driver signaled for us to hop off when we reached a side of the road where there was a restaurant and a  couple trinket stores--and nothing else really in view. They drove off and since it was past lunch time at that point we decided to sit down to eat. Just as we had all sat down the bus arrived (which we had been told would be arriving in an hour or so) so we all sprinted to it as it was starting to take off. All the seats were full so we all had to brace ourselves for an hour/ hour and a half standing with all our bags while the bus went up and down the Andes mountains. As locals started to get off the bus along the way we were eventually able to get seats and we arrived soon after. The indirect bus route ended up arriving just around the same time we would've arrived if we had taken the direct bus (as I had tried to point out at the bus station) but we ended up meeting another French girl on the second bus--who seemed thrilled to be around French speakers again.

We ended up finding a hostel called the Panamericano for 8/each and then headed to get dinner. We found that the majority of restaurants were closed--one restaurant owner told me that most places shut down on Saturday afternoons so families can spend time together. We eventually found a small place to eat seco de pollo and ended up chatting with the owner for a while after. Like many small towns in the Andes here, the electricity was shut off until about 6 or 7 at night for construction. When we arrived back at the hostel we found all the doors locked and had to bang on the doors for about 10-15 minutes before we were finally buzzed in. We ended up deciding to stay in the rest of the night rather than risk getting locked out again and woke up early for the train.

While we had been told we'd be able to buy tickets the day of the train, we found the next morning that they were all booked through the day till 2. We all needed to get back to Guayaquil, and I had to prepare for a class presentation for Comercio Internacional but we ended up getting helped out by the man managing the ticket sales. He told us to be patient while he scanned the computer for cancellations. One couple almost was unable to get on the train despite the fact that they had made reservations a month back. He found room for us in the 9oclock autoferro, a little bit cheaper than taking the actual train but it goes the exact same route along the tracks, just doesn't include food. When he asked for our passports I realized I didn't have my copy and blanked on the numbers. Eventually he turned to me and quietly said, please--just invent some numbers. We were told by him to tell anyone who asked us that we had reservations a month back, or he could get in a lot of trouble. However once the train got going, it was more than half empty, so I'm not quite sure why getting the tickets had become such a process.

In the past, passengers had been allowed to ride just on top of the train, for more thrills. A couple years back a couple of tourists didn't see a cable coming and ended up getting knocked down the mountains so it's now prohibited. It was still a good mini trip. We enjoyed being in such a small peaceful town--a huge change from Guayaquil.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spelling Bees and House Building

This past Tuesday we finally hosted the Spelling Bee at our school. The set up was a little unique but it was successful nonetheless. The competition was divided into 3 levels and within each level a student went head to head against another student, and whoever spelled the most out of 5 words correctly went on to the next round. I was so happy that the two levels that I had worked with had a frequent number of ties in which both students spelled all the words correctly and had to go into multiple tie breaker rounds. Although I was correct in my predictions of who would win from the two levels, the rest of the students also did very well and I was thrilled to see so much improvement with the students.

With the 8th year students before the competition. Robert is the boy on  the left, the winner  is the girl right of center

One boy in particular, Robert, went on to win second place for his age group (Just 8 in each level), and had improved the most significantly out of all the students. While he had struggled with a number of the more difficult words when we practiced, he was confident at the spelling bee and although I was a judge I couldn't help but beam while I told him he had spelled a word correctly. His English professor told me that after the spelling bee he told her that she needed to give him a prize because he had improved so much that he considered himself a winner--the cutest thing I have ever heard.

Now that I'm done with the spelling bee, I'm glad to be moving on to other things. I've been interacting more with entire classes and I've lead a few classes completely on my own. My director Maria Elena seems to be comfortable giving me full responsibility over the class and slowly the students are learning to cooperate better. Last week Maria Elena asked me to start a lesson for her because she had to go downstairs for a minute to talk to the principal. I was already scheduled to help another professor with her lesson and we had already developed a whole lesson plan for the class so Maria Elena assured me that she would only be five minutes. That five minutes quickly turned into the full hour--me without a teacher's book, a marker for the chalkboard and without knowing the name of a single student in the class (except one who participated in the Spelling Bee)--of teaching the differences between can and cannot to a class of 35 9 year olds. My days are always interesting though--while the other two interns are assigned specific professors to work with, I'm kind of thrown around and never know what class I'll be with or what I'll be doing until the class has started.

After another week at my internship, on Saturday I headed to Duran, a municipality near Guayaquil, to build houses with the other international students. We were working with Hogar de Cristo, a local organization that provides micro loans, economic assistance and minimal housing for families in order to deal with the housing shortage that plagues Ecuador. According to a presentation done by the head of Hogar de Cristo, Guayaquil suffers from the 3rd highest housing shortage in the world, after Calcutta and Port-Au-Prince. I was surprised to hear this because I would think that it would be less of a problem than in larger mega cities (Guayaquil's population is only between 2-3 million). What was probably most shocking was that just over 8 million of Ecuador's 13 million citizens lack housing completely or live in housing so minimal that it cannot be considered dignified (eg, houses made of cardboard and scrap metal in slums). The most basic housing they build in order to pull people out of these situations consist of concrete walls on the first floor and a bamboo second floor. The organization's website can be found here. Two American students are currently interning at the organization, developing the English language site for the organization.

I had been anticipating helping with the actual construction of houses, more students than expected showed up and the organization we were working with did not have enough tools on hand so they asked me and a few others to cook the lunch for the 40 students, plus the families for whom we were building houses. We made seco de pollo, a typical Ecuadorian dish that consists of chicken, tomato, bell pepper, onion, cilantro and naranjilla (beer is also used instead to give the meat flavor and moisture) and served over rice (In Ecuador white rice is served with almost every lunch and dinner, and is never missed completely from a day). The food was cooked on an outdoor carbon stove borrowed from a family that uses it to sell typical street food.

Although I was disappointed to not participate in the actual building, going to the main market area to buy the ingredients at various little shops was an interesting experience, as well as seeing the women who helped us deal with the cooking. I had to overlook the fact that the butcher dropped a piece of chicken on the dirty floor before tossing it in the bag, the plastic bags used to get the coals burning faster and the lack of kitchen tools that I'm more accustomed to using. In the end one of the students made the claim that it was the best seco de pollo she's had here, and everyone else seemed to enjoy it as well. I guess this proves the assertion true that the street food made under some of the less sanitary conditions always tastes the best (eg. ceviche sold from peddle carts on the beaches).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ecuador Living

About a week ago there was a robbery near my house, which has had me on edge since. Our university stresses the importance of safety precautions and often uses examples of what has happened to students in the past to ensure that current students will not be in danger. The problem I found is that it creates two extremes--those who feel constantly paranoid and fear to ever go beyond Samborondon, and those who find exaggerations in what we've been told and become convinced that nothing bad can actually happen. Since our program started most of the other students have asked me questions about whether or not I had ever actually felt unsafe, in danger or whatever else during my stay here last year. While I answer truthfully, that no there was no point where I felt particularly uncomfortable in that sense, I've found that I need to use caution when explaining this because my response can sway students into thinking that NOTHING could happen--which is far from the truth because international students are quite frequently robbed.

Also, while I never felt in danger last year, I had only been here for a month and upon my return I've found much more caution among Ecuadorians. Since last August I have found that our ciudadela has heightened security noticeably. Without a residence card that opens the two main gates, cars are not permitted to enter, a side entrance allows non residents to enter, based on certain rules that I don't fully know. While pedestrians were able to pass relatively freely in the past without a physical barrier (there were still guards making sure no one suspicious entered), a guard now stands at the gate monitoring everyone who enters and exits. Following the robbery incident, maids and other domestic workers' bags were being searched upon entering and exiting.

At the university, security also seems more paranoid. Just as last year, we have ID cards that we have to scan before scanning our fingerprint in order to enter the campus. However, last  year I brought mine maybe 40% of the time; I usually just asked security to let me in and they did willingly. Yesterday though, I forgot my card for the first time and I asked security to let me in, they gave me a hard time and told me I can't come in without my card, so I just reverted to playing dumb exchange student ("que? que? no entiendo") until he let me in. 

Among my Ecuadorian friends in addition to the international students I find the extremes regarding their perceptions of safety. While there are some who rarely venture outside of Samborondon, others try to convince me that really nothing will happen if I take a yellow taxi (yellow taxis are not safe in Guayaquil due to the trend of express kidnappings, private radio taxis are recommended). Although I don't want to just keep myself within the Samborondon bubble (the municipality is more like a suburb outside of the city, filled with palm trees, beautiful houses, malls and half the restaurant names in English), I can see that some of those who choose to are justified--I've never been kidnapped or robbed at gun/knife point but I'd imagine that if I were to, I'd end up keeping myself within the safest bubble possible.

So, I'm learning to take into account the frustrations of heightened security and paranoia with the million benefits that come along with living here. Stopping at Pandorado for pan de yuca or whatever else I'm craving (maybe a birthday cake for a friend this past Thursday) is far more satisfying than getting some quick snack at a Starbucks. Basically anywhere you go, the food will be amazing. Although I like to occasionally go for dinner at Cocolon (Typical Ecuadorian food with a classy spin on it) or Positano (amazing Italian restaurant owned by a man from Napoli), I can also enjoy the most delicious food at my host family's house or out at a small restaurant where a 3 course meal costs $1.50-$2.00.

Also, while Ecuador is a fairly small country, the diversity allows you to travel relatively small distances to reach a diverse amount of places. While last weekend I took a 3hr bus trip to a beach town (Montanita--party town with a mix of tourists and Ecuadorians and the most amazing cheese empanadas sold at a main corner every weekend till after 5am), this weekend I headed into the sierra (where the Andes mountains are found) to take the "Nariz del Diablo" train. The Galapagos is of course another popular destination for travelers while in Ecuador (and some people's sole purpose for coming) but I'd prefer to save my money for now on less expensive destinations. In a few weeks I plan to head back into the Amazon during a short school week.

More to come about La Nariz del Diablo and other things going on in my next post..

Saturday, September 3, 2011

First Full Week in Guayaquil

This week marked the end of summer and beginning of classes and volunteering for me. I'm taking two classes on the bimester schedule which are a Spanish language class and a poli sci/econ course. The classes that last the entire semester are taught in Spanish and directed toward the native Spanish speakers and I am taking one--Comercio Internacional. I'll add one more class next bimester for a total of 13 credits. I'm also doing a volunteer placement at a private school in the city of Guayaquil which serves students aged 4-18 years old. The picture above shows all the little presents I was given on my first full day at the school from the high school aged students. I'm primarily working as a teacher's assistant for the English teachers but I may also be helping coordinate some of the extracurricular activities, such as spelling bees, debate clubs and fairs.

My classes and volunteering run Monday-Thursday, giving me a long weekend every weekend. Yesterday and this afternoon we took advantage of the university's pool that doesn't seem to be used much by other students and exploring more of Samborondon. Today I headed back to Parque Historico with some of the other international students. The section with the monkeys, caimanes and some other animals was closed but we were able to see the birds shown below, foxes and other animals, as well as the colonial section of the park.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Orientation Tour

So my camera has slowly deteriorated to the point that it now is, where less than half the screen is completely black and taking pictures is useless.The good thing is that this has happened at the point where I was just starting orientation and have already done/seen quite a few of the things that are included in the orientation. For some of the new sights, I used the camera on my phone. The first day was a pretty simple, laid back day and most of the students had not yet arrived by the time some of us went out to get dinner and drinks.

For Tuesday morning our group of about 40something international students (from US, Japan, Canada, Australia, France, Belgium, Sierra Leone and Mexico) were divided into two groups to explore the old city (Centro Historico) of Quito and to visit Capilla del Hombre--a museum of Ecuador's most famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin's--most famous works. This year no photographs were permitted inside the museum but fortunately for me, I was able to last year. For dinner, I brought a bunch of us to La Ronda (since not many others have ever been to Quito before) for dinner but we were split up into two restaurants because there was way too many of us.

On Wednesday we headed off to Otavalo in the same two groups, with stops at nearby towns to meet with the Cotocachi weaver family, to listen to traditional indigenous music and to a shaman's house to see a ritual cleansing with Axel, one of the students, as the volunteer. The ritual was the only new thing that I had seen so far on orientation, and  I asked to be the volunteer but because the ritual involves flames and requires most of your clothes to be removed to prevent the fire from catching, my director thought it would be better to have a male volunteer.

Thursday morning we all went to Otavalo's market but since I had just been there last Saturday, I didn't buy too much. After we finished up at the market we headed to Cuicocha, an active crater lake. We took a boat trip around the lake and were given canelazo after we got off. At Cuicocha they served us canelazo without any sugar cane liquor, which made it to cinnamon-y and not sweet enough for my tastes. We headed back to Quito for the night and some of us went salsa dancing in the Mariscal district after dinner.

On Friday morning we woke up early (again) to head down toward Riobamba. We stopped at Salasaca for lunch where we had a typical lunch of choclo (corn), potatoes, and vegetables. After lunch a few people demonstrated a ritual dance and then some of the students joined in. After that we split up and learned about the dyes used for the artisan crafts (basically larvae guts) and the process of weaving.

Yesterday morning we woke up, had breakfast and headed to Chimborazo--an inactive volcano that has the highest summit in Ecuador--to do a short climb from the first refuge to the second one. Although there wasn't a ton of distance between the two refuges, we were about 5,000 meters above sea level (just over 16,000 feet), making it a little bit more difficult to breathe.

I reached the second refuge with the first group, where we rested and took a bunch of pictures before heading back down. When everyone returned to the buses we started our trip down to Guayaquil, where the weather is so much warmer. We arrived around 6pm and I headed back to my host family's house. Tomorrow we will be meeting up for a city tour and picking classes.

Martin resting on the way up Chimborazo

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Futbol, Cuy and Otavalo

from our seats
On Wednesday after meeting up with Javi we headed to a futbol game for the Copa Sudamerica between Liga, a team from Quito and a team from Venezuela. We got there at halftime and missed the only goal of the game but we still had a lot of fun and got Liga jerseys for 5 dollars outside the stadium.

 On Thursday night headed to La Ronda for dinner, which is a cobblestone road filled with tons of small restaurants and artisan shops and closed to cars so that we are able to walk freely through the streets. We had a dinner of one enormous empanada filled with cheese and covered in sugar that we split between about 8 of us and drank canelazo--a popular sugar cane liquor with cinnamon.

CUY! (aka, guinea pig)
Friday morning we headed to Parque Metropolitano  which has some amazing views of the city and of the nearby volcanoes. We hiked around for a little bit and then headed back for a big lunch with all of Javi´s family. For the night we headed to Javi´s family´s farm in Quinche to grill cuy and steak. The cuy was good but I just had a bite, the rest was all Dave´s.

On Sunday morning we got up around 9 to head off to Otavalo. Every Saturday the town has a large open air indigenous market--the largest in Latin America. We bought tons of alpaca items--blankets, scarves, socks, sweaters, and a little alpaca teddy bear for my nephew. I got Dave a Panama Hat (actually from Ecuador but made famous in Panama) which is made from paja de toquilla and is only grown in Ecuador and we bought tons of other gifts for our friends and family.

 This morning we went  to Parque Condor which is a climb from Otavalo. The park has the Andean Condor--the largest bird that flies, and many other birds that have been rescued from captivity or injured due to deforestation. Those that are able to return to the wild are but many are not able to. We´re headed back to Quito for the night before Dave flies back to New York tomorrow and I meet up with UEES to start my university orientation.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Quito and Pululahua

We left Baños last Sunday morning. Before we could leave though, we had to go back to Arome Cafe y Chocolate for breakfast. We had crepes and pancakes with chocolate syrup and strawberries, chocolate fondue with strawberries, and I had a hot chocolate made from Amazonian cocao. We bought some bars of chocolate, baking cocoa and coffee to bring back home and they also have a spice shop in town where they have everything I could ever want. The restaurant is run by a husband and wife, with their two year old daughter laughing on the counter playing peek a boo with customers.

from the terrace of our hostel
The bus to Quito only took 3 1-2 hours or so and when we got to the Quitumbe terminal we took the city bus 17 stops to a hostel that we reserved in the Old Town part of Quito. A German girl ended up staying in the same dorm as us so I took her and Dave around to show them the parts of Quito that I remembered from last year--the Basilica, the presidential palace and the million churches around the plaza.

On Tuesday Dave and I decided to head to Mitad del Mundo and the Pululahua crater for the day while our friend decided to stay back and book a trip to the Galapagos. The Mitad del Mundo is a little park like thing with the Equatorial monument set where the equatorial line is supposed to be (after GPS, it was discovered that the monument is about 200 meters off), some restaurants and artisan crafts, llamas and little museums.

After taking the routine picture at the monument, we took a bus to Pululahua, an active volcano that contains an agricultural town within the crater. Because of the altitude and the mountains, visibility becomes impossible by about 3pm but we were able to get a decent view around 2pm from the lookout point we hiked to when the clouds passed for a few moments. Because of the constant presence of clouds, our guide told us that the entire town gets water from the clouds and the soil is perfect, making irrigation unnecessary.

from the top of Teleferiqo
On Wednesday we took a taxi to the Teleferiqo--a cable car that climbs up the top of the Pichincha volcano that towers over the city. At the top there are a couple of restaurants, more used to be there when the cable car first opened up but now there are small empty buildings at the top. There are paths to explore more of the volcano but we didn´t spend too much time up there because it was freezing. When we got back into town, we went to La Compañia--a beautiful church that is all gold on the inside--but we were not allowed to take any pictures. After that we got lunch, bought new shoes and met up with Dave´s friend Javier who is originally from Quito.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

For our last day in Baños last Wednesday we decided to go off in search for a jungle tour. Most of the tours we found came out to be about $45 or $50 per person per day until we came across one guide, Mario who offered us a 3 day tour for $90 each person. He told us he could bring our large backpacks on the last day so that we could go straight from Puyo to Quito, without having to go back to Baños and we could just carry our small bags while we hiked through the Amazon.

On Thursday morning we were joined by two Irish girls who had booked the tour with two others who were stuck back with food poisoning. Our first stop was to a trout farm to pick up fish that the guide that accompanied us, Sixto, would cook for us. Next, we went to a monkey rescue reserve, a non-profit that takes in monkeys and other animals that had been taken in captivity. 

After an hour drive past the monkey reserve we arrived to the Hola Vida Reserve, where we would sleep Thursday and Friday nights. We ate lunch and headed off for a four hour hike, with a swim at a waterfall in the middle of it. When we headed back it was already getting dark but we were able to climb to an old tower used for cable cars and zip lining to have an amazing view of the Andes. On our way back we ended up having to make a slight detour because a scared/angry horse was in our path and did not want to let us by.  After dinner Sixto brought us down the road to a community bar, which the owner gladly opened up and played pool with all of us.

view from our cabins
On Friday morning we had a big breakfast before setting off for a 5 hour hike. In the middle of this hike we had to swim a little to reach a hidden waterfall that can´t be reached by land. Sixto generously walked as far as he could against the rocks to get pictures of us but most of them ended up too blurry.  After our hike the two Irish guys were waiting because they had just arrived. We relaxed around the cabins for a bit before going off on a canoe ride to see a small Kichwa community´s dwellings and hiked up to an amazing viewpoint where we could see the river and the forest from high above. My camera had gotten temporarily damaged during the canoe ride so we weren´t able to get any pictures. We ended our night with the ayahuasca shamanic ritual and relaxed, with the sky remaining fairly well lit from the full moon--all through the night it appeared to be just dusk.

rafting tutorial
On Saturday morning we packed up and headed out to meet Mario so he could take us rafting through the Puyo River. The rapids ranged from Class II to Class IV, and after a three minute tutorial for the six of us (most of us who have never gone rafting before), we went off into the river. The first rapid was the most difficult and knocked 4 out of the 7 of us (including Mario) into the rapids. The two in the front--Dave and Seamus--were the only ones that had straps to keep their feet secure, so the rest of us were really just sitting atop a float. Those two and Connie were the only ones who managed to stay in. As Gary and Connie tried to pull me up, I just barely managed to escape getting smashed against the rocks on the side of the river and once I was back in we tried to steer back to get the the other two still out of the water--our guide and the other Irish girl, whose name I cannot for the life of me manage to spell (pronounced Kwee-vuh). We recovered Mario first and while we rafted toward the island in the middle, she was able to swim to a rock on the other side. She was clearly injured (I could see clearly blood running down her leg from across the river) but Mario saw no reason why she shouldn´t just swim across and continue. We eventually persuaded him to let us raft to her and once she was able to recover her breath, she got in and we continued rafting the rest of the way.

Because Mario had forgotten to bring our bags, we ended up having to go back to Baños for the night and since it was a holiday we ended up having to pay 20 dollars each for the night, instead of the 8 that we´ve grown accustomed to paying. It was the last room in town basically, so we were forced to accept. We arrived in Quito on Sunday, more to come about that later.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

End of Montañita and Beginning of Baños

We found how different Montañita becomes by Sunday afternoon, most of the tourists had left and very few of the stands were open along the beach, and even those that were open were just selling juice and soups. On Monday morning before departing the town was even more bare, with most all of the restaurants closed and the only people out were those cleaning up the streets from the weekend.

view from the bus of a peak in the Andes

We headed out at 10am and arrived in Guayaquil with enough time to eat a quick lunch before transferring to our bus to Baños. We ended up having to do another transfer in Ambato, in which we had to chase after this man our former bus driver told us to follow while he sprinted across the terminal. Although the ride shouldn´t have taken much longer than an hour we were stuck for about an hour right before what looked like a bridge because of the cut off of two way traffic and stalled buses ahead of us. After traveling for 12 hours we went to the first hostel we could find, ate dinner and looked up options for Amazon travel in the next few days.

This morning we woke up early, found a new (better) hostel, explored the town and then took a chiva bus around the mountains.
There were stops along the way for things like ziplining and bungee jumping but the final stop was a climb down to a waterfall. It was slippery and I might´ve fallen (once) on the bridge but it was beautiful anyway. We got back a little while ago and are headed up to the volcano tonight.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Montañita is a small beach town on the coast of Ecuador that is popular with international tourists, as well as Ecuadorians. I went a couple times last summer and had a lot of fun so I was excited to bring Dave along.

Friday night we arrived in Montañita at about 11pm, we wandered around for a while with our backpacks because most of the hostels were full until we finally found one.

Dave´s first ceviche

Saturday morning we were greeted with shouts of ¨Ayyyy gringa preciosa!¨, and Dave making a new friend that leapt onto his back cackling. We went off in search for a better hostel, moved our bags into it and headed to the beach. It wasn´t too sunny all weekend but the beach was still warm enough to swim.

walking along the cliff of the beach
The main street to the beach is lined with at least 40 stands selling various drinks, both alcoholic and non, and a couple selling full dinners. We spent Friday and Saturday nights sitting by these stands, and as per usual, Dave made good friends with the bartenders.
Main center of town from my window at 5am

We napped from about 11 pm to 4am before going back out to see what was going on, and to get some cheese empanadas. Most of the bars were just starting to shut down but the streets were still filled with people. We walked out just in time to see a fight starting up, one man armed with a broomstick. As we were walking away, we were glad we got out in time to avoid the glass that we heard shattering. When we got down to the beach, the scene was filled with hippies juggling fire and friends throwing their drunk friends into the ocean to cool off.

We decided we´d stay an extra day to enjoy the beach and we bought our bus tickets to head to Baños tomorrow at 10am.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


On Thursday morning we arrived around 830am. After being awake for well over 24 hours I was too wired to take a nap when we got to my host family's house. We ate a breakfast of fruit, juice and bread before Dave fell asleep in the hammock.
 Las Penas
Before dinner we headed out to Guayaquil's boardwalk (called El Malecon) and to Las Penas, steps that lead up to a tower and a small church where you can overlook the city. The way up is filled with tiny stores of souveneirs, restaurants and bars. It's one of my favorite places to go to in Guayaquil because there is so much to do in such a small area and it's also fairly safe.

El Malecon

When we arrived to the top of the tower, we ran into a couple that had been sitting next to us on the plane. They took a picture of us at the top and I took a picture of them.
We took the bus back to the house and had dinner and chatted with my host family before going to sleep. On Friday we woke up and had breakfast and walked over to El Parque Historico. Both of us left our cameras
at home but the park was beautiful. The first part  of the park is based on the diversity of the plants and animals of Ecuador, mainly from the coastal areas. We saw monkeys, tapirs, ocelots and lots of birds. The second part of the park was a recreation of colonial times, with a few actors and actresses in colonial dress. We had maduros, which are plantains stuffed with cheese and empanadas and raspberry juice. After lunch we headed over to the third section which demonstrates traditional farm life and has gardens that grow all types of herbs, vegetables, cocao and coffee.

After the park we headed back home and relaxed with the family before catching a 5 oclock bus to Montanita. Dave described Guayaquil's bus terminal as a cleaner, less creepy version of NY's Port Authority. More to come about our time in Montanita in the next post.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I shouldn't be surprised that the flight I'm taking out at midnight tonight is already being delayed an hour. Last year on my flight back from Guayaquil (taking the same airline, LAN Ecuador) we ended up getting delayed about 12 hours. I've heard a lot of complaints about the airline but it's cheap so I deal.

I will be flying into Guayaquil with my boyfriend, Dave (hopefully early tomorrow morning if delays don't escalate) and we will spend about 2 1/2 weeks traveling through the country, to some sights that I have seen and some that I haven't. This will be Dave's first time traveling to the country so all of the cities will be new for him.

Although I've studied Spanish for years, my conversational Spanish isn't as good as it should be but I'm going to work to improve it while I'm there--one of the main reasons I decided to go back.

I'll be taking courses at UEES in Guayaquil and staying with the host family that I stayed with last year. At the end of the 2 1/2 weeks, Dave will go back to the US while I will stay until the end of December.

My lovely host parents and I