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