I am finally ready to catch you all up on what I’ve been up to for the last week! This is going to be a long one, I’m warning you now! So the feint of heart may wish to turn back now… Alright, ready?
Our first stop in Ecuador was to la Mitad del Mundo (literally, the middle of the Earth aka the Equator). We took the obligatory “one leg in the northern hemisphere, one in the southern hemisphere” pictures and stretched our legs before we got back on the bus to head to Otavalo. Otavalo is a beautiful town tucked up in the Andes mountains that has the second largest indigenous market in Ecuador. Yes, you heard me correctly. On our very first day in Ecuador our program took a group of 12 girls shopping. For hours. Needless to say, we had a blast and accomplished some intense group/girl bonding! And the prices were fantastic! $10 for a blanket? $2 for a scarf? We all ended up needing to buy gorgeous bags ($6!) to hold all of our new merchandise (At least, that’s the excuse we gave ourselves).
After a break for lunch (and time to explore the city on our own) we traveled to Peguche, a tiny indigenous village near Otavalo, to learn how wool is spun and woven to create the beautiful textiles we had purchased earlier at the market. We also learned how local instruments are made and had a little song and dance performance.
The next day we made another quick run to the market after breakfast to pick up a few more things (Hey, we’re never going to be in Otavalo again!). Then we jumped on the bus for our drive to Quito. Quito is the capital of Ecuador and is one of the largest cities I have ever seen. It just goes on forever and ever. We visited our first museum, la Capilla del Hombre (literally: the Chapel of Man) which houses all of the paintings of Guayasamin, the most famous Ecuadorian painter. It was a fantastic experience, albeit a little depressing because all of his paintings dealt with the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the maltreatment of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, the cruelty to African slaves, etc. But they were gorgeous pieces of art nonetheless.
Our next stop was my favorite so far in Ecuador. We visited the basilica which is considered to be the tallest church in Ecuador because it was built extremely tall and in addition, sits on top of a massive hill in the middle of Quito. It’s exterior is made almost entirely of volcanic ash which makes the building very strong and sturdy. We climbed the bell tower to see a view of the entire city (Well, as much as we could because it literally goes on forever!) and I can tell you that it was not an easy task. Ecuador is located within the Andes mountains and the altitude is very difficult to adjust to. Let alone, a bell tower is no easy feat in normal altitude! Once we reached the top of the bell tower we crossed an Indian Jones type rope and wooden plank bridge across the top of the vaults of the basilica below. Then we proceeded to climb three different sets of ladders. Not stairs. Ladders. One more steep than the next. The view from the top was incredible, though. And most definitely worth every ounce of fear I was feeling. Although, I wasn’t so sure of that on the way back down! But that was by far one of the most adventurous things I have ever done and it was, truly, the experience of a lifetime!
Later on day 2 we took a walking tour of Quito that ended at the church of la Compañía de Jesús whose interior is completely covered in gold leaf. It was like walking inside a treasure chest! You’ll have to google it to really get a small idea of the immense beauty of this church.
Our third day involved a lot of travel and a lot of stops. We left Quito and stopped at a rose plantation, Technirose, to learn how roses are grown and packaged for delivery. Most of the roses in the US come from Ecuador and Colombia, so next time you get a bouquet make sure to say “gracias”!! We all got to pick a rose to take with us and I chose a hybrid pink-white rose. It was magnificent. We walked across the street to the Hacienda la Ciénega where they served us hot drinks and a band came to play traditional music. We all ended up dancing the afternoon away!
On the way to our next stop we saw Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. If it were to erupt it would destroy Quito and about 2 million local inhabitants! It was gorgeous but I’m glad we left it far behind us! Our second stop of the day was to Salasacas where we visited a completely self-sufficient home and were served a traditional meal straight from the garden. Afterwords, we learned where the people in that area get red dye for their weaving. It comes from a bug that grows on a cactus plant and to get the red coloring you need to squish the bug. We learned this first hand (Literally!) because they made us squish the bug in our hand! Yikes! Some girls were even crazy enough to put the dye on their lips and walked around the rest of the day with bug guts lipstick on. Just another adventure in Ecuador!
We stayed for the night in Hacienda Leito in the village of Patate, right in the shadow of the volcano Tungurahua which caused us trouble before we left because it decided to start erupting! (Don’t worry Mom! I’m still alive!) The volcano is constantly puffing up huge clouds of ash and all night we could hear (and feel) it rumbling. Have you ever heard a volcano rumble? It sounds just like thunder (In fact our bus driver kept joking, “I guess it’s going to rain soon!”) but slightly more scary. Once it got dark we walked out on the mountain to see if we could see lava flowing. We couldn’t so we decided it might be helpful to do an Incan Lava God dance (We completely made it up). Can you just picture 12 girls in the pitch black on the side of a mountain doing a lava dance? It was quite a night! After no lava sightings we turned to leave but the volcano gave a massive rumble and shake. We figured we had made the Incan Lava Gods mad and are now slightly nervous for our trip to Peru! This volcano adventure was another one of the coolest (and most wild) experiences I’ve ever had!
We’re almost caught up! Hang in there!
Our fourth day was completely travel. We spent 8 hours on the bus from Patate to Cuenca. Traveling around Ecuador is phenomenal! It is a continuous trek up and down the sides of mountains. At various points we could look down the side of the mountain and see clouds below us and we even drove through our fair share!! We stopped for lunch on the top of one of these mountains and the view was incredible!
By 4:30pm we arrived in Cuenca, where we are going to live for the next 8 weeks. They took us all in one room and on the other side of a curtain was the room full of our families waiting to take us home. We felt like we were on a game show as each mom came in, one at a time, and announced “I am the mother of (loooooong pause)…”
My mom, Gladys, picked me up and took me home to her adorable house where I have my own bedroom and bathroom. It’s behind the shop of her father who lives with us, is 97 years old, and used to be a sculptor. She told me that many of the statues in Cuenca are his! Gladys teaches accounting at one of the local schools and is an amazing cook! The food here is delicious! And SO healthy! She always harps on US food saying that in Ecuador it is so much better because it is all natural and good for you. Here they eat lots of rice,vegetables, and soup. Not to mention the fruit! It’s to die for! And there are an overwhelming number of fruits that we just don’t have at home. My new favorites are guanabana and tomate del arbol (literally: tomato of the tree, although it’s nothing like a tomato and is sweet and delicious!). It’s my host mom’s mission to get me to try all the new fruit I possible can, and I’m not complaining!
Classes started yesterday. I am taking three: Hispanic Women Writers, History of Latin America, and Indigenous Culture and Literature of the Andes. I’m completely surprised by how much more difficult these classes are going to be than I would have guessed. We have a good amount of homework to do every night including a few papers, presentations, and exams throughout the term. I’m not worried though, because I have an excellent support group in the group of girls that are in the same classes. My indigenous culture class is the most interesting, by far. Yesterday, to build “team spirit” our teacher made us stretch, pass balls of energy between us, and give each other meaningful hugs. I’ll let you know about further antics that ensue in that class!
Phew, I think we’ve made it to the end! Thanks for sticking with me! And thanks for all the wonderful comments! I’m so glad I’m able to share my adventures with all of you! Hasta luego!