After blogging last Monday the rest of the day wasn’t very out of the ordinary. Although, my host mom presented her thesis that night, so there were some nerves and excitement in the family. Everything went really well, she was really excited afterwords, and she graduates the day after my birthday! So hopefully next week will be full of festivities in our house!
On Tuesday afternoon we had another charla, this time about native medicine. The talk was given by one of my teachers so a lot of the information and activities weren’t new for the people in my class but we still enjoyed watching everyone else’s expressions when we passed balls of energy back and forth and had to give each other meaningful hugs by connecting our bellybuttons.
Over the past week I’ve found myself connecting to my family on an even deeper level. At lunch they’ve started calling me a Cuencana because I have learned to enjoy putting mote, cooked corn, in my soup. I’ve also had more meaningful conversations instead of the “how was your day” routine. We’ve discussed medicine, politics, banking, you name it!
I was talking to my host sister about her dreams for the future and she mentioned that she is currently finishing up her last English classes in the university. She told me that the work was getting more difficult for her so of course I offered to help! I’ve been spending the last couple nights helping her with her homework and it’s been great! I get so much enjoyment out of sharing my language with her. And it amazes me how quickly I can switch between English and Spanish!
Thursday night began my wild, wild weekend. When we were leaving the Cuenca soccer game the other week people were handing out flyers advertising a concert hosted by the government. I decided to go with a few girls from my group and we had a blast! The crowd was huge but we ended up being right in front of the stage because the host brother of one of the girls in our group works for the government and helped set up the concert. He waved us into the special reserved section where the rest of the government employees, including the governor, were standing. There were many different performers and at times I felt like I was at a Justin Timberlake (or insert your male vocalist of choice) concert the way the females in the crowd were going crazy! I had such a fun time because Cuencanos really know how do parties right! There were fireworks and everything!
At Friday’s dance class we worked on more Salsa steps. Also, our teacher played us different types of Salsa music so we could hear the differences. At one point she played a Mexican rhythm which sounded to us exactly like barn-dancing music so we proceeded to showcase our best hoedown abilities and our teacher just about died. She was thoroughly impressed by our belt buckle grabbing, boot scuffing moves. It was easily my favorite dance class so far.
After class, as usual, we headed out to eat as a group. On Friday we opted for Italian which, surprisingly, they do SO well here. We were all very content after our meals. One of the girls in our group has a boyfriend here in Cuenca and his family invited our group to their quinta, which is a country home for Cuencanos. The odd reality about this quinta is that it wasn’t actually in the country. It was exactly a 10 minute drive from my own house. What the point of having two houses a few minutes apart is? I’m not sure. But, we had a great time! There were lots of card games going on and it was just one of those relaxing “country” nights.
And then came Saturday. One of the greatest days of my life. On Saturday morning 6 of us met at school to meet our guides to go… canyoning! For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term (I wasn’t either!) canyoning is an activity in which you descend a series of waterfalls by three different methods: jumping, sliding, or repelling. We had heard about this activity from Augie students who had gone on previous Ecuador terms and had LOVED it. We were told it was a must-do. So we went to the travel agency and booked a day for ourselves! It was the best advice I’ve had on this trip so far. And any future Ecuador term students out there, heed the advice of those who have gone before–canyoning really is a MUST do.
Our two guides (both English speakers, thank goodness!) picked us up at school and we drove about 15 minutes outside of Cuenca. They drove us as far up the mountain as they could but then it was our turn to walk. I’m starting to feel like I subject myself to a mountain climb every weekend! And this was no different. It was 40 very difficult minutes of hiking up an extreme incline. But the view of the city of Cuenca was just as breathtaking.
Once we reached our maximum height, we had to climb down to the river. And when I say climb, I actually mean slide. Backwards. I am fairly certain that this part of our adventure was more dangerous and difficult than anything we did in the waterfalls. Our decline was possible only by allowing ourselves to slide backwards in the mud down the side of the mountain. The only reason we didn’t tumble to bottom was because we grabbed tree after tree and plant after plant to slowly lower ourselves down. It was insane.
When we finally made it down to the river we changed into our wetsuits (that itself was a challenge), donned our helmets and harnesses, and tried not to get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Then it was time to jump in the river. Words will never explain how cold the water was but let me just say that from the moment we stepped in, I was terrified that I would never regain the use of my toes again. It was that cold. I kept trying to recall everything I had ever learned about hypothermia, but I was too cold to think.
Most of the distance we covered in the water was achieved by scrambling over rocks. The majority of the time the water didn’t rise above our knees which is good because I would have tired out much more easily if we had to swim! We started off with a few slides where the waterfall had carved a waterslide in the rock. We were all feeling pretty comfortable and having a great time. Then we got to our first jump. We climbed to the top of a giant rock and were told, “ok, jump!” as we were looking down into the pool at least 15 feet below us. It took a while to sum up my courage but I did and the jump was awesome. As I was falling, before I hit the water, I just kept thinking “I can’t believe I’m doing this, I can’t believe I’m doing this!” And that pretty much sums up my thought process for the entire day.
After our first jump there was another and that one I was ready to fly off of. No pausing at the top necessary. Then we started our repels. There were about eight in all and looking down from the top was incredible. They were pretty long repels! It’s a good thing that no experience was required though! We had a guide at the top and the bottom and they slowly lowered each of us down the side of every waterfall. No work for us, but still what a rush! I desperately wish I had pictures to show you but everything we took with us got completely soaked so I chose to leave my camera at home. One of the girls with us did have a waterproof camera, though, so pictures exist, I just don’t have them yet. If you’re really curious, email me once school starts and I will send you some copies!
Now, do you still have a mental image of the way we got down that muddy mountainside? Good. Now picture us trying to get up that same incline. Unbelievable. We literally pulled ourselves from tree to tree like a line of little monkeys. Today is Wednesday and I am just now able to lift my arms up more than 6 inches. Oy!
Although we were freezing and physically exhausted we decided to go to a movie later that night. And although I am the biggest anti-Twilight fan imaginable I figured it would be a cultural experience, and let my friends drag me to see Eclipso. These same friends, who were so excited to finally see the new Twilight movie, were also the same friends who slept through the whole movie (being so exhausted from canyoning) and left me to watch the movie, in Spanish, on my own. It was, most definitely, an experience.
Sunday consisted of a group visit to the cities of Gualaceo and Chordeleg which are about an hour outside of Cuenca. Chordeleg is known for its silver so we visited a family that has been making silver jewelry for generations and then stopped in the city center for a shopping trip. It’s a good thing our group is only girls! In Gualaceo we stopped at the market for lunch and had to choose between cuy (guinea pig), roasted pig, tortillas, empanadas, humitas, and every other type of local cuisine. It was a feast!
Throughout the day we also stopped at two other family homes to learn about handmade guitars and an ancient form of fabric weaving that is rarely used today. It was a day filled with lots of different cultural activities!