Last week Wednesday after blogging, I had our second of two cooking classes. We made ceviche which is a typical Ecuadorian dish of shrimp marinated in orange and lime juice. It was delicious but had a very strong, slightly overpowering flavor to it.
In our Indigenous Literature and Culture class lately we have been doing a lot of work in the indigenous language of the area: Quichua. We have written quite a few poems in Spanish and translated them into Quichua, with topics including: my mom, my dog, and my country. Random, I know. I think my mom really appreciated the Quichua version of the poem I wrote for her that I read over the phone. Also, we’ve been learning to sing songs in Quichua and are supposed to learn the dances that accompany them sometime this week. Our teacher wants us to perform this song and dance combination in front of all of our friends and host families at our goodbye dinner. We’ll see if that happens…
On Thursday I came home to a surprise visitor at lunch. The lady that stayed with my host family last year came to Cuenca for an impromptu visit! She is a middle school science teacher and came for about a month last summer as an independent student to learn Spanish. She just had the best personality and really spiced up lunch for the day! It was so great to hear about all of her experiences and what she missed most about Cuenca which is helping me to appreciate it while I still have it!). After only having been in our house for an hour I was amazed at how difficult it was for her and my host mom to say goodbye! Everyone was emotional, including me, because I couldn’t shake the thought that I would be doing the same thing very soon. I didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to say goodbye to my family and my life here, but at this point I’m pretty sure I’m going to cry. But, enough about that! I’ve still got two and half weeks to enjoy here!
After witnessing that emotional goodbye I headed back to school for one of our last charlas, this time about the Ecuadorian health care system. I was intrigued by the topic, but– I’m not going to sugarcoat this– that talk was beyond boring! It was one statistic after another, after another, after another… you get the idea. And let me tell you, hearing a list of statistics in Spanish, in the afternoon, after a delicious and filling lunch, isn’t exactly the thing that keeps you at the edge of your seat.
So, being in the relaxed mood that I was in, when I went home I sat down and finished my seventh book this summer. Isn’t that ridiculous?! Thank you cousin Caitlin for telling me to bring plenty of books. I thought you were a little crazy, but you were right! I finished them all! Being as busy as I am and in a foreign country and all, I never would have guessed that I would find time to read– but boy have I! At night, when everything settles down and I finish my homework, I find that I have a few hours to myself that I would normally spend in front of the TV if I were at home, but at my house here my families all have their own televisions in their bedrooms. Therefore, I don’t have access to a TV and haven’t watched a single episode of anything ALL summer! Can you imagine? I’m so glad that I’ve been forced back into reading though; it’s the only way to boost your GRE verbal score, you know!
Friday was an exceptionally fun day. In the morning my host mom and sister left for Macas for the weekend as a pilgrimage to celebrate mass with the country’s youth on Sunday morning. That left just me and grandpa eating together at lunch and I think our maid got a kick out of our conversations. I had to repeat things at least four times and my grandpa would try to start conversations with random facts (You’re going to Saraguro? There’s a special type of tree there that grows really tall.) that like usual, I had difficulty coming up with a response to.
During the first section of dance class I spent time catching up on the computer and as I was heading downstairs for the second section our teacher sprinted past me in the hallway shouting something about how she had to go because of an emergency. We were all really concerned that something had happened to one of her kids so we asked the head coordinator if something was wrong and she told us that our dance instructor’s car had been towed by the police. We keeled over in laughter for about 5 minutes straight. Then our two favorite group coordinators burst into our dance class with Lady Gaga blasting and proceeded to imitate our dance teacher while we all tried to salsa to Beyonce and Gaga. What a wild class! Then, as usual, our group headed out for our Friday night meal. This week we chose the best Mexican restaurant in Cuenca. And all the talk was right. It was fabulous!
I headed home after ice cream to an empty house but talked to my dad on the phone for an hour and half (Grandma Marie– he gets that from you!) which made the house seem much less lonely. It was so good to catch up on everything that’s been going on at home!
Saturday morning was rough because we had to be at school at 7:15am! Calculate a 30 minute walk in there and a shower and breakfast and you’ll realize that it was dark for a while after I woke up! We all met at school and jumped on the bus for 3 hours to head to Saraguro, a tiny indigenous village up in the Andes. It was chilly all the way up there! Once we dropped our things off in our rooms we got ready for (yet another) hike. To get to the Incan trail that we were going to walk we rode on a bus for 20 minutes. And when I say we rode ON a bus, I mean it. We literally sat ON TOP of the bus! We had a designated safety officer to shout out when we needed to duck to avoid getting smacked by branches! It was so wild!
The trail was made in the times of the Inca and was probably the least difficult we’ve had to trek yet, but the view was incredible. We ended on the top of a hill, surrounded by mountains and little villages in the valleys. Our guide told us that we should cleanse ourselves by letting out all our inner anger and stress by screaming. So as a group we held hands on top of the mountain and screamed our lungs out. It sounds nuts but it was the most amazing experience because I’ve never screamed like that before! Where else would it be acceptable to do that? After we listened to our echo reverberating off the sides of the surrounding mountains we realized how good it really felt to just let it all out. I’ve been cleansed!
After a nap we visited a weaving shop to learn another technique that people in the area use to weave. Then we walked across the street to the family’s home for dinner. It was delicious and accompanied by a performance of local music. We worked off our dinner by dancing along. What a fun night!
We woke up the next morning, all bundled up to fight the cold at night, met everyone for a group breakfast, and went shopping (Saraguro is known for its beautiful bead work) before participating in a native ritual ceremony. It was like a bigger, more elaborate version of the ritual we performed with our teacher on the mountain top.
We were handed a sea shell and white flowers as we stepped over the threshold into the sacred space (also a mountain top). We were told to stand in whichever of the four sections we were most drawn to. Throughout the ceremony we did many different things: we sipped sacred wine from our sea shell, we danced around the entire circle, we received seeds to plant wherever we wished to symbolize a new start, and we were given good energies by having a thick, very rough rope dragged across the backs of our necks. It was such an interesting experience and I am so grateful to all of the wonderful indigenous people that opened up their culture and special ceremonies to us.
After we had been ritual-ed out we were ready for our last meal in Saraguro. After waiting for SO long I was finally able to try cuy, known to you as guinea pig. That’s right. I ate a guinea pig. And I enjoyed it, too. It does kind of taste like chicken.
Now it’s back to classes all this week but I have some exciting plans that you will most definitely hear about early next week!