Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Just a couple pictures from the last week or so!

Our little mini-vacation to Sol y Agua - a hostal about an hour away. Pool in the mountains!

Some of my friends at our goodbye dinner

Celebrating my sister and her husband's birthdays

Host mom, grandma, sister, her boyfriend and my other sister & husband

Sandy, Paul and me

I had to watch the kids during the parent teacher meetings at the school in Turi, so of course we played soccer - boys vs. girls!

girls team!

we played in the trees...

we played hide and seek. aren't they adorable?!

La despedida agridulce

Well... I am wrapping up my adventure in Cuenca and I can’t believe it! Last week the other students at my university finished up their program, and it was a very sad goodbye seeing as I’ve become so close with them. I’ve been pretty busy with schoolwork, teaching family stuff, shopping, etc so I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect yet, but these last few days feel pretty surreal. I can’t believe all I’ve done, how much I’ve learned, and how many new things I’ve experienced in these short few months. I visited the jungle, made tons of new friends, swam in a waterfall, learned how to really speak Spanish, ate guniea pig three times, taught real classes for the first time, read a whole novel in Spanish, lived with complete strangers who turned into family, visited indigenous villages, took part in traditional rituals, climbed mountains, gained more independence, solved some problems, went surfing, cooked Ecuadorian food, planned a trip to Peru by myself, learned how to salsa (sort of), celebrated Holy Week, came to call Cuenca a second home, and so much more.

It is very bittersweet thinking about leaving – I’m leaving Cuenca this Sunday and my flight home is on Monday. There are so many things I love about the city - $2 taxi rides, sitting in the central park, mountains all around us, my 2 person classes and awesome professors who are more like second moms than teachers, Calle Larga, walking along the river to school every day, the little artesian stores and markets, being the confused gringa and finally being okay with it, the random parades that seem to happen every other week, the reggaeton music, the women in their traditional indigenous dress, my friends here, the panaderías, the discotecas, the adorable little niños at the school where I teach, how it’s okay to cram 8 people into a 5-person car and “dar vueltas” aka drive around the city all night, the cuencano accent, CEDEI, the hippies in the street corners selling their random jewelry and telling you their travel stories, greeting and kissing everyone on the cheek when you see them, the beautiful cathedral in the center, taking “field trips” to the market, and so much more.

Sorry, I’m probably getting a little TOO sentimental here, and you probably don't want to read my lists of memories! I am sad to leave because there are so many things that I miss, but I know my time is ending here and that’s how life moves! The goodbye is also sweet because I’m excited to see my friends and family, sleep in my own bed, pick out my own foods again, and all that stuff. So I guess I’ll be seeing a lot of you soon!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

La Semana Santa

Well... this week is Holy Week! That means a small break from classes and a lot more. What people have told me is that Cuenca used to be SUPER traditional holy week... some families would observe a week of silence, the radio would only play sad music etc. Nowadays it’s less intense, but there are still many traditions. On Holy Thursday, lots of people go to visit la siete iglesias (seven churches) at night to pray. My professor told me that she loves going and that the atmosphere is very “mystical.” It is supposed to represent when Christ was imprisoned and it’s like you’re going to visit Him in the church. (Fun fact: there are way more than 7 churches in Cuenca.. I think there are 50 something cathedrals.)

On Friday, families make fanesca, a soup that has 12 different grains/ingredients to represent the 12 disciples. Generally families make a HUGE batch and have everyone over to eat it. I got a little preview of fanesca on Wednesday because one of the teachers at the escuela in Turi made it for us! Que rica. There is a service of adoration in the afternoon and everything in the city is closed at night. Also, during the whole week all of the images of Jesus/crosses in the Catholic churches are covered by a purple cloth to represent the time that he was dead.

During the weekend there are parades of people carrying crosses, walking barefoot etc in Guayaquil & Quito, but not so much in Cuenca. On Sunday, the purple clothes are taken down and everyone goes to mass to celebrate the Resurrection, much like in the states (only no Easter bunnies or baskets. I told my host family about this tradition and they think it’s super weird!)

Other than that... I have just been working hard at the school, doing lots of homework, and having fun with my friends! This week I celebrated a couple birthdays, went to a play in Spanish, went to my first bailoterpia class (latin dance aerobics), went to my small group, went to an open mic night last night, got rained on a lot (April is the rainiest/coldest month here), and I think that’s about all I have to say! I hope this entry finds all of you well. Happy early Earth Day, Easter, and happy early birthday, Rachel!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My last month in Cuenca...

Sorry I have been neglecting this blog lately! Like I said before, this half of the semester is a lot busier with classes and my internship. On Thursday, we celebrated Día del Maestro (Teacher Appreciation Day) at the school in Turi. The kids put on a program, gave us flowers, and the teachers all went out for lunch together to eat cuy! (That’s guniea pig if you forgot.) I have to say... it was actually the best cuy I’ve had so far. The outside was nice and crispy and the meat was very tasty. The teachers were all so excited I was digging into my cuy and it was fun hanging out with them outside of school.

I have my final exam for my pre-colonial/colonial literature class today, then I start my modern literature class (I think?). I really like my professor and the class is really interesting. I have basically decided to live it up and really enjoy Cuenca my last month. I have tried a lot of new restaurants, gone to some couple of concerts, gone out a lot with my friends, met new friends too, and celebrated Días de Cuenca this week. (A holiday celebrating the founding of Cuenca.) The other foreign exchange students at my school are leaving in 2 weeks, so they’re all starting to wrap up their time here which is kind of starting to make me mentally prepare myself to finish up my time in Cuenca (even though I still have a little less than a month left.)

In news from home, I decided at the last minute to apply for camp again and found out last week that I was hired! Praise God, I’m excited to see what the summer has in store. I also found out I will be living in an on-campus house at North Park next year with 5 other girls, which I absolutely can not wait for.

In my “service learning” class, we usually just talk about issues in society for the whole 2 hours and I have learned so much that I never knew about Ecuador. I won’t go into all the politics and social stuff because I don’t know if anyone reading this is really interested, but we can certainly talk about it when I get home if you are! I just feel so blessed and exhilirated to have this opportunity to live in and learn about another culture. I know that I only have a surface-level understanding of Cuenca and Ecuador and South America in general, but I have to say this trip will NOT be the end of my travels... it has only increased my desire to travel more!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So after three days of being a teacher at the school in Turi, I'm not really settled in yet but I am already learning a lot. I am starting to see the less romantic side of working cross-culturally/the non-profit & volunteer world (the one I hope to work in once I graduate.) It's rewarding and I love it, but it's not as easy as I thought it would be. It's not just playing with niños all morning and teaching them how to say "dog" and "cat" in English.

It's figuring out the bus system all by myself. It's learning that I need to be prepared to teach any level, any day, because the school doesn't appear to have a set class schedule. It's adjusting to dealing with a culture that does not function on the same time table as my own. It's having to deal with children who won't stop asking for the bathroom key, won't stop pulling each others' hair, won't stop cheating at the games, won't bring their notebooks to class, and having to discipline them in Spanish. It's putting in lots of extra time designing my own curriculum without access to a good printer or any school supplies for that matter. It's learning to be flexible and helpful in other ways when I show up to class and the teacher has forgotten to tell me the students have a science exam at the same time they asked me to teach.

On the other hand, it's adorable niñas who yell out the window "I want english with you today, teacher!!" It's getting to know the kids, getting to ask them about their lives, watching them start to slowly open up. It's an invigorating challenge. It's feeling really special when one of the students spends her last 15 cents to buy me a galleta. It's putting in all my effort and hoping that by the beginning of May, the kids are a little more excited about learning English. It's their extreme excitement when they win the game that involves practicing the alphabet. It's not what I expected but it's so worth it! And I can't wait to see what my last six weeks have in store...

Friday, March 25, 2011

I started my new classes and my new internship this week - finally! I have a pretty odd schedule this half. Sometimes I have class 8-10am or 5-7pm or 4-6pm, but it's all good. I am taking two classes - Pre-colonial & Colonial Latin American Lit and a Service Learning class to accompany my internship at the school in Turi. My literature class has been interesting so far and we do fun things like go on little field trips and watch videos occasionally. 

This week was my first week teaching classes at the school in Turi - an area on the outskirts of Cuenca. It's basically right up the mountain from my house. As I've said a few times before, Latin America generally operates a little differently than the U.S. Some might call it inefficient, some might call it slower-paced, I just call it Latin American style. My first day, a teacher put me in a classroom of 30 7th graders, told me to teach them English for 2 hours, and left. By the way, they don't have books and I didn't have a lesson plan. However, I was able to wing it by practicing basic vocab and teaching them songs in English. The second graders were much more challenging because they were very poorly behaved. I ended up taking them outside and just playing for half the class. 

The second day, I found out that another English teacher/volunteer from the U.S. had been assigned to the same class as me, and the woman who is supposed to be coordinating all of this hasn't been to school at all this week. Latin American style. However, it looks like between us we have 6 classes to teach, so we can just split it up and make it work. It's going to be tiring work for me because I have to make up all my own lesson plans, find my own materials, and I'm there for 4 hours each day Tues/Wed/Thurs, but I am excited!

In other news, I went to my first Capoeira class last night. Capoeira is Brazilian fight dancing... we did some fighting/dancing with sticks in rhythm to the music, then a bunch of floor movement, which I don't really know how to describe so if you want, you can watch this video I found on youtube. (Obviously our class was NOT this advanced haha)

And while I'm putting up youtube videos... here's one of a song called Danza Kuduro - it's SUPER popular here and I hear it playing all the time, and I love it =]

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring break!

So we went to Peru for spring break and had a lot of fun adventures. I also learned a heck of a lot about planning trips because it was the first time we were 100% on our own.

We started the week in Guayaquil - the biggest city in Ecuador. It's on the coast so it's much hotter than and it's just so much different than Cuenca! It was so weird seeing McDonald's and people wearing shorts. They have a very cool malecón (boardwalk) over the water and we spent quite a bit of time hanging out there. To be honest I was totally exhausted and feeling a little under the weather so I wasn't really listening to our city tour (we've had a lot of tours this semester...) but it was still fun going there.

El malecón

Iguana park! (they get fed in the park so they apparently never leave)

Pirate ship on the malecón

When we left Ecuador, the real adventure began! We flew to Lima and spent the day in Miraflores - a cute barrio of Lima. Then my group split into two: three of us girls were going to Machu Picchu and the other three were going to remain in Lima for the week. This is where the ridiculous amount of travel difficulties began. We planned to take a bus from Lima to Cuzco, but when we went to the station we found out it was cancelled for fear of tsunami waves. Long story short, it took several hours and visits to different travel agencies to change all of our tickets for the week. (No, you can't just do it online, you have to do it in person...) We were so thankful we spoke good enough Spanish to figure this all out without misunderstandings. When we finally found a hostal for the night I basically passed out from being so tired. Every single Peruvian we met along the way was SO kind a helpful to us though!

We headed to Cuzco on our luxurious bus and traveled for 21 hours. Yep. 21 hours on a bus. When we arrived in Cuzco on Sunday, we found out they were still celebrating Carnaval there! That was a surprise to us and we still don't really understand why. We attempted to explore the city, but ended up getting completely covered in espuma (foam) and water.

I found Cuzco to be a very charming city! We mostly stuck to the area around our hostal and the main plaza. It was more rustic and I could feel the elevation when we went up the stairs. There was a lot of really beautiful colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, cool restaurants, and an awesome market in which I bought an alpaca sweater. At night, even on the week nights, there were tons of people out and about and there were hundreds of people in the main plaza practicing traditional dance! So fun to watch. We also met a lot of interesting travelers from around the world in our hostal. 

Monday was the big day... Machu Picchu!! We woke up around 5:30 am to catch a taxi to the station where we boarded a bus that drove us through the mountains for a couple hours. I think I exhausted my playlist of Spanish music on my ipod. Then we waited awhile at the train station and boarded a train for two hours. The train station was kind of magical. It was cool being so high up in the mountains, and the Andes continue to amaze me.

If we thought we were done traveling, nope, we had to take another bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. It's so hidden... you literally can't even see it until you're there. No wonder the Spanish never found it! We decided to hire a guide for 2 hours which was a very good choice. It was so incredible!!! 

They used rocks to chip/shape these boulders... must have taken awhile... 

The terraces the Incas used for agriculture - engineered to withstand heavy rains and not fall down the mountain.

Temple of Three Windows - it's aligned with the stars so that light shines into the windows on celebratory days

The Sacred Rock - I felt it appropriate to take a picture with it given my last name

It was really incredible seeing MP, but I'm not going to ramble on and on about it so as not to bore you =] Unfortunately, our bus BACK to Cuzco was also cancelled because some rocks fell onto the highway. Luckily, we were experts at rearranging and were able to secure a cheap flight for the next day and rearrange all of our hostals as well. We spent a day/night in Lima with our friends just hanging out and went to a fancy restaurant for dinner on the pier. Then the rest of my group headed back to Chicago (their program is only a "quad" or 1/2 semester) and I finally headed back home to Cuenca!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Well as you all can guess I've been quite busy! Last week we had finals (much less stressful than at North Park.) My literature final was literally "write whatever you want about what you learned" and I quoted Pocahontas. This past weekend we celebrated CARNAVAL in Montañita - a hippie/surfer town on the beach. Carnaval is a huge 4-day holiday in Ecuador. Every city celebrates it differently whether it be with dancing, parades, etc. It is comparable to Mardi Gras I guess, except it's more of a family holiday and people celebrate by playing with water. More than just playing, attacking you with water balloons, hoses, buckets of water etc. all day every day. There are also lots of special food for Carnaval - especially chancho (pork) and lots of dulces (sweets.) I had my first fig actually!

Carnaval in Montañita was probably one of the best vacations I've ever had in my life. Our hotel was beautiful and the other group of students at our school rented a huge beach house with a private beach just down the road. We took surfing lessons, swam in the sunrise, went dancing, ate some decent seafood, made a bonfire on the beach, and had such an incredible time. I actually got made fun of once for my "cuencana accent" which is pretty hilarious to me. (Random fact: All over Ecuador, Cuencanos are known for their very musical accent - when they talk it's more like singing. I hope it sticks when I go back to the US and speak Spanish because I think it's really pretty and unique!)

(Surfing lessons - they had us practice on the sand first)

(The view from the beach house)

Here are some pictures from some other stuff we've done:

(Zip-lining through the mountains on our one free weekend)

(Baños de Cuenca - pools heated by hot springs)

(Futbol - Cuenca vs. Quito... it was a tie)

(View from our hotel in Saraguro - a weekend trip to an incredibly beautiful indigenous pueblo in the mountains)

(My group from North Park with some of the staff at CEDEI. Love them all!)

(Río Yununcay in the morning)

In other news, I'm going to change the location of my internship for the second half of the semester. I absolutely loved the school I was at before, but it was so unorganized and I didn't really have anything helpful to do there. Today we visited a school in Turi - a mountain pueblo right outside of Cuenca. I don't know a lot of details about the school at the moment, but I know it's the only school in Turi and it serves poor children. I also know that I absolutely LOVED spending the morning with the kids today. They are quite underfunded and are pretty desperate for teachers. If all goes as planned, I will be actually teaching English classes for the kids and probably spending time playing outside with them too. I don't know the details, but I am so incredibly excited to work there. It will be a lot of work preparing classes and I'll be spending many hours there, but I can't wait to get started. It feels good to finally be doing something to serve the wonderful people of Cuenca. 

Tomorrow I leave for spring break. We're going to Guayaquil (the largest city in Ecuador) for a day, then spending a week in Lima, Peru and Cusco to visit Machu Piccu! I honestly feel like my life here is a dream and I can't believe how blessed I am to have this beautiful experience.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Well I've been pretty busy lately! I feel like I haven't really given a very accurate picture of my life in this blog, but ya'll get good glances now and then. Writing isn't really my gift...

It's hard to even remember everything I have done this week. Here's a few: my group from NP cooked a huge dinner for our host families on Tuesday, we went to a parade on Friday for literature class, had a big presentation in my grammar class, went to a magic show last night, spent the day relaxing in Baños de Cuenca (thermal pools in the mountains) today, took the public bus for the first time - only 25 cents!.

Other than that... just doing the usual! This is a fairly typical weekday, although different things are always happening:
Eat a delicious breakfast, sometimes I sit by the river in the morning before class, 40-minute walk to class, 2 hours of class, walk home for a huge lunch with the fam around 1:30, do a lot of "homework"with friends in various cafes in the afternoons, visit museums or other places with the group as part of our program, watch American TV shows with my host sister and our poodle, go to dance class, usually go to a gringo bar for an open mic night on Wednesdays, hang out in the central park when it's nice out, eat lots of ice cream & fresh pan... mmmm. On week nights I usually stay in the city with friends or return to the casa at night to have a small dinner and hang out with my fam and finish homework.

So there's a little snippet of my life in Cuenca! Each day I get a little more comfortable living here - living with my host family, getting around the city, improving my Spanish, not letting taxi drivers overcharge me, dealing with the chicos who whistle at me in the street, learning all the names of the traditional foods and all that kind of stuff.

Que vayan con Dios mis amigos...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A couple of you have asked for my address, so here it is (it's actually my school's address, but that's what we're supposed to use to get mail.) Keep in mind it will take a few weeks to get here. Trust me, I'm not expecting anything as it's probably pretty expensive to mail things internationally, but here it is!

Kellie Rock
Luis Cordero 5-66 y Juan Jaramillo
Cuenca, Ecuador
Casilla 597

Que vayan con Dios mis amores =]

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ecuador is taking on Chevron...

Maybe this isn't news to any of you since this legal case has actually been going on for several years, but it's news to me! Ecuador is currently taking on Chevron, the gigantic oil company, for environmental damages. I'm not an expert on this country or on legal affairs, but I have seen that for it's tiny size, Ecuador is incredibly rich in natural resources - not just oil. The extraction of oil has caused tons of damage to the Amazon rainforest and to the indigenous communities that live here. I won't go into too many details because I don't know if any of you are interested, but if you are, I thought I'd share a couple of interesting articles I read about this case:

"Amazon Pollution: Chevron Hits Back in Row With Ecuador"

"Chevron: Indigenous Ecuadorians Seek Higher Damages"

I know a lot of us have been hearing "save the rainforest" since we were young, but this is actually a real and important issue in the world! The rainforest is an incredibly valuable resource, display of God's creation, and the groups affected are real people with real stories. Just thought I'd share another little piece of South America with you all!

Mi Pasantilla (My internship!)

This week I started my internship! If all goes as planned (and it might not, because that's how Latin America likes to function, which is okay with me) I will be interning at a government-funded school for students ages 0-18 with special needs. Supposedly I will be working with the older groups. I will spend the first month observing, getting to know the kids and staff, letting the kids get used to me. Then for the rest of my time here I will teaching some very basic English to the students and helping wherever needed.

My first day didn't go as planned because when I got there, all the teachers left and I found out they were on strike! Some of the other employees were there as well as another volunteer from my school, so we just played outside with the niños for a couple hours. The second day, they weren't on strike, so I had my first day of observing their classes. Apparently they don't have school on Monday or Tuesday, and I am supposed to call one of the teachers to find out if there is school on Wednesday? So it's not the most organized system but I am very excited to work with the kids and actually feel like I'm starting to connect with the community in Cuenca. So far my trip has been absolutely incredible, but I feel like I have been pretty isolated from any social problems and people in need of a helping hand. I really don't know what to expect, but I am hoping this will be a good challenge and an interesting experience, and hopefully I can give a little help to this school!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Día de San Valentin

Feliz Día de San Valentin! (Happy Valentine's Day!)

It's only 9 am and I am already starting to think Valentine's Day is a big deal here. Right around 1:00 am, I heard loud singing outside our house. I was groggy/sleepy and figured it was just some annoying neighbors so I ignored it for awhile and tried to sleep. Then I remembered what Karen (my older host sister) told me: it's super common for novios to serenade their girlfriends for Valentine's Day! I peeked out my window, and sure enough, there was Jeovanni (my sister's boyfriend) with a guitar and a bunch of other people singing to my sister's window. Could there be a more adorable tradition?! I think this should make it's way to the U.S. ;)

This morning at breakfast, my host mom greeted me with a big hug and said "¡Feliz día Kellie! Hoy es el día de amor y amistad" (Have a happy day! Today is the day of love and friendship.)

So I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine's Day as well. Con amor mis amigos.
"El amor es como la guerra. Fácil empezar, pero muy difícil parar."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Also, I love the food here. So much. It's just so fresh and delicious. I get really excited for my meals like an hour before they even happen. At some point I'll write an entry completely dedicated to describing the wonderful food.
So let's be honest, I am updating this to procrastinate on my homework (some things don't change even when you travel to a new country!) I have to write poetry about memorial day for my literature class... hmmm..

I guess it's been awhile since I've updated! My weeks are always so full I don't even remember what I've done. Here are a few things though.

1. Fiesta de Cumpleaños (Birthday Party)

On Sunday my family brought me to a birthday party for my host mom's uncle, who was turning 75. First of all, when you get there, you greet every single person with a kiss on the cheek and ¿Cómo esta?, the normal Ecuadorian greeting. There were a LOT of people at the party; my host family didn't even know half the people there.

We started with some orange drink (that I think might have had a spot of rum in it?), a delicious lunch, and plenty of chatting. Then the games began. It may sound lame that they had organized games, but it wasn't, it was so fun. Everyone participated - kids, grandpas, cousins, madres, todos. We played a game where you have a balloon tied to your ankle and people try to pop it, a game similar to musical chairs, and a bunch of 3-legged races. Then the dancing began. We all got fun little plastic party masks, whistles, and plastic necklaces. It started with a conga line then turned into just fun dancing and people blowing their plastic whistles to the beat. ¡Chevre! Let me tell you, people really know how to move their hips here!

Then, of course, singing and cake and presents. And more dancing and chatting. A lot of us were just sitting around in a circle talking with some people dancing in the middle. The young kids were off trying to play Carnaval (something you'll hear about later.) There were a few people walking around passing out dulces (candies) and roncitos (a little bit of rum/coke.) After about 6 hours, it was time to say goodbye to everyone with a kiss on the cheek and Que pase bien / Chao. Overall, it was really fun. I'm glad that I am doing a family stay while I'm here so that I get the opportunity to experience things like this!

2. Grammar Class

Surprise! I love my grammar class. Never thought I would say that, but I do because my teacher is really fun. We usually spend half the class just talking about social issues in Ecuador, such as gender relations, adoption, education, and much more. Today we played a typical Ecuadorian kid's game called pare la mano to practice vocab, which is similar to Scattegories. I decided to teach my teacher a couple of kids' games from the U.S.: MASH and telephone pictionary. It was definitely a test of my language skills to attempt to explain how to play both of these games in Spanish, but it was so fun!

3. Ingapirca

Went to see some Inca ruins and a ballin cathedral built into a mountain called The Cathedral of San Francisco. We only got to do part of the tour of Ingapirca before it started hailing and raining on us, but it was still sweet. I actually felt kind of weird walking around the Ina ruins. To me it felt like walking through a ghost town knowing that an entire civilization was there at one point, but no longer exists.

4. Orfanáto (Orphanage)

Today we visited a place (I don't remember the name) that is run by nuns that has three separate areas - an orphanage for girls, a hospice for people with terminal illness, and a nursing home. It was actually a very beautiful location, with a huge garden, lots of art on the walls, very clean and open. I felt very blessed to have the opportunity to see this place but it was difficult seeing some of the older people who were physically suffering and hearing bits and pieces of the reasons why some of the young girls were there. It just made my heart ache and made me want to do something good for the world like those nuns are doing.

Other than that there's been a lot of ice cream eating, going out dancing, homeworking in cafes, walking to and from school (it's a 40-minute walk each way), small grouping with some students at my school, chilling with my host family, trying to figure out life here, and a little bit of touring the city and shopping! Also one of my new hobbies is translating American pop songs into Spanish, but it really annoys my friends here a lot....

Que vayan con Dios mis amigos

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wow so much has happened these past few days, I can't even believe it. I feel quite exhausted, but it's a good kind of exhaustion, the kind that means you're living deeply and sucking the marrow out of life (to borrow a line from Thoreau.)

Viernes (Friday)

My literature class (there are only 3 of us) went on a mysterious field trip to the south of Cuenca. We were met by two native american men from Montana, a few indigenous men and women from Cuenca, our professor (who turns out to be some sort of spiritual leader of the Runa Shimi people), and a gringa hippie woman whose house it was. I'm still not 100% sure what happened, but it was basically some sort of symbolic ceremony to "unite the Eagle of the north with the Condor of the south / form a brotherhood between the native people of N. America and the indigenous people of S. America." Long story short, there was an altar, a lot of exchanging of energies, hugging, singing, blessing, smoke, indigenous dancing, new food, and music. It was an incredible thing to be a part of, I really can't even believe it. The symbolism and meaning of all those people being in one place together sharing something so sacred was really special.

Then we did some activities with the group around Cuenca, went to the fruit market, made dinner at a friend's, and went out dancing with some other students from CEDEI. (I didn't go home at all that day - craziness!)

Sabado (Saturday)

Woke up VERY EARLY to go on an intense hike through Cajas National Park. It was incredible!! Pictures will explain it better:

Hikin' babes.

Had to stop for some breathers... the altitude was about 13,000 feet...

In the clouds!

So beautiful.

The group!

This forest was the most magical place I have ever been. 

I think someone once told me that blue flowers don't exists in nature... clearly that was a LIE.

Then we all returned home and got some wonderful naps and showers. Saturday night my girl friends and I went to hear some live salsa music and danced a little bit - our dance teacher will be so proud.

Domingo - Sunday

Not so eventful =] Went to church with the fam, lunch, hanging around, homework, etc. That's all I got! I shall leave you with a lovely verse the pastor spoke about at church this morning:

"..He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" -Titus 3:5 


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Primera semana de las clases...

First week of class!

1. Andean Literature. It's definitely an interesting class. It really should be called a culture class, because it's a lot more than reading. Today we spent over half an hour doing breathing exercises, feeling our energy, passing the energy to each other, and hugging? Also, 20% of our final grade is to do a traditional song and dance for the class. The reading is really hard though. The class is pretty abstract and hard to understand at times, but I think I'm going to like it overall.

2. Grammar Syntax and Morphology (or something to that effect.) This will be hard too. I have found I have a decent Spanish vocabulary and remember words well, but grammar is just not my cup of tea. However, my professor is incredibly nice and so eager to help us learn. We had an interesting discussion about societal issues in our first class, so hopefully that continues.

3. Service projects. This week, we are painting a daycare for children of indigenous women who work in the street markets. Painting and serving others are both pretty fun, so I like that. We laughed so much while we painted, I consider it an ab workout.

4. CLASE DE BAILE!!!! Had my first dance class today. My homework for my other classes is hard, but this makes it all worth it!! Our instructor is SO FUN. Today we did some salsa, merengue, and free styling? Let's just say all those dance parties in the NP dorms paid off and I got to dance with the instructor, which was so fun. Can't wait to go use my skills in the discoteca con mis amigos!


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bienvenidos a Cuenca

After several different cities, few showers, and a week of living out of a suitcase, I am finally in Cuenca! My host mother is very nice. Last night was super chill. My sisters weren’t home for very long so my mom and I had dinner and watched a lot of dog shows on Animal Planet. It's been kind of awkward at the beginning, but they are so nice and I can’t wait to get to know them more.

This morning we had breakfast and went to church. We have fresh squeezed juice with every meal... so good! My host mom told me it was a Catholic church so I was expecting a formal mass, but it was nothing like a Catholic church at all. It was very similar to my church at home. We sang canciones de alabanza con una banda (praise songs with a band) like Vengo A Adorarte (Here I am to Worship.) I couldn’t follow everything la pastora said, but I really enjoyed the parts of the message I could understand. Then my mom showed me how to get to school and we chatted a lot. Then I went to a bar to watch the Bears vs. Packers game and met some peace corp volunteers, other gringos, and a couple of nice Ecuadorians. I start classes tomorrow! WOO HOO. I've prettty much given ya'll enough reading material for a couple weeks so I'll leave it at that =]
Here's some pics of the jungle... mostly taken from Tyler's sweet camera

Lots of new flowers and plants!

Las mujeres en mi cabaña (The girls at my cabin)


This is a baby tarantula. Not even a grown up one.

Definitely the biggest tree I've ever seen.

Our transportation on the Río Napo/The view from my friend's cabin

I ate the larvae of one of these giant beetles. I hope they're not mad...

Mariposas ojos de buho (Owl Eye butterflies) - They're bigger than my hand...

Cuy!! aka cooked guinea pig. Just chillin' on the grill outside the restaurant.

Joaquin the boa constrictor. (He totally touched my butt with his tail...) 

And I believe that's all I have to say about the jungle! So much happened during our first week, I can't even believe it. Now I'm in Cuenca and I will write a bit about that   too =]

En la selva, la selva fuerte...

Alright... I’ll break this up into a couple entries.

I absolutely ADORED our time spent at Cotococha Lodge. It’s a “green” lodge in the jungle – they have lamps instead of electricity; all the guides are Ecuadorians; everything is super natural and awesome. Here’s a quick recap of some of the sweet things we did so you don’t have to read too many paragraphs:

Held a boa constrictor named Joaquin, saw toucans, monkeys, peccaries, turtles, a jaguar, a black caiman & giant rodents in the jungle, hiked a ton, sweated a lot, swung on a vine through the trees, visited Tiyu Yaku (an indigenous Kichwa community) & saw how to make chicha aka beer homemade from yucca, used a blowgun, swam in a waterfall, saw a shaman cleansing ceremony, saw a traditional indigenous dance, ate cooked beetle larvae & live lemon ants off the tree (YES I ATE BUGS,) went tubing in the Río Napo, visited a butterfly garden, found a HUGE bug in my bed, and ate a lot of delicious new food. It was so incredible getting to see how the indigenous people in the Andes live in harmony with nature and know so much about it. Our guide showed us how they make insect repellant by squishing termites, how they paint their faces with plants, and how they make thatched roofs for houses. I saw so many beautiful trees and flowers and I loved the hot & humid climate (Sorry to all my friends in MN/Chicago who are trudging through the snow right now.) The jungle was so beautiful, I could go on and on. It was a refreshing adventure. I felt so alive and exhilarated!

After leaving Cotococha, we spent a ton of time driving through the mountains in the bus. Beautiful views, but a little nauseating. We stopped in a town called Baños for a couple hours and ate cuy (not spelled “qui,” my mistake in the post before this). The pictures describe it better than I can. They look scary but tasted pretty good! Then we spent the night at a hacienda that was converted into a hotel. Very beautiful. It was sort of like a real life history lesson about colonization. I was able to get a mental image of what a hacienda could have looked like back in the day. Then we got on a bus for many more hours and drove to CUENCA!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Here are a few pictures that Tyler took with his fancy camera:

Guanto - the hallucinogenic flower we saw at the garden in the indigenous museum (it grows on a tree. Once again, I didn't try it ;) )

La vista de Quito Viejo - A view of Old Quito

Ecuador! (aka equator) - all the girls en mi grupo [I am leaning toward the southern hemisphere]

El grupo en el mercado Otavaleño - Group in the market in Otavalo

La entrada de La Igelsia de la Compañía de Jesús - The entrance to the beautiful gold leaf covered cathedral

Las montañas son bonitas - The mountains are so beautiful