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


I'm here and LOVING IT! It's only día dos and I'm already getting used to speaking Spanish (sorry for the random Spanish words that will be happening from now on.)

Saturday was lots of planes, airports, buses, etc. Yesterday was a very full day. We had orientation in our hotel (Hotel Quito) and then we went to THE EQUATOR (mitad del mundo). Not the "cultural equator," the legit scientific equator. Then we took a bus to Otavalo, a huge indigenous village on top of a mountain. By the way, we are surrounded by gorgeous mountains and volcanoes, some of which are active... que peligroso. I still don't understand how all the houses don't just fall down the mountain.

Otavalo was incredible. We stayed in a beautiful hotel... Annie and I had 6 beds in our room and a huge bathroom. I had chuleta a la plancha (grilled pig) for lunch, and the pig's head was sitting outside the restaurant with a tomate in his mouth and a pepper in his ear (or her?) It was so good. Glad I decided to become a carnivore for this trip. It was so interesting seeing the mix of indigenous culture (traditional clothing, shamanism, traditional foods) and modernization (catholic churches, western clothing, hollister etc.) We visited a place that makes traditional Andean musical instruments and got to play some of them. Let's just say I'm better at playing my child-sized bagpipes than pan-flute, and that's not saying much.

Next we visited an indigenous art museum. Much different than art museums I am used to. It was just in a house on the side of the road, but so cool. I attempted to learn how to operate a loom to create a traditional Quechua scarf, but I wasn't very good at that either. The man at the museum also showed us their cage of guniea pigs (aka qui, which people eat here.) They also use qui in shamanistic cleansing ceremonies. They shaman waves the live qui over the person's body and it is believed the qui absorbs the person's energy. Then they cut the qui open and look at it's organs, and the shaman diagnoses the person based on the state of the qui. After the qui, he showed us their huge garden. We ate guava ripe off the tree and saw some very beautiful flowers. Apparently Ecuador is known for their orchids. He also showed us plants used by shamans to treat colds, baby skin problems, pregnancy issues, tooth problems, and tree with white flowers that can be made into a hallucinogenic drug similar to roofies (I didn't try it, but it smelled so good.)

TODAY was also a full day. We went to the mercado (market) in Otavalo then drove back to Quito. We went to an art museum showcasing the art of Quayasamin, a famous Ecuadorian artist. You should google his work. Some of it was "inspired" by the holocaust & revolutions in s. america and it was so haunting. Then we went to see Old Quito and saw 7 different cathedrals. One of them had gargoyles that were animals typical of Ecuador/Galapagos, loved it! Another was called Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesus and was built by the Jesuits. Everything was covered in gold leaf! It was stunning. Apparently it's considered one of the most beautiful cathedrals in all of S. America and I would agree. We saw a lot of other sweet stuff in Old Quito that  I don't feel like writing about because this is already longer than most people probably prefer to read. All I have to say is it's beautiful here and I can't wait to go to la selva (the jungle) tomorrow!

Friday, January 14, 2011

I am leaving tomorrow morning at 4:30 am! That is pretty soon...

Here are a few prayer requests for those of you who have asked:

-Safe travels and good health (I'm a little worried about getting sick while adjusting to altitude, new food, new germs, new environment. However, I know it's just part of traveling and I'll be fine.)
-For my other group members (there are 7 of us from NP plus my professor)
-Good relations with my host family
-That I will be adventurous and take advantage of everything!
-Thanks to God for such an incredible opportunity!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Here we go! The basics...

I found out about my host family this morning, so I figured it was finally time to start up the Ecuador blog!

I will be living with three other ladies and a dog! Sonia (my host mother) has three daughters, two of which live at home: Karen (age 28) and Denisse (age 20). I'm excited to have a girl my age to hang out with. I don't know much about them except they want to be my friend and take me on weekend trips out of the city. Sounds good to me!

I will be staying in Cuenca, which is a pretty big city (the third largest in Ecuador, I believe). I'm so excited, it FINALLY seems real! 

Here are a few of the many things I'm looking forward to, in no particular order:
-going dancing
-warmer weather 
-reading my Spanish Bible
-going to church in Ecuador
-celebrating Carnaval and other holidays
-meeting my host family and having a dog
-trying new food (I'm officially a carnivore again!)
-wearing my new chacos around (I guess good things can come from accidentally leaving ALL of my shoes locked in my room in Chicago...)
-discovering a new culture & learning Spanish - obviously!
-being outside, seeing the rainforest and the BEAUTIFUL nature