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!