Otavalo

This last weekend I had the opportunity to go to Otavalo, home to one of the largest indigenous markets in Latin America. The entire Oregon group went with Franco, our on-site program coordinator. First we went to the market. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring money to buy stuff. Fortunately, my friends lent me money. Probably wasn’t bad because it prevented me from spending too much money. I ended up with an alpaca wool blanket, a belt, and a little coin bag. After the market, we had lunch at a restaurant that served us American style french fries as part of our meal. Ecuadorian french fries are good, but not quite as good as American style fries.

My purchases from the market

My purchases from the market

The next stop was a workshop that makes Andean instruments. They make an incredible number of different wind instruments, and a few string instruments. We got the chance to hear a song by a group that is supposedly famous outside of Ecuador and then try playing the instruments. I wasn’t good at playing them but enjoyed the attempt.

Andean instruments at the workshop

Andean instruments at the workshop

Almost our entire group decided to stay the night rather than returning back to Quito same-day. We chose a hostel in a small village called Araque. I’m very glad we chose to go there. We got to have a taste of what a rural community in Ecuador looked like. It was relaxing, which was exactly what the doctor ordered. The community was located on Lago San Pablo, close to Otavalo. We were able to enjoy the sunset before going to dinner with the owner of the hostel, Patricio. He was super friendly and a great host, probably making the experience. The restaurant served fantastic, large meals for $3.75. I ordered fritada (fried pork) with tortilla de papa (potato cakes), two different types of corn (one soft, called mote, and another a crunch snack), and fried banana. It was really good! I didn’t end up getting much sleep on Friday night, so I decided to turn in early.

My dinner

My dinner

The next day we had breakfast at the hostel and went to Laguna Cuicocha, on a private bus that we were able to hire. It was a beautiful mountain lake that looked kind of like Crater Lake for all of you Oregon folks out there. We hiked about halfway around the rim, summiting one of the highest points, before heading back to Otavalo. We had pizza for lunch and then decided to head back home.

Laguna Cuicocha

Laguna Cuicocha

One Month

Well, I have spent one month here in Ecuador so far (actually one month from yesterday). The first month has been fantastic but also filled with adaptation! I can look at the current moment optimistically that I am more adapted or pessimistically that I am a quarter of the way through my time here. Luckily there are many more adventures in store. In this post I am going to write about school and other miscellaneous items.

School: The university follows a similar schedule to OSU. I take one class Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for 50 minutes and two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, each 80 minutes long. It is a little bit different taking liberal arts classes than science/engineering classes because they are based upon ideas and concepts rather than problem solving. My schoolwork and studying have been very manageable. Next week I have two exams, so I am starting my studying now. I think part of the whole idea of study abroad is to study and learn but also have time to travel and enjoy the country.

Today I had a meeting about my research with all of the other students in the same program. My research has been the slowest to get started since a new lab is in the process of being built and will probably be ready next week. However, I have finally gotten started by taking measurements of a dental implant provided by someone at the School of Dentistry at the university. The next step will be modelling it in CAD software and then going somewhere that can machine it.

Misc: The weather in Quito can be quite erratic as I have discovered in the last couple of days. Right now the wet season is commencing. This doesn’t mean that it’s cloudy and rainy all day. Instead, it is sunny and somewhat hot in the late morning and into the early afternoon. Then thunderstorms with rain that can be fairly heavy arrive later in the afternoon. The other day I got caught without my raincoat—something that won’t happen again.

As of yesterday, it had been 7-8 weeks since I got my last haircut, and I was in need of one. In Ecaudor, there is usually a convenience/grocery store, a panaderia (bakery) and a hair salon all in walking distance. I went to one around the corner from my house. The barber, Jose, was very friendly and asked me what type of haircut I would like. Apparently my Spanish was good enough to result in a good haircut, which is a win. We chatted a lot about Ecuador and general things. He went to New York recently and wants to learn English, so he had American TV news on and asked me to write out a couple of phrases related to haircuts, translated from Spanish to English. I found a friend and someone to go back to for the other one or two haircuts that I need during my time here. While it was not a revolutionary experience, sometimes the everyday encounters can be very rewarding.

An incredibly adventurous weekend: Baños

Last weekend consisted of the two most adventurous days so far during my time in Ecuador. I went with the Hinkles and Tatiana to the town of Baños, a town south of Quito in the Sierra (mountain region) but close to the Oriente (Amazonia). We took a bus from the main bus station in the south of Quito, called Quitumbe. It looked more like an airport than a bus station because it had two levels, ticket windows, terminals, signs, and the whole bit. The bus ride there took 3.5 hours and included many stops in small towns even though it was supposed to be a relatively direct route. Once we got there, we immediately hit the ground running. There’s no way I can cover every detail because there was so much we did. I will mention two categories: outdoor adventures and food.

Outdoor Activities: 

When we first arrived, we had a bite to eat and then decided to hike up to La Casa del Arbol, a tree house located on a mountain, overlooking a valley. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ecuador and includes a swing that provides a view of the valley below. We started hiking up to a cross that overlooks the city. Then we had trouble finding the trail, so we walked the rest of the way along the side of the road. Beautiful scenery the entire way. The total hike must have been 7-10 miles and over 2500 feet of elevation gain. We enjoyed the views and the swing as a rest after hiking. Since it was getting late, we took a taxi back down to the town, had pizza for dinner and turned in early at the hostel.

La Casa del Arbol

La Casa del Arbol

The next day we went to a tour guide agency that provides outdoor activities. There were many options from rafting to mountain biking. Most of the customers were Ecuadorians. An interesting observation of Baños was that the majority of tourists were Ecuadorians there for the weekend, with fewer American, European and Asian tourists. We decided on canyoning, one of the more adventurous activities. It involved rappelling down waterfalls in this beautiful canyon close to town. We went down six waterfalls of different heights. It was an amazing experience that I will remember. For all of the people concerned about safety out there, this was an accredited agency that was probably just as safe as any agency in the United States.

Later that day we hiked up to the Virgin overlooking the town. All of those activities made us tired. That night we decided to go to see the volcano in a chiva, a type of open-air bus with music and a festive atmosphere. It took us up to the cross, where we got a chance to see the glow of lava erupting from the volcano for a few minutes before the clouds came in. There were tons of vendors of food to satisfy the cravings of the people visiting. A nice way to end our day.

Baños from above

Baños from above

Our final morning we decided to go mountain biking on the waterfall route, which descends from the town through a valley with a river and lots of waterfalls. The ride wasn’t particularly strenuous, which was welcomed after all we did. The culmination was a park with a gigantic waterfall called Pailon del Diablo. The shear amount of water on that waterfall was incredible. Many balconies at different levels existed to view the waterfall. We took our time before we returned to the parking lot where we locked our bikes. So many people do this route that rides are offered back uphill to town.

Pailon del Diablo. This photo doesn't do it justice.

Pailon del Diablo. This photo doesn’t do it justice.

Food:

I tried so many different kinds of food on this trip. What was probably the most bizarre item is what I tried first. The guide at the travel agency offered us all fried insects: a type of flying ant that comes out around the volcano only once per year. The flavor wasn’t bad, but I chewed it too much, resulting in feeling the pieces of leg and wing go down my throat.

The two most iconic Ecuadorian food items I tried were cuy (guinea pig) and canelazo (a hot beverage with cinnamon, apple and sugar cane alcohol). My guide book mentioned that cuy was roasted in the market, so we sought it out. Everyone told us that it costs $20-30 to try it. We found a small restaurant that was roasting them over coals. They offered a plate with piece of roasted cuy, rice, potato and a little bit of salad for $4, so we jumped on the opportunity. Cuy was tasty. The skin and fat reminded me a bit of roast pork, and the meat was similar to dark meat poultry. It was a little bit difficult to eat, however, because there were many small bones and not much meat. That night when we took the chiva to view the volcano, we got the chance to try canelazo. We had one provided by the chiva, which wasn’t very good because the alcohol didn’t mix, so it was all on top. Then we bought one, which was pretty tasty, especially in the chilly mountain air at night. It tasted like a hot, sugary, cinnamon flavored apple cider with liquor in it.

Whole cuy roasting

Whole cuy roasting

Next I will mention miscellaneous food items that I tried. First was salchipapas at the waterfall. Salchipapas is an Ecuadorian dish that consists of fried potatoes and little pieces of sausage. Also at the waterfall, I got a coconut ice cream, which was fantastic. It was my first ice cream in Ecuador. The texture was less creamy than regular American ice cream, which worked very well with the coconut flavor and pieces of coconut. I also tried two new types of sweets. One was a taffy that practically every vendor was making. It was sweet and molasses flavored. I really liked it but my friends didn’t. I also had the opportunity to buy a bag of sugar cane pieces to suck on. Chewing on the sugar cane resulted in a sweet juice.

Now that was a novel. So much to say about such an amazing place.

Mindo

Last weekend I took my first real trip outside of the Quito vicinity. I went to Mindo, a small town situated in the cloud forest, located about 2 hours northwest of Quito. Most of the other Oregon students and I all took a two hour bus ride from Quito. The landscape changed from being desert-like just north of Quito (where we crossed the equator) to farms to tropical cloud forest.

As soon as we arrived, we decided to do a hike. Getting there involved a taxi ride from the town and then a ride in a cable car across a valley. The view was incredible during the short ride. Then we hiked down into the valley to see the waterfalls. There were five on the trail we took. The cloud forest was interesting in that it had some very tropical aspects but wasn’t as hot and humid as a jungle. There weren’t all of the exotic animals and bugs that one would expect. However, the forest was very lush and green with vegetation. All of the waterfalls were beautiful and reminded me a bit of Oregon. The best wildlife I saw were the butterflies.

Afterwards we returned to the hostel and got ready for the chocolate tour at a tree-to-bar chocolate factory. The place was called El Quetzal. It was a very small operation that brought in raw cacao from local farmers and then did the whole process from fermentation to chocolate bars and cocoa powder. We got to see their operation. The tour cost $6, and I don’t think it was quite worth that much since it wasn’t all that exciting of an operation. It was a nice thing to see, though. We got to sample their special chocolate products at the end. Then we ate dinner at the restaurant linked to the chocolate operation. I had a pork chop with a chocolate barbecue sauce, and then one of the famous brownies. It was a bit of a splurge (for Ecuador prices) but worth it since I won’t have anything like that soon.

The next day we got up and had a leisurely morning and ate breakfast at the hostel. Our next stop was a butterfly garden, which ended up being quite a walk away. Once we got there, we entered. They hatch and grow many different kinds of colorful butterflies. It was interesting to see how the chrysalises of the butterflies were designed to camouflage in different environments: some looked like leaves and others like flower buds. I even got to put some banana on my finger and hand feed butterflies.

Afterwards we checked out and went for lunch. I had pizza for the first time in a long time. It was different than other pizzas I’ve had but descent. We looked into doing more after lunch but there didn’t seem to be that much more that we could do in the amount of time we had, so we decided to return to Quito on the 2PM bus.

An interesting tree with lots of vines

An interesting tree with lots of vines

The town from my hostel

The town from my hostel

Drying cacao beans

Drying cacao beans

A feeder at the butterfly garden

A feeder at the butterfly garden

One of the many waterfalls

One of the many waterfalls

Back on my feet

It’s been a while since I have posted much because not much has happened since Saturday. My illness was pesky and decided to hang on for a long time. After Saturday night and Sunday morning, it was mostly just upset stomach. At the recommendation of my host mom, I went to the university clinic on Monday afternoon. It was a bit of an an adventure navigating how the clinic worked at the university, in Spanish, while sick. Luckily there was a very nice lady who was super accommodating and helpful, spoke English and was able to put me with a doctor who spoke English so that I could describe my symptoms better. The doctor gave me some medicine to help with the symptoms. By Tuesday afternoon I was considerably better, and by yesterday I was almost completely better. Yesterday afternoon I was able to go to the City Museum with my friends. It was pretty small but had a pretty good timeline complete with artifacts of the history of Quito and Ecuador. Afterwards we went to a small microbrewery which, out of all coincidences, is owned by a group of guys who graduated from Willamette University in Salem.

My Spanish has continued to improve. The improvement seems to go in waves: one moment I am great and another I am not. I think what happens is that I get in a groove after speaking and thinking nothing but Spanish but then I regress a bit if I break that groove. Within the upcoming weeks I should get even better.

Party at the Hacienda

The university has this wonderful program called Ecuabuddies, where international students get paired up with Ecuadorian students. Many activities are offered through the program. This weekend, I had the opportunity to go to a party at a hacienda (plantation/ranch) with Ecuabuddies. It was located south of Quito, above a town called Machachi. Three buses were arranged to transport everyone. As we got above the town a bit, the roads got very narrow, curvy and bumpy. The buses couldn’t make it uphill all the way, so we had to walk a ways to reach our destination. Along the way, we saw small plots of land being farmed by indigenous people, fields of flowers, and cows. 

We could see incredible views of mountains, including snow-capped Cotopaxi and a couple of other snow-capped peaks. The hacienda must have been located at over 10,000 feet, since the valley below was well over 9,000. This meant that we had a view of the town below. 

The party had all kinds of activities. There was dancing, great food, live music, games such as frisbee, and most uniquely, a bull fight. Traditional bull fights, where the bull gets killed, are illegal in Ecuador. However, people can still have them minus the killing of the bull. A couple of small bulls were brought out, and the Chagras (Ecuadorian cowboys), started out. Then many of the students decided to take part as well. I decided not to, first of all because it could be slightly dangerous, and secondly because I wasn’t feeling well. The party was very fun but hampered slightly by off-and-on stomach cramps that I kept having, since the night before. However, I was still able to enjoy myself with all of the festivities and meet many people. 

By the end of the party, I was tired from all of the festivities. My plan was to finish an essay for one of my classes so that I could take the Teleferico (cable car) up Pichincha, the closest volcano to Quito, the next day. This did not come to pass as I developed a fever and chills soon after I arrived home. I ended up going to bed early and sleeping a long time. I really hope I get better soon so I can go back out and enjoy my experience here! 

A field being farmed by an indigenous woman

A field being farmed by an indigenous woman

Flowers

Flowers

The bull fight

The bull fight

Mountains in the afternoon

Mountains in the afternoon

 

Part of the family

There hasn’t been much to write about in the last few days since I’ve been just going to school, getting used to my classes, and doing homework once again. What has been happening is that I have been acclimating more to living here in Ecuador, improving my Spanish, and getting closer to my host family. 

For the first time today, I felt like I really had a grasp on living here when I woke up in the morning. I’ve been having more good conversations with my host family recently. This is making me feel like I am starting to become a part of the family. These conversations are also partially a product of my improving Spanish. 

My transition hasn’t been to hard luckily. The hardest part so far was probably early in the week when I started having classes and homework regularly and didn’t have a routine or anything. Now that I am getting more familiar with the university, everything is going smoother. 

My host sister Dani invited over a bunch of her friends tonight. It was a great opportunity to meet other Ecuadorians my age. We played Cranium and Jenga, which was a little bit difficult in Spanish but a great opportunity. I’m finally getting settled here!