- Restaurants: Tapas y Vinos ($17 unlimited wine and tapas) – in La Mariscal
- Cafe Mosaico (Mediterranean/Typical Ecuadorian cuisine) – amazing view of historic Quito
- Taconazo (Mexican)
- Crepes & Waffles (chain restaurant found in many malls in Quito… but really nice and DELICIOSO)
- Cafe Mosaico (Mediterranean/Typical Ecuadorian cuisine) – amazing view of historic Quito
- La Carolina
- El Ejido (big open-air market on Sundays)
- Attractions (slightly outside of Quito):
- La mitad del mundo (the equator)
- Papallacta (natural hot springs)
- Mindo (butterfly nurseries, ziplining, tropical cloud forest)
- Rent a bike on Sunday at Yellow Bike (in La Mariscal) and ride on the Ciclovia (one of the main roads is closed off Sunday morning and early afternoon for biking)
August 12, 2010
February 24, 2010
On Friday I went with Professor Waters and another woman from USFQ to Tingo Pukara, an indigenous community of twenty-seven families way up in the mountains about three hours from Quito. I am interested in doing some primary research while I’m here, and Professor Waters suggested I get to know this community. He has been visiting there for years and even has four grandchildren there. When we were almost to the village we had to stop the car because all the women in the community were in the road filling in a gaping hole in the narrow path with dirt from the hillside. There were only two or three men there because the rest work in Latacunga or Quito during the week. We watched them finish and chatted a little bit, and then drove on up to their main buildings. We were greeted by a flood of children out of the cooking hut to run around our car and wave. The women were just walking up the hill when we got out of the car, and they greeted us with a combination of a handshake and a pat on the shoulder which took me a few times to get the hang of after two months of besos on the cheek.
I used the bathroom, or closet-sized hut with a hole in the ground, and went into the kitchen building to escape the harsh wind that swirled around the modest buildings high up in the mountains. I talked a little bit with one of the women who spoke Spanish, and then the whole community headed into the main building, where they set up rows of chairs. I soon realized that they were holding a formal meeting, and that we were the reason. Professor Waters, Belen, and I sat in the front and the woman who holds the secretary position read the agenda for the meeting. The children came up and sang a song in kichwa, their indigenous language and that of most of the indigenous groups in Ecuador, and we all introduced ourselves.
The reason my professor had come that day was to give them a computer he had acquired for them that the women’s group would use to type documents and keep their finances, etc. It was such an interesting sight to watch them lift the computer out of the back of the car and carry it into the main building in their long skirts, colorful shawls, and felt hats. They all crowded around as Professor Waters showed them how to plug everything in and magically it turned on. Interestingly enough they are a community of Seventh Day Adventists, and they opened up iTunes and sang a song in kichwa to the tune of a hymn I recognized from church.
After the presentation of the computer we finished the meeting and they invited us to a lunch of soup and a hot drink the name of which I can’t remember. During lunch I held one of the babies, a little boy wrapped up tightly in layers of cloth, with the biggest cheeks I’ve ever seen; he was absolutely adorable. One of the things I found most striking while there was the fact that I couldn’t easily distinguish between the families. All the women helped take care of each other’s children, and all the kids played together. Even a few of the little girls who must not have been more than eight or nine carried infants who may or may not have been their siblings strapped with cloth to their backs. It was such a peaceful experience and so eye-opening to be a part of their community if only for a few hours. I hope to go back soon and get to know them better, because I think we have a lot to learn from each other.
February 13th through 16th was carnaval in Ecuador. Carnaval is a celebration that takes place all over South America, and in Ecuador it consists of throwing water balloons, shooting water guns, or covering each other with this foam which reminds me of the one we use at home to kill carpenter bees. We had Monday and Tuesday off from class, so my American friends (Allie, Haley, Mike, Sobe, and David) and I decided to go to a beach called Montañita. When we decided to go we knew it was a fun place to go for carnaval, but we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into until we got there.
We left Thursday night at 11:30pm and got on our first bus of the trip. All six of us took the Ecuadorian version of Dramamine to help us sleep, and because I seem to be able to sleep anywhere these days, I curled up in my seat and was able to sleep most of the ten hours. My friends, however, did not fare so well, and because the bus was apparently about 100 degrees and their bodies were stiff, they were not at all happy by the time we reached the bus terminal in Guayaquil. It didn’t help that the bus terminal was so crowded even the news found the spectacle entertaining and were filming the long lines that had formed all over the building. Being the only one in even moderately good spirits I took charge and figured out where we could buy our bus tickets to Montañita. However, the only company that sold direct buses to our beach town didn’t have space for us until the bus that left at 1pm, and we weren’t going to wait around for five hours. In the end we bought tickets to another town, and changed buses to grab the one that took us to Montañita.
After a thirteen hour epic journey from Quito to the coast, we finally made it to our relaxing vacation – not. When we walked into Montañita we were greeted by floods of people, countless street vendors, and about seventeen times more people than the Jersey shore on July 4th weekend. Our hostel was called Montezuma, and the six of us had a two-story suite on the top floor with a balcony that overlooked the main streets. For what we paid per night, I would have expected them to clean our room everyday, or at least once at some point during the weekend, but no, the sand just piled up over the four days until it was almost unbearable. We had also bought a cheap grill to take to the beach with us, thinking we could save money and have some fun by cooking out on our balcony instead of eating every meal in a restaurant… wrong again. Somehow after buying all the food and charcoal, the boys couldn’t get the grill to light, so we ended eating our meals out anyway, and nibbled on the left over hot dog buns when we got hungry late at night.
We spent the four days laying on the beach, dancing, and eating and drinking, and we had a lot of fun. There were tons of street performers that had a captive audience at any time of day or night, and a whole street full of cocktail stands that would make any drink you could imagine with fresh blended fruit. Throughout our adventures we met a lot of random people, including Ecuadorians, Argentineans, and some Chileans; we also ran into a fair amount of people from USFQ as well.
On the way back we refused to take a bus because with the traffic on the last day of carnaval it would have taken something on the order of 18 hours, and we were all sunburned and exhausted. Instead we all bought relatively cheap flights from Guayquil to Quito, and after an uncomfortable, three–hour van ride to Guayaquil, two hours in the airport, and thrity minutes in the air, we were finally back to Quito by the very reasonable hour of 2pm. All in all, Montañita was a great experience, but it was just that, an experience. It was great to be there for carnaval but the next time we got to the coast I’m ready for some palm trees and empty beaches!
One of my classes this semester is called Design and Evaluation of Development Projects, and it’s taught by Professor Will Waters, originally from Connecticut, taught at GW, and now lives in Ecuador teaching at USFQ. I’ve really enjoyed the class, but more than that it was the class in which I made my first real Ecuadorian friend, Andrea. She spent last semester at UNC so she knows what it’s like to be an international student and has been really nice to me. Andrea and I are working on our semester-long project together, which entails drafting a five-part proposal for a development project in Ecuador as if we were to send it to a donor organization for funding – it’s been really interesting. We chose to do our project on the children left behind by parents that migrate to other countries for work or otherwise, and our project is to set up a mentoring program for these children to provide a consistent role model and source of comfort and information for them as they grow up without one or more parents. But that’s not what this post is about!
I’d hung out with Andrea a few times when she invited me to a barbeque birthday party for a friend of hers who lives in Cumbaya (the valley next to Quito which is also home to the university). I took my gringo friend Mike with me, and we had a great time hanging out with Ecuadorians and yelling at them for refusing to speak Spanish to us because they all wanted to practice their English – side note: everyone here speaks perfect English, or at least way better English than I do Spanish. It’s so frustrating.
Anyway we eventually left that party and caravanned up to Quito where we went to a party that was held at the house of a kid from our university whose parents were moving so the house was totally empty. They had all sorts of lights, a dj, and servers coming around with food and drinks. Since the house was going to be knocked down a few days later, kids were going around with spray paint cans spraying random names and drawings on the walls, It was truly insane, and we stayed there until after three in the morning. Somehow when I go out with the Ecuadorians I never get any sleep! But I made some great friends and I had an awesome time.
A few weekends ago I went with Allie, Mike, and Allie’s Ecuadorian friend Camilo to Otavalo, a town about an hour and a half north of Quito, famous for its giant market run by the indigenous people there. We parked, walked down the street and came face to face with hundreds of white tents filled with all sorts of trinkets imaginable. There were hammocks, sweaters, linen pants and sweatshirts, bracelets, woodwork, glass work, all types of silver jewelry, a whole street dedicated to used clothes, old coins and stamps, you name it. I ate the strangest looking fruit I’ve ever seen that we bought from an old lady in the street. I think it was called something like an achevera, and was red with spines on the outside, but you peeled it and sucked on the clear, eyeball looking fruit on the inside. It was good, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that I was eating a brain. After spending over fifty dollars on presents (purchases which will not be disclosed until I’m home), we ate incredible pizza at a restaurant in town, and, surprise surprise, ran into some of our American friends there. When we got back into the car I put on my huge, gray alpaca sweater, and promptly fell asleep for the ride home.
I’ve become really fond of the parks in Quito, an the two biggest ones are Carolina and Metropolitano. As I’ve mentioned, the parks are always humming with people, but especially so on Sundays. Carolina is huge and isn’t far from my house, so I go there a fair amount. It has a trail around the perimeter which is great for running and biking, and there’s always tons of things to see to distract yourself from the fact that you feel like dying and you’re only just beginning your run. There are four or five big soccer fields that are always full, basketball courts, playgrounds, a skate park, a mountain bike trail, a paddle boat pond, inclines and pull-up bars to work out, a reptile house, a flower garden, and I’m sure there’s more but that’s only what I’ve seen so far! On Sunday mornings there are hundreds of people, men and women alike, doing aerobics on the basketball courts, following the lead of a man in short-shorts standing on a tall platform – it’s comical to say the least.
Metropolitano is a different type of park altogether. It’s even larger than Carolina, and consists mostly of wooded trails and open fields interrupted only by the huge abstract sculptures that Quito seems to be fond of. It’s situated at the top of the mountain right before you head down into Cumbaya, so on the east side there are incredibly scenic lookouts over the valley and the snow-capped volcanoes. People always bring their dogs to run around there, and the trails are covered with teenagers on dirt bikes jumping over bumps and flying through the woods. I really love both parks, and they’re such different experiences so it’s nice to live pretty close to both!
On January 28th, 2010, I celebrated my 21st birthday in Quito, Ecuador. I began my day by being awoken by my host mom, brothers, and sister singing happy birthday to me in English, and then Spanish, and carrying a cake and a present. It was such an incredibly sweet gesture and I will always remember it. After eating a delicious birthday breakfast of huevos rancheros, I talked to my parents and brothers on the phone. I miss the days of getting birthday phone calls before the sun rises from my mom’s side of the family, but it was definitely a great morning. My second birthday present arrived in the form of a cancelled first class, so I ended up hanging out with some girls from my class in a restaurant across the street instead. After my classes were over at 4pm I went home and rested before the evening began.
For my 21st birthday I rented a chiva, or a chivateca to be precise. A chiva is basically a bus without seats and open sides, and the one I got is called a chivateca because it had a DJ, lights, and a smoke machine inside. My friends started arriving around 8 and by 8:45 about thirty of us piled onto the chiva and drove around Quito for an hour and a half. They stopped in the middle of the trip in the centro historico and we crowned the queen (me, it being my birthday and everything) and the king of the chiva. To elect the king I danced with three different candidates in the middle of the circle, and Mike won by having the loudest applause from the crowd.
After we got back on the chiva they dropped us of in the mariscal and we went to our favorite place called the Boot. From there we wandered across the street to a larger club called Bungalow before getting cheap Indian food at 2:30am and finally heading home. It was a great day, and even though I didn’t get my head stamped at the Tombs, I don’t think I could have asked for a better birthday.
One Sunday afternoon Sobe, David, and I decided to rent bikes and mountain bike down Pichincha, the volcano that overlooks Quito. However, when we got to the bike rental place they only had road bikes which were clearly not suitable for the type of adventure that we were planning on. The rental guys gave us a cheap deal on the bikes for three hours so we decided to hop on the bikes and ride around Quito anyway. The bike ride turned out to be tons of fun. We rode along Ave. Amazonas, which on Sundays turns into the ciclovia, or a road only for bikes; it’s a huge road, think of one way of Lancaster Pike being turned into bikes only once a week. I think America would be less obese if we took a suggestion from the quiteños.
We took the ciclovia as far as it goes to el Parque Arbolito. The parks in Quito are always full on Sundays, and this was no exception. There was a big tunnel around the main square made out of tents selling the tings you’ll find in any market here: millions of woven bracelets (I’m currently wearing nine…), beaded earrings, alpaca sweaters, hats and gloves, paintings, and hammocks. We bought some fresh cliced watermelon from a woman and her cart, and a cup of the best juice I’ve ever had which I think was orange, mango, and watermelon juices mixed together. We were having a watermelon seed-spitting contest when we noticed a little kid, probably about four years old, who had gotten separated from his dad and was on the verge of tears. We were about to go talk to him when he found his father, who didn’t seem to have realized his son was ever gone!
After we left that park we kept riding south to another much smaller park, which is home to an observatory and a pond with paddle boats and row boats. We bought some chicken skewers from a street vendor and watched the boats for a while before we hopped on our bikes to keep going. The food was delicious and it didn’t even make me sick!
By this time we had reached the centro historico, which has cobble stone streets lined with incredibly old, brightly colored, columned buildings. If you ever go to Quito people will make sure you’ve seen the virgen, the huge statue of Mary which stands on a hill overlooking the centro historico. We almost died riding our bikes up some of the steepest hills I’ve ever encountered, but we eventually ended up at the Basilica, a beautiful, old cathedral. Instead of the gargoyles and drainpipes being fantasy creatures or monsters, the ones on the Basilica are all animals native to Ecuador. After regretting not paying for locks for our bikes so we could have explored the inside of the church, we descended the steep, treacherous cobblestone roads, and began to head home, but not before being pelted by water balloons by children in a third-story window.
One Saturday morning I got up at 6:30am and took a taxi to meet all my American friends and the rest of their volcanology class for a trip to Cuicocha. After a three hour bus ride north and both Harold and Krumar movies we finally pulled up to a bright blue lake in which sat two emerald green islands. The lake on the top of the volcano Cuicocha and is the result of the volcano sinking down. We put on bright orange lifejackets, piled into row boats, and set off an a half hour boat ride around the islands while the volcanology professor told us the myths about Cuicocha and the surrounding volcanoes which I promptly forgot. Apparently it’s a great place to scuba dive so maybe I’ll make it back eventually. After we got back to dry land we received a free taste of canelazo – a hot drink made with liquor from sugar cane and different spices. We browsed the typical indigenous wares and then got back into the bus for another long bus ride. On the way home the class stopped four or five times to examine supposed fault lines in tall rock faces. I personally didn’t see anything but giant slabs of rock, so the experience was lost on me. Although in the end I think I would have preferred making the trip on my own and perhaps combining it with other sites up north, I got a piece of volcanic rock out of it so that was cool.
It’s incredible that a single weekend trip needs two long posts, but that should give you an idea of how much we packed into two and a half days! On Saturday morning we woke up ready for another adventure. We went across the street again to our friends from the day before, and rented bikes for $5 each for the whole day. After discussing the map of the area with the woman working there, we decided to go the opposite direction we’d gone the day before so that we could see a new area and go to the zoo (marked on the map as, seriously, “Animal Prison”). The bike was a little bit more intense than we’d bargained for on the way there, but we finally made it up the hills and avoided getting smashed by the reckless traffic speeding by.
The animal prison was one of the coolest zoos I’ve ever been to. Although small it is made up of animals that are all native to Ecuador. The monkeys weren’t behind thick glass like in the Philadelphia and DC zoos, but in large cages or behind chain-linked fences. The lady from whom we rented our bikes advised us to rustle a plastic bag near their cages and they would come over to us – she couldn’t have given us a better suggestion. Even though they were behind bars, we played with all sorts of different monkeys. At one point I had an orchid in my hand (they grow wild in Ecuador!) and a spider monkey snatched it from me and promptly ate the whole thing. The whole zoo was a great experience. We saw a puma ripping apart a huge fish for lunch, giant Galapagos turtles, and some sort of large bear. The zoo also had a section just for birds. They had all sorts of parrots, one which kept making the sound of a water drop?, and of course, a condor, the national symbol of Ecuador.
After the animal prison we continued down the road five minutes and came to a tourist trap zipline across a canyon into a cave. We paid $10 each to go down it, and although it was pretty fun, I’m sure we’ll have much better ziplining while we’re here. After hiking backup from the canyon we grabbed our bikes and rode home.
Once back in town we went to a delicious and moderately priced Mexican restaurant, and then went back to the hostel. That weekend was especially exciting because the nearby volcano, Tunguragua, was erupting. All the tour companies offered trips up to the “Treehouse,” a small bar way up on the side of the mountain with the best view of the volcano and a rope swing that swings over the canyon. We found a deal we liked, but after waiting around for a while, the owner decided the refund our money because it was too cloudy and we wouldn’t have been able to see the eruption. Disappointed but not discouraged we decided to rent cuadrones, or four-wheelers, for two hours and drive around the mountains. We went out past the animal prison and ziplining and forded a small river to get to a tiny mountain path. Two people on each ATV, we sped up around the hairpin turns on the dirt path, past small houses and avoiding the dogs that ran up to catch us. We would have climbed higher because we wanted to reach the top but it began to get dark, and we’re lucky we turned back when we did because by the time we got back into town it was pouring rain too. We finished off the day with another trip to the lovely hot springs and we were all so exhausted we fell asleep early. Sunday morning we wanted to rent four-wheelers again and climb to the top of the mountain, but it was still raining so we had another delicious breakfast, packed up, and hopped on a bus to go back to Quito.