Otavalo

The entire Oregon group took a trip to Otavalo this weekend. It’s only 30 miles from Quito as the bird flies, but the slow, winding drive takes more than two hours.

IMG_5604 (2)

10314624_709680229122971_3088675984688776467_n

IMG_5689 IMG_5708

Local dish fritada:

IMG_5713

Crater Lake Hike:

IMG_5727 IMG_5729 IMG_5737

We spent the night Saturday and came back Sunday. It was a quick trip!

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Advertisements

Classes at USFQ

Study abroad.

IMG_5596

I swear it isn’t a hoax! We really do study.

To the surprise of many, who think the study in study abroad is a guise, I spend a lot of time studying, including several hours every day this week in the library. Most of it has been for my group history project–an analysis of a divergence point in the pre-Columbian history of Ecuador. It is my most challenging class by far, though I am really enjoying my group which is all Ecuadorians. While all of my classes are fully in Spanish, for History we have up to 40 pages of textbook reading–dense enough were it in English–that can take a long time to finish every night. It is a good thing I have been keeping up because I was prepared for today’s “prueba de sorpresa”–pop quiz.

Anthropology class is a bit dry, and my Spanish language class is the most interesting, since we learn hundreds of vocab words and my professor even makes the dreaded subjunctive tense an interesting study subject. Here is a sample of vocab words:

Arduo – Difficult

Rehén – Hostage

Por doquier – All over the place

Escampar – to stop raining

Hacer hincapié en – to put an emphasis on, make a priority

Chuta – exclamation of surprise; shoot!

Now when you come visit Ecuador, you’ll know how to say “There are hostages all over the place but we can’t make rescuing them a priority because it won’t stop raining-shoot!”

My Spanish is improving drastically, but I have started saying some weird stuff when I speak in English. For example, I will literally translate a Spanish expression into English and it won’t make any sense… Or I will call my bank in the US and start talking in Spanish. Oops.

That is it for now. I have to study now so that I will have time to travel to Otavalo this weekend 🙂

-Chris

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Epic Epitomized

banos swing final

I finally discovered the true meaning of the word ‘chevere’. My friends and I (but mostly me) started seriously overusing the phrase Ecuadorians exclaim to mean “awesome” or “excellent”. How did the guinea pig taste? “chevere.” How was the beach? “chevere”. How is your twelve page paper coming along? “chevere”.

But Baños, Ecuador, epitomizes the true meaning of the word ‘chevere’: Crazy. Awesome. Epic. Baños is a lively town of twenty-thousand, lying in the shadow of Mt. ‘Tungurahua’ – literally “throat of fire” in the ancient Incan language of Quechua. Erupting off-and-on since 1999, the cone-shaped volcano erupted towering columns of ash by day and spurted lava by night during our stay. Volcanic activity can’t put a damper on the scene in town, though. Jumping down from the bus in the middle of town, the energy immediately overwhelms you. You are swarmed by enthusiastic vendors selling tours. It is hard to make up your mind. As the aroma of mouthwatering street food lures you towards the city market, salesmen are telling you to hurry and book your tour before it is too late!

Friday

The three-hour bus ride passes quickly as I drift in-and-out of a sleepy trance. After getting a hostel by the city plaza, and wolfing down a pile of rice for lunch, we set-off on a ten-km hike straight uphill to the famed “Swing at the End of the Earth”. A popular destination for travelers across the globe, the wooden swing swings out from a rickety tree house over a lush gaping valley. 

I’m not sure where else you can swing over a tropical valley while a snow-capped volcano erupts behind you.

The hike down isn’t so chevere after darkness descended. The Ecuadorians usually so willing to offer us an “aventon” in the back of their pickup are no where to be found, while lightning flashes and fireflies twinkle like stars on the roadside.

When we finally make it to town, we celebrate with pizza. This time I stick to margherita – the banana pizza we tried at the beach wasn’t quite my style. Exhausted and anticipating a long day tomorrow, we retire early to bed.

Saturday

1782423_10204775597574014_6112261121839055361_o

Canyoning! That is the name they give to something more aptly-called “rappelling off 150-foot waterfalls”. 

10690046_650127638438247_3077462407000873699_n 1233970_650139035103774_3674302436335677379_n

Lunch consisted of guinea pig. They call it cuy and it tastes like chicken. You can rarely tell if vendors are actually giving you what they claim to be selling, but the whole roasting guinea pigs out front and the tiny guinea pig foot seem proof enough. We try oo-qui, which is a crunchy smoke-flavored flying ant.

IMG_5322IMG_5325

Following lunch we set off for the spiraling staircase that rises to the Virgen del Santa Agua. We hiked it hurriedly, in time to catch the late evening sunlight over the city:

IMG_5380      

Dinner of rice and chicken from a quiet family restaurant left us few minutes to spare before our nighttime volcano tour. It gets dark by 6:30 here on the equator. We cram onto a “chiva” – a window-less party – bus that takes us up to a dark mountainside above the city. As the clouds drift apart we notice a glowing red cone in the night sky. Tungurahua is angrily bleeding. 

IMG_5450 - Copy - Copy 

Sunday

A distant ringing of alarm clocks slowly rouses me. Who the heck set my alarm for six AM on a Sunday? I roll over before recalling we were in Baños. Seconds later I am standing on the balcony, lacing my running shoes, gazing at the waterfall so elegantly lit by the early morning rays of sun. Our route is familiar – the 2800 vertical feet uphill to the Swing on the Edge of the Earth – except this time we will run it. Running uphill at high elevation is a sufficiently-bad idea, but a few minutes to the hour we are dangerously close and got the worse idea in our heads that we had to make it by seven. Thus is the life of runner like me. Dizzy and exhausted, my legs feel weighted and it takes an immense effort before collapsing under the tree house with two minutes to spare. An instant later I am on my feet again. The volcano has started erupting again, shooting a slowly billowing tower of ash high into the clear cool morning sky. A french couple who arrive a little while later are kind enough to take our picture back-dropped by the erupting volcano and offered to email it to us. (Still waiting for the email…) Merci! We have only a few minutes to rest, perched at our lookout, before beginning our slow jog down. We are high in spirits from the adrenaline still pumping through us, and this direction take time to enjoy the ruggedly-carved canyons and lush green ridges with steep spines that drop below the cobblestone road upon which we descend.

I am ready to eat and relax, but we already agreed to bike the waterfall route with our friends, so after breakfast of coffee, fruit, eggs, and toast, we saddle the bikes we had rented for five dollars and pedal rapidly out of the Andes along a winding mountain road above a canyon ringed with waterfalls. The calm sunny day passes quickly. Wind to our faces, we pedal eagerly down down to our lunch destination, where we snack on exotic fruits brought up from the amazon and enjoy ice cream cones. It was midday by then, and time to catch a ride in the balde of another pickup trip that would drive us back up to town.

IMG_5473  IMG_5505   IMG_5543 

SUNDAY NIGHT

Five hours coming home. The rain is a recipe for accidents and stopped traffic along road. I study vocabulary, so it is all okay. One of the words is ‘chevere’. Yep, I know what that means.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Mindo Cloud Forest

IMG_4911

SATURDAY:

Back to Mindo! The cable car from which I took this picture was a bit sketchy, especially in the middle of a thunder storm. But it took us to a gorgeous canyon stuffed with waterfalls:

IMG_4904 IMG_4955

The hike would have felt almost like Oregon, had it not been for the heat, humidity, tropical birds and bugs, warm water, and tropical flora. All that aside, the steep chaquiñan (trail), moss everywhere, lushness and crystal clear waterfalls felt almost like Silver Falls, the Gorge, or somewhere else in western Oregon.

IMG_4949

After dinner at the chocolate factory, we celebrated my friend’s 20th birthday and then played soccer with some Ecuadorian kids in the town plaza. Soccer really is popular across the world. It’s played in the US too of course–I played on an intramural team in the spring–but it’s nothing like in Kenya or Ecuador, where all they want to play or watch is soccer.

Children especially love playing futbol. I have many fond memories of playing soccer with kids in Kenya and no doubt I’ll make memories playing soccer here too. There is something special about it that leaves you exhilarated afterwards. Perhaps its that competition is so universal, so fun, or so simple. In celebrating a goal, fist-bumping your teammate, or laughing so hard that you cry, there is something that makes a truly human bond.

SUNDAY:

Birds and butterflies are amazing in the cloud forest:

IMG_5124IMG_5025 (2)

We went to a butterfly garden where there were literally thousands of butterflies. One specific species of butterfly, the “owl butterfly” loves feeding on squished up bananas set out on dishes. By mushing some banana on my hand I has able to get them to land on me!

IMG_5080 IMG_5118

IMG_5109

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

10 Things Most ‘Chevere’ About Study Abroad (so far)

IMG_48511. Freshly squeezed pineapple juice.

2. Meeting people from Ecuador and all over the world.

3. My host family.

4. La Playa!

5. Traveling on the weekends.

6. The language and culture.

7. New perspectives.

8. The bakery across the street.

9. Being tired, because it means I must have had a good time.

10. Even the things that everyone complains about–that’s what makes it an adventure. The buses so crowded you can’t bend your knees, mobs of vendors, rice for every meal, bargaining with taxi drivers and infuriating lack of timeliness… things I gripe about now but will probably miss when I go back home.

 .

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

La Playa – the Beach!

IMG_4846

My favorite way to spend a day is enjoying the beach, so this trip would have been hard to beat.

Our overnight bus had left Quito late the night before and spilled us a few miles from Salinas – a coastal town perched on the Santa Elena peninsula that juts into the warm Pacific Ocean a few miles from the equator. We board a city bus that will take us to the heart of town, where a swarm of locals trying to sell us everything imaginable greets us enthusiastically. Twenty dollars. No, we will give it to you for fifteen! Ten! I am not even sure what they are selling us. Strolling onward along the beach, we rest our heavy packs and sip from fresh coconuts that we bought from a man on a bike. A thin film of overcast grays out the sky, but does not block the heat. Warmth rises from the sand. Gentle waves wash upon the shore, where sandpipers scurry excitedly back and forth. In the small harbor, swarms of terns and Blue-footed Boobies flutter up before diving straight into the emerald water. They usually pop up with a fish squirming between their beak. The salty spray and soft sand seems to invite us out of town and onto the beach, where we continue trekking towards the middle of the city hoping to find somewhere to stay. Aside from mobs of vendors it seems surprisingly quiet. Tomorrow night we would discover where everyone was, but for now we book a room overlooking the harbor and ditch our packs so that we can explore town.

While our two other friends nap, Adrian and I head to a salt ponds searching for flamingos. We find them, hundreds of them, awkwardly sweeping their funny-shaped beaks through the water sifting for something to eat. The sun sets quickly over the Salinas skyline of resort-like hotels. By the time we arrive back to the heart of town, city lights have been turned on and the beach becomes lively with music and people escaping their homes and hotels to enjoy the warm evening. Tall palm trees cast fuzzy shadows in the sand while lights pattern the glassy crescent-shaped harbor with florescent green and white reflections. For dinner, the four of us find a pizza place, where I try tasting the Maqueño special – banana pizza. I decide that my taste buds might not appreciate my adventurousness, so we wander to the malecón – waterfront – to enjoy the softly washing waves and order ice cream cones.

I am awake early the next morning, in the lobby of the hotel. We are locked in. I ring the service bell but no one answers. Adrian and I look at each other simultaneously and head for the backyard, where we start scaling a fence. When we drop across the fence into a neighbor’s yard, a woman comes out and starts yammering at us. We explain our situation before bolting, already a few minutes late if we want to reach La Chocolatera, the western tip of South America, by sunrise. At La Chocolatera thousands of sea birds, Blue-footed Boobies and terns stream past flying in all different directions. On the horizon I spy a Waved Albatross, a species that nests only on the Galapagos Islands, and watch Humpback Whales breaking the surface of the turquoise seas. A light salty wind whips in from the Gulf of Guayaquil, cooling us off from the clingy heat.

IMG_4822

That evening Saturday night we catch another two hour bus ride to Montañita – the crazy party beach town populated by hippies. It is overwhelmingly busy as we step off the bus. Reggae music blares loudly, replacing the usual shouting of street vendors. Crowded streets, the music, and the open-air shops with palm-thatched roofs stretching all the way to the beach makes the town lively and exciting. The first hotel tries ripping us off but at our second hostel, we get a good deal and tell them okay, eager to leave our packs and explore town.

That night we sip beers and sit along the malecón watching the stars and the waves, and the lights from fishing boats out at sea, while the music beats loudly.

It is eleven when we awake. I stand on the balcony that is half the height of two palm trees squeezed against the building, observing the streets below. Town is slowly waking up from whatever situation the party left them. My host mom has gotten be addicted to coffee, which I order to go with my blackberry juice, toast, and eggs. We spend the day on the beach and wandering town. We are sad to board the bus home but our adventures have made us excited for what is to come.

It is another sleepy overnight bus ride. The moon is full and when I wake up a few times during the night I can see dark banana and coffee plantations as we wind our way into the mountains toward Quito. By the time we are home, the sun is rising.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

City Tour

IMG_4551

IMG_4561IMG_4557

Our wonderful OUS (Oregon University System) coordinator Franco toured us around Quito today. It is a wonderful city!

We visited the presidential palace. It was worth it:

10329760_528463560630762_3101769774674378173_oIMG_4563

IMG_4573IMG_4570

Atop the tallest church tower in town. -Ojala que no haya terremoto-

IMG_4593   IMG_4614

IMG_4601

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.