Neato Quito

Sunday evening, I traveled to Quito with Reyna’s youngest son, Juan Pablo.  I really do enjoy Reyna’s children a lot.  They’re very close, very fun, they have cute babies.  And it doesn’t hurt that three out of four of them live in Quito, meaning that when I have to spend a night in that city (three more times- all because of flying in and out of Quito- before I leave in April), I have places to stay.  With bus fare costing a mere $4 and lodging costs at zilch, after how much I found myself enjoying the city of Quito, I may even return for voluntary visits.

I was done registering my visa by 9:30 Monday morning, so I grabbed a map of Quito from a Quito tourism office conveniently located across the street from the Dirección General de Extranjería, then took off.  Five minutes on a trolebus, and I was in the beautiful historic district.

First, I stopped into La Basilica, the tallest church tower in South America!  I was by myself at this point, and enjoyed the inside and outside most thoroughly.  However, when I told Juan Pablo about my visit, he asked if I had gone up into the towers for a view of the city.  Whaaaaaaaaaat?  Definitely doing that on my next trip.

La Basilica

La Basilica's gorgeous interior.

After La Basílica, I tried to use my map to head to another recommended destination, but got a little lost… heh heh, so unlike me!  I ended up on a street of nothing but shoe stores.  Ecuador does this a lot with shops.  In Riobamba, we have 2 blocks of nothing but auto supply shops, 1 block of nothing but photo development shops.  It doesn´t really make any sense to me, but I needed (that might not be the right word) a new pair of shoes, so I popped into a few, and, by a few, I mean about six.  Why that many?  Because none of them had shoes my size!  My feet are big for the US, gargantuan for Ecuador.  When I told one of the managers what size I was looking for, he actually said “Sacra Maria!” (Holy Mary!)  Thanks…  After getting tired of seeing cute shoes 3 sizes too small, I found my way back to the historic sights.

Palicio Presidencial, where the president lives!

Iglesia San Augustin

San Augustin's interior was surprisingly colorful! The mint green, peaches, pinks, and yellows reminded me of friend Rachel Martin 🙂

After visiting the lovely San Augustin church, I started taking some pictures from Plaza Grande area, outside the Presidential Palace.  Then, a strange man approached me and asked if I spoke English.  When things like this happen in Ecuador, my first thought is to clutch my purse a little tighter and be very aware of what’s happening around me.  However, this guy was not part of a robbing crew.  He had lived in New York for eight years and felt like helping out a foreigner.  He pointed me toward a building nearby where I could take the stairs to the roof and shoot better pictures!

Taken from the roof of Centro Cultural Metropolitano. Notice El Panecillo, Quito's Virgin Mary statue, towering over the city in the background.

After my roof excursion, I met up again with Juan Pablo.  (Oh, I have a phone that I can use in Ecuador now- soo helpful.)  We went out to lunch with his sister-in-law, who was just delightful.  Then, he assisted me in fulfilling my desire to do Quito like a tourist.

My third church this day: La Compañia

Holy smokes- La Compañia was absolutely stunning.  Juan Pablo and I got a tour (in English- yes!), which was very interesting.  It is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in South America.  The attention to detail, the gold interior, and the fascinating design make this place so worth a stop.  Photography is prohibited, so I found a picture of the interior online:

Inside La Compañia

The ground of Quito seems to bend and fold upward and downward in order to appease its dwellers with its layered beauty. I just love how many colorful buildings I was able to see from this one spot because I was in a city that rests in the mountains.

La Runda, a neighborhood that, Juan Pablo informed me, comes alive with musicians, artists, and pedestrians weekend nights. I'd like to find this out for myself on another visit.

Our last stop for the day was at the Panecillo, Quito’s 45 meter-tall aluminum Virgin Mary.  I love that she has wings, that she’s stepping on a snake, and that she is probably the only woman in Ecuador with feet bigger than mine.

Juan Pablo was like "I'm going to get a picture of you with El Panecillo!" She's huge- it's pretty impossible. Here I am with a fraction of her base.

Juan Pablo was like "I'm going to get a picture of you with El Panecillo!" She's huge- it's pretty impossible. Here I am with a fraction of her base.

My zoomed in view of Quito. Do you spy with your little eye the Basilica, along with 3 other big churches?

I had a lovely day touring the city of Quito.  I spent the evening with Reyna’s three sons who live in Quito, their wives, their children, and a family friend, all in Juan Pablo’s little living room.  We ate animal crackers and karaoke’d.  You can imagine how huge the English selection was… I sang “Killing Me Softly,” “Let it Be,” and “It Must Have Been Love” (as a joke).  I was pleasantly surprised to find Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” among the scant assortment of English songs.  Even in a place as pleasant as Quito, I enjoy reminders of home, sweet home.

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To and Fro

As I spent thirty minutes of my morning in a trolebus that was headed to the Quitumbe Bus Station in Quito, I reflected upon my experiences with mass transit, and transportation in general.  Here’s a list of the ways in which I have been moved, in chronological order:

  • car (passenger)
  • airplane
  • bike
  • boat
  • taxi (in NYC, on the Merrill Ocracoke trip of 2000)
  • car (driver)
  • Greyhound bus
  • Gator (this one is for any med-o-larkers who may be reading)
  • Chicken Buses in Guatemala (they’re called chicken buses because conductors never say no to anyone wishing to enter- they end up being as crammed as chicken coops)
  • DC Metro
  • Amtrak Train
  • car (passenger), left-side of the road (Jamaica)
  • car (driver), left-side of the road and manual transmission- don’t even ask (Ireland)
  • buses in Ireland
  • Prague metro system
  • European trains (sooo much more 21st century than Amtrak!)
  • U-bahn metro system of Vienna
  • U-bahn metro system of Munich
  • Brussels subway system
  • Paris Métro
  • buses of San Francisco
  • TriMet system of Portland, OR
  • sailboat (thank you, Helen)
  • MBTA transit of Boston
  • Buseta in Ecuador (a large van that is supposed to seat 15 or so, but proves able to fit about 20)
  • buses in Ecuador
  • metrobuses and trolebuses of Quito

I love the myriad of possibilities there are in getting around.  It’s hard to say which method is my favorite.  Each has its pros and cons.  One of my favorite ways to spend a surprisingly warm spring day is cruising in the Kansas countryside with the windows down and the music up, singing unashamedly.  My dear 1993 Honda Del Sol was the perfect car for this pastime.  But, as my car (Fiona) proved to be true, owning a car can be terribly expensive.

I can't even count how many times I had to have this adorable car towed for one reason or another.

I love both driving and riding on a boat, knowing that at any moment, I could jump off port side for a refreshing dip.  But, boats obviously have their limits (and are also a bit expensive)

Good times on the Merrill's The Gloaming (now Babs)

Mostly what I reflected upon this morning, as my trolebus took me all the way from the beautiful, historic center of Quito to the outskirts of the obviously more in need south end, was how much I love public transit.  It’s cheap, it’s a great way to get a visual tour of a city (without having to risk/endure driving in the traffic), and there’s nothing that will make you feel like a local as much as mastering the public transportation of the city you’re visiting.  Every city seems to do mass transportation a little bit differently, plus, adding to the confusion of the transit system in foreign countries is the foreign language I have many stories of PT confusion up my sleeve.  One involving a forgotten Sigg waterbottle in a NY subway (please join me in a moment of silence for Simon the Sigg). One involving a kind, French woman giving up 20 minutes of her morning to help a poor, lost stranger make it to her 7 am train to Paris.  One involving a few too many beers, a couple- far from funny or romantic- hours of the wee morning spent with a guy from DC in a Munich phone booth, and even the irony and foreshadowing of a short story.  One that cost me $30 (damn you, Prague metro police with your vigilance in catching tourists who can’t help but be confused by your system and fining them!)

Still, even with (or maybe even a little bit because of) my transit tangles in mind, I love public transportation.  Getting around in Quito was no exception.  Quito’s system is pretty easy to understand.  It helps that the city is shaped like a forefinger (as you can see in the map to your left).  There are three lines that run north and south, getting you pretty easily to where you need to go.  And one ride costs a mere 25 cents.  I would have spent $10 on a 30 minute taxi ride, but instead, I got to experience all the liveliness, closeness, and real feeling of belonging to a city that comes with using mass transit, for a fraction of the price.

Someday, I hope to live in a city that is big enough to have decent public transportation.  Right now, I’m car-less, so that someday may be closer to sooner than later.  I wouldn’t mind using a system so much that I really got it, becoming one of the people who assists tourist, rather than the other way around.

Tutorial on Registering a Visa in Ecuador

Step 0: Before you can register your visa, you need to obtain a visa, no?  Things I needed to gather so that I could get a visa are as follows: a doctor’s note verifying that I would be fit for travel, a copy of my police record, a letter from my bank vowing that I would be able to support myself financially while in Ecuador, two-hundred and thirty dollars (es muy caro), my passport, the correctly filled out application forms (I quadruple checked them), copies of my plane ticket, and 2 passport sized photos (I went to Walmart to have these photos taken- fyi, you’re not allowed to smile in them [sad, I know]).  I sent all of this in at the beginning of September, using Express Mail envelopes (and I had to include a self-addressed envelope)- adding $36 to the already hefty $230 price tag, and it was returned to me about two weeks later.  The entire process, if you already have your passport, takes almost two months (factoring in making appointments with doctors, putting in requests for certified police records, etc.)  When I received my self-addressed envelope toward the end of September, I gleefully ripped it open to find my Visa application stamped and my passport containing not just a new stamp, but an entire page filled in with details of my Visa.  “I have my Visa, I have my Visa, yeah yeah yeah!” and I thought I was good.

However, the day after I arrived to Quito, while we chatted over our simple hostel breakfast, Felicia told me about her difficulties with registering her Visa and I kind of turned my head (the way my dog does when she’s perplexed).  “Come again?”  Yes, all that work in Step 0, that’s not the end of it.  I swear to all things holy that nobody at the Ecuador embassy told me that I needed to register my Visa.  I’ve since looked on the website and cannot find it there either.  If I never would have had this conversation with Felicia, I would have entered the airport in January, happy at the thought of seeing my loved ones for just about a week (remember I have to go back the the states for the first week in February for the UNI Overseas Teaching Fair) only to merrily hand my passport to one of the officials and, in return, have him glare at me and tell me that I failed to register my visa and therefore had to pay a $200 fine.  Thank goodness for Felicia and her Swedish Embassy that informed her of the importance of registering her visa!  Because it’s difficult to find consistent, correct information on registering a visa in Ecuador, I’m going to explain, in detail, how it’s done:

Step 1: Obtain the following items: original passport, a copy of the page in your passport that contains your visa and the entry stamp, a colored copy of the picture page in your passport, a carpeta con brinches (folder with claspes inside), and the Certificado de Visación (one of the forms you filled out when applying for your visa that was returned to you mostly looking the same, except for the addition of a nice, shiny stamp- do not make the mistake I made and neglect to bring this with you to Ecuador [I figured my Visa was in my passport, but no]… thanks to my mom and the US Postal Service for helping me avoid the potential nasty airport situation mentioned above).

Step 2: These are instructions for getting your visa registered in Quito.  It can also be done in Guayaquil (but those are the only two cities in Ecuador).  Again, within 30 days of arriving, head to the Dirección General de Extranjería on 6 de Diciembre, between San Ignacio and La Niña (it’s on the west side of the street) at around 9 am.  I believe it is only open in the morning, so, really don’t be too late.  There are so many different addresses online for this building.  I can tell you from experience (I went to one of the addresses [Juan León Mera y Patria] and it was not at all right), that my address is correct, as of November 21st, 2011.  Here it is on a map (but it’s north of San Ignacio- sorry, I marked that incorrectly)

6 de Diciembre is a pretty major road and it’s easy to use the inexpensive (25 cents) trolleybus (los troles) system to reach this building, or you can take a taxi for anywhere from 2-5 dollars, depending on where you’re coming from.  You should have your folder with you, and in it should be all the documents from step 1.  Wait in line for a minute, then when you get to the front, tell the clerk that you have everything you need in order to register your visa, but that you need to make the deposit at Banco Internacional.  The clerk should give you a receipt or paper that gives you information on how to fill out your deposit slip.

Direccion is the white building!

Step 3: Walk out of the building, turn left, and turn left on the street La Niña.  There you have Banco Internacional (on your left).  It opens at 9 am, which is why I’m advising you to not be too early in all this (today, I had to wait for about half an hour outside the bank).  Go inside and grab a deposit slip.  Use the paper you were given a minute ago to fill this out correctly, then wait in line to make your $10 deposit.  Felicia and I were talking about how much more complicated this is in Ecuador than it would be in our home countries- this going to another building to pay the processing fee nonsense, but it’s not that difficult.  Once you’ve made your deposit, keep your deposit slip.  Head back to the Dirección General de Extranjería, show the clerk your documents and deposit slip, and you will be given a number.

Step 4: Wait.  Felicia had to wait for a few hours.  I could hardly believe it when my number was called (well, not called, but rather projected on a TV screen) after a mere five minutes of waiting.

Step 5: Hand everything to the employee.  She will hole punch all the papers that you brought and stick them into the clasps of your folder.  She will then fill out a piece of paper, hand you the carbon copy, and tell you to present it tomorrow when you come to retrieve your passport.

Step 5.5: Spend the afternoon enjoying Quito!  I’ll write (and it will be much more interesting than this) on this step in my next post.

Step 6: Return the next day and get your passport, which will contain a Ecuador visa page that is now enhanced with a registration stamp.  Done!

Dólares in Ecuador

The year 2000: Y2K, 8th grade, N’Sync, and the introduction of Sacagawea dollars!  I feel like there was quite a fuss made over these, at least in my history class.  But after the excitement of seeing the female Native American I had never, until then, heard about on a coin, I kind of forgot they existed.  They seemed to fizzle out.

Perhaps in the US, that is.  They are everywhere in Ecuador!  Did you know that Ecuador uses the USD?  When I read that before coming, I couldn’t believe it, and even a few of my South American friends told me that venders probably accepted USD, but that they used another currency normally.  No, in the year 2000 (another thing to add to the list at the top), the president of Ecuador (Jamil Malhuad) decided that, in an effort to stabilize the economy, the country would no longer use sucres, but dollars.  As you can imagine, this is super duper convenient for me.  When I was in Ireland, Jamaica, Guatemala- well, really, every other country I’ve ever been to, my mind had to constantly solve proportion problems in order to figure out how much anything would cost me, in the currency I was used to.  Here, there’s no calculating!  For the most part, the same dollars that I earn in the US go a long way.  Taxi rides in Riobamba cost $1.  I bought ice cream today (which is really more like a popsickle, but that’s okay) for 25 centavos (cents).  You can buy a 3 course lunch for $2.  But then clothes and technological items are about the same, if not more.

But, yeah, those Sacagawea dollars are everywhere here!!  Much more common than $1 bills.  Today, Reyna and I were out doing some shopping.  I gave a cashier a $20 bill for something that cost $16.35 and she opened up the cash register and opened a brand new clear bag filled with dollar coins.  Wikipedia even mentions this phenomenon:

The series proved unpopular in everyday commerce.[3] Mintage dropped by 90% the following year.[27] From 2002 through 2008, Sacagawea dollars were only struck for sale to collectors.[3] The Federal Reserve Bank ordered none of the Native American series after their issuance beginning in 2009.[3] In December 2009, it was noted by a Federal Reserve official that there were currently 857,000,000 dollar coins (including Presidential dollars) in government storage vaults, an amount estimated to satisfy the demand for twelve years.[3]

Despite their unpopularity in the United States, the coins proved popular for commerce in Ecuador, a nation that uses the United States dollar.

There’s your interesting Ecuadorian monetary tidbit for the day!

The Reina of This House

This last week has been quite eventful.  You know my cute little international family?  Well it lost a member.  Don’t worry, nobody died.

It all began last Monday, the 7th.  Well, it probably had been building up for a while.  You see, from the day I arrived and met Reyna, her begotten children and grandchildren, and Lisa (her self-proclaimed baby- just like a daughter), Reyna mentioned Lisa’s eating habits around the house.  “She eats like a cat,” she said, and they all laughed!  It was a joke, nothing serious.  The truth was that, first of all, Lisa never eats a huge amount, even in Germany.  She’s always been a light eater, which is fine.  Secondly, she dislikes rice, fish, meat, and soup.  If you know anything about Ecuadorian cuisine, you’re lauhging, because that rules out most of the food.  Basically, the only food Lisa takes delight in here in Ecuador is pizza, pasta, ice cream, oreos, and plantains.  It’s pretty comical.  Or it was.

Back when we were all smiles

On Monday afternoon, Lisa and I were sitting in our room.  She had eaten lunch with Reyna’s daughter, Anita Julia, that day, like she does every school day.  Schools here get out at 1:30, so that children can return home and eat with their families.  Reyna and I, however, eat in Pulinguí, because teachers have to stay at their schools and “plan and prepare” until 3:30.  I’m not positive what Lisa had for lunch, but I can guarantee that it started with a soup, then led to a plate of rice, meat, and some variety of vegetables.  I love lunches here!  But, obviously, Lisa does not.  Back to that afternoon in our room.  Lisa’s sitting on her bed with a mini box of cereal in hand.  Reyna had about a dozen of them in her kitchen.  We’re both doing our thing, meanwhile Lisa goes through one, two, three, four of these little cereal boxes, eating it like popcorn.  Reyna opens the door to our room, notices the 4 cereal carcasses, and asks Lisa if she wanted to go out and buy a camera.  Lisa was headed to the Amazon region of Ecuador in a week and a half and needed a camera.  But we had discussed it the day before, and she’d told me that she wanted to go with me, like sister bonding, I guess.  So she said to Reyna “No, I’m going to go with Tricia later this afternoon.”  Reyna said nothing and left- not just our room, but the house- without a word.

In about half an hour, Reyna returned.  I was in the kitchen on my computer, probably blogging.  Lisa was in our room with the door open.  Reyna walks into the kitchen, looks at me with fire in her eyes, and rants for about 5 minutes about Lisa’s eating habits, her “bad attitude,” her “laziness”- all when Lisa is within earshot.  She explained to me that it was very rude of Lisa to tell her that she didn’t want to shop with her, that it was not okay that Lisa didn’t help enough around the house, that Lisa didn’t like children (which is true) and that bothered Reyna because she wanted Lisa to love her grandchildren, that by not making an effort to eat things she did not enjoy (but rather, veg out on junk food like cereal) Lisa was disrespecting the culture of Ecuador, and that if Lisa wanted to remain in the house she needed to change the way she was acting, among other things.  It was a passionate, dramatic speech.  After she barked her last complaint about this teenager living in her house, who she had so many times referred to as “mi bebé,” she left the house once more.  I, then, after hearing her car tear away from the house, cautiously made my way back to our room and looked at poor Lisa, who was on the verge of tears because of this unexpected eruption of anger.

For the next two days, they did not exchange any words.  I kept trying to be the peace maker and bring my little family back together.  Finally, on Thursday night, they had a conversation, which was really more of Reyna giving another speech than a two-way talk.  Then, things were a little bit better.  However, on Sunday, Lisa made 2 mistakes: when Reyna asked her to come with her to Chambo, where Reyna goes every weekend to hang out with her daughter and son-in-law at this indoor pool (I was off the hook because I was so tired from traveling and really didn’t feel well), Lisa said she didn’t feel like it.  Mistake #2: At around 6 pm (after Reyna had been gone for 5 hours or so), Lisa and I left the house together because I needed some nasal decongestant.  When we returned about 45 minutes later, Reyna greeted us at the door with another one of her rants.  She told Lisa that she was never, ever allowed to leave the house without Reyna’s permission, even if she was with me, an almost 25 year old adult.  We tried to explain why we left, and that it was me who asked her to come, but Reyna took nothing in.

That night, less than a week after the tiff began, Reyna called Lisa’s foreign exchange program coordinator in Riobamba, Cecelia, and said that Lisa needed to change families.  Monday night, Lisa left.  It happened that fast.

As I’m sure you can imagine, all this- the pretty irrational frustrations Reyna had with Lisa, the way Reyna gave Lisa the silent treatment, and how effortlessly Reyna kicked Lisa out- made me consider asking Edith if I could change host families.  The problem is that Reyna’s not only my host mother, she’s my co-teacher.  If I switch families, I’ll have to switch schools, and I’d feel awful doing that at this point.  I also love Reyna’s family- Anita Julia who lives upstairs- and her two kids (the baby, David, is one of my favorite things about being here!) Another thing is that, as much as I felt the pain of both Reyna and Lisa, it was their issue.  Reyna and I get along splendidly.  I love the food here.  I love children.  I help around the house- it’s basically my rent.  Plus, I’m pretty good at dealing with difficult people.  I’ve had plenty of practice at setting my pride aside in the interest of keeping the peace.  I’m deciding to make this home work.

I miss Lisa.  I feel terrible for what happened to her, but I’m trying to have a successful time in Ecuador, so I’m choosing to overlook the actions of my host mother and do my best to keep her happy.  Because when this mama isn’t happy, nobody is happy…

My day in the Amazon region

I couldn’t believe this was happening.  An entire class full of adults was staring at Felicia and I.  We were nervously splitting our gazes between their watchful eyes and the kabobs that had been placed in our hands.  They had been offered to us with such gusto!  In my short time in Ecuador, I’ve learned that Ecuadorians have a tremendous amount of pride in their country and everything that comes with it: the people, the scenery, the cuisine.  I’m pretty adventurous with my cuisine, but this was a first.  Chontacuro.

Yes, seriously.  Those worms.  They’re actually larvae of the Rhinoceros beetle, found inside the Chonta palm trees of the Amazon rainforest.  They are considered a delicacy and are eaten raw by the indigenous people, and enjoyed grilled by other Ecuadorians.  Delicacy or not, I was staring at a skewer that contained no peppers, pieces of steak, or mushrooms: just bugs.  And the students in this English class were looking at Felicia and I with smiles on their faces, so eager to see a few gringas who were helping teach their class just for that day take on more of Ecuador than we had really bargained for.  After many nervous giggles, a demonstration on how these insects are enjoyed (this woman turned the skewer to the side, held it to her mouth like a flute, then pulled one chontocuro to the end of the skewer using her teeth, finally facing her prey and chomping down on it) and a few empty count-downs, we did what any anthropologically savvy visitors would have done.

During the nervous laughter phase

It was not as bad as I thought it might be.  Pretty fatty.  Basically tasted like grilled chicken skin (another delicacy in Ecuador is pig skin… not a huge fan).  The worst part was this unexpected crunch that came from somewhere in the center of the bug’s head.  The students cheered us on as we did our best to not make a face, and after swallowing the larva, I figured “what the heck” and ate my second bug, then happily (with assurance that no Ecuadorians were offended in my handling of their delicacy) handed my kabob to the person beside me.

You know how in my last post, I mentioned how amazed I was by Ecuador’s geological diversity and how I hoped to make it to the Amazonas region at some point, but it would probably be a while?  Well, on Thursday, I received an email from one of the English teachers in town who I’d met at a seminar a couple of weeks ago.  In the email, she invited Felicia and I to join her and some colleagues on a trip to Coca, located in the northeastern Orellana province, a town that is one of the most popular gateways into Ecuador’s portion of the Amazon.  It wasn’t going to be a long trip and we would be working, but it was an offer I couldn’t refuse  Friday night, Felicia and I were on a van full of local teachers, headed to Coca.

After a terrible night of sleep (I’m realizing that in the last two weeks, I’ve spent four nights sleeping in a bus or a van- no fun!), we reached Coca at around 6 am.  We were able to sleep in beds for about an hour before accompanying Cathy (the teacher who emailed me) to her English class at a Polytechnic school.  We spent about the next 5 hours helping her students with their English.  I won’t go into this part, because it’s pretty boring.  Oh, except for the chontacuro part, which I think I already mentioned… they were making presentations in English about tourism opportunities in their region of Ecuador.  After hearing (and sometimes tasting) their information on Coca, we spent the afternoon with this gracious, friendly group of adults and they showed us their city!

First, we went to lunch at a delicious, local place.  I split this fish with two others.  It was incredible.  Accompanying it are verdes (in the banana family) and yuka.

I joked with someone I split it with (because he picked that fish dry- no gill seemed to have gone unturned) saying “Oh, you forgot to eat the eye!”  He turned the fish over to prove that he had not forgotten the eyes.  During this lunch, someone who ordered “guanta” gave Felicia and I a bite.  We kept asking what animal it was, with hesitation, but we couldn’t figure out from their descriptions what it was.  Throwing caution into the wind (again), we tried it.  Today I googled it and found out that it’s a jungle rodent more commonly known as paca (oy!):After lunch, we walked to the riverfront, had a spontaneous “take a picture with the white girls” photo shoot (this happens at my school often as well), saw monkeys in the trees (right in the city!), then boarded a boat that would take us down the Coca River (a tributary of the Napo River, which is a tributary of the Amazon river).

Un mono!!!

Our pals for the day! I just now noticed how the men congregated in the middle, near us.

Our boat ride was fun.  Because any explanations of the area and the river were in Spanish, I felt a lot less safe in this water than I had when I was in a boat in the Jamaican black river.  The difference was that, in Jamaica, I understood the language of my tour guide and knew full well that crocodiles were in those waters.  Here, I kept asking questions like “Hay [are there] piranhas?” only to receive a too-long answer that I didn’t fully comprehend.  It was enough to keep me from sticking my hands into the river.  We stopped at a spot that one of the students said would lead to a path where indigenous people lived.  During lunch, this guy had shown Felicia and I pictures he had taken of some of the indigenous people- they were like they had come from National Geographic.  I was excited about what I may find and got off the boat like everyone else.  After a minute or two of making our way through the jungle, our path became more and more muddy.  We had to take off our shoes.

I still have Amazon dirt under my toenails...

Then, we reached a large puddle-pool of water.  Already feeling way more one-with-the-earth than I’d have liked because of mud squishing its way through the gap in between each of my toes, the unthinkable happened.  I slipped, Anne of Green Gables style, and was covered in muddy water.

After a few more minutes of walking, we made it to the indigenous tribe.  It consisted of four young men wearing very modern clothes.  Not very Nat Geo… but it was cool to be in the jungle.  When crossing the two large pools of water on my way back to the boat, I was always offered a gentleman’s hand.  When back at the river, I forgot all about any large, scary fish with teeth or poisonous snakes and joined another poor clumsy girl who had fallen into the mud as well.

We returned to the port in our boat, my amigos and I.  That night, we met up after dinner (and more importantly, a shower!) for some dancing.  At around 11 pm, Felicia, Cathy, and I boarded a bus headed back to Riobamba.  I had one day in the Amazon region.  It was exhausting, full of firsts, and I don’t think I’ll be forgetting it anytime soon.

Vamos a la Playa!

I found out yesterday that after reading my post on the first day at Pulingue, my parents worried that I was being worked to death.  Between that post and me not using the internet for almost a week (because of my trip!), my mom felt worried enough that she called Jeremiah and asked him if he’d heard from me.  I hope I didn’t sound that stressed out and I hope that it doesn’t seem like I’m complaining much about being here.  The beginning of anything really different is always difficult and confusing, but I can say with certainty that I love it here!  If you’ve felt sorry for me because of my posts, well, you’re about to feel jealous… hehehe.  I got to experience La Costa, Ecuador’s sunnier, warmer, beachier area.

Quick explanation of the trip, and then I’m going to let the pictures do the talking.  It was really fortunate- I arrived in Quito just two days after another volunteer and before flying here, we made arrangements to stay in the same hostel and head to Riobamba together.  Since then, this girl has been one of my sources of comfort in Ecuador.  Her name is Felicia and she’s from Sweden (but her English is great, as well as her Spanish- her passion and talent for learning other languages humbles me).  She will also be here for six months, which pleases me greatly.  After grabbing breakfast and running a few frantic errands around Quito with her (more on these later- they have to do with my Visa), her host sister picked us up in Quito, which was really great because otherwise we’d have had to take a bus and it would have taken about 5 hours to get to Riobamba.  Her host sister is named Diana.  She’s 23, goes to a university here in Riobamba, and works for Teach English, Volunteer!  She’s lovely.  This is so typical of Ecuadorians and their warmth with others, but on our car-ride to Riobamba from Quito, Diana informed us that we came at a good time because in a week, the schools would have a five day weekend.  She invited both her host sister and I to join her during this break for a vacation at the beach.  We’d only known each other for an hour or so and she was inviting me to travel with her- so kind.  Of course I accepted!

Last Tuesday evening, the three of us boarded a bus.  Wednesday morning, we were in the small, chill coastal town of Muisne.  We met Diana’s boyfriend there (he’s an officer in the military here and is stationed at a base in Muisne), waited in our hotel for the morning rain to cease, then in the afternoon, enjoyed the tranquil, lost treasure sort of beach that Muisne is.  On Thursday, one of Marco’s friends (Cristien) joined us and after more afternoon beers in Muisne than I care to admit (I wasn’t the one paying for them!), Cristien drove us to Atacamas, a much more popular tourist destination.  Atacamas is, by far, the busiest beach I’ve ever been to.  Our hotel (which Marco scored for free through his connection with the owner- amazing) was a two minute walk from the beach and everything that came with the beach: restaurants, venders, delicious seafood, dance clubs… We stayed in Atacamas until Saturday night and our three days consisted of nothing but sun-bathing; body surfing; saying “no gracias” to aggressive beach venders (but every now and then, “si, gracias!); dancing until early hours of the morning to loud Spanish salsa, hip-hop, merengue, raggaeton, and some English hits; sleeping, and eating.  I didn’t realize how badly I needed a relaxing vacation.  I came home incredibly refreshed, more ready to be in the Sierra, teaching English, than ever.  Here are some pictures:

I cannot remember the name of these cute little taxis. They're controlled by a guy driving a motorcycle in the back. Best way to get around the tiny island town of Muisne and only cost $1 a ride!

The tranquil beach of Musine!

We decided to bury Felicia, and I was going for mermaid, but it ended up being called a Guagua de pan (bread baby!)

This picture was taken from inside our hotel room in Musine. I realized that this was the first time I'd ever stayed in a hotel right on the beach. It wasn't anything fancy, but the environment was gorgeous.

Atacamas. Muchisimas personas!

My beautiful new friends 🙂

Ceviche!

Para-sailing for only $25! Maybe on the next trip...

Sipping on Jugo de Coco, coconut juice. So good.

The beautiful beach from the shelter of a tent- goodness the sun here is strong!

I love all the different sides to Ecuador.  It was wonderful to spend time in the very different Coastal area.  Wonderful.  I think this was the warmest ocean water I’ve ever swam in.  Ecuador is incredible.  At some point, I hope to visit the third region- El Oriente, the Amazon region… but I’m very content with the Sierra.  As much as I love the beach, I like the lifestyle, the culture, and the mountains of the Sierra more.  I had a great trip, but I was ready to come home, which was a nice feeling.