La Ciudad Bonita

Sorry, I know it’s been a while!

Since it’s now March, I’ve realized that, technically, I’m leaving Ecuador next month.  I still have about five weeks left here, but I’m starting to get a big panicky.  Oh my gosh, have my students really learned anything? Have I absorbed enough Spanish?  Have I seen enough of Ecuador?  It’s probably good that these sirens are going off and making sure that I “finish strong” in my teaching, my learning, and my enjoy enjoyment of where I am right now.

Because of that last question, I have planned (and already been on) a few weekend trips with some of my volunteer friends.  I will definitely be blogging about where we go and what we do there.  But first, I thought I needed to show you the city in which I’ve lived for over four months: Riobamba.

Riobamba is like Topeka in a few ways.  They are both small-sized cities (Topeka has about 130,000 people while Riobamba has around 160,000 people).  Both of them have somewhat of a lifeless reputation.  Once I found out I would be living in Riobamba, I googled the city and tried to find out as much as I could about it.  I was disappointed to find reviews of tourists who passed through Riobamba for one or two days and labeled it as “boring”.  Fortunately, I grew up in small towns and can find fun just about anywhere.  I sure hope this trend continues when I move to Kuwait City, which also has the you’ve-got-to-make-your-own-fun label.  Although neither Riobamba or Topeka are terribly small towns, it’s very common in both Topeka and Riobamba to bump into a friend or coworker while out and about.

There are differences between these two cities, of course.  Many people in Riobamba do not have cars, so taxis are everywhere.  Walking as a means of transportation is also much more normal here (which I love).  Because the climate here is very moderate and the city is rather condensed (much more so than Topeka), walking around Riobamba is rather easy and pleasant- if, as a foreign young woman, you can put up with local men whistling, hissing (I find this so weird), and verbally hitting on you.  Obviously, Riobamba is higher in altitude than Topeka- 9,035 ft above sea level, to be exact.  It is not uncommon for Riobambeños to celebrate some festival or another with parades and fireworks.  Topeka is much more diverse than Riobamba.  There are barely any foreigners here, and few locals who have anything but cream to caramel-colored skin.  Maybe some readers don’t know it, but Topeka is surprisingly diverse with about 12% Blacks and 3% Latinos- I just used http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topeka,_Kansas#Demographics to get those statistics, and I’m really surprised there isn’t more diversity.  In Riobamba, the streets are littered with stray dogs.  Ecuador seriously needs a Bob Parker to encourage spaying and neutering!  Oh, and my personal favorite: the trash-collecting trucks sound like ice-cream trucks.  I’ve been dying to see a gringo tourist child chase one down the street, but so far, no luck there.

I have enjoyed my time in Riobamba immensely.  One of the things I love the most about this city are the small neighborhood shops that somehow cram everything one could need in life into a shop that’s smaller than my parent’s kitchen.  I frequent three shops near Reyna’s house- one for groceries, one that is closer for water or bread, and one for batteries or school supplies.  I was so excited about going home before I returned to the US that I told the owners of these shops (who always treat me with such kindness) that I would be there for a week.  When I returned and found reason to go to these shops, without fail, each owner I had told asked me how my trip was and told me they were glad to have me back.  Their kindness really warms my heart.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have not done a good enough job at making Ecuadorian friends here!  I will say that it is kind of difficult, because as gringos, we are treated a bit differently.  Alice, one of the volunteers from England, has been much better, so sometimes she shares her local friends with me!  I have, however, grown rather close with some other volunteers.  You’ve heard them mentioned here, I’m sure.  There’s Felicia, the Swede; Alice, the Brit; and Bekah, my fellow countryman.  Each Tuesday, we go to Riobamba’s Casa de la Cultura, a 5-story building with a hip cafe (bars and coffee shops with cool atmospheres are all too rare here, so I appreciate CDLC for this!), various venues for concerts and programs, a museum, floors with art studios, and, of special interest, the 5th floor cinema.  Each week, we go to this gem of a place for its free showing of an independent film.  It’s fun having an excuse to get to see my friends once a week, and it’s good to hang with some of Riobamba’s most cultured and bond over our love of films, some locally-made, some from other countries.

Now, a peak at Riobamba highlights.

Starting closest to home, this picture was taken on the roof of Reyna's house! Mountains surround Riobamba like water surrounds an island. I love it.

Iglesia San Antonio. This is about a 5 minute walk from our house.

The view from the park, Loma de Quito, which is right next to San Antonio. This park is built on one large, sudden hill. It's lovely during the daytime, but very dangerous at night.

La Concepción. In front of this church lies the Plaza Roja where a large handicraft market takes place each Saturday.

Parque La Libertdad, one of the 3 main town squares in Riobamba

Parque Maldonado. Supposedly, there's free wi-fi here, but it' never worked when I've tried.

La Catedral, inside Parque Maldonado. I believe it's the oldest church in Riobamba.

Now we've arrived at La Merced, one of the main indoor markets in Riobamba. The building in the background is San Francisco University.

Here we are inside La Merced. This part of the market sells nothing but hornado, roasted pig served with mote, slow-cooked kernals of corn, or tortillas, small potato patties, and a salad of lettuce, tomatos, lime juice, cilantro, and salt. I love hormado, and this place! Because all the vendors are selling exactly the same thing, they go overboard to try to get you to buy theirs. Their hands reach out with samples as they shout "Hey, beautiful/ handsome!"... to every single person, regardless of how attractive they actually are. Definitely a confidence booster.

The hornado-ed pigs. The woman just scoop the cooked meat straight out of the corpse. If you can't handle seeing whole, dead animals, Ecuador is not the place for you.

Finally, my plate of hornado, which is traditionally eaten without silverware (hence, the lack of forks and spoons). It's so good.

Riobamba has much more street art than Topeka. This I like. There's also a fair amount of graffiti. Most of it is political messages or declarations of love.

More street art.

This is the market closest to my house. It is most alive on weekends.

I really and truly love the open markets. The food is fresher and less expensive than it would be in supermarkets, so many Riobambeños do their grocery shopping in these markets on weekends.

That mountain towering behind Riobamba is Chimborazo, the highest point in the world (because of its massiveness combined with an equatorial bulge that puts it at a higher altitude than Everest). I hope to hike up SOME (not all) of it in a few weeks.

Even with its reputation as a less-than-lively city, I have enjoyed Riobamba very much.  After seeing these pictures, I think you can see why its nickname is “The Beautiful City.”

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