Oh the Places You’ll Go if You Visit Ecuador!

I’ve been helping my organization, Teach English Volunteer, quite a bit.  Mostly, I’ve taken it upon myself to improve the application process and make things much more clear for potential volunteers.  If you all knew how truly murky the details of what I’d be doing here in Ecuador were before I arrived, you’d probably be appalled that I took a leap of faith with such a young, disorganized volunteer program.  But, all’s well that ends well, right?

Anyway, I’ve added more details to the website; created a volunteer blog so that people interested in coming can be reassured with the knowledge that there are real, live people volunteering with this organization; created an application (using http://www.zoho.com) for candidates to fill out- the results of which are automatically sent to the TEV email address that I check regularly; and I review these applications and schedule Skype interviews with candidates who sound promising.  The truth is that I kind of love giving these Skype interviews. 
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Juego de Toros de Pueblo

Last weekend, I went to my first bullfight!

I don’t really know what I expected.  I honestly knew nothing about bullfights.  I knew they involved: a guy in the arena, a red blanket thing, a bull, danger.  That they were stories with a man vs. nature plot line.  I’ve since learned that there are different variations of bullfighting.  Bullfighting in a city is far different from bullfighting in a town (juego de toros de pueblo).  In the city, it’s much more expensive and serious.  Bullfighting in the city of Riobamba is different than bullfighting in Quito or Guayaquil.  This is because, earlier this year, a law was passed in those cities (and many other parts of Ecuador) banning the slaying of the bull at the end of a match.  In Riobamba, the law was not passed, so if I wanted to pay to see an animal teased relentlessly, then finally slaughtered, all I’d have to do would be walk 10 minutes down my street to the Plaza de Toros (Place of the bulls).

I’m happy to say that no bull blood was shed at my bullfight!  This bullfight was part of a 6-week long fiesta in the town of Calpi.  The director of my school in Pulingui was raised in Calpi, so he partakes in the festivities every year.  I spent a good chunk of my weekend with him and his family, who did everything in their power to make sure I was filled with the sights, sounds, and spirit of the Santiago de Calpi festival!  Saturday morning, we went to a parade, ate delicious street food, spent time with his family in Calpi.  Saturday night, my gringa friends (the 2 other volunteers) joined us for fireworks and dancing.  Sunday, I returned to Calpi for the bullfight.

Lovely, majestic iglesia in Calpi

Spanish lesson for the blog post- parade: desfile (des-FEE-lay)

We watched the procession from street level, then Nelson (the director) led us to a rooftop on another street, where we watched the tail end again. (Yes, that guy is dancing with a machete. Yes, they were removed from their holsters and used in the dance!)

The fireworks were pretty fantastic.

Here’s my explanation of a town bullfight:  It began with people dancing in the arena in all kinds of crazy outfits: drag, gorilla suits, and devil costumes, to name a few.  Then, the dancers seemed to clear, but the arena was still loaded with young men.  I kept wondering when they would leave, so that the one bullfighter could face the bull.  But, then, much to my surprise, a bull was released with the fifty or so men in the arena.  All of them, then, proceeded to try to get the bull’s attention, try to have their scary little dance with the bull, try to tease the bull.  When the bull zeroed in one one of the many matadors, they seemed to regret seeking the attention.  Whenever the bull began charging at a group of guys, they ran like little girls as fast as they could, then shimmied up the wooden railings of the stadium, so that they’d be out of reach of the very animal they had just been trying to reel in.

It was amazing how quickly the men were able to climb up the poles when there was an angry, dangerous animal on their heels.

Each bull was in the stadium for about 5 minutes.  I couldn’t help but wonder how the bulls perceived their time in the limelight.  I’m guessing that even before making it into the stadium, each bull felt pure rage at being kept in a dark, crammed trailer for the afternoon.  Then, when it was his time to shine, the bull exited the trailer and that anger mixed with annoyance at the bright light of the afternoon.  Once his eyes adjusted, he would be able to see dozens of men surrounding him.  Perhaps the rage blended with fear and confusion at this point.  If the bull stood in one place for too long, trying to process what was happening, the men would start yelling at it.  I’m sure the bulls don’t speak much Spanish, but they would be able to tell by the inflection that these men were being cruel with their words, trying to entice the bull to anger.  If their words didn’t do the trick, the men would throw trash at the bull (which would not have been hard to find- Ecuadorians are bad about littering, so trash was all over the stadium).  Finally, the bull would have had enough and would charge at someone, maybe the last guy to throw something at it, maybe the guy wearing the brightest clothes (they really did seem to be most attracted to red).  Then, all of the men who had just feigned fearlessness so well would run as fast as their legs could carry them, away from the bull.  The bull would either have the satisfaction of making contact with one of its pesky flies or it would be decide that it wasn’t worth the effort and stop running.  At this point, the cycle of taunting would begin again.  Not a fun time for the bull.

I read somewhere that in town bull fights, the bulls all wear saddles containing a little bit of money.  So, the men are competing against each other to try and lure the bull in close enough to grab the saddle, but not be injured.  It really was rather entertaining.  More than anything, I loved the crowd’s reaction to the dance between the bulls and the metadors.  Whenever the bull actually caught one of its enemies, the crowd would scream bloody murder, as if every spectator was the trapped man’s mother.  Nobody was seriously injured, but there was one guy whose pants were ripped by the bull’s horns.  Another few men were knocked down by the bull.  It seemed like the bull was going to trample someone a few times, but the guys always seemed to move in the nick of time.  There was also one time when the metadors worked together to kind of… tackle… the bull.  It began with a few men who managed to grab the bull by its tail.  I had a really hard time watching this.  As the poor bull struggled to be free, more and more men crowded around it, and then worked to wrestle it to the ground.  .

I don’t know if I’ll be going to another bullfight.  I felt it was culturally  necessary to attend at least one.  I definitely don’t think I’ll be going to a bullfight in Riobamba.  If men wrestling a bull and pulling its tail made my stomach churn, I don’t think I’d survive seeing a sword thrust through a bull’s body.  I leave you with a clip from the bullfight that took ridiculously long to upload to youtube…

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.

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!

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.