Kristen, Student Blogger: Weekend in Greece, Part 1

ΔΙεθνής- Athens

Weekend in Greece

When else would I get the chance to go to Greece for less than $1000? Thursday and Friday, Italy celebrated their version of Independence Day, so we got a four day weekend. We decided to take a couple flights and get ourselves to one of the most talked about cities in our history books. Home the goddess, Athena, herself. We got a 3 day tourist pass which got us access to the metros and train for our weekend. On the first night, we took the metro, towards the Acropolis for dinner. Restaurants line the sidewalks and waitresses and waiters line the street offering specials and deals for your meal. After choosing one, we were finally able to chill out after a long day of traveling. From where we were, we could see the lit up Acropolis from the street. We decided to walk towards it. As we started, we noticed the road up to the Acropolis being blocked by police. Supposedly, the French Prime Minister was in town visiting and just got done with his tour. Once we got access to the street, though, we were able to get a really close view of what we planned on seeing the next day.

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We scheduled a Skip-the-Line tour at 11:15 the next morning. We planned this one better than our Rome trip. Being a student in Europe, we were able to get our entry tickets for free! Our tour guide had so much knowledge about the ancient ruins we saw. We thought coming into this trip that we had no knowledge of the the Greek language, except for sorority life. We soon learned that words like “polis” is for city in an administrative meaning and “acro” means to be up the in the air. So our words like police, politician, Indianapolis, and acrobat all were derived from their language. The Acropolis was a word that we could identify with. The Acropolis isn’t special to Athens. There’s more than 200 across Greece. They were used to protect their Gods and in cases of invasion. There were many hills in Athens but this hill got chosen for its access to water.

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Going up to the Acropolis, one can also find Theater of Dionysos. This is the oldest theatre in Europe. Theaters in Greek times were a religious place where priests would make a sacrifice, usually a goat, in the middle. They would dance and sing and this is where orchestra came from.

As with any business, you want to put your business where the people are located. Therefore, also on the way up was the ruins of a shopping mall.

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In dedicating the city, the people had a decision to make. Both Poseidon and Athena wanted it. Naturally, the people asked for a gift and whoever’s was better won. Poseidon gave a spring, which would be great, if it had not been salt water. Athena gave an olive tree. Useful for wood products, furniture and food. Therefore it is her Castle at the top and her name for the city. On top of the Acropolis there are at least 4 castles. All have been reinforced with their original material and some new in order to keep up with the wear and tear. One, Temple of Nike, was dedicated to the god who ran barefoot for many miles to bring the good news of a battle won in Marathon. Nike was known for being the winged angel that brought victory to all. Athens, selfish, cut off his wings so he would not leave the city and bring victory to other people.

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Another one of the castles was created for Poseidon and Athena as sort of a truce to stop the fighting between them.

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The Parthanon was, of course, dedicated to Athena. It took a lot of destruction when the Turks tried to invade. Inside stood her statue covered in 24 carrot gold when they were not being invaded.

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Contrary to popular belief, the Olympic flame was not introduced by the Greeks. It was introduced by Hitler in the 1936 games. The Olympics began as a religious ceremony for Zeus. They were every 4 years where there was 1 day of religion, 3 days of sport, and 2 days of festivities. From the top of the hill, we could see what remains of Zeus’s Temple.

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I’m so glad we did the tour, as we wouldn’t have really known what to think of any of the rocks. A lot of people on their way up to the Parthanon lost that information by not getting a tour, so I definitely suggest it!

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Student Spotlight: Hannah, Ireland and Northern Ireland Part 3

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May 14th, 2016: Coorymeela

We woke up and went to breakfast at 8:30 am on the dot because they really prefer everyone to be on time since it runs like a community. After breakfast we started our many activities for the day. We went outside in the front and saw a puzzle drawn by chalk on the ground. We had to work together by one-at-a-time trying to navigate the correct path through the puzzle. It was fun and a good communication builder. After reflecting on the use and importance of teamwork, we went to the backyard. For this activity we had to figure out how to guide a ball through a zig-zagged puzzle which we each held a part of. There was then a tea break, but we decided to play with the rugby ball for a little instead. Our next activity was a great learning lesson. In the chapel we each played a trading game with one another that ultimately ended up segregating us into social classes by our own choices. It showed us how power can consume us, because the “first-class people” made selfish decisions. My favorite part after this was visiting the Irish Sea. It was breathtaking and we got to explore all around the beach and rocks. After dinner we reflected on our time here by creating a web of yarn based on each of our experiences here. We then had a bonfire which was a lot of fun. We ended the night playing pool and foosball in the playroom, and having my favorite…toast and cocoa. I loved Coorymeela and ended up appreciating it more than I expected to.

Student Spotlight: Hannah, Ireland and Northern Ireland Part 2

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May 13th, 2016: Belfast & Coorymeela

After breakfast and many laughs the following morning, we headed to the Titanic museum. It was cool getting to learn about the ship being built in the exact area we were exploring. The museum was even in an abstract shape of the ship, which felt like an awesome memorial for it. Our next stop was Storemont, which is one of the government buildings in Northern Ireland. After an educational tour learning about the politics and relations to the Queen we explored on our own for a little then headed to our next destination. As we were approaching Ballycastle (the town Coorymeela is in), we started to see more mountains and the Irish Sea. The scenery was beautiful and more country than city. When we all arrived none of us were sure what to expect because it seemed more like a retreat. We were greeted by Ellis and Annalena who was to be our guide during our stay. We arrived right at dinner time, and had a community dinner and helped clean up afterwards. We had a peaceful night and all hung out without Wi-Fi, which was different but I did not mind it. I was a little uncomfortable the first night but I was ready to give it a chance in the morning.

Student Spotlight: Hannah, Ireland and Northern Ireland Part 1

Hannah, attendee of the faculty-led Ireland and Northern Ireland Co-Cultural Experience program during the Summer of 2016, submitted the following blog posts as a documentation of her time abroad.  These will be uploaded in a three-part series.

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May 12th, 2016: Belfast

We all woke up and ate a buffet breakfast at our hotel. After breakfast we went on a tour of Queen’s University. It was a beautiful campus with a lot of rich history. We learned how their cost of education is much more affordable and a priority to their people versus ours. There are only two universities in Northern Ireland, Queen’s University and Ulster University. After that we went on a guided tour of Belfast given by Richard Meeley, who was a past convict during the Troubles. He was such a nice guy and had a passion for what he believed in, and was also very informative. We saw the murals drawn by different people expressing the sides they stood for, Unionist or Revolutionist. The Catholics and Protestants have been at war for so long and the bombings and violence has been almost never-ending. We visited each side of town and saw the effects of years of violence. One crazy thing was seeing the huge wall that divided the two sides to help reduce violence. Many of the people are praying for peace, but most never actually see it happening. It was an eye-opening experience, and almost every local discusses the conflict. After the tour we took Richard to the Botanic Inn pub for a pint and to hear more of his stories. Later, we had another nice dinner at Robinson pub and then went out on the town for our first night. We got to meet many locals and it was a great day!

Introducing George, EIU OSA Graduate Assistant

Hi

I am George Anaman by my Christian name but you can call me Papachie because that is actually my Ghanaian name! I will be working as a Graduate Assistant at the Study Abroad Office for 2016/2017 academic year. I am a new international student enrolled in the Masters of Art program in Economics at Eastern Illinois University. I will be graduating August 2018 so I guess I have a long way to go but I know it will be worth it staying at EIU with it wonderful students, faculty and staffs.

I was born in the Western region of Ghana, Sekondi –Takoradi, the only twin city in Ghana where most Ghanaians are envois with our Fanti (Local dialect). Western region can boast of producing most of Ghana’s natural resources which includes Gold, Bauxite, Manganese, timber, cash crop and oh I forgot, we are the region that produces oil for Ghana. We are the engine that drives of our economy. Aside natural resources, we have beautiful beaches spanning along the coast, tourist attraction areas like Nzulezu  ( Village on Silts ), Monkey hill, Ankasa Forest, Fort San Sebastian,  among others.

Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a sovereign unitary presidential constitutional democracy, located along the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean, in the sub region of West Africa. Ghana is bordered by the Ivory Coast in the west, Burkina Faso in the north, Togo in the east and the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean in the south. My country has 10 administrative regions of which the capital is Accra. Ghana is popularly known for its hospitality. We are very helpful to foreigners in any way possible to make their stay a worth reminiscing one.

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My American friends in Ghana will also be like, Ghanaians are super friendly but hey, that is our nature. We just can’t help but be friendly and helpful. So I hope as you are reading, you will one day make it a point to visit my country to have a taste of her rich culture and I will forever to happy to help you with your plans when you come over to my office at Blair Hall 1207 during my office hours.

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Now back to myself! I had my primary education in Services Basic school which is a Ghana Armed Forces School and went through the educational ladder to have my tertiary education at the University of Competitive Choice I mean University of Cape Coast. The University of Cape Coast is one of the rare sea front universities in the world. I read Economics and Mathematics for my Undergraduate studies and completed my bachelor’s degree in 2015.

As a child growing up, I was always passionate about travelling around the world and decided to be a pilot. Come to think of it, pilots get to fly around the world and they really get to see how beautiful nature is when in the skies, right? So as a smart kid, I was like why don’t I be a pilot and utilize that opportunity to travel around the world haha.. I know it sounds funny. But I held on to my dreams of traveling abroad through to my University education when the Centre for International Education Office at my University offered me the opportunity to go on an exchange program to Grand Valley State University, USA for a semester in 2014. It was just a dream come true for me because America had always been my number one top destination. To explain why, I see the country to be a converging point for people of all walks of live. If I am in America, the chances of meeting someone from Pakistan, India, Brazil, Sweden, Kenya, Japan, China etc is decently high. At least, if I am not able to go to all those countries listed, getting to meet them and interact with to know their country and their way of life is even a plus to me.

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Going on an exchange program to Grand Valley State really had a positive influence in my life, I must be sincere. I met a lot of great people during my Stay in the United States including Students (both Locals and Internationals), faculty, staff and local residents. I thought Ghanaians were nice, but I must pour it out, Americans are super nice, welcoming, giving, full of energy and fun to be with and that actually influenced my decision to return to the US for my Masters and I am loving the experiences so far.

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Mmh , come to think of some funny experiences I encountered during my stay. I clearly remember my first night in the US when I got to my apartment. I went upstairs to unpack my luggage and had a quick chat with my Swedish roommate. I ran downstairs and came across a thermostat and as curious as I was, I got close to it only to read 75 degrees. I was like “No way! This is close to boiling point” and lowered it to 31 degrees. My roommate after noticing a sharp change in the room temperature shouted my name and was like “GEORGE, what did you to the thermostat!!” I was just confused about what was going on around me haha.  So ignorant of me, I was reading the temperature in Celsius not in Fahrenheit. I was confused a couple of times with some metric systems like Miles, Gallons, but with time I got used to it. Ah I forgot! My first snow!! It was so beautiful and so white!! On that very day, I remember it was early morning and excited as I was, I run up to my roommate in our apartment to come outside because it was snowing. He lazily starred at me from his bed and was like “George, for goodness sake, I am from Sweden!!” it was funny though.

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It is really an honor to be working at the Study Abroad Office at EIU. This will really give me the opportunity to share my experiences with prospective students who are deciding to study abroad . Also, I will also have a great in depth of most of EIU and non-EIU program relating to studying abroad. I am looking forward to working with a great team and having a fruitful year at the Office…

Studying abroad is a necessity, not a luxury” by Rick Steves

I bleed blue because I am a true Panther!!!!!! Medaase

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 8, Cuenca

Day 49

This was my last day of class in Quito, and it was very bittersweet.  I’d had the same professor for 4 weeks and I had great classmates this week.  Saying goodbye was sad for me, but I was incredibly excited to get to Cuenca (and hopefully feeling better). At this point, I was feeling somewhat better, but very tired and weary.

After class, I treated myself to a taxi ride and lunch at the Magic Bean again; I just can’t stay away!  I’d called my taxi-driving friend, Bolivar, and arranged for him to pick me up 3 hours before my plane was set to leave.  After struggling to drag all of my stuff (my backpack, giant backpack, laptop bag, and suitcase) down 4 flights of stairs, I had to say goodbye to my sweet host family and turn in my keys.

After a nice drive with Bolivar, I, again, had no problems at the airport.  Everyone tells me how bad flying is, but I have not had that experience.  I did have to pay for my 2nd checked bag, but that’s the price I pay to bring everyone’s Christmas presents home!  The flight to Cuenca was uneventful, and a whopping *sarcasm* 35 minutes long.  When I retrieved my bags and walked out, I immediately recognized Kip and Karen, my cousins who I was going to be staying with.

They were incredibly incredible, and I could have stayed with them forever, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself… Immediately, I learned that Karen is a fantastic cook and we ate well every day, which is perfect because I love to eat. They have a lovely apartment in a great location, and they gave me a whole bedroom to myself.  I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome or a better last week.

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Day 50

At breakfast, I was in hog heaven (excuse my Midwestern slang).  We ate bread with egg and onion baked in, red bananas (way better than imported yellow bananas) with cinnamon, peanut butter and mango jam, and I had milk for the first time in months.

Background info: Karen is my grandmother’s cousin.  So we’re technically 3rd cousins, but I may also refer to them as my Aunt and Uncle, as it helped to avoid questions when we used these terms as opposed to cousins.

They then took me on a walking tour of the city, and I fell in love.  The city had everything that I loved about Quito: the history, the churches, the people, the scenery

 and mountains.  Yet, Cuenca also lacked the things that I grew to resent about Quito: the traffic and resulting smoke/pollution, the threatening people, the rushing.  I don’t know exactly where we walked, as I had much less time to become familiar with Cuenca than I did in Quito, but they showed me the beautiful square, the river, several churches, and the places that they go on a regular basis.  It is such a beautiful city, and I so appreciated my family taking the time to walk me around and show me their new home.

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Later on, we went out for dinner at their favorite pizza restaurant, La Furnace.  The pizza in Ecuador is different than “American” pizza; I believe the sauce tends to be different.  It is very good, and my mushroom pizza was delicious this night, and cold for snacks in the following days as well.  The blackberry and coconut ice cream was a great dessert, as well.

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Day 51

After another delicious breakfast, we met Kip and Karen’s favorite tour guide, who was absolutely lovely the entire day.  They had arranged a tour of the nearby area, beginning with the *ruins at Ingapirca.  The ruins were first Incan, and then Canari (with an accent on the ‘n’), and the influences of both can be seen at the ruins, despite how little is left of the original structures.  The guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, which made the cold, light rain we had worthwhile.  I also ran into two other students from the school in Quito on this day, and on another occasion, as well!  What a small world.  I would highly recommend going from Cuenca to visit these ruins, as the drive is absolutely beautiful.  Also, stop at the church built into the side of the mountain, it’s breathtaking.

After our tour of Ingapirca, we stopped for lunch at a typical Ecuadorian restaurant that mostly served pork.  The food was amazing, as is the roasted/fried pork almost anywhere in Ecuador.

We then went on to Chordeleg, a town with many jewelry shops that specialize in handmade silver jewelry.  I enjoy wearing rings, and bought a beautiful silver ring for $7, thanks to Karen’s bargaining skills.

Day 52

I didn’t write much for this day…  It was my first day of class in Cuenca.  Apparently I should have known this, but I was pleasantly suprised to see the administrator/secretary from Quito in the office in Cuenca!  It shocked me how much I appreciated seeing her, someone I knew, here on my first day at a new school (again).  My teacher for the week was incredibly kind and friendly.  I didn’t particularly enjoy my classes during this week, as the other students were not nearly as friendly and I was feeling burnt out on Spanish.

Day 53

The three of us went to two different markets in town. One of the two large markets has an outdoor market where local people sell goods other than food, and I could buy one of everything sold there.  It was all handmade, much of it made with natural materials.   One of the most interesting things that I saw while away was the “healers” here.  They treat spiritual illnesses, I’m unsure if these illnesses are considered possession, or something else… You go to them and pay, then tell them what is wrong physically or mentally, emotionally, anything.  It is always attributed to a spiritual problem, and they begin by rubbing a whole egg on your body.  They then crack the egg into a plastic bag and read the yolk, determining the problem.  They then beat you with whatever herbs and plants they determine are needed to treat you, and finish by spitting water (holy water, vinegar?) on your body.  It was fascinating to watch.  Parents bring their children, oftentimes preventatively, but even adults come for these services.

The second market was a large indoor market where I bought some sweet chocolate and they bought their fruit.  Kip and Karen have smartly started buying their goods from the same stalls at the markets.  The people there recognize them, know that they live permanently in Cuenca and speak Spanish, and therefore give them appropriate prices and good quality products.  We also enjoyed another pork lunch.  The whole pig is roasted and then brought to the market, usually served with mote (a type of corn). Afterwards, I went to my second day of class.

Day 54

In the morning, I walked down to the supermarket with Karen.  It’s a pretty walk across town and then down by the river and the foods in the supermarket are still beautiful and fresh.  After we crossed the river, we walked through Parque de la Madre, Mother’s Park, which is filled with amazing sculptures.  Instead of cutting down the dead trees, local artists were allowed to come in and carve them into animals and representations of mothers, even benches.  Another cool thing about the parks in Ecuador: they have exercise/workout equipment, as well as playground equipment for the children.

Again, I went to class, which I had alone and in the afternoons. I took four hours of class each day this week, instead of three, so that I could enjoy Friday, my last day, while still meeting my hour requirement.

Day 55

Karen and I took a walk to do a bit of shopping at her favorite booths at a different market, but the owners were not there.

I had my very last class in Ecuador this day.  My professor and I watched a movie (in Spanish), stopping periodically for me to explain what had happened.  It was a bittersweet day, but I mostly felt relieved to have not only survived my classes, but passed and succeeded!

Day 56

My last day in Cuenca, second to last day in Ecuador.

Karen and I returned to the artisanal market, where I got to meet Javier.  Javier is a friend who works with tagua to make stunning jewelry and figurines.  Tagua is known as “vegetable ivory”, as it comes from a plant and is more sustainable but is similar to ivory. He was so incredibly friendly and kind to me, he unknowingly made me sad to leave.  I bought a beautiful yellow necklace and earring set from him and we took pictures together for me to share and promote his business, which I will do shamelessly, as he does great work. Check him out at El Mundo Ecologico de la Tagua on facebook.

We all went for a walk to the square this day.  Karen brought her bird food; it’s peacefully entertaining to watch all of the pigeons.

We had another typical lunch out in the city.  I appreciated that the restaurant served trout, as chicken or a vegetarian meal was losing its appeal.  We stopped at the pizza restaurant again for an ice cream, and then Kip and Karen kindly encouraged me to take a nap before my flight.  I so appreciated their concern and patience, as it took several days after my arrival for me to feel better after being ill.  I took a nap every day while I stayed with them, and they always asked how I was feeling, which was comforting.

Their landlady is from an influential family in Cuenca, and she knows everybody.  I immediately knew why everyone liked her; she’s friendly and inviting and soft-spoken.  She bought us humitas, made delicious cookies, and horchata tea to celebrate my arrival and departure, and she gifted me a beautiful hummingbird painting to remember my visit to Cuenca.

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As if to tie it all together, we ended up having the tour guide who took us too Ingapirca drive us to the airport.  Kip and Karen waited with me at the airport to make sure that I got through security and everything okay, and as expected, I cried shamelessly as I walked away from them.  I felt as if I could live in Cuenca, especially with them, forever, but it was time to go home.

The plane ride was just fine, and I had arranged to stay the night in a hotel near the airport.  My transfer to the hotel was waiting when I landed, and he even helped me get my things to the door of my hotel room.  The room was much smaller than a hotel room in the USA, but it was clean (I always check for bedbugs) and affordable.  The water didn’t run in the sink, but otherwise, I wouldn’t complain.

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Day 57

I’M GOING HOME!!

After breakfast at the hotel, I spoke with my family on the phone and watched movies on my laptop to pass the time.  The same driver picked me up and took me back to the airport, where I had no problems getting on my plane, besides having to actually wait to check my bags.  I treated myself to lunch at the airport, where I met several very kind travelers.

 The trip from Quito to Panama went smoothly, thanks to a motion sickness medicine-induced nap, and I waited at the gate to get on my next flight.  I did have a two hour layover this time, as opposed to one hour.  After some time of waiting, airport employees had us all get up and form lines to go through temporarily set-up security again, despite the fact that we’d all gone through security previously to enter the airport.  I still do not know why we had to do this: maybe there was a threat; other passengers said that inconveniences like this were common with this airline, who knows…  I tagged along to the end of a missions group as to get through security easier and avoid being hassled by anyone who thought I was traveling alone, and they were wonderful.  They let me follow them and wait with them to get through security, and they let me wait with them afterwards until we could board the flight.

Once on the plane, I was nervous because I could see lightning almost all around the airport.  I was afraid that the flight would get delayed or cancelled due to weather, and I just wanted to get home to my family… We eventually got on the plane 30 minutes late, and we then had to wait for a break in other planes landing and taking off, as we had missed our scheduled time.  I sat by two students from Augustana who were very sweet, and we all felt the same way: we were excited to go home.  I slept off and on throughout the entire flight to Chicago, and I could see Chicago when I finally woke up for good.

My heavy bags seemed much lighter when I walked out of the baggage claim (which took too long) and saw my family.

 

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 7

Day 45

Today is the 4th of July at home, and I’m grouchy… The 4th is my favorite holiday at home, and I would really like to be there… I also have a pretty bad headache.

I had 2 classmates this week, Jonathan and Niko.  Class was fine, and afterwards I stayed an extra hour and a half to begin my test.  I have to take this test in order to get credit for EIU, or so we think… There have been some miscommunications regarding what I and Yanapuma need to do for me to receive credit. The test has several parts: reading comprehension, listening, speaking, writing.  I took almost all of the reading parts today, and then went back to the house to sleep.  I ate most of dinner, but skipped dessert to go back and sleep.

Day 46

I did not feel well today… I stayed at school until 10:30 and then left.  I think I had a fever again.  I bought some Tylenol at the pharmacy to alternate with my ibuprofen and hopefully break my fever…  I ate part of dinner and went to bed again.

Day 47

Still didn’t feel well… I made it through all of class, and then took 1.5 more hour of my test.  Luckily, the test has kept me after class enough to make up for the time I missed.  I took the rest of the reading portion, all of the listening, and part of the writing portion.

At the house, we had fried potatoes and soup with cheese, which was comforting, but I still didn’t feel well.  When I talked to my parents, I talked to them about skipping my last week and coming home early.

Day 48

Today in class, I finished the writing portion and took the entire speaking portion of my test, and PASSED!  I barely passed, needing a 30 (I don’t know how many it was out of) and getting a 31.  I began at level B1, but progressed enough to move into B2, so I had to take the B2 test.

Afterwards, I decided to see a doctor.  My insurance told me a hospital would be easiest as a foreigner, but the hospital told me that I couldn’t get in without an emergency or a referral.  The pharmacy referred me to a clinic, but the taxi dropped me off at the wrong place…  I walked for 20 minutes, and then found another taxi to take me the rest of the way, since I still wasn’t close… I waited over an hour, and then the nurses told me that I wasn’t sick enough to see a doctor and sent me home.  I walked for 15 minutes again until I found a taxi, and then went back to the house.  I figured that if I could get to Cuenca for my last week, then at least my dad’s family, Kip and Karen, could help me out if I was still sick.

I started packing to leave and managed to get it all in my bags, barely!

Day 49

This was my last day of class in Quito, and I feel much more relaxed about class now that I’ve taken my test and passed.  After class, I took a taxi to Magic Bean to eat one last time.  I’d ironically had the same taxi driver for 2 weekends in a row (back from Otavalo, and from Mindo), so I had arranged for him to pick me up and take me to the airport.  He’d even offered to do it for $20, and it usually costs closer to $25 from the house.  To be continued…

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 6, Mindo

Day 43

I got myself up this morning and caught a taxi to Magic Bean for breakfast again.  They serve some of the best apple cinnamon pancakes that I’ve ever had, and a darn good smoothie, too.

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Afterwards, I took a taxi to the bus terminal and a bus to Mindo.  I was a bit nervous to travel alone, but I once again had no problems getting to Mindo.  I booked the same hostel as before, Casa de Cecilia, but booked an individual room this time for a whopping $11.  I had an okay lunch at Taco Mindo, and checked into the hostel.

I met a (check this out) first-year special education teacher from the US and we made plans to do a different chocolate tour later in the day.  It started to rain, so I grabbed my Spanish copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and read in a hammock.  I met a man from New Zealand, Steve, and we went off to watch the soccer game.

The three of us ended up going to the chocolate tour at **ChocoArte, which was absolutely fantastic.  The owner did the tour herself.  It was different from the first tour because we got to DO most parts of the process ourselves: drying the cocoa beans, separating the shells from the beans, grinding them, and then MAKING FONDUE!  Chocolate fondue, made from freshly ground cocoa beans with raw sugar is my new favorite snack.  She was very knowledgeable about every aspect of the chocolate-making process and the tour lasted two and a half hours, for only $7.

We then went to the Concierto de las Ranas, a night walk at a property designed to attract frogs.  This night walk was really nice; they give everyone a shot of wine at the start (for the adults), and we bought hot chocolate afterwards that was good, as well.  The tour was long enough, and within walking distance of the hostel, but I feel like it was designed for children more than adults.  I’d recommend Mindo Night Walks for a more exciting night walk.  We stopped at the restaurant close to the hostel for pizza, and they did not disappoint.

Day 44

This hostel has great breakfast, so Vannessa and I had breakfast at the hostel, and then took a taxi to our horseback riding tour.  The tour lasted an hour and the views were beautiful.  I did feel badly for my horse, however, as I was a bit too big to be riding that particular horse.

We went to eat lunch afterwards, and originally went to the big cafe on the main street.  Vannessa has a gluten allergy and ordered her burger without a bun, and the waiter brought it with a bun.  He then brought the same burger back without the bun, and then the same burger back with different lettuce on it, not understanding (or trying to understand) that she could not eat the burger after it had touched the bun.  We ended up paying and leaving, and ended up eating at Taco Mindo again, where they were accommodating enough to be safe for Vannessa.

After getting lunch figured out, we checked out the **Nathaly Butterfly garden, which was incredible.  For $4, we got access to their entire garden, and the enclosed butterfly garden, which was full of beautiful butterflies and flowers.  We also got access to their hummingbird garden, and you can stay as long as you’d like.

We then took a bus back to Quito together, and then returned to our respective houses.  I was concerned to travel alone, but had a great experience overall and am very glad that I went.

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 6

Day 38

While walking to school alone isn’t always exciting, minus that one time that some guy followed me, I finish breakfast early and have a little extra time.  I usually buy a yogurt and coffee, but today I used that time to go to the store.

I have one other classmate for the week, a teacher from the USA.  We had a bit of class before I talked our professor into taking us to the changing of the guards at the President’s Palace.  It’s every week, on Monday at 11am, so I never get to go.  He agreed to take us, though.  I usually don’t like overly-ceremonial events, but this was awesome.  This event is free, and purely ceremonial; it is only for the benefit of the viewers.  The ceremonial band was there, they had several groups of ceremonial guards, and several un-ceremonial guards to guard the president.  There were also important government employees, the president, and one government official from Cuba, I believe.  The band and the guards on horses were my favorite part, obviously, but the really interesting part was how exposed the president was.  He was just standing on the balcony next to the other important people, and I only saw 3 obvious guards.  At home, we wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near President Obama, or any president of ours, there’d be swarms of security and snipers and bodyguards.  One possible explanation for this is that the majority of the population here really likes the president.  Especially in comparison with basically every other president they’ve had, President Correa has done a good job and won over most of the people.  So he does have that going for him.  Side note: I confirmed this with my professor; I’m not just assuming and trying to speak for the citizens of Ecuador.  President Correa has a very high approval rating.

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After we finished up our classes, I decided to take the bus (gasp) to the Mariscal district for lunch to find some variety.  With some assistance in locating the correct bus, I successfully took the bus alone.  I also have no intentions of doing it again because I don’t like it.  I decided to eat at The Magic Bean in Plaza Foch.  1) It’s quiet and safe, and not horrendously expensive, especially in Mariscal.  2) Free Wi-Fi.  3)  The food is awesome.  I bought a strawberry milkshake and a Hawaiian sandwich, and I was very pleased.  We don’t get milk at the house, so the milkshake hit the spot.  Grilled pineapple and avocado are two of my favorite things, as well, so my sandwich was just about right, as well.

After lunch, I walked down to Museo Mindalae, an artisanal museum, I believe.  I think I would have liked it a lot more, but it was very dark.  As a young, single, female traveler, I try to avoid putting myself in small, dark spaces when I’m alone, so I was uncomfortable in this museum.  I later found out that it’s normally not that dark, and I probably didn’t set off all of the motion-sensored lights.  There’s lots of history and culture to be learned here.  I recommend starting at the top floor and working your way down, you can exit through the gift shop on the last floor.

On my walk back to the house, I decided to stop at the museum across the street from Parque El Ejido, but it is 100% closed for an entire year for remodeling… So I came back to the house and talked on the phone with my boyfriend. This week was the beginning of homesickness, so the gift that is WhatsApp is a lifesaver.  I repeat.  Download WhatsApp to your phone before going places.

For dinner, I met Bea and Rob at school and we walked to Pizza SA near Plaza Grande.  The host family had recommended it to us for their CUY PIZZA.  Guinea pig pizza, folks.  And that pizza was delicious.  I still am not convinced that cuy in and of itself is worth the price, but I enjoyed it on that pizza.

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Day 39

 Last night, for a reason that I still cannot pinpoint, I didn’t sleep.  I maybe got 2 hours of sleep, broken up into 10 minute segments.  Needless to say, I bought a cafe con leche (my favorite) on my way to school, and made a second during the break.

Despite being very tired, I had a willing companion to do the Teleferico with, so I decided to go anyway, while I had the opportunity.  We ate in the shopping mall in Plaza Grande, the menu del dia (typical food).  We then took a taxi up to the Teleferico ($8.50) and rode up to the top with a sweet woman from Italy.  The views were incredible, and the air was definitely thinner than at the bottom.  It was also chilly, colder than I had imagined!!  I started feeling sick, so we rode back down with a cool couple who had just finished teaching English in Colombia!  We then took a taxi/van thing to Mariscal, and I caught another taxi back to the house.

After a nap, we had sausage, rice and beans and tomato sauce for dinner at the house.

Day 40

After class today, Marilyn and Jonathan, two other students, and I took a taxi to the bus stop and then took the public bus all the way to Mitad del Mundo, the equator museum/park north of Quito.  It takes about an hour to get there, and the bus was PACKED with people: students going home after school, adults going to/from work, there was barely room to stand.  When we got off of the bus, we had a typical lunch ($4.50) near the museum, and then walked to the museum.  It was somewhat expensive, at $7.50 for full access to the museum.  You can also pay $3.50 just to enter and walk around, take pictures, etc… If you didn’t want to go inside anything, this would be a good option.  We could have paid the $3.50 and spent longer at the other museum, but we did enjoy this museum.  This museum is situated where the equator was originally marked by the French when it was discovered.  It is actually a city, technically, and was built to increase tourism in the area.

Afterwards, we walked just down the road to Museo Intinan (the name needs a few accents…), which is where the equator has been calculated to be by GPS.  I preferred this museum to the other, it only cost $4 and we were given a complete tour that included activities to demonstrate the effects that the equator has on things such as water flow and balance.

We tried to take a bus back to Quito, but the bus only took us to the bus terminal, so we took another public bus back to our houses.  I still, after several weeks, am unable to figure out the bus system here.  Thankfully, we asked a very helpful man who told us where we needed to get off the bus.

At the house, we had soup, green beans, broccoli and cauliflower, beets, lettuce, and something similar to potato pancakes (if you have Eastern European heritage, especially Polish, you know what these are) with onion in them.  Then we went out to celebrate Bella’s last day.  She picked a small restaurant on La Ronda that had an amazing hot chocolate drink called the “Chocopaxi,” a play on the name of a volcano: Cotopaxi.  It was sweet hot chocolate with Oreo cookies in it.

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Day 41

Today at school, we shared Bocaditos/Bocadillos, which are snacks typical to Ecuador, particularly Quito.  Some examples: empanadas (de queso, de carne, de pollo, de viento), humitas, tamales (somewhat similar to Mexican tamales), pan de yuca.

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After class, I ate lunch at a cafe in Plaza Grande that served great empanadas de viento.  These are empanadas that puff up when fried, and mine had cheese in the dough, as well.  I also met a sweet little street dog with two different colored eyes that sat on my feet and let me pet his head.

I met Jason and his family in Parque El Ejido to walk to dinner later this day.  We walked down to the Magic Bean restaurant in La Mariscal district and ate familiar food, including ice cream for dessert.

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Day 42

After class today, I walked up the mountain a few blocks to a cafe (that I found on TripAdvisor… touristy, I know).  Leivmotiv Cafe was not only adorable, but the barista/waitress was incredibly friendly and the food was really good.  The menu is very limited, as far as food is concerned, but the pernil (ham) sandwich was delicious.  I also ordered a hot chocolate with cheese, my first one in Ecuador.  I expected the hot chocolate to be sweet, like it is at home, but it was genuine chocolate without sugar.  Once I got used to the bitterness, it was really good, especially with the cheese.  I took a lemon ice cream to go, and went back to the house to blog and watch Orange is the New Black.

I’d had a headache all day, so I went out and bought Pepsi (life tip: Pepsi works almost as well as my prescription migraine medicine).  They sell almost exclusively CocaCola here, so I had to buy a 1.5 liter bottle.  I worked on the blog some more and packed for my weekend in Mindo again.

Dinner at the house was soup with noodles, and rice with scrambled eggs.  I also talked on the phone with my boyfriend for a while before bed.

 

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 5, Otavalo

Background information: What is Otavalo?  Otavalo is a small town north of Quito.  It is FAMOUS in South America for its market, especially on Saturdays when the market is the biggest.  Also nearby is Cotocachi, a small town known for its leather work.  Close to Cotocachi is the volcanic crater lake, Cuicocha.  The C names around here were so easy to mix up, especially when you factor in Cotopaxi, a volcano to the south of Quito.  There are also lots of traditional haciendas nearby to stay at.

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Bea and I took a taxi to the other north bus terminal, **Carcelen, to meet the other students at 8:30 (I brought my big backpack.  So excited).  The line to buy tickets for Otavalo was INSANE, so we took a chance on a guy with a mini-bus.  For anyone who feels like lecturing me for this: we felt out the situation and went with it.  There were indigenous people in the same bus, which made me feel better, and he seemed semi-legit, at least.  Plus, we paid like $4 each and skipped the line for tickets…

Anyway, we arrived and located the bus station first, so that the 4 students who weren’t staying the night knew where to go.  Then we found the market, and I was overwhelmed.  The stalls were absolutely overflowing with beautiful handmade clothing, blankets, wall hangings, scarves, baby clothes, hats, hammocks, trinkets, jewelry, figurines…

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We ate at a restaurant called **Mi Otavalito, which had good food in about the normal wait time in Ecuador (significantly longer than the USA).  Almost everyone got the menu of the day, which was a fantastic value: soup, corn on the cob with cheese, juice, a main course, and a piece of carrot cake at the end.  I ordered a sandwich with chicken and avocado, and lemonade, for the exact same price, as I didn’t feel incredibly hungry.  The menu of the day would have been a better option, as I eventually bought a piece of carrot cake anyway and ended up paying slightly more than everyone else for less food.  **Fun fact: go to the bathroom here.  It’s super neat.

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We decided to go ahead to Cuicocha, the crater lake.  We planned to take a taxi, but we actually had to pay like $0.25 to take a bus to the closest stop and from there we took a taxi for like $1 each to the lake.  They have a restaurant, some artisanal shops, and a boat tour company.  We paid $4 to take the tour around the lake, and waited about half an hour, since we came on a Saturday.  They load the boats so full that they can’t turn quickly, or else the boat will tip, but the guide seemed to know what he was doing.  It was a beautiful tour, lasting around 30 minutes.  We saw ducks, the two islands in the middle of the lake, and bubbles from the still-active volcano that rose to the surface of the water.  **Keep your ticket, as you get a free cup of canelazo afterwards.  In Quito, canelazo is basically hot, alcoholic orange juice.  This was more like hot apple cider, with or without alcohol.  I’m not sure which is the “correct/traditional” form, but I liked both.  Afterwards, the frustrating part is that you just have to wait for a taxi driver to come and drop someone else off… Luckily, our driver gave us his phone number, and we called.  He was 20 minutes away, but he was willing to take us to Cotocachi, so we were willing to wait for him.  From the lake to Cotocachi, we paid $2 a person and he pointed out the street with the most leather goods stores and a festival that was going on.

The indigenous groups have a festival every year around this time, close to the time of the summer solstice, to bring good luck to their upcoming corn harvest.  It was taking place in the town square, so we walked closer to see.  After asking many people, being ignored by some and not understanding others, we found out that each indigenous group gets a turn to “dance” their way to each corner of the square, taking the square as if in battle.  I’m sure there is more significance to that, as well as to the clothing and hats they wore, but we couldn’t interpret what it was.  The dancing appeared to just be foot stomping/shuffling, but these men (it was only men) were practically falling over with exhaustion. *Unfortunately, I only took a video, which I can’t attach.

We then walked down the street with the leather stores very briefly before heading to the city’s bus terminal to return to Otavalo.  I would have loved to stay longer, but the other students were worried about missing their bus back to Quito.  We paid around $0.50 to return to Otavalo, and walked around the market more.  I did a bit of shopping, as I came to Ecuador with the intention of bringing my family’s Christmas gifts back home with me. However, because I know that some of them read this blog, I am not going to write about what I got them.  I’ll write that post when I’m back and they have received their gifts because I don’t want to wait until December to give them out.

Athena, Marilyn and I got the other 4 students to the bus station and then we decided to locate out hotels/hostals. We found their hotel, a decent walk from the bus terminal.  It seemed very nice, quiet, and safe.  My hostal was on the other side of town, so we decided to eat first.  We ate at a restaurant called **Quino near their hotel.  It was a little late, so we had to wait for the food to be cooked fresh, which was fine with me.  The fresh juice was delicious, as was the trout with garlic sauce that I had.  Athena and Marilyn said that they also had good wine, and it was all reasonably priced.

We followed their map to my hostal, which took us through the town square, and unfortunately, through a dark, closed food market.  We were a bit uncomfortable, but we made it where the hostal was supposed to be.  However, we couldn’t find it… After walking around for nearly half an hour, we found it near the listed address with a poorly-lit sign in an almost-unreadable font… Upon walking in, the woman at the desk informed me that she couldn’t check me in, so she went to get her husband.  After 20 more minutes of waiting, he showed up and asked her to check my room.  She returned and said that it wasn’t ready, and they whispered a bit.  By this point, I had bad feelings about this hostal, and instead of waiting 15 minutes like he asked, I asked him to cancel my reservation.  We did walk by the city square, which was lit up in the dark.

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I went back to the hotel with Athena and Marilyn, but it was unfortunately booked full (**Hotel Riviera Sucre).  Their sister hotel around the corner, however, was not (**Hotel Santa Fe).  I was incredibly thankful for the other students walking with me, and I ended up paying only $2 more than I would have at the hostel.  At this hotel, I got my own room with a bathroom, and it felt safe and clean.

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Day 37

Otavalo is a shockingly noisy town, so I was awake early to start the day.  Breakfast isn’t included at the hotel, but there is an attached restaurant that serves breakfast.  For $2.50, I got a glass of fresh juice, cafe con leche, scrambled eggs with ham, and a large sandwich.  For that price, I had no problem paying to eat breakfast.

Afterwards, I headed back to the market.  Again, since some of my family reads this, I’m not going to write about my purchases yet, but I will later on!  I much preferred the market today, a Sunday.  Sundays are when the market is at its smallest, and it was much easier to navigate.  There may have been slightly less variety, but almost of all of the vendors sell the exact same, or similar, items, for almost the same prices.  The smaller size of the market made my shopping very easy, and by purchasing one item and then returning to the same vendor, I got several “special discounts” for coming back.  Whether or not I actually got a lower price, well, I’ll never know.  I don’t feel like I overpaid for any single thing I bought though, considering that it was all handmade and the prices that I would have paid at home.

I will say that, for myself, I bought a blanket, a sweater, a scarf, and a necklace, and I’m quite pleased with all of those purchases.

I got on my bus back to Quito around 11.  I hadn’t planned on leaving that early, but I decided to leave before I started buying things that I didn’t actually need. On the bus back, I met a nice man, Jaime, and his son. He was very friendly, and pointed out landmarks to me throughout the bus ride.   My professor and I had been talking about making friends with people who live in Ecuador and the benefits that it can have, so when he asked if we could exchange phone numbers to practice our languages, I said okay.  If something weird happened, I planned to just block him.  Fast forward several days, and I sadly ended up blocking him after he asked where I was approximately 10 times over the course of one day… I tried, at least!!  Otherwise, the trip home was quite uneventful, and the bus was nearly empty, making for a pleasant trip.

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When I got back to the house, the cleaning lady was there cleaning my room.  I always appreciate when she comes, as the floors get dirty quite quickly if I keep the window open.  However, the family won’t let me go in the room while she’s here, so I waited and waited.  Eventually, I left my stuff on the balcony and went with another student to get lunch.  Long story short, the food near the house isn’t very good and we ended up eating ice cream for lunch (not that I’m complaining).  When I got back in my room, I packed up the gifts that I’d bought into my suitcase, after taking pictures for my mom to approve.  When I leave, I plan to put my personal belongings in my new big backpack, as I primarily have clothes, so they don’t need much protection.

I also blogged and started watching the new season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix.  Everyone, including myself, knew that I wouldn’t last until I got home to watch it.

At dinner, we had soup, rice, red peppers, and chicken.  Rice and chicken tends to get old, as it’s incredibly popular in Ecuador, but it’s always good and almost always accompanied by fresh juice, which is a plus.