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.

 

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Kristen, Student Blogger: Cinque Terre

Italian Riviviera Tour

Another weekend filled with hundreds of pictures. I love being able to take so many decent pictures from my phone (and we can keep praying it doesn’t run out of storage). The school scheduled an Italian Riviera tour at the beginning of the term and we finally got to go in it. It definitely was of the most beautiful views I’ve ever. The tour started from the school where we got on a bus that took us on a 2 hour bus ride to Genoa. On the way to Genoa we drove through mountains and then eventually got to the coastal views as well. It was unreal how many people were living in the middle of the big rolling hills, so secluded and on such steep slopes. Once at Genoa we went on a walking, guided tour of the city with a tour guide. Genoa is home to many historical battles and bombings. Luckily, much has been fixed to still be an important port for boats today. One of the interesting facts about Genoa is that they have one of the lowest birth rates in the world. Their population has dropped significantly over the past few years because of this reason. Many families are choosing not to have kids or having few.

The first thing we saw was a museum sitting at one of the port entrances. It serves as a piece of artwork for the city. It is very deceiving to people who pass by, as everything is painted on the building, including parts of some of the windows. The church that we entered in after was built in the medieval times, as you can tell with the black and white painted stripes. When we headed back to the port, we went up in a glass ball elevator that brought us to the top to look over the whole port.

After this short tour of Genoa, we headed for Saint Margherita Ligure. Saint Margherita was beautiful with all of its flowers and ocean views. We immediately got off the bus and headed for lunch. We ate focaccia, an Italian version of “white” pizza. You can basically get any normal pizza topping on it, except other options as well, like pesto focaccia. After pizza we headed up a hill in the city to a church that looks over the city. (A common theme in Italy apparently.) We then all headed back to the bus to grab our stuff and check into our hotel.

I think it was an agreed decision between all USAC members without speaking about it, that we would all be meeting at the beach as soon as we dropped off our stuff. Even though their beach was much like a rock driveway that would require a chair or 10 towels to find comfortable, we somehow still enjoyed ourselves for a couple hours all together on the beach. Following the beach, my group of friends decided that we wanted to splurge a little to a nice seafood dinner by the sea. Of course, the TripAdvisor app was my go-to to finding something that qualified and had good reviews. It was less than a mile away. The typical Americans we are, showed up as soon as it opened at 6:30PM and got to pick our table out of the whole restaurant. I ordered pasta with crab, which meant real crab parts in my pasta. Maybe this happens in America too and I just haven’t been to a fancy enough place but I don’t know how you’re expected to get the crab out gracefully at the table. We were all really impressed with our meals, though.

The next day, Friday, we had a day trip to Portofina. We were told Portofina is where a lot of famous people come to vacation. I don’t know if it is cheaper to access by boat or if a charter bus can’t really access the town, but we took a large boat to the island. All the program students headed to the roof for the views. Well, given that that is where everyone headed and we were unable to get a seat up top. We got booted to the bottom of the boat. The bottom of the boat was closed off by greyish plastic windows that we were not excited about sitting behind. Therefore, we headed to towards the front of the boat. We didn’t think about the idea that the ocean would be able to move our giant boat… or the waves the would fly overtop of the side of the boat. In summary, we were soaked in saltwater by the time we got to Portofino. It was fun though, there was an Australian couple next to us that laughed about the whole thing for a 10 minute boat ride that we had of getting soaked.

We went on a hike when we got there and then met up for gelato after. The hike went up around to the other side of the port where we first stopped at a church. On one side of the church was more of the trail and the port. On the other side was the open Mediterranean where huge waves crashed against the side of the rock wall. It was such a cool spot with an amazing view. I definitely can see why the celebrities would choose to vacation there. Our last stop of the hike brought us further up over both the port and ocean where a small castle at the top sat. We were told many famous people choose to have private weddings at this spot. We got the next hour to shop and eat lunch if we wished and then meet up for gelato. We saw a couple of really cute shops on our way up that we wanted to check out. There is a reason that these shops are located in Portofino, though. One of the first articles of clothing that I picked up was a pair of shorts that had a price tag of over $200. We didn’t buy anything in Portofio, except for a post card and lunch.  🙂

Once our boat arrived back at Saint Margarita, we hurried to pack up our stuff out of the hotel and catch our train to our villa for the weekend. Our program set it up perfectly that we spent Thursday and Friday’s days off touring the towns and then we got Saturday and Sunday to ourselves. We booked a villa for Friday night through Sunday morning to stay at near Santa Margarita and Cinque Terre, in La Spezia. Never have I stayed somewhere so nice. It was a bit of a hike for the cab driver to take us to, but he got all 8 of us to the top of a tall hill where our villa sat.  We had a gorgeous view of La Spezia’s port and the mountains behind it.

The closest thing to a store was right down the driveway and offered just as much as a gas station might offer for food in the US. It provided enough that we could make some dinners and not have to eat every meal out although. We stayed at the villa for most of weekend, except to hike Cinque Terre. We walked the 45 minutes to La Spezia’s train station and it took us directly to the trails of Cinque Terre. If I thought our villa had a great view… I was sure to be proven wrong by the abilities of Cinque Terre’s views. There are 5 cities that mark Cinque Terre. They create sections of a trail that connects them all together. We hiked the longest and “toughest” section of the trail, which took us just under 2 hours. The first 45 minutes was all up hill so it required a couple stops to get everyone up. The whole walk up was walking through fields of grapes and other plants.

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Once we got to the main trail is when the real views came in. I don’t even know if my pictures do the views justice. The ocean was beautiful and to be on the side of mountain was even cooler. The trail ended at another little town where we ate lunch and then headed back to our villa. The different colored buildings must be a thing of most those Italy’s coastal towns in the area because most of every town we went to for this 4 day weekend had them. Back at our villa we got to relax and hang out in the pool and beautiful weather for the rest of the weekend.

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Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 5

Day 31

 Today was less than exciting, but I did buy an AMAZING cafe con leche on my way to school.  They boil the coffee down to practically sludge, as is common here, and then add it to milk.  Add to spoonfuls of sugar, and I am one happy camper.  **Stop at Cafe Alhambra if you get the chance.  It sounds like they have delicious food, as well.  After class, Paul and I went to the cafeteria that I like for lunch.  Unfortunately, my stomach became quite upset shortly afterwards, plus it started to rain, so I just came back to the house and blogged.  Nothing very exciting to report, other than delicious coffee.

Day 32

This was one crazy week… I’ve started buying a yogurt from the store on the corner, to supplement my breakfast and help keep my stomach stable.  When I went into the store this morning, there was a man inside.  No big deal, I got my yogurt and paid.  When I turned around, he wasn’t there.  Again, I didn’t think that it was a big deal, except that he was outside of the store when I left, and he proceeded to follow me 3/4 of a mile (my entire walk is 1 full mile), almost the entire way to school.  Once I got close to the historical center of the city and started seeing police officers, he disappeared quite quickly.  However, my goodness, did he scare me.   I know that he was following me, because he watched me the entire way, even when I crossed the street.

Once I couldn’t see the man following me anymore, a (homeless?) man who I see often stumbled in front of me and almost ran me down on the sidewalk.  I also thought that was bizarre, and it got even more bizarre when I saw several more intoxicated people during the remaining 1/4 of a mile walk to school.  I realized that it was not only the summer solstice, but the night before had been a full moon, and it instantly made more sense to me…  Additionally, another drunk, who had been passed out on the stairs to school, peed on the stairs…

After class, Paul and I are at one of the popular fast food restaurants close by: Texas Chicken.  Again: a strange occurrence.  A man asking for money is not unusual, especially in the historical center.  They usually just walk by.  However, today, this man asked me the equivalent of, “what do you have to say, white girl?”  I don’t know why, as I didn’t say or do anything to him, but he was very angry with me for some reason.  Luckily, he just walked away and I got to continue with my day.

After lunch, I decided that I had had enough, and it was time to return to the house, which I did quickly.

Day 33

This day was better.  It was grains day at school, and we had lots of people there, which made it more fun.  It was me, Paul, and a family with 3 young boys, who were absolutely precious.  Additionally, there were 4 professors there, making it the biggest group since I arrived.

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After school, I took a taxi ($3) to the Museo de Guayasamin, the most well-known and respected Ecuadorian artist.  I planned to eat at a cafe with great reviews that I found online.  It was close to the museum, but when I arrived, the gate was shut.  Following the instructions on the sign, I rang the doorbell, then rang again, and knocked, and yelled, but nobody came… I chalked the experience up to the weirdness of the week, and proceeded to the museum.

The museum was the most expensive that I’d been to yet, costing $8 for the two buildings.  Disclaimer: I enjoyed the experience overall.  However, I was annoyed that they practically forced me to take my tour in English, despite requesting Spanish to practice my listening skills. I believe that it was because there wasn’t anyone else visiting at the time who spoke Spanish and they didn’t want to bring out another tour guide, but I was given the option of Spanish or English, then put into a tour in English regardless.

The guide was very nice, and we began in the museum, which is in Guayasamin’s former house.  He had collected art since he was 4 years old, and his house was absolutely incredible to see.  Again, I genuinely enjoyed the house.  The tour did move quite quickly, though, and there are parts of the house that are not shown on the tour, which was disappointing.  The gift shop is nice, but expensive.

After that, I walked across the yard to La Capilla del Hombre, the Chapel of Man, where his art is on exhibit.  (I’m not really sure why there’s a chapel on his land, seeing as how he was agnostic, but it was beautiful).  Again, I got stuck with a tour in English, despite the fact that a tour in Spanish left 3 minutes after my tour…  The tour guide was very knowledgeable and explained each and every piece of art to us (in broken and poorly pronounced English).  The artwork is beautiful, and I truly learned a lot about the cultures of the different peoples in Ecuador, and other parts of the world.  Leave lots of time if you choose to take a guided tour of La Capilla, as the tour is quite lengthy.  You can also walk through it alone, but there are not descriptions of the artwork to guide you.

**Disclaimer: I don’t think I was supposed to take photos, based on what I hear from other students.  However, nobody told me to stop or asked me not to in the first place, and there weren’t signs…

Overall, I enjoyed the two museums, but was frustrated with the tours.  Afterwards, because it is a quiet and wealthier neighborhood, I had to take a private taxi.  He charged me $6 from the museum to Plaza Foch, where I planned to eat (it was 4:30 by this point, and I was hungry).  The taxi driver was a joy to interact with, and we practiced my Spanish and his English on the way.  When I got to Plaza Foch, I walked half a block away and found a reasonably-priced Pizzeria, **No Se Pizzeria and Bar.  I was the only customer at the time, as 4:30 is too late for lunch and much too early for dinner by Ecuadorian standards, and the manager/owner took great care of me.  My mushroom pizza came out of the kitchen very quickly, and it was quite good.

For dinner at the house, we had soup with avocado (my favorite), rice, chicken cooked in sauce with CocaCola, and cucumbers.

Day 34

At breakfast, we had uvillas.  They are a fruit that tastes like sour tomatoes to me, and I have a hard time pretending to like them.  I ate them all first, so that the other food was the taste that remained…

I feel like I hardly ever write about class, but I don’t have much to say about it because it’s such a normal part of my day at this point.  Besides, I’m not sure anyone cares what tense we worked on in class, anyway.

After class, I went to the vegetarian restaurant and actually quite liked a kebab with tofu, potatoes, bananas, and green peppers.  The tofu could have passed for chicken.  Afterwards, I decided to get a manicure, since they’re incredibly cheap here and my nails needed help.  For $1.5o, I got a pretty decent manicure.  For US standards, it isn’t great, but I’d have paid upwards of $30 for it at home, so I’m not complaining.  Then, I had a mission.  This weekend, I am going to Otavalo, where the artisanal market is famous.  I planned to buy not only my souvenirs, but Christmas and birthday presents for my family, as well.  For this, I needed a big backpack to bring my purchases back to Quito, and back home on the plane afterwards.  I asked Gisela where she bought the backpack that she brought on our trip during week 3, and she gave me directions.  Unfortunately, the store seemed to be under construction, as it was not open.  I walked around the historical center for what seemed like forever until I saw a store selling leather goods.  A backpack caught my eye, and I figured stopping in one more store wouldn’t hurt, and they had the perfect backpack!!  I bought it from the nicest indigenous woman, and walked out of the store into the rain.  Luckily, I’d planned to take a taxi with my new purchase anyway.

Breaking my family pact to not start the new season of Orange is the New Black until I returned, I watched an episode and worked on my honors journal until dinner.  My mom later confessed to starting the series, so we both broke the pact at about the same time…

Day 35

After class, I talked Paul into going to La Mariscal to eat.  I am getting tired of the typical food, not because it isn’t good, but because it’s almost all the same in the restaurants.  I can only eat so much chicken, soup, and rice.  We took the bus to Paul’s normal bus stop and planned to walk the 15 minutes to the restaurant I had in mind.  However, it started raining.  And it rained hard.  After waiting 15 minutes under the awning of the Swissotel, we decided to go inside and look at the restaurants.  Usually the rain only lasts for 20-45 minutes, but it did not seem like it would stop, and I hate walking in the rain.

We settled on a sports bar in the hotel that was reasonably priced, and enjoyed pizza and burgers.  I then took another taxi back to the house and got overcharged because of the weather.  The rain kept me in the house, so I watched more Netflix and packed my new backpack to go to Otavalo tomorrow. (Sadly, my picture of the delicious pizza I bought has disappeared.  But it was beautiful.)

Dinner at the house reminded me of home… We had spinach and potato soup (very typical), but then we had rice, BEEF, and REGULAR CORN!  They have so many varieties of corn here, but we ate (almost) normal yellow corn with butter, and beef instead of chicken.  It was a lovely reminder of home.

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 4 Mindo

Day 29

It’s Mindo day!!! We got up nice and early, and Bea and I took a taxi to the north bus terminal, La Ofelia.  It took about half an hour, and we paid around $7.50.  One can reach the bus terminals by the public buses, but I would rather pay for a taxi, especially when I have my belongings with me.

We met up with Mattias and Paul, two other students from school, and got on a bus to Mindo!  It takes about 2.5 hours and only costs $3 to go by bus.  We first checked into our hotel.  They were cleaning our room when we arrived (we’d booked dorm beds for $10 each), so we got upgraded to a 3 person room (Bella wasn’t going to stay the night).   The hostel was divided into two or three different buildings, plus a patio/kitchen area.  The buildings are all made of beautiful, finished wood, the beds had mosquito netting, and the room was surrounded by windows to look out of.  The patio is right next to the stream, which has a resident iguana, and there are also hummingbird feeders. **This hostel ROCKS.  It was recommended to us by other students at school, and I can’t wait to return to Mindo to stay here again.  It’s called La Casa de Cecilia, and you should just really go there.  More on this later.

At the hostel, the staff can give you tickets to do any activity in Mindo that you desire, or tickets can be bought there, as well.  We went ahead and bought our tickets for everything we wanted to do that day: zip lining, a tour of an artisanal chocolate factory, and a night walk.  After checking in, we ate lunch at a restaurant called Mindo Cazcai.  It was right on the main street, close to the square, which I believe is why we paid more than usual.  The food was good; I split a chicken and rice plate with Bea for like $8.  That was not necessarily a highlight, but it wasn’t a letdown, either.

Then we took a taxi (a pickup truck) to the zip lines.  Mindo has 2 sets: an older and a newer.  They’re both 10 lines, both double-cable safety systems, both have beautiful views.  We picked **Mindo Canopy Adventures because there was overall more ziplining distance.  They quickly got us set up with harnesses and helmets, and away we went!  They gave us a super short safety intro, but there is a guide at the other end of each zip line, and one who sets you up each time, so it’s challenging to get hurt if you listen to the guides.  The views were beautiful, and it wasn’t a horribly far walk between lines.  In between several, you do have to walk a little further, but it’s manageable.  You also will have the opportunity to do the “superman” or the “butterfly,” which are special ways of going down the zip line.  One involves wrapping your legs around the guide and letting go with your hands, like Superman.  You can go down the zip line upside down or upside down with a guide.  They definitely make sure that you have a good time, even offering to take your picture/video.  **Take your camera if you have a zippered pocket to put it in.

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After zip lining, we got Bea on her bus and went on the tour of **El Quetzal, a restaurant/hotel/chocolate factory.  This is supposed to be the best of 2 or 3 chocolate tours, and did you read that it’s also a hotel?  You can stay there, and from what I’ve read, the food is incredible, and a tour is included.  They also have artisanal beers, if that’s of interest to you.  It was just the three of us with one guide.  We agreed to take the tour in Spanish, and Mattias and I would help Paul if necessary.  Our guide spoke English very well, so he was able to answer any questions that we had.  He showed us the fruit that the seeds come from, the same fruit that I ate in Bua, if you read that post.  We got to try the sweet seeds.  Then he showed us what they look like after they’ve been dried; they taste bitter since it’s pure chocolate.  Finally, he showed us the same product after it’s been ground up, ready to be used.

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Then we actually got to walk around with the guide and see the factory.  They have stevia plants that they’re hoping to be able to use in their chocolates someday (they currently use sugar from elsewhere in the country).  Cocoa doesn’t grow in Mindo’s climate (it grows in the coast), so they work with local farmers to bring it in.  They also grow lemongrass and other herbs/spices, including ginger.  Then we saw where the seeds are laid out to dry.  First, they are fermented/processed naturally for several days, and then they’re spread out on wire mesh to dry for up to two months.  Then they’re cooked/roasted, and then separated from the casing.

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This is where I stopped understanding 100%… I believe that the dried seeds used for chocolate bars get melted down, then cooled slightly, poured into molds, shaken to remove air bubbles, and cooled again. The other seeds get pressurized, I believe, and the different components of that liquid are used for other products: cocoa butter, sauces that they make, etc…  At the end of the tour, we got to try plain chocolate syrup.  Delicious, but bitter.  Then we got to add their different sauces to it: ginger sauce (delicious), a BBQ sauce, and another that I cannot remember.  And the best part: we got a brownie.  Y’all, I love chocolate.  Cheap chocolate, expensive chocolate, Hersey’s, pure dark chocolate, with fruit, with nuts, I love it all. And this brownie was practically life-changing.  It was so good that I was willing to pay $3 for one brownie so that I could bring one back with me.  Also, we learned that white chocolate is not chocolate.  Now you know.

After our chocolate tour, we went in search of dinner.  This is not me talking bad about my friends, this is just what happened.  They wanted street food from the guy around the corner.  I’d already been stomach sick on this trip and it took me a full week afterwards to recover, so I did not want street food. I ate one empanada thing with platano verde and chicken.  Paul ate like 3 with yucca and chicken, and Mattias had three with corn and chicken, I believe.   I was starving, but we didn’t eat more…  I wasn’t upset, just really hoping that nobody ended up sick.  We didn’t know how long that food, with chicken in it, had been sitting out, or how many people had touched them after touching the raw chicken…  (Update: Paul was sick when we got back.  I can’t say why, but there’s enough correlation for me to avoid street food).

Then we went out for our night tour (**Mindo Night Tours).  A pickup truck picked us up from the hostel and took us to this amazing property.  The tour guides were actually new: they’d only been in Mindo for 3 months and actually specialized in reptiles.  Despite that, they were fairly knowledgeable about the insects and frogs that we saw, and they tried to get kinkajous to come.  Sadly, they weren’t around that night, but it was a lovely tour.  They have a bird tower that they rent out, and if one could afford it, I think it’d be a wonderful experience.

After that, we returned to the hostel.  I took a shower, and the bathroom seemed clean enough.  I was still upset that I’d forgotten my flip-flops… My singular complaint about this hostel is that the mosquito netting didn’t stretch around the bed fully.  It sat on top fine, which was okay, but I would have preferred if it stretched more so that I didn’t sleep with mosquito netting in my face, or my foot out of the netting.  With that being said, I had THE BEST night’s sleep.  The men left their window and curtain open, so we got to listen to the stream and the animals while we slept.  I didn’t sleep very long, since the window also allowed in a lot of light and noise in the morning, but we all woke up feeling quite refreshed.

Day 30

I ate breakfast at the hostel for $3.50, I believe, and got juice, cafe con leche, eggs, and a roll and a half with butter and jam.  It was definitely worth the price.  I then headed off for a yoga class, since I’d really been missing practicing yoga, but there wasn’t actually a class.  I ended up at **Hostel El Descanso, which has a beautiful backyard set up to be a hummingbird haven.  It’s slightly pricey at $4, but you can stay as long as you like and watch the birds.  Not only did I see hundreds of hummingbirds, I also saw several other types of local birds and TWO TOUCANS.  I saw toucans, which was the coolest thing ever.  I also met a professor from Europe who was very interesting to speak with.

 The men had decided to rent ATVs, so I then took a taxi to the butterfly farm.  It’s very informational, beginning with a short intro from a guide, offered in both Spanish and English.  He told me about the life cycle of the butterflies and their diets, and then I got to spend as much time as I wanted in the butterfly garden.  They have a hatching system set up on one wall, so that you can see each individual stage of the life cycle prior to hatching, and if you wait for a few minutes, you’re almost guaranteed to see a butterfly hatch.  **Tip: Put some banana on the tip of your finger (they have them lying out).  You’ll be able to hold almost any butterfly you’d like.  Another tip: have someone else check your back for butterflies before you leave.  I checked myself in the mirror before leaving, but I still walked out with one on my backpack.  Luckily, the tour guide saw it and brought it back inside.  They also have a koi pond outside, so, obviously, I paid $0.50 to feed the fish.

I met up with the men afterwards, and they had street food again for lunch.  I bought a banana from the market and called it good, since we ran out of time for a restaurant.  Our bus to Quito was just as uneventful as the first, and then I took a taxi back to the house.  Many of the taxi drivers here are incredibly kind and friendly.  This driver was no exception.  He charged me quite a bit, but it was both a Sunday and a holiday (father’s day), so I expected that.  At the house, we had dinner: cabbage soup, and omelet, rice, tomatoes, and ice cream for dessert.  With a full belly and a great experience, I went straight to bed.

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 4

Day 22

I previously forgot to mention that Paula was still here, so we both woke up around 8.  While I wasn’t planning to share my room at all, it was nice to have company for a while.  Breakfast was bread with bologna and cheese, apples, and tea.  The other students went out for a walking tour, and I went with Paula to see her off.  The other students and I were going to meet up for lunch, but they weren’t back by 2pm.

We had plans to go to Parque Carolina, there was supposed to be a fundraiser for the earthquake victims.  They’re bringing in people from the coast with seafood to sell, but the family says that’s tomorrow.  Regardless, Rob and I were hungry, so we left to eat.  We ran into the others while walking, and they’d met Hannah from the UK on the walking tour, so the five of us went to eat. By this point, I was quite hungry, and by that, I mean hangry.  After threatening to leave and eat alone, we finally decided on a **sandwich shop in Plaza Grande.  The pork sandwich with lettuce and tomato, and fresh strawberry juice, were both delicious.  On our way back, we stopped for ice cream at a heladeria that I hadn’t tried yet.  I’d only have soft serve, but this place scooped their ice cream, and it was a little more expensive.  My “red berry” ice cream was delicious, and everyone else said the same about theirs.  I also stopped to buy more chocolate truffles, or “Bohemios”, as they’re called at the cafe.  I eat about one a day, and for $0.35, I can afford to.

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After our late lunch, I blogged and blogged and blogged until dinnertime.  We had soup with potatoes and cheese, meat with rice, broccoli, and cauliflower, and guanabana juice for dessert.  Then I got to talk to my grandparents and tell them about my trip, which was also lovely.

Day 23

Breakfast was, again, bread with bologna, with bananas.  Bella was gone, but Fred, Rob and I met up with Hannah in the Park with seafood on the mind.  Shockingly, they had run out of seafood by the time that we arrived around 1pm.  We settled for bowls of ceviche from one of the normal vendors there, and then supplemented out hurt feelings with chocolate-covered strawberries and marshmallows.

Without a definitive plan, we wandered around the park.  I’d never been to the far north end of the park; there was a group of people salsa dancing under a pavilion.  We stayed to watch for over half an hour.  When we finally moved on, we bought ice cream (I know, we eat a lot), and then headed to La Mariscal district to watch the Ecuador v. Haiti soccer game.  I didn’t realize exactly how expensive that district is: most of the restaurants were more expensive than they would have been in the US!  We found a reasonable restaurant, enjoyed the game, and then headed back to the house for dinner with the family.  **It was called Akelarre, right on Plaza Foch.

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Day 24

This week, I have class with Fred and a man from Canada, Steve, and Edison is our professor.  We picked a topic, the environment, and worked with that topic all day: vocabulary, defining terms, using it in a discussion, etc…  We also had another student join us for an hour; there are lots of new students this week!  I also heard from the office at school today and I am able to go to Cuenca my last week in Ecuador.  I’ll take classes with the same school and stay with my dad’s family (my grandma’s cousins?) who retired there.

After class, I took Fred to the market to eat the delicious pork that I previously discovered with Jason, and we bought lots of fruit to snack on this week.  **Later addition: We bought our food from El Plato Tipica de Dona Ceci.  We came back to school and went to visit the Basilica with someone from the office and another student from California.  The style is very similar to the Basilica in Rome, and another somewhere else.  It is actually unfinished, as there is a legend that the world will end when the church is finished.  We climbed up to the top of both towers, putting us at the highest part of Quito!  If you can handle the height and sketchy stairs, it’s definitely worth the entrance fee and climb.

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We came back to the house and I got to chat with my mom for a while.  I also blogged, and BOUGHT MY PLANE TICKETS to Cuenca!  **TAME Airlines had the cheapest tickets, but make sure to shop around.  Also, if you can fly out on a non-busy day, you’ll get cheaper tickets.   I’m so incredibly excited to see another part of the country, and the internet seems to prefer Cuenca over Quito!  We had spinach soup, then pork with rice, beans and tomatoes, and tamarindo juice for dessert.  I also got to chat with my dad after dinner!

Day 25

Class today followed the same format.  I really enjoy the group classes, but one of the other students has a very strong personality, and I found myself overwhelmed today.  I also started feeling feverish, but Fred and I went ahead with our plans for the day.

We ate lunch at the **San Francisco Restaurant, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend.  It was relatively expensive (starting at $9), and the food was good, but not typical, and I paid for a lot of food that I wasn’t able to finish because the portion was so large.

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We then caught the double-decker tour bus ($15) and rode it around the entire loop, all 3 hours.  It was a nice way to enjoy some fresh air and, potentially, see new parts of the city.  I’d seen most of where the bus went, but we did go up to El Panecillo, at the top of the hill.  It’s not recommended to walk there, and a taxi would probably cost almost $1o for both ways, so the bus was a nice way to get there.  We stopped and had a bit of time to walk around, so we took pictures and paid $2 to go up to the top of the stairs.  The views of the city really were incredibly, but it was very cold at the top of the hill.
**Later addition: Seriously, don’t walk there…  You have to climb a ridiculous amount of stairs, and as the internet will tell you, people have been mugged on their way to the top.  Another concern is the dogs: another student from the school decided to walk (alone), and was bitten by a dog in the process. It’s 100% not worth it to walk.

Tomorrow, we’re sharing fruits at school, so we bought our fruits afterwards, and walked back to the house.  As soon as I was able to lie down, I knew that I had a fever.  I laid down for a while, and then took my laundry to the laundry lady, and then napped more until dinner.  I still don’t know how or why I was sick again, but I believe it was related to the crazy changes in weather that Quito has had lately.  I wake up shivering in bed, and by the time I leave the school, it’s quite warm, and there’s always a chance of cloud cover/wind/rain.

Dinner with the family was grain and potato soup, then beef with cucumbers, and potato and eggs, with guanabana juice for dessert.  I was definitely hoping to wake up feeling better!

Day 26

Breakfast was bread with cream cheese, and a bowl of uvillas, apples, and banana.  Uvillas are very similar to “tomate de arbol”, or tree tomato.  They’re both fruits that are common here, and they both taste like sour tomato to me.

We focused on music today in class, so we played lyric games and listening games, as well as discussing music and learning new vocabulary.  It was also fruits day at school  Fred and I then ate at a **typical restaurant in the Plaza Teatro: cheese soup, then rice and chicken and veggies.  The food is always flavorful, but the lunch menus at the typical restaurants are very limited and they rarely change.

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After lunch, I made a quick stop to buy chocolates (not out of my norm, I know), and then headed back to the house for a while.  I got two blog posts finished and submitted, and then met up with Fred to walk to the President’s house, Palacio Carondelet.  We met Paul, another student, and Gisela, a professor, to take one of the free tours of the palace.  To get there, you just walk down Guayaquil and then west to the Plaza Grande.  The Palace is, well, the Palace.  *Tip: you have to have your Ecuador ID or a copy of your passport (or the original).  They will not let you in otherwise.  Other tip: you have to go through a metal detector.  It helps if you’re not wearing lots of jewelry or, in my case, a money belt.  I just took it off and put it back afterwards, but it’d be quicker if you don’t wear it to begin with.  Also: come back on a Monday morning to see the changing of the guard.  It’s supposed to be very neat, I’m going to ask my professor if we can go, even though it’s during class.

They have tour guides that speak both English and Spanish.  We had a mixed group: some spoke solely Spanish, a few only English, and the group from school spoke both, more or less.  This actually worked out nicely, as I got to practice listening in Spanish, and then everything was clarified in English.  You begin the tour by saluting the flag of Ecuador, which felt very un-American, but it’s just a very quick bow as you walk by.  They then show you a mural by Guayasamin (he’ll come back in an upcoming post) that depicts the discovery of the Amazon.  You then get to see the big meeting room and dining room, both of which were very neat.  In the dining room, a space that used to be for smoking was converted into a prayer space.  I asked Gisela, and she said there really isn’t a problem with separation of church and state here because the country is mostly Catholic, and almost everyone else is Protestant.  All of the gifts that have been given to the president from other governments are on display, which are also neat to see. There’s also a room, I’m not exactly sure what for, where they have the official, heavy-duty flag, as well as portraits of past presidents .  It’s a neat room, as well.

The tour is not incredibly long.  The first floor isn’t on the tour because it’s mostly a courtyard.  You only get to see half of the second floor because the other half is the office of the president.  **Tip: if the president is in his office, there are two guards outside.  The third floor is entirely off limits, it is where the president could live.  The current president lives in his private residence because his wife is not Ecuadorian, and she prefers privacy, but many other presidents have lived in this building.  **At the end, don’t forget to wait and get your passport back!  Someone almost left without theirs, and I can’t imagine what a nightmare that would have been.

**Super important tip: Always.  Always.  Carry a copy of your passport.  Leave the original somewhere safe, a copy will suffice, but keep a copy with you (and a copy at home with someone else).  If a government official or police officer was to stop you, you are required to produce your passport.  I don’t know what happens if you don’t, but you also need it to buy bus tickets out of town, and police checks of buses apparently are not uncommon.  It’s also required at hospitals/medical clinics/to enter some places such as the palace.  Just carry the copy and save yourself the hassle.

On our walk back, we decided to take a detour through the shopping mall near the Plaza Grande.  They have some nice little shops, but we were interested in the ice cream.  They prepare it a certain way, which involves mixing by hand.  It was delicious, and they had lots of local flavors.

We didn’t do much until dinner, but dinner was a pleasant surprise.  We had lima bean soup (yuck…), but the main course was spiral pasta with bacon and alfredo sauce, and broccoli!! I’ve definitely been missing my pasta, and the family makes delicious pasta on the rare occasion that they don’t serve something more traditional.

Day 27

I got lazy with my written journal, y’all…  I went to class, didn’t write anything about that.  I know that I bought flowers at the market to dry, then came back and had a fairly decent cheeseburger for lunch at the restaurant down the block from the house.  The ketchup here ROCKS.  It’s sweeter, which I usually dislike (I usually don’t like ketchup).

Later, we went to salsa lessons, as usual.  Jason came and brought his family, and I went with Fred, Rob, and Bella, who didn’t dance.  Our instructor was faster-paced, so we got to learn several new turns!  Afterwards, Hannah met us and we all headed to La Ronda to watch the USA v Ecuador soccer game!  **The host family said La Ronda isn’t safe at night.  It is.  It’s probably the safest place to be.  There are police officers, lots of people, security guards for the individual restaurants.  Bella and I decided to share a meal for dinner (mostly because I’ve gotten cheap, and La Ronda is more expensive).  We ate cuy (guinea pig)!  Luckily, I couldn’t see/here them in the back, so I never had to see the guinea pig pre-cooking.  There’s hardly any meat, but I think I tasted good!  They also drank canelazo, a traditional drink made with Rum, orange juice, and cinnamon, served hot.  It’s supposed to be very good, but they said it was very strong at this restaurant.  Fortunately for me, and sadly for Ecuador, the USA won… There were some sad Ecuadorians, and some angry ones as well, but we had no problems getting to a taxi and getting home afterwards.

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Day 28

Again, I forgot to journal… I do know this, we planned our weekend trip to MINDO (cloud forest)!!! This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip so far, and I can’t wait to write about it!  Paul and Mattias were going to come with me, and we booked $10 dorm beds in a hostal recommended by Jason and Fred.  Bella was going to come, but return to Quito on Saturday, rather than stay the night.  We planned to meet at the bus station to take the 9:20am bus to Mindo.  That’s all that I have for this day, I do know that I very excitedly packed my backpack and went to bed early so that I could get up early.

Mindo is going to be its very own post, since I enjoyed it so much.  To anyone who is still reading, thanks for sticking with me and taking interest in my adventures!!

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 3, Part 3 in Ecuador

Day 19

We got up and around at 8am, making sure our things were ready to go.  The family cooked us eggs and fried platano verde, and then we got ready to leave.  The grandmother, although she seemed very tough, was incredibly sweet this morning.  She said that if we ever return, to come back to her house and stay with her.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see our little friend this morning to say goodbye.  Gisela was in the bathroom brushing her teeth when the daughter walked in and said, in Spanish, “There’s your bus.”  She pointed down to the end of the street, and I saw the bus approaching the stop.  I asked her what to do, and she said “Run.”  So, I grabbed my backpack by its torn strap (luckily, it didn’t break) and took off, yelling “GRACIAS” over my shoulder as I went.  I caught the bus and the driver agreed to wait just a minute for us, and we were on our way.

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The bus took us back to the bus terminal in Esmeraldas (the main city in the province of Esmereldas), and we caught a bus to Santo Domingo (again, the main city in the province of Santo Domingo) right away. When we arrived at that bus terminal, we waited to hear from the office at school to verify our arrival time, and then tried to find the next bus. This bus didn’t leave from the terminal, so after asking several different people, we found the bus stop. It ended up being over half an hour late, but I got to be entertained by a young man, probably a little older than me, talking with and flirting with my professor the entire wait. He was quite surprised when he found out that I could understand what he was saying the whole time.

Once on the bus, a Tsa’Chila man told us where our stop was. We got off of the bus and knocked on someone’s door, since we had no idea where to go from there. They pointed us down a path, and after what seemed like quite a bit of walking, we found our place! We met the woman who the school had been in contact with and she showed us around.

Side note: While Quechua is a very common native language, the people here speak a different native language, as shown on this sign. Many also speak Spanish, if not exclusively Spanish.

About where we’re staying: technically it is on land that is a part of the community, but we aren’t living with a family or anything. As I learned the next day, the land belongs to Sr. Alfonso. It was his idea to start their foundation. The goal is to share their culture, encourage their youth to take pride and participate in their culture, and to document their history. There will be more on the foundation when I write about Sr. Alfonso’s demonstration for us. Anyway, we stayed on a plot of land with several buildings, all built by volunteers. The houses where members of the tribe live are scattered around close by. There’s a kitchen/dining room, a long bunkhouse, another building that’s half classroom/half bunks, a bungalow-style building, a shower house, a bathroom, and a building that I never went inside. We stayed in the long bunkhouse building that’s divided into three or four smaller rooms. They brought in a woman, Sra. Deborah, to cook for us and, honestly, to keep an eye on us while we were there (no falling in the river, getting stung by insects, etc).

We saw all of the buildings, including the showers with running water, the eco-bathroom, and then the river. I don’t know if it was the traveling, the heat, or just being away from Quito, but we were tired and napped again.

Dinner was at 7, but I hadn’t realized that it’d be so dark by that time. They have electricity for cooking and lights, but there aren’t outside lights or anything, so it was very dark. Sra. Deborah cooked us delicious chicken and rice, with lettuce salad, platano verde, and chamomile tea. She was very kind and friendly, willing to talk and share information with us. Gisela later pointed out her skirt, which was traditional for the Tsa’Chilas. The women traditionally wear knee-length skirts with a horizontal stripe pattern of different colors. They did not traditional wear shirts, but that has changed as you can imagine.

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Before bed, Sr. Alfonso, who was going to facilitate our activities the next day, stopped by to say hello. He had his hair painted and wore the traditional clothing as well: a blue and white striped wrap-around skirt with sandals.

Day 20

I think I could have slept forever. The temperature was perfect, we had mosquito netting, there was plenty of background noise from the bugs/animals/river, and it got so incredibly dark at night. The shower was actually very pleasant once the initial shock of the cold water wore off. They run the water downhill to the shower, rather than using electricity. Breakfast was delicious fried dough with cheese inside, and coffee (thank goodness).

Having class while away wasn’t my favorite part of the week, but today Gisela and I went over a lot of material that I needed help on: things that I never understood originally, things that I was confused on or doing incorrectly, etc. Watching the bats, lizards, chickens, and hummingbirds also provided plenty of momentary distractions. I was also delighted when a sweet little white dog came right on up to us. I hadn’t interacted with the dogs in Ecuador besides the one at the house, since it’s hard to know if they’re a pet, or a street dog that potentially has rabies. This sweet little dog was definitely a pet, and she came by several times throughout the day to check on us.

For lunch, we had vegetable soup, rice, fresh lettuce, and a very salty type of beef, with lemonade (my favorite) to drink. Before our activities, we walked by the river and saw fish, butterfly cocoons, all sorts of plants, and a bright green hummingbird! (Look very closely at the photo)

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When we returned for the demonstration, Sr. Alfonso began with the history of the Tsa’Chilas that he knows. He said that there is very little written history, and much of what can be found on the internet is either incredibly general or incorrect. I’m just going to type what I have written down in my notebook from that day (a slightly clearer version):

“When the Spanish came to Latin America, they brought lots of sicknesses that killed many people because they didn’t have immunity. The group was a different tribe, Yumbo (I believe), and one of the shamans saw during a ritual that the men should paint their hair with achiote seeds to protect them from illnesses. Colorado : red à name “Los Colorados”. There isn’t specific info about the origin of this ethnic group.

Tsa’Chila – “gente verdadera” (true people)

He doesn’t know why they have this name, they didn’t choose it. He disagrees with it, as well, saying that we’re all humans, and that it doesn’t make sense to him. He also dislikes the exclusive nature of the name and claims that it may have contributed to the isolation of the tribe.

Before the Spaniards, the nuns arrived, and came with gifts (bread, salt, sugar). After the nuns, other groups came and this time is where the existing books are from.

All of the land that we’re staying on is Sr. Alfonso’s, the foundation was his idea. Modern problem: the youth aren’t interested in participating in and preserving the culture. All of the indigenous groups are having the same problem – Sr. Alfredo traveled and learned this. There are similar projects/foundations in other communities.

He spoke with the mayor, who said she’d help him with funding the project, if he’d help her with her campaign (gain support among the natives). The community took a vote and voted “no”, so he turned her down. The foundation works without any government/municipal aid.

When someone dies here, they bury the person near the house, the rest of the family moves and builds a new house elsewhere (need plenty of land, cultural understanding for this).

How they make their torches: They put tree sap onto boards, lay it to dry in the sun, peel it off and roll it into a cigar-shape, and this is what they burn.”

He also showed us how they paint their hair red with achiote seeds, and their skin with a different fruit. He also gave us cocoa seeds to eat. You cut open the fruits and suck on the seeds, which are covered in a white, slimy substance. They taste sweet, and you just spit them out when the flavor goes away. (I’ll explain in a later post how they actually make chocolate from the rest of it.) He also cut fresh oranges for us to squeeze and drink the juice from, which was delicious.

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After our demonstration, we took advantage of the hammocks hanging around the foundation and then ate our dinner, again, prepared by the lovely Sra. Deborah. She made “tortillas” with cheese, tomato and onion salad, rice, and tea.

Day 21

I seriously loved the cold showers while I was gone. Usually, my showers are just cool enough to avoid causing long-term damage to my skin, but no cooler. These cold showers have been so refreshing, though. Add to that, a lovely breakfast of mashed platano verde with scrambled eggs and coffee, and we were ready to catch our bus back to Quito. Our bus left at 1, so we went ahead with classes for the day. At this point, I was very burnt out on Spanish, so we struggled… We did do a nice review of yesterday’s activities, which helped fill in any gaps I had. To avoid needing the bathroom, we ate just a bit of soup with lemonade for lunch, said goodbye to Deborah, and headed to the bus stop.

We waited, and around 1, a bus went in the other direction from our bus terminal. We waited more, and just after 1:30 our bus came. It must have passed the first time at 1, but driven the length of the street before turning around. After that short bus ride, we

boarded our bus direct to Quito. The drive back was absolutely horrifying, even though I don’t have a fear of heights… I felt a bit sick, despite my motion sickness medicines, as we drove on the side of mountains for almost two hours. There were crosses along the side of the entire highway, signifying where people had died. I must admit, however, that the views were INCREDIBLE.

We made it back to Quitumbe terminal (the south terminal) by 5, which was much earlier than expected. I was back at the house by 6, ready for dinner and bedtime. We

had greenbean soup, sausages with boiled potatoes and onions, and juice, and then I went straight to bed.

Week 3 was such a neat experience, and it was well worth the money to experience the culture with a teacher to help explain and navigate.

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 3, Part 2 in Ecuador

Day 17

I think they estimate in a lot of time for traffic and poor weather, so we were over two hours early for our next bus since we didn’t encounter either of those things.  Gisela let me nap on my backpack for a while, and then we bought scrambled eggs with fried green bananas and blackberry juice for breakfast.  We finally got on a different bus for an hour or so, and then took a pickup truck the last hour of the way.  That was a cool way to see the country and enjoy the fresh air.

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What shocked me was when I saw the ocean.  I’d asked for more information regarding the trip with little luck, and Estero de Platano is so small that there isn’t much information online; I had no idea that we were going to spend time on the coast!  I was incredibly excited, but a little nervous that I hadn’t had the chance to find out if I needed Malaria medication, as there are parts of the country where that is a good idea.  Luckily, I brought 99% DEET bug spray from home, which I intended to use vigilantly.  After asking some of the friendly locals, we found the house of the family that was supposed to host us.  The mother wasn’t home, so Gisela and I had some of our class time while waiting.

Less than two hours after arriving, I felt like I was shaking, but I looked at Gisela and her eyes were wide too.  It only lasted a few minutes, but we’d felt a “temblor” as they call it.  The coast is the part of the country that is very prone to earthquakes, and small movements like this are very common, but we were worried for a minute that it would get worse.  During our class time, we also met our new amiga-Valeria, the granddaughter of the owner of the house.  She was probably 6 years old, and as adorable as can be.

The grandmother finally arrived and set us up with lunch.  We had rice, fried platano verde, onion salsa, and FRESH FISH!!  This fish was delicious, straight from the ocean that very day.  MMMMM. The only thing we had to watch out for was the small bones, as the fish weren’t huge and the meat was still on the bones.

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We then got to rest (aka nap) for a while.  The upstairs of the house is all one big open room that is sectioned off with sheets/curtains, and Gisela and I had one room to share with two beds.  I was impressed that they had room for us each to have a bed, since the house is not that big compared to American standards.  I think the grandmother and her husband, two of her daughters (and maybe the boyfriend/husband of the older daughter), and one granddaughter live in the house.  The grandmother also sells ice creams out of her house, so between that and the neighbors, there was always someone coming or going.

Afterwards, we walked down to the beach with our little friend and got to see all of the snails from the high tide, the crabs running away from us, the children playing, and the fisherman coming back for the day.  Then we had dinner, not with the family.  They eat late.  When asked how late, they replied “late.”  So after dinner, Gisela and I called it a night.  There’s beautiful, lace-pattered mosquito netting (thankfully), and the fresh air coming in through the windows was very refreshing.  Regardless, it was still warm and we slept on top of the sheets.

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Day 18

Gisela and I woke up by 8:30, but the chickens, roosters, parrots (they had 2 pet parrots outside), and people were all up by 5 or 6.  I think we both slept through it pretty well, though.  They fixed fried eggs, “bolsas” made from platano verde and cheese (ground platano verde shaped into a ball with cheese in the middle), and warm milk for coffee.  I hadn’t had warm milk before, but I think it was either milk from a different animal (goat, maybe), or it was unpasteurized, as it tasted different and upset my stomach a bit.

I think this is a good place to describe the community a bit, although it’s difficult to describe.  Many of the people lived in houses like the one we stayed in, but there were several houses that were falling down, several shacks made of wood and plastic sheeting, and one family that had a tent.  In the house that we stayed in, they had electricity for the fridge, stove, and lights.  They also had running water in the sink, shower, and toilet (the bathroom was outside, but attached to the house).  It wasn’t heated, but they had running water.  They also caught rain water outside, and the water that dripped from the faucet.

This morning, there was a problem with the running water in the whole community, so we took showers using the big buckets of water and a smaller bucket to pour it.  It sounds primitive and cold, but it was actually effective and refreshing, as it was pretty warm outside.

After some class time at the kitchen table, with stickers and entertainment from our amiga, we took a longer walk on the beach.  It’s so beautiful, untouched by tourists.  There’s minimal trash, no umbrellas or tents blocking the view, just the kids playing and men fishing.  We saw lots of critters and more shells today: hermit crabs, normal crabs, little fish, big birds, a sea urchin…

Lunch was chicken soup with rice, pan cooked chicken, and LEMONADE.  For the temperature outside (and remember-no AC inside), it was a lot of food to eat, but it was incredible.  The lemonade was the best I’ve ever had.  We napped again for a while, and Gisela went to look for someone.  There’s supposedly a waterfall, which is too far away to visit, and a place called “Mirador”, which I think is just a place with a good vantage point.  The host family told us of a woman who would take us there, but we couldn’t find her.  Also, it was really hot to go hiking during the day… Instead, we had more class and tried to talk to the locals to figure out the best way to leave in the morning.  At first, they told us that we’d have to leave at 5:00am.  **However, I’m quickly learning: always ask twice.  If possible, wait a while and ask again, or ask someone else, but always ask twice.  After several attempts at asking, we found that we could leave on a bus, from this community, at 8:00am.

In case you can’t see my love for food, let me explain to you our dinner.  FRESH FISH.  As in caught by a local fisherman, less than 6 hours earlier, and put directly into the pan by the grandmother.  We also had rice and a sauce made from lentils (I think), which I really like as well.  And more lemonade, which makes my heart happy.

I took another bucket shower, got my things ready to leave in the morning, and called it a night.

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The rest of Week Three will be in the next post, as we were in a different community!!

 

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 3, Part 1 in Ecuador

Day 15

Today’s breakfast was bread with ham, and papaya.  I still cannot get over the quality of the fruit here… I didn’t think I liked papaya, but it’s so much better here and I don’t know how I ever disliked it!  I caught up on my honor’s journaling today.  Remember that giant project deal I had to do for my University/Honors Experience?  It’s not over.  I have to journal/reflect on the 15 questions that I wrote, and then produce my project when I return to the States.  It’s not exactly how I want to be spending my time, but it’s not an unbearable inconvenience, either.

We three students from the house met up with Jason in Parque El Ejido.  Unfortunately, his family still wasn’t here, so we got to hang out with him for one more day.  This park has amazing artwork on the weekends; we plan to come back tomorrow to spend more time looking.  The plan was to go to Parque Carolina again to go through the botanical garden, so we started walking north towards the park.  A lot of the restaurants weren’t open, but we decided on a Cuban restaurant in the Mariscal district.  On tripadvisor, it’s called Don David, but the sign outside had a longer name, International something.  We were the only people in there, and the waiter was very nice.  He spoke English, which was also a welcome break, as restaurants can be difficult sometimes.  The pineapple juice was awesome, and the food was good, too.  I got (smoked?) pork, with sauteed veggies, yucca, and fried banana, which were all good.

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The park is actually a pretty far walk when you factor in hills and street crossings, 2.7 miles, according to Google.  Rob had other stuff to do, the rest of us walked through the botanical garden.  What a neat place, I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Quito.  It didn’t set off my allergies, and they have all sorts of beautiful flowers and neat plants.  They have it set up as different ecosystems.  Additionally, there was a room of the carnivorous plants, the orchids (for which Ecuador is famous), and a temporary butterfly exhibit, which was my favorite part.

After some more wandering and buying ice cream from one of the many vendors, we took the bus back to our houses.  I got to meet my new neighbor for the next 3 weeks, Bella from the Philippines!  Then we had dinner: it was chicken nugget night!!  We had more grain soup, and rice with a tomato slice.  I think we all approved of this meal, especially the nuggets and the blackberry juice for dessert!

Bella and I discovered that, since our showers got fixed, we can’t shower at the same time.  I believe that they increased the water pressure, therefore drawing more power into each room.  The power goes out on the floor, and it happened twice, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fluke.  I also found out tonight that someone else will be staying in my room while I’m away this week, so I have to pack all of my stuff up.  It’s not a huge inconvenience, but I’m slightly nervous to share the room for one night when I return, since I won’t know her.

Day 16

Breakfast was the usual, and then three of us, minus our new housemate, went back to Parque El Ejido to look at the art more.  We also ran into Jason, and his family!!  They finally arrived the night before, so we got to meet his wife and kids.  After properly viewing all of the art, I decided to return to this park later in my trip.  There is a big market about 2 hours north of Quito where I plan to buy most of my gifts/souvenirs, but if I don’t find something for someone there, this park will be my next stop.  We decided to try vendor food for lunch, so we bought kebabs.  Mine was (all grilled) sausage, potatoes, beef, and banana.  It was very good, but I threw away the beef because it wasn’t cooked all the way through.  For dessert, we bought fresh fruit, which was to die for.  The watermelon here is so incredibly sweet.

Afterwards, I got to meet Paula from Colorado, who is getting my room while I’m away.  She seems very nice, but worn out after navigating the same airport problems as Jason’s family.  I feel very lucky to have had such a simple flying experience.  Fred, Paula, and I went to the vegetarian place by school so that Paula could eat.  The apple tarts are amazing!!  **For future travelers: It’s called Govinda, and it’s on Esmeraldas Street, close to school.  Walk towards Plaza Teatro and take a right on Esmeraldas, it’s on the left side.

Being the exciting adult that I am, I took a nap while Paula did (so as not to disturb her, of course), then we went to dinner.  The lentil soup was a pleasant change, and then we had pasta with tomato sauce.  It was very thin; I think the noodles were cooked in the sauce.  The other students thought that it was very plain, but I loved it.

Tonight was the night to leave for my trip, so I help back on juice/water so that I didn’t need a bathroom while stuck on a bus.  The family insisted that I leave at 9:30 to meet my professor at the south bus station (Quitumbe) at 11:00pm.  The other students walked me down to get money from the ATM and catch a taxi, and I was at the bus station by 10:00pm easily.  Nobody gave me any trouble or anything while waiting, and when my professor, Gisela, arrived, she bought our bus tickets and away we went!  The buses are very nice charter coaches, just like in the US, except most in the US have bathrooms.  We slept until about 4:30, when we arrived in Esmeraldas (the town Esmeraldas, in the province of Esmeraldas).

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Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 2, Part 2 in Ecuador

Day 13

This was an interesting day, and another one that made me want to go home.

We had cream cheese for our bread this morning, which was different. We talked about legends/stories in class today.  Ecuador has lots of stories.  For anyone super interested, there are YouTube videos on them.  We discussed: El Gallo de la Catedral, La Casa 1028,  La Leyenda de la Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia del Robo.  We also discussed the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, here in Ecuador, as it’s different than it is in Mexico. It’s hard to discuss the United States, because it’s so much larger than Ecuador.  Most of our legends/stories are either local, or stolen/borrowed from other cultures.

After class, Jason and I found the market!  We had awesome (fried?) pork and talked politics.

This is the point in which I’m going to keep most details to myself… I wanted to go to a medical clinic after lunch.  It wasn’t a big deal, but I thought I might need some lightweight antibiotics.  Jason offered to go with me, being the world-class nurse that he is.  It ended up being a really rough, 3 hour, $40 experience.  Without Jason, I’d have absolutely lost my mind.  Clinics are supposedly cheap here, which it was, minus the extra charges they nailed me with, but it wasn’t a good experience for me.  They had no clue what was going on, and tried to prescribe me medications for just about any possible scenario in this situation.  Jason and I talked and, bless this man, we figured out a plan without the doctors.

So, with my being emotional and exhausted and frustrated, it was time for salsa lessons.  This was a good distraction, but I was quite tired.  I was partnered with Jason this time.  I have a bit of salsa experience, and Jason had dance experience and had been to lessons for several weeks already, so we had a blast.  I don’t think the instructor liked us much because we moved on ahead of the class, but we had a great time.

Dinner at the house was good, but it marked the beginning of our complicated relationships with potatoes.  We eat lots of potatoes here, which is lovely, but it can get overwhelming.  Tonight, we had potato soup, as usual.  Then we had mashed potatoes flavored with peanuts, with a boiled egg and some cheese on top.  And juice, of course.  It was great food, but after this meal, all three of us students became very overwhelmed by potatoes.

After dancing, I felt better, but I was incredibly frustrated and exhausted, not to mention that my stomach, while much much better, was still not 100%. I had my mini-trip scheduled for the next week.  Part of me wanted to go, to get out of Quito for a while.  Part of me felt unprepared to leave Quito.  Part of me wanted to go home.  Again, obviously there were no plane tickets purchased this night.

Day 14

NEW FRUIT!  With our bread and ham, we had these strange little fruits today.  They’re small, round, and orange.  They taste like a sour tomato, but it’s not a bad taste… I love all of the different fruits that they have here!  There’s so many, and they’re all so fresh.

In class today, we worked on commands.  I worked on commands very early in my Spanish career, and really haven’t used them except the basic ones that I have memorized.  This is the type of thing I love about my classes here: filling in the gaps.  Technically, I’ve seen all of the tenses, but I sure can’t use or remember them all.  Then we showed each other card games from our countries to practice using the commands.

Jason’s family, that was supposed to arrive last night, was still stuck in Texas.  The weather there has been horrible.  Between that, the icky weather this week, and my stress, we were all pretty worn out and not ready to visit another church or museum.  Instead, we decided to do familiar things today, starting with food.  We went to the Italian cafeteria that we like a lot.  I got pizza, Jason got spaghetti, and Fred got a burger.  Jason and I also got chocolate milkshakes, because why not?  Then we got dessert from the bakery.  Jason and Fred got chocolate bread, I got a fruit tart that was delicious.  We then decided to go to the movies, so we took the bus allll the way to the south of the city, where there is a shopping mall with a movie theatre.  We saw the Jungle Book, El Libro de la Selva, in Spanish of course.  The seats were comfy and it almost felt like home.  It was a lovely way to relax for a few hours.

Dinner at the house was soup with some sort of grain, then fried eggs with rice, carrots and green beans, and a dessert similar to a watery rice pudding.  And, tonight, we finally got our laundry back!!

I also added pictures of my room and bathroom, in case anyone is just dying to know how my room is.

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Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 2, part 1 in Ecuador

I had a rough week, and would have preferred to be at home with my family, but I survived it!

Day 7

We didn’t have classes today; the city basically shuts down (schools, some jobs) to promote travel and tourism for the independence holiday that was a few days ago.  The two other students in the house and I met up with two other students to take the bus north.  We got off of the bus close to the soccer stadium, which I cannot wait to visit in late June to see a game.  Our gameplan was to check out Parque Metropolitano, one of the largest parks in Quito.  I was super excited, but ran into some troubles.

Background info: my tummy was upset from the time I got up in the morning.  It seemed to be stable enough to go out and about, and I didn’t want to miss out on spending time with the group and seeing the park.  Walking up the streets, and then the hills to get to the main part of the park was rough, though.  I’d only been in Quito for a week, and it became very apparent that I was not accustomed to the altitude yet.  My asthma set in, worse than it’d been in a while.  I was fine (as in not actually dying), and everyone was incredibly patient with me, stopping every few blocks for me to catch my breath.

It was a beautiful walk up, and the park at the top was full of families and dogs enjoying themselves.  I excused myself to settle my tummy, and then the others decided to do a walk/hike.  I decided to sit under a tree and enjoy the weather while they did that, which was a nice break.  There were lots of street dogs, as well as lots of pet dogs.  Later, I found out that there is a dog park, too, which explains the incredible amount of dogs!  My friends did manage to locate three llamas on their walk; supposedly there is a whole herd in this large park.  We bought fresh juice for some quick energy, and walked back down, which made me feel much better.  More oxygen, less exertion, etc…

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I picked at my lunch, and my tummy grumbled more…  We walked around the familiar part of town for a while, which was nice.  The three of us girls were going to get our nails done, but I passed because the line was so long.  Jason and Julia went to start celebrating Julia’s last night, and those of us from the same house came back for dinner.

When we got to the house, I instantly got the chills and my stomach practically turned itself inside out, which was quite unpleasant… I went downstairs for dinner, but quickly left with some bread and “feel better” wishes from the family.  Sadly, I could not go to celebrate Julia’s last night, and I spent the night trying to sleep and dealing with my fever and upset stomach.

Day 8

Unfortunately, I was sick all day this day.  I cycled between chills and sweats all night, and lost lots of fluids because of the state of my stomach.  The family was very sweet; they gave me more bread to munch on, since I couldn’t eat much.  There’s a tea for everything here, so they mixed an oregano tea bag and one of apple and honey, which they said should help.  It didn’t make it worse, that I do know.  I went back to bed for the day, and only left to gingerly walk down the street and buy some Sprite.  Mom knows best, and she always gives us flat Sprite when we’re sick at home.  Rob also gave me a rehydration packet, which I think is mostly salt, that you mix with water- it’s supposed to help you regain electrolytes.  I made it to dinner long enough to eat a bit of soup, and some eggs mixed with rice.  The family also gave me a pill for stomach ache, which I do think helped some.  My tummy continued to twist and turn, however, and it was another long night…

I knew that this meant I couldn’t go on my excursion to the Quilotoa crater lake the next day, which made me sad, but there wasn’t much to do about it.  Sadly, I have no pictures for this day.

Day 9

The night was still not great, but my fever clearly went down, which allowed me to sleep more comfortable between trips to the bathroom.  The family asked, the other students asked, my parents asked, and I still don’t know what made me sick.  I don’t think it was food.  I believe that I just caught a nasty bug, started getting sick on Friday, and the activity just set it off Friday night.

I ate my bread and drank my oregano tea for breakfast, and the family gave me more medicine.  They gave me more of the one, for stomach pain, and another for, well, diarrhea, which helped lots.  Thankfully, they gave me enough for the day, so that I didn’t have to buy more until the next day.

**FOR FUTURE TRAVELERS: The medicines I took were Sertal, for stomach pain, and Diaren, for diarrhea.  Neither are sold in the USA, but they were lifesavers!!  You can buy them at any pharmacy, and I bought 18 of one and 20 of the other for like $9.50.  I talked with Jason, who’s a nurse, to make sure they’re safe to take together, and he said they’re really good medicines.  Between the two, they had an antibiotic that only works in your gut, meaning that it doesn’t work in the rest of your body unnecessarily.  There was also an antispasmodic, which means that it calms the movements of your gut and helps keep you out of the bathroom, which I desperately needed.  I read reviews of them, and there are people who have these medicines sent to the States by family in Latin America; they claim that they work better than anything they’ve been given in the States.  They weren’t a miracle, but they’re worth knowing about, as I couldn’t find Imodium in the pharmacies here.

I was able to sit up and watch movies today, and talk to Mom and Dad on the phone.  At this point, I really wanted to go home.  I was concerned about becoming dehydrated and I was scared that I’d get sick again in the future, an experience that I’d rather not repeat…

Obviously, I didn’t buy any plane tickets home, but I was definitely homesick.  I ate my soup for dinner, and tried to sleep enough to feel better, as we had class the next morning.  Sadly, I don’t have photos for this day either, besides this one.

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Day 10

I slept!  I was only up twice, and I slept like a normal human being.  This, plus the medicines that I was taking, made me feel better.  The housemate who I usually walk with had afternoon classes, so I bought more medicines and Gatorade, and then took a taxi to school.  Usually we walk, but I didn’t want to upset my stomach on the walk and be in a bad situation.

Jason, my saving grace during this week, went to eat with me after class.  He checked out my medicines, and told me that I probably just had Montezuma’s Revenge (aka: Latin American traveler’s diarrhea).  Harmful: not really.  Miserable: definitely.  We went to a Chinese restaurant, where I ate Chinese chicken soup.  Not quite like Mom’s, but it was easy on my stomach.

I took another taxi back to the house, and the driver was my favorite so far.  He asked me lots of questions, was very welcoming and interested in my life and why I’m here.  I managed to eat some of all of my dinner: soup, broccoli, and an omelette.  Being able to eat more helped me feel better, too, but it took several days to be able to eat as much as my appetite demanded.

Day 11

Feeling even MORE human!!  And I even got jelly with my bread again, so I guess the family thinks that I’ll live, too.  My teacher was in the hospital today, she hurt her back it sounds like.  Because of this, my classes got moved to the afternoon with another student and a different teacher. I went back to bed for a while, then decided to be productive.

The family does our laundry once a week, but the rain had thrown off the schedule.  It rained yesterday, and the laundry got wet, so they couldn’t wash ours today.  Plus, they didn’t do my laundry my first week since I’d only been there for a few days. Sparing the details, I was short on undies.  Really short.  So I took my shower, and washed them in the shower, since there isn’t hot water for the sink.

After a quick stop at the supermarket, I met with two other students for lunch.  We went to an awesome vegetarian restaurant close to school.  They have a restaurant, or a market-type option.  The food is set out, and you bring it to them to either cook or warm up.  I had vegetarian lasagna, with noodles and tofu (maybe sausage, couldn’t tell) and a fantastic sauce, and I’ll be going back for an apple turnover another time as well.

Class was fun, as the other student and I are at different levels of Spanish.  To benefit both of us, we watched music videos and Family Feud, or 100 Latinos Dicen (100 Latinos Say).  We talked lots and it was light on grammar, which is always a welcome break.  We also had an excuse to take a taxi back to the house: it was raining.  Dinner was delicious, as always, with tomato soup, rice and beans, and juice.  The family says juice is bad for the stomach when you’ve been sick, and I would agree with that, so I still can’t have my juice for dessert.

Day 12

Breakfast was bread with a slice of ham (I can’t have my fruit, either).  We don’t deviate from our usual foods for breakfast, sometimes there’s cheese too, or sometimes bologna. The fruit changes too, but the plan is the same.

My professor was back today, with a cold and a hurt back, poor woman… She was a trooper!  Today was a tasting day, the topic was sweets.  I had to buy Espumilla to share, which is similar-ish to a whipped cream.  It’s made by whipping together, by hand or machine, guava, eggs, and sugar.  It’s usually served with sprinkles and blackberry sauce, and it’s pretty cheap. I bought a cup for $0.50.   There were chocolates, saltier treats, and liquor-filled candies (strange, I know).  Hide those candies from the kids, folks.

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We couldn’t manage to find the market we wanted to eat at, so we ate at a chicken restaurant instead.  The roasted chicken, soup, and rice were delicious.  They also served a boiled potato (very typical), with mayonnaise on top.  I didn’t like that as much, I prefer cheese sauce on my boiled potatoes.  Fred and Jason went to check out some volunteer opportunities, and I went to buy some things I needed.  With the current laundry crisis, plus being sick (which makes fabric smell like germs), I needed more pants to sleep in.  I found a lovely store that sells these neat pants for $5, they’re super soft and I could wear them out during the day, too.  I also bought more socks and an umbrella, both for obvious reasons.

The rest of the night was uneventful, for the most part.