Student Spotlight: Scott, Ireland and Northern Ireland, Part 3

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Today went to visit the Navy base in Cobh. When we arrived we were greeted by commander Roberts. He took us upstairs to their conference room for some tea and coffee. We talked about numerous things such as gun control and politics. This trip has really opened my eyes about how much people actually keep up with what is going on in America. He then sets us up with one of his officers for a tour of “Fox Island”, which is the Naval Base for Ireland. We got to see one of their battle ships which was awesome! We got to see where all their ammunition is stored, as well as, simulators of their equipment. We then went to the dining room where they served us a complimentary delicious steak and salad lunch. We then wandered around Cobh for a while until it was time to go back to Cork for dinner.

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Student Spotlight: Scott, Ireland and Northern Ireland, Part 2

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Today went to Galway. On the way we stopped in a town called Sligo. I have started noticing more Gaelic writing as we have driving, since we are no longer in Northern Ireland. In Sligo we got to visit and tour the Sligo Abbey. The church has a sad story. It has been through many fires and a horrible plague, which caused Ireland to lose an extreme number of people in not just deaths, but people who fled Ireland. The church was also used during the Viking era. We then reached Galway, which is a town full of rich history. It is a young, traditional, and busy city. Today we got to meet some other travelers and talk with them, but then we mostly rested after having had such a busy day.

Student Spotlight: Scott, Ireland and Northern Ireland, Part 1

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May 12th, 2016

This morning we had breakfast in the hotel around 8:30AM. We then got ready for a tour at the Queens University. It is an extremely old university (1848). There was an extreme number of inventors that thrived from the Queens University. We then walked to the city hall at noon to further out knowledge of Belfast’s past political conflicts. We then went to a bar known as the “Perch”. It was a rooftop open area with a bar. It had a lot of colorful flowers. After a few hours of conversing we got ready to meet with our air coach at the hotel. As well as our tour guide of the “peace wall”. We drove beyond the downtown Belfast area. To the “suburbs”, and unfortunately there were no good stories. Ireland has terrible relations with the Republics and Unionists. There were terrible shootings and tragedies at almost every corner. We got to see the differences of both sides because only one street separate’s them. They literally put a “Peace Wall” dividing the two reducing the amount of crime. Whenever there are problems the police close the gates. People were commonly wrongfully detained in prison (Belfast Prison). This was an extremely interesting day.

Kristen, Student Blogger: Weekend in Greece, Part 1

ΔΙεθνής- Athens

Weekend in Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 8, Cuenca

Day 49

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

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

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

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

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Day 50

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 51

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

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

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

Day 52

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

Day 53

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

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

Day 54

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

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

Day 55

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

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

Day 56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 57

I’M GOING HOME!!

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

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

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

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

 

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 7

Day 45

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

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

Day 46

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

Day 47

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

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

Day 48

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

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

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

Day 49

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

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 6, Mindo

Day 43

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

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

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

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

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

Day 44

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

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

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

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

Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 6

Day 38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 39

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

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

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

Day 40

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

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

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

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

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Day 41

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

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

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

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Day 42

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

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

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

 

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.