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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Day 42

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

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

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


Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 5, Otavalo

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

Day 36

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

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

AH 07.17.01

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


Day 37

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!!

Kristen, Student Blogger: Milan

I arrived in Milan Thursday morning to meet up with my friend, Britney, and her family. The train took me straight from Torino’s central station to Milan’s. It is amazing how the train has become so easy and fast to use, rather than driving and flying. It is not always the most comfortable or great-smelling, but definitely fast and convenient. I think I’m really going to consider more use of America’s public transportation, instead of my car, when I get back in the states.  Britney’s mom needed to order some train tickets so Britney and I headed back to the hotel. Unfortunately, we forgot the room key so we got to hang out in the hallway catching up with each other for a half hour. After getting ready we headed out for the city of Milan. We were staying a 7 minute walk from one of Milan’s most famous site to see, the Duomo. Well, we accidentally went the wrong way and walked the opposite way of the Duomo and into the middle of a castle within 2 minutes. We then walked into a huge park that ended with an arch leading into the rest of the city.

Also located in Milan is Da Vinci’s Last Supper. We headed towards there in hopes to get in. Too bad, we were informed that we should’ve bought tickets to see his art weeks in advance, Therefore, we only got to see the outside of the church. Finally, we made our way back to finding the Duomo afterward. The line to get in was very long so we decided we’d get tickets to see the inside and the top of it the next morning. There were many restaurants located on the top of roofs right next to the Duomo, so Britney’s mom snuck in and got us a table. We happened to hit aperitivo time, which gives you free appetizers when you buy a drink. It’s weird to see, but we noticed what looked like high schoolers drinking at the bar too. As the drinking age is only 18, it was actually probably okay to do.

Afterwards, we got ready to head down to the river at night, which is what the landlord suggested we do. It was one of the coolest, younger scenes I’ve seen in Italy. There were huge crowds just gathered around the river. Given that it was the middle of the Euro Cup, a huge screen projection was set up for the crowds to watch the game. In the water, skiers were going by too. We found a nice little restaurant on a corner to eat and split meals. We were there pretty late and one of the last people in the restaurant, as Britney insisted on learning some Italian from the waiter. Britney knows quite a bit of Spanish so she actually wasn’t too bad at picking up most of the words.


The next day we headed to the Duomo with both of her parents where we were able to go on the roof. From the roof we could look over the whole city, which seemed never ending. We decided later we’d come back and go on the inside since the line was so long. We then walked through Milan’s famous fashion streets. On these streets there were highly known brands like Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Tiffany & Co., and Dolce & Gabbana.

Our next adventure consisted of trying to find Da Vinci’s famous horse. Britney had covered the creation of the horse in class so her kids had insisted that she find it. The horse was on the other side of the city, so a metro was definitely necessary for the trip. Once out walking towards it, we found ourselves walking around a huge horse racing track. We had been walking for about 25 minutes before we realized we had taken the wrong way around the track. Americans really takes for granted their gigabytes of data when not having the ability to have the maps app open looking for directions constantly. Well by the point we got to, it didn’t seem worth it to turn around so we kept going around the outside wall of the track to the other side. Britney’s mom is a really big fan of horses, so when we got to the other side and realized there was an actual horse race going on, it was necessary to stop. It was only a 1€ entry fee and another race was about to begin in 20 minutes. Perfect timing! What an experience to just stop in on a horse race in Milan and cheer on some horses. Da Vinci’s horse was right next to the stadium when the race was done. He had started the project for the Duke of Milan but during times of war and studying of horses, Leonardo Da Vinci did not finish the project. Through the help of a group of people dedicated to the expertise that Da Vinci had, they were brought together to finish the horse. This information all came from our little tour guide, Britney!


After the horse races, we headed back to the Duomo one last time for a look inside. The line was much less. It was weird, a church service was actually going on when we went in.  So, a service was going on in the front and people were also in the confession rooms on the side. We then went back to cleaned up and got ready for a last dinner in Milan. We headed for the street, Via Brera, where it was filled with a bunch of Italian restaurants. How someone picks the perfect restaurant, when there are tons of waiters in the street begging you to look at their menu, offering somewhat similar food, with a slightly different variety and half of it not in English, I will never know. We picked a great one though! The more you order the more free things that come along with it. So we got tons of classic Italian foods, with wines, pastas, bruschetta, zucchini, and bread. Definitely, was one of the most classic Italian meals that I’ve had in Italy.

It was so nice to just be able to relax for weekend and catch up with a friend. She will be a friend that I can share the memory with for a long time as we both will be together and have jobs in Chicago starting in September!

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.


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.


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)


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.


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.