Today, Amanda, Emily, and I went to Mitad del Mundo, which translates into “Middle of the World.” We went to the equator!
I had seen everyone else’s photos on Facebook from the Mitad, so honestly I was not that excited to go. A big secret down here is that the monument that I went to today is actually not the real equator. It’s just the monument. The actual equator is about a mile away. We were too lazy to take the one mile walk, so this is what you get!
We had a nice lunch and walked around and saw all the little stores and tourists. Who can say they have been in both hemispheres at the same time…kind of?
Just 2 hours away from Quito by bus, Otavalo market is a busy bustling maze of arts, fruits, vegetables, hats, clothing, jewelry, and the list goes on. Otavalo is one of the most visited destinations in Ecuador, and seeing that I have been here over a month now, it was time to go!
A group of 9 of us decided to go last Saturday. Saturday is the best day, because every other day it is just located within a plaza, but on Saturday it’s literally down all the side streets of the plaza as far as the eye can see. Lots of bargaining and negotiation tactics are useful at a place like this. And most items are relatively cheap!
I think the best part about Otavalo was the hats. Hats for days! They aren’t just normal hats There are hats that look like any animal or character you can think of. I even saw a hat embroidered with Simba. Interesting. I have about 5 pictures of myself in different hats. Here is one of I’m guessing a Bert or Ernie hat.
Another cool thing the food. There were tons and tons of vendors cooking up some sort of Ecuadorian food. Some of which looked very appetizing, while some did not…
We stopped for ice cream… twice. How could we not? It was homemade and amazingly delicious. We also found a lot of cool and interesting items. We came across the littlest plastic bag we’ve ever seen. Including handles! Thanks to our model Abby!
Otavalo market was a great experience. I wasn’t really prepared to be so overwhelmed with stuff and the huge size of the market, but I loved it. I want to go back… Christmas is coming up you know! It makes for great gifts! I will be retuning closer to my homecoming, to stock up on some more gifts. 🙂
The most anticipated jungle edition is hot of the press! Two weekends ago, my procrastination still applies to this blog, Emily, Amanda, and I went to Yacuma Ecolodge, in the province of Napo. It’s in the Oriente the jungle, or should I say the freaking Amazon Jungle, is dissected by its many rivers and branches of rivers. It looks just how anyone would expect the Amazon Jungle to look like.
We left early Friday morning, early meaning 5 am, and set off on our journey. We picked up another couple from Spain who would be joining us for the weekend and headed to the bus station in South Quito. We hopped on a bus, hoping and praying that it wouldn’t be full, so that we could use up two seats instead of one for this 5½-hour ride across the mountains. I slept on an off, but was able to see a lot of cool things along the way; waterfalls, puppies, baby llamas, mountain towns, cows perched on sides of mountains, etc.
We made it to Tena, a bigger city further east, and met with a staff member from the lodge. We ate lunch and ice cream, and then hopped on another bus. This time the bus situation was a little different. School kids flooded the bus to stand in the aisle after everyone had their seats. It was literally a can of sardines. The aisle spill over just leans on all the seated people. Not too comfortable if you ask me. I’m also going to say that it was probably 85% humidity and 80 degrees. The bus was a sweatbox.
After this LONG, ride of 3½ hours, I accentuate long because we all ran out of water and the dust from the dirt roads was just flowing in the windows furthermore drying out our throats and lungs, we got off the bus and hopped into a motorized canoe! How cool! The river water was really low, due to the long dry season this year, so at a few parts some of the guys got out to push and pull the boat over the bottom of the river.
We had finally made it… almost 12 hours later! Yikes! We were greeted by two coatis and some iced tea that the indigenous people from the Amazon drink. The indigenous wake up around 3 or 4 am to drink this tea. It helps them think about their life and goals for the day. It’s basically a day starter, for all you coffee people out there.
After that we got settled into our cabina, and were slowly imprinted on a baby orphan monkey. His name was NeNe and he was incredibly cute, minus the monkey poo that he got all over us the first day. Emily did not like the monkey baby at all.
The next day we started off with a 3-hour hike through the jungle, with boots and all, to look at plants and their uses. We had a little indigenous man as our guide, while we tromped through mud, rivers and little trails. I took way too many photos the jungle and plants. We saw lots of mushrooms, butterflies, flowers, fruits, and trees I had never seen before. We heard lots of birds native to the jungle and even saw a tree with a bunch of nests hanging down from them.
We returned, ate lunch, and relaxed. Later on in the day, we went on another hike to the other side of the river. We saw the guides home and visited a shaman. It was really interesting. We also learned a lot about cacao, which is one of the biggest exports here in Ecuador. Ecuador exports the most cacao in the world. We also saw a little tiny school for 14 kids. They learn both Spanish and Quichwa, the indigenous language. The school reminded me of Honduras! We hiked back, spent some time with the monkey and enjoyed dinner. After dinner, they brought out canelazo, which is a drink native to Ecuador. I really couldn’t tell you what’s in it, but it kind of tastes like hot apple cider, with some type of alcohol.
The next day we were up and on our way! This journey was a little bit shorter, by 4 hours! Thank god! Along the way, our bus was stopped by a military checkpoint. We had to get out and show our documents and they searched our bags. Lula says its just part of the military protection against drugs and immigrants. After that hiccup, we were home! I would say that was a pretty amazing weekend. 20 hours of travel for one awesome day of jungle. I like that tradeoff!
Two weekends ago, a group of friends and I went to the top of Pichincha Mountain, by means of the Teleférico. Teleférico is a gondola type cable car that departs from Quito, around 9,000 ft and travels to a point on the mountain around 13,000 ft. From there you can hike around or even go to the very top of the mountain! That endeavor will be done soon! 🙂
We got to the top, like tourists we took a million pictures everywhere. On the ride up though, the gondola stopped, leaving us swaying in the wind at over 9,000 ft in the air. Now that was terrifying… Anyways the view made up for it!
We hiked around, enjoyed the view, and soon enough we were horse back riding. $9 for 45 minute guided tour of the surrounding volcanoes. It was amazing, but freezing. The people gave us panchos to wear for the duration of the ride. After a few scares of being bucked off my horse, we were back and eating some awesome street food, made right at the top of the mountain. Now that’s Ecua.
What a fun Sunday, and all done before 1pm!
On Sunday, Cinthya, Alex, their cousin Michael, and I decided to go to Parque Metropolitano with the crazy dog from next door. I don’t understand the name as the park is not metropolitan at all. It is literally a forest in some areas and open spaces of grass and statues. Looks kind of like The Hunger Games for those of you who saw the movie. I’m not ashamed. I saw it!
Anyways, we took Rex along with us. He is a nightmare in his caged area, and he’s a nightmare outside of his caged area. Being a nightmare and a German Shepherd; we were a disaster waiting to happen. We walked around the neighborhood for a little to maybe calm Rex down. Nothing really helped, until we hopped on the bus. Yes, Rex went on the bus. He was actually more calm on the bus than in the streets.
We made it into the park and slowly wandered off the concrete path, onto a smaller more forested trail. A lot of the trees were a bright yellow color, as if they had been painted, but they were naturally that bright. I forgot to get a picture of the trees specifically. Cinthya also showed me a plant they use here to help with colds and sinuses. It smelled really good!
Rex got a little frisky with Alex along the way. If you know what I mean. 😉
We walked a little bit further to a viewpoint of the valley, where my school is located. It’s on the east side of Quito. It was a really windy day, especially on the side of a mountain.
There were a ton of dogs running around, mostly which were Schnauzers. I thought that was pretty interesting. I think Schnauzers here are America’s Golden Retrievers or Yellow Labs. Only a dog lady would know! 😉
A little further down the trail I was greeted by a pleasant surprise!
I really wanted to pet and feed the llama, but I was a bit scared to be honest. They guys said that they spit and I was not looking to get a big luigi to the face. Cinthya told me they were nice and after facing the fears, I was feeding a llama!
Wow!! I got to feed a llama! Even thought it was tied up, it was still cool to do that. A little further down the hill there were more llamas, including babies. International baby animals are one of my weaknesses. (Ex: puppies in Honduras, tortugitas in Mexico, etc.) They looked like little Bambis, but llamas instead. Mom, don’t be mad if I capture one and bring it home!
After seeing the vegetation, mishaps with Rex, beautiful views of the valley, and llamas, I was exhausted! I bought a a delicious strawberry ice cream, while the other three ate a bean ceviche, which I was not fond of. When we finished our snacks we headed home sweet home. I’d say my Parque Metropolitano experience was a success. I even saw a turtle… kind of. 🙂
Leaving school on Thursday was just like any other day that week. Emily, Amanda, and I walked down to the green busses. We are slowly learning the bus systems here, but the green ones go back to where we need to be. They cost $0.25 each time you hop on a bus and it’s amazing. It’s probably one of my favorite parts about this city so far!
Back to the story. At each stop it’s common knowledge that someone is going to get on the bus and start selling something. Whether it be ice creams, peanuts, chocolates, or parasite protection pills. Yes, I just said parasite protection pills. Usually it is just little kids who get on and sell candy, but this time a man got on an whipped out a notebook filled with photos. Warning: The following maybe somewhat descriptive. He flipped through the pages of parasites and worms found in people. There were actual photos of parasites coming out of peoples’ behinds. It was unreal. The next thing you know he’s holding a tube with a parasitic worm in it! Que asco! (How gross!) My host family said that was a little weird, because mostly people just sell chocolate or some type of sweet. What an interesting bus ride home! Probably more to come!
In most cultures, eating and drinking are the two main reasons family and friends get together. In Ecuador and also Latin American areas, this trend continues to be the same. Last Sunday, I went with Lorena, Lula’s daughter, her husband, their kids, and Amanda to a BBQ for one of their friends, who happens to be from Argentina.
We pulled up to a huge complex and got settled into the downstairs clubhouse. Met the couple and their kids, then Lorena’s husband and the man started asking us questions about what types of meat we liked to eat. This was confusing to me. Apparently, the hosts to buy the food and meat once the guests start arriving. Say what? I guess it just follows along the Latin American time conception around here. In the United States, we want everything fast and ready and organized, but here, it’s probably the exact opposite. Disorganized, chaotic, and lack of time. Kind of like the busses here too, as another example.
More people started to show up, maybe about 12 total. Food was being prepared and the kids were running around. There was nothing we could do to help, so Amanda and I just sat out on the sunny patio and talked, because it was freezing everywhere else. In the back is Pinchincha Mountain, a famous mountain that you can take a cable car to the top, where there are restaurants, hiking trails, and horses.
Dinner was supposedly ready. I was thinking all the food would be ready at once and everyone would sit down. But yet again, more chaos. It looked like there wasn’t enough meat for everyone, but within 5 minutes another platter was brought out. First there was chicken, which was really delicious. I think it was seasoned with some sort of lime marinade. We had it with salad and some toasted bread. I was so full. Another tray of meat was brought into the room. Amanda and I just looked at each other and took a piece of pork to be a good guest. Oh my… the meat just kept coming. Then there was steak, Argentinian sausage, and chorizo. I literally had 5 different types of meat within 20 minutes. That’s got to be some kind of world record.
Lorena’s husband, who’s from Cuba, made some awesome Mojitos. The ingredients are a little different. Rum, Sprite, lime, and HierbaBuena. I don’t know what HierbaBuena is, but it’s not mint. They were served in these little teeny tiny cups, which someone would probably need around 8 to get a buzz. I only had 3, because I was stuffed full with meat. Apparently though they are really strong drinks, but you just can’t taste the alcohol.
We hung out for a while and played dominos with someone’s Grandpa, and then we headed home. I’d say that was a new experience for me and for my stomach!