Thursday, November 29, 2007

Family meets Family!

Stopping for lunch with my host mom and family
At the equator line
Host family and family united
Life's a beach in Puerto Lopez
Thanksgiving dinner and much to be thankful for!

Last week I was able to host Mom, Dad, and Christa as they visited Ecuador (and me) for Thanksgiving Break. It was so great to catch up with them- learning what everyone has been up to the last 3 months, and also being able to share a little bit of my Ecuadorian life with them.

My family arrived late last Saturday night. Sunday found us up early and traveling with my host mom to Otavalo, to visit the market. It was so fun to be there with my family and Lorenita as Lorenita was a great barterer and made the whole experience more fun. The whole day was quite an event- traveling to one of the marked equator lines, eating Biscochos in Cayambe and visiting Cuicocha- or Lake of the Gods. All in all is was a fun day for all of us to see new things.

Monday we ventured to the center of the world- Mitad del Mundo and we also visited the "unofficial" correct equator line and museum. We enjoyed seeing baby guinea pigs, a large boa, and shrunken heads here after seeing many displays of why this equator line was the "real deal". Christa spent the rest of the day in classes with me as Mom and Dad decided to trek the city, and specifically Old Town together. My family and my host mom and sisters shared a great meal together. It was weird for me to hear my host family speaking English for the first time.

Tuesday we departed early for Puerto Lopez where we set up camp in a beautiful Hostal dedicated to whale preservation. The gardens here were immaculate and the food was great. We spent most of Tuesday enjoying the beach-front hammock cabanas.

Wednesday we ventured to Isla de la Plata- or Silver Island. It was incredible to see Blue Footed Boobies and Frigate Birds. Each were nesting- providing us with opportunities to see birds nesting on eggs and hatchlings. Bird heaven again!

Thursday we spent a lot of time walking the town and beach (as we did everyday). We flew back to Quito to spend Thanksgiving dinner watching the sunset over Quito, eating too much food, and reflecting on our many reasons to be thankful.

Friday morning we visited the Botanical Garden and Parque de Carolina before doing some shopping and touring of the city. Christa and I hit the town Friday night before returning to my apartment to pack luggage.

All in all a great visit... check out photos here

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hiking to Ecuador's blue lagoon, eating guinea pig, and crashing weddings

This weekend I traveled to Quilotoa, a beautiful town perched atop a mountain that erupted in the late 1700s and has since been filled with water. The town is home to few- perhaps 150 people- with the central attraction being the lagoon filled crater. The members of my culture class and I were warmly welcomed- though that was the only warm thing about our stay. At 4,000 meters above sea level I was glad that I packed my long underwear, gloves, and winter hat. Our hostal was heated by a wood burning stove which kept us warm for most of the evening (until I woke up too late my shift of stoking the fire in the middle of the night).

Saturday was spent taking in the landscape, visiting a local market (if you want to purchase a cow head I know where to go...), enjoying a long walk with my friend Cammie, listening to community members speak of their efforts in developing tourism to the area, visiting with local artisans, staying warm near the fire, and dancing to the sounds of local musicians. We had a poor view of the lagoon as we arrived after the clouds had. A very peaceful setting for conversation and enjoying the setting.

Sunday we awoke in a chilly cabin to find that the sun was shining and we had a great view of the lagoon! Clad in long underwear, hat, and gloves I began my descent with friends to the center of the crater. I soon found that the long underwear, hat, and gloves weren't necessary and my friends and I ended up stripping along the way. This is a crazy aspect of weather in the sierras- you can often experience 3 "seasons" of weather everyday. So at 9 am I found I was getting sunburned and overheated when hours before I was shivering beneath my covers. The view on the hike was incredible- and though photos don't do it justice I will direct you there to get a better idea of the setting.

After a long, and slow ascent we left the crater, and then Quilotoa and began to make our way back to Quito. The voyage was long, with a stop in a very small town called Casa Quemada- or Burnt House. It was here that we met the family of our professor's godchild. We were welcomed to their home, and into their kitchen where the wife was preparing fried cuy- or guinea pig. I was surprised to see the kitchen filled with 25 or so live cuys onlooking the cooking of their relative. Guinea pig is a common food in the sierras, and I've been meaning to try it. The meat was good, though it was hard to hold onto the paw and eat it knowing so many friends keep them as pets.

There was also a wedding in Casa Quemada. In towns such as this it is common to invite the entire town to the wedding. We arrived just in time for the dance to the music of the local brass band. The bride was 16 years old and the groom 19- standard for Ecuadorian standards. In fact my professor told me that I 23 years of age I'd be considered a spinster! It was fun to observe the wedding festivities before returning to Quito.

Now the countdown begins to my family's visit this coming week (4 days!)... I'm looking forward to hosting their visit and sharing with them this country I have come to love!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Amazon Amazes...

Halloween with Malory and Diana

Reuniting with Kelsey from Wapo!

Deep roots in the Amazon!

Conga Ants... watch out!

Toucan Sam at a riverside pool

Last week was full of reunions. Steve Parsons, a fellow member of Wooddale Lutheran Church, is in the area and stopped here in Quito before continuing onto the Galapagos. It was fun to share a meal of Indian food with him in the Mariscal and hear of his recent volunteering and work in Costa Rica as well as his last few months of South American travels. I spent a lot of time with Luther friend Malory out and about the town, and also had another chance to meet with friend and former Wapo co-worker Kelsey. It's a small world after all, and Ecuador seems to be the place to be.

For Halloween I met Paul and Malory and went out dancing. We had a great time and I was again reminded of how small the world can be as I saw a friend that Brooks and I made while canyoning in Banos and also two guys I had met last weekend in Mindo. I was dressed as Jefferson Perez, 3 time World champion race walker from Ecuador. Mal, who was dressed at Mexican TV sensation Chilindrina, and I carved a "pumpkin" that was really an unidentifiable green vegetable before going out for the night.

This weekend I went to the Amazon. I stayed at Tiputini Research Station- where my freshman roommate Jenna stayed for part of J-term last year. I was in birdwatching heaven here. We traveled in small groups through the forest and saw many birds, animals, and insects. Unfortunately at two points on one of our hikes I had two Conga Ants crawling on my back. These are very dangerous ants, about 1.5 inches long. Receiving a bite from one of these ants will send you to the hospital (which is over 6 hours of traveling via boats and bus away from the station)! I was freaking out once I became aware that the ants were by my neck- think screaming and wild thrashing in the middle of the rainforest. This was all involuntary- my guide told me I made the ants very mad, but I don't know how else I could have handled the situation. In the end- no bite, so I'm thankful. I sought my revenge later my eating a tongue of lemon ants.

I did incur many mosquito bites though (even using Ultrathon repellent that serves me so well in the Boundary Waters). I forgot until I watched an insect presentation the last night that these mosquitoes can transmit bot fly eggs into your skin which emerge 5 or so days later as large larva. If you don't easily get the creepy-crawlies I suggest watching the following video. If you do get the creepy-crawlies and perhaps irrational fear of getting bot flies while reading this in the Midwest you can thank me and Andrew Varney.

Our guide was so informed- he has lived and worked at the station for 13 years. He had an incredible eye for spotting wildlife and was able to explain how many plants have been used in medicinal remedies.

All in all this was in incredible trip! Again- bird watching heaven for me- especially watching Macaws from an observation tower. I saw a gaggle of 9 or so pairs of Scarlet Macaws flying together (they are incredibly faithful partners), also Blue- Green Macaws. In all I saw over 35 different bird varieties. Clay, Tariq, Becca and I shared our deck with a large tarantula (which thankfully never entered our cabin)! I observed Saki, Howler, Squirrel, Woolly, and Pgymy Marmoset monkeys. We also swam down the Tiputini River, amongst caymanes (small aligators), piranhas, anaconda snakes, and crabs. Luckily we only saw caymanes while we were in the boat... and the crab swimming beside us left us alone.

This is such a crazy life, and again I am grateful for these crazy opportunities!