Monday, December 17, 2007

A Grand Adventure to Machu Picchu!

I am typing this entry from a Loki Backpackers Hostal in Cuzco, Peru. I am nearing the end of our journey to Machu Picchu and have lots to write about...

I am traveling with 3 friends from my program- Clay, Becca, and Tariq. Finals ended on Monday afternoon and by Monday night we were aboard a bus headed south to the Peruvian border. We learned early-on that counterfeited money is very common in Peru, and are finding that people are trying to take advantage of us (presuming we have lots of money) left and right. I wasn't used to this in Quito and am finding it hard to know who to trust.

Over 36 hours of bus travel finally brought us to Lima. I had considered studying abroad there and after a brief visit feel that Quito was a better fit for me. We stayed a great hostal where I enjoyed having 4 pet turtles.

From Lima we took various buses and taxis to Santa Maria, the nearest town to Aguas Calientes. We were all carsick and fearing for our lives when the rides were over and decided it would be better to be broke than broken and booked the Perurail for our return trip. Incredible views as we passed through the Andes yet again.

The journey from Santa Maria to Machu Picchu was adventuresome. Part hitchiking, part walking the train tracks. All in all a great way to stretch our legs and enjoy awesome scenery. We hiked to Aguas Calientes (3 hours) and the next morning to Machu Picchu entrance (1 hour of steep climbing). We arrived before the tour buses (at 5:55am) putting us in good postition to see the ruins before they were clobered with people.

Machu Picchu was beautiful. We had perfect weather which made the day that much more enjoyable (it's now the off season as it's the rainy season). However cliche it sounds it really was a dream come true to visit. I was surprised that there weren´t more tourists visiting- though again it was the rainy season. I especially enjoyed seeing the llamas or alpacas grazing the lands. It was fun to think about what life must have been like there over 500 years ago. There is still a lot of speculation about what Machu Picchu was actually used for- fortress, retreat for nobility, city, etc. I am inspired to do a lot of research to learn more. We also hiked to the Waynapicchu peak and had a great view of our walking path from the previous night as well as a great view of the city.

Despite problems with transportation and counterfeited money the trip was well worth it!

I found myself with a lot of time to reflect on this semester. There are many things I will miss about Ecuador including:

Fruits, fruit salads, fresh juices

Cheap fresh baked bread- easily accessible on every corner

Bus transport at $1 an hour

Patient and slow Spanish speakers

Convenience of using Metro Transit

The sun (in such close proximity)

The Mariscal- day or night

Sunny mornings lounging on the campus lawn at La Catolica

A very affordable lifestyle for a college student´s budget

Having time to read

Views of the Andes from the heart of Quito

I will also miss my family, friends, professors, and directors.

It is hard to believe this semester has come and gone... time flies when you´re having fun! I feel so blessed for this experience and doubly blessed to be so excited to return home to great friends and family in the States.

Hasta luego...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Perhaps the longest entry yet…

The streets of Cuenca

Markets stocked with fresh produce

Cajas National Park


With friends in Canar


I am continuing to reflect on the visit from my family and I am so grateful that there were able to visit! I’m glad they were able to experience a bit of life in Ecuador I am sure this semester will continue to influence my life in the years to come. It was fun for me to travel to the coast with them and experience new things there while also sharing some of my favorite places in Quito with them.

When the Cross Mark team welcomed visitors in Malawi I was excited for the chance to see the country with fresh eyes. My family brought fresh eyes and perspectives with them to Ecuador.

My dad was surprised that Quito was so cosmopolitan.
He also thought it was fairly dirty. Throughout my travels this has been a recurring theme: the sanitation of communities abroad. It’s all relative. Compared to Accra, Ghana, Quito is impeccably clean! Compared to most major U.S. cities... Quito is not so clean.

Mom mentioned how strange it was to assign tour guiding and itinerary planning to me.

I think Christa was surprised at how easily accessible Kinder Eggs (her favorite foreign chocolate with surprise inside) are here!

My family was, and I continue to be, surprised at how economic travel is within the country.
Hostals, meals, and transportation are all reasonably priced for most travelers visiting from the U.S. Our dollar goes far here.

Again- a great visit and opportunity to share many aspects of my Ecuadorian life with my family.


This past weekend I traveled to the south-central highlands to visit Cuenca- a quaint colonial city (3rd largest in Ecuador- and former capital). Cuenca is strikingly different from Quito as there are only a few buildings which stand taller than two stories and is easily manageable by foot. Cobblestone streets and an abundance of churches and parks make Cuenca a charming place to visit!

This was my last trip before traveling to Machu Picchu, Peru next week and was a good weekend to travel one last time in Ecuador with friends, Cammie and Hannah, from my program and FINALLY have a chance to travel with my Luther-friend Malory. Mal’s and my schedule have kept us from traveling on weekends together so we felt the trip was long overdue (last spring we had visions of traveling every weekend together)! It was great to spend time with her outside of Quito and also travel with her friends.

We were able to visit many local markets which boasted fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and even live rabbits and guinea pigs. There were many great opportunities for taking photographs and people watching. Other markets sold piggy banks, other ceramics, wooden kitchen utensils and woven rugs and baskets. It was a beautiful day and way to see the mix of local cultures.

Friday we hiked at Cajas National Park. We had great weather to trek through the thick paramo grasses and arrived at a rock ridge which provided us with a great view of the lakes in the valley below us. A beautiful park!

Malory loves dancing more than she loves life itself so we spent two nights at local bars dancing. We had a great time talking and dancing with the Cuencanos and listening to an incredible live salsa band.

I ate roasted cuy- or guinea pig in Cuenca for the first time. While traveling in Quilotoa I ate some fried cuy. I have to say I prefer it roasted. It really was great meat- and really well seasoned. We made a few friends at the restaurant that told us the crispy ears are the best part… I didn’t like the ears that much.

Sunday Malory and two of her friends and I traveled to Ingapirca- the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador. We enjoyed our adventure getting there as we were sidetracked in Canar by Quichua musicians and a beautiful market. A few local college students approached us and asked if we would like to tour their city with them. We spent a great afternoon chatting with them, visiting their town’s museum and walking through their market. The population of Canar is still 70% indigenous and it was incredible to see how the people are maintaining their culture in the face of globalization.

We arrived at Ingapirca to see the sunset and receive a free guided tour from a local man anxious to share his city with us (at this point it was obvious how proud these people are of where they come from and how generous they were too). The scene was beautiful. A fault of Ingapirca is that it was built in a valley and offered little protection for the Canaris/Incans while under attack, but logistics aside it was a beautiful location!

Yet another great trip!
I am still surprised at how diverse this country is!


While traveling in Cuenca I was reading “Banker to the Poor,” Muhammad Yunus’ book about the history of the Grameen Bank and his work with micro financing. I was hoping to finish the book by Monday as Malory, some of our friends, and I went to see him speak here in Quito. It was inspiring to hear him recount his story in front of a crowd of thousands- he has a humble spirit about him and speaks with a gentle voice.

I have been involved with getting a group of Luther students to invest in entrepreneurs seeking micro-credit loans and was reenergized by Yunus’ speech and call to eliminate poverty. If you are interested in learning more about Yunus’ work the book is a great start. You can also log onto and learn more about lending to an entrepreneur yourself.


This week those in Quito have been celebrating its foundation- or conquest and establishment by the Spanish in 1534.
The week is celebrated with bullfights, chiva rides, and general partying.

Tuesday I went to the toros- or bullfight with my friend Aaron and his host sisters.
I was excited for the experience though I wasn’t prepared. After the first of six bulls was killed I had tears welled up in my eyes and found myself questioning why I was there. I have a few friends who were conscientious objectors- stating the fights were too brutal to support with their time or money. After the first fight the bullfighter I came to see entered the ring- Sebastian Castella from France (most of the bullfighters are flown in from Spain). Castella is extremely attractive and made the fight seem like a dance. It seemed to me to be more respectful than the other fight. I also learned that all of the meat from the bulls is donated to those in need after the fights. That also made the fights easier to… stomach.

Yesterday I attended a soccer game between Liga and Nacional- two of the 6 teams in Quito.
I went with my host family- my host sisters cheer for Liga, and Lorenita, Chama (the dog) and I cheer for Nacional (actually it is hotly debated where Chama’s allegiance actually lies). I opted to wear my Nacional jersey- even though we were playing at Liga’s field and Liga is ranked 1 and we are ranked 5. I am not exaggerating when I say that of the 10,000+ people at the game I saw only 6 other people wearing Nacional clothing. I was lucky not to be harassed. The game ended 2-0 Liga which meant that they are this year’s champion.

The tradition is for the team and their thousands of fans to travel to the University (where the team was founded) to bathe in the fountain to celebrate the championship. My family and I made our way there, though I was under strict instructions to wear a jacket over my Nacional jersey. This did not stop fans from pouring beer and wine over my head though… so in the end we all left wet- Liga and Nacional fans alike.

It has been a fun week and great way to end my time in Quito and Ecuador at large. However, I think I have a case of food poisoning and my body is telling me to slow down. It is obvious that my time here is almost up, and I will be sad to leave.

More photos