{an afternoon at the finca}

Everyday we are responsible for our own lunches and get to venture out into town and find an almuerzo place. A traditional Ecuadorian almuerzo consists of a bowl of soup and a main plate of chicken or fish. Most of the almuerzo restaurants around town are really good, but there is one close to the university that is our favorite: ‘El Mas Querido’. The name “El Mas Querido’ literally translates to ‘The Most Liked/Wanted’ which is perfect because it really is, in my opinion, the best. Since we go to this restaurant everyday the owners of the restaurant have gotten to know us and come up and talk to us when we arrive.

Today one of the owners, Moises, invited us to his farm (finca) up in the highlands. The highlands are a completely different atmosphere compared to the main area of town; the air is less humid and it rains once a day, there is also green everywhere as ground cover and trees.

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The view from El Junco in the highlands

IMG_7440We took a taxi up into the highlands, rolled up a dirt road to the farm and were greeted by a group of cows and chickens.

Overall it only took $2 for the taxi there and back so it was totally worth it! Once we got to the farm Moises took us on a walk through all the different fields, showing us tricks to know when the fruits are ripe and answering all our questions about the various fruits we were finding. A lot of the fruits found here are completely different from anything you would find in the States; take guava for example, the texture is like eating straight cotton but it has a flavor that makes you want to keep eating it.

The inside of the guava fruit
The inside of the guava fruit
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Walking through the piña field

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One of my favorite things about Ecuador, and I know I’m going to miss when I come back is all the fresh fruit juice. Ecuadorians are able to take any fruit and whip it up into an incredible juice.

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Guanabana
The gourds from this tree were originally used to carry water

Once we had our backpacks full of fruit and our hands sticky with mango juice we headed back to the main part of the farm were we played volleyball with Moises’ son, Brian, and took pictures in an old tree. To take the picture we had to climb an old, rickety ladder and position ourselves in the tree so Brian could be our little photographer. Once we got up in the tree a few of the branches were in the way; Moises took out his machete and just started hacking away at the branches, we could feel the vibrations of the machete through the rest of the tree and held on tight so we didn’t fall to the ground. After we took all the pictures we needed we heard the honk of the taxi and we packed up our stuff to head back.

Not that I haven’t been loving the beach life, because I have, but the trip to the farm was perfect timing and just what I needed to switch up the island monotony, and proved to me that sometimes you have the most fun when you do something out of the ordinary.

León Dormido

One of the things I love about diving is how close you can get to the marine life
One of the things I love about diving is how close you can get to the marine life

I’ve always wanted to learn how to SCUBA dive and when I made it to San Cristobal I figured…when in the Galápagos, right?! And let me tell you, learning to SCUBA dive was one of the best decisions I’ve made while studying abroad, allowing me to enter even further into the underwater realm.

Getting ready to go on our first open water dive
Getting ready to go on our first open water dive

Besides being known for Darwin’s finches, the Galápagos Islands are known for having the most biodiversity in almost the entire world. Think about it, there is NO OTHER PLACE that has as many different species in one place. In fact, the Islands are considered to be one of the world’s best SCUBA and snorkeling destinations. I’ve gotten the privilege to dive twice at Kicker Rock, known to the locals as León Dormido.

The channel of Kicker Rock
The channel of Kicker Rock

Kicker Rock was originally a volcanic cone but has since been eroded from water, forming a channel that is perfect for diving and snorkeling. The channel is home to many species of fish and sharks including: scalloped hammerhead, Galápagos sharks, White-tip Reef sharks, and Black-tip Reef sharks. The scalloped hammerhead can be found throughout the archipelago in coastal areas, but you are almost guaranteed to see a Galápagos shark if you go to Kicker Rock.

A Galápagos Shark
A Galápagos Shark

Kicker Rock is also the perfect place to spot frigate birds and blue footed boobies nesting.

I still can’t believe that I have been on San Cristobal for over a month, I can’t wait to see my next few months have in store!! 🙂

yellow sea star
yellow sea star

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The shipwreck of Karanua
The shipwreck of Karanua

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Los Lobos (aka Sea Lion Paradise)

10001582_10153095984683659_2389182712484420833_nWe made it to the Galápagos Island of San Cristóbal (also known as Sea Lion capital of the world)! I’m still having a tough time comprehending that I have been abroad for a little over one month.
We left Quito a week days ago and taking a plane from the city of Quito to Guayaquil and from Guayaquil to the small airport of San Cristóbal. San Cristóbal is small in comparison to Santa Cruz with a population of only 6,000 people. So picture the population of Hope plus a couple thousand extra and you have all the people that live on this island. Oh and it also only takes 15 minutes to drive from one side of the island to the other.

A baby sea lion resting on the rocks
A baby sea lion resting on the rocks

Driving to campus we were greeted by a beautiful view of the ocean with pristine blue waters. That’s right, the beach is right across the street from our campus! Playa Mann is nicknamed Sea Lion Paradise because there are so many sea lions roaming around in the sand. The sea lions are so comfortable around humans, that they literally swim right up to you, going between your legs and right up to your face when you are snorkeling or diving in the ocean. They especially like the bubbles from your regulator when you’re diving. It’s one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. And let me tell you, there is nothing cuter than a baby sea lion, frolicking after another baby sea lion, in the sand.

For my Marine Life class we are responsible for coming up with a research project based on something we can observe on the island. My friend Kristi and I are looking into the familial relationships between sea lion pups and their mothers by studying how long the pups nurse, and how many pups are nursing at one time. The sea lions gave birth shortly before we came to the island so there are plenty of little pups running around. They communicate by barking at each other, resulting in the beach sounding like grunts and burps all day long (we can sometimes hear the lobos all the way from the university).

The sea lions love to play in the bubbles from your snorkel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playa Mann - the view from our campus
Playa Mann – the view from our campus
Yellowtailed Damselfish
Yellowtailed Damselfish

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Green Sea Turtle
Green Sea Turtle

 

Baby sea lions curled up at La Loberia
Baby sea lions curled up at La Loberia
The stingray we saw when we went snorkeling
The stingray we saw when we went snorkeling

~Otavalo Market~

It is impossible to visit Ecuador without also visiting the indigenous markets at Otavalo. Every Saturday, without fail, the streets are filled with indigenous men and women selling every article of clothing and fruit imaginable. Shouts of “amiga, compra esa” “chica, chica” “agua de coco, agua de coco” can be heard throughout the streets. The colors of the textiles were all so vibrant, in hues of reds, yellows, greens and blues; I wanted to buy everything I set my eyes on.  There was also fruit spread all across the tables: guanabana, plantain, grapes, naranja, maracuya, piña, mangos, coconuts…you name it and it was at the market. I was told that at the market you can barter for a lower price and I quickly had to learn the technique if I wanted the best deal for what I was getting.

By the end of our time at the market I had the softest pair of alpaca socks (they are actually made out of alpaca wool and have little alpacas knitted on to them), 5 woven headbands, a pair of ‘tropical pants’ (loose pants that are woven with different colors), and a beautifully hand painted wooden bowl with flowers and swirls, all for under $30! My friends and I were all also able to find string bracelets in the colors of the Ecuadorian flag – red, yellow and blue.

A glimpse of the center of the market. You might notice the woman on the left side of the screen dressed in the traditional clothing of the Otavalo region.
A glimpse of the center of the market. You might notice the woman on the left side of the screen dressed in the traditional clothing of the Otavalo region.
The woven Alpaca socks I bought at Otavalo
The woven Alpaca socks I bought at Otavalo

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The different headbands & bracelets made by hand
The different headbands & bracelets made by hand
The vibrant textiles that can be found at the market
The vibrant textiles that can be found at the market
The beautiful handcrafted wooden bowls
The beautiful handcrafted wooden bowls

In other words:

The highlands around Otavalo are known for their bizcochos. Bizcochos are similar to biscottis but are warm and served with Dulce de Leche (which is similar to caramel but sweeter). We stopped for breakfast at a restaurant that served bizcochos, eggs, fruit juice, hot chocolate and tea all for just $2 a person. During our breakfast we were serenaded by a group of men who played traditional indigenous music for us. During our day trip to Otavalo we also traveled to Las Cascades and Lago Cuicocha, where we got a chance to explore. Las Casadas and the Lago Cuicocha were absolutely breathtaking, and when the clouds lifted we were able to see for miles.

Well that’s all I have for now, I’m off to the coast of Ecuador until next Tuesday with my Techniques of Marine Research Class!

Las Cascadas
Las Cascadas
Lago Cuicocha
Lago Cuicocha
Lago Cuicocha got its name from all the wild 'cuy' (guinea pigs) that run around the area
Lago Cuicocha got its name from all the wild ‘cuy’ (guinea pigs) that run around the area

Bienvenidos

Well, it’s taken a few days but I think I am finally beginning to adjust to living in Ecuador. My last couple of days have been jam packed with orientation and exploring, of both Quito and Cumbayá, and I am loving every minute of it.

I flew into Quito last Saturday and I met some of the girls who would also be studying abroad through IES but would just be staying in Quito for the whole semester. Once I made it safely through customs, I was greeted by my host ‘mama’ Caty, and sister ‘Sofi’ holding a sign that read ‘Bienvenidos Baylie’ (aka ‘Welcome Baylie). Caty and Sofi drove me to their house where I will be spending the next month.

Since we didn’t start orientation until Monday, Sunday was a chance for all the IES students to get a chance to get to know their families a little better. My host family doesn’t know a lot of English so the first couple of hours trying to communicate was a bit of a struggle. I’m a Spanish major but I definitely overestimated my Spanish skills, and need to practice speaking more. Sofi showed me around the city of Cumbayá, before my host family and I headed to mass. I’ve never been to mass before, let alone in Spanish so it was a completely different experience for me. Most Hispanics are Catholic and attend mass regularly.

Study abroad orientation isn’t full of ice breakers like your typical college freshman orientation, but instead is a bunch of discussions about how to be safe in your new city, culture shock, how to deal with your host families, and information about the city and country itself. For lunch IES treated us to a wonderful four course meal, complete with all the different kinds of fruit juice imaginable and a view that is unparalleled. Three walls of the restaurant are windows so the entire time we were eating we could see the beauty of the mountains and of Quito.

That’s all I have for now.

Ciao.

This was the amazing view of Quito from the restaurant we ate at for the IES orientation.
A view of one of the many churches in Quito
A view of one of the many churches in Quito.