Highlights of my time in Ecuador

Hola amigos, sadly my time in Ecuador has come to an end. However, for those of you who may be thinking about studying abroad (or just visiting Ecuador), I’ve compiled a list of highlights of my time abroad. If you visit Ecuador, some of these places should be on your list too!

  1. Amazonía – Tena & Misahuallí

  2. Baños
  3. Carnaval Weekend
  4. Centro Histórico de Quito
  5. Cotopaxi
  6. Enrique Iglesias Concert
  7. Mindo
  8. Mitad del Mundo
  9. Museos de Quito
  10. Quilotoa
  11. ¡Quito!

What I’ve Learned Through Study-Abroad

¡Hola amigos! With just a few more weeks left in this beautiful country, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on things I’ve learned, my growth, and how I’ve changed since arriving. While it’s difficult to name all of the ways I’ve changed (I’m sure to discover changes once I return to Holland), I’m going to try my best to generalize these changes so that all study-abroad students can relate.


 

PHYSICAL CHANGES

First of all, there will be physical changes after studying abroad. I’m near the equator, but no matter how much sunscreen I wear, I inevitably became more tan. If you’re used to living in a sunny climate and study abroad in a cloudier, sun-less climate then you’re likely to return to your home country with a paler, lighter complexion.

Next, depending on how well (or not) you eat in your host country, you’ll most likely either gain or lose weight.  At the beginning of our program, our directors told us that in most cases women tend to gain weight and men tend to lose weight. But all of that depends on how well you treat your body and your overall mental health. For example, if you’re having a hard time adapting to a new environment you might have a loss of appetite for new foods and lose weight.  Or you might have sleepless nights adjusting to the jet-lag and new sleeping sounds (for me, it was all of the cars honking and gas trucks beeping at 6 A.M. every morning).

Lastly, you might gain a new scar or two depending on the different adventures you embarked on in your host country. I have a ton of scabs on my legs that will eventually scar over from scratching all of my bug bites. If you’ve witnessed something traumatic in your host country, then you’ll likely be left with an emotional scar as well (this should be dealt with by seeking counseling provided by your host school or home school upon return to the U.S.). This leads me to the next set of changes…

MENTAL CHANGES

Studying abroad is one of the greatest ways to mature, grow in your knowledge of cultures beyond your own, and become open to new ways of thinking. Even if you travel to a country with a culture similar to your own (i.e. a mexicana studying abroad in América Latina… en Ecuador), you’ll still be able to learn more about your own culture and the new culture you’re immersed in.

In my own experience, I thought it would be easy studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country because of my Mexican background. What I learned is that although the two countries share many Latin American customs, they each have their own dialects and ways of thinking.

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Learning with my friends in an interactive museum on the equator

I’ve also found some similarities between United States culture and Ecuadorian culture, so I find that interesting as well. I think that because I come from a Latina background, I was able to adapt faster to the culture here than most of my other classmates who came from different backgrounds in the U.S.

Lastly, my classmates and I have changed mentally by learning about the history, environment, and language of this country, but we’ve learned most from the daily interactions we have with Ecuadorians. If it’s possible to stay at a homestay in your host country when studying abroad, I would highly encourage you to do so. You’ll be surprised how much you learn from your homestay family about the culture and from hearing about your classmates’ homestays. Plus, if your ideologies clash with theirs you’ll have a great opportunity to learn from a different perspective (but if you really can’t get along, you can always inform a program director and they can find a better homestay for you)!

SAFETY CHANGES

One amazing thing about living in the U.S. (and especially in Holland, MI) is that you usually aren’t concerned about your safety. We have awesome security forces that work to maintain our safety at all times. Living in a country where security can be an issue will teach you (just as it has taught me) to be more aware of your surroundings and cautious.

It’s important to take care of oneself, so when you travel to a new country keep in mind that there will be different threats than ones that you are used to back at home. In Holland, I’m alert for the occasional tornado watch or winter storm alert. I practiced fire drills and safety drills in case of a school attack from an armed stranger. In Ecuador, I had to keep in mind that I was surrounded by a few active volcanoes that may or may not erupt while I was here. I also had to make sure that I looked out for my personal safety and belongings whenever I left the house because of the pick-pocketers in the big city. Besides that, we were warned about potential earthquakes although we did not imagine that a serious one would ever occur while we were studying abroad here.

What I want to say is that there are dangers everywhere, but depending where you are in the world the dangers might be different. Studying abroad has taught me that you should do everything in your control to stay safe, but there are just some circumstances that are out of your control that you may have to deal with. Try your best to stay positive and take everything as a learning experience; these are the things that will end up changing you.

SPIRITUAL CHANGES

The last type of change you will likely face is a change in spirituality. Think about how religions are different all over the world and how your religion may not be the dominant one in your host country. It’s okay not to actively practice your religion at a place of worship if there aren’t any places nearby where you can do that.

However, if you do find it easy to practice your religion in your host country, then do so… and learn more about it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep learning about something you care so deeply about. If you feel like spreading the word, then do so, but keep in mind that others may have completely different ways of viewing the world, religion, and spirituality. Just be respectful.

Along with that, you can also learn about new religions from your host country. It’s always exciting to see how people think and view life and death in a different culture or religion. It’s even more exciting when you can find ties between two or more religions in one single religion. Connecting a new religion to your own can expand your way of thinking and can also help you see that we are all connected in one way or another. After all, todos somos humanos.

I hope that you can relate to some of the changes I’ve experienced. For those of you who haven’t studied abroad (yet), I hope this helps prepare you for the journey you have ahead. Para todos, ojalá que hayan aprendido sobre mis experiencias de intercambio.

Final note: I would like to dedicate this post to the people of Ecuador after living through one of the most destructive earthquakes to strike the country. The Ecuadorian northwest coast is mostly destroyed leaving many people in need of assistance, supplies, food, and shelter. Any donations are helpful while the country begins to rebuild itself and continue to search for people under the rubble. I’m asking for any kind of help for my host country. There are a few websites where donations can be received: My.Care.org, Generosity.com, WorldVision.org, and YouCaring.com (this site donates directly to the town of Canoa which faced a lot of destruction). Thank you ahead of time for your generosity and donations and for helping a country that has found a place forever in my heart! Muchas gracias por todo #UnidosConEcuador #PrayforEcuador

Art field trip to Quilotoa

¿Qué tal amigos? I hope you all are doing well and are excited to hear about the second volcanic crater I entered. If you don’t already know, Quilotoa’s crater was formed several hundred years ago, much like Cuicocha. The lake now sits in that crater and is a popular place to canoe and observe.

For our Andean Popular Arts class, we had a field trip to Quilotoa mostly because it’s such a beautiful lake and it’s near the art and history exhibits we planned to visit.

Our first stop on this trip, however, was at an hacienda where we visited the capilla del Divino Niño de Isinche. The story of this capilla and small church begins years ago when the Spanish came to Ecuador. A statue of baby Jesus appeared on the property and people took it as a sign that a church should be built to adore God. So the church was built with a smaller building that, to this day, holds the statue of el Divino Niño.

Many people visit this hacienda to ask el Divino Niño to grant miracles for them. The tiny capilla is full of photos and plaques asking for help and thanking for prayers granted.

After a few minutes admiring the hacienda, we continued on our journey to Quilotoa. When we got to the town, it was cloudy and cold; the altitude made it even colder. I was not prepared for the chill, so I bought myself a blue alpaca sweater from a vendor inside the small artesanal market. I put it on, over my three layers, and went to go observe the lake with friends while looking like a fluffy, blue snowman. But I was warm!

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Posing with my new, warm sweater 🙂

We opted for a photo shoot instead of a hike down the crater (approx. 40 minutes) and a hike back up (approx. 1.5 hours) since we had a limited time before lunch. The view was a lot more amazing in person, much more spectacular than any camera could capture. When small rays of sun would hit the lake from in between the clouds, the water would appear lime green and turquoise! ¡Simplemente espectacular!

Looking down into the lake on a cloudy Saturday afternoon
Looking down into the lake on a cloudy Saturday afternoon

Lunch wasn’t amazing… but we ate while the rainstorm hit, so we stayed dry. After lunch, we made it to our final destination of the field trip: a small shop and art studio outside of Quilotoa.

The shop sold many colorful masks, paintings, shoes, sweaters, bracelets, etc. The paintings were by far my favorite since they were full of color and several Andean myths. The paintings shared stories that I wish someone would have explained to me, but nonetheless I was amazed. The masks were also quite chévere since they were hand-carved out of wood and painted with bright colors.

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I fell asleep on the 3 hour bus ride back, mostly so that I wouldn’t get car sick (but I still did). I had an amazing day learning about different aspects of Andean culture and observing the beauty of Lake Quilotoa. Plus, I got my cozy, alpaca sweater as un recuerdo excelente of the trip. ¡Hasta el próximo blog, amigos!

The Flora & Fauna of Ecuador

Why did you choose to study abroad in Ecuador? Why didn’t you pick some tropical place like Costa Rica? Before I came to Ecuador, I knew that it was a tropical country because of its location on the equator, but I never expected it to be as diverse as it is.

Ecuador is ranked as one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, and because of its small size it is probably one of the most diverse relative to size. So to that person who asked me why I picked Ecuador over Costa Rica: that is the reason why.

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Image Source (The Galapagos Islands have been enlarged to show the shapes of the islands)

The country is divided into 4 different environmental regions: The Galapagos Islands (Galápagos), the Coast (La Costa), the Mountains (La Sierra), and the Amazon (El Oriente / Amazonía).

Because the climates in these environments are very different, there are tons of different species unique to each area. The mountains act as a barrier between the coast and the Amazon, making isolation of these species easier. The isolated species reproduce over and over again throughout generations which makes the species vary from a similar species found elsewhere in the country. Great examples of these evolutionary changes are found on the Galapagos Islands where the species have evolved to adapt to their environment over several hundred years.

I had the opportunity to visit the Guayllabamba Zoo just north of Quito. This zoo is unique in that most of the animals found there are actually animals of Ecuador. A few exceptions would be the African lion and the ostrich. There are many species of birds there that would typically be found in the Amazon.

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Other animals I saw included monkeys, bears, wild cats, and the famous Galapagos tortoises.

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Besides its wide array of species, Ecuador also has a variety of different plants. Because of it’s different types of ecosystems like the páramotropical rain-forest (the Amazon), cloud-forests, dry-forests of the coast, and Galapagos, to name a few, there are thousands of different plant species all over the country.

Going to the botanical gardens of Quito is a great way to become introduced to a variety of the plant species in Ecuador. I have taken two trips there and both times I was introduced to different types of plants; there are just too many to show in one day. Our guide showed us the different medicinal plants that some indigenous communities of Ecuador still use. She also showed us which plants were edible and which were definitely not. As a part of the tour, we explored the orchid exhibit which housed hundreds of orchid species native to Ecuador. Along with that, we were able to enter the carnivorous greenhouse where we were introduced to the carnivorous plants one could find in the tropical rain-forest.

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I had a fun time exploring the different flora and fauna of this country and I hope you do too with these pictures! ¡Hasta luego, amigos! Stay tuned for other study abroad tips with me 🙂

Things to do at La Mitad del Mundo

Just by looking at the name “Ecuador” you can guess its location on a map, correct? Ecuador straddles the equatorial line, so one of its attractions is visiting the “Middle of the World” or la Mitad del Mundo. So, mis amigos, I’ve created a list of things you can do if you visit the equator in Ecuador!

Cuy (although this photograph was taken in Baños, Ecuador and not la MDM).
Cuy (although this photograph was taken in Baños, Ecuador and not la MDM).
  1. Try some cuy. There are many locations in and around la MDM where cuy is sold. If you’re wondering, “What is cuy?” let me tell you that it is a delicious meat eaten in Ecuador that tastes like chicken… except it’s guinea pig. You have to try it at least once. I’ll assure you that I was skeptical at first because I know a lot of people own a pet guinea pig. But just so you know, one of my friends here has a pet guinea pig back in the states, but he still tried cuy and loved it! Recommendation: Eat cuy at Restaurante Pueblita located outside of la MDM in a town called Pomasqui. I’ve heard that this is the best cuy place.
  2. Visit the Museo Intiñan. This museum will take you through a tour of the animals in the Ecuadorian rainforest, the process of making a shrinking head, the living spaces of a group of indigenous peoples of the rainforest, and many other surprises. You’ll be able to take a picture at the equator standing on both hemispheres! Also, if you ask, you could get the chocolate tour which lets you see the chocolate-making process and you can sample some chocolate bits.

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  3. Balance an egg on a the head of a nail. This is also done at Intiñan as part of the tour. But the cool part is that if you actually get it to balance, you get a little diploma that states your accomplishment. It took me only two tries to balance the egg and feel like an equatorial champion.

    "Successfully Balanced an Egg" ft. my friend's thumb.
    “Successfully Balanced an Egg” ft. my friend’s thumb.
  4. See the UNASUR building. This building is only a few years old and was used earlier this year to hold the UNASUR conference. UNASUR is the Union of South American Nations, and their event hosted the presidents of the South American countries as well as some of the Central American presidents. Outside of the building are the flags of all of the South American nations.
  5. Go see the monument at the Middle of the World. I did not have time to see this monument because the area was closing (I took too long at the Intiñan Museum). Inside of the closed area is another museum full of history of Ecuador, more flags, and the giant monument where you can take a picture.
  6. See the “actual” Mitad del MundoThe tourist areas are the ones I’ve mentioned before, but the real MDM (where GPS devices have confirmed is the actual longitude and latitude zero) is on top of a mountain a few kilometers away from the monument and UNASUR building. There is a pole at the top of the mountain that marks the spot for the real MDM. Ask any local and they will be happy to point you to the area.

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  7. Visit the largest self-sustained volcano valley village. There are taxi rides that will take you to Pululahua to see inside of the volcano. It’s villagers only travel outside to buy some commodities not grown or found within the volcano. However, the villagers grow their own food down there since the land is surprisingly fertile and they receive a ton of humidity from the clouds. My only advice would be to visit this site earlier in the morning when there are no clouds or fog so that you’ll be able to see inside the volcano crater. Another tip: Wear warm clothing since it’ll be colder there.

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That’s it for the list, mis amigos. But be sure to keep following my blogs to find out more about studying abroad in general and specifically in Ecuador! ¡Hasta luego, amigos!

Seeing Enrique Iglesias!

¿Cómo están mis amigos? I’ve been MIA for a while, but I’m back to update you all on what’s been going on since my last blog update! Plus, if you know anything about the man in the title, prepare to be excited…

As part of his Sex & Love Tour, Enrique Iglesias made a stop in Quito. On March 3rd, he performed in the Coliseo General Rumiñahui along with the group Gente de Zona. If you’ve ever heard the popular Latin hit “Bailando,” you’ll recognize that Gente de Zona sing with Enrique Iglesias on that track.

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From where we were sitting, the stage was pretty close. Photo ft. my new headband.

Well I was fortunate enough to be able to see him at this concert with a big group of compañeros from my program. Three girls in our group bought the tickets for us all so that we could all sit together, and we paid them back. We didn’t have the closest seating, but since the stadium was pretty small we could see the stage very well from where we were sitting.

Our evening consisted in taking a ton of group pictures beforehand and shouting at the top of our lungs. I had bought an “Enrique Iglesias Love” headband outside (while waiting in line to enter the stadium) and wore it throughout the whole night. I thought that Enrique might be able to spot me from afar if I wore it (I don’t think he did, but it made me feel better).

Photo taken by a Gama TV reporter. She was ecstatic about our excitement!
Photo taken by a Gama TV reporter. She was ecstatic about our excitement!

The concert started off with a smaller, lesser-known artist who only sang probably two songs. Then Gente de Zona came out and sang a few songs when suddenly… the power went off…

We were told to wait for “five minutes” till they fixed it. We waited probably half an hour anxiously anticipating Enrique’s arrival. We wanted Enrique to come out! But once the lights went back on, we had to watch the rest of Gente de Zona’s performance before Enrique took stage.

When he did… I could not believe it! He was there in the same room as me and I couldn’t contain my excitement. I spent the rest of the concert dancing along to his music, jumping up and down when he would look over at our section, and shouting con emoción. I thought I would lose my voice.

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I cried only a little when he sang the song “Heroe” since it’s emotional and it made me emotional hearing him sing it live.

Gente de Zona returned for the last song so they could sing “Bailando” with him. Overall it was a great concert and a great experience for me since Enrique Iglesias is one of my favorite artists and this was my first real concert. If you haven’t heard of him, look him up! He sings in Spanish and English. But until next time, amigos: ¡Ciao!

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I’ll leave you all with this image of Enrique. Quisiera que fuera mi heroe.

Things to do in and around Quito

¿Cómo están, mis amigos? Are you curious about what to do in Quito? I had no idea that there were so many possiblities for exploration and entertainment in Quito (or on the outskirts of the city). For all of those adventurers out there interested in delving into Ecuador’s beautiful capital city, here is a list of 10 things you can do:

  1. Take the TelefériQo up Pichincha and then go hiking. To do this, you’ll need: a waterproof jacket, layers, good hiking boots, sunscreen, snacks, and plenty of water. Also suggested: sunglasses, gloves, friendly companions, strong lungs, and an early morning visit (to avoid the clouds). Cost to ride the TelefériQo is $7.50 per person (tourist price).

    At the peak of Rucu Pichincha. Photo credit: Aimee Hoffman.
    At the peak of Rucu Pichincha. Photo credit: Aimee Hoffman.
  2. Visit El Centro Histórico. This is basically the old Quito, so it’s full of Spanish architecture, big churches, museums, parks, restaurants, and so much more! This is definitely a good place to visit if you like to roam around old places. Still, most of this part of town has been updated, so you’ll see a lot of modern things mixed in with the old. You can also visit El Panecillo, a hill with a giant statue of La Virgen del Panecillo.

    The Virgen del Panecillo seen from the Historic Center of Quito.
    Walking through El Centro Histórico and seeing La Virgen del Panecillo.
  3. Go to a museum. To really learn about the history of Quito or Ecuador, you must visit a museum to experience the past. Two of my favorite museums in Quito (also located in El Centro Histórico) are Museo de la Ciudad and Museo El Alabado. The first has detailed exhibits of the effects of the Spanish Conquista and the second is full of Pre-Incan and Post-Incan art. Plus, they are only a few blocks away from each other!

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    Ceramic artwork displaying the clothing of a shaman found at Museo El Alabado.
  4. Eat good food. It’s Ecuador, so the food here is delicious anyway. But since this is Quito, the capital, there are a variety of tasty restaurants from all over. If you want to try some Cuban, Spanish, Chinese, Mexican, or any other country’s food, you’ll likely find a restaurant for it in Quito. The restaurants are located all throughout the city. There is also street food (not recommended for travelers) sold all over Quito. Plus, if you’re craving good ol’ American food, there are tons of American chains here including Subway, Domino’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, and KFC (although their menus have some Ecuadorian twists to them!).
  5. Watch a play. There are always shows at La Casa de la Cultura and El Patio de las Comedias. I’m not much of a theater-geek, but I did enjoy watching a play with one of my friends at El Patio de las Comedias. It turned out to be a very popular show since it was a comedy about Cupid’s love life! My only recommendation is to buy a ticket in advance (online) or show up early to buy one (I almost didn’t get a seat).
  6. Visit a park. There are tons of parks to visit in Quito. So far I’ve only visited one, Parque La Carolina, since it’s large and close to my school. At La Carolina, there are lots of trees, places to play different sports, a skate park, and a playground. There are also free Zumba classes at La Carolina on Sunday mornings. Safety tip: never visit parks alone or after it gets dark.

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    The botanical gardens in Quito are also found in La Carolina!
  7. Take a peek inside the churches. There are many churches in Quito since the city has a strong Catholic background. But I think the most beautiful churches are located in El Centro Histórico. Two churches that are a must-see are the Basílica del Voto Nacional which has so much beauty inside and out (and it’s HUGE), and the other is La Compañia de Jesús which is adorned with gold inside.

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    The entire church was impossible for me to capture with my camera! This is La Basílica.
  8. Go to a fútbol game. This is still on my to-do list. A really popular place to watch professional soccer games is at El Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa located in the northern part of Quito. When I get the chance to attend a game, I’ll, of course, have to buy an Ecuadorian t-shirt to support my host country’s team!
  9. Attend a concert. It doesn’t have to be a big concert; Quito has tons of mini-concerts every week. Some places have jazz, rock, and Latin music. Most of the mini-concerts are found within local pubs or breweries. But, Quito also has big concerts! On March 3rd, I’ll be attending an Enrique Iglesias concert at El Coliseo General Rumiñahui! I’m so excited (I’ll mention it in a future blog, I’m sure)!
  10. Learn to dance. Or if you already know how to dance, then just find an awesome discoteca to go dancing. Like I mentioned before, there are free Zumba classes in the park. There are also a few places I’ve seen where they teach belly dancing! I haven’t personally tried those classes, but what I have done is learn to dance from a native. To do this, go to any club that plays Latin music (my favorite), start dancing with friends, and, sure enough, a native will want to dance with you!

So there’s a short list of a variety of activities to partake in when you visit Quito, and I hope you do! Till my next blog, ¡ciao, amigos!

Hiking and Carnaval Festivities

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The beginning and ending place to our hiking adventure at El Altar.

Well, amigos, I finally had the opportunity to hike and camp on the top of a mountain (or close enough to the top). This weekend, three friends and I climbed El Altar which is close to the small town of Candelaria, Ecuador. To get to Candelaria, we first had to take a bus from Quito to Riobamba then from Riobamba to Candelaria. I thought the bus rides were gruesome because they took a few hours, but the hike was even more treacherous!

For any first time hikers out there, make sure you research the place you will be hiking beforehand. This tip was brought to you by Brenda, who didn’t pack enough warm clothes and underestimated how much it would rain and how cold it would be to sleep at a high altitude.

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El Altar is beautiful with its glacier-covered mountains and mint-colored lakes. Its tranquil paths up to the camping place above the lake were only interrupted by the sound of birds, horses, dogs, and the occasional back-packer. I felt a little more at ease knowing that there were others out there venturing just like us.

Since this was my first time hiking up mountains, my lungs and corazón were having a hard time keeping up. My legs didn’t even hurt, but my lungs were killing me as we went up the steep trails. I fell only a little behind, yet my friends would wait and encourage me even more. It felt really good being praised for my efforts; their words kept me going. After nine hours (from 8:30 AM till 5:30 PM), we made it to our camping site overlooking the lake.

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¡Hasta luego, El Altar!

The rain and cold temperatures made sleeping difficult since I was up for most of the night trying to stay warm. When we woke up the next day however, the sun greeted us with its warmth. I decided to stay dry and not jump into the freezing lake, but I took pictures of my travel buddies as they did. It took us only about five hours to hike back down to the town of Candelaria, where we first witnessed some of the Ecuadorian Carnaval traditions.

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To really experience Carnaval, we figured we would travel to one of the best Carnaval towns in Ecuador: Guaranda. To begin, I must define a few key words regarding the festival and its celebrations.

Carnaval – A religious festival that occurs before the Lent season. A big celebration is in Rio de Janiero, Brazil; Guaranda’s Carnaval is not as big, but it’s big in the sense that the whole town comes together to celebrate. And how do they celebrate? By spraying carioca all over each other.

Carioca – White or colored foam in aerosol cans that is used to spray on random people on the streets. Foam wars will ensue. Young children will spray you in the eyes and you will most likely retaliate by spraying carioca all over their faces or the backs of their heads as they run away. This was probably the most fun part of the whole festival because my competitive side came out; if the Guarandans messed with one of my friends, they messed with us all. I got sprayed in the eyes a couple of times which only hurt because of the pressure of the foam and momentarily blinded me. I also did not like getting sprayed in the ears because the whole world became muted and I could only hear the sound of tiny foam bubbles bursting in my ear canals.

Polvo – Powder. Powder that goes on your face/hair. This is often white powder but can also come in an assortment of colors such as red blue, yellow, and green. I was blue-faced for a while after I was attacked with polvo from a stranger. I couldn’t just let it happen… I had to do it too! I bought a small bag of polvo for 50 cents and smeared it on people’s faces all during the night. It was awesome!! Plus, the people who got powdered by me all cheered afterwards and gave me free stuff. They really enjoyed seeing my foreign group partake in all of the Carnaval traditions, so they just laughed and sprayed us with some more carioca.

The night ended with some great Latin Pop music at a concert in the center of town. It rained and we were sore from the hiking, but with all of the positive vibes from Guaranda (and the awesome music) we ended up dancing all night long! This festival is one that I think everyone should go to at least once. Would recommend 10/10.

I’ll say this was one of my best weekends in Ecuador so far! One tiresome hike followed by a huge, small-town party!! I’m excited for what other wonders Ecuador has in store for me, but until then: ¡cuídense, amigos! ¡Ciao!

Top of the Mountain & Tropical Mindo

¡Hola a todos! Classes have begun and I’m looking forward to learning a whole new wealth of information about my host country! However, to celebrate the end of our first week of classes, I decided to take a few trips to different places around Ecuador.

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First of all, I took advantage of Friday by joining three of my new friends to the top of Mt. Pichincha here in Quito. I can see the mountain every morning from my bedroom window, so I really wanted to explore the top of the mountain. It would have been a long time to hike up there, so we took the cable car (TelefériQo). I didn’t imagine that it would be so scary going up to the top, but I realized that the cable car was going to be like an amusement park ride; I don’t enjoy amusement parks.

But once I got to the top… the view was amazing! It was such a different environment than the city (which I could see clearly from the top of Pichincha). My friends and I hiked around and stood in silence for a while. SILENCE! There is no such thing in Quito since it’s such a busy city. It felt wonderful being away for a while and enjoying nature.

Roaming and observing the surrounding mountains.

We even observed some wild cows roaming the land. I did not pet the cows because I am also afraid of getting bit by wild animals. Instead, I just observed some of my friends getting licked by the cows and photographed them.

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We noticed that there were horse rides that would take us to the crater of Pichincha which would let us see inside the volcano (!). However, since we didn’t bring enough money for anything other than the taxi rides, cable car, and food, we didn’t ride the horses. ¡Pero eso será para la próxima vez!

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Leaving our mark on the dirt path on Pichincha.

As if I didn’t already experience enough adventure, the next two days I went to the cloudy forest in Mindo. I stayed in my first hostel and ended up traveling with a large group of IES students from Quito and Cumbayá.

I think the bus ride took about 3 hours, and we dropped more than 1,000 meters in altitude. That means warmer weather and lots of bugs! We were all supposed to go tubing down one of the rapids as soon as we got there, but right before I got on I got very sick and had to sit out. 🙁 I think it was the bus and taxi rides with all of the curvy and bumpy roads.

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The view from our hostel’s second floor.

Thankfully, I felt much better after eating lunch! A small group of us decided to hike around the rapids before we took a chocolate tour near our hostel. The tour lasted about an hour and a half, and we were able to see how chocolate is grown and made in Mindo. Plus, we got to sample a lot of cacao beans, stevia leaves, and dark chocolate! Fun fact: the only other place they produce Mindo chocolate outside of Mindo is in Dexter, Michigan; what a small world!

The next day was packed with adventure as we took a cable car (even scarier than the TelefériQo) across the cloud-forest to a trail that led us to different waterfalls. The arduous hike became somewhat dangerous after it rained and the trails became slippery with mud. The rain also made it a little colder, but I felt like I was in a rainforest! I walked around with wet feet for a majority of the hike.

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When we returned to the small town after the hike, I ate my lunch quickly and hopped onto the bus to return to Quito before dark. ¡Fué una aventura maravillosa! I hope to return to Mindo to explore more of the town and to go tubing. So until my next adventure, ¡cuídense mucho mis amigos! ¡Nos vemos!

 

Going Inside of a Volcano?!

Sounds crazy, right? Well the truth is that the volcano, while active, only releases small bubbles to the surface of the lake that covers the crater of the volcano. So even though I was “inside” of a volcano, it only felt like I was on the lake!

Traveling by boat over Lake Cuicocha. Surrounding us are the large volcanic walls of El Volcán Cotacachi.

Inside of el Volcán Cotacachi is Lake Cuicocha. Here are some interesting facts about the area:

  1. There are two small islands inside the crater.
  2. The exact depth of the lake is unknown because researchers have never reached the bottom.
  3. The lake was formed from rains and the melting of the snow on the volcano.
  4. There are no fish in the lake because of its toxicity. The ducks and herons that eat from the lake only eat the algae.
  5. Wild guinea pigs live on the small islands. They’re called cuy which inspired the named of the Lago Cuicocha.
  6. Other animals that live on the islands include: rabbits, armadillos, deer, and wolves (otherwise known as el zorro andino).
  7. There used to be a docile zoo bear roaming the area which was friendly even to tourists. It was hunted down one day when it swam off of the island and into private property.
  8. The islands are well-protected and uninhabited by humans after careless man-made fires caused one of the islands to burn. It lost a lot of its vegetation which is now endangered.
  9. Since humans are no longer allowed on the islands, there is an abandoned restaurant that sits on one of the island hillsides. It serves as a reminder of the horrific tragedy.
¡Ciao Cuicocha!
¡Ciao Cuicocha!

Despite it’s beauty, our group only spent a short part of the evening on the lake. Earlier that day, we traveled to San Antonio and Otavalo to explore different marketplaces.

In San Antonio, we visited the house of sculptors who have been creating wooden art for generations. They showed us the process of forming the sculpture out of wood, creating sharp details, using painted glass for eyes, and the painting processes that make the final product. I would have liked to buy one of the sculptures because they were amazingly beautiful! But, the pieces were pricey and I would have run out of my spending money for the whole trip… Maybe I’ll return one day when I’m out of college and I actually have money.

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Next, we visited the famous indigenous market in Otavalo. The colors and crafts were amazing, unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures since it was very crowded and my hands were full with my purchases. This was the first time I ever negotiated prices with a vendor, and it was a fulfilling experience.

Although I wanted to buy things for myself, I ended up spending all of the money I took with me on souvenirs for my friends and loved ones. I didn’t finish buying everyone a gift, so I would like to return with some friends one day to get everyone on my souvenir list a small gift.

Till next time, amigos!