First off I would like to make a birthday shout out to DEBB (my real madre!), so happy birthdayy mom! Hope it was a blast! But I'm sure you'd be happy to know I spent the day doing things I do best: feeding llamas salt from my hand and shopping in one of the biggest outdoor markets in South America! hahaha But any who, since my last update I have continued taking more salsa dance lessons. This time we worked on some moves with salsa partners. Unfortunately there are only 5 guys in our group so some girls needed to take on the male role. Since I'm such a fantastic dancer and all, I had the opportunity to dance with one of the guys in my group so I didn't have to shift parts (jajaja). My partner and I made a few mistakes every once in awhile, but overall we did a fairly decent job. At least our little Cuban intructor didn't have to correct any of our moves!
On Friday, the whole group participated in an academic Scavenger Hunt located in the historical center of Quito. We broke up into groups of 4, and worked our way around Quito with the use of clever clues written in Spanish. We needed to walk up to complete strangers and ask for help/directions in Espanol. The last clue brought us to the house of our BCA director. Here, we enjoyed small Ecuadorian snacks while discussing our experiences from the scavenger hunt. Unfortunately my team took 3rd place, but everyone still finished quicker than other groups from BCA have done in the past.
Here's a pic of my scavenger hunt team! (Clay, Me, Meg, Kelly)
I almost forgot that on Thursday I had my first trip to the health clinic located on the campus on my University. The day before I left for Qutio, I felt as if I couldn't hear very clearly out of my left ear. After taking two different planes, it only got worse due to the amount of pressure at high altitudes. Although it was annoying not being able to hear everyone clearly, I hadn't experienced any pain until last week. I woke up around 4am on Thursday morning with ringing in my ears and pain that made it difficult to fall back asleep. I told my host mom about it, and she told me to visit the Otorrinolaringologo doctura (translation: Ears, nose and throat doctor). wow what a word. It was very easy to make an appointment at this office. I went in around 10, and they told me I could come back at 12:15. I got there earlier just as they told me to, and immediately I was taken in. This clinic was very modernized and had up to date medical technology. After sitting for a couple of minutes outside of the ENT doctors office, I was finally called in. I was expecting that my doctor would know some English, but sure enough, he spoke in Spanish the entire time. Good thing I knew enough to explain my problem and understand everything he was telling me. He also used a type of tuning fork to test my hearing which I thought was pretty cool. Within a couple of minutes, I found out I had an ear infection in my left ear. I was given a prescription for Amoxicillin and it was already available at the health clinic. I'm not sure if my medical insurance fully covers me while abroad, but I only needed to pay $35 for the doctor visit, and about $7 for my antibiotics. In Ecuador it's also very easy to get a hold of prescription drugs without the need of a doctors order.
On Friday night, I went out with two Etown alumni students that reside in Ecuador. We went out to La Mariscal again which is foreigners nation here. We went into one bar and once again ladies did not have to pay a cover fee! Even though there were many foreignors, it was still likely to find Spanish speaking Ecuadorians. There was a mix of Spanish and American music. I was on the dance floor the whole night as per usual. I also tried to salsa again for a short period of time. There has been some improvement since my last couple of lessons! Yesss.
Here's a pic of my Etown friends and I (Diego and Daniel):
On Saturday morning, I needed to be at the Rio Coca bus stop by 7:30am! We were leaving for our first weekend excursion to the town of Otovalo. Along the way we stopped at the center of the world! The military of Ecuador has confirmed that the latitude of Ecuador is 0' 0' 0'. We were able to straddle both the North and South equator. Not only did it provide us with the perfect photo op but it was such an awesome experience!
Here I am attempting a split in jeans on both sides of the Equator:
Next stop was "Parque Arquelogico de Investigacion Cientifica". I should probably find out how to use the codes on my keyboard to add accent marks to certain letters, but I'm short with time right now (haha). This park is mainly known as Cochasqui and it had some of the most amazing views I've ever seen! Here we stood on Pre-Incan pyramids and I also got to feed multiple llamas! I was tempted to hop on one so I could go for a ride...but I'm not sure if our tour guide would have appreciated that. Llamas LOVE salt and it was the only way we could get them to come over to us. It tickled very much when they would lick the salt off your hand. It was quite the experience!
Pics of the beautiful view and llamas!
Once we got closer to Otavalo, we stopped off at a small store that sold fresh individual string cheese. The cheese was very good but it was a lot different from the string cheese you would typically find in the refrigerated section of your local food store. I also tried "dulche de leche" which is very similar to caramel. It was a bit too sweet for my liking so I wouldn't put it up there in my top favorite foods. I also tried a small sweet roll that contained some sort of pumpkin filling in it. Not too bad!
After driving for more than 2 hours on our private coach bus, we arrived at our hostel. This hostel was not as luxurious as the first one we stayed at, but it was so cool! I felt like I was staying in a HUGE tree house. It had a very relaxed feel to it, and it also had hammocks just chilling underneath Avocado trees! It was very simple but perfect for our one night stay! Once we placed our belongings in our room, we went out in search for great deals at one of the biggest outdoor markets in all of a South America. We had plenty of time to search from stand to stand of all the different products that street vendors would try and get you to buy. I found great souvenirs for some friends and family, and I think I did a pretty good job of bartering on my own! Many of the vendors were selling pretty much the exact same things as each other. There was lots of jewelry, scarfs, clothes, hand made bowls, replicas of famous paintings, coin purses, fresh fruits/vegetables, key chains, etc. I think I only spent about $20 dollars there and I definitely got my moneys worth!
Awesome hostel pics:
Later at night, we all went out to dinner at a local Pizza restaurant. Live music was performed by a well known Andean group. They were so full of energy and had the whole restaurant clapping to the beat of their songs! I also shared a Margherita pizza with my friend Stina. Although the pizza was tasty, it was very different from the margherita pizzas I have had in my past. The dough was very flaky, kind of like filo-dough and there seemed to be almost no tomato sauce on the pizza. Oh well, guess I need to return to Italy for the best brick oven pizzas around! After dinner, a bunch of people from the group relaxed on our balcony at the hostel and enjoyed each others company.
Early Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the hostel and got ready for our next adventure. After chowing down on pancakes and fresh fruit, we were set for our hiking trip to a cascada (waterfall). Once the waterfall was in sight, half of the group took part in the harder climb to get to the top of the waterfall. When heading back down, we were able to trek through a stream where we had the opportunity to stand underneath the waterfall. The water was a bit cold at first, but we were all amazed with the beauty of the waterfall that our bodies became too numb to realize how cold we were. Walking barefoot on slippery rocks is not always easy, but it was totally worth it for the photos we managed to get!
After the hike, we were back on the bus where we traveled to another local stop. We watched a world-known Andean musician make instruments from scratch in only a few minutes. His family also played a few songs for us live! Afterwards we were allowed to try out any instrument we'd like. Totally awesome.
On our next stop we watched a 70+ year old woman weave the traditional Andean way. She was probably about 4 ft tall and most likely had stronger upper body strength than myself. Pretty embarrassing, but the work she did was not easy! She took sheep wool and turned it into strong string using an old fashioned wooden spinner. So impressive!
Pics from traditional Andean artisan:
Afterwards we checked out another market that is well known for their leather goods. We only had 30 minutes and of course I ended up being a few minutes late because I lost track of time! But it was unbelievable how cheap leather bags were being sold for! Bags that would cost over a $100 dollars in the US were being sold for $20-30. loco!
The last stop of the day was a lake that was located in a volcanic crater! We were so high up, that we were legit in the clouds! The pictures we took were so real that they looked fake! Increibleeee.
After a 2 hour ride home in pouring rain, we were all exhausted and ready to get home. My loving family welcomed me with open arms upon my return. They really are the best! My mom's a great cook! She has a small breakfast ready for me every morning and my dinner is ready for me every night aground 6:30/7. My father is always excited to see me when he gets home from work, and I tell him about how my day was. My sister Karla is also really sweet! I see my brother Michael every once in awhile but he's a bit more on the quiet side. I'm always singing to songs with my mother and we dance to salsa together too! So much fun!
Here's a pic of the house I live in:
Also I don't remember if I wrote about the prices of things in my earlier entry, but bus rides here cost no more than a quarter in all directions. Taxis are usually no more than 50 cents-$1 depending on where you're going. Lunch is soooo cheap. You can get a whole set meal for $1.50-3. I usually buy 1 or 2 bottles of water a day because the water isn't very safe to drink from unless you boil it. This morning my friend purchased a 3 liter bottle of water from a pharmacy for only .80 cents! Such a good find!
I honestly can't believe how many different adventures we have managed to fit in, in such little time. All I could think about when visiting these new places, is how lucky I am to be experiencing this journey. The United States does have some very beautiful sites, but there is just no way one can experience the things I have seen without traveling. It truly is amazing and I can't even put into words how awesome my experience has been so far. I always try and think about what I would be doing right now if I hadn't come to Ecuador. I definitely encourage everyone to travel outside of the US if possible! You won't regret it!
But now I need to study for my first exam that I have on Wednesday! Wish me luckkk! =]
Another new phrase I like to use: Que Chevere! (meaning: wow, incredible!). It's fun to say, so try it out!
Buenas noches muchachos