Sunday, December 27, 2009

Airport Schmair-port

So it's dark and cold outside as I sit in the Quito airport. Despite all the luggage that I have to deal with for the next twelve hours, I thought it was necessary to buy my Mom a dozen roses. They are one of Ecuador's biggest exports, ya know. Anyway, I am sad to leave this beautiful country, but also excited to come home to see everyone, not to mention a little nervous about the weather conditions back in the good ol' Midwest...
Yesterday I went with my host mother to Otavalo and Cotocachi. Both are amazing little towns nestled between sprawling farm lands and rolling hills. Both are known for their artisan markets. I believe that Otavalo is the largest indigenous artisan market in South America. I had fun bargaining, but it was a new experience with my host mother along; she haggles better than I, of course, and kept asking me if I thought something was cheap or not. Fun times. After we left Otavalo, we drove for about an hour out of the way to eat at a restaurant called Fritada Amazonas. The only thing they serve is fritada, obviously (fried pork meat with seasoning, que rico!), but we also ate choclo, hamas, avocado, and empenadas. After entirely too much food, we drove back and visited Cotocachi. There is a huge market for leather goods, here, and again Magdalena helped me get the best prices possible.
I am happy to have the trip come to an end. I didn't feel ready to leave Ecuador until I was back in the mainland and all the other students departed. I felt right at home on San Cristobal, and I'm not much of a big city girl. But all in all I had the most amazing experience of my life, so far...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Feliz Navidad!

So I celebrated Christmas last night, Christmas Eve, with my host family in Cumbaya. I made some gingerbread cookies with my host sister and helped her make a tiramisu (but she insisted we add passionfruit juice to the cheese mixture, typical Ecuador). First, we all trucked downstairs of the condominiums they live in to visit my host mother's cousin. There were about twenty people coming and going in the hour we spent there. Some of the kids read the story about Jesus being born (as far as I could gather) and one of the little boys reluctantly played Silent Night on the guitar. They gave each other gifts, and I got a small bag of candies, cookies, suckers and even M&Ms. They explained that this is a tradition, to give everyone a candy bag at Christmas. I was grateful to be spending the holiday with family, anyone's family, however it did just make me miss my own all the more...
Next we took the desserts to my host father's parents home. It was like walking into a bank, so beautiful and there was even a butler. Again, they exchanged gifts and I received more junk to rot my pearlies. It wasn't until midnight that we sat down to eat turkey, potatoes au gratin, spinach salad with apples, carrot and squash salad and some red wine. We naturally followed this up with the tropical tiramisu and my cookies. We left the house around two in the morning. Outside the gate was a black and white dog standing in the trash bin, having his own Christmas dinner. (I must explain the trash bins in these neighborhoods: they are small metal baskets on a stand about four feet high. I assume this is in an attempt to keep such scoundrels out of the trash, but obviously not very effective.) It made me think of Charles Dickens somehow...
Today we all slept in, which was very nice. At noon we went to my host mother's parents house in another small village. Here we had another huge meal: chicken, mashed potatoes, carrot and squash salad (again), and avocados (since they have a frickin' avocado tree in their backyard!). Afterwards most of the adults fell asleep on the couch (it's like a whole room of my Uncle Earls) and I taught the kids how to play Rummy and War card games. We came home around seven, but they are now in Mass.
Tomorrow morning the kids are leaving with their uncle for Esmeraldas for the weekend, so they can visit the beach, now that they are on vacation from school. I'm heading to Otavalo tomorrow and then leaving for the airport early Sunday morning. 

As my travels are coming to a close, I have been reflecting on how much has happened and how I have changed during the past four months. I am truly grateful for everyone who has supported me and loved me while I took off on such an endeavor. And touched by all those who kept in touch with me, even though I'm not a great pen pal. I am sad for all the things I have missed in the lives of my loved ones back home, but am also reminded of this quote:
"For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas in Cumbaya

So I am back in Cumbaya (Quito), spending the xmas holiday with my host family that I first stayed with when I came to Ecuador. Leaving the island was rough: I did not want to leave my host family and all the friends I made, not to mention the beautiful island itself. The Yepez family made me a farewell dinner of lobster and rice and potatoes and more homemade hooch. We exchanged gifts and I bawled like a blubbering baby. We all arrived in Quito on Saturday and were put up in Hotel Corlina. Sunday evening we had our farewell dinner, and then few by few, students were taken to the airport to return home, or else continue on their travels. I was surprised by how emotional I became, saying goodbye to some great friends, trying to make plans for Spring Break (Asheville, baby!).
Monday some of us went to the Oswaldo Guayasamin museum in Quito. It is his old home and studio converted into galleries of his collections of pre-colonial artifacts, his original artwork, and a side exhibit of other painters representations of Guayasamin. He is considered one of the most influetial and important artists in all of South America, and was from Quito. I was so happy that I had the chance to see his museum. He was a spokesman for peace and used his work to depict the agony and suffering caused by war, slavery, and oppression of culture.
Later, me and two friends rode to Mindo, a small town just a few hours from Quito. We stayed in a small cabin, surrounded by lush green hills and small streams rushing. Mindo is known for the butterflys and orchids that grow, this time of the year is supposed to be the best for the orchids to be blooming. We walked up a long muddy road to the Marioposia (Butterfly Nursery) where we entered a small area, netted closed, of course, with probably one hundred beautiful butterflies. There were owl eyes and blue morphos, and plenty more that i couldn{t identify. We were told that because there hadn{t been much rain lately, most orchids weren{t in bloom. We had lunch in town and took a two dollar bus back to Quito. We all went out together that night, dancing in downtown Quito is not near as much fun as dancing in San Cristobal, and the other four students left the next morning. I woke up alone in a huge hotel room and felt ready to come home for the first time in four and a half months. I packed my things and left them with the hotel, while I roamed around Quito by myself. I went to the Cultural center and saw a lot of pre-colonial artifacts, including many pots made by the Incas. I walked around more, ate an almuerzo, and then rested in a park for awhile. There was an artisan market set up, many families out together, and even a brass band in the park and a small parade.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dos Tiburones y Dos Angelitas

Saturday I went with my class to fish with the new program, Pescando Vivencial. The morning started off great, us 8 students were pumped to catch a big one. A local restaurant named Deep Blue (owned by one of my many host uncles on the island) was going to cook it for our dinner that evening. Our first bite bent the line and Carolyn jumped up and strapped on a belt with a holder for the pole, that way she could hold the line and reel in as fast as she could. Try as she did, she wasn't fast enough, because a lobo came up and munched our catch, lure and all. This was a disappointment, as the sea lions just swim with the boat and are obviously waiting for us to catch anything. What lazy little stinkers they can be! We fished many different areas, but didn't have anymore nibbles. Finally, much later in the morning, we had two bites at once! Both of the fishermen turned tour guides grabbed the poles and tried to reel them in quickly. To all of our dismay, two black-tipped sharks snagged these fish, but also bit down on the giant hooks. For the next twenty minutes or so, the professional fishermen struggled and fought with these sharks, about five and a half feet long, splashing and squirming on the end of the line which can hold up to 350 lbs. Finally, one fisherman was able to cut the line, freeing the shark. The second one was hooked and the lure pried from it's giant mouth. I saw it's eye, a white-ish grey orb that seemed to gaze at nothing. The shark was freed and released and the fisherman cheered and wiped the sweat from his forehead: he had saved his lure, with only gills left. We had no more bites that day, but luckily for us, the other boat with students had caught a wahoo and a tuna, so we would have something to eat with our rice that night for dinner. It wasn't until then that I heard a superstition about having bananas on boats. Apparently this is terrible luck, not just for fishing, but for anything to go wrong. "Well, that explains alot," I commented, as I recollected all of us happily chewing on the bananas earlier that morning, wondering why there were not more bites on our lines. It was an amazing experience, and so scary to see the sharks that close. Now I understand why the fishermen have resorted to long-line fishing and other newer techniques, in order to catch anything and not be robbed by sea lions and sharks. 
Monday night was the kickoff of this week's XMAS activities put on by the tourism chamber, who my father and sister are members of. I helped my sister for two days painting large cardboard candy canes and mistletoe cutouts, stuffed about 500 small grab bags of candy for the kiddos, and made little votive candles with plastic soda bottles. That night me and my friend Jazmine dressed as angelitas with white dresses, paper wings and garland halos and held votive candles and walked in the parade, behind a very unhappy white horse pulling a carriage with about twenty kids piled on. Afterwards we went to a cafe and sat at the bar to have a beer. Even more pictures, as everyone wants to take a picture with an angelita and her beer mug. 
After the parade there was a holiday cartoon shown in the square and my family dished up hot chocolate and bread for everyone who came. Last night all the different elementary schools presented their handmade ornaments for the city tree. Tonight I am face painting after class, I have been practicing my tree and star shapes, I hope I can get it right...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Una Semana Mas...

Somehow I only have one week left on San Cristobal, before returning to Quito and setting out on my own for a few days before returning to the states. Where has the time gone? This week was the last week of actual classes (next week is final presentations) and the last hours spent volunteering. On Wednesday, I taught the level 4 English class Solomon Burke's "Gotta Get You Offa My Mind" = awesome. Today I made XMAS cards with the kids at El Progreso and brought juice and cookies to have a little party. They all made cards for me and wanted me to take pictures with all of them and me and the little XMAS tree they have set up. So funny to do when it's nearly 90 degrees outside. Very sad to say goodbye to all of them, I can't say for sure that I'll be missed, but I will miss all of them, for sure. 
Tonight I'm going out for drinks with friends, but not too many...In the morning I'm going fishing with my classmates and my professor, who's the director of a program called Pescando Vivencia (Livelihood Fishing). This is a new program happening on San Cristobal to try to persuade more fishermen to have an alternative income in tourism. 
I'm finishing up my final papers and presentations. I'm writing my final project on how the tourism industry has influenced people living in San Cristobal to learn English as a second language, incorporating my service work experiences. 
I'm not sure how I feel about leaving the island so soon, returning to a large city and then back to the US. I have many new friends to keep in touch with, but am also excited to return to my loved ones back in the states. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cumpleanos Almuerzo

Tomorrow is my papa's 59th birthday, so there was a huge almuerzo today to celebrate: sopa, rice, chicken, ensalada, and papas fritas. I helped the women in the kitchen all morning. I'm still not sure if I was more trouble than I was help, but it was fun and the food turned out great. First, I apparently don't know how to cut up a chicken correctly. But I had a chance to redeem myself on the second bird. Then I made an ensalada with cooked carrots, peas and corn, apple, tomatoes, green pepper, and cilantra, with salt, lime and, of course, mayonessa. It turned out pretty good, though, and once all mixed together, my sister told me that it was an experiment, a good one, since we would indeed be eating it. Then I browned some potatoes in butter on the gas stove (something I can definitely do, thanks German heritage!) and added some oregano. There was juice and homemade liquor. It was brown like whiskey, but it had been infused with pasas (raisins) and burned like the devil. For dessert we ate watermelon and pineapple, and then some retired to the hammocks while Vicente brought out the cds, including Shakira, everyone's favorite. ;) We danced a little, and he sang a lot! All day friends and family showed up to wish him "Feliz cumpleanos!" and to eat some of the food on the back porch and visit for hours. He has a twin brother, and the two of them are ridiculous when together. They joke and pretend to be the other one, even though they don't look that much alike at this age... I love the idea of a party for whomever shows up, though there were probably thirty guests over the course of the day. The gifts are for everyone: great food shared among relatives and lifelong friends, dancing and drinks. And there is always room for one more at the table...


Saturday was a minga limpieza (community clean up day). Two of the students are volunteering at the recycling center for their service work, and they organized the whole event with the municipio. We all recruited our families and met at the city building at eight in the morning. We waited for about half an hour (in true island-time fashion) for the people from the municipio to show up and unlock the door. Once they did, they gave us all t-shirts and gloves and giant trash bags. Then we were delivered by pick-up taxi to different areas around town to pick up litter. There are many open lots around the schools and between neighborhoods, so lots of trash blows into the plants and trees there and gets stuck. Along the streets there are lots of little bits of trash, and in small ditches lots of people just chuck their finished bottle, bag, or can. After about three hours of hard work, we all were amazed at how good it looked. My brother told me that not many local people like to participate in mingas anymore, they are becoming less connected to the idea of community as a family. It was great to see so many young locals, however, helping out. Maybe it will ignite a passion in the next generation, like my own. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Suerta Chica

Last Saturday I was invited by Jose, my host brother, on his day tour with his tour group. I joined about fifteen rich, old Germans on a very nice boat. First we went snorkeling at Isla Lobos and the tourists all gawked and squibbled about the iguanas, very red now for the mating season, and the frigate birds all circling overhead, ready for someone else to find some dinner to steal. They are indeed the Bad Boys of the Galapagos Skies...We then navigated to Leon Dormido, so beautiful each time I get to see it. We were distracted when Jose spotted a group of dolphins swimming and jumping out of the waves, we followed them for awhile, and I was tempted to swim with them, but knew I wouldn't be able to keep up at all. Jose said that I was good luck to have on the boat, as no one (including myself) had seen dolphins yet. I kept this information to myself, assuring them that, yes, indeed, it was because I was freeloading on their very expensive trip that the dolphins chose to make an appearance. Yes, yes, and you're welcome. "Ya, bitte shon!" 
Here I will briefly comment on how incredibly hilarious it was to witness Jose, who has excellent English, but a very strong Spanish accent, fumble with German around these old fuddy-duds. He's so funny and genuine, but they totally ignore his desperate attempts at learning their own language in order to better serve them. It was not taken personally, however, he laughs at all of them behind their hairy backs...
To my dismay, none of the geezers wanted to snorkel around the giant rock formation, where all the sharks and giant manta rays like to hang out. Since I didn't exactly feel right about insisting they wait an hour on only me to do it, we navigated on to the beach. Once at Porta Grande, I went snorkeling by myself around the mangroves (very cloudy mess) and almost RAN INTO a giant sea tortise! I nearly spit my snorkel out of my mouth, and he seemed to do a double take, before darting off into the cloudy water. I returned to shore and slept in the sun a little. When we were navigating out of the bay a while later, we saw many more tortises, one pair was, you know...copulating. Another sight that is rare and surely due to my presence on the boat trip. 
When I returned, I went to school to help out on the Thanksgiving dinner that was planned for that evening. We had five chickens (I would have preferred cuy), mashed potatoes, spinach quiche, green bean casserole, stuffing, rolls from a local paneria (bakery), pumpkin pie, and apple crisp. It was so good, I couldn't help but eat a lot of everything. Fast. And so later, after one and a half beers, I started to feel like I was inflating slowly. After getting very sick from a holiday dinner overdose, I decided that my system can't handle meals without white rice and fried plantains anymore...