Category Archives: In-country travel

Guayaquil

The last two weeks I have passed the time with my lovely and welcoming Ecuadorian relatives.  It has been a dream since my childhood to know the places, people and culture that my grandfather was born into and left over fifty years ago to come to the U.S., so this was an especially meaningful part of my trip to Ecuador.  I stayed with my mother’s cousin Vicky, daughter of my Abuelito’s sister Maria Rosa.  I met lots of cousins, aunts and uncles, but spent the majority of my time with Vicky, her husband Fernando and their three children.  Andrea is 26, Vicky Sue is 20 and Fernandito is 14.

They live in a gated community in a beautiful area a few miles outside of the city.  During my stay with them they showed me around Guayaquil; we went to the Cathedral, Parque de las Iguanas, El Malecon (a boardwalk lined with simple attractions like old train cars, ice cream stands, fountains, mini-monuments etc.) and El Parque Historico.

Vicky Sue and Kathryn in Parque Seminario

Over the weekend they took me to a couple of beaches I wanted to visit- Salinas, Punta Blanca and Montanita.  The sun there is extremely strong- but I used 50 SPF and didn’t burn!

I spent time with my Great Aunt Maria Rosa, who spends a lot of time putting puzzles together and is adorable.  I also went to classes with my cousin Vicky Sue who is studying jewelry design and is incredibly creative and talented.  I went to church with Vicky, who is very active at Santa Teresita, the family parish just a few blocks away.  Fernandito and I did some cooking together; we made lemon bars and chocolate chip cookies!  In general I was able to relax a lot and enjoy getting to know the family and improving my Spanish through long conversations.  All in all it has been a lovely stay.  I will try to do a last post in the next couple of days to close out the blog.  Thank you all for reading!

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Day Trip to Otavalo

The most popular attraction in Otavalo, about two hours from Quito, is the large open market. On Saturdays it is always crawling with visitors, tourists from all over, but my buddy Mike and I headed there last Thursday.  It was empty- so much the better for quickly making our purchases.  I got a hammock and several pieces of art by a local who uses a tecnique in which he extracts the brown from walnuts, mixes it with water, and paints. After visiting the market we wanted to hike to a famous tree in our guidebook called El Lechero. It turned out that it was located 4 kilometers away beyond a village and several treacherous mountainy crags…which we only found out because a kind Ecuadorian offered to drive us there for FREE! Praise God. We took pictures by the tree and enjoyed the gorgeous backdrop of the inactive volcano Imbabura and a sparkling lake.  There was also a notable cow tethered by the tree and lots of fragile soil that Mike insisted we not step on because it takes years to regenerate. We tramped all over hill and dale and found our way to a random street by following some indigenous girls down a mountain path, where we hopped on a random bus that we supposed was going to the town that sends buses to Quito. It was, and we hailed the bus to Quito as it was driving away and got the seats in front with the bus driver/sitting on the steps with the guys who collect the money. Here is a link to a slideshow I made of our outing…I think it tells the story better than I do! Enjoy: SLIDESHOW

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Spring break- Amazon style

From Saturday, March 13- Saturday March 20, I threw in my lot with a group of students from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio to go on a medical mission to bring a health clinic and spiritual nourishment to pueblos in the Amazon region of Ecuador. The team also included American doctors and nurses, Ecuadorian priests and a number of English/Spanish translators. My role was to help translate health talks and religious talks and skits for people waiting to be seen at the clinic.The week was filled with rich experiences of generosity, culture, nature and community. My only connection with the group was that I had been in email contact with a Franciscan alum, Lily Hannon, who is currently living and working in an orphanage on the coast of Ecuador. She and her missionary partner Breanna, had planned to participate in the mission trip, and it so happened that the dates exactly aligned with my Spring break.

I wish I had time to detail all of the experiences I had, but with the limits of time and space I will recount a few highlights:

*Ferrying or taking long, thin boats back and forth across the river that separated our hotel from the towns where we brought the clinic
*Playing soccer, red light green light, red rover and duck duck goose for hours with hordes of barefoot, dirty, smiling children
*Sneaking off with some of the kids to see the river in a hollowed out log-boat only to fall in the river five feet from shore
*Getting a tour of the jungle and eating cacao, papaya, an orange avocado-like fruit, pods with fluffy melony-tasting chunks inside and hierba luisa- a grass used to make tea
*Speaking about and against alcoholism to a group of young men in a village; teaching groups of children how to pray the rosary; translating and acting out the Good Samaritan
*Handing out first aid kits and translating messages about basic hygiene- washing hands, brushing teeth, boiling water or setting it in the sun for six hours in a clear plastic jug
*Watching traditional village wedding dances and being pulled into one by a seven year old boy
*Sleeping on the concrete school-house floor under mosquito netting without mattress or blanket, listening to a monsoon roar outside
*Going to daily mass all week and relying on that grace to come up with religious talks, songs, skits and sharings in Spanish with almost no preparation
*Getting climbed on, incessantly poked and chased by kids like Carlos, Jefferson, Fernanda, Jimena, Jessica, Magda-Elena and Nixon, to name a few (not sure why-but a lot of the kids had very Western names)
*Going back to Quito and getting my nails done with one of the other missionaries for $2, then going with her to get her ear pierced, also for an obscenely low price

For those of you who just want to see it, here is a slideshow of the trip!

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Mindo

Today I went to Mindo, another cloud-forest tourist town.  Three friends and I rode a bus for about two hours getting into town in time for lunch. We decided quickly to do zip-lining and soon were riding in a truck up to the first of ten cables.  Our guides were two Mindo natives who had as much of a blast as we did (understandable when your job is zip-lining…) and obligingly told us about many of the plants we passed and their properties.  Over the course of ten cables that sent us zooming over the forest, we took turns trying the different zip-lining positions: murcielago (a bat-like position), mariposa (a butterfly-like position) and Supermon (a Superman like position).  Unfortunately we only brought one camera, so I don’t have the pictures to display, but it was very extreme and very fun.  After riding in the back of the truck into town, we ate bananas covered in chocolate sauce made from cocoa beans ground that day.  Then, we paid $2 to tour through a beautiful greenhouse/garden full of mariposas and flowers!  I went kind of crazy with the camera… And below are the results!

VIEW AWESOME SLIDESHOW ON PICASA BY CLICKING HERE!

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Riobamba y Carnaval

Sorry for the delay, folks!

For many Latin American countries, including Ecuador, Saturday through Tuesday of this past weekend was a rowdy celebration known as Carnaval. Different countries and some individual cities have traditional ways of partying before Ash Wednesday, the day when Catholics begin forty days of fasting and penance leading up to Easter.  Customary festivities in Ecuador include parades, games, music, water fights and of course, a holiday from school! Typically, natives and tourists flock to the West- towards the beaches- to make merry day and night during Carnaval. On Saturday morning, however, I found myself  packed into a four-door sedan at full capacity rumbling South to a city called Riobamba. I was traveling with Muma, a friend from the Catholic University soccer team with which I have been training, her brother Carlos, two friends on their way to respective hometowns, and her adorable Schnauzer, Lila. Traffic notwithstanding, the adventure really began ten miles outside of Ambato, when the car started shaking then haltingly collapsed with a fully deflated front right tire.  After unloading the fifteen suitcases we had miraculously packed into the trunk, we discerned that we had a spare tire, a jack, and a socket wrench…but no keys with which to take off the hubcap. In the end, Muma and I hitched a ride to Ambato, borrowed a mechanics assistant, took a taxi back to our car with him, photographed him changing the tire, and deposited him back at the ferreteria (hardware store), rattling on our way.  We arrived in the afternoon to Muma’s house- a series of stacked apartments belonging to her mother, her brother Juan, and two other aunts, deceptively hidden behind the family mattress store.  We pulled up on the crowded cobblestone street and were greeted by aunts, uncles, cousins and four more dogs.  What a beginning!

That evening, Juan, Carlos, Muma, myself and two Frenchmen who were in the area drove the hour back to Ambato to watch a friend of the family who is a torrero- a bullfighter.  It was my first experience watching the elaborate art, and I admit I almost laughed the first time one of the torreros danced too close and fled behind the protective barrier, closely followed by an angry bull.  It was thrilling though to hold my breath as a more skilled torrero beckoned the beast with a flick of bright fabric and arched his back as the bull charged within inches of it. With each pass, a murmur passed through the crowd…Ooole! Ole! Then came the part I had somehow forgotten about- the ceremonious unsheathing of the sword and skewering of the bull, complete with spurts of red blood. We left after the fifth of six bulls was dragged out of the arena by a team of horses.

On Sunday morning, Muma’s mother presented me with a rose in honor of el Dia de Amor y Amistad- which I had completely forgotten about! We then prepared to go to the family’s finca/casa del campo/country estate.  I was warned by the family to bring a full change of clothes with me to nearby Penipe, in the Chimborazo province. “Vamos a mojarnos!” “We’re going to get wet,” I was told. The house was in the middle of an acre of corn just up the hill from town and it had a long zipline, a swingset and an outdoor cooking area. We unpacked the cars and most of the young people grabbed beers and rode in the back of the truck back to Penipe’s centro.  We were dropped off in the crowded main plaza, where almost every face in sight wore the marks of paint, foam, and water.  There was music playing and the streets too were littered with empty cans, popped balloons and water bottles.  Almost immediately,  our dry clothes became a tempting target and we began looking for the “safest” walking route, to no avail. Several water balloons soon landed on me anonymously and to top it off, a man casually walked past me and deposited a handful of chalk dust in my hair, giving it a hearty rub.  We walked back up the half-mile to our house and divided into teams, arming ourselves with small basins and plastic water jugs with the top halves cut off, and a two-hour water-fight ensued.  The women cooked steaks, sausages, potatoes and choclo (corn on the cob), filling the yard with steam. While waiting for dinner, we dried off in the sun with a game of soccer.  Everyone from 6-year-old Emilio to 24-year-old Carlos participated. After dinner, we loaded the cars back up and returned to Rio Bamba. We got back just in time for some of the family friends who had come with us and me to catch the last Mass of the day.

Monday, most of us headed to Ambato for more Carnaval festivities. Ambato is known for its Festival of Fruits and Flowers, but we mostly walked around exploring the indoor mall, the outdoor shops, the displays of art, the various ice cream shops and the inundated parks.  Outside the Cathedral of Ambato we listened to a band of musicians singing and strumming for some time before heading back. Although we had planned to return yet again that evening for a fiesta involving a Dragon y Caballero (Colombian reggaeton) concert, we had to think of an alternative when the parking garage attendant disappeared from his post.  In the end, our group had a night on the town in Riobamba. Fortunately, my friends knew waiters and bouncers at seemingly every venue such that the cost was low for extended enjoyment.  The surprise of the night for me was the bar that boasted a bubble machine that had the first floor up to their knees in suds.  The party ended early Tuesday morning with a big group singing and passing around a guitar in Muma’s brother’s apartment.

We drove back to Quito midday Tuesday, fighting torrential downpours and mudslides that caused massive delays in the bus system, unfortunately for a number of my classmates. I made it home early, around 6 p.m., got ready for class, and went to bed. Happy Carnaval!

Next post, my goal is to share a little bit about daily life here. Stay tuned!

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Los Baños

Quitumbe, the bus terminal in the south of Quito, sends buses all over Ecuador.  For $3.50, five girls and I took a three-hour bus ride on Friday afternoon to a town called los Baños.  Named after its famous thermal baths, heated to 118 degrees by the active volcano Tungarahua, Baños subsists on tourism. The six of us contributed our share this past weekend. We stayed at Hotel Chimenea for $6.50 a night a piece. We ate stacks of fruit, yogurt and honey-covered pancakes with jugo de mora (blackberry juice) for roughly $3.00 each.  On Saturday, we contracted guides from one of dozens of adventuring agencies to give us wetsuits and take us canyoning: rappelling down 30 foot waterfalls amidst lush green foliage, $25.

With unlimited finances, we could have zip-lined through the jungle, gone bungee/bridge-jumping, rented ATVs or bikes, or tackled Class 4 rapids. Descending a fifty-foot waterfall, however, was sufficient for me.  Saturday afternoon we walked around the town a bit, sampling malcocha- Baños’ signature taffy that is pulled and twisted on pegs in a shop’s doorway- and sugar cane, which is pressed through machines to yield sugar cane juice.  Here is a video of the taffy-making process on YouTube (30 secs). We also signed up for a chiva bus tour promising a view of the volcano, complete with visible lava on a clear night. Although we saw no lava, we did hear the rumbling and had the added pleasure of riding in the chiva- a rickety open-air bus with bench seats and painted sides, lit up with lights and music, as it hurtles around mountainous curves.  On Sunday morning, I attended mass at The Basilica of the Virgin of the Holy Water.  Although the spires of the church are fluorescent blue in the night (highly reminiscent of the Disney castle), in the day, it holds almost hourly masses, typically packed with devout Baños residents.  The interior of the basilica holds several large paintings depicting miracles that have been attributed to the holy waters of los Baños.  All in all, a beautiful get-away. Now back to classes!

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San Miguel de los Bancos

Friday morning, the 34 students on my program left at 6:30 a.m. for a weekend of relaxation. After three hours of busing through mountains, jungles and deserts, we arrived. San Miguel de los Bancos is in the northwest of a province of Ecuador called Pichincha. We were staying at a resort in a cloud forest- picture a lush, tropical jungle in the clouds. We went on a caminata- a hike- through the forest down to a waterfall and river where people could swim. Our guides showed us trees that hold reserves of water and trees with spikes that can be made into poisonous darts. Some of their leaves were easily two feet long. The jungle engages many senses; it feels moist, smells rich and sounds like a symphony of birds and insects. It is VERY loud. Perhaps sound correlates to size; I have already seen three-inch flying bugs, six-inch stick bugs and “baby” worms that were as long as my hand, wrist to fingertip.

On Saturday, we took a tour of the grounds of the resort and learned some interesting facts. Our guide was standing in the center of a small circular plaza holding two metal skewers at one point. He held them between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, parallel to the ground and each other, slowly walking in a straight line until they were drawn together magnetically.  After, he invited volunteers to come up while he did the same thing, demonstrating where each person’s magnetic field was. For most people, it was two or three feet around their body, but one girl’s energy field was less than a foot from her body. The guide said that the metal from her piercings (which she had removed) saps her energy in the same way a baby uses the energy of a pregnant mother.  The guide also balanced an egg on a nail, telling us that it rested on one tiny point on the edge- apparently one of the wonders of the Equator.

On the way home, our bus got a flat tire.  I’m not sure if it happened before or as we parked at a 45 degree angle (side to side, not front to back) outside an ice cream shop. In the hour it took to repair, we got an ice cream making demonstration from a very jolly proprietor. He showed us how they put a large metal bowl in an even larger basin of ice and pour pureed fruit into it, moving the liquid with a small paddle, by hand.  There are many fruity flavors of ice cream in Ecuador because the fruit is so juicy and luscious! With breakfast and lunch it is common to serve juice made by simply blending the fruit with a little water.  It is thick and pulpy, almost like fruity syrup, but not as sweet as juice in the States.

On Saturday night, my friends and I explored part of Gringolandia called La Plaza de la Foch.  Quito has several tourist districts with bars and discotecas and the top two are Plaza Foch and La Mariscol.  Sunday my family and I went out to lunch at a restaurant named after a famous Mexican television show called El Chavo del Ocho, created by a comedian named Roberto Gomez Bolaños.  We then drove through Parque Metropolitano, one of the many beautiful, large parks in Quito.  This one has thick woods throughout much of it but they are filled with well-used trails where people walk, run and bike.  Sunday night my mama and I went to a nearby church. My brother Sebastion dropped us off because twice while the car was parked outside the church robbers stole my family’s car radio.  When we got home, we immediately went upstairs where my abuelos live. My mama’s siblings and their spouses were there and everyone sat around a tiny table talking, eating bread and cheese, and drinking coffee.  One subject of conversation was the current discussion about traffic reduction in Quito.  Several options have been considered, including the prohibition of driving during key hours of a given day if your license plate ends in a given number.

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