This is going to be such a huge post because I haven’t had down time yet until just recently and my house here doesn’t have wifi and the wifi at our spanish school only sometimes works so basically heres 1.5 weeks worth of stuff…
So getting through security and all the normal airline processes were very simple in Managua.. There was a brief point where the person giving me my boarding passes said I either needed a visa or plane ticket out of Ecuador in order to get into Ecuador, but I explained how I was getting a student visa once I got there and it was all sorted out. Security was a breeze as the only thing they make you take off is your shoes and you have to put your computer in the same bucket as your shoes but thats it. They didn’t have any restrictions on liquids or need to have them in a ziplock bag in a container to go through security. Unfortunately, my day got kindof filled with layovers. Because security was such a breeze, I sat around in the airport with no wifi. Then I had a 3+ hour layover in Panama city where there was very spotty wifi which I eventually just deemed useless. The flight to Quito was very quick and easy though and they even had complimentary alcoholic beverages (multiple types of wine and hard alcohol). I guess only in south america! I arrived about 45 minutes before everyone else so once they got in we all loaded into a bus to drive all the way from the airport to the city center (about an hour). It was a pretty winding road and bumpy but from what little I could see from the bus, it seemed quite pretty. It was fun to be in a big group of students all together again. Theres only 15 of us and everyone is super friendly so it will be really great. We got to the hotel super late and wandered around it, checking out everyone’s rooms. It is such a beautiful hotel. Its a remodeled old house and all the rooms have different themes in terms of how the walls are painted and the painting are beautiful and they’re all super spacious rooms with very plush bedding. So then we crashed because it was 2 in the morning.
So day 1 in Ecuador!! It seemed like I had a continuous headache for the first few days because the elevation is so high (>9000 ft) and I was feeling fairly lightheaded and physically exhausted, but that seems to be passing now that i’m aclimating a bit. I woke up in the morning thinking that my roommate in our hotel was taking a shower. Turns out she was still asleep and that actually the ceiling above our bathroom was leaking MASSIVE amounts of water, basically enough to sound like a continuous shower. I went to breakfast and alerted someone who said we could change rooms and while we were eating in the kitchen right below our room, little drips started coming down from the ceiling there. Within 15 minutes, it was like a shower coming down from that ceiling too. But they switched us into an even nicer room and eventually got the water leakage under control. Still don’t know what happened, but it wasn’t a big deal. Then we went to an Ecuadorian history museum that was filled with pottery and artifacts from era after era of ecuadorian civilizations.
After lunch we wandered around 2 different handicraft markets that were filled with beautifully colored textiles and souvenirs and other art things. I made a mental list of all the things I may want to go back and get and I bought (and bartered for!) a pair of overalls that are made out of the traditional textile fabric which I’m pretty happy about.
Then we had a bit of a siesta time, so I sat in the room and listened to the hummingbirds outside my window. After some researching, because I didn’t have a birdbook yet, I decided it was a Sparkling Violetear. There was also a dove on its nest literally 2 feet away from our window so that was quite cute.
In the evening after dinner we sat around the lounge area and played a pictionary/illustration type game but using spanish only and realized how much we really needed to improve our spanish. It was really fun though and I love being in a group of students who all seem to enjoy playing games because I feel like usually I really want to play a game and no one else does so its sad, but here everyone wants to play games and its just so fun.
We woke up day 2 in Ecuador and went on a city tour, part walking part bus, of Quito. We started off by going to the enormous church that Quito is so famous for. It was so so beautiful inside. My camera could not capture even remotely how beautiful it was. There were stained glass windows everywhere and there was colorful light everywhere and it was huge and incredible.
Then we drove around through the old part of town (the part that got Quito designated a UNESCO world heritage site) and stopped by the political square area of town. Supposedly in the old part of Quito there is a cathedral/iglesia on every block and that is so true and for a long stretch we went in all of them. They were all so different and pretty in their own way. There was one that is considered to be the most beautiful church in all of south america. It is huge and all of the surfaces are covered in gold/gold plate so that was pretty remarkable. I got one photo before I was notified that cameras were not allowed so this photo does not necessarily do the church justice.
We walked around some more of the old part of town, visiting a few more squares and churches and went by the presidents office where he normally comes out to say hello to passerby but currently he is traveling around the country campaigning for other politicians in his party because elections here are coming up.
Then we got in the bus and drove up to the top of this very tall hill in Quito that has a massive statue of the virgin Mary looking over the city (kindof like the one of Jesus in Rio). We got to climb up to the top of the statue and look out at the view. It was really incredible, you could see Quito in all directions.
Then we went back to the hotel and after lunch I went on a hunt for a birdbook. It was actually quite difficult. The first bookstore didn’t have one, the second bookstore had one for $72 and so I finally found a used bookstore that had one for $20 so I got that one. It was smaller though and not quite as detailed but at least it wasn’t $72. Then I took a nice drowsy nap. Right after I woke up we had a 2 hour lecture from this American-turned-Ecuadorian activist. It was really great and WOW I learned a lot. Basically she is a radical super liberal left-y who is not at all afraid to be “objective” in terms of her political opinions. She essentially went through Ecuador’s entire modern history while simultaneously teaching us about other countries histories as well. It was fascinating and made me really skeptical of their current president. Actually she was so liberal that it made me skeptical of politics in general and every politician I’ve ever heard about. But it was really great and definitely got the wheels in my head turning and she was so crazy and enthusiastic that it kept us all on our toes. At night we all went out together to a bar to celebrate being in Ecuador and then came back to the hotel to play more games. So much fun.
Day 3 here we piled into a bus and went to a museum at the house of Guayasamin, a famous artist who is very renowned especially in Ecuador. We took a tour and watched a movie to learn about his life and art. His art is really really incredible and a really interesting style, kindof Pablo Picasso-esque.
Next we headed off to the “middle of the world”. Basically its just the equator, but its the highest and most accessible point on the equator and I missed the part where the guide explained exactly why that spot got to be called the middle of the world rather than other points on the Equator. Our guide here did a bunch of demonstrations of how water spins a different direction depending on whether you’re north or south of the equator, even by just a tiny bit. Then we did a demonstration showing how hard it is to balance on the equatorial line. And then we did a demonstration showing how much weaker we are when we’re on the equatorial line versus just a couple feet north/south of it.
Then we drove to this place called El Crater, which was a really beautiful restaurant looking over this valley that was really pretty. They also had alpacas grazing on their lawn which was quite cute.
Then we drove a couple hours over to Mindo, a cloud forest with wonderful birds and butterflies. We stayed at this cute little hosteria that had a ton of hummingbird feeders so that was really exciting for me. But they were all really hard to identify because theres so many hummingbird species in Ecuador and so many of them look really alike.
We went on an evening walk and then went into their butterfly preserve where they’re breeding butterflies to put back in the wild. There were so many species of butterflies and they were landing all over everyone.
Day 4 I woke up early to go watch birdies and then they didn’t come out until it was time to head off on a hike so that was sad. We started a hike that was supposed to be only a couple miles to a waterfall but a lot of the hike relied on little pully zipline carts to pull you across valleys and rivers. The first little pully cart across a river worked just fine.
However, the second pully cart, which went over a massive valley was broken so we either had the option of waiting 1.5 hours for the cart to be fixed or hiking 1.5 hours into the waterfall. We didn’t trust that it would actually only take 1.5 hours for it to be fixed so we decided to hike. It was a really tough hike, with lots of huge hikes up and then down and then up and then down. But it was really beautiful and really a fun hike too. We got to the waterfall and swam around in a little swimming hole slightly down river from it. It was really fun but freezing cold. When we finally decided to head back, the pully cart still wasn’t working so we had to hike the 1.5 hrs back too. Needless to say, it was a lot harder going back and it started raining too but we eventually made it back (3 hours later than planned) and had a nice tasty lunch.
Then we piled back into the bus and went back to our hotel in Quito. I took a really nice bath and we spent the evening and night playing more games and packing up our stuff to leave the next morning.
Day 5, we left the hotel early in the morning to head to the airport. Airport security in Ecuador is even more relaxed, and you didn’t have to take off your shoes or take your computer out…very different than the US. The flight was fast but with lots of turbulence. We arrive in Cuenca and were immediately paired with our families and whisked away. My host family is really just the sweetest family. My host mom was at the airport with her sister, whose family is also hosting an LC student, and they drove us home. She showed me my room, which is really nice and I started unpacking. While I was unpacking, it was almost lunch time and so the entire family came over for lunch, because in Ecuador its a tradition to spend lunch with your family because its the most important meal here. My host mom’s grandchildren immediately ran into my room and were so eager to talk to me and meet me and all gave me hugs. They are all so adorable. Theres a 9 year old girl, a 7 year old girl, and a 1.5 year old girl (and a 10 year old who I haven’t met yet). At lunch, my host dad got home and was so eager to learn about me and my life. I technically only live with my host mom and dad but they have 3 older children who all live in the area and all 3 children have kids. Since my host parents don’t work during the day, the youngest granddaughter stays with them until the other grandchildren are out of school and then they come over too, so they are always around which is really fun. Then in the evening me, my host parents, and their grandchildren (so I guess technically my host-nieces?) went on a little drive around the city so they could show me Cuenca and then we went to a Mirador (view point) that looked down on the entire city. It was so beautiful but I unfortunately forgot my camera at home.
Then it was back to the house to sleep and chit chat. Really, my host family is so wonderful. They make really wonderful food (which I was really scared about), and they’re super friendly and open about everything and are constantly eager to make sure I’m happy about everything, all while not being overbearing and giving me my independence. Its perfect.
Then Day 6, my host dad drove me to the school I’m going to, Amauta, in the morning. We all took placement tests to see which of the four levels of Spanish classes we should take. It was a really really difficult test, mostly because the grammar part was so hard. There were basically 15 pages of grammar stuff, half of which I hadn’t ever learned, and another quarter of which I’ve completely forgot. Then we went to a phone store as a group and some of us got some funky ecuadorian phones. I tried to get a SIM card for my iphone, but unfortunately all US phones are locked here and they can’t unlock them so I had to just buy the cheapest phone they had. Then I went back home for lunch with my whole family.
After lunch we went back to school and got paired up with university students who showed us how to take the buses to and from our host family’s houses and how to walk there as well. My house is really far from the school, and right next to a bus stop for a bus that takes you right into the center of town so I’ll probably take the bus every day (especially since its only 25 cents). My house is also right by 3 other students houses, so its very convenient. The university student who showed me and one of my friends who lives by my house around was really sweet. She told us all the best places to go in the city. It was surprising though because she was already married with a 3 year old daughter and it seemed like it was perfectly normal.
Then those who had phones walked around a little bit while everyone who hadn’t gotten a phone got one. Cuenca is SUCH a beautiful city. The buildings are beautiful, everything is very clean, transportation is easy, and there are 4 rivers that go throughout the city.
In the evening, I met up with the other 3 students who live right by me and we took a taxi into the city center to our professors apartment where we met up with everyone else. Then we all went out to the main nightlife street, Calle Larga, and relaxed at a bar there. We were planning on going to another bar but it got pretty late and it started raining so we just took a cab back home. Taking cabs here is so simple and really cheap ($3 max, which is even less when you’re splitting it 4 ways).
Day 7, I finally got to sleep in a little bit. I had a simple, typical breakfast of bread, juice and instant coffee. The coffee here is so weird. Basically they heat up milk, pour you a cup of hot milk (which is also unpasteurized) and then you put a spoonful of coffee powder in it. I don’t even drink coffee ususally, but my family keeps serving me it, so I keep drinking it and when I do drink coffee I like it with a lot of milk so I guess its perfect. Then I met up with Emilie, the girl who lives right by me and we took the bus into the center of town where we met up with another student. We wandered around a bit, while it was unfortunately raining (but not cold), and went in a couple churches and markets and then walked along the river. I wanted to take photos but my camera battery was dead 😦
Then I headed back home for lunch with my family which was particularly delicious. After lunch my family took me for a drive all over the place. We went to Banos Cuenca which is a little town outside of Cuenca that has volcanic hot springs and so there are lots of little hotel type places that have built a tourist industry around the hotsprings. We didn’t go in any, but my family toured me around them and showed me where the best one is and told me that this was where I had to return with my classmates. Then we went up into the town of Banos, where they were having a religious festival. There was lots and lots of dancing in traditional outfits and my host mom bought me all the typical kinds of street food that Banos has and chose the best kinds for me to try, and they were all very very delicious.
In the evening, first I watched a movie with my host parents in spanish that I had already seen in english. It was very cute and I think watching movies is going to be the way to go. Then I met up with a few of the other students and we went to a very cute bar in the center of town where we met up with one of their university student tour guides who is from Cuenca and he showed us a couple other good cheap bars and told us about Cuenca and whatnot. It was a really nice and calm evening.
Day 8, I woke up very tired because they were having a huge multi-day birthday party on the street one street over from my house alllll night and then I was woken up by fireworks right outside of my house at 6 in the morning and honking cars for the current political campaigns. Then the entire family met up, so I got to meet the only grandchild who I haven’t met yet who was very sweet and very intelligent. Then we all went out to el Campo (the countryside). Basically, its kind of a part of the culture here to have a house in the city and a house in the country where you go on weekends. This weekend we went to a little town 1.5 hours south of Cuenca where my host sister recently bought land to build a house and we went there to survey the land and hire people to begin cleaning it up so they can build their house. It was a little boring because it was multiple hours sitting in the sun while everyone argued in very rapid spanish about how to best go about constructing a house/pool. Then we went to the house that they already have there, which was only 1 km away, and ate mangos and yucca and bread while everyone spoke in more rapid spanish.
We eventually got home and watched another movie and then I passed out because my brain was so exhausted from being bombarded with rapid spanish all day.
I have to say, its really really hard not having wifi, particularly since I’m the only student who doesn’t have it and since using phones here is pretty expensive, everyones been communicating on the internet. But, I think it will be good for me to only get on at internet cafes when I really need it. Also my host family is so amazing, that it makes up for it in so many ways and my mom calls me mija (mi hija= my daughter) which is really cute, so that makes me happy too.