Monthly Archives: May 2010

Lost in the Clouds

View of the mountains in the cloud forests

Tuesday I got back to work and realized I had to leave on a work trip the next day. We send summer volunteers out to this region called Intag which is deep in the cloud forests of Ecuador. I needed to go and liaise with our contacts there, visit the schools and also the host families that we generally use. This region is where we send those volunteers that want a super authentic experience. There are few amenities there – no cell service, not even a bar in one of the larger villages. Wed morning I took a bus out to Otavalo and from there another bus into Intag. It was a long ride as we circled the mountains on dirt and gravel roads and of course no guard rails. There were even some mini waterfalls that fall down the mountain and those sections were even more treacherous as the stones were nice and smooth and perfect for slipping. I have survived to tell the tale however.

Road through mountainous Intag

Lacking in the conveniences of a larger city, the people more than made up for it with their friendliness. Everyone says Buenos Dias or Buenas Tarde. Everyone knows everyone and people walk around leaving their homes unlocked.

Cuellaje (pronounced Ku-ya-hey)

I met up with the lovely Cecilia Alvarez who’s our main contact in the towns of Cuellaje and La Loma; she’s a teacher at the school in La Loma and the main contact for volunteers while they’re there. I actually asked Cecilia how they came up with the name Cuellaje and she told me this lovely story.

Around early 1900s or so, a man came upon the town and bought it for a pack of cigarettes, a rifle and around $5 (my memory is failing me but that’s about the gist of it; should have written this down soon after she told me the story). He, his family and a few other people settled the town and for food they would farm and hunt. There were many birds in that region and so they would shoot the birds for meat. They started to notice that in the birds’ collars there were precious gems. The birds had been feeding from the local rivers and when as they fished, they would pick up precious gems from the river that remained in their feathers. So when the hunters shot down the birds they’d find the gems. And that’s how the town got it’s name. A necklace is called a collar (pronounced ko-yarr) and so the bird had a “collar de gemas” (ko-yar de ye-mas). “Collar de gemas” => Cuellaje. It seems that most of the residents of Cuellaje are descendants of these hunting families. The Intag region was one of the last to be settled in Ecuador so they’re still quite close to their settler history.

Anyhow, once I arrived, I was immediately taken to the school in Cuellaje to visit the head teacher and have a tour of the school. While it’s definitely a poor area, it’s obvious that the teachers care deeply about their school and are really excited to have World Teach volunteers coming. Here’s are a couple of views from inside the classroom:

Inside a Cuellaje classroom

Punctuality, Humility, Responsibility, Friendship

The school received some computers from the government and they’re excited about that.

Newly received computers

La Loma

After meeting with everyone and getting the summer contract signed, we got a local to give us a ride to La Loma to see that school and meet the host family. Only about 35 students attend that school and there are only two classrooms covering kindergarten to about 7th grade. Each grade has a desk within the classroom. There are two teachers. One teacher teachers kindergarten to around 2nd grade and the other teacher (Cecilia) covers the rest.

Here are some photos of the school.

La Loma classroom - each desk signifies a grade

La Loma student

Other La Loma students

After visiting the school, we went to meet the host family. It’s a lovely couple with two pre-teen kids. The house is nice though humble. The family grows everything they eat. This seems to be the norm in this farming community.

They grow what they eat

Fresh and tasty

They also raise mules. The host dad said he was looking forward to the volunteers arrival so that they could go riding together. I really think that the volunteer I placed there will love the location and the family. He said he wanted to be immersed in the community and have few interactions with other foreigners. I’ve given him exactly what he wanted.

Local La Loma men enjoying a chat and a cigarette

Back to Cuellaje

After the host family meeting, we were driven back to Cuellaje. I went to Cecilia’s house and had a snack and met her mother, sister and brothers.  I had some delish guava jelly that the family makes themselves. I could have drowned in it. It was so lovely. I gave Cecilia some chocolates I’d bought in Quito as a thank you for showing me around.

Cecilia then took me to a small hostel where I would spend the night. We then walked around the tiny town park a few times chatting and watching the teenagers play Ecua volley (volleyball but played on cement). I then went to my hostel, had dinner, and soon went to bed. I paid $8.50 for my hostel including dinner that night and breakfast the next morning.

Park in Cuellaje

Small but beautiful church in Cuellaje town square


The next morning I had to be on a 6:15am bus to Peñaherrera to visit another site where we’ll be sending one volunteer. There are few buses that pass though that region and so I had to get up that early to be on my way. Luckily school starts at 7am so it all worked out. There I met the rector (principal), Edgar Carrera. He spoke some English though I think my Spanish was better than his English so to make sure that certain things were understood I would switch to Spanish. The rest of the time I humored his English as he was happy to practice it. I got the contract signed and was ready to go by 8am.

Schools here are also concerned about H1N1:

H1N1 poster outside of Colegio Jose Peralta

Colegio Jose Peralta - HS in Penaherrera

Lacking buses, I had to get a ride with a guy who was heading into Apuela (a larger town not too too far away where buses pass more frequently). The driver was a friend of the principal’s so it was all safe. In that area of the country, pretty much hitchhiking is the main way to get around. There’s only one bus that goes into the area during the day and one or two buses leaving. Few people have cars and so if you need to get somewhere you have to hitchhike. I got to Apuela without incident, waited about half an hour and then got a bus to Otavalo. Then on to Quito. I was supposed to be on the trip until Friday but I managed to get everything done (it being a small town and all and everything informal) and was back in Quito by lunchtime.

Market in Apuela

While I loved the friendliness of the people, I’m a big city girl and probably wouldn’t have survived much longer than the couple of days I was there.


In other news, Tungurahua, a volcano in Baños erupted a bit and ash is all over Ecuador. Quito isn’t affected but people are walking around wearing masks in Riobamba, Ambato, and even as far south as Guayaquil.

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Gringos Go Walkabout

Gringos go walkabout

For the first time in a long time I’ve been without any kind of communication for two whole days; no cell, no internet, no nada. Today, Monday, is a ferriado (public holiday) in Ecuador and so a bunch of us gringos decided to head off for a bit of hiking in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, Quilotoa.


Getting There

On Saturday morning, we all made our way to Quitumbe bus terminal in the southern part of Quito and got on a bus to Latacunga. We had a 1.5 hour wait at the terminal before taking another bus to Chugchilan. At the Latacunga terminal we met up with another two volunteers based in Ambato and then got on the bus to Chugchilan. Chugchilan is around one to 1.5 hours away from Quilotoa and we were staying at a hostel in this small village called Hostal Cloud Forest.

A snack at Latacunga Bus Terminal

The road from Latacunga to Chugchilan was well very scary. One lane highway (not necessarily paved), no guard rails and the certainty that the slightest miss-direction by the bus would have us all careening to certain death. I held my breath for a lot of the ride (3 hours) and whenever someone moved an inch or so I feared they would ruin the balance of the bus and we would be cliff diving.

Chugchilan and Hostal Cloud Forest

Hostal Cloud Forest

Miraculously we survived the perilous journey and arrived at our beautiful and very cheap hostel. $10 per person including breakfast and dinner. We had a wee snack and decided to do some walking around.I decided to venture to a small shop not far from the hostal and I bought a box of wine. In Ecuador there’s this box wine called Clos and it’s really good. It actually opened my view on the whole box wine thing. There was no Clos at this shop but there was San Pablo. I bought a box for $1. I didn’t think much of it. Clos is around $2-3 and we were in a small village. The stuff was terrible. Tasted like grape flavored Dimetapp cough medicine. I managed about two sips before calling it quits.

Horrible 'wine' and Lauren

I thought I was acclimating to the altitude but Chugchilan must be even higher than Quito. Any slight incline and I was completely out of breath. We did a short hike and then it started raining so we headed back. I was pathetic! I was panting more than a thirsty dog after a 10-mile run.

Some photos of our short hike:


View while walking down

Faster by butt

Man vs Nature

We got back to the hostel but there was really not much to do. Someone had brought along banagrams, a game I’d never played, but enjoyable. Then I did some knitting and started listening to American Gods by Neil Gaiman. So far I’m really enjoying this book. Later than evening we had dinner, I went back to my knitting and audiobook and soon it was lights out. Small town living and all.

Around Chugchilan

Verdant views

Village view


Local church


The next morning we breakfasted and headed out to take a bus to Quilotoa. It was supposed to arrive at 9am but we left at 9:30am; Ecua time… This ride was even more perilous than the journey from Latacunga. Pure mountainous cliffs below and curve after curve after curve.

Road to Quilotoa

Yet again we managed to survive. And it was so worth it. Quilotoa is just beautiful! We went into a local store to get some snacks for the hike, used the facilities and chatted with the locals.

Chatting with a couple of locals

Then we headed to the lake. Look at that view!

Just Beautiful!

Our party of nine decided to separate. Four went down to the lake for a boat ride and then two went back up by horse and the other two hiked. The rest of us five decided to walk around the mountain surrounding the lake. Our hostal keeper had warned us to only walk a quarter of the circumference and then take a path back to the hostel. But not us, we decided we’d walk 75% around the lake and then walk back to the hostel.

The views were spectacular though scary at times. The path was very narrow and one misstep and you’d be off to a beautiful death. Going downhill was fine, I had no issues but there was this one section where we were going up and up and up. And me, the chubbiest of the crew as well as only arriving 3 weeks prior, I was suffering. The others were very nice and waited for me every so often. Thank goodness for Gatorade! I probably should have snacked more along the way but I could barely breathe and the thought of eating anything made me want to hurl. It was enjoyable though in a masochistic sort of way.

Views along the way:

Souvenir area before starting the hike

Closer view of the water

Feels like we were among the clouds

Wanted to take this little guy home


Local housing

A dwelling

A Walk to Remember

A beautiful death

Tricky going down as well

25% along the way around the mountain, we started to hear thunder and saw a cloud formation coming in. With the treacherous path, we did not want to be stuck on the mountains in a lightning and thunder storm. So after much discussion, it was decided that we turn back as we were certain of what lay that way and not exactly sure when we’d find a path back to our hostel, especially as it was a 1.5 hour bus ride from Chugchilan to Quilotoa.

Almost to the peak before turning back

Clouds coming ever closer to us

At this point, I really thought that I had nothing left in the tank. But I persevered and kept walking. Luckily the first bit was downhill but then we had to climb and climb and climb. I kept asking if there was a peak in sight and the others tried to buoy my spirits along the way.

Getting Back

By the time we got back to Quilotoa proper, we’d missed the last bus. So we decided we’d look for someone to drive us back or try to hitchhike. Hitchhiking is quite common in Ecuador and in way out of the way villages like Chugchilan and Quilotoa, it’s the way people get around. Distances are ridiculously far and vehicles few and far between.

A local came up to us and offered us a ride back in his truck for $30. We negotiated it down to $25 and got in. Check it out.

Our way home

Getting in a few snacks

I was in back for a bit and on the bouncy, unpaved roads, it was not comfortable. Myself and Steph ending up moving up front with the driver while the other three suffered in back. They ended up standing the whole way because it was more comfortable than bouncing around in the back of that truck. We of course picked up some locals along the way and made it all in one piece.

Some views along the way

Quite common to see little kids carring their siblings not much bigger than them

All dressed in red

Amazing how much these woman carry on their backs

My first priority on arriving was a shower. I was dirty. I can’t remember the last time I was so dirty. Sweaty from the walking but worse, dust everywhere. My jeans were covered in grime, my fingernails black and me just gross. Luckily we had nice hot showers at the hostel and I washed myself from head to toe. I then joined the group for some rousing bananagrams while drinking a Pilsner Grande. I then headed back to my room for more Neil Gaiman. I had run out of my first skein of yarn and had to hand wind another. I managed to get 400 yards of fingering all tangled up and spent hours trying to untangle it. Thank goodness for a good audiobook.

We then had dinner and then a debate ensued. To leave Chugchilan the next day, there were only two buses, one at 3am and another at 4am. At this time it was still very dark and I think I’ve mentioned the perilous roads once or twice. So the hostal keeper suggested that we get a truck driver to take us at a later time. This truck would be a bit more comfortable than the one we took from Quilotoa to Chugchilan earlier that day but not by too much and it would be a 3-hour ride. I felt pretty strongly about taking the public bus. It was $2.50 as opposed to at least $5 on the truck and the locals took this bus every day, why differentiate myself. Two others felt the same way so the group split. Three of us would take the bus at 4am and the other six would wake up at a godly hour, breakfast and get to Latacunga by truck.

The early bus ride was slightly scary at times but not so much so. With it being so dark you couldn’t see the abyss below and so in its way comforting. We made it to Latacunga safely and then took another bus to Quito. Then a taxi ride home (fortuitously, the three of us that wanted to take the bus back lived in the same area and so shared a cab). I arrived home, dropped my things to the floor and then crashed!

A Note on Entitlement

I mentioned before that we had to take a 4am bus back to Latacunga and then back to Quito. We were all shocked and amazed that that was our main option and more than a little annoyed. I’m not one to sleep on transport, even at 4am and so I was happy to observe the goings on around me. The one thing I noticed was that as we picked up people on a freezing, mountain morning, everyone was all smiles. They seemed thrilled to have caught the bus. Usually, when I’m in NY or London, I get to the bus stop or Subway/Tube station and if my transport hasn’t arrived within 5 minutes, I’m well annoyed. And when I get on the bus or train, my thought is “about effing time”. Here are these people stuck out in the middle of nowhere and forced to leave their homes that early to make it to work on farms or sell their goods at markets and they’re so thankful and happy that they managed to get on the bus. Even if that means standing. It kind of made me realize how entitled I feel when it comes to getting transportation on my schedule. It just made me think a little about all this stupid anger that I carry simply because I feel entitled to this or that service.


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Working out

So far this year I´ve been pretty good about most of my resolutions. I´ve published over four patterns and I´ve found a job (albeit only for 4 months). However, one big goal has fallen to the wayside. That would be fitness and weight loss. Lacking a job and motivation to go out most days (despite living near the beach – in NY- with a nice long boardwalk) and having a very sedentary hobby (knitting might be a great finger workout but I can´t imagine what else), I´ve been putting on weight rather than losing. So now that I´m in Ecuador I want to change that. I especially feel like a giant here since everyone is quite petite. At 5’8″I tower above both the men and women and the extra girth isn´t helping.

So I´ve started waking up early and going walking with my host parents. They tend to walk and I´ve been walk/jogging. With the crazy altitude and the hilly terrain, I´m not up for a full jog yet but after just 3 days out I´m already improving. I´ve always loved that I´m able to get in shape supertastically quickly. I’ve also started taking salsa classes. I had my second one last night.

Wed night was a bit of a riot. I went to this pub quiz at this British pub called Reina Victoria; it was a South American Explorers event. After work, myself and Steph went over to the pub though the quiz wouldn’t occur for another 1.5 hours. There was a happy hour though, 2 for 1 drinks. I got my usual gin & tonic and Steph got a Pilsner Grande. Then we sat around for a while, ordered nachos and waited. Being Ecuador (and despite this being an event with mainly foreigners), people didn’t start arriving till around 7:30, when the quiz should have started. As we were only two, two others joined our group. One was Mark Thurber who’s a bit famous since he’s a published author. He wrote Climbing and Hiking in Ecuador. There was also Mike’s friend Ron who I kept wanting to call Rod. Anyhow, we were happily drinking, eating and soon competing. And I thought a bit of flirting occurred between Mark and myself but I wasn´t 100% sure.

Anyhow, yesterday Mark and I played some facebook scrabble. We´re both super competitive and absolutely love scrabble. Later that evening, after my salsa class, I got home and changed into PJs and was ready to finish this shawl sample I´ve been working on when I saw an email from Mark inviting me to join him and some friends dancing. I was all set for knitting and more How I Met Your Mother, so I called and said no. Then I was sitting there thinking, hmmm, stay home and knit or go out and dance. Dancing won. A good time was had by all. We started at this bar called El Pobre Diablo and then ended at Seseribo, this really cool salsa club. It´s all salsa all the time and awesome! I was indeed correct that Mark and I were flirting as I do believe that outing might be considered a first date.

Sadly due to all the dancing, I haven´t taken any photos. I promise tons of great photos from my weekend hiking trip to Quilotoa. I leave tomorrow morning. Here´s another great song, it´s Enanitos Verdes (Argentine group) singing Lamento Boliviano:

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Es mas facil llegar al sol que a tu corazon

Note: Another picture heavy post

Best Intentions

Yesterday my plan was to have no plans. A friend went on a hiking trip and while I considered joining, I really wanted to get some work done on this new design. So I wasn’t going to go out. I went out and bought a few DVDs so that I could spend the day watching movies and How I Met Your Mother. How I met your mother came out while I lived in England and I’d never even heard of it. However, due to an obsession with watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall and a huge crush on Jason Segel, I decided that I had to start watching it. I was excited to find at a DVD shop in Quito that sold the last 4 seasons ($1.50 per DVD – not originals obviously but that’s how things work over here). I got the first season and I must say that I’m in love with that show. It’s just soooo funny.

Anyhow, I had my plans fixed for the weekend but then my host mom said that her sister and husband (Sylvia and Nelson from last weekend) were coming over to take us to lunch at their house and maybe a trip to Mitad del Mundo. Mitad del Mundo is where you can go to see the equator line and there’s a museum there explaining how they figured out the equator point etc. Of course I wasn’t going to say no. So I packed up my knitting and decided I’d try to get some done in the pick up. I’m working on a shawl and had gotten lots done the night before but then realized I’d messed up a while back. Normally I’d just fudge it but since I’m writing this pattern up I had to make sure everything worked. So I frogged the whole thing, wrote up a chart of my number of stitches for each row and planned to get a lot done on Saturday.

Instead, Sylvia and Nelson plus young Pamela and their son Pablo came to pick us up and this time it would be quite a lot of us: host mom, Sandra, myself and host siblings Christian and Andrea. Pablo and Christian ended up in the back of the pickup while the rest of us sat in the cab. Later that evening, as it grew cold, Pablo and Christian joined us in the cab of the truck. So Nelson, Pablo and Christian in the front seat. Myself, Sandra, Andrea, Sylvia and Pamela in the back – not the most comfortable ride.

El Almuerzo

In the car, Sylvia admitted that she hadn’t cooked lunch but that we should head to this cevicheria, Ecuaviche, for lunch. Get ready to check out some delicious Ecua food – mainly food from the Coast. It was quite funny that I had more experience with that kind of food than the rest of my host family since I’d lived on the Coast for 2 years (2004-06). When we arrived the place was packed; I literally stood behind a family that was nearly done eating so we could get their table. Horribly rude I know but that’s how you do things here.

Anyhow, Nelson ordered all the food. First to arrive were some bowls with popcorn and chifles (green plaintain chips).

Cangill (popcorn) and Chifles (green plaintain chips)

Then came the encebollados. This is a typical Guayaquil food, especially known for relieving a hangover. It’s a sort of tomato-ey soup with a fillet of fish, yuca and lots of onions inside. Cebolla is Spanish for onion, hence, encebollado. We ate ours with crushed up chifles in it.


While eating our encebollado, the conchas asadas arrived. They were delish. They were in this dark sauce that was just amazing.

conchas asadas

Then the camarones (shrimp) arrived and another platter with breaded shrimp and calamares. Again yum! You can see us demolishing the food. Even Pamela tries to get in on the action.

demolishing the food

hands grasping for food

After lunch, we went to heladeria (ice cream shop) next door.

Pamela enjoying her helado

Driving Around

After our big lunch, we all got back into the pick up and went to Sylvia’s and Nelson’s house. Pamela needed to be changed. Nelson showed me some family photos and gave me the tour of the house. After that we went to check out one of Nelson’s site. He’s an engineer and is currently heading the building of a school.

The Building Site

Cousins: Christian and Pablito

Then back to the car and we headed towards Mitad del Mundo. We didn’t actually enter the tourist site but instead drove around the village. Around that area, mostly indigenous people live and so it was a bit interesting. Since we were in the car, I didn’t really take any pictures but I’m sure I’ll be heading out to Mitad del Mundo again.


After driving around, we stopped at a Panaderia (bakery) and then headed to Sandra’s parent’s home. I hadn’t realized that the whole family would be there. At the house I met Sandra’s brother and another of her sisters along with their spouses and children. Karaoke was the activity of the evening. Ecuadorians aren’t shy when it comes to singing and everyone jumped in. Luckily I’m a karaoke whore and so was happy to join in. Sadly, they only had Spanish music so I had to jump in and sing what few songs I knew. I started with Tabaco y Chanel by Bacilos and even did a rendition of Chiquitita by Abba in Spanish. I also sang La Bamba and joined Andrea in some Guantanamera.

Andrea jammin' with her cousin to some karaoke

Sandra's dad and his son-in-law

Andrea and another cousin, Catherine

We had coffee (me tea, can’t stand coffee) and bread and empanadas. It was quite nice. The men drank cuba libres and the women had cremitas (cream liquor).

The men getting their sing and drink on: Nelson, Santiago (Sandra's brother) and Giovanni (Sandra's brother-in-law)

The evening was quite fun; the Ecuadorians love a good family get together but as with every family get together the world over, things went a bit awry. Pamela was getting tired as it was around 10pm and Sylvia was ready to go home to put her children to bed. Nelson was happily drinking cuba libres with the other men and was not ready to go home. Sylvia got mad and was like, let’s go home now. Nelson wanted to sing one more song. Somehow, things got out of control and a fight (yelling) ensued. But that’s how things go with families, no? And of course alcohol.

Blog Title

While singing karaoke, one of the young cousins started singing a song by the group Mana and I remembered I love Mana. Anyhow, my fave Mana song Rayando el Sol was on the song list and so we sang that one together. I just love that line in the song: “Es mas facil llegar al sol que a tu corazon” – translated to mean, it’s easier to reach the sun than your heart.

I did manage to get some knitting done. While hanging out singing karaoke, I happily pulled out my knitting when I was not singing.


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Jammin´to the cheesy

It´s been a a busy few days getting things planned for the World Teach summer program. Today, the Asst Field Director and I were jamming to my ipod while working. I have a playlist called ´Workout´. Anyhow, ´Waiting for a star to fall´by Boy Meets Girl came on. I tend to listen to cheesy music when I run. I just like happy music that makes me forget about running. Anyhow, we´ve been listening to it over and over again and I thought I would share:


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Paseo, La Farra y Dia de la Madre

Beware – photo heavy!

I had a very busy weekend. At first I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing as I haven’t made any friends yet in Quito. On Saturday morning my host mom, Sandra, suggested that we go on an excursion to Tumbaco to visit some relatives with her sister, Sylvia, and her sister’s husband, Nelson, and young Pamela. Having no plans I was happy to have something to do.

Young Pamela and her dad, Nelson

I did have some plans to work on my knitting – I have a couple of designs that I’ve worked out in my head and mathematically on paper but I just haven’t had the time to knit.


So around early afternoon on Saturday, we jumped into Nelson’s pick up and headed to Tumbaco. Here’s a lovely view of the drive there.

View from the car on the way to Tumbaco

Tumbaco is only about half an hour away from Quito. More of a suburb than anything. Sandra’s aunt Anita lives there as well as her grandfather and a few of her uncles. They all have houses next to each other. Once we arrived, the women went about cooking and myself, Pamela and Nelson went to the back of the house where Anita’s son, Santiago (Santi) was practicing with his band. He’s the one with the long curly hair. One guess as to what kind of music they play… 🙂

The Band

Anita (in front) and my host mom, Sandra, frying plantains

After listening to the band for a bit, Nelson gave me a tour of Sandra’s father’s holiday home that’s in the same compound as the other homes. It’s this lovely yellow house. Here are some pics of the inside of the house.

Yellow House

Photos of Quito back when

Gray thingy used for water purification back in the day.

Pamela yet again. + Gramophone

An old sewing machine

Food was soon ready. We were having fritada (fried pork) which I’d never had before. With that we had mote (boiled corn), potatoes with a cheese sauce, an onion salad and maduros (fried plantains). The lunch was delish.

Lunch in Tumbaco

Then us womenfolk headed to an outlet store of knit sweaters. I got a lovely white cardigan for only $11. After that we headed back to the compound where Miche (Sandra’s great aunt) made us Pan de yuca (bread made with yuca flower, cheese and cream) and had coffee and tea. Miche is quite the knitter and so we had some knitting chatter. I was wearing my Minimalist cardigan and she wanted to know the stitch. Turns out that seed stitch in Spanish is arroz (rice) and moss stitch is arroz doble (double rice). I also had my Spiraluscious mitts on me and both Miche and Anita want to learn to knit in the round and to knit fingerless mitts.

After this, we cleaned up and headed back to Quito. On the way there, we decided that we’d go out to the Centro Historico to check things out and walk around. As the next day was Dia de la Madre (Mother’s Day), the place would be hopping. Mother’s Day is huge here. We had to quickly stop at the grocery store on Sunday after our big Mother’s Day lunch out and they handed all the women roses. I should add that roses are fairly cheap here as most roses in the states are either imported from Colombia or Ecuador.

La Farra

We dropped Pamela off with Sandra’s daughters, picked up Marco (Sandra’s husband) and went out to La Ronda in the Centro Historico.

Host parents: Sandra and Marco; and Sylvia and Nelson

Ordering our canelazos

We drank a couple of canelazos, a warm drink that you add a bit of aguadiente (liquor) to. In the car we started to jam to some reggaeton and then decided to go to Retro Bar. It’s this club that plays 80s music all night long. Some 70s too. I felt so young there as it was mostly people in their mid-40s and above (my host parents’ age). Nonetheless, I had a really good time. I love that Latin Americans don’t feel they have to stop dancing at a certain age. My host parents were jammin’. So were my host aunt and uncle. We partied till 3am. I danced so much I was sweating like crazy. First there was the normal stuff from the 70s and 80s. But then the salsa and merengue started as well – the old salsa and merengue which was really good.

Dia de la Madre

Sandra and her mom who sadly has Parkinsons

After my late night dancing, I slept in. I went down to breakfast only to find out that it was nearly time to head out for a big Mother’s Day lunch. Sandra’s parents would be there as well as Marco’s mother and aunt. We were going out for Chinese. We ended up going to about 3 places before finding one that could accommodate the ten of us. All the restaurants were packed with people celebrating Mother’s Day. It was good fun! Once we got home I pretty much had to crash though. I spent most of the rest of the day napping. That evening I did manage a little bit of knitting while listening to the Eat, Pray, Love audiobook. I completed a swatch for a pattern I’m hoping to submit. The swatch has now dried so I’ll take photos of it tomorrow in the daylight and send in my submission. Wish me luck!

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Two Days in Ibarra

Yesterday and Thursday, myself and Steph (Asst Field Director) went to Ibarra to do a site visit with one of our volunteers. We left Quito around 10am and expected to arrive there at noon. However, there was a protest by the indigenous people along the way and we couldn’t go anywhere. Our taxi driver decided to take an alternative route and what should have been a 2-hour ride took 4 hours. We arrived in Ibarra starving but had no time for lunch since we had to go and meet the director of the school we work with in Ibarra. The school is called Cecami and is absolutely beautiful.

Cecami - school where our Ibarra volunteers teach

I guess they're happy to have World Teach there. 🙂

We met the director, who was lovely; she took us up to the cerro, an observation point about the city where sits a statue of the archangel who protects the city. The ride was a bit scary as we were going up and up this cliff with no protection on the side of the road. One slight misstep in driving and you’re tumbling down. On the way down, which seemed even scarier, there was one point where her cell phone started ringing and I was chanting in my head, please don’t answer, please don’t answer. As you can guess, she answered. It was pretty freaky but asi es la vida en Ecuador. Here are a few photos of the city from that viewing point:

Aerial View of Ibarra - Imbabura volcano in the background

Goat chillin' along the cliff

She then drove us into the city and dropped us off to find some lunch. It was now 3pm and everything was closed. We found this place called Deli Kfe and ordered some sandwiches and drinks. Oh my God! That’s probably the worst sandwich I’ve ever had. The baguette itself was ok but there were two layers each with tons of meats and cheese – again, that might have been ok. But there was soooo much mayonnaise. You would pick up the sandwich to eat it and your hand and face would be covered in mayo. You wipe off, take another bite and the same again. Despite our hunger, neither Steph nor I could do much more than have a few bites of the sandwich.

We had to head though as we had to observe the volunteer’s class at 4pm. One nice thing about Ibarra is that no matter where you go, the taxi only costs $1. We observed the volunteer’s teaching from 4-6pm, then went to our hostel and soon had to go back to meet the volunteer for dinner at 8pm. Another of the volunteers joined us for a mediocre Mexican dinner. I was not loving the food in Ibarra. The worst was yet to come though. Since we work for a volunteer organization, we try to stay in cheaper places. But this place sucked. It was really musty and the bed was hard as rock. I barely slept all night. Also, Steph is a sleep talker. At first I thought she was talking to me so I responded only to realize that nope, she’s just talking in her sleep. That at least provided some entertainment during the sleepless night. The next day my allergies went crazy from the musty, moldy room.

Our hostal - Hostal Ejecutivo - so wasn't

There was a highlight though. Ibarra is famous for it’s ice cream and so we went to Helados de Rosalia, the place for ice cream in Ibarra and it was really good. It’s more like gelato than ice cream. I had frutilla (strawberry) and guanabana (can’t think how to translate that) and Steph had mora (blackberry) and coco (coconut). Each cone came to the huge price of $0.70.

We had to meet our volunteer’s host family and see how things were going. We felt a bit bad for the host mother because her daughter is about to graduate from Berkeley and she applied for a visa to go and see her daughter’s graduation but was denied. That really sucked for her. It’s strange how these immigration people make their decisions. The woman’s house was lovely and she was settled in Ecuador and Berkeley is a really good school so you’d think there’d be no issue getting a visa but…

After chatting with the host mother, we sat with the volunteer and talked about her teacher, providing suggestions on how to improve the class. After that we had to interview two potential host families that we may use during the summer or for the year long volunteers that arrive in August.

The first family we met was lovely; however, they expected the volunteer to share a room with the mother. That’s not acceptable, especially for a year long volunteer. We expect the volunteer to have a separate room. The second family was amazing. They were really nice and funny and had a lovely space for the volunteer. So we’ll prob end up using them for the summer and potentially for the year.

After that, Steph and I were ridiculously tired. We hopped in a taxi to the bus station where we caught a bus to Quito. Of course, bus rides are never nice and easy. Along the way, we picked up anyone along the road that wanted to get to Quito and dropped people off wherever they wanted. The movie was actually nice, they put on “Up” but then put on the radio speakers really loudly. I actually asked that they turn off the music cause one or the other. I’m ballsy that way. Why suffer silently, I say.

Upon arriving in Quito, I jumped in a taxi to my home, had some tea with my host mom and immediately went to sleep.

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Busy, Busy

The past two days have been pretty long. I finally got my phone activated yesterday. I ended up having to go to the Movistar office yet again. There Giovanni, the guy who had been helping us, said that his system still wasn’t working but I’d def have my phone ready by the end of the day. Thankfully he called a couple of hours later. The best thing about completing a long day at work is to come home to a home cooked meal. I think I might stay with my host family for the entire four months. I have wireless internet here, an apartment to myself atop the house and best of all, breakfast and dinner cooked for me. And it’s cheaper than getting my own place. Also, it seems a bit of hassle to find a place since I’m here for such a short time.

Today I’m heading to Ibarra, a small town not far from Quito. Steph, the Asst Field Director, is doing a site visit. We’ll be checking out the class of one of the year long volunteers, talking to her school director and also meeting her host family to see how things are going. Also, we’ll be interviewing potential host families as I’ll be sending one of the summer volunteers there and we’ll need host families for the year long volunteers that arrive in August. We’ll be spending two days there.

Here’s another of the nice things about Ecuador. Ibarra is about 2 hours away from Quito and we’re taking Taxi Lagos. We’ll have a taxi picking us up from our respective doors and driving us two hours away for the huge cost of $7 each. Amazing, eh? The bus would be a bit cheaper but then we’d have to trek to the bus terminal and you don’t save too much after the taxi ride to the terminal and then the bus.

During my tenure in Ecuador previously, I lived on the Coast and so never saw too much of the Sierras. Therefore, I’ve never visited Ibarra. I’m looking forward to it. Supposedly they have the best ice cream. They also have great cuy, guinea pig, but I think I’m going to avoid eating that. I’m definitely adventurous but not that adventurous!

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Today was my first workday and it was pretty long. It was pretty much training and then later we tried to get me a cell phone today on World Teach’s plan. There are two cell phone companies in Ecuador: Movistar and Porta. My company is on the Movistar network and so we went to their HQ to add me to the plan. We got there, got a number and things moved quickly and went to talk an attendant. We discussed what phone I’d get, the Field Director tried to see if we could negotiate a better deal which resulted in nothing, and then it was time to fork over ID, etc. We had the right ID but didn’t have our RUC which is this sort of certificate with your tax number. So we decided we’d go back later. We had a meeting that afternoon and so stopped at Movistar HQ again. This time we had all the right information and so thought things would move along. We sat for like 30 min before the guy finally told us that his computer system wasn’t working and could we come back later that day to get the phone. Now you might be thinking why would we wait 30 min without question. This is just how things are in Ecuador. They take forever. After our meeting, we then went back to Movistar. We talked to the same guy, and we sat and waited. This time it was nearly an hour before he said that his system wasn’t working. At least this time we could get the phone. Tomorrow he’ll call us to say when the line has been activated and provide me with a phone number. Oh how I miss running errands in Ecuador. Somehow everything takes an age to complete and sometimes even days.

We knew it would take it’s time to get things done so while we waited Kate trained me in stuff that I needed to know for the job.

There are some things that are pretty cool here. $0.25 for a bus ride. That was the same price when I was here in 2004 so it’s great that that hasn’t risen. I’m also enjoying the cost of the taxis. $1-$3 will get you across town. Ecuador is actually quite expensive for South America but after NY prices I’m loving it. For lunch we went to this place and had an almuerzo – you get soup, meal of rice and chicken and salad, dessert plus juice all for $2.50.

I’m pretty knackered after today. It’s been raining like crazy every afternoon. Pouring rain that soaks through everything. Also I’m getting used to communicating in Spanish throughout the day which can be tiring. I’m happy that I can converse pretty ok so far. I had breakfast and dinner with my host family and I could hold my own during the conversation. I still have to get into the swing of it but I think it will flow better soon. I’m going to take some Spanish lessons while here to keep improving and tomorrow I have my first lesson. Can’t wait! I do love some self-improvement.


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First Day

Today I had my first full day in Quito and it was very busy. I went over to Kate’s, the Field Director for the year long programs, house and her husband, his sister and his mother prepared an amazing bbq (parrillada) for us. It was delish!

Kate's husband, Ever, our chef

While they cooked we talked shop and drank wine. So I guess my working life started right away. There’s not really a break though in these volunteer situations. With many volunteers in the country and just Kate and Steph (the Asst Field Director) to deal with stuff, life’s very busy.

Kate has a lovely home and an amazing view from her apartment. Here are some pics. I love the fog over Pichincha (the local mountain).

Aerial view of Quito

She’s married to an Ecuadorian and they have two children together, the first is her stepson and then the daughter is her biological child.

Steph in the middle and Mia and Joe, the kids

After our festival of meats – there were two kind of sausages, chicken, steak and pork, we headed to the office. As a new month has begun, expenses had to be completed.

In complete randomness, it turns out that the family the Asst Field Director stayed with while she looked for a place (she started in January) was the same family I lived with during my month long orientation in Quito when I was a volunteer here in 2004. So she called up our ex-host brother to say I was in town and he remembered me. I was quite close with that family during my time in Ecuador. Anyhow, after work we headed to his apartment and hung out drinking wine (as you do) and reminiscing about times past. It was so cool to catch up and feel a bit more grounded here.

Tomorrow I start work and I really have to hit the ground running. I have 26 summer volunteers coming and host families and job placements need to be finalized. I’m looking forward to it though. After the last few months of doing not much, I shouldn’t say that because I did get my knit designing off the ground, it’s good to feel like I have a place again; something I was desperately searching for (and have yet to find) in NY.


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