Monday, September 24, 2012

Mitad del Mundo/ Middle of the Earth

 This weekend was very busy! After crashing from the hike on Saturday, Erin and I went to Mitad del Mundo which is where the equator passes through Ecuador (which means equator in Spanish). We took a bus about 30 minutes north of Quito and arrived at Ciudad Mitad del Mundo. This consisted of the big monument in the picture, a planetarium, a few exhibits, and lots of shops. We walked around, took pictures, and watched some dancing. We were there on the Equinox (September 23) so the sun was directly overhead at noon and there were no shadows.

Interestingly enough, the gigantic monument in the picture is actually not where the equator is. The real equator lies about 100 meters north. After Erin and I got enough of the touristy stuff, we headed down a sketchy unpaved road and found ourselves in an Incan paradise filled with cacti and sun god statues. We continued down a path and were ushered to sit on a bench by a young girl. We waited there and were introduced to a man who was going to give us a tour. We shrugged and went along with it.

We were on a tour with a few other people. There was an older couple who were speaking a foreign language and when I recognized a few words, I asked if they were Dutch. The woman went slack jaw and stared as the husband informed me that they were in fact German. Oops. Anyways, the guide took us around and showed us boa constrictors, tarantulas, shrunken heads, and Shuar burial rituals. I was very impressed that they took  advantage of the tourist attraction to educate the ignorant public about Indigenous cultures in Ecuador. After we toured several Indigenous exhibits, we landed on a faded red line that was the exact equator. The only sign was a dinky red sign telling us the latitude. There, we performed a few experiments. The first, we walked with our eyes closed along the equator. It was really cool how you felt a pull on both sides. I'm not sure if this was just a mind trick, but I really couldn't balance. The second experiment was trying to balance an egg on a nail. Unfortunately, my nail was crap so I did not receive a cool Egg Master certificate that the Germans did. The third experiment was placing a bucket of water in a sink directly on the line and watching the water drain directly down. Then we placed the sink 5 feet south and the water flushed clockwise and then when we took it 5 feet north, it flowed counter-clockwise. Of course, science claims that this is a huge myth, but what I saw was pretty dang cool.

We hung out after the tour a bit and jumped (literally) around the equator just to see the gravitational pull. After, we headed back on the long bus ride to Quito. I cannot explain how lucky I am to have these opportunities. I couldn't have chosen a more interesting and amazing place to study abroad and I am truly content here. I still have a ton to check off my "Ecuador List" but that will come throughout the year.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Guagua Pichincha & El Padre Encantado

The road to the trail head was so steep that we (well, the boys)
had to push the truck part of the way. 
As I've mentioned before, I am in an Andinismo class (mountaineering). Every weekend there is a trip, but this weekend was the first time I could go on one. The hike was to Guagua Pichincha and El Padre Encantado, just west of Quito. Erin and I took a bus all the way to the south of Quito and then met up with our group which consisted of 11- 7 Ecuadorian guys and 4 American girls. Unfortunately, the night before the hike I went out with some friends and went to bed around 4:30... so I was pretty dehydrated and exhausted at the beginning of the hike. We took a very fast and bumpy ride to the trail head and began by walking through a gorgeous field of the paramo ecosystem. From there, we began the climb up Padre Encantado.

Paramo ecosystem
Rock climbing on Padre Encantado
Most of the mountain was sandy so it was difficult to climb, combined with the altitude. Near the top there were a lot of volcanic rocks which we had to climb. When we arrived at the summit, we were in the middle of a cloud and everyone felt accomplished, but knowing we had an even taller mountain next. 
On the summit of Guagua Pichincha
Sliding down the side. 
We jumped down the sand on the mountain and walked across a ridge to Guagua Pichincha, which is over 4,700 meters (almost 16,000 feet!). The first part of the climb was up a grassy hill to the camp where people can ride motor bikes to. We ate lunch and then started the second part of the climb which was incredible. We first hiked a sandy trail through the volcanic rocks up to a point with a big cross. We were in the middle of clouds again so it was a really pretty hike. Near the top of the mountain we had to rock climb again until we reached the summit. 
Erin and I on Guagua Pichincha
To get down, we decided to slide down the other side which was a steep, sandy hill. It was fun for the first few minutes but then it just got dangerous and people behind us accidentally kicked small boulders down the mountain that we had to dodge. Thankfully, no one got hurt and we hiked down through the meadow again, rode the truck to a restaurant where we ate humitas, and then bused back to our houses. It was an amazing experience and a hike well worth it. It was definitely one of the hardest hikes I have ever done since we were with big Ecuadorian guys who never stopped to rest. I pushed myself really hard and it paid off! 

The amazing view climbing Guagua Pichincha

Monday, September 17, 2012

Baños otra vez!!

This week we went to Baños!! There were 6 of us in the group- two American girls, one Japanese girl who goes to school in D.C., and three Ecuadorian guys. We drove down and arrived Friday night, went rafting on Saturday, and drove back on Sunday to an amazing view of the mountains. Here are some pictures!
Here's our group! After going through the first rapid, we stopped at a waterfall. Our rafting trip was through GeoTours which was very professional and our guide was awesome! Besides rafting, we went out both nights and us girls got massages which were a little odd. It is such a cool town and we loved just walking around and taking pictures. 

After one of the class 4 rapids, I fell off. It was deep water so nothing bad happened but I did have to buy beers for everyone that night.  Thankfully, Nicolas has a waterproof camera so we were able to take pictures during the whole trip. 

This is a class 5 rapid that we had to walk around. Our boat would have flipped for sure. On the whole ride there were close to 15 rapids- a few 2s, mostly 3s, and maybe 5 4s. It was such a good river!! 
This is a view of Chimborazo y El Altar. Chimborazo is the closest point to the sun on Earth! Even though it's shorter than Everest, it starts at higher sea level, which makes it actually closer to the sun. During the whole car ride, we saw Tungurahua, El Altar, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Las Ilinizas, y Cayambe. Even though we have beautiful mountains in Washington, they are nothing like these. The mountains here seem to pop out of nowhere and are incredibly spiritual. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fires in Quito

The past week or two there have been fires all over the city. Many people think they are being started by arsonists, but it has been extremely dry lately so it's easy for grasses to catch on fire. There have been two fires about a block away from my house and helicopters had to carry water to put them out.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Here are some random pictures from the trip so far! Enjoy!
I am taking an Andinismo (mountaineering) class and so we practice repelling from the gym ceiling!

At the International Student welcome party, we played a giant game of flip cup- 3 tables.

This is the view of Quito from the top of Pichincha. We took the Teleferico (ski lift type thing) up and then hiked a bit further. As you can see, there have been fires all over the city recently. Many of the locals think it is arson. 

At the top of Pichincha, we just lay in the grass and looked at the city and mountains. 

This is Narcissa, Marcelo, Pato, and David playing a game called Zapo. They NEVER got tired of this game and played constantly. It involves throwing big brass washers at holes in a piece of wood. Our kitchen is the building in the picture. 

There were a few baby guinea pigs while I was there! 

This is Sangay, the 1 year old oso de anteojos (sunglasses bear). He is extremely friendly but we can't touch him. He eats oatmeal and fruit- I'm not sure how he's growing so quickly on such a small diet!

This was one of the only friendly horses. While the guys were changing the sprinklers, I would try and get over my fear of horses by petting this guy. 

The last weekend on the farm, the three of us went camping up the mountain where there is a little cabin. No water, electricity, nothing. We hiked around during the day but what was really scary was when Muneca (in the picture) got stuck in a big thorn bush at night about a kilometer from our camp. We thought she was being eaten by a puma so we ran out with sticks and light and tried finding her in the forest. 

On one of the last days, Marcelo let me ride one of the horses bareback. It was so calm!

This is my favorite goat, which I called Maldito (little fucker- loosely translated). He would run away from the pack and just didn't care if I tried herding him in a different direction. All the goats had unique personalities. 

This is a view of the mountain, Cotopaxi, where the farm was located. I feel such a strong connection to this mountain since I woke up to it, worked underneath it, and lay in the grass in the evenings and gazed at it's glaciers. 

This is Muñeca, the queen of the farm. She ended up sleeping on my pillow next to me every night. Recently, she was bitten very badly by an unknown animal so I'm hoping that she is able to recover. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

How to get your purse stolen in Quito

Last night, my friend's purse disappeared. I say disappeared because we still have no idea how it was stolen. Anyways, my friend Erin and I went to a bar with three Ecuadorian guys that we had been out with a few times before. The bar wasn't crowded at all- in fact we were the only group in that section of the bar. Erin put her purse on her side and I was talking to her so I had full view of the purse the entire time. We were there for an hour or two and Erin went to the bathroom and left her purse on the bench next to me. I talked to one of my friends and both of us were two feet from the purse. I am a very aware person especially in situations like this and I can say for sure that I did not see anyone even come close to our table. When Erin came back from the bathroom, she freaked out because her purse was gone. That's how fast it happens.

The sad part is, two waiters and the bar owner came over to see what had happened and started yelling at the guys we were with and saying that they had stolen the purse. This is ridiculous because they are our friends and we were talking to them the entire time. I yelled back at the bar owner and told him it was either the waiters or the group next to us. The purse of course didn't show up and so I took Erin home and attempted to get into her apartment without keys. I felt so bad for her. Getting your purse stolen is an awful, gut dropping feeling and since last night, I am a bit scared to go out with a purse. I always have it over my shoulder or looped through my arm, but as last night showed, it happens in a split second.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hiking Quilotoa

Our situation on the bus ride
This weekend we were feeling more adventurous and headed out to Quilotoa- a lagoon that, according to legend, has no bottom. We arrived in Latacunga and caught a bus last minute to the city of Quilotoa. Maddy and Taryn sat behind the drive and I sat on the engine hood. The men in the doorway felt more than comfortable pressing their squishy butts against my legs and I kept trying to adjust my position on the hot engine hood. About five minutes into the ride, the bus stopped at a police checkpoint and the driver turned to his assistants in the door and said "What do I do? What do I do!" I thought that was weird, but we got through the checkpoint and five minutes after that the bus stopped and the driver switched with one of the men in the doorway. He quickly showed the man where the brake was, how to open the door, and which gear the clutch usually got stuck on. Maddy, Taryn and I stared wide-eyed at this situation and sat there frozen, contemplating if we should get off the bus or not. We decided to stay and after a while, I asked the first driver why he couldn't finish the trip. He looked at me like I was crazy and said that he had had five beers before the trip- how could he possibly drive? I nodded and just went along with the strange situation I had gotten myself into.

After driving over the icy mountain pass, the bus stopped in the outskirts of the town Zimbahua. All the passengers were confused and I asked the bus driver what happened. He shrugged and said they ran out of gas. How they run out of gas on a trip they take three times a day is a mystery to me. The three of us grabbed our backpacks and made the trek into the town center where we found a decent hostel with hard pillows and not-quite-cold showers.
The next morning we ate a breakfast of chicken and beets and grabbed a camioneta to Quilotoa. We found a hostel on the edge of the crater. We packed up ready for the big hike and headed out in the cold wind. The lagoon is absolutely amazing with the jagged sides and the turquoise water. We hiked down the steep path to the water- where we thought the hike started. We got to the bottom and asked a guide where the trail started. He gave us a weird look and told us the hike was around the top which meant another hour hiking straight uphill. Oops. Once at the top, we realized we didn't have enough time for the hike so we hung out at the hostel.

We woke up really early again the next morning and headed out. The hike was gorgeous but pretty difficult. Many times we were inches from the edge with a strong wind blowing us around. When we finished six hours later, we ate some chicken kabobs and met a couple who offered to drive us all the way to Latacunga. This weekend was a nice change of pace from the farm and I loved the amazing scenery. I completely recommend this hike to anyone going to Ecuador!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Personal Space in Ecuador cont.

For example: I was riding the bus today and although it was pretty crowded, there was enough room for people to stand comfortably. I was standing towards the back of the bus and at one stop, about five people got on and a woman decided it was appropriate to press her entire body up against me. I was backed up against a seat and there was nothing I could do to avoid feeling every inch of her body and having my nose about an inch from hers.

This happens in different situations on just about every bus ride. Also, when you are standing in line at the grocery store or anywhere else, the person in back of you will be breathing over your shoulder, guaranteed. Sometimes I pretend to trip over myself just to give them a little bump backwards. Not that this lack of personal space is bad, I just prefer not breathing other people's air.

Personal Space in Ecuador

It doesn't exist.