Monday, October 29, 2012

Kayaking in Tena

Local girls who enjoyed playing with our equipment.
             Here in Ecuador I have two great guy friends- Santiago and Nicolas- who go to the Catholic university in Quito. Santiago loves kayaking so this past weekend I agreed to go with them to the city of Tena which is Southeast of Quito in the Amazon. We arrived in the town and immediately felt the humidity and could see the contrast from the highlands climate. Santiago talked my friend Sammy and I into going kayaking with him and Nico on a 3+ river. This means that in the US, a beginner kayaker would go on a 1 river, but we decided we’d be fine on the 3+.
               We drove out to our starting point up river from Tena and were greeted by many local children who saw the burns on my legs and kept calling me the burnt white girl. We loaded our equipment into the river and practiced skim rolls which were much harder than they look. I couldn’t quite master it, so Santiago gave our guide, Alejandro a concerned look and said that if I flipped, just to pull my skirt and swim away. This didn’t exactly comfort me, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard.

Kayaking along the river. The tall tree in the background is called a Sable and is over 100 years old- it is the only tree that was saved from the destruction of the oil companies in this region. 
             We started out on the river and you could hear the first rapid before you saw it. The roaring water made my stomach flip and I realized how inexperienced I was. I could barely control the kayak in a current, even worse in raging rapids. Nevertheless (not that I had a choice) I gripped my paddle tight and tried avoiding the whirlpools. At the end of the rapid, I was crying. I was shaking so badly because I had had no control over my kayak the entire rapid. Luckily, my kayak was very large for me so that I basically floated above the water.
We're alive!
            I was mad at my friend Santiago for telling me I could handle it and I was mad at our guide, Alejandro, for not paddling right next to me. The second rapid was even worse- huge waves with big boulders added to the mix. My whole body was shaking at this point but I decided to keep going. The next few rapids came and I got better with controlling my movements. I learned how to snap my hips to steer the boat and how to better avoid the trickier waves. One of the biggest rapids came and I was on the right side of the river. Alejandro yelled at me to get on the left to avoid a whirlpool, but I couldn’t get over in time. I tried paddling straight through the giant wave, but the current was too strong and flipped my kayak around. I rode the wave backwards and somehow survived. After the rapid, a professional kayaker paddled up to me and told me how awesome my trick had been back there. I nodded weakly and checked to make sure my head was still attached to my body.  

           The rest of the trip was easy. I could handle the rapids and they became weaker than at the beginning. We stopped at a beach to swim for a while and I talked to Alejandro about the petroleum companies around the area (blog post to come). Alejandro spoke Kichwa so we practiced a bit to his amazement that I spoke and was knowledgeable about the Kichwa culture. We finished the river and rode back to Tena where we met up with my friends, ate ceviche and ice cream, and crashed in our hot, humid hostel. 

After the trip we went to go see the Monkeys in Misahualli. They weren't exactly friendly. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Otavalo & Cotacachi

The past two weekends I have gone to two cities- Otavalo and Cotacachi. The first weekend I went with 6 other girls and we planned to hike both days, but since it was raining the first day, we looked around the famous Otavalo market.

The market is amazing. There are hundreds of stands set up selling all sorts of things from hats to jewelry to daggers. The art is incredibly beautiful and the jewelry is unique and authentic. I walked up to one jewelry stand where the woman was selling Mayan calendar earrings. I looked at them and the woman, who was obviously not Indigenous, started speaking broken English to me. Now, I really hate it when Ecuadorians speak English to me. I think it is very disrespectful to assume that I don't speak a word of Spanish. I said no thanks to the woman and started walking away when I heard her ranting in Spanish about how Americans are so cheap and disrespect her work. So I turned around and went back to the table and explained to her that she had offered an Ecuadorian a pair of earrings for $8 and then turned to me and offered them to me for $22 in English. She was a little stunned that I had understood everything and finally agreed to sell them to me for a lower price.

There are other things, however, that I don't mind paying a little extra for. I met a man who had a booth filled with art- not just art he bought from the distributors, but art he painted himself. I really liked his work and talked to him for a little while about his life here. Every morning he sets up his stand and carries all his art to the plaza and on Sundays he travels to Quito to do the same thing. It is a hard life and I can't imagine he makes a decent living off of selling his art since there's not much of it.

On Sunday, we woke up early and took a bus to Cotacachi, a town close to Otavalo that is famous for their leather goods. However, we were there to hike around the Cuicocha lake which is a lake formed from an extinct volcano. The hike took four hours and for most of the hike we had amazing views of the lake and countryside. After, we went into town and bought a few leather goods and then headed back to Quito.

The second weekend, we took a bus up on Friday afternoon and met up with my friend's boyfriend and his friends. We went to one of their houses which is an old hollistic/meditation house with an amazing garden and many statues. We played music and then went on a hike to a waterfall after dark. The waterfall was straight from the movies- fireflies lit up the forest and the waterfall reflected the moon. The guys played traditional Andean music and we returned to the house where we salsa danced.

We woke up the next morning to one of the boys telling us he would give us a yoga lesson. Well, the yoga lesson lasted two hours and included an ancient story. It was cool, but the guys were giving us weird vibes so we all left and went into Otavalo for lunch and then headed back to Quito.

I love the feel of Otavalo because it is so Indigenous. All the women wear the traditional dress and I can strike up conversations in Kichwa with almost everyone in town. I really want to spend more time up there with a smaller group so that I can explore the non-touristy areas.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How to get 100% on a History Presentation

One of my classes at USFQ is Modern History of Latin American Republics. Our teacher, Carmen, is extremely intelligent. Unfortunately, she doesn't have much control of the class. The boys will be talking the entire time and make kissy faces at her and she just waves it off.

Today, my group had to give a presentation on the independence movement in Colombia. We were supposed to present in under 20 minutes but it took the full hour. I went first and took about 5 minutes, then my friend from the U.S. went and took another 5 minutes. Then my Ecuadorian friend went and talked about anything relevant to Colombia in the slightest. The teacher stopped him at one point and asked why he didn't talk about three of the most important battles. He choked a little and then said "I would like to take a moment to congratulate Katie- it's her birthday!" Everyone in the class sang and cheered for her and he continued on his speech- all while the teacher forgot about the battles. While the last girl was presenting, two of our group members were on their cell phones in front of the class.

Although we didn't cover the most important battles of the revolution and instead talked about current problems with FARC, we received a perfect grade. Apparently, long-winded talkers are appreciated here in Ecuador.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Riding the Ecovia

How many people can fit on the Ecovia? Fifteen more!

This is a common joke here in Quito about the Ecovia- one of the public transportation trolleys. It is very convenient, but it usually hot, smelly, and so crowded that you are held up by the people around you. The Ecovia costs $0.25 and you can ride from Rio Coca in North Quito an hour south. When you get on, if you're extremely lucky, you might find a pole to lean against. Otherwise, you have to reach up and grab the rail on the ceiling and hope no one gropes you in the process. Oftentimes your face will be inches away from the creepy man staring into your soul. Other times, you'll come into contact with the rapper who will serenade you in hopes of a dollar. 

What bothers me most about the Ecovia, and all buses in Quito, is that NO ONE OPENS THE WINDOWS. Everyone is sitting in agony sweating up a storm and the simple answer is to open a window. But the slightest wind means that it is cold and people will bundle up in parkas and shut all the windows. By the end of each Ecovia ride, I trip out of the bus and take a huge breath of relatively fresh air. 

Basically, I would rather ride a pink tricycle with a horn through the streets of Quito than ride the Ecovia. But since Quito seems to have a shortage of pink tricycles, Ecovia here I come!