Thursday, November 29, 2012

Vamos a la playa!

One a Thursday night a few weeks ago, I was sick of Quito and wanted to go somewhere relaxing, so I rallied two of my girlfriends to go with me to the beach the next day. We picked Canoa as our destination since November is the slowest month of the season and all we wanted to do was lay on the beach and not be bothered. We showed up at the bus station at 10 pm and loaded the bus for a pretty uncomfortable 7 hour ride. When we arrived at 6am the town was still asleep so we found a good-looking hostal and slept in the hammocks until someone woke up. We got a room and immediately headed out to the beach. 

Although it was cloudy in the morning, it cleared up in the afternoon to show some sun and we lay on the beach and read books all day. In our room was a 35 year old high school teacher from Oklahoma who told us all about his sabbatical that he was taking: surf during the day, party at night. Oh and he was doing some sort of research in his free time. We watched him surf for a little bit and headed back to the hostal to hang out. We met an Aussie who has been traveling throughout South America and a middle-aged Brit who came here to escape a nasty divorce. He was extremely friendly and talked our ears off. 

Turns out my skin is extremely sensitive. Although I put 55spf on my body THREE times that day, I still got horribly burnt (picture below). So that evening everyone in the hostal ordered drinks and we were hanging out talking but I couldn't stop shaking from the cold. Everyone was in shorts and tank tops since it is a tropical beach but my burns were so bad that I was violently shaking and went to the room to sit down. I didn't quite make it to the bed before I vomited in the trash can and then fainted. I chugged a water and Gatorade and went to bed under three wool blankets (the woman at reception said they only had 3 for the entire hostal since it is so hot). 
The next day we rented an umbrella and sat under it and enjoyed the beach from the shade. We ate ceviche (traditional Ecuadorian could soup made from tomatoes and shrimp) and drank pina coladas. 
After we had our fill of the beach we went back to the hostal and found a puppy that could fit in the palm of your hand. One of the woman who works at the hostal said she had found it in a river bank almost dead so she took it to the vet and now it seems like it's going to live. She named it Rio and when I picked it up it instantly snuggled into my jacket. I fell in love. The woman told me I could take it home with me if I wanted and I seriously debated adopting it for the next few hours until I decided that it would have a much better life here on the beach than in an apartment in a city. 

That night at 10 pm we loaded the bus and I had a very uncomfortable ride back home with my burns all over my body. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

That's just the way it is

Two events happened today that made me understand (not necessarily appreciate) Ecuadorian culture more deeply. The first was in my History class when we started talking about racism. Our teacher asked the American students if we thought there was more racism here in Ecuador or back in the US. A girl said that even though there might be more in the US, it is much more obvious and open in Ecuador. I brought up the example of using words like negro/negrito, chino, or even longo. These three terms describe Afro-Ecuadorians, Asian-looking people, and Indigenous people. I said that using these words perpetuates the racism by making it "acceptable" to classify people by their race or what they look like. Before I finished my statement, some Ecuadorian students in the class protested loudly and said that it is in no way racist to use these terms because it is acceptable and not offensive. May I point out that these are white Ecuadorian students. The teacher then chimed in and said that if you are of a certain race, for example, Indigenous, it is acceptable to profile that person in Ecuador. I responded that even though it is acceptable and normal does not mean it is not racist and does not mean in any way that it is "correct." Needless to say, the teacher was offended by my comment and briskly ended class and was the first out the door.

The second event was extremely personal. I met a guy back in August who I am still very good friends with. We see each other two or three times a week but we don't usually go to each other's houses. Let me describe what he looks like: he is a tall, darker-skinned Ecuadorian with curly black hair and a goatee. I invited him to have Thanksgiving with my friends and I and so before dinner, he met me at my apartment. We went upstairs to get my stuff and we left for my friend's house. The next day, the woman I live with, Maritoni, said she needed to talk to me. She explained that one of the neighbor women upstairs had seen my friend and I come into the apartment and she didn't like how my friend looked. On that day he was wearing jeans and a nice jacket- just like any other Ecuadorian guy would wear. Maritoni had met my friend and defended him against the woman, but she couldn't get over how he had curly hair and a goatee. Now, I have brought a dozen friends home to my apartment. I'm sure this same woman has seen them all since she must sit at her window staring at the entrance to the building. Never once has she complained until I brought a lower-middle class Ecuadorian guy to my house. He is not allowed in the building because she judged him immediately on how he looked and didn't trust him with a small white girl like me. I am incredibly offended since it is so personal and I have never once met this woman. Maritoni explained that "that's how people are here" and how women here are extremely judgmental and racist.

Both these events happened on the same day and I have been angry at the woman upstairs and Ecuadorian culture in general for being so incredibly judgmental. Even going to my university, I feel like I have to dress very nicely and stylishly, otherwise the girls will give me dirty looks. I never gave a second thought about bringing my friend to my house. MY HOUSE. It is extremely humiliating when you have to explain to your friend why he can't come to your house anymore. Not because he was loud, not because he broke anything, not for any of the normal reasons to be banned from a building. He cannot come to my house simply because of the way he looks.

My understanding of Ecuadorian culture grew a lot today. And unfortunately it was not for the better.

Addicted to the Unknown

The most amazing thing about traveling isn't the new foods you try, the people you meet, or the mountains you climb. It's actually the risks you take to experience all of them. You become a different person, strap on your hiking boots, take rides from strangers, show up in an unknown city alone. Sometimes you will meet a middle-aged man from England trying to escape a nasty divorce during a tropical storm. Or sometimes you will hitch a ride on the back of a tractor. And after you settle in a place for a while, you will meet more people willing to drop everything to hear your story. Of course you can't remember every person, every conversation, but each one shapes you in a way you might never know. And then there are the people who change your life so deeply, so immediately, you can't quite remember how your mind worked before. Remember these people. Remember the Brit and the nine hour journey you took to arrive in that town. Remember the farmer who gave you a ride on his tractor and how you weren't quite sure how to get home. These are the memories you will think about in the middle of a cold, rainy day when you're back home. Somehow, being on your own in an unknown land puts a little risk into your life. This risk leads you to have an amazing, life-changing journey. But then again, this might not work for everyone. I am, afterall, addicted to the unknown.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Camino del Inca, Ingapirca, and Cuenca

For fall break, I decided to go on the hike with my Andinismo class which was the Inca Trail, or Camino del Inca. No, we were not in Peru. The Inca Trail extends from the south of Colombia all the way down to Bolivia. I have hikes parts of the trail in Bolivia and Peru so I was excited to check this off my list! There were 17 of us hiking with some Ecuadorians and other students from the US. The hike was 3 days of hiking and 2 days traveling. We took a bus from Quito to Alausi and then camped at the start of the trail for the first night. 
Before the trip, we all made plans for who was sharing tents. One of the Ecuadorian guys in our class said he had a 6 person tent so there were 6 of us that were going to sleep in that. On the bus to Riobamba, we found out he just didn't bring the tent. So we all squished into the other tents. Our camps didn't have electricity, water, or bathrooms. It was extremely cold- so cold my entire backpack and its contents froze the second night!! The first day of the hike was pretty short but the hardest. We climbed up a rocky stream for a good hour which felt like a stair master. After that we ascended some more and arrived in a small valley between two big mountains. We walked for a few more hours and arrived at our camp which was a flat part in the bottom of the valley. There were no trees, no big rocks, no shelter. It started raining as we arrived at camp so we set up our tents very quickly and dove into them and waited for the rain to stop. 

The hike was gorgeous- plenty of paramo ecosystem and lagoons after every turn. We mainly walked on the side of the mountains maintaining altitude the whole time. The sun was strong and while we were walking we were hot but once we stopped we had to pull out our fleece jackets and hats since it was so cold. 

We reached an altitude of 4200 meters on the hike- yes there was snow. We didn't see cars, roads, or any signs of human activities until the last day when we ended in a village. 

Since we had to bring all our food, tents, and supplies, we had donkeys carry our backpacks for the first two days. At the end of the day we would pet them and ride them around. It's amazing how strong these animals are. 

We had to bring all our own food so I resorted to squished bread and peanut butter and jelly or tuna and crackers. We also brought lots of alcohol- to warm up at night, of course!

This was the only time on the hike we had to be creative. The entire hike is a little flooded or very rocky so we were constantly jumping rock to rock or jumping over the mud. I felt like I was in a Mario game at one point. This river was too deep to walk through and there were no place with rocks to jump on. So we found a big piece of wood and scooted over since it was too narrow to walk across. 

The end of the hike! This is our whole group when we finished in a village on the third day. 

The Inca Trail ends near the ruins of Ingapirca which are the most complete ruins in Ecuador. You can see the water systems, the sun and moon temples, and several palaces. The ruins are no where near as impressive as Machu Picchu and the stones are not cut as well, but it was really cool to see. 

We arrived in Cuenca at night on the third day and took a bus quickly around the city. We were all exhausted and walked around a bit but then returned to our camp right outside the city and had a nice dinner and salsa danced the rest of the night. 

The next morning most of the group left but I decided to stay with a few people to take a night bus on Sunday. This is the main cathedral in Cuenca and is the biggest in Ecuador and one of the biggest in all of South America. The city is absolutely beautiful- it feels so European with the streets and architecture. 

We stood in the back of the cathedral for Sunday mass. It was packed to the gills and buzzed with a constant chatter of kids running around and tourists taking pictures. It is a pretty modern church- built in the late 1800s I believe. 

We were buying candied applies right outside the entrance when mass ended and everyone came out. Some people were wearing casual clothes, some Sunday best, but many people were wearing traditional indigenous dress. 

There is a lot of beautiful graffiti in Cuenca. This is just an example on a staircase near the river. I love this city so much! Everyone was so nice to us and we found plenty of cute cafes and art galleries to hide in when it started pouring. All in all, the trip was extremely successful and I hope I might have the opportunity to return to the south next semester!