And we'll be home in the USA late late on Saturday night!
Sunday, July 31, 2011
And we'll be home in the USA late late on Saturday night!
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Yeah, yeah, I'm pretty behind on updating. I'm going to start with last Friday. Jenna and I were planning on going away by ourselves and having a nice relaxing beach weekend. But we decided to leave Friday evening, and use Friday during the day to see La Mitad del Mundo, the place where both latitude and longitude are at 0 degrees. I've heard from more than one person that it's really not the most exciting place in the world, but it's still something you have to do while you're here. It's about an hour away from Quito by bus.
After about 40 minutes, we thought we saw the big monument that's right on the equator, but it didn't really feel like the right stop (especially because we figured Mitad del Mundo would be the last stop of the Mitad del Mundo bus), so we didn't get off. But after another couple minutes with the monument fading further and further into the distance, we realized that was definitely the stop. I blame Jenna because of the two of us, she has been designated the navigator because I'm useless. We ended up just getting off the next time the bus stopped, and literally stood on the highway and hailed a bus going in the other direction. While waiting on the side of the road for those 5 minutes, we were honked at 12 times. Our personal best so far.
We took some pictures, ate some lunch, and then went to a museum that's actually outside the "city" and is free.
Because we're science nerds, it was so fun! We also had the cutest museum tour guide ever. It was his very first tour and he was sooo nervous (and he had to do his first tour in English!), but he was great and now we're facebook friends. Supposedly the equator actually runs through this museum and not through the monument (although also supposedly, the equator ACTUALLY runs through some hill that's a little further away). Whatever.
We saw demonstrations about how water, when draining, spins counter-clockwise north of the equator, clockwise south of the equator, and straight down on the equator itself (I have some VERY interesting videos that demonstrate this if anyone is interested - totally not sarcastic at alllll). We also tried to balance an egg on the equator (supposedly easier, but we both failed), we saw how your muscle strength decreases on the equator, and how hard it is to balance with your eyes closed and arms out on the equator.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
First we took a cooking class, which was actually a lot of fun - we learned how to make ceviche, which is great because we've been eating ceviche pretty much at least once a day and never had any idea what was actually in it. We wrote down the recipe and this week, if we actually get around to it, we plan on practicing so that we can make it at home. The recipe serves 25 people though, sooooo either we need to make some more friends, or we'll have to cut the recipe down.
We also took a salsa class through the school on Thursday after classes. We were all pretty terrible, I have to be honest. But it was fun though, and good exercise! There were more boys than girls in the class, so the boys got to take breaks but the girls had to dance the whole time. Exhuasting!
This week we promised we would play soccer with the school, but we'll see if that actually happens. If we do, it's tomorrow after class. If there's one thing I'm worse at than dancing, it's sports (um, or singing. Then sports). So we'll see what happens.
One night last week we also went to an arcade in the mall. It was one of the most fun nights we've had in Ecuador. We went with our roommate Ben. First we ate in the food court - a delicious meal of Taco Bell for me and Ben, and a hamburger for Jenna. Very Ecuadorian, we know (however, there's this lunch place called Carlos that everyone goes to for lunch every day because it's a pre fixe meal of $2, and is super Ecuadorian - so we decided one Ecuadorian meal a day is more than sufficient). We wanted to bowl (so cheap! $6 for a lane for a whole hour!), but there was over an hour wait, so we want to the arcade instead. This mall has EVERYTHING. We played some dance dance revolution, guitar hero, some drums game, skee ball, racing games, all of it. And it was so much cheaper than in the US. And so fun!
And most importantly, every time we go to the mall, we can sing Robin Sparkles. If you don't get that reference, you immediately need to start watching How I Met Your Mother.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Getting to Banos for the weekend felt a bit like a miracle. You have to take a half hour taxi ride to the bus station, and then the bus station was the most overwhelming place ever. At a normal bus station, there would be windows where you buy tickets for the different buses. Here, they also had people yelling out the windows or standing around outside the windows just screaming the city names at you. Like as you're walking, someone will come up to you and yell, "Puyo Puyo Puyo Puyo Puyo" in your face and try to convince you to come to their window - even if you have no intention of going to Puyo. Our cab driver (who at the time we thought was a miracle worker, but he totally charged us double a normal fare) actually came into the station with us, bought us our tickets, walked us to the bus, and made people switch their seats so that we could all sit together.
Banos is this teeny tiny spa town right next to a volcano and surrounded by mountains and the rainforest. It's really touristy (for foreigners and for Ecuadorians on vacation too) and adorable. We got in around 11 pm on Friday night, dropped our bags off, and went right out. The whole town is about 20 by 20 blocks, and there are a few that have the bars and clubs and late night eats. Everything closes and everyone goes home at 2am on the dot.
We splurged a bit to stay at a hotel instead of a hostel, and it was such a good choice. The showers were unbelievable, breakfast was included, the rooms were clean and nice, and we had a hammock on our balcony that overlooked the garden! Life doesn't get better than that.
Other than its spas and hot springs (for which it's named), Banos is known for its outdoor activities - hiking, biking, horseback riding, canyoning, zip lining, etc. There's one main road that leaves the town and there are different stop off points to see different waterfalls or that lead to different sites. The streets of Banos are basically lined with tour groups and vendors, so on Saturday morning we just picked one that looked good. We ended up renting these dune buggies for a few hours to take us from place to place.
At one stop, one of the buggies wouldn't start and Jenna and I had to jump start it (apparently the guy only explained to us what to do if something went wrong, and not to everyone), so that was pretty cool. We realized about halfway through that the guy we rented them from didn't ask us for any information except our names and hotel - no money down, no credit card or passport info, no drivers license, absolutely nothing. We totally could have stolen those dune buggies and driven straight home to Quito.
We went on this crazy long zip line, and then hiked back up to our dune buggies. It was so unbelievably beautiful. The pictures don't even begin to do it justice. All day we couldn't stop talking about how pretty everything was. And it was sunny and WARM.
When we brought back the dune buggies, we actually had lunch at an Italian restaurant. The pasta was fine, but the pizza was so surprisingly delicious, although one of the boys had heard from someone that you just have to try the pizza in Banos, so maybe it shouldn't have been surprising. Does seem random though, right?
After lunch the boys went rafting, but Jenna and I opted out (I've never been a big a rafting fan) and had a nice relaxing afternoon that included a full body massage, the best ice cream in Ecuador (according to their sign anyway - I myself am not convinced yet), and candy shopping. Apparently Banos is famous for its taffy called melcocha - in all the little stores on the streets there are people making it and giving away free tastes (my favorite thing ever!), so I bought a few packs of different flavors to bring home.
When the boys got back, we walked over to the hot springs for some jacuzzi time before dinner. It ended up being really nice, but only after a few minutes of getting used to it. The water is sort of brownish from all of the minerals, so even though it's clean, it really doesn't look it. On top of that, the springs were also really crowded, and with a lot of people wearing inappropriately little bathing suits with a loooot hanging out which added to the sense of skeevy dirtiness. Jenna gave it the very apt name of "flesh soup." I know I'm painting a very beautiful picture here - but really after a few minutes you were able to ignore all the people around you and just enjoy the hot tubbiness of it all. And jumping into the freezing cold spring and then back into the hot one gave you such a rush.
On Sunday we did this great mix of hiking and ziplining. A truck drove us out into the rainforest, and we had two guides who took us around from zipline to zipline. We would hike until we got to a zipline, we would all ride it, and then we hiked to the next. About halfway through it started pouring, but it just sort of added to the feel of it all. Again, the views were so beautiful - even while on the zipline and looking around it felt like fake scenery.
We had a really late lunch at this restaurant called Cafe Hood which Lonely Planet described as "mostly Tex-Mex with a splash of Thai, Greek, and Indian." And that's exactly what it was. Totally weird, but kinda interesting. We caught the end of the USA-Japan game, then did a little souvenir shopping, and got back on the bus to Quito (even in the small town of Banos, people at the ticket booths were yelling in your face "a Quito a Quito a Quito a Quito a Quito").
And so our first weekend was very much a success! We are officially crossing "jungle" off our list of climates to experience while in Ecuador. We have the bug bites to prove we were there.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
We decided our first weekend trip would be to Banos, a town about 3 and a half hours outside of Quito. We went with our friend Dave from NJMS and three other boys in our program. While Jenna and I asked to not have classes on Friday for better traveling abilities, the boys had class until 5. So Friday during the day we decided to take the Teleferiqo, basically this gondola thing that takes you up toward a volcano that you can then hike to.
Lonely Planet made it sound like it was very easy to get there by bus, but it was NOT. Three buses and an hour after leaving our apartment, we were told there were no buses to Teleferiquo, and so we disappointedly hopped in a cab and said "Teleferiqo por favor" and that was that - we were there in just 10 more minutes. The gondola ride up takes about 15 minutes. It should have been a really beautiful view, but it was so foggy that you could see absolutely nothing - not even the ground right below us.
Here's the beautiful view from the gondola:
We decided to hike anyway, and things did start to clear up at least a little bit by the time we were done. We somehow must have gone off the path though, because after close to an hour we realized we were almost exactly where we started instead of any closer to the volcano. Oops. We blame the fog. And the altitude. Because we blame the altitude for everything.
Our German roommates went the next day, and they said it was the most beautiful day and the most beautiful hike with the most beautiful view. Figures, right? So we added it to the list of things we need to do again if there's time.
Here's sort of what you're supposed to be able to see, and what we were supposed to be hiking towards:
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
We sort of just walked around and looked at all the animals and all the people trying to sell them. There were a lot of Quechua (indigenous) people who come down to the markets to buy and sell what they have, and it was fun to see the mix of very traditional with very modern outfits.
The weirdest (and best?) thing here - when you order ceviche, it comes with popcorn! You pour the ceviche over the popcorn and eat it like that.
A popular snack here are these huge toasted popcorn kernels. Jenna and I bought some and we're going to practice making them so we can come home and make them for everyone.
We finally went grocery shopping for the first time the other day. We think our roommates think we must be nuts because we have no food and don't cook anything ever, and they cook most of their meals. But at least now we have some breakfast foods, water, and coke zero - the essentials, duh.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
After the basilica, we went on the oddest tour I have ever been on. In a park there's an observatory, so we wanted to just sort of peek our heads in and see the big telescope at the top. Instead we walked around with a guide who literally just pointed to (labeled) objects and said what they were. And I mean literally as in literally. "This is a telephone. This is a calculator. This is a more advanced calculator. These are books. This is a telescope." Super interesting, really...
Class is interesting. My professor, Manuel, is great. Everyone takes a quiz on the first day to see where you stand with Spanish, and you work on what you need. Other than some grammar exercises, I basically spend the four hours just chatting with Manuel in Spanish.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I think we're still recovering from our crazy arrival day on Sunday when we awoke at 3:30 for our 6:30 am flight through Costa Rica to arrive in Quito at 2pm local time. FYI, Ecuador is central time, not pacific like I told everyone. Even though Ecuador is on the west coast of South America, if you actually look at a map (which I obviously did not), the west coasts of the two continents do not line up.
First things first - let me explain why we're here. Our program is called Andean Global Studies and it is basically a very flexible, very intensive Spanish language course. We are doing the medical Spanish program which means that the first week we take 4 hours of one-on-one Spanish classes every day, and for the following two weeks, we have the same instruction time but we will also be shadowing a doctor in a pediatric hospital here in Quito.
Jenna and I opted for an apartment over a homestay, but it feels more like a tiny hostel. We share the apartment with a really sweet German couple, and the man who owns the apartment lives in a house across the patio with his family. We have our own bedrooms, and there are two bathrooms, but one is outside on the patio and has no hot water - so I doubt we'll be using that one at all. Although the bathroom "with" hot water is really lukewarm at best, and sometimes is even icy cold. As we get used to 2 minute showers, and having to throw away our toilet paper instead of flushing it down the toilet (because apparently that clogs toilets), we are becoming happier with the apartment. Cesar, the man who owns the apartment, checks on us a few times a day and helps us call cabs at night.
While I don't have a great sense of the city yet (surprising considering how good my sense of direction is), our apartment is pretty far north of the "hip" part of the city. But we are about three doors down from the school which is very convenient. Other students may have hot water and wifi, but at least we don't have to take a bus to class. We are also in very easy walking distance of a huge mall with a food court, a bank, an internet cafe, and clothing stores (very necessary since we were VERY wrong about the weather, see below).
The most surprising thing about Quito is that it is FREEZING here. Considering we are in a country named after the EQUATOR, I was a bit taken aback. But it's because Quito is so high in the mountains. Since our beds are made with two fleece blankets and a quilt, we are warm at night, but during the day we are quickly using up our long-sleeved shirts and limited sweatshirts. Buying a fleece in the mall or an alpaca wool poncho in the market we're going to on Thursday is definitely a necessity we will be taken care of.
So that's your basic orientation to what we're doing in Quito! Updates soon on what we've been doing in and outside of class!
Saturday, July 9, 2011
I have been the worst blog updater ever this summer. I have good reason though. My life has been very, very boring - unless everyone wanted to hear what books I've been reading (so far, Kenneth Davis's Don't Know Much About Mythology and Michelle and James Nevius' A Streetwise History of NYC: Inside the Apple), or more details about my MCAT class, or how late I sleep (around 9-9:30), or what I eat...
You get the picture. I'm boring.
That is soon to change though! Tomorrow (reallllllll early) I leave for Ecuador for a month! I'm going with a friend from school, and we'll be living in Quito, taking Spanish classes, and shadowing physicians in a hospital/clinic in the city.
I have no idea what my internet situation will be like - so I can't promise Tuesday and Friday updates. But I can promise interesting updates when they do come! So make sure you check back every so often - or follow me on twitter @elenawelt where I'll be letting the whole world (all 60 of my followers, half of which are spam) know when I post.