Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The beginning of Spanish School in Cuenca

I am back in San Clemente! It was a great month in Cuenca! I studied, partied, traveled, met new friends, learned to cook and took salsa lessons. Wow! It was quite a trip! I met people from all over the world and learned of their stories, very interesting! But one thing I learned is no matter how hard I try, I will never be Ecuadorian J But, THAT’S OK! I learn something new about this culture everyday and that’s priceless.

A traditional meal of Motepillo (large corn kernals boiled with queso, egg, green onion and aji) very delicious, very filling!

I had decided early on going to Spanish School was a necessity. I remember bits and pieces from high school and college, but it had been almost 6 years since then. I definitely needed to brush up on my skills. I decided after enjoying our trip to Cuenca so much I would rather go to school there. A week after my decision I was on the bus to Cuenca, which took a total of about 10 hours to get there (6 by car). The bus ride was quite an experience, especially since it was my first one by myself. As I said before the Guayaquil bus terminal is bigger and nicer than the airport here. The ride was smooth except for the police man who was kind enough to show me my gate and was also so kind as to hit on me. He asked for my digits and I thought eh what the heck, I don’t have to answer his call and I will probably never see him again….WRONG! (update: on the way back to San Clemente, after not answering his calls for 3 weeks, guess who I saw in the bus terminal again…HIM!!! It was quite amusing…and he made sure I got on the correct bus once again and then called me to make sure I arrived safely in San Clemente.)

The first day of Spanish School was EXHAUSTING! My brain literally hurt. 4 hours starting at 8am with a private tutor, who only spoke Spanish…I was beginning to rethink the whole idea! I swear my eyes just had this blank stare about them and my drool was collecting on the floor. I felt dumb. But by the 3rd day I seemed to be picking up a lot of the words she said and after the first week I started talking more in response to her. I started meeting all these new people too with different stories from all over the world.

Bre , a teacher from Boston pursuing her dream of going to the Galapogas.

Felicity and Mark traveling all over South America for a year from Australia.

Another couple from England doing the same thing.

A family from Wisconsin taking a sabbatical from work to enjoy another culture.

Holly and Andy a couple from Washington DC, teaching English for 6 months and learning Spanish for work back in the states.

A girl studying abroad from Norway for a few months.

The list grew. People from all ages came and went. We all got together a few times at the local pub after salsa class at night to learn about each other. We compared cultures and reasons for leaving our countries and why we had come to Ecuador. I realized we all had something in common. We lived for adventure and weren’t scared of risks. It’s not every day you come across people who have hiked up mountains 12,000ft above sea level, or jumped off cliffs or woke up to insects the size of your head clinging to the outside of your mosquito net in the Amazon. So riding a bus throughout three countries in South America is a piece of cake.

The group saying wishing Felicity and Mark good travels.

And right from the start Mateo, my boyfriend, was a hit! I would invite him to hang out with the tourists or gringos and they would ask him every question in the book! But he was great and he even enjoyed hanging out with us too.

The first 2 weeks I stayed with a host family in Cuenca while attending the school. The house was fairly huge that I stayed in and there were 3 brothers, 2 already married and out of the house. The mom was very welcoming and I had a nice bedroom, but it just wasn’t for me. After living on my own for over 5 years I really wanted to stay on my own. My friend Bre was staying in a hostal for $6 a night so I transferred there and saved over $50 a week! The hostal overlooked the river, I shared a bathroom, kitchen and living space with 2 other people. It was great!

During the first week of class, one hour was dedicated to going out in the city and doing some sort of activity. This particular day I visited the local Shaman. For $2 every Wednesday and Thursday the Shaman from the mountains would come into town and do this ritual on people. It was quite the ordeal. First they make you close your eyes and smell this concoction of herbs and flowers, then they started beating you with it and saying these weird things! After, this lady took this black charcoal looking stuff and made an X above my belly button and then on my forehead. Then, she took a swig of what looked like alcohol and spit it all over my back and then my front!!! The finale was when she rolled an egg all over my body, cracked it and then read my fortune. She said I didn’t have too many evil spirits in me!!! PHEW, I was worried!

The Market with all handmade items.

My friend Bre and I ventured to a few places together, but our first outing was to see an Argentina Jazz concert. It was very interesting! The cool thing is that there is a whole book of free concerts, movies and arts festivals throughout every month in Cuenca. This was during the first week of Spanish class so we couldn’t really understand what the guy was saying, BUT he was making the audience crack up. He would play his saxophone for like 5 minutes hard core and then the piano and guitar would take over and the guy would leave the stage. He would come back after like 10 minutes and take a swig of his water, then stamp out the beats with his head and feet. This process went on the whole time, he would sometimes switch back and forth between the saxophone and the oboe. The music was great!

Look forward to my next entry about Bre and I hiking the Cajas up 12,000ft above sea level through rain, sleet, wind and freezing cold!!! Always an adventure here in Ecuador!!!

Te Amo,

T.I.E moment. This was walking through the center of town. A guy with three goats just hanging out with his goats tied to the lamp post. Goat milk anyone?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Festival of the Virgin- San Clemente

The Festival of the Virgin takes place in San Clemente every year on September 8th. This is a time when the people celebrate the Virgin of Charity of Copper, a patroness of Cuba.The Virgin of Charity is a statue of the Virgin Mary on the mining town of El Cobre, Cuba. It is said a slave boy and two Indians in 1608 were hanging out on the coast and saw something floating in the water. It was a statue of Mary holding baby Jesus on a board with the inscription, "I am the Virgin of Charity."

Every year the festivities in San Clemente begin 9 days prior to the grand finale, where everyone gathers in the town center every night to pray and sing to the Virgin statue. People from all over the country come to celebrate all the festivities; the parade, singing and dancing, drinking, eating, shopping and the morning of the last day is the fisherman fiesta on the water.

Yes, that is a donkey painted like a Zebra! A man dressed as a black woman!

It was very interesting for me to go to the town center and witness a night of the praying. Chairs are put in a circle around the statue in the center of town and little girls in pink and white dresses go up to the microphone to say prayers. Then they sing and food is given to all who have come.

The fun part was all the partying! Unfortunately, I had lost my voice a few days prior to all the fun, so it was pretty difficult talking, let alone talking in Spanish! There were so many tiendas (small stores) set up along with a big inflatable slides for all the kids. Everyone just danced in the streets all night long and the bands were so loud you could hear them all the way down to my place (about .5 mile away). A few friends of a friend came and showed Megan and I how to traditionally dance, it was fun! The streets were just completely filled with could barely walk!

Before all the partying there was a parade that last almost 5 hours! It had really funny floats and then some really cool bands too. Each school in the area was to participate. Even the hotel employees walked in the parade! The bands were amazing...I am including some videos of them at the bottom of this blog! Enjoy!

On the morning of the Saturday of the final fiesta, everyone gets up early and see's the fisherman off to sea. They have a prayer to the Patroness of Fisherman and then they all sail out to sea. All day long there are small boats carrying people back and forth to the large fishing boats. There is just one big party after the next on the ships. These people know how to party! They party for ANY reason! I missed the farewell was WAY too early in the morning, especially after a long night of partying.

Some of my favorite people!

This boat is all decorated and ready to take people out to the big fishing boat!

Yes that is a snow cone machine!!

The weekend ended perfectly!

NEW: Bahia Bridge....I traveled with Santiago to the new bridge they are building in Bahia. In a few short months the new bridge will replace a lot of jobs in the area. You see, for the longest time the only way of getting over to San Vicente from Bahia were the ferries. The ferry ride was $.25 to get a mile to the other side and the ferry also held vehicles as well. This new bridge is going to change life for Ecuadorians in Bahia. It is going to expand business as well as tourisim. I got lucky and was able to take a tour with the construction manager of the cement portion. Santiago and I had some fun taking pics of the new bridge!

The bike/walking ramp.

The temporary sign introducing the bridge!

The beginning of the bridge on the Bahia side.

Me, sporting the hard hat.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Its hard to see this map, however the yellow star is where I live in San Clemente and then the red dot in the center of the furthest south yellow province is Cuenca.

Cuenca is the 3rd largest city in Ecuador and was founded by a Spanish explorer in 1557. Today, the population exceeds 450,000 of which 267,000 are urban occupants. The city has 8 Universities and was named after Cuenca, Spain. Cuenca means a basin caused by a confluence of rivers. The city is surrounded by mountains and has 3 rivers that run through it. There are two seasons in Cuenca; rainy and dry. Rainy season is from January to May, where the mornings are bright with afternoon showers. The dry season is from June to December. The average temperature falls at about 58 degrees.

Since I came to Ecuador everyone told me about this magical, historical city that rests in the Andes Mountains. I had wanted to visit this town and we finally made plans over this past weekend! We (my dad, Carmen and I) decided to travel at night since by bus it takes anywhere between 8-10 hours to get there, depending on road conditions and bus schedule. We left at 8pm from San Clemente and stopped in Bahia to pick Carmen up. Then from there the bus traveled in the dark to Porto Viejo, Guayaquil and finally Cuenca. Arrival time was at 11am the following morning.

Guayaquil bus station. 3 stories high, bigger than the airport!

The bus from Guayaquil to Cuenca was so beautiful. I slept until about 8am and when I woke up I looked out my window and was literally gasping for air! I was looking straight down hundreds of feet off the mountain. After I caught my breath, I noticed just how beautiful the mountains were, they were everywhere! The bus winded along the sides of the mountain like it was floating on the clouds. We came across a few small towns that were brightly painted with “indigena”( indigenous) women wearing colored skirts, tall socks and funny looking hats (unfortunately I didn’t get any pics), but I did get to talk to one that sat next to me on the bus. Then I noticed out the window these people were amazing! They would be walking literally on 90 degree angles down the side of the mountain while carrying a huge load on their back. Incredible!

When we arrived to the city and found a hotel we walked around the center of the town and into the church downtown. As I walked into the church I felt this strong power surround me. We bought a few candles and brought them inside to pray. The pictures I took don’t even describe the beauty of this church. Then we went to eat at this little gourmet restaurant and they gave us 6 scoops of helado (ice cream) on the house. It was so yummy!

I met someone special a few weeks ago in San Clemente and he lives in Cuenca. His name is Mateo and he showed us around the city the whole weekend. It was a blast! The first night he took us to have a traditional Cuenca meal, called Cuy (sounds like coo-ie) aka Guinea Pig! I will have to say, when I saw the Cuy grilling over the fire I felt a little sorry for the creature, especially since we have them as pets in the US. The first bite definitely made me a little nervous, it looked like dark meat on chicken, but it tasted completely different. After a few bites, it was starting to grow on me. Then Mateo drove us up on one of the mountains to a lookout called ­­­­­­ Turi, that overlooked the entire city. It was an amazing view at night! Later on we made our way to the local disco called ­ Zo. It was a ton of fun!

Mateo and I at Turi overlooking Cuenca.

The Chancho

Cuy...aka guinea pig!

And yes you can eat the head!!!

The next day, we ventured to the mall and watched Agent Salt at the movie theater. $4 for a ticket, that is so cheap! We then walked around town a bit and ended up at this Sushi place! It was really yummy…a Sushi place in Ecuador, who would have figured! But it was delicious. They didn’t know what edamame was, but other than that the food was great! Carmen and Mateo had never eaten with chopsticks before, so it was an adventure for them and I LOVE washabi so they thought I was crazy for putting so much in my soy sauce. After this we did a little bar hopping! The first bar we went to was called Monday Blue and it had all kinds of cool things on the wall. We had a pitcher or liter as they call of beer and then headed to Relax bar. Mateo wanted us to try this drink called Canelazo, it’s traditional in Cuenca. The drink is served warm and has an orange flavor to it plus cane juice, so yes it is an alcoholic drink! It is extremely strong for us Americans, the Ecuadorians it doesn’t even phase them!

Sushi Dinner

Mateo pouring Canelazo into little shot glasses

The gang taking yet another shot of Canelazo.

Sunday was a special day. Mateo’s mom invited me over for Sunday lunch. She cooked an amazing meal of Duck; that was the first time I have ever tried it. I loved it! I also got to meet a lot of his family, even though they spoke mostly Spanish. I am determined now to learn Spanish! I have the basics; I just need to learn how to put all the sentences together. His family was great and I had a lot of fun!

And then we were on the road again…the fog going back was extremely thick, but this time we took a small van for part of the ways, which took off a few hours. The view was stunning and I can’t wait to go back to Cuenca for Espanol escuela in a few weeks!

Little kids on the side of the road trying to sell us stuff!

The start of the fog....

It kept getting worse...

Until it covered everything!

Carmen and I on the journey back.

This weekend is the Festival of the Virgin in San Clemente! Everyone from all over comes to celebrate this festival for the whole weekend. It actually starts 9 days prior with prayers and singing at the virgin statue in the town center every night. Then over the weekend they close the streets down and party! I will tell you all about it in my next blog!

Adios amigos!