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 people....you 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 part...it 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.






















video video video video

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cuenca



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!