Ecuador: Quito, Otavalo, Cotopaxi

My dad and I have only been in Ecuador for 2 full days, but it feels like two weeks. We have been privileged with the opportunity to see and meet a wonderful people, and visit some beautiful communities.

On Saturday, March 15, we arrived in Ecuador at the Aeropuerto Mariscal Sucre, a relatively new airport in Quito. We were picked up by the FEDICE welcoming committee, consisting of a lovely group of ladies: Blanca, Lisa, Bethany and María “Mayta”. After a warm welcome, “the package” (as we were referred to) was safely delivered to the Hotel Ambassador. A bit disheveled from a long trip and a sudden altitude shift, we went straight to bed. 

The next morning, Sunday, March 16, we had a quick breakfast of eggs, coffee, and bread at the hotel cafeteria, then were picked up to go to church. That morning was a bit groggy for me. I was falling asleep during my dad’s sermon, and got out of breath just clapping my hands and singing in church. This whole high altitude thing is no joke. It really messes with you!

Later on we went with Lisa and later met up with Mayta and Bethany. We had the opportunity, prior to going to church, to see the house where Lisa is staying at, which belonged to the late Dr. Victor Vaca. It is a beautiful home, full to the brim with books and art. After visiting the house, we went to Lisa’s church, where my dad, Hector Curiel, was able to share a word. After the word, there was a small gathering outside, where we all shared some corn on the cob, or “choclo”. It was distinct from the type of corn we customarily eat in the states. The kernels are a bit drier. We also had this drink made out of wheat. I think that if you ferment it longer it can be an alcoholic drink, but the non-fermented one we had was thick and sweet.

Anyways. After we left the church, we (My dad, Lisa, Mayta, Bethany and Mayta’s daughter Alejandra) went to a local seafood restaurant to have some food. My dad was near drooling at the pictures of the fish/shrimp ceviche, so we ordered that. My dad and I had a little awkward moment thinking that ceviche in Ecuador was the same as ceviche in Mexico. It’s not. It is just cold soup, pretty much. I had the shrimp ceviche. It was okay, at best. Maybe it was just me, but it just tasted like yesterday’s cold tomato-onion soup. Luckily, apparently all restaurant foods in Ecuador are also served with plain popcorn and plantain chips (like fried banana slices), which I have come to love. 

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Bethany and Mayta

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Bethany, Lisa, Mayta, Tania, Alejandra

It’s interesting how here in Ecuador, it seems like sometimes the Spanish the Ecuadorians speak is another language. Fortunately, we have our interpreter, Lisa, who lived in Mexico for 45 years. She knows very well the distinction between “Mexican” words and “Ecuadorian” words, which has been a great help to us. Those we can pick up relatively quickly (“chompa” means “chamarra”), it’s just the Quichua (an indigenous language) that goes in one ear and out the other. We’re trying, though. Sort of.

After lunch, we met up with Blanca and her husband, Luis, and we drove to a nearby town named Otavalo. It is about an hour away. We went with Lisa, since Mayta and Bethany had to stay behind. Otavalo is well known for its large Saturday-market-like market.

Unfortunately, since we went on a Sunday it was closed. All was well, though, since we were able to visit a community in the area. First, we stopped by a funeral of the father of one of the FEDICE team members, Sebastian. It was a solemn event, but we were warmly greeted with tea and bread. There was a small room where family and friends were expressing their condolences, with the casket present, fully adorned with gifts of bread, flowers, fruit, vegetables and money. In the back of the room (outdoors) there was a group of indigenous women cooking what appeared to be a large feast. There were huge pots of food and the bones and meat of what appeared to be a cow. The family was going to have a big celebration of life the next day as a part of the funeral. It was at the funeral that I first met Marilyn Cooper. She is a volunteer at FEDICE who has lived and worked with her husband, Glenn, for 4 years in Ecuador. 

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After visiting the funeral, our group (and Marilyn) went to see a local preschool that has had financial support from Disciples of Christ in Oregon. It was beautiful school and has greatly benefited from the Oregon support.

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Having visited the school, Marilyn then invited us to her house in Otavalo (a short drive away) for coffee and bread. We could not resist! We had a great time with her family at her house (Glenn and a friend whose name I don’t remember). What my dad and I hadn’t realized was that lunch is the Ecuadorean equivalent to our big meal at dinner, and then at night they eat just bread and coffee. So as you can imagine, we were very hungry when we didn’t get dinner.

After our “merienda” (night time snack), we made the trek back to Quito and called it a night. Blanca and Luis were kind enough to allow us to spend the night at their house, so we enjoyed their company that night and the next morning for breakfast.

The next morning (today), Monday March 17, 2014, we had a full breakfast of eggs, bread and coffee (do I see a pattern here?) with Blanca and Luis, and then we went to the FEDICE office. Blanca presented the team to us, and we shared cookies that I think Lisa made (they were delicious!) and watched a very interesting presentation on the communities that FEDICE works with. After the presentation, the team fed us (they are very nice) a very filling meal of rice, fried chicken and potato salad. That was proceeded by a large scoop of ice cream and peach. 

After the meeting with FEDICE, we went back to Blanca and Luis’s house to pick up our bags, and then we made the two hour drive to Cotopaxi. Although I slept a bit, the route was very scenic. We got to see a big part of the city of Quito, which was nice, and then enjoy the rain adorning the scenic mountainous view the rest of the way. 

We arrived in Cotopaxi and were able to see another preschool that was made in the community, and learned about the lady who started the initiative. Her name is Diana. After that, we went to Diana’s house for biscocho’s (bread/biscuits) and tea, then to Carmelita’s house for dinner. Carmelita is the lady who we are staying with here in Cotopaxi (where I am now). She made a big meal of chicken soup (from one of the chicken’s here in the community), local potatoes and cuy. What is cuy? Mm… Guinea pig. Yep. They raise guinea pigs around here. It is usually served when special guests arrive or for formal events like weddings, so we were honored to have it, although I wasn’t too excited about trying it. I did have a bite, though, and it tasted like very tough, salty chicken.  It was way better than I expected though. I actually enjoyed it. Sort of. 

After dinner we went to our room at Carmelita’s house. It is one large room divided in two by furniture, but it has 3 large beds, warm blankets and a shower outside with warm water, which is more than enough for us.

So that is our 2 days in Ecuador! My body is still really confused with time and sleep patterns and altitude here, but its a work in progress. I bet I will be all acclimatized Thursday when it’s time to leave. That’s just how things work, right? All pictures are on my facebook at facebook.com/tania.curiel

Well, until next time!

All the best,

Tania

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Indigenous woman in Otavalo, Ecuador

To Quito or Bust!

Well. The day has come! My dad and I are sitting down at the Portland airport drinking Starbucks and waiting for our boarding call: 5:30am, first class. 

It feels a bit surreal knowing that we will be spending the next few days spending time with indigenous communities in Cotopaxi, Ecuador; and the proceeding days living out the retired persons dream (ie. cruising) in the Galapagos. Despite the gala ball, plaid shirt imagery often associated with cruising, ours will lean more towards exploring: “it’s not a cruise, it’s an expedition”, say the promo materials. 

Who knew that an action as simple as taking 2 minutes to fill out a contest form could lead to all of this? When I signed up I had no idea that within a few months I would be boarding a plane to Quito. But I am. And I still can’t seem to wrap my mind around it. 

I am looking forward (in a bittersweet sort of way) to the disconnect that this trip will bring. I live my life connected to technology 24/7, attached literally to the hip to my iPhone, and always within spitting distance of my MacBook. While I am bringing most of my tech, and will be posting to social media as much as I can, I will not have any internet access while on the cruise. This means that regardless of the tech I do have at hand, I won’t be connected to the outside world. It’s a bit liberating.

Before we left, my dad and I made sure to tie up all loose ends, or at the very least leave our work in good hands. I told my dad that I would use our travel time to do work and he nearly had brain flip on me. “I will NOT let you work. This is a VACATION. Do you understand what a vacation is?!” So I won’t be working. While he’s around. ;) Shhh…

For now, I think I will try my best (as hard as that may be) to forget about the things that would normally hang over my shoulders (work, school, personal work, church) and just focus on vaaacaaaatioooonniiing. It’s been a while, and it’s about time. 

With that, I would just like to wish you all a good weekend. I look forward to sharing the journey that my dad and I will be going on. As someone who has always had the dream to travel, but up until now has had little opportunity to, I will do my best to allow you all to live vicariously through our journey. 

Until next time! 

-Tania

Planning our Trip

With just weeks before our departure, my dad and I are finally starting to feel the upcoming travel sink in. We are going to Ecuador!

It is a bit surreal knowing that you are about to embark on a 15 day trip, with little to no expenses – aside from cocktails, miscellaneous trinkets and local food, that is.

I have been working fervently on drafting a detailed itinerary for our pre-cruise trip to Quito, and have excitedly researched everything from what is appropriate dress (casual, thank goodness!) to what food will be served onboard (Ecuadorean). While my full on minute by minute, color-coded itinerary might be a bit much, here is a brief sample of what our days will look like:

Day 1: Leave at around 4am to PDX airport. Take 3 connecting flights (first flight is first class with breakfast, second is economy and third is business with a  3 course dinner) to Quito. We arrive in Quito at about 9pm and stay at a hotel.
Day 2: Tour Quito. Visit a church, see the “Mitad del Mundo”.
Day 3-5: Visit communities in Cotopaxi with the FEDICE program.
Day 6: Fly to Guayaquil
Day 7: Visit the Mangroves near Guayaquil, maybe see the Malecon. That night go to the Hilton Colon. Spend the night there with the majority of other passengers who will be going on the expedition as well.
Day 8: Early in the morning fly from Guayaquil to the Galapagos. Board the National Geographic Endeavour. 
Day 8-and beyond: Enjoy pristine wildlife and the most diverse array of animals, flora and fauna I will  probably ever encounter. :]

For now I think that about covers it! I’ll be posting more as the date gets closer.

Let’s fast-forward to March, shall we?

The wait is almost over! I just want March to hurry up and get here so that my dad and I can head on over to the Galapagos.
A few small updates: We were bumped up to first and business class for free, compliments of the overbooked airline (apparently March is a busy month?). Also, I am not sure if I already mentioned this, but we are extending our trip to Quito for about 5 days prior to going on the cruise. We are going to check out FEDICE, a ministry that helps out indigenous families in the outskirts of the city. I’ll also be sharing part of that trip on the blog here.

I won’t be updating this blog much until then, so if you want just check back in March (better yet, April) for pictures and posts that would probably be best.

If you are really that excited about this, you can read all the articles. Most of the pictures below have click-through links to various articles.

Best,
Tania