Two weekends ago I went to Esmeraldas, a city along the northern coast of Ecuador, for a project for my oral Ecuadorian literature class and we needed to tape someone saying poetry or traditional stories. The city itself reminds me a lot of Curaçao, all the buildings are brightly colored, the streets are filled with people and it just generally has a vibrancy about it. Also it was wonderfully hot after the chilly rain and nights in Quito! I did not go swimming in the ocean because of the lack of time, but I will go back so I can swim.
This weekend was quiet. Some friends and I went to the Plaza Grande in colonial Quito to listen to an open-air concert. Afterwards we went to eat in the patio of a colonial house which has rooms, stairs and floors so intricately woven it is easy to get lost in it.
Location: Quito, Ecuador
The weekend of the 29th and 30th was fairly quiet because there was an election- few things were open on the Sunday and buses were difficult. However, on the Saturday I went with a friend to see the museum in the Casa de Cultura in Quito. The museum is divided into three main sections: the archaeology room, colonial and revolutionary art, and modern Ecuadorian art. I had a paper for my archaeology class, so we spent most of our time in the first room which was packed with pots, sculptures, golden jewerly and a Cañari mummy. It was arranged in a maze-like fashion so you have to weave your way through the exhibit which roughly follows the years before the Spaniards' arrival. After the museum we went along the Avenida de la Patria bordering el Parque el Ejido. On the weekends artist set up easels to display their work, hoping to find customers. Some of the paintings are copies of Guaysamin or other famous artists, but a lot of slightly idealized paintings of the colonial section in Quito. Nonetheless, there were a couple of interesting pieces, like paintings of birds done on huge leaves that are treated to look very old.
This weekend I went with some friends to the hot springs at Papallacta and by the end we probably spent a good five hours soaking in the wonderfully warm pools. The complex is very pretty as it has several pools with varying temperatures and is located right beside a small creek enclosed by hills. The hostal that we stayed at also had a natural hot pool, so we spent the evening surrounded by mist and the occasional star if the clouds cleared. Even though Quito has really interesting museums, history etc., the nature here is almost more spectacular.
Then on Sunday we decided to go to the waterfall of San Rafael. It is located a little ways into the Oriente (the Amazon). From Papallacta the road winds along hills covered in rainforest and small waterfalls. The oil pipe-line that brings petrol from the bases in the Oriente also follows this road and is not as pretty as the surrounding hills. We had a wonderfully clear bus ride; but as soon as we got to the national park, a huge downpour started. Although it was only about a kilometre hike one-way and we were wearing raingear, we managed to get completely soaked. Seeing the waterfall was worth the sopping clothes. Just before it is a large river basin that seems relatively calm and then you suddenly realize its strength once it cascades down in a narrow spot.
On Saturday I went with a couple of friends to the Botanical Garden in Quito and we had a guide show us around. There were plants from different parts of Ecuador and two huge greenhouses filled with orchids. A couple of plants sparked my interest such as the one called paraguas ("umbrella") which has leaves large enough to use as umbrellas during impromptu downpours. The orchids were also lovely ranging in sizes from tiny to large and ostentious.
Personally, the section that was the most interesting was the páramo: the very high and dry lands in the Sierra. The frailejons have a coating which ressembles hair and leaves that are shaped like rabbit ears (to keep warm). They also do not drop their leaves as it protects them from the cold. Most of the vegetation at that altitude are tufts of grass, underwhich rabbits like to hide to stay warm. There are also plants that grow in smalls mounds to conserve heat and they are literally called pillows.
Afterwards we went hiking along Ruca Pinchincha (the mountain that borders Quito). We took the Teleférico up which is a small gondola and, or course, I was the only one clunching the seat because of the height. The gondola goes up to about 4100m and we hiked uphill from there, although it was ridicously hard because the air was very thin. My friends humored me because I keep pointing out the different plants we had seen in the garden.
Location: Mindo, Ecuador
A couple of weeks ago I went with some friends to colonial Quito again. This time we went to the monastery of San Francisco and the Basilica. It is relatively new as it was started in 1926 (you can tell because it is made with a lot of concrete not stone) and still is not finished. You can climb up tiny ladders that were precariously tied to the walls in the clock towers and go on top of the vaults that make up the main ceiling. At the top of the towers we were around 60 meters above the ground and there was a tiny ledge where you could sit outside on the roof. It was fun but very scary because of the height. The most interesting thing was that the gargoyles were neither demons nor angels, instead they were different types of birds that were sculpted to look like they wanted to fly off the building.
This weekend we went to Mindo a tiny town two hours from Quito that is in a cloud forest. On Saturday after leaving early in the morning we hired a guide who organized everything for us. He was absolutely amazing and does mostly tours of groups of bird-watchers. We first went to a garden that was full of hummingbirds as they had many feeders with sugar-water. Although they would hover above the feeders, few of them would actually take the time to perch to drink.
Afterwards we took horses to go to a butterfly garden and then spent the afternoon tubing in the little creek that runs by the town. Tubing means that they create a raft for you by tying seven inner tubes together and you float down the river on that. There wasn't a lot of water so occasionally we had to bounce up and down to get the raft off a high rock.
In the evening we went to a frog concert by a pond filled with toads and frogs (who like to sing during dusk). The guides shined a flashlight on the pond so you could pick out the tiny frogs who, despite their size, make a lot of noise. We also took a walk through the forest and saw insects and a log that glowed in the dark because of bacteria. Supposedly the bacteria needs really high humidity, otherwise it dies so it only can live in the cloud forests.
The next day we got up at five so we could go bird watching with our guide. It was amazing; while we hiked we got to see toucans, quetzals and parrots through his telescope. Some of the birds were obliging enough to patiently wait while the lense was ajusted (like anyone they like showing-off). Others keep flying from branch to branch so we could only catch fleeting glimpses.
From the top of the hill we walked down to a waterfall where you could swim. There was a slide that went into the river and didn't seem very high, until you were on it. I was the only one who went off of it, although one friend did also go down, and then panicked and climbed up to the begining. Finally we hiked up the canyon and took the tarabita across (a small car that zoomed across two wires that spanned the river valley). I may have been the only one willing to slide into a river, but I definetely was the most scared on the tarabita to even things out.
Location: Quito, Ecuador
I arrived in Quito almost two weeks ago and I am really enjoying myself. I am living with a family in Quito close to the airport and commuting to the Universidad San Francisco de Quito by bus (it is in a valley just outside of the city).
The university's campus is absolutely beautiful- there is an artificial pond with a waterfall surrounded by palms and other plants. It is actually rather small because the university only has around five thousand students. Most of the buildings are interconected and there are little plazas dispersed between them. It is very different from Quito, as it is a very elite school, so it almost feels like you are in a little bubble.
Most of the exchange students are from the States, although there are a few other Canadians, a couple of girls from Hong Kong, a boy from Nigeria and a French girl. Several american universities sent over groups of around 30 students to the university.
I have limited myself to four classes: Andean archaeology, translation, oral Ecuadorian literature and Quito's colonial art. It feels odd to have so few classes, but it gives me time to do other things. Their subject matter interests me and the professors are all Ecuadorians so they tend to focus on the country itself (which I appreciate).
The Sunday after I arrived, I went to el Centro (colonial Quito) with the family. La Plaza Grande is the main plaza that is surrounded by the most important buildings- the government palace, the cathedral and the archbishop's building. In the centre there is a monument to Ecuador's independence with, of course, a woman on top representing Freedom.
We also went to a Jesuit church, la Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, and had a tour around it. It was filled with sculptures, decorations and shrines covered in gold plating. Definitely very barroco and excessive. There was a cupola close to the altar painted with different saints etc. Instead of straining your neck to look up there was a mirror that you could look into that faced the ceiling. Despite all the glitter, there was a small plaster plaque that was the most interesting object. It was of a pelican feeding its young, representing Christ and the eucharist. Apparently the artist saw a pelican feeding its chicks from its mouth and he interpreted it as feeding from its body. An interesting analogy that I had never seen before.
Last weekend I went with another Canadian to la Mitad del Mundo, a park supposedly on the equator; however, the equations were off- so it is not really the true equator. Nevertheless we amused ourselves taking cheesy pictures (which I will put up on this site when I get a chance). The best part of the day was that a dance troop from Columbia gave a show of traditional dances in the plaza. The dresses worn by the women were absolutely beautiful, but the dances completely dwarfted the clothing. An amusing one was where the men danced with rolling pins and the women with bread baskets. The most hilarious dance was called "Chicha" where they danced with bottles balanced on their heads and the bottles were not suppose to fall. Not that it always worked...