Friday, November 4, 2011

Weekends in Ecuador

There were five weekends during our time in Ecuador. On the first, we moved in with our host families in Los Naranjos. We also spent the second weekend hanging out with them!
My family lived in a fairly spacious, open wooden house.
This is the sitting area; to the left is the kitchen and to the right are the beds where we slept.
Here's Lisette, our gracious host mom, and four year-old Kiara:
This, however, is Kiara's more typical modus operandi:
That weekend we hung around the house, doing laundry with Lisette and playing with Kiara. Manuel, the father, has a weekend job at a radio station. I also went to a great community soccer game-we ended up playing Tsachilas versus gringos, which ended in a predictable but fun defeat on our part.

The next weekend, our whole group left Los Naranjos and traveled to the coast, to a fantastic and secluded beach in a place called Bahia de Caracas.
We didn't do much apart from relaxing, sleeping in tents, and playing in the sand, but I found myself struck by an artistic impulse:
This is a collage I made from debris, trash, shells etc that I found on the beach. It's a sea monster!

The rising tide eventually returned my work to the ocean.

The following weekend was our first IST, or Independent Student Travel. In each core country, we get a chance to split up into smaller groups of students and travel by ourselves wherever we want within the country. It's a fantastic opportunity to personalize the trip as well as to chill out.
For my Ecuador IST, Michele, Andrew, and I went to several villages along what's called the Quilatoa loop: a collection of towns near the Quilatoa volcanic crater lake.
Our first day was spent at the Quilatoa crater itself, which was absolutely phenomenal:
We hiked down to the lake, kayaked, and then rode hard-working horses back up to the top of the mountain. After lunch, we headed to our next day's location, Zumbahua.
Zumbahua (the pronunciation of which I mangled in several creative ways) is famous for its weekly markets, and rightly so! The market had everything from produce and grains to delicious if suspect street food to DVDs, clothing, and jewelry. I bought gifts for my host family but mostly just enjoyed wandering around.
The last town we went to was called Chugchilan, and while Chugchilan was a pleasant community, that's about all it was. The famed cloud forest turned out to be a two hour walk each way from the town itself, which we couldn't fit into our tight schedule. The other main attraction is the local cheese factory, which we did visit. However, after we paid a man named Dario $20 to drive us there, the factory turned out to mostly be two vats of milk in a room:
(At this point, clever readers will be asking, "What the hell did you expect, Alison? It's cheese. It's made of milk.". To those readers, I provide as a diversionary tactic this picture of one of the alpacas that stared at us while we stood awkwardly near the variously solidified forms of dairy.)
Dario had ended up driving away while we were looking at some mozzarella, so we bought half a wheel of cheese and walked through the mountains for a few hours eating it. Along with a volleyball game with some local Ecuadorians, that was about it for IST weekend-a fun and interesting time all around.
(But seriously, don't visit Chugchilan.)

Saturday of the last weekend was the day we left Los Naranjos. There was a huge party either to celebrate our time there or to celebrate our leaving (I like to think the former), and we played lots of traditional Tsachila games, like spear-throwing and tug-of-war. Then we danced late into the night-imagine speakers and a colored disco ball nestled beneath a bamboo thatched shelter.

I was sad to say goodbye to my family in Los Naranjos, but the next week, we went to Peru, where we hung out in Cusco and hiked the Inca Trail. Blog post on that to come-it was amazing!
As I write I'm in Los Angeles, but tomorrow (technically today) we're flying to Shanghai and then to Kunming, China: our second core location.