The Coast and Beyond

Hello all! I haven’t had the best internet access for the past few days, nor the best blogging motivation. I’m currently in Mindo, which was an unexpected stop, actually, but we’re really glad we had time to come here! More on that later–for now, a run down of the past two weeks.

On Monday the 6th we left Salinas for Puerto Lopez—the whale-watching port! The first night we checked in to a hostel owned by a Brazilian woman and her family (I got to practice my Portuguese a little!). We paid $15 to sleep in a 6 bed dorm with one bathroom, which was kind of a rip-off. The night we arrived, we set up a whale-watching tour for the next day. For $40/person, you get an all-day excursion, lunch included, to go to Isla de la Plata (the poor man’s Galapagos) and whale-watching. The southern hemisphere humpbacks winter off the coast of Ecuador. Apparently, the northern hemisphere humpbacks and the southern hemisphere ones never meet—the northerners only go as far south as Mexico (around Puerto Vallarta) to winter. I haven’t actually checked this, I’m only repeating what the tour guide told me, so don’t quote me on this!

The next morning we packed our bags, locked them up at the hostel and set off for the tour office. We walked to the marina, which is just down the boardwalk, and 16 of us boarded a little boat that took off into the sea. Several people got sick on the boat, but I was fortunately spared that. Like I said, I’m not the friend that always throws up, I’m the one that always has a rash. Or a million bug bites. On the way to the island we saw a group of dolphins, which the tour guide said was really rare. Apparently they only pass through the area and they don’t stick around for long, so it’s not common to see them. She told me that there are also orcas that move through the area, but they’re also uncommon to see. As those who lived through my childhood obsession with orcas know, I would much rather have seen orcas than dolphins, but I was glad we got to see something rare! When we arrived at the island, there were turtles swimming around a fishing boat, being fed entrails by the fishermen. Fish entrails, to clarify. We waded to shore and set off along a dusty trail to hike around the small island. Isla de la Plata has some of the same plants and animals that the Galapagos are famous for, including blue-footed boobies and frigate birds. The island is only 40 km off the coast of Ecuador, I think. I’m writing this without internet, so I can’t check that. The guides said that the weather’s been acting really strange in recent years. It used to be that when it rained in Puerto Lopez, it also rained on the island, but it hasn’t really rained on the island for almost two years now, which is weird because you usually think of areas that are close to the equator as being really humid and tropical, not bone-dry.

When we got to the top of the island, we split into two groups—some went to see the frigate birds and others went to look for blue-footed boobies. Georgia and I chose the latter, and in our group were two Peace Corps volunteers, who I was very interested in talking to (sorry mom). We did see a lot of blue-footed boobies, and a very nice view of one side of the island, as well!

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The way back was uneventful besides some people puking and OH YEAH A HUMPBACK BREACHED 30 FEET AWAY FROM US in the most beautiful display I’ve ever seen. Nobody could get their camera up in time to take pictures, but it was incredible just to see. We saw several pairs of whales, but only that one came up out of the water. It was incredibly beautiful, and everyone on the boat just gasped in awe.

The rest of the day was uneventful, besides taking pictures with the dorky “I visited Puerto Lopez” sign on the dock.

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The next day we bummed around the hostel and made plans to bike to a nearby beach in the national park. The island and a lot of the area around Puerto Lopez is part of the Machililla National Park, so it’s a protected area. Los Frailes is a beautiful beach about 13 km outside of Puerto Lopez. We rented bikes on Thursday morning and biked there. Actually when we started out, we thought it was 6 km there and 6 back-about 7 miles total. Turns out it’s twice that much, and we ended up biking like 16 miles on bikes that weren’t in the best condition and didn’t fit us very well. For a while I thought I wasn’t gonna make it back! We were feeling a bit sick at the park, but started to feel better before we started back. I still wasn’t feeling too hot and had to stop several times to get up the strength to go again, but Georgia was very supportive (: We don’t know what was wrong with us, but we made it back with very sore legs and our body weight in sweat on our clothes. The next day we spent resting and packing and playing with Mimosa, the hostel owners’ adorable tiny puppy. She had ticks, but that’s easy to get past with a face like that!

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The next day we set off for San Jacinto. We had been trying to couchsurf this whole time, but Ecuador is apparently not the best place to find hosts. We found one near Bahia de Caraquez, where we were planning on spending two nights, and decided to couchsurf with him instead of staying in the town. Long story short, his family owns a hotel so we basically got a free hotel room for a night and a really fun guide and friend to show us around the area. We went to the beach, to a local party (where there was some superbly disgusting homemade alcohol), and then headed off the next afternoon for Canoa.

Canoa is a tiny beach town. We stayed for four days and only went to the beach once… Because our hostel was so cool! It was like a little oasis with a pool and a garden, and we got super tan and lazed around a lot. We went to Bahia one day and saw the indigenous art museum, which had a great guided tour (that we took in Spanish!). I’m pretty proud of our Spanish–we speak English to each other unless we want to go code from other Americans, haha, but we’re still able to understand basically everything and can say pretty much anything we want! And everyone’s always impressed with our Spanish, so that’s another plus! (;

On Thursday we set off at 9 am for Mindo, a little town in the foothills of the Andes. It’s famous for birdwatching and hiking, and also has a butterfly farm, an orchid farm, and some really cool places to eat. It kind of reminds me of a little town in Colorado–it looks like one, too, if you can ignore the dense tropical forest surrounding the town. Yesterday we went to the butterfly farm:

IMG_3368 IMG_3402 IMG_3405 IMG_3413Today we found a cute little restaurant with veggie and vegan food–the first time I’ve seen vegan food advertised in Ecuador! In the US, I’m vegan, but I’ve been being pescatarian here because it’s such a hassle to be vegetarian in a country where not eating meat is considered extremely abnormal. Yesterday I forgot to ask if there was meat in the soup at lunch AND at dinner, so I had to pick around it, which is always rough for me because I really believe that eating animals is wrong if I have the option to abstain. I’ve been doing pretty well with just eating fish and veggies (and like 2 lbs of rice/day haha) but sometimes there’s hidden meat! ): This restaurant is super quinoa-based. Quinoa was the staple grain of the Aztecs, and the people of South America still eat it. When North Americans got wind of this “superfood,” prices went up substantially. The Ecuadorean government currently subsidizes quinoa in Ecuador so that people can afford to eat it, but that’s why I don’t eat quinoa when I’m in the US. Anyway, the food was great!

This afternoon we were going to go to the waterfalls, but decided to get up early tomorrow and do it. Instead we bummed around and went to the orchid garden this afternoon. Did you know that most orchid species are tiny, and that the big ones are chemically altered to grow that large? Neither did I, until today. They have a massive collection of orchids, and the guide knew all their names because his parents owned the gardens and had been teaching him about orchids since he was 7! I’m going to email some to my Ecuadorean host mom because she loves orchids.

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Tomorrow we’ll go looking for waterfalls, and then on Monday we head off to Quito! With only 10 days left in Ecuador, time feels like it’s flying by. On the 29th we head to Costa Rica and it’s all downhill from there! I’m so excited to have had so much time in Ecuador and to have really gotten to know this wonderful country and its people. I feel like I still have so many posts that I planned to make but haven’t had a chance to, so maybe in Quito I’ll post again! I hope you’re all having a great summer, wherever you are in the world. (:

My Morocco posts are down below, by the way.


Ecuador and the Environment

Hello, all! Georgia and I left Cuenca on Thursday, the 2nd, and are now hunkered down in Salinas (eating fruit on the beach in the cutest hostel ever).

I’ve had some time to break out my Kindle and read more of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, on the politics and economics of climate change. She talks a lot about the future of the planet and society if we allow corporations and industrialized nations to continue to pollute and cut down trees and burn oil/coal in the name of profits. One of her main arguments is that, in order for us to have a climate revolution, that corporations and the system of capitalism that they run on, in which there is very little economic cost to polluting (no or low restrictions on pollution/extraction) create a system that incentivizes exploiting our planet at great cost to our ecosystems and the continuation of life on Earth. I’m only about halfway through the book, but something that I’m disappointed that she hasn’t touched on yet (and from a few internet searches, it seems like she won’t touch on it at all) is the animal agriculture industry. We all know that eating meat and dairy contributes to HUGE amounts of pollution and rainforest clearcutting and water use, all with a huge environmental impact, yet she says nothing about this and instead focuses on fossil fuels as the only cause of climate change, which is simply not true. The US Food and Agriculture Organization found that 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions were a result of animal agriculture, however many more recent studies put that number closer to 50 percent (Goodland and Anhang, 2011, for one). This includes the opportunity costs of things like clearcutting rainforests–imagine how much of CO2 could be pulled out of the atmosphere by the trees that are being clear cut so that cows can graze–it’s a double impact. I’m of the opinion that you cannot be an environmentalist or environmental activist unless you admit these facts, stop eating meat and eating/buying animal byproducts, and take action to change the culture of meat eating, but that’s just me.

Despite Klein’s faults, she has some interesting ideas on climate change. One of these is the idea that comes from Ecuador–a few years ago, Ecuador asked the developed world to compensate it in exchange for keeping some of its oil in the ground. Specifically, the oil under Yasuní National Park, one of the most biodiverse areas in the whole world, located at the intersection of the equator, the Andes, and the Amazon basin meet. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, asked the international community to reimburse Ecuador for half of the revenue it could take in from the oil under the park, about $3.6 billion. In April of 2015, the international community had only put forth $13 million, so plans were signed to allow drilling in the park, which could start in 2016. The reasoning behind Ecuador’s request is simple–the developed countries polluted and polluted during the industrial revolution and are now economic and political powerhouses because coal and oil allowed them to get ahead. Now, however, with concerns about CO2 levels and climate change, developing countries are not allowed the same fast-track opportunities to develop as the developed countries had. The developing countries are also those that will see some of the worst effects of climate change, and it will reach them sooner than it will most of the developed nations. The money that Ecuador was supposed to get from the international community would go towards green-ing the country, sustainable development, and protecting the country’s biodiversity. As a environmentalist and a student of economics, these are really interesting questions–should industrialized countries be required to pay for the damage they caused and for the fact that they’ve used the Earth until it’s almost giving out? Personally, I think the idea is viable. I don’t think most industrialized countries love the idea, but it really is unfair that the industrialized world should use its advantage to refuse to let so many countries develop the easy way (for good reason!) without subsidizing sustainable development paths.

I think climate change is the most pressing issue facing the world right now. I realize that I’m writing this from a beach in Ecuador, which I took a plane to from the country I’ve lived in for 20 years, a country which is responsible for something like 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions while only housing 5% of the world’s population. Capitalism and consumption and eating meat and driving cars to work is not sustainable, and the US and its citizens and the rest of the world needs to realize that nothing else matters if climate change destroys the earth. Our little lives with our families and our jobs and our languages and traditions and ways of life are in danger because corporations refuse to let us get out of the coal and oil/natural gas industries, because they’re just too profitable. Chevron would rather destroy hundreds or thousands of species of wildlife than leave Ecuador alone, and Ecuador and other developing countries cannot resist the pull of jobs and revenue with minimal support from developed countries.

I write this from a beach in Ecuador on the Fourth of July. Ecuador is already experiencing climate shifts–unusual seasonal shifts in Cuenca, abnormal amounts of rain in the Amazon, etc. The Andes are experiencing warming at twice the global average. Cajas National Park, whose glacial lakes provide most of Cuenca’s drinking water, are experiencing abrupt and abnormal nutrient and planktonic shifts, while Ecuador’s glaciers decreased by 28% between 1998-2008. The Galapagos Islands and their incredible biodiversity are threatened by warming oceans and water acidity, as well as by an abundance of tourists visiting every year. There are hotels on the islands–is that the kind of world we want?

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What’s more patriotic and American than protecting what we love? Earth is threatened by our corporations, our capitalism, and our unwillingness to change. Perhaps the best thing we can do for our country is not to invade other countries to fight terrorism, but rather to work towards a greener, more sustainable world–less driving, less meat and dairy, more political and social activism to take power away from corporations and fossil fuels, more attempts to make small local businesses and farms prosper. Write your congressman, start petitions, realize that this earth is our home and we’re all responsible for it. Speak out about climate activists being targeted and dying in attempts to protect all of us from this system we’ve created for ourselves. Environmentalism is the most important thing, because without it, there is literally nothing else. Everything is connected: human rights and health are directly connected to the environment, our pollution in the US can be linked to changes in rainfall in the Amazon. For a better world and the possibility of any future at all, an end to CO2 emissions, pollution, and generally exploiting Earth and her people are not only a part–they are the same.


Greek economics, marriage equality, and I guess this is a travel blog

Greece

The case of the Euro is interesting–it’s the currency of 19 countries who have vastly different politics, culture, language, and economic systems. It’s controlled by the ECB, which is like the Euro’s version of the Federal Reserve. These 19 countries don’t have control of their own interest rates, exchange rates, or government stimulus spending (thanks to the Stability and Growth Pact). These are key weaknesses of the Euro, in my opinion–no matter what economic issues a Eurozone country is facing, it has no control over its fiscal policy to alleviate stress. Of course, the key example here is Greece. In late 2009, as much of the world was reeling from the Great Recession, Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio began to draw a lot of attention. The country had suffered from several recessions around the time of the Great Recession, and this was not helping its budget or structural deficit (when a government is simply spending more money than it’s taking in in revenues). Amid worries that Greece would not be able to repay its debts, the Eurozone sent a 110 billion euro aid package to Greece in 2010, conditional upon austerity measures, IMF-style structural adjustment, and some privatization of government assets. This was meant to last until mid 2013, but when conditions worsened (Greece delayed imposing its austerity measures), an additional bailout of 130 billion euros was authorized in 2011 and put into place in 2012.

Here’s what the IMF thought would happen: a slight slowdown of GDP due to austerity, but then a resurgence in 2011–as you can see, they were quite wrong. This graph is from Paul Krugman’s blog.

Things were looking up for Greece, so much so that they were allowed back into the market and were able to borrow some money to cover government costs in 2014. However, another recession began in Q4 of 2014, coinciding with political instability and the election of the staunchly anti-austerity Syriza party, who refused to implement the IMF’s required austerity measures. Under negotiation, Greece asked the Eurozone to extend the bailout, but the Eurozone rejected this proposal yesterday. Meanwhile, Greek citizens are lining up at ATMS to withdraw their money, hauntingly reminiscent of the Great Depression and, relevantly, of Ecuador’s pre-dollarization bank panic.

Germany is one of the biggest supporters of not giving in to Syriza’s demands. Hmm, remember in 1953 after Germany destroyed much of Europe and killed millions of people in a genocide and race-based power grab? Did the world not agree to forgive 50% of Germany’s debt with the acknowledgement that doing so would allow Europe and the region an opportunity to recover from a terribly costly war? What Germany did was much worse than Greece’s irresponsibility, but now Germany seems to have forgotten that without that bailout, they would not be nearly the economic powerhouse they are today.

Current estimates of unemployment are at 25%, and youth unemployment is 50%. 40% of Greek’s children now live below the poverty line–Greece’s citizens have suffered unwillingly through these imposed rounds of austerity and are being punished as the Eurozone seeks to teach their politicians a lesson. Of course there was some irresponsibility on the part of Greece, but that’s the thing about loans: there are two parties, and if the IMF/Eurozone countries did not correctly assess the risk of loaning money or of imposing (what are now proving to have been harmful) austerity measures on a country, why should Greek citizens suffer? Even Keynes attributed the rise of WWII to the immense, unforgiven debts owed by Germany. It may be that Greece should be punished for their irresponsible borrowing, or that forgiving some of their debt would act as a moral hazard for Spain or Portugal, but when is enough enough? Should the IMF be forced to admit that its austerity measures failed a Greek government that was willing to relinquish even more control of its economy to an organization that has been known to be neocolonialist and imperialist, and to forgive a portion of Greek’s debt in favor of in-country and regional economic stability? This begs the question: does the IMF even want Greece to succeed, or are they simply punishing them with a seemingly endless line of ineffective austerity measures? Is the IMF more concerned with its own reputation (which isn’t awesome to begin with), or the health of economies?

It may be too late now, as capital controls are being put in place on Greek banks and a bank holiday at least until Monday is being imposed. I don’t know about the rest of you, but it seems to me that if the Greek banks fail and Greece exits the Euro, that the world will have the IMF and Germany to thank for the immense amounts of poverty, unemployment, and human suffering that the Greeks will go through in the next few years and decades. Here’s a really interesting (albeit rather on my side of the argument) article from The Guardian, and here’s Paul Krugman’s blog, where he has some ideas along the same lines.

In other news, I rejoiced to hear the recent Supreme Court decisions upholding the ACA subsidies and striking down same-sex marriage bans in all 50 states. Cuenca is pretty catholic and pretty conservative, but I still told everyone how happy I was about this–after all, life is nothing without love. I think it says something that opponents of same-sex marriage are stewing in hate and resentment while the rest of us are celebrating equality. Not total equality, though–in many states you can now legally get married and then go to work and be legally fired because your boss doesn’t like that you’re gay. There’s a lot of work to be done, but this is a huge step for the US!

Last Friday we went to Ingapirca, the biggest set of Incan ruins in Ecuador. The Incas conquered the Cañari people that were here first, and took over their towns and religious sites. The Incas worshipped the sun, while the Cañaris worshipped the moon–this is part of the reason that Ingapirca sits at about 10,500 feet above sea level–closer to god was better, no matter the terrible weather. I was interviewed by a journalist in Ecuador and the next day the newspaper had a terrible picture and a much more grammatically correct and coherent version of my interview:

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The last image is of Inti Raymi celebrations. We went to Ingapirca the week of the solstice, so the people in the area were preparing for huge celebrations, seeing as the sun was the Inca’s god. We didn’t actually see any of the celebrations, though. It was also FREEZING and windy and sleeting when we went. Everyone’s been saying how unusual the weather’s been in Ecuador the past few years. It makes sense that places like Ecuador would also be seeing climate change effects.

I’m done with my Spanish class and my English class! On Thursday, Georgia and I will leave Cuenca to begin our northward trek, ending in Quito on July 29th to head to Costa Rica before returning home on August 11th. We have a route pretty much planned out, beginning in Guayaquil, going through Puerto Lopes (poor man’s Galapagos and whale watching), Montañita (fiestas en la playa), Canoa (playa sin fiestas), and Bahia de Caraquez. We’ll hunker down in Quito for about a week, seeing the Equator, the Otavalo markets, and the surrounding area. I’m really excited! For now we have a few more days to see everything in Cuenca that we haven’t had time to, and then we’re off! I’ll keep you all updated on here, hopefully. Hasta luego!


The Jungle

Hey, guys!

I just got back from a weekend in the jungle! On Thursday morning, I set off on a 13-hour bus journey to the Oriente of Ecuador with 4 other UNM students and their Spanish professor. We changed busses in Ambato, and finally arrived in Tena around 9:30 pm, where we ate and took a taxi to the community where we stayed. The community was called Shiripuno. It’s located on the Napo River, in Napo Province. The Napo River is a tributary to the Amazon, and the area east of the Andes in Ecuador is considered the Oriente/the Amazon/the jungle. In the map below, Cuenca is the southernmost red dot, while Quito is the northernmost, for reference. Southeast of Quito lies Tena, on the banks of the Napo. If you look east of Tena, Puerto Misahualli also lies on the Napo. We drove north from Cuenca through Riobamba, Ambato, and Puyo to get to Tena.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 2.51.11 PMMisahualli is a town with a park full of monkeys who steal things right out of your hands!

Shiripuno is a community tourism village. The people of the community share their customs, language, nature, and way of life with tourists, who provide the community with a steady flow of income. This direct community tourism makes sure that the community benefits from the tourists, and that the tourists have guides who know the area well, and who make sure that the environmental impact of the visitors is as small as possible. We stayed in a cabin in the community. Our beds had mosquito nets, though the room didn’t seem to have many mosquitos or bugs of any sort inside it. Shiripuno has no roads into it, so we had to get out of the taxi at the community’s school and walk into the jungle on a trail.

Our first morning in the jungle, we set off with our guide Marco and our canoe-driver Ricardo on a motor-powered canoe upriver in search of a waterfall. The trail to the waterfall was only about 1.5 kilometers, but it took us about an hour to complete because the trail was rough, often steep, and very muddy. But all the humidity, bug spray in our mouths, and mud-covered galoshes were worth it:

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Trailhead to the Cascadas de Latas

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We swam in the pool under the waterfall before putting our clothes and bug spray back on and hiking back out. We got back in our canoe to go to another community, where we ate lunch. Here, we learned how the Quichua people make Chicha de Yuca, an alcoholic drink made out of a fermented root that is very culturally important to the Quichua. We also tried it!

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11034163_846822615365102_4120216512585881838_nI volunteered to mash up the yuca root! Then we made chocolate:

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This is what the cacao fruit looks like.

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First, you take out the seeds and roast them, as shown here.

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Then you peel the seeds and grind them, like Georgia’s doing here.

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Then you add milk, sugar, and voila, something that tastes nothing like the chocolate you can buy in the US but 100x better.

Pure chocolate, even with added milk and sugar, is pretty dark and pretty bitter–just the way I like it! We finished off the day by playing soccer with the kids in the community. It was great fun, but I was suuuuper rusty. I scored twice–once on my team, and once on the other team, haha. The first one was just bad luck, I swear!

I shot darts out of a blow gun, we panned for gold, and watched the sunset before going back to Shiripuno.

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The next morning, we went to Amazoonico, a wildlife sanctuary and rescue habitat. Our tour guide was German, and spoke Spanish, English, and German all in the same tour! Her Spanish was about as good as our group’s average, so we were able to understand her really well. A lot of the animals in Amazoonico don’t know how to hunt or are disabled and unable to live in the wild. Others are healthy but it is against Ecuadorian law to release them back into the wild, so the refuge keeps them.

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We then went on a walk through the real, wild jungle–where people have done no clearing and very little trail-making. Spider monkeys bothered us for about 20 minutes, trying to defend their territory. It was kind of scary because the monkeys were getting really close to us–like 7 feet!–and acting very aggressive. We all had sticks and Marco told us to hit the monkeys if they got near us because they would bite us. Horrifying! We eventually escaped and got back to the boat unscathed. In the afternoon we went back to Shiripuno and had a traditional cleansing ceremony by a shaman and talked to the people of the community about their beliefs, traditions, sacred rock, and the structure of the community.

Sunday morning we set off early to catch a bus to Baños, a small town outside Ambato that is really cute and picturesque. The volcano in one of the first pictures in this post is near the town, so all over the town there are signs telling you where to go in case the volcano erupts. The volcano escape plan is further complicated by the fact that there are only two ways in and out of the town! We missed our first bus to Riobamba and caught a later one. We were worried that there wouldn’t be any busses to Cuenca from Riobamba, but we jumped on one as it was leaving and two students sat on the bus’ front steps and a bucket for the first four hours because there weren’t enough seats! We finally arrived in Cuenca around 9 pm, exhausted but very pleased with the weekend as a whole. I have a total of about 117 mosquito bites despite using bug spray all weekend, and I also have heat rash. You know how you have that one friend that throws up a lot or faints or has a weird reaction to stress? Yeah, I’m the friend that always gets a rash.

I started teaching my English class yesterday! It’s run by the municipal government’s social development program, which is sort of my interest in economics, so it’s really cool to see what the department does. The English classes are at a community center-type thing, and they’re free. My students range in age from 16-45 years old, and their levels of English are about as widely distributed. Each class has about 15 students, but I’m struggling a bit with how to structure the class so that everyone is learning. It’s hard because there will always be some time when some of the students are really bored. I’m supposed to be going every day, but I think I’ll cut it down to MWF because I don’t really have time to do anything else (like my 2-3 hours of Spanish homework that I get every day) if I have to go every day. There’s another teacher that teaches the Tues/Thurs classes that I’m helping, but I unfortunately just don’t have time to go every day!

On Friday I’m going to Ingapirca, the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador, located about an hour outside Cuenca, with the other UNM students as a field trip. Saturday I’m going to Gualaceo with Georgia and her host family. Gualaceo is known for its artisanal crafts. Then on Sunday, I’m going to the zoo outside of Cuenca with a friend I met through AFS–it really really does make the world smaller.

That’s all for now–sorry the post isn’t more in-depth, but I have like two hours of free time per day, so it’s hard to get anything done! I’ll try to post again soon, since this weekend I’ll be sleeping in my own bed every night. Remember that you can scroll down to find my Morocco posts. (:


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I do not understand why my host parents sometimes call the dog “usted”. 


Corpus Christi, Oña, Baños, y Fútbol

Corpus Christi

Thursday night began the weeklong celebration of Corpus Christi–it’s not just a town in Texas! It’s also a religious celebration that’s very popular in Cuenca. All day in the main square by the cathedral, vendors sell hundreds of different kinds of sweets. At night there are fireworks all night and they build “castillos” (castles), which they put fireworks on and light up all at once. Parts of the castillos spin and whirl and make noise while the fireworks burn themselves out:

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El castillo en fuego

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El castillo

Oña

On Friday, all the students in the Spanish for Foreigners program at the university went on a day trip! We stopped first in Susudel, which is a tiny town about an hour outside of Cuenca. The main attraction here is the church, which is one of the oldest in Ecuador. It’s been very well maintained over the years. We also visited a textile factory co-op in Susudel. Women in the community teach each other how to weave on different sized looms and create scarves, ponchos, purses, shawls and many other things to sell. As I understand it, they got started with a microfinance loan, which is something I’m really interested in as one part of economic development.

We also stopped at an overlook into the valley in which Oña sits. Ten of Ecuador’s 40 remaining Andean Condors live in this valley. They are endangered and protected by the Ecuadorian government, but that didn’t stop a gold mine from being set up on the mountain. The chemicals from gold extraction pollute and poison the water and soil of the valley, contributing to the endangerment of the country’s remaining condors. Our guide said that condors enjoy this valley in particular because its rising hot air flows allow the baby condors to learn how to fly easily. Our guide runs a condor conservation project in the valley, which is so so cool!

Every once in a while it just hits me–I’m standing in the Andes!

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We also went to a tequila factory and had samples–I love school-sponsored drinking! Ecuadorian tequila is prepared quite differently from Mexican tequila, surprisingly. They still use the blue agave plant in Ecuador, but they use the whole plant instead of just the leaves, and they also only harvest older plants, while Mexican tequila is made with young plants. Personally, I think Ecuadorian tequila tastes better. It’s not as shocking a taste, and there’s no bitter aftertaste. They also raise guinea pigs at this small family-owned tequila factory. Guinea pig is a delicacy in Ecuador, and can be found in restaurants everywhere, apparently. I don’t eat meat so I don’t have to worry about finding any, luckily.

At lunch I met a llama:

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In Oña we walked through the town and saw a tourism video created by the local government and the government of Belgium (a small town in Belgium is Oña’s sister city, apparently) to attract tourists in an attempt to bring more money into the town. Oña has a lot of nature and natural features that tourists would enjoy, and there will soon be a hotel. The night sky is apparently worth losing sleep over, as well. We were the first group of tourists to Oña, and we won’t be the last!

Baños

On Saturday morning the UNM kids caught a $0.25 bus to Baños, a town on the outskirts of Cuenca. It’s famous for its thermal pools, which are heated by nothing less than an active volcano! We splurged and spent the $3 more to go to the pool with a sauna, and spent about five hours lounging in the pool, sauna, and sun. It wasn’t very crowded and I thoroughly enjoyed the lazy day.

The other noteworthy things of this weekend are all about soccer! Ecuador played Panama in a friendly game on Saturday and won–they’ll be going to the Copa America next week in Chile! The Women’s World Cup also started yesterday and I’m looking forward to watching some of those games. I keep telling Ecuadorians not to worry, that the U.S. women’s team is much better than our men’s team. And lastly, Barcelona beat Juventus for the Champion’s League cup on Saturday! It was Xavi Hernandez’s last game with Barcelona–I felt a little nostalgic to see the best midfielder I’ve ever seen go.

I just finished my Spanish homework so I think I’ll illegally stream Orphan Black and call it a night!

Remember that you can see my Morocco posts if you scroll down. (:


Los Primeros Días

I have arrived in Cuenca and I’m settling in very nicely!

Georgia and I spent Friday night in a hosteleria outside the Quito airport before flying to Cuenca on Saturday morning. My host parents were outside security waiting for me with a sign with my name on it! I have two host parents and a host sister, though I feel weird calling them that because my host sister is old enough to be retired. They’re extremely nice and hospitable and always stuff me full of food. Georgia’s host parents thought she was arriving on Sunday, so we took Georgia home with us and her host parents picked her up from my house.

I live about two minutes from the university, which is nice because I have class every day. Monday all six of us from UNM arrived on campus to have our orientation and our Spanish placement exam. The exam took two hours and was about 18 pages long. Tuesday we learned our levels–I’m in level C1 with another student from New Jersey. C1 is advanced Spanish–apparently I have “upper intermediate” level and in about a month I should be able to:

  • Understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

That’s from the internet. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do quite all that, but I’ll definitely improve! My Spanish level surprised me–I haven’t taken a Spanish class in at least six years, but I think I did so well on the exam because of my experience with Portuguese and French. Our first class was yesterday, Wednesday. I have Spanish every day! We’re working on describing people and their body movements/positions in the present and the past. My tenses are a little wonky because I’ve never formally learned them–I kind of just randomly generate tenses when I speak and write in Portuguese or Spanish. We got homework in class today, but I’m also trying to go over/learn one verb per night. Today in class we talked about Latino authors, and I think I’m going to try to read some of the books the professor mentioned in Spanish. I also have to watch “Como Agua Para Chocolate”, a movie that takes place in Mexico.

On Tuesday, another UNM student who’s been here for 3 months took us on a tour of the city. I’d already been with my host sister, who was a teacher and knows a lot about Cuenca’s history, but this tour was also informative. We visited the big Catedral Nueva on our tour, and paid $1 to climb to the top. Ecuador’s currency is the USD, adopted in the 2000s to combat inflation. This is really interesting to me, being an Economics major, so I think I’ll write a post about it at some point.

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I was taking an econometrics class online at UNM, but had to quit because I don’t have time to finish the work. I’m really sad that I had to drop the class, but there was no other way.

Tonight is the celebration of Corpus Christi, which will be in the city center. I’m going with my conversation partner and with Georgia. There will be sweets sold in the streets and apparently something will be lit on fire? Tomorrow I’m going on a school day trip to Oña to see… Condors? It should be fun, but I don’t know what exactly we’ll be doing. My future posts will be more focused and coherent, but this one is just to say that I’m here and settling in nicely! Hasta luego!


Takeoff

Aaaaaand we’re off! I ended up checking my larger 25 lb backpack because it had two months worth of contact solution in it, and carried on a normal-sized backpack with my host family gifts, computer, journal, and about 3 lbs of trail mix. Now Georgia and I are trying to pass our 8 hour layover in the Houston International Airport before our flight to Quito leaves at 6 pm. We arrive in Quito at 11 pm, and will get a hotel for the night before our flight to Cuenca tomorrow morning, where we’ll meet our host families! I’m practicing my Spanish for now–might as well use the layover productively! I’m not sure when my first in-country post will be, or what my internet situation will be, but I’ll post again (with pictures, hopefully!) when I can!


Onward and Upward

Hey, all! I haven’t written in a while, mostly because since I’ve been back from Morocco I’ve been really busy with school. I’ve applied to UNM’s 3-2 MBA program, which will allow me to take MBA classes during my senior year of my undergraduate so that I can get my MBA in just one year extra. I’ll find out in June if I’m accepted. I’ve also been working and taking 18 credit hours of classes, including Farsi! I haven’t been to busy to seek out another opportunity to travel, though. I’ll be spending this summer studying Spanish intensively at the Universidad de Cuenca in Cuenca, Ecuador!

About Ecuador

Ecuador gets its name from the Equator, which runs right through the country. It is the first country in the world to have the rights of the earth written into its constitution–and with good reason! Ecuador is home to one of the widest varieties of biodiversity in the world. You’ve probably heard of the Galapagos Islands, where Charles Darwin studied species diversity and evolution. The islands are part of Ecuador! I actually probably will not visit the islands–not because I don’t want to see them, but because ecotourism is starting to have a negative effect on the delicate balance of the islands’ ecosystem.

Ecuador is home to 13 million people and those people come from many cultures and speak many languages, though Spanish is the official language. Ecuador has a wide variety of landscapes, from the Andes to beaches! The highest point in the country is Chimborazo Volcano, at 20,500 feet.

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Quito is the capital, and Cuenca is about 10 hours south by bus. Cuenca is at 8,200 feet elevation (in the Andes), so I figure I’ll do just fine with the elevation since I grew up in the East Mountains at 7,000 feet.

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I’ll have the pleasure of traveling with Georgia, a dear friend who also attended the same school in Morocco as I did. We’ll be doing the four-week Spanish study course, and then setting off for four weeks of travel in Ecuador and then several weeks in Costa Rica, where I’ll get to see one of my best exchange friends again. We leave May 29th, so I still have a few weeks of school and finals between me and this adventure. Before we leave, we’ll be attending the wedding of a friend in Utah who is finally marrying her Moroccan fiancé, we’re so happy and excited for you Maddie!

I already have a carry-on size backpack, which is all I’ll be taking. I did a test pack last night–now all that’s left to do is brush up on my Spanish! (;


On Studying Abroad

After my second semester abroad, I cannot stress enough how important and enriching I think studying abroad is. You’re young, in school, and this is the perfect opportunity to open some doors for yourself! I think high school exchange is especially important–I would not be who or where I am today without my high school exchange. In fact, I’m going back to Portugal next week to visit my host family for the second time since my exchange. And, as evidenced by the 26 other posts in this blog, my time in Morocco was incredibly enriching and expanding. 

What do you gain from studying abroad?

  • A new language – Unless you choose an English-speaking country (which I strongly discourage, why spend money to go abroad and not receive a marketable skill in exchange? [ah, capitalism]), you will pick up at least SOME of the language, or become fluent if you try hard enough. It happens faster than you think! 
  • A new family, history, culture, country – My host family is really like a second family to me, and we still talk all the time. Portugal and Morocco now hold special places in my heart, and it goes without saying that I’ve acquired a lot of new knowledge about world history and current events during both experiences. It also makes World Cup time very confusing: do I support the US (hint: no)? Portugal? Spain, like I used to do? ????
  • Independence and ability to handle previously unheard-of situations – After going to a foreign country almost completely alone, how can you not expect to come out at least slightly more independent? You’ll also get better at problem-solving. Don’t know the word for teapot in a language? Mime. Say related words, like “tea-holder” or “tea thing.” Sing “I’m a little teapot.” 
  • Friends all over the world – I’ve made some of my very best friends on exchange, and my network has been greatly expanded: in 2013 I traveled in Europe for a month with a Costa Rican friend that I met in Portugal, and while we were in the Czech Republic we stayed with another AFSer’s family that she knew but I didn’t, but who still welcomed us into their home like we were old friends. I’ve visited other friends that I met in Portugal and have always been welcomed with open arms (or an open dorm floor at Columbia University, eh, Tony?). 
  • An open mind – Amidst all the unexpected situations, new juxtapositions, and new ways of doing things that you have to wrap your head around, you may realize that nothing really shocks you anymore. AFS’s saying is “It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just different.” Alsooooo… here’s a chance to use a cool graphic!Image
  • Employment and college advantages – many colleges and employers look for things that prove you’re a dynamic, hard-working, intelligent individual, and living or studying abroad often helps your case.
  • Here are some articles on why you should study abroad: it “makes you smarter;” on traveling young; experience abroad is “essential;” 10 reasons to study abroad.

High School

In most high school exchanges, you are placed with a host family and attend a local school. There are year, semester, trimester, and summer programs available with most organizations. The most well-known organizations are Rotary, AFS (holla), and CIEE. There are more, but for some reason I can’t think of them right now. Going abroad is expensive, though. But never fear–there are some great scholarship programs out there, within organizations and without. The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) sends students to Germany for 10 months, and the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program (YES) is funded by the US State Department and sends American high school students to countries with significant Muslim populations (and sends students from those countries to the US) for a year. My family hosted a YES student from the Philippines in 2011-2012, and it was an incredible experience for all involved. If you can’t go abroad, definitely think about hosting! If you have any questions about AFS or the YES program, I have had experience with both so feel free to comment on this post and I’ll get in touch with you! AFS has additional scholarships here

University

You usually have more control over your situation in a university program than with a high school program. You can often choose to live in an apartment alone or with other students, in student housing, or with a host family. You usually choose which university and city you want to study in, and you have more control over your classes and area of study. There are a lot of universities all over the world that have classes in English, so if you’re not proficient in the host language you won’t fail all your classes! Or you can be brave and take classes in the host language, if your language level is high enough. There are also some university-level programs where you have more structure and less freedom (Semester at Sea, or a program where you live with students in your program and are on a schedule, etc.) but I don’t know much about those and so can’t speak to them. UNM’s study abroad website is here and they have a lot of scholarship options listed here. You can also look at the competitive Boren Awards for undergrad- or graduate-funded study abroad (shoutout to Erin for being awarded a Boren scholarship for next year in Istanbul, Turkey!). Your university should have many resources available on their website or through an advisor–be sure to ask and they can help match you with a scholarship or financial aid program that suits your needs! 

And as usual, if you have any questions about Morocco or Portugal, comment and I’ll get in touch. Have a great week, guys!