Monday, January 18, 2010

Homework, blah. Food, yay.

Why can’t we go to school in Ecuador but not have homework?” (my friend Raquel Aufderheide, on Saturday.) That pretty much sums up my sentiments for the week. Remember how I said my classes weren’t difficult? Well, that was week one. They’ve gotten harder- I spent close to 15 hours on homework this weekend and I’m still not done. Essays are the hard part (because they are in Spanish! I know what I want to say and it works in my mind, but when I put it on paper… not so much.) Of course, since this is college, the only assignments we have are tests and papers.

I don’t want it to sound like I’m not enjoying my classes, because I am. I have quite a few classes this term, and I enjoy them all. Right now, I have four sports classes because sports classes at USFQ don’t count for credit. At Linfield, they do count for credit, so I never have room in my schedule for them. But here, I can take as many as I want!

I particularly love my sports class called Capoeria. Capoeria is a combination of martial arts and Latin dance- it’s SOOO much fun! I totally recommend it! Class is a very intense hour and a half of lunging, jumping, rolling, doing handstands, kicking, leaping, dodging, and trying to make it all look graceful. But when it works- it’s the coolest thing! You dance with a partner, and it looks like a slow motion fight. It’s pretty sweet! Intense, though, like I said. I don’t get sore easily, but I could barely walk for two days after the first class!

I’m excited for my Andinismo class- another sports class where we go climb around and backpack in the Andes. My first trip is in two weeks, and I’m psyched. Right now, we are learning about knots and safety harnesses. Last Thursday, my host mom asked me how school had gone, and I told her that I had learned about nudos (knots.) She was really confused until I explained that I had learned the nudos in my mountain climbing class!

My bilingual education class is also incredibly fascinating. The class is nonstop discussion- even when the professor tries to lecture, we always have so many questions that it turns into a debate instead of a lecture. The material is so interesting- you know how they say that kids can learn languages better than adults can? That’s actually only true up until the kid is 10 months old for written language and 5 years old for spoken language. After that, the learning abilities don’t change- if you are good at languages when you are six, you’ll have the exact same ability when you are 60. Cool, huh?

I’ve had a few requests to talk about the food, so here you go. It’s funny- in Ecuador, fruit is really cheap. Before I came, people told me to be prepared to eat a ton of fruit and seafood. I apparently got a non traditional Ecuadorian family. We had seafood for the first time today- usually it’s chicken. They have fruit in the house, but I’m essentially the only one who eats it raw. They mostly make juice out of it- but I’m not complaining! The juice is wonderful. They’ve finally figured out how much fruit I eat, so they are starting to buy more for me (sound familiar, Mom?)

They also drink a TON of coffee and hot cocoa- neither of which I enjoy. I have finally taught myself to drink tea because I don’t want to be rude and drink nothing when they offer me hot drinks. It’s easier to say that I prefer tea than to explain that I don’t really like any of them!

Breakfast is usually bread and hot drinks, although my host mom started giving me fruit when she figured out that I like that better. Lunch is the big meal of the day, and it’s usually eaten around 1. Dinner is called la cenita- little supper. We drink hot chocolate or coffee (or tea!) and eat bread and cheese.

Lunch consists of three courses: soup, a meal of rice and chicken and juice, and then desert- usually cake or ice cream. Considering the prices of vegetables, I’m really surprised by how seldom veggies are a part of the meal. Regardless, the food is delicious. The soup usually fills me up, and then I eat only about half of what is on my plate.

It’s funny- I feel like I’ve eaten too much everyday since I arrived, and my host mom is worried that I’m starving to death. I had to leave the house at 5:45 last Thursday, so I decided not to wake her up and just take a banana with me for my breakfast. She was quite upset with me, saying that if I got sick and died from malnourishment, it would be her fault. She sat right down and copied my schedule- you can bet I won’t be making my own breakfast again!

Last thing- I made lunch for them this weekend- rice, broccoli, chicken kiev (my favorite recipe!), and an attempt at zucchini bread. Unfortunately, I didn’t decide to make the zucchini bread until Saturday morning, and I had neither the recipe nor the Internet to look it up. So I tried to make it from memory. It was probably the flattest, most pathetic loaf of zucchini break I’ve ever made. Sigh. Oh well. The meal tasted delicious and now they all think I’m a good cook (chicken kiev is about the only thing I can make well, but that’s why I made it!) Now my host mom is teaching me to make Ecuadorian foods- I’ll have lots of good recipes when I come home!

Speaking of recipes, if anyone feels like emailing/mailing me some (such as oatmeal fudge bars (cough cough, roommates!) or chocolate chip banana muffins (cough cough, family!)

This is getting long, so I’ll end it here. Miss you all!


Monday, January 11, 2010

Lindo Mindo

What an amazing weekend! Flying through the air on a zip line, lazing around by the river, salsa dancing in a disco bar, spending a rainy Saturday afternoon in a sweet little chocolate/art shop…what could be better?

As you can probably tell, I went on a trip this weekend with friends. We didn´t go to the beach- it´s too far for a two day trip. But we did go to a town called Mindo. It’s an easy trip from Quito- two hours by bus and it only costs $2.50. If you get a chance, you should go! Mindo is an adorable tourist town with tons of attractions: zip lines, waterfalls, butterfly farms, tons of species of birds, tubing on the river, and a local market with trinkets and gifts. (My friend Adrianne bought the cutest little shoulder bag with toucans on it!)

We had a few mishaps during the journey to Mindo. First, guess who overslept? Yes, me. Instead of waking up at 6:15 to meet my friend Raquel, I woke up at 7:20 when my host mom knocked on my door and said “Why are you still here?”

I ran out the door and caught a taxi to El Terminal del Norte, also called La Ophelia. I arrived in front of the ticket office at 7:55. Two other friends, Josh and David, were waiting with good news and bad news. The bad news was that Raquel and our friend Adrianne hadn’t arrived. The good news was that the bus didn’t leave until 8:20.

The bus left at 8:20, but Raquel and Adrianne weren’t on it. They apparently caught another bus to Mindo, which shouldn’t have been possible. As they told us later, their bus dropped them on the side of the road near Mindo (not in front of the Mindo ticket office as our bus did.) They had to ride in the back of a random truck and pay extra to get to Mindo!

Note to future Mindo travelers: buy a ticket on the bus operated by the Flor del Valle! They are the legit ones; I have no idea who runs the other bus, but I’m not impressed. We were just glad that the girls made it safely.

The first thing we did in Mindo was go to the zip lines. It was amazing! The company has XXXXXXXXXXX meters of cables high up in the mountains, 12 zip lines in total. And we paid only $10 apiece! We finished the first zip lines and I thought that was the end. But there were eleven more! We got to go upside down on one zip line, go with a partner and have one person fly like Superman in front, and ride on a cable that they bounced for us. The last cable was the best- it was so long and went so fast! It was AMAZING!!!!

We were feeling a little cheap, so we didn’t pay to go tubing, see the butterfly farm, or visit the Las Cascadas, the waterfalls that are supposed to be really amazing. But we had a great lunch at La Chef, wandered around and took pictures, and ended up spending the afternoon talking to the proprietors of a cool little place called ChocolArte. Victor and Carrie, the owners, offer coffee, hot chocolate, sweets, and breakfasts. They make their own chocolate, and they give demonstrations if you ask. (We asked; they were out of cacoa so they couldn’t.) But their food is delicious and the atmosphere is great. We probably hung out there for a good four hours this weekend!

We also had fun salsa dancing at a disco/bar called el Bambú on Saturday night and at the river on Sunday morning. The disco was interesting- we tried salsa dancing and decided we weren’t very good. The Mindo boys would teach us the basic step, but as soon as we figured that out, they would start getting fancy and we would get confused! I think it’s time for salsa lessons…

On Sunday morning, we wanted to go Las Cascadas (the waterfalls, remember? Weren’t you paying attention?), but it cost $20 to get a ride there and back, which was more than we wanted to spend. So we hiked down to the river and found our own mini waterfalls, plus an island with lovely rocks for sunning ourselves. And the best part? It was free!

Just a quick note really about hostels- if you are traveling in Ecuador (or any country, frankly! Except maybe Antarctica…), there are a ton of hostels. They all want your business, but because you are a visitor, they will all think you are stupid and don’t know what is a fair price. In Mindo, we paid $8 per person, and that included a room for the boys and one for the girls, hot water for showers, and breakfast the next morning. Some hostels offer TV or Internet, but we didn’t bother with those niceties. A good hostel in Ecuador without breakfast runs about $6. There are some owners who see the color of your skin and raise the price to $10 or $12; when you come to Mindo, be smart and bargain! Because you are coming to Mindo, right???

That’s all I’ve got for you now! I´ll give you and update on the host family and classes next time.



Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Primera semana!

Hola todos! So, I realized yesterday exactly how many people I´ve promised to stay in touch with and write to every week while I´m abroad, and it´s probably not going to happen. I´ll try, por supuesto, guarantees. I also realized that the 6-8 pages I write each night in my journal have so many interesting things that I want all of you to know. So... I started a blog for the first time in my life. I probably won´t be writing in it as often as I would like- there´s no Internet in mi casa so I have to do it in my free time at school. But I´ll try, I promise!

I´ve been in Ecuador for... four days now, and my head hurts. There´s so much Spanish all around me, and my brain is trying to translate all of it! I spend a lot of my day staring into space as I eavesdrop on the conversation behind me. But en realidad, there´s actually more English  than I expected. My host dad, Marco, understands English, but I refuse to speak it with him (I´m here to learn Spanish not English!). My closest friend so far is another international student from Oregon, also named Rachel (we both go by Raquel here!). She speaks Spanish basically fluently, but we speak English together usually. Sometimes, I´d rather speak Spanish, but it really does take a ton more effort, so it´s good for me to rest sometimes. Besides, when we promise to speak Spanish together, we spend a lot of time sitting quietly because we don´t care enough to talk, and that´s no way to cement a friendship!

My classes are all in Spanish, and they started today. I was really worried about them- everyone told me that the classes were the same difficulty as those at Linfield but in Spanish. Totally not true! I have four ¨real¨ classes and three ¨fun¨ classes. Today´s classes were all real. I started with Temas de America Latina- a political science class. The professor spoke quickly, but the words weren´t too difficult and I followed pretty well. I have a tape recorder (thanks Grandma!) that I will use to record all my lectures so I can play them back again more slowly if need be. Temas seems like an interesting class, and it´s FULL of students from the US (We have to be careful about calling ourselves Americans. Guess what? Ecuadorians are American tambien!)

My other two classes are Intro. a Cultura Ecuatoriana- a class for international students that seems super easy and a little dull... I´m thinking about dropping it- and Española Avazada. I like all of my professors so far, but the work (at least what I´ve seen on the syllabus) doesn´t seem to difficult. My other classes should be easy too: Volcanología (I get to study volcanoes!), Fútbol, Guitarra, y Andinismo (a class that is all about climbing mountains here! Literally, the study of climbing the Andes!).

I´m a little frustrated at the classes, but hopefully they will get harder. After all, it´s only the first day! And trying to communicate with my family makes up for it: mi español es limitada, and it´s not always easy to understand what they are saying. I zone out sometimes, and when they want to speak to me, they have to say things two or three times. But I´m learning!

There´s so much to tell, but I have to go. Time to meet Raquel and catch a bus for the hour long trip home. The next two days will be full of classes and I think we may go to la playa (the beach) this Saturday because... why not? We´re in Ecuador! It´s so hot that I have a sunburn! In January! Que loco! 

As the Ecuadorians say (I´m not joking about this): ciao todos!