Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Quito Continued

Walking through the Quito markets, I felt amazed by how cheap everything is.  Rubber boots cost about seven dollars, bracelets only about 50 cents to a dollar, and food for about 3 dollars.  Everyone else found rubber boots for working, but unfortunately the store only held yup to size 11.  Big feet are often a curse.  It really is remarkable- when I was walking down to one of the large malls in Quito, a little girl selling gum for 50 cents followed me to the entrance of the mall.  Neither of her parents sat with her on the side of the street, if she had parents at all.  I thought she would follow me into the mall just to buy a 50 cent pack of gum, probably worth about one to two dollars in the US.  I ended up giving her a dollar for the gum- I couldn't say no to her desperate eyes.  In parts of the square near the Basilica, many homeless people lined the sides of the streets holding their hands out for money.  Old, wrinkled ladies wrapped in sweaters and hats, children playing with rotten looking corn or fruits that they try to sell.  Some younger people were juggling or using the diablo in the middle of the street, even a man juggling on a unicycle.  A huge danger here is crossing the street- on one occasion, a driver sped up when our group tried to cross the street.  Pedestrians do not have the right away in Quito.

The park in Quito fills with people in the morning- volleyball, soccer, BMX, even a bowl style skatepark there.  Pullup bars, parallel bars, everything I could imagine-- even a plane! A legitimate plane sits in the middle of a fenced area, covered in art and graffiti.  I love the active atmosphere.      

One of the days we visited a massive, ancient looking church called the Basilica.  We got to climb one of the tall towers in the church, crossing this janky, wooden cross walk and ascending an almost vertical set of metal stairs.  The scariest moment of the trip for me so far-- makes me scared for skydiving and bungee jumping in South Africa.  The church was beautiful, ornate with stained glass and gold colored arches.  The architecture was stunning-- one of the strange moments for me happened when we moved through a live mass with our cameras clicking photos left, right, up, down, everywhere.  Even as we walked into a private room with people praying in silence, the sound of our cameras pierced the air.  I tried not to disturb their praying-- I felt so touristy.  Walking out of the church there was a small procession of old women with their hands outstretched, yearning for pennies, anything.  

The food in Ecuador has been amazing- a lot of rice has continued from Costa Rica, but not as many beans.  In the mission, a typical breakfast includes tea, bread, juice and a hot meal, such as eggs and spinach or a fried dough consistency pastry, sometimes yogurt or a fruit cup.  They serve soup a lot too, all different kinds, most of which have potato in them, one even with quinoa.  Dinners range from meat and rice to quiche like foods, and one night we had an amazing pan dessert.  I am not sure what a staple food in Ecuador is, but rice is certainly a main component.  I enjoy all of the tropical fruits- mora, gaunabana, maracuya, pina, all of these amazing tastes.  People use them for juices, ice cream, tarts, everything really.  Nothing like that in CT.  

I had some spanish lessons to refresh and remember all of my high school knowledge, everyone did.  Right after the lessons, I found myself talking more spanish than english, and loved how I could talk so easily compared to the beginning of Costa Rica when I fumbled to even order a water.  My teacher was so energetic it astounded me-- very interpersonal here too, as far as greetings.  A kiss on the cheek and a hug is customary when meeting someone, except guy to guy.  Greetings are essential- even leaving or entering a room it is expected that you say hello and goodbye, or buenos dias etc.  Generally people like company, and during our cultural talk our host named Myriam said that most Ecuadorians do not like being alone, contrary to the American cultural value of privacy.  Today we went to see the Itchimbea park, and got to see the Virgen de Quito.  The view was unreal- Quito lies in a valley next to the Pichincha mountain, and looking across the verdant, rolling hills I see houses of all colors creeping up into the mountains.  So awesome- Cotopaxi, the highest mountain in Quito, has summit at over 19,000 feet, and still holds snow.  Very tempting to think about climbing, but it reminds me about how difficult the glacier environment was.  Soon we will be retreating into the Atahaulpa villages at 11,000 to 12,000 feet with our host families.  My family has seven sons!  I feel nervously excited for meeting me new family-- like I am entering a house that is not mine.  New culture, foreign language, new home, new people- infinite room for learning through mistakes.  Soon I will probably be sitting taking a cold, bucket shower dreaming of surfing, tea, and endless rice.         
So we are wrapping up our 5 day trip to Quito, Ecuador.  Only about a 2 hour flight away from Costa Rica, Quito stands at about 9,000 feet right in the valley of the Pichincha mountain.  We were staying at a Mission called Mision Carmelita, right in the middle of Quito.  Airplanes are always flying over and the mountain scenery here is gorgeous, despite the lack of oxygen in the air.  Walking up stairs and hills is difficult.  

All through the 5 days I have been thinking about topics I have never though about before- after finishing Savages, a look into the lives of the Huorani tribe in Ecuador, I learned how much the indigenous in Ecuador are exploited by oil companies such as Petroecuador.  As we discussed our everyday consumption, I saw that all of our daily items such as a toothbrush, tea bag, shampoo, or anything, comes from petroleum.  The line of production/extraction required to even make a single tea bag is phenomenal.  Such daunting and overwhelming cycles of the life of material goods makes me think about how many toothbrushes I have, and the impact each one makes as it travels across the world to American supermarkets.  It is scary to think about. 
The picture below is the view coming out of the airport in Quito, and the one below that is the Basilica, a famous church in Ecuador that we visited, and will explain more about in my next entry.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Costa Rica Overview

Well this might be a bit long- I have not really wanted to be on the internet too much because of all the cool activities in Costa Rica-- here is a bit of a spiel on what I have been doing

Driving in I noticed some strange aspects of Costa Rica- I saw some nice houses followed by little shanty style shacks, along with some brick barrios.  The first hostel we stayed in had semi bars on the outside, and we were located in kind of a city neighborhood with a park across the street.  The stop signs here read Alto instead of Stop- spanish.  We moved from our first hostel to our main hostel in Avellanas, where we are about a ten minute walk from the beach.  The vibe here embodies pure relaxation- reggae mixed with some Pink Floyd, an owner named Gustavo who boogie boards almost every day, and the countless times hearing "pura vida", meaning "pure life".  The air is incredibly thick, and unfortunately being so close to the beach the mosquitoes bite a lot.  All of the Costa Ricans are incredibly courteous- we always get a "buenos dias" or other greeting from strangers on the sidewalk, and the restaurant we have gone to for lunch and dinner almost every day called "Cabinas de las Olas" gives discounts to the Program Leaders.  One of the highlights for me so far has been the food- I have had a lot of beans and rice, and surprisingly french fries.  Like a special burger, which consisted of cheese, ham, and bacon with lettuce and tomato on a burger.  Rice and seafood, pesto pasta, fish, chicken; I have eaten very well, especially considering that I have established myself as the garbage disposal of the group.  So any uneaten food drifts my way every meal.  I don't complain.  One day we visited the touristy area and beach called Tamarindo- lot of surf shops, everywhere really.  I would say there are definitely more surf shops than supermarkets or other more "practical" shops.  What really surprised me was these sketchy guys on a street corner offered me weed.  Wow- apparently the drug problem in Costa Rica, where we are, is huge.  A few other kids in the group got offered too- yikes.  Where we are, Costa Rica is a surfer town full of beach bums- kind and always willing to reach out and say hello.

My activities so far have ranged from early morning surfing, at around 6-8, to ziplining, and tomorrow a catamaran ride.  I am definitely hooked on surfing- I picked it up reasonably fast but now have leveled off and possible regressed-- nose dives and water up the nose to dehydration headaches to just fatigue are a bit frustrating.  I always look over at the locals and they always stand up, always ride the wave perfectly-- plus no cursing or yelling in frustration.  Pura vida.  Ziplining was awesome- I got going pretty fast through the canopy, and on one cable went upside down, with some help from one of our guides.  They have a pretty great job.  In between serious seminars about development and our assumptions as Americans, we have a lot of fun.  The seminars and meetings are mind boggling- a good relation to the feeling of pondering our existence in the world is like putting together a 1000 piece puzzle only to realize that you bought the wrong puzzle.  I sit in a circle of kids my age talking about the meaning of international development in the context of the world and can't help but feel overwhelmed and mentally exhausted at times.  Crazy stuff that simmers in the back of my mind but almost never comes out; critical thinking on steroids.  We have to start self critiquing our own assumptions about the world and development while also understanding the assumptions of authors whose books we discuss.  I think I already have learned that there is no simple answer to the end of poverty or world development.

So here I sit in a bungalow in the middle of Costa Rica feeling ready to move onto Ecuador.  The mood of Avellanas is other worldly, but I feel like I need to move.  Soon I will be sitting with a Spanish family in Ecuador, talking spanish and exchanging cultures and stories.  I'll be learning about the environment, and unfortunately probably not eating as much as I am now.  No reggae music, no surfing-- the real trip begins.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Alright so here is my blog- it's pretty neat so far.  I still am getting ready for the trip, and have not entirely packed yet.  But I still got a few days- started my doxycyclene medicine about two weeks age and thankfully no side effects, and I am still wrapping up my innoculations.  Just went to the dentist, will get my last rabies vaccine tomorrow, and soon I will be off to Costa Rica.  Hopefully it won't rain out there while we are surfing.