Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24, 2011 Finishing school and our time in Cuenca

 We are now winding down with just one more day here in Cuenca. We have grown very attached to our families and our life here and though it is just over one month it seems in some ways that we have been here for a long time. We know the central part of the city well having walked most of the streets. We have been to many of the museums but not all. Leaving a bit hungry is good so we will have to come back and see what we have missed. Tomorrow we will be saying goodbye to our teachers and school ... bittersweet. If you are looking for a great school in Cuenca check our school...Amauta Fundacion.

As you can see, we  celebrated Ricardo´s birthday with first a cake at school for everyone and then a delicious dinner at our house. Both Yolanda and I cooked using her new grill and made some beautiful works of art. We have both enjoyed cooking together.

Feliz Cumpleanos
 We have visited museums and traveled to Sigsig where most of the hats called Panama hats are made. They really are Monticristos as they originated in a town by the same name in Ecuador. We both have one...Ricardo wearing his and me waiting for a very sunny day which may have to wait till we are back in Mexico.

typical indigenous Ecuadoran costumes

the ¨largest Monticristo hat ... made in Sigsig, Ecuador

working on Ricardo´s new hat

10,000 year old cave in Chobshi ... near Sigsig

Most interesting was the caves and ruins near Sigsig called Chobshi. There is proof of people having lived in these caves about 10,000 years ago as well as more recent ruins of Canari people from about 1600. It is clear when visiting many of these ruins that there are probably many more that have not been uncovered.
Richard entertaining Papacito...Yolanda´s dad

The family out in the campo
We spent our last Sunday with Yolanda´s family visiting their house out in the country. Her dad who we call papacita has some memory problems and loves Ricardo...especially watching him juggle. Reminds us of our dad´s with their problems and it has been nice to be a part of this family.
This week we have had some computer problems and luckily it has been fixed but now everything is in spanish and the keyboard has some limitations such as the fact that I cannot make a dash or close parenthesis. I can, however make ¡ and ¿

We are off to Banos, Quito and Mindo beginning on Saturday so stay tuned for more adventures.

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 14, 2011 A weekend in Loja and Vilcambamba, Ecuador

Happy Valentine's Day to all. We celebrated by spending a weekend on our own traveling south from Cuenca.

On the river in Parque Jiparo, Loja, Ecuador
We left Friday by bus, after finishing our second week of classes, to Loja - a 5 hour bus trip. We stayed at a hotel in the center of town - Hotel Podocarpus. This is a bustling city - about the size of San Miguel - 110,000 people though it felt bigger. It seems to be a town of business and living and we saw virtually no tourists. As typical in Ecuador - there are several churches with small parks for sitting and meeting around them. We have tried a few of the local foods - one we love is humitas - somewhat like tamales but a smoother consistency of cornmeal and usually little cheese. There are loads of specialties that we have not tried - like guinea pig! We walked around both Fri night and Saturday went to two different parks - Parque Jiparo which was like a fantasy land for children with buildings of different countries to visit and learn about. A beautiful lake in the middle and various wildlife around the lake. Then off to another zoological park with animals and a beautiful orchid garden.

Parque Jiparo

plantains and beans

in the zoological park
and we didn't even go to the Galapagos!

Later on Saturday afternoon we took the 1 hour bus to Vilcambamba - the land of longevity. Apparently this town was written up many years ago in Readers Digest because there are so many people living over the age of 100 with good healthy lives, some working into their 90's out in the fields. However our first impressions were that the town (of 4000) is more like Woodstock, NY probably back in the 60's though maybe it is still the same today - hippies all around the center of town in tie dyed clothing selling necklaces and earrings on tables or blankets. Some are Ecuadorean and many others seem to be foreigners but not too many North Americans - many Europeans. From some in town we learned however that there is about 25% of the 4000 who are foreigners of retirement age buying land and living a very simple life with good air and good water and incredible scenery. We did see some large homes dotting the green mountains. Our immediate impression was that it would not be a place to spend months or longer for us but would likely be a place to visit for a a few more days as there are so many wonderful hikes that we heard about and if it were not the rainy season, just beautiful to go to chill out for a few days, It is hard to describe this beautiful land which we saw from the bus rides through the areas and during our exciting hike on Sunday.

making adobe bricks
"cock" fighting ring

On Sunday we got up early and met our guide Angel (which we had arranged the night before) and took off for about 2 miles until we got to the path into the woods heading first along a river and then up into the mountain to a Cascade - big waterfall. It would have been a wonderful hike in good weather but it got much more exciting because it first drizzled and then rained hard so all the rivers and the cascade were flowing very heavily and the path also turned into a muddy river. At first we walked carefully - me trying not to get mud on my shoes but that did not last very long. By the end of the 7 hours - 4 up to the cascade, a little time for delicious lunch prepared by Angel's wife - empanadas with broccoli inside and fruit and then a very careful 3 hours back down - we were soaked and covered with mud. We fell a few times and I took Angel down once as he was holding my hand in precarious spots - not damaging at all as it doesn't hurt when you fall in mud!

check out the mud!

back at the hotel
We returned happy and wet and moved from one hotel to another. There are incredibly beautiful hotels in Vilcambamba (Jardin Escondito on Sat. night and Hosteleria Izhcayluma on Sunday night). After nice long hot showers and changing our clothes we ate at their delicious restaurant. (owned by Germans who liked our German family names).  Again it was pouring at night so off to bed by 8:30 - pooped. We left this morning, Monday back to Cuenca in a van directly which was only 4 hours. Now as I write on Monday my shoes are still wet!  Check out these movies. The first is of the "cascade" and the second is the view from our hotel of the beautiful surroundings. Hard to capture the feel of the mountains and green pastures and village of Vilcambamba but I tried my best.

Traveling in Ecuador is easy, all the people are very friendly, the countryside is awesome and I am understanding a bit more spanish each day. Many people speak quite fast so I am always happy when I find someone who slows down a bit.

It was nice to come "home" to our families and tomorrow we start our 3rd week of school. (We played hookey today).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Feb. 4, 2011 - Finishing the first week of school in Cuenca

Today, Friday was the last day of the first week of school for Ricardo and I. This might be a long blog as I will include our thoughts and things about life with our families and school. First a couple of quick things - we do love this city and it is very cosmopolitan and bustling as any city. There are about 400,000 people and maybe about 800 (supposedly) foreigners here. I have a feeling that this is just the beginning of a future influx of foreigners.  

Yolanda's daughter Bernarda

Our families I live with Yolanda (50 years old) and her 21 year old daughter Bernarda. Yolanda's ex, Diego is still very much a part of the family and they refer to each other as novio's (boyfriend/girlfriend). Yolanda has never cooked vegetarian before but is enthusiastic with everything I make and lets me help in the kitchen whenever I want (which is most of the time). She tells all her friends whenever we are with them about all the combinations of veggies that I have made and we are even planning to hold a "salad making vegetarian cooking class" one of these upcoming weekends. Our home is the third floor of an apartment building and it is 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms and simple in design. I am happy to have my own space though we all spend alot of time talking together when we are all home at the same time.

Mi "mama" Yolanda

My house - top floor on the right.

Richard's family is composed of a grandmother Mariana, her two daughters (one with husband) and two grandchildren and in addition, one unmarried son which means it is 7 plus Ricardo making 8 in the family - a typical latin american family. Often one of the uncles comes over for a meal. In his house he has his own room (taken from one of the daughters) but they all share one bathroom so Ricardo comes home in the middle of the day for his shower!  They enjoy meals together and Mariana does all the cooking, in fact she does not even want Ricardo's help cleaning up after meals. He is getting spoiled again and I hope I do not have to send him back to "husband's training school" after our time in Cuenca!

El puente de amates - the bridge that we meet at each morning
A typical day for us

We both meet on the bridge which is less than a 5 minute walk from each of our houses - on each side of the River Tomebamba (which runs through the city).  We walk, speaking spanish to each other all the way for 30 minutes to school. Then we have classes from 8-noon with a break at 10:00 when all the students and teachers gather for snack and tea/coffee. It is a fun part of the day as we get to meet some of the other students. This school only offers one-on-one teaching and it is geared to the students level and needs. The first day I had a test and nearly freaked out and went home because it seemed so hard, confusing and I could not remember much of what I learned (or at least that is how I felt). Nevertheless, I was placed as an intermeediate and am reviewing all the tenses that I have learned with some new information and vocubulary. My teaching day goes like this - review homework, read a short story with a moral and then discuss the story, grammar review, conversation, more grammar if needed that day, reading for pronounciation and understanding yesterday a discussion on a controversial subject.  Richard's teacher spends more time on conversation. Next week we will trade teachers for a few days to experience different teaching styles. At the present time our plans are to stay here for the whole month - not sure what accomodations for the whole time but you can stay tuned for that.  At about noon we leave school and walk back to our homes for "almuerzo" the big meal of the day. I usually help cook and we eat together, often with some friendss of Bernarda's joining us. Richard has some subset of his family for his meal at 1:30.  Then we walk back to school when their is an afternoon event (including - city tour, cooking class, museum tour or salsa dancing) every day except Friday. Then back home for evening meal and computer for me and TV for Ricardo.  We have had several friends from San Miguel visiting in town so we have met up with them a few times and also have some new friends that we met at the hotel that we stayed at the first few days, along with some from school and will probably catch up with them next week.

And a little more....

Last weekend, the first day with our families, my family took Ricardo and me to two small towns outside of Cuenca that are known for indigenous crafts - one is Gualaceo and the other Chordeleg. We were able to go to the studio of a weaver who dyes all his own yarn and makes IKAT, a type of weave. Of course we bought me a scarf (and one for Yolanda too).  We have been to a "panama" hat factory. Panama hats actually originate in Ecuador and most are made in Cuenca and the small surrounding towns. They are really called Montecristi - named for the most famous town of its origins in Ecuador. In the 1800's the Spaniards exported them to Panama and soon the world began thinking they came from there. They are still made here, each by hand and there are several levels of hats. Here they run from 20.00-500.00 but apparently they can be bought in the US for much higher prices. I have not chosen mine yet, but I am surely going to get one - they are very lightweight.

Weaving IKAT - a type of weaving style

Church in Chordeleg

Today, still Friday as I am writing, both of our teachers took us to a marketplace where indigenous women use plants, eggs, herbs, flowers, water and not sure what else to bless people and to remove evil spirits. They do this for adults and children. They also can be seen spitting some liquids on their clients.

my professor - Mayra

Richard's professor - Patricia

in the market