Aventuras Bilingües

¿Bolivia? ¿Por qué? ¿Para qué?
May 12, 2012, 1:29 pm
Filed under: Bolivia

“Do you have plans for a teaching job next year?”

Every time I hear this question (which is often), I start by laughing.

“Well, actually, I’m moving to Bolivia.”

“Bolivia? Why? For what? Where is that?”

“Well, I’m going to be working on…”

And so the conversation continues. I am going to take a moment and explain what I am doing, why I am going to Bolivia, what I plan to learn from my experience, and what I’m doing to prepare for my year abroad.

Rotary International, Inc. offers Ambassadorial Scholarships. As stated on their website, “The Ambassadorial Scholarships program promotes international understanding and friendly relations among people of different parts of the world.

The scholarships sponsor undergraduate and graduate students, as well as qualified professionals pursuing vocational studies. While abroad, scholars serve as goodwill ambassadors to the country where they study and give presentations about their own culture to Rotary clubs and other groups. Back home, scholars share with Rotarians and others the experiences that deepened their understanding of another culture.”

I learned of the scholarship from a friend, Austin Dunn, with whom I worked at Marquette. He had applied for a scholarship through his home Rotary District in Illinois and encouraged me to apply. I did, through the Milwaukee Rotary Club. David Buck is in charge of the scholarship process, and I met with him during October 2010 to discuss the scholarship. After learning more about it, I was immediately interested and began the application, which I submitted in May 2011. My first interview was with the Rotary Club of Milwaukee in June 2011, and I made it through to the next step. The final interview was in July 2011, with Rotarians from all over Southeastern Wisconsin, as well as one returning Ambassadorial Scholar. In a hot room in an un-air-conditioned building at Mount Mary College, I was grilled with questions. “Why do you want this scholarship?” “What makes you a good choice for the Ambassadorial Scholarship?” “What are your plans for a service project while in-country?” “What do you plan to do in the Milwaukee area after you’ve returned?” “Describe para nosotros una experiencia que te cambió.” (Yes, a good chunk of the interview was done in Spanish).

A few days later I got a thin envelope int he mail. Immediately I thought “I didn’t get it. Oh well.” I opened the envelope while standing next to my mom in our sunroom. I started to read the letter explaining that I didn’t win the scholarship. But as I kept reading, the tone of the letter was NOT one of denial. It read something like “It was a pleasure interviewing you…” Then I got to the line. “Congratulations on being selected as the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship for 2012-2013.” I won.


Since that point, I have felt like a part of the Rotary family. I get e-mails from Rotarians checking in on my preparations (namely from the wonderful David Buck (pictured above) and Richard Muirhead). I meet with them for coffee, go to Milwaukee club functions, and feel so welcome. I was even featured in their newsletter!

After winning the scholarship, I got my final acceptance letter from Rotary International which explains my placement, and is a letter for me to send to my university that states (in Spanish) that I have a fully-funded education. I was assigned to Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Cochabamba, Bolivia, my first choice. I chose this university because it is the leading university in South America for research on Bilingual Education, and I will be able to do a summer practicum in an indigenous community in Bolivia to (hopefully) pick up some Aymara or Quechua.

I have been working with a Rotarian, Juan Carlos Rodríguez, and he has been more than wonderful. He went and met with the director of my Master’s Program in Bilingual Education! He is the contact in Bolivia for Andrea Prichard, student from Arizona who is currently studying at the same university on an Ambassadorial Scholarship. She has been helpful as well, helping me with information about applying for my visa, etc.

As soon as the school year is over (June 7!) I am going to be working on more detailed preparations — working on my application to the university, working on applying for my visa, trying to figure out how to pack for a year…

So there’s the whole explanation. Post comments if you have additional questions you want me to answer!


Thinking Back and Looking Ahead
January 1, 2012, 5:55 pm
Filed under: The United States

With 2011 come and gone, it’s time I reflect on my experiences during the last year. 2011 brought lots of changes, with most of my Marquette friends graduating in May and starting new chapters in their lives.

I had a lot of eye-opening experiences this past summer in both Guatemala and Ecuador. Guatemala taught me a lot about what the words poverty and hope mean. I was put under pressure as a translator, and had to adapt to a new type of Spanish I hadn’t encountered before. I learned what wonderful work Engineers Without Borders does, and formed connections with people from a culture completely different than my own.

Ecuador was a great experience, except for the stabbing incident. I chose not to write a blog post detailing that night’s events, but never wrote a blog post to encapsulate my experience overall in one of the most ecologically diverse countries on the planet. On the whole I had a really wonderful time in Ecuador. I found the people to be welcoming, learned a ton about indigenous cultures in Ecuador from a wonderful teacher (te quiero, Lilia!), and made great friends thanks to a scholarship from SDP, Spanish Honor Society.

I also graduated from college in December, earning a degree in Middle/Secondary Education and Spanish and a minor in sociology. I will complete my certification in Bilingual Education in May, while I am also working as a long-term substitute at Muskego High School as a Spanish I and II teacher. Moving from student teaching to a real teaching job will certainly present challenges but I am eager to begin the new position in just a few weeks!

My next international travel will not happen until 2013, so I have at least 365 days in good ol America before I set off again. I will be spending nearly all of 2013 in Cochabamba, Bolivia, studying bilingual education at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón. This is (only) possible thanks to a huge scholarship from Rotary International, and especially my friends from the Milwaukee Rotary Club (in particular, David Buck) and District 6270 (in particular Richard Muirhead). It is an honor and a privilege to represent both Rotary International and the Milwaukee area and I am so eager to form lasting connections between Milwaukee and Cochabamba. I will be working as an Ambassadorial Scholar to earn a master’s degree in bilingual education, but I will also be volunteering a lot of my time in the community (an equally important learning experience in my opinion). I will update this blog as I learn more and make more progress in the pre-departure process. As of now I believe I will be leaving in January 2013 and returning just before Christmas in 2013.

Paz y prospero año nuevo,


Guinea Pigs and Skepticism
July 1, 2011, 8:06 am
Filed under: Ecuador

If you are an animal lover or have a special attachment to guinea pigs, don’t read this post.

I mean it.

Aunt Cherri, that means you.

Our indigenous culture professor at school proposed we go to Machachi, a small town south of Quito. There lives an indigenous woman who has curandera powers, or the ability to diagnose people through extremely “non-traditional” (traditional in the Western sense) medicine. In a small house across the street from a large plot of land growing cabbage and lettuce, she diagnoses anyone who comes by.

Okay, enough with the fairy tale narration.

I guess she has these powers passed down to her from someone and in turns she passes them on as well. She goes to Saquisilí (that indigenous market with large and small animals I mentioned a few posts ago) to buy guinea pigs, people come to her, she rubs the live guinea pig all over them, drowns it, skins it, and opens it up to tell them what’s wrong.

I sound skeptical. I am skeptical. I still don’t know if I believe in this exactly — I will get to that later, though.

We showed up around 12:30 PM and went in, one by one. Our professor Lilia stayed in the room the entire time, and we were allowed to bring in whoever we wanted. I went 7th out of 11, so when I went into the room I saw some little droplets of blood already gracing the floor.


I was standing there thinking “Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod” as she went back to get the guinea pig. You have to take your shirt off, so I was standing there as this little 4′ tall woman came in with a little white and tan guinea pig. At least it didn’t look like Sandy or Ginger…

She went straight for my stomach and held it up against me, as it started to scream. She has to use a baby guinea pig becuase it soaks up all of my bad energy and ailments, and they are then reflected in the guinea pig. So as she holds it against a part of me where I have medical issues, the guinea pig’s internal organs are being impacted — making it scream. She held it against my stomach for what felt like 5 minutes and it would not stop screaming… “Apparently my stomach is messed up,” I thought.

She moved it to my back, and then had me sit down so she could reach my upper back and head (remember, she is 4′ tall). It started screaming again as she moved it to my lower back (near my kidneys).

It got quiet as she moved it up my spine, near my shoulders, around my neck (yes I got extremely allergic and blotchy), on my face, on my head, on my chest (like I said, extremely blotchy), etc.

On my head!

The entire time I was flinching in fear, because I hate guinea pigs crying and I felt like I was making it cry in pain (that’s the reason for the face I’m making below. And I was terrified of it).

She finished my going down both of my arms, and then I put my shirt back on and sat down, facing the corner because I knew what was coming next.

Like I said, if you’re an animal lover or have a guinea pig attachment, stop reading now.

She brought out a small circular tub of hot water and proceeded to drown the guinea pig. Mine died extremely quickly. Apparently I don’t have much of a desire to live (?).

Drowning it in hot water 😦

Then she skinned it (again, I was looking away but my friend took pictures for me) and opened it up with her bare hands. She started inspecting it, part by part, to tell me what’s wrong with me. Because the guinea pig’s internal organs are very similar to human organs, she is able to see which parts changed after touching my body.

Inspecting it to see what’s wrong with me

I have a good heart and a good head (yay)! But apparently I have something wrong with my right kidney and my stomach and need to drink aloe vera 9 times today… I don’t necessarily plan on doing that. I plan on seeing my regular doctor when I get back to make sure I’m fine.

I would be more of a believer in this except for the fact that she was pretty wrong about something. She told me that she could tell I had broken my arm before. Family, correct me if I am wrong, but I’ve never broken or sprained a bone in my body. Also, the guinea pig didn’t scream when it went down either of my arms, so I am confused about this. She told me I had something wrong with my lungs (duh, asthma), which was legitimate. But the arm thing made me a bit skeptical.

I don’t know. I consider myself to be a pretty rational person, and trying to figure out how a baby guinea pig’s insides match mine after rubbing it on my body for 10 minutes just doesn’t work for me… I obviously totally respect this, and she has a ton of respect from other people in her community. But I still don’t know if I believe.

La vida cotidiana quiteña
June 29, 2011, 10:09 pm
Filed under: Ecuador

One problem I have when I live somewhere for a few weeks or more is that I blog about trips, but not about day-to-day life. Now, I’m not really sure what kind of image Quito has in the world. Actually, I bet most people don’t know where it is.

Here I am!

Quito is about a half hour from the equator, making it the same temperature all-year round. Because Quito is at 9350 ft, it is “eternal spring” here — sometimes 55 at night, occasionally 80 during the day. It rarely gets warmer, it rarely gets colder. This makes for a nice wardrobe and great hanging outside weather.

The only problem with that is that we are really freaking close to the sun. Remember: On the equator, almost 10,000 feet in the air. This makes for 30+ SPF sunscreen a necessity on a regular basis.

Nevertheless, Quito is gorgeous and I’m going to detail some of my favorite things:

1. The public transportation.

Not a real picture, but it shows the Ecovía well

Quito has three different major lines that run from north to south — the Ecovía (farthest east), the Trolebus, and the Metrobus (farthest west). To get to school now I take the Ecovía, pictured above. There are special lanes designated in the middle of the road for these buses, and they have their own traffic signals as well. You enter in that middle, green area, pay 25 cents, and then wait for the bus you need on either side (the one going north or the one going south). It is fast, they come frequently, and they are pretty clean and new. The only issue is that they pack people into the busses during rush hour, but that happens with good public transit in any major city in the world.

2. The food.

My new host mom can cook! We also eat tons of avocado which I absolutely love. In addition to being well-fed at home, Ecuadorian food is actually pretty delicious.

A typical Plato Fuerte

At most restaurants you can get an almuerzo (Spain’s Menú Del Día) for around $2-2.75 and it usually will come with soup, a plato fuerte (main dish, usually seafood, chicken, or beef), a dessert, and some kind of fresh fruit juice. Mora (blackberry) is quickly becoming my favorite!

3. The children and volunteer work.

I mentioned this in my first blog post about Ecuador, but I went to an after-school program for Quito’s poorest youth my first week here and have been going ever since. The kids are incredible and a lot of fun, but I can tell they have some tough situations at home.

Playing in the park

The after-school program is called Ñeque y más Ñeque. I’m pulling this from their website, but “A person with ñeque is one who is strong and courageous, one who perseveres through difficult times. And this is the objective of Foundation Ñeque y más Ñeque, to strengthen the resolve and resilience of the children who participate in the program so that they may successfully overcome the difficult situations they face every day.”


The first time we played games inside like Simón Dice (Simon Says), the second time we played soccer (on their concrete soccer field in a run-down park close to the program building, and this afternoon we cleaned up the park by painting the monkey bars, slide, and weeding most of the area. It isn’t even close to being done, but I’m glad to see there’s progress being made. We found tons of broken glass bottles hidden in the grass while cleaning, which I took to be an indication that teens/adults people do sneak in there at night and drink.


The area is the poorest and most dangerous in Quito — it is similar to the projects or something of that kind. The kids are super disadvantaged financially, but they do a lot of great things at this after school program and it reminds me a lot of Our Next Generation in Milwaukee. So, despite the negatives, I am so glad to see something like this exists here in Ecuador too!

Comité del Pueblo

4. Green space and public space.

I have mentioned La Carolina before, but I never explained how much green space there is here! Just like most Latin American countries, plazas and parks are extremely important. They’re public gathering places for friends and family and tend to be packed most of the time.

La Carolina

On weekdays La Carolina has some people jogging here and there, but fills completely on the weekend.

Plaza Grande!

Plazas like Plaza Grande tend to be full all the time — I’ve never gone by and seen it empty.

La Basílica

Another interesting area is near the Basílica. I went at dusk on a Monday afternoon, but there were a bunch of men playing soccer right outside. This also seems like a gathering place, despite it being located in the more touristy part of the city.

5. The views.

As I am a Midwestern girl, mountains always amaze me. Quito is surrounded by them. There’s a large statue called el Panecillo that’s perched on top of a large hill/mountain which provides incredible views of the city.

El Panecillo

The view over Quito at sunset from El Panecillo

Our professor also took us to a restaurant with great views of Quito (below) mid-morning one day as a field trip.


6. The art.

Another field trip was to la Capilla del Hombre, or a museum full of Oswaldo Guayasamín’s works next to his former home. If you haven’t looked at or studied his works before, I really recommend you do. He has a lot of deep art that gets at some of the suffering many Latin Americans have been through with various dictators, violence, etc.

Lágrimas de Sangre

He also was a pretty great writer and some powerful quotes grace the walls. I will definitely be using his art and his quotes in my teaching!

7. The people.

You know, I do love the Spaniards. They dress well, they have a cocky “I speak Spain Spanish” way about them, they say “Gra-th-ias,” and they’re beautiful. But Ecuadorians are just way nicer, let’s be real.

Example 1: I was on the bus coming home one night and a woman standing next to me asked if I wanted to switch spots to rest my backpack on this bar near her. I said no thanks, and then she started asking me where I was from. Now, I was a little nervous she was secretly a pick-pocket, so I was stand-offish at first with her. But she ended up being extremely nice and we had a great conversation about why I was in Ecuador, what she did for a living, etc.

Example 2: The owners of our hostel in Otavalo continue to be some of my favorite people. I won’t go into tons of detail, but Roberto owns the place and took us to the summer solstice celebration as his guests and didn’t accept any tips from us. That kind of kindness and warmth is just not found in the US, I can’t really explain it. But yay Ecuadorians!


Now, onto some of my least favorite things:

1. Poverty.

Poverty is everywhere. It can be found in any country in the world, and Ecuador is highly developed compared to most Latin American countries (especially Quito — the coast and the amazon are another story). But going up to Comité del Pueblo reminds me a lot of Guatemala — kids running around at 3 years old with no parents to be seen and no shoes, dirty school clothes, buildings that aren’t in the best shape, and news about the increasing crime rates. It’s also an area where tons of Blacks live, as they tend to be very discriminated against in Ecuador (the ranking puts Blacks at the bottom, below Indigenous groups). That kind of race-regulated caste-like system is just astonishing to me.

2. Crime.

The other thing that bothers me here is crime. Studying abroad in Spain I was about 100 times safer walking around Madrid alone at night than I am in Milwaukee. Here, it is the complete opposite. Walking alone at night is stupid here. Granted I walk with confidence, always, and speak Spanish. But I still always feel like there’s a target on my back — I’m the “rich white person probably carrying tons of cash.” It’s frustrating to be in that kind of situation constantly, because there’s nothing I can do to seem like less of a tourist. Luckily I learned to guard my purse like a child while I lived in Madrid — that tendency has served me well here so far.


Looking ahead:

Tomorrow we’re going to a curandera (medicine woman) who is going to tell us our ailments by using a baby guinea pig… I’m not going to explain the details now, but animal lovers: you might want to skip the next post.

Dancing in Circles, Stress, Tranquility, the Sea, and Goodbyes
June 26, 2011, 10:13 pm
Filed under: Ecuador

Dancing in Circles

Well, we ended up going to the summer solstice celebration on Wednesday night, not Tuesday night (long story). It’s called Inti Raymi, which I think is summer solstice in Quichua. We arrived around 8 PM or so, ate something, and then walked to the waterfalls.

It was crazy and crowded, with people representing tons of different indigenous tribes in the area. The way it works is that people playing various instruments form a small circle (drums, wind instruments, guitars), and they walk around in a circle either clockwise or counterclockwise.


Then there’s a big circle around the outside with people walking around in a circle, just stomping their feet and walking. Then someone decides to rotate the other way and both circles turn to do the same thing in the other direction. This goes on ALL NIGHT. I am not sure how anyone has energy to do this!

Circle dancing

There’s also a ritual of going into the waterfall (the same waterfall I mentioned in my last blog post). Almost all of us wore swimsuits under our clothes and brought towels, but by the time we got up there, and I realized that we were above/behind the waterfall (i.e. if you slip the current would take you down and down the waterfall), I opted not to go. I left with Jessica around 1:30 AM and headed back into Otavalo for some much needed rest!


Once we returned to Quito Thursday morning, Lindsay (one of my roommates, from WI) and I made plans to meet Ana (from MN) and head to the basilica and down to the bus station in southern Quito to get bus tickets for Puerto López (the beach).

Fun fact: Quito is 25 miles long but only 3 miles wide. I now live in the northern part (6 de Diciembre y Av. El Inca if you want to look it up) and the bus station from where buses depart for Puerto Lopez is in the far south. Lindsay and I set out to get bus tickets and then meet Ana at the basilica by 3 PM. We took various busses down to the station, but by the time we got there it was already 2:45 (it had taken 1.5 hours to get there!). We thought the bus would leave around 10 PM and arrive in Puerto Lopez around 9 AM — we were wrong. We learned the bus left at 7, and we had to be back at the station by 6 PM! We still had to find Ana at the Basilica, get home, pack, grab something to eat, and tell Ana and Jill (neither of who have phones) that the bus was going to leave at 7 PM. We took a taxi to the Basilica, where Ana was nowhere to be found. We took a second, expensive (by Quito standards) taxi back to our house, and then tried calling school to get their home phone numbers. We got ahold of Jill at home, and she agreed to meet us at school by 5:30. Ana was a lost cause — she wasn’t home, we didn’t find her at the basilica, and we figured she would miss the bus.

We got to school at 5:30, and Jill wasn’t there. We waited until 5:52, and with Jill still nowhere to be found, we had to leave to make the bus on time.

Quiteño rush hour is a bitch. Think of Chicago on steroids. Luckily we explained our situation to our cab driver and we made it to the station around 6:53, 7 minutes before our bus left. We still had no sign of Ana, or Jill. We waited, watching over the railing for one of them to come running in, but as my watch read 7:00, we turned to go through the turnstile back to our bus. We waited a few more seconds after going through the turnstile in hopes of seeing either Jill or Ana… when Ana came running up the ramp! It was such a relief to see her. We waited a few more minutes in hopes of seeing Jill, but she was still nowhere to be found, so we sadly turned and went back to the bus.

11 hours later we arrived in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, to find 80 degree humid weather at 5 AM. In the dark we got off the bus to find lots of Ecuadorians trying to give us a deal on a hostel for the night. Exhausted and in need of a few hours to nap, we convinced one guy to give us a room for 3 people for $10 total. After climbing up some creaky stairs, we found ourselves in a tiki-style room smelling of humidity, wood, and fish (yum). We soon discovered the mattress was no more than 1″ thick and slipped between (and stayed between) the boards of the bed if you pushed down too hard, but laid down anyway.

We finally woke up around 9 AM and then set off to find 1) the beach 2) a real hostel and 3) something to eat. We did so in that order, along with booking an Isla de la Plata tour for $35.


Wandering around Puerto López

The rest of the day was spent wandering around Puerto López, doing a little shopping in the markets, meeting lots of Ecuadorians trying to get us to buy things or become friends with Americans, and wandering the beach at Los Frailes, part of a national park. There’s just something tranquil about small, beach-front towns… no stress, no pressing issues, no homework, just friends, water, sand, and good food.

With Ana (left) and Lindsay (middle) on the beach

We found a little piece of paradise when we got to Los Frailes around 4 PM. Our taxi driver agreed to wait for us until 5 PM when the park closes, so we had an hour to explore the beach that was completely vacant!

Mi Ecuador

Nobody else was around, just us three!

Sand dollar!

We spent a wonderful hour walking down the shore, looking at little crabs, snails, and sand dollars, and wading in the warm ocean water. Talk about a perfect afternoon, which was followed by a delicious dinner of shrimp and rice with ají and lemon.

The Sea

The next morning we set off on our Isla de la Plata tour, AKA Poor Man’s Galapagos. I learned that Galapagos tours are near $1,000 minimum, so I will not be heading there during my time down in Ecuador. Isla de la Plata is the next best thing — similar landscape, similar animals, much cheaper. So cheap that our $35 tour included whale watching, an Isla de la Plata tour/hike, lunch, snorkeling, and the boat rides.

On the boat

Now, luckily I am in Ecuador during whale season — they come up from Antarctica every summer to have babies and mate, so they are everywhere along the coastline! On the way out to the island from Puerto López we came across lots and lots of whales — the coolest being a group of three right off the coast of the island.



They were jumping out of the water, throwing their tails in the air, and we were only about 20 feet from them.

From Isla de la Plata looking out to the Pacific

We made it to the island and took a 2-hour hike where we saw lots of different birds, including the Blue-Footed Booby.

Blue-Footed Booby

After the hike it was back to the boat, over to the other side of the island where we went snorkeling above a coral reef.

Back to the boat!

There were tons of fish, huge starfish, a big turtle, and several schools of tiny fish – I wish I had a waterproof camera! My favorites were the fish like Dory in Finding Nemo — bright blue and absolutely gorgeous.


We headed back to Puerto López, seeing lots of whales on the way. We arrived with just enough time to shower, eat dinner, and get back on the bus to Quito. It was a wonderful weekend and incredible to see so many awesome things.


After getting back home around 6 AM, my friend Lindsay and I went straight to sleep until Papa Eugenio woke us up around 9 for breakfast. We told him about everything, and then I think it finally hit Lindsay that it was her final day in Ecuador. We made plans to meet up with lots of people from school for lunch, gelato, and the market here in Quito.

We treated ourselves to several empanadas each, quite a bit of gelato, anad then walked it off in La Carolina, the big park here in the center of Quito.

Sunday in La Carolina

Walking with friends amongst lots of Ecuadorian children, tons of PDA, street vendors, paddle boats, and art for sale, I suddenly felt extremely homesick for Madrid. Retiro was one of my favorite places in Spain, and la Carolina has such a similar feel — families, couples, friends enjoying one another’s company strolling through the park on the weekend.

Paddle boats 🙂

I think I actually fell in love with Quito today, actually.

It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed my first few weeks here — I have! It’s just that it hasn’t felt like home. But today, among a good group of friends, sunshine, gelato, and adorable Ecuadorian children, I felt that I “clicked” with Ecuador.

Watching Lindsay say goodbye to Papa Eugenio and Mama Yoli today made me think back to saying goodbye to Amelia, Cristian, and Madrid. I have a feeling that when I leave here I’m going to be in tears again.

But (!) I may be coming back here sooner rather than later. I found out tonight that I am the Milwaukee finalist being sent to the District for the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship! It will be for the 2012-2013 school year in either Bolivia, Colombia, Perú, or Ecuador. I listed 2 different universities in Ecuador — if I end up being recommended for Quito, I can guarantee I will be requesting to live with my current host family while back on scholarship. If I end up in another country, I will definitely be paying them a visit.

That’s all for now! We start a new class on indigenous cultures on Tuesday (we have tomorrow off!) and I can’t wait to learn about all of the different indigenous groups here in Ecuador.

Tradición y Cambio
June 20, 2011, 7:50 pm
Filed under: Ecuador

(I apologize for the length of these posts compared to mine from Spain; I just seem to be doing a lot more unique things here in Ecuador that require lengthy explanation)


On Thursday instead of class we went to Saquisili with our professor and the indigenous cultures class. They have a huge market on Thursdays – large animals, small animals, produce, food, and stuff.  The minute we got out of the bus that took us from school we saw hundreds of pigs and lots of people in traditional indigenous Ecuadorian clothing. A lot of the pigs did not want to be sold and put up quite a fight.

Pigs in Saquisili

We continued on and found some llamas, which were somewhat scary yet cute at the same time.


After making our way through tons of cows, tons of sheep, and other large animals, we found an area of the market with food for sale and I bought some llapingachos. Basically you mash up some potatoes, then cover some cheese, and deep fry it: delicious. Saz’s should add it to the menu.

So delicious!

We continued to a different part of Saquisili where they sell things like artesanía, art, tapestries, blankets, woven bags and purses, scarves, gloves, etc. I found a scarf (of course) and a really cool pencil case before we continued on to the food market and small animal market. The entire town literally transforms on Thursdays and the major streets and plazas all become filled with indigenous people doing their weekly shopping – there are very, very few tourists that go here, so it can be called “authentic” in a sense (although Perry would hate me for saying that – Dr. Shew’s class, anyone?)

So many bright colors


We wandered amongst fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, beans, rice, grains, and other foods for quite awhile (I didn’t sample anything, though, in fear of getting sick).

So much fresh produce!

Next was the small animal market. Now, growing up with guinea pigs, a rabbit, dogs, and cats, it was definitely not easy to see animals treated as they were. For example, it wasn’t rare to see someone carrying a moving sack (with no air holes) filled with guinea pigs or rabbits.

Holding up some guinea pigs to convince someone to buy them

Lots of puppies and kittens were stuffed into crates, and a lot of us began to feel sick from seeing this go on. Guinea pigs are eaten here (cuy), so lots of people were going around trying to find the cheapest but fattest guinea pigs for sale, clearly so they could be killed and eaten for dinner. Aunt Cherri and Katie, be glad you weren’t with me to see this.

Doing something with beans

On Friday we set off for Otavalo. It is a smaller town about 1.5-2 hours to the north of Quito that is known for its market (granted, touristy market) on Saturdays. There were a total of six of us but we went in two groups of three, with my group getting there a little after the first group. When we made it to the hostel Alicia, a girl in my group here on the scholarship, came outside to say hello and she told us that she had gotten robbed on the bus.

Now, the bus system is extremely efficient and extremely cheap, but it definitely can’t be considered safe. You need to guard your stuff and you definitely cannot fall asleep. What had happened to Alicia was that when she got on the bus, a man (not employed by the bus company) told her move seats and put her Adidas duffel under her seat. She complied, not realizing that he had set her up to steal her things. He was sitting behind her, cut her bag open, and stole her makeup, toiletries, and backpack without her noticing a thing. Lesson learned: keep things on your lap, and don’t listen to anyone but yourself on the bus.


On the street with the group in Otavalo (Alicia, Jessica, José, Anita, and me)

The main plaza in Otavalo

Anyway, after exploring the town for a while, we spent the rest of the afternoon up in Peguche. Pictures explain the beauty of this place much more than words.


Gorgeous natural pools


So surreal

La cascada!

The group on the bridge

The next morning we headed to the market that takes over the entire town. It is probably 4 times the size of Rastro, for those of you who have been to the Sunday market in Madrid. I bought tons of stuff, so much that I filled an entire (newly purchased) duffel bag. Don’t worry, there are lots of presents inside!

The market in Otavalo


That afternoon we just relaxed a bit before heading to a karaoke bar with Sofía, a woman originally from Scotland who works at the hostel where we were staying. I ended up singing because of peer pressure – I can now say that I’m Yours by Jason Mraz was the first karaoke song I’ve ever sung!

The next morning three of us got up and headed to Cotacachi, a small town famous for leather products; however, that’s not the reason we went. Cotacachi is close to Lago Cuicocha, a lake that is on top of a volcano (don’t ask me to explain how that happened or is possible). It was one of the most surreal, most beautiful places I have ever been.

Indigenous girls in traditional clothes at the lake



The water was incredibly blue

We met a guy from Germany and he told us he was heading to see some kind of traditional ceremony in a few minutes, so we followed, a decision that turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever made.

Since we’re nearing the summer solstice, in indigenous religion there is a lot of importance given to this day. I am not sure if the celebration we saw was just on this one Sunday, or if it happens every week, but nevertheless it was a beautiful celebration. We arrived early enough to see indigenous women and men setting up the ofrenda, or offering to the Gods.


Setting up for the ofrenda


Lighting a candle


Discussing before the ofrenda began

Eventually the celebration began, and tons of local people and a few tourists gathered in a circle around the ofrenda. Women took off their jewelry and gave it to a man who was a leader, so that he could offer it to the gods. The actual event took place in Quechua and Spanish, with most people first speaking in their native language, and then Spanish.


Those who spoke explained how we are no more than, nor less than water, air, land, and fire – we are the same. Unity with nature is extremely important, as is knowing where you come from. They spoke of the importance of maintaining indigenous traditions and language, and understanding your background and staying close with your family.

More indigenous women watching

Women offered their jewelry, which he is offering to the gods

We then did some type of prayer to the south, east, north, and west, blessing those from other countries in Latin America, and then they did a blessing for those who were present.

Praying to the north, south, east, west


Taking water and making the sign of the cross

This man was in charge of the ceremony

This was one of the most striking moments for me, because I truly appreciated speaking Spanish and being able to understand and partake in such an event. Additionally, I loved the reminder that we are all the same – humans, animals, and plants alike. After the ceremony we took a small hike around a small part of the lake, and then returned to Cotacachi, then Otavalo, and finally back to Quito.


The view from the trail

Clouds over the lake



When I arrived at my host family’s last night, again there was no one home. I didn’t mention this in previous posts, but there’s been an issue going on since I got here basically with the fact that they don’t feed me dinner. If you know me, you know that I like to eat… a lot. So not having dinner was not okay for several reasons: 1. The school is paying for me to live there and have breakfast and dinner. 2. I am hungry. 3. I am cranky when I am hungry. 4. How do you just not feed someone dinner?! I got a note today in class that I would be moving to a new family at 3 PM, and that I needed to go home, pack my things, and take them to school. This was not too hard, because in my room at my old family, I didn’t have a closet or drawers or shelves, so I was living out of my suitcase anyway.

I arrived home surprised to find my host mom’s car there – normally she is gone all day, until late at night (which explains why I did not get dinner). I walked in and she kind of yelled at me, telling me that she came home from work for this and that she had to be back by 2 and it was already 1:30 (despite the fact that classes get over at 1 and the walk is at least 20 minutes). She had already gathered my stuff from the shower, and more or less told me to hurry because she had to get back to work. I quickly threw everything into my suitcase, zipped it up, expecting her to at least grab my duffel bag.


I went down 4 flights of stairs with a backpack, huge rolling duffel bag, and smaller duffel bag with absolutely no help from her. When we got outside she didn’t even say anything – she just walked away.


I walked 3 blocks to the nearest major street, luckily got an extremely nice taxi driver who had lived in Spain for 15 years, and unloaded all my stuff at school for my family to come and get me. It turns out I am living with Lindsay, Dhara, and Haley, three girls who I went to Mindo with two weekends ago, as well as Connor, who just got to Quito. Here I have a desk, nightstand, closet with drawers and hangers, a double bed, and a hamper (no, my old host mom never did my laundry either, despite the rule that she would do it at least once a week). It is awesome. Their apartment is HUGE, gorgeous, and the couple is so nice! I feel much better about this whole situation now that I am settled. And, the best part? They have internet. So expect more blog posts and the ability to Skype!

My next post will talk about this indigenous summer solstice event that goes all night long tomorrow – we’re headed back near Otavalo to partake in some kind of celebration with our professor and the indigenous cultures class. Even our professor has no idea what to expect, and given the fact that the events take place between midnight and 5 AM, it should be interesting.

June 15, 2011, 2:38 pm
Filed under: Ecuador

Classes have begun, I’m totally comfortable here, and feel quite settled. There are eight of us here on this scholarship that I won, so we all have a class together. The first two weeks are devoted to literature, grammar, and a little culture (aka field trips). The second two weeks are a class on the indigenous peoples of Ecuador. Our professor for the first class, Raquel, is amazing – since four of us in the group are going to be teachers, she constantly tries to give us new ideas for activities to use with our students.

Tuesday after class I went with a few others and Carolina, who works for the Academia, to a project for some of Ecuador’s poorest children. It was an incredible experience. At least from my time working with younger kids in the past (6-11), they tend to be cautious around newcomers. But these kids absolutely clung to us from the moment we walked in. I’m not sure if I can accurately assume that means that they lack affection and care at home, but it is certainly a possibility. One little girl named Alison sat down next to me the second we came in and she refused to leave my side, and then asked when I would be coming back next. I am definitely going to go every week – those kids need as much love and affection as they can get.

Wednesday instead of class we went going to some thermal pools about an hour from Quito in a place called Papallacta. It was an absolutely beautiful and relaxing day (not that my life here is stressful, let’s be real).

At the hot springs in Papallacta

Thursday instead of class we are going to a market that sells tons of fruits and vegetables with the people who are currently in the indigenous cultures class, and then we’re coming back to school to try them all. Friday we’ll be back to actual class work. It’s amazing that we have such great opportunities to really get to know and understand Ecuador, people and places alike.

This weekend a small group of us are planning to go to Otavalo (a very famous market, you may know of it) and Cotacachi, a lake that’s on top of a volcano. It should be a great weekend and I’m really looking forward to head up towards the northern sierra (don’t worry, it is not that close to the border with Colombia).

Things continue to go well with my host family – my 5 year-old host brother named Carlitos is hilarious. Monday night as soon as I got home he dragged me into my host mom’s room to tell me that he was making a mosquito trap with a water bottle. I suggested he add sugar to the water, so we set out to get everything prepared on the balcony. I am sad to report that no mosquitoes have gone into the trap yet. I will keep you posted. We then ate dinner together (macaroni and cheese, yes from the box) and watched Gnomeo and Juliet for 2 hours. I think he has ADD that is not diagnosed, because this kid bounces off the wall more than any other 5 year-old I have ever met. “Nunca se cansa,” decimos.

Me and my host brother

I am also happy to say that my host mom became a grandma on Sunday night! Her daughter-in-law was not expecting until mid-July but her water broke and they went to the hospital. José is doing well despite being a month premature – I have yet to see pictures but from what I hear he’s really cute. My host mom’s brother and his wife (Loli) who are here from Miami with Carlitos couldn’t be more amazing. My host mom is gone a lot, at the hospital with her son and his wife (as she should be), so I’ve bonded a lot with Loli. She’s originally from Guayaquil so her Spanish is kind of hard to understand, but she usually speaks with me in English anyway (I know, I’m wasting my time here if I speak English, but surprisingly I speak Spanish with other gringos at school).

The view from the apartment at night

Anyway, that’s all for now!