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June 20, 2006
As I sit here in front of my computer, this being my final few hours here in Ecuador, I begin to realize, what this trip has done for me, and the people around me. I applied to go onto this program, with the advice of a professor, at the time I really did not know why I wanted to go to Ecuador, except, that it sounded like a really interesting place, and it was going be free. I never honestly expected to get in, and when I did I was really wasnt sure, if I wanted to give up a month out of my summer, to go to a country, with a group of people, whom I knew only faces but never really talked to, in a country where I could hardly communicate. Once again I listened to the advice of a friend, who kept telling me this was a once and a lifetime experience, and I should take advantage of it. Well I did and here I am.
On the plane ride from Houston to Quito, I kept having the same thoughts, how was I ever going to communicate with my host family, and how was I possibly going to enjoy a place where I knew no one. My first concern was erased when I met my host family and learned that they were fluent in English. The other doubt was erased as well, in the coming weeks, This group of strangers, would become a group of people, that I literally climbed mountains with, hiked through cloud forest, rainforest, and coastal regions with, and a group that at night we would go to the clubs and have a great time with.
Living with my host family was an experience within an experience. My apartment in Quito, became my home. It was a place I always looked forward to returning to after trips. I knew that there would always be a good meal, and a warm bed to sleep in. During my month here, I became part of the family, I went to soccer games, birthday parties, and other various family activities. However, the one thing that sticks out in my mind, would be learning, that my mother here, was the daughter of the ex president of Ecuador. It was even more amazing that I was able to go over his house, smoke cigars with him, talk politics and even watch the Indianapolis 500 with him.
As I stair out of my window, and gaze at the streets of Quito for the final time, I realize that by going on this trip, I have learned so much, not only about Ecuador and the people that live here by about myself as well. I have realized that no mater what happens in life, you always need to take chances, because who knows, sometime you might be gazing out over a city and realize that this world is too big and too diverse to sit at home and wonder what if.
Excitement Over Soccer Takes Our Minds Off Real Issues
This month has gone by far too fast. I remember getting off the plane completely confused as if it happened yesterday. So much has happened since that day.
On a more serious note, despite being a beautiful and amazing country, Ecuador has many problems. The other day I met an English man who has lived here for 18 years. I asked him if he had watched the Ecuador-Poland World Cup match. I was surprised by his answer - he wanted Ecuador to lose. When I asked why, he told me that the people get so excited and worked up over their soccer games that they ignore the problems of the people. He likened soccer to a Roman form of entertainment - entertain the masses so they are too preoccupied to be worrying about the real issues. He also said that if Ecuadorians had the same passion that they have for soccer, this country would not be in its current situation. The rich exploit the poor - he even went as far as to say that most Ecuadorians are "placid." Logically, I asked him, "Why are you still here if you hate this country?" His answer was a great one. He said that he only speaks of the problems in order for them to be resolved because the first step in solving a problem is recognizing it for he loves this country. Our conversation really put my view of Ecuador into perspective.
I would like to thank everyone who has made this trip possible and wonderful. ¡Gracias Ecuador!
Quito I'll miss you.
It´s Saturday the 17th and our trip in Ecuador is coming to a close. I have learned a lot of valuable lessons while I was here and have made friends with the people of Ecuador. Probably my favorite part of the whole trip was hanging out with our tour guides during our field observation. The 3 main guides we had were Juan Carlos from Quito, Juan from Yachana Lodge in the Jungle, and Carlos from the Coast. Juan Carlos was awesome because he was able to keep our interest the whole time and was a blast to hang out with. Juan was simply a BA from the jungle that knows 5 languages, including English and Spanish. What I´ll remember from Carlos is when we were on our way to the airport and he bought a rooster for $100 to breed for cockfights, which are legal here in Ecuador. The funniest part was when Zafer couldn´t find his red bag with his shoes in it, and I told him to check the box the rooster was in. As it turns out, the bag´s string was wrapped around the rooster, which made him mad and made for a funny scene in the airport. These second 2 weeks we have had a great time together, and there was just so much we did that I enjoyed.
As I´m getting ready to leave, I need to work some magic with my packing because I purchased a ton of stuff to bring home as souvenirs for my family. I think that bartering has been my favorite part about Quito, because it´s something you really don´t get the opportunity to do in the US. Another subtlety that I´ll have to get used to again is speaking English pretty much all the time in the US, especially in the restaurants and stores. Everything has definitely been a great learning experience here in Ecuador, but at the same time I am ready to return home and see my family. I am grateful to have had a great family to stay with while in Quito, but one part of this culture that´s amazing is once your part of the family, they really keep you as part of the family. Now that I´ve been here, I really want to travel to more parts of the world. Quito is a place where you have to return on your own just to get even more of a great experience. If it weren´t for Wabash, I probably wouldn´t have come here until much later in my life, if at all. But I´m so happy I have been given this opportunity. Like I said in an earlier blog, if you ever have the opportunity to do something like this then take advantage of it.
For now, I´m going to finish bartering for the last time and then enjoy the thrills of packing. Have a great summer
June 16, 2006
Homesick (Unposted Blog for June 9)
Boyce D. Evans
Lately I have been feeling homesick. After two immersion trips and little time at home I have been missing my family and friends back home in the states. When we left Quito for the coastal port of Manta, I thought it would be another trip to another place and it would still be a while before I got to go home. We met at the airport at 5am. We were all tired and had to get on a flight that left at 6:30am. When we were preparing to land I looked out my window and saw the Pacific Ocean. That was the first time I had ever seen the Pacific, it was beautiful.
When we arrived in Manta, we landed at this very small airport that was actually a part of a military base shared by the Ecuadorian government and the US. We all pilled into a yellow van and set out for Puerto Lopez, a small sea-side town about one hour and a half south of the city of Manta. We stopped at several small villages along the way and saw the locals and the crafts that were made especially there. When we finally arrived in Puerto Lopez I was taken aback by the beauty, also by the fact that I only had $5 dollars and there was no bank with an ATM for 70 kilometers. We came to our hotel Hosteria Mandala and it was one of the most beautiful hotels I had ever seen. The rooms had no TV´s, no phones, and no internet. It was very laid back and relaxing, all the stressfulness of Quito just disappeared and there was only the sound of the waves crashing on the beach.
On the second day we went to Isla de la Plata, an island an hour and a half away from Puerto Lopez. We took a small tour boat and as I watched the shore disappear I wondered what we would see when we got there. We arrived at the island which is a national park and took a 2 mile hike across the island. I was a very arduous and long trek across the island, but the views were breathtaking. After a long day of hiking we returned to our boat and went to a cove to have lunch with the boat crew provided for us. It was an unforgettable time watching the multicolored fish swim by.
After returning to Quito for about twelve hours our group met again at the airport very early to travel here to Cuenca. It is a beautiful city, very colonial. I am enjoying my short day here and look forward to going to Guayaquil tomorrow. My host family here is very nice and I miss them very much while I am away.
¡Gracias Ecuador por todo!
Boyce D. Evans
As my time here comes quickly to an end, looking back on everything I have done here in Ecuador, this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Getting to know this culture and the people and seeing they things they struggle with everyday has really helped me to grow as a person. In the beginning it was hard, not knowing anyone and being in a strange place. I did not help thinking all the bad things we hear about South America in the US and how dangerous it is. After being here for almost 4 weeks and seeing these people in their everyday lives, I have come to appreciate their cultures and traditions.
With Ecuador competing in the world cup, it is exciting everyday just being here. Seeing the passion these people have for their team and the country. Watching the game yesterday with my 85 year old grandmother and watching here jump up and down as Ecuador scored a goal was amazing. Hearing the entire city yell in celebration as the scored their goals was amazing. The passion that lives here drives these people everyday, I have never seen anything like it.
As I began to pack some of my clothes this morning I realized that I would be leaving soon and may not get to come back. My host family has helped me so much here. They have made me a part of their family and that is something I can never forget. My time in Ecuador may be drawing to a close, but my memories of this beautiful place will stay with me always and when I return to the States I will be tuned into the Ecuador vs Germany match, rooting for Ecuador until the end.
¡Gracias Ecuador por todo!
¡Sí Se Puede!
The Best of Everything en el Ecuador
Juan Carlos Venis
Food: Ask Patrick Murrell and you´ll hear how good Ecuadorian food is. Patrick is now addicted to chifles, a banana chip that can easily be found anywhere in Ecuador. He currently seeks a box to take back home to states. Also, ask any of the other guys who tried the mariscos on the coast last week. They will all testify that despite the fact that their stomachs took a while to get used to a new type of food, they loved trying new things. Thats what this trip has been about...trying new things.
People: The people always carry a smile and greet you nicely. I think thats something each of us learned, to greet eachother with a hug or open handshake. I´ve spent countless hours talking to my host family. They are so kind as to even offer a place to stay when i return to the country...something I am sincerely determined to do. I learned never to hesitate asking an Ecuadorian a question or trying to start a conversation with someone. Everyone is so friendly and eager to listen and converse.
Soccer: It´s like the freaking superbowl everytime a South American country plays in the world cup. Ecuador won the other day and the streets went crazy. I was in Puerto Lopez with the bio group and heard cars honking every time we scored a goal. People were stopping their cars on the side of the road and running into the stores and and restaurants to see the replays. Todos estan unidos. Thats what I love the most about international soccer. People gather and cheer for their team. It´s amazing. ¡Si se puede, Ecuador!
Flora and Fauna: I saw a humpback whale...wait, i saw two. This wasn´t just some view from far away, the huge mammals in migration from the arctic waters were just 30 yards from our boat. Imagine being able to see the details on the fin or the barnacles attached to the whales back. I was scared of such a large creature, but at the same time pretty freaking mystified by its magnificence. The whales where just one thing. Ask me about the plants, birds, butterflies, reptiles, and fish and I could tell you something about them. 1,600 of the 10,000 avian species can be found in el Ecuador. You can imagine how excited Dr. Phillips was. We even seem to have some aspiring birders in our group. The vibrant wildlife of Ecuador really gets a Wabash Biology major excited!
Thoughts on Third World Taxis
So I just got back from Puerto Lopez. It was amazing. A little fishing community on the beach, tucked between two huge mountains which slowly sink into the sea. Basically there is one road, that runs parallel to the beach front, and it is only half paved. There are other streets, all dirt and gravel of course, and fortunately I had the opportunity to travel down these dirt roads. Myself, Asher, and my Guide Carlos were in search of a rooster for breeding cock fighters. Anyway, third world roads call for third world taxis. We rode into the hills on a motorized tricycle. This taxi had two wheels in front and one in back, making a basket for two people to sit in, in front of the driver and a small piece of seat to cling onto for dear life behind the driver. And you guessed it, I was the one who got to straggle the seat of the little taxi as we sped through the rough dirt roads of Puerto Lopez. Actually, there was probably enough seat there for me to be comfortable, but the driver told me not to get too close to him, and trust me, that wasn't a problem. I couldn't get very close to him anyway because his odor was sitting between us. Anyway here are my numerated thoughts of that taxi ride.
1. The drivers don't slow down for anything but soccer. I don't know if it was this drivers style or what, but I think our driver thought speed bumps were ramps. We didn't stop for potholes either, nor other vehicles, or turns onto other streets. My white knuckle ride was like a roller coaster without a seat belt. Instead the ride turned into a bunch of swerving and a couple sudden halts. We stopped suddenly when Ecuador scored it first goal on Costa Rica. I cant blame the driver, almost every car in the street swerved to the side with drivers scrambling out of their vehicles to the nearest television. I almost jumped out too. Somehow, the sport I used to think was for girls has become one of my most favorite past times here. I am happy for the people, and I hope that Ecuador continues to win because this country needs something to cheer for more than England, Germany, The US, or Italy ever would need.
2. Pray to God that you don't pull up to another taxi. One of my rides turned into Fast and The Furious on D-cell batteries. Like I said early,no slowing down here.
3. Forget about pointing out something cool. As we were blazing through the city I saw some really cool birds. It was orange and brown and kinda big. It was called an Ornaro, or something like that. Anyway, I pointed it out to our guide unscathed. Feeling a little cocky, like I had just learned to ride the dang thing without any hand I tried to point out a second group of birds. Two little green beautiful birds landed on the road side. I went to point them out has we made a high speed turn. Somehow I managed to catch myself with my left leg and was almost completely standing up on the road when the driver realized that I was no longer sitting behind him.
4. When riding on a third world taxi, you really get to experience the culture of the area. While it may seem that I complained about this whole ride, I sat on the back of the taxi, mouth open, and half laughing the whole time. I felt like I was part of the the culture. I was living like someone in Puerto Lopez for that 10 minute ride. It was great, and I am so glad I decided to go look at Cock fighting prospects. I will miss the little surprises about Ecuador, like this taxi ride, I was never told about during out meetings before the trip began.
June 14, 2006
And finally it begins!
Ben R. Esbaum
Yes, it is finally time for the World Cup. There has been much talk here about the Ecuadorian prospects for their second World Cup appearance. Although I haven't particularly bought into most of it, today was certainly impressive. Unfortunately, we were on our way to Machala from Portovelo for seventy minutes of the game. We thankfully had enough reception in the mountains to listen to the radio broadcast of the game. We arrived to our hotel in Machala to catch the last twenty minutes of the game, and were able to see the second goal for Ecuador and the two near goals by Poland, both off the posts. Following the game, we took to the streets, like the rest of those watching with us. We watched in a banquet room of the hotel, which was nice because of the enormous projection screen but a little disappointing in that it wasn't as rowdy and enthusiastic as a bar might have been. Machala is quite a bit smaller than Quito, to say the least, and this time instead of being stared at as gringos, we were assumed to be from Poland. This was an awesome experience because tons of people were yelling either in support of Ecuador or against Poland towards us. It is great to be an environment with so much enthusiasm for soccer. Even older women made comments in support of Ecuador and I can't describe in words how hilarious it is to be yelled at in another language by a guy driving a truck full of his friends with one hand out the window holding his beer.
I'm sure as the next week unfolds and more group play continues more stories will be told of watching games and the intense soccer atmosphere down here.
But there is much more to this trip than soccer. As part of the Globalization module, we have visited mines, flower plantations, and various markets, and have met several mayors. This morning we started out in Zaruma. We had breakfast at Orquidiario Galves for a typical Ecaudorian country breakfast. From there we visited a mine in town, for a brief video presentation, and then returned to Portovelo to see the processing portion of the mining industry. We were able to see the manual process of sifting through ground up ore for gold, and interestingly enough the beginning of the mercury amalgamation process. Which given the highly toxic nature of mercury, it was interesting, although not really surprising, to see one of the miners handle it without gloves. We have read a lot about environmental and worker safety issues surrounding these industries and being able to actually see them in person is pretty interesting.
At most of these visits, it is really hard to gauge the truthfulness of the information presented to us. Many of the mayors and other influential people we have met have stressed the importance of national transparency, and at these visits to mines and flower plantations, we have seen the problem firsthand. Fortunately, the presence of Ben G., "Benjamín Grande," and Adrian, we have been able to get some really candid responses to many of our most important questions. They are seriously invaluable on this trip. Although it is often funny to hear them say they are from Mexico instead of the U.S., they are able to relate to the workers on a personal level through being native speakers and are able to get real answers to our questions. Many of our most important questions would still be left unanswered if it weren't for them.
On a final note, the hospitality down here is amazing. There is no comparison to the treatment we receive while visiting many of these small towns and industrial centers. The people here greatly appreciate our group's interest in their local affairs and the beauty of their town and country. We have received countless drinks, meals, and care packages throughout our trips to various parts of the country. Some of these towns have to develop a stronger tourism market as a response to the poor performance of their other industries, so in a way we are jump starting that developing market. So visit Piñas!! But seriously, the small towns in Ecuador are amazing. Besides being much safer than the big city, the sense of community and friendliness of the people are huge pluses to the small town atmosphere.
Small Town Hospitality vs. City Night Life
Zach Foughty '07
After many long bus rides through the mountains on small, dirt roads, we finally headed towards Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. Although I definitely enjoyed the small town hospitality of towns like Zaruma, Machala, and Portovelo, I was glad to get back to a large city with more to do. Also, it was good to get to a city where tourist visit more frequently, so although we still received many stares, it was not nearly as bad as in the smaller towns. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Ecuador played Poland in the World Cup a few days earlier, we were still referred to as "polacos"...even the two Mexicans, Adrian and Ben, were not spared the insult of being called Polocks.
The first night in Guayaquil, we went to a restaurant on the boardwalk called Santay, which had possibly the best food I've had while here in Ecuador. Being a huge fan of seafood, and due to the fact that we were fairly close to the ocean, the seafood there was spectacular. The ceviche with shrimp and octopus was splendid, and the main course of calamares a la plancha, which was extremely cheap and extremely good as well. Unfortunately, no World Cup games were on, so we settled for watching highlights all night.
After the meal, we checked out the Guayaquil night life. After asking the cover to what seemed like every single bar in western Ecuador, we finally settled upon a bar which decided to serve us skunked beer. After leaving that bar, we headed to what was appropriately titled an "alternative bar." Andrew Zimmer, Ben Gonzales, and I went in to check out the bar before we paid the $10 cover charge. After seeing a little male-on-male dancing, we decided our suspicions were correct, and the "alternative bar" was a bit too alternative for our liking.
Well, time to go watch la copa mundial with some guys...ciao.
Gringos play soccer?
One sunny Saturday in Quito, Andrew Zimmer, Ben Esbaum, Gary Simkus, and I went to a local park called Parque Carolina. We were looking to play a little soccer with the locals. We arrived at the park and began to pass the ball around in an open area in the middle of the park. We eventually found another group of guys that were playing and asked if they´d like to get a game going. Sure enough they did. So we set up some goals with our backpacks and began to play. This was the first time I had the opportunity to run around at Quito´s higher altitude. I didn´t notice it much at first, but after a few good sprints up and down the field, I was gasping for more air. Gary, Zimmer, Esbaum, and I were on the same team with a few other guys. We ended up winning the first game with a score of 4-1. More people came and joined and we began a second game with a much larger field. This game seemed to drag on forever. We lost the second game with a score of 2-1. We decided to call the game a bit early because everyone was so tired. So we ended our day of soccer with a record of 1-1.
An interesting note about the soccer game was that the field was grassy with random spots of sand. Also, random people and vendors would just walk right through our game. Other games going on would overlap into our field. Garbage cans and different structures in the park were often used as a way to get away from a defender with the ball. It was a great time, minus the fact that I received a bit of a sunburn. After playing the game, we walked around the park a bit enjoying the beautiful scenery. We found a person dressed up in a Winnie the Pooh outfit. We wanted to have our picture taken with him, but he said he was going to charge us a dollar for the picture, so we decided against it. Speaking of pictures, I have taken some great pictures, but I can´t get them off my computer until I return to the states.
In the aftermath of my sunburn, I have a strange bite slash sunburn thing on my neck. It does not look very pretty. Its starting to peel. It is starting to go away very slowly, well at least I think it is. Dr. Widdows, M.D., has been treating it for me.
So far there have been two 21st birthdays in my group on this trip. Happy Birthday Ben Gonzalez and Andrew Zimmer!
O' yeah, Mom and Dad, Hello from Ecuador! I´m still alive! I´ll see you soon!
A Piece of the United States
While there is plenty I could say concerning the weekend and the past few days, during which my group traveled through southern Ecuador, I am sure my compatriots will cover it. Instead, I would like to mention something a little more mundane: grocery shopping.
Today I went with my host mother to the Megamaxi, which is a giant Supermaxi, a store similar in selection to Walmart. Of course, it is a great deal nicer. Its plush interior is complemented by cart boys who carry out the groceries and load your car for you. In addition, the restaurant within serves specialty coffees and offers a vast and exotic selection of food.
A number of things struck me upon a cursory inspection. The music playing on the store`s speakers was all in English. This was also the only place where I have found non-bootlegged CDs and DVDs. Last of all, the only food item that was significantly cheaper than in the United States was bananas. Everything else was nearly the same. Save for the hats of the employees which looked like those of a diner worker from the 50s, I could have sworn I was in the US.
Considering that the per capita GDP of Ecuador is only perhaps $2400, however, this experience left another impression. Dollarization, while stabilizing inflation in Ecuador, has seriously raised the cost of living. This kind of income is not too bad world wide, but when one uses the dollar for currency, it is not as high as it might seem. Yet the store was by no means empty. There are plenty of wealthy people down here who have adopted consumer habits similar to those in the U.S. And there are also plenty of people, some right on the street outside the door, that could not dream of affording all it had to offer.
My final thought was one of cultural diffusion. It is one thing to buy items in a store that resembles one from the U.S. Yet why is there music with English lyrics on the radio? I know most of the people in the store don`t understand it (my host mother certainly did not). I also know that most of the people in the store don`t want to BE North Americans. What then is the purpose of listening to U.S. musicians?
I do not know the answer to this, but I think I can fairly say that there
June 13, 2006
Gettting and Education Outside the Classroom
Benjamin Ray Gonzalez, Jr.
Seeing the small cart across from the welders was interesting because that was the only way that workers were able to get out of the mine. The cart was small with a piece of wood at its front that provided support for the miners in the cart when they ascended or descended the mine. Finally we are given the go ahead and we are given yellow hard hats before we load into the cart. Going down was a lot longer then coming back up? Along the top I can see all the piping and electrical wires, some of these wires are exposed and I am warned by the worker ahead to keep my head down or I will be electrocuted.
Down in the mine I am informed that workers here are older than eighteen but younger then thirty-five. They are each contracted for five years and that’s it, they then move on to more mines. The mine that we visited was owned by SADCO a North American company that moved out in 1950. Hence the sixth and seventh levels are impossible to get too. We were only on the third level and it was warmer then I first imagined down in the mine. The engineer explains the strategy that has been hammered out. On the third level they remove all the quartz then process it to remove the gold that is in between the quartz. He is a Peruvian that is paid 900 dollars a month for the work that he does. The interesting part is that they engineer is a college educated individual yet he wears the same decade old American t-shirt and counterfeit Levi jeans that are accessible in any market place here in Ecuador. We are also told that other workers make between 250-350 dollars a month. Yet the engineer does have a large work load. He determines were to use the explosives and how much, any cave-ins or injuries are his responsibility. That Peruvian earns every cent of his 900 dollars because of the responsibilities that he takes on and because of how much planning he has to do.
When SADCO (South America Development Company) left in 1950 they really did leave. The entire infrastructure was stripped out of the mine and taken. So now these miners are doing their best now to insure safety. We asked the engineer if there was a hospital near by or a doctor. He told us that the nearest hospital was 3 km away and that the mining company hired a doctor to be in the mines with the workers. First thing that came to our minds was that he was merely telling us this about the field doctor because he was paid to do so, but that changed the minute we were introduced to the field doctor that was on his way to use the ladder to get out of the mine in order to treat one of the miners. Yes, that’s right, the doctor was going to use the ladder and climb the 100 plus meters of the mine to get equipment. We talked with him and he told us that he was bringing the place up to par: gloves, boots, and goggles for the drillers. He is also paid less then half of what the engineer is paid. All the workers told us that the real gold was down on the sixth and seventh levels, but without maintenance those levels flooded and the gold is buried there. That is why they have pumps that are freeing up those levels. They say that they have had those pumps for a year and that they are unable to forecast when the levels will be free.
The next day we went to a riverside processing facility. Here workers work longer hours then the mine. The miners told us that they worked a nine day week: Three twelve hour days, three twelve hour nights, then three days off. But the young man panning for gold told me that he doesn’t mind the long hours since he is outside and not at risk the way the miners are. The funny thing was that they demonstrated how they use mercury and then when asked if gloves were an issue they responded yes. But they did not wear gloves when they handled the mercury, even though they understood that the lead was absorbed by the pores of their skin.
Guayaquil was the city that we went to soon after on the 11th of June. Everything in the city has been imported from France and everyone supports Spain in the world cup. Having Mexican heritage in me and having visited Mexico numerous times I am assured of one thing, Mexicans love their indigenous heritage and celebrate Aztec arts. Here in Guayaquil I have experienced the complete opposite. The inhabitants of the city have been more than rude to us as visitors from a country other than Spain. I was told by my host family that the city is even rude to fellow Ecuadorians. We walked into a sports store trying to look for soccer jerseys. I was shocked to find that they had seven Argentina jerseys, three racks for Brazil, a few more racks for Spain, and a whole wall dedicated to the English team. My mind exploded with the frustration and anger that I had towards Guayaquil and its inhabitants that graciously desired to charge us 49 cents a minute to the US when their windows said EE.UU 0.10. Guayaquilianos want to be Spaniards; they want Guayaquil to be San Sebastian even though they do not have a coast line. Another instance that has fueled my animosity towards the city was when Adrian Mendoza asked about a Mexican jersey, he was told by the vendor that they had one and that the “special price” for Mexican “friends” is 16 dollars, to compare I purchased four soccer jerseys of the same quality in Quito for 16 dollars. The town was also a ghost town by eight o’clock on a Saturday night. The sad part is that Guayaquil holds other Ecuadorians down and prides anything that is Spanish, they have not Spanish roots, the only thing Spain did for them was destroy Latin America and now holds many Ecuadorian immigrants that live in worse conditions in Spain then in Ecuador because the cost of living is so high.
June 12, 2006
Start Worrying Mom
This past week has been quite the little Ecuadorian adventure. First, there was a trip to Manta and Puerto Lopez. Those were some really tough times for our group. Staying in a beach resort on the Pacific coast can be a trying time for any person.
After that strenuous journey we headed back to Quito for a good night´s rest before meeting the next morning in the airport at 6 am for a flight to Dr. Aguilar´s first kingdom, Cuenca. While there we had meetings with two authors and later the Archbishop of Cuenca, who just happens to be good friends with some guy in the Vatican. I think his friend´s name is Ratzinger....or Benedict XVI. Also, during the day we bought some Ecuador fútbol jerseys and sat with some locals to watch Ecuador completely destroy Poland in the first round of the World Cup. Needless to say we encountered some celebration afterwards owing to the fact that this was Ecuador´s second victory en el Mundial. Much cooler than the EEUU, which went to the semis in 2002, and still no one cared.
Salimos de Cuenca in a bus and after 5 fun-filled hours and a few Inca ruins, we came to the biggest and most populous city in Ecuador, Guayaquil. The temperature is roughly equivalent to Indiana in an especially hot August, and being a gringo grande isn´t helping to keep me cool. This morning we did meet with some great authors who ended up discussing their works and whatever else with us. It was great seeing Dr. Rogers looking like a kid in a candy store talking we the people he studies so rigorously.
Outside of the studies, we´ve had ourselves a fairly good time learning the youth culture first-hand. Also, seeing the World Cup where people care is amazing. It´s like watching March Madness, but with feet instead of hands and much lower scoring games.
Mom, it may be time to worry. Who knows if I end up deciding to come home this time. Wabash may have convinced me to stay in Sudamerica for good.
Eery Sensation in the Dark Night of the Rainforest
Waking up Thursday morning I stepped outside to the sound of birds, Amazon frogs, and bugs chirping. The sound of rushing water from the enormous river was constant behind the chirping. The figures of the huge trees looming everywhere overhead in the dark was ominous and awesome. After breakfast, we went on a 5 hour hike through a tiny and rarely used trail, through amazing and unbelievable plants. We saw a ton of beautiful birds, with all different types of colors and shapes. After lunch, I couldn’t keep my eyes open and sadly slept until the afternoon hike. How many times are we in the Amazon in our life, and I sleep for 2 hours during the prime afternoon! For the night hike, we went to a lowland that had recently been submerged from the flood of the river and waded through massive mud and water (sweet! mosquitos!!) and saw a `stinky chicken`, the only type of bird in its species... it was bizarre looking. After that, we went on a night hike which was unbelievable. It was so dark, with only slivers of moonlight shining through the canopy. We saw a tarantula, nasty scorpions, a lizard, and a monkey jumping through the canopy. The forest is alive at night, but everything is so dark and secluded. It´s an eery sensation.
Friday we woke up early again and watched for birds before leaving. Going downstream, and with the flood receding, only took about an hour and a half by canoe instead of 3 and a half hours to get to there. Ecuador played in the World Cup at 2pm, and everybody watched it. The streets were deserted, everything was shut down... it was nuts. After the victory, when we were heading to have dinner with the professors before they left, the streets were crazy. People walking around with open bottles, drunk people everywhere, everybody honking their horns, waving flags, drinking in the streets... it was nuts. After dinner with the field observation group, we all went down to the Mariscal with a couple girls we knew. We hung out at a hooka bar for a while ,and then at midnight we went to a discoteca. And I actually danced there. For over 2 hours, and I learned how to salsa and dance to reggetone, a latin type of music. It was a blast, but I finally was too exhausted and dehydrated, so we left and went home to our host family in Quito. It turned out to be a good ending to a day, being back in the nasty smog-infested city after waking up in the Amazon rainforest, literally hundreds of miles away from anything. This trip never ceases to amaze me....
June 07, 2006
Ecuador is an amazing place with something new to learn about the culture, politics, community or language around every corner. Lets take language for example. Last week, I was talked with my host mother about the children that I have seen at night on every street corner doing jumping jacks and cart-wheels as they ask for money from the cars(the poverty of Ecuador is a story for another blog). When I was referring to the children, I hand my palm parallel to the ground. Right away, my mother said, "No,No, No..." She explained to me that I only hold my palm parallel to the ground when I am talking about an animal. She said that I must hold my palm so that it is facing outward (like in karate, when you are getting ready to cut a piece of wood in half with your hand)when I am referring to a human. When I was talking about the children on the corner, I was calling them little animals which is an insult to any human being. I still catch myself using the wrong hand gesture sometimes.
This past weekend, the Politics and Globalization module and I visited the Otavalo market place, which is the most famous market in Ecuador. Unfortunately, we went on Sunday so the textile market was the only one out of five markets that were open. But I think we all spent plenty of money there anyway. After Otavalo, we went to Cayembe to stay at Hacienda Guachala which is the oldest hacienda in Ecuador and built around 1560.There we met with Ing. Diego Bonifàz the City Mayor of Cayambe, and the owner of the hacienda. Bonifàz was very interesting and intelligent man the hear speak. He even stayed to talk after the meeting while everyone was enjoying playing cards and swimming in his pool.
Monday, we went to Catacachi for a meeting with Mayor Auki Tituaña. As we were coming in to town, we saw how the Mayor has had a huge impact on the the people taking pride in their town. It was by far one of the cleanest towns I have seen. The store owners were sweeping the street in front of their businesses before the customers started shopping. Tituaña was another great speaker who has a chance at representing the indìgenas people as a candidate for the next presidential elections in Ecuador. Before heading home we hiked up to Lake Cuichocha which was a beautiful lake to see. In spanish we would say the lake was "muy lindo y muy hermoso." After a busy two days, I slept for the 2 hours back to Quito.
A Novel Still Being Written
At Wabash more than most colleges, students are made aware of the legacies of those who came before them and the tradition enshrouding their place of learning. One can sometimes stand in the mall and try to place themselves in the shoes of those that walked over the same patch of earth more than a century ago. Yet the United States is a new nation, and the most creative could perhaps imagine a wooded forest trodden by Native Americans where
Wabash now stands.
Yesterday, in comparison, the politics and economics group arrived at a now-hotel hacienda dating back to 1580, making it the oldest existing hacienda in Ecuador. It was originally used as an obreja, a plantation based around the manufacture of clothing by the impressed native population for export to Spain and, after independence, the other new republics of South America. Now the roof tiles are covered with lichen and its once grand territory of more than 1000 hectares now diminished to less than 50.
It would seem the hacienda had gone full circle, and in many ways it has. The current owner, Alcalde (Mayor) of Cayambe Diego Bonifáz, was thin and tall, with a carefully trimmed white-gray beard. He looked a fitting descendent of a Don from some painting by El Greco. This caballero still keeps a number of horses on the ranch, and is especially proud of his
Yet the Alcalde was elected on a ticket with Pachakutik (the indigenous party) support and has helped the local indigenous population rebuild sites of cultural importance. Señor Bonifáz practices Yoga each day. His property today is devoted to the sale of flowers, mostly roses to the United States, not clothing, and the plantation employs Ecuadorians of every ancestory. Within the hacienda itself, the walls are decorated with pictures and artwork of the nearby indigenous groups.
The hacienda represents three stories. One is of its first owners, and it is a tale of stagnation. Then there is the current owner, a dynamic politician and businessman who has not remained beholden to the past. And finally, there is the story of the descendents of those who once worked there, the indigenous. Since the mid-20th century, they have embarked on an increasingly successful journey to reclaim their culture. This building is but a microcasm of Ecuador itself, a country torn between these three forces. In Cayambe, the latter two are prevailing. That they can work together is encouraging. In the capital of Quito where I now write this message, it is the first that dominates, embodied by a corrupt bureaucracy.
Even the Alcalde had to admit he could not predict the next twist in the plot: the presidential elections in the fall. The greatest pleasure of this trip for me is the opportunity to read a few pages from a novel still being written.
June 06, 2006
My Culture Shock
So, Quito has been amazing. There are so many words to describe this place, both good and bad. Words like colonial, unique, beautiful, breath taking, and electrifying come to mind. Words like dirty, poor, dangerous, scary, and annoying are also reflections of the city. Nevertheless, this city has become a place that I love and dearly wish to return too. The people, the sites, the activities, and the merchandise have all become valuable treasures to my memories. From the mountain tops of Pichincha to the Cloud Forest in the Eastern Andes, and from the plain class rooms to the lively discotechs, Ecuador itself has become a place that I will cherish forever. However, I had to learn to love this place. My first few days were rough and trying.
Let me first start my saying that I could not wait to write this blog a couple of weeks ago because I was actually going to get to use English!!! Now, I can think of about a hundred other places I would rather be then the computer lab in the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador. My culture shock began when I got off my airplane in Quito. Tired, hungry, and feeling as dirty as the mop they used to clean the floors of the airport, all I wanted was my luggage, a shower, and bed. Turns out I only scored one of the three. Our luggage was left in Houston and the apartment I lived in had no hot water until the morning. Anyway, things didn't just get worse, they got terrible. Somehow my brain managed to forget all the Spanish I had ever learn. I was grasping onto and struggling to survive with words like hola, gracis, and buenos noches. As the words came out of my host fathers mouth, I could feel my spirits dropping like a rock. Not only that, but on my ride to my apartment at about 11:00AM I saw spray painted walls and people sleeping in the middle of the road. Quickly my pristine view of Quito was shot down like the fighter jet who though everything was okay.
However, when I woke the next day, things began to improve. Outside my window I saw the huge mountain of Pichincha which towers over the city. And over the days my host family home quickly became my favorite place to be. In fact, my host father is probably my best Ecuadorian friend. Things at class were okay. Somehow, I got placed in the really hard class here. My teacher started talking very quickly and I could hardly understand anything that was going on. My eyes drifted toward the window and it was easy to lose focus on what was happening in class. All I could think was wow, What A Sweet Mountain (shamefully stolen from Patrick Murrell). Although I disliked most of my class time my Spanish improved rapidly.
After two weeks of cramming as much Spanish in my brain as possible, I have come to appreciate this wonderful place. I feel very comfortable walking the streets by myself at day and during the evening. I also joined the IM basketball team here and have been "enjoying" the high altitude exercise. In fact, I played in a pick up game today. Its funny, I have never in my life been picked to play even though people don´t know if I am good enough. For the first time, I have been pick to play in something because of the way I look (tall and white). It has definitely been part of my culture shock.
Now that the first part of my trip is over, and the second part is beginning, I already get sad thinking about leaving Ecuador. This place is amazing and I hope to return again. I am fortunate enough to get to tour the entire country and see all the different types of resources Ecuador has to offer. I just returned from the Cloud Rainforest, which was absolutely wonderful. It was a paradise of sorts. No bugs, comfortable weather, and probably some of the best food I have and will ever eat in my entire life. These good and trying times are the ones I will remember. I cannot wait to experience another two weeks of Ecuador.
June 05, 2006
I usually take the bus when I go to the university and it is very crowded. Being 6’1 and 270lbs I stick out even though I am Mexican. Whenever I travel to historical sites I take a taxi. I do not pay more then $3 after I tell the driver that I am Mexican. So far I have taken about 10 taxis. From the 10 drivers, I told seven I was from Mexico City and the other three that I was from the U.S. There was no communication between me and the drivers when I told them that I was an American. However with the other seven I had phenomenal conversations. Personally I thought that they would not be interested in politics and only focused on making money. All seven drivers that I spoke to commented on the horrible corruption in the government.
Especially the several presidents they had in the last ten years. They explained to me that corruption is now embedded in the people and the only way to end it is through revolution. Last night a cab driver blamed the Catholic Church for setting back Ecuador a 100 years and destroying the indigenous culture. He also commented on the relationship between America and Ecuador as being colonial. Once again all of the drivers were against the TLC which is a trade agreement between the U.S and Ecuador. They saw the trade agreement as a form for the U.S. to control the Ecuadorian economy. Back home in Chicago, I would try to make conversation with a taxi driver and we end up talking about sports. However, here the people argue and discus politics frequently, even with complete strangers. If you are ever in a cab in Latino America I recommend speaking with the driver. I have learned so much more from the normal people then from the media.
June 02, 2006
Benjamin Ray Gonzalez
Feels like home walking the colorful and vibrant streets of Quito everyday. To my right I can smell the street vendor deep frying a few variations of empanadas, my favorite has become the ones with yucca and cheese. Being a frequent traveller to Mexico, I have been able to block the ever present images of poverty in the streets of Quito, I have been able to focus on the natural beauty of Ecuador and on its active night life. So far my travels in Ecuador have taken me from the top of the tower in the basilica, to the nearly hidden small town of Baños that lies right next to an active volcano.
After the second day of classes Asher, Pat, and I took it upon ourselves to go off into the city and explore. Taking the advice of fraternity brother Neal Monroe ’08, member of last years Ecuador trip, I led the three of us to the basilica. Being from the US we have our cameras in hand along with our two dollar tickets to go to the top of the tower. As soon as the tickets are exchanged we push the button for the elevator, waiting patiently we observe the thickness of the stone walls within the basilica. The guards never actually told us that elevator does not work, they merely assumed as tourist since two of three of us wearing Abercrombie and Fitch. So we hike up what seems like endless flights of stairs. All three of us pause to catch our breath because we are not used to the high altitude in Quito. Soon we reach what we thought to be our destination. There we snap shots of the stain glass windows and the interior of the basilica. We are amazed at the artwork and press on to the second set of stairs that awaits us to the top. Finally we get to what we think is the top, no, not yet. Now we cross the scaffolding that runs across the top of the ceiling of the basilica, then we climb up the small step ladders to the top
What awaited us was a spectacular view of the city; a perfect view of the rectangular shaped city in our books. We snap a few shots with our digital cameras. At Pat´s mention of his fear of heights I offer to snap a few of him climbing down the step ladders and later I snap one of him crossing the scaffolding. We return to class and show off the photos that we snapped and talk about our host family’s plan for the holiday weekend.
Friday morning I am awoken by the common crow of the rooster at five am. It really isn´t the rooster’s fault, what really wakes me up is the ensemble of canines that precede the crow of the rooster. Either way I needed to get up to get some coffee and an empanada. That day my family took me the small town of Baños. The town was beautifully set in between the foothills of an active volcano that has been active for the past four weeks. So active that the US embassy has just issued a travel advisory to not travel to Baños, but who could resist a five dollar day spa? Right after the spa my family pays for the three dollar tour of the country, it was well worth it since I was able to snap some shots of the country side and of the waterfall named El Piolin de Diablo. All you need to know is that Diablo means devil, so yeah it was a bad boy waterfall. Now I sit here with six minutes to class wondering what this weekend will hold for me as I am invited to a party this Saturday night by a museum tour guide.
No Need to Worry
As sad as I was, as a townie, to leave the fabled maple-lined streets of Crawfordsville for a South American adventure, I think I´m going to be alright. The trip here has been good, to say the least. My host family is amazing. I have two really nice parents who work their hardest to indulge me in the culture as much as possible, a 20 year old host sister (!), and a 24 year old host brother who has no problem taking me out to see the town. The university is also a very fun place. Surprisingly enough, it turns out the place is coed, quite a treat for a young Wabash man.
During our first two weeks here, we have seen quite a bit. Between afternoon museum visits and unscheduled visits to ¨cultural centers de la noche¨, this group of upstanding caballeros has found Quito to be a very enjoyable place. Soon we will be departing on our separate paths. Some are going out east to the jungle, some are going out west to a different jungle, and others, myself included, will be spending most of the stay in the big city in the mountains.
On a final note, all those back in the Estados Unidos need not worry for their traveling amigos. The host families, university, Wabash professors, latinas, and karaoke bars are taking more than good enough care of us. Just be sure to note that as much fun as we have here, we are definitely learning at least twice as much. Oh, and Mom, I have yet to be held up or anything of the sort, so no need to worry about me.