Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mindo and Baños with family

Dad rented a car, risking the crazy scary drivers in Quito and its surroundings. As we raced through steep roads with sheer drop offs we munched on mangos, apples, strawberries, and two different types of bananas.

We spent two nights in Mindo, a town in the cloud forest a couple of hours west of Quito. We zip lined our way through the tree canopy.

We tubed through the white water stream and stayed at a fantastic little hotel called the Dragonfly Inn

After two days we drove the two hours back through Quito and then another three hours south to Baños on Christmas afternoon. We rented bikes for what we thought would be a couple hours of downhill riding on the path called the waterfall route. Sean's wise response here is about the fact that we had already been riding uphill for a quarter mile or so. He was the first to sort out that Dad missed the turn that would have put us on the left side of the mountain you see left of this waterfall.

The fun continued as we rode and walked uphill for nearly an hour before finally turning back. Dad's directional problems were compounded by a flat tire.

Sean and Mom called for us to return the infernal bikes and continue the waterfall route in our car. After stopping to check out this gorge, we each paid the $1 fee to cross a few hundred feet over the riverbed in a totally safe cable car towards another waterfall.

The cable car brought us to a little tavern on top of the waterfall where we fished for our own dinner in a tank of trout. You can't quite read the sign in back, but it reads "Trout, rice, plantains and salad for $3.50" We (Dad) chose to add a 600 ml beer for another dollar. Our meal for 4 was $11.75. The math still doesn't make perfect sense. Pretty sure they under charged us.

Now we're all back in Quito, looking forward to having dinner with our Ecuadorian friends. Mom, Dad, and Sean are heading home tomorrow morning. I feel a bit melancholy to be saying goodbye to them again, but I've got only five weeks left until we're all together again in beautiful (yeah right) Texas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas South of the Equator

The Steele McDonough gang arrived in Quito on Tuesday night. Though Dad complained about Mom trying to take the lead in the customs process and then getting annoyed when she didn't understand the Spanish, we all met up without any issues and made our way to our hotel in Quito's La Mariscal district. Here's some of our favorite photos from our three days in Quito.

This is from our first morning as we crossed a pedestrian bridge.

On our first night we went to La Ronda, a historical street that was traditionally home to Quito's artist class. I took the opportunity to order guinea pig (cuy).

The next day we went together to my high school, pausing to take a picture at El Choclo, or the corn monument.

My classmates and teachers were really excited to see my family, mostly to confirm the reports that my dad is even taller than I am.

Later that afternoon we went into Quito's historic center, making stops at La Basilica.

Yesterday we took a ride on the Teleférico, a trip that I wrote about back in September.

Sean and I nearly fell off the cliff face for this photo.

Then we asked a man already carrying his sleeping two-year-old son to take a picture for us.

We left Quito last night to spend two nights in Mindo, a cloud forest about two hours from Quito. Tomorrow we're looking forward to celebrating Christmas in Mindo and then hopping in the car to go south to Baños, a town known for its thermal springs. Hope you all enjoy the photos. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas is coming...

So, long time no post? I notice that I've gradually posted with less and less frequency over the course of this trip. While this is a bummer for the people who want to follow my every movement (and I know that that's a burgeoning number of you), I'm a bit encouraged by this. At first, every little event here prompted me to make a blog post. Now, I'm proud of how normal life seems. Of course, all of these revelations are coming as I'm beginning to think about my return to Texas. I'm not yet ready to come home, but I feel like by the end of January, when I catch my flight home, I'll be ready to be in Texas.

I've been hearing some Americans complaining about holiday fatigue. Let me tell you all: we've got nothing on Ecuador. The end of November and all of the month of December is a time for partying here. The sixth of December is Quito's independence day (remember that in November we celebrated Cuenca's independence). The celebrations for Quito's independence started on Thanksgiving. At first I was a bit confused; I couldn't imagine why Ecuadorians would be celebrating Thanksgiving. Then, my host mom explained to me that they were just beginning the celebrations for Quito's independence.

These guys were part of the group from La Mejia, a sort of officer training high school for Ecuadorians. Their claim to fame is their ability to shout "Viva Quito" very loudly in unison several times.

This was a cool dance group. If you look closely at the boots the man is wearing you can make out some bells. The whole dance that they did was used to maximize the shaking of the bells, creating a cool effect.

Celebrations culminated with the weekend before the sixth (the actual date fell on a Tuesday). There were parades, art displays, street parties, and a general agreement on radio stations to only play traditional Ecuadorian music punctuated by "Viva Quito!" However, there were only about seven songs that they were playing. When the same songs are played as a constant soundtrack for about two weeks you start yearning for cheesy Christmas music. At least there's a little more variety.

Fortunately for me the Christmas music has started up. There are plenty of traditional Spanish language Christmas songs, but they've also adapted Jingle Bells, giving it Spanish lyrics but keeping the tune. The Spanish lyrics are just "Na-vi-dad, na-vi-dad..." (I forget the rest of the song).

Everyone, however, is gearing up for New Year's celebrations. In Ecuador Christmas is a much smaller holiday. For me this is a bit of a reversal. I'm used to counting down the days till Christmas starting on Thanksgiving and then going to bed at around 10:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Here New Year's is celebrated on the street, with fireworks, food, and little bonfires where figures (usually prominent politicians) are burned along with pieces of paper representing the parts of the year they want to forget about. People also dress up in funny costumes, which generally results in men cross-dressing. We'll have to see how I do with that tradition.

In other news my family (the one in Texas, that is) is coming to visit me in Ecuador for Christmas. I've been checking out cool places I want them to see in Quito, and we're all looking forward to a trip to the cloud forest in Mindo (where I went cliff jumping a couple of months ago). Be looking forward to a bunch of even more touristy than normal photos from our adventures. My poor family is going to be reliant on me for directions, so I'm sure we're going to get lost a few times. My awful sense of direction combined with a bad habit of avoiding asking for directions will almost definitely combine to lead us on some less-traveled paths in Quito. It's all part of the adventure, right?

We went together to El Panecillo (the little bread, in Spanish), a small hill dividing northern and southern Quito. It offers panoramic views of the whole city. Behind Vero, Dori, and me you can see a little bit of southern Quito.

My Icelandic friend, Arnar, with me as we were riding in the back of a pickup truck to teach at an impoverished school. On the sweaters: we got them together at an artisan market in Quito. Super good lucking together, right?

Thanks for continuing to read this blog. I'm not sure if I'll be able to get another entry in before January comes along. At any rate, I'm looking forward to getting home so I can see you all in person. Until then, enjoy the photos!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Día Deportivo and Tamales

I'm getting better and better about figuring out how to manage school and family commitments. Yesterday, Saturday, was an example of going between school and family. While that doesn't sound like much of an achievement, I'm quite proud that I now understand what's going on around me. In my first days (or weeks, more like) I just followed my family around, figuring out where we were going through context clues. Now, with some improved Spanish skills and a little bit more experience with this family I feel like I can anticipate our plans a little bit.

Friday night we started the process of making tamales. I wrote about this at the beginning of my trip, but I'll bore you all with the details because I think it's a pretty cool process. On Friday night we ground up 5 lbs. of corn into corn flour, using the same grinder that I took pictures of in September. It's really hard work! Alexis and I took turns grinding, but my arms are still sore.

The next morning I got up early for the Día Deportivo (my school's version of Field Day). Lucky for me, it started at 7:30, meaning I had to leave at the same time as any other school day. Cursing my school, I got up early on a Saturday morning to catch my bus.

Each class at my school designed its own jerseys for the day. The competitions for the day included a 5k run, the beginnings of the inter-school soccer championship, the selection of the class with the best uniforms, a pet competition, a beauty competition, and bailoterapia (dance-therapy). I ran the 5k run, and learned that the distance, though it doesn't sound like much, can be rather hellish. I'm putting my difficulties down to the altitude (I was running at about 2500 meters about sea level) and the early morning. However, my new found love of Ecuadorian animal crackers and complete lack of preparation may have made the running a bit difficult as well.

Each class nominated a boy a girl to represent them and a boy to serve as an escort in the beauty competition. Tom, my friend from Germany, was nominated for his class.

My class, posing together in our super sweet uniforms.

While I was dying (read: running) doing the 5k, the girls were doing bailoterapia. This is basically where a dance instructor equipped with a lot of hip-hop and a microphone shouts out dance moves for them to do. I got back in time to watch the last couple songs. After having participated in the last bailoterapia (my school has a session once a month) I enjoyed watching my classmates without having to participate.

My friend Gustavo and I after finishing the 5k. I wasn't wearing a watch, but the guy working the finish line told us we finished in 5th place with a time of 22 minutes.

My soon-to-be-professional-dancer classmates doing the bailoterapia. Can you see how relaxed they're getting?

There was more to the sports day, but I left early so that I could get home to help out making tamales (and shower). I thought most of the muscle work was done, but I was so wrong. I got home to find Dori enlisting everyone to help her stir the corn flour/egg/water mixture. The mixture was quite thick, so we worked stirring it for about half an hour, working in thirty second shifts. Here's a couple of pictures of us working to stir the batter-mixture.

Once the batter was deemed worthy by Dori we started the process of making the actual tamales. Starting with large leaves which I'd flattened with an ironing pin, we dolloped a couple of spoonfuls of batter into the leaves. Then, we put a little bit of peppers, carrots, chickens, peas, and onions in the tamales. After that we folded the leaves up and put them in big pots, where they were steamed for about an hour. For dinner and breakfast we enjoyed tamales.

The first step: put about two spoonfuls of the corn flour mixture in the leaf.

Dori, ladling in chicken and onions to the tamales.

The tamales, ready to be steamed in the big pots.

Breakfast this morning: tamales, lemon tea, and mangoes (in mango season, which is right now, you can get mangoes for about $.25 each)

I'm pretty jealous of you guys with your Thanksgiving holiday. The kids from my exchange group are getting together on Thanksgiving to celebrate, but it's not the same. Still, I'm planning on making an apple pie variation I found on the internet, so I'll let you know how that goes. If I remember, I may even take some pictures of my attempt at American baking. I hope you're all well. Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ecuadorian holidays

I had most of the last week off from school for a three day national holiday. The first day off (last Wednesday) was Día de los Difuntos, a kind of Ecuadorian version of day of the dead where people visit the graves of their family members. We celebrated by doing a bit of a whirlwind tour of Quito's cemeteries to visit Miguel and Dori's relatives' graves. Each of the graveyards had a bit of a festive atmosphere. A bunch of enterprising shopkeepers had converted their stores completely into flower shops. Many of the cemeteries have a system where the graves are stacked one on top of another in a wall, so some people were walking around with ladders that they were renting to people for $.50. Although it might seem a bit morose to be going around to graveyards, it was an interesting experience.

Another part of Día de los Difuntos is enjoying colada morada and guaguas (pronounced wa-was) de pan. The colada morada is a syrupy like drink made from cooking berries, pineapple, and herbs in huge vats. The guaguas de pan, (guagua is a Kichwa word that means babies), are a special sweet bread filled with jam and topped with a little bit of frosting. I like to dip the bread in the colada morada. It's a combination guaranteed to induce a sugar rush. Last Sunday we made colada morada together at home (see pictures). At school on Tuesday, the last day before the holidays, we also had colada morada.

Thursday was Independencia de Cuenca. Each of Ecuador's major colonial cities (Guayaquil, Quito, and Cuenca) celebrates a different day for independence. We decided to spend the day in Latacunga, the capital of Cotopaxi province to the south of us. I can't claim the drive was very comfortable, for we managed to fit six people into Miguel's 1986 Toyota (we drove with Miguel, Dori, Dori's sister Lloma, Vero, Alex, and me). But if I thought we'd been uncomfortable with six, I was in for a rude awakening when we met up with another sister of Dori's (Jenny) and Jenny's son Andrés. I'm not exactly sure how we did it, but we drove around Latacunga with eight people in the car.

Andrés is my age and he and his mom were in Latacunga to check out a technical university there that he wants to start attending next year to start training to be a mechanic. Latacunga was a nice break from Quito. For one thing, it's much smaller (its population is around 150,000), so we enjoyed being able to move around a bit more freely. Also, the province of Cotopaxi is named after the volcano of Cotopaxi, which dominates the view on the two hour drive to Latacunga. I took some very unsatisfying pictures from the car as we were driving down, but they do capture the coolness of driving past a volcano.

On Sunday the whole family went hiking together on a mountain nearby. The base, where we parked the car, is around 8,000 ft, and we hiked all the way up to 10,000 ft. The top is capped by a heavily graffitied cross that's visible from all over the valley. Likewise, we got panoramic views of Valle de los Chillos (where we live), as well as some partial views of Quito, around half an hour north of us.

After a very active vacation I'm ready to get back to school. I'm looking forward to practicing soccer again and seeing friends. The homework situation continues to be pretty manageable. The only studying I've had to do over the break has been studying the "constitutional" presidents of Ecuador. I have to know the dates of their presidencies and a significant achievement from their administrations. The dates are most difficult for me because Ecuador's constitutional presidents have a history of being replaced by military juntas for periods. As a result, there are a lot of Ecuadorian presidents who only served for a couple of weeks. Sometimes, the same man was elected president several times throughout history, like José Maria Velasco Ibarra, who was president five different times between 1934 and 1970.

I should get going at this point. I've forgotten most of the commitments of José Velasco. I think he must have done something to piss of Ecuador's military, because he seems to have had the honor of being deposed through coup several times.

Dario and Vero cooking up some colada morada.

The master at work. Notice also the huge quantity of colada morada my family made. We had around 15-20 people, but it's still an obscene amount. It sure was good though!

The final presentation. Time until sugar rush: 3 minutes

The view of Cotopaxi Volcano from my house.

Cotopaxi as seen on the drive back from Latacunga.

Group picture in Latacunga: from left to right, back row - Vero, Dori, Alexis, Miguel, Andrés, me; front row - Lloma, Jenny.

Group photo at the top of the mountain. If you look over Vero's left shoulder you can see just a little bit of Quito to the northwest.

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed the photos.

Friday, October 28, 2011

One more photo

I went and did some Facebook searching to find more cliff jumping photos. Here's a photo taken by my study abroad coordinator. In addition to showing how crazy high the cliffs are, it proves that there was adult supervision on the trip. Enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mindo: Cliff jumping and zip-lining

It's been another two weeks since I posted on my blog. I can't begin to write about everything that I've done in that time - it'd be far too boring. Instead, I'm just going to write a little about my trip to Mindo on Saturday with the kids in my exchange organization.

My friend Tom, from Germany, took this photo of the zip-line that we took together in Mindo, a bit of an Ecuadorian tourist destination two hours north of Quito. On Saturday all of the kids in my Xplorer group met in Quito. We hopped into a rented van and drove north. It was a gorgeous drive. Ecuador doesn't worry about putting up safety walls on the highways, even when they're the enormous drop-off, so that made parts of the drive a bit harrowing. Other than that, however, the drive was marked by mountains transitioning to rainforest.

When we got to Mindo we hired a camioneta (a truck-taxi with space in the back to stand) and drove up to this zip line. The zip line had three levels (conveniently named one, two, and three). The first level involved being strapped in to a harness and then making a sitting motion, which set you off on your journey. The second involved a running start off of a platform (pictured above). It had a shorter cable, so most people just stepped off the ledge. The third level, modeled by me in the above picture, involved a running start and then a dive off of the ledge. The cable I was using had a bit more elasticity, so when I jumped off, I free fell for a little bit before being caught by the rope. It was totally awesome.

After everyone in the Xplorer group had gotten a chance to try the zip line, we hiked on the forest path for about ten minutes until we got to a waterfall. Even though the water is really cold we enjoyed splashing around and using a slide that dumped you into the water. Then, we noticed the cliff jumping opportunity.

There was a ledge to the side of the waterfall where people could jump into the water at the foot of the waterfall. There was a man there who was supervising the whole process and he explained to us where to jump to avoid hitting the rocks below. It was a twelve meter jump, so we also had to be careful to let our body fall completely straight - otherwise we'd hurt our backs.

I was the first one to try it. It may have been one of the scariest things I've ever done. With legs shaking I eventually forced myself to step off the ledge. I did a bit of writhing in the air, so when I hit the water my back hit the water as well, making my back sting for awhile afterward. There was also a bit of a funky current caused by the nearby waterfall, so while I had no trouble swimming to the surface I was turned in a circle for a little bit. After swimming to the ladder where I could climb back up to the platform I realized just how much I'd been shaking. I had difficulty standing up because I was shaking so much. The combination of the intense fear of jumping with the temperature of the water meant I couldn't stop shaking for awhile.

Unfortunately, when I got to the top of the platform, I realized that no one had taken a picture of my triumphant cliff jump. So, I had to go again, and then again, to make sure there were several good pictures of me cliff jumping.

Afterwards, we hiked back to our camioneta to go back down to Mindo, where we ate lunch. Hoping to get some different food, I ordered tilapia (I've been eating a lot of chicken at home). I didn't know the Ecuadorian preparation of tilapia, but I did enjoy it. The tilapia was fried, and whole (including eyes). Included in the whole plate was rice (of course), a tomato/onion salad, and fried plantains.

Saturday was definitely one of the coolest days I've had in Ecuador. I've also been surprised to release that I'm now more than a third of the way into my time here. Part of the reason I risked the cliff jumping was the realization that my time here is actually going to be quite short.

Thanks for reading, guys. I hope you're all well. Enjoy the photos!

Tom getting ready to run off the platform for his zip lining experience.

The view of the area where we were zip lining.

My tilapia at the restaurant - fried plantains, whole fish, rice, sald of onions and tomatoes, and a very sour orange (it was actually a cross between an orange and a lemon).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

French toast, birthday parties, and geography

It's been a while since I last posted. I wish I could say I've been busy, but the truth is that I just haven't been thinking about my blog much lately. But I'm back. I've been continuing to go to soccer practices at school. On Friday I assisted two goals. As we enter "winter" here, the biggest change is that it rains most days around 4 p.m. This makes for some wet soccer practices, for we start around 4:30 most days.

The country is still in a bit of a festive mood after playing Venezuela in an elimination match for World Cup qualifiers. They played on Friday in Quito, and everyone was wearing their own Ecuadorian soccer jerseys. They were rewarded with a dominant 2-0 win for Ecuador. The next soccer event is a friendly between the USA and Ecuador on Tuesday in New Jersey. I'm really excited, though I worry I've raised the expectations for USA just a little bit with all of my trash talk. I'm going to the store today to get mini American flags for the special event.

Last weekend I made French toast for my family here. At home in Texas I really like making my own breakfasts on the weekends, so I asked Dori if it'd be alright if I made them breakfast on Saturday. She agreed, so I went out and got the ingredients I could find. On Saturday morning I fried up some bacon and French toast. I kept telling my host family that if they didn't like the breakfast they didn't have to eat it (I was secretly hoping I could eat it all myself), but they enjoyed it! I think one of their favorite parts was the syrup I got at the supermarket for the breakfast. They've been peppering me with questions about maple trees and the Northeast. After I told them about my fellow exchange student who brought New England maple syrup for her host family, they've been angling to get ahold of any real syrup she still has. Miguel and I bet a bottle of maple syrup on Tuesday's soccer match.

Last Sunday was the birthday of Stefania (Dario's wife, Miguel and Dori's daughter-in-law). We had a party for her here. The birthday party was a lot of fun, with really good food and a chance to see family again. Also, there was time to play with Melanie, Dario and Stefania's ten month old baby. Baby Mela, as she's called, is making a run for happiest baby in Ecuador award. Constantly smiling, she gets around in a kind of seat that has wheels on it. She can't quite walk, but she can propel herself on the seat when she wants to get around. She struggles going through doors because the chair is just a little wide. She doesn't seem to mind crashing into everything, though.

At each of the birthday parties I've been to here I've been impressed by the graciousness of the hosts. Each party starts with appetizers, but before anyone is allowed to start eating the host of the party gives a small speech. It's usually no more than three sentences where the host says "Today's a really important day for my ____ (wife, son, daughter-in-law). I thank you all for coming and I hope you enjoy yourselves." On Sunday, Dario departed a bit from the theme to talk about how fortunate he is to have Stefania as his wife.

The only other big part of the week was my completion of my geography project on Thursday. The assignment was to create a model of the Andes that run through the center of Ecuador and mark the major valleys. When the project was assigned I was completely clueless because my teacher used a word for valleys that I didn't know. When I tried to ask for clarification, she used the tried and tested trick of moving closer to me and repeating herself slowly and loudly. Somewhat annoyed at being treated like an idiot, I explained to her that I had heard her the first time, I just didn't know the meaning of the word she was using. After this minor issue I got started on the project.

The project was due on Thursday, and I was a little worried about how I'd turn it in. It's not uncommon for me to have to stand in the doorway of the bus on the way to school, and I was imagining dropping my project on the highway or having it blown away by a gust. I resolved to break the bank and spend $3 on a taxi to school. As a result, I walked to the bus stop and started to wait for taxis. Little did I know that taxis rarely stop for passengers on the highway. After the third empty taxi passed me by I jumped on a bus. My project, which consisted of styrofoam, toothpicks, and wet paint, had hardly any chance of pissing anyone off, right? Fortunately for me, there was an overhead space where I could stow my project until I got to school. All my efforts were rewarded by the 20/20 that I got on my project. It is now proudly displayed on my class's wall.

I hope you all enjoy the photos. I should get going now as I go to buy some American flags. I'm really hoping that USA wins because I don't want to have to spend the $1.35 on another bottle of syrup if I lose my bet!

Everyone together last Saturday for French toast, strawberries, bacon, and syrup.

A model plate, created by chef Jimmy.

The appetizer line-up for Stefania's birthday party.

Miguel in action as he grills up pork chops and chicken wings on his charcoal grill.

Baby Mela sitting with Veronica as they watch Miguel do some grilling.

Stefania and her birthday cake. It was chocolate cake that's served with jello.

My sweet project. It's safe to say that my art skills haven't gotten any better in Ecuador.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Soccer, the weekend, and the mail

I found the soccer coach for my school this week. I introduced myself and asked if I could practice with, and hopefully eventually play for his team. He told me that soccer games for Dario Figueroa (my school) don't actually start until February. However, he invited me to participate in the three times a week practices. My first practice was last Wednesday. It felt great to be playing soccer again, even if I was getting schooled by Ecuadorian kids. I do have the unique advantage, however, of towering over everyone I play against. I'm always open to head the ball into the goal, and I have no qualms with pushing people around.

This weekend was totally mellow. Saturday afternoon I went with Alexis, Veronica, Dori, and Miguel to an interactive science museum in south Quito. Veronica worked at the museum for a couple of months earlier in the year, so she was able to show us all the secrets to the interactive exhibits. For example, I can now separate the inseparable horse shoe things that all science museums seem to have. Then, we drove up to "El templo de la patria" (see photos). It's a natural balcony looking out on Quito, where Ecuadorian rebels defeated the Spanish in the battle for Quito's independence. On the anniversary of that battle, the 24th of May, President Correa addresses the nation from the same spot.

I'm also getting comfortable enough in my Spanish to ask different people about their views on President Correa. One of my biggest interests is politics, and I'm really curious about how Correa is perceived by Ecuadorians. One of the bigger items on the Ecuadorian news this weekend was Correa's trip to New York City to make a speech at the United Nations. While in NYC, he spoke at Columbia, where he got grilled by a college kid for cutting back on freedom of the press in Ecuador.

It seems that Correa is playing out the role of populist Latin American politician, a role that's been played pretty frequently in each Latin American country. He's disliked, if not hated, by many in Ecuador's intellectual class. This may be because he's been ruthless in cutting back on opposition voices in Ecuador. The editor of one of the country's two major daily newspapers has just been sentenced to three years in prison and fined $40 million after the editor wrote a piece that criticized Correa. Nonetheless, Correa has been successful in bringing a degree of political stability to Ecuador. He hasn't yet been ousted by a popular uprising, something that can't be said for most of his predecessors.

My views about Correa are a bit colored by those of my host family, who aren't supporters. Miguel, my host dad, is really interested in Ecuadorian politics. He ran for Quito's city council in 2006. Dori says she was the only one to vote for him. For the political pundits out there, Miguel hasn't ruled out running once again, though he no longer lives in Quito.

Today (Monday when I'm writing this) was a cool day. Mom, Dad, and Sean sent me a package around the 7th of September filled with things that I realized I needed here in Ecuador that I never packed. They paid extra so that the package would get here super quick, but they never reckoned with the slowing power of the Ecuadorian postal service.

Apparently all packages over two kilograms (about 5 pounds) have to go through Ecuadorian customs. After going through customs, the packages are dropped off at post offices. However, they just wait at the post office, waiting to be picked up by the addressee. So today I took an adventure to go find the post office. I had a vague idea of where the post office was, and my host mom Dori had given me pretty good instructions. Still, anyone who's ever traveled with me knows that my directional instincts are basically non-existent. Nevertheless, I set out to find the post office.

I only asked five different people for directions, but I eventually made it to the post office. After paying five bucks (the worker said it was for customs, but I have a lingering suspicion that I bribed him) I was able to leave the post office and catch a bus home. When I got home, Dori announced that I'd gotten a surprise. She showed me the six letters that had been delivered all together by the mail man. Thanks for all the letters, guys. It was a cool feeling to open all the letters, even if they had been held up at the post office for a couple of weeks. I felt a bit like Harry Potter when he figures out that Dobby's been intercepting his mail.

All in all, a pretty cool day. I got to read all your mail at once. Please keep sending the updates, either by email or snail mail! It's really fun to hear from you all. I hope you enjoy the pictures. They were taken by Veronica, for I forgot my camera the day we went to Templo de la Patria.

The Pacheco family (the only photo taken by me)

Miguel and me

All of the boys together. We're standing around the national seal of Ecuador

Me, once again with the national seal