As soon as I hung up the phone with Mom and Dad, my host mom Dori served me up some wonderful birthday cake. For my breakfast that day, I had freshly squeezed orange juice (my favorite), two slices of birthday cake, and jello. I then ran out the door to catch the bus (as a special birthday seat I was even able to find a seat) to school. At school, my classmates made me a birthday card and we made plans to celebrate my birthday, and the birthday of another one of my classmates, next weekend.
I got home after school on Friday to have a big lunch and some more birthday cake. Then, Dori gave me a tour of Quito's historic center (see photos). We also walked into about five different churches in the area (the historic center has at least one church every block). We returned home by bus.
Here's a quick word on buses. There are five or six different bus companies, each with a different colored bus. This is the way you can tell which bus to take to reach your destination. All of the buses, however, have a conductor who leans out the open front door announcing the route for the bus. Oftentimes, the bus only slows down enough for people to jump on. The doors don't usually close for awhile, for it's not uncommon for people to stand on the steps when the bus is especially crowded (I had to do this on Thursday on the way to school). On the bus, the conductor goes person to person collecting the bus fares (usually around 25 cents).
I'm completely in awe of the conductors. Not only do they have to go person to person collecting payments, they have to remember who's paid and who hasn't. Then they have to make change, meaning they're constantly carrying mountains of coins with them. The fact that they never drop change all over the bus is a miracle in itself. Then, they have to deal with the generally crazy people using the buses. On Friday, my bus to Quito had a Hip-Hop group (two men and one women) who rapped for everyone on the bus's benefit. Especially in Quito, it's common for people to use the bus as a medium for hawking things they're selling. I also was on a bus last week that was graced by the presence of a man who made a speech describing what happens to prostitutes (the short version is they go to hell). Nonetheless, I love the buses because they make Quito and the surrounding area super accessible at a really affordable price.
Using two different buses, I went into Quito on Saturday to meet up with the seven other foreign students to go to the Teleférico. We were accompanied by two people from Xplorer, the study abroad agency I'm affiliated with in Ecuador. The Teleférico is a gondola built on one of the mountains surrounding Quito. It rises up to an elevation of 4050 meters (13,300 feet), offering truly spectacular views of Quito. After a bit of hiking at elevation and lots of pictures, we went horse back riding. The experience was capped off by the panchos and hats we all wore.
After finishing the horse back riding, we returned to Quito for lunch. We ate at a Pizza Hut, which had all of the American students groaning at first. However, Pizza Huts here are sit down restaurants, and we enjoyed a really nice lunch. Then, after Sofi, our coordinator from Xplorer, told the waiters it was the day after my birthday, they brought me a huge brownie and sang happy birthday to me (in Spanish).
It's been a totally different, but still very enjoyable birthday. Thanks also for all of the birthday greetings on Facebook and in emails. It's always great to hear from everyone, but it's especially nice on my birthday. I hope you enjoy the photos!
Here's a shot of the central plaza in Quito's historic center. It's a monument to the fighters in the original revolution in Quito in 1809 for independence from Spain. As I understand, the revolution was crushed by the Spanish. Ecuadorians still trace the beginnings of their independence struggle to this time.
This is the presidential palace in Quito. The president, Rafael Correa, works, but doesn't live in the building.
Here's a kind of crappy shot showing the landscape we got when we arrived at the top of the Teleférico.
All the Xplorer students at the top of the Teleférico
All the boys: Tom (Germany), Micah (USA), and me
There was a llama there. I couldn't resist the urge to take the picture.
If you can look past the two flying gentlemen in the foreground, you'll get a look at one of the snow capped peaks, partially obscured by clouds.
This is the poncho I wore while riding the horse. I'm obviously going to have to get one of my own before I leave here.
It was a truly beautiful day. The background of this picture shows the horses we rode later on.