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!