November 19, 2011

Funny Things We See Sold

There's a new level of street vendors here in Quito - literally "in the street" vendors and guys who get on the buses. These are the people who go from car to car when traffic has stopped or they climb aboard even packed buses to shout out what awesome item they have to sell. Some of what they sell makes sense, but some is very odd. Here is a list of what we've seen sold on the street so far:

  • Balsa wood toy ships (already created)
  • Clementines and other fruit
  • TV antennas 
  • Car accessories such as steering wheel grip enhancers and rubber mats for the floor of the car
  • Refilled bottles of strange colored liquid 
  • Tea towels
  • Pastry items such as palmitas and bizcochos
  • Potato chips and banana chips ("chifles" as they are called here)
  • Newspapers
  • Hard candies of different varieties
  • Big paintings (3 ft. by 5 ft. painting - and he only had one!)
  • Fake DVDs and CDs
  • Puppies and kitties (we haven't seen them sold on the street exactly, but usually they're on the sidewalk or in the middle area of a busy boulevard so theoretically if someone in a car wanted one...)
  • Bags of chopped up yuca (I still don't know what people do with this)
  • Sandwiches (usually sold by a kid who has smushed it beyond recognition)
I'll update Facebook when I see something new or interesting being sold on the street so you guys can join in our amazement.

November 9, 2011

Birds of Paradise

 What are you looking at?
Collared Trogon

Well, there were birds that looked familiar. 
White-edged Oriole 

 And lots of bird watching posturing going on.
Greg and Hannah
 We spotted the endemic and threatened.
Baudo Guan
 There were plenty of toucan sightings.
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
 And a lucky find in a cliff upon the advice of a local.
Female Cock of the Rocks
 Can you even find this one?
Lineated Woodpecker
 Even Ayelet was excited about this adventure. I knew she always liked birding deep down.
Topical Kingbird
This is a short list of all the birds that we saw in Mindo over our 3rd anniversary get away. Ayelet and I saw so many birds during our visit that we could not possibly have had the camera ready enough. For all of you amateur photographers, a short word of advice. We were able to capture all of these close ups by taking pictures through the spotting scope of our bird guide. I learned the technique in science class by taking pictures through the microscope. It was a great way to capture everything that didn't fly away after a few seconds. This morning of birding has motivated me to go out more for this old favorite leisure activity of mine. You have not seen the end of the birds in Ecuador.

November 6, 2011

Lovely Mindo

Mindo valley
This last week we had two holidays - November 2nd was All Saints Day and November 3rd was Cuenca Independence Day - so luckily, we had some days to travel outside of Quito. Our first overnight daytrip was to Mindo, a town set in the cloudforest about 2.5 hours north of Quito.

Mindo has tons of things to do for people who're active - canyoning, ziplining, hiking to waterfalls, tubing and bird-watching. It was this last one that Greg was most excited about. I'm sure he'll write a post all about the cool birds we saw with our guide, Irman, and two friends. They were pretty awesome!

On the first day, we headed to check out a little butterfly garden that also had hummingbirds and tropical plants. Our favorite part was the hummingbird area had a porch with hammocks strung about. You could watch the hummingbirds and revel in the quiet from your own personal hammock! We topped off the afternoon with a brownie and drinks at a local cafe where they make their own chocolate.

Greg chilling with the hummingbirds
That evening, we headed to the frog concert, which really wasn't a frog concert but more of a nature walk at night in search of creepy crawlies. Our guide found plenty of them and some cute little frogs too. I tried to tune out and avoid looking when he pointed out spiders. It was a cool tour, but not for the squeamish!

The next morning, we woke up early for our bird tour because the best time to go is at dawn. After the 7km hike up, we went down to a waterfall and dipped our feet in the freezing water. It felt so good after the long morning. After a good long nap, showers and long lunch at the local Italian place, we tried to go owl spotting with our guide, but they were not showing up for us so we headed in for the night. Maybe next time!

Mindo was great for the active type, but also for us lazier folks who just are looking for a quiet corner to relax with a book or watch the hummingbirds that land on the feeder next to us. I highly recommend it!

November 3, 2011

Biodiversity in Ecuador

Ecuador is often one of the first places mentioned when people talk about biodiversity. Naturally, as a person of science, I was extremely excited to witness this plethora of life first hand. After arriving in Quito I found myself constantly amazed by all variety of trees that I can see from my window. And as I ask Ayelet the same question she says (in a monotone voice), "Yeah, it's pretty cool." It is kind of like Dr. Seuss had once visited here with the range of what I often refer to as "Truffula Trees," thanks to The Lorax.

So, here is a short example of my recent observations during the hike up Pichincha. I kept wondering how so many different plants were able to survive on this rough landscape in such a healthy amount.

November 1, 2011

Check out this fun online game. You could win a trip to Ecuador.

October 30, 2011

Earthquakes in Quito

We felt our first earthquake yesterday, although it was really more of a tremor! Not being from earthquake-prone regions, Greg and I both thought it was something else at first. He thought it was an airplane's engines firing up and I thought it was a really big truck coming up our hill. That was until the windows started shaking. But it was over in about 5-10 seconds and I found out later that it was about 4 on the Richter scale. Who knew that Quito was near a fault line?

We're still trying to decide on if a better exit strategy is to go up one floor to the roof or down four floors to the street. My other suggestion was to set up a zipline from our window to the street for a much easier (and more Indiana Jones-type) exit - Greg doesn't seem to consider that a genuine possibility.

October 29, 2011

Chilling Out at the Hot Springs

Greg and I headed out on our first independent day trip to the lovely hot springs of Papallacta a few weekends ago. We'd heard such good things about them and are probably the last ones of our friends to head out there, but timing was not right before. Sorry I don't have pictures for you because we left our camera behind, not knowing if there were secure lockers or not. You'll just have to take my word for it that they were wonderful.

The thermal baths have two parts: spa and regular thermal baths. Since there was about a $10 difference per person, we decided to try our luck with the regular thermal baths. The first one we went into was warm, but not hot, and there were plenty of kids in there.

So we headed up to the second more secluded baths. This was where all the adults were and it was definitely hot. We'd have to sit out on the steps for most of the time because it was too much otherwise. There were two or three other baths that were even hotter, but we didn't do much more than stick our toes in because we liked the second one we tried. We even chatted for a while with a Guayaquil couple - the wife wanted to practice her English really badly and Greg even got to practice a bit of his Spanish speaking and understanding.

It was fairly easy to get to Papallacta from our area, but required a taxi, bus and truck to get all the way up to the baths (only on the way there). In the end, the bus ride was only 1.5 hours and was shorter than I imagined. Luckily, we had more or less specific directions on how to get the bus. On the way back, we took the truck back down, the bus to an outskirt of Quito, and then 2 buses from there to our apartment. Sounds confusing, but we could not have done that a month ago without getting horribly lost.

Our next adventure will be going to Mindo, about 2 hours away, for the November holiday. We will definitely bring our camera since there will be a lot of birds, butterflies, plants and other interesting things to see there!

October 23, 2011

Pichincha = 15,406 Feet

You may recall former pictures on this blog of the mountain that we enjoy from our family room each day.Well, it was only a matter of time before I had to go and take a closer look.
(Left: Jeff, Lauren, Siri, Mike, Melinda, Brendan)

Pichincha is an active stratovolcano that has been quiet since 1999. This mountain forms the western slope of Quito and the gondola that zips you up to 4108 meters leaves right from the city.

Our enthusiastic group of hikers jumped on the early ride to the top and managed to avoid crowed hiking for most of the day. Along the way, we meet many friendly Ecuadorians that were very pleased to hear how much we have been enjoying their country. Not only did they give us advice on more hikes, but they encouraged and advised us all the way to the top of the mountain.

This proved to be a great beginner hike for all of us. There are a few technical areas, but mainly you just need to keep a steady pace. The biodiversity and colors were simply amazing for the entire elevation gain (next post). I was very pleased to go with a group of new friends that kept a great mood all day - constantly floating in the clouds - figuratively and literally.

October 18, 2011

Makeup on the Bus

Every day to work, I take a bumping blue bus. By "bumping," I don't mean in the sense of being awesome and one big party, although the fun Spanish music that they play really wakes me up. No, I mean "bumping" in the sense of you're probably going to bump into just about everyone on that bus during the ride. I'm not too great with my balance, but even veterans of the blue bus stumble while trying to grab a hold of something. The first time I went on it and it was crowded, I thought I was going to fall out of the open front door (the way these buses operate is a whole different post).

On this bumping bus in the morning, I always see at least 3 girls doing their makeup, often there are more of them throughout the course of the whole bus ride. This is amazing to me considering the bus is jostling and jolting down the roads and these girls are waving around a mascara brush like it couldn't just poke them in the eye. 

If I was the competitive-type, I would take them up on this subtle game (that really isn't a game to them at all). I would bring my mascara (which I currently don't own), my eyeshadow, concealer, eyeliner, sparkly lip stuff (which I also don't own - but for good reason!) and a hairbrush (as if I'd ever run a regular hairbrush through my hair unless I wanted an afro the rest of the day). And I'd do it up - the housecleaner at my job would think I'd gone crazy because I rarely put on any noticeable makeup, but for the sake of the competition, I'd do it. 

However, I like my eyes intact, my hair non-frooed, and my makeup brushes not accidentally stuck up my nose.  

October 3, 2011

Daytrip to Otavalo and Cotocachi

Last weekend, we went with some teacher buddies to the artisan towns of Otavalo and Cotocachi. Otavalo was full of stands and vendors. You could find everything from alpaca sweaters and blankets to food to hammocks to wall hangings. And the market is huge!

It took us about 2 hours to see the majority of it. After awhile, you start to notice that everything looks similar. Otavalo was fun, but not really what Greg and I were expecting. We thought it would be more focused on local artisans and handmade items. Instead a lot of items were machine-made in a factory somewhere (maybe even in Bolivia as someone told me). It was still fun to browse and practice haggling. We ended up with an alpaca blanket for our bed, and a ball of yarn and two different fabrics for me.

My  yarn!
I think Greg fell in love with this ice bike.
After Otavalo, we stopped in Cotocachi, which is known for its leather goods. Greg and I found a little vegetarian cafe for lunch and then the shopping began! There was one whole street with shops lined up and down it just for all things leather.

I bought black leather boots and a little brightly colored change purse (which I then lost on the bus one of the first days I used it in Quito). Greg got himself a hacky-sack. After the shopping was done, we chilled out in the plaza of the town. Some people threw a frisbee around, which intrigued the local boys. Soon they had joined in the game and you really had to duck if you saw one of them with the frisbee. They had never seen one before and so their aim was off.

Overall, it was a very fun day and a worthwhile trip if you like markets.

September 22, 2011

Scoots in Quito

Since there are probably more Scoots fans than Greg-and-Ayelet fans reading our blog, I thought I'd do a quick update for everyone about Scoots settling in to our place. After a long ordeal with the customs, vet inspection and ever-increasing payments to airport offices, I finally was able to get him out of the warehouse where he was stuck for his first night and day in Quito. Importing a pet into Quito is a mess, but thankfully, it's over for us. He's adjusted really well and spends most of the day curled up on the blue alpaca blanket in the living room. Here are a few photos of his first days in Quito.
He's loving his new views
The final product: Scoots' cat tower made by Greg!

Settled in and time for a sit

Scoots doesn't seem as interested in the view as Greg is

Can you spot the cat? Since Aurora, we haven't had a set up
like this where he could look down upon us.

September 20, 2011

Old Town Quito: What We Ate

What Greg has in his mouth is called a "empanada de viento", which is a cheese-filled, fried, sugar-dusted empanada. An empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry turnover with a lot of different ingredients, like meat, cheese, seafood or veggies. And this one was HUGE!

We stopped along our walk through the Old Town for a coffee, tea and empanada de viento because we'd heard that they make really good ones in that area. We settled on this tucked back cafe with a skylight and a pleasant waitress. If you plan on visiting us, you can rest assured that we will take you to this place because the empanadas were real good.

September 16, 2011

Lots of Green Things

Fruit is very cheap here so we've been taking advantage of that to grab a different fruit everytime we're at the market. After weeks, we're still not out of new fruit options. Here are a few fruits and veggies we've bought recently:

Babaco - the big green thing in the back - it's very mild and apparently turns into a yellow color when ripe. We didn't know that and ate it when it was green. Still was delicious.

Louisa mint (in cup to left)- love this for tea! I'm hoping to get a plant of this to put in the kitchen.

Parsley - sadly, I didn't use this enough for food and a good part has wilted since this picture.

Hard-shelled avocado - we didn't have much luck with this because we couldn't figure out when it was ripe. Otherwise, Greg is getting more than his fair share of avocados here - there are so many!

Not pictured: three different kinds of bananas/plantains we have on top of our microwave.

1) itty-bitty bananas - they came as "un mano" (a hand), which is about 10-15 mini-bananas. We made those into delicious banana muffins last night.

2) green plantains - you're not supposed to eat these without cooking them so I'm going to make them into plantain-cheese patties sometime this week.

3) normal yellow bananas - Greg's favorite for lunch. Considering they're 66 cents for a kilo (or 2.2 lbs.), I think we'll always have them around.

September 14, 2011

Old Town Quito: La Ronda

La Ronda is mainly one long street, filled with bars, bakeries and artesan shops. It's geared towards tourist,  but without an overtly tourist feel to it. The reason we know this: the security guards all around that street. There are guards at each intersection and the gates to this street. They are there to keep the tourists safe, happy and willing to return.

Apparently, it's pretty fun at night, going from one bar to the next with the hot drink canelazo (although here they make it with a fruit called naranjilla which looks like a tomato and an orange combined). We picked the wrong time to go - right after siesta on a Saturday when most stores don't reopen. I'm sure we'll go again with any visitors we may have. The pictures can show you kind of what the nice part of Old Town Quito looks like - Spanish colonial style houses of various pastel colors. 

In the upper left hand side of the above picture, you can see the angel statue on the Panecillo, a hill that separates the Old Town from the southside of town. The south is where the slums are. Another teacher was telling me that there is a legend that the angel turned her back on the south and that is why she faces Old Town and the north valley. I prefer to think that legend isn't true, but I've been fairly sheltered so far in the north-central part of town.

They were having a photo exhibit in La Ronda with old photos of Quito. This was my favorite - Greg said he hoped that I'd get to see something like that in person soon.

Lastly, one side of the street in La Ronda has public games. This was a version of hopscotch and there's also a toss-the-ring type of game further down. If you look to the left, you can see a foosball table, too. In one of the upcoming posts, I'll show you what we ate while we were there as well!

September 12, 2011

Fiesta de Guapulo

There's a mountain-side neighborhood in Quito called Guapulo and that area just had a festival for the Virgen of Guapulo, which for most people just seemed like a good excuse to get dressed up in costumes, hang around the church's plaza, eat yummy food and wait until the real festivities started after the church service was over.

Greg and I went a bit early at 6 pm to see if we could catch the parade, but the real fun didn't start until about 9 pm. In the meantime, we ate an empanada, checked out all the costumes, chilled out... and tried to protect our butts from the clowns with whips. Basically, the whips symbolize repentance and during the wait for the party to begin, the youngsters were having fun with their whips, socks filled with something and plastic swords. I don't think their reasoning had to do with repentance though... more like boredom.

I like how this kid's leaning away from me - I wasn't even trying to do bunny ears on him!

My favorite costumes were the ones with the hand-sequined, two-faced masks that a group of people near the church wore. Simply due to the fact that I pointed to the mask and said it was beautiful, the owner took that to mean that I wanted to try it on. So on my head it went. But since it was a guy's mask, it wasn't good enough so one of the ladies in his group came over with her mask (which was also amazing), took off his and put hers on my head. Greg was then offered the guy's mask. And I had to hold her whip - but they didn't use them on anyone's butts. Of course, pictures were taken! We also were asked to pose with a cute little boy and girl in their costumes. I think it was 'befriend a gringo' night at the festival, which has been going on since Thursday night.

Right as the catholic church service ended, the approximately 20-person band with dancers began and the party got started. That was definitely the most fun part of the night! Everyone including the little abuelitas and kids in costumes were dancing almost without stop. It was awesome to be dancing in the plaza with hundreds of other people and just enjoying life. You can check out a short clip here and see the amazing masks I was talking about:

Dancing definitely tired us out, but to walk back up was a climb so we were not done after our bit of dancing. To get to the festival, you have to walk down through winding, narrow streets and stairs to the bottom of the valley. The walk back up wasn't too bad mostly because we stopped a lot. At one point, we stopped to watch the ensuing traffic from the cars trying to go up and down with people parked on both sides of the narrow road. There is only one road going in and out of Guapulo so you can imagine what a mess traffic would be like, too. As much as it wasn't super fun to walk up, it would have been worse to try to take a cab up.

September 10, 2011

Smoothies every day!

One of our latest smoothies
Literally, there is so much delicious fruit around here, we could have smoothies (or batidos as they are called here) everyday. Yesterday we made a papaya-blackberry-banana yogurt smoothie with a touch of vanilla and honey in it. Blackberry is actually very common here - they call it mora.

The other day we did a fruit called babaco with cinnamon and some pineapple. We're really glad our apartment came with a blender.

Not so yummy first mix
However, I can't say that it has all been easy in smoothie-land. Our first smoothie was a disaster. We put together a whole lot of unripe pineapple with a local fruit called tamarillo in English (tomate de arbol in Spanish).

One of Greg's co-workers said you have to boil the tree tomato (that's what we call it instead of tamarillo) to get the skin off. Then, you have to add a lot of sugar because it's not sweet. It sounded like a process, but since we had had it every day for breakfast at the hotel, I was pretty confident I could conquer the tree tomato in a blended drink. Well, in the end, it's tree tomato 1, Ayelet 0.   

September 7, 2011

A New Way of Selling

Every weekday morning, we hear the hawkers of wares drive around the streets in our neighborhood. Sometimes, the drivers will just do a funny series of honks. Or if they are better equipped, they'll rattle off on the loudspeaker what they've got - I've got to ask our neighbors if they hear what they're saying. I can't decipher any of the words! As it is now, I have to go to the window to see what they're selling. If I were to want anything from their trucks, I'd wave my hand out the window and shout, hoping they'll look up.

We’ve seen oranges, propane tanks (which everyone uses for cooking here), people in the back of trucks (I'm guessing they're available to hire for cleaning, manual labor or gardening) and water jugs so far. I'm waiting for the day when they come around with llamas or some other exotic animals. I'm not sure a llama would want to climb up all those stairs, but it would have a nice spot up on the terrace all to itself.

Gas and water truck, honking by one morning
Anyway, I haven't yet taken the drivers up on their offers of propane tanks and water because I’d have to walk down four flights of stairs in my PJs. But someday soon I will!

September 2, 2011

The Dogs in Quito

I think we’re all used to dogs as faithful companions in our lives. This was especially true in Munich. But in Quito, the dogs are used more for security purposes. So a bigger, louder dog is considered the best you can get.

I’m thinking about a certain German shepherd mix across the street who woke me up this morning. He is always on the roof of this house and thankfully has a little dog house up there to shelter him from rain, sunshine, etc. At first when I heard him barking, I thought he was barking at the construction workers on the street, which would surely be enough of a provocation. I was also a little annoyed by them waking me up early.
Charles Barky overseeing the situation
Alas, however, it was something nearer to his home. This morning they put up a ladder to paint the side of the house of which the roof touches. Oh, let me tell you - he did not like that! This particular dog is big enough to stand on his haunches, place his paws on the roof ledge and look out below him. When he gets excited enough, I half expect him to jump over the ledge on to the offender. I hope whoever is making him angry will get the work done with quickly. Otherwise, Charles Barky over there might just have a doggy heart attack.

August 30, 2011

Settling in and our apartment

The apartment we chose was the third one we visited with a huge group of other teachers on the first day. We are so taken with it! The layout is pretty similar to our apartment in Munich with 2 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms and a nice sitting area, but the view is what we truly love about it! Quito is set into a valley with mountains rising on all sides. We’re on one side of a hill that looks out on to Pichincha (pronounced “pee-cheyn-cha”), the biggest mountain nearby. Our neighborhood is called El Batan Alto.

Pichinicha and Quito at sunset - view from our window

Pichincha and Quito during the day - view from our window
Pichincha is about 15,600 ft. high so it definitely sticks out over the city of Quito, which is only about 9,500 ft. high. We will probably climb it (or at least part of it) some day, but unlike some of the other new teachers here, we probably won't do it within the first few weeks we're here. Greg and I are still getting acclimated to the altitude. At night, we see out on to most of the north-central valley with all the lights lit up and in the day, we can see the clouds roll in and cover the top of Pichincha as well as the planes land.
Our living/dining room
Our buddy, Mape (short for MarĂ­a Paula), helped us so much – taking us to look at as many places as we wanted, driving us around town, negotiating apartment prices (we started to call her Tiburon, shark in Spanish, by the end of the week together), reviewing contracts, finding a queen bed, explaining what food was at lunch and even checking into where to find a sewing machine for me and a used guitar for Greg and another new teacher. Thankfully, we didn't have to buy too much since it's a furnished apartment - imported items are really expensive here in relation to the low cost of living.
Our bedroom - Greg may try to fix us up a box spring from plastic crates
Kitchen overlooking the city lights - please excuse the fluorescent lighting!
My hope is that someday I can help Mape and all the other buddies out as much as they've helped us. I’m planning to start a crafting (sewing, knitting, crocheting, etc.) meet-up with Mabel, Mape and any of the other teachers at school who are interested so I hope to see more of them. I'll add more photos up later, but that's the main parts of the apartment so far.