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.

August 28, 2011

Where's Scoots?

Scoots is still with my parents in Milwaukee and hopefully not overstaying his welcome (you’ll hear different ideas from my mom and my dad). Both have given him totally random nicknames at this point – JoJo from my mom and Louis from my dad. My dad said he responded just as well to that nickname as to his actual name.

We hope to have him with us by mid-September. There was a problem with his paperwork and the Ecuadorian consulate in Chicago, but I think I have it all worked out. Our apartment just doesn’t feel like home yet without our little fluff ball curling up with us at night and running around in the morning. It's surprising how much having Scoots around is a comfort to us both.

Raise the roof - the 'rents are out of town!
Our apartment does allow cats, but our neighbor, who is the landlord’s brother-in-law, said that the first time the cat meows too loudly, he’ll come and knock. But the second time, he said he’ll come with a baseball bat. I’m sure he’s joking. We haven’t heard our neighbors at all yet so either they tiptoe around or the walls are thicker than they look. Hopefully, Scoots will learn to keep his meows at a minimum. We'll let you all know when Scoots has safely landed and snuggled up in our new home here.

August 24, 2011

First Weeks in Quito

The first week in Quito flew by. We’re already on the second one and much of the city is still foreign to me. We arrived late on Sunday the 14th and then had long lines to get through for immigration and customs because five other international flights came in at the same time. Luckily, we met lots of new teachers waiting in line, too.
We're really here!!
There’s talk that they are building a new airport away from the city and varying reports of when it will be done – 2 months to a few years, depending on who you talk to. I’m all for it considering it took us almost three hours to get through all of the lines. We eventually packed ourselves into a van with three other teachers, two drivers and about 15 pieces of luggage. I think we all breathed a big sigh of relief when we arrived at the hotel at 1:30 am. Some because they could take a shower and get in bed; others because the van started to feel a bit like a clown car toward the end.

At that time of night, the streets were empty, but that didn’t stop a car alarm from starting outside our window at around 3 am. And the dogs in the neighborhood had to join in as well. Coming from quiet Munich and Wisconsin, the noises at nighttime here took some getting used to. For example, the planes fly through the city to get to the airport. At first, I was really put off by the noise they make, but you can actually see them flying in and taking off. That makes the noise a bit better. And after a week here, I don’t pay much attention to them anymore.

View from the overlook -
can't see too much of the city though.
The next day was our first day of orientation – we had a tour throughout the city with the buddy coordinator, Mabel (pronounced “Ma-Bell”), pointing out the sites. We stopped at this great overlook closer to the historic city center. We also drove through the city center and I saw a ton of fabric and yarn shops! Someone is going to have her hands full. One of the other new teachers is a sewing enthusiast so she and I will be having lots of fun together, I imagine. Unlike our last school, she’s the only New Zealander in the group. The rest are either Americans or Canadians.

Mabel coordinated Ecuadorian teachers to be our buddies for the first week. We even started to see available apartments on the first day! I know you all are excited to hear about our place, but we don’t have pictures yet so you’ll have to wait a little!

August 17, 2011

End of our Road Trip - Minnesota!

I'm actually writing this a couple weeks after we finished our roadtrip, but better late than never! Taking a slightly different route this time, we left Fort Collins to head through the southeastern tip of Wyoming to Nebraska to South Dakota. We stayed a night in Valentin, Nebraska, but then kept moving to Rochester, Minnesota, to see my friend from college and her husband - Dr. Lizzie and Dan. Their 9-month-old, Julia, thoroughly entertained us with her toothy smile and their cute Vizsla, Cosmo, also raced around.

After Rochester, we headed up to Minneapolis for a few nights with my step-grandmother, Sherry, and to see old friends. I'm so glad I had time to meet up with a previous composition professor of mine and three former co-workers/bosses at the university. Walking around my campus all grown up was a bit surreal, but I love the vibe on a college campus. The night we got in we took Sherry out for a nice meal in a cute neighborhood near her house - she seemed like she needed to get out after a full day of watching the granddaughter!

The next day, we were due to meet up with one of Greg's old friends from high school, Trisha. She's a fabulous hair stylist in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis now. I grew out my hair for at least 4 months just so I could get one of her haircuts. Yes, she's that good. I'm back to short, chin-length hair now, which was my norm before moving to Germany. Or as I like to think of it - the land where no one knew how to deal with my hair correctly. When I lived in Spain, I had great haircuts so I hope Quito will be similar.
Trisha led us to a quiet spot for lunch and good catching up time. She had visited us in Munich almost exactly a year ago. What a difference - even in the weather alone! Here it was sunny and warm; last year in Munich it was rainy for quite a few of the days she was there.

After lunch and a long walk, we met up with another of Greg's friends from high school, Matt and his fiancee, Khayla. We're sad to be missing their wedding in October, but I enjoyed getting to know Khayla and talking about everything under the sun with the two of them. One thing I learned from them is that if you are already mildly scared of sharks, don't watch Shark Week on the Discovery channel!

After we said goodbye to the two of them, Greg and I dropped by one of our favorite pizza places in Minneapolis for a few quick slices and carrot cake, which we ended up having for breakfast because we couldn't finish it all. Not a bad start to the next day! The great thing about this road trip was that we saw so many people who we'd kept in touch with, but hadn't seen in two years. It was fun to see the directions everyones' lives have been taking.

August 11, 2011

Fort Collins

Sunset under the storm cloud!
Fort Collins was our last stop in Colorado before heading back toward Wisconsin. This wasn't our first time in the city because a few years ago Greg did a charity bike ride for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (150 miles over two days!). We remember thinking that the city seemed like a really fun place.

The city has a fairly big university there, which makes everything more interesting. It has a nice main street with restaurants, ice cream parlors, coffee shops and street musicians in the summer. Greg was excited about a park with a water slide, but it was closed by the time we saw it.

But if you go a little way outside of the city, you get to prairie. We got to witness a big summer storm cloud roll over the city, which made for some amazing views. Storms in Colorado are so fascinating because it is so dry. When a storm does develop, you can usually watch all the clouds gather into one massive cloud that boils up towards outer space. You can see it let loose its rains without actually even being under a cloud yourself. This is unlike the Midwest where it usually is a whole gray sky before it starts to rain.

I loved the rugged look of the fence and wide-open land

We even met up with a friend while in Fort Collins. Our former German teacher, Sophia, from Denver who lives there now hosted us for a homemade German meal of krautstrudel (cabbage- and caraway-filled strudel) and topf-something-something. The last ones are dumplings traditionally made with quark - a type of spreadable cheese that we don't have in the US - but Sophia made them with tofu instead. Sadly, I can't remember the rest of the name, but I know how to make them more or less... and how to top them with lots of cinnamon-sugar!

Sophia had visited us in Munich for a much-less traditionally German meal of lentil soup and special small potato noodles (that I did not make from scratch). We were so glad to share our experiences with her. It was and still is refreshing to talk with someone who knows both cultures (German and Colorado/US) and likes to look at the cultural differences, too. Sitting out on her patio was a great way to end our trip in Colorado. Next up: the rest of our roadtrip... and then maybe Skipper Greg will post about his courses in August.

We'll be moving to Quito on Sunday so you all may be reading posts about past events while we're settling in. This summer has just flown by!