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.