February 29, 2012

New Year's in Quito

One of the floats with effigies 
Wow, is this post overdue or what? Sorry! But still, it's good to tell you about all the festivities that went on in Quito around New Year's. We had just gotten back from the beach a few days before and took a walk through the "parade" of floats in Quito. Then, we met up with friends at a neighbor's place. You really can't start too much of the fun until midnight, but we passed the time well.

Yum, fried dough with honey!
Closer to midnight, we went to the local park for fireworks and more. One of the traditions here is to create (or buy) effigies of yourself, dress it up in old clothes and burn it at midnight. You'll see effigies being sold throughout the city and can include effigies of people from the past year, such as celebrities, cartoon characters (like the Smurfs or the Hulk), and politicians. This is seen as cleansing by burning the bad things from the past year to get on with the new year, all fresh and without constraints. We weren't organized enough so we just watched our friends burn their effigies. If you really want to start fresh, you're supposed to jump over the burning effigies. We were surprised that no one in our group got seriously hurt while doing that.

My favorite devil in the crowd - ferocious!
One of our friends brought fireworks and sparklers for us to shoot off at midnight. From our view, we could see miniature fireworks displays created by people like us all over the city. It was really cool to see and yet nice to be far enough away to not risk getting hit by an errant firework. Stuff like that can happen as we learned in Munich when people would get together at midnight as well to blast fireworks all over the city. Better to stay farther away and further up to see the best fireworks!

One last thing - during the day, throughout town, there were teens and young men who dressed as women and stopped traffic (literally) to beg for money. They're called widows of the old year. Some looked better than I do on a good day; others kept their mustaches, which ruined the intrigue.

Our favorite widows posing with a Chuckie effigy
I'm sure there's more fun that we had and traditions we saw, but that's about all I can remember right now.

February 25, 2012

Pics of Salinas Plant Life Up Close

Greg and I are in love with the macro feature on our camera. Here are some of the macro pictures we took in Salinas.
Fuzzy kind of plant

Cool mushroom
moth wing we found on the trail
Rocks near salt flats

February 21, 2012

Salinas - Carnaval Getaway

Can you spot the Alpaca?
This weekend was Carnaval (or Carnival if you're saying it in English). You may know it as the time around Fat Tuesday. In Latin America, this is when cities go wild with parties, costumes, and parades. Specifically in Ecuador, water, flour, foam, dye and other stuff gets thrown around by kids and adults alike. Luckily, our friends suggested going to a small town called Salinas about 6 hours from Quito. It was much calmer there - although I did pack extra clothes in case we got doused with water.

Salinas is this beautiful Andean town, which was almost perpetually shrouded in mist. We did see the sun peek out a little on our last day. The main draw of this town is that they have a few thriving cooperatives making cheese, chocolate, weaving (and yarn making), salt, essential oils and more. We saw many Ecuadorian tourists come through the town while we were there, but not too many non-Ecuadorians. I think this made the town more down-to-earth although it still catered to tourists with various shops selling local goods. Meghan, Tamara and I were so excited to see wildlife, aka llamas, alpaca, chickens, donkeys, and pigs (they're apparently called "chanchos" here according to Meghan).

On Saturday, our friends (above-mentioned ladies and another Greg), my Greg and I took a very early bus from Quito to avoid the crowds and finally got to Salinas after hitching a ride with in the back of a local truck (or "camioneta"). There's no buses out to Salinas so this is the best way (besides hiring a taxi) to get out there. We walked around the town and enjoyed hot chocolate and coffee at a little cafe. Our nights were spent in front of the fire in our hostal and playing games.
Salinas town square

On Sunday, we started the morning with a short, but steep hike up to the cross overlooking the town when it wasn't raining. The view from up there was fabulous - we're still amazed at how Andean farmers use up every inch of surrounding land, no matter if it's at a very steep angle, to farm. Later I learned from our tour guide/village youth, Alex, that there were caves behind where we climbed. One has two stories and the other cave houses birds. I'm not sure if he meant bats because he didn't use the word in Spanish for bats, but I don't know what other birds there are that live in caves.

Next, we took a tour to a few of the local factories. Alex took us to the factories that make cheese, chocolate (smelled divine), soccer balls, salt mines (salt is only used for animals now), and soy products. They had quite a few varieties of cheese (for Ecuador, that is) and we bought two kinds to bring back home with us. They also have a few shops in Quito so that might save us from eating the same mozzarella or queso fresco for the whole time we're here.

The chocolates also were fantastic and we enjoyed quite a few while we were there. We found a great fitting Alpaca sweater for Greg and cute Alpaca gloves for me to use on the colder Quito mornings.

See...Fog everywhere!
We just couldn't get enough of these guys!
Our group minus one of the Gregs
"Greg, I'm not sure I'm ready for my close-up!"
yummy cheese!
Salt mine pools
It was a great trip to get some fresh air (although much more damp and colder than Quito) and see a new place. I'd recommend stopping by Salinas if you're going nearby to a city like Riobamba, Ambato or Guaranda.
Carnaval "float" for the Salinas parade

February 4, 2012

Our 8 Square Feet

I realized that one of my passions in life is to garden and attempt to grow some of our food. Three years ago when we had a house and a yard I started to dream big about how much of the lawn was going to be turned into edible plant space. That dream seemed to be dashed away as we decided to pick up our lives and take on apartment living overseas. While in Germany, it seemed like too much of a hassle to haul in dirt and all of the other tools I would need to start a garden. Our apartment did get great sunlight, but that was not enough motivation for me. After our move to Quito I stilled sensed a void in the pleasure I had gotten each spring in planning to get my hands dirty. Luckily, my lunchtime habit of watching an occasional TED Talk (A garden in my apartment) sparked my interest once again. See my video.

Now, I will admit, Ayelet keep giving her best effort to keep a few plants growing in our apartments. She likes to have fresh herbs for cooking. However, I wanted more than just herbs.

The back 40 with seeds sprouting in the ice cube trays
As you might be able to see in this picture half of our plants are growing or stacked in some very different ways. Ayelet and I were motivated by a few of our treks out in Quito and to Mindo. In Quito we went to a craft fair that mainly featured upcycled items. A few of our plant stand are old plastic bottle stands taped together. That gave us both plant height and allowed for a more packed space. Our trip to Mindo motivated us just to buy more plants and put them into any plastic containers that we had, like the old water or milk jugs you see. Now with my window farm up and running we have really been able to keep a diverse garden in a very small space. My idea of what a "garden" had to be was completely changed and I don't feel the same yearning for a yard just yet. I'm glad there are so many innovative people out out in the world with a humanistic drive toward a more fulfilling life. 

Here is a list of what we are currently growing:
The Back 40 - mint, lemon balm, basil, rosemary, peas, and oregano. 
In the Window Farm - Swiss chard, 2 strawberry plants, parsley, peas, lettuce

Pea plant from the ice cube tray

Strawberry blossom - probably will get the Q-Tip treatment soon

Peas in the window farm

Swiss Chard

Parsley - purchased mostly grown


The sprouts are really starting to take off and I will be updating the progress on my youtube channel if you want to subscribe. I'm sure you will see a post on Facebook with our first harvest from the seeds.