October 30, 2012

Relying on Others

This is the start of what will be more consistent posting. I'm going to aim for posting something at least once a week until we leave Ecuador. Hold me to it, friends and fam!

When we moved to Germany, we brought a lot of silly things with us because we weren't sure what they would have. I mean, things like a half-used jar of Vicks (which we didn't really use) and a huge soup pot (which we did use a lot). Well, of course, Germany is very westernized and sometimes even better than places in the US because it has IKEA. We learned better in the two years we were there. The soup pot went to a good home at the end of our stint in Germany along with quite a few other things.

So when we came here, we didn't make the same mistake of bringing way too much. We arrived with our four suitcases and two carry-ons including all the things we thought we would need.

Here I am relying on my buddies - Meghan and Tamara -
when I didn't bring a hat for this chilly hike last year!
Our other friends used my long underwear for
warmth and her daughter had on my extra pair of gloves.
The funny thing is that Quito is very different than Munich - it's westernized, but not the same amount. And the products that are Ecuadorian can vary in quality A LOT. Plus, the imported items are marked up so much because they have to go through customs. And often you can't find what you're looking for (e.g. almond butter, bulgur, molasses, real maple syrup, good loose-leaf tea, etc.). So all this leads to us relying on our friends to bring us much of our needed items from the US when they go back to visit.

In the US, we're conditioned to feel like if someone does something for you, you need to show your appreciation very soon after that act of kindness.

It's not quite the same here - we, of course, thank the person profusely, but it's more about good karma. If you bring back something for a friend, you don't expect anything from them as a thank you because you may soon have to rely on her or someone else to bring back something for you.

Being here has really taught Greg and I the meaning of community and pulling together for the common good.

October 23, 2012

Good Reasons to Visit Ecuador, Part II

As promised, here's Part II of our reasons to visit Ecuador:

Feel TALL!
View from our window - we get the best sunsets!
Every time I stand next to Ecuadorians, I feel tall. It may be hard to imagine someone feeling tall at a small 5'4" (on a good day), but it's true! Especially next to men here, I am tall. The indigenous people are shorter than average Ecuadorians, but my mom at 5'0" would be average here.

The Great Outdoors
Ecuador is a dream for the outdoors people. Greg and I can get lazy, but we get out a lot here. We have a great huge park right behind our apartment that we can explore the trails of. It's great for those days when you don't want to get out of the city to be in nature. Otherwise, there are some great daytrips that are within 2 hours of Quito: PapallactaPululahuaMindoOtavalo, etc.

Diverse Regions
Making friends with a seal in the Galapagos!
Ecuador has a great diversity in terms of climates - it's got the Andes (where we are), the Amazon (about 7 hours away by bus and boat; 1 hour by plane), the Coast (about 7-10 hours away by bus or less than an hour by plane), and the Galapagos (which is amazing). In those regions are sub-regions like cloud forests, which are amazing. It means you get to see a lot of different types of life in Ecuador.

Strong Sun
Because of the altitude and the equator, the sun is really strong here. Bring lots of sunscreen and cool sun hats while you visit because you will use them both a lot. You'll go home with a lot of vitamin D!

Intact Culture

We thought Germany had a strong culture, but it's got nothing on Ecuador. You'll still see people wearing traditional clothes, speaking Quichwa (the native language), and creating materials in the old way. It's amazing to feel like you're living in a real-life museum in that sense.

October 16, 2012

Reasons You Should Visit Ecuador, Part 1

In response to this post about reasons you may not want to visit Ecuador, I'm here to tell you all the wonderful things about Ecuador that Greg and I came up with.

It's Cheap!
How cheap? you ask. It's 25-roses-for-$1 cheap (granted those are for the older roses - the regular roses are $2-3 for a dozen). We calculated it's about 1/2 of the cost of living in the US and 1/3 of the cost of living in Munich (unless you're buying lots of imported goods - then it can be about similar to those prices).

Super-Sweet People
I bet you won't find nicer people in all of South America. Everyone says hello and smiles at you on the street and in the stores. One of my friends asked directions to a street and the Ecuadorian person took them in their car to the exact address. There are some mean people here and there, but mostly they're just really sweet and super helpful.

Nightly Fireworks Show
We met one of my grandma's friends while they were visiting from Israel and she mentioned how the night before there was this huge fireworks show near their apartment. We told her that there are free fireworks shows around the city at least 3-4 nights a week on any given week. Some are more spectacular than others,  but they're not hard to find here. There's always a reason to celebrate!

It's easy to walk dress like this in Quito - perfect temps!
Great Temperature
It's lately just hit in the rainy season, which means we'll often get rain in the late afternoon/early evening, but not every night. Sometimes we get fog, which is my personal favorite! But even in the rainy season, it never gets below (or even near) freezing. During the day, when the sun is out, you can go around in short sleeves and sandals without freezing. And at night, a light jacket and/or sweater is usually warm enough. It's a major plus to being here!

Fruits and Desserts
Greg loves this dessert called quimbolitos, which is a little cake made of cornflour and raisins and steamed in a plantain leaf. It's yummy and something you can't find in other places. I also like one called humitas, which is savory as a cornflour cake with cheese inside and steamed in a corn husk. Ecuadorians eat that for
breakfast with coffee.
And the fruits are ridiculous. I can get fresh strawberries, pineapple, passion fruit, oranges, bananas and papaya any time of year. There's a distinct mango season, which we're coming up to. The vegetables are more limited, but the tomatoes are always tasty and bright red. Plus, there were a lot of new fruits for us to try - guanabana, pitahaya (super yummy), taxo, granadilla, and more.

andean lychee
Greg also wanted me to mention that popcorn is served like everywhere. That's our personal favorite!

Check out Part II of this list next week!

October 9, 2012

Reasons You're Not Ready to Visit Ecuador

Before people get up in arms about this post, I'm going to follow this up with one about why you should visit Ecuador. I'm just being honest here - visiting a developing nation is very different in some ways from the US, Canada or Europe.

In other ways, Ecuador itself is very westernized. You hear American music, see English-speaking films and can find American clothing and food brands here without much trouble. But regardless of that similarity, visitors need to keep in mind that they are not coming to a country like the US or Canada.

Here are my reasons on why you're not ready to visit Ecuador:

1) Pollution
The buses here can be old and belch black smoke. My way of dealing with it: take a scarf with me to hold against my nose and mouth when going by the busy streets AND avoid the busy streets as much as possible.

2) Chance of getting robbed
This is mostly an issue in the big cities and on buses. But we haven't gotten robbed yet and we've been here more than a year. Knock on wood!

There are some areas of Quito where this is more of a problem and the time of night certainly doesn't help. Also, if you're drunk and/or look like you have money (i.e. walking around with an expensive purse, diamond earrings or a fancy gadget), there's a good chance you'll get robbed whatever time of day.

3) Food poisoning
I've been sick here more often than anywhere in my life. It's not for lack of being careful, but you have to wash all your fruit and veg for 5 minutes in an anti-bacteria wash before eating them raw. And you never know if the place where you're eating has done that or not.

Places where tourists eat aren't as much of a problem, but in the small towns and villages, there isn't always a restaurant just for tourists. So you've gotta be extra careful with your food and making sure it's cooked through and through. I hope I don't have to say this, but street food is a big no-no.

4) High Altitude
This of course is only a problem in the Andes region, but it affects a lot more than people think. Not only does it mean my brownies don't cook well, but you also have to be extra careful about the sun and about exerting yourself too much. It's easy to get winded here.

Other effects of high altitude when you first get here are headaches, waking up at odd hours of the night (for the first few days, I kept waking up at 2 or 3 am even though I was exhausted), racing heart beats, getting winded walking or going up stairs, dehydration and more fun stuff!

5) Poverty
If you can't live with the sight of 4-year-olds on the sidewalk by their parents' kiosk or an 11-year-old helping with road construction (and not in school), you should not visit Ecuador. This is a regular sight and it breaks my heart every single time.

I don't think I'll ever get used to it and I will carry these sights with me for the rest of my life. If there is a good side to this, it's that it makes you really want to make change in the world so that no child has to grow up in this way. And it also makes me think of how much more we have in the US that we take for granted.

6) Bad, Unsafe Driving
I have not yet seen an accident here, but I read in the local newspaper that every day there are 13 deaths and 136 wounded in the country due to traffic accidents (stats taken over the last 4 years). It's not hard to see why. People drive like they're crazy, swerving and veering through traffic. Buses can be old and not maintained well, and the crazy drivers don't help matters.

We take taxis a lot and I have only had a few times where I've climbed into a taxi and found a seat belt AND a seat belt buckle. People just don't use them. I've seen taxi drivers who've used them only if they see the police nearby. Buckling kids in properly (in a car seat) is a rarity. Normally, when I look into other cars, I see mothers holding their babies on their laps in the passenger seat.

7) Little English
People may laugh at this, but I've definitely heard Americans who have come to different countries and been amazed that they don't speak English. Sorry, but duh! It's no different here, except worse because you cannot rely on hardly anyone having English skills except at hotels where they cater to tourists. If you come here, you should prep by learning common Spanish words and phrases beforehand. The good thing is that most people are so nice and try to be as helpful as possible.

8) Noise
I think we already covered this enough with our post about top noisiest nights in Quito. It's a bit quieter and  more tranquil outside of the big city. If you're in Quito, expect noise at night regardless of where you're staying.

9) Unsafe construction
I wish I had a picture to show you of the sidewalks in Quito and how unsafe they are. You really always have to be looking down to make sure you're not going to trip. One friend of ours tripped on a sidewalk and fell, breaking her front tooth. Another colleague of Greg's tripped and sprained her ankle while simply walking on the sidewalk. The sidewalks here take no prisoners!

Construction sites tend to lack the safety requirements that are normal in the US. Sometimes you'll see a site that requires hard hats for their workers. Other times, there's no hard hats for workers and safety goes out the window. If a sidewalk is closed for construction, often times people have to walk on the side of the road because there's no other way to get around it.

10) Potential for Natural Disasters
This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it. If you've never seen a volcanic eruption before, you have a good chance to see one if you go down to Banos in Ecuador. Same goes for landslides and floods. We've often seen the aftermath of a landslide on the highways on our trips, but have not been in a natural disaster ourselves.

11) Horrible Bathrooms
I've braved many horrible bathroom situations in the past (the best one was the squatting toilet in a cafe in Turkey), but nothing compares to the amount of horrible bathrooms I've found in Ecuador. The smells, the lack of toilet paper or soap, the filth... agh, that is one memory I hope I leave behind in Ecuador.

12) Yucky Beer
Greg has been making due with the horrible beer here, but the first thing he wanted to do this summer was get a great beer when we were back home. At least the wine is pretty good from South American countries.

I hope this list doesn't dissuade people from visiting, but rather, makes people understand that visiting a developing country isn't all fiestas and happiness. There's some bad parts to it, too. You'll love all the good things that you can see here though - just wait for our next post about it soon!

October 2, 2012

Weekend in a CRATER

The blog posts are slow in coming, I know - we actually took this trip for Greg's birthday weekend September 23rd. We went to this beautiful, huge crater called Pululahua (try saying that three times fast - impossible).
See how dry this part of the valley is?
This is how it normally looks. (picture from here)
When we went, it hadn't rained in ages and much of it was really dry on the walk down. Because yes, we walked the cliff down to the crater bottom (and we walked back up on Sunday, too). The walk was steep and slippery with loose rocks, but we managed not to fall off or disgrace ourselves too much. The valley was so quiet and peaceful when we got all the way down.

Cute little donkey we met on the way down -
he didn't want much to do with us. :-/

After we ate lunch, we went for a longer walk around the base of the mountain in the crater. On the other side of the mountain, everything changed. It was lush and overgrown with plants - the farms were thriving and colorful. It was really beautiful. Midway through our hike, the fog rolled in and we were lucky to have a trail to follow otherwise we would've gotten quite lost.

I made friends with a donkey - he was in it for food, I think.
Too bad for him we had no donkey food on us.
Cows chillin' in the fog
The hike in the fog was very ethereal and dream-like. When we came out on the side our hostal was on, we saw farmers in the fields, chickens running around and cattle grazing, but only when the fog rolled away to reveal them. It was one of the coolest hikes I've been on in a while.

The fog is just about engulfing the land.
That night, we celebrated Greg's birthday with some yummy organic food and a dip in the hostal's jacuzzi. The next morning we ate breakfast, bought some of their naturally grown coffee and made our way up the side of the mountain back up to society.

The whole trip back to Quito probably took us 2.5 hours door to door. This actually is a short trip given that it can take us 1.5 hours to get to the southern bus terminal, which is IN Quito. We have a love/hate relationship with the traffic here.