January 28, 2013

New Years in Quito

Both in Munich and in Quito, people go all out for the New Year, but in Quito, we have an especially good view out over the city. So we got some great video footage of all the fireworks bursting over the city.

You can read our account of last year's New Year's if you forgot what we wrote about last year.

You be the judge. Here is our Quito vs. Munich New Year's Eve videos.

January 25, 2013

Do you love church architecture?

Churches are a conundrum to me. Humans have designed some of the most amazing structures in terms of beauty but ironically one of the least used buildings in society. Yet, churches amaze me all the same. Compared many of the European churches we had seen over the past few years, the churches in Cuenca, Ecuador, were equal in size, but much more humble on the interior. They made up for a lack of ornate art with a splash of pastel colors which gave the churches a much more inviting feeling over the ominous dark corners of European churches.

So, if you like to look at church architecture, you would enjoy a visit to Cuenca. I could name each of these, but I think you will simply enjoy the view.

Close up on the door of the church above. I love wood carvings.

Apparently this church had a structural issue that did not allow the builders to add the two missing spires. I can just imagine how different this might look.
A back view of the same church above. Again, without the spires.

January 23, 2013

Watch out, college!

Ok, so the title of this post is kind of a misnomer. But I am taking a class at the local university here in Quito. The class is called Contemporary Art: Ecuador and Latin America (although the actual title is in Spanish). And the whole class is in Spanish, too!

I'm pretty psyched because I've tried to find something for a while that would hold my interest, but also let me speak Spanish more often. This class is it because I'm the only English speaker in there. My teacher knows English, but we've already established that English is not an option in class. I haven't taken an art history course since Madrid when I studied contemporary art at the local university there. Luckily for me, the paintings were familiar. Whereas here, we're focusing on painters that are entirely new to me. I also am out of my league because I don't know as much of Ecuadorian history or politics.

But unlike the other students, I don't have to worry about getting a good grade. I just have to focus on soaking up art history, Ecuadorian history and politics knowledge and try not to annoy my other classmates with my sometimes dreadful Spanish. Like today, when I forgot the word for "shop" (noun)  - SHOP of all things! That word is covered within the first month of a basic Spanish class. For shame!

I've already had two classes - the first I understood about 60% of what was said to me. From what I understood, I could tell I was going to learn a whole lot. In my second class, we went to Old Town to view the architecture from the 19th and 20th centuries, which is what we're focusing on right now.

Our teacher is so awesome - she got us into chapels and places that are otherwise off-limits. And we saw some really amazing chapels and paintings. We mainly focused on the church of Santo Domingo. Without pictures (yeah, I know - I really goofed up on not bringing my camera), I can't really explain the coolness of what we say so you'll just have to trust me on that. When I do learn something interesting, I'll make sure to share it with you. Until then!

January 19, 2013

Cotopaxi from Above

You may remember a month or so back we spent a weekend near the Cotopaxi volcano. Well, when we were flying back from Cuenca, guess what we saw peek through the clouds below us? None other than the summit of Cotopaxi!

Cotopaxi's summit is more or less 19,000 feet high
Cotopaxi from above

Cotopaxi from the ground

January 15, 2013

Ingapirca - Incan/Canari Ruins in Ecuador

When we were in Cuenca, we took a daytrip one day to an ancient Incan-Canari ruins. The Canari (pronounced CA-Nya-ree) were an indigenous tribe that was from this region. There are still a few thousands around.

Moon temple/altar with terraces below
They actually rebelled against the Incas when the Incas came to conquer them. Eventually, the Incas won them over by marrying their women to Canari chiefs and the Incas also influenced building and culture in Ingapirca.

Their building stones, which are different from the Canari, can be seen throughout the site. Incan stones were more square and Canari used river rocks with mortar between them. The Incans did share the same Moon and Sun gods with the Canari.

The wind was blowing in our faces, but this was the best pic we got
Although most of the ruins had been destroyed (rocks were found miles away, used in other people's buildings), it has been restored somewhat to the way archaeologists believed the site to look like. From above (although of course we didn't see it from above), it looks like a giant puma with the most important sites as the "head" of the puma.

Giant Incan stones used for building - no mortar was used between the stones.

January 9, 2013

Cuenca "Kids" Parade

On December 24th, the whole city of Cuenca and outskirts comes together for this awesome parade. It's called Pasa del Nino and it's basically to celebrate Jesus's birth. The parade lasts 8 hours, but needless to say, we definitely didn't stay that long. After a while, all the angels/3 kings/Mary and Josephs/flamenco dancers/bullfighters/sultans/Santas started to look alike. And yes, of course there were flamenco dancers, bull fighters/toreros, and Santas at the birth of Jesus. The Ecuadorians wouldn't just make that sort of thing up.

Practicing her flamenco/beauty queen wave
I'm not sure if he was unhappy to be wearing this costume
or didn't want his picture taken wearing this costume.
Proper Spanish lady
His dad had the remote for this car and was walking in front.
Sleigh full of Santas and a dead chicken.
A close-up of the bejeweled dead chicken
A boy and his chicken

If she was alone, I probably would have brought her back to Quito with us -
she was just too cute!
My favorite costume - this puppy dressed up as a little indigenous girl
complete with skirt, blouse, AND hat. I hope he got some treats out of this arrangement.
You know how in the US, parades usually have rope lines that you should stay behind. Well, this parade wasn't really like that. The ropes were mere suggestions and often were just held in place by the people walking by. There were several parts of the parade when there were no ropes and we decided that must have been the secret Ecuadorian signal to let chaos reign. Anyone and their mother joined the parade at that point.

Decorated horse

Action shot: indigenous women dancing.
The ikat shawls they are wearing are common in the region
and made in the towns nearby.
Stroller decorations - I'm guessing their baby "Jesus" was sleeping inside.
There were lots of cute kids in costumes and some were even riding horses or donkeys. The animals were decorated with fabric, candies and/or fruit (even some with pineapples hanging off of their saddles!). We saw a few horses that looked like they were ready to kick off the pineapples and papayas that were swinging against their underbellies. With all the chaos during the parade and pineapples swinging around, I figured someone was going to get a kick from a horse, but it never happened.... at least not in the stretch we were in.

Colorful women
Traditional costumes for the guys
More color!

January 2, 2013

Pet Sitters

When we go on vacation, we can't just leave Scoots to fend for himself. Besides the whole lack of thumbs issue, after the bladder infection he had last December, he has to get fresh water each day. This summer and during our visit to Cuenca, we used house sitters instead.

Side note: Greg and I are pretty sure that this is what we want to do when we retire: be a pet sitter in a
foreign country.

Our first pet sitters, Barry and Maxine from Canada, but live in Cuenca now, were amazing! We came home to Scoots snoozing away on the couch (not meowing loudly at the door like he normally would after time away); welcome back flowers on our table; bed made like in a hotel; and the whole apartment super clean. Throughout our trip Barry and Maxine had sent us photos of Scoots so we didn't worry at all. It was so much more relaxing to have them there.

Their pet sitting life is pretty exciting - they were in a coastal Spanish town for 1 month to watch 3 dogs and cat this year, and want to house sit in Australia and New Zealand once they can take more time out of Ecuador (for the first two years of their visa, they couldn't go anywhere for more than 90 days). We hope to get them to come sit for us wherever we end up in the future.

The pet sitters in December was a family of four and their grandmother. We actually exchanged houses with this family because they live in Cuenca. It was so much better than staying in a hotel and we could walk into the Old Town. The family themselves were inspiring - the mom and dad had been in the Peace Corps years back and now they manage their business in the US from Cuenca. They wanted the kids to learn Spanish so they enrolled them in a public Ecuadorian school for the year. All went well with our home exchange and we learned that Scoots can actually handle kids well if we give them some forewarning.

There are a few good sites for pet sitters (or people who want to pet sit abroad): we've used www.mindmyhouse.co.uk and trustedhousesitters.com. I've also just come across housecarers.com and homeexchange.com as other future options.

We're still looking for a Scoots sitter for our week vacation in February, but I'm confident we'll find one soon!