Monday, October 12, 2009

Feria de Durán with the Morochos

It was a Wednesday night (Sept. 30), and I finished Interact. I went to Papá´s office (the radio station), and waited there for a bit. There speaking at the radio was Lucio Gutiérrez, a former President of Ecuador. He walked out with "his people" (aids, guards?) and was talking with Mamá and Papá. They introduced me to him, and they asked if I had a camera with me (at the time I had absolutely no idea who this guy was). Luckily, I had my phone and took a picture with him. Then, Patricia María whispered to me who he was. The photo didn´t take so I ran after him to get another - mission accomplished.

Headed home and sister-in-law Mayra told me that the Morocho´s were trying to call me. I called them back, and they said they were going to the festival in Guayaquil the next day! I asked permission and packed my bags! Another weekend with the Morochos (better yet, two days out of school)!

Left early Thursday morn. They picked me up, and we got to Guayaquil (Johnny´s apartment). I accompanied Johnny to his University and we toured the campus. At the athletic department we played a little ping-pong (I won, for your information). We ate lunch in the mall - I had KFC (breaded shrimp, rice, menestra, and maduros). There were other young people and foreigners!

The family and I took Johnny to class then went to another mall, where we ate again. I played in an arcade with Kevin. We went back to the apartment, and I met some more of their family.

The next morning (Happy Birthday Dad!) we went into Guayaquil. Johnny and I walked through a museum of Guayaquil´s history and of Catholic art. I had a great time there! Knowledge and art! We then went to the Malecón 2000 (a boardwalk along the river). Johnny and I spent our time identifying the "gringos" that were there. Quite different than Machala.

Later that night, we finally went to the "Feria de Durán," celebrating the independence of Guayaquil. We somehow were able to sneak in the back way (we had tickets, we just were avoiding having to walk to the front gates). We walked through exhibits of clothes, art, and food! I tried "espumilla" which is like whipped cream with a flavor, churrón de soya, and avena. Another surprise, I liked them all. Johnny, Johny, and I got t-shirts of Ecuador! Now Johnny and I have two matching shirts: Invisible Children, and Ecuador tree! We watched some presentations, and Johnny and I walked through a large military tent, looking at the branches and trying on the gear. Tell Pop that I´m not ready to sign up yet. We then went home and crashed.

Saturday we got up and went to a little restaurant for breakfast. I had the "Bandera" which is like a taste of 5 different meals and is available at pretty much every restaurant. We dropped off some defective cloths that Geovanna picked up (from her supplier) and looked at a car dealership. We went to a drugstore and then McDonald´s. I had a "Tango" McFlurry. Since the food here is really cheap anyways, McDonald´s isn´t the monopoly on food. That was a weird realization.

I went back to Pasaje with the Morocho family, buying some fruit on the way (8 guabas for $1!). After we got to their house, Johnny, Jocelyne, Kevin, and I went out on the town: this consisted of driving in circles around Pasaje and honking at all the people Johnny knew for maybe an hour. This was quite a strange experience for me - I guess I missed out on the "cruising around town" that happens in smaller cities. We went home and Johnny, Kevin, and I fell asleep watching Harry Potter and the Triwizard Tournament.

Sunday we got up and ate more ceviche - I will never get sick of ceviche! Johnny and I walked around the town again - getting a batido de naranjilla this time. The Morochos and I left Johnny to do homework in Pasaje and headed to Machala. Home again, home again.

Family Weekend

About two weeks ago a lot of my family from Guayaquil came down to Machala. This means extra talking and extra-extra eating. I met like 5 new cousins and 6 new aunts and uncles. I helped make some sandwiches then got dressed up for the night. We all went to the pier (a block from our house) and watched a presentation for Gina (either an aunt or my mamá´s cousin). She wrote 3 new books so they were awknowledging her for that. After that, we ate some sweets and listened to the band - three people: a singer, a keyboardist, and a percussionist.

We returned home and split up into groups: older people and younger people. The elders went to a bar called "Bistro," and I went with brother Fernando, cousin Juan, cousin Carlos, cousin Caroyo (real name = Fernando), cousin Andy (distant I think), and the girlfriend of Carlos (we still called her cousin or "prima") to a bar called "Treinta Ocho" (or "Treinta Once"). We took our seats and Fernando ran down the street to buy two packs of cheese puffs and to buy me two Gatorades. We talked and listened to the music, which was rock - I think the only bar in Machala that does so. They played some good music like "The Hardest Part" by Coldplay, "What I Got" by Sublime, and "Karma Police" by Radiohead! Later in the night, brother-in-law César, sister Patricia María, cousin Alejandro, and cousin Bernardo came. There happened to be an "incident" with the "prima"(involved tossing cookies from the tequila), so César, Alejandro, and Patricia María took her and Carlos home. I talked a lot to Juan, and we got on the music of Arcade Fire! The first Ecuadorian, other than Johnny, who has heard of them. We discussed the amazing music. Then, we finally headed out - 14+ beer pitchers later - at 3 am. I was in the shotgun to watch the wheel on the ride home.

We climbed out of bed around noon and ate some ceviche. The topic of discussion was the poor girl and the previous night. We ate AGAIN, this time some pulled pork, rice, choclo and cheese, and potatoes. Then, they all loaded up in their cars and big Hyundai van and headed back to Guayaquil.

Center of the Arts

Many times I´m just working on the computer or lounging around before I have to leave for a meeting or something, and my Mamá says "Vamos!" I don´t have an easy way to get into town so I stop everything I´m doing, drop my things, sprint to my room to get appropriate clothing (usually jeans and a t-shirt) and my things, and book it to Wacho´s truck. One night, she asked if I wanted to go with her to an art museum. Being the good Rotary student that I am, I agreed (I actually wanted to go, though). So I warp-speeded it to my room and got ready.

We arrived at the building downtown and it was lit up and filled with people. We stepped inside and the center was absolutely amazing. Machala has a lot of trash in the city and doesn´t always look like it appreciates the arts, but this building was a flash to modern times. I was completely awed by the beauty of this building, and it felt like some kind of haven. I tagged along with Mamá and we talked to several people. Inside was filled with artwork, and there was a pianist tickling the ivories and ebonies. The president of the arts (I think) spoke then the mayor. I was following my Mamá then realized that she was heading to stand alongside the mayor and other important people so I veered off her trail and took a place in the crowd.

After the speeches, a choir sang. I wandered around, looking at the art. I headed upstairs to look at the building. I meandered through the empty floors alone, through an eating lounge, theater practice room, and dance rooms. With each floor I was more stunned and felt pride, for what I´m not exactly sure yet. I kept ascending and finally reached the terrace, which had a beautiful view of the downtown city. I made my way back downstairs and fought off some people to eat some hors d´oerves. They were just mauling the waiters for the food. I went to the drink station and found Wacho helping serve drinks! I managed to get a strawberry soda and continued looking at the art.

The pianist at first played classical music, and that made me really miss the piano. Later, he played some modern songs like Eric Clapton and John Lennon. He played "Imagine" and I quietly sang along while gazing at art. It reminded me of playing the piano in the Governor´s Mansion back home in good ol´ Jefferson City, Missouri.

Reina Mundial del Banano

So a few weeks ago was an annual beauty pageant that takes place in Machala. It crowns the "Banana Queen of the World" and is between the winners of different countries. The contestants were here for maybe a week.

I was heading to Interact club with Araceli (really early at that. It was 5:15 and the meeting doesn´t "start" until 5:30. In Ecuadorian time, that means the meeting starts at 6:30, usually, at the earliest), and we noticed a huge crowd downtown along the street. Turns out there was a parade for the Queens! We stood there and watched the dancers and floats pass. When the US contestant drove by, I cheered especially loudly. I felt like I should go to the meeting, but Araceli said that I could just go late because it´s a special event. Eventually the other exchange students came to get me, so then I went to the meeting.

The next night I got slicked up in black attire and my Rotary blazer and hailed a taxi for the Rotary meeting at 8. The Rotary place was decked out in fancy decorations for the banana queens. I hung out with the other exchange students and kids from Interact while we waited for the appearance of the queens. we went to get some ice cream across the street! I think I got "mora" flavored ice cream - a berry. Anyways, we came back, and the queens finally came at maybe 11. They first walked in one-at-a-time and then sat at the front for some pictures. They then came out and talked to all of the people. There were two girls from the US: the winner of last year and the contestant for this year, both from California. They came and talked to us (exchange students) first. They said that they don´t know what´s going on half the time because they don´t speak Spanish. And they are homesick. And they think we are brave and valient and courageous and charming and charismatic (ok, maybe they only said the first one) because we are going to stay here for a year. After a little chit-chat, I ran around with another exchange student as my photographer and got pictures with all the ones that were there. We were dodging through people, jumping into photos, and intercepting the contestants. At the end we talked again with the US girls and with the girl from Brazil, who spoke English but not Spanish. The night ended with a large congo line/dance circles with the older Rotary men dancing with the beauty contestants. They finally worked their way to the door and left. After all that excitement, we ate some shrimp crépes, brownies, and guayábana cake. Took a taxi home and settled into bed at 1:13 am - on a school night!

The exchange students presented their flags at a fashion show thing in an old mall the next week. We just walked down the stage in our blazers and waved our flags around. Later in the night they presented the queens. They tried to speak Spanish to them all, along with some English (very little English), and some with a translator (for the girl from Germany). I don´t know when or how they decided, but the Banana Queen of the World utimately was the chica from Venezuela. And I do have a picture with her.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Drinks are pretty different here too. Since the water is not safe to drink, pretty much every household has either boiled water or purified water (in large water containers). You can use the water to brush your teeth and stuff but just not to drink. More common to drink is soda. It´s oftentimes the only option to drink. Unlike the USA, strawberry, orange, and apple soda are everywhere. I prefer the strawberry personally.

Many drinks are also served in plastic bags. At school, kids buy soda in bags and drink out of them with a straw. It looks quite humorous because the students are running around with a hamburger in one hand and a bag-o-soda in the other. My first bagged drink was "batido de guineo" which is like a banana milk. All this drink is blended banana, milk, and a little bit of sugar. I tried "batido de naranjilla" in Pasaje last weekend, and it was good too. I made some last night for myself. All we had were "plátanos" in the house so I went out and asked Juan, the security guard, if it would still taste alright if I used it (many times I go out and ask him about cooking things). It was good.

Since the fruits are so good, of course the juices are incredible too. What I found kind of ironic was that we have Florida orange juice because my Papá likes the taste better. The juices are fresh and usually are just the fruit with some sugar added. Common for juice (and what I am in love with) is the "tomate de arbol." The pineapple juice was great as well. One that I´m not really fond of is "tamarindo" juice. It has kind of a sharp taste and isn´t too sweet. One of my uncles told me that I should be careful with it - then he showed me the action of someone going to the bathroom. That was funny seeing that. With the Morocho´s this past weekend I drank a lot of peach juice! We also have a lot of mango juice.

Here the legal age for pretty much everything is 18. Still, pretty much every kid has already had an alcoholic beverage. My family is a fan of wine on the weekends, but most of the people here drink beer. I tasted the beer, and I think it is disgusting. I did like the "cocktail de menta" that I tried. My Papá here makes a soup here with tobasco, whiskey, and oysters (once with shrimp). There are other things in it but I don´t know what they are. This soup was quite a kick in the mouth and took a little while to get used to. I think it might have been the whiskey. I eat it now with plenty of chifles to depress the taste.

Disclaimer: I am allowed to drink by Rotary rules (can´t get inebriated or soaped).

The milk here is is either bags or cartons which is different. A lot of times I have chocolate milk and to make that they put in a chocolate called "Milo." Pretty much everyone knows what that is for reasons that I do not know. Coconut "agua" and "jugo" is also common. There are vendors who sell it on the streets. The "agua" is the milk straight from the coconut. Johnny and I got some in Pasaje and the vendor just cut a hole in the coconut and poured it right out for us. I´m not too wild about it. I haven´t had the "jugo" yet; it´s thicker and made with some other ingredients. I haven´t really had any other drinks off of the street.

In summary, I just can´t get enough of these juices!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


So to put it plainly, the food is incredible. The word everyone here uses for every single food is "rico." When someone asks me about the food I just say "rico" and they wildly agree. I haven´t gotten sick at all from it. The locals here say that the food gives some people problems. I think the test is food from the streets. After a week here, I had "pastel de pollo" and didn´t have any issues so I passed.

Here they eat a small breakfast, a large lunch, and a small dinner. For breakfast I usually eat Zucaritas, which are Frosted Flakes Spanish-style, and a toasted sandwich. These sandwiches are all over the place here. They´re just a sandwich with cheese and sometimes a single slice of ham/bologna. They are toasted by an appliance that is like a photo-copier in that it presses the sandwich. I was surprised at how common these are. They sell them at school, and when I went to Guayaquil with Johnny, we went to a little café that sold them.

Lunch is amazing. It´s even better because after 7 hours of school, I´m starved (because I try to hold back on eating at school). It starts out with soup, usually of vegetables. Sometimes the soup has a chunk of meat or some choclo in it. The main course is a meat (most often chicken). Sometimes it´s fish, sausage, shrimp, or beef. With pretty much every meal, there is rice! What I like even more is the fried egg on top of the rice. Sometimes instead of rice (or with rice) we eat "puré" which is just cold mashed potatoes.

Accompanying the meal is often some form of banana. There are a ridiculous (in a good way) number of ways to call bananas here. They have patacones made from "verdes" which are just hard, green bananas. The next most common type of banana is "maduros" which are cooked, sweet bananas.

With the Morocho family, I had plenty of "firsts." I ate chichurrón (fried pork), morocho (the rice milky drink), and umas (sweet smashed choclo) with cheese. This past weekend we stopped by their plantations, and they pointed out to me many new fruits. It was quite crazy how all those fruits were in one place.

Empanadas are amazing as well. They are just little fried bread pockets of cheese or pockets of "verdes" with meat. The ones with cheese you eat with sugar so they´re even better!

Another thing that I love here is ceviche! This is a soup of sometimes fish or shrimp. It has onions (here I love the onions. I think they´re just usually cooked with lime) and some other spices, and you eat it with squeezed limes, chifles (banana chips), and bread. Encebollado is really similar to ceviche (just as delicious!), and I still don´t know the difference. I´ve been saying that I am going to make these when I go back to the USA because I won´t be able to live without them.

And, of course, the fruit is unbelievable. I am eating a fruit right this second that I haven´t ever heard of before; it´s called "mamey" and is orange, hard as an apple, and sweet. They have amazing mangos, papayas, and granadilla. The last one was a fruit I´d never heard of before too. One day another foreign exchange student brought a granadilla to school and was in love with them. She showed me how to eat it, and I tried some - and big surprise, it was amazing. It was a bunch of slimy, semi-crunchy seeds exploding with delicious juicy flavor. I don´t ever remember loving mangos in the USA, but here I love them. I can even cut my own. The seed is large, and you suck on it to get the fruit off - detriments to this is that your teeth get filled with little mango strands and your hands and face are drenched in mango juice. But it´s still worth it. Surprisingly enough, I don´t eat as many bananas here (even though I am in the banana capital of the world). I haven´t noticed that they are incredibly better, but the other fruits make up for it. One week Wacho brought some "mandarinas" from his farm and they were the size of softballs! They were so juicy and sweet. In the orangy fruits there are like 20 seeds in each one. But it´s worth it for them too.