Saturday, January 23, 2010


Johnny with all the properties and money. He spared me a couple dollars

Me (Pepe) with the Morocho family

Johnny cleanin' out my nose

The Morochos wanted to spend some time with me over the holidays, but I couldn't because I was with my host family here in Puerto Bolívar. Geovanna then called me again and invited me to go to Cuenca with them.

I've heard so much about Cuenca and wanted to go so much. My brother Fernando always says that I'm from Cuenca. He once asked me where I was from and I said "la Ciudad de Jefferson" (the City of Jefferson). He looked at me and said "Oh, so you're from Cuenca." I had no idea what he was talking about and so he asked me again where I was from. I said "la Ciudad de Jefferson." Then he turned to the nanny, Araceli, and asked her "What's the Ciudad of Jefferson?" A smirk grew on her face, then she answered "Cuenca." My brother turned back to me and said that I'm from Cuenca. He eventually told me to look up Jefferson Pérez, who turned out to be an Olympic runner from Cuenca. So now my whole family jokes about how I come from Cuenca.

On Saturday, January 2, 2010, Johnny's dad picked me up, we went to Pasaje to pick up the others, then we went to Cuenca! Geovanna's neice and her family went with us, too. It was so cool in the car, climbing up into the mountains and seeing the change from the coast to the sierra. We first went to a lookout point over the city. Then we went to Cuenca's downtown. It was all historic looking. We passed people washing clothes in the river and drying them on the grassy hill (something typical in Cuenca). We went to eat "mote pillo" which is a corn mixture with egg. We got a hotel for the night. Johnny and I got a room with three beds to ourselves!

I asked my Machala exchange students if they knew anyone's number in Cuenca and it turned out that a Machaleña, Anna, was in Cuenca. What a coincidence. Johnny and I went to the mall to see her and her family. We actually first went to the big mall, and she was at a smaller one, but we finally found them. Johnny and I took a taxi with Anna's host-cousin's daughter's boyfriend to the house of Anna's host-aunt (that's confusing). Cuencanos are known for the way they speak: they pronounce the letter "r" as a "sh" and they are said to "sing" when they talk. I really like the way it sounds (and I think it'd be easier because then I wouldn't have to roll my r's which is so hard). Anyways, after the taxi ride, I whispered to Johnny that I didn't understand anything the boy said, and he said, laughing, that he didn't either. We talked with Anna's cousin's daughter and the boyfriend for a while. They both have strong Cuencan accents (it was cool talking to them). Johnny and I then went back to the hotel. He joked and told me to turn on the air conditioning, so I went and opened the window. It was so fresh and cold - quite different from Machala. It was the first time I felt cold in Ecuador!

Geovanna got us up, we ate breakfast, and then left for "El Cajas." It's a national park with mountains and lakes. While the adults went to buy the entrance tickets, I hid in the car, acting as a local (I do have an ID from Ecuador though!). When we were in and walking around, I pulled on my hood and wore my sunglasses, and we had everyone call me "José" or "Pepe" (because that's everyone in my family's name). That was pretty funny - idea of Geovanna. We walked around on paths in the beautiful park and climbed the hills. We drove to different lookout points and walked around more, passing a ton of llamas with crystal-like eyes! We met a European couple traveling South America in a VW microbus with a shark mouth painted on the front and California license plates. Crazy!

We ate trout (common near El Cajas) at a cool cabin restaurant. We also had canelazo, a warm, alcoholic beverage typical in the sierra. We stopped in Cuenca and I tried my first cuy! They cut the guinea pig off the skewer, cut me off a leg, and served it with corn, potatoes, and onions. It wasn't too bad. After I ate the meat off, Johny (the dad) kept the little paw in a napkin and pulled it out in the car as a prank to Geovanna and Jocelyne. On the way out of Cuenca, we bought pork that was spinning on giant grills over big coal pits.

On the way back to Pasaje we stopped at a little street-side, Catholic Saint shrine. In Pasaje, we ate the delicious pork with some delicious Missouri BBQ sauce (my Christmas gift for them). Their Christmas gift to me was Ecuador-version Monopoly! We played it then with Johnny's cousin who's from Quito. I was so winning for most of the game, but somehow Johnny ended up with everything. What luck.

Friday, January 22, 2010


On the morn after Christmas, Marilou (my host parents' good friend who was born here in Puerto Bolívar, now lives in Miami, and is staying in our house for a couple months) came into my room and asked me if I wanted to go to Jambelí, the closest beach. I hopped out of bed, got dressed, and grabbed my sunscreen and Blues Brothers shades.

The only way to get there is by boat from the pier near my house. It takes about thirty minutes on the tiny, vacillating boat. I went with Marilou, cousin Roberto, and his wife, Meng. We pulled on the life jackets and luckily made it to Jambelí safely. The thing about Jambelí is that a couple months ago, the tide kept getting higher and higher and it kind of destroyed the beach (and like the buildings on the island of Jambelí). They're still reconstructing it, and because of that, there weren't many people. There were workers shoveling sand off the side walk, and there was only like fifteen feet of beach. It was such a hot day and we walked along the beach. We had an "encebollado de pescado" and then got seats under a nice umbrella, where we gazed at the ocean.

That's pretty much all we did. We ate again. I had some shrimp "ceviche." I spent my Boxing Day on a beach in Ecuador. How great.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Año Nuevo

The tradition here in Ecuador for New Years is to burn life-sized dolls called "años viejos." In maybe mid-November, I started to see "años viejos" on the streets of Machala for sale. For sale are usually hard ones made of paper-maché. Sometimes they just sell the heads, too. They vary in size, some being just two feet tall and others being taller than me. I hear there's a competition in Guayaquil, and I think they get pretty big. Passing through Machala on December 31, there were "años viejos" completely lining the streets.

I helped make a traditional one with my uncle and his family. My aunt sewed pants to a shirt and sewed the openings of the clothes shut. We then stuffed him with wood chips and newspaper, along with little fireworks (that just explode). We stuck a pole in the shirt for his spine and fixed his head on. "Año viejo": completed!

On New Years Eve, I went with my host-mother to a presentation where she spoke. Before she spoke were dancing "widows": men dressed up like women dancing around to get money (also some kind of tradition). That was very strange. Then we looked at "años viejos" - a lot were about the freedom of expression. We went back home and prepared for midnight.

The whole family went out onto the boardwalk (in front of our house) where we had chairs. We gathered the "años viejos" - we bought ones of Michael Jackson, Eduardo Maururi (the manager of the soccer team Barcelona), and Elmo and had the one we made - and stuffed them with more explosives. We layed them in a pile and poured lighter fluid on them. At midnight, we set them ablaze! There were flames all along the street. The explosives inside the "años viejos" kept popping even ten minutes after we lit them. A piece of debris hit me in the cheek from one while I was taking a picture.

We watched fireworks launched off the terrace of the house and ate grapes covered in sugar (for each one you eat, you make a wish, but you can only eat twelve) and bizcotelas (Ecuadorian cookies).

We went back to the house and ate dinner. I stayed up with five other relatives until sunrise, talking and dancing to music from the 70's. I think that's good luck for the new year. I heard that normally the whole family stays up all night, but this year most of the family left.

That night (the first of January) I swam in the pool underneath a beautiful moon.


So I thought Christmas Eve was going to be a day full of family, but when I woke up that morning, everybody was already at work. Later in the day I wrapped gifts with my sister-in-law Paola while we listened to my collection of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Christmas songs.

I took a nap to prepare for the late night, and relatives started coming around 11:00 pm. We ate a big turkey meal, with the kids continually asking the parents how much time there was until midnight. Then when the clock struck twelve, the chaos of present-passing and present-opening began. A popular gift for me were t-shirts: I got two of the Galapagos Islands, one of Ecuador, and one button-up short-sleeve (plus the t-shirt I got from my MO parents). We stayed up and talked with family. Later we had a visit from the neighbor who is someone important in the military.

The next morning I ate some of the leftover dinner (which we ate for probably the next week. This tradition is the same in every country). I walked to the nearby grocery store and got ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies (chocolate chips provided by MO family because there aren't any here). My neices and nephew helped me make them. They turned out a little unevenly cooked so we moved to Paola's oven, but they were still kind of formless. We're thinking it was because we used tub butter instead of stick butter. We still ate them, along with a fair share of the dough. A popular name donned by my neices for the cookies is "Logan chips" - and they continue to ask me when we're going to make them again. In between cooking the cookies, I took a dip in the pool under the hot sun with the rest of the family!

(Also to celebrate the Christmas time, I put up the sticky snowflakes my family sent me on my bathroom mirror)

Navidad de Intercambios

For Christmas, the exchange students had a couple par-tays. The first was a dinner hosted by our Rotary clubs. We feasted and got little gifts from the Rotarians (I got some cologne initially, but the German boy wanted that, so we traded, and I got a t-shirt).

The next party was organized by us, the exchange students. We each prepared things (I made lil' smokies with homemade bbq sauce - thank you Julie for the instructions). I was a little worried before the feast because that morning, Juan José took me to check out the banana plantation, and I hadn't the slightest idea of what I was going to make. I whipped up my dish, and we had the feast at the house of a foreign exchange student. It was quite delicious, might I add.

Something funny that a couple of the girls made for the exchange students was a t-shirt with a picture of the Machala exchange students. I haven't worn it yet, but I'm sure there will be a time that calls for it. After that we had a piñata! A couple of girl exchange students went first, and then I went up to bat with the broom handle - and I quite literally mean "bat" because someone pitched it to me, and thanks to all those years of Parks and Rec baseball in middle school, I nailed that piñata. Since the handle was of weak metal, I might have or might have not bent it. We'll just say I dominated that piñata. We then gathered up the candy like a bunch of seven-year-olds. What great Christmas fun!

Saturday, January 16, 2010


My brother-in-law, César, invited me to go biking with him one morning. Since I really miss biking, I was super-excited to go with him. He picked me and his brother, Kike (real name is César also, but they call him Kike), up, and then we went to borrow some bikes from his friend. We met up with about 5 other cyclists before we headed out.

We biked from Machala to Pasaje (Johnny's city) which I think is about 12-15 kilometers away. On the way, I saw Johnny's dad driving to Machala, looking at us. The view was beautiful: mountains extending over the endless banana plants. When we arrived in Pasaje, we ate an incredible "encebollado de pescado." Kike and I then biked to visit Johnny and his mom in their fabric store.

We left Pasaje and took another route to Machala. We were getting pretty tired, but we still went along a long horrible, rocky, muddy road to one cyclist's banana farm. We drank water and walked (more like waddled) around the plantation. We all felt so sore. We made it back to Machala and were so glad to sit on something not shaped like a bike-seat. Even two days after this bike ride, it still hurt to sit on a hard seat! We went home, exhausted, sweaty, and muddy. I took a shower and just slept. My family thought that I had disappeared because when I got home from the ride, I only saw a glimpse of Marilou before I retreated to my bedroom to crash.


One Christmas tradition in my family (and for others) is called "La Novena." It stands for nine days of worship before Christmas. My family starts it a little before the nine days prior to Christmas to be able to be flexible to fit schedules. Each night we spend the "Novena" at a different house of a family member. One night it was at my aunt's house, another night my cousin's house, another night my uncle's house, and the final night it was at my house.

At 7:00 pm, we would meet outside the designated house on the patio. To start the "Novena," we'd sing songs. One that sticks out is the one we always sang first. Half of our group of family members would stand apart from the other half, sometimes standing on the other side of a fence or a window and othertimes just standing away from the other group. The song that accompanied this act dealt with Joseph and Mary looking for a place to rest in Bethlehem. The group on the outside was Joseph and the group inside was the innkeeper.

Then, a designated person would read the script for that specific night with some unison reading, too. The night at our house I read a little bit of the script! We'd then pray aloud, asking God for things ranging from safety to Barcelona (the soccer team) winning, and after each "petition," we'd say a line together (something like "y así sea") that meant something along the lines of "let it be so." We'd then sing Christmas carols in Spanish. There were two ridiculous tongue twister songs that I could never say and just laughed through. Then we'd eat something prepared by the host. New Christmas experience!


So I had my first big sickness about a month ago, just shy of four months on my exchange. It was the sickness that my family said I should have gotten in the first week of my exchange. I won't go into too many details about it, but I'll account you on the before and after.

Saturday was the whole PIGFEST 2009, and then on Sunday, my brother Juan José and cousin Alejandro asked if I wanted to go to Guayaquil. I drove up with Alejandro, and we cruised the malls. We picked up some pizza and churros (with chocolate and caramel) and ate them with Juan José. Then I went with Alejandro and another cousin Juan Sebastian to downtown Guayaquil. We walked along the Malecón 2000 (boardwalk) and went to a really cool independent art exhibit in a hostel facing the boardwalk. After we briefly checked out Las Peñas, the oldest part of Guayaquil set on and around a hill, we stopped at a little place to eat shawarmas (like a chicken gyro).

Monday morning, I was feeling fine. I ate some remains of the churros (which I placed in the fridge the night before). I then went with Juan José to Café de Tere, where we ate tigrillo (mainly egg and cheese) and meat with rice. He took me to the post office to send off a package to the US. We had to go make copies of my ID so the second time we went to the post office, we didn't pull in to the lot. Because of this I had to cross maybe six lanes of busy traffic (there was a median in the middle) and it took five minutes. I really felt like Frogger (I was fulfilling Rachel's nickname for me). Alejandro picked me up and we went to T.G.I. Friday's. I was full so I didn't order anything; I just picked at the desserts that they got at the end of the meal. I went back to the apartment and slept. When I got up I felt queasy and sick. My body purged the food. I told my host-father and brothers (Andrés and Juan José) who were joking about the whole thing. My father ordered my brothers to pick up medicine; they brought like five. I took them, then lost them.

The next morning I ate fruit and then tossed that in the afternoon. I made it back to Machala with my uncle in the transportation van. For the next day I ate lightly and recovered.

Diagnosis: Each person in my family thinks it was caused by something different.
My mother thinks it's because I just ate too much over the past couple days (with the pig and then the eating in Guayaquil).
My father thinks it was the shawarma that he had never heard of before (when he talks about it he always calls it "shawarbamba" in a derisive way).
My brother Fernando thinks it was just chance that I got hit with it, like maybe it was the lettuce or tomato on the shawarma.
My brother Juan José thinks it was because I crossed six lanes of busy traffic and was in shock.
Alejandro thinks it was the tigrillo I ate with Juan José (especially after I told him that I had eaten shawarma again and nothing happened).

I don't even know what to think with all their opinions. My family still laughs about that night when I came into the room where Juan José, Andrés, and my father were watching TV, pale-faced, and said "Acabo de vomitar." Whenever my father does the reenactment, he always gives me a super-exaggerated United States accent.