Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Handshake

So when I first came to Ecuador I noticed this handshake that the guys do. And it turns out that EVERYONE does it, or at least knows it. It consists of two basic movements.

1. A horizontal high-five (like a handshake)
2. A fist pound

At the beginning I was trying to do handshakes or a hand slap. After weeks of observing this handshake, I tried my hand at it. I hardly had to do anything. I just put my hand out then formed the fist. It is so great! It's so fluid and natural. At the beginning it was cool because everyone just does it automatically. Now it's normal. Still awesome. Sometimes it's confusing of when to do it and when to just do a normal handshake.

It looks a little something like this:

Practice up. Thanks to my host-brother for the sweet hand poses.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


The trip started out with a bus ride to Quito at 9:30 pm. It was funny because half the bus was exchange students. It was a weird ride with in-and-out sleeping and seeing the clock and then the morning came. We were in the mountains at dawn which was really incredible! We got to Quito at about 8:30 am and then went to the little private airport business. We exhausted their sandwiches, juice, and fruit waiting for our flight. Then, we flew for a half hour to Coca on a little plane and then took a chiva for a couple hours. Finally, we boated across the river to the Yachana Lodge. When we got to the main meeting place, they gave us rubber boots and hot towels with some type of essence. We weren't really sure what we were supposed to do because we were hot, but we wiped our faces with the hot towels anyways.

Our tour guide's name was Mauricio. He showed us the various sites - compost site, butterfly house, lookout point. We watched the sun go down over the Napo River. So beautiful! That night, we checked out the store and there were all these tourist-y things. I tested them out and we got some nice pics.

Saturday morning we went to a market across the river. We were just a large swarm of exchange students. The big hit was a man selling a huge pile of clothes - kinda like a Goodwill store. I got this sweet Oxford shirt for $1.

We toured around the Yachana high school which is really cool. The students work and learn farming, recycling, fish growing, microbusiness, as well as the normal subjects. This picture is from the farm - their tomatoes have nothing on Pop's.

We then got ponchos (because it rains quite a bit, if you believe it), and those were pretty AWESOME. I took a bunch of pictures of people in their ponchos looking like rectangles. We also looked like wizards from Harry Potter (see pics).

We canoed across the river and hiked to the chamán (a type of doctor in the jungle). He did this cleansing ritual. He chanted things and blew an herbal smoke around us, then patted us with leaves.

We then practiced the blowgun and javelin. We weren't very good. We aimed at papayas. One girl hit it with the blowgun. You had to really give a hard blow to get the little stick to come out.

Sunday is the Yachana work day. First, some of us carried huge bags of mulch on our shoulders across the campus. I couldn't stop laughing because we had no idea we were going to work, and the mulch was continually spilling out of everyone's bags, and we were having so much trouble. Then, the four boys went with one student back to the campsite. We had to haul huge, heavy wooden tables all the way back to the high school! That was so difficult. The terrain was mountainous, rocky, and slick. It must have been at least 2 miles. We tried so many different techniques (on our heads, on our shoulders, hunched, horizontal, vertical), and not one of them was comfortable. We sweated so much so the table was even harder to hold on to. At the end of the haul, we were so worn out and could hardly carry it anymore (plus, it started raining). I couldn't stop laughing during this, either.

We gathered around a campfire, and the staff showed us different foods. I ate a live worm! It didn't really have a distinct taste. The cooked worms tasted like bacon.

For lunch we ate fresh fish with our hands!

We then hiked around in the rain with our ponchos and boots. I worked on more French, this time with the Canadian (she has such a different accent, though). On this hike, Mauricio showed us how to make a basket and gave us warrior paint.

The stars there were amazing, too! If the sky was clear, you could see so many stars because there weren't many cities with lights. You could also hear monkeys howling in the jungle.

Monday morning, we split up into groups and went to different sites. I was in the group of four that went to the farming. We just hoed the gardens and raked new mulch on. So fun.

That afternoon, we headed upriver on the boat and stopped off at a little sandbar (filled with rocks). We put our life jackets on and went in the ice water. We floated down, having to swim to the opposite side every once in a while. That was so cool. They called it "tubing" but we had no tubes.

We hiked again and saw cayman crocodiles and some birds. Mauricio called the crocodiles. The mama was supposed to come crashing in he said, but never did. We also saw a tree full of little pygmy monkeys!

We went on a night walk on this trail that was the most difficult one we'd walked. Most had flashlights. The purpose I thought was to see nightlife, but we didn't really see anything. Mauricio showed us a frog but that was it.

Wednesday morning we packed up. We had a ton of wet, smelly clothes. Our room (with the four boys) smelled pretty horrid at the end of our stay. Alexis, a boy from Switzerland, asked me why his pants that he left on the floor smelled so bad, and I explained to him the concept of mold. We left the lodge and had a two hour boat ride back to Coca. On this ride, we saw a spider monkey jumping around in a tree. We flew back to Quito and spent the day in the Quicentro mall. That night we ate some Chinese food (I got sick and think it was from that) and then loaded the bus for Machala. This bus looked new and nice, but it was so much more uncomfortable than the ride to Quito. The seats reclined in your lap. Then, we got back to hot Machala.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Trip to Cuenca

Aunt and me

Carnaval in the cold!

Awesome balcony

Lauren is an exchange student from Eugene, Oregon, living in Cuenca. She came at the end of January to Machala to visit the exchange students. She stayed with Anna, an exchange student here in Machala who is also from Eugene, Oregon. We showed Lauren some of Machala (like Jambelí), and she got to meet my family. It was funny because she has a strong Cuencan accent, and generally, the people on the coast don't like how they speak. When she met my family, they were all correcting her idioms and joking about her accent (they didn't hurt her feelings, don't worry). At the end of her stay, Anna and I started talking about how we wanted to go to Cuenca. We got it worked out with the families and went back to Cuenca with Lauren!

We stayed with Anna's aunt who lives in downtown Cuenca, above a little shoe store. The first day there (Wednesday, January 27) we met with a bunch of exchange students - even some others from Machala! We went to this beautiful neighborhood of an exchange student (with parks and grass!). We played some tennis in the amazing cool weather and went back to the house for hot cocoa. I even got to play some piano!

The next morning there was a protest in the street. I watched from the little balcony. I spent a lot of time looking from that balcony - it was so cool! Anna and I walked around downtown and to the river. We went with Anna's cousin to get the cousin's daughter, Domenica, in a little mall. We met with Mathilde (a fellow Machaleña from France) and some other Cuencanos and ate pizza. We went to Lauren's house and met her family. We watched some Homestar Runner because we were remembering how we used to watch these funny cartoons.

Friday Domenica's brother, Carlos, was at the house. We secretly filled up some balloons with water and he pitched them from the balcony on unsuspecting passersby. Later Anna and I went with Domenica and some friends to a park with some water balloons. It was crazy because sometimes trucks would pass by, filled with people in the bed, and they'd unload water balloons on us. And it was cold. After that dealio, Lauren came with us, and we went to this dumb party. It was horrible because there were only like 15 people there (4 of whom were dancing). For a lot of the time, Lauren, Anna, and I just sat outside on the nice grass talking. At one point I went with the friend (Gudy) who owns the car to get cigarettes for another friend. We didn't find an open store so we just went back. When he was trying to parallel park, I saw two guys about two meters apart looking like they were going to fight. I noticed one scrape something on the ground and it turned out to be a hatchet! He then started striking it on the rock wall, and sparks were flying around! Then Gudy just pulled out and we drove in circles for a parking spot. We got the girls then eventually dropped Domenica at her house. Her dad then walked us home. He is such a nice and cheery fellow! That was one crazy day.

I dreamt that I was talking with some friends on the patio of my house in Puerto Bolívar. My real brother, Andy, was there, too, and he had a drum. He was playing it really loudly, and I couldn't hear my friends. Then I woke up, and there was a parade outside on our street with bands and really loud drums. Anna and I went to her cousin's house and got ready to play Carnaval. We played with Domenica and Carlos. We got water balloons ready, had buckets, a hose, foam, and corn starch. In the end I was on a team with Carlos. We experimented with the balloons, filling some up with water and air, others with foam and water. The ones with water and air worked the best, if they didn't explode in the moment before they left our hands. The ones with only water would bounce off the target and just explode on the ground. The hose was pretty dominant, except we double teamed it - one was the distraction and the other went for the faucet. Or we would just put a kink in the hose. After that whole deal, we were pretty much frozen, and we cleaned up. We met with our exchange student friends and went to eat. It was crazy because so many exchange students from Machala were in Cuenca. What a coincidence.

Sunday we packed up and reluctantly went back to Machala. The weather in Cuenca was so nice and cool. When we arrived in Machala we were sweating and uncomfortable. Oh well, c'est la vie.



Riquísimo crab

Everyone here talks about how delicious the crab is. I hadn't eaten any until mid-January! And it was quite delicious. I went with my brother Juan José, Wacho, my mother Patricia, Marilou, and Nicola.

Nicola (we call him Nico) is the 19-year-old grandson of Marilou. His mom was born in the US, his dad is from Italy, and he was born in France. So, he speaks French, Italian, and English (he has a French accent when he speaks). He came here to work for the Ugartes and also to travel. After Quito, my sister-in-law Paola picked me up from Machala to take me to Puerto Bolívar. I had no idea about Nico until she told me about him. She just kept saying that he was a giant. It was funny because when we got to the house, he was just sitting on the curb looking at the ocean. He is pretty tall and really skinny. I think he's 1.95 meters tall. Figure that out in feet. I'm super confused trying to convert the distances, measurements, and temperatures. Nico's also helping me learn French, little-by-little.

Anyways, we got our crabs and started hammering away. They were so good. Nico wanted to hand his camera off, so he was leaning in his plastic chair with his arm outstretched. Then, the leg of the chair doubled, and he collapsed on the floor. It was funny because he's just so big and that we stuck out even more. He then stacked two plastic chairs and sat on them for the rest of the meal. What a great first crab-eating experience!

Monday, February 1, 2010


Paintball gang

Mitad del Mundo!

Non-moving guard

The awe-inspiring Basilica

Sebacho and I on a mountain looking down at Quito

I had a college interview in Quito, so you know what that meant: road trip to the capital of Ecuador! When I came back with the Morochos from Cuenca, I met Johnny's aunt and cousin who are from Quito. We talked to them to see if we could stay in their house and they said it was fine. Johnny and I had this big plan to go to Quito, have my interview, and stick around to get to know the city.

I went back to my Puerto Bolívar house Monday morning after staying the night in Pasaje (from the Cuenca trip). I had to go to Guayaquil for the flight and I learned that my mother was going to Guayaquil that day. I was at the house for two hours (one of those hours was spent frantically running through the house getting packed and sweating). On the way up, Johnny called me and told me he couldn't make it to Quito with me because he had to matriculate for university. Then I was a little nervous about going to Quito alone, but he said his family would still take me. We dropped my mother off for her flight to Quito, and I went to a mall with Marilou and Wacho to eat. I tried to book a flight there on the internet, because I hadn't done that yet, but it wouldn't let me. We went to the apartment and made some calls to get my ticket. Phew. We picked up my host mother from the airport because her meeting with the President in Quito was changed when she arrived.

The next morning I left with Wacho to the airport (there was traffic so I was pretty nervous about arriving on time). I got on plane and went to Quito! Johnny's cousin Sebastian (19 years old) and his uncle was there waiting for me when I arrived. We hitched a bus and went to a couple malls. We almost got robbed! How crazy is that? My first day in Quito. There were two guys and a girl (around our age) who started talking to us on the sidewalk. Friendly small talk followed, and they eventually asked to see our phones to look at our "pictures." I even had my camera. Luckily, Sebastian told them that I had nothing and I'm just an exchange student. They did get their hands on Sebastian's phone and started looking at it. They tried to get us to go inside a store while one punk would stay outside with the phone, but we didn't leave. Sebastian kept talking to them, and they threatened to smash and step on his phone, but they then just gave it back. We hurried inside to the mall then and relaxed by the ice rink. Sebastian thinks that they were in a gang because they had some tattoos. We then went to the Teleférico where we rode a cable car up to the top of this mountain on the side of Quito. It was such a beautiful view of Quito. It was colder and windier too. We walked along the paths and got so worn out because of the altitude. We spent quite a while looking around, then went back down. We wandered through a desolate amusement park, ate at the mall, and took a bus back to the house.

I got up early and worked on an essay while Sebastian slept. We (Sebastian, his parents, his neice, and I) ate lunch at Sebastian's sister-in-law's house. We drove around a little then went back to the house. I got ready for my interview, and the family dropped Sebastian and me off. I had the interview with two grads (it took maybe forty-five minutes), and when I finished, Sebastian was outside waiting for me. How nice. Sebastian wanted to practice English, but I told him that I wasn't sure if the interview would be in English or Spanish. Because of that, we spoke Spanish before the interview. On the walk home from the interview, we spoke English. Later that night, we talked for a long time to the neighbors (until 2:15 a.m.) in the cold!

I went early with Sebastian to his university because he had to matriculate. I met some of his friends. He took especially long because the computer malfunctioned and he had to ask for more time. We went to the mall with his family and ate there again. Sebastian and I went home so I could finish the essays. After that I went with Sebastian, his brother, and his mother on a tour of Quito's downtown. We passed a bunch of churches and walked a historic, little neighborhood. We then went to eat shawarmas - and I didn't get sick.

Got up early to see the touristic sites of Quito. I went with Sebastian and his mother first to the Basilica of Quito. This was absolutely amazing! It was so big. Sebastian and I climbed to the top (we had to pay but with my ID, I was an Ecuadorian!). Sebastian is a little afraid of heights, but I kept going up, so he came too. We went back down and went to the President's palace for a tour. The current President doesn't live there, but I think every other one has. We went to a wax museum and then to numerous churches, all lined with gold on the inside. It was incredible how intricate the architecture was. After that, we drove to the "Mitad del Mundo" (Middle of the World) - which I hear isn't the real middle of the world, but that's where the big monument is. We took a ton of photos - of me "holding" the giant orb, standing on the line, climbing the monument, etc. - and went to check out the museum under the monument. We went to Sebastian's relative's house because his cousin married a Swede and her family was touring around Ecuador (pretty random that I was there). We went back to the house and talked with Sebastian's neighbors - this time until 4 a.m.

I was going to go back Saturday morning, but Sebastian's cousins were going to play paintball, and they invited us. So we changed flights and put on old clothes, not knowing really what to expect (this was my first time ever playing). We got there (there were about six of us), and the place rented out suits, guns, and masks. We got colored straps to put on our arms to tell teams. There were two fields: one big one in the woods, and a little one with stacked tires. The first round we played was in the big one. We split up, and I took the upper route. It was really wooded where I was walking and there was no one else, but I kept on going. Since there was so much brush, I couldn't see the ground very well and I fell about three feet into a ditch. It took me five minutes to get out from the stupid ditch covered by prickly brush. I kept going and was at the other end. I shot a couple paintballs, sat trying to clear my mask off, and then heard the other team saying it was over. I came down and they looked at me strangly because I wasn't from their team. Turns out I was out-of-bounds, and they had won. No wonder my "upper route" was so dang hard. We played a bunch of other times, switching off with a group of twelve-year-olds. The worst part was that the mask kept fogging up so it was so hard to see. Other "regulars" kept coming and played with us. Whenever we played with them, Sebastian and I would get worried because they were decked out with extra rounds, walkie-talkies, and their own guns. I got hit a couple times - the worst one being right on the top of the head. It was a pretty fun time. We went back and I ate some typical food from Quito with Sebastian: yaguarlocro (a soup) and fritada (pork). I packed up, and Sebastian and his brother took me to the airport. I missed the first flight but got one for an hour later. The view from the plane was stunning because it was right at sunset, so I saw the lit city of Quito, a layer of clouds, and above the clouds, the sun going down. I made it to Guayaquil (in the heat) and my cousin picked me up.