Sunday, March 20, 2016

On the Road Again

Week 2: Quito, Ecuador 
(February 23 - February 26)  

I looked out the window at the landscape and dirt roads flashing by as the bus emerged from the vast array of vegetation in the depths of the Cloud Forest of Mindo onto a paved road leading to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We swerved down roads zig zagging the mountains encircling the boundless valleys. My eyes fixated on the breath-taking scenery as music flowed through the bus. After two hours of traveling through the mountains, we stopped at what our bus driver, Gandhi, claimed was the 'most beautiful crater in Ecuador'. Whether it was a crater or a valley is debatable, however it was still a stunning view. We spent the rest of the day visiting and touring the Intiñan Museum, the accurate Equator line. Followed by exploring the Ethnográfico Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) Museum that stands 165 meters south of the actual Equator due to inaccurate calculations made by the Geodesic Mission of the French Academy of Sciences which determined its location in 1743. Vibrantly painted buildings of restaurants and tourists shops surround the Mitad del Mundo.

As we drove through the traffic-thick streets of Quito, I breathed in the heavily polluted air flowing past my window. Although Quito lacked skyscrapers that characterize cities in the United States, it was substantially developed for a developing country. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city, stood a Dunkin’ Donuts. I felt a little bit at home. The city life was a complete contrast to the past week living in nature abundant Mindo. Although being surrounded by the influence of American companies evoked a sense of familiarity – it made me question the role American companies played in developing Ecuador.

We pulled up to the hostel with salmon colored exterior walls and a flourishing courtyard garden. We were reunited with Internet access where I was able to catch-up and reconnect with family and friends. We had luxurious showers! Disclaimer: luxurious showers in South America are showers where the hot water came from a hot water heater rather than the shower-cap heaters that spits out frigid or sweltering hot water. After spending eight days in Mindo, during the wet season of Ecuador, we finally had a chance to wash our damp, dirt encrusted and mud spattered clothes.

We spent our days at seminars with our program leaders and taking Spanish classes at EIL (Experiment in International Living), which was a 15 minute bus ride from the Quicentro mall located near our hostel. Friday morning, we put our Spanish language abilities into practice by visiting a local market to buy fruits and vegetables. The market was filled with a variety of colorful native fruits. The English language lacks the words to describe the plethora of tropical fruits, but I have been told that the majority of the fruits are similar to papaya. Afterwards, we all had lunch together in the market flooded with authentic Ecuadorian food. I had the best empanada with cheese!In the afternoon, we visited the charcoal gray stoned statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of a hill overlooking the city. Then we stopped at the Basilica del Voto Nacional, a beautiful church that has four different types of gargoyles encompassed into the design to represent the four regions of Ecuador: the Galapagos Islands, the Coastal Lowlands (La Costa), the Andean Highlands (La Sierra) and the Amazon Rainforest (El Oriente).

In the evening, we explored the Historic Center of Quito with European influenced architecture and cobble stoned pathways. The plaza was full of life: tourists stopping to take photos, crowds forming around the stage, and passer byers. The warm, dim lighting shinned through the darkness of the night. The Virgin Mary statue majestically towered over the Historic Center, as we navigated the our way through the plaza to the restaurant where we would have dinner. I opted to have the streak with BQQ sauce and cheddar cheese, after eating a rice and potato based diet for the last two weeks. At the hostel, we packed our bags to head to San José de Minas for the next month. I have to say I've become quite an expert at packing and stuffing every square inch of my bag. I can't wait for what this next adventure has to bring...on the road again...

View of Crater/Valley
Balancing an egg at Intiñan Museum (the real Equator)

The first Equator calculated by French Academy of Sciences
Our hostel in Quito 
View from our window 

 Roof terrace at Spanish class (EIL)

Our group at the top of the Virgin Mary Statue

 Virgin Mary Statue at El Panecillo 

View of Quito from El Panecillo

Basilica del Voto Nacional 

 Historic Center with Virgin Mary Statue in the distance 
Historic Center (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Touring the Historic Center
Iglesia De San Francisco