Blame It on the Altitude

         Greetings from Quito! We have had a week of endless adventures, filled with food, hiking, and getting to know one another. From Cuicocha to Imbabura, the Otavalo market to Guachinguero, we’ve been having an Ecuadorian blast! Our hosts at the hostel, La Luna, couldn’t have been better- from the food to the hammocks; we enjoyed our stay immensely. Looking out our windows, we were met with an unreal view of the Andes, and the sounds of dogs barking and roosters crowing.

            On our first day at La Luna, after some minor bumps in the arrival plans of all but Elena, we went on a terrific hike around the haciendas (fancy Spanish word for farm) in the area. Though we were all out of breath by the time we were halfway up the first hill (due to the altitude of course!), the views we were afforded were fantastic and the weather was beautiful. The next day, we went on our longest hike of the trip, an 8 kilometer trek along the edge of Cuicocha lake. Our guide for the week, Washington, gave us some insight as to the effects global warming is having on the Andean region and Ecuador in general. On the next day, we took a more independent approach and ventured out on our own to a small waterfall near La Luna. We traveled to another, better known, waterfall, Peguche, a day or two later and literally crawled up to the top, only to have to walk another few miles to get to a big lagoon. Sick. We fully intended to hike Fuya Fuya peak on our last trek of orientation, however due to heavy cloud cover, muddy conditions, and sore legs, we only made it around the lake at the base to see Yanacocha Lake (meaning “black lake” in Quechua). This was still the highest point we reached on the trip at just over 11,500 feet.

            On Tuesday we made our first trip to the Guachinguero School, where we were able to first test out our teaching skills. To get to the school we wound down and up narrow, cobblestone, mountain paths, and past cows, horses, sheep, dogs, and pigs grazing in the fields and along the sides of the road. When we finally arrived at the school, we were greeted by the shy, expectant faces of the younger children. During our two days at the school we had the opportunity to teach English, play games, sing and talk with the children. We all thoroughly enjoyed our experience at the school and were touched by the warmth and enthusiasm of the children and the teachers.

            As for the food, La Luna took pretty good care of us all week long. Over the course of the week, our stomachs grew from “pajaritos”(little birds) to full-fledged hawks. The charming La Luna staff greeted us on Saturday evening with homemade chili and chocolate cake with ice cream. Each morning, we were met with a delicious breakfast, always complete with homemade hot chocolate and fresh-squeezed fruit juice.  Most days, we were on our own for lunch. Our most memorable lunch experience found us in La Cocina de Alberto, where we received a greenish-gooish-looking dessert. After further investigation, we realized that it was supposed to be lime jello. Yuck, that’s all I have to say about that. Our dinners at La Luna were equally as wonderful as everything else that the hostel offered. However, our favorite dinner was in Quito at a Lebanese restaurant called Baalbek. After the owner invited himself to our table and essentially ordered our meal for us, we were served delectable course after course. From hummus to falafel to baklava, we were thoroughly impressed. The climax of the evening, however, came when a chocolate cake arrived for Elena´s 18th birthday celebration. After eating way too much, we still had half a cake left, and so we unceremoniously smushed Elena´s face into the remaining portion of the chocolatey treat. Looking forward to ten more weeks filled with yummy food.

            This week has been filled with some unexpected experiences that did not necessarily fit in under the categories of hiking, teaching, and food. For example we learned how to weave our own miniature rugs on the same looms that Andean artists have been using for centuries. On Wednesday we went to the Otavalo market which was filled with handmade hammocks, sweaters, and wall hangings. We got to practice bargaining in Spanish and talking to the artists themselves about their culture, families, and livelihoods. Lastly, we also got to all stand along the equator together and attempt to balance an egg on a nail (turns out it is not so impossible as you might think when both hemisphere forces are pushing against one another). All in all this week has been the start of what we all know is going to be an incredible three months. We are really looking forward to meeting our host families and getting settled into San Luis de Pambil as teaching interns. We will keep everyone posted on the journey!

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