This week was my first week in Quito, Ecuador! I was very excited to start my summer program with IES: Quito and the Galapagos Islands, Summer 2013 and glad I am able to track and share my experiences in a completely new country on this blog.
I left only a few days after my Spring semester finals, so I had a very limited time to get my things together and see my family. That being said, I was still super anxious to start this adventure. I flew out last Tuesday morning from Sea-Tac and had a long layover in the Houston Airport. Next was my flight into Quito and I sat next to a student who was traveling to Ecuador for another summer study program and a man whose wife was Ecuadorian and had been to here a few times before, giving me many pieces of advice. Arriving at the Quito airport, which had just replaced the old Quito airport less than a year ago, but further outside the city, I collected my things, found a woman from my program who was with a few other students from my program. We arrived late at night, so nit was difficult to see much of the city, and took a bus into Quito to meet up with our host families. I met my “Ecua-mom” and “Ecua-dad”, as we refer to them, and immediately began testing my Spanish skills. They also has their 26 year old daughter living with them, Stephanie. I was very tired from the long day of flying and went to bed right after getting to their house, which would be my home for the next month. Their home is right in the middle of Quito, but nice and comfortable for guests and they also have two cats.
The city of Quito is surrounded by the Andes mountains and up roughly 9,000 ft, so the first few days are supposed to be a bit difficult adjusting to that altitude. I certainly could feel this difference! The first three days we were here, we had orientation from IES Abroad and the Universidad de San Francisco Quito, where I would be studying. They brought in a few speakers about safety, health, and culture shock into the IES Quito office, which is in the heart of the Quito financial district, and fortunately very accommodating! We were are taken to a very nice restaurant overlooking the valley east of Quito and tried some traditional Ecuadorian fare. In my program for the summer, there are 12 students, all from different schools throughout the US and it was awesome to meet the people I would be spending much time with the next 2 months.
On the second day of orientation, we were able to get out and walk around the huge, close-by Parque Carolina where people in Quito often go for recreation and other festivals. We strolled the area and sat down at a nice cafe for snacks and drinks, still getting to know these new people. At the end of the second day of orientation, we were told that we were going on a tour of the Quito old city. We went on a bus and our tour guide was very comprehensive, telling us about the history of the Quito and who used to live here. We stopped and went inside an amazing 17th century church, very important to Quito’s religious history. The church was covered in gold leaf on every single wall, astonishing. We were given a tour and shown who has presided overt he church’s administration in the past. Next, we went o go see the iconic Virgin Mary statue up top of the hill above the old town. It is much like the well recognized statue in Sao Palo, Brazil and is constructed exclusively of aluminum. We then went to a relatively fancy restaurant close-by directly across from the Ecuadorian White House, where the well-liked President Correa made an appearance in preparation for the ingratiation of his 3rd election and Ecuadorian independence day holiday the next day, 24 de Mayo. We learned that Ecuador gained their independence in 1830 from Venezuela and Columbia and celebrated this every year.
The next day was our first day on the campus of the Universidad de San Francisco Quito campus, located in the valley east of Quito, where they also gave us an orientation and review of our time in Ecuador. This got us very excited about the next few weeks!
On Saturday, our first weekend, we had a very special trip planned. We headed north on the Pan American highway with a guide and tour bus. We went on a short hike at the Mercado de los Ponchos volcano crater, unique because two islands have formed in the middle of the crater´s lake after millions of years with an active ash spew. After learning about this volcano, we headed to lunch in the town of Otavalo, famous for their market of textiles and leather goods. The Otavaleno people make many traditional crafts and are known as successful business people, selling what they make. The are also very proud of their separate culture and often wear traditional garb. We went o their large, market, one of the first and most well-known in all of South America. I bought a few gifts, making deals with the vendors, and others in my program went wild and bought everything they could get their hands on. After this day, we were all very tired and unfortunately, a few people began to get sick from either the altitude change or foods they were not used to eating.
On Sunday, we were ready for another day trip. We left Quito once again to head about 60 kilometers north to el Midad del Mundo, or the Middle of the World, otherwise known as the equator line, what this country gets its namesake from. We first went to another volcano, which is very protected and the one one in Ecuador that has people actually living inside the crater. This small indigenous group is self-sustainable and moved to the crater over one-hundred ago. Next it was time to go to the Equator museum. Our tour guide was very cool and we learned a ton about many of the indigenous tribe´s customs throughout Ecuador, including one group which has a ritual of shrinking the heads of their enemies as a trophy. The have many scenes depicting both the people from the Amazon region as well of the Ecuadorian coastal area. Then we saw the Equator line, took many pictures, and we were shown a few demonstrations relating to the decrease of gravity on the Equator line, very interesting. We again were treated to lunch at a nice restaurant and took our bus back to Quito to round out a great fist weekend in this beautiful country!
Overall, I am loving this new adventure and had noticed many new and different things in Quito, which is always bustling and crowded throughout the day with traffic that I am sure would surprise any American driver.