Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fiestas de Quito: Chiva!

Every year the city of Quito celebrates its founding through the "Fiestas de Quito". These fiestas last from the 24th of November until the 6th of December!
Ecuadorians from other parts of the country join their Quiteño brethren and visit the city during this time, and visitors from all over the world partake as well. Typical festivities include bull fighting, parties in the streets, at least one day of vacation from school or work for the actual anniversary date (December 6th, if not several days), Chivas (I will soon explain this concept!), concerts, local music, and general celebrations. I happened to be out of town for the majority of the Fiestas (I was in both Tosagua and Santo Domingo with Global Village teams), however I did get to try out one of the traditions.....
Chivas are open-air passenger trucks with benches and a roof which holds a band. Businesses, groups of friends, organizations, etc. rent these vehicles out (complete with band, driver, and alcohol) for a few hour Quito tour including the historic district and part of the new town. Chivas are particularly popular during the Quiteño Fiestas... However, they can be rented at other times during the year and are also found in Guayaquil (the largest Ecuadorian City). Here is a picture of the chiva on which I was a passenger... I appologise for the very bad quality (see below for a back-view)! Other signiture chiva-traditions are the plastic whistles with which all the passengers "keep time" with the band- ---ha.

The passengers are often no concentrated in the seats, but rather on the back of the truck and on top... with the band! The band plays a short selection of local "songs of the pueblo¨ ... over and over again and you can hear strains of the music during all hours of the day through parts of the city during those ten days!
During part of the city tour, the chiva stops at a park so that all the passengers can get out and dance to the music without the constraints of the truck. Here I am (above) with the band during one of their breaks. This particular band had chiva gigs for at least 8 of the 10 nights of "Fiestas."

Volcano Trip!

A couple months ago I went on an excursion to the Volcano, Tungurahua, with a group from the South American Explorers Club (see link to the right, it's a great group in which to be involved as a traveler in South America; they have "clubhouses" in several South American cities.)

This volcano is active and has erupted several times this past summer. The last time it had erupted was the week before our trip! The material being ejected from the volcano is mostly ash and rock, there is no lava. In the time since I went on this trip, the volcano has again spewed ash and rocks...

Our trip leader was Dr. Theo, a geology Professor at the Univerdidad San Francisco, one of the private universities in Quito. Dr. Theo teaches some classes in English and some in Spanish. He is also quite a character: he was born in Germany, grew up in Greece, and teaches in Quito.

He speaks at least German, Greek, Spanish and English fluently and was joking in all the languages, sometimes simultaneously in a couple, ... an indicator of his fluency levels~! To the Right is a photo of Dr. Theo with the French geologist from a French organization which monitors all volcanos in the world.

One of the interesting things about this trip was that Dr. Theo did not just focus on the geology of the volcano and the surrounding areas, he highlighted the social involvement the scientists have had with the local communities during the last few years. This interaction was mostly to educate local leaders and communities so that they would develop emergency plans, warning systems and local refuges during eruption periods.

Several community leaders spoke to the group
about the progress they had made to implement new systems and to alert the towns´ populations about potential dangers. Dr. Theo pointed out a highway stretch to our group where 7 people had died because they didn´t believe warnings that exceedingly hot material (ashes, gases...? somehow I missed this particular point), would be a danger, particularly during late night hours. He considered this a major improvement over what the numbers of dead could have been...

An interesting scene presented itself when we first arrived at the foothills of the volcano... A music video in the making! I am not sure who the signer was, but he was giving an emotional appeal to the camera in front of an ashflow...

March of Hope for Decent Housing

On Saturday, November 17th, I chased a group of hundreds of people all around Santo Domingo, Ecuador...

I was acting as photographer for a Habitat publicity and fundraising event: The First March of Hope for Decent Housing.

Jefferson Perez, (below left) the country´s first Olimpic medalist, lead the event and raised the level of awareness for Habitat´s walk, multiple-fold. Perez is a speed-walker from the city of Cuenca. Cuenca is located South of Quito, in the Andes.
The day before the walk, Daniel (a co-worker, below) and I folded event t-shirts for hours!!

The night before the event, we held a press conference in which Perez was pressed for his views on housing, politics, Ecuador as a country and athletisism in Ecuador. I was really impressed with his answers to the press and he spoke quite a bit about the country´s peoples´ responsibility to take upon themeselves a change before expected the government, and the country, to change.
For some reason, I was targeted to partake in a radio interview...twice! That was definately my first national "pubic" appearance speaking in Spanish... (but has not been the last...); I am not sure if they aired or not! First the reporter interviewed me at the press conference, then again during the walk to get some "on-site feedback."

During the walk, through the high-interest of the press: tv, radio and written, we accomplished the organization´s goal of raising awareness about themeselves, and the issues that Habitat faces.
Perez signed hundreds of shirts, posed for hundreds of pictures and took the stardom in stride. Parents came out to the streets with their kids and camaras with exclamations of "there he is!".
Because I was running around with a video camera, and my camera... a co-worker assigned two military high school students to be my "body-guards"... I think they had fun with the post and I didn´t have to worry about watching my back with the equipment. Here I am with my "guarda-espaldas."

The walk lasted at least three hours and it was REALLY hot, Habitat passed out bags of water. These are common at large events around here... and seem like a pretty smart idea:
They creat less trash and are probably less expensive too!

After the walk there were plenty of formalities, speaches, and some musical and dancing performances. Here´s a local HS dance team and a group of children performing an andinan dance. I thought the younger kids had the best rythm... they were really good!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Galapagos Navidad

I just wanted to post a Merry Christmas to everyone, as I will be on a boat for the next week!

I am taking a 7-day Galapagos trip on the ¨Posiedon¨ until the 27th of December. I will be checking out blue-footed boobies, tortoises, penguins, lots of aquatic animals, and cool volcanic terrain!

To my family and friends, much love to you all!

I will be catching up with my blog posts as soon as possible when I return!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Caiman, bugs and fungi :-) Camping in the Amazon.

During the long holiday weekend here in Ecuador, November 2nd-5th, everyone has a holiday to celebrate Dia de Los Difunctos and the Independance Day of Cuenca.

I took the opportunity to visit another region in Ecuador, "el oriente", the east. The "east" is basically the Amazon Jungle region of Ecuador on the eastern side of the andes, bordered by Colombia and Peru.I took a trip with a group of 7 to visit the "Limoncocha National Biological Reserve." Below is a photo of the group along with our guide, the nephew of the other guide, and a man who lives on the shore of the lake in the reserve.

Our group consisted of three Ecuadorians (one of which is also Colombian), one English, and three Americans (US). The English guy is my yoga instructor, and he planned the trip. He wants to start taking groups of yoga students out to the jungle for retreats.

Above left are Robert (our guide), Ruth, Paula, and Katherina. Below are Robert, James and Kristen.

The trip to "the orient" was a long one: first a 9 hour bus ride from Quito to the city of "Coca", also called "Puerto Francisco de Orellana". 5 of us took the early bus (a la 6:30am) to get to Coca between 3 and 4 in the afternoon.

Coca is a town that has grown considerably in the last 20 years due to the oil boom in Ecuador. It is known as one of cities that the oil workers come into after working out in "the field".

We spent the evening there, staying at a hotel owned by our weekend's guide, Robert, and prepared for our morning departure to Limoncocha.

On day two we traveled farther east from Coca to the Limoncocha reserve. This is a pic of me at the bus station in Coca. I have two eggs on toothpics, a local girl had created a hard-boiled egg stand and would sprinkle salt and pepper on them.. yum!

Limoncocha is a town proximate to the Biological reserve with the same name. It was a 2 hour bus ride to get to Limoncocha and a an hour stop in another oil town. After a lunch at a research station we took a boat around the Limoncocha lake to view birds of the area.

On the other side of a lake we arrived at a dwelling where a family lives that allows people to use their "cabanas" as shelter. We stayed in the Cabanas the first night and hiked further into the Jungle to camp on the second night.

A man who lives by the Limoncocha lake showed us his catch for the evening when we arrived at his dock. The fish on the top is a pirahna, and had begun to eat one of the other fish (see the fish below the pirahna, the tail is half gone!).

Our first night in the reserve we went out into the lake to find the black caiman that live there. The one we were able to approach most closely, below, did not hide because she was guarding a nest of eggs. She was about 4 meters long!

The second day at limoncocha we hiked further into the jungle to make camp. Before we hiked too far in, we had the opportunity to try out a vine swing, made by the family that lives on the shore of the Limoncocha lake. Many of the junge trees were HUGE, and pics don´t do them justice... The pic above of the entire group was taken in front of a tree the size of building!

We recieved a fair amount of rain which made out hike through a bog pretty exciting! there was alot of difficult footing to manuver in order to not sink in the muck!

That day and the next we saw many amazing insects and fungi. Our night-hike uncovered many insects we had not found during the day!

We also found many reptiles and frogs such as these.....

And lot´s of fungi such as these!

Below, Richard holds a "tagua" nut, also called "vegetable ivory". This nut is used to carve into all sorts of figurines, jewlary and other objects and below its brown outer shell, it has an ivory-white color.

Here is a tree which has developed a creative defense mechanism against intrudors... we were careful around all the vegatation with spines, needles, and other pleasentries!Although we saw three types of monkeys, including a "leonito", little lion, I didn´t get any good pictures of them! They were either too fast, or too far away! The leonito was the size of a squirrel and has the face of a lion. The other two types we saw were much larger and had prehensile tails with which they were able to swing from tree to tree!

Happy to be Homeless!

I am now officially homeless in Ecuador!

I moved out of the house, in which I was living with an Ecuadorian woman, on November 30th. During the month and a half beginning December 1st, I may only be in Quito for 5 daystomorrow being the fifth). It isn´t worth paying December and January´s rent while I will be traveling so much! That is one of the many reasons I moved out. Details need not be posted online...

This week I am working with a Global Village team building in Santo Domingo. For most of the week I will be with them, however I had to come to Quito yesterday to get an extension stamp in my passport today (which ultimately did not happen... another buracratic story, coming to a local blog soon). I hope to return to Santo Domingo tomorrow if all goes well.

Next week I will be with a team building in Guayaquil. This will be my first trip to Guayaquil, Ecuador´s biggest city, and I am pretty excited for it!

Between the 20th and 28th I contemplating a few options for travel. Galápagos are a possibility, going to Colombia with a co-worker I believe has ceased to be an option.

December 28th James comes to visit and we plan to check out some coastal locations and activities and bring in the new year!

After James´ visit I will working with another Global Village group in Guayaquil. Finnally, I hope to return to Quito in mid-January, at which point I believe I will stay long-term in the hostel where I am staying now, Casa Bambu! Casa Bambu has some beautiful terraces overlooking the city and plenty of hammocks to relax in; also, there are two kitchens, a movie room, free internet, and friendly people. I am so relieved to be here!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Erin Habitat Website Interview (english version)!

Habitat Latin American and Caribean is highlighting the International Volunteer Program participants, such as me, on their website. I am the first to be "profiled"! For the spanish version, check out this website: ERIN´s Interview

I am posting the english version of the interview here.


NAME: Erin McSherry
BIRTHPLACE: Pheonix, Arizona

ARE YOU A UNIVERSITY STUDENT? IF SO, WHAT ARE YOU STUDYING? WHERE ARE YOU STUDYING? IF YOU ARE NOT A STUDENT, WHAT DID YOU STUDY IN UNIVERSITY?I have degrees in Environmental Science y Spanish from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I have plans, and I am admitted to the University of New Mexico School of Law for the fall 2007 semester.

I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona; Rockville, Maryland; Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe New Mexico; Amherst, Massachusetts, and Quito, Ecuador.

I have traveled in 36+ USA states, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Israel, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador.

I first found out about, and volunteered with, Habitat for Humanity during fall 1999, when I participated in the Newman Catholic Student Center´s "Building on Faith" fall build with the Mesilla Valley, New Mexico Habitat Affiliate . My spring 2000 semester, I joined the student chapter for Habitat for Humanity. For four spring breaks, I traveled with a team of students to a different state each year to build for a week as part of the HFH "Collegiate Challenge" program. Our student chapter built locally at least once a month with the Mesilla Valley Afillate and supported and participated in their fundraisers. Our student chapter also organized a "student house", built entirely by student groups.

WHY ARE YOU VOLUNTEERING WITH HABITAT FOR HUMANITY?I have always enjoyed my volunteer experiences with Habitat "in the field" in the United States and felt they contributed the the actualization of a worthy cause. I chose to volunteer abroad because I studied Spanish in school but never lived in a Spanish-speaking country for more than five weeks.

I think if everyone volunteered several months to a couple years of their lives to helping others, the world would improve considerably. Leading by example is my way of demonstrating this and I hope to inspire others into action. By volunteering abroad, although more difficult than volunteering locally or nationally, I have the exceptional opportunity to enrich my experience with multiple levels of learning and personal growth.

I hope to give the IVP program in Ecuador a strong start and greater definition so that it may succeed and grow in the years to come.

I am starting an individual volunteer program and providing support for the existing brigades program by creating orientation, support and follow-up tools for volunteer management.

WHAT ARE YOUR INTERESTS? HOBBIES?Outdoor sports, ecology, nature, dancing (salsa and other partner dances, flamenco), reading, foreign affairs, law and policy, reading, themed parties and events.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased)

In Ecuador, the 2nd of November is NOT known as "Dia de Los Muertos" as the 1st is in Mexico. The word "Muertos", dead, is considered crude. Instead, "Disfuntos", deceased, is the way in which one's dearly departed are referred.

In the more indigenous communities of Ecuador, visits to the cemetary and picnics at graves are common Day of the Deceased activities. In Quito, there are traditional foods which are available the weeks prior to the day: GuaGuas de Pan and Colada Morada.

GuaGuas de pan are Bread Babies. "GuaGua" is actually a Quitua word, the language of the indigenous sierran peoples here. To the left is a picture of a Guagua de pan that I bought. The eyes are made of raisins and the bread is light and sweet.

Colada Morada is a drink made from blending a BUNCH of different fruits, primarily blueberries to make the purple color, and consumed as a hot drink. It is really yummy! Here is the recipe~

Purple Blend, Colada morada


For 30 People ---- Para 30 personas

1 pound of black corn meal, 1 libra de harina de maíz negro
20 fruits called Naranjillas, similar to an orange, 20 naranjillas
2 punds of blackberries, 2 libras de mora
1/2 pound of blueberries, 1/2 libra de mortiño
-1 pineapple, 1 piña
- 1 mountain papaya, 1 babaco
1 pound of strawberries, 1 libra de frutillas
-3 ishpingo (ecuadorian spice), 3 ishpingo
6 sticks of cinnemon- 6 pedazos de canela
15 pieces of sweet red pepper- 15 bolitas de pimienta dulce
- 10 clavos de olor
1 bundle of herbs(orange leaf, lemon grass, myrtle)--(1 atado de hierbas (hoja de naranja, hiebaluisa, arrayon).)

Instructions, Elaboracion:

Into 10 liters of boiling water, put all the herbs and the seasonings for 10 minutes. In the same pot, cook the naranjillas. When they are soft, take them out, squeeze them strain them, and save the juice. (Poner a hervir en 10 litros de agua todas las hierbas y los aliños durante 15 minutos. En esta misma olla cocinar las naranjillas, cuando están suaves, retirarlas del fuego licuarlas, cernirlas y reservar su jugo.)

In another container, liquify the blueberries and the blackberries with a little bit of water, strain and set aside. (En otro recipiente licuar el mortiño y la mora con un poco de agua, cerner y reservar.)

In a cup with 2 liters of water disolve the cornmeal and strain (En un tazon con dos litros de agua disolver la harina y cerner.)

In a large pot, strain the water in which the herbs and seasonings were cooked and boil the strained cornmeal, stirring constantly. When it begins to bubble, add the naranjilla juice, then the blueberry and blackberry juice. Add suger, al gusto (2 pounds). While this continues boiling cut the pineapple and mountain papaya in small pieces and add them to the mixture. En una olla grande, cerner el agua en la que se cocino las hierbas y los aliños y poner a hervir la harina cernida, meciendo constantemente. Cuando esta en ebullición añadir el jugo de la naranjilla, después el jugo del mortiño y de la mora. Añadir azúcar al gusto (2 libras). Mientras esto continua hirviendo se pica la piña en cuadros pequeños y se le añade a la colada y igual procedimiento con el babaco.

Leave everything to boil and continue stirring for approximately 30 minutes. Just before turning off the flame, remove the pieces of fruit. Se deja hervir todo y se sigue meciendo por aproximadamente 30 minutos. Ya casi al retirarla del fuego colocar la frutilla picada.

Serve hot with bread babies. Servir caliente y acompañar con las guaguas de pan.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Avoid being a "Corazon Azul"!! (blue heart)

The Ecuadorian transportation department started painting blue hearts on the streets where deaths have been caused by traffic accidents in an attempt to remind drivers of their potential threats, and danger while on the road. There have been several horrible bus accidents in the country this year. The crashes seem to be more the result of unsafe driving practices: brake problems, late night driving with unsafe drivers, etc, rather than bad roads. The roads and highways are actually in decent shape, particularly compared to many of the roads I saw last year in Peru. Apparently the influx of oil money during the last 20- 30 years has allowed investment in safer roads... also the use of the roads by oil companies resulted in highway investments (something I noticed last week on a trip to "la selva", the jungle, where most of the oil production takes place).
Here's an example of the nice roads going through small eastern Ecuadorian towns with their accompanying oil pipe! Ecuador doesn't make nearly the revenues, however, which it could from its oil production. Only 30 percent of the country's oil is refined within. The remainder is exported to other countries for refining and creation of oil byproducts and Ecuador must buy these byproducts internationally rather than domestically. The same scenario is true of many Ecuadorian products: despite the fact the country has rich agricultural and natural resources, they are sold (and exported) in their primary forms, the cheapest products, rather than developed products which have greater profit margins.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Repelling Waterfalls with Ecuador´s Future "Eco-tour" Guides

A new friend of mine down here, south of the Equator, is a girl from Colorado-Minnesota named Stephanie. Steph is taking classes and teaching English until December in Quito. She lives with a woman. her "mom" and the woman´s daughter, her "sister." The mom works for a tourism-supporting national agency and was involved in the planning for the "Third Annual Adventure Sports Workshop" (Tercer Taller de Deportes Adventuras). Steph´s mom told her about the workshop and Steph invited me to come along... so I did;-).

It was a fun time and a whirlwind introduction to "adventure sports." Ironically, I think Steph and I had more experience with outdoor sports than most of the future-guide participants. Enjoying the outdoors is just now becoming more "de moda" (in style) among those who can afford leisure time in Ecuador.Steph and I actually missed the first day of "classroom" training, but from what I heard is was pretty straightforward stuff... basic camping and outdoor skills.

The first morning, we first hiked through a reserve, Cuichocha with a crater lake, which was absolutely beautiful! (see above). Below is a model of the landscape in the area.

The majority of the participants (we were a group of 90+) in this workshop were students in Ecuadorian universities studying either Eco Tourism, or Hotel Management. Below is a pic of some of the participants during a bus game we played to build our "team" for the weekend´s activities.
Also participating were professionals already involved in Ecuadorian tourism, hotel management, and government tourism representatives... Oh yea, and two random high school art students (German and Italian nationals), and two random US citizens (Steph and me). The instructors were from the Ecuadorian Red Cross, Ecuadorian Diving Confederation, and national tourism agencies.

The afternoon, evening of the first day we got to "dive" with an instructor in the crater lake. This was pretty cool, even though it was a short (both in length of time and depth) experience. We only went down about 5-10 meters and checked out some of the thermal vents. Below is a pic of me being outfitted for the dive;-). Unfortunetly the only live things I saw was seaweed, so I was a bit dissapointed about that.

Here is a view from between the two islands in the lake, where we did our "diving." The itty-bitty point sticking up over the crater lake rim is the tallest part of Volcan Cotacachi.
The next day we left for our camping site near a river in one of the valleys that in the model pictured above. We did a bit of rafting and had a first aid-safety workshop.

During the first aid workshop I decided I would make a first aid kit for my jungle trip the following weekend! Putting this kit together in Quito was actually quite a challenge, but I must say it is pretty impressive given the circumstances.

Conveniently our camp was located at a Cabañas lodge with thermal pools and we got to use them to relax during the evening.

The last morning´s activity was "canyoning", repelling down a waterfall. This ended up being pretty fun....

EXCEPT I made a really bad decision in wearing my glasses... sans any sort of strap (I had lost a contact). Here´s a pic of me... blind!, after losing my glasses.