Saturday, February 24, 2007

Update: in Colombia

Here is a quick update on the travels. Johanna came to Ecuador to visit and we spent three days in Ecuador before flying to Cartagena, Colombia. We spent a few days there before heading to Taganga and Santa Marta Colombia, where we are now.

We are getting our open-water SCUBA certification in Taganga and generally getting to know the area, then next week we are heading to Bogota! So far everything has seemed relatively safe, we took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta and have not done anything too crazy;-).

I will be back in Ecuador after the 9th of March for one week of another Global Village Habitat Group, and then for my last week in the country!- it looks like my dad may join me those last two weeks.

Unfortunetly it has been difficult to load and find time available to post most info that has happened since mid-December, including the Galapagos, travels with James, and Ron and Glorias Global Village group---but I hope to catch up when I am alone and with a better internet connection in Bogota!


Friday, February 16, 2007

6 months -1 year Volunteer Opportunity in Ecuador!

Interested in taking my job here in Ecuador?

Know of someone else who might be a good candidate? The position is an IVP ("international volunteer program"), "special project volunteer" opportunity which is offered through Habitat for Humanity International at this website.

I am leaving the country towards the end of March after my 6 month stint, and the position is posted on the Habitat for Humanity international website! There are also opportunities in other countries and with different responsibilities.

The next person will be continuing the work I started: program development in all areas of volunteer mobilization, and assisting with coordination of Ecuador´s MANY Global Village teams. The position is based out of Quito, but have many opportunities to travel.

Questions? Feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Un besito, choa choa", things are different here;-)

For awhile now I have been meaning to write about some of the basic interpersonal interactions and the morning ruteine that differ from what I was used to when I arrived.

Simple things, for example arriving at work and greeting your coworkers. At the Habitat office, whoever arrives first has the least amount of greeting to do! When you arrive you may set your things down or make a cup of coffee (more on the type of coffee you are going to drink later!). Then you make a "round" of the office to see who else has arrived... it may be everyone, or a few people. Each person you greet with a "besito" (little kiss) on the right check. If you are male, you greet other males with a handshake. If you are female, you greet everyone with a kiss. If you are already sitting, you can stay sitting and the greeter bends for the "besito." The end of the day is generally the same... although, if you are in a hurry, you may not make a round of the office but rather only give "besitos" to those in your area of the office, or to those you pass on your way out of the office.

Regarding the coffee: this is a painful topic ;-(, as, even though Ecuador is a COFFEE PRODUCING country, instant coffee is consumed everywhere and Nestle is a brand of choice. If coffee is "real", it is called "cafe pasada", literally "passed coffee", meaning that it is passed though a filter. Some Ecuadorians tell me that about 50 percent of nationals will drink "passed" coffee and that the other 50 percent will drink instant. In the Habitat office, we drink instant... and although it was almost unbearable at first I have become used to it! The theory as to why the instant coffee may be popular is that it is a secondary product of coffee, making it seem like a more refined or sophisticated product. Similar to this is the almost exclusive consumption of white rice and white sugar.

When you hear someone here talking on the phone, or in person, to friends, family etc, it is not uncommon to for phrases like ¨luz de mi vida¨ (light of my life) or "mi amor" (my love), to be intermixed in the conversation in reference to the other person. When saying goodbye on the phone, a woman might say "un besito, choa choa!" (a little kiss, bye-bye!).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Quito from 15,100+ feet

Last weekend I did something I had wanted to do since my second week in Ecuador: I climbed the 15,100 foot mountain that overlooks Quito. Here is the view of the city from on top!
Here is a pic from September, when I first went up the "Teleferico", the cable car which takes its passengers to just over 13 thousand feet.
That weekend that weather was REALLY cold (note the snow!--- which is very rare here, even at this altitude). The weather was only one of the reasons I didn´t climb the mountain that weekend.

This time, I once again rode the Teleferico. I met some other hikers, two from the US, two from Germany and one from Quito. We all took one of the first cable cars to the start of the trail (9am). The two guys from the US, Kalon (Mississippi) and BJ (Kentucky), let me join them in their trek to the top of Rucu Pichincha. Here´s a pic of Kalon and BJ.Although Rucu (old one) Pichincha is not as tall as GuaGua (Baby) Pichincha, the hike is longer. Apparently you can almost drive to the top of Guagua- which is the still active, growing peak of the Pichincha Mountain (Volcano). Here is a pic of the Guagua crater from Rucu peak.
Guagua erupted in 1999 and Quito was covered in ash. It is expected to erupt again someday, but it will erupt in the direction away from Quito.Here is a pic of the Rucu peak taken from the trail. The surrounding landscape is called "paramo", and is found in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela at 12 thousand to 14 thousand feet. It is characterized by low-lying plants and bushes and plants with amazing adaptations to the high altitude, strong winds, cold, the extreme sun and the often cloudy climate.Here is a really cool low-lying plant that covers some rocks ... I remembered it from trekking through the Andes in Peru as well.

I kind of feel like a smurf while traversing land coverings like this!These beautiful flowers covered some of the hillsides and the plant´s leaves have a waxy, protective coating. As the flowers mature they turn into wind-blown distributors of seeds, similar to dandelions.This plant, above, I originally thought was covered in spider webs. However, the cobweb like substance is actually part of the plant and appears to be a protective coating from either plant-eating animals or the harsh climate.

The hike to the summit lasted between 3 and a half and 4 hours. The primary trail splits for the last hour and a half of the climb into two trails: one that apparently includes thrills and chills and maybe you should have ropes for... and the other, which I did, involved a bunch of steep trails on sand. Kalon decided to try the more adventurous-deadly route and BJ and I opted for the difficult but soft-landing route.

We all made it to the top at about the same time. Here we are at 15,100+ feet.. we arrived around 1:30pmish and stayed until 2:30pm when the clouds began to accumulate and the temperature dropped.
On the way back down we noticed these beautiful purple flowers (below) that we hadn´t seen before. Behind the flowers on the hillside are what appear to be some sort of containment barriers (to prevent erosion? transfer water flow for other use?). They are not modernly used for anything and although upon first glance I thought they were part of a city project to prevent erosion, closer inspection proved that they were quite old. The QuiteƱo we asked said that there are many "stories" about where they came from... including that the aliens brought them!


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Blue-Footed Boobies!- Prelude to Galapagos

After the University of Chicago´s one week + one day Global Village trip to Guayaquil, Daniel (the new Global Village Coordinator) and I were able to join them in their "R&R", rest and relaxation... and after a month of Global Village groups and non-stop action, we needed it! We traveled to the coast, making a few stops on the way, and stayed in Ayampe, just south of Puerto Lopez.

The highlight of our time on the coast was a trip to "Isla de la Plata", Island of the Silver.
The island was thus named because the notorious pirate, Sir Francis Drake, is said to have hidden his silver on the island while he was being pursued and needed to lighten his load. He planned to return later for his hidden bounty. He kept the good stuff, the gold, and headed off to Panama... where he contracted some tropical disease and died, never to return to recover his silver. Isla de la Plata is now an Ecuadorian national reserve and a popular tourist destination, particularly during whale-season.

Unfortunately it was not whale season when we visited, however there is interesting bird life and decent snorkeling at the island year round.

I was super-excited to see the island´s blue-footed boobies. I had learned about these seabirds in marine biology in high school. Also, there had been a running joke between one of my HS best friends and I about the blue footed boobies mating dance (which I witnessed at the Galapagos and I will load that video later if possible). Above, a male and female bite at each other... the males are smaller, have smaller pupils and whistle. The females are larger, with larger pupils and honk. Their feet are thought to be blue due to the sardines that are the main food eaten by the seabird boobies.

What was exciting at Isla de la Plata, and later in the Galapagos, is that the animals have no fear of humans. Here that is quite apparent! All the white seen in the dirt is booby-excrement. In some national parks, trails are built and the animals stay away from them. In the case of the blue-footed boobies, they prefer the trail as their nesting ground as it provides them a nice clear spot in which to nest... without any work! Here is one of the trails along the island, with nesting boobies all along the path. Both the males and females help to guard the nest and take care of the young. Here is a new-born.

We also saw some 1-year old young! The one-year olds are particularly funny looking, as they appear larger than their parents, with their fuzzy feathers and LARGE eyes! The blue-footed boobies were not the only birds nesting and caring for their young on the island.

We also visited the nesting site of the frigate birds, famous for the males mating ritual of blowing out a large red neck skin in a bulbous display of courtship. Mating season had already passed when we visited, and the males no-longer were courting their mates. We did get to see the offspring, which were in their nests in one of the few trees that was beginning to turn green.The island, although super-dry, the wet season would start in a month, did have some interesting plant life.
This bush has many uses! The berries, which we tasted (the guide told us we could!), are edible and supposed to be good for the stomach (but only eaten a few at a time, ... or they will cause problems!). The berries were pretty sticky and apparently were used as a hair gel in past generations. The leaves can be made into a tea which is supposed to relieve menstrual cramps.

Below are some of the angel fish we snockeled with... there were also several kinds of parot fish... and other bright and beautiful marine creatures;-)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Guanabana Juice, My Favorite

The first challenge of making guanabana juice, is pronouncing the name of the fruit! It has four syllables: gwah-nah-bah-nah. With the last two Global Village groups in Santo Domingo, we have learned to make the fresh guanabana juice. You start with the above large green fruit, and peel off the skin from one side, revealing the hundreds of white, pulpy, capsule-like internal "pods." This juice required a lot of hand contact, so the cooks must make sure their hands are clean! Here Tamia, the daughter of the Santo Domingo Habitat Director, demonstrates the capsule-removing technique.As each capsule is removed, its seed must be removed. As with many Ecuadorian delicacies, the process is pretty time -consuming and very HANDS ON. When we made the juice with the Global Village teams, the process was lengthy despite our use of several people! Here Ron, John, Diana and Tamia prepare the fruit. After all the fruit capsules are removed the pulp is blended and strained, and blended and strained again. Then sugar and ice or water are added to taste. The final product is frothy, white, sweet and refreshing. Guanabana is also a popular flavor for yogurt and icecream.

All the Food is "Green?"..

So, here in Ecuador, we have green empanadas ("empanadas verdes"), green bolones ("bolones verdes"), and green tortillas ("tortillas verdes") amongst other things ... but they aren´t actually green...

At first I didn´t get it, but the key to the situation is that green plantains are used for each of these dishes. Green plantains are actually green (at least their peel is), and they are also "green" in the sense that they are not fully mature. The fruit can be used to make a "maza" (dough), and rolled into the shell of an empanada, into a tortilla, into a ball, or into a football shaped roll. It is also popularly stamped into round disks ("patacones"), and I am sure it could be made into countless other things! The other color spectrum plantain, is the "maduro", literally "mature", which are ripened, yellow, plantains that are often served fried, sweet... and delicious! Pictured above are both a "platano verde," and a "maduro."

I have told some of the groups that visit Ecuador that it is possible to have five starches in one meal: green plantain, yucca, pasta, rice and ... potatoes. For a traditional "almuerzo", which is a set lunch including soup, juice, traditional plate (meat, rice and "salad"), and dessert, it is possible to have: potato and pasta in the soup, rice and potatos on the main plate, and a yucca dessert! Often, if you are served pasta, .... you will also be served a portion of rice!

Yucca here is not the same as the state flower of New Mexico. It is a tuber, (a specialized root with nodes from which roots and shoots grow) similar to a potato. I find its more fibrous texture great in soup;-).

Here are Gail and Dylis of of Ron and Gloria´s team peeling yucca:
Ecuadorian food can be LABOR-INTENSIVE! Below Peter, Brad, Brad and Jillian, members of Lisa and Amanda´s Global Village team, grate yucca.. .and Brad and reinforcements CONTINUE to grate yucca... The yucca was used to make a yucca dessert, and "muchines", which are football-shaped rolls of yucca dough and butter, filled with cheese and fried. Here, David and Tamia mash the cooked yucca into a mashed-potato consistency. Next the yucca mash is shaped into the "muchines", pictured here, Brenda and Gail of the Greenwald team are learning from Rosalio, the restaurant owner and cook, how to form the yucca football.Tracy and Stacy from Lisa and Amanda´s team below have successfully formed a pan full of "muchines."