Galapagos Islands

A week traveling along the coast with my favorite exchange students!

Monkeys, mosquito bites, floating down the Napo River, hiking through the rainforest, poisonous snakes and exchange students. Doesn’t that sound like the recipe for the perfect week in the Amazon rainforest?

Water, Eggs, and Flour

Sometimes being a foreigner can be quite the advantage and we often benefit from the special treatment we receive. During Carnaval week, however, being a “gringa” just means you get extra eggs in your hair.

In Ecuador, Carnival officially starts on 13th of February, but the festivities start long before that date. It’s definitely one of my favorite holidays here…it’s pretty much just an excuse to throw water on strangers without them getting mad.

I spent Carnival in Riobamba with my family and some friends and the city was complete mayhem. I spent the afternoons with my nine year old cousin; dropping buckets of water on the people passing under our second story window (it was hilarious to see their reactions!).

One of the days I went with some friends to the main street in Riobamba, where most of the action is. It was crazy! The sidewalks were littered with water balloons, egg shells, and bags of flour. Most of the people who were playing carnaval were in the back of the trucks, throwing buckets of water at the people passing by. Another funny sight was at one of the local parks. This park has a huge lake in the center…and during carnaval week…hundreds of people pushing each other into it.

The next day I went with my family to their friend’s house in a nearby town. They were hosting a big Carnival celebration, and this was another level of Carnival playing. We used freezing water, five cartons of eggs, three bags of flour, and for the finishing touch…they wiped car grease on our faces. It took me forever to untangle my hair that night!

Another amazing Ecuadorian tradition…

Alex

The month of January in photos. 

Rewind

Back to step 1.

Do I do my own laundry?

Can I help myself to the food in the fridge?

What time should I get up in the morning?

Do I have a curfew?

When can I use the computer?

On friday the 29th, I carried my two bulging suitcases, two backpacks, and a very full duffel bag down the stairs of my house and nervously waited.

What was I waiting for?

The complete strangers that would hopefuly come to feel like my real family.

We live on a three story building. My grandma and grandpa live on the first floor. My aunt, uncle, and their two daughters live on the second floor. My family lives on the third floor. I have two brothers and one sister. Cesar (18) who is currently on his exchange in Austria, Guiseppe (14), and Cristina (23) who is studying in Quito.

On friday I was whisked away to Quito where we spent the weekend at my sister’s appartment. We watched movies, played cards, went shopping, and I got to know my new family. It was so nice to have a sister again! After having an all boy family for the last five months, it was great to have someone that preferred going to the mall to watching football.

On Sunday we drove back to Riobamba and I unpacked all my luggage and then spent the rest of the day playing Mario Kart with my little cousin. She’s probably my favorite family member!

The rest of my family is super nice. My parents told me that they consider me their real daughter and my dad is so sweet, he calls me “mi amor.” I get along really well with my little brother and my seventeen year old cousin. I usually spend the afternoons at my cousins house watching movies and playing Dance Dance Revolution (I suck at that game!).

The rest of the week was spent doodling at school, hanging out with the exchange students (a girl from Australia just arrived!), and trying to figure out the customs of my new host family.

Also, Carnaval is starting! It’s an Ecuadorian holiday that consists of throwing water balloons, eggs, flours, and mud at random people in the streets. Carnaval officially starts on the 15th of February, but the mayhem begins long before that. So these days I often come home with my clothes completely soaked and egg in my hair. It’s great! I’ll be sure to post an update next week, once this holiday really gets started.

Oh, and I have a preliminary return date! June 19th. It’s soo soon, I don’t want my exchange to be over!

Alex

The life of an exchange student can be pretty stressful at times.

Swimming in the ocean, eating seafood, watching movies, going to parties…the kind of stuff that really causes those premature gray hairs.

On the 10th of Janurary I left the cold, ash coated streets of Riobamba (a nearby volcano, Tungurahua, had just errupted) and headed for a warmer part of the country, the coastal city of Portoviejo.

New Years Eve Celebrations

Feliz Año Nuevo!

WOW….where to start.

Ecuadorian New Years. It´s just too much to handle in one night.

I´ll try to explain it as best as I can.

The best place to really experience New Years is on the streets. My host family took me out in the car so that I could see the mayhem for myself. The first Ecuadorian tradition is that men dress up as women (called viudas), fake breasts and all, and dance all over your car for money! Once you give them some change they move out of the streets to let you pass by. Crazy!

The other part of the New Years street life is the año viejo doll. Each family makes a life size doll stuffed with paper or bark chips and burns it at midnight to simbolize the burning of the old year. Some families, however, go all out! They set up huge displays on the streets with año viejo dolls as tall as houses. The most popular display was a huge Michael Jackson doll surrounded by speakers that would blast out songs like Thriller and Billie Jean.

After experiencing the chaos of the city, my family drove me back home (after giving out all our spare change to the viudas). Once at home, we had a big family dinner and got ready for the New Year.

Ten minutes before the new year we all went up to the terrace so that we could burn our año viejo doll. We also brought up a huge bag of grapes because another tradition here is to eat twelve grapes at midnight. For each grape you eat, you get a wish.

Around midnight (we weren´t really sure the exact time because everyones cell phone said something different), we set our año viejo doll on fire and quickly stuffed the twelve grapes into our mouths. The city errupted in fireworks, which was quite funny because the president had just made fireworks illegal. The view from the terrace was amazing and for a full ten minutes, everwhere you looked there were bright flashes of colored lights. Amazing!

Afterwards I headed back downstair to get ready to go out. On New Years, the parties don´t start until 2 in the morning! I met up at a friends house and we got ready to usher in the New Year by dancing and partying until 6 in the morning. The next day I slept until 3 p.m…

It was by far the most exciting New Years I´ve ever had, and I´m sure 2010 will be a great year!

Feliz Año Nuevo!

Happy New Year!

Alex