Yo soy soltera, pero tengo nobio. El llamo Chris. Nosotros estamos apprediendo espanol en Quito.
Hola amigos! No, I am not going to be super annoying and insert random spanish word/phrases throughout the rest of this blog. Well, I might. But it's my blog so deal with it! We have been in Quito for almost 2 weeks now and are about halfway through our planned Spanish classes. Our teacher is a young chico named Cristian and, fortunately for us, he is incredibly patient. I'm finding that the French courses I took in junior high and high school are both helping and hindering my progress. Many words have similar roots so I feel like I'm picking up vocabulary fairly quickly. Sentence structure and conjugation rules are also similar. I get into trouble with pronunciation though... It's coming slowly but I do feel like I've learned a lot in just a few classes. And living with our host family has greatly enhanced the learning process.
Our host family consists of a couple, Beatriz y Danilo, and their 22-year-old son, Lucas. They live in a colonial style house not far from the hostel we stayed at when we first arrived. The family inhabits a suite on the third floor of the building; Chris and I have a dormitoricio on the lower floor. It's sort of a funny room.... I like to pretend it has character so that it feels more homey and less odd. Let me explain: each storey in a colonial building is typically about 12 feet high. In our habitation, presumably, to make the most efficient use of the room, a loft was constructed to create a "bedroom" above a small living space that also contains a bathroom. Now, if you do the math, bisecting a room with 12-foot ceilings renders two psuedo-storeys of <6 feet each (the new floor eats up some of that 12 feet). You can imagine these living conditions are not only claustrophobia-inducing, but also present considerable risk to our heads, especially in Chris's case. I've managed to avoid injury thus far by slouching around the place but Chris hasn't escaped unscathed. He's only smoked his head a few times but those wooden beams don't have much give! Not fun. A few of the room's other quirks include a bathroom door that doesn't fit into the door frame and an electric shower head controlled by a lever-style valve that delivers a nasty shock if you dare to adjust the flow after stepping into the stall. We've solved the former by jamming paper between the door and the floor to hold the door shut and instating an "earmuffs!" routine when either of us requires some privacy (i.e. headphones and music). The latter can't really be circumvented so we either suffer a lukewarm shower or suffer a shock to reduce the flow rate, thereby increasing the water temperature. Sometimes it feels like being in a pysch experiment...
Anyway, the room is fine for a stay of only 2 weeks. Moreover, it's shortcomings are definitely compensated by the awesomeness of our family. Beatriz is a fabulous cook, spoiling us with delicious meals, three times a day - we even got chocolate cake for Valentine's Day - and the guys are good-natured and patient with our pathetic attempts at making conversation in spanish. Danilo has formal training as an interior designer but has found his passion elsewhere - he roasts organic coffee beans in another suite of the house that has been converted into a processing plant. It's incredible! The coffee, I mean. And it's so neat that this scenario perfectly exemplifies what we're contemplating doing ourselves. Successfully exemplifies, I might emphasize. Danilo has supplier contracts with numerous hotels and restaurants in Ecuador with interest from buyers outside the country as well.
There are several other occupants of the house/building, not the quietest of whom are Tommy and Gringo, dos perros (two dogs) whose territory overlaps the shortest route up to our meals. Gringo is a small weiner-dog, more skittish than a wild rabbit, whereas Tommy is a large mutt, more offended by Chris's burgeoning beard than the average Quitonian (and they are pretty offended, I can attest). Tommy and Gringo relish glaring down at us from their balcony overlooking the courtyard outside our door and, despite the fact that we possess keys to the dorm, both beasts belt out a chorus of warning barks every time we arrive home. More recently, Chris and Tommy have made peace following repeated efforts on Chris's part to befriend the brute, winning him over with a few good scratches behind the ears and soothing words. On monday our family grew to include Don, an American guy here on exchange to study for about 5 months. He's studying PoliSci in the US but will just take some electives here. Don is fluent in Spanish, having studied throughout school and at University. It remains to be seen whether his presence will augment or interfere with our progress as it's now easier to slip into a conversation in English or to rely on Don to translate on our behalf.
Aside from school and struggling to communicate with our homestay family (in other words, consistently entertaining them with our linguistic or contextual blunders), we've managed to see a bit more of Quito. On Monday, we watched the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace in La Plaza Grande. It was all very impressive but what really blew me away was when our teacher (this was a school excursion) pointed out President Correa, who was watching the exhibition from his balcony a few hundred feet from us. The President. Of Ecuador. Right there in front of us! Pretty crazy that we could be so close to the leader of a country. That's something that would never happen in Canada or the US. I ran into former Premier Ed Stelmach while visiting my grampa in the UofA hospital. But, really, that's not very big potatoes. So yah, seeing the President = pretty cool. On another school excursion we visited the central market. That's where all the indigenous people, who comprise the majority of Ecuador's farmers, gather to sell their goods. It was a huge market, stocked with every fruit you could imagine, nuts, grains, and a menagerie of animals for sale, living or dead. The fish market was something else. We also saw a rat but it wasn't for sale... overall, the sanitary conditions of the market left much to be desired. Not sure I would be a frequent customer.... it also feels a bit unsafe, requiring near-constant vigilance to protect your belongings. Frankly, shopping is stressful enough without having to worry about thieves! But it was really cool to see the market... in a large group.
We've met up with our friend Christa (from Canada) a few times over the past weeks. On one occasion we attempted to meet for dinner at a restaurant in La Mariscal but, evidently, it had closed down since the last edition of Lonely Planet. We chanced another place (also in the LP but not as highly recommended) and were not terribly impressed. We were served a tasty "traditional drink" while we pondered the menu, but our experience went down-hill once our actual meals arrived. Christa was justifiably malcontent after receiving a side of fries and salad when she'd tried to order lentils and rice with her chicken. Although our server claimed to speak English, we soon suspected otherwise.
We also went up the Quito Tram (aka TeleferiQo) with Christa. Chris and I got two-for-one tickets on account of it being "the month of love" and us being a couple. Regular price is $8.50, which is still ridiculously cheap when you consider the Jasper Tram charges almost $30. The views from the top were amazing; words won't do it justice. Chris is still editing the photos but we will post some soon!! It's possible to hike the summit of Pichincha but we were utterly breathless simply climbing the stairs and path to the closest viewpoints. Somehow I don't think 3.5 km of trekking at that altitude would be very pleasant. Although, we've booked our Inca Trail trek so I guess I'd better be prepared for exerting myself at even higher altitudes! On another excursion with Christa we visited the Capilla del Hombres. It's a gallery of Guayasamin's work - he's a famous Ecuadorian painter, recognized for capturing the emotional trials and tribulations of cultures throughout the world in a style often compared to that of Picasso. We really liked his stuff and got a lot out of the tour (it was in English).
One other exciting event was an earth tremor that occurred in the early morning last week. I was awake, felt the movement, but thought I was having a flashback to our bungalow in Costa Rica (the bungalow was on stilts and tended to sway whenever people walked around; we would notice it most when we were still in bed in the mornings after Modest was up with Lauren). Chris slept through it. So maybe it wasn't that exciting.
This post is notably devoid of photos but we promise to upload some soon! (i.e. as soon as I surrender the computer to Chris so that he can edit, edit, edit).