First Two Weeks: Recap

Finally FINALLY getting photos up from the first segment of our time here in Ecuador. It was a great first two weeks in Cuenca as the twenty-one interns prepped for our field work and explored the city. This post will be a long one to make up for my lack of posting thus far. Right now we're in the south to do fieldwork for two weeks in Saraguro and Zamora. I'll try to get timely photos up from our stint here, but wifi is limited, so posts are too.

Corpus Christi & Cuenca | The Latin festival celebrating the belief and faith in Jesus Christ and the Eucharist, or holy communion. It lasts a week and I went to the celebrations every single night. The streets are lined with vendors selling sweets (50 cents for a donut) and there are fireworks and street performers out and about. Over the night they also light up the castillos, which are tall structures with pinwheels of fireworks and whistles. There was a procession the first night that ended at the cathedral in the park square.

So. Many. Sweets.

The first night processional.

The castillos were one of my favorite parts of the nights.

Cuenca is a beautiful nighttime (and daytime) city.

A couple of us have been up to the lookout at Turi, a hill with a church high up overlooking the city. The 400-some steps up to the church lookout are numbered backwards, so you know exactly how many more you have to drag yourself past before you collapse gasping in the thin high-altitude air. 

There are mountains arching up over those city lights, you just can’t see them at night.

Principal Site Visit | Principal is a small mountain village we visited to learn about a basket making business run by a large group of local women. About ten women contribute to the woven baskets, hats, bowls, and other containers that are sold there and in other cities. As the women in the campo (country) have many responsibilities taking care of their families and working in the fields and mountains, they don’t each have time to devote themselves to the business full-time, so they weave pieces here and there as they have the time, sending pieces off to a third party for final finishings and seams before they sell them.

After hearing about their model — and having plenty of time to shop — we headed to a place further out in the village where they prepared food for us. I tried cuy (guinea pig), which is a delicacy here. It’s very salty, and doesn’t quite taste like chicken.

Our last stop for Principal was a cooperative jam factory for the village. They’re currently in the process of getting the correct labels for their jam approved (their old labels had the wrong amounts printed), but we were still able to buy plenty of jam from them at the end of our stop!

Stray dogs are everywhere in Ecuador.

Aidan and Matt try on some handmade straw hats. 

On our way to try cuy.

El Cajas Hike | Sunday was our free day, so a group of us traveled to El Cajas National Park to hike the mountains. It was cloudy at first, but the mist lifted about an hour into the hike. We asked our guides if we could go farther than the usual route, which normally stops at a large lagoon, so our hike lasted about 4 hours. Despite the small amounts of rain and not-so-small amounts of mud, the mountains were absolutely gorgeous. Excellent way to spend a free day.

Elsa trekking through Cajas.

Aidan and Christina hit the whip at 12,000ft above sea level. 

San Bartolomé Site Visit | On Tuesday we traveled to San Bartolomé, where we visited a mountain reservoir that the villagers use for drinking, despite the fact that the reservoir was built on top of an old mine and is now being poisoned by mercury. Our four projects aren’t focusing on this particular situation, but the water filter team had the opportunity to talk to the health director afterward. We went back down to the village afterward to begin surveying for our various projects, and the teams spent several hours canvassing the town and speaking to citizens and storeowners. Afterward, we traveled (in the backs of pickup trucks) down the road to a guitar association that sells beautiful handmade guitars. We toured their business and then the vision team conducted eye exams for the townspeople while the rest of the teams surveyed the people waiting.

I’d accidentally left my SD card in my laptop back in Cuenca, so I have no pictures from this day. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a pretty little town.

Laguan Site Visit | On Thursday, we traveled to a school in Laguan. Our main goals were for our water filter and financial literacy teams to deliver charlas — discussions or talks — to the school children on 1) the importance and use of water filters to clean their drinking water and 2) financial literacy, so they were oriented toward creating savings for themselves and understanding investments. I was with the financial literacy group, so we delivered the lesson plans we’d created for children in grades 6-7 and then 2-3.

I have to say that this was one of my most favorite visits of the trip so far. As exciting as it may not sound, the children actually had a great time classifying “wants” versus “needs,” decorating piggy banks (“chanchitos”) made of envelopes, and playing drawing games of things they would like to save up for. Some of them asked us if we’re coming back, and I really wanted to say yes; I have to put another check mark in the column for teaching English abroad after graduation.

Erin helping the kids with their chanchitos. The woman in blue talking to Aracely is our SE Corps country director Justina! 

That's all for now. I'll try to schedule some blogs to post even if I can't get to my computer, so stay tuned!