The past two weeks have been about trying to settle in, finding a routine, and feeling comfortable living in a city. To that end, I spent last weekend playing tourist. It’s a strange thing to go from pure cultural immersion, to taking the double-decker bus along with a group of other North Americans past my jogging path by the river. It’s like I’m moving between worlds. The world of tourist, and the world of inhabitant.
Mid-February – and I found myself in the midst of a sunny 4-day holiday weekend getting doused by little kids with water guns while walking on a river path and sprayed with foam by an 88-year-old lady on the porch of her home. Yes, this is Carnaval in Ecuador. A national holiday devoted to tossing water, eggs, flour at people, or spraying them with foam, a time for people to act out all their devilish thoughts in anticipation of Lent. This is the Ecuadorian version of Mardi Gras.
(Caution: Vegetarians may want to skip this post!) Where can you buy tomatoes, papayas, onions, a new pair of sneakers, a can of spray foam for Carnaval, and a live chicken all in one go? That would be Cuenca’s largest local marketplace, Feria Libre!
At last, I have arrived in Cuenca – my home for the next 5 and a half months. The past couple of days have involved another flurry of orientation and adjustment. I’ve had to learn how to get around again, how to communicate (hello, super-cheap cell-phone), and I’m getting to know my housemates in Cuenca and colleagues at la Universidad de Cuenca. Through all this, I’m meeting great people, discovering fabulous colonial architecture, and getting excited to begin work with a really motivated research group.
I’m such a science nerd. Yesterday I signed on for a full-day tour from Quito, north, to the town of Otavalo. Otavalo has one of South America’s most famous indigenous craft markets (if not THE most famous) – and Saturday is the big day, when the market takes over the entire town. But what was it that interested me most on this tour? Of course – the stop in the Middle of the World (Mitad del Mundo) – The Equator!! A promised glimpse over the rim of the volcano Cuicocha into a crater lake was also a big draw. (Note: This blog post has bonus homework questions and mini-contest for Meteorology students!)
Happy day: After an hour-long wait, I got my passport back from the immigration office (not sure why it was necessary to hang on to it…but that’s just how it goes for everyone) and then I hopped on the Quito Tour Bus. Yes, it’s as cheesy as it sounds. But in the end, it helped me discover my favorite place in the city.
I’ve spent my first three days in Quito mainly going from one appointment to the next, learning to negotiate taxis and buses, trying to figure out where to eat, or resting my aching feet. But I’ve also gathered a few random insights I thought I’d share here – like how to cross the street, how to get a big meal, and how much fun it is to sit around and chat with people (sorry, still no touristy photos – just a foodie photo!)