Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cosas Malas

Long story short.

Last weekend = Cuenca, this cute city south of Quito. Also = Corpus Cristi, = a child's dream, a diabetic's nightmare as all the streets were lined with sweet treats.

Order of bad events
- we walked into a bunch of drunk kids
- drunk kids pinned Carlos to a wall
- Alissa and I run
- one kid catches Alissa, Alissa gets away
- kid on Carlos beats him up, steals his camera and wallet, breaks his finger (literally a 45 degree angle)
- we find police, to go the hospital
- Carlos leaves next day for Quito, returns to the US for surgery

Order of kick ass events
- Alissa and I, while wandering the streets the next day, recognize the robbers
- We bring police, tell them in broken Spanish what happened
- Police detain the kids, question them, and file a report

Well, it we were bound to get robbed at some point. At least we made it out alive.

Tomorrow I go to a different public hospital, which is supposed to be super cool and hopefully I'll finally get to see some of the awesome things Alissa and Carlos kept talking about.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You know that How I Met Your Mother episode, where the Lily got "food poisoning" from a bad bowl of soup, and Marshall is just awaiting his inevitable fate?

That's how I feel right now.
Or correction, that's how I felt yesterday.

My current unfortunate state of being started with a bowl of ceviche in Salinas, the beach resort of Ecuador. I've been craving ceviche for so long now, since it was one food I haven't tried in Ecuador yet. So we finally found a place by the beach, looked decent, I mean it was called Cevichelandia so how can you go wrong. Apparently you can because fast forward 24 hours and Carlos was sick, and in 48 hours I was puking my brains out.

I had a good 3 week run though at least.
It was still worth it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

¿Dónde está la biblioteca?

Studying never really ends.

Alissa and I spent our first week in Ecuador in an intensive, 7 hours daily Spanish course. I feel like my Spanish has improved much since the beginning of the trip, but it is very far from where I want it to be. Especially for use in the clinics. Poco poco I guess.

My weekly schedule:
Monday: San Francisco University with Dra. Bustamante to work on Maternal Mortality project
Tuesday: NOVA Clinica, to observe Dra. Bustamante and her husband in their private OB/GYN practice followed by la clase de espanol in the afternoon
Wednesday: Pifo, a rural public clinic an hour away from Quito
Thursday: NOVA Clinica, la clase de espanol
Friday: Pifo

The private and public health care systems in Ecuador are very different, and I feel fortunate to be able to observe both. The private health care system is basically like our CAP experience. Consultations can last up to an hour, and a vaginal exam and ultrasound are conducted for almost every patient. In Pifo, the doctors see 20 patients in one morning and each patient gets 10 minutes, tops. However everything (aside from medicines, but including all forms of contraception) is free. But of course with less time per patient and less resources, some things must be sacrificed. One of which is sanitation. Some of the cleanliness practices in Pifo would make these doctors fail their PBEs. For example, I don't think I've ever seen my obstetrician wash her hands. And the table where she does the vaginal exams doesn't even have a changeable sheet over it.

More on private vs. public health care later.

Funny Ecuadorian Spanish words I have learned this week:
Guaguas = children
La Trompa = Fallopian tube
Planificacion = family planning
Hacer cola = to wait in line

I'm off to Guayaquil and Montanita this weekend, hasta luego!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

27 bug bites later...

...I can cross jumping off a cliff next to a water fall off my bucket list.

Jordana, Alissa and I went to Mindo this weekend, a cloud forest renowned for its biodiversity. I'm not so sure about that though, because the same annoying stupid kind of bug kept on biting me. This isn't your average whimpy kind of American bug, these creatures aren't afraid of 98.8% DEET. And their bites make you bleed.

Our trip started off with a 2.5 hour bus ride from Quito for $2.50. The bus driver reminded me of how my father drives, which is not a good thing. The whole way he kept pushing the gas pedal and releasing, push, release, push, the entire way there. Good thing I have a tough stomach.

The hostel we stayed at was probably one of the nicer ones I've been to. It was owned by an ex pat who used to be a nurse in the states, but came to Ecuador to do the Peace Corp, fell in love with an Ecuadorian, married him, and moved to Mindo to start a hostel.

Another thing I can cross off my bucket list: riding in the back of a pick up truck. There are taxis in Mindo but the trucks will take you to the cascadas (waterfalls) for a dollar. The view was so beautiful on our way up, but I couldn't take many pictures for fear of being bounced out of the truck. Despite my sore sacrum at the end of the ascent, it was a really cool, scenic ride ride.

La Cascada de Nambillo is probably the most popular waterfall in Mindo. And probably the most popular thing to do there is to jump off the cliff into the bottom of the waterfall. Which, has been on my to do list ever since I saw some boy meets girl movie where they both jump into the waterfall and then start making out or something. This jump was not as romantic, since A) my Bou bear wasn't there and B) the jump was friggin 40 feet high and I was screaming the whole way down. Despite all this and the fact that I probably wouldn't do it again, it was so worth it.

Alissa said she'd kiss this boy on the lips if he dived in head first.
He chickened out though and didn't even jump at all.
Grow some balls.

After our scary descent, we took a chocolate making tour at this place where they make their own organic chocolate. Sweet, literally. We were so chocolate out by the end of the tour, yet we couldn't resist the BEST BROWNIE EVER that came at the end. I'm telling you I've never eaten anything like it, it was so crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and so, so rich.
I'm entering cephalic phase just thinking about it.

Probably the best, richest brownie I've ever had.
Crispy on the top, melty in the middle.

Mariposa (butterfly) in Mariposas de Mindo

The next day in Mindo we woke up early to do a canopy zipline course (10 ropes $10!). I've never done a course like this before, so I don't know if it's normal to be able to do all this crazy upside down stuff inside the US or if you can only find it outside, but either way I lived to tell the tale.

Oh crapo, I just got guacamole all over my keyboard because I'm trying to type and eat at the same time. Wasted avocado.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Latina mannequins, baby got back

This picture probably doesn’t do justice to how perky the butts were on these mannequins.

Luis took us on a trip to Baños, a city about 2.5 hours from Quito. I love traveling with Luis because he stops everywhere for food (and shopping, where we saw the mannequins). We had these ice cream popsicles I wish I remembered the name of. Each popcicle had three flavors: mango, pineapple, and some other fruit we don't have in the states. And the center was strawberry. Yumscicle.

Other eats:
Chugchucara , the typical food of Latacunga, which has enough cholesterol to pretty much last you a life time. It consists of fried chunks of pork, mote, fried bits of pork skin, fried banana, and toasted corn.
Sweet tamale from the side of the road, drive through eating like nothing you've tasted in the states.

We finally arrived at Baños around 7 at night, when it was already getting dark. And after arriving in a new town obvi the first thing you want to do is check out the local party bus. In Ecuador they have these buses called chivas , which are these truck thingies with no walls, just rows of benches, flashing lights, and loud loud music. The chiva took us to a part of the Tungurahua volcano where we got a beautiful view of Baños at night. There was also a bonfire and a clown. Actually the clown was only feeding the bonfire and there were other people telling jokes in Spanish that I did not totally understand.

Baños is known for its natural hot springs and its water falls.

I wish we had more time to explore more in Baños, but so little time, so much to see.

The beautiful Cotopaxi volcano, as seen on our route back to Quito.

Quito, take 1

We finally met Jordana, the other exchange student living with us. Jordana is Venezuelan, but is in her fourth year of medicine in Holland. She’s fluent in four languages: Spanish, some dialect of Dutch that escapes me, English, and Dutch. I don’t understand how people do that. We learned that she just got engaged two weeks ago to her fiancé, whom she had been dating for four years.

Alissa, Carlos, Jordana and I started out the day with our ascent to La Virgen del Panecillo. La Virgen is on top of this really big hill/mountain, one of many that surrounds Quito. From the top, you get an excellent view of the entire city.

I’d been studying my trusty Lonely Planet all night in preparation for this journey, which said that you should not, for any reason, walk to the Virgen statue. So we jumped in a taxi, negotiated our $4 price, and were on our way. Twenty minutes later, we’d barely moved 5 blocks because of all the traffic. Our taxi driver said it might take all day to drive up to the top, so we should walk. Oh yeah it’s perfectly safe, he said (in espanol). Trusting tourists that we were, we paid him half the price of the trip, jumped out, and started walking.

The view from the bottom of the hill was amazing. Panecillo (the hill/mountain) was littered with houses, and each pocket of houses was painted a different color. Some were green, others orange or yellow. I was rudely interrupted from my thoughts by a construction worker, who was yelling something incomprehensible at me in espanol. I assumed he meant that we couldn’t take pictures. Right. Good thing we had Carlos and Jordanna on board. I guess he was yelling because he didn’t want us to get robbed of everything we owned, including the clothes on our backs. No pueden pasar. I’m so thankful for people like that in this country, who want to help you out even though you’re not one of them.

I’m not so thankful for what happened next. These other construction workers told us, roughly translated, “We rob pretty girls like you here. And we’re going to start with the Chinese one.” That rattled me a little bit. But it was a good reminder for me that I need to be aware of my surroundings. Oblivion might have been an annoyance back at home, but it can be dangerous here.

Our next taxi driver, thank god, was much better. He took us to the top of Panecillo in no time at all, and even gave us a little tour and waited for us to come down. Never go up the road leading to the top, he said. I want you to be safe, otherwise you might get a bad impression of Ecuador and never come back.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around La Plaza Grande. We took a tour of the president, Rafael Correa’s governmental building, which was not only free but they took a picture which you got gratis at the end. Dulce.

Much more of Quito to explore, more to come.

Up In the Air

Boston Logan --> Dallas --> Quito, Ecuador

I’m not one to talk to strangers, and definitely not one to have lengthy conversations with them. That’s not to say that’s a characteristic I want to have, it’s just simply how my life has panned out thus far. And it’s something I’m working to change. Change came easy on my first connecting flight from Boston Logan to Houston, Texas. I was more than ready to hunker down in my seat after bordering, armed with my Lonely Planet Ecuador and Barron’s Complete Medical Spanish book (complements of Tri) when I was interrupted by this mid generation hippie looking guy sitting next to me. He turned out to be quite personable, and I set myself a challenge to work on my stranger conversational skills that I would probably need later. Our conversation spanned many topics in that four hour flight, and I can now claim to be a pseudo expert on environmental engineering (his career), cloth diapers, bee keeping, Portuguese, and how his first child was born via midwife.

The next flight proved to be exciting, there was another older gentleman on business sitting next to me who chatted me up about different parts of Latin America, the oil wells in Texas, his upbringing in Wisconsin (do these men ever stop?). Yet still, remembering my goal for this journey I obliged in conversation. Turns out, as he translated, there was a tour group of 20 Ecuadorians who were coming from a trip to China, that understood no Chinese. Which is funny because I’m a Chinese American going to Ecuador who knows no Spanish. I fell asleep for some time, and when I woke up we were beginning our ear popping descent to Quito.

I think this is when I first started feeling butterflies. Thoughts raced through my head, what if my host family doesn’t like me? What if I don’t know enough Spanish? What if this was a mistake and I should have just gone to China instead? I sat, glued to my window. Soon the clouds transitioned into fuzzy lights, which became streets lights, cars, and houses. After the touch down and all that security business, I finally arrived at the welcoming gate. Somewhere along the ride one of my contacts had fallen out, leaving me with a weird half clear vision. So it took me some time to find two women standing beneath a sign reading Elaine Chian written out in colorful curlicue handwriting. The ride home was a blur, the two women (one who had introduced herself as Suzy, one whose name didn’t catch) chatted away in Spanish. We arrived shortly at Calle de San Cristobal, where I was shown to my room (more like mini apartment). However, my happiest surprise was that Alissa and Carlos would be staying with me! We had originally thought we would be in separate host families, but discovered that not only did they put us in the same household but we were staying with the parents of Dr. Espinel, the guy who is coordinating our projects. I was introduced to his mother, Ana, and later his father, Luis (who are probably the best host grandparents ever, but more on that later). They live with their daughter Suzy and her son Marcelo, and their dog Minino. Their son lives with his family in an adjacent complex. By the time I had arrived it was already midnight, so not much else happened that day.

The next day I was awakened for breakfast and greeted with the most amazing fruit juice. The name of the fruit escapes me but it was some Amazonian fruit you can’t find in the United States. Carlos, Alissa and I spent the rest of the day with Luis (abuelo), getting to know San Francisco University (where our project coordinator is) and some of Quito.