Sunday, October 24, 2010

almuerzo and a dance


Written by: Kiley

Life in Cuenca has been real. So real that I'm considering staying here a bit longer. I'll inform you all more once I hear back from some job prospects.

Maria headed to the jungle yesterday to do some job shadowing of a doctor there. I'm here in Cuenca relaxing for the weekend. Soon I will go the the mall with my local friends Silvana and Maria Pilar. Not much to do in Cuenca on a Sunday so that's usually where the people go. Maybe we'll see a movie- who knows.

Not much new to report. I just wanted to check in and let you know that everything is going well. Mom, you would be proud- I'm going to church tonight with my friend Kler.

Love to all.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Written by: Kiley

I'm glad Maria has been keeping you all entertained on our blog because I definitely have beenfailing to do so. Honestly, I think it is because I don't feel like I am traveling in Cuenca, therefore I forget that people might want to know what I am doing even in my home away from home.

It has been so wonderful to be able to spend time with my friends from here. Some days it feels like there aren't enough hours in a day to see everyone that I want to spend time with. This week I'm going to try to be better about going up to Tania's house (Friend that just had the baby) because being down in the center is just so convenient to spend time with everyone else without having to travel by bus.

Usually every afternoon I go have lunch with my friend Sandrita and new friend Blanca. Blanca also now works with Sandrita at CEDEI, so when 1:00 p.m. roles around there's a little party on Calle Larga (Long St.). Maria has been helping teach English at a school so she has not been attending these wonderful dining events. Maybe this week though, as she told me tonight that she probably won't be going anymore.

I have been spending a lot of time writing and reading while here in Cuenca. My friend Prisi and I are doing a daily writing assignments where she writes in English and I write in Spanish. We then swap notebooks and correct each other's errors. Every day we write about a different topic of life. Yesterday's theme was, "What is love? Not who, but what?" Last night I spent the night at her house and it was so beautiful to realize that we were still talking in bed at 4:00 a.m., in Spanish, about life, while I'm now living in Ecuador. Sometimes I forget that I'm speaking in Spanish all the time here. So refreshing and challenging at the same time.

After Prisi dropped me off at the hostel my friend Soledad (Where Maria and I stayed our first week in Cuenca) came over and we made Ceviche for lunch. It's a typical dish here that is made with blended tomato juice with onions (mine without onions), lime, some greens, and our choice of meat was shrimp. This afternoon I then went to the movies with my friend Kler (Claire). Maria opted not to go since we had no idea what any of the movies were. We ended up watching a horrible French movie that was all French with Spanish subtitles. We survived it by making jokes about how horrible it was. Long story short- vampire girl, outcast boy, killer father, ...vampire girl kills the bullies that pick on outcast boy. Most of the movie we spent throwing popcorn at each other and trying to ignore the guy two seats down from me that kept staring at us like a piece of meat, with no shame.

Tomorrow I plan to go up to Tania's. Tuesday we will go with a friend Silvana to a few neighboring towns to help her with some research she is doing for her thesis. Wednesday night I'm going to the Cuenca soccer game with Kler; I'm guessing Maria will join too. Thursday afternoons are with Prisi, and who knows about Friday. Time flies when you're having fun, right?

Hope you all are well.

Shrunken Heads: A How-To

Written/copied by: Maria

The process of creating a shrunken head begins with removing the skull from the head. An incision is made on the back of the neck and all the skin and flesh is removed from the cranium. Red seeds are placed underneath the eyelids and the eyelids are sewn shut. The mouth is held together with three palm pins. Fat from the flesh of the head is removed. It is here that a wooden ball is placed in order to keep form. The flesh is then boiled in water that has been steeped with a number of herbs containing tannins. It is then dried with hot rocks and sand, while molding it to retain its human feature. The skin is then rubbed down with charcoal ash. Decorative beads are added to the head.

In the headshrinking tradition, it is believed that coating the skin in ash keeps the muisak, or avenging soul, from seeping out.

Shrunken heads are known for their mandibular prognathism, facial distortion and shrinkage of the lateral sides of the forehead; these are artifacts of the shrinking process.

Among the Shuar and Achuar, the reduction of the heads was followed by a series of feasts centered on important rituals.

Saturday, October 16, 2010



All of this and more: $5

Mis alumnos

Written by: Maria
The students at the bilingual school of azuay learn quechua, spanish and english. We're having a little fiesta this friday and I was unsure exactly what was the cause for celebration. It ended up being something like they're graduating to the next level. In the picture you can see a hazing of sorts held for the youngin's. A girl is getting a face-full of this whipped egg white and sugar goo for which the name escapes me. They almost dragged me in there, too, but I hid in a corner and shoot my head, "no, gracias." You would have laughed. Pobrecita Maria had no clue what was going on. They managed to get me down there to eat a piece of gum (part of the ceremony) and some of that goo stuff with an itty bitty spoon. it was an eating contest among the teachers. if you know anything about me, you would guess i would have been all about winning that, but i was afraid of the goo. raw eggs! so i ate a little bit to be polite and then, "oh, me! oh, my! it's just too much! teehee. teehee. help me! Look at how cute i am I could never get all that down~" so, basically, it worked. i probably seemed pretty boring from then on out.

For many reasons, I've decided to stop attending the school after two days of trial. Boy, do they need some help. But I'm not the one for it. Not only do they not have computers or internet, but a curriculum hardly exists. For heaven's sake, I've never taught in my life and I was not expecting it when they threw me in a box with 24 fourth graders. "You're late, maria. you're class is starting." Great, well, why didn't you tell me sooner??? wait, my class? what? (I guess the next question would be) where? but i should have just refused. Instead, ya know what thoughts were going through my head???: "Shit, I can't let the children down. I have to do something! These teachers must know what they're talking about. Maybe it won't be that bad. Here I go." and it took me a little while to get the black aluminum door slid open while the children were ooooing and awwwwing. i was a bonafied spectacle. how dare they. The children didn't know a lick of english and they behaved as they should when a show-and-tell gringa stumbles into their quarters. Nothing to write on the blackboard with. No text available for me to reference. TWO HOURS OF NOTHING. well, i did manage to take a tally of how many of them had parents in the united states. Concentrated in chicago and new york, 80% had at least one parent in the us of a: holy cow.

So i've left them to their devices. We'll see how long it'll be before I revisit this teaching thing, but for now I'm going to spend the rest of my precious time in Ecuador being selfish.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Hostal Macondo

Written by: Maria

We visited just about every lower-end hostal Cuenca has to offer: 9 maybe. That is to say, all of them were nice enough, but our first venture at Hostal Macondo in the end took the cake. Of course, could have avoided the trouble if we had known, but I did enjoy roaming around pretending like we had direction. At least, I felt like I got some hard-learning done. It's best not to look "wandering" here. Hard when I'm consumed with wander-lust like all the other travelers but by slipping into a shop to orientate a bit with the map I can pull it off in the street with feeling just a tinge of dishonesty and of something hot burning under me. Another red flag: walking or even resting in public with a tour book or map in front of your face. I recall passing several big city maps near neat parks/museums/etc. and walking at least ten feet away from them holding my breath like they were roadkill or such. "Oh, but they're here to help me!" I'd think.

Hostal Macondo is an old colonial building from the inside. You can never tell what you'll find behind doors here as, with little exception, they all look like a hole in a cement wall from the front... with occasional shattered multi-colored glass trimming to prevent city monkeys from traipsing. Wood floors inside and white walls punctuated with some colorful art they nailed up the other day. One is going for $2,500 and it doesn't appeal to me.

The staff are all used to putting up with gringos so they are quick to pick up on my sincere attempts to communicate and relate or just smile in gratitude. There's Silvana, 28, who we're most chummy with, two other front desk ladies and the Night Guy. Lady 1 is pretty and quiet and smiles softly, often. Lady 2 works here the most and crunches up her nose a lot when she pushes up her glasses with three of her thin fingers. She seems to always be at something be it writing in this rainbow little kiddy notebook that has scratched on the front in perm. marker: "treasure" or maybe it says "treasurer." or else shes running, literally running around the hostal (ecuadorians dont run often, they just walk fast and decisively like ants with orders) helping out with cleaning, or kitchen duty and then back to the front door when the "dingdong" asks her to buzz a guest in. The other day I saw her picking up little leaves that had tumbled into the courtyard, folding them up into little square packets of brown carbon and putting them into a clenched left hand so they were almost completely hidden and then she was off presumably to throw them away. I haven't met any of the real cleaning ladies who dress in grey with baseball caps- Typically behind-the-scenes-ultra-helpful and i can't help but want to say: ya know, you don't really need to make my bed every morning...I'm here for a month, after all. But they keep alluding me, the four of them tag-teaming my bed. I felt even worse this morning when they picked up my tepid breakfast coffee and milk and washed it for me when i definitely planned to finish and wash it after the jitters subsided from the first even if it was cold by then. And then there's the lead breakfast lady who's always so sweet and considerate when I'm reading in the cafeteria on cold damp mornings and she needs to clean. I'll get up and move out of her way, but we always end up dancing the polite, "no, you, " dance and smiling, "gracias a Uds."

Free internet here. although slow and there's only one sticky-keyed computer available, it seems everyone but Ki and I and the front desker's have a laptop for use of the wifi so it works OK. The included breakfast is soft bread from a local bakery of two types: sugary cinnamon swirled or sesame seed white. Two cute little butter balls and home-made marmalade to go with our toast, cream or hot milk with coffee, cocoa, tea (and hot water), and a freshly-prepared daily juice. Today was papaya which i dont like much, but yesterday was blackberry yum. And then there's a plate of fresh mozzarella to pick over. Today was a particularly rough morning so I ordered two huevos fritos (fried eggs) for $1 extra.

Our room is gigantic: ceilings maybe 12 feet up there and it's gotta be about 15' by 15' on the sides. I don't know how it worked out, but there are five beds in there and we're paying only for a room with two so Ki and I have each assumed a second bed to splay out our pack's innards. I guess we've offered to move if a family ever comes in and needs the space, but for now I'm enjoying the stretch room. Only 2 complaints: the smoking guests congregate near our door and the smoke gets stuck just inside our door sometimes. and everyone has to clomp past our echo-y chamber on the wooden floors to get to to the courtyard and this really bothers at least Kiley.

The courtyard is simple and lovely. orchids, vines, lilies (Cala), papyrus fronds, grass and tables, a giant fake parrot cage around a palm tree with swinging wooden birdies with four foot tails. a hammock (which ill muster up enough courage to use soon... it's just so OUT THERE and other people have rooms that look out AT IT.) If i look carefully at the grass, i feel at home because there are clover flowers there just like un-herbicided lawns at home which is strange for me to think about because I don't really like lawns all that much but i like seeing the clovers.

a I guess we haven't met any of the guests, but im starting to know who's here for the long-term. There's the short round lady and her tall bald husband who are always working on theirlaptops, speaking american english and nuzzling each other. The Norwegian girls who can't speak espanish, but are always asking for more beer and smoking in front of our room. So far, all of the europeans have been stuck in the back of the hostal together as if there was some kind of segregation going on because i know they didn't all come together. then there's the smug professor with the deep voice who never has company and carries around thesame NYT magazine everywhere and yesterday brought 5 musical instruments up into his padwhich is the big one up the stairs overlooking the courtyard. I did talk to him once. he's guiding a group of students from wisconsin whitewater? to teach english in the same school (CEDEI) in which i will be taking quechua classes (starting today at 5!) He said none of them speak spanish and then I felt smug, too.

That's about it on the hostal. A comfy place. I just finished 660 pages of great literature: All the Kings Men and recommend it to anyone who thinks about politics or wants to. Thankfully, for 1$ you can exchange books or rent them from what other guests have left in this locked-up cupboard near where the Norwegians smoke or where i read when they aren't there. I'm eye-ing "The Omnibus of Science Fiction," but wondering if I would get anything out of one more go at the likely self-proclaimed Almighty Vonnegut.

Our address if you have to send anything that's worth sending but not worth your arm because someone might steal it:

Attn: Maria or Kiley
Hostal Macondo
Calle Tarqui 11-64 y Lamar
Cuenca, Ecuador

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Written by: Maria
Made it to Kiley`s old stomping grounds. There are several dozen people i need to meet so i`ve begun a list. i love lists.

first impressions:
it`s much cleaner than quito.
we are thankfully very near the school where i will be studying. staying with Soledad, a beautiful dama of 26 years who has offered us space and teaches at CEDEI, the school.
everyone is so glad to be reunited with Ki (as is Ki). I feel welcome with all these warm souls.
I was gifted a doughnut by Paulina, a Kifriend who works in the bakery across from CEDEI. Doughnuts are really geasy here.
It`s chilly. I need to get something warm to wear for this month.
I think there are many opportunities lurking in these cobbled streets.

Maria's emergency number

011 593 98 724 892

Friday, October 1, 2010

Safe and Sound

Written By: Kiley

As you can probably tell, Maria and I go to the internet cafes at the same time, therefore you are going to most likely get two new posts at a time. As Maria explained below, we made it to Baños de Ambato finally this evening after a long afternoon of travel. As she sits across the room next to the gringo and deaf man, I´m stuck in the back corner next to the bathroom. Now, when I say next to, I mean literally that if I roll my chair back about two feet and push the door open I can go from my chair to the ¨thrown¨. Which is fine, except for when Maria´s computer neighbors come over here behind me and use the facilities with the door half open. Not kidding. Okay, only one man did, BUT STILL. Don´t worry, I threw a gringa glare backwards and he shut the door. Okay, enough.

Tomorrow we will spend the day here exploring this little town that is full of tourists and natural hot springs. I was here last year and it is a really relaxing place, even without going in the water. After tomorrow we will decide when we are heading to Riobamba, to catch the afternoon mountain train ride. From there we will head to Cuenca.

All is well.


so im enjoying the keyboards now. that´s a good sign. i never did memorize how to write all the spanish characters and now... they´re all right here!

Written by: Maria
Cancled the trip to Otavalo. a market town, kiley has already visited and i dont want to carry anything more. it would have just been to see the largest market in ecuador where most of the crafts are made by the vendors and you can watch small and large animal trades. i can imagine it... farmers market plus the cow palace.

We made it to baños instead. SAFE. and mostly pooped. today began with a trip to the gyasamin museums, both. it smelled so nice in there. a foreign floral scent. his work was straightforward and that was probably the reason he became a minority- a rich artist. ill add a quote from the artist later. ____________ so we started our way to baños at 12:50 this afternoon from Quito... road some city buses with our packs (a big thing. the past two days have been focused a lot on how we, or me mostly, can go incognito SEE PICTURE BELOW) and with a little trust found the bus terminal. squeaky clean space ship like terminal.

got in after dark. the sun sets at 630 in this andean valley. we are both glad to be out of the city. maybe more than glad.

to my left, a gringo. to my right, a deaf man signing away to a friend over skype. he´s excited right now, i can tell. baños is known for its hot springs and hippies so i can wash away some worries. more to come on baños soon.