The Trip from Quito to Cuellaje via Otavalo

WorldTeach arranged for six of us, four going to Intag and two going to Ibarra, to share a taxi to Otavalo. The car arrived on time at 9:15. It was essentially a compact care, fitted to seat an extra 2-3 people instead of a trunk. This meant there was a enough space for people, but luggage not so much. Somehow we managed to get all of our bags on the roof rack, although the driver charged us an extra $10. The car was squatting a bit when it pulled away from the hotel at 9:21.

The ride to Otavalo was scenic and an education in Ecuadorian road rules. As best I can tell, laws in Ecuador are a universally ignored suggestions and signs stating them a mere formality that might look good for visitors. Double yellow lines: honk while passing two cars and a truck on a curve. Speed limit: double it. Lanes: what are they? A sane, rational person might be bothered by this but I figure I would fit in driving here no problem. Plus we made good time.

We arrived safely in Otavalo and no one got car sick. The four of us headed to Intag got our luggage and bough tickets for the 1 pm (only) bus to Cuellaje. The car took the other two people the rest of the way to Ibarra.

We ate lunch and squatted for a while in an aluemerzo at the train station. The hour and a half passed relatively quickly. The bus ride was just as I found described online, “a 4 hour ride on unpaved mountain roads.” Next to me was a boy and his mother with two boxes of chicks and ducklings. Every now and then they would open the boxes, presumably to let them have fresh air. The boy let me hold a duckling (I love ducks!), which decided to try and snuggle next to me in the seat. I think it wanted to get a way from the peeping, prehistoric looking chicks or maybe it instinctively knew I would name it and instead of eating it. Where can you get duck collars and leashes? I should Google the U.S. importation regulations for ducks.

Really, other than my butt getting numb it was not a bad trip. The drive through the mountains was beautiful. I happily snapped pictures and took video as we wound our way through the mountains. If you don’t like heights, then you might not want a window seat because there were times the road seemed to disappear.

About two hours into the trip, there was a “pit stop” in front of a roadside tienda. If you need to use the bathroom or want fresh pork grinds this is the place. After than we continued on making a few quick stops as we neared Cuellaje, but only to pick up and drop off people near their homes.

We arrived in Cuellaje a little after 5 pm. Richard, the school administrator met us at the bus. He picked me out immediately. Admittedly, it couldn’t be that hard because everything about me screams gringa. He could not have been friendly. My three companions are all proficient in Spanish and easily carried on a conversation, while I picked up on every 30th word, maybe less.

We walked across the town square, where volleyball ball games were in full swing, to Richard’s house. He introduced us to his family. They talked for a while, while my brain was swimming in panic due to my deficient Spanish speaking skills. Richard walked Tristan around the corner to his host family. Lauren and Jonathan are living a little further out and waited for their rides. By the time they left, the panic in my brain subsided enough to not feel completely lost without translators.

My host family is Quito for the weekend, so I ate dinner with Richard’s family. I will also be eating lunch with them on school days. Somehow with my very limited Spanish, Richards limited English ans some gesturing we managed a few good conversations. We both seem better at understanding our respective “foreign” languages than speaking. Although, I have to give Richard most of the credit. I maybe referring to my Spanish-English dictionary a lot, but I should manage to stumble through just fine.

After dinner Richard walked me to my host family’s house and let me into my room. It is attached to the house, but has a private entrance and bath (just outside of the room). I am looking forward to exploring Cuellaje tomorrow during the daylight.

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Orientation – that’s a wrap

Everyone survived orientation. Admittedly they scared the crap out of us the first couple of days. I like to think it was for our own good, but I think they got some entertainment out of it too (hey, why not I probably would have done the same). Some days felt exceedingly long. However, I am amazed at how much information the field directors were able to squeeze into 10 days.

We got to do fun things like tour Quito, the Guayasamin Museum and take a salsa dancing lesson. We also managed learn a lot about things like culture, ESL students, lesson planning, health and safety. I did like that instead of long lectures by the same people everyday, they mixed it up with guest speakers and interactive sessions that illustrated games to play with students. Who doesn’t like playing with balloons and spit balls?

Friday, after finishing orientation we had a little free time before a group dinner. Most of us checked email, then headed out to happy hour. There are some really good happy hour specials in Quito. Then we went a group dinner with field directors. Pizza, wine, beer and good company. It was a great way to wrap up a long ten days. Orientation felt long but was practical. I guess the real test will be when we are in the classroom. Thanks Kate, Tara and Lee!

A Tour of Quito

Today, we took a tour of the city and then were turned loose. On the tour we stopped at El Panecillo to see the Virgen de Quito. After the official tour ended we ate lunch then we split up to see different parts of the city.  A group of us went to the Basilica of the National Vow, La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús and Centro Historico. The Basilica was incredible. You could climb all the way to the top for an amazing view of the city. It was a great to finally get to spend sometime exploring the city.

Walking to dinner was interesting because the streets were mostly empty. People weren’t joking when they said nobody goes out on Sundays.

Orientation Day 2: Health and Teaching

Today was “Health Day.” A nurse, who spent something like 20 years working as a nurse for the Peace Corps, came to talk to us about trying to stay healthy in Ecuador. Well getting sick sounds inevitable, I hope following he precautions help.

That was followed up by a brief talk about what our insurance will and will not cover. It sounds like mostly the latter. Then we played Jeopardy to review it all. How can you not love categories like Poop, Puke & Piss and Diseases you might get in Ecuador?

For lunch we were broken into groups and went with a current year-long volunteer living in Quito. It was the same soup, rice and chicken. The volunteer we ate with had just been robbed twice the week before, but still loves it here. I guess that is promising.

In the afternoon, we covered some class room management techniques. Then we had an awesome session about teaching in the target language. Ellah, a WorldTeach volunteer since 2010 I believe, came in speaking nothing but Hebrew. First, we learned to say “What is your name?” and  “My name is…” Then we added he and she. After that she had us all stand up and file into three lines. We played a little game like Simon Says learning left, right, forward and back. Then had to guide two people through a maze of tables. It was incredible. Especially, since we are likely walking into classes where our students speak little to no English and I speak little to no Spanish.

Orientation Day 1: Safety

Today started with a little breakfast at the hotel. Eating was optional, but not what you ate. A server brought juice, jam and bread to the table, followed by a hard-boiled egg. If you were looking for something else, then you need to go somewhere else.

Orientation started promptly at 9 am. As soon as we sat down we received a 10 page Spanish test that we had an hour to take. There was some multiple choice, fill in the blank and an essay. Fortunately, it was just a placement test for when we start Spanish classes next week.

The Spanish test was followed by a safety talk from a Special Agent from the U.S. Embassy. It was enlightening to say the least. Ecuador’s crime rating is critical. A fun little statistic he was nice enough to share was that 90% of students visiting the country get robbed. The good news is that after these  safety seminars started  that number dropped by 70%. Or at least I am telling myself this is good news.

We finally got to leave the hotel for lunch. We were broken into groups based on the area of the country we will be living. Then we walked a few blocks to a little restaurant where everyone was served the same thing; soup, chicken, rice, and pasta salad. We talked about the Intag region where we will be staying. As we were leaving there was a man playing the guitar and singing America’s Horse with No Name in Spanish. It was great.

In the afternoon, we covered more on “Surviving in Ecuador.” There were personal stories and stories of past volunteers to supplement the lengthy handout. I know they are trying to make sure we understand what we will face and how to best protect ourselves, but I am seriously wondering what I have gotten into.

Next stop Quito, Ecuador

I have landed in Miami and it has already been an interesting morning. I did not get the email about travel information from WorldTeach. Last night around 11 pm, after combing through my email, I decided to email the other volunteers in my area to see if they new about the pre-departure meeting. I was thought it would be at the gate. I am glad I emailed because one person thought the same as I did and another forwarded me a very important email with pertinent travel information.

I arrive at the airport early now armed with group travel information, which proved beneficial. I tell the baggage guy that I am going to Miami, but the taking a flight booked as a group to Quito. He tells I need to pick up my bag in Miami. I decide this doesn’t sound quite right and decide to ask the ticket agent at the gate. Good thing because it was wrong, very wrong. TJ, the ticket agent, tracked down my bag, got it re-tagged, printed my boarding pass Quito, refunded the baggage fee (there is not fee for international flights) and was generally awesome. This is of course assuming my bag arrives, but for right now I’m a big fan.

The pre-departure meeting is in an hour. Next stop Quito, Ecuador. I hope I have not missed any other important communications.

The middle of nowhere

The volunteer handover letter stated that Cuellaje was one of the most remote placements. It also mentioned the limited travel too and from town. I didn’t realize just how far it was until I found this:

 “From Otavalo by bus to the village of Cuellaje is a journey of about 4 hours along an unpaved road that winds its way through the mountains.”

Otavalo is 1.5 hours from Quito. I thought I lived in the middle of nowhere at home, but this gives new meaning to “nowhere.”