Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bird Watching and Mindo, a Moon guidebook "pick"

Last month we finally made our way down to the hamlet of Mindo. Mindo is known for being a quaint little get-away, close to Quito, with the above said birdwatching galore. To here birdwatchers tell it, I couldn't wait to find ostriches wandering the streets, parrots streaking though restaurants, and hummingbirds sipping at my white russians. However, though the birds would be a nice icing on the cake, Erin and I were primarily drawn to Mindo for a wedding celebration of two fellow teachers, Daniel and Tanya. We had a a day off on Friday, and so we made a two night stay of it.

A teacher at school and his wife own the newest hostel in town, The Hummingbird; but the wedding celebration brought quite the crew of teachers out to his hostel so we found ourselves at the equally nice Caskaffesu.

Arriving on Friday, we found, of course, rain. That's been the soup du jour lately, but it feels kind of appropriate in a cloud/rain forest. After the rain passed, Erin and I decided to venture out and find the birds. Strangely, there were none at the hostel...even though it was named The Hummingbird. We found a nice trail behind the hostel, and we walked it's length, taking in flowers, dogs, a river, kids playing, but no birds. Damn, you must need to get up earlier for those things...that's what the pros say, anyway. We made plans for a 5Am wake up the following morning. Hey, if that's what you have to do to see flocks of Eagles and Macaws, so be it.

The next morning came plenty early, but to see the sky blackened by the wings of 1000's of colored birds was going to be worth it. We walked through the sleeping village, and towards some waterfalls that would supplement the experience of a parrot landing on my shoulder. We walked. And walked. We passed two professional birders, noting their binoculars. We walked. We stopped and ate our breakfast. We walked. We looked at trees through squinted eyes. We walked. We found a dog who followed us up the road and named him Pancho. We asked him where the birds were. He had no answer. We listened, we looked, we walked. Finally, we arrived at the entrance to the waterfalls...and their they were, soaring across the jungle, six parrots. They were...oh, how can you put it into words, well, they were six green birds flying in the air.

But hey, we saw them, and that was good enough.

I'm pretty sure there are some amazing birds in this photo, really spectacular.

With the bird show all wrapped up, we finally took in our "trailhead." The actual start to the trail was on the other side of a massively deep jungle ravine, and more impressive than the six small green birds, was this contraption which would take us there.

The term: Cable Car really does apply well here, because there is only one cable for support, and, it's powered by a Nissan car engine.

Yes, that thing has a gear shifter, gas pedal, clutch, brake; and yes, I mentioned to him that Toyota was a better motor. He agreed as I nervously boarded the car. Anyway, Erin and I had a calming ride across (the car goes surprisingly fast, he definitely shifted into another gear when we were in the middle of the ravine), and we had a good time wandering around looking at the waterfalls and playing Tarzan in, not of, the jungle.

Having had all the bird watching, vine swinging, and waterfall excitement one can handle in a day, we hitched a ride back to Mindo in time for the wedding celebration. Of course, it rained, but Todd and his wife have a beautiful hostel, the white russians were flowing, we found gnnochi for lunch, and a raucous game of frisbee was being introduced to the town kids, who truly do play in the street. Tanya and Daniel treated us all to a great dinner, and we partied into the evening, somehow waking up at 6:30 for the bus ride home.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Illiniza Norte: Conquered!!

This past Sunday, May 18th, and my dear mother's birthday to be exact, Tim and I climbed Illiniza Norte with a friend from another American school. Tim climbed this mountain in December with Andrew, back when I was sitting out with head colds. So this was my first go of it. The weather was, well, the same as it's always been any time I've tried to climb a mountain here. Norte also had quite a bit of snow, making for fun and mildly technical climbing at times. We hiked from the trailhead at about 8 am and returned to the mighty "Lando" at about 5 pm. All in all---GREAT day, even if I was a little slow. Norte's summit is at 5,126 meters (just shy of 17,000 feet). While we climbed higher than this on Cotopaxi, Norte is now my tallest summit, and therefore, something I'm proud of.

The sun came out for a couple minutes so Tim had to snap off a few shots of the uncharacteristically nice weather.

We crossed paths with some Swedes (well, they may have been German) pulling a full-on Ed Whymper revival. That dude wore his smoking jacket, cotton pants and Panama hat on the climb. You can see how bundled up we were.

Cold and snowy on the summit, and much unlike Tim's first climb here where you could see Cotopaxi all the way across the valley.

And here's Brian with his mighty Land Cruiser which we had to push out of a muddy ditch that very morning:

And the parting shot--Ecuadorian car wash:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


So, it's Wednesday night in Quito, and in honor of, well, Wednesday, I thought I'd show you a bit of what my Wednesdays look like (not to be confused with Windsday, of course).

Wednesdays are special days for me because I get to do something here that I never felt I had the financial resources to do regularly in the States: yoga. A lovely British woman here teaches a private class to about 8 of us on Mondays (I teach an extra class after school and wasn't able to get in on this class) and Wednesdays.

So here's how the day-to-day looks:
I get up at about 6:20 to start the coffee cookin' and the bagels toastin' or the oatmeal boilin'. . .

I start begging Tim to get up at about 6:35. It usually only takes him about another 5 to roll outta bed. We are out the door at 6:54 to catch the "Teacher Bus" a block up the road. Understand that since our move to the new apartment, our morning walk is now only 3 minutes and we're not sweaty and tired when we get on the bus. Big plus for me!

Wednesdays at school mean an extra hour in the morning with no kiddos. So we arrive to quiet, birds chirping here and there, and smiles all around. Wednesday mornings = professional development.

I begin my day in my classroom where I greet Dr. Freud, who is always there waiting for me.

I teach a total of 4 classes: 11th and 12th grade IB psychology (sooooo fun!!) and 11th and 12th grade theory of knowledge (TOK--soooooo confusing!!) But the 12th graders have already taken IB exams, so I only have two classes which means I am only teaching one or two classes out of the entire day. I think I probably have the easiest job in the entire school.

Most days, Tim and I eat lunch together. If he's out of bed by 6:39, he has time to fix a hasty salad for us to share. Sometimes we eat in Tim's room and have lunch with Megan, my sister in law, over Skype. Today, we ate in the teacher's lounge. Yes, the TV is super-grande, but it's rarely on.

After lunch, I resist the urge to surf the web and actually have time to dream up some pretty alright lesson plans.

After school, we take the sardine-can teacher bus out to our old stomping grounds: Guapulo. The new Shakti Center boasts an Organic Farmers Market on Wednesdays (morning :-p) and Saturdays, Korean massage tables, children's art classes, and our yoga studio.

They even sell spirulina in case we decide we need some.

After browsing the Organic wares and handmade soaps, we meander up to our "studio."

Somehow, we manage to fit 8 students and one instructor into this space. While it's not the most mod space you've ever seen and has no mirrors, it certainly comes with a certain charm and character and we've all become quite attached to it.

However, the weather is turning around lately and we'll have half days in June, so I think I'm going to abandon yoga class until September rolls around again. I figure I've done enough that I can lead myself through the beneficial poses I've come to depend on, and I would totally have the power to avoid Hero pose, Camel pose, Half-frog, or anything else that requires severe pain in my knees. But of course, isn't half the point of taking yoga classes to teach yourself how to be okay with your body and level of expertise in any pose? I'm not necessarily convinced. I think June = running!

After yoga, I catch a cab home where Tim will make some sort of scrumptious dinner--or we'll have sushi delivered. Tonight: steak fajitas and mango margarittas!!

And while cooking, eating and cleaning, we do one of the following:
--Watch the news online (States news)
--Watch news video podcasts
--Watch episodes of Arrested Development (OMG--soooo funny!)
--Watch episodes of My Name is Earl (Again, funny beyond belief)
--or engage in stimulating conversation about life, politics, or where we want to live after Ecuador. Oh yes, we already have list. . .

Tonight? It was MSNBC online.

After that, pretty much every night, no matter what else is going on, I spend the rest of my time playing with, squishing, and snuggling this little princess right here:

And that's about as typical as Wednesdays get around here. Maybe not glamorous and overtly multi-cultural, but I love it just the same.
Current nightly obsession: Getting through the second Harry Potter in Spanish before I have to give the book back for the summer.

Friday, May 9, 2008

New Article

I have a new article in the Ecuador Reporter. The topic is Rainy-Day Rock Climbing. The ER is coming into its own, and you should check it out for a variety of articles on Ecuadorian tourism, politics, art, etc. The article can be found here.