Saturday, August 30, 2014

Visiting The Ingapirca Ruins

I know some of you after reading the title of this post were like, "Inga what?" I'm I right? so what is Ingapirca? the word Ingapirca means wall of the Inca and the ruins happen to be the best preserved pre-Hispanic architecture in Ecuador built by the Incas. The original inhabitants of this site were the Canari, an indigenous tribe. As the Inca empire expanded from Peru and extended to what is now known as Ecuador, the Incas overcame the Canaris after intense fighting but despite their victory, they did not force the Canaris to fully assimilate to their customs. The Incas did however influence their superior architectural structures and infrastructure improving on the framework of the Canaris. How is that for a bit of history? not bad huh?

When I heard about these ruins I was interested in checking them out because I have a fascination with the Incas and their history so any opportunity to learn more about them is always welcome on my part. Taking a tour would have cost about $45 to $50 but the owner of the hostel I am staying at suggested that if I went solo it would be way cheaper and could be easily done. From Cuenca I took a bus at the terminal that was fortunately heading straight to Ingapirca, this bus always departs at 9 in the morning. I am not sure if they have other buses going directly to the ruins at other times. It cost me $5 for a round trip ticket.

Ingapirca is about 2 hours away from Cuenca which isn't such a long trip, I slept through most of it as usual. The bus dropped us off at the entrance of the ruins so that was really convenient, all I had to do was cross the road to go to the ticket office and buy my entrance ticket to the ruins. For foreigners the cost is $6 but it's $2 for Ecuadorians.

At the ticket office you can request a guide and their services is included in the entrance fees. They did not have an English speaking guide today but it worked out just fine for me because I could follow and understand the Spanish speaking guide pretty well and it made me realize just how much Spanish I have learned so far, I am so proud of myself! Spanish is not an easy language ya'll!

The ruins are not as grand as the famous Machu Picchu in Peru but the history is still fascinating and very impressive. I gotta tell you, those Incas were bad arse! and I mean it in a good way, they were way ahead of their time.

This was the guide, she did a really good job of explaining everything.

That's it folks! after the tour I got lunch at a nearby restaurant, walked around the area a little bit and finally caught the bus back to Cuenca. The same bus showed up at 1 pm as earlier specified and it went directly back to Cuenca dropping everyone off at the bus terminal. In total I ended up spending $15, not bad huh?

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Ingapirca is located at an altitude over 10000 feet (over 3000 meters) above sea level so it can get really cold and it's a good idea to dress appropriately. Good thing I wore layers plus the sun came out often so it wasn't as chilly all the time.

Speaking of cold, at night it gets so cold you should see how I have been layering before going to bed. Gloves included! I am not even kidding you.

I can not wait to get back to my bed and my room in Quito.

For English speakers you describe people from Ecuador as Ecuadorian right? but here in Ecuador they say Ecuatoriano or Ecuatoriana depending on the gender of the person.

The room I am in at my hostel smells of mould and air freshener which I think they just plugged in to try and mask that moldy smell. Yeah, not working at all!

For some reason I feel like I have been in Cuenca for so long! maybe it's because I miss Quito or rather the people I know in the city. I can't wait to get back.

Good thing I found a cheap one way flight to Quito so I will not have to take an 8 hour bus ride back, actually the airline surprised me by calling me yesterday to inform me that my flight would be leaving 2 hrs earlier than scheduled. Can't complain about that!

If I sound grumpy it's because I feel tired and cold. On that note let me get some sleep!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cuenca The Pretty One

Cuenca is a city situated on the southern part of Ecuador and is quite popular with retired expatriates who want to settle down in an affordable city that's tranquil. I had heard how pretty the city is and it had been highly recommended to me as worth checking out while in Ecuador. After dilly dallying for a whole week I decided to finally check it out for myself and see what the big deal is about this city. To be honest with you the thought of taking an 8 hour bus ride wasn't something I was looking forward to and since I had wasted time in making up my mind about this trip, last minute flights were pretty expensive. I was only planning on spending 3 days in Cuenca and didn't want to spend too much on a flight ticket so I figured I would suck it up, take the 8 hr bus trip and save some money.

I took an overnight bus last night and slept through most of the ride so that trip was painless because by the time I woke up we had reached Cuenca. I got here early this morning and after getting situated at my hostel, I was ready to start exploring the city. Today I decided to focus on downtown because I have other activities planned for the other two days, I have to maximize my stay here.

The streets in downtown Cuenca are narrow and cobble stoned which adds to their appeal. Unlike downtown Quito, downtown Cuenca is very clean and that really stood out to me plus I felt safer than I feel in Quito. This is not to say I did not take any precautions but the vibe was just different and I liked it.

I had seen these blue domes in the picture below on many tourist magazines so seeing them live felt a bit surreal.

I just love the narrow cobble stoned streets. It got a bit cloudy but it didn't end up raining thank goodness!

Amazing view of the city.

As I have said before and will continue saying, you will not see me venturing to any neighborhoods situated up a hill in any South American country. I took these photos from a safe distance and moved right along pretty quick!

That's it folks, after walking around downtown for a few hours turning onto random streets to see where they would lead me, I decided I had done enough site seeing for the day so I headed back to my room to chill out. Cuenca truly is a pretty city worth checking out so I am glad I made up my mind to do so.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

If you need some blood tests done in Quito, Ecuador for whatever reason and you don't want to shell out mega bucks especially while traveling on a budget, check out Red Cross (Cruz Roja) near parque Alameda. The tests are cheap but then again it depends on what exactly you are checking for, I paid $15 for mine and I got my results indicating my clean bill of health within two days. PS: be sure to carry some form of ID, a copy of your passport is good enough.

For any big booty ladies out there, me included! the best place to buy jeans that fit well here in Quito, is Ipiales. This is an area in downtown where a lot of locals do their shopping economically. Ecuador imports most clothes so prices can be pretty high, places like Ipiales come in handy for those who can't or don't want to part with major bucks. Make sure to go with a local or if you decide to venture out there solo just make sure to do so during the day and don't carry any valuables with you, the area looks a bit sketchy so be careful. I went with one of my Dominican friends who has been in Quito for several months so she was like my guide on where to go and which shops to stop at.

For black ladies out there, sometimes it is not easy to find hairdressers that deal with black hair especially when traveling through certain parts of the world where there isn't a significant black population. Worry not if you land in Quito because there are many Dominican hairdressers who will hook you up real good! I can't guarantee they will do the same for locs though just because locs are not very popular here. I do my own hair so I have never needed to go to any hairdresser during my travels.

Manicures and pedicures here are dirt cheap!!! you best believe I have been regularly treating my feet to those $4 pedicures. Just because I am traveling doesn't mean I can't take care of myself. I don't want to be walking around with crusty feet!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What To See & Do In Quito

I have been living in Quito, Ecuador for nearly three months now if you can believe it! it seems like I just got here not too long ago, how fast time flies! soon I will be moving on to my next destination but more on that later. I thought of compiling a list of suggestions of things to do or places to see while staying in Quito so hopefully this list will give you an idea of what to look out for if you are ever thinking of visiting this part of the world. Let's get started shall we?

Downtown Quito - This is the historical part of the city where you will find a lot of history. You will find narrow cobble stoned streets or narrow streets with colorful buildings that look so pretty.

There are several beautiful churches you can visit and take a look inside, the interior architecture is really amazing!

There are several plazas where you can chill and people watch, sometimes you can even catch a free concert if you are lucky. The main plaza (Plaza Grande) right infront of the presidential palace draws huge crowds and seems livelier than the other plazas as I have noticed. While you are at this plaza do stop by the presidential palace and check it out, you might even be lucky to observe the change of guards.

The Virgin of El Panecillo - Here you can get amazing views of the city as it is located high up on a hill. It is advisable not to climb up the hill on foot as the surrounding neighborhoods are not safe but you can easily take a taxi which should cost you about $2.50 to $3 from downtown.

Notice the statue at the very top? yeah, that's it
Teleferico - You can take a cable car to one of the main peaks of the Pinchicha volcano for some trekking or simply to enjoy some amazing views of the city, just make sure to wear warm clothes because the higher you get the colder it becomes. The cable ride costs $8.

La Mariscal Area - This is the new part of Quito where you can find a bustling night life, various restaurants, Spanish & Dance schools, hostels and of course many tourists, it is after all referred to as Gringolandia. You can easily see the main tourist area within an hour if not less.

La Mitad del Mundo - How about an opportunity to straddle the equator and get to say you have been to the middle of the world huh? then why not check out La Mitad del Mundo, it is an interesting place to visit and you can easily take a bus which is super cheap, to get there.

La Capilla del Hombre & Guayasamin Museum - If you are interested in the arts, check out the museum of Guayasamin who was a great Ecuadorian artist. The museum used to be his home and you can learn a bit about him as well as get to enjoy some of his work which is very famous in Ecuador. Next to his house is the La Capilla del Hombre (chapel of man) which is dedicated to mankind, you will also see more of his work and learn the story behind some of his famous paintings.

Parque La Carolina & Botanical Garden - Park Carolina is a huge park where you can enjoy: walking, jogging, relaxing in a peaceful environment or even a casual date, wink! wink! Within the park you have the botanical garden which is worth checking out.

Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal - If you want to get some really good handmade leather items or souvenirs, head to this market which is open everyday of the week. If you don't feel like making the long trip to Otavalo for their market day, this is a good alternative.

That's it folks, this is not all there is to be seen in Quito. There is much more depending on what kind of activities you prefer to indulge in but this list should be a good starting point for anyone who is trying to figure out what's out there in this city.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

I had a very interesting conversation with my Spanish teacher about how women are viewed and treated in Ecuadorian society. She was telling me that domestic abuse is very common and the laws and society don't help much. Her sister works as a lawyer and deals with domestic abuse cases and  what happens is that a lot of women will not report the men because they are scared they will lose a bread winner and will be shunned by society. If a woman endures too much abuse and finally decides to report the guy, he will go to jail for a few days but when he comes out he will revenge either by abusing her more than before or getting another woman to show that he is still the man, among his friends. As for the woman, her family will shun her because they will say, "that is the father of your children, why did you have him taken to jail? who will take care of your children?" with this kind of repercussions a lot of women end up suffering silently.

She was also telling me that a lot of women don't have as many opportunities as men, if a family has too many kids and can not afford to educate all of them, the male kids will be given priority over the female kids. Without much education these girls are desperate to find a man who will marry them so they can take care of them. The girls families will actually push for early marriage so they can ease the financial burden of having to take care of these girls, as a result a lot of women find themselves in situations where they are powerless. If a guy abuses them they have nowhere to go so they just put up with it as long as they have a roof over their head and food on the table. Yikes!

Speaking of conversations, I was talking to this Dominican guy who is my friend and during our conversation he said, "I am very conservative, more than your average Dominican. My little daughter has never even seen me naked."When he said this everything came to a standstill in my head and I was like, "QUE??!!!" (translates to what). "Why would your daughter be seeing you naked?" so he tells me that in his country nudity is not a big deal and parents change clothes in front of their kids whether grown or not without shame. He has seen his mum naked so may times, even as an adult. I was shocked! so I asked my Ecuadorian family if this is normal in Ecuador as well and they said yes, parents can even shower with their kids and it's not a big deal. I'm I the only one who was raised in a very conservative household where there were strict boundaries concerning such things? It was considered taboo to see your parents naked so for me it's so strange to hear otherwise from other people. Hey! I guess one person's normal is another person's abnormal, right?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Easy Like A Sunday Morning

I know today is not Sunday but blame my laziness for posting this late, better late than never right? seriously after coming back from Cali I have just been bumming around and haven't had the motivation to do anything but chill. It actually feels like I am taking a lazy holiday, whatever that means since I am technically on some sort of holiday to begin with! okay, so where I'm I going with this again? focus J! focus! Ooh! yeah, easy Sunday morning.

I had mentioned before how everything shuts down on Sundays in Quito and how quiet it gets right? well, turns out I was wrong about this! yes in the newer part of the city it does get very quiet and boring but I never realized that it's the opposite in downtown Quito which is the older part of the city. I actually can't believe I have been in this city for close to 3 months and I just found this out, I should be ashamed of myself.

This past Sunday after too much bumming around the house I decided that man can not live on chilling alone so I found myself in downtown Quito and boy was I surprised by the large crowds. I love busy streets with many people and activities going on because it makes everything seem so alive and I thrive on that, so you can imagine how excited I was to see that. The weather was good, I was feeling energized and to make matters better I bumped into a friend so we ended up hanging out together and having really good conversation while wandering all over downtown without any specific plans.

While wandering around I took time to take a few photos. Look at the crowd of people behind me in the picture below, this was not even the busiest section if you can believe it.

There were some streets that were not so crowded however and it was cool walking along checking out some of the cute little shops and restaurants. This street was one of them.

Some of my travel highlights are the people I meet along the way.

That's it folks, it was an easy relaxing Sunday and walking around the lively downtown area sure beat bumming in the house. Now that I know how fun Sundays can be, I think I will be taking another trip to downtown this coming Sunday.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

"I have a husband" you have no idea how useful these words are proving to be during my travels here. I have come across all sorts of men and I have learned the only way to stop some of them with their unwanted advances is to say that I have a husband. This usually changes the tone immediately and they become all respectful and back off. If I ever let on I was single their advances would be persistent bordering on harassment and frankly speaking there are certain situations I would rather avoid. Yesterday I was hanging out with a good friend when she got a text and a call from an unknown number, turns out someone had dialed the wrong number by mistake so the misunderstanding was cleared. A few minutes later she got a call from the same number and this time it was the wife of the guy who owned the phone. The wife started shouting at my friend asking why she was in touch with her husband. My friend tried explaining it was all a misunderstanding but the woman just kept shouting on the other end. Finally my friend said, "Por favor tengo marido!" (please I have a husband) and just like that she was able to shut the woman down. See what I mean? when in Rome do as the Romans do, all societies have their cultural differences so I have learned to adjust accordingly.

Since my ordeal in Guayaquil I have a phobia of any neighborhoods located up on a hill. Actually it only takes the sight of stairs leading to a higher placed neighborhood to have me shaking in panic, I am not even joking. In Cali I had gone to meet a friend for lunch and after we parted ways he directed me to a shortcut that would lead me to my hostel as he rushed off back to work. Of course with my horrible sense of direction I managed to get lost but was able to ask for directions from nearby vendors. I followed their directions until I got to the dreaded stairs that led up to this one neighborhood situated on a hill. I swear my heartbeat doubled and I just froze at the bottom of the stairs. I looked around and there was no one to be seen, I wanted to turn back but this was the only way available to get back on the right path. After mustering enough courage I proceeded to run up those stairs like my life depended on it, any gym instructor would have been proud! when I got to the top I just continued running until I got to the point where I had to go downhill to the main road. I am sure I looked like a mad woman but I was not taking chances.

Not all black people know or love to dance, not all black people can sing, not all black people are happy go lucky and ready to entertain at the drop of a hat, not all black people just enjoy having fun without taking certain things in life seriously, not all black people are overly sexual..............the list could go on but you get the point and yes I have had to say this during certain conversations.

I was having a discussion with a friend in Cali and the topic switched to racism in Colombia, specifically Cali because that's where he lives and works. He told me something very interesting. He said that people will be quick to tell you there is no racism and will point out that everyone has equal opportunities regardless of race. In the universities you will see all shades of color within the student population, that is until you observe the work force. All over a sudden you realize there is something missing. The diversity you saw in the universities is not represented in the work force especially in certain sectors, so what happened to these students? they graduated alright but why are they not included in the workforce? see where this is going? things that make you go hmmm? 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ecuador Salsa Congress

As luck would have it this weekend there is a Salsa congress taking place in Quito. Of course this is an opportunity not to be missed by me so last evening which happened to be Friday, I found myself at the cultural centre of Quito enjoying a spectacular dance show. 

The show was supposed to start at 6 pm and end at 11 pm as indicated in their program but it actually ended up going on until 12:30 am. We got there at around 6:30 and that's when the amateur dancers were performing, the professionals were going to be performing much later as the show progressed.

The outfits were spectacular especially on the ladies, each outfit was designed to accentuate their moves and you could tell a lot of work must have been put to create some of the outfits. There were dancers from: Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, most of the Colombian dancers were from Cali and they were many. Every time dancers from Cali were introduced there were loud cheers and people got really excited, Cali has a distinct style of salsa that focuses on rapid footwork so it is quite a site to behold!

I took a bunch of photos so here are a few from the event.

There was a category where the dancers were of the same sex. You would have two men dancing together as partners or two women dancing together as partners. For the men it looked a bit weird seeing them dancing together as partners with one guy taking on the dominating role while the other one, a more submissive role in the dance. I had never seen that before but they were all great.

We were given booklets that had all the information pertaining to salsa competitions throughout this year in different parts of the world.

That's it folks, I got all salsad out! imagine watching dancers performing from 6 pm to 12:30 am. It got to a point all the music started sounding the same and the dances looked the same. I was even done being impressed by all the dance moves because I was exhausted! I now have new respect for the judges because I can't imagine having to pay attention to all those performances. All in all, it was a great night and I am glad I got to check out the event.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

It was funny how the stage looked like a battle ground after some performances because you would see scattered feathers or pieces of material from the dancers' outfits that came off during their performance. The stage had to be cleaned several times actually.

I never used to like Bachata, a genre of music that originated from Dominican Republic because I thought the men's voices in the songs sounded too soft and whiny. Then I started hanging out with Dominicans during my travels here and that's all they ever listen to so I started getting used to the music and came to appreciate the sensual dance as well. As my Spanish improved I could understand a lot of the lyrics which made me like the music even more, now I love listening and dancing to Bachata.

The announcer at the salsa congress last evening was funny, every time an attractive female dancer came on stage he would vocalize his admiration blatantly and would even check them out as he walked off the stage. It was just too funny.

Quito has been experiencing tremors after they had an earthquake not too long ago and it's a bit scary. This is my first time experiencing this so you can imagine how scary it is for me! just a few minutes ago there was a tremor and the house started shaking, I jumped out of bed where I am typing this post and just ran to the living room to join the family because I didn't know what else to do. Thank God it lasted for a few seconds but geez! I can not even begin to imagine how an earthquake with a high magnitude would feel like.

Watching the dancers last night I kept thinking of how much discipline, patience and team work goes into these performances. I think it's a good character builder.