I’m back! And oh boy does it feel good to be home. I really enjoyed my time in Ecuador but after getting food poisoning and catching a cold toward the end of my study abroad program, it sure feels good to be home. For my business minor, there was a two-week course offered through my university that would give me credit for the capstone business minor course. There were no prerequisites so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to go abroad for my first time and also get some college credit while I do it! I’m planning on posting more detailed stories of my time in Ecuador in weeks to come, but for this weekend, I decided to share the journals we had to write as our assignments for the class. They might be boring, they might be interesting. Hopefully you enjoy!
Everything we experienced in Quito has surpassed my expectations. I expected Quito to be a busy and modern because it is a big city and the capital of Ecuador, but I didn’t expect it to be as fun to explore and beautiful as it is. If you wanted a quiet afternoon to sit in the grass and watch people, you could do that and have a panoramic view of the entire city. If you wanted to go out with friends and have a good time at a bar and sing some karaoke, you could do that too. You could also just wander the streets of downtown Quito and look through all the shops and see all the beautiful architecture that makes Quito so special. Honestly, the food has been the biggest surprise to me too. There has been so much food at every meal and it has all been so unique and delicious too. The food is all so filling too.
When looking at what makes Ecuador and the United States similar, obviously the currency has been similar and that has been so convenient. There have been a lot of differences. The food has been so good here and the process of each meal has been so different. Meals are so long here and it’s interesting that lunch is the prioritized meal here and that they really value family time at meals too. In the US, I feel like meals are important and valued but not to the same extent that they are in Ecuador. The driving has been so different here too. Being in the bus, there were so many times where I was concerned for people driving or walking around but they all just made it work! It was cool to see how polite all of the people were when driving for the most part too. Even when someone cut someone else off or a person didn’t like what they saw on the road, they would honk quietly and move on with their day.
Out of everything in Quito, I feel like being at the school had the biggest impact on me. I truly didn’t realize how scary it is to have a bunch of people around you that speak a language I barely understand. I took a decent amount of Spanish in high school but I felt so overwhelmed by how fast the kids spoke Spanish and I couldn’t keep up. It was also amazing to see how happy all of the kids were with their simple life. I was inspired by them for that. They would find reasons to smile and giggle and act goofy in any situation! And when they were playing, it was also so crazy to see how aggressive and rough they were with each other. What truly shocked me was their ability to just get right back up and get back to what they were doing after being knocked to the ground or get knocked in the head with a soccer ball. Now those were some resilient kids. What I really enjoyed about the school was the curiosity of the kids and their desire to communicate with us even if we had our language barrier. The kids would try so hard to find other ways to get answers out of me if I didn’t understand what they asked the first time and it was and I admired their persistence. They were also so curious in what we were doing and I loved it when some of the boys came over and tried to help weed. They were adorable. I hope that what we did at that school helps the teachers and nuns and kids feel good about the place they work and play at. I hope they are able to use that space to grow more food and continue to be super self-sustaining and helpful in the lives of all of those kids.
Quito was a fun, beautiful city and I feel so lucky to have been able to experience everything we did. Quito will always be special to me now because it is the first city I visited on my first time outside the US. I hope I get a chance to come back!
OTAVALO AND THE NORTHERN HIGHLANDS
Since leaving Quito, the trip has only gotten better. When we went to the Cochasquí Archaeological Park and got to see all of the llamas, I had so much fun. That was such a unique experience and that place was so beautiful. The tour guide mentioned something about the energy of that place I believed in it fully. That park was super cool. I really enjoyed learning about the information that is known about the people that lived there. The whole thing about cutting your hair at the full moon to help it grow longer was fascinating. Their ability to track the stars and understand their environment based on the patterns of the sun, moon, and stars was fascinating.
When we arrived in Otavalo and finally had the opportunity to go to the market, I think that became my favorite part of the trip. While the previous days had all been incredible, I feel like I was able to immerse myself into the culture even more and engage with the locals more which is something I have looked forward to this trip. Bartering was a new and fun way to shop and I was able to use some of the Spanish I know to make some pretty good deals. $15 for a pair of silver earrings just seems insane in the United States, but that was a deal I was able to make while at the market and I thought that was pretty cool. There was a man toward the back of the market that sold jewelry and by the end of our time there, I would say I made a friend at the market. We were his first customers of the day and he even gave us free bracelets for being his first customers. It was really cool to see all of the different things that people had made and how proud they were to display their goods. The work with the jewelry and wool products was especially impressive.
After our time in the market, I really enjoyed going to Nanda Mañachi, Peguche, and the town of Cotocachi. Each stop we made had something so unique to it and I loved the emphasis on tradition. Especially with Peguche, I loved seeing parts of the traditional processes in making the beautiful wool scarves, sweaters, blankets, and tapestries. Other big companies that make wool products may have more perfected wool, but at Peguche, there was clearly so much passion and love for the work and culture which means so much more to me than precision and perfection with creating the wool yarn to begin with. After visiting Peguche, I don’t think I’ve ever actually felt softer wool.
Between Quito and the cities of the Highlands, I feel like I’ve liked Otavalo and the Northern Highlands a little bit more. I did enjoy the modern, big-city feel that Quito had, but I feel like Otavalo and the other smaller cities we visited here expressed so much more culture and tradition which I enjoyed seeing and being a part of. Just thinking about the way that people dressed in Otavalo already was so different from Quito. Most men had long, braided hair and wore some form of a hat. The women all had very long hair and I can’t recall seeing a single woman that wasn’t wearing a skirt. It was all very traditional here and there was clearly so much pride with it too. I liked to see that. Every little town we visited specialized in one thing or the other which was cool too. Like with San Antonio, they specialized in wood carvings and you might be able to find some of that in another city but not to the same extent. In Quito, there was no specialization like that. It was mostly modern, and you could find a variety of things everywhere.
Baños was an incredible little town and I’m glad that it was added to the program. There’s so much to do there and the town itself has so much variety in its geography and it’s in a good location for adventure tourism. Baños is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains so that makes it a prime location for adventurous mountain climbers, mountain biking, and also for hot springs. It has a lot of waterfalls and rivers that create opportunities for whitewater rafting and other water-related activities. Baños is just in a great geographic location and that is part of what allows it to support so much tourism in general but especially the adventure tourism, as I mentioned. Tourism in general definitely has a positive impact on the economy in Baños. It was clear that Baños relies on tourism and the money it brings to the city based on all the souvenir shops and touristy experiences like ziplining, bike tours, and the swings off the mountainsides.
Out of everything we did in Baños, my favorite thing was the zipline because the views were just so beautiful and I enjoyed getting to be around so many other people that were excited to do fun, adventurous things like ziplining. I’ve ziplined before but it was just such a unique experience getting to be strapped in face down and experience the canopy as if we were flying. That hike was not so fun though when we needed to get to the second platform to come back. That was intense. Regardless, the views were great and I really enjoyed the zipline.
In comparison to Otavalo, Baños just had a lot to do and was clearly a town geared toward tourists. From the goods that were sold to the appearance of the shops to the way locals interacted with everyone, Baños was clearly a tourist town. Baños just had so much variety too. There were the Andes and the Amazon rainforest and rivers and waterfalls and hot springs. Otavalo, on the other hand, was more geared toward its own people. The market was more of a tourist attraction but it still appealed to the locals. They were still very involved in the market and the overall culture of the market.
When we visited Rose Success on our drive to Baños, I really enjoyed getting to see the process of growing the roses, picking the roses, and ultimately preparing them for shipment to their various locations. It was interesting to learn about the specific requirements for roses going to specific places. Like for roses going to Russia, the stems need to be quite long. And I was also shocked to see some of the roses that were deemed unfit for export. They looked gorgeous to me! It was cool to see that roses that aren’t selected for export at least make it to the markets and stands throughout Ecuador. That’s a much less wasteful way to run a business, especially a flower business.
Overall, Baños was a fun town to explore and experience. It has so much to offer and I know for a fact that everything we did in Baños will not be forgotten. I’m excited to see what programs in the future have the chance to experience in Baños!
A BUNCH OF SMALL STOPS
Our visit to Rodrigo’s home and the Urbina Estacion was really cool. I liked the art on the walls in that room we were in that displayed each of the volcanoes and big mountains in Ecuador along with the surrounding cities. That really put everything in perspective when looking at the geographical layout of Ecuador. I loved hearing Rodrigo’s stories too. He was such an interesting man and clearly has a lot of experience with the mountains and volcanoes of Ecuador. If he comes out with a book in the near future, that’s something I would be interested in reading so that I can learn even more about his life and support the exciting work he does.
The lava rock dinner following our visit to Rodrigo’s house was so fun and a super unique experience. The hacienda we ate at was gorgeous and it was cool to be in the same building Simón Bolivar once stayed in. Getting to grill my own food was a fun experience. All of the food was so good that night and if I had to pick a favorite part, I would definitely say the flan. It was delicious.
When we went to Riobamba, I was honestly shocked by how nice it ended up being. When we initially drove in, I was honestly quite sketched out by everything we drove past but when I could finally see everything the next day, that opinion changed. The hotel was very nice and had really good strawberry-blackberry juice and the downtown area was actually quite cute. When we visited the Guamote community while in Riobamba, I really enjoyed getting to try and teach English again. The class we had was much more shy than the class that I had at the school outside Quito, but they were so cute and I loved watching them try to follow along when we sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”. The guinea pig preparation was honestly rough for me to watch but I was happy to see how humane the process was and I was impressed by how fast the women killed and cleaned the guinea pigs to prepare them for our meal later. When we finally had lunch, I was surprised by the food, honestly. I expected it to be bland and was going into it thinking I wasn’t going to eat very much food at all but I had a decent amount of potatoes and corn. The food was pretty bland but it was fresh and I did enjoy eating it when there was seasoning and hot sauce provided. I even tried a tiny piece of guinea pig but I think after that experience, I probably won’t try guinea pig again. One of the biggest take-aways I had from our experience in that community was that you don’t need much in life to be happy. Living a simple life doesn’t mean you live a sad life. That was quite the opposite in the Guamote community and it’s something I plan to think a lot about and apply to my own life.
The Devil’s Nose train ride was the first train ride I’ve actually ever taken and for my first one, I’d say it was pretty good. I enjoyed the views and was glad that Effy could do some explaining and pointing out for me because the tour guide on the train was extremely difficult to understand. When we arrived at the mountain community, I really enjoyed getting to see the dances. I loved the bright colors and really loved the skirts the women wore. I wish that we had a chance to wear those and dance around in them but the dancing we did was still very fun. Before and after the train ride, it was fun to explore Alausí. It was a cute little town. The food was pretty good and extremely cheap there as well. I spent $6 on a meal for a huge glass of blackberry juice, a bowl of chicken soup, rice, chicken, and a salad. It was a good deal and I’m still so shocked by how cheap food is here. In the US, a meal like that would’ve easily cost about $15.
INGAPIRCA AND CUENCA
The Ingapirca ruins were cool to see, especially when looking at the fusion of Cañari and Incan culture and tradition in the way the different structures were built. It was interesting to compare pure Cañari-built structures to pure Incan-built structures and then see how they came together, especially with that one room that was supposedly where the Incan king and Cañari princess stayed. These ruins were more of what I expected to see when we first visited the ruins on our way to Otavalo. It was interesting to see that the moon was another important god to the Incans and Cañaris. That has been something consistent throughout many of the indigenous and ancient communities we’ve learned about during our time here.
Our time in Ingapirca was extremely short but I enjoyed the time we spent both at the hotel and the ruins. Cuenca was another short visit, but I also enjoyed the time we spent there. Cuenca had a very different vibe to it than any other city we visited. It was busy and moving, but the dominance of the Catholic religion definitely played into the tone of the city. I remember Effy telling us that no building can be taller than the Catedral de Cuenca and that goes to show how powerful religion is in that city. I loved getting to go in and see what that cathedral looked like. It was an incredible building and the feeling I got from standing inside it was truly powerful. The beauty of the churches we passed and got to see clearly demonstrate that people in Cuenca care deeply about their religion. From the three baby Jesus parades I saw, I also realized how important community and that sense of religious belief as a community is to people in Cuenca. The fact that mostly everything was also closed on Sunday demonstrated how seriously people in Cuenca follow their religion, once again.
On our way out from Cuenca, stopping at Homero Ortega was a fun and interesting trip. It was cool to learn about the process of making Panama hats and I truly feel confident saying I’ve never seen that many hats in my entire life. There was so much variety in the size, style, and color of each and every hat that came out of that company. I was impressed by the care and quality that went into creating each hat to make sure that something wonderful was made. The quality surely pays off when looking at the customer base that Homero Ortega has, including Princess Diana, Julia Roberts, and Johnny Depp. It was crazy to hear about the one man who paid $40,000 for ten hats and the process that goes into working with clients to create the hats in demand. I just don’t think I’d ever spend $4,000 for a single hat. They were great quality though and they had a bunch of fun, cute hats that might be worth it.
When looking at Ingapirca and Cuenca in comparison to a lot of the other cities we’ve visited, they’ve definitely been more on the indigenous side of things, like Otavalo. There were more businesses that appealed to locals and the traditions of the people there as opposed to tourists. There was a small town feel to both Ingapirca and Cuenca that reminded me of Otavalo, just because neither are truly big tourist towns. Truly though, it’s hard to compare these cities to past cities we’ve been to during our time here because we haven’t had the same amount of time to experience them as we have with cities like Quito and Baños. Ingapirca also just didn’t seem like a very large city and a majority of things in Cuenca were closed due to the fact that it was Sunday while we were there. Regardless, both were great little cities and I enjoyed spending time in both. Hopefully students next year will get to enjoy a more lively Cuenca!
GUAYAQUIL AND SALINAS BEACH
The visits to both chocolate companies were interesting. I enjoyed seeing the process of creating chocolate from the bean fermentation at Guangala to the actual molding and making of chocolate at Tulicorp. At Guangala, I loved seeing how knowledgeable Rafaela and Jimmy were about their work. They were also clearly very passionate about the work they do and I appreciated the sustainable aspect of their business as well. It was very clear that Guangala considers the environmental impacts their work has on the world around them and that sets them apart from other cacao processing companies. There was also a very clear positive relationship between management and the workers. The way that Jimmy and Rafaela both interacted with workers on the patio was very positive and encouraging. It was good to hear that Guangala is set on educating their employees too. From what it sounded like, Guangala makes sure its workers are educated on matters from different diseases cacao plants can get to how to properly harvest cacao pods and prepare them for fermentation. Continuing education is important in all fields but I found it very interesting that Guangala invested so much in it for their workers. It shows that they want high-quality products and employees who know a lot and care a lot about their products.
At Tulicorp, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the company. Everyone working while we were there was focused and working hard but they were clearly enjoying themselves. The conditions were hot and it was somewhat dark in there, but they were completing their tasks and smiling while they did it. That that they enjoy what they do. Happiness at the employee level comes from a strong management team and from what I could tell, Tulicorp was well run and has a fantastic family running it. It was cool to see that there had been four generations of cocoa business owners at Tulicorp. The passion for cocoa ran in the family and it very clearly continued and was displayed in the work we got to see and hear about. Tulicorp had a small business feel, but everyone there knew that they were an important and powerful company that worked with a lot of big names and companies like Trader Joe’s.
At both places, I was surprised by how involved management was with the entire process. It was cool to hear that Jimmy, Rafaela, and people at Tulicorp regularly visit the cacao farms to see the workers and their plants. They are so much more involved than I ever expected them to be and I feel like that helps both Guangala and Tulicorp stand out in Ecuador. In terms of regulations, I was surprised by all the sustainability regulations that both Tulicorp and Guangala held themselves to. To me, the biggest surprise came from the sustainability regulation aspect of the chocolate industry. It’s not something I would have initially considered to be important but it definitely is and it’s great to see such successful chocolate businesses working so hard to take care of the environment. I wasn’t too surprised by the amount of regulations otherwise though. It makes sense for a high-quality product to have a lot of regulations. In order for something delicious and desirable to be produced, there has to be a process that regulates everything from the qualities of pesticides and insecticides that protect the cacao pods all the way to the machinery and maintenance of that machinery that makes the chocolate.
And with the end of that journal comes the end of this extremely long post. I hope some of you are still around to see this, haha. In the weeks to come, I’ll highlight each major stop we made that was reflected by each of my Ecuador journals. I had a lot to say with my journals but there is just so much that we did and covered during my two weeks in Ecuador and I can’t contain it all to one or two blog posts. So if you’re into travel blogs, that’s what this is going to become for a bit. Have a wonderful week everyone! 🙂