My grandson Jeff, the world traveler, is off on another venture. Briefly, Jeff will graduate from Hope College next spring and in the short four years since graduating from high school he has spent one year studying in France, nine months in China and is now in South America. He is fluent in French, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. He and a friend, Tyler Depke, are teaching in Ecuador. They are sending short descriptions of their experience on a weekly basis. Let's join them on Week Two:
Week 2: Thats a lot of BUS!
by tdepke on Sep.19, 2009, under Jeff and Tyler's S. American Updates
Written by Tyler Depke
As we left Nazca, we didn’t realize that we wouldn’t even have a semi-permanent home for the next week and that we would also be traveling over 50 hours of buses to our final destination: Quito, Ecuador.
So basically our adventure started warming up as we left Lima heading north. The sandy desert continued for the entire day as we followed the coast up to a town called Chicalyo. This was the first stop that we´ve ever been that we hadn’t read anything about because it wasn’t in our guidebooks, and now we know why.
We arrived quite late into the evening and once again got a nice taxi driver that took us around to multiple hotels looking to get the best price as he solicited his personal transportation service to the nearby city of Sipan, which has a whole bunch of archeological remains, pyramids, etc. Jeff and I walked the streets to find a good restaurant. We found construction workers digging up an entire street, casinos on every other corner, kids playing spin the bottle in the plaza, and finally a mediocre spot to sit down and have dinner at about 11PM. We ate duck and goat with the usual side of rice and some kind of salsa. After our meal, we walked down the main street back to the hotel where we were surprised to see that the only people on the street were prostitutes on every other corner soliciting themselves to everyone, including us, the two six-foot gringos that they probably don’t see everyday (or night). It felt pretty awkward to see this kind of thing in real life, especially as we passed by having them say things like, “My love, lets go to your room”, whistling at us, or borderline stalking us when we made eye contact for half a second across the street. We woke up the next morning to find the city quite different with everything and everyone walking around, selling trinkets, food, live ducks…etc. We found our cheapest and rarest breakfast, which cost just under $2 for both of us.
Another 8 hours north we found ourselves in a town called Tumbes, which seemed a little nicer, so we decided to stay two nights. Most of the day we spent walking around, although the highlight of the trip was that Jeff got a haircut and a massage, while I enrolled in an Afro-Peruvian dance class. I basically got a private lesson for 15 minutes where the instructor did the best he could to teach a gringo his smooth moves. I almost fell over multiple times because my legs were so tired within 3 minutes of dancing. For the next hour I continued being taught by little girls who all wanted to teach me different things at the same time, most of which were not the guys dancing parts anyway. The dancing is pretty epic and I basically learned that I need more leg muscles and I actually learned how to pop my chest like I mean business.
Another 10 hours north from Tumbes across the Ecuador border and thousands of banana trees later, we stopped in the industrial city of Guayaquil. Nearly starving all day left us with big appetites so we walked the main strip to dominate some food. Spending US dollars in a place other than the US is definitely a weird feeling, especially when we bought tickets to the IMAX (the only one in South America) for only $4 a piece. I must say Transformers 2 dubbed over in Spanish without subtitles is about as good as it is in English. We also found something that I haven’t had in over a year since Sweden…Magnum Ice Cream Bars and instead of paying $3 in Sweden for one, they are $1.25. DANG!
Upon arriving in Quito, we made it to the foundation`s housing with only a little bit of trouble where we met Virginia, the leader of the project. She gave us the low down on everything in the house, and we immediately learned that she was going to enjoy our cheesy jokes and ridiculous sense of humor as much as we were going to enjoy hers. We ALSO learned that the entire house was inhabited with 7 German chicks (and one Polish) who were all stationed there volunteering for projects in the city. Jeff and I woke up to eat breakfast with an entire table filled with girls our age speaking in German with some Spanish while Jeff and I tried to comprehend how ridiculous the situation seemed compared to the previous week where we only talked to people on the street. We spent the weekend hanging out with them, went to a reggae, funk, and rock concert which was pretty cool, and later celebrated one of their birthdays. It was a tough day without knowing any useful German although if we really wanted to, their English was perfect, and most of their Spanish was workable or otherwise fluent.
Written by Jeff Vredenburg
The leader of the Chiriboga Project is also a tour guide, and wanted to take us on a tour of the area around Quito. We started at the statue of the Virgin Mary, way above the city where she described the areas we were seeing and the volcanoes that surrounded the valley where Quito is located. The city is surrounded by seven or so active volcanoes, some which if they erupted would destroy huge sections of the city. After we were done there we traveled 60 km out of the city to the museum of the center of the world, where they have measured the exact line of the equator. The museum had sundials and other tools that the Incas used to calculate where the line was thousands of years ago as accurately as modern science can now. There were also some examples of how the indigenous people lived and their customs. A real shrunken head attested to their practice of taking heads as trophies of war; there still exist tribes that continue the practice to preserve the custom, although they use animals not people. The most impressive thing that was there though was the tests that we could do to determine that we were standing on the equator. We all were able to balance an egg on the head of a nail with little difficulty. (The wind was a factor) and what I thought was the best, they had a bin of water with a plug at the bottom. Our guide started with it exactly on the equator, and when she pulled the plug the leaves floating in the water went straight down the drain. Next she moved it 5 feet to the southern hemisphere, refilled it, and pulled the plug. The water spun clockwise. Next, she moved to the north and the leaves swirled in the opposite direction. The most impressive thing was that the difference between the two directions occurred within 10 feet of each other.
We arrived in Jipijapa early last week, which is the city where we are stationed over the next few weeks to teach kids in the local schools computer skills, English, and talk to them about the environment. Jipijapa is a coastal city in Ecuador that has the worst education system in the country, so bad that none of the teachers from the area could achieve a 50% on the state-issued test to certify teachers. (The new government wanted to see the level of teachers that were in the school and issued the test a few years ago.)
Tyler and I are each staying with different families, each wonderful, and they are a great resource for our Spanish. We eat their traditional food and we are learning a lot about the local customs and normalities including the wide variety of banana types used to make gravy, chips, salsa, mushy goodness, fries-ish, and to add extra flavor. Also noteworthy is the lack of water in the city, every drop of water used has to be purchased in giant tanks or is put in cisterns by water trucks that come around a few times a week. Needless to say, every drop of water is used to its maximum potential, and showers must be kept short (and hot water is not common).
The program we are doing is trying to fill in the gaps that the teachers leave (some even cancel school for parties and travel without warning.) We each teach in two different schools every day, as to cover the most ground. We stay here teaching until the 1st of October, when we travel to a cloud forest near Quito for a conservation project.