08/09/2015: Getting to know Cuenca and the kids!

June 24, 2016

Hola a todos!! So much has happened since the last time I was able to blog, partially because I've been pretty busy and partially because the internet in my home-stay has been pretty spotty. But now I have so much to share!!

Wednesday night, I was able to take a double decker bus tour of the city which was super touristy but also very informative. I like doing a mix of really touristy things as well as just random wandering when I'm getting to know a new city, because the tourist stuff helps me learn the most and orientate myself while the wandering helps me find places that I know I'll love :) The highlight of the bus tour was definitely getting to stop at the Mirador de Turi, a lookout spot just outside of the city that has awesome views! From here, you can really see why Cuenca is named that (in Spanish it means wooden bowl) because it is almost completely surrounded by mountains, making the city look like it is its own little basin. At the Mirador, we were also given Canelazo to try, the typical hot cocktail that I made the other day at my school, which was the perfect drink because it was super chilly and windy up there!

Thursday at the orphanage was a CRAZY day. I think I really jinxed it by writing about how well behaved the kids are because all hell broke loose when I arrived that morning haha. We had two bloody noses from kids running into each other, and maybe ten screaming crying outbursts throughout the 4 hours I was there. Also, no one would line up for snack time or lunch time like they're supposed to; every time one would get in line after washing their hands, another would run out of line and go play in the dirt. Total chaos but very fun!! And (some) kids seemed to really begin to trust me and listen to me when I told them what to do, so that was really reassuring.

Friday at the orphanage, however, was a completely different story! The kids were back to their normal well behaved selves and we even got to have some arts and crafts time. So far, all I've been doing with the kids is playing with them outside on the park equipment we have, reading to them, playing house, etc. So it was really nice to gather everyone at the same time and have some organized skill building time. The kids were working on coloring masks that they are going to use this week when they make kites for the annual kite festival in Cuenca!

After I work at the orphanage, I go home and have lunch with my family and then have the whole afternoon to myself to wander around and explore the city. Lately, I've just been walking around and doing whatever I find that looks interesting and I've been having so much fun! Cuenca is a reasonably safe city, so as long as I'm using my common sense and being just as careful as I would be in a city like Chicago, I feel totally safe exploring alone.

This weekend, my friends from Quito, Anne (Norway) and Roselien (Belgium) came to visit me in Cuenca. It was really fun to be able to do some of the bigger things in the city, like visit the Cathedral and some awesome surrounding towns, with them. It really solidified how much I already learned about this city in just one week!

Saturday, the three of us went to three surrounding towns of Cuenca; Ingapirca, Gualaceo, and Chordeleg. Ingapirca has awesome Incan ruins, the only ones that are left in Ecuador and they're actually pretty well preserved. I didn't realize before I came here that there were so many indigenous groups before the bigger, more well known groups like the Incans came through and took over the lands. So these ruins are actually a mix of Incan and Cañari buildings, but most of it is Incan because they were built so much better.

We were able to visit these three cities because of a tour which included lunch, transportation, and a personal guide which was awesome because we were in a bigger group, we had a private car instead of a giant bus, and we didn't have to worry about getting off at any wrong stops or getting on the wrong bus. Also, I told our tour guide that I really wanted to try Cascaritas, which is fried pig skin (kind of like chiharrones but very different), so he even made sure to stop and get us some!

After Ingapirca, we had an awesome lunch at a hotel on the expressway, and then made our way over to Chordeleg. This teeny town is know for its very inexpensive silver and gold. I say inexpensive, but its still more money than a student like me could really spend haha. I guess its cheap considering the price of gold/silver but I wasn't about to drop $100 on some earrings so we just enjoyed the town and walked around looking at all the shiny jewels. Then, we went to Gualaceo which is an even smaller town known for its leather goods. Again, inexpensive considering the quality and materials, but still expensive for me! So we just enjoyed talking with the store owners about their shoes, belts, purses, and more.

Today, Anne, Roselien, and I went and saw a bunch of awesome sites in Cuenca. Unfortunately, it rained most of the afternoon so we kept ducking into various cafés to escape and get some espresso or a delicious crepe. They leave tomorrow, so it was a quick visit, but I am so glad to have been able to explore some more of Cuenca and the surrounding area with my friends!!

This week I plan on bringing all of the donations to the orphanage, trying a yoga class in Spanish, and visiting a shop that makes the famous Ecuadorian Sombrero de Paja Toquilla, or a Panama Hat as we call it. Stay tuned!!