My first two weeks in Cuenca have flown by so quickly!!
Every day during the week I get up at 6:45 for breakfast, which consists of fruit juice, bread, and coffee. At 7:30 I leave the house for my walk to school. At this time stores are just starting to open but there still manages to be lots of cars on the street. Traffic laws are more of a suggestion for the drivers of Cuenca, so it can be rather scary crossing the street at large intersections. The prevalence of one-way streets helps the situation minimally.
By 8 AM I am in my Spanish class. My Spanish teacher Gloria is so so nice and very helpful with grammar, which I definitely need assistance with. There are four of us in the class, which is great because it really forces me to participate and allows for personal attention to my lingual shortcomings. After Spanish it is time for Ecuador & the Andes: Culture, History, and Society. Taught by a professor from the United States who moved to Ecuador years ago who teaches at a university here, this class is very interesting but also a lot of work. The professor is very knowledgeable and I feel like I’m learning a lot about Andean and indigenous history and culture, which I greatly appreciate given the setting I am in. It is great to learn the context of a new society while you are immersed in it because this context helps you to understand more clearly and with less judgment and comparisons what you are witnessing and experiencing. The context definitely paves the way for greater cross-cultural understanding, at least in my experience.
After both classes I walk back home for lunch with my family. It is customary in Ecuador for the whole family to come home for lunch, which is the main meal of the day. It usually consists of some type of soup, followed by the main dish and tons of rice. Despite all of the hearty food served, my family eats so quickly! I’m still trying to figure out how they eat and have conversations, while still managing to finish before me, even if I’ve started first! They’ve started to make fun of me for how slowly I eat!
After lunch there is usually some type of afternoon activity. So far we’ve had a trip to a museum, two dance classes (merengue, salsa, etc), cooking class, and chats about culture shock. On days when we have the afternoon free I go to the gym, take walks, or do my homework.
On the weekends we go on fieldtrips of sorts. Last weekend we went on two trips. The first was to Girón, where we went on a gnarly hike up to a beautiful clearing below a waterfall. There we participated in a ceremony to honor patchamama, or mother earth, who presides over the land and the cosmos. The ceremony, lead by a very interesting, spiritual man, was very beautiful and vibrant. We brought offerings of fruit and flowers for patchamama and burnt incense, special oils, among other things. When the ceremony started it was raining and grey, but by the time it was over, the sun had emerged and there were eagles flying overhead. It was pretty magical and powerful for me.
The second trip was to Ingapirca, the most important Incan ruins in the southern part of Ecuador. The ruins were fascinating, along with the impressive history of the Incas themselves.
This past weekend we went on an overnight trip to Saraguro, a town of indigenous communities. There we went on yet another hike to a sacred Incan site. We took in the beauty of the spot and did a grito, or yell, to get rid of any negativity inside of us.
We also got to hear about the lifestyles of the indigenous people who live in the community and tried some Chicha, a drink that is customary there. I believe it is made from fermented yucca and is supposed to have strong medicinal properties. It tasted like kombucha to me. Later that evening we went to our fourth textile factory so far and observed this community’s weaving techniques. For dinner we were fed a traditional meal of soup, rice, vegetables, and corn. After dinner, the family whose house we were at played us some beautiful typical music.
Our time at Saraguro concluded today with our participation in another ritual cleansing ceremony, also very beautiful and spiritual. After the ceremony we visited a livestock market and walked around the main square, observing the people as they went to church, sold their goods in the main markets, and went about their daily activities. Lunch was a big deal today because we were given the opportunity to try cuy (guinea pig). They initially brought it out cooked but still with a heat, teeth, and hind legs. This was too sad for me so I had to look away as they were explaining the customs associated with this meal. Needless to say I did not try any, but other people seemed to like it!