Back in Cuenca and Ready to Start Teaching
Guayaquil, Gualaceo, Cuenca, Ingapirca, Cajas National Park, Quito, Otavalo, Bahia de Caraquez, Canoa, Banos, Riobamba, and Alausi.
Those’re the Ecuadorian towns and cities and sights we’ve visited during the last month. And now we’re back in Cuenca. I’m ready to settle down and start teaching.
Two weeks ago, we graduated from our TEFL course, and everyone in the program–undergraduates from two different colleges who were studying Spanish at our school, staff members, and us–flew from Cuenca to Quito for a week-long vacation. I’m not crazy about Quito–it’s huge and bustling and expensive and full of gringos. But that’s just my impression; I’ll admit that I didn’t make it very far off the beaten path.
Otavalo and La Mitad del Mundo
Next, we were off to Otavalo, a scenic little town a couple hours’ bus ride north of Quito. It’s famous for its market, where Otavalo’s indigenous people sell their wares. We also visited La Mitad del Mundo–literally, “the middle of the world.” It’s a monument that marks one of the spots where the equator passes through Ecuador. It’s worth seeing, but as my friend Ed remarked upon seeing the spot, “You’ve seen one equator, you’ve seen ’em all.”
The Beach–and Carlos the Colombian
After Quito and Otavalo, we took a bus six hours west, to Bahia de Caraquez, a town on the north-central coast. The weather was warm and muggy. We spent a night there and then made our way north, to the delightful village of Canoa. It’s really a gorgeous place–pristine, undeveloped beaches, big waves, lots of hammocks for lazing about, excellent seafood restaurants, etc. And now I am, quite possibly for the first time in my life, sunburned to the point of peeling in January.
One late night, a group of us was walking along the beach, and we ran into a guy named Carlos. He was tall and thin and had long dark hair. He was tending to a bonfire; we stopped and sat down and started chatting. We told him we were from the U.S.
“Oh,” he said in Spanish. “The United States. I would never visit there. It’s much too dangerous. Much more dangerous than my home country, Colombia.”
He was serious, of course. And his comments are revealing: to most Americans, Colombia is an exceedingly dangerous place. But not to Carlos–that’s his home; America, instead, is a land of violence.
We hung out in Canoa for three days and then we all took a bus back to Quito. At that point, everyone in our program except five of us who’re staying in Ecuador returned to the States.
We decided to do a bit of traveling on our own, so we took a bus five hours south, to Banos. These days, the town is famous not just for its comfortable resort amenities (hot springs, hiking, waterfalls, and good restaurants), but for the impending destruction that’s been hanging over its citizens’ heads for some time: Tungurahua, an active volcano that towers above Banos, has been threatening to explode for the last three years.
When Tungurahua began bubbling and smoking in 1999, the people of Banos were evacuated, but the mountain never erupted. Eventually, everyone in Banos was allowed to return to their homes, but some (less intrepid) tourists still stay away. Despite the smoldering peak looming above us, we had an enjoyable few days and then took a bus south, to Riobamba. We stayed there one night, and then, at 7 a.m. the next day, we boarded the famous train headed for El Nariz del Diablo–The Devil’s Nose.
The Devil’s Nose
El Nariz del Diablo is a mountain south of Alausi. In what’s considered a feat of railroad engineering, tracks have been built that ascend the mountain’s peak using a unique series of switchbacks. This is all well and good, but what we and all the other gringos who lined up that morning were interested in wasn’t railroad engineering, but, rather, the manner in which we were to ride six hours to Alausi: on the top of the train.
It was really fun: as we made our way into the countryside, the cold morning unfolded around us; famers looked up and waved at us; yapping dogs chased after the train; and cows and pigs and sheep regarded us–two entire train cars of silly foreigners on the wrong side of the roof–with lazy indifference. (Here’s an excellent site site with photos illustrating the journey from Riobamba to El Nariz del Diablo.)
After arriving in Alausi, we hopped on yet another bus. Five hours later, we arrived here, in Cuenca. And as I said, it’s nice to be back in familiar surroundings. Hopefully, next week I’ll start teaching English at the school we’ve been attending, the Centers for Interamerican Studies (commonly referred to as CEDEI). And a few of us are looking for an apartment together. I’m happy to call Cuenca home for now.
My Audition for Big Brother Ecuador
It’s true. Just this afternoon, I was approached by a guy on the street and asked, in staccato Spanish that was very difficult to understand, if I would audition for “Gran Hermano Ecuador”–Ecuador’s very own version of Big Brother.
Is Ecuadorian reality television ready for Newley Purnell? This guy on the street thought so, apparently. (Interestingly, this guy also thought I was Ecuadorian. I’ve yet to meet any 6’3” Ecuadorians.) And so I figured why not?
I followed him across the street and filled out an application form. And then I had to sit down at a small table so that a trendy-looking Ecuadorian woman could interview me in Spanish. She peppered me with questions like “Do you have any tattoos or large scars?”, “What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever done in your life?”, and “Are you racist?”
It was slightly nerve-wracking, this interview. But I survived. And they said they’ll call me if they’re interested. I’m not holding my breath.
Photos Coming Soon
I swear. I’ve got a ton of great images and I hope to post them here soon.