Viajes de la vida // Life travels

My first day riding my bike to work was a disastrous adventure! I had tried once before, mind you, but half-way there remembered I forgot my computer and had to turn around, then the traffic was too scary to attempt a second try and I would risk being late. Anyway, for some reason the day I planned to actually make it to work on my bike was the same day I chose to haul my bag of laundry to the city center and also bring a bag full of foodstuffs for lunch and snacking. So off I went, riding the rickety streets balancing a heavy bag on either handlebar, with my work shoes delicately woven between (which I only had to stop to retrieve once, luckily). In between my house and office there is a large ecological park with giant trees, a pond, a river, soccer field and several paths for walking/running/biking. I chose the wrong one of course, and wound up on a hilly path that required me to frequently hop off and walk (about ten cycles on my bici and I am already huffing and puffing from the 9,000 feet altitude in Riobamba). At the end of that path, I was almost in tears, the heat of my strenuous ride mixed with the shame that culminated from the stares I received from everyone I passed, most likely wondering what that crazy foreign bag lady is doing. I trudged down the next road into the small village, attempting to find my way back to the correct path. And that’s when I saw it. For the first and only time in my three weeks here: the elusive Chimborazo, the tallest volcano in Ecuador, most often covered by the misty fog that surrounds the city. Snow-capped in all its glory, a sight to humble even the proudest of men. In that moment, I forgot that I was running late to work, and all the woes of my ride until then. I took a deep breath and continued on, enjoying the beautiful ride on the dirt road past the crops and the cows, laughing at myself and at the thought of what the farmers must think of the blond girl riding her bike through their land. I followed my instinct and the river, gave a timid “Buenos dias” to the indigenous women I passed on the road, and finally I was greeted by the familiar sight of the building that houses my office. That morning was an adventure, but this is what I love about living abroad – everything is a challenge. Traveling from home to work does not mean mindlessly getting into my heated car and driving with ease along the same route I drove yesterday and will drive tomorrow. It means being open to the journey, being aware of my surroundings and appreciating the beauty in the small things along the way.

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the lost route

Since then I’ve become accustomed to the route, and on the days when I don’t have meetings in the city center or in the campo, I travel by bike and brave the traffic laden streets in the morning, seeking refuge in the park, zooming down the steep hill at the entrance and riding along the (correct) path next to the river, enjoying the morning air and the song of the birds. At the end of the day when my work is done, I strap on my helmet and my headlamp clad with my butterfly pin from Ometepe, and head towards home, in the park, past the couples making out, or on the street, past a skinned pig being thrown into the trunk of a taxi, all the while marveling at the most incredible sunset on the clouds that touch the tops of the mountains and Tungurahua, changing drastically throughout my twenty-minute ride home. The only other time in my life that I’ve used biking as my mode of transportation was in Fort Collins, which you can imagine is mucho mas tranquilo,

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Riobamba streets!

considering it’s a super bike friendly city. Here cyclists are not so common, and although some people do bike around, it’s not like there are bike lanes and you have to be much more careful. I enjoy biking because you have to be constantly aware of what is going on around you, no daydreaming or catching sight of your own reflection in the window of a comedor, or else you will run into a curb (does it seem like I am speaking from experience?). But I also love riding the bus, challenging myself on figuring out on my own where to get off so I can catch the next one, running to stop it when two women tell me that’s the one I need, que va directo al centro!, ignoring stares as I eat my green chia smoothie with a spoon, passing the same dogs that hang off the edge of a roof every morning and the same woman on the corner selling juices, and hopping off it as it stops for a split-second just right in front of my house.

One moment I am traveling between meetings in the middle of the city, and then suddenly I find myself walking down a dirt road in the countryside in my dusty Mary Janes, absolutely beautiful surroundings, eating ice cream cones with two local women that have a small farm and big dreams. This is what I love about my job; every day is different, unexpected things happen, I get to visit new places and interact with la gente on a real level, and it’s the epitome of balance between technical wit and computer work with working in the field and interacting with people. I feel really grateful to be here in Ecuador, there is a special feeling about it, and my job is different than it was last year. I have the independence and freedom to design a program for my students that represents what I love about this country and why I want to be here. The challenge, of course, is that I’m still discovering, learning more, and digging deeper into what that really means – whereas last year I had six months of Nica experience under my belt before starting the process. It is all a journey and I’ve already learned so much in the past several weeks, I can’t even imagine what’s more to come.

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Huasipichai (housewarming) fiesta

Work takes up a lot of my time, but in my spare time I’ve been exploring the markets and buying fresh fruits and veggies, bartering for a pair of Colombian shoes on the street, buying incense from a man in a wheelchair and exchanging a very old woman 50 cents for a bag of an unknown liquid that will supposedly help a stomachache, trying new foods like quimbolito (delicious cake made in a plantain leaf and boiled in vapor), tortillas de trigo (really thick wheat tortillas with cheese inside), ceviche de chochos (not really something I can explain because chochos are a new grain to me), hornado (baked pork), and bolon verde (fried ball of green plantain with meat),  cooking and cleaning my house in preparation (and aftermath) for a birthday/housewarming party we had at my house, complete with made-from-scratch-pizza, chocolate beer and jello shots in a watermelon, visiting a farm and feeding chickens and cuys, testing out Riobamba’s only selection of craft beer, and conversing over dinner and watching movies with my roommate.

I’m also determined to travel on the weekends and visit my guide book’s proclaimed five “must-see” places in the Central Sierra region of Ecuador; last week I began with a train ride to Nariz del Diablo (which means Devil’s Nose). The train here is a pretty big deal and has turned into a tourist attraction for foreigners to Ecuadorians alike. From Riobamba I took the train to Alausi, a cute little mountain town, on the Ruta de Quinua (quinoa route), where we stopped in Guamote and visited the quinoa museum. Quinoa is a sacred grain native to the Andes; the story is that a star came into the fields at night in the form of a beautiful woman, enchanted the farmer and he returned to the sky with her, when he had to go back to Earth she gave him a sack of a golden grain to grow, and ever since then it’s been used to feed the Andean people! In the Inca cultures from this region, they used quinoa as an ailment but also as a sacred medicine and had magical properties for rituals and ceremonies. It’s a highly adaptable crop that can grow up to 12,000 feet above sea level. I loved learning more about the yummy superfood and I also ate carrot cake made with quinoa which was probably the best cake I’ve ever had in my life. The countryside was, of course, SO BEAUTIFUL and it was fun to take a solo day trip to a new place. I made some new friends including two older Ecuadorian couples who

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quimbolito

were real interested in what I’m doing here, and a kind older Argentine woman who is traveling on her own through Ecuador for a month (then I ran into her on the street in Riobamba the next day, yay!). We changed trains in Alausi, the scene changed as we were joined by a bunch of foreign tourists, and set way for the Nariz del Diablo which is a mountain on the route that is so steep that the train has to complete a series of switchbacks to make it down. It wasn’t very scary, but it was breathtakingly beautiful and worth the hype. In the valley the group rested for an hour and I had tomate de arbol juice and my second piece of cake of the day, oops. The train didn’t take me all the way back to Riobamba, so I caught a bus in Alausi with my new friends and explored some new territory and more of my new city. ‘Twas a great day trip and struck the pace for my intentions to travel a lot on the weekends and get to know different places in the region.

 

That’s about it for your glimpse into the life of Chelsea, hasta la proxima!

chao~chels

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Primeras huellas // First impressions

I’ve been in Ecuador for about a week and a half now, and I’ve been dying to get all these things onto “paper,” but have only had time to scribble some things here and there and have now done my best to make it cohesive!

My first day in Ecuador was exciting – honestly, I feel right at home in Latin America, walking cobblestone streets among dilapidated buildings and street vendors, purchasing roasted seeds and cooked Maduro bananas (this is a first!), exploring the streets and figuring out where I am and how to get where I am meant to be going. I had about three hours to explore Quito before traveling to Riobamba, so I stuck to the centro histórico (old town) sector and visited the main sights of the city. Quito itself was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety, so I figure you can’t go wrong. My two main destinations were La Basilica, the tallest church in Ecuador – you can climb to the top for incredible views of the city – and La Compania, a ridiculously extravagant and beautiful church. One of my happier moments was when the ticket seller at the Basilica informed me that I have the best Spanish accent of any American he has heard! In between my selected visits, I wandered through plazas and side streets, and joined la gente as they watched street performances of musicians, dancers and a man that made incredible paintings using spray paint. Sunday was probably the best day for my condensed tour of Old Town, because everybody goes out to walk around and the streets are closed off to cars. My favorite thing I saw was a man in a chef’s hat with a blow horn attempting to herd people to his restaurant. So many entertaining things that just do not happen in the U. S. Some good news is that there is a brewery that makes craft beer not too far from the hostel where I was staying. It was a short visit in Quito but I will definitely have many chances to return, yay! More than anything, it reminded me of Guatemala with its European-reminiscent architecture, plazas and narrow cobblestone streets (and surrounded by amazing green trees and hills); however it does have its own vibe. This is my first time traveling with a guidebook and I’m finding it super helpful for getting around, learning about Ecuahistory and culture, and finding the best spots to visit.

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grounds of my office! 

Not 24 hours after landing in Quito, I arrived in my host city, Riobamba, where I’ll be living and working for the next six months. The city is much smaller than the capital, but more spread out and larger than the cities I’ve lived in before like Leon, Matagalpa, and maybe even Bilbao. There is a historic city center with beautiful parks and colonial buildings, as well as a more modern part marked by a wide avenue lined with giant palm trees and restaurants, bars, shops and cafes. In general it is a flat city, but surrounded by the Andes mountain range and several volcanoes: Chimborazo, the tallest in Ecuador, whose summit is the farthest point from the center of the Earth, and Tungurahua, which is currently erupting and has been spewing dark clouds of smoke and layering the city with ash ever since I’ve been here. This region has the strongest indigenous presence in the whole country, and it’s common to see the traditional indigenous dress (for women, a long skirt, a poncho and a hat) daily on the streets. They have a special market on Saturdays, when they all come into the city to sell their products and artesania. I bought a beautiful ribbon from a woman named Rosa, who made me a “guango” which you wrap around your hair like a ponytail. I have started learning a bit about their lifestyle and I’m super excited to learn more, especially of their native language Kichwa, which is widely mixed into the Spanish spoken here.

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yo con mi casa

First impression of things that aren’t different than Nicaragua: taxis honking at you, people selling anything you can imagine on the street, the people being incredibly nice and generous (when I was getting my passport checked at the airport the official next to me was actually having a light, fun conversation in English with the woman he was attending). Things that are different- the taxis aren’t collectivos (meaning they only take one party at a time and you don’t have to tell them where you’re going before they agree to take you), and the bus system seems a bit more organized and less chaotic – there aren’t chicken buses, and at least during the hours when I’ve taken the bus, it hasn’t been packed nose-to-armpit with people. Also, there are actually addresses and street names here! A lot of them refer to people and places, in Ecuador and other countries. I live on the corner of Londres y Lisboa (London and Lisbon) with my new roommate Wellington who is a friend of my friend Fernanda. It’s a really nice house where I have my own room and bathroom, a big window with lots of light, and even hot water! I was super spoiled in the States so it is not that hot for me, in contrast my roommate thinks it’s “super caliente.” But either way, I am grateful, for the climate here is SO NICE and it can get pretty chilly, especially at night. The house isn’t central in the city, so to get to work I’ve been navigating between the bus lines 8 and 13 and taking advantage of stopping in the city center after work to run errands, conveniently buying toilet paper and toothpaste from the indigenous woman running through the streets. Soon I am going to start biking, yay!

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being Site Managers

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been working almost every day, with a few days here and there to explore my new city and meet new people. With Global Glimpse, I am working with two incredible people and our team is US-Ecuadorian-Nicaraguan, which makes things fun and we’ve been learning a lot and comparing things among our cultures. Luckily they understand me when I use Nica-isms and Fernanda always corrects me when I use the wrong word and teaches me the Ecuadorian replacement, which happens muy frequently. Our first week of training was exciting and inspiring, and although there is a lot to learn and it was challenging to dive right in while I am still adjusting to my new surroundings, the week was speckled with Led Zeppelin  and other music sharing and activities to lighten our load like arts and crafts for our Big Love baskets, meetings in coffee shops, and yoga breaks of course! Don’t worry Matagalpa team, Soy Un Arbol will never be the same without you. One of my favorite parts about this job is that I get a super unique taste of local culture that I feel I would never have if I were just visiting this country as a tourist, and I get to meet people in different communities and participate in activities like making tortillas and eating cuy. Read on to learn what that is all about (if you dare).
One thing that has changed dramatically, and will surely continue to develop in a positive way, is my relationship with food. First of all, I’ve gone from a gluten free/dairy free diet (super easy to maintain in the US when health food stores are a five-minute drive away) to eating bread every single day and with almost every meal, and drinking real milk in my coffee as well as other lactose products. This is not necessarily by choice; however, I am choosing to not be stubborn about such things and warmly accepting whatever is offered to me as I delve into Ecuatorian culture and customs – plus, alternative choices are not widely available (also, bread is delicious and I have to make up for the months I’ve gone without indulging, right?). This has been an adjustment that I anticipated, but the real change stems from my environment and the people around me from whom I am learning a lot. As I mentioned, there is a strong indigenous presence in Riobamba, and many of the people living in rural communities work every day to harvest products. An organization in town organizes a “canasta comunitaria”, or community basket, where once every two weeks, the people come from outside the city to contribute their products in the basket. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to sign up for sharing a basket, but we ended up getting a giant bag of fresh vegetables and fruits, including ripe and green plantains, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, watercress, beets, potatoes,

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canasta comunitaria

pumpkin, zucchini, limes, oranges, lima beans, papaya, pineapple, watermelon, and granadilla, among other things (some new to me). All for $17 total (split between two people). So, all of a sudden I had a new house and a bunch of food that came straight to my kitchen from the earth, dirt and all. With this intimate relationship with produce comes automatically a higher level of awareness, and requires more time and thought. For example, just before writing this paragraph I spent about two hours in the kitchen: cleaning, peeling, boiling and mashing potatoes, pelando a giant bag of Lima beans, preparing a salad from scratch, reheating leftover yucca and Maduro on the stove, washing all my dishes by hand, and taking inventory of all of the fruits and veggies I have from my canasta so I can plan for the week. Having come from the States, where I myself am guilty of eating a pre-packaged salad from Whole Foods while driving from one meeting to the next (yes I literally ate a salad while driving), it is a drastic difference to be so aware of exactly where my food is coming from, and spending time and energy in preparing it and enjoying it with friends. Something I am super stoked about!

Speaking of food, I have tried SO many new things in the past weeks. Some of which were a bit more daunting than others: lengua (cow tongue), menestra (a dish with meat, rice and lentils or beans), tortillas verde y Maduro (not the same time of tortillas in Nicaragua or Mexico, they are made with platanos and have cheese inside them and are a bit thicker), humita (tamale like thing made with dry corn and cheese, so yum), tamal, jugo de tomate (juice made from a sweet type of tomato), habas tostadas (roasted Lima beans), encebollada (soup with onions and tuna, they put popcorn in it), and empanada (not the same kind as they make in Argentina or Chile). There are so many new fruits here, even more than in Central America – I’ve tried taxo, pepino, granadilla and pitahaya, which is not the same pitahaya in Nicaragua, nor is it spelled the same way. It’s typical to eat bread with almost every meal, and if you have lunch at a comedor they will typically serve you soup, a main dish, and dessert. I have a feeling this adventure through Ecuadorian gastronomy is nowhere near complete, especially thanks to my friend Fernanda who has introduced me to a lot and is always there to explain what something is (and remind me of the word so I can write it in my little book). Within my first week in Riobamba, I passed my first test: eating cuy! My vegetarian friends should probably skip to the next paragraph. For those who are not familiar, cuy is guinea pig and it is a typical dish here in Ecuador, usually served to an important guest (in rural places) or for a special celebration. My experience was rather daunting, especially because before trying the dish, I not only saw the little buddies roasting for hours before our meal, but I also held a live one from the coop, and then proceeded to watch our hosts slicing their bodies in half and chopping off the heads so that our plates weren’t served with the whole thing (although they did come with the heads, which some people eat). It was pretty tasty, the skin gets pretty crunchy and the meat was real salty. Shoutout to Marsha, I am turning into a bone girl! I would eat it again but probably not something I am going to seek out. Sorry if this grosses ya’ll out but it is my philosophy that while living in another country I should participate in local culture and try new things, especially when it is a significant custom (and if that’s what’s being served for lunch).

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CUY

Woohoo, I’m super excited to get back into blogging! I hope my online community will enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Overall everything is going great down here in Ecuador, I’ve adjusted to my new life rather rapidly (surely there will be good days and bad days), and I actually feel as if this is the deepest cultural and language immersion I’ve experienced yet.

May the adventures commence!

chao~chels

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La aventura siguiente // The next adventure

Hello friends and family! I am back in action with the blog.

It has been a whirlwind winter in Colorado, through which I learned a lot about myself and my current stage in this life. A lot of it is much too boring (and too personal) to blog about, so I’m gonna leave room for the good stuff. After scrambling for weeks to prepare to get up and go again, my bags are packed, coconut oil and travel yoga mat in tow, and I’M ON MY WAY TO ECUADOR!

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Airplane life

For anyone who doesn’t know, about a month ago I was invited to re-join the Global Glimpse team as a site manager in Riobamba, Ecuador. So many opportunities lie in this for me: visiting and living in a totally new country, growing into a new role with more responsibility, a chance to do everything over (and better), and to learn and grow even more of course. How will it be more challenging than my time in Nicaragua? New dialect of Spanish, new language (Kichwa, the widely spoken indigenous language of Ecuador), new culture, working on my own to develop an itinerary for my students, adjusting to a new country and starting the job at the same time.. And most of all, the fact that there are few fellow foreigners in Riobamba (this is what I know beforehand~we’ll see!). This makes me excited and nervous; it’s a chance to immerse myself fully in my new environment and culture, but it will be harder to adapt and relate and not feel lonely as a foreigner. I’ve realized that when I was in Nicaragua, there were plenty of other non-Nicas that I got to know and befriended, which made the whole thing more comfortable because we were all in the same boat. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are Nicaraguan, but it was nice to have a balance between all of the friendships that evolved throughout my time there.

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I fit everything into my luggage!!!

Although I’ve had much less time to prepare than the last departure, it has been easier to go through the motions of moving abroad after having done it once before. The weather will be drastically different, and there are a plethora of different potential activities in which I could end up participating, which made packing an even bigger challenge than it usually is for me. Besides that and attempting to balance time with all of my loved ones before leaving, it’s pretty much been “okay, this again- I know how to do this.” Pretty cool to be able to say that!

With that precursor established, I welcome you to my new blog – Chels en Ecuador – as a sort of “second chapter” to Chels Vive Nica. I expect it will be a culmination of adventures and explorations, lessons learned, and comparisons between cultures and with my experiences in Nicaragua. After reading through my last blog, I noticed that I began with un montón de details and then it grew more general as I became accustomed to things; I assume it will be similar this time around. A disclaimer: not sure if I will have the time to keep up with it as frequently as before, since my posts became much more sporadic when I began working with Global Glimpse last year and I will probably prioritize my time in finding the city’s best cafe con leche and exploring new corners of the world. But I will certainly do my best to keep y’all updated and keep the prose flowing.

Enjoy!

chao~chels

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Lista para la próxima aventura