Monday, January 19, 2009

Returning to Quito, 18 January 2009

I was worried because one of the students had not enjoyed yesterday. I was not sure how to make his last day interesting. We started off with a walk to over 10,000 feet to Cuicocha, which is a lake in the center of a volcano. The two islands in the middle of the lake look like guinea pigs. There is no life in the lake, but around the lake live spectacled bears and condors, but we saw neither during our walk and wander around the park. Imbabura and Cotacachi were somewhat visible and improved in visibility throughout the day. The weather actually became more and more clear and warm as the day progressed.

We checked out guinea pig on a stick a the side of the road. Guinea pig is expensive and not eaten that much. No one in the group wanted to taste any.

We stopped by Cotocachi, which specialized in leather goods. I wanted to shop more but did not. I take too long to decide what to buy, so I am not particularly successful, but I did find a interesting case for my computer!

The highlight of our day was the ‘Vaca Loca”, which Eric had requested. We ate at Molina San Juan, and before our lunch, a young indigenous fellow wrapped a green towel around his head and went to work. It was a crazy awesome experience with a man inside a wooden/paper cow, with fireworks attached to the cow, which went off sequentially. Fireworks were flying around and aiming for the students, who were running out of the way of the fire and screaming. Maya was scared and remained traumatized for hours. Most people thought it was thrilling and loved it. It was shocking to see the fireworks aimed at the students, it was dangerous but also amusing. Apparently this is done quite regularly here in Ecuador at big feasts and celebrations.

Good spirits continued at the Rose Plantation, which was smaller than the one we went to last year. After oil, roses are a huge part of the Ecuadorian economy. Roses grow on the equator all year long, which makes them a great industry for the area. I find it most interesting that the Russians like their roses with meter long stems and open flowers, while the Americans like their roses much shorter and with closed buds. By genetically altering roses so that they are less susceptible to disease, the scent of the rose has been bred out, and people do not seem to bothered about that. I miss the smell of roses.

On our way back to Quito, we stopped in Cayambe to look at guinea pigs on the spit, but no one wanted to try the delicacy. Biscochos are famous in the area, so we tried them and they were not sweet at all, which was a surprise because they looked as if they would be. The Ecuadorians do not really like sweets that much. Milk and cheese are also specialties of the area.

We had to make a stop at Mitad del Mundo and stand on each side of the Equator. We did not stop at the place I am accustomed to stopping at. Apparently it is the WRONG equator, calculated by French scientists in the 18th century. Later, with GPS, the actual equator was found to be 250 meters away. The new place is a little hokey with a lot of representations of indigenous culture, perhaps celebrating the fact that so many native tribes knew exactly that they lived at the center of the earth and were able to calculate all sorts of things about the earth and the equinoxes and the solstices. Our guide demonstrated experiments, which showed the reduced gravity of the equator, the different phenomena that occur in the south versus the northern hemispheres and how different these properties are at the equator. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and so did the students.

Finally in Quito, back to the Sierra Madre Hotel, dinner at La Ronda, where a folkloric dance performance accompanied our meal and Eric’s last minute presentation of the uniqueness of our experiences in Ecuador was funny and entertaining for students and professors alike.
Our wake-up call is at 3:30!!!!

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