Saturday, April 23, 2016

Just Monkeying Around

 In Which, We Visit Tena and Misahualli

So one of our trips when Mom and Dad were here was down the mountains and into the edge of the Amazon to a little town called Tena. It's about 2 hours past Banos, so roughly a 3-4 hour trip, as the bus trundles. 

It's warm here (it's the Amazon...duh) with lush greenery *everywhere* which was a fun difference compared to Ambato, which is chilly and somewhat brownish these days.

We had booked a tour with a local hostel in Tena called La Casa Blanca. What a great place! Michelle was our hostess and she was wonderful. She hooked us up with a wonderful tour guide, and on Saturday morning, after a breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit, we loaded up with our new Canadian friends we had met the night before for a a day of adventure.

First up: the monkeys of Misahualli. 
Enjoying the fruits of his thievery

These guys were everywhere. I think we were the second group of visitors to arrive that morning because although they were plenty happy to take out grapes, they weren't quite as swarming as we'd heard they could be.

This little guy took the entire bunch of grapes that John had...

Even with that, we still had plenty of  interaction with them. It was fun to see how the troop interacted. The matrons tended to stay further away in the street, while the youngsters were the bold ones climbing down poles and trees and coming right up to us.

Just chillin

This guy in the tree might have been the most mischievous one of all. Right before we headed on to our boat tour, he snatched the hat of a passerby and wouldn't give it back until the man traded him something for it!


After the monkeys, it was time for a boat trip down the Napo River. This was actually really fun! The Napo is a tributary of the Amazon, and it's a fairly good-size river in its own right. We motored for about 30-ish minutes or so until we reached the family farm of our tour guide.

Getting ready to go down the Napo!

Here we heard more about the traditional Amazonian way of life, including how to harvest and plant yucca, and how to make chocolate!

Harvesting and replanting yucca

Then we came back to the homestead fire and set about making chicha, which is a traditional Kichwa drink made from fermented yucca. We mashed it for a bit with some salt and butter, and it actually tasted a lot like mashed potatoes.

The finished product requires several days of fermentation, so we sipped on some that had already been made. The taste was...interesting. Not overly bitter, but not really flavorful either. It tasted most similar to slightly muddy water with a bit of a tang.

The makings of chicha...or mashed potatoes

After the chicha, we set about making some chocolate from the cacao trees there on the farm. It required roasting, shelling and grinding.

Dad working for his portion of the chocolate

After grinding, then there was boiling, adding sugar and water and mixing, so make it palatable.

The fruits of our labor!

At the end, we were able to enjoy the fruits of our labor with some fresh (and huge!) strawberries and bananas.

Hello from the Amazon!

In between the farm and the animal sanctuary, we did also stop at a butterfly farm, but I didn't take many pictures there. It was really interesting though. It's run by a man from Germany, and they actually raise and export the pupae to other sanctuaries, zoos and collections around the world! The entire operation appears to be very well run and organized.

Our last stop on the trip was Amazoonico, an animal refuge. This was probably my favorite stop, even though it was sweltering in the jungle humidity. The animals and all their stories were awesome to see! I even saw several animals that I'd never heard of before, which is always fun.

Tapirs! These guys are so cute and cuddly...if they weren't 400 pounds...

They give 'raucous' a new meaning

Beautiful and lithe!

There were far more than I have pictures of here, maybe I can convince John to sit down and create a video from his GoPro...

Either way, it was a spectacular experience, all in all, and I highly recommend both La Casa Blanca and any of their trips to anyone who's interested in seeing a bit of the Amazon.

On our way back UP the Napo, with our Canadian friends in the back

That night we decided to walk around the city of Tena for a bit. This bridge is right above the confluence of Rio Pano and Rio Tena. We walked up one side, crossed over and walked down the other.

Tena at night

Tena at night is lovely. It loses the mugginess but still remains cool enough for shorts and light shirts. I doubt we'll go  back before we leave for home, but this will remain one of our most favorite trips so far!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How Does Traveling Change Your Life?

Hello Family and Friends

I figured I would go ahead and write a post about how traveling has changed our lives. I get the feeling, that when we return, we are going to be asked multiple times. So here goes, as best constructed as I can, a response:

Do you feel like a different person?

After making the decision to move to a different country, you are opening yourself up to vast lifestyle changes and differences. That in-and-of itself affects your mind and how you view interaction with your own family and others. For example: Your "comfort zone" will have to expand or your going to live as a shut-in recluse with no social interaction wherever you go. 

We have only traveled and lived here in Ecuador, but I can say with a good bit of certainty that you will change according to the place that you are living in. Having only a North American living background, then moving to South America, you're hit with culture differences immediately. It's obviously not your native language, government laws are completely different, and importance is put on family much more than things you can purchase. The later being the biggest change in my mindset and thought process.  

If you're reading this you probably know I am a Christian. According to two tables of the Ten Commandments ( 1-3: Love the Lord your God with all... 4-10: and love thy neighbor....) having relationships with others is how we were made, and an extreme joy we get to experience because of God's grace. That being said, it's evident that that is really important when it's the one topic unanimously brought up when people are on their death bed. You don't hear people say, "Oh, I wish I wouldn't have taken holidays off from my job." Or, "Where's my I-pad." People that are on death's door realize that they will not be taking anything with them, so the most important thing they can see, is that the relationships they made here on Earth were not only lasting, but precious and eternal. I have always thought that family and friends were important, but didn't have close to same understanding as I do now. This is the main idea that has changed since traveling.

What was life like there?

Secondly, our main goal when heading out was to minimize the amount of stuff that we had. The amount of junk that we either sold or gave away was REMARKABLE. We had only been married for two and half years before we moved, and you would have thought we had been married for fifty by all the stuff we had in our house! BTW, shout-out to Casey Owens for letting us use his space to store the things we needed to keep. Thanks brother. After getting rid of most of our belongings, we arrived here with only some clothes, a blanket, a cast iron skillet, and a Ninja blender (which wasn't exactly necessary but whatever). Having a budget, we only purchased the things that were necessary to live here. And we didn't buy them all at one time, it was over many months. You're forced to improvise in certain ways and to learn to do without. Which was a valuable lesson learned for Victoria and I. Hang drying clothes, hand washing all dishes, not having super hot water in the shower nor having ANY hot water at the sink, not having fast food places to stop at for a quick bit, not having a car or a bike to go places whenever you want, and not having a tv or cable. Some North Americans would be like, "Just shoot me now." But I can say this: Once you have gotten rid of things like these and realize it might take a little more work, you get a particular kind of joy that you won't find anywhere else. Plus it made me respect all the household things my wife has been doing this whole time while I was away at my job. So to summarize a little, not having a drier, tv, dishwasher, etc. makes you spend more time with and invested in your family. Now when we return am I going to use the dishwasher we already have? Of course, but my perspective has changed considerably. I like when my wife washes the dishes, I think she looks beautiful doing it! I don't look down on her or think women are any less than men! She is helping take some of my stress away so that I can enjoy something different. And who knows, maybe while she is washing the dishes, and I'm not looking at a tv, we can have a great conversation about something. It's these kind of every day joys that we get to experience when we aren't captivated by some sort of temporal materialistic thing. According to Eph. 5:15-17 we are held accountable for our time here and called to use it wisely. What better way than to invest it in the relationships that you have been given in your friends and family. 

What did you do there?

Thirdly, the time that we have been here has allowed me time to do two things: learn a new language and study God's Word with conviction. I didn't have to have a job while we've been here, since the standard of living here is much less than the States and we have been renting our house out. I've had ample time to do whatever I've wanted to do. It turned out that the majority of my time was invested in the two things listed above. Learning a new language is super cool. I actually learned more about English while trying to study Spanish. Now I get to have the pleasure of creating relationships with people that can only speak Spanish! We've made tons of friends here from youth to older adult families. Had I not learned Spanish, I would have never had that opportunity. And then the second thing I listed above, I couldn't even put into words how life changing it's been. I don't know where you're at religion wise if you're reading this, but the perfect coherency and truth that is in the Bible is incredible. If you're skeptical or think that having faith in Jesus is ridiculous, I would highly recommend just looking into some of the things that the Bible claims and then backs up with historical validity or that science points to. Not to mention the fact the there couldn't be science if there wasn't a Creator (check into that claim if it rubs you the wrong way). After examining these things, it points to an Eternal and Unchanging God, and then from there you'll see, not only the need of a savior, but the reality of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection. It's all there. If you're reading this and you ARE a Christian then you'll understand when I say my heart and mind have been molded 100 times over since we've been here. I've been humbled, encouraged, trained, discipled, humiliated, persecuted, and rebuilt in SO many areas. I hope that this pace of conformity continues when we return to the States, because I cherish it more than anything! It's done nothing but add joy to my life in every aspect. In marriage, in ethics, in battling passivity, in dealing with anxiety, in logic and reason, in moral behavior, in relationships immediate and secular, and many many more. 


The gist is that we have only been here for a year and a quarter. In this amount of time we both have changed immensely. It definitely was not a waste of time. We weren't "running away" from our problems like I have heard people say before when people move to another country. And the ways in which we have grown can be brought back to North America for practical use in everyday life. It has been a great experience and I would love to share it with anyone that has interest. I love you guys and thank you for taking the time to read this. Feel free to comment below. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Visitors in Quito!

In Which, We Climb Way Too Many Stairs

For those who don't know, my parents came and visited us for two weeks at the beginning of March, and we had a BLAST!

I hadn't seen them since they left for the retired life in Puerto Rico in October 2014. That's the longest we've ever gone without seeing each other face to face! 

Reunited and it feels so good - even at 3am!
John and I were both super excited to show them a little slice of this beautiful country, and where better to start than in Quito? We were pretty familiar with all the tourist things to do, so getting around was fairly simple. 

The first Saturday we caught the market in Otavalo, which was, as always, phenomenal. Dad made out with a sweet hat and Mom picked up some coasters. She later regretted not picking up a few other things, but we'll probably make one more trip up there before we leave anyway.

That night we met up with our friends David and Carmen for dinner in La Ronda, a tourist district with lots of character and LOTS of food. Also plenty of live music and drinks, which was exactly what we were looking for.

La Ronda

The next day we ended up walking to the Basilica, which may or may not have involved me taking us down (and up!)many flights of stairs. My dad has both knees replaced and bad hips, so that wasn't the greatest plan ever, but he was a trooper and we got to see a lot of really great views of the city from some of the towers.

Panoramic view from the front of the Basilica - you can see El Panecillo!
Monday was probably our longest day, just in terms of being out and about. We had the driver of the hostel we were staying at take us to Mitad del Mundo, El Teleferico and El Panecillo, all in one day. 

We were pretty exhausted after that, but it was definitely worth it. Mitad has finished up their major construction projects, and they've got some lovely museums about the French geodesic missions to Ecuador to find the middle of the world as well as an AWESOME miniature model of El Centro Historico of Quito.

El Teleferico was a really fun adventure as well. While it was nice and warm down in the city, by the time we got up to the edge of the valley we were all glad to have jackets and sweaters, because it was COLD!

Just a veeeeeery small portion of Quito

The views were amazing and they had several hiking/biking trails as well as advertisements for horseback riding, so we may need to check that out again as well.

Finally, El Panecillo, or, that little lump of a hill in the middle of the city with a giant statue of a madonna, known as the Woman of the Apocalypse. The description comes from Revelation 12:1-18.

We were able to climb up (on the inside) to the top of the pedestal, which offered more great views of the city. Along the way they had explanations of how and when the statue was made.

Tuesday morning was our time to rest and relax, and then we packed up and left for Ambato around 1pm. 

While exhausting, I thoroughly enjoyed everything we did, even the stuff John and I had done before. It's kind of fun to hit up areas you've already been to as a tourist again, this way you can find a bit more in-depth information or new angles of seeing things. 

Up next: our trip to Tena and the tour up and down the Napo River! This was definitely a highlight of our trip, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone considering the foothills of the Amazon here in Ecuador.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Coming Home

In Which, We Plan to Return

Yep, it's true. We've decided to come home. 

We were initially thinking just to visit in June, but after looking at travel costs and considering several other options, we've decided to simply make our final return.

We'll be planning on coming back sometime in the beginning of June, most likely within the first 10 days or so. We'll hopefully be housesitting for some friends for a week or so, and then, when they return, we'll move over to John's grandparents' house for a few days.

THEN, the plan is to visit my parents in Puerto Rico for a month. If you follow me on FB, you'll know that they recently visited us for 2 weeks, so we'll return the favor. 

When we return from PR, we'll settle back into our house and basically start afresh with all the things we've learned while living in Ecuador. 

We have a couple posts waiting in the wings regarding our Mindo trip (back in January) as well as lots of photos from the trips we took while my parents were here, so look for those in the coming weeks.

Mama T, when we went to Banos

Getting ready to canoe down the Napo River outside Misahualli!

In the meantime, we're still making the most of our time here, with possible trips to Quilotoa and the beach (again!) in the mix. 

Either way, we plan to enjoy the rest of our time here to the fullest.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fiesta de las Frutas y Flores

In Which, It Is Carnaval

So in the first week of February, we had the Fiesta de la Frutas y Flores here in Ambato, FFF for short. It's one of the most well-known Carnaval celebrations in all of Ecuador, as well as one of the most important. People come from all over to see it.

Quick history lesson, the FFF is actually connected to the historic earthquake that Ambato suffered through in 1949. After being almost completely levelled, the city came roaring back two years later, and in honor of the tenacity of the Ambateños the city celebrates the FFF.

It really is a sight to see. All of the main floats are created and decorated with fruits, flowers and bread products. The intricacy is incredible and the imagination is stunning.

Each float had a Reina, or Queen, of some particular group, neighborhood or business (they love their Reinas here). It was all led by the new Reina de Ambato, Iveth Castro. She was elected Queen the week prior in a special pageant that John and I actually attended.

Scheduled to start at 9am on Sunday, by the time the floats got to us, it was around 10:30. But everything went smoothly and quickly and we were heading out around noon.

It was overall a little cloudy, but as we experienced with the Desfile del Niños (Children's Parade) that was actually better. Direct Sierran sun is no joke, and you don't want to be sitting in it uncovered for more than a few minutes.

This is just a small taste of the full FFF experience. Official events started with the Eleccion of the Reina, and they went through until the Tuesday after the parade. Most people had the Monday and Tuesday after the parade off of work, so the whole city was celebrating and partying.

Before the parade, on the main street - Cevallos

Watching with David and Carmen!

Reina de Ambato, Iveth Castro

Each float had a dance troupe or musicians behind them

This was one of my favorites  :)

After the main floats, there were several regional and ethnic groups represented. They were dressed traditionally, doing traditional dances or performances. It was really awesome to see.

Belgium, of all the strange things!

The Ecuadorian contingent, with several different native/ethnic representatives

The floats after the regional and ethnic groups were from the outlying cantons surrounding Ambato in the Tungurahua province. 

Overall, it was really awesome. The city did a great job at putting on the entire parade and making it run relatively smoothly. For the rest of the weekend we basically partied with our friends, just having a good time relaxing and enjoying each other's company.