Posts tagged ‘Quito’

some words about studying Spanish in Ecuador at Yanapuma

Yanapuma Foundation / Spanish language school & Volunteer house
Quito, Ecuador

The Mariscal district of Quito is full of Spanish schools and I chose this one back in New York because of their website and commitments to social projects around Ecuador. I wasn’t bothered by the $20 mandatory registration fee that they said goes towards these development projects, but I was disappointed when the only non-Ecuadorian director could not tell me what exactly Yanapuma was doing.

The school is organized into two sessions, the morning is from 9am-1pm and the afternoon from 2-6pm. There is a 15 minute break in between, during which students drink tea or coffee and some cheap snack provided by the school. Usually the break lasts longer than 15 minutes, because two hours is a long time to sit still and students like the opportunity to chat with other students. The layout of the building is nice.

The problem I found is that the teachers are basically freelancers who work with many other Spanish schools whenever they are needed. Also some of them live very far away. So asking for a different schedule that fit my needs better (9-11, with a 2 hour break, and then 1-3) meant that my poor teacher had to sit with nothing to do for two hours. It made me feel bad to return to the school refreshed after my walk and lunch, with an hour left until class, hoping to review the lesson on my own before continuing and see my teacher there sitting hopelessly staring into space. The first teacher I had refused to teach me once I changed the schedule to fit my needs. With the second teacher I eventually changed the schedule back to 9am-1pm because I felt sorry for her.

Also I was unhappy with how Yanapuma handled my accommodation. On their website they wrote about a volunteer house which I assumed from their description belonged to them. However the system was that they simply had “dibs” on certain rooms while other schools had “dibs” on others. I paid $270 for a month stay. A few days later I met a student who’d paid less than $200. And then another who paid $150 for a room with a private bathroom. I went to the management who refunded me part of my money and explained that Yanapuma had told her to charge me daily ($9 * 30 days) instead of monthly. So even though Yanapuma was not making any commission off me, they were not looking out for my interests. I did not like the volunteer house for other reasons as well. The shower did not always have hot water and the door to it was broken. It’s located in an area that’s extremely loud until 2-3am every morning.

Another bad thing about Yanapuma – they did not pick me up as promised from the airport.

Recommendation: If you want to study Spanish in Ecuador I recommend doing it in Baños, Otavalo or Tena. There are several language schools in these smaller cities, they’re safer than Quito and cost less with more flexible teachers who don’t have to commute long distances. And I personally prefer Baños, Otavalo and Tena to Quito (Baños for its multitude of outdoor adventures, Otavalo for it’s kind and ambitious indigenous people and Tena for its proximity to the jungle).

July 6, 2011 at 11:13 pm 11 comments

a little update, the beach life

so a month has passed. a wonderful month, of sun and beach and fresh air and harmonious moments.

after Baeza i went to Canoa, a small coastal town a little south of the equator. it took all day to hitchhike from Quito and by the time we arrived it was dark, i was tired, and i hated my companion for standoffishly displaying all the qualities i hate within myself. a few days later we parted, although i tried to keep some kind of friendliness by visiting him and bringing him fruits. but he isolated himself and stared at me mockingly like i was a fool when we were together. here was the problem: he just wanted to be himself, which meant: passive, hostile, and distant. one of my worst qualities is a kind of verbally aggressive meanness that comes out unintentionally with people who are weak and stupid, and so relations quickly turned into a downward spiral with me finding fault with everything he said. it was an ugly situation and made me feel bad, firstly because i hate to instigate negative emotions and second, because i didn’t expect it to escalate into a complete break in the friendship. and third, because his arrival from Switzerland was long awaited, and had altered the course of my trip. had he not decided to come, i’d likely have gone to Peru through the jungle…

anyway, then Andrej came and we camped out in his tent in one of the camping grounds in Canoa, cooked delicious breakfasts in the morning, and swam all day.

a few days later we hitchhiked to Montañita, another coastal town about 250km south of Canoa and a lot more touristy. hitchhiking along the Ruta del Sol (“highway of the sun”) took us longer than expected and we spent a night camping out in Andrej’s tent on a cliff on the beach, washing ourself in the ocean under the full moon, being lulled to sleep by waves.

like most other south American coastal resort towns Montañita is full of “artesanians”, youth mostly from northern Argentina who make necklaces and bracelets out of string, metal, beads, and rocks they acquire along the way. they remind me of gypsies. always stoned, playful, and content to spend all day beside their little tables.

in Montañita i almost drowned. it happened because i felt invincible not knowing what a “tidal wave” is… the kind of wave that takes you under and pulls you far far away from where you were, into a strong current that pushes you out into the sea, into turbulent waters that want to drown you. the lifeguards who rescued me said it was the worst day of the month because of the position of the moon (it was 3 or 4 days after the full moon) and that on this day there were 5 of them instead of the usual 3 on duty. i had always thought that lifeguards were just like dolls on shelves, their purpose to evoke a placebo sense of safety. in Brooklyn, no one ever drowns. the lifeguards job is to take sun and flirt. but in Montañita…they work…. and had one of them not been using his binoculars to inspect the ocean yours truly might not be here today…

a video i took half hour later of 4 more men stuck behind the wave and several lifeguards trying to help them. it took about 20 minutes to get them to the shore…

after Montañita i went to Cuenca, which is the 3rd largest city in Ecuador and according to one Ecuadorian, the “Athens of Ecuador,” abounding with artistic activity.  the famous “Panama hat” is made here from the leaf of palm that grows in abundance. it carries the name of another country because it first became famous during the construction of the Panama canal when all the workers were wearing the hats, which were being shipped abroad through the canal from Ecuador. i’d bought one earlier… and then went into the ocean with it and watched it turn to nothing :(

after Cuenca i stopped in Guayaquil for 2 nights. Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador and i imagined it would be large beige industrial flat and barren, full of women who feed escopalomina to unsuspecting foreigners before they rob them of everything including their clothes. the drug is absorbed through the skin, so once chosen the target is defenseless. in one anecdote a woman received a hug from another who pretended to have mistook her for a friend…and several hours later she “woke up” on the street without her things and later learned her bank account had been cleared out. in another case, a man was sitting by himself in a park when an ugly woman sat next to him and started to talk. he avoided her but she insisted on using her napkin to clean up the drops of perspiration forming on the outside of his beer… and the next thing he recalled is wandering in his underwear through Guayaquil.

instead i had a very nice time in Guayaquil.. walked the 444 steps up the Malecon at night, saw the iguanas in the park, walked the streets comfortably at night. unlike Quito, which feels empty after sunset, Guayaquil is illuminated by lights and people, and feels safe and boisterous.

May 14, 2011 at 2:17 am 4 comments

freedom, happiness & jails in Quito

riding on the northbound bus this afternoon and i had that feeling that can best be described as tranquility, satisfaction or happiness. i don’t remember the last time i felt this, maybe some time in baku or my last day in azerbaijan, or one or two days in georgia. these moments are so beautiful but also so ephemeral and easily forgotten. somehow everything comes together in these moments, life seems so wonderful and i feel so lucky to have held on somehow, i’m at peace with the world and with myself, there are no regrets or guilty consciences, no nerves and hurt feeling, no anger or frustration. it’s a feeling of wholeness and togetherness. somehow at these rare moments there is harmony. it is unexpected. all of a sudden i am overwhelmed by a sensation of wonder and pleasure for just being, for being able to sit in this chair, on this bus, hear this latin pop, feel the rhythm of the road beneath me, be surrounded by babies and women and old men, rapidly passing these buildings and parks, feeling the heat of the day in my body…  these are the moments that click like one of those circular locks when you get the combination right. an intimate sensation of happiness.

and where was i going? how ironic that the moment when i felt this sense of happiness, which is always related to my feeling of freedom, that i was heading to the one place in the city where people on not free – the jail.

my guidebook recommends visiting the foreigners in Quito’s jail as a way to provide them company. it’s something i’ve wanted to do before, in Thailand and elsewhere, but never did. in Quito, the jails are separated by gender and i chose to visit the woman’s jail. it took about half hour to reach it by bus and i was surprised to find that it was just another building on a regular street full of ordinary houses and shops. no one seemed surprised or disturbed to be asked about the jail was and everyone knew where it was.

inside the jail, i handed over a copy of my passport to a uniformed woman at a computer. she refused to accept it. in bad spanish i tried to reason.

she: who are you visiting?
me: i don’t know…

she turned away from me and i appealed to another uniformed woman who was more sympathetic and said something on my behalf. i was let in…

my bag was inspected and my body padded. there was no x-ray machine, no scan of any kind. i was allowed to take my backpack with all its contents except my cellphone into the prison.

inside it felt like a fiesta instead of a jail. a small tienda, barbecue, music and many small children around. i stood in the courtyard between two buildings, the top floor windows on both sides full of drying brightly colored clothes. i think there were bars on the windows but they weren’t auspicious and didn’t make an impression on me. i was greeted by a small black woman, a prisoner i assumed, dressed in a sports suit who wanted to know who i was looking for. “just an american” i said, “or someone who speaks english.”

she led me to an older woman from new york who was actually ecuadorian. the woman was confused, why was i looking for her? but she accepted my explanation that i was a tourist just coming to chat and proceeded to tell me about the prison and life in new york. she avoided the reason she was arrested and made it seem that she was wrongly arrested. i couldn’t be sure. her husband visited her often and she had made friends with the women who worked in the jail she said. she didn’t like being here and hoped to write about it one day, but she didn’t seem miserable, and she spoke well of the computer courses she attended here.

in the jail women are allowed to keep their children with them until they turn 3 years old. this was why there were so many toddlers around and hardly any older kids. in the second courtyard i visited, it was necessary to remind myself that this was a jail where women spent many years. the cuddling couples, laughing and speaking amiably to one another amidst this sunny day made it easy to forget.

before i left, i met another woman from jamaica. she wanted to talk but wanted to finish listening to the bible story in the church first. i promised to return on saturday and bring her some fruit.

on the way home it started to rain, like it has every day since i’ve been in this mountain city. i don’t mind the rain anymore or the chilly weather. life is turbulent but good.

February 23, 2011 at 9:05 pm 2 comments

“ama sua, ama llulla, ama quella” (don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy) – traditional Inca greeting

This weekend i went to Otavalo and Cotacachi, towns not too far from Quito in the northern part of the country. Otavalo is famous for its Saturday market which sells a heap of woven handbags, clothes, and jewelry to tourists, and more practical things like fake levy’s and vegetables to locals.

Cotacachi is famous for its proximity to one of Ecuador’s largest active volcanoes. It’s a small town, well kept and reminded me of a Hollywood movie set without actors, that’s how empty it seemed and how colorful the houses were.

The majority of the people in both towns are indigenous and speak Quechua, the original tongue of the Inca, as their primary language. Many women of all ages continue to dress in the traditional white blouses and long skirts with the colorful belts, while men tend to wear modern clothes. It seemed discongrous to see a traditionally dressed girl kissing a boy who looks like a Brooklyn gangsta-wannabe.

There were old ladies begging in both towns but i couldn’t learn why they did it. Were they lacking family, or was the social security income provided by the Ecuadorian government not enough, or is it simply tradition that keep these old women walking the streets and smiling with their rotten teeth and asking for coins in exchange for a blessing? I love old ladies you know…

....although this is actually an old man :)

On the way back to Quito on Sunday i took a bus from Cotacachi. I was a little mad at myself for spending all weekend talking in English and now that i was the only foreigner on the bus i decided to practice the language i had neglected for two days. The middle aged man in shorts sitting next to me was happy to talk and i mostly understood that he lived in Quito and drove a truck for work. What he was doing in Ibarra (town north of Otavalo) i wasn’t sure, fixing his truck i think. It was while he was telling me about his route (or so i thought) and i was saying “si si” (yes yes) out of weary politeness that i realized i had just agreed to something… agreed to visit or travel with him somewhere :(  I found the situation so amusing i started to laugh :)

The bus ride was long due to traffic. Imagine a relatively narrow road through the mountains at dusk – the famous Pan American highway – with a slew of slow moving cars several miles long because everyone needs to get back to work on Monday… It’s dark and the mountains are but outlines filled with hues of blues and grays and the roads by necessity loop around them as the tail lights, hundreds of them in procession swirl around the mountains like gold rings around tremendous fingers…

In Quito the bus dropped me off at the north bus terminal. From here i wanted to take a taxi home but the only taxi i managed to catch refused to use the meter… and out of principle i refused to ride with him. While i waited with a dozen other people for another taxi someone told me that there was a bus going to Mariscal as well and so that’s what i rode back home… engaging the assistance of two men to tell me when it was time to get off. The problem though was this: once off the bus i still had to walk 5 blocks home. I decided to take a taxi. It was worth a dollar and half to minimize my chances of getting robbed.

It was a little past 9pm when i returned and i decided i was hungry and went to a nearby Thai restaurant. Sitting at the window i had a good view of the empty street outside, the first time all week that i had seen the street (and Mariscal neighborhood) so devoid of life. Less than a dozen men passed by the whole time i ate and then i heard a yell and saw a blond lying on the street before a black man pulled her away… “What happened” i asked the waiter who had a better view than me… In Spanish he told me she was actually a he and a prostitute who had slipped on the wet pavement and that the black guy was her client who…. well this part i couldn’t understand…it something to do with money… that’s why she was yelling

February 21, 2011 at 1:42 am 2 comments

living in Mariscal (tourist disneyland)

In Quito, i’ve settled in a place called the “volunteer house,” a large colonial house in the Mariscal district, owned by a local woman who inherited it from her family. It’s actually completely unaffiliated with my school and is more of a hostel for long term volunteers. There are two floors with separate entrances and each floor has a kitchen and several bathrooms (with hot water usually.. which is imperative considering Quito’s cold weather. It’s actually warmer in NYC now and i’m wearing two pairs of pants, two sweaters, a raincoat, and real shoes) The heavy rains are a problem because nothing dries quickly in this city, not even the expensive underwear i bought that is suppose to dry in just 1 hour…

Mariscal is not only the tourist district but also the zenith of Quito’s nightlife. Bars, clubs, and whatever else stay open and noisy until 2 or 3 am, and my room, hardly 15 meters from the nearest bar, would be perfectly situated for quick drunken stupors back to bed if only i could pick up the alcohol habit ;)

What i’m really excited about today is FOOD! One of the reasons i chose to study in Ecuador is because my friend Francisco told me that here i could eat lots of delicious vegetarian food here. And so with my palate excited i went searching for all these delicious vegetables… and i could not find any. My first day i ate ceviche, a type of seafood soup with lime and corn, in one of the many cafeterias that are open only for lunch. It was delicious and cost only $1.25.

The next day and day after i ate lunch with students from my school but the places they choose didn’t really have veg or even fish options, and so for nearly three days i’ve subsisted on a small quantity of rice, a few beans, some chocolate, and many glasses of fresh juices and tea. Unlike Baku where fruit and vegetable venders occupy every corner, i’ve seen very few venders here and only at the most importune moments when i didn’t want to carry anything.

I’ve been longing for a hearty meal, one where i don’t have to wonder whether what i’m eating once walked. This afternoon, i finally found myself in a vegetarian restaurant and ordered an “almuerza” (literally meaning “lunch.” It’s a set meal that’s typical of all the cafeteria establishments in Quito that comes with soup, rice, some kind of protein, and juice). I devoured it in minutes. And then i ordered another. My first satisfying meal since Sunday… and later, i found the supermarket and bought quinoa, tomatoes and cheese.. which i will make for breakfast tomorrow so that i don’t come to my lessons hungry. My teacher is already used to asking me about whether i finally managed to eat anything :p

The lessons are going well and i like my teacher more. He started smiling and i imagine that sometimes he enjoys himself even. Yesterday we spent almost all the time talking and today we studied irregular verbs in the present tense and one of the 4 past tenses. I bought a book of folk stories in Spanish and read the author’s biography without trouble….although i still cannot talk to people on the street without forgetting almost every word i know…nerves i guess.

As i write this there is music and cheering outside and now it’s time for me to join the night… buenos noches =)

February 17, 2011 at 9:25 pm 4 comments

Quito, first days

Today marks my 2nd day in Ecuador, Quito to be precise, the country’s capital situated 2,700 meters above sea level in the Andes mountains, just 15 miles south of the equator.

The flight from NY was short, maybe too short (because after an hour of sleep i found myself wishing it was one of those long restless flights, where you can sleep until you can’t sleep anymore so you walk around the plane 20 times just to keep your legs from going numb). The flight was direct to Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city near the coast in the east and close to the origin of Ecuador’s #2 import….bananas (crude Amazonian oil is #1)

The flight to Quito takes about 45 minutes, the distance between the cities is slightly more than 400 km. Outside Quito airport i waited for someone from my school to pick me up but no one came…. so after an hour i left, taking a pseudo taxi to the new part of the city where i hoped to find internet and the address of the school… had i felt less stress these past days i might have actually written their phone number and address before i left.. My taxi was actually a family consisting of a padre, madre and a bebe. My Spanish is not good enough to ask what they were doing outside the airport, but i managed to understand that he’d worked in IT before the economy forced him out of a job and that his taxi work supplemented his wife’s teacher salary to support their family of 3 young children.

After nearly 2 hours of exhausting meandering i found my school and was led to the volunteer house where i’ll be living alongside 15 other 20some year olds from Sweden, Holland and Germany. My room has two beds and two windows, the latter forming a right triangle which is ideal for a breeze, although Quito’s cool mountainous air is polluted by the unrelenting exhaust from its busses. The worst offenders are the long red busses that drive along 6 of December boulevard, named after the date that the first Spaniards arrived and began colonizing the country.

This morning, i arrived promptly at 9am for my first Spanish lesson (not a minute early or late, which is really worthy of compliment since i’m always always late for everything) and met my teacher, a guy who never smiles. After an hour of conversation about me, he started using the equipaje (blackboard) to list the uses of “ser.” For every 3-5 minutes that he spent writing on the blackboard, i doodled flowers in my notebook, looked out the window, imagined my plans for the rest of the day, felt sorry for myself because i was hungry, considered my prospects for learning Spanish and the methods of other teachers, before we spent a minute discussing how to properly state your religion and the time. Practically speaking, the blackboard was a waste of time. So i asked him to focus on conversation and use his notepad to sketch difficult words for me. But he never smiled, even at my half-witted attempts at humour in Spanish…

In the evening i went to a salsa lesson at the school which began well enough with my feet and hips coordinating sucinctly to the rythmn of the instructor. And then….. the movements got more complex, and the pace faster, and my body hotter, and i just lost interest, starting to move like a scarecrow would in strong winds. And then….one of the Ecuadorians pulled me aside and very pedantically, and sweetly, taught me the steps. Later, he led the lesson, partnering with me and a tall Norwegian girl (at once), guiding us and spinning us around. I think it was the most fun i’ve ever had dancing a structured dance…

On a less positive note, i’ve been hearing many bad stories about theft in Quito. “Don’t walk alone at night!” “Always take a taxi!” Last night i walked alone until 9pm and may have even seen a robbery. Many hotels in the neighborhood have armed security outside, uniformed men with large rifles. One story that happened recently disturbed me. A gringo with nothing of value on him besides his clothes was accosted by robbers recently who simply took his clothes, leaving him to go home in his underwear and socks. Another story, this one from Isabel in Buenos Aires happened last weekend to her friends. One girl was going to visit the another in a doorman locked building. She rang the intercom and the girl inside opened the door, but as she did so two armed men barged into her apartment and bound both girls, stealing everything of value in the house.

Theft… a way of sharing, albeit a relatively unpleasant one :(

February 16, 2011 at 12:23 am 1 comment


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