This past weekend was a ball! Friday the 9th marked the 21st birthday of group member of our´s and friend, Jennifer. She is originally from Albany, NY and is an education major, she has become a good friend of mine. To celebrate we spent Friday evening at Baños de Cuenca. Baños are a set of hot springs surrounded by the hostel in which we stayed for an inexpensive 14.00. This stay also included relaxing in the steam showers, a wonderful birthday dinner, breakfast in bed, and dancing at a nearby discoteque! It was so enjoyable and so beautiful. it located near downtown...15 minute cab ride from my home. We returned Saturday afternoon. Gualeceo and Chordeleg, two neighboring villages about 45 minutes north of Cuenca were the destinations of our Sunday day trip. On the way to Gauleceo we stopped briefly to look at the aftermath of a devastating landslide that took place in the mid 1990´s. Although it took place over ten years ago, it is apparent that nature is still slowly reconstructing itself. The landslide was caused by a number of reasons: the region immediately north of Cuenca is a gold and silver mining area, such industry can be really hard on land, making it very loose and vulnerable to nature´s toll, excessive rainfall that year, additionally that land being histoircally volcanic made it especially unstable.
We proceeded to a small village, specifically to a home owned by a family of weavers whose specialty was the creation of clothing products such as sweaters, scarves, and belts... beautiful hand woven materials, realy, really impressive we were also able to see a five-minute demonstration. I purchased three items as gifts. We then went to Gualeceo, a larger town of 30,000 people with a large open-air market. On Sundays, most families do not spend time preparing meals and therefore will go and purchase all their food for that particular day fresh. This market was massive and included and area designated for fresh fruit, vegetables, wheat, rice, and mote (large white corn used as a condiment in almost all helpings of soup). These products could be found on the bottom floor, on the top floor one could find the meat market...oh my jeepers, how does one even begin to describe this. Okay, so I reached the top level, I look to my immediate right and I see the full body or shall I say carcass of a pig. There were rows upon rows, upon rows of these pig carcasses. At each station were women preparing meals or dishes from each pig. I can´t wait to share photos...as there were also stations in which butchers were presenting their finest beef products. Dead cow carcasses, legs, ears, feet all in tact and clearly distinguishable as to what it was one was looking at.
If any of you are aware of the book the Jungle, written by Sinclair in the 1920´s it was this relived in more vivd form. I have never wanted so deperately to revert to vegetarianism, unfortunately that has to wait until my return in May. We left the market and went to Chordeleg, a neighboring town famous for its silver and gold distributors, I purchased a few gifts. We spent an hour there and quite frankly there was nothing much more notable than that...it has just evolved into a tourist destination or at least a destination for those in search of quality silver, gold, and other gems.
We returned to Gualeceo for lunch and then headed back to Cuenca.
I spent the evening studying for my first Spanish test...AGH!!! I am reluctant to even write about it...it was upsetting...intense and long...more so than any exam I have ever had the pleasure of taking in college!
So today, Moday, marks the week of Carnaval, a Catholic-realted tradition. As mentioned in my previous entry Carnaval is a four-day national holiday that falls over February 17th-20th. Although Carnaval festivities take place all throughout the month February, the week leading up to Carnaval is especially intense and wet. I cannot tell you them number of times I have had to run from small children carrying water balloons or children equipped with small water guns. Yesterday, infact, while on my way home from our day trip was pelted with a water balloon by an on-coming car. It was painful! Of course those types of circumstances are nearly unpreventable as they are quite sneaky...it seriously left a welt on left part of my chest.
Fortunately, the location to where we are travelling, Baños Ambatos only throw perfume and flowers to celebrate Carnaval. We depart early Saturday morning by bus and will return to Cuenca on Tuesday.
Here´s some more information on Carnaval:
-Carnaval is an indigenous tradition, it originated long before the arrival of Catholicism and the Spaniards
-Carnaval was originally called Pawka Raim, to honor "Mother Earth"
-The throwing of water symbolizes the celebration of the abundance of water, crops, the purity of Mother Earth
-By throwing a water balloon one is really sharing the happiness of Earth´s productivity
-Four days of feasting on the abundance of crops before the Lenten fast...Ash Wednesday is the day immeidately following the end of Carnaval.
Also this week is El Dia de San Valentine, Valentine´s Day, in Ecuador however, it honored more often as El Dia de Amistad, The Day of Friendship, it is not as romantically focused here and it is overshadowed by the excitement of Carnaval. It simply is not as huge of a deal here however, we are exchanging cards and small messages between our group of friends. In is customary to present a small gesture to your parents as well.
Until next time...