A Pacific coast New Year’s

I hear there’s a cold snap in North America at the moment – I hate to rub it in, but the weather here on the Equator is pretty amazing as always. I like to say that here in Quito it is eternal springtime: pretty much all year long you can expect highs of about 70 degrees, mostly sunny skies, and a chance of rain. Like many Quiteños, I decided to descend from the Andes and head towards the warmer climate of the coast to celebrate New Year’s. Gaby (my girlfriend of about a month in case you didn’t see my last post) and I traveled to Canoa, a small little beach town near the city of Bahia de Caráquez.

It was fantastic to spend five days on the beach. Canoa had plenty of people around, but it wasn’t super crowded like some beaches here in Ecuador can be during holidays. The temperatures were warm throughout our time there, and for the most part there was pretty good sun. However, the best part about being on the Pacific was simply the fact that I really didn’t think about work, or nearly anything for that matter, for five days. It was super relaxing, and a much needed breather before diving into a lot of work during this first month of 2014. I won’t spend too much time writing about this trip, but rather let some pictures speak for me:

The other fantastic part about being on the coast, especially in the province of Manabí, was the food! I love me some meat, rice, and potatoes, which are the staples of the Andean diet – but the food on the coast of Ecuador is so refreshing by comparison! Every day we ate fresh dishes made with fish, shrimp, or other seafood, and our share of plantains (usually fried in some way!). Here are a few highlights, with some pictures following:

– Encocado: Fish or shrimp in a delicious sauce made with milk and plenty of coconut.

– Ceviche: Fresh fish, shrimp, or clams (or all three!) mixed with lime juice and lots of tomato and onion.

– Corviche: A fried delicacy! A dough made from plantains, formed into an oblong shape, stuffed with a bit of fish, and deep fried!

– Arroz Marinero: A huge pile of basically fried rice, with tons of seafood.

– Emborrajados: Battered and deep fried plantains cut length-wise into strips. Essentially Ecuadorian fair food!

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My new favorite “hueca de Quito”

Having spent several formative years in high school and college working at a classic small-town diner, I definitely appreciate a good local eatery. Several months ago I came across a very cool blog called “Huecas de Quito.” Unfortunately the site hasn’t been updated in about a year, but the premise is noteworthy nonetheless. “Hueca” literally translates to hole, but in this case more specifically refers to hole-in-the-wall. Huecas de Quito is a collection of posts about visits to various cevicherías, mom & pop restaurants, juice stands, and other small eateries throughout the city. I love the idea, because these are all spots that you never see written about in guide books and on very few other websites. I’d love to visit as many of these “Huecas” as possible, but with my current work schedule, that project has been pushed to a back-burner.

However, I recently found a hole-in-the-wall that will probably become one of my favorite spots in the city. Cafe Aguila de Oro is not your typical coffee shop. There are various cafes in Quito where you can pick up decent cup of coffee, from small, singular shops to chains that resemble Starbucks (which fortunately doesn’t exist here, nor its Pumpkin Spice Latte monstrosity). However, Cafe Aguila de Oro is unique because you can’t buy a cup of coffee – there’s no espresso, drip, French press, lattes, cappuccinos – the only product that they offer is freshly toasted bulk coffee. The simplicity is beautiful – just $6.00 a pound (up to half the price of comprable coffees in groceries stores here) for one of three options: Light, Medium, and Dark. You can get it in whole bean or they’ll grind it for you right there in house…and that’s where your choices end.

I think one reason that I like Cafe Aguila de Oro so much is that going there feels like you’re stepping back in time. It is situated in Quito’s historic center, right behind the Presidential Palace. I can only imagine what this place would’ve been like 50 years ago or more – but my imagination is helped by the old-school machinery (even the cash register is a classic) and retro designs. Probably the reason that I dig this place the most, though, is that I’m a self-admitted coffee addict, and I’m always looking for new places to get decent beans. Looks like Cafe Aguila de Oro will be my go-to shop for the next while.

A trip to Manabí

July 2

I begin writing this post from an office at Universidad Técnica de Manabí in Portoviejo. I’m here on a site visit, which is one of my varied responsibilities with WorldTeach. On Sunday I flew to Manta, a port city that lies on Ecuador’s pacific coast, and from there took a bus 45 minutes inland to PortoV (as it’s name is often abbreviated by WT volunteers). While here on this site visit, I’m visiting two volunteers – observing their classes, meeting with our contact at the university, checking in with the volunteers’ host families, and taking the volunteers out to dinner. I’ve also had the chance to interview a couple of new families who are interested in being hosts for WorldTeach volunteers.

This is now my third site visit in my first seven weeks working with WorldTeach. I’ve already been to Esmeraldas and Ambato – my old stomping grounds. These site visits are a great experience – I’m able to see various parts of the country, and traveling keeps this job really interesting. It’s a blast to meet with volunteers, see what their teaching sites are like, and give them ideas to help improve their teaching. At the same time, going on these trips can be tiring, but it’s definitely worth it.

Apart from site visits, my WorldTeach schedule in Quito has been full as well. After two busy weeks of training in May, I’ve also helped lead a couple of conferences. First, we had a three-day End-of-Service conference for the September 2012 volunteers who will be leaving the country soon. And just recently we wrapped up a more extensive five-day orientation for this year’s summer volunteers, who will be in country for eight weeks. Both conferences were very busy, but ran smoothly, and they were great ways to get to know volunteers and help facilitate a positive experience for them here in Ecuador. This schedule is definitely tiring, but I’ll take it any day over just sitting at a desk in an office every day.

July 4

I’m finishing up this post while sitting in the waiting area at the small Manta airport. I came back to Manta yesterday and was able to see a few volunteers here. First, I checked in with the two summer volunteers who have hardly been here a week, and are living and teaching at a local Catholic parish here in the city. Then in the evening I met up with a September 2012 volunteer who is just about to wrap up her time teaching at Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manabí. Though it was a brief visit to this city, it was nice to check in with the volunteers who are here.

This morning I awoke about half an hour before my alarm to sun shining through the window of my hostel room and the sound of early morning traffic in the street below. After laying on my bit-too-firm bed for a few minutes, I got up and decided to head out in search of some grub. I wandered down to the nearby Tarqui beach, which I’d been to once before, and where I knew I could find some breakfast.

As I neared the sand I caught the acrid fishy smell that is common to coastal cities such as Manta, and knew I was headed in the right direction – towards the local fish market. Every morning on the east end of the beach, you can find local fishermen pulling their boats and haul onto the shore, and subsequently cleaning their catch right there on the beach. Up on a concrete slab above the sand sits the fish market – an open air pavilion full of stands where vendors hawk everything from tuna and sea bass to octopus and shellfish. I knew this wasn’t a common place for tourists to wander, because the vendors were even trying to get the passing blue-eyed gringo to purchase something.

After snapping some photos, I sat down at a little stall at the edge of the market to eat some breakfast – a bowl of encebollado and freshly made tamarind juice. Encebollado is possibly my favorite breakfast food in this country – a tomato broth loaded with yucca, tuna, onions, and cilanto – and in today’s version fresh shrimp as well. I walked away satisfied and full, and with just $3.85 missing from my pocket. I continued walking down to the boatyard, where workers were getting an early start building wooden fishing boats right there on the beach.

I slowly made my way back to my hostel, with a great experience in mind as I make my way back to the Sierra and life in Quito.