A fantastic Christmas…

Even though I was a long way from friends and family, this week has been great and I had a fantastic Christmas Eve and Day here in Quito! Christmas is a big deal here, just as in the States, and many of the same traditions are present that we usually see up north. There are trees, lights, and other decorations, lots of people shopping, holiday music being played (often in English), and even appearances by St. Nicolas himself. For me, the biggest reason that it doesn’t quite feel like the holiday season is the weather. There really aren’t seasons here, so it’s not snowy, or even cold, in December. It’s basically the same weather as any other time of the year – mostly sunny, chance of rain, and a daily high of 70ish degrees. Though the lack of snow may change the holiday spirit a bit, I’ll take the weather in Quito over the cold and snow any day!

The biggest surprise this week has been how much turkey I’ve eaten – it has felt more like Thanksgiving than Christmas! I had a turkey dinner with some friends on Monday night, another on Tuesday night, turkey sandwiches for breakfast on Wednesday morning, leftovers today, and there’s still more to eat tomorrow! It’s reminded me of that oh-so-unfortuante scene in THE Christmas movie. Speaking of which, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been glad to have seen both A Christmas Story and Elf, two of my favorite holiday movies.

My celebration of Christmas started on Tuesday evening, when I met my girlfriend, Gaby, after she was done with work at we opened a couple of presents together. (Because I know you’re wondering, Gaby is from Quito and we’ve been seeing each other for nearly a month. She speaks very good English, which makes for an awesome bilingual relationship. Things are going great for us, so you’ll likely hear more about her in future posts.) We ate some crepes and drank some coffee at a local cafe as we opened gifts, which is a Christmas tradition I could easily get behind. My parents had sent me a gift, a nice picture of our family, and my stocking – so opening those things made it feel like I was just a little bit closer to home.

After opening gifts with Gaby, I went to my former host family’s house for dinner and more gift-opening. One of my host brothers dressed up as Santa and passed out all of the gifts. Not surprisingly, his two-year-old son was pretty frightened by the white-bearded, red-suited strange man, though no one could tell him that it was actually his dad. After opening presents and eating a delicious dinner, we played some Scrabble until about 2:30 in the morning, and I crashed at their house for the night. Though it wasn’t my own family, it was wonderful to spend some time in that family environment on Christmas Eve, especially with a family with whom I have a strong connection.

On Christmas Day I slept in a bit and had breakfast with my old host family. Afterwards I was happy to get to Skype with my parents, brother, and grandma when I was back at my house. Despite being far away, it’s amazing how much those video chats can give you a connection to home. Around midday, Gaby and I went to the historic center of Quito and met up with Dave, Eliana, and Kaleth, and Dave’s friend Alejandro, who was visiting from Mexico. We did a bit of sightseeing in the center and then went up to the Panecillo, a hill that over looks the whole city. It was awesome to be up there on Christmas day and admire the amazing city that I get to call home.

All it all it’s been an amazing week, though I do wish I could have been home and spent some time with family, but I know that I’ll get to visit them soon! Today and tomorrow I’m back at work – where it’s really hard to stay motivated at the moment! And then on Saturday I’m headed to the beach with Gaby and some other friends to spend a long weekend and celebrate New Year’s. I’ll try to post about that trip soon after we return. Until then, enjoy a couple of pictures from Christmas below:

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A few pics of my new digs…

In my last post I wrote about moving into a new house, and included just one picture of a view from the patio. This week I’ve fully moved in, gotten my things in order, purchased a new bed, and took a few pictures of the place. Check them out below, and come visit Quito and you can hang out at my house in person!

A move, local festivities, and, as always, bike riding…

Wow, the past two weeks have passed super quickly! I guess they’ve passed quickly because of been really busy, thus I naturally have several things to write about. So, here are a few updates:

The biggest thing that has happened over the past couple of weeks is that I moved to a new house! After finishing up the conference that happened over Thanksgiving weekend, I immediately started packing up my things and on the following Wednesday I moved into my new digs. After things changed a bit at work, and I was left as the lone Field Director in the WorldTeach office, things started getting solitary – I was spending a lot of time solo, both at the office and at home. So, as the 6-month lease on my old apartment was ending after November, I started to look around at possibilities of sharing a house. I wound up finding something on Craigslist, which really isn’t used too much here in Ecuador. I wasn’t sure at first about finding housemates in that somewhat random way, but after visiting the house a couple of times and meeting the guys who live there, I was confident that it would be a nice place to live.

I’ve moved from the west side of the city to the east, and am now living in the Bellavista neighborhood, which is fantastic. It’s still pretty close to my work, and my house is sandwiched between Parques Metropolitano and Carolina, two of the biggest parks in the city. I’m really happy because the house is just way bigger than the place I had before. And, I’m sharing this space with a couple of great guys, one from Peru and the other from Argentina. They also have a black lab, Lola, and a little cat, 3D, so it’s great to have a couple of animals around the house. I don’t have many pictures of the house yet, but I’m sure I’ll take and post more in the future.

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Another highlight of the past couple of weeks was the celebration of 6 de Diciembre. December 6th marks the foundation of Quito, which occurred in 1534. So, this year Quiteños celebrated their city’s 479th birthday the anyone would, with a week-long party. Naturally, the city was basically shut down on the 6th, which fell nicely on a Friday this year. But there were festivities all throughout the week leading up to that day, with everything from concerts, to parades, to traditional wooden car races (basically Quito’s version of soap box derby racing, but way less safe). On Thursday the 5th, I had a blast participating in an AlleyCat bike race, and then checking out some concerts at Parque Bicentenario (which is located on the site of the old airport). Unfortunately I only have a picture from the beginning of the bike race, but basically it was an urban scavenger hunt, that included about a dozen tasks all throughout the city – from singing the Hymn of Guayaquil in a public plaza (which was like blasphemy during this holiday) to getting a piece of grilled intestine from a street food vendor (which is delicious by the way!). These races are done in pairs, and Dave and I proudly arrived in 6th place, out of 21 total teams.

The other popular way to celebrate 6 de Diciembre is by riding on a “chiva,” which is basically an open-air party bus. There are some chivas in Quito year-round, but at the beginning of December basically all the chivas in Ecuador come to the capital and are rented out by groups. Throughout the week leading up the 6th, I saw chivas rolling around town starting at about noon every day – apparently companies will rent them out for staff parties, which occur in the afternoons. I went out on a chiva on Friday night with a group of friends, which was a blast. We enjoyed some “canelazo,” a hot, spiced drink made with sugarcane alcohol and fruit juice, tried to keep our balance while dancing in a moving vehicle, and stayed mostly dry as rain fell outside.

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Finally, another highlight of late was an awesome bike trip that I took yesterday. I went with one of my housemates, his girlfriend, and one of her friends, and we rode a great route that was over 50 km in total. From Quito we went east and descended past the beautiful Guápulo Church and into the valleys where several Quito suburbs are. From there we hopped onto the Chaquiñan Trail, which is a 20km trail designed for bike and pedestrian use. It’s basically a rails-to-trails project, so throughout the ride we saw old railroad tracks and went through a few really cool tunnels. There was plenty of elevation gain and loss, so it was definitely challenging, but it was also a blast. And, it just felt great to get out of the city and ride in an area where the air is much cleaner. Enjoy some photos from the ride below:

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