What’s an Hornado Anyways?

This past weekend, MPI Ecuador hosted its annual Hornado Solidario in Rumiloma.  What’s that, you ask? No need to be ashamed.  Just a few weeks ago I, too was an hornado newbie. The quick answer to your question is: a lunch fundraiser with traditional Ecuadorian food.  But don’t get it twisted; this ain’t your typical Firehouse Pancake Breakfast fundraiser.  A LOT more goes into an hornado than you’d think.  What follows below is an explanation of everything that required for a successful Hornado.

1.    The Hornado (duhh!)

Hornado, a signature of Ecuadorian cuisine, refers to a full, roast pig.  And I mean full: head and all. It is to be cooked by a skilled Ecuadorian person (usually a grandmother) and to be served by a skilled Ecuadorian person (usually a grandmother), who has no qualms about ripping off pieces of meat with her hands to serve on plates during the event (see Clemencia below). If you’re lucky, your hornado will come decorated, like ours.

2.    Las Tortillas de Papa (the potatoes)

We bought 200 pounds of potatoes for our Hornado.  For sizing help, 200 pounds of potatoes is enough to fill 3 large garbage cans.  We enlisted the help of our adult English students to help us peel all of them… and were able to finish in less than 2 hours!  We outsourced the boiling and mashing of the potatoes to another skilled Ecuadorian señora, so all that was left to do was to take the 3 garbage cans of mashed potatoes and make them into patties by hand to be fried on the day of the Hornado.  Luckily patty-making is grunt work and doesn’t require Ecuadorian skill (so most PDs and local volunteers were put on patty duty).  The frying of the potatoes, however, was spearheaded by Clemencia’s sister, Blanca.

3.    Mote

It’s a rule that a balanced Ecuadorian plate must contain at least two types of starches.  Simply putting a serving of white rice, corn, verdes (bananas) or potatoes is not sufficient.  You’ve gotta have a combination of them.  Mote is type of corn kernel (much bigger than those that we’re used to in the US) that fits the bill for the second starch of the plate.  It is boiled and cooked before serving.  

4.    Salad

We must have chopped at least 8 heads of lettuce, 50 tomatoes and 30 onions for the salad.  Agrio, or salad dressing, is made from tomatoes, onions, limes, cilantro and brown sugar loaf.  As another sizing estimate, we had enough agrio to fill a medium-sized garbage can!

5.    Great Company!

We served about 300 plates at the Hornado Solidario, before we began running out of food.  We raffled off some prizes that were donated to us, sang karaoke, painted kids’ faces and had a mini bake sale.  None of it would have been possible without the beautiful weather and all the help from community volunteers.  Below are just a few pictures of the great day we shared.

You can also contribute to the fundraising efforts of our Ecuador community by donating here! Type "Hornado" in the comments section. 

The Cuenca Chronicles

If you thought that as 5 volunteers living and working together, we’d want to spend our 3-day vacation apart from each other, you thought wrong!  A couple weeks ago, this group of friends and coworkers (in that order) decided to venture to the beautiful city of Cuenca for a “family vacation” to celebrate Cuenca’s independence. We packed our bags, boarded a plane (after stuffing 5 people into a cab to the airport like a clown car), and landed in the “Europe of Ecuador” ready for a new adventure.  Not only were we in Cuenca to celebrate Cuenca’s Independence, but also Halloween and Ecuador’s Day of the Dead (el Día de los Difuntos).  In honor of our Cuenca escapades, I’ve made a list of the Top 10 Things We Learned in Cuenca.  Read on, learn something… and laugh a bit, too!

10.  Always ask for directions more than once.

We decided as a group to take a day and head to Ingapirca, the Incan ruins. We arrived at the bus stop where, after asking directions for 10 minutes, we finally found a bus headed in some direction. After an hour on the first bus, we were instructed to get off. From there we were told to take another bus, but it was very unclear which one to take.  We waited. We asked again. We waited. We bought chips and soda. We then got on a bus we thought might be headed in the right direction and finally, after another hour on the bus, we thankfully began seeing signs for Ingapirca.  

9.  Donning wigs and dancing like crazy people is fun whether you’re the only ones doing it or not.

For Halloween, we brought our wigs from our Scooby Doo Gang costumes (very red, very blonde, very bright) from Sangolqui to Cuenca. I think we wore the wigs more than we didn’t- and didn’t regret it for a second!

8.  McDonald's is wayyyyyyyy better in Ecuador.

No explanation needed.

7.  Buying concert tickets at a lentils restaurant is not strange.

In fact, it’s completely normal. After wandering for an hour trying to find the Estadio Doña Menestra (Mrs. Lentils stadium) to buy the tickets for the Chino y Nacho concert we wanted to go to, we stumbled upon the Doña Menestra’s restaurant next to the stadium.  Only half joking, we walked into the restaurant to ask about the tickets… and bought them right there at the counter where other people were ordering their lentils.  Not weird at all.  

6.  ATMs are mean.

Plain and simple. After Ayzsa realized her card was not broken, but rather all of the 6 ATMs she had tried were, we all tried the same ones. We were down to our last 5 dollars collectively when we finally saw the golden arches of banks- the Bank of Pichincha. Life improved dramatically afterward.

5.  Not all who wander are lost.

We spent one entire day just wandering the streets of Cuenca. Because of the festivals, there were street vendors selling all kinds of foods, drinks and artisanry. There is also a river running through practically the entire city that made for a beautiful walk.   While wandering, we saw a sign pointing to Incan ruins in the city. We decided to follow it and ended up at a HUGE and incredible ruin site (which looked nothing like the photo and we later realized was in fact, not the place we were looking for). This was easily one of the coolest things we saw/did while we were there and we actually stumbled upon it. We spent over two hours wandering the ruins and gardens which lay below.

View from the Mirador.jpg

4. It’s okay to eat at the same restaurant more than once.

We found a joint called Chiplote. Yes, you read that right. Not only did Chiplote have the best atmosphere (Reggaeton music from speakers and The Theory of Everything muted playing on the TV screens simultaneously), but the food is to die for. A burrito with French fries inside? Totally worth the second visit.

3.  Concerts are fun.

If you don’t know the words, Ecuadorians might yell at you. Fake it ‘til you make it.

2.   If you haven’t showered in a shower with lights, a radio, and jets which literally come from every direction, you haven’t lived.

This is not a drill.  We are still trying to figure out how to bring this magical showering experience from our Cuenca hotel to the Manna Ecuador House.

1. Traveling is truly a blast.

Traveling with friends makes for some of the best memories of your life. Do it often, and make it count!

See yourself traveling around Ecuador? Apply now! 

The Scoop on Ecuadorian Junk Food

I’ll admit... this title is a bit misleading.  Most of the junk food that exists in Ecuador is the same junk food that exists in the United States.  What makes it Ecuadorian is the experience of choosing and buying it, AKA the ridiculously low price of it and the fact that it is (dangerously) available on practically every street corner. Lucky for you, you’ve got me to help you navigate through all your future guilty Ecuadorian junk food purchases.  Let’s dive in.

Pictured below is your typical corner store. There’s usually a fridge for ice cream, a fridge for drinks, racks for cookies, crackers and chips and shelves for the 18+ items (mainly boxed wine – which tastes like the box itself - and the occasional bottle of liquor). To avoid early onset diabetes (which is a serious impending doom many tourists face upon arrival because of the prevalence of such corner stores), I’ve detailed some do’s and don’ts, some price ranges and some tricks and tips to help you out.

Perhaps what makes junk food purchases the most difficult here is that nutrition facts are fairly nonexistent.  Some products contain nutrition facts, but the majority of them just have labels in red, yellow or green that tell you that a product is alto, medio or bajo (high, medium or low) in sal, grasa or azucar (salt, fat, sugar).  Kiss your concrete numbers good bye; Ecuador only gives you a rough idea of how much damage you’re doing to your arteries.  I know it’s hard, but you’re going to have to exercise all the self-control you promised yourself you’d have…from all your New Years’ Resolutions combined.

Ice cream:

Topsy Bars

Your typical vanilla ice cream and chocolate shell.  Particularly dangerous because it can be finished in about 5 bites and only costs $0.30… which naturally begs the question… why not just buy two?  Sixty cents and 10 bites? That math totally adds up.

Magnum

These are a splurge. Think designer ice cream bars.  Comes in either coffee-chocolate or strawberry.  I have yet to hear praise for the strawberry bar, so if it’s a treat yo’self day and you’re willing to drop the $1.25, pick the former.

Bon ice

These might single-handedly be fueling the energy of the youth of Ecuador. $0.15 ice pops.  All flavors… and practically all you can eat because of the price. Perfect for if you need a lil’ somethin’ somethin’ that’s cold.

Topsy Cones

One-buck-chuck’s. Fairly fancy: cone with ice cream and chocolate syrup, sometimes with M&Ms on top. Sometimes get soggy in the packaging and never truly fills me up. Not sure about the calories, but I tend to think it’s more economical to get two of the Topsy Bars instead… and still have change to spare!

Drinks:

Soda

Usual suspects are available.  250mL bottles all the way up to the 2L bad boys.  You can feel less guilty and quench your caffeine cravings all for $0.50!

Water 

Hardly ever more than $0.50, unless you’re in a particularly touristy area.  No excuse not to hydrate.

Guitig

Carbonated water.  When you ask for water it’s important to specify “sin gas” or “con gas.” Don’t forget that detail!

Manzana Soda

(Apple Soda).  Step awayyyy from the bottle.  It’s a horrendous combination of sugar and DayQuil and food coloring.  They love it here. I guarantee you won’t.

220V

Energy drink.  Also tastes like liquid candy.  Far better flavor than Manzana, though.  Chances are, if you need the energy that badly, you’ll endure the sugar overload.

Snacks:

Crackers

Ritz are available, as are Salticas (think Ecuadorian Ritz knock-off).  Prices are usually about the same…Salticas are slightly healthier (smaller in size, less buttery).  Of all the snacks to buy at a tienda, I recommend staying away from crackers.  You will inevitably come down with a stomach bug in your time here and end up on a strict cracker diet.  Best not to get sick of them before they’re all you eat for a week straight.

Oreos 

Rather dangerous because they are only $0.50.  Almost never Doubled Stuffed, so in my humble Oreo connoisseur opinion, no sense in bothering with plain old Oreos, even if they are only fifty cents.

Chips Ahoy

Hard to come by! If you see them, don’t think twice! Buy them!!

Amor Wafers 

Never a bad choice.  You can have your pick from vanilla, chocolate, lime and strawberry.  Solid impulse-buy.

Chifles

Banana chips. Probably one of the best purchases you could make from a tienda. They come in personal bags as well as family size bags.  Be prepared for the addiction. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Picante (or spicy) chifles are the move if you want a little more zest in your life.  

Yucca Chips

Stay away from these. They are merely a constant disappointment when compared to the magic of chifles.

K-Chitos

Essentially cheese doodles.  Stable party snack.  Great to munch on on long bus rides.  Majority of the time we only buy them because we like saying “K-Chitos.”

Yogurt

Comes in small packages (think Danimals) or bigger containers with granola or cookies on top. Great idea if you’re in a hurry and want to pretend you’re being healthy.  Just be warned that these containers come with a plastic spoon (a VERY TINY plastic spoon), so it will certainly take you longer than you’d like to finish this yogurt.

Candy:

Manicho

$0.50 chocolate and peanut bars.  Life-changing. Ecuadorians like to hold them in their hands for a while until they melt and then eat them like Go-Gurt. I prefer my chocolate bars solid, but if you’re feeling adventurous, I say go for it. As if a $0.50 chocolate bar wasn’t problematic enough, Manicho also comes in King Size boxes with at least 10 bars in them, for about $2.  Self-control, people.

Lollipops (Chupetes)

Another $0.15 purchase.  Generally only available in flavors like cherry and grape. Unless you’re a lollipop addict, need to use up the 15 pennies you have lying around or have a small child to please, you can generally stay away from chupetes.

Kit-Kats and M&Ms

They exist, but taste different.  If you’re really missing chocolate from home, buy it, but chances are you’ll be slightly disappointed.  Stick to Manicho.

Panaderias:

If you’re lucky (or unlucky depending on how you see it) many tiendas double as panaderias, or bakeries. It is nearly impossible to walk by a panaderia and not stop in to make a quick, guilty purchase after being unwillingly subjected to the heavenly scent of the sweet, fresh bread.  What’s worse, almost every piece of bread costs a mere $0.30.  Better start lovin’ your love handles.  Below is a quick list of the usual carbolicious teases you’ll encounter:

Standard rolls

Come in white or wheat.  Always soft and warm.  Sometimes come in other shapes (braids, buns, etc.)  

Pineapple or guava bread

More like a pastry (on the flakier side). Has a sweet yellow filling (can be pineapple or guava).  Both are delicious… if you’ve got allergies to either one, make sure you ask before just blindly grabbing something!

Cheese bread

These are usually called empanadas (even though they look like your standard roll).  They come with sugar on top, which is an incredible combination with the salty cheese. This is highly recommended!!

Croissants

Flakey, buttery, soft and warm.  There is really no better combination of adjectives.  Croissants are obviously delicious, but for the sense of practicality, I’d avoid staying away from them because there’s no neat way to eat a croissant.  If you grab one to eat on the bus, only 50% of it will end up in your stomach… the other 50% will end up on your stomach.

Chocolate bread

This is a bit of a disappointment.  It always looks better than it tastes.  I’m not sure what it is about the chocolate that’s used for this bread… but it usually lets me down.

Corn muffins

It’s not very often that you see these, so if you do stumble upon it, by all means BUY IT AND EAT IT!

Consider spending some time in Ecuador to try these tasty treats yourself! Learn more about Manna Project's volunteer opportunities on with our upcoming online info session on Monday, November 21st at 8PM EST. Join the Info Session here: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/766371197 

Seventy-Two Memorable Hours in Colombia

One of the many perks of being a Program Director is being able to travel around and outside of Ecuador on our off days.  I fully took advantage of this during the holiday weekend of Guayaquil’s Independence by traveling to Colombia.  As both a history and current events buff, I knew Colombia would make an interesting trip because of its recent developments in finalizing a peace deal with its long-time civil war opponent Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

It would not have been possible to truly see the beauty of Bogotá and the areas surrounding it without the help of hostel owner, Lili.  While I was there, she was also hosting study abroad students from Mexico and a backpacker from Finland.  Lili showed complete Colombian hospitality with the added bonus of helping me practice my conversational Spanish and pronunciation.

                                                        Vincent and Lili

                                                        Vincent and Lili

Early on my first morning, I left the city and traveled north to Zipaquirá to visit Catedral de Sal. Yes, you read that right: an underground salt cathedral in a cave. After a tour of the cathedral, I walked around the historic center and enjoyed some true Colombian arepas.

On my second day, I traveled just an hour outside Bogotá to a town called Choachí, which holds the tallest waterfall in Colombia (La Chorrera).  It stands at 590 meters (1935 feet) and is such a beautiful sight to behold.  Lili brought some of the other hostel guests on a day trip of hiking and swimming.  La Chorrera was one of the most incredible landscapes I’ve seen, and I was so surprised that I didn’t see more tourists along the hike coming to visit such a natural wonder.

Of course, a trip to Colombia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Historic Center.  This was an area I was looking forward to seeing, not only because of its history but also because of the high attention it's been given during Colombia’s recent political developments.  We made our way through museums, some of Bogotá’s first restaurants, oldest universities and colonial-era government buildings. Perhaps most interesting was passing the peaceful campers protesting in Bolívar Square.

Despite only spending three days in Colombia, I was quickly able to realize how warm-hearted Colombians are and how deep of a history Colombia has. I will always be grateful to Lili for making my trip unforgettable, and I hope to return as soon as I can.  

See yourself spending a weekend in Colombia? Apply now! 

Climbing Guagua Pichincha

Where do I even begin to explain the day I decided to climb a 4781m mountain-volcano-crater combo? Let’s start with its name, shall we? Aside from its alliteration and rhyme scheme being on point, it’s also a chance for you to pick up some Ecuadorian slang, so pay close attention! The mountain we climbed is called Guagua Pichincha; guagua is a word for baby (although the mountain was anything but a baby).  The name stems from some riveting folklore (that I’ve already forgotten because my guide explained it to me when I was thousands of feet in the air and completely out of breath) involving alien abduction, a worried father, and some drama with the surrounding sibling mountains. Guambrita, or guambra, is another Andean term used to describe a “youthful” person. So, to translate: American Youth Takes on Baby Mountain Volcano Thing. Now that that’s cleared up, we can dive into the actual events of the day.  

To start, let me share a little bit about me.  I’m athletically challenged, I have a slight fear of heights and I hate the outdoors. Given these characteristics, it is questionable as to why I decided to put on a helmet and harness and wrap myself in ropes to risk my little life scaling rocks for hours. I actually had no idea what I was signed up for until morning of when I decided (unfortunately) to google what the mountain actually was.  That’s when I found out that good ol’ Guagua Pichincha was actually an active volcano (but that I shouldn’t worry because its last eruption was all the way back in 1999).  A Wikipedia page had never freaked me out so much. 

Despite that “minor” concern, we were certainly given the best conditions for the climb.  We left at about 7am to begin the 2-hour drive through Quito to the reserve at the base of the mountain. It was quite possibly the clearest day I have ever seen ever in Ecuador. We were able to see every mountain and volcano across the horizon, including Chimborazo (the highest volcano in Ecuador and hardest to climb). There are almost no words to explain how incredible that view was; photos can barely do it justice.  

Upon reaching the reserve we were met by a team of mountain guides training for their International Guide certification. They handed us all of our (somewhat terrifying) equipment and we began almost immediately with the rock-scaling.  It was uphill for hours.  We were attached to our guides by ropes; they would go ahead up a rock face and after being given the “all clear” we would follow.  I was lucky enough to have Diego, one of the best rock climbers, as my mountain guide.  He was extremely patient with my lack of rock climbing grace, especially when I was expected to take bigger steps than my tiny legs could reach.  Every now and then we’d stop to eat a quick snack, grab some water and take in the views.  The higher up we climbed, the colder it got and the harder it was to breathe.  Great combination, I know.

Everything was a first for me that day. Everything. From the incredibly unstylish orange helmet to the act of wearing a harness to the rock climbing itself to the REPELLING DOWN THE SIDE OF A CLIFF. Yup, you read that right.  My life was completely in Diego’s hands every time I had to repel. 

Aside from a few scrapes and bruises and an unbelievably sore body, I made it out on top – literally. We climbed three different summits that day, and each one was more incredible than the previous one.  None of my friends or family could believe that I actually climbed a mountain when I told them.  I do know one thing though – I’d DEFINITELY do it all over again. All of it: the repelling, the tripping down the mountain during the descent (even with walking poles) and the seeing my life flash before my eyes every 30 seconds.  I’ve never been more proud of myself than I was that day. I highly recommend climbing something, anything, while in Ecuador, especially if it’s out of your comfort zone.  I promise it will change your life.  

See yourself climbing mountains in Ecuador? Apply now!