Program Director

Learning about our Community

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Having lived in Sangolquí for a year, I thought there were many things which were simply unknown. For example, I always wondered why this valley was called the Los Chillos Valley. I asked and no one seemed to know the answer. While I know a great deal about our community currently, I never fully understood the history behind the area where we work. I finally got the answers I was looking for when community members (once known as my host parents) Christian and Laura came to the Library to give a short talk about the history and culture in Rumiloma, the community where our Library is located. All 10 of us crowded into the darkest room in the Library at 11:00 am, to watch a presentation from Christian. Not only was this talk informative and interesting, but it also helped Program Directors gain perspective on how important our work is here in the Los Chillos Valley. In order to make this post as interesting as the talk actually was, I wanted to provide key takeaways from the story of Rumiloma:

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  1. The larger valley where we live and work is called the Los Chillos Valley, named by the indigenous Mitmakunas who settled in this area in the early 1400’s. The Valley is located in a county known as Rumiñhaui, and Sangolquí is the largest city in this county. Within Sangolquí, there are many neighborhoods. One of these is Rumiloma, where we work on a daily basis!

  2. The County of Rumiñahui is one of the Smallest in Ecuador! It gained its independence in the month of May and has a large celebration each year. It is also surrounded on all sides by the county of Quito!

  3. Rumiloma used to be made up of only 6 families! An area which is now known as being semi-urban with houses occupying almost every block was once all farmland. This farmland was filled with large Haciendas. After wealthy families owned Haciendas, many were ousted from their land for not paying taxes, and the land was then parceled out to community members at a cheap price. The area has grown significantly since this time and now boasts over 100 families.

  4. Rumiloma is known as “a town where people come to sleep” because it is so close to the capital city of Quito. Most individuals work in Quito and Rumiloma is a commuter town. Therefore, during the day the town is filled with kids and mothers, while fathers and women of working age are in Quito working. This is a major reason why so many of our programs at Manna over time have been geared towards Women and Children!

  5. Oswaldo Guayasamin, the famous painter was born in Sangolqui! Although he did not technically live in the Rumiloma area, he was born in the same valley and town where we work. He even created a famous statue to honor his hometown.

The Rumiñahui statue designed and constructed by Oswaldo Guayasamin located in downtown Sangolquí.

The Rumiñahui statue designed and constructed by Oswaldo Guayasamin located in downtown Sangolquí.

After the presentation, we had a question and answer session with Christian and Laura, who have spent a great deal of time living in and researching about this community. Program Directors asked why community members had such an interest in English and what were other community needs here, and received answers that will help shape our programs for the future. This talk not only taught Program Directors about the community where they are working but also explained more about Ecuadorian culture at an early stage in their time here in Ecuador.

 

To learn more about a new culture and be able to have in-depth discussions with community members about their lives and experiences, apply to be a Program Director today!

Celebrating Carnaval in Ecuador

While Ecuadorians celebrate New Years, Easter, Independence Day, and Christmas, no holiday generates quite as much excitement, anticipation, silliness and overall hype as Carnaval. As a foreigner, I had absolutely no idea what to expect, in fact, I did not really even know what Carnaval was – and, boy, did I soon find out!

Historically, Catholics have celebrated Carnaval as a time to indulge in life’s pleasures before a period of solemnity, frugality and fasting in remembrance of Jesus’ suffering on the cross before his death. Therefore, countries around the world celebrate Carnaval with extravagant festivals, elaborate parades, lavish costumes and wild parties in order to “live it up,” so to speak, before the solemn period of Lent. For example, think of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a masquerade festival in Venice or a flashy parade in Rio de Janeiro. While the Ecuadorian Carnaval l may find some roots in Catholicism, a large part of the festivities stem from ancient, indigenous traditions. To commemorate the end of the solar year, certain indigenous tribes would celebrate by throwing decorative flowers, cooking flour and perfumed water into the air. Over time, these indigenous customs were incorporated into the Ecuadorian Carnaval to create an experience unlike any other.

Nowadays, the indigenous practice of tossing up flowers, flour and water has transformed into an all out water war amongst friends, family and pretty much anyone you see on the street. But the battle doesn’t end with water. In some regions, as in Amaguaña, a farming community just outside of Quito, people douse each other with water, flour, foam, paint and even eggs! For many years, there were no rules about “playing Carnaval.” You could get completely soaked walking down the street, at work, on the bus, anywhere. However, in recent years, new regulations prevent people from playing Carnaval in buildings or on public transportation and from soaking strangers. In fact, to conserve water, local authorities encourage the people to use carioca, essentially shaving cream, instead of water (but, as with most laws, the further away you get from the city, the less the regulations are followed!)

Carnaval in Ecuador varies from city to city. One of the most famous Carnavals is in Guaranda, located in the Bolivar province, which is about four hours from Quito. People travel from all around the country to enjoy the colorful, lively parades of this Andean city. In Guaranda, one can experience the unique combination of indigenous and mestizo folk music, art and dance, drink the traditional “pájaro azul” liquor, and take part in one of the most fun street parties of the entire country. A different style of carnaval celebration takes place in Ambato, a nearby town in la Sierra. Here, the people call the celebration, “La Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas.” because the floats of the parade are exclusively decorated with flowers and fruit. On the coast, like in Esmeraldes, Carnaval displays the beauty of the Ecuador’s African American heritage. The parades, food, music, and dancing all reflect the country’s afro-indigenous customs and traditions.

In order to escape the cold of the sierra, we decided to travel to the small beach town of Montañita for our vacation. Little did we know, but what seemed like all of Ecuador was also vacationing in Montañita that weekend as well! Needless to say, the beaches were absolutely packed! For a good chunk of the weekend we squeezed our towels between our fellow beach goers, soaked up the sun and cooled off in the refreshing waves of the Pacific. In town, we found about every type of local and foreign cuisine that you can think of. Street venders sold tons of Ecuadorian food such as tortillas, menestras, pinchos, ceviche, sopas de mariscos, empanadas, juices and smoothies. 

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During the day, Montañita appeared to be a chill, little surf town on the coast, but, at night, it transformed altogether. The streets were packed with people of all ages buying food from vendors, shopping at the artisanal art stands, and, of course, playing Carnaval. The first night, we were completely unarmed and unprepared. Only one of us had carioca (the foam spray) and, as foreigners, we were even greater targets. So, not surprisingly, we all got completely soaked with water and carioca (luckily flour and paint are not as widely used on the coast). We learned our lesson that night and from then on came armed and ready for battle. Every night, we sprayed each other and random strangers on the beach, in the streets and even in the clubs. All in all it was a great, cultural experience. Plus, as a prankster at heart, I had so much fun sneak attacking people with carioca! All in all, it was a fun, relaxing weekend celebrating Carnaval at the beach in Ecuador!


To experience the fun of traveling in another country and learning about holidays and customs, apply to be a Program Director today! 

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.

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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! 

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!