I left the states very early on the morning of the 28th. I was worried that my flights would be cancelled because of all the snow. But thankfully they were mostly on time (which means they are all delayed so I never missed any). And my bags made it too! Both of the layovers felt like a close call on the luggage front.
Then I arrived in Quito at midnight and met my sister and max. We headed to our hostel and crashed for the night. Only after buying water of course. It is the best way to prevent altitude sickness. In the morning we woke up and had a lovely breakfast at the hostel. Then I snagged us a $12 cab ride to the terminal (he wanted us to pay $20. Never underestimate my cab negotiating skills. Once they learn you can speak some Spanish and you know how much the taxi should cost, they turn quiet). Kaytee and Max experienced their first bus ride through the Sierra of Ecuador. It was really pretty but it rained over Cotopaxi so they never got to see it.
After that they ate their first Ecua-lunch and surprisingly enjoyed it. Then we took a hair-raising bus ride to Zimbahua. It was like a rollercoaster! I could barely look out the window. Once we made it to Latacunga we hitched a camioneta (spelling?) to Quilotoa. We got in too late to see the lake that night so we just went to a friendly local artist's house and bought some art. Then we ate a communal dinner at the hostel and Kaytee and Max tried popcorn with soup. It's really good!
Funny story: I went into a store to buy a drink and looked around for the owner. There were a few people in the store and one looked at me and said the drink was $.75. He then asked if I had lotion because he needed some. He said he would trade me the drink for the lotion. He really seemed to need it so I agreed. A little bit later someone comes running after me and tells me that isn't his shop and I still owe $.75. Lucky kid who got the lotion for free...
That night we slept in a very cold cabin. I had 5 blankets and 4 layers of clothes. We were so cold because our fire kept dying. Thankfully my sister was brave enough to go and say "no hay fuego, esta muy frio!" So the ladies came and helped us build a bigger fire.
The next morning we went to Quilotoa. My sister woke up with a terrible headache so we only walked around a little bit of it. It was gorgreous! You can hike all the way around it (5 hours) or down it (40 minutes). The hike back up seems pretty brutal so they offer donkeys. Someday I want to go back and try the donkey thing.
Next we traveled to Banos. We didn't do too much that first afternoon because we were tired but the next day we took an awesome chiva down the waterfall highway. We stopped at a bunch of waterfalls and took tarabitas across the canyon. My sister and Max were chickens for the first one but they braved up for the second one. The biggest waterfall was called Machay and you had to hike down this killer hill to get to it. They whole time we were going down Kaytee and I kept saying "this is going to be hard to get back up." In the end it was worth it because the waterfall was beautiful. (Side note: the tour guide said it was a relatively easy hike and took about 15 minutes to get down and un poco mas tiempo to return. Yea, right. It was more like 30 minutes down and an hour back up. Ecuas are so crazy sometimes. Luckily he did warn people with heart conditions not to go). After the chiva we had a great lunch at a restaurant overlooking all of Banos. Delicious food and great view!
That night was año viejo (new year's eve). Everyone had masks and made muñecas (dolls) to burn. The street was filled with all kinds of dolls from spiderman to king kong to princesses. At midnight they light the dolls on fire and then jump over the burning piles of goo. It's insane! They also attach wishes for the new year to the dolls. It's a neat tradition. I was shocked by how many kids stayed out for this. There were tiny little kids hopping over piles of fire! And many unsupervised kids having fireworks wars. I thought some of the kids were going to get blown up. I guess it's safer than it looks.
The next day we went on a horseback riding tour towards the volcano in Banos. My sister ended up getting hurt on the horse so we turned back a little early. I don't think she will be going on horses anytime soon. Then we rested at the rooftop pool at our hostel and got crazy sunburns. It's a bad idea to go sunbathing at 8,000ft in the air.
Then we headed to Ibarra for a day. We took a 4am bus ride for 7 hours and I felt ill the whole way. It was terrible. But the lunch after was delicious (well for Kaytee and Max, I wasn't up for eating). We had lunch at a restaurant that specializes in coastal food. Yum! Ibarra is known for ice cream so we headed there after. Max ate 3 cones! Then Kaytee and Max went for adventures in Ibarra while I rested.
I was supposed to go to my house that night but my host family called and said they were running late. I told them I was coming back on January 2nd and even mentioned to them not to add any other locks to the door except the ones I had keys for. Of course they didn't listen and I was locked out of the house. So I waited with Kaytee and Max at their place until my family finally returned around midnight. None of us were very happy with my family... And it meant that Kaytee and Max never really got to meet my family. Oh well...
Then we headed to Otavalo and bought pretty things. The market is huge on Saturdays but we went on a Monday. This meant that there were only about 1/3 of the stalls and vendors. I think my sister and Max were glad for that because it meant they didn't have so much to choose from. I can't decide which way I like it better. It's pretty awesome on Saturdays but mobbed with tourists.
Quito was next. We got in a little late so we went to dinner at a yummy Thai place. After dinner we went and played beer pong with some of my friends from Quito. I won! The next day we took the TeleferiQo to the top of the mountain near Quito. It was beautiful! But unfortunately it was also cloudy that day and we couldn't see a lot. Next we went to Mitad del Mundo and saw the statue of the fake equator and went to a museum on another fake equator (the equator has changed with advancements in technology and GPS). The museum was so cool and talked all about cultures in Ecuador, especially in the jungle. We even got to see a life-size statue of a 3ft tall jungle man. Everyone in this tribe is short and their limbs are disproportionate to their body. I thought the funniest thing was that the men tied up their penises so that the "penis fish" couldn't swim inside. Clever. At the museum they showed you how water drains differently (it was a trick) and how you can balance an egg on a nail. I balanced the egg on the nail! Kaytee and Max didn't :). Then Kaytee and I went out for a sisterly dinner at a wine and tapas bar. The wine was good but the food was weird. You don't get to pick it and they just keep bringing it out in circles.
The last day in Quito was spent going to historic Quito to look at churches. It's a pretty area but there just isn't much to do. After we met up with my friend Peter and his cousin Alexander for fish soup (eceboillado). Then Alexander offered to take us to a museum (the same one I had been to before). This poor little car almost didn't make it up the hill! But we made it and the museum was great again. Guayasamin is awesome.
After that we went up the statue of the Virgin of Quito and hiked our way back down to the restaurant. Apparently the hike was unsafe and even had signs pained about robbers and such. But Peter promised it was safe so we did it anyway. Then we had a nice Ecua-dinner on the rooftop terrace of a hotel. Kaytee and Max went to the airport after that and I said goodbye to them. It was such a nice visit!
Now I'm back in Ibarra but I'm heading to Quito again because my friend who lives in another province is coming in. Then I start classes again on Wednesday. Crazy how time flies!