Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Orientation and Tourist Day

Oh man! My first two days at ACLAS have been awesome! I have a lot to say so I’ll start from the top I suppose.

On Monday at 8:30 we went to ACLAS for orientation. All 32 of us gathered in a room and Fernando Miño, the executive director of ACLAS welcomed us briefly then gave the floor to a man named Piotr who had been living in Ecuador for 3 years but from Poland originally. All of the orientation was in English and we started by doing a strange/awkward ice breaking activity where the guys stood on one side with the girls on the other and we did Piotr’s rendition of the frigate (bird of the Galapagos) mating ritual which involved some testosterone from the hombres (men) which was just too much for las mujeres (women) to handle. They fell for us almost instantaneously. But anyway, Piotr said that that awkward icebreaker was pretty much to get us to try to be comfortable with each other and not be nenos y nenas (someone who always says no to everything and is a party pooper). After that, we all discussed the cultural differences between Ecuador and the United States which included things like personal space, food, and politeness. Then he proceeded to frighten us with all of the peligros (dangers) of Quito. He said that there is a lot of theft in Quito although for the most part, none of it is violent. We were basically told to just keep our wits about us, travel in groups, take taxis at night even if we’re not walking far, and not carry around valuables like our computer, camera, phone, or more than $20 all the time.

That night, some of us met at the mall, Quicentro near ACLAS and ended up going to a restaurant called Old West that had a Western theme (obviously) but served pizza and played Michael Jackson for some reason. Got to know some of the other students a little better and I encountered a green toilet in the men’s room. Oh the things you’ll find in Ecuador!

Tuesday was AWESOME. We started at ACLAS and took a chartered tour bus (thank goodness) to La Mitad Del Mundo (the middle of the world) and the outdoor museum there. We had a tour guía (guide) there that taught us about a tribe called the Wuaoran. The whole tour was in Spanish and while I am getting better at understanding it all, the main points I took away from the bit about the Wuaoran was that they liked going around naked and used blow dart guns that were about six feet long (for accuracy) to paralyze game and enemies from about 40 meters away.

Also saw some animals preserved in some liquid solution. These included a huge boa, other smaller snakes, spiders, and a fish from the Amazon that swims up the urethra while a guy pees and requires surgery for removal. Awesome. Pumped about that guy.

Snakes and Stuff

Big Spider for Millah

Not so little fellow that goes in the place with the thing

We also saw a replica tomb of the certain tribe of the area (not sure if it was Wuaoran or not) that was for the jefe (boss or tribe leader type person) and his wife. Apparently if the jefe dies first, the wife has to drink this poison from a certain cactus that kills her and she gets buried with the jefe too. No fun for her.

Tomb for the Jefe

Real shrunken sloth and human head

 We then went to the actual equator part of the museum that had several cool sun dials along the big red equator line. There was also a movable sink type thing that when drained south of the line, would make the water spin clockwise, when drained north of the line, would make the water spin counter-clockwise, and when drained exactly on the line, just drained straight down. It was pretty cool to see. There was also an egg balancing test (on the head of a nail) which I failed but others succeeded in. Boohoo. But anyway, also found out that you weigh one kilogram less on the equator as well because gravity is less there I guess…
One sun dial


Egg Master


We then bussed south to El Centro Historica de Quito (Old Town) but first we headed up to a place called El Panecillo (this is a hill that looks like a small bread roll or un panecillo). Atop this hill is La Virgen de Quito, which is an enormous 148 foot tall statue of the winged Virgin with a serpent at her feet attached to a chain. It was pretty impressive. Quite large. I want one for my birthday. We got to go inside it and and climb some stairs up to the first room-ish place which had a ton of stained glass windows and small models of the churches of Quito.

View of part of Quito from the balcony of El Panecillo
Sun Halo!

The statue is on top of the world and these are the numbered panels inside of the globe so it looked right on the outside
Then we went to La Plaza de Independencia. It is a square with grass and trees and such in the middle surrounded by the first cathedral of Quito, the president's palace, the archbishop's palace, and another government building. Atop the cathedral is a metal gallo (rooster) and there is a legend that there was a man that continuously would get drunk and challenge the power of the gallo. One night, the man was drunk and challenged him again except this time, the gallo came down, beat the crap out of the guy and put him in his place.

Front of the First Cathedral of Quito

El Gallo Poderoso (Powerful Rooster)
Part of the first cathedral of Quito from behind

We also learned about a president, Gabriel Garcia Moreno who was assassinated out front of the president's palace by a guy, Faustino Rayo, with a machete. Apparently Moreno had been seeing Rayo's wife and he had a problem with it I guess.

Front of President's Palce

The guards weren't very good at keeping a straight face

Spot where Rayo hacked up Moreno with a machete

Then we walked a short distance to La Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús (Church of the Society of Jesus) which I was completely unprepared for. It was easily the most visually impressive thing I have ever seen in my life. We weren’t allowed to take pictures but even still, there’s no way they would have done justice to the beauty of this place. It had super high ceilings and the whole place was filled with gold walls and statues/paintings of religious stuff I know nothing about. It looked really cool anyway though. It had a couple domed ceilings with paintings on them. There were also windows that let light in which made the golden walls look even more magnificent. I was awestruck by this place. Truly incredible.

Building that we passed on the way to the amazing church
Outside La Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús 

La Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús

El Banco Central de Quito right next to La Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús 

La Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús

Inside La Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús 
Here's a picture I found online of the church. Still doesn't capture how incredible this place was.

Then we walked a little bit to La Plaza de San Francisco that has La Iglesia de San Francisco where we heard about another legend. When the church was being built, Satan supposedly came down and said he’d help them finish building the church if the man in charge gave him his soul when it was finished. When the church was finished, the devil came down and demanded the man’s soul but the man pointed out that there was one piece (a keystone above a door) that was not there and because the church was not finished, he had fooled the devil and didn’t have to give him his soul.

La Iglesia de San Francisco

Yo enfrente

Random Street

Another random calle

Then we went to La Plaza De Santo Domingo where there was another church and a big statue of General Mariscal Sucre who played a key role in gaining Ecuadorian independence at the Battle of El Pichincha (volcano right next to Quito).

La Iglesia de Santo Domingo and the Statue of Mariscal Sucre

Then we went to a street called La Calle de la Ronda that used to be a really run down part of town with a lot of crime and prostitution. It has been restored and is now a popular tourist place with many restaurants, bars, and art galleries.

Walking to La Calle de la Ronda with el Panecillo in the background

La Calle de la Ronda

End of La Calle de la Ronda

Me in a random alley

That was basically a very quick version of the things we saw and learned yesterday. Hope you enjoyed it!


  1. So awesome! Of course I should have known that you would have started your post with some totally gross pictures! Ahh! Next time warning please! The architecture of those churches is beautiful and I can't express how jealous I am of the weather!! How's the Spanish going?

  2. That spider is not ok. And that shrunken head is awesome! Straight Indiana Jones status. Also El Gallo Poderoso is a boss. What a righteous story

  3. That is an amazing place. Looks like a you had a pretty fun tour. I would love to see a real shrunken head myself, or maybe buy one as a souvenir if possible (and legal).

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