Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Despedida a Ecuador

In just eleven days, I'll leave Quito. Tomorrow marks my nine-month anniversary here and it's starting to feel very strange to be leaving for good, or at least indefinitely. Lately I've been thinking a lot about my time here and my decision to leave and realizing how much I'll miss this time in my life. 
I'm finally totally comfortable at UDLA and feel confident being a professor there. It's taken me awhile, but now I know the university's policies, my department's policies, which forms to sign when, etc. But more than that, I see old students in the halls and talk to them; I chat with the security guards; I bring my aunt coffee to her office; I'm comfortable. It's a home. 
As far as Quito itself, I'll miss the city a little--probably Centro Historico, some favorite restaurants and parks--but I'll mostly miss the friends I've made here and my daily routine. I feel like I know Quito much better now and can get where I need to go and do what I need to do. In fact, Ecuadorians have been asking me directions lately, and I've always known where they were talking about, which boosts my confidence. 
There are also little things I'll miss about the country in general, probably most of them involving fewer restrictions and a more relaxed way of life--namely, hitchhiking in the countryside, drinking every kind of drink out of one container, and just listening and talking to interesting Ecuadorians and fellow travelers. 
I'm equally aware of the things I won't miss and of how excited I am to go though. It's time to run. 
Here's my tentative plan:
Leave for Loja (southern Ecuador) August 25th on a night bus. See Loja Monday, stay there in a hostel that night, and either go to the small town of Vilcabamba the next day or head to Peru. 
Once in Peru, I'll be making my way south to Lima. I might stop on the way for a few days out of a bus, possibly in Trujillo or somewhere on the coast. I'll probably spent a night or so in Lima, but I'm not terribly interested in that city. From Lima I'll go to Cusco and from Cusco I'll head to a farm in the mountains to volunteer for two weeks. 
I found this farm through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and contacted them. They live high in the mountains and they have goats. They mentioned something about needing people with "calloused hands," so I knew right away it was for me. 
After two weeks there, I'm going to meet a friend in Cusco and head to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, and various other tourist destinations. After two weeks or so of this, this friend and I will head into the jungle to volunteer at another farm for two weeks. This one is a coffee, cacao, and mango farm with no electricity but with access to awesome jungle adventures. Time to get some malaria meds! 
After this, we will head north and pass quickly through Ecuador, probably stopping for a week maximum before heading north, to Colombia. I suspect this will be the end of October/beginning of November. I want to go to Medellin and possibly Cartagena, as well as a few other places in Colombia, before flying out of Bogota and back into the US at the end of November.
As I said, tentative plans. I'll be traveling solo for the first 3-4 weeks then with my friend until the last 1-2 weeks. But everything is subject to change. I will have no job and no responsibilities aside from feeding myself and making it to Bogota in time to fly home. I'll be traveling for about 3 months in total. This makes me incredibly happy. 
Anyway, I'll post once or twice more before I go, but after, I'm not sure. I'll try to post things about the different places I go and people I meet, but I won't have a computer and I don't know how often I'll use one (also very exciting). 
Wish me luck and look for postcards in the mail! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

An Overly Personal Guide to Being Vegetarian in Ecuador

Before I came to Ecuador, I wrote a post about ethical eating while traveling and, as predicted, it's not been too hard to maintain my vegetarian diet here. I've met a lot of fellow travelers who are normally veg but eat meat while traveling because it's easier, and I don't judge them at all, but in my experience it's rarely been too hard to avoid meat in Ecuador. Inconvenient, of course, but not that hard. 
Obviously, the best places are the bigger cities, so Quito is awesome for me, but even in small, un-toursity towns, there is veggie food to be had. It's generally not anything special, and sometimes it has to be whined-for, but it's possible to get it. 
There are a few traditional dishes that are usually vegetarian: locro de papas, llapingachos, and fanesca. Locro is a delicious potato soup with cheese, avocado, and sometimes hot peppers. Llapingachos are fried cheesy potato patties (very greasy, very good) usually served with eggs, avocados, and some greens (also sausage sometimes so be careful). And fanesca is a traditional soup made only for Easter. It apparently has twelve grains because of the twelve disciples, but it also has eggs (and sometimes fish, fyi) and all sorts of creamy deliciousness that I can no longer remember. There are also side dishes like patacones (fried plantain) and lentils or beans and salads. Oh! Almost forgot: choclo. Choclo is just corn, but it's not like sweet corn in the States and people grill it and put cheese on it and it's SO GOOD. Get it from a street vendor, who cares about parasites?! Oh wait. But really, get it. 
When it comes to more substantial veggie meals, there are a lot of options, actually. In Quito, there are mostly small lunch places that serve vegetarian and vegan dishes, especially in La Mariscal. Unfortunately, I am awful at taking pictures and remembering street names (or name-names) of these places, but I'll do my best. I've spent a lot of time wandering around looking for them (not a lot of info on the web), so I hope this helps some.You generally have to look closely for small signs and weird, backdoor entrances.
The first place I'd like to mention is a little yoga center that doubles as a lunch place for a few hours in the afternoon. It's in Centro Historico, somewhere sort of near Mercado Central, but I really have no idea the actual streets. It wasn't that good, but it introduced me to the Spoon Revolution.There was a huge sign hanging in this place that said "Revolucion de la Cuchara," so I asked an employee about it. After about a half an hour rant of why eating animals is awful (I mean, I dislike being preached at, even when I agree) I learned that it's a vegan movement that actually could be kind of beneficial to join because apparently you can get discounts at all participating veggie restaurants (all over the world) if you show your "passport" to the "original kingdom." (That's where he lost me, the weird cult-ish sound of "original kingdom." Also I'm still a little unsure of what it is.) But, what really got me was that when I asked him why the symbol of the spoon, he said it was because forks and knives were so violent. "Why stab your food?" He asked me. And so I didn't! I gave up forks for Lent, just for the fun of it. It wasn't so bad, but I really enjoyed stabbing my salad after because it's pretty tough to spoon those greens. 
Um...now for more practical information, read the rest of this post.
There are apparently two veggie restaurants called "Formosa." One of them is in La Floresta on Luis Cordero and Andalucia and the other is on Jeronimo Carrion and Juan Leon Mera, in La Mariscal. Both are standard, some sort of asian veggie almuerzos. And by that I mean, you get a cafeteria style "plato fuerte" or "menu" for $2.75. It includes rice or noodles, soup, juice, and four different dishes. You can order other things as well, but I've never done so because who can top that price for a full veggie meal? (Actually one or two places can, but I'll come back to that later). The food at both places is pretty good and the menu changes everyday slightly so you get some variety. Most of the dishes are more tofu/veggie protein heavy than veggie-heavy, but there are plenty of all veggie dishes as well. Not a lot of fresh food at either place though, most of it is cooked well. The one on Cordero is slightly better in my opinion, but that might be because it's closer to my house.
Other similar veggie options exist throughout Quito. There's a place on Ramon Roca (the street near the Galo Plaza stop on the Ecovia) called "Restaurante Vegetariano" that does the same thing as Formosa, more or less, with slightly fewer options but for $2.50. There are actually quite a few of these types of places, which generally only have a tiny sign marking "vegetarian restaurant" somewhere near the entrance. Just walk around Mariscal for awhile and you eventually spot one. 
There's also "Quinua," which I'm always horrible at finding again, but which the internet tells me is on Cordero and 9 de Octubre. I think this place is strictly vegan and it has a good almuerzo that is not asian-influenced, but sort of Ecuadorian minus the meat. Again, probably around $3 and only open for lunch. It's not a buffet style though, you get whatever is on the menu for that day. Slightly more fresh ingredients. 
As far as a bit more upscale places, there's one called "Sangu," on Amazones and Davallos (or something like that) which has "green food," both veggie and not--but mostly veggie. It's more expensive and actually has a menu, which makes it more like the most popular veggie place in Quito, "Maple." Both have much more extensive menus, cute little seating areas, and are more like $6+ for a lunch. (Also, Maple is open for dinner as well, which is rare. Um, and it has a website? Which is nearly unheard of. It's on Joaquin Pinto and Diego de Almagro). They have a lot more options.
Another upscale option is La Cuchara de San Marcos, which is in San Marcos, an adorable neighborhood near Centro Historico. I actually didn't eat there, because their prices were higher than I'd anticipated and they had microbrews, so I chose beer instead, but the place itself is beautiful and the food looked really good. It's also open in the evenings and is also probably more like $10 a plate. 
Well, that should get you by. If not, send me an email because this post is getting out of hand. 
Also, here's a picture of an almuerzo I found on my laptop, I think at Quinua, judging by the contents.