Archive for August, 2010

The Quiet Smog

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Well, I have officially been living in Cairo for a week. Maybe saying Cairo is putting it too loosely. My campus is located in New Cairo, which is an hour away from downtown Cairo and is surrounded by desert. The closest development is a cluster of houses in the making. So while twiddling my thumbs in the middle of nowhere Egypt I have been making a list of places in which I hope to travel:
Turkey
Morocco
Jordan
Lebanon
Palestine

Now I realize being here for only a semester is a hinderance to my plan of traveling everywhere the Middle East has to offer. In all reality, I hope to at least make it to Turkey while I am here.
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Now when I finally arrived at the Cairo Airport, I was excited to be out of an airplane and in the country I have dreamed about for years. But before I could start my voyage, I had to get through security and obtain my bags followed by customs. Security was easy enough; however, my bags were the only ones on the entire flight that were put on Air France (I flew Delta). Thankfully that flight was landing right after ours. Customs…well I didn’t have to go through customs? After receiving my bags, I was able to walk right out of the airport. It was strange.

As soon as I stepped out of the building, I was shocked. The city was bustling and the air was questionable. I say questionable because it was so thick and filled with lord only knows what that I doubt it could really be called air. The people; however, were very nice and helped get all our bags into the shuttles taking us to our dorms.

On the way to campus I saw my life flash before my eyes countless times. That is not even exaggerated. Driving here is more dangerous than getting into a closed cage with a hungry lion while wearing a steak necklace. People drive between, on and around the lines. Flashing their lights and honking their horns at every passing car is customary. And driving on the wrong side of the road towards on coming traffic is way of passage for these drivers.

Once safely on Campus, we all dragged our luggage across campus to where the dorms were stationed. Bags lined the halls as girls (and guys, on the other side) tried to sign in and discover their new living area. Up to that point, no one knew what room they had or who they were rooming with. I still have no idea who I am rooming with as she has yet to arrive. For awhile I believe I was the only one in my unit (the dorms are separated into separate buildings – or units), but now I finally hear movement in the building.

During an orientation, the campus rules were discussed. Men are not to enter the women’s dorm area and vice versa. If that rule is broken, the student will be packed and leaving the dorms within 30 minutes. Here, men and women are not even allowed to touch really. Now I was expecting a form of conservatism, but I underestimated it by far. Holding hands, hugging for more than 5 seconds, and kissing are all taboo. PDA is not heard of when it comes to this culture.
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Last night I made my first venture into downtown Cairo with a friend. [IMPORTANT: As a woman, never travel alone in this country. It just isn't safe.] Once we arrived downtown, we had to take a taxi to meet a friend in a different area. Taxis here come in two varieties, white and black. If you can, always take a white taxi. White taxis either have a meter or they negotiate the price beforehand which is usually reasonable. We caught two white taxis to meet our friend (we went to the wrong place at first and had to catch another cab). The first was a decent price, but the second charged us way too much. Negotiating is something I will have to get used to.

Once with our friend, we went to a local place for a girl in our group to break the fast. Right now is where I should mention that it is Ramadan where muslims fast all day and feast at night. We went to a place called “Falfela” which specializes in the making of Foul, Taameya, Koushary, and Shawerma. I had a foul sandwich with tahini (this is smashed fava beans with a special sauce) which came out looking like an uncrustable you get at school cafeterias. Once you get over the looks and texture, it is actually a very tasty dish. Dinner was followed by a visit to an egyptian bakery where I was in heaven and could have spent my entire holding of egyptian pounds.

After indulging my sweet tooth, we walked around downtown for awhile. We had to cross the street many times which is not as easy a thing to do as it is in the states. Here, there may be crosswalks, but the drivers ignore them. You have to brave it, and weave between the on coming cars that are speeding towards you. It is pretty scary when you have cars honking and screeching their breaks around you every 5 seconds. While walking the streets, the girls in our group were constantly hit on and talked to. If this happens, please, keep walking and ignore what they are saying. Replying only makes things worse.

As a side note, my group consisted of four girls and one guy. While walking around, we were thought to be our guy friend’s four wives. Yea, its legal here for a muslim man to have up to four wives at a time. Go figure.

A little later, we needed to get to another part of town so that a few people in our group could look at an apartment. We hailed a cab, unfortunately a black cab, and were on our way. When we got there a girl, who has been here for months and knows the way things work, handed him 7 pounds and we got out of the car. He apparently was not happy with that amount and started following and yelling at us. We ducked into a bookstore nearby, but before my friend could enter, the guy caught up with her and ended up pushing her (this is a big no no). Thankfully, the guy behind us saw this and stood up to confront the taxi driver who ran away.

After taxis, confrontations, haggling, and walking, I finally headed back to campus with my friend from the beginning. I took a quick shower, popped some sleeping pills, and crawled into bed to play sudoku. *sigh*

Rules of the Road

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Roads in Egypt can be a mess. For those planning to drive in Egypt, here are some rules to follow. (1) If there is an opening, take it. (2) If you’re merging or trying to dodge around the car in front of you, honk. Honking is just a friendly reminder that you exist and expect to be given room. (3) Disregard the dashed white lines. A two lane road is really a three lane road, with an optional fourth lane that can be conjured at will. (4) Be prepared to brake, pedestrians can materialize from anywhere. And (5) Relax, no one else is concerned, so why should you be?

As we were told by a tour guide, “If you can drive in Egypt, you can drive anywhere in the world. Egyptians should be given an international driver’s license”. I’ve been thinking that perhaps they should also consider giving out pedestrian licenses; it takes just as much skill and experience as driving. While Egyptian pedestrians will nonchalantly enter the stream of traffic and casually cross the street in front of speeding cars, American’s have less faith that they’ll make it to the other side unscathed. Yesterday as I was waiting with a fellow student for an opening to cross a main street, at least three Egyptians crossed when I wouldn’t even have dared to sprint. When we did cross we were definitely an amusing sight with our legs pumping, hair flying, and eyes wide.  We couldn’t help but laugh in relief as we reached the opposite curb.

While being a pedestrian can be frightful, being a passenger is not always better. A few nights ago AUC students went on a relaxing felluca ride on the Nile. As we were taking a van back to the dorms, the vehicle suddenly started swerving rapidly in the middle of traffic. Moments later, I saw the driver’s door swing open. Unfazed, he leaned out, grabbed hold of it, and slammed it shut. A shocked silence fell over the bus, quickly interrupted by incredulous laughter. The girl seated next to the driver exclaimed, “I thought he was going to fall out! He doesn’t even have a seat belt on!”

Thankfully, situations like the ones I just illustrated do not happen all the time. The Zamalek neighborhood where I live is generally populated by one lane streets (since parked cars constrict their width), residential buildings, shops, and consulates/embassies. This means that the traffic is minimal for the most part, though it still seems slightly reckless to my Western senses. I have yet to get a good idea of the rest of Cairo’s traffic, but I have heard it is worse. Also, since it is Ramadan things are definitely toned down a few notches.

But why is traffic normally so crazy? It stems primarily from the lack of respect towards traffic laws. Road conditions, inadequate public transit, a massive population,  and faulty vehicles are also to blame. The Egyptian government is making plans towards alleviating its traffic problem.  It is supporting a project with Agence Française de Développement to “Promote an efficient, integrated, multimodal, tiered mass transport system.” Another plan is to make it’s downtown a pedestrian only zone, with the hope that with its success other areas of Cairo will follow its lead and rely less on cars and turn towards public transport or walking to get around. Hopefully Egypt can successfully implement a sustainable and efficient way to transport their large population. Until then, I’ll just have to be cautious.

The Hanging Church

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

And you thought I wasn't in Europe.

Mosque of Amr ibn al-As, 2

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

The easiest way to identify a specific girl was by her bag.

Mosque of Amr ibn al-As

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Inside the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As

Al-Qahira Al-Qadeema

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Old Cairo.  This part of the city goes back almost 2,ooo years and is a very holy area.  Here my group saw a synagogue, a few churches, and a mosque. All of them played a significant role in their religion’s history and they were all very beautiful.

Here are some examples:

~Ben Ezra,  a synagogue, was built where baby Moses was supposedly found.

~The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (Abu Serga) is claimed to be the location where the Holy Family had lived during their flight to Egypt.

~The Mosque of Amr ibn al-As was the first Mosque in Egypt and point from which Islam was spread all throughout Africa began.

It’s so hard to imagine the layers of history and humanity that lived and worshiped in buildings that I just walked into with little knowledge of their significance. We would pile in, look around, take pictures if it was allowed (often it wasn’t), sit down, and then complain of the heat. This is one reason why I do not like being a tourist. It is deeply unsatisfying and seems shallow. I can marvel at carvings, ask questions, and touch things that have been around for ages, but never really experience the place for what it is. But of course, if given the chance, I will be that tourist, gleaning whatever snippets of a place that means/meant so much to people that I may never meet.

Fortunately, in the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As I was able to have a conversation about the mosque and Islam with a fellow AUC student who was a Muslim from Yemen. Our conversation started when I picked up a copy of the Qur’an in an attempt to read it. He walked over to me and told me what it was (though I already knew).  “Okay, thanks!”, I said, then continued looking through the pages. When I was done, I looked towards the ceiling and noticed that there was something written in cursive Arabic on the lamps. I walked over to him and asked him what it said. He didn’t know, explaining that it was too small and in an old Arabic script. After that I began talking with him about other features of the mosque and its history.  The Mosque of Amr ibn al-As once had a university and was also a place where the military was kept. Indeed, this was a not just a religious center, but also a military and political center set up by Amr ibn al-As (the founder of the mosque) as he set forth to spread Islam throughout Africa. I was told that he would conquer cities and give the residents the option to convert to Islam. If they didn’t then the only penalty they faced was a tax. They were treated respectfully regardless of their religion. When I asked if many people converted, he replied that they did since they could see the benefits and solidity of Islam and the benefits of its government. Since I have not studied Islamic history, I cannot attest to the validity of his statements. Conquerors write history, but people that feel threatened by an opposing ideology also spread their own rumors (e.g. some Christians). If anyone knows more about the spread of Islam, please feel free to share it with me.

To continue, I also asked him why women have to enter through a different door than the men. He replied that it is a matter of organization. The men pray in the front, the children file in behind the men, and the women are behind the children. By having the women enter the other door, it makes this process easier.  (The segregation of the sexes is not limited to Islam. For example, in Ben Ezra, the women used to have to sit on the upper level. I would have liked to go up there, but it was not allowed.) When I asked him why men did not have to cover up as much as the women, he just shrugged apologetically and said that he didn’t know. He was apologetic because at this time I was wearing a green hooded robe and it was obvious that all of us girls were roasting. However it wasn’t too bad, I was just excited to be in a mosque and see what it was like. Plus, I really did not have much to complain about; he was fasting for Ramadan and had not been able to drink anything all day despite the terrible heat.  We kept talking until it was time to leave the mosque and head back to the dorms. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed and I got to wander the neighborhoods more.

There is so much more I could write and want to write, but alas, that will have to wait for another time.

Ma’a salama

P.S. I’d like to give a shout out now to all the Muslims reading this who are fasting right now, I admire your devotion and I hope your experience is spiritually fulfilling.

Me

Robed and Smiling in the Mosque of Amr ibn al'As

I Made It!

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Hello Everyone!

I have landed safely in Egypt and moved into my dorm last night. All of my fellow International AUC students have been very friendly and so far no big mishaps have occurred. I met my roommate last night, but she won’t move in until Saturday.  She is Egyptian, but she has been living in Kuwait most of her life. I am really excited to be rooming with her.

Even though I have not seen much yet, I’m definitely in the “honeymoon” phase of culture shock. Driving to the dorm form the airport the sun was setting, making everything glow. Everything seemed so beautiful, regardless of its architecture or age. Last night the RA’s took us to get money exchanged, to get phones, and to shop. Walking through the streets at night was peaceful and there was more vegetation than I expected. We looked like major tourists in the grocery store, looking at normal, everyday objects in awe, trying to decipher what was written on them, and walking around in giant clumps.

Today the RA’s are taking us to Old Cairo and I will hopefully find a plug adapter (the one I brought does not work, it’s too fat).

Ma’a salama!

Welcome! Ahlan wa sahlan!

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Hello Everyone!

As I will be leaving for Egypt in just a few days now, I am tying up loose ends, savoring moments with friends and family, and busily packing. The hardest thing to pack is clothes. Since Egypt is 90% Muslim and a more conservative society than the U.S., I’ve been searching for clothes that would be appropriate. Shirts with the combined elements of high necklines, longer sleeves, and loose fabric are rare creatures in the U.S. Now whenever I see women in a restaurant, a store, or at the library, I’ll find myself mentally labeling their clothing.  Oftentimes the clothing is “Not Egypt Approved”. Yet, regardless of the way women dress in Egypt, they are still subject to sexual harassment (mainly verbal). Seeing and experiencing this will probably be one of the biggest shocks for me. However, AUC will teach me and the other students how to deal with it. Of course, this is only one aspect of Egyptian life. They are better known for their great hospitality, sense of honor, and lively sense of humor. Interacting with Egyptians, navigating the boundaries of gender, and relying on my limited Arabic will be  both exciting and frustrating.

On a more material note, I am also beginning to anticipate all the places that I will see. Most people immediately think “pyramids” when they hear “Egypt”, but there is so much more. There are Roman ruins, mosques, Coptic churches,  slender TV towers, dense apartment buildings, and bustling coffeehouses. With buildings spanning centuries and even millennia literally casting shadows on each other, what relationship does Egypt’s antiquity have with its modernity? Perhaps I’ll find out once I get there.

Ma’a salama!

The Halpert Rodises Take Over Greece

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

My two and a half week spring break began on Wednesday afternoon, March 24. Most people left the weekend before, so the building was very quiet by the time I took the express train to Athens on Thursday morning. I saw Mom, Dad, Sam and Aaron for the first time in 2 months in the lobby of the Niki Hotel (just a few blocks away from Syntagma Square) once they got back from watching the Independence Day Parade.  It was really wonderful to see all of them, and after loads of hugs and kisses, we and headed upstairs to the room to prepare for the day.

This was my first time in Athens, so I became a tourist once again.  We went to Syntagma Square where there was a protest going on (surprise surprise), walked through the nearby National Gardens and saw the Zappeion, an old but beautiful fencing hall for the first summer Olympics. We then explored the area around the Acropolis which had an old city feel where there was an endless amount whitewashed houses covered in artistic graffiti and stray cats sitting atop motorcycles and hiding behind potted flowers. We didn’t go to the actual Acropolis because it was closed: it was independence day!

After lunch we walked around Monastiraki where Sam tried haggling with African street vendors for a crappy watch (which he did not buy, thanks to Mom’s warnings), we found the Jewish synagogue in Athens, and watched “Peruvians” perform street music while dressed as Native Americans in huge headdresses. It was quite a busy day and none of us had trouble going to sleep that night.

The next day, Friday March 26, we went through the same old village to get to the Acropolis. Sam was happy to do so because he accidentally deleted all of his pictures the night before, so he was able to capture the graffiti once again. It was 12:30 and we were all hungry, so before we went to the Acropolis, we decided to get lunch. We got a lot of appetizers and shared, happily eating the tasty feta, Greek salad, and meatballs on our plates. Our moods soon turned sour though when we walked back to the Acropolis. The gates were closed and we were not allowed inside, even though it was only 2pm. The reason? We weren’t there during the peak season! They closed at 1pm that day.

Xoriatiki (Greek Salad)

We were disheartened and walked along the path that went around those ancient ruins. On our walk, we found the Acropolis Museum. It had just been renovated less than a year before we were there. The main reason for this is because other countries like England, France, and Germany were keeping ancient Greek art and ruins in their museums after they had been stolen from Greece hundreds of years ago. Their excuse for why they still had these artifacts was because Greece did not have a place to properly care for these items. Greece has now proved them wrong. Their new Acropolis Museum is beautiful and the art in it is astounding. There was also a great view of the Acropolis from their outdoor patio where Aaron did some sketches of the ruins. Those other countries had better get their acts together and give them their stuff back!

After the museum, we walked up steep streets to make it to the fenicular railway, which took us up to the top of Mount Lycabettus. Mount Lycabettus is a small mountain that is the highest point in Athens. In mythology, it was said that the goddess Athena accidentally dropped the mountain there while carrying  it to the Acropolis. A beautiful mistake. We were there at night and could see the whole city, its lights glowing at us while the city’s noise was on mute.

After being on the mountain, we went to dinner in the Plaka at a great restaurant. Mom asked the owner if we could have baklava for dessert, and he said no, “baklava is tourist food” and they mostly got locals. After not eating tourist food, we raced over to Syntagma Square and watched the changing of the guards. Quite an entertaining dance with army men in traditional skirts. We went to take a picture with one of the guards and he got mad at me for standing on his right side. Because he wasn’t allowed to speak, he instead banged his rifle on the marble beneath his feet, indicating that I was doing something wrong. I got the picture, scooted over to his left, and stood there solemnly, though the camera got me with a terrified look on my face. It was great blackmail material.

The next day, we finally made it to the Acropolis. We got up early, bought super classy sunscreen (“coppertone? do you want to fry?” – Pharmacist) and hiked up to the top. It was very very crowded with student tour groups and people speaking hundreds of languages all around us. It was an intense experience but we made the best of it. Mom played tour guide and read to us from the Lonely Planet tour book about the ruins that surrounded us. The view of the city was phenomenal, and we even thought we could spot our hotel from there.

Sounio - The Temple of Poseidon

Mom and Dad heard from Uncle Pano that they should go to Sounio, the area of the Temple of Poseidon, at sunset. The bus comes every hour, and by the time we found the the bus stop, we had just missed it. So we waited for a long time and finally boarded it at 5pm, along with a large group of Spaniards. The trip was long and took about an hour and a half, but it was beautiful. Blue waters surrounded us as dusk set in and we passed through many small towns.  By the time we got there, it was almost sunset. As we all walked to the temple, a woman closed the gates. We spoke at her in anger, asking how she could close up shop after we had taken such a long ride and had all paid to get there? She remained firm and repeated that the site closed at sunset. One Greek woman tried reasoning with her and she screamed back at her. Oh well. We walked on the island that surrounded the temple and looked at the ground that almost looked red, and the incredibly blue sea that was surrounding us. The temple looked beautiful behind the sun, with colors exploding behind it.

The next morning, we said goodbye to Athens and left for Delphi. Mom and Dad decided to rent a large white Fiat van which would become the family car for a week. The trip took around 4 hours and was gorgeous yet again. Before we got to our destination, we went through a town called Arachova that was clearly a ski town. There were woolen sweaters and caps hanging from store windows and the place was not very populated because of the season.

We checked into the Sun View Pension, a family run hotel with a beautiful view of the Corinthian Gulf. We went for a walk around the small town and went into the small church to see the art. There were more people than usual because it was the middle of holy week. We then went down to the main street where we found a light dinner and then went to bed. The next day, we went to the site of the Oracle where there were numerous ruins and gorgeous views. Mom played tour guide again, though none of us were quite sure what ruin was what. I did come to the conclusion that Delphi is definitely one of the most beautiful places that I have ever encountered. Well worth the visit.

Delphi

Later that day, we took another 4 hour trip and drove to the town of Kastraki, the small town closest to Meteora and right next to the larger town of Kalambaka. On the way, we stopped on the water to skip rocks and enjoy the view. The Greek country side really is beautiful. We got to Kastraki at dusk and walked down to the central part of town which includes 2 small markets and a few restaurants. We went to a small taverna and then went to bed at the Doupiani House where there were some views of pretty spectacular geological enigmas.

The next morning we checked out and drove up to Meteora, home of monasteries atop huge jutting cliffs. I don’t need to describe it because I already did in a previous post when I went there with my school some weeks before, but I can tell you that it was a different experience. Because of holy week, some of the monasteries were closed which meant there were a lot less people. It was bright and sunny this time, and the last time it was hazy and gray. And I can’t say I enjoyed one experience more than the other – they were just different and I had a blast each time. When I was in one monastery, I lit a candle for Papou. He would have loved it there.

A Candle for Papou at Meteora

We then drove to Thessaloniki. I neglected to mention this before, but throughout the entire trip, I was sick. I got worse and worse as time progressed, so by the time I got to Thessaloniki, all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and sleep forever. So the next day, I went to a pharmacy with my parents where we met Nana, a very kind pharmacist in her late 60s who, to my surprise, spoke very good English. She immediately called her personal doctor and made an appointment for me on the spot. We thanked her and walked downtown and found the doctor’s apartment where he worked. As we walked in, a woman was leaving and stared at me for a second. After noticing my chai necklace, she said “Eisai Evraika?” Are you Jewish? Nai, I responded, I was. She gave me a bright smile and left.

We waited in his old waiting room for about 10 minutes. Mozart’s “Requiem” played in the background and all I could think was that, for some reason,  it was totally appropriate. When he called us in, it because clear that he did not speak English and I did not speak Greek. I would pantomime my problems and dad would translate back. The doctor took me into his examination room, looked me over, and figured out that I had bronchitis. His prescription? 4 different medications including antibiotics, 5 oranges a day, 2 glasses of tea, and 1 bowl of soup. Awesome. By the next day, I felt lightyears better but the family had to go. It was a lot of fun and I missed them instantly, but I was excited for my next trip: Paris!

Vacation

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Hey!

I’m back, done with TESOL, have a job, and am back from vacation :)

This whole job thing has been a nightmare, all because of Ecuadorian bureaucracy. They keep telling me new things and changing their minds. One day it’s “you’ll be working in the calderon campus in history with high schoolers” the net its “sorry, you’ll be working in the Kennedy campus with primary in science or english, we’re not sure yet.” They even keep changing the start dates. So, i’ll find out tomorrow when i go in to sign my contract.

So, to get away from the bureaucratic nightmare, i finally gave up and went on vacation. And what a wonderful vacation it was :) . AMAING

First, I went to Banos, a town 3.5 hours south of Quito. It’s still in the Sierra, but its only two hours away from the Orient. IT. Was. Amazing. The town is famous for its hotsprings pools, with good reason. As soon as I slipped into the water I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven. THe water was a fabulously hot temperature. The pool I went to was Piscina de La Virgin. It has three pools: cold, warm and hot. Also, it’s underneath a waterfall. Surrounded by mountains. Yes, the pool itself was man-made, but the view was sooooooo worth it.

Hot Springs Pools - heated from the Volcano

The road between Banos and Puyo is known as the route of the waterfalls, because of all the breathtaking waterfalls visible from the road. So, the morning after, I went on a chiva tour to all the waterfalls around Banos. Now, Chivas are wonderful party trucks.  They’re basically wood benched you hold on to as the truck barrels down the mountain highway. It’s like being on a roller coaster – only fun. And when I mean barrel – i mean faster than even I would drive down 95. Reminder, no seat belts. Also, the road – a complete drop if things go badly. It was absolutely fantastic. I hadn’t had that much fun in a long time.

The waterfalls were completely amazing. Most were in the distance, on the other side of the canyon because of the space between mountains. There were over twelve waterfalls that you could see from the road. Also, the mountains were spectacular.

The best, however, we had to walk to. It was a mile straight down through the cloud forest using all sorts of creaky stair cases, steep, muddy paths. Bear in mind: I had my pack. My backpacking pack. With all my stuff in it, it added an additional 25 or so pounds on my back. It made things much harder. But the falls were gorgeous. And feeling the spray on my face after such a hike was glorious. Then, of course, I had to hike back up. With my pack. I just about died. Everyone else was having a hard time too and giving my pitying looks as I huffed and puffed my way back up. I made it, and all those incredibly sore muscles were so very worth it.

Then, I made my way to Riobamba hoping to take the train over the Nari del Diablo. Unfortunately, it’s closed until December. So, I stayed the night, toured a little in the morning, and made my way to Cuenca. Fun point: leaving the bus station. The bus was so full, ppl were standing. But, the cops down’t let busses leave the station if people are standing. So, the people in the middle hid, sitting on the ground so the cops wouldn’t see, standing up as soon as we were free. Soooo funny.  Once there, I had a wonderful dinner with Jim (a guy from TESOL) and his girlfriend. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because they were off to Loja on their own vacation.

Cuenca is gorgeous. It’s so much nicer and cleaner than Quito. Although, the public transport isn’t as good. However, Cuenca’s colonial center is fabulous. I spent my two days in Cuenca just in the center.

So, my first morning in Cuenca was the earthquake. I was woken up by my room shaking rather hard. I thought that it was just another temblor, and went about my day. It wasn’t until the afternoon that I found out there’d been a 7.1 earthquake only 85ish kilometers from me. Hee – whoops.

So, Cuenca. THe cool thing about Cuenca (other than the colonial center) is the Incan ruins. I got to walk on the ruins of an Incan temple behind Cuenca’s national bank. How cool is that??!!!! I was definitely smiling big the entire time. In addition to the temple, the priests’ quarters, the holy women’s quarter, etc, there is also a large beautiful garden of medicinal plants the Incans used among the lower section of the ruins. The whole place was soooo cool.

The Comple is huge. It took me 40 mins to walk through it all, this is just a piece :)

In addition to the ruins, I spent my time wandering through Cuenca’s colonial center. I love colonial architecture, It’s just gorgeous.

After two days in Cuenca, I headed off to Ecuador’s most famous ruins: Ingapirca. Another HUGE Incan temple comple.

Again, too big to fit in one. I'll upload more later :)

Also, so very cool. Unfortunately, it was cold and raining. So, within 35 mins I had to leave because I was frozen stiff. So, I caught a bus to Tambo to catch a bus to Quito. That was an adventure. No bus stop, so I had to rely on luck on flagging down the first Quito bus that came my way (between point a and point b, even intercity busses stop if they’re flagged down. You may have to stand for seven hours, but you’ll get on). So, I got back to Quito by Saturday night.

Great vacation. Tomorrow: Contract.