Sunday, December 07, 2014

Trading Turkey for Guinea Pig: Thanksgiving in Ecuador

Since our dear friend Marty is not in St. Thomas this Thanksgiving, we decided to take a year off from our annual Thanksgiving trip to St. Thomas. We traded turkey at the beach for guinea pig in the mountains and visited our compadres in Morochos, Ecuador instead.

The whole family met us at the airport with roses
Steph and Sisa on the ride back to Morochos
Craig and Tayanta on the ride back to Morochos
The whole family took the 2 hour ride from their village to the new Quito airport to pick us up on Thanksgiving afternoon. They always dress the kids in traditional clothes when they go into the city, so it was adorable to see 6-year-old Sisa, 4-year-old Yupanqui, and 2 1/2-year-old Tayanta dressed in their traditional outfits, waiting for us with 2 bouquets of roses. The kids' mom Aida was there, as well as her dad Antonio and his wife Rosa.
Antonio and Yupanqui provide music while Sisa and Tayanta dance
We drove back to the house, where we immediately noticed the new addition: a 4-month-old baby cow. We were greeted by Max, their friendly old dog, as well as Chipi. the new kitten. We got settled into the adorable casita that they built for us (with a bedroom and a bathroom with a hot water heater - heavenly on chilly mountain mornings) and then joined the family in the main house. Antonio, who works professionally in a traditional Andean band called Chaski Ñan, got out his violin and played a tune while Yupanqui accompanied him on the recorder.  Sisa and Tayanta joined hands and danced. Antonio then gave Yupanqui and Sisa a chance to try the violin.

Before we knew it, dinner was ready. The family knew that today was a holiday in the United States, so they prepared something very special: cuy (guinea pig). This is a traditional Andean food which is eaten on special occasions. We had eaten it at Sisa and Yupanqui's baptisms, and during the village's 76th anniversary celebration this past May. This was a guinea pig that they had raised and prepared themselves, and we were very honored that they prepared something so special in our honor.

Craig plays with Tayanta and Yupanqui while Rosa crotchets hats
Sisa with Chipi the kitten

Yupanqui, Sisa, and Steph
This was the first time in which our visit did not coincide with a special occasion within the family or the community. It was a peaceful, relaxing few days in a very beautiful location. Most of the days were sunny, and the sun was warm. It was cool when the sun was behind a cloud or when it got dark for the evening. We enjoyed seeing how much the kids had grown. Sisa, at only 6 years old, is the eldest child. She helps the adults with chores and sets a good example for her younger siblings. She enjoys school and is doing well.

Yupanqui is now 4, and he is a little chatterbox. He is an active and sweet little boy. He has a good attention span for doing activities. He does not especially like preschool, but he is learning in spite of himself.

Perhaps the greatest transformation we saw after 6 months away was in the youngest, 2 1/2 year old Tayanta. She prefers to be called "Mi Nena" ("My Baby", a nickname coined by Yupanqui when she was just an infant). She was completely blind from birth to 6 months, at which time she had her first surgery which restored her sight. Since then she has had a second surgery, and has a pair of thick glasses which, as a two year old, she seldom tolerates. But despite still being nearsighted, she obviously sees well enough to get around. She is at the age when babies sometimes have stranger anxiety. But not so with her. She literally welcomed us with open arms, giving hugs and kisses and sitting on our laps as often as our godchildren Sisa and Yupanqui. She talks often and sings happily. What a little miracle she is!

Rosa prepares to dispatch the rooster
We had purchased some baby chicks for the family back in May. They have since grown into 5 chickens and two roosters. Rosa dispatched of the two roosters during our stay. It is difficult to see an animal killed, but as meat-eaters we feel that it is our moral responsibilty to come to terms with it. We must acknowledge that an animal gives its life for our sustenance, and we are very grateful. The roosters provided some deliciously fresh chicken soup, as well as legs, thighs, breasts, and feet (which Tayanta especially enjoyed). Nothing was wasted, as entrails were fed to the kitten.

The view behind the homestead
Tayanta, Steph, Sisa, and Yupanqui walking to church
Tayanta and Aida walking to chirch
Antonio's mother, known as Abuelita, though she is actually the great-grandmother of the little ones, was always around, tending to the cows during the day, and cooking over her fire in the fireshed in the evenings. She only speaks Kichwa, so we are unable to communicate beyond smiles and waves, but she is always cheerful and makes us feel very welcome.

Abuelita tending the fire
Antonio practices the sax
Vaquita, the 4-month-old baby cow
Yupanqui and Sisa
Steph and Tayanta selfie
One adorable anecdote about Tayanta: We were eating breakfast and Tayanta sneezed. I said, "Salud". the Spanish equivalent of "Bless you," literally "Health." This is the same expression used for "Cheers." Tayanta heard me say this and immediately held her glass of juice up in the air, and repeated "Salud!"
Craig plays with Sisa and Yupanqui
Knowing that Craig has Multiple Sclerosis, the family used traditional natural medicine to try to improve his condition. They applied a natural balm to his left knee and massaged it. They said that the knee felt "cold". Then for three nights in a row, they wrapped his left knee with aliso leaves while he slept, with instructions to wash it in hot water in the morning. Then the discarded leaves were to be burned in the fire. On the final night, they put boiling water into a plastic tub which contained leaves. They had Craig sit with his feet above the water on a little stool. They then wrapped his legs in a  blanket and he sat there in his mini-sauna for 6 minutes. They then removed the blanket, stirred up the leaves, replaced the blanket , and had him sit there for a few more minutes before bathing his knee in the water. That night, they wrapped his knee with different leaves.  His knee felt great by the end of the trip! They also provided him with medicinal tea when they noticed that his right hand was a little bit unstable. They are always looking out for us!

When Yupaqui was having stomach troubles, they prepared a medicinal tea for him and Antonio gently rubbed a smooth volcanic stone over his stomach to take away the bad energy.

Saying goodbye to Rosa, Sisa, Abuelita, and Yupanqui
On the day that we left, Tayanta had an appointment with an eye doctor in Quito for a check-up, and to schedule her third and final surgery within the next few months. Because of this, Aida, Tayanta, and Antonio rode with us in the van. Sisa ran home from school at 10 o'clock to say goodbye to us. It was difficult to say goodbye to Rosa, Sisa, Yupanqui, and Abuelita at the house. Sisa and Yupanqui were a bit standoffish as they were upset that we were leaving.

Saying goodbye to Tayanta, Aida, and Antonio at the airport
We really enjoyed getting to spend quality time with the family, playing with the kids, soaking up the beautiful pastoral mountain scenery, eating the delicious food that Rosa and Aida prepared, and sleeping soundly in our comfortable little casita. It was an excellent Thanksgiving, and we give thanks for our extended "family" in Morochos!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

China 2014

We had an awesome trip to China in October!

Since Blogger sites are not available in China, and we want our new Chinese friends to be able to see our photos and journal entries, I am not going to spend a whole lot of time writing this trip up on the blog. I will focus on getting the web site updated, since it can be accessed in China.

So here are some of the photos and descriptions that we have posted on Facebook, and be on the lookout for updates to our main site soon!

Back from an amazing trip to China with Myths and Mountains, Inc. We had an unheard of 4 straight days of blue skies and sun in Beijing! The people were absolutely wonderful, the sights were fascinating, the food was delicious, and we loved our city guide Alice!

Temple of Heaven

Tienanmen Square, decorated with a giant flower basket to celebrate National Day

Beiguanfang Hutong, Beijing
An historical neighborhood featuring narrow alleyways and traditional houses with shared courtyard space

Approaching the Forbidden City
Forbidden City

Enjoying the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. We took a ski lift up to the Wall, hiked from tower 4 to 24 and back, and then took a toboggan (alpine slide) back down.
Summer Palace
Cool graffiti art at funky, industrial art enclave 798 in Beijing, The whole place felt rather subversive, and wasn't what we expected to find in China. Really fun pop art installations and interesting gallery space in decommissioned factories.
Sunset through the Bird's Nest (Beijing National Stadium)
Wangfujing Snack Street in Beijing, where we sampled deep fried starfish and scorpions,
The scorpions were a yummy fried treat
The starfish not so much. Like Samantha Brown said in one of her China travel shows when she tried this, I felt like a demented fairy godmother.
Sunrise over the Shijia Hutong in Beijing, taken from our hotel room at the charming and lovely Red Wall Garden.

Saying goodbye to our awesome friend and city guide Alice before flying south to Guizhou.

Leg two of our China trip brought us to the southern province of Guizhou. We flew from Beijing to Guiyang., where we met our phenomenal guide Wang Jun and our friendly driver Mr. Zhou. We spent two nights at the lovely Hotel Sheraton Guiyang.

Jiaxiu Tower was originally built during the Ming Dynasty in 1598. No intellectuals from Guizhou had ever ranked first in the scholarly examinations which took place in China. The tower was built as a place for the intellectuals to get together and study. After its construction, Guizhou produced two number one scholars.

In front of the huge Mao Tse Tung statue in the People's Park in Guiyang. It's one of the few Mao statues left standing in China.

Stage shaped like lusheng flutes in he public square in Guiyang (across the street from the Mao statue)

Qingyan Ancient Village is a walled city originally built in 1378. At one point it was a garrison where 300,000 troops were stationed to squash a minority rebellion. Now it has been restored for tourism, and contains many interesting shops and restaurants. The architecture was quite beautiful, and we enjoyed exploring, shopping, and eating lunch.

Shrine at Qingyan Ancient Village

Wang Jun was able to arrange a visit to a local family's home, so that we could learn more about how modern Chinese people live in Guiyang. Seven and a half year old Sara and her mother and grandparents were lovely hosts, and were quite hospitable to us. Sara even played the piano for us! We are very grateful to them for opening up their home and family to us. We really enjoyed meeting them

Our next stop in China was Kaili, also in the southern province of Guizhou. This is an area where many ethnic minority tribes live. There are 56 ethnicities in China. The Han Chinese make up 93% of the population, and the other 55 ethnicities make up the remaining 7%. A lot of the tribes in this area specialize in various very detailed embroidery techniques.

Our driver Mr. Zhou and our guide Wang Jun eating lunch in Kaili 

Burial mound and traditional house in Shiqing Village, where the Small Horn Miao practice silk felt (applique) embroidery.

The square next to our hotel in Kaili. There are lots of activities set up for children here, They can drive around in little motorized cars and bikes, play in sandboxes and bouncy houses, and ride small amusement rides. And at night lots of people get together to do group exercises and ballroom dancing. We spent a lot of time here and everyone was very friendly and curious about us, as this province doesn't get many American visitors.

Miao couple in Weng Xiang Village who demonstrated their amazingly intricate folded embroidery techniques. The lady showed us the festival clothes she had made for herself, which was made of 800,000 folded silk triangles! They also showed us the yellow silk cocoons that they use to make the silk.

Folded embroidery, Weng Xiang Village

Kaili Sunday Market

Hiking to Matang village

A Geija woman demonstrates wax-resist batik. She melts a mixture of paraffin and bees wax, and then uses a tool made of copper and bamboo to draw intricate freehand designs on cloth. She will then dip the cloth into indigo dye. When it is done, she will melt off the wax, and the fabric under where the wax had been will show through as white. She gave me a lesson and let me try, and it was very difficult!
Langde Village was the first minority village to open to western tourism in 1980. They maintain their traditional building style, with houses made of fir trees. The village was founded in the 14th century. The oldest house standing today is 200 years old. This village was one of 2 places in Guizhou to host the Olympic torch relay in 2008

Yang Da Lu's residence in Langde Village. He was a leader in the Miao rebellion (the uprising at the Incense Pot mountain) and is revered by the people of the village.
Here we are at Xu's Embroidery Boutique, where Mrs. Yong (center), an embroidery expert, gave us a fabulous lecture and demonstration of many of the local embroidery techniques. We enjoyed looking at her collection.

Mrs. Yong's prized 200 year old jacket made with the thread splitting embroidery technique. One strand of silk thread is split into 13 separate strands! It was incredible!

On the bridge at Zhenyuan Ancient Town

Zhenyuan Ancient Town, a 1600 year old ancient village surrounded by a river. This is now a popular holiday destination for Chinese tourists. It is gorgeous

Zhenyuan Ancient Town now houses lots of interesting shops and restaurants

Everything is lit very beautifully at night at Zhenyuan Ancient Town. It cycles through various colors, and the reflections in the river are amazing
Zhenyuan Ancient Town: this is a 600 year old temple complex built into the mountainside caves. It is very unique because there are three religions represented in one complex: Budddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.

China Part 4:  We drove for approximately 4 hours to get from Kaili to Libo, where there is a UNESCO World Heritage site called Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Spot. It is a beautiful area where you can hike on nice paths to view rivers, gorges, waterfalls, karst mountain peaks, 19th century bridges, and wildlife. It is an area populated by the Yao ethnicity.

Craig at the Da Qi Kong section of the World Heritage Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Spot
Turquoise-colored river and small waterfalls at the Da Qi Kong section of the World Heritage Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Spot

Steph at the Da Qi Kong section of the World Heritage Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Spot

Craig and some inebriated newfound friends that we met while eating dinner in Libo. They were all extremely friendly and took dozens of photos with us on their smartphones. The gentlemen on the far right and second from the left were staying at the same hotel as us. and joined us for breakfast the following morning.

Traditional dancing at the Yao village

Granaries in the Yao village, elevated to keep the grain away from rats
Xiao Qi Kong ("Small Seven-hole Bridge") at World Heritage Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Spot.

Marshes in the Xiao Qi Kong section of the World Heritage Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Spot

Craig at Crouching Dragon Pond, in the Xiao Qi Kong section of the World Heritage Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Spot
Craig and Wang Jun on the shuttle bus at the Xiao Qi Kong section of the World Heritage Libo Zhangjiang Scenic Spot
Kids in the park across from the Sanli Hotel in Libo. A movie was being played on a huge TV screen, people were doing group exercises to music, and there was a bouncy house and sandbox for the kids. These kids were so excited to have their photo taken that a security guard even came over to see what all of the ruckus was about. D'oh!!!

Watch this space for more photos from the remainder of the trip!