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Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador

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in the land of sea and sun

Potters Village, Antigua and Barbuda

Down in the tiny island of Antigua (roughly 100 Miles²), my family and I are spending our Christmas holiday together in one of the island's harbors. Soaking up the sun, enjoying the beautiful mountain and ocean views, and having a few adventures along the way.

So far, we encountered about 3/4 of the population of Antigua in the capitol city doing Christmas shopping. This, of course, led to serious traffic jams and it took us 1.5 hours to travel roughly 9 Miles. Poor planning on our part.

Also, during the few forays into the sea both my mother and I have managed to be stung by jellyfish. Ouch. I was stung twice this morning; once so badly that once out of the water you could see the tentacle marks around my shin/ankle as a burning white mark. Now it's calmed down, no longer leaving me writhing in pain, only a raised red irritation. Quite unusual, though. Hopefully I will not encounter any more jellyfish on this trip (or ever...or at least not when they can sting me).

permalink written by  Theresa on December 23, 2008 from Potters Village, Antigua and Barbuda
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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food, fabulous food

New York, United States

So another whirlwind trip has passed, this time in NYC visiting my sister Liz's new place in Manhattan. So lovely. We did a lot of things, mostly planned around food. There are so many restaurants and cuisines scattered around the city, we tried to get a good variety (and by good variety, I mean we had Thai twice because it was so good the first time) including: Thai, Indian, Vegetarian, Belgian fries with dipping sauces (25 flavors!) and some homemade delicacies as well.

We also walked through Central Park (in the snow...and rain...and ice/hail), went to the New Museum, to the MOMA during the free Friday night event, to see a movie and to get a general overview of her neighborhood.

So nice to see my sis again. And experience NYC as an adult...since I haven't been there in years, it's quite a different experience now. And I LOVE IT!
It's such a different city from the city in which I was just living (Quito). The public transit is quick and clean (for the most part) and safe too...that's a big difference. And easy to get around, even walking place to place is just fine. Cabs are pricey (especially compared to cabs in Ecuador) but they're rarely needed, so it works out fine.

After a quick visit, into which we packed as much as possible, it was time to leave deep in the night/morning hours to get to the airport for the next leg of my whirlwind trip.

permalink written by  Theresa on December 19, 2008 from New York, United States
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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A Blast from the Past

Boston, United States

A long day of traveling from South America back up to northern North America, and I found myself in one piece, and in peace in Boston.

After finally finished all the usual unpacking nuisances, I was able to run a few errands and meet up with some friends from high school. Only seeing them once or twice a year, it's so nice to be able to catch up again.

After a short 2 days, it was time to pack up and leave again. And thus began my whirlwind trip.

permalink written by  Theresa on December 17, 2008 from Boston, United States
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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my last days on the equator

Quito, Ecuador

Yesterday was my last full day in this beautiful country. It is so unreal. I know that I am leaving today, but it just doesn't seem real. Though I'm excited to be going back to see family and friends, it will be quite different from living in Ecuador and I will miss certain things about my life here.

To celebrate the last moments with my friends here we organized a picnic at Parque Itchimbia--the beautiful park that overlooks the city. I'd wanted to have a picnic there since July when I read about it in a guide book. Finally, Mission accomplished. It was a beautiful day, great food and wonderful company. Along with the usual crew (or at least the ones that aren't off traveling at the moment), a few of our Ecuafriends came along. I also ran into another acquanitance upon entering the park and saw another set of friends there as well. You really can't go anywhere without bumping into somebody!
Anyhow, the picnic was a great success, and we got out, again, just in time to beat the rain.

To keep with tradition, we had my goodbye dinner at Crepes & Waffles. Each Sunday, we'd go to brunch at the restaurant but to accommodate both the picnic and my friend Andrea who was returning for my sendoff, we had a delicious dinner there instead. I think I'll have to visit the crepe place up in Burlington again when I return home. =)

After dinner and a final goodbye to my friends with whom I don't live, I curled up on the couch and watched a movie with my housemate. Overall, a great last day (mostly packing and eating...at least the eating part is fun).

Now I'm sitting at the airport, awaiting my departure. Originally I was to depart around 10am, however my flight is delayed so my long day of traveling has now gotten longer.

permalink written by  Theresa on December 15, 2008 from Quito, Ecuador
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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the end of being in the middle

Quito, Ecuador

This week was the end of my teaching cycle, and full of reviewing, grading and lots of paperwork. A good experience overall. The language institute for which I worked is great. A wonderful group of people, very supportive and understanding. I will miss it there a little. But I miss kids more, so I've got to get back to my usual kind of teaching...and so the job hunt begins.

Along with the various job errands I've been running all week, I also was finishing up everything I needed to do in the city, getting a few last presents, and some more sightseeing. My frind Lisa works at a high school outside the city so is gone all day; however, her friend Abby was visiting this week so I was enlisted as tour guide/companion for her time here. This meant I got a partner in crime. I was able to go to the last things in the city that I wanted to do, and also was a repeat offender at some others that Abby wanted to visit. Pretty awesome.

Repeats: Basilica (sweet architecture, church, dangerous ladders), Guayasamín Foundation (always a good time...and this time I remembered my camera! woot...photos to come later), La Compania de Jesús (very decorated old church), Mitad del Mundo (both the indigenous museum and the monument park), Heladería San Agustin, and general Centro Histórico adventures.

New stuff: La Capilla del Hombre (the other Guayasamín museum that I've been dying to go to), Museo San Francisco, and a volcanic crater hike near Mitad del Mundo.

La Capilla del Hombre is a gallery of Guayasamín's work that he designed and had erected before his death (1999). He created it as a place for many emotions, peaceful contemplation, and provocative thought. The gallery itself is impressive. A huge building and viewing space. The collection of his works is also diverse and beautiful. We also had a great guide--knowledgeable and kind (Oscar greeted us on the street when we passed him). Some reasons why I love Guayasamín: he brought recognition to Ecuador and the social issues present in this country, he cared about world issues and created pieces in reaction to world events from nearly every continent--overall social responsibility, his use of color and shadows in unexpected and beautiful ways, and his representation of people and emotions. Check out his "hands" series if you get a chance.

In the Museo de San Francisco we checked out some more religious art and accidentally wandered into the private living spaces of some of the monks who live there. Woops. Pretty cool though, and beautiful gardens within this monastery.

After visiting the usul tourist attraction in Mitad del Mundo, we ventured further down the road to visit the Mirador de Ventanillas--an overlook point for this volcanic crater and some trails through the crater, without actually entering the national park there. I'm sure it would be gorgeous on a clear day, but by this time it was cloudy and foggy, so the view wasn't was nice but still a great experience. I just love being outdoors and breathing fresh air--not easily done in the city!

It was also ridiculous weather this week. Usually, they say that December is one of the worst months, in reference to the rainy season. However, the sun was out nearly every morning and into the afternoon. Gorgeous.

We also had a holiday party this week at my friend's apartment, including fresh Christmas tree and a yankee swap. The gift I ended up with was actually quite fitting for me this week--a box of tissues. As is usually is, each time my teaching ends and vacation begins, I get a cold. Not as bad as last year though, so for this I am thankful. Hopefully it'll clear up completely before our family beach vacation--they were not appreciative of me getting them sick last year, so I hope I can avoid that this time!

permalink written by  Theresa on December 11, 2008 from Quito, Ecuador
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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Quiteña for the weekend

Quito, Ecuador

Quiteños really love to festejar. Officially, December 6th is the independence day of Quito, so starting a little over a week before this date, the parties and events began. There have been many cultural events: art exhibitions, musical performances, wine tastings, dance performances, bull fights, etc. For over a week, we had parades in different parts of town every day. Walking around I ran into a few of them, and watched some floats go by. My favorite was passing by a group of kids from a preschool all sitting with their teachers watching the parade--they were so excited, and clapping and smiling. Adorable.

However, the most popular form of celebration during fiestas del Quito is the chiva. A chiva is a double-decker, open-air bus that drives around the city. On the top deck, there is usually a live band playing the traditional chiva big-band music. On the lower deck, there are as many people as can fit (with at least one apendage holding on to the bus) drinking, yelling, waving flags, blowing whistles, and having a merry ole time. Since the end of November, you can't go anywhere without running into a chiva, or hearing one somewhere in the vecinity. During my 4-6 class, each time one would drive by, my students would start clapping and cheering in rhythm with the music outside. They also have tried to convince me, on multiple occasions, that chivas are a form of public transit--do no be fooled. These party buses are rather prevalent at the moment, but really are only around during fiestas del Quito. Soon, they will become extinct until next November/December.

Though I enjoy the music of chivas passing by, I did not partake in this Quiteño tradition, nor the tradition of attending the bull fights. Though many people I have talked with here are against the bull fights, or at least the killing of the bulls, most will still attend because of the festive atmosphere you can find in the Plaza del Toros. I'll just take their word for it--not quite my scene.

However I did celebrate this city's independence in other ways. Thursday after my night class got out, I met up with Megan and Cristina at Central University to attend a party thrown by Cristina's faculty. Each major had their own party at the unviersity that night. We were at the psychology party and were quickly adopted into a group of 3rd year Clinical Psych students. Before I got there, there was a pageant. Once I arrived, the DJ had just finished setting up his station and the music was roaring. We were dancing in an instant, pulled into different circles and conga lines and group dances, as well as the traditional salsa and reggaeton beats. The DJ was leading dancing contests, and contests for the group having the most fun, and other such competitions; our group won quite a few of them--they were quite festive.

Eventually, the director of the school decided he didn't want everyone there anymore, so the campus was flooded with people leaving and heading to new locations to keep on celebrating. Meg, Cristina, José and I found this dive kareoke bar that apparently they like. It was pretty much deserted when we got there, but filled up quite nicely during our stay. We four took over a nice corner of couches and enjoyed each others company as well as the entertainment of others singing. This wasn't regular kareoke either--it was more like the video game that scores you when you're done, depending on accuracy I imagine. There was one girl who was really into it, and didn't get that great of scores and needed to be calmed down by her boyfriend. It was kinda hilarious.

We all took part in the merriment that is kareoke as well--including my debut of kareoke in Spanish. Of course, I chose a Juanes song. Then Meg and I deuted with No Doubt's "Don't Speak" and got the highest score of the night that far--95.5--pretty sweet. Then the rest of our group finished out another 5 songs or so. All throughout the night, the owner was very attentive, making sure we had what we needed. This bar was quite out of the way, and I don't think they were used to having that many people there. He also flagged us down taxis when we left and got us fair prices, which was great (though my haggling skills usually do the trick).

Friday, the school for which I teach declared it a holiday, since in the past students didn't show up to classes due to the heightened celebrations. Good choice. Instead, I went to Itchimbia park with Andrea and Ayla for a free concert of local bands. The park itself is gorgeous, up on a hill with a magnificent view of the city.

The music was alright, but as is typical in Quito, the weather just doesn't hold. We left as soon as the sun started to hide, walked down to the EcoVia bus, and got inside the stop shelter just as the hail started to pelt everything on it's way to the ground.

Friday (the 5th) was also Phil's birthday, so I spent the afternoon making, decorating (and eating) cake with my friends in that apartment. We also watched 2 movies and made Christmas decorations. Lisa and Colleen made some wicked sweet snowflakes. After all of those festivities, we went out for birthday dinner and then hit the streets to celebrate the independence of Quito some more. Streets all over the city are closed down because of the massive street parties. In Plaza Foch there were multiple stages erected for live music. It was packed. All the streets in the usual neighborhood where we go out were full of people and vendors.

We took to using the buddy system, to try and stay safe and together. But it was tough. Holes in the road everywhere, broken glass, bodies in drainage grates, wandering hands, and streetfights--there was a lot to pay attention to. Eventually, the crowds and craziness were just too much for me, so a few of us went to get cabs home. It was definitely an experience I haven't had before, but also not one of my favorites. Too many drunk people making poor choices. It's a really dangerous time to be out and about.

The highlight of the cultural events I attended was the ballet at the Casa de Cultura (a couple of blocks away from my house) that I was invited to by Lisa and some of her/our Ecuafriends. It was crazy though. Most things in Ecuador have a start time, and then about an hour or so later you can expect things to start to get going. However, this ballet was set to begin at 6pm, we were meeting at 530. I stood in queue with all the others there at this time (I was amazed that so many people were there early). At 545 the doors opened and the line rushed the doors, mostly in an orderly fashion. However, the line snaked around the entire foyer of this huge theater, so it wasn't the most fun snaking around, so eventually the line disentegrated and there was an even crazier rush to the door. However, at that time, I still hadn't found my companions. Some were in a cab on the way, and the others I hadn't found. With the help of a few phone calls, Maria Fernanda came out to get me and introduced me to her other friends that were attending with us. For the half hour before the ballet began, I had very nice conversation with the other Ecuadorians there (Diego, Jenny, Fatima) in our group, and oogled the adorable babe (maybe 16 months) sitting in front of me. And then, miraculously, at 6pm, the doors shut and the ballet began. It was the strangest thing!

The ballet was Don Quixote, however it wasn't quite the story I remember from the excerpts I've read over the years. Quixote plays a very minor role, just kind of there awkwardly watching for the most part. But the principal characters/dancers were incredible. The sets and costumes were beautiful. I was thoroughly entertained for 2 hour duration of this ballet. Definitely my favorite so far (though I've only seen 3 ballets, so I don't have too much to compare to....unless you count ballet in movies as seeing ballets, then it's more). If you ever get a chance, see this beautiful ballet!

permalink written by  Theresa on December 7, 2008 from Quito, Ecuador
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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how to?: a step by step account of a package coming to Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

I always find a mailing address rather helpful, so I made sure to secure one before coming down to Ecuador, in case I should need any mail. I have successfully received post cards, letters, absentee ballots and packages. However, you never can tell when things will arrive, or how long it'll take for something to get to you once it's entered the country.
Case study: a package from my parents

1) Package sent from the US on October 31st.
2) Package arrives in Ecuador on November 5th (not bad!).
3) Package hangs out in a back room somewhere for a while.
4) A form is filled out informing me about the arrival of this package, November 10th.
5) Form receives the stamp of approval, November 11th.
6) The form gets lost somewhere, misplaced, stuck on the bottom of some pile.
7) The package and the form comunicate disgruntally about the efficiency of this process.
8) The package and the form twiddle their nonexistant thumbs.
9) The package and the form sit idly, plotting their revenge or escape plan.
10) The package and the form go into a hibernation state.
11) The form finally gets delivered to me, December 3rd, after the post office is already closed for business.
12) December 4th, I go to the post office.
13) The cashier takes my form, 2 copies of my identification, and a tax for receiving the package and stamps my form. He then gives it to someone else.
14) I sit on the bench and wait for my name to be called. They look for my package.
15) I am called and brought into the back room where all the packages are stored on floor to ceiling industrial shelves.
16) The postal clerk opens the package to check it's contents. "Clothes?" no, it's a bag. "Peanuts?" and other nuts. "What's all this?" that's just extra packaging, padding.
17) He puts everything back, tapes the box up, and hands me the customs forms. Tells me to follow him.
18) I bring the box along with me.
19) He sees me with the box and tells me to put it back.
20) We go to a desk and get more paperwork.
21) I have to go get a copy of the paperwork and come back to give it to them (and a rip off too, since the copy places near the post office have higher prices because they know people will need copies there, at that moment....a whole 5 cents for a page--ridiculous compared to my usual 2 cent rate).
22) Give the copy and the original paperwork to another postal clerk.
23) This new clerk gets out the package register and I sign for the package.
24) The clerk tries to pronounce my middle name. "Oh, like Luis!"
25) We go back into the holding cell, he continues reciting my name, and I claim my booty.
26) He wishes me a good day, and I return the sentiment.
27) I go home and immediately start eating trail mix. Woot.

Moral of the story, getting mail is taxing and time consuming. Though all in all, once I was notified of the arrival of the package, it only took me an hour at the post office to get my package, which isn't so bad. I've heard of people spending 2-3 hours getting packages before. I was truely fortunate--if only the other package I know was sent was there....ho hum. Another adventure awaits me another day.

permalink written by  Theresa on December 4, 2008 from Quito, Ecuador
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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turkeys in Ecuador?

Quito, Ecuador

Turkeys aren't so popular, though I know they exist and some people will be eating them.

This year for Thanksgiving--a small Thanksgiving meal with my housemates (Megan, Ellie, and Liza) when I finally get out of here tonight. Then an ELF! date with Liz back home...a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition.

Also, tomorrow night we'll have a more proper, huge holiday meal (more like a potluck, but with some typical turkey-day food). But it's the company that matters, right? It's bound to be a night full of food, friends, new friends, laughter and chaos.

We ended up having an obscene amount of food, and 2 types of mashed potatoes which of course spurred a spuds contest (between Lisa and our native Irish Felim)--both delicious, but believe it or not, California's very own Lisa beat out the Irish. Woot. With people from all over our social lives, and a few different countries, it was an interesting and wonderful night. The Ecuadorians there enjoyed their first Thanksgivings.

It was a very nice gathering full of food, laughter, stories, songs and sing-alongs (thanks to my very musical friends who amongst them have 2 guitars and a ukelele).

Thanksgiving in Ecuador also brought a hailing thunderstorm on my walk to work, followed by torrential downpours 10 minutes later, and then 10 minutes after that a beautifully clear sky. Crazy.

Hope you all enjoyed your holiday!

permalink written by  Theresa on November 27, 2008 from Quito, Ecuador
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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high hopes, foiled adventures, and a volcano

Machachi, Ecuador

Cotopaxi National Park: Last Saturday, this was the destination of Felim, Phil, Mike and I. The park itself was beautiful; great landscapes, beautiful trees, and of course the view of the volcano wasn't bad either. However we had a few glitches with the weekend.
1) We hired guides through Felim's host family, and they turned out not to be the best. They showed up at our rendezvous about an hour late because they were chuchaqui.
2) The place we rented gear from was understocked (because of the great weather/climbing conditions) and we got the bottom of the barrel goods.
3) An extra guide and climber piled in our van to travel to the park. Normally this would be fine, but the guide didn't stop talking for the entire trip about his climbing triumphs.
4) My recurring illnesses decided to rear their ugly heads again and I found myself ill by the time we reached the park. For this reason, I decided not to go out for the ice climbing, not wanting part of the group to have to turn back because in my weak/ill state I couldn't manage the physical exertion of the hike.
5) 3 hours after the midnightish departure for the hike, the first of my group returned--Phil's boot was ill-fitting and digging into his shin, making the hike painful. He had to turn back with one of the guides.
6) Shortly after Phil's return, Felim and Mike were back in our bunks as well--Mike's cramp-on came off during the ascent. Due to the ill-fit of the cramp-on to the boot, it would be unsafe to continue. Alas, the rest of the team had to turn back.
7) Even without the equipment malfunctions, due to the high traffic of climbers this weekend, there were some traffic jams as the 100+ hikers and guides tried to all ascend the same trail to the summit--the crater--and reach this peak by daybreak (supposedly a spectacular view).

I think that's all. It's unfortunate that our plan did not go as planned. We went in with such high hopes and returned with our egos crushed, adventures foiled, and deprived of sleep. Overall, I give this weekend 1/5 stars (at least I had good company and scenery).

Upon return to Quito, I embarked on my next adventure: the hospital. I finally stopped being stubborn and went to get checked out--enough is enough. They were very kind and efficient, and apparently I have a bacterial infection. I'm on antibiotics now--hopefully they'll make me feel better. However all the tests cost a small fortune (Ecuador standards) so I've got to figure out my insurance paperwork so I can be reimbursed, inshallah.

Once I get some photos, I'll share. Until then, be well.

permalink written by  Theresa on November 26, 2008 from Machachi, Ecuador
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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no te vayas, vida de mi corazon

Quito, Ecuador

Last night after work, we piled into cabs and found ourselves at the olympic stadium (though they've never held the Olympics in Ecuador...) with music eminating from the interior. Outside the main entrance were many of the ususual suspects--people of all ages standing in clusters, ticket scalpers roaming about screaming for buyers, women & children selling candy & cigarettes, and policemen mounted on horseback. A normal Friday night, no?

Since we arrived around 730/8, most of the general admission sections were already full, so we kept being turned away from entrance doors and directed to keep on toward the farthest entrance. Finally we got in and made our way through the lobby filled with food vendors--popcorn, salchipapas (hot dogs fried with fries), slabs of assorted meats, sanduches, foot-long hot dogs with more toppings than I can name and hamburguesas. We sauntered into the packed stadium and were on the lookout for our friends and seats. We found Meadhbh first and after a lot of back and forth between seats and other areas within our section, we all ended up in the first row of the second section back--pretty sweet seats really, except for all the traffic bumping into us (especially since I was also sitting on the stair aisle.

Along with the food vendors stationed in the lobbies, there were hundreds of vendors walking around with their merchandise. More of the same food, plus cigarettes & candy boxes, soda, coffee, beer ("cerveza, buena cerveza..."), chips, juanes commemorative pins and posters, glow in the dark sticks, light-up devil horns and light sabers, and rain ponchos.

We lucked out weather wise.

It's hard to find a break from the rain sometimes, but during out time in the stadium it only drizzled briefly--enough for most of my compatriots to buy the $2 cheap plastic ponchos (I brought my umbrella, of course) or whip out their own.

Music wise, I'm not sure how many bands played in total, but there were at least representatives from Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador. During my 5 hours, I saw 3 bands perform. I think the first performer was Jose Luis del Hierro, who put on a great show and had lots of funny coats...at one point he could have passed for a disco ball.
The next band can best be described as an 80's hair cover tribute band, complete with outrageous hair, head bands, leather vests and pants, and synchronized routines. They also had smoke and fire jets as well as fireworks to really liven up their set.

Finally Juanes appeared (probably close to 1145/midnight by now) and got right into it, playing many of my favorite songs. I was out of my seat in an instant, thankful for all the room sitting in the first row granted me. Dancing, singing, serenading my friends, getting strange looks from passersby, etc. I was having a blast! He played a great mixture of old and new songs, which I really appreciated. What a great live performer!
During his encore, he brought out the VicePresident of Ecuador who gave a speech about how awesome Juanes is and all he does for Latin America. He awarded Juanes with the title of Ambassador of Happiness, Peace and Solidarity.

A few songs later into the encore, he broke out a sweet salsa beat and people all over the stadium paired up and were dancing...in aisles, stairwells, the field below, you name it! It was really cool to see all the movement of the salsa dancers. Then, we decided that with the amount of people in the stadium, it would probably be a good thing to get out a bit before them so we could actually get a cab and not be stuck in the chaos of the stadium clearing out. Great choice. I was sad to miss the last song or two, but glad to find a cab to bring me him almost immediately...and at a reasonable price! Since this was bound to be a busy night for taxis, many drivers were jacking up the prices to ridiculous, insulting levels because they could--they knew everyone would need a ride home and there would be much competition for cabs, so passing up a cab wouldn't be a smart decision. Luckily, the driver Emily and I found was very sweet and easy to haggle with (even though his initial offer was decent, it's no fun if you don't converse about it a bit, and get it down a dollar or two).

After a long night of sitting, waiting, singing and dancing I was surprisingly energized and kept replaying the songs in my head and dancing some more. This was a night to remember.

(disclaimer: the title of this entry is inspired by a Juanes song....though at the time I can't recall the title)

permalink written by  Theresa on November 22, 2008 from Quito, Ecuador
from the travel blog: Adventures in Teaching and Living in Ecuador
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