Hola, Amigos y Amigas:
After a long bus ride through bouts of pouring rain and streaking sun rays, we arrived at our home for the next sixteen days: Riobamba. We are staying in a beautiful former ranch called La Primavera (The Spring). Our hosts welcomed us with open arms and took us on a tour of the grounds, which is speckled with endangered trees from the Andes. La Primavera serves as a convention center for non-governmental organizations and today we shared the space with an indigenous women’s group.
Once we settled into our rooms we met our bus driver for the week, Juanito, and he took us on a brief drive into downtown Riobamba. Our fearless GG Coordinator, Fernanda, a native of Riobamba, guided our sightseeing tour. Riobamba was the first city settled by the Spanish and served as Ecuador’s first capital city (before it was eventually moved to Quito). We started our tour in Plaza de Sucre, which is named after Ecuador’s original currency (Ecuador currently uses the American dollar after its own currency collapsed). We saw the beautiful Colegio Maldonado (see photo below), a public school named after a famous mayor of Riobamba.
GGers made their way from the Plaza de Sucre to Plaza Maldonado. Our GGers posed it up out front of one of the original Spanish colonial churches in Riobamba, Catedral de Riobamba. With it’s roughly hewn, intricate facade, the ancient cathedral lies in stark relief against the modern shops that serve as the outer ring of the plaza. Fernanda told us all a fascinating story about the indigenous people enslaved to build the cathedral. The indigenous builders altered the Spaniards original design to include local flowers and other indigenous markers. A small protest against a large injustice.
Toward the end of our Riobamba walking tour, Fernanda surprised us with ice cream. We learned about how Ecuadorians make their ice cream with unique local ingredients. Heather and Genesis enjoyed tamarind; Chelsea and Elsie tried the coconut; and Welyn experimented with taxo (known as banana berry), a local Andean fruit flavor.
We rounded out our city tour at El Tren Ecuador, arguably the most arduously built train line in the world. The students then went shopping inside the station and purchased some goods from indigenous artisans. Lawrence sought out the perfect turtle statuette for his mom. Ariela found a solid backpack with lots of multi-colored, detailed thread patterns. Noah bought the very ring he’d been looking for.
To round out our busy day, students played a pre-dinner soccer game on the massive, private grounds of our hostel. Monique scored two goals (and she’d never played soccer before). Ty and Travis challenged and pushed each other. As the sun set, and the clouds shrouding Mount Chimborazo, the largest mountain in Ecuador (its peak is the closest point on Earth to the sun because it sits so close the equator), our GGers wiped the sweat from their brows, gave each other well-deserved high fives and then made their way to a delicious carne asada dinner.
We all can’t wait for tomorrow. Our intrepid leader, Randy, is going to ensure that we have an incredible day visiting an indigenous community. We will take part in a sacred ceremony and learn how to dance, Ecuadorian style. Until tomorrow, GG leaders signing out.