Heeyyyyy, long time no blog. I’ve been really
lazy busy lately (well, maybe a little bit of both), but I hope you had a lovely Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/New Years. Mine was different than normal, but rather nice all the same.
On Monday the 15th of December I landed in Coca, Ecuador, at the tiniest airport I’ve ever seen, after a thirty minute flight from Quito. From there, there was a two hour boat ride on the Rio Napa, a thirty minute hike, and ten minutes in a canoe to arrive at Sacha Lodge, on Lake Pilchicoca in the Amazon rainforest.
It was the kind of hot and humid that makes you drip sweat just from standing in the shade, but the unpleasant climate is offset by the fact that you’re in the Amazon. I swam in piranha and caiman infested waters, walked across bridges above the treeline (in case you were wondering, thats really really high), visited an indigenous community, canoed through the forest, saw monkeys, gigantic insects, tropical birds, and swung on vines like Tarzan.
I also learned about the properties of various species of flora (which ones kill you, which ones save your life, ya know, just the norm). There’s a tree called Sacha Ajo with bark that smells exactly like garlic, and if you put it in a leaf, run water over it, and pour it up your nose it’s supposed to help with colds and allergies. What it also does is burn like hell. Holy shit that hurt.
A week after I got back, my host dad’s family came over on Christmas Eve for dinner. The exchange of gifts happened shortly before midnight, and this was our main Christmas celebration. The twenty-fifth we went to my abuelos’ house for my host grandmother’s 80th birthday lunch, and afterwards drove to Parque Metropolitano (a giant park that’s filled with wooded areas) on the eastern slopes of Quito. After hiking through a Eucalyptus grove, we reached the mirador (lookout) where my host mom’s siblings, nieces, and nephews were having a barbecue- because what better way is there to spend Christmas day?
Two and a half weeks ago I went to Otavalo with my host family, a small town about two hours north of Quito that’s famous for its indigenous market. So many gringos, such a small place. I haggled down the price of a duffle bag and scoped out all the items I’m going to purchase before returning to the U.S. (It’s totally normal to hang a hammock in a dorm room, right?)
The Imbabura Volcano, after which the province is named.
New Years Eve was…interesting. I found it to be just as much of a family affair as Christmas. There was a dinner with a few of my host mom’s relatives, and when the clock struck midnight glasses of champagne and 12 grapes to choke down. We then took giant stuffed dolls (like scarecrows but with masks), called los años viejos (the old years) out into the street and set them on fire, then jumped over the flames. This signifies burning away the bad of the past year and hoping for better in the new one. My host sister grabbed her backpack, and then we ran through the streets (and running up hills just after eating is not pleasant), greeting everyone we came across (because the whole neighborhood was out burning their own dolls), with “Nos vamos por viaje!” (we’re going on a trip!), and were subsequently wished happy travels.
Another Ecuadorian New Years tradition: throughout the entire day on New Years Eve men and boys dress up as women; they’re called viudas (widows) because their husbands (los años viejos) are being burned that evening. They block the streets at stop signs and won’t let cars pass until they donate change (which goes into a beer money fund). The above picture is from the day before my Christmas holidays started, of boys from my schools dressing as viudas and giving my male professors lap dances. Yes I died of laughter.
- 3 cups blackberries
- 3 cups strawberries
- 2 14 oz. cans full fat coconut milk
- 2 packets of stevia
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
Optional: crushed walnuts, slivered almonds, granola, shredded coconut
Place the cans of coconut milk in the back of the fridge and leave them overnight. The next day, preheat the oven to 400 F/205 C. Wash the fruit, cut off the stems and slice the strawberries in half, or quarters if your strawberries are giant. Place the fruit in a baking pan, in as much of a single layer as possible. Bake for 20 minutes. While the fruit is cooling, make the coconut whipped cream. When removing the can from the fridge be careful not to shake it. Gently open it and scoop the solid cream from the top, leaving any liquid behind. In a bowl, beat the cream with the stevia and vanilla extract. When the fruit is completely cooled (this might take an hour or two) layer it with the whipped coconut cream into glasses or mason jars.
Notes: I’ve made this with grapes, blueberries, etc… feel free to experiment with the kind of fruit used. If you try to layer the fruit and coconut cream before the fruit is completely cooled, the cream will melt. Also, one can of coconut milk may be sufficient to make the cream (but it might not, just depends on the can), so start off with that. This makes approximately 3 parfaits in juice glasses, the larger your glass, the less it will make. If you’d like to intersperse the layers with nuts, granola, coconut, or anything else, go ahead. If the blackberries are too tart for you, lightly sprinkle sugar over the fruit layers of the parfait. I found that just eating them plain (after roasting) was too sour, but when combined in the parfait the sweetness of the strawberries and coconut cream covered that.