Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nuestros Planes del Verano (Our Summer Plans)

Jeff and I have just finalized our summer plans, so I thought I'd send an email and let people know what we're up to now and what we're planning for this summer. Let us know if we're visiting a place where you'll be so we can get together!

It's been a busy spring for us - we're still living in Washington, DC and attending graduate school. In addition, we've been traveling quite a bit. There are lots of pictures and stories there about each of the places we've gone on earlier posts in my blog. Most recently, we traveled to Ecuador for a 10-day visit. We saw cities, jungle, and mountains, and had a great time. Now we're back to studying hard to prepare for the end of the semester.

This summer is going to be busy: In May, we're going to Boston for a friend's wedding, and then I'm going to be visiting California and Colorado as part of a two-week space policy seminar. Following the seminar, in June, we're going to spend three weeks in Minnesota. We'll take a weekend break while we're there to go to San Fransisco and see Jeff's brother's college graduation. Then we're flying back to New York for Jeff's Grandpa's 90th birthday dinner, before heading back to DC.

At the end of June, we'll fly to Barcelona, where I'll be studying at the International Space University (ISU) for the summer. ISU will last throughout July and August, so I'll be living in Spain that whole time. Jeff will stay throughout July, but head back in August to take his qualifying exams for his PhD program.

Here's the abbreviated version:

May 9-14: Boston, MA: Visiting friends and going to a wedding
May 18-21: Los Angeles, CA: (Mariel) Attending Space Policy Seminar - (Jeff in DC)
May 21-26: Colorado Springs, CO: (Mariel) Attending Space Policy Seminar - (Jeff in DC)
May 26-30: Washington, DC: (Mariel) Attending Space Policy Seminar - (Jeff in DC)
May 30-June 20: Minnesota
June 13-16: San Fransisco, CA: Attending Dave's graduation
June 20-23: New York City: Jeff's Grandpa's 90th Bday
June 23-24: Washington DC (or Baltimore)
June 24: Fly to Barcelona, Spain
July 30th: Jeff returns to DC
August 30th: Mariel returns to DC
September 2nd:
Classes begin in DC

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Religion in Outer Space

Today in my Space Law class, we had a guest speaker who talked briefly about the issues of practicing religion in outer space, which I thought was really interesting. The speaker was Rabbi Steven Glazer, and in about 30 minutes, he gave an overview of Jewish Law and its application to outer space.

Though how to follow religious law in outer space may not seem like a pressing issue, it got a bit of a boost in 2002 when the first Israeli astronaut went to outer space. Recently a Malaysian astronaut, who is Muslim, also raised such questions.

Rabbi Glazer began by explaining that Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews believe in the divinity of the Jewish texts, which provide Jewish law. To allow the law to be understood throughout time, there are scholars who provide responses to specific questions, allowing interpretations of the law that apply to changing situations and technology. The responses are provided in the form of legal position papers, so they are pretty rigorous. Also, they are based on precedent, so you have to understand the answers given by previous scholars throughout history and base arguments on that. He said that there are three basic issues to address in the case of space travel: dietary restrictions, sabbath and daily prayer requirements, and holiday observances.

The issue of dietary restrictions is the easiest to deal with, because astronauts get pre-packaged food. It is not difficult for the food to be chosen to follow Jewish law for a particular astronaut.

The question of prayer and sabbath are more difficult. Jews are required to pray three times a day, and are also required to refrain from doing any type of work on the Sabbath. However, a day on Earth is defined as the amount of time it takes the Earth to make one rotation on its access. If you are in space, what is a day? The shuttle and station revolve around the Earth every 90 minutes, so some say that is a day when on the shuttle or station, your day lasts 90 minutes. Given this situation, there have been about 5 basic answers by different scholars about what and astronaut should do, which are:
1) Don't go. You can't observe properly, so you should not put yourself in that situation at all.
2) Go, but don't observe. The rules about prayer and sabbath were meant for this planet, so if you're not on the planet, you don't need to observe them.
3) Go, but just observe what you can. Essentially, do you're best.
4) Go, and observe strictly, meaning pray three times every 90 minutes, and every 7th 90 minute segment, you should observe the Sabbath, and rest. This would essentially require you to pray and rest the entire time you're in space.
5) Go by Houston time. Since Astronauts set their watches by Houston time and do other work on Houston time, they can observe prayers and the Sabbath based on this clock. (This seems to be the most widely accepted option, though not doing work on the sabbath still provides an issue for astronauts, who don't really get a "day off" while in space. A space tourist, however, may be able to adhere to this.)

I mentioned earlier that the responses have to be based on precedent. In this case, an example of precedent was a question long ago, before modern technology, by someone visiting an area near the pole, like Norway. Since in the summer the sun shines constantly, and there is no night, the person wanted to know how they can observe the laws of praying three times a day, etc. The answers given were similar to the ones above. Another example is a question someone asked about being lost. How can you observe the rules if you're lost and have no way to know when it's the Sabbath? The answer there was, if you have a watch or a way to keep time, just rest every seven days, even if you don't know that is it the correct day of the week.

Another issue with the Sabbath is that one of the restrictions is on travel - you're not supposed to travel on the Sabbath. If you're on the shuttle or space station orbiting in the Earth, stopping is not an option, so what can you do? It turns out there is a good precedent for this as well. Long ago scholars decided that if you are on a sea journey that goes over the Sabbath, it is ok, as long as you do not embark or dis-embark on the Sabbath. So as long as you're not taking off or landing the shuttle on the Sabbath, you're ok.

The last issue is holiday observances. One example of an issue is lighting the menorah at Hanukkah. Clearly, you can't light candles in the shuttle or station due to safety concerns. A possible solution may be an electric menorah. Similarly, for Rosh-Hashanah, you are supposed to blow a ram's horn, however, in an enclosed space like the shuttle or station, you could damage people's eardrums. In these cases, changes to the traditions can be justified based on the Jewish law requiring that you do not cause harm to yourself or others. Another holiday requires building a hut with branches and fruit, another thing that will be difficult or impossible in space.

For Muslims, a common example of a difficulty is how to pray towards Mecca. Mecca is essentially below you, on Earth, but also, since you are moving very quickly as you orbit the Earth, the angle changes as you are praying.

There are lots of pressing technical and organizational issues with space travel, but I thought this was a really interesting thing to think about.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Not too much going on today. Jeff and I have been relaxing at home - he's studying for a midterm tomorrow, and I'm catching up on email and watching Battlestar Galactica (Season 4 starts Friday!) Time to get back in the swing of work and school!

Ecuador Trip - Day 10: Quito

Our last day in Quito was Good Friday. In Quito, there is a big procession that takes place on Good Friday, and Jeff and I were determined to check it out before heading to the airport.

We got to Plaza San Franscisco around 9am, and waited two hours for the procession to start. The square gradually filled with people as we waited. In the meantime, Jeff and I bought hats - he got a Red one with Che Guevara on it.The Good Friday procession features "Cucuruchos", people wearing purple costumes with pointy hats. (They kind of look like KKK costumes, except purple, but their not related at all.)We saw tons of those people go by, along with a number of bands playing fairly somber religious music. Then, at noon, three floats were carried out - one with Mary, and two with Jesus, and then it was over. All the people pushed in behind the floats to follow the parade. It was definitely an interesting experience.Once the parade was over, we decided it was time to grab some last food before heading to the airport. Jeff tried Fanesca, a soup that is especially made on Good Friday. Then we went back to Fruteria Monserrate for some fresh tropical fruit and icecream - the flavors of icecream I ordered were: Mora, Guanabana, and Frutilla... not idea what any of those fruits look like, but they tasted great.Then it was off to the airport and back to the U.S.!

Ecuador Trip - Day 9: Quito

Jeff and I decided to spend our last full day in Ecuador in Quito. We wandered around in the old town and saw some of the main churches. There is one done in Baroque style that is covered in gold on the inside - it's really beautiful. For lunch, we went to the Mercado Central, which was a big building with lots of little food stalls all over. We ordered two big glasses of juice, and Jeff got sea bass and ceviche. After lunch, we caught a cab up to see La Virgin del Quito - the statue on the hill you see in the background of a lot of my pictures. She has a crown of stars, and is holding a dragon on a leash, standing on top of the Earth. It was cool to see it up close, and you can even climb up inside it. The view of Quito from there is beautiful.

Views are one thing Quito doesn't lack, surrounded by mountains, there are lots of places you can go to get a good view. Arguably, the teleferiQo is one of the best, and that's where we headed next.The teleferiQo is a sky-tram that takes you up the highest mountain in Quito - to around 4100m. Once we were at the top, the only things on the same level as us were clouds. We actually looked down and saw an airplane on its way to land in Quito.After all of that, it was starting to get dark, and we headed back to our hotel for another evening on the terrace.

Ecuador Trip - Day 8: Papallacta

The day after we got back from the jungle, Jeff and I went mountain biking to Papallacta, a town with natural hot springs.

When we signed up to go mountain biking, I'm not sure that Jeff and I thought very carefully about what was involved. I guess I imagined a normal biking trip, a fairly laid back trip along a bike path or something. When they handed out helmets, I was glad there was a consideration for safety. Then they handed out knee pads and elbow pads, and said that we should probably wear a wind breaker, glasses, and a hat. Also, it turned out that all the other people with us were pretty serious mountain bikers - one guy had brought his own pedals. One girl was riding along in the truck but not biking, because she'd been thrown from her bike the other day and injured her shoulder.

The truck drove us outside Quito to the top of a mountain/hill, and then we got out and put on all our gear. The first road we were on was a dirt road cars couldn't drive on, because it was likely to have land slides. Sure enough, we found there were huge chunks of road that had slid away, so you had to carry your bike across the bit that was left.

This was a sign near the road we were on before we turned on to the dirt road. For those of you not great with Spanish, it says "Danger: Curves of Death."

The other people were quite a bit faster than Jeff and I - one guy was going 60 km/hr. That was ok with us, we were still going pretty fast, and we were staying on our bikes and having fun. The rocks in the dirt road make it bumby and hard to hold on, but the views as your going doing are awesome.

We went on some dirt roads, some paved roads, some with cars, and some without. I was nervous about riding with cars, but actually the cars were surprisingly good about bicyclers - usually leaving a lot of room if they pass you. However, since its a crazy mountain road, cars can't go all that fast, so the bikers and the cars are fairly even speeds a lot of the time.

Eventually we got to Papallacta, which is a town with natural hot springs. The water in some pools is really hot - it gets cooler as the size of the pool gets larger. There were probably eight different pools you could try out. The air was really cold, since we were still pretty high in the mountains. Before (and after) you're in your swim suit, you're usually wearing a sweater and/or a jacket.There was a shallow river that ran next to the springs, and it was freezing cold. Some of the people from our group got out of the hot pool, laid down in the freezing river, and then got back in the hot pool. I put my feet in the river to see how cold it was, and that was enough for me. Jeff didn't even dip a toe. Hot water is fine with us, no need to mix it up.

After leaving the hot springs, we went to the top of a tall mountain (again) and had a picnic lunch. The people leading the tour had brought quiche, carrot sandwiches, and brownies, which all tasted very good. Then it was time for more biking.

Jeff and I still lingered in the back, riding the breaks, as the other people whizzed ahead. Unfortunately, one of the guys in front got a flat front tire and was thrown from his bike. He had forgotten to put his helmet back on after lunch, so he was a little disoriented. We ended up making a pit stop at the hospital to drop him off. (We found out later they did some scans and he was fine.) Then we continued the mountain biking.

The last place we biked was a trail that used to be train tracks, but had been converted to a walking/biking trail. There were sections that had tunnels that were pitch black. They told us to stay in the middle and watch out for cows when going through. The scenery there was really beautiful, and Jeff and I stopped a few times just to take pictures.

By late afternoon it was time to head back to Quito. The truck left us off in the new town area, so Jeff and I explored that a bit. It's basically a lot of very trendy cafes and restaurants and hotels.

Soon it was time to head back to the old town, where we grabbed a snack at a little restaurant (again recommended by Lonely Planet), and then headed back to the hostel. It was Ecuadorian night at the hostel, so they were making Ecuadorian food - yucca with cheese empanada, and rice and shrimp in coconut sauce. Also, there was an Ecuadorian band playing, which was really fun. However, after getting up at 6am and biking all day, we were pretty tired, and went to bed around 9pm.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ecuador Trip - Day 5, 6, & 7: Jungle

On Sunday morning, Jeff and I got up early to head out on a trip to the jungle. There were five of us leaving from The Secret Garden Hostel, Jeff and I, Maria and Julia from Norway, and Rebekka from Switzerland. Paul (the tour guide) gave us a ride to the bus station, and we got on a bus headed to Tena - a city near the jungle about 5 hours from Quito.
The scenery on the ride is really interesting, it changes from green mountains, to dry sierra, to cloud forest, to jungle. A lot of the road was paved, but it still gets pretty bumpy. Also, occasionally all you can see out the window is steep drop offs, which make the ride more exciting if you're watching. At one point we got to a bridge that was closed, so the bus headed down a dirt road, which lead to the river the bridge goes over. When we got there, we saw three cars stuck in the river. I thought that was nothing we could do, but the driver clearly didn't agree, because he just drove right through a deeper part of the river on the side of the cars. I guess that's why I'm not a bus driver in Ecuador.

We made it to Tena, met up with our guide, and went for lunch in town. One more girl, Betsy from New Jersey, joined us there. We got rubber boots and ponchos from the office of the tour guide, and then jumped in the back of a truck for the ride out to the jungle.

We got out, put on our rubber boots, and walked about 20 minutes into the jungle. When we got to the place where we were staying, the first thing we did was change into swim suits for a dip in the river. There was a rope tied up so you could swing out and jump into the river. The water was crystal clear and the water was nice and cool.

Back at the camp, the kids (there were a bunch of them there - children and nephews and nieces of out guide, Fidel) did a traditional dance. Fidel told us about some of the things Shamans do, and showed some examples. Then we had dinner and Amazon tea (made with lemongrass from the jungle). Jeff played with the kids for a long time - he was basically a human jungle gym. We played cards by candlelight, and then headed to bed.

The second day in the jungle we walked around learning about various plants in the jungle. In summary, everything in the jungle seems to be either really tasty, or poisonous/hallucinogenic.
Eventually we headed out on a hike through the jungle - we went up and down a whole bunch, and climbed the tallest hill in the area. We also had a pit stop where we used palms to make headbands and hats, and the guides used some kind of fruit to paint our faces.

The second night we stayed in a cave in the jungle. When we got to the cave, the first thing we did was change into suits again and take a "shower". There was a small waterfall near the cave that you could get to by climbing up some rocks, and that's where we showered.
Also, there was a swing set up across for the cave - it was a stick tied onto a vine hanging from a tall tree. You could sit on it and swing out over the river, which was really fun.We had dinner around 4:30pm, and then hung out around the cave playing cards and writing Spanish, Quitchua, and English translations of words. There was just one little girl there, the others had left during the day to go to school. Fidel told us not to go down near the river at night, because there were big snakes that were poisonous. Didn't have to tell me twice. After it got dark, there wasn't much to do, so we went to bed shortly after 8pm. We slept in hammocks set up in the cave.On the last day of our jungle trip we hiked from the cave back to the place where we'd slept the first night. Along the way, we stopped and fished in the river. Jeff and I didn't catch anything, but Rebekka did.
Back at the camp, we had fish for lunch (not the one Rebekka caught, though), and then it was time for Jeff and I to go. Nixon, one of the nephews of our guide, helped us hike back to the road. We got a ride in a truck into town, and then went to catch the bus back to Quito.We got back late - too late for dinner actually, and ended up having slim fast snack bars for dinner (we'd brought them from home for the plane ride.) Then we had tea on the terrace before going to bed.

Ecuador Trip - Day 4: Otavalo

On Saturday, we got up and went to Otavalo. This is a town a few hours north of Quito that has a weekly market on Saturdays. To get there, we went on our second public transportation adventure. We took the trolley to a large bus station. We weren't sure exactly how to find our bus, but before we even got into the station, we literally had multiple people pulling us towards various buses headed to Otavalo. We got on one, and it headed out pretty quickly.

The scenery out the window is beautiful - lots of mountains and rivers and green plants. And, if I got bored of the scenary, I could watch the movies playing on the screen in front - Road to El Dorado was playing when we got in. I was looking out the window most of the time, but I have to admit, on the way back I watched the entire movie "Next" (starring Nick Cage) in Spanish. Even though I don't speak Spanish, I think I got the gist.

The bus dropped us off on the main road outside Otavalo, and we walked into town. About 8 blocks in we found the main market - it covers a number of blocks and sells everything from shoes, clothes, electronics, and crafts. Jeff and I each bought a hand-made wool sweater. Mine was about $11 and his about $13. I got a few pairs of earrings, we bought some Christmas ornaments, and we bought a hand-painted wooded platter.

We had lunch (al muerzos) while we were there, and the place we ate at served so much food! We had a common snack - cooked corn kernels with salt. Then they brought a potato soup, then an empanada, then a main dish with rice, veggies, and chicken. Icecream for dessert. Of course, it was a little more expensive than ususal, too, about $4 a person.

The market started to close down around 3pm, so Jeff and I hiked back out to the main road and waited for a bus to Quito to drive by so we could flag it down and get on. It didn't take long, and soon we were on our way back.

Once we were in Quito, we decided to go to Cafe Mosaico. They say not to wander around the city after dark, so we took a cab from the bus station. Cafe Mosaico is up on a hill above our hostel, and has a balcony overlooking the city. (Another one of the many places in Quito offering beautiful views.) The restaurant is Mediterranean themed, so we got some tsatsiki and pita. We had also heard good things about the hot cocoa, and it since it was raining and a bit chilly, we thought it would be a good time to order that. The hot cocoa comes with cheese in it - little squares that kind of look like marshmellows, but are the kind of spongy cheese like you get in cheese curds. It was actually pretty good.

From there, we headed back to the hostel for another night of chatting and hanging out on the terrace. The owner, Tarquin, was in town from their home (and other Secret Garden Hostel) in Cotapaxi - the mountains. He was telling us about the hostel there - it's isolated in the mountains, and is supposed to be very beautiful and quiet. At 11pm, they played "Closing Time" over the speakers, and we headed to bed.

Ecuador Trip - Day 3: Mitad del Mundo

On the third day of our trip, Jeff and I decided to go to Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World - i.e. The Equator). We had met a couple from Minnesota at our hostel the night before and the four of us decided to go together. (On a side note, Ecuador seemed to be the place for Minnesotans - one of the girls working at the hostel was from Minnesota, too.)

The four of us walked to the metro bus station, and got on a bus that would take us to Ophelia - the stop at the end of the line. The bus ride was pretty entertaining. At any given time, there is at least one person on the bus trying to sell something. There was a guy who sold pens, another guy that sold wrist and knee wraps, a woman selling videos on how to run a family, a series of people selling snacks, and a family that played music.

Looking out the window was fun, too. We saw people carring platters of icecream with upside-down cones on them. There was a juggler performing in the crosswalk during a red light. We also passed a few McDonalds, a million KFC's, and at least one Tony Roma's.

Once at Ophelia, we caught another bus to a stop near Mitad del Mundo, and walked from there. We went into the park with the official monument. We took a bunch of cheesy pictures around the monument. Actually, the equator location was identified in the 18th century, and they were about 240 meters off.

That left the option of building a hokey museum at the location of the actual equator (calculated with GPS), which the four of us visited next. The museum was fun, and while there, we got to see all sorts of bogus experiments showing water spinning in different ways on either side of the equator, and people having less strength while on the equator. Jeff and I both got a certificate for being able to balance an egg on a nail, something the museum claims can only be done at the equator. We had a really good time on the tour - fake or not, the little experiments were entertaining. Jeff and I also got to try our hand at using a blow-dart gun.

After the equator adventure, we took the buses back to Quito. (Did I mention the buses cost about 25 cents to ride?) Jeff and I dropped our stuff off and went to get food. Our constant companion during the trip was Lonely Planet Ecuador, and it had really good suggestions for food and fun in the city. (Actually, all the travelers seemed to have the same Lonely Planet, and often you find yourself quoting suggestions or warning from the book to each other.) Anyway, Lonely Planet suggested Fruteria Monserate, and they were right. We had a bowl of fresh tropical fruit with raspberry sauce and whipped creme. We also had soup and a cheese empanada. Yum.

After that, it was starting to get dark, so we went back to the hostel for another night of hanging out on the terrace. We met a couple that had moved their whole family from Colorado to Cuenca, Ecuador. Their kids were young - maybe 5 and 7 years old, and were learning Spanish at a bilingual school. The parents had decided to take a few years off to make the move, and were focusing on learning Spanish as well.

Once the terrace closed at 11pm, the volunteers at the hostel convinced us to go out dancing. Jeff and I were curious to see the new part of town and experience Ecuadorian clubbing. Turns out it is pretty similar to clubbing in the U.S. - crowded and loud. Also, the new town is also known as "Gringolandia", so there were lots of other white people there - tourists, expats, and people from embassies. We danced for a while and had fun, and headed back to the hostel around 2am.

Ecuador Trip - Day 1 & 2: Panama City, Guayaquil, and Quito

Panoramic Picture of Quito

Jeff and I just got back from Ecuador - we were there for about 10 days, and we had a great time! I kept a journal while we were on the trip, so now I can write a bit about it.

We left really early in the morning on Wednesday, March 12, and got into Panama City around 11am. We had an 8 hour layover, so we decided to leave the airport and spend some time seeing the city. After filling out a bunch of forms and thoroughly confusing the customs officials by saying we were visiting for less than a day, we got out of the airport.

Jeff started exercising his Spanish skills to try to get us a taxi. The woman at information must have sensed our inexperience at bargain in Spanish, because she walked over to the taxi driver and bargained for us. Not exactly sure how much it would be or exactly where it was going, we happily got into the cab and headed for Casca Viejo (the Old Town). We were dropped off in front of a church, and seeing some other tourists around, thought this was probably a main tourist spot in the old town.

We spent the next few hours wandering around seeing the old town - it was all very pretty, but not that big, so I think we saw most of it. We had lunch at "Casablanca Bistro". Jeff ordered some kind of seafood medley that came in a pineapple.

In the afternoon, we caught a cab back to the airport to catch our flight to Quito, happy with how smoothly the trip was going so far. And thats when we hit our first speed bump of the trip. We were flying along when an announcement comes on that sounded something like this... "Spanish, Spanish, Spanish, Guayaquil, Spanish, Spanish". It turned out that instead of flying to Quito as planned, we were going to land in Guayaquil - another city in Ecuador. (We tried to find out later why we didn't land in Quito - some said it was weather in Quito, while others heard something was wrong with our plane and its easier to land in Guayauil, which isn't in the mountains like Quito.)

We got off the plane, not sure what the plan was, since it was 10pm and it didn't seem like another flight would go out that night. As we exited, they handed us cards that said "Transito" - no names, info about our flight, or other information, just generic white cards. Jeff and I were skeptical, but then we learned how to use the cards. You follow the crowd, and whenever you're confused about where to go next, you just wave the "Transito" card and someone points you somewhere. This got us out of the airport, onto a bus, and into a hotel room (for free!). We even got breakfast the next morning before being bussed back to the airport.

At the airport, we weren't quite sure what was going to happen. We stood in line, and heard rumors that they were trying to fit all of us onto various flights to Quito going out on other airlines, but that there were only three today. As we sat our our backpacks, reading and waiting for something to happen, "I just want to fly" played over the airport speakers. I wonder if they planned that.

Luckily, Jeff and I made it on a 10:30am Tame Airlines flight to Quito. We had only made a reservation for the first night at our hostel, but we decided to take a cab there anyway and hope that they had rooms available for this night. They did. So we stayed at The Secret Garden Hostel in Quito.

The Secret Garden Hostel - Quito
We really liked Secret Garden, and even though we'd only planned to spend one night there, we ended up staying there the whole time. The hostel had an awesome rooftop terrace with a cool view of the city. They serve breakfast, dinner, and drinks up on the terrace, and have free tea and coffee all the time.

The people that work there are all volunteers - mostly students and young people. You volunteer to work at the hostel, and in exchange you get free room and board and 20 hours a month of one on one Spanish lessons. It's a very cool way to live in Ecuador for free for a while. Also, the volunteers were up on the terrace pretty much every night, eating, drinking, and chatting. That was really nice, because you get to know them and it's a lot easier to arrange travel plans, ask questions, etc. The atmosphere is very friendly - hanging out on the terrace at night, having a drink, and talking with other travelers was one of my favorite things to do in Quito.

Anyway, the first day in Quito, Jeff and I just spent some time wandering around. Paul, the guy who runs Carpe DM, a travel agency associated with the hostel, suggested a few lunch places to us. Our first restaurant experience was a bit awkward, because we didn't really know what to do. The waiter told us to just find a place to sit, but all the tables had people at them, after looking confused for a while, a guy explained that we just sit at any table with enough open seats, so we did that. After sitting there for a minute, the other guy eating at the table asked if we'd ordered. No, we hadn't. So we got up and went back to the front to order, and then came back to sit down.

In Ecuador, ordering food is pretty easy, because for lunch, you always order the same thing - Al Muerzos (i.e. Lunch). That usually includes some kind of soup, rice, meat, and vegetables, as well as a cup of fresh jugos (juice). And all of that usually cost about $2 a person. (Ecuador's official currency is the US dollar, so we didn't have to do any converting of money.) While we were at the restaurant, two guys came in and sang and played the guitar, which was pretty cool.

After lunch we walked through some of the main squares in Quito. The Old Town in Quito is a UNESCO heritage site - it's all very pretty with cobblestone roads and houses with little balconies. Also, the city is in the mountains, so in every direction the background is beautiful green mountains, often covered with brightly colored houses.

We walked to the National Basilica, which is a huge old-looking church on a hill. It looks like a neo-gothic Cathedral, except that instead of gargoyles, it has turtles, ant-eaters, and other animals on it.

You're allowed to climb up to the top of the towers, which Jeff and I thought would be pretty fun. To do this, you go up a series of stairs (no problem), then walk across a wooden plank over the main roof of the church (the creaking does make you a little nervous), then up another ladder (at least you're not on that wooden plank anymore), and then you're outside. Once outside, you get to climb up another series of ladders to the tip-top of the tower (um... just don't look down.) Once you make it, though, the view is great. I took a panoramic picture of the city from one of the towers.

You can also climb the clock towers, which require a bit less nerve, because it's mostly stairs, and the series of ladders are indoors, rather than outside. There is a great cafe in the clocktower, where Jeff and I had some coffee and a Humita (like a Tomale).

After all our climbing, we were ready for an evening of chatting with travelers at the hostel. It seemed like everyone we met was traveling for three months, six months, or a year - people thought it was crazy we'd come to Ecuador for only three days. Also, we met a bunch of people who had been to Bogota', Columbia, and highly recommended it. Possible future trip?