Here is the link to all the photos which should be roughly in chronological order, but I unfortunately don't know how to caption them, so I hope that doesn't cause too much confusion…

The week was pretty much uneventful, until Thursday (the 19th) when we Earlhamites (+Veronica, who pretty much counts by especially after having traded Tyler's Earlham shirt for her PUCE shirt… ) which was when we left for our last group trip of the program: to Cuenca.

At four we met up to get in some taxis for the last trip to the airport before the LAST trip to the airport (penultimate, would be a good word here…) We were our usual goofy and overly loud selves in the airport (my theory is that we can all pass as normal, rational humans on our own in the real world, but that somehow when all together our weirdness and quirkiness multiplies and we become the best kind of obviously odd) Anyway, in the shuffle of checking some bags and not others, the knitters I had converted to the cause (Minori and Sarah) decided that metal knitting needles might indeed be considered potential stabbing utensils when in the context of airport security, and therefore were afraid they would get confiscated, and then where would we be? Even though there was no comment about the 5 double pointed metal needles I carried on the plane to Yasuní. I eventually decided to check my knitting anyway, just to be safe; since it would be a shame to get my needles confiscated so close to hat completion.

Fast forward 10 minutes, and we are in the security line, everyone else already through, and only Rodolfo and I remaining. Where is my passport? But actually, where is it?! After going through the wonderful ritual of emptying my entire suitcase (underwear and all) in the middle of the airport, I finally realized that I must have accidentally checked it with my knitting in Sarah's bag. Wow, I am good at airports! After a few minutes of tense panic (I not be able to fly without some form of picture ID, so that meant either my driver's license which was an hour away in la Floresta in my nightstand, or my passport that was in Sarah's bag, was who knew where by then.) We eventually got a hold of who snuck backwards through security, and we explained situation/sweet-talked the airport people into letting her access to her bag again, worried for a few horrifying seconds as she rummaged through her duffel, that I had in fact dropped my passport somewhere, rather than mistakenly checked it in her bag, and that it was even then being sold on the black market…

The three of us finally exhaled when she triumphantly held up the small navy blue book-found at last. We ran through security just in time, and caught up to the rest of the group at our gate. I was enveloped by a very touching group hug and many exclamations of gratitude and joy (even a few tears) as they all told me how glad they were I had found it and my identity wasn't being pirated, and I wouldn't have to stay in Ecuador indeterminately until I could get a new Passport…All was well however, and we ended up having our gate changed and a delay in boarding, but after the previous worries, this seemed like nothing.

We arrived in Cuenca starving, and checked into our rather luxurious hostel in the historic district, then proceeded to get some dinner at a "Chicago" style pizza restaurant. Michelle, Minori and I ate half of the largest vegetarian pizza I have ever seen (as in, I stretch my arms out into the biggest circle they can make and it was that big)

After exploring our hostel balcony, and the other exciting features of our fancy new home, we went to bed fairly early. Friday morning I woke up early to get some homework done, and then we rushed through the last of our breakfast so that we could run to catch our 9 am tour of the historic district on a double decker tourist bus. The tour was interesting, and the translation of every phrase into English confused us a little about why they were saying everything twice, which I guess is a good sign for our audial (is that a word?) Spanish comprehension…We visited the Panama hat museum as part of the tour as well. Why you ask? They actually have nothing to do with Panama, except that was they place they were exported to (from Ecuador) and bought by Theodore Roosevelt during the canal construction, and thus the misnomer was born. They are actually a traditional Ecuadorian handcraft, woven from dried palm fronds, and costing anywhere between $30-$3000 dollars, depending on the level of detail. We were sufficiently impressed, and Sarah and I were also confused at being asked have our pictures with two random Ecuadorian guys also on the tour (we aren't from here, clearly, so…?)

We had a few hours to wonder around the plaza central, and eat some lunch, before getting on the evening tour in the other direction. The highlight this time was the winding climb up to the mirador where we had a lovely view of Cuenca spread out below the dusky sky and us. We explored the church, took some cheesy group selfies, bought some canelazo to aid in our warming-ourselves-up efforts, and penguin huddled briefly to achieve that same end. I guess we had forgotten that, even though we were in a different city, this wasn't Bahía de Caraquez, or Yasuní, we were still in the Andes mountains, where it gets cold as the powerful sun leaves the sky. We were the only group valiant enough to brave the cold and wind on the top of the bus on the way back down the which meant that we were the only ones who got to see Tyler to throw the canelazo cups away. Ordinarily this wouldn't be such a great privilege, but because of the wind, the long trek to the front of the bus, and the low hanging branches and telephone wires, it was a rather perilous and therefore highly comical sight. The image of Tyler, stumbling and crouching down to avoid decapitation by telephone wires (looking rather like an orangutan in the process) while also trying to run to the front of the as it careened at high speed down the curvaceous mountain road, throwing terrified looks over his shoulder at us, and shrieking as the cups were roughly blown out of his hand…I will probably never forget it.

For dinner we had some Indian food (al estilo Ecuatoriano, with a popcorn bar and vaguely curry-inspired sauces to put on it), which we all partook in everyone else's food, as usual, creating a comic level of potluck-ness, as we all passed all our food to everyone. We waddled out about an hour or so later, stuffed with deliciousness, and began our search for a club.

There were several bars, but the only club that seemed to promise dancing had a long line out the door, and when we asked the cost we were informed that Tyler's signature basketball shorts were not acceptable in the strictly semi-formal club. We soon developed an elaborate plan that I still think would have been brilliant: James would go in with the rest of the girls (it didn't seem to matter that much what we were wearing, and we got in free "because girls can sometimes like hanging out with other girls for a ladies night, but guys always want girls, so they let us in free, because then the guys will come" according to Veronica) so James would go in with us, go to the bathroom, take off his pants, and somehow throw them out of the men's bathroom to one of us, who would smuggle them out to a waiting Tyler. Phase II: Tyler would miraculously manage to discreetly change into James' pants on the busy street, then he would get in without a problem, go to the bathroom, give James his pants back, and change into his shorts again. It was obviously a pretty foolproof plan, because he would thereby have avoided the wardrobe police who we assumed to be concentrated at the door. What could have possibly gone wrong? But a more logical plan reigned in the end: the three men taxied back to the hostel, where James lent Tyler some appropriate club-wear. Two Jameses arrived at the club about half an hour later, one with a runner's body type instead of a football player's…We had a couple hours of group dancing in a circle of friends, using Tyler and James as fake boyfriends as needed, to deter overeager men who wanted to pull us away.

The night got rather interesting when Tyler decided he was too hot in the stuffy room with his long sleeved shirt under James' button up. I hollered into his ear over the music "Just take off the bottom layer then" and thus it began. Lacking the handy skill that many women posses of changing in public by not actually ever completely taking off your shirt, Tyler instead had to unbutton and completely remove both shirts, before putting the short sleeved button-up back on. Seeing this, Veronica jokingly cheered, as though he were starting his striptease act, thus, more people than were already staring at our large group of gringos, our way too. That was when, in the flustered process of his sleeve around like a dog's tail, attempting to dress himself, his pants (several sizes too big) fell down. Tyler (naturally) shrieked, attracting what must have been the rest of the dance floor's attention our way, as he stood there, pants around his ankles, and his shirt half on…Minori responded by sliding down the wall into the fetal position, convulsing with waves of and the others had similar reactions of disbelief. Thus, I rushed over and yanked his pants up, as he finally got his wardrobe in order…We then developed an elaborate system of tying his through his belt loops with several hairbands, to avoid any fiascos. I spent the rest of that wacky night dancing with those wonderful people I am growing to love more everyday.

Saturday took us in a van to the Cañari ruins of Ingapirca, a few hours away. The car ride provided ample time to knit, attempt homework (unsuccessful) sleep, and for Veronica and I (the only ones with semi-catholic backgrounds) to explain to Tyler and Michelle that yes, all of the virgin statues and paintings around the world do, in fact all represent the very same virgin Mary. Despite having other titles added such as Guadalupe, they still represent the original Mary, and that no, they are not any virgin from down the road ("Oh, I always though that if you died without having sex then they made a statue of you" no Michelle, not quite…)

The tour was quite interesting, the free-roaming llamas adding to the possibility of imagining that the people who had left behind these crumbling foundations were just over the next hill. We learned how this lunar-worshiping culture had been subsumed by the solar centric religious system of the conquering Incas, and saw some of their astronomical observation tools. A few of the structures were remarkably similar to the ancient ones of New Grange that I had the opportunity to see in Ireland.

From there, we went to a town famous for its gold and jewelry. I somehow restrained myself from buying any more earrings, and limited myself to some ice cream, even as we strolled through all the shops that lined the main square, all of which were packed with lovely rings, necklaces and earrings.

We stopped for what turned out to be an early dinner in el mercado in a small town on the way back. We decided that Tyler's health inspector mother would have had a heart attack at the open doors, let alone the flies and the large knives being used in such close proximity to small children…But I love going to markets, I guess because everything just feels so much more intimate and immediate. You get to see the whole process, since they don't hide anything like is so often the case in the States. Michelle was repulsed by the wafts of smoke that issued from the row of stalls roasting cuy (guinea pig, remember?) over open fires, but I was drawn in despite my vegetarianism. We visited the upper level, which contained the largest number of roasted whole pigs I have ever seen, we bought something like $2 worth of mote (a type of corn) and beans, which turned out to be half a shopping bag full, and some tortillas de choclo, which are sweet corn pancakes with cheese, which were also delicious.

We piled back into our trusty van just as the rain started, and arrived for a cozy night in our hostel, too tired and dry to want to go out into the rainy night. After several failed attempts to scrape together enough internet to watch the Japanese anime "Spirited Away" (only succeeding in loading the add "Sprited Away" about 5 times…) We gave up and just hung out, ordering another enormous pizza sometime around 10 pm. Michelle, Veronica, Minori and I ended up staying up till 3am talking about everything relationships, Christmas, knitting, and religions of the world, all with Tyler passed out face down on the bed between us, occasionally rolling over and muttering incoherently in his sleep. We decided it is the best group of people with whom (my grandmother will have to inform me if that was the correct of that word…) one can stay up talking about "slightly shallow but some kinda important topics" with, until all hours of the night, in the wise words of Minori.

Sunday we woke up rather late and started on our investigative project that Rodolfo had assigned. We broke into several groups to tackle the 14 questions, interviewing locals and turistas alike, mapping out la plaza central, visiting museums and statues, eating in another market, and all photographing everything that seemed remotely important. We returned from a day of much walking, to the hostel, were we were informed our flight was at least 2 hours delayed, if not canceled altogether. We thus left for a dinner before confirming we had an airplane to get onto, heading to the airport. We finally arrived back to Quito and our beds at about 1:30 (at which time I still had to finish my homework) and then slept precious few hours before the penultimate Monday of normal classes in Ecuador.