Hello, 2022!

Belated Feliz Navidad and Feliz año nuevo!

A little belated, of course. A brief life update. We DO have visas now, but the process is still ongoing. So, more on that later. For now…

Christmas in Tena!

Parque Central, Tena

Since we went home to the US twice this year (🙌), we knew we were going to stay put for the holidays. Plus, someone has to take care of those darn butterflies. So, Shane, Sophie (a master’s student), and I stuck around Tena. It was quite a low-key Christmas. The city was decorated with lights and (fake) Christmas trees. Honestly, what I found most interesting about the decorations was that they were all made out of an outdoor, weather-resistant type of material. I mean, it makes sense given the periods of intense rain and sun. It’s just not something I ever considered! For example, the tree in the main square was a metal frame wrapped in green outdoor carpet-looking material. But, when you turn the lights on, you would never know the difference!

Christmas decorations at Ikiam, the university.

Also! I did manage to find a glühwein alternative while we were in Quito for the visas. May I introduce you to canelazo! It’s a warm, orange and cinnamon, alcoholic (or not) drink popular around Christmas. Since we’re jungle-dwellers now and froze at ~10,000 ft (2800m) in Quito, canelazo was a welcome find.

On Christmas Day itself, we spent a few hours in the morning with the butterflies, a few hours watching Christmas movies and the rest of the time sippin’ drinks on the roof!

I will say that the warm weather did influence our Christmas spirit, even though we heard it was quite warm in the US on Christmas, too. The build-up to Christmas just wasn’t as Christmasey without the cold. However, Shane, Lucie, and I did host our first lab Christmas party, which was full of spirit thanks to the Christmas decoration EXPLOSION in all of the shops around town. There was certainly no shortage of decoration availability. I think my favorite purchase was our nativity-like scene (we were missing baby Jesus).

Please note the donkeys…

New Year’s Eve

Fun fact. This is our 6th New Year’s Eve in a row in a different country!

And, what better way to celebrate than by setting covid on fire!

The ańo viejo (old year) is Ecuador’s biggest New Year’s Eve tradition. Essentially, at midnight, you burn paper mache characters or whole dummy’s made from old clothes and stuffed with sawdust (called monigote), leaving the old year in the past.

We didn’t experience this, maybe because Tena is a smaller city or maybe because of the pandemic, but apparently, some cities have huge monigote, making for equally huge bonfires.

Paper mache masks for the monigote.

So, we did as the locals do and bought a monigote and burned that mf’er in the street at midnight! Oh, and to solidify your good luck for the next year, don’t forget to jump over your monigote 12 times.

We burned covid in the street… notice how dark it is? That’s because the electricity went out shortly after midnight throughout the city for about 10 minutes. Seemed fitting for the burning, though.

See ya, 2021!

Other Ecuadorian NYE traditions include eating 12 grapes at midnight for good luck (also a tradition in Spain, which my family had already adopted) and wearing yellow or red underwear for general prosperity or love, respectively. Unfortunately, I found out about the appropriate underwear color too late, but I’ll be prepared next year. Individual fireworks are also popular, and we had a lovely view of them from our roof!


Shane and I did some reflecting on 2021, and overall it wasn’t a bad year.

It started out pretty bleak. We were in hard lockdown in our basement apartment for seven months, and I wish I had a heat map of the circles I walked in the neighborhood. I think the lowest month was around March, when things were improving elsewhere, but we had no end to lockdown in sight. Plus, we had no clue when we could go home again and if and when the lab would get approval to go to Ecuador. I’m a plan-ahead kind of person, and I couldn’t think about anything more than a week in advance. Essentially, I could only look to the following Saturday when I had my “big outing” to the grocery stores. We also had a major dip, losing Meatball unexpectedly. In hindsight, the trip to Ecuador would have been difficult on her 16-year-old kitty bones, and she would have melted in this heat. It’s not the same without her, though.

Peak lockdown boredom. München beer blind taste testing.
Sleeping Cat
Missing her cuteness.

The beginning of the year may have been bleak, but for us, 2021 constantly improved. We got out of lockdown then limbo when Ecuador travel got approved. We enjoyed the beer gardens in Munich and went on a few hikes. We saw our families twice in one year!! My sister got married, and we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary, canoodling through Munich. We moved to a new country and flew first-class for the first time. 💁‍♀️ Importantly, Shane is finally able to do the research that he was hired to do. Also, I bought my very first laptop at the age of 35, and Taylor re-released TWO albums! So, all in all, not too shabby.

Canoodling through Munich for anniversary photos.
Feelin’ first-class fancy.

Happy New Year, everyone, and best wishes for 2022!

Hasta luego,

Whitney

Greetings from Tena, Ecuador!

I’ve been slacking on the blog front. We’ve been here for two weeks, and I’m not quite sure how that happened so quickly.

It feels like we’ve been going non-stop since we arrived. The trip from Germany was surprisingly uneventful. We left Munich at ~6:30 am, had a short layover in Amsterdam, then it was about 11 hours from Amsterdam to Quito. There was mild panic checking in for the flight because the check-in lady was asking everyone for their negative covid test, which we didn’t have because it’s not required to enter Ecuador. Your proof of vaccination is enough. However, to enter and stay in the Netherlands, you need a negative test. Once we explained that our final destination was Ecuador, it was OK, but it didn’t make you feel good to watch other people be denied check-in and go in search of the airport testing center.

Other than that, it was smooth sailing. All of our 12 checked bags made it (!!!!), and our pre-arranged vans were already waiting when we arrived. About 3.5 hours and I don’t know how many switchbacks (🤢) later, we arrived in Tena!

Since then, we’ve been apartment hunting (more on that later), Shane, Lucie, and José have been working to get their lab and butterfly space set up at the university, and we’ve been trying to figure out daily life here. I’m sure you can imagine, it’s quite different than Europe.

So, first impressions, you ask?

We need a Spanish class.

I mean, this may seem obvious, and we knew we would likely find fewer English speakers, especially since Tena is only ~30,000 people. However, we’ve been spoiled. In the Netherlands and in Germany, you can get by without speaking the language. Here, not so much. Luckily we’ve had an Ecuadorian (José) and a Spanish speaker (Lucie) with us to help navigate.

The plus side is that our Spanish has improved more in the first two weeks of being in Ecuador than our Dutch/German in the Netherlands or Germany in the same amount of time. Granted, our Spanish is still very basic, but we can ask for things and ask how much they cost (and understand the price). Shane even navigated a taxi driver to our apartment! I call it a win.

Speaking of shops…

There is no such thing as a “one-stop-shop.”

You have hardware stores, fabric stores, plasticware stores, metal-kitchenware stores, appliance stores… so, you can imagine the frustration of trying to find the one specific item you need. We’ve been trying to furnish and organize our new apartment, and it took essentially a day of looking to find a coffee pot.

There are two nice markets, though, and the fruit and vegetable shops are amazing.

A fruit stand at the market.
Dragonfruit for $1 each!

We have lots of food to try!

There is so much great and new (to me) fruit! We haven’t eaten out too much since we’ve been focused on organizing life, but we have tried a few delicious things, like smoked tilapia and bolón de verde, essentially a fried ball of green plantains with cheese or cheese and pork mixed in. Looks strange, tastes delicious.

Probably the best fish I’ve ever eaten.
A bolón de verde, served with an egg and usually a coffee.

Quick tip for paying…

Cash is king.

We were told this about Munich, but you can get by with a card. Here, not so much. Obviously, I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but if you plan on coming to Tena, come with cash, and by cash, I mean American dollars (which is what they use here).

The surroundings are gorgeous!

Tena has been labeled a “gateway to the Amazon,” so we are surrounded by mountains and volcanoes!

The Sumaco volcano.
Some of the surrounding mountains.

The city itself is what I expected, which I’m not entirely sure how to describe. There is a lovely riverwalk with a tower and a great view!

The main street through Tena.
Rio Tena with the tower.
Views from the tower.

So, so far so good with no regrets!

Are there any “first impression” questions for us? Let me know!

Hasta luego,

Whitney