8/26/2014

TRAVEL TUESDAY : ECUADORIAN HIGHLANDS [ PART II ]



I've been back from Ecuador for more than a month now, but every time that I see my pictures that I snapped with both my iPhone and DSLR camera I am filled with joy and awe. This was truly an adventure of a lifetime, and I still cannot believe I really went to Ecuador and saw everything that I did. It almost seems like a total dream now. 

My second day in the highlands was a very relaxing one. We started off with a little painting activity and Kevin [ peacock ] watching  in our hacienda (No pictures from the painting because it was too darn cold at 8:00 am in the Andes!). After a short bus trip up the mountain, we came to a plateau where the wind streams in the Andes mountains were absolutely perfect for flying kites. 


#soconfused

I haven't flown a kite in at least ten years, so naturally I was a little bit rusty. After I caught the perfect gust of wind my kite went soaring up into the air, at least 50 feet up!! Yeah, I felt pretty damn accomplished. Do you see that wall behind me? Don't let it fool you, it is at least three times my hight at the highest point to the left and about to my waist on the lowest point on my right. But if you climbed up that wall and came to the grassy field above it, you had the most beautiful view of the entire valley we were overlooking and if you turned away from the mountain all you saw were fields of quinoa for miles and miles. 


The mountain behind me was just so majestic. All around the valley there were nothing but clear skies. However, at the summit of the mountain, it created its own weather systems. I loved watching the clouds swirl around the peaks. And every so often, if you were patient and you glanced at the mountain at the right time, you could get a peek of the summit before the clouds covered it again. 




The Ecuadorians practice the Catholic faith primarily, and we visited this part of Ecuador on a Sunday. So naturally when a local sees a big group of Americans flying kites, they are bound to be quite curious. So after this adorable church finished their mass, about a dozen Ecuadorian children climbed a hill to reach the plateau where the kites were being flown. Some of them were dressed in sweatshirts from the Gap and Jeans, others were dressed in their traditional Ecuadorian attire. This little girl was so adorable wearing her Ecuadorian dress and with the braid cascading down her back and some hair pieces blowing in the Andean wind, you could tell that she was so excited to explore what the Americans were up to. As she was climbing the small hill, I pointed at my camera asking if I could take her picture, she stood up proudly and put the biggest smile on her face. 




Another aspect of Ecuadorian life was the fact that they can grow anything anywhere. On top of the mountain, the air is quite dry and winds have a tremendous amount of strength. Quinoa, a local protein delicacy, is gown atop of this mountain. I loved all of the different colored quinoa agains the pale blue sky. 




More and more Ecuadorian children came up the hill because they were so curious to see what was going on. So after we Americans were finished flying our kites, we gave them to the children of the village. They were so happy and grateful to receive this small and simple gift. I loved watching the children run with their kites in attempt to get them to take flight. 



After frolicking around the side of a mountain for two hours, we went to a local bird refuge. Here, volunteers have taken in birds from the wild that have either been lost or injured and have trained them and given them a good home. There are two South American condors residing there! Condors are the largest birds in the world with a wing span around 10 feet! At the refuge, we even saw a flying demonstration of an owl, a bald eagle and many different types of birds. I even got to hold this super tiny, super adorable hawk. The smallest Ecuadorian bird of prey. The grounds at the refuge were so gorgeous, it was like a tropical escape int he center of the mountain range. 




After a vigorous morning, lunch is necessary. On this day I sampled the fresh green salad, grilled chicken and raspberry and vanilla sorbet. Everything that I tasted was so delicious, you could tell that the salad was just picked that morning from the ground and the sorbet was just churned. The restaurant that we had lunch in was right on the water. No, in the picture below I am not standing on a dock, I am standing in the restaurant looking out the window. The restaurant was right on the water and if you looked down you could see the waves crashing into the side of the building. 




Oh, hey alpacas! 


So after a long, long day of exploring the Ecuadorian highlands and market places, I took to a beautiful handmade hammock in the gardens of the hacienda to be rocked to sleep with the winds of the Andes mountains. Later that night we had a cookout complete with learning the methods of traditional Ecuadorain cuisine including fabulous empanadas and sorbet. 


Well, you have now experienced Quito and the Ecuadorian highlands through my eyes. Come back next week for a peek at the Galapagos!

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8/18/2014

MONDA MANTRA

via 

Well today is the day that I begin a whole new chapter in my life. I start my sophomore year of high school, a new school and a whole new mind set for the course of my life. While I am super excited, I start to doubt my decisions about making such a drastic change. But once I look into myself and realize my intentions, I tell myself that I am worth every effort. And while I may be stressed and scared about these changes, it will all work out in the end.

So on this beautiful Monday, realize that you are an amazing person and that you are worthy of all of the greatness in the world. Have an amazing day, and today, choose to be happy! 

xo

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8/13/2014

TRIFLE


As much as I love eating healthy foods, I love desserts. Ice cream, cake, macarons, pies and cupcakes will always have a special place in my heart. This trifle dessert looks decadent and very sugary; however, with a few twists it is a healthier alternative to ice cream and cake. 


You will need: 

- Angel food cake
- a variety of fresh berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, just to name a few)
- tub of nonfat Greek yogurt
- lemon curd (I got mine at Trader Joe's, but I know you can find it at Whole Foods or any other gourmet grocery store)
- trifle bowl 



[Fold lemon curd into the Greek yogurt using the ratio of three parts yogurt to one part lemon curd.]


[ Begin layering. Start off with a layer of the lemon curd.]


[Then, create a layer of the bite sized angel food cake pieces.]


[Finally create a heavy layer of fruit.]


[Repeat.]


[Chill the trifle until you are ready to serve. The coldness allows the cake to absorb the fruit juice creating a natural sweetness in every bite.] 



[Trifle is not exactly the prettiest dessert, in fact it is kind of messy. I loved serving it in these adorable martini glasses that I got for a deal of just $1. Oh, don't forget the whipped cream!] 


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8/12/2014

BEHIND LE GRAM

I'm actually obsessed with these posts. You think from seeing so many beautiful pictures on Instagram, that people live the picture perfect lives that they are trying to portray. In reality, people are not perfect. I love reading the stories behind the pictures that are worthy of the 'Gram.

You should follow my adventures on Instagram
 Warning: do not visit my Instagram if you are hungry.


What it looks like: Charleston home to many quiet, secluded bakeries on every corner. And naturally, a trip downtown is not complete without a croissant and coffee break. 

What actually happened: This road is super busy because it is right off the main road. I swear I had to doge so many cars just to get one picture - actually standing in the middle of the road. When I got the right angle - another car goes by - I realize that the wind isn't blowing so the flag just looks like blah. So after almost getting hit by several cars, I got a fabulous picture with a good angle and the flag swelling the breeze. Ha, I dint even buy croissants. We had family in town so raspberry tartlets were a goo d option for a lazy dessert - cut up, put on whipped cream. 


What it looks like: No Friday night is complete without a visit to a new restaurant. And on this particular date, we decided to explore the new French spot. Our table is always clean, and our silverware is always lined up. Oh and we don't do carbs, so our bread basket is barely touched. 

What is actually happening: My father is snacking on pomme frites and my mother has eyes only for her fish. I spent at least five minutes styling the picture before dinner was served. Even after the dishes arrived, the a basket of bread was not there, so naturally I made my parents wait for the bread basket  (number three) to complete the picture. Famous quote: "Kira hurry up before it gets cold!!"


What it looks like: I'm an sea lion whisperer.

What is actually happening: In the Galapagos, you are really not supposed to waltz right up to an animal. But I thought it would make fore a great picture if my feet were just inches away from a sleeping sea lion. So, I carefully, ever so slightly moved toward the two sleeping sea lions, held my breath, leaned over and took a burst on my phone of about 100 photos in all different angles. I'm such a rebellious person.


What it looks like: Nothing says late summer like an ice cold Izze am I right? And this tall vine I saw on the side of a brick building was just the perfect background for a snap before I start to drink this cold deliciousness.

What is actually happening: Well to start off with, I started to gulp down the Izze, but the I thought "Wait!!!!! This is would be an amazing subject for Instagram!!!" So like a quarter of the Izze has already been consumed. Casual, I know. First, I tried to take one of those low-profile selfies, but the shadow from the trunk of my car wasn't really doing it and well my hand look really awkward. I was just about to give up and drink the rest until I saw this beautiful bush. The only problem with this bush: it comes to maybe my waist. So in the middle of the Whole Foods parking lot, I sat on the ground and took as many pictures as possible to get this perfect shot.  I got a lot of super crazy looks, but hey it was worth it. 


What it looks like: I had a long day wandering aimlessly around the streets of New York City. So instead of a fancy dinner at a restaurant, I opted for a personal pizza and a view of the city from my hotel window.

What actually happened: I actually went to an event in NYC earlier that day and well the event kind of lasted all day. It was only like six o'clock but I was exhausted and craving pizza. I showered and put on one of those fluffy hotel robes and the pizza had arrived -- I ATE THE WHOLE THING. But that still wasn't cutting it for me, a whole pizza later and I was still starving. So not pictured was the herb roasted chicken and French Fries that arrived about thirty minutes later. My parents went out to dinner in the city, but I stayed back stuffing my face and watching a movie on my iPad in bed. Quality last night in the city? I think yes.

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TRAVEL TUESDAY : ECUADORIAN HIGHLANDS {PART I}


I am no where near done sharing you my beautiful pictures from Ecuador. I recently downloaded all 2000+ photos on my computer and I completely relived my entire trip! Last "Travel Tuesday" I shared with you the history and magic of Ecuador's capital Quito. Today; however, I will take you on a journey into the highlands of Ecuador. During my stay in the highlands of Ecuador nested in the Andes I could truly begin experience the culture, exotic customs and geological diversity that this beautiful country has to offer. At this point in my trip I am still not adjusting to the almost 10,000 foot elevation (#livingatsealevelprobs), and every morning I suffered severely from bloody noses, cracked faces and frizzy hair. Elevation was just a minor problem to face: I had Ecuador to discover!!

The first stop in my journey through the highlands was the famous monument of the Equator. This little park looks pretty ordinary when you first lay eyes on it. See that yellow pole? It's actually very important because the park is one huge sundial. Because of the shadow that the pole casts, you can tell the time of day because of the giant, natural clock face! The coolest part about the the sundial tube (for lack of better words) is that every day at high noon the sun goes directly inside and shines out to all ends of the park. Sadly, I was there at 11:00 am in the morning. And there at this park in Ecuador, is the only place on the Equator where you can see snowcapped mountains (as pictured above).  


Wheel pose over the Northern and Souther Hemispheres was absolutely necessary. 


After a short bus ride, we took a visit to a local farm in the Andes that produce a great number of the roses that are exported. There, we learned about the process of growing the beautiful Ecuadorian blooms. Did you know that the Russian like to have their roses shipped to them with a length of almost 6 feet with thorns in, while Americans prefer shorter roses without thorns? The time we visited, there were not a lot of roses in bloom, but rather in the process of growth and blooming. These Ecuadorian rose farms provide work for women. The rose farms are so centered towards women's labor that they even provide a daycare for their children!





As I said before, Ecuadorians are very warm, welcoming people. The place we has lunch at was actually someone's home that they had converted into a restaurant. The old house was actually like a ranch home, placed beautifully in the center of fields and fields of crops and trees. Lunch was a smorgasbord of Ecuadorian foods: quinoa soup (I thought it tasted like peanut butter!), trout, empanadas, chicken, mixed salads, chocolate cake and cookies served with dulce de leche . After the meal I could not help but explore the grounds and snap pictures of the colorful interiors and exteriors of this beautiful home. 






After visiting one family home, we travelled to another family's home. Here, the family specializes in local Andean music. They showed us how they created the pan flute, gave us a music demonstration and even allowed us to try our hand at making our own flute!




After our flutes had been made, we walked (read: paraded playing out flutes loudly #theAmericanshavearrived) down the street. In the town, we stumbled across a local festival celebrating some kind of harvest (I think). Men dressed in women's costumes and women in men's costumes danced all along the square just being happy, happy people celebrating who knows what. Okay you see that little alleyway all the way to the right of the picture? After someone in costume tried to seduce IPM and I (don't worry it was in a friendly, festival manner), we walked down that alleyway to meet yet another Ecuadorian family. 




This family specializes in weaving of many different textiles using natural dyes and alpaca wool. This man here is José, he is the master of weaving at this particular family shop. I think that I saw at least 20 textiles with his name embroidered in the bottom. 



After a day of exploring, it was time to visit out hacienda (hotel) nestled in the Ecuadorian highlands for the first time. We were welcomed into yet another family's 300 year home with a beautiful peacock. 

Funny back story: IPM and I were quoting the movie "Up" like the entire trip. "Good afternoon, my name is Russell. And I’m a Wilderness Explorer in tribe 54, sweat lodge 12. Are you in need of any assistance today, sir?”, "It's like America, but south.", "Kevin's a girl?" just to name a few. But that night eating dinner we kept hearing calls from some wildlife creature that sounded almost prehistoric. Later we found out that the call was coming from the peacock. It sounded just like the bird, Kevin, from "Up". So naturally, IPM and I called the peacock "Kevin" for the rest of the trip.


Every aspect of the hacienda was very Ecuadorian, from the colorful interiors to the lush exteriors. 

There was even a room for wifi, a first Instagram post in almost one day!!! #gasp



Look at little Kevin showing off, Kevinita (nickname for the female peacock) was very unimpressed by his performance. 



At last, when it became bedtime, the temperature had dropped to at least 40 degrees. After shivering our way from the main house where dinner was held to the little building that our room was, IPM and I were greeted with an alpaca blanket draped over our beds, a fire in the wood stove and a hot water bottle in our beds. This could not be a more perfect ending for a more perfect day. 

Side note - the Ecuadorians really know how to celebrate the harvest! They were partying, playing music, singing and celebrating to at least 3 in the morning! 

Come back next week for part two of the Ecuadorian Highlands. 

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