Well it’s been a little longer than I would have liked since my last post. We had some internet issues here, so we were without internet for a couple of days. But it’s back up, and we’re using the ISP’s modem on the ISP’s account - which makes it free. (For those who are interested the Internet in Loja is mostly over the mobile telephone network. EDGE and CDMA I think).

Much has happened in the the week and a half since I wrote last. I left Cuenca on a road similar to before, with a driver just as insane as the last. I arrived in Loja mid arvo and was picked up by the entire Bakon family (Colin, Jill and their sons Matthew and Nicholas) who had been at lunch nearby…

Within the hour we had arrived at their place and I was shown to the room I was staying and had started to settle in and ate a bit before heading out soon afterwards.

I have done a fair bit while I have been here. I started off doing some volunteering work in the ‘El Sendero’ cafe that SIM operate on Plaza San Sebastion. It was great getting in and doing something and meeting other missionaries and locals (Christians and non), especially after being alone for the last week. On Saturday night we (err, missos, volunteers and friends) went out to a local bar -and got to practice my spanish with a local over a beer (which is apparently the best way to learn a language). Also because this is the uni holidays the cafe is shut for the rest of my stay, which is a little disappointing.

On Sunday I went to church which was completely in Spanish and was very interesting. It is much the same as Australia, and singing in Spanish when I can hardly speak it was quite a challenge. Sunday night was an English conversation night run by the missionaries. The English classes in Myanmar were a great experience to draw on for this and it was lots of fun losing very badly at Pictionary and great to meet some more locals.

Monday was the day the Virgin del Cisne arrived in Loja after it’s trip from El Cisne (a statue who become something special when a local got healed). The plan was to head out with Rachel (she is from England and had stayed with the Bakon’s 2 years before for 6 months) and Colin early in the morning to see it as it went. Unfortunately the our planned route on Via Antigua was blocked by the police, so we, and hundreds of others, couldn’t go. Despite this, though, we managed to see it in the afternoon as it came into Loja. There were thousands of people who had come to follow the Virgin (at least as it went into the city). The amount of honour given to a inanimate statue made the whole experience very strange. But it was still fun to take part in the festival and watch the fireworks being launched from buildings only meters away while the fantastic latin music blared. I almost got into trouble when the band started shouting ‘Viva Ecuador!’ and everyone said ‘Viva!’ and then ‘Viva Loja!’, followed by a ‘Viva!’ then ‘Viva la Virgin’ followed by everyone saying ‘Viva!’ and me saying ‘No’ in a crowd full of people who adore the Virgin.

On Tuesday we went to a place near Gonzanama to have bible study. It was at a Christian family’s small farm which sat on the side of the mountain and required a 5-10 minute walk down from the dirt road. I really enjoyed seeing the contrast of how they lived compared to how people in the city lived.

I went to Vilcabamba on Wednesday with the Bakon’s. There we went on a horse ride around the town, which I’m still feeling now. The horses tended to do what the one in front was doing, which was usually going fast enough to be very uncomfortable. Well uncomfortable until I shortened my stirrups and uncomfortable again when the right stirrup broke. But it was a great way to see the area and lots of fun. We then went to Hosteria Izhcayluma for arvo tea which has the most incredible view. It is also one of the prettiest places I’ve seen to stay and really cheap for what you get.

On Thursday night we went out to Cafe Tikku to meet some students Colin teaches English to at a University here to watch one of his students and his brother perform. I got a big taste of South American promptness. They agreed meeting time was 9pm at the Cafe. The time the others arrived was 10pm. The time the advertised starting time for the music was 10pm, but it started at 11pm. Myanmar’s stretchy time is quite tame compared to here. But when it started the music was very good and very enjoyable (despite being so tired)

Today I went out to Naranjo Dulce with a Medical Caravan put on by a church in Loja. After reaching Catacotcha we drove for 50 minutes along a long and windy dirt track on the side of the mountain. Our journey was partly delayed by some men loading cows up onto the back of a truck. Naranjo Dulce is pretty much in the middle of nowhere with no easy medical support, so we were there to provide some. My job was at the end of the line dispensing drugs - I’m sure what I was doing would have been very illegal in Australia, but it was lots of fun. Except when we had to dish out multivitimins.

Besides the variety of activities I’ve also eaten some interesting food. On Wednesday in Vilcabamba I had Goat Stew, which was very nice. It tasted a lot like lamb. I’ve had Coconut Icecream. I’ve had Horchata, a drink made from flowers. I’ve had Pony Malta, a Malt flavoured soft drink. I’ve had a lot of Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice), By far the most significant, though, has been the Caldo de Nervio - or Ox Penis Soap. It is said to make you strong and virile and even cure hangovers. I can’t say it did any of those things, but the broth of the Ox Penis and Bigs Trotter ‘mixto’ I had was very strange and very salty and the textures of the bits in the soup were quite unfamiliar. But I had it. And so did Rachel. And so did Jill (who’s been taking people there for 2 years). And so did Colin - his first time (there you go mum). Next up on the list is guinea pig.

So the last week and a half has been lots of fun and very full. I’ve been very blessed by the Bakon’s. I’ve been shown a lot more than I would’ve seen on my own and been able to take part in things I would never have been able to do. They’ve provided lots of food and a nice big comfortable bed too. So I am very thankful for that. I’ve had the chance to meet lots of great people and see more of what it’s like to be a missionary. I am kinda improving my Spanish, but I feel like I know nothing. I guess that should be expected when one is surrounded by experts.

I’m really looking forward to the rest of my time here. There is still over a week to go before I have to leave.

Thanks for all your support and prayers and thanks for all of you who have written emails to me too. It is great hearing even the littlest detail about what is going on back in Australia.

PS - If you want some images to go with your text, head on over to my photo album