All I can say is wow. Cada día aquí en Ecuador, no tengo palabras para explicar la felicidad que siento (every day here in Ecuador, there are no words to describe the happiness that I feel). I’ve been so busy this past week, hence my lack of updates. I’m gonna do my best to recount the last week, because I really want to share my adventures with you, but also because I want to make sure that I don’t ever forget my experiences here in this amazing country.
Last Monday was the first day of classes at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Ecuador (PUCE), Quito’s private university in the heart of the city. It was a bit of an adventure because my family and I live in the Valle de los Chillos (a valley located about a half an hour away to the southeast) and with traffic in the morning, it took us a while. As I think I said before, however, I really enjoy the drive to school. Not just for the scenery, which is fabulous, but also because I get to spend time with my brother Gabo. Because he’s currently taking an English course at PUCE (for his masters in business), sometimes he’ll speak in English and I’ll speak in Spanish and our conversations will carry on that way. It’s really good practice because we do a good job of correcting each other. But he’s the only Ecuadorean I let speak to me in English; and the majority of the time, of course, we speak Spanish. I do feel like my Spanish is improving; and most of the people I’ve met here say I speak pretty well. My comprehension has gotten so much better too. I don’t have to ask people to repeat things or speak slower as much as before (otra vez, por favor, y más despacio, por favor).
Last Monday, after classes ended, Gabo and I went to the Plaza Foch in La Mariscal with the other Gabo (the guy who owns Homestay Quito, an impressive feat for a guy as young as he is) and some other girls from the group. La Mariscal is basically THE place to go in Quito to hang out with friends and party, and it’s also sometimes called Gringo Land because it’s a hot spot for tourists. The Plaza Foch is the happening spot in the heart of La Mariscal, packed with restaurants, bars, and clubs. We went to one of the popular spots, the strangely named Coffee Tree, for lunch and some drinks. Friends of the Gabo’s also joined us, Roberto and Omar, and afterwards we went to another bar where we hung out for most of the day. Later that night, Roberto and my brother taught me how to salsa! I guess I caught on pretty fast, because they were pretty impressed. I really enjoy it; I wish I had learned earlier!
On Tuesday, we bought our text for our first course, Spanish 322: Ecuadorean Literature and Culture. The text is called Ecuador: señas particulares, and in a nutshell it’s an essay about the Ecuadorean identity. It may sound kind of boring, but on Tuesday we read the first chapter aloud as a class and had some really stimulating conversation. That’s why this whole idea of summer courses is really not that bad; we only have one class, three hours a day, four times a week, but we’re studying material that is relevant to the country we’re living in. Plus, after a year of third year Spanish, which consisted predominantly of grammar, review, and short stories, it’s refreshing to be reading and discussing longer, more relevant works. It reminds me a lot of AP Spanish Lit senior year; all my compañeros of that class: poco a poco, se va lejos. ¡Recuerdenlo!
After class on Tuesday, we had the incredible opportunity of going to the Teleferico! It’s a giant gondola that takes you up the immense volcano, Pinchincha, that forms Quito’s western border. Our guide Carla accompanied us again, and we were lucky yet again to have incredible weather. I love both Seattle and Vancouver, but honestly it’s so nice to be away from all that rain! We had an entire week without a drop of rain. But when it rained, it RAINED. Like a full-on torrential downpour. But that’s irrelevant to my story.
Anyways, after we got off the gondola, we got our first glimpse of the unbelievable view of the sprawling city of Quito. I was in such awe the whole time, and luckily as we walked part of the trail that takes you to the very top of the active part of the volcano, I didn’t feel the effects of the altitude at all. The only noticeable thing was my increased heart rate and the need to breathe more deeply. But honestly, that was the last thing I was thinking about. The stunning panoramic views of the city left me speechless.
On Wednesday after class, Homestay Quito Gabo and Roberto took me and my friends Emil and Nancy to this awesome burrito and taco stand in La Mariscal. Once again, the food here impressed me immensely: I had a chicken and chorizo burrito with some incredible sauces. That plus a Fanta, I enjoyed a scrumptious lunch for the cool price of four dollars. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Gabo and Roberto then dropped us off at the mall, where we explored for a bit then visited Nancy’s family at her house. That was the first time I took the bus here in Ecuador, and I was relieved to discover that it wasn’t as scary or sketchy as I had been lead to believe during orientation. Sure, the busses are always packed to the brim with people, and personal space literally doesn’t exist, but we just acted like true gringos, carrying our backpacks in front and clinging onto them and to the poles for dear life, and everything was fine. And I know it sounds silly, but I was proud of myself; I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect, but I found myself surprisingly comfortable with the journey. That was one of the moments I’ve had since I’ve been here where I’ve felt perfectly comfortable with my surroundings. It doesn’t sound like much of an achievement, but for me, it felt great to feel less like a foreigner and more like I belong here. I’ve felt that sense of belonging with my family pretty much since day one, but that was one of the first times I felt a sense of belonging with Quito, with Ecuador as a whole.
Anyways, after hanging out for a bit at Nancy’s house, we took a cab to the Centro Histórico for our group dinner at Mea Culpa, one of the higher end restaurants in Ecuador, located right in the Plaza Grande. The dinner was really nice, and I got to talk with some people in our group that I haven’t really gotten to know yet. Afterwards, we hung out a bit in La Ronda, an architecturally stunning part of the Centro that gets pretty crazy late at night. It’s famous for its canelazo, an intensely strong alcohol that we got to try. I only had a sip, because frankly, based on what I’ve heard from my Ecuadorean friends, that stuff messes you up. We only stayed in La Ronda for a little while, after which Gabo, Roberto, and Xavier took us to one of La Mariscal’s many discotecas. It was salsa night, and me and my closest friend Raquel caught on pretty fast as our brothers (Roberto and Gabo) taught us the basics. We had so much fun; it’s a lot different from the party scene in Vancouver (which I haven’t really experienced that much anyway), but I think I enjoy salsa better. I love the movements because they are sensual, but not tasteless like some club and frat party dancing can be. I don’t mean to put down North American club norms, but in my opinion, salsa is much more fun.
I think that night was especially fun because Raquel and I got to bond with our new Ecuadorean friends. The next day, over a splendid lunch of empanadas and menestra de pollo (chicken with arroz con pollo), she and I raved about how much we love and feel comfortable with our brothers, our families, and our friends. She and I are on the same page; we are here to immerse ourselves in Ecuadorean daily life and culture, and that’s why I think we feel most happy when we’re with our families and new friends. We couldn’t be happier; we are both extremely conscious of and grateful for the opportunities we’ve had here.
After lunch, we walked all the way to the Centro Histórico to explore it a bit more. Once again, that feeling of awe, wholeness, and contentment returned. There is no other high like it.
Around four in the afternoon, I bussed to the apartamento de los franceses, the apartment of my other friends Guena, Marine, and Swan, all French students who are here in Ecuador helping Gabo run Homestay Quito. I hung out there for a couple hours while they had a meeting, and then afterwards Gabo and I returned to the valley and I packed for our Friday excursion to Cotopaxi.
Cotopaxi, if I remember correctly, is Ecuador’s second tallest volcano, and we met at La Católica at eight in the morning on Friday to take our tour bus with David to the national park. On the way we stopped at a gas station for snacks, and Raquel and I went crazy buying all the snacks we can’t get in the States or in Canada. For the amount of stuff we got, $12 was an incredibly decent price for the two of us.
While the scenery and atmosphere of the national park was stunning, it was a rather cloudy day and so we could hardly see the snowcapped Cotopaxi in all its glory. We caught occasional glimpses through the thick clouds, but since it was snowing on the volcano itself, our bus couldn’t proceed to the hike we were going to take to the first “base camp”. We did however get to take a little sendero around the laguna on the way to the volcano. I felt the altitude a bit more this time; we were at some 12,700 feet, the highest I’ve ever been after the Teleferico, which is at some 14,000 feet above sea level.
On the way back from the tour, we were all pretty exhausted so the ride was basically silent. I spent the night with my friend Marisa and her family; it was her dad’s birthday, and we celebrated with cake and some more salsa dancing!
Yesterday morning we went to the Parque Carolina, an immense park in the heart of the city where we took a little spin in the paddle boats. I was so grateful yet again for the graciousness and politeness with which the family treated me. I was a guest in their house for one night and they treated me like a member of the family. I had an incredible talk with Gustavo, the grandfather, before dinner; what an interesting, intelligent man. We talked about everything, from the history and politics of Ecuador to religion, marriage, and destiny. It was a fascinating conversation, and it was rewarding because not only did I understand everything, but I was able to contribute to the conversation and express myself. I think that’s how I can tell I’m getting better, like I told my mom today on Skype. I can express myself as I really am without the language barrier.
After La Carolina yesterday, I bussed to the Mercado de Artesanías, where I met up with Lauren and Forbes to explore for a bit. Most of the crafts are actually artesanías otavaleños, which means we’ll be able to purchase them at better prices at the world famous Otavalo textile market. After, Forbes’ brother drove me to meet up with mi hermano Gabo and we drove home with mamá.
We stopped at an empanadas restaurant for dinner and had empanadas and coffee: SO delicious! It’s got to be one of my favorite foods here. I can’t get enough! We got home, then Gabo, mi hermana Angeles, and I got ready to go out. We met up with our friends back in the city and went to the club, Pachanga. And yes, it was only my second time in a club, but at this one it wasn’t salsa night, just a regular club night. But that didn’t stop me and Roberto from salsa-ing for a couple of songs. I had an incredible time, really. Periodically, everyone would cheer “la cumpleañera!” which I believe means birthday girl, then we’d cheers with a “salud!” and continue dancing. We were a lively group, with mi mejor amiga Raquel, los dos Gabos, Roberto, Xavier, Guena, Angeles, and some of their other friends as well. There was a mix of North American music and Latin music, with a band that played a short set of oldies, which kinda left the dancefloor a little confused. But nevertheless it was a fun night of dancing and being in the company of amazing people; it was a great way to celebrate my 19th.
Probably my favorite part, though, was after we left around three in the morning. Angeles, Gabo, and I stopped a few blocks from our house and, with the car doors open and music playing, had a beer, Ecuador’s favorite Pilsener. It was another one of those moments, where you feel so happy and complete and grateful for the people you’re with and the life you have. I climbed up on the fence and just gazed out at the valley, while the roosters crowed and a stream calmly rolled on by. It was quite a unique birthday experience, unlike any other I’ve ever had. And once again, I was so utterly glad to be in the company of mi familia ecuatoriana, who care for me so much and are always there for me. I literally fell asleep with a smile on my face.
And then this morning, Gabo woke me up around eleven for breakfast: my usual hard boiled egg and juice, but also café con leche (coffee with milk, but more like milk with coffee), bread, and some of the biggest grapes I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if I’ll be able to eat fruit back home; it’s just so darn good here. We did some laundry, some cleaning, and then I worked on this entry for a bit before going out for a late afternoon lunch, which was without a doubt the best meal I’ve had since I’ve been here: hornado, roast pork. So delicious. It came with mote, the huge corn stuff, tortilla (which here apparently means an extremely flavorful mashed potato, essentially), avocado, fried pork skin, and my favorite fried plantain. It was probably the best birthday meal I’ve ever had, and again, like a kid on Christmas, I was all smiles. It seems ridiculous, but that’s just how happy I am to be here, in this beautiful city with these incredible individuals. Well, that’s all for now; got to get back to the reality of my essay that’s due tomorrow. Thank you for all of your support, and thank you for the wonderful wishes. Muchísimas gracias a todos 🙂