Ecuador can be described as nothing less than magical. The sun casting its rays on green rolling hills, patches of land, wisps of foggy clouds hanging in the fresh cool air. One breath in, and I am grounded. The Sierra is all I know, yet the landscape is still diverse as such. It is almost quinoa harvesting season, and the patches of red and orange foliage are absolutely breathtaking in contrast against the green land. Not to mention I’ve seen more rainbows in the past three months than ever before in this life!
I am grateful to be living abroad. There are frustrating moments, claro que sí, por ejemplo when asking the bus cobrador for the wifi password and receiving a mumbled jumble of letters and numbers in return before he quickly walks away. After my third attempt I gave up and accepted that I’m not meant to have wifi on the bus (so now I’m writing this). I think I’ve mentioned before that staring out the window of a bus towards unseen territory is one of my greatest joys, and something by which I can measure my life – the different places I’ve sat by the window, headphones in, contemplating what is. Even trips I’ve made before become a novelty as I challenge myself to find my stop without asking someone for help. The buses here are much more comfortable than those in Nicaragua, and instead of having someone’s ponytail in your face the main disturbance consists of the worst movies ever made playing loudly, and men giving 20-minute speeches about cream made from worms that will cure any ailment you need or passionate and inspiring discourses about their delicious chocolate bars for sale. And instead of women knocking you in the head with their tub full of very unsanitary bowls of fried chicken, they offer you delicious warm banana cake and coconut ice cream after a frustrating 15-minute parada that I could have taken advantage of to hop off and use the bathroom but had no idea we would be stopped for so long. I often find it annoying when the vendors hand out their product or give you a sample but I’ve realized it’s a very good strategy when it comes to sesame caramel covered peanuts. Life in Latin America should be experienced by all!
Three months I’ve been in Ecuador already, and the thought of stepping off this land pains me. I am grateful that I have more time, that I don’t have to leave right as I’ve become more or less fully adjusted to the pace of life and culture here. My routine is established, and I truly love it. Waking up early to run to the nearby park, climb the bleachers and marvel at the surrounding mountains and the sunrise. Preparing chochos con tostado in a clever way so that the corn won’t get soggy before snack time. Biking through the park and stopping by the river to have coffee and listen to the birds’ morning song. Experimenting with how many different ways I can cook my go-to dish. Chatting with the neighbors and avoiding eye contact with the dog that lives down the street. Watching Game of Thrones, I mean Juego de Tronos, on the extra mattress with my roommate. I am even making my own kombucha now which is the most exciting!
It’s an interesting concept for me to ponder, the thought of me being “more or less fully adjusted to a culture.” Through my experience in the education abroad field, it’s said (and I experienced the same) that a semester, or 4-5 months abroad, gives you just enough time to adjust to your host culture – and by the time you are accustomed to living there, it’s time to go home. But is it possible for us to even fully adjust or mesh with a culture, I mean, ever? Through conversations with my friend Monica who’s been living in Nicaragua for over a year now, we both agree that it’s not really. This idea of culture is so incredibly vast, there are so many customs and norms that you couldn’t possibly fathom would be different somewhere else – and that are bound to be unnoticed or unlearned until that very moment that you happen to find yourself in a certain situation. Sure, there are things you get used to instantly, but there are also nuances deep below sea level, lurking within the classic iceberg used to reference this thing called culture – that may only show themselves once in a blue moon. And no matter how accustomed we are to laughing at things or understanding that everywhere is different, they may still surprise you. It’s just like learning a language – no matter how “fluent” I consider myself to be in Spanish, I acknowledge that it is a lifelong study and I am constantly learning new words and having conversations about random nuances.
I’ve also wondered if having an expiration date on one’s time abroad makes a difference in how much you are able to appreciate your time and enjoy the moment. When I went to Nicaragua, I had no set plans and although I planned to stay six months to a year, it was undetermined. Coming to Ecuador has been a slightly different experience – at the beginning when people asked how long I was staying I said I had no idea, after my six-month contract with work. And I liked the sound of it – but as things develop it looks as if I will be here through the fall only. Noticing myself and my reactions, and accepting the reality, I think “chuta, I better make the most of it!” Knowing there is an end to it all forces me to consider reality in another way. But shouldn’t we live every day, and every experience, as if it does have an expiration date?
My life and routines are about to change drastically as the time when my students arrive is finally here, after months of intense preparations and slaving over my beloved itineraries in Excel. Por eso, I’ve been making the most of my free time and I’ve had so many chances to wear my hiking boots lately! Not only have I donned my boots with frequency (okay that is a total literal Spanish translation, I mean frequently), but I’ve been able to explore places close to me and the most breathtaking vistas that are literally in my backyard. One of my favorite things about Riobamba has always been the gorgeous rolling hills surrounding the city, and the rare days when the chilly air blows the clouds away and we are left astonished at the views of Chimborazo, Tungurahua, El Altar – my favorite of the various mountains and volcanoes that tower over us. But to have the chances to “meterme” inside that beautiful countryside, instead of revering it with awestruck eyes from within the concrete streets and bus smog, has been wonderfully refreshing. One Saturday we visited a park and took a hike in a gorgeous area that we literally walked to from the city center. The next day I took a solo-trip to a nearby community where we’ll be visiting with our students; I spent the day making tortillas, chatting with the dear women about our oh-so-different life experiences, and honoring the beautiful valley beside us. It was an interesting day because I caught a late bus on my way there, and found myself in a nearby town where buses to the next were scarce – and no one was willing to help me. In that moment I felt the most alone that I have since I’ve been in Ecuador, and almost in tears with disappointment and feeling self-conscious of my blatant blond head and backpack. I took a deep breath and began wandering into town, winding up the road to find my perfect spot to wait the hour and a half for the next bus. There I drank my tea, journaled and enjoyed the peaceful quiet of a Sunday morning, saludando the passersby and smiling in the sunrain. It turned out to be the highlight of my day – maybe even the whole week – and begged me to reflect on the importance of my attitude; everything is a reflection of my own take on it. Patience has never been my thing, but it’s a constant practice and something that can turn an untimely situation into a truly beautiful hour of your day.
Spontaneity – another theme of living abroad. As I practice the ability to be spontaneous, I’m slowly letting go of my old habits to always stick to the ideas in my head about how something will go or my plans for the rest of the weekend. So that when I’m invited to go camping after I’ve just come back from a day of rock-climbing and I still have hours of computer work to finish a deadline, there’s only a slight hesitation – and it doesn’t stick. I’m practicing how to say “de una,” which means absolutely – but in a “yes let’s do it right now” sort of way. By the way, my first time rock-climbing was amazing. Such a physical and mental challenge, I never knew how many muscles I have in my hands – and such a high (literally) to make it all the way to the top of the rock face, just me, my body and the abuelo rock (in the indigenous culture here the rocks are considered grandfathers, teachers) and to look out over the beautiful countryside, the warm sun setting on the afternoon and taita Chimborazo letting himself be seen so clearly. My roommate is a great teacher in spontaneity, as his life mantra might be “no hagamos planes”, let’s not make plans, and one day I might come home from a Saturday afternoon of work and he might invite me to go on a bike ride and then all of a sudden we’ve crossed two streets behind our house and we are in the countryside, rolling alongside the pink brush, the wind on our backs and my favorite paisaje and the clouds turning colors with the sunset and the cows mooing, the campesinos nodding to us as they pass on their horses, the cool air and the scents of the fields confirming that I’m exactly where I need to be, that this may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived.
How can it be that each of the cities I’ve spent time in abroad just keep getting better and better? I miss them all, but at the same time I feel grateful that I have landed here for right now. Bilbao, Valparaiso, Matagalpa, Riobamba. These are the cities that have my heart. They’re all different in their own ways and I love them each for a different reason. But there is a common characteristic: mountains. And though I love each of their countries as well, I’ve gotta say – there is something just so special about Ecuador.
p.s. If anyone would like to send me mail, I would love you even more than I already do, and you can send it to my dad’s house before he leaves to visit me in the beginning of July (let me know if you don’t have the address). Gracias friends!
p.p.s. A disclaimer that this may be my last blog post for a while, as I’m getting into the super busy part of my work season! Thank you for your patience 😉