Several months back, I proclaimed that “the thought of leaving this land pains me.” Although that sentiment hasn’t changed at all, the time has come where I must say goodbye to Ecuador, the country that has changed everything. It’s the first country that I’ve inhabited for a bit where I actually feel I might like to settle down here, in some far away future. Saying goodbye seems surreal, and as I have bid farewell to my friends, my family, my places, the question has arisen: what will I miss the most? What is it that I love the most about this Ecuador? Those who are from here, who have lived here, or who have visited here, may understand that there’s something special and magical about it, that you can’t really feel until you are really here. It’s hard to put into words, but since I’ve been pondering this for some time now – eight months actually – I will do my best to explain it. In attempt to organize these musings, I’ve crafted a two-part ode, a continuación…
*~*~Ode to Riobamba *~*~
In the morning, as I get ready, the bus passes in front of my bedroom window and for a split second I can peer into the locals’ lives and wonder where they are going, where they are coming from.
In the evening, I pass by Agua Potable and arrive to the soccer fields at la Ciudadela Politecnica. It’s there where I have the best view of Chambo, my absolute favorite view in Riobamba and something that I marvel at as if I were seeing it for the first time always, whether it be a tiny glimpse in the background while passing through the city center’s streets or as I get closer, approaching home or the Mercado Mayorista.
It’s there, in front of Abastos Anita, where I see my favorite street dog, always curled up and sleeping in the same spot or nearby it. Crossing la calle Madrid and almost arriving home, is another familiar canine face, intently keeping guard in front of his territory, marked by a spray paint mural of a motorcycle and the dog himself at the motorcycle stop next door. Sometimes down the street there is a wook doggy, with the biggest dreadlocked coat, roaming in the same area but always looking homeless.
On a lucky day, you can get a glimpse (or even a complete view, depending on the month) of Taita Chimborazo.
On a luckier day, Mama Tungurahua hovers silently, a cone-shaped monster, sometimes spitting ash, sometimes snow-capped.
On an even luckier day, El Altar allows himself to be seen – the most breathtaking view in Riobamba and my favorite of all the peaks.
On the luckiest day, the sky is completely despejado, and you can see all of the mountains. This has happened maybe three times in the six months that I lived permanently in Riobamba. And it always seems to happen when I am close enough to make it to the Parque 21 de Abril, one of the higher spots in the city, to enjoy the sunset and appreciate Riobamba in its full glory.
What does Riobamba mean to me? Haphazardly discovering a new BLESS mural, looking at the replicated-yet-oh-so-human eyes and becoming more and more intrigued by the mystery artist. Riding bikes through the streets at midnight with Wellington and racing the dogs or stopping for tres leches on the way home. The sunsets, the unbelievably marvelous sunsets, and watching them from the seat of my bicycle or from my bedroom window. Strapping my laundry bag on my back with my sarong, embodying the indigenous’ baby or goods carrying method as best as possible, and returning to the lavanderia later on to discover that Alejandra has found yet another way to spell my name (Chelseea, Chelsi, Chelsee, Chealse, etc.). The fact that I can return to Rio after a couple weeks on the road, walk into a bakery with my huge backpack on and they will still call me “veci.” The simple act of a morning run to the corner store, still in my PJs, to pick up anything that’s missing for my breakfast. Arriving at Winchy’s yoga class months after the last one I attended, and still feeling like part of his community, staying afterwards to share an aguita de jengibre or to record my farewell video. Riding down the steep hill to the Parque Ecológico, having coffee by the river, journaling on the lookout deck, or enjoying a lazy afternoon on the lawn, accompanied by a black dog who we named Blanca.
Riobamba, it wasn’t love at first sight – but you slowly crept up on me and showed me your beauty in silence. Además de ser matagalpina, ya soy parte riobambeña también. Gracias por compartir tus calles, tu mágica, y tu gente conmigo.
*~*~Ode to Ecuador*~*~
I’m fresh on a bus, my head against the comfortable seat and staring in wonder towards the green rolling hills that look as if you could just melt into them, spotted with cabulla cactus plants or palm trees. White clouds hovering in the blue sky and casting shadows over the patchwork quilted valleys: this view reduces me to tears. I smile with awe and reverence at the red rock slated along the road that carries me through this beloved Sierra.
Even throughout eight months I always lived in wonder, even without conscious effort to approach things with beginner’s mind, it was impossible for me to get used to the beautiful views; I was eternally astonished, frequently exclaiming profound oohs and ahhs, deep exhales that would often startle my travel companion.
What is it about Ecuador?
It’s the typical views in the country: cows, sheep, horses, children playing, clothes hanging on a clothesline, women working the fields in their brightly colored shawls and skirts, fires burning in the middle of nowhere.
It’s the typical views in the city: signs for sanduches and burguers, dogs on roofs, car alarms sounding the same 12-part melody that every vehicle in the country must sing, each person you pass on the street eating an ice cream cone (even cars stopping traffic to pick up a drive-by treat), classic Volkswagen bugs parked on the streets, Ecuador’s white with black license plate painted on the sides of truck beds in addition to the placard on the back end.
It’s the customs. People walk into a restaurant and wish “buen provecho” to everyone that’s eating, no matter if you’ve ever seen that person before in your life. They say they are going to “tomar café,” which means to drink coffee – oh no it doesn’t, apparently it just means to drink whatever is available and eat something with it (bread, always bread). Everyone greets everyone, and I mean everyone. Greeting happens with a kiss on a cheek, and nothing will stop it from happening, you even have to bend down if someone is sitting down. See a group of friends walking down the street? Stop, give them a hello kiss on the cheek – each and every one, even if you don’t know them, – chat for 30 seconds, then give everyone a goodbye kiss on the cheek and continue on with your day. The man next to me on the bus crosses his heart in the father-son-holy-spirit-cross every five minutes as we pass loads of churches.
It’s the phrases. Siga no mas, chévere, deme trayendo, verás, saying “but” at the end of a sentence, and many more. If you want to know more about these words and their meanings, you only have to wait 30 years for me to finish my in-progress dictionary of different Spanish vocabulary and dialects from each Latin American country, collected through my own explorations.
In its own category, it’s the intonations of Ecuadorian speech and the way they say “mm hmm” or “uh-uh,” implying a “yes” in what I, as a North American, would typically understand as “no.”
It’s the food. Humitas, soups, quinoa everythang, pancito, chochos con tostado, so many potatoes, more pancito, coladas galore, quimbolito, bolon, empanadas de verde, tortillas de maíz, tortillas de trigo, ceviche de chochos, empanadas de viento, morocho, jugo de mora, and much more.
It’s the contrasts. One day you can be on a bus in the Sierra, rolling through fog covered mountains with cold air entering through the window – and the next day it’s warm air, through tropical high trees with birds circling above: same country, stark differences. Even throughout the same region it feels different; a written description doesn’t do justice to the green rolling hills of the south, which have a different feel than in the central Sierra. Either my favorite or my least favorite part is that the beautiful, tranquil landscapes are normally complemented by screaming sounds of violence in movies they show on the bus.
Perhaps what I will miss most are the random, unexpected occurrences of daily life. Arriving to the bus station, looking for a taxi and being told that we can’t be accommodated in the van because there are loads of tomatoes under the carpet in the trunk and our suitcases will squish them. Walking down the street and being hustled to purchase a set of mini plastic table and chairs. Heading over to the corner store, conversing with the shopkeeps and accepting their offer to try a new fruit I’ve never seen before called obos – they even gave me some salt to add. Maybe the best thing about this is that it’s not only in Ecuador where these random, amusing things occur – it seems to be a recurring theme throughout life in Latin America.
Ecuador – or what I prefer to refer to as EcuAMOR – is magical, beautiful, wonder-full, incredible. I’ve been lucky enough to love every where I’ve lived, but this was different – a week in Ecuador, and it just felt good, it felt right. Before I get carried in rambling more about its beauty, me voy a despedir, it’s time to say goodbye. Ecuador, gracias por invitarme hace más de un año, gracias por compartir tu belleza conmigo, e igual, tu gente… estoy eternamente agradecida por haberte descubierto, y un día, regresaré.
And so, another Latin country has woven its threads among the strings of my heart – this time, even tighter than before. I hope this may have been the beginning of what will be a long love affair, that I will return to this soil time and time again, and that it will welcome me with arms as wide open as it has my first time.
chao ~ chels