As promised, this is going to be a contemplative and reflective post. So if you want action-packed adventure, this might not be to your taste.
First, I want to relate my experiences these last few days. Everything’s all connected now to that reflecting and the feelings surrounding going home, so I guess it’s not really “first” but just a way of introducing the topic.
Basically since I got here, I was planning on going to the coast for my last week in Ecuador. Gradually, all my Kalamazoo friends changed their plans, until there was no one else in the country with whom I could travel to the ocean. Deciding not to let that deter me, though a bit more apprehensive about it, I went to the coast anyway.
It was... an experience. I’m glad I went. I don’t know what else I would have done for the two days I spent there, so I guess it was a good use of that time, but it wasn’t particularly “fun.” I discovered quickly that a gringa traveling solo in the northern coast of Ecuador is pretty obvious (tourists go more to the southern coast it seems) and I wasn’t really prepared to be alone with my own thoughts for so long this close to going home. I might have been able to do it when I wasn’t so focused on home, but, being so close to seeing the people I love and miss, that’s all I’m really thinking about in my down time. I need distractions and interactions with other people or I regress into homesickness. And my psyche wasn’t helped much by the continued need to lie and say “Oh, yes, I’m alone right now, but only because my amigas are sleeping in/here already/didn’t want a pincho/are meeting me in ten minutes/etc. It’s tiring trying to keep up all those little fibs that very well may have kept me safe. I met a couple friendly people (all men, so those acquaintances only lasted a few minutes) but most of the time I walked along, ignoring any “Holas” or “Hellos” (even one “Hey you!” in a thick Ecuadorian accent) because literally all of them were intended as piropos. I counted at one point. In a five minute walk along one of the roads I received seven piropos. Sometimes I felt like it would have been easier to be deaf, instead of just pretending.
But I did see some cool things. I first went to Esmeraldas, but didn’t stay long, since the streets made me feel a little uncomfortable (piropos again. And the fact that I stick out like a sore thumb in a population that is mostly black). The guy at the hostel that first night didn’t really flirt with me outwardly, but he gave me a business card to the hotel with his personal phone number on the back. I threw it in the first trash can I came across. Walking around that morning I spent in Esmeraldas though, I managed to run across a food market accidentally. The carts of fruits and vegetables were wonderfully colorful and the street was strewn with dirt and peels and other organic bits and pieces. I was even passed by a man carrying a squealing piglet by its hind legs. I ate a bit and then decided to hurry up and get out of town. On my way out, someone pointing up at the sky caught my attention. The sun had a full rainbow around it and there was another circle of light and a rainbow off to the side as well. I don’t know why they were there, but it was a pretty cool phenomenon to see.
From Esmeraldas, I took a short (and very cheap) bus ride to Atacames, a popular beach town a little way down the coast. I spent at least an hour wandering around trying to find a place to stay and finally found one that was completely over-priced and awful, but I took it anyway. Atacames was crowded and there weren’t many more gringos there than there were in Esmeraldas. Which didn’t help my sticking out. I had some good food, saw a couple salsa bands playing music on the beach, and got splashed with a lot of water and sprayed with a lot of foam.
Don’t worry, the water and foam is normal. It’s Carnaval. Apparently, in this area of the world, people splash and spray each other to celebrate. Whether they know each other or not. There were a number of teenaged boys who used this tradition as an excuse to chase me down the street with a foam spray can, but it was kind of fun, and the foam disappears quickly.
I spent most of my alone time thinking. And, as I said before, most of those thoughts came back around to just missing the people I wasn’t with. But I made a few attempts at redirecting them to things about Ecuador and reflections on all of my experiences.
You see, as I post this, I have only 95 hours left in Ecuador. That’s not much.
It’s been a good experience. I’ve improved my Spanish beyond recognition, and some other abilities as well. I use all sorts of Ecuadorian slang and some of the different sounds that people use to express feelings and reactions in their conversations have become part of my repertoire as well. I’ve even started remembering conversations I’ve had in English in Spanish, just like I used to remember Spanish conversations in English.
As far as other newly developed abilities go, I can now eat all of the meat off of a bone. And then some. My host-dad still puts me to shame. He can clean a bone so there is literally nothing but bone left. He eats all the tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and gristle in any piece of meat. It’s impressive. I can eat considerably more gristly meat than I could before I came, but I’m still not that good.
I can now recognize a cacao (chocolate) plantation from a bus window. And bird of paradise flowers no longer make me excited. (Did you know that they’re actually super common?)
I’ve gotten used to paying next to nothing for meals and transportation, and I know that when I go home, paying for food is going to be really hard. As if I wasn’t cheap enough already. In contrast, I will have a hard time remembering that I can actually drink the water out of the tap when I go home. I’ve gotten used to buying bottled water or boiling it.
Walking down streets is going to be interesting too. I’ve gotten very good at totally ignoring any man that looks in my direction, as any form of recognition just invites the piropos. I’m also good at being what they call “de pilas” which literally translates to “of batteries” but means to be “on your toes.” It’s just the best way to be when you’re on your own on the streets. I guess I’ll just be a bit off-putting to strangers for a while when I get back.
As much as I’ve gotten used to ignoring men, I’ve also gotten used to ignoring airplanes. I don’t even notice the noise anymore as they fly over my house coming in for a landing.
I can dance salsa.
I can flag down a bus or a taxi.
I can jump off of a bus while it’s moving.
I don’t use a seatbelt. That’s because, in most taxis, it would take you about ten minutes to find the stupid thing and retrieve it from the cracks between the seats, and by then you’ve already arrived.
I can tell you my ecua-phone number, in English, Spanish, and Quichua. But I’ve basically forgotten my US cell phone number.
I’m a pro at solving problems with skype, and knowing when they just can’t be solved.
I can run well at sea level (the result of living at a high altitude for 6 months).
A can both recognize and imagine the voices of just about every Kzoo student on my program.
I understand why curvy roads exist. (A concept that is rather foreign to flatlanders. And Michigan, my friends, ain’t got no mountains.)
I can follow a soccer game (though really, it’s called futbol).
I can sing along to the entire repertoire of car alarms that exist in Quito.
I can sing all the words to all the songs in my itunes that talk about home.
And I will not remember to throw toilet paper in the toilet when I get home. (This is me apologizing in advance.)
There’s a lot of things I’m going to miss about Ecuador. Some I’m sure I haven’t even thought of as possible things to miss, but others are pretty obvious.
I’m going to miss the food here. Granted, it will be nice not to be served potatoes, rice, and bread with a hunk of meat and a “salad” frequently as a balanced meal (Can anyone say more carbs please? No? Didn’t think so), but there are some really tasty things here. Ecuadorians have soup just about every day as the first course for lunch (the biggest meal of the day) and they certainly know how to make some good soups. The fruit here is also superb, since nearly every kind you can think of will grow here year round. (Though their apples are usually sub-par.) I’m going to miss the variety and abundance of bananas and plantains. Particularly the plantains, since those don’t really make it up to Michigan that often. I’ll be happy to get back to something besides mozzarella and queso fresco for cheese though. They don’t really eat any other kinds of cheese here.
I’m going to miss being able to hop on a bus, pay a quarter, and go anywhere in the city. And it’s not very expensive to go places outside of the city as well. I won’t miss having to take the bus though. In Kalamazoo, I can go just about anywhere I want walking, and at home I have a car I can use. Which is much easier than a bus.
And, of course, I’m going to miss the people here. Fortunately I’ll have my Kzoo people to remember Ecuador with at K, but it will be hard leaving all of my ecua-friends behind.
Looking back on my first impressions of Quito and Ecuador has been kind of interesting. Now that I’ve been here for so long, some of the things that originally made a big impression on me have become normal. The machete in the back of my host-dad’s car is now no more abnormal than the jackknife in my mom’s car at home. The walls lining the streets are just the way things are. It will be weird to go back to a city that has houses with porches and front lawns. The street vendors have also become an every-day norm, and I will miss buying the occasional ice cream or candied peanuts on the bus. Another normal thing is all the signs being in Spanish. When I hear tourists conversing in English, it’s a novelty. I’ll admit it. I stare. One thing that’s still impressive to me is the plants. There are just SO MANY in Ecuador. And I hadn’t ever seen most of them before.
But, as much as I’ve learned here, and as much as I will miss it, I am ready to leave. I am ready to go home. And I am ready to remember it all fondly.
Hasta pronto mis amigos! (See you soon my friends!)