Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Happened to March?

So it appears that the month of March was an epic fail for regular blog updates. April will be better, I swear! The last few weeks have been flying by…here’s a recap:

I was invited to the home of one of the senoras who volunteers at FUDIS for the weekend in mid-March – at first I was dreading the 48 hours, since the main topic of conversation between myself and the senoras is my love life and how to find an Ecuadorian boyfriend. I was anticipating a matchmaking weekend, but instead was pleasantly surprised by my warm welcome into Marina’s family. She runs a cultural exchange between Ecuadorian high school students and kids in Montana, so the whole family was used to having an American around. Marina took me to an interesting exhibit of Ecuador’s biodiversity at a museum, I went on a little road trip with her daughter and discovered the joys of biscoche and homemade cheese in Cayambe, and attended a family party that rivaled those of the Hantz family variety. It was such a treat to be surrounded by aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews for the weekend, though it did make me miss my own family.

Luckily, I didn’t have to miss them for long because Sophie and her boyfriend Hunter came to visit last week! We had a blast touring Quito and spending an evening with my volunteer friends for the first few days, and then the three of us headed to the coast for some beach time. We stayed in Canoa, which is a tiny little surf town filled with cabanas and bamboo huts; shoes and shirts not required. Since the sun is so strong we spent most of our time in the shade – Jorge the cabana guy was kind enough to set up an extra-large structure for us each day once he saw how white we were – happily reading and playing cards. My one appointment was to watch the sunset in a hammock each evening, which was easily kept. It was hard to come back to Quito after such a relaxing few days, but it felt good to be back in the mountains with no mosquitoes in sight!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Culture Shock

Before I left for Ecuador, I attended a pre-orientation weekend organized by ICYE – North America (aka United Planet). We talked a lot about experiencing culture shock; how the first few weeks would be like a honeymoon phase, followed by a rejection phase, and finally moving on to acceptance. Blah, blah, blah, yeah, yeah I’ve been abroad before ain’t no thang.

Yeah, right.

In the past two months, I think I’ve experienced every up and down possible on this culture coaster. Now that things are starting to level out, I’ve realized that a lot of the things that surprised me when I first arrived don’t bother me as much. Perhaps I’m moving toward acceptance? The following are some of my observations:

Making sense of change: Carrying a $50 bill is as good as having no money here. Why? Most things are so inexpensive here (bus is $.25, 3 course lunch is $2) that many small stores simply don’t have the change to process your cash. I cringe when I have to change a $20. There was one incident where my empanada man had to ask his neighboring store owners to change my $20 for the $.99 I owed him. Sorry, pal. Next time I’ll buy five.

Give me the green light: Driving here is a white-knuckle, cold sweat inducing kind of experience. Taxis are known to honk at a traffic light instead of stopping at the red. Busses play chicken on steep mountain roads with no guardrails. Seatbelts? What seatbelts? And a stop sign never means stop. It means “hey there may be another car coming so make sure you flash your brights, maybe slow down to only 45mph, thankyaaa”. As far as acceptance goes, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel safe in a moving vehicle. But I’m getting much more adept at crossing the street, so that’s something.

Showing it off
: I was told before coming here that I should bring conservative clothing. Well, that was easy. All I own are crewnecks anyway. I happily (read: wrongly) assumed that everyone else would have the same fashion sense as me. Many women here are into the tight, belly-baring look, and yet I still get cat-called walking down the street. I’ve been advised to take it as a compliment. I’m not there yet, but am able to largely ignore the whistles that come my way.

Eternal Spring
: I mean it. Lonely Planet was not kidding. I dress in the morning in a t-shirt, cardigan, scarf, and jeans. By noon I’m down to the t-shirt and am slathering on the SPF 50. A few hours later it’s all back on again. I truly began to appreciate the weather here after my trip to the coast, where it was 90 and humid all day. Quito, thank you for your perfect range of temperatures and your cool breezes. New England, I hope spring comes soon.

Paper or plastic
: Ecuadorians love food in bags. Milk, mayo, yogurt, you name it. I’m not sure if they like the idea of squeezing every ounce out or if it’s just easier to stack in the fridge, but bagged consumables are a big deal here. I approve of the milk bladder, but the mayo’s a tough one for me to get past.

Breaking the language barrier: Thankfully, the Spanish that I learned in high school was Latin American, but there are so many words that are unique to Ecuador. My favorite, “chevere”, means cool. I was surprised to rarely hear “adios” used, as it’s only for when you won’t see someone again for a long time. “Ciao” is the regular way to say goodbye. Huh, didn’t anticipate that one. Ecuadorians also insert the word “super” into everyday talk. Super-fácil, super-chevere… it’s strange to hear English inserted in such a casual way, but I like it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Sincerest apologies to my 8 readers for the lack of timely updates. So much has been happening! Dad came to visit last week and we had a wonderful time wandering the streets of Quito and enjoying the outdoor cafes and markets. Showing him the sights made me realize how far my language skills and knowledge of the city has come. Of course, I was quickly slapped in the face by the limits of my Spanish when I went to see Alice in Wonderland in Español last week, but I digress.

One of the main reasons I was so excited about Dad’s visit (aside from the Reese’s Pieces he was bringing) was our planned trip to Baños – a little city tucked into the Andes mountains that’s known for its thermal pools heated by the nearby Volcán Tungurahua. We lucked out staying at an insanely gorgeous hotel high above the city that offered unrivaled views of the landscape and spent the weekend hiking around various waterfalls and soaking in the mineral pools. Of course, a weekend with my Dad is never without some kind of adventure - we also tried grilled cuy (guinea pig), rode a few rickety cable cars and risked our lives on a bridge swing (a slightly safer cousin of the bungee jump. Just as terrifying.) Photos to come of the cuy tasting!