A Travellerspoint blog

La vida tipica en Ecuador

Coffee, Culture, and Bananagrams

semi-overcast

“Voy caminando por la vida, sin pausa pero sin prisa…”
(Translation: I go walking through life, without pausing but without rushing…) –Melendi

This evening, as I rest my head on the soft, beach-themed pillow in my bedroom, I am amazed at how quickly one becomes accustomed to the culture and lifestyle of another country. Many aspects of Ecuadorian life seem especially designed for me—the tendency towards tardiness, the abundance of cafes, and the friendliness of the people; other characteristics are more challenging to accommodate—the altitude, the chilly nights, and the dangerously bad drivers. However, despite these challenges, I find myself swiftly acclimating to life here in Quito.

Every day there are new words to learn, new fruits to try, and new people to meet. And, though each day is full of surprises, I have begun to enter into a routine. Each morning begins I with a generous bowl of apples, bananas, and papaya mixed with yogurt and granola. After finishing a strong jarro (mug) of coffee, I amble towards Vida Verde, the Spanish language school, with my housemate Megan. Two minutes later we arrive and I make my way up the stairs to begin class with Gustavo, my teacher, and Anne, one of my housemates. Each day we begin with stories from the previous afternoon and then commence with grammar exercises or story reading. I rather enjoy the readings, though I worry that my feminist within has reared its ugly head too many times when talking about Ecuadorian machismo.

Sometimes we take class onto the streets to gain real-life experience with the language. Tuesday, for example, Gustavo took Anne, Megan, and I to the Mercado Santa Clara, a marketplace teeming with fresh fruits and vegetables of shapes and colors that I had never before seen or tasted. The upper level of the marketplace was the meat arena and let it suffice to say that, after viewing the freshly cut tongue, liver, stomach, and leg of each animal, I am considering the path of a vegetarian.

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Our afternoons are free so we use the extra time to explore the city. It is my personal mission to try all the café (coffee) within a six-mile radius—I may be here for years. The afternoons are also a good time to exercise, though I’m trying to begin the habit of a morning run with Heather, my future housemate who lives a few blocks from an expansive park. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, I awoke, dressed, and jogged the mile and a half to el Parque Carolina. I hadn’t noticed the effect of the altitude in Quito until the moment I arrived at the park, panting and clutching my chest as I gasped for air; consequently, the morning run became more of a jog-walk-breathe but my expectation for future running remains high.

Most evenings in Quito are spent at home, typing on my computer or playing “Bananagrams” with my host mother and Megan. For the unfortunate few who have not yet played this game, it is a speedier and more enjoyable form of Scrabble in which each person picks up tiles to create his or her own crossword. Once no pieces remain in the middle, whoever is first to complete the Scrabble-like puzzle wins. Of course, in Ecuador the game “Bananagrams” poses an additional challenge because we play in Spanish. Thank goodness for the abundance of verb tenses (for example, in the past tense alone, the verb leer, to read, has six conjugates: le, lei, leiste, leyo, leimos, leyeron)!

On Wednesday evening, however, we had our first night out on the town. Our group of Americans, Germans, and Swiss met for una hora feliz (happy hour) at a local bar called Azucar. After spilling my first mojito down the middle of my pants due to my great reliance on wild hand gestures, I wasn’t eager to leave so we stayed for a few drinks to converse and give my jeans time to dry. Next, we strolled across the street to a German bar to sample salchichas (sausages) and drink mugs full of frothy beer. There, we met up with some Ecuadorian friends of our Swiss companion and proceeded to learn all of the local words and phrases we should avoid, that is, all of the linguistic gems we don’t learn in school. The night continued at a discoteca (bar with dancing) where we were able to loosen our tired muscles to the beat of American tunes. At midnight, I begrudgingly accepted the end of our evening, and went promptly to bed. The next morning I learned a new word: chuchaqui (hangover).

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On Thursday evening, Megan, Johnnie, and I attended an event at La Casa de Cultura Ecuadoriana (the Ecuadorian Culture House). Due to the upcoming Ecuadorian Independence Day on August 10th, the cultural center had organized an exposition of traditional song and dance from many of the surrounding provinces. The highlights included an adorable two-year old girl shaking a maraca (and consequently shaking off her diaper), a moving Spanish rendition of “Unbreak my Heart,” and a traditional dance using brightly colored cloth that brought back memories of Ribbon Dancers. And, unlike the toilet paper in Ecuadorian public restrooms, the event was completely free!

Today we leave at 6pm for the coast. Our bus departs from Quito at 8pm and, ten hours later, we’ll hop on another bus for two more hours until we reach our destination, Porto Lopez. But, like they often say in Ecuador, vale la pena (it is worth it) because, once we arrive, we are going whale watching on a nearby island and, hopefully, will be able to take in some sun. I’m sure I’ll have much to write after this weekend but until then, hasta luego!

Posted by lhamman1 06:21 Archived in Ecuador Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

We've Arrived!

Los primeros dias en Ecuador

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“To bury the grape tendril in such a way that it shoots out new growth I recognize easily as a metaphor for the way life must change from time to time if we are to go forward in our thinking.” –Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

During my last days in the states, I passed many hours in reflection—and many of those in packing—seeking to reconnect with the adventurous spirit that once paraded through the streets of Cadiz, rode a camel through the Egyptian desert, and hiked the cliffs of Cinqueterra. Mi espiritu de aventura has lain dormant for several years and, though I continue to travel and seek out new experiences, I have not abandoned myself to chance, conceded the security of language and culture. I am drawn to the quote of Frances Mayes because it naturalizes the cyclical process that we all undergo, growing and changing and hoping to become something greater than ourselves. But the wisest among us avow that, for the most fruitful harvest, you must take the best parts of yourself and replant them in new and richer soil. It is with this thought that I begin the story of my arrival to Ecuador.

After nine hours of air travel, we descended upon the city of Quito, in awe of the amber sun casting a russet hue over the dusky surrounding mountains. The innumerable buildings, like colorful Legos squares peering with window-eyes, seemed haphazardly arranged. The engine roared as we skidded to a stop on a runway that frequently elicits cheers from the passengers for the successful landing.

We disembarked and, after a brief check through customs, we entered the frenzied search for luggage, that is, those bags which contain all our belongings for the next year and a half. Mine being fluorescent pink, the luggage was easy to spot. My housemate Heather, continuing her string of misfortune that day, had her first taste of self-awareness when she spun around to find an old woman unzipping her backpack—not to be outdone by the red-handed guilt, the elderly woman promptly slapped my friend on the arm and growled, “Loca!” Crazy girl! Or perhaps, another way of saying, “Welcome to Ecuador!”

Luckily, Rosa, our good-humored host-mom, was waiting right outside baggage claim with a small sheet of paper reading, “Univ. of Notre Dame.” We exchanged besitos—one cheek only—and rushed out to rent a van that could sustain the weight of our luggage. Rosa instantly put us at ease with her laid-back welcome and elaborate explanations the various barrios of the city. No sooner had we arrived home, but we were out again, heading towards one of those barrios, la Zona Rosa, to grab a drink at the bar where her daughter Diana works. The bar was mostly empty—it was only nine, quite early for los chicos quitenos—but we were more than satisfied with well-seasoned slices of pizza and cold beer. Diana’s German boyfriend, Peter, proved to be a fine competitor on the ancient, rusted foosball table and, though it pains me to admit, actually defeated the self-proclaimed champion (myself).

This morning, I woke early to shower and discovered why Rosa told Megan and me not to use our showers at the same time. After that frigid realization, I dressed, dried my hair, and went to the dining room for delicious pancakes de platanos (bananas). Megan and I both enjoyed jugo de tomate, an orange-colored juice that to me tasted more like mango than tomato, though I was sorely contested by everyone at the table. We reunited with the other girls (Heather, Johnnie, and Anne) and hopped an autobus to explore el Centro Historico, or the historic area of downtown Quito. The churches were beautiful, covered with gold and faded paintings, and the streets were lined with vendors of every sort—clothespins, candy, even remotes. Due to the national holiday next weekend celebrating la independencia of Ecuador from Spain, there were several live events in the plaza including a performance from las Chicas Dulces (the Sweet Girls), who seemed the Ecuadorian version of the Spice Girls. After a delightful walking tour, we escaped the beating sun in the centro commercial to buy mobile phones. Thankfully Rosa was able to barter a decent price, though it was well near two in the afternoon when we finished and we hungrily paced to a nearby Fruterilla. The food was rich and tasty, from chicken-filled empanadas to bowls of fresh fruit covered in swirls of sweet whipped cream. Bellies full, we ambled homeward to rest awhile on Rosa’s couches.

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At four, the rest of the group was tired and worn-out but, with my renewed espiritu de aventura, I was eager to explore. While the other ladies joined Rosa at the supermercado, I hopped another autobus with Diana and Peter to watch the National Symphony perform a special outdoor concert for the bicentennial year of the Declaracion de la Independencia in the Centro Historico. As in the morning, the streets were packed with vendors and families so, with arms linked, we slowly pushed our way to a row of white, plastic chairs that seemed near the stage. Unfortunately, the large arbol (tree) in front of us blocked much of the view, but the screen nearby displayed the full majesty of the evening, complete with interpretive dance, projected images, passionate singing, and a range of instrumental solos. Throughout the course of the evening, I learned of the three hundred years of colonization, the first rebellions, and the eventual declaration of independence leading to revolution and freedom from Spanish rule. Though warmed from the vivacious music, I also learned to bring an extra jacket for cool Ecuadorian nights.

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On Sunday, I woke early to see my first partido de futbol (soccer game) in Ecuador! Upon arrival, we bought jerseys and caps to support La Liga, a university team in Quito. Anne’s host brother taught us one of the many songs for La Liga and we joined hundreds of fans in a boisterous “Empieza con L, con I, con G, con A, Liga campeon!” Luckily, our team won, after a grueling match of a mere 1 to 0. We left the stadium with noses burnt and spirits high.

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Today I began classes but we are quickly leaving for a walk around Quito so I’ll save stories about the classes for another blog. Ciao amigos!

Posted by lhamman1 13:31 Archived in Ecuador Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

The Next Crazy Venture Beneath the Skies

A brief introduction

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"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."

-Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Part 2, Ch. 8

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As I sink deep into the maroon-stitched couch in our living room, I am reminded of the timelessness of home. True, nothing remains the same and, as we journey from college to new cities, hoping the return home will yield a place frozen in space and time, we unmistakeably find that time marches onward. For example, my childhood bedroom has slowly morphed into a guest room, the lavender walls painted over with dull bronze and the flowery bedspread replaced with a more mature khaki and russet. Our street, formerly laden with cracks and crevices, has been repaved with a sleek, black asphalt. Downtown, a large apartment complex has grown overnight, towering over the small boutiques that adorn the quaint main street. Children become teenagers, grandparents age, and pets grow more weary with hypersomnia.

And yet, despite the inevitable changes, I always feel a deep calm and relief upon entering my childhood home. Mom's delicious dinners and cautioned advice, dad's lengthy explanations of his latest hobby, my sisters' recounts of their college exploits, and my dog's constant whimper during mealtimes are all as necessary to me as a full-night's sleep. This rejuvination process helps me to cling tightly to my roots and, at the same time, prepares me for my next embarkation.

I have always had restless feet, in the literal sense as a lifelong runner, but, metaphorically speaking, I never can seem to stay in one place. My desire to travel was first satiated with my study abroad experience in Toledo, Spain during the second half of my junior year in college. First to Cairo, then to Spain, I gained an appreciation for cultures and people different than myself and, as many who travel do, came away from those experiences with an expanded worldview and a ceaseless desire to see more.

I spent the past two years in San Antonio, indulging in the local cuisine of breakfast tacos and Mexican rice, and gaining renewed insight into my longing to master the Spanish language. Though I wish this experience had helped me along my lingual way, I am sorry to admit that I rarely used Spanish while in Texas and feel no more further along on my quest to fluency. However, I did grow immensely while living and teaching in San Antonio, developing a system of discipline for my students and for my life that I had formerly lacked. I became more confident in my abilities as a teacher and applied myself towards coaching, organizing fundraising events, and running two marathons. When I reflect upon my ACE experience, I can see through the hardships towards my own growth and I am grateful for that element of my life in San Antonio.

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Returning again to the present, I am eagerly awaiting my next adventure which will carry me towards a new continent and new experiences. On July 31st, I leave for Quito, Ecuador, where I will spend the succeeding months studying the Spanish language and Ecuadorian culture. At the end of September, I leave for Santiago, Chile, where I will spend a year teaching English and traveling all over South America. I have no doubts that there will be plenty of stories to share and I hope that this blog will serve as a viable venue for my thoughts and memories. Until then, I have precious little time to soak up the conveniences and camaraderie of home before, as Kerouac so eloquently put, I am vaulted forward towards my next crazy venture beneath the skies.

Posted by lhamman1 08:10 Archived in USA Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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