I’m in the Houston airport right now waiting for my flight to Seattle. Before I start talking about how upset I am about this, I’ll go over what I did during my last week in Quito.
I’ll start off with the most “exciting” part of the week. On Tuesday after my service learning, Meghan, Giang, Danny’s 10 year-old son and I were walking through el Parque La Carolina when this guy came up to us. He was probably a little younger than I am and he started talking to me but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He put his hand on my shoulder and then I was able to discern the words, “quieres morir? Tengo una pistola en mi bolsillo. Dame su dinero y su celular” (do you want to die? I have a pistol in my pocket. Give me your money and cellphone). I then obviously realized that he was trying to rob me. He had his hand behind his back where his supposed pistol would have been. Throughout the entire last 10 weeks, we’d been told that if we were ever in a situation like this, it is DEFINITELY safer just to comply with the ladrón (thief). Big Mama is going to be really upset when she hears that that’s not what I did.
At first, it took me a second to realize what was actually happening but when I did, I started thinking. Probably the wrong move. I’d seen the guy walking up to us and saw he was wearing athletic warm-up type pants that were fairly thin. Because of this, I was certain that he didn’t actually have a gun in his pocket. After he told me he had a gun, I sort of stared at him for a few seconds and then called his bluff. I said, “hay mucha gente aquí” (there’s a lot of people here) which was true. We were walking right along the bike/running path in the park and there were several people in the vicinity. It was at this point that the ladrón changed his plan of attack and sort of started to realize I wasn’t just going to give my stuff over. He hesitated for a second then slowly tried to reach into my pocket for my stuff so I pushed him away. He then looked like he was thinking of trying to get Meghan’s stuff too but then thought better and ran off but not before saying, “todo bien” (it’s all good). I realize now that I was pretty foolish and extremely lucky that it had been a super inexperienced ladrón. I could sort of tell he didn’t know what he was doing but I still probably should have just handed over my stuff. My teachers told me that it was probably his first or second time trying to rob someone because his strategy was so lame. Most of the time, thieves will have at LEAST a fake or real gun that they point at you or will trap you and put a knife to you so you can’t get away. I’ve been keeping this sort of information sort of on the down low in my blogs while I’ve been there mainly so Big Mama doesn’t worry about me more. The fact is, is that there is a lot of theft in Ecuador (mainly the big cities like Quito and Guayaquil as well as the coast). In our orientation, the guy told us that he had lived in Quito for a less than 3 years and had already gotten robbed six times, all of them at gunpoint or with a knife to him. Granted, he said that these things usually happen when people don’t keep their wits about them and are doing stupid things like going to an ATM at night in Gringolandia/Plaza Foch (the main bar and club area in Quito). I think in our group over the 10 weeks, we probably had about 10 different robberies, all of which were pickpocketing type robberies without violence. However, one guy at ACLAS who is from another school got robbed 4 times in a month, at least one of the times at gunpoint in the middle of Gringolandia. Again though, I’m pretty sure it was because he was being sort of stupid and was taking out a couple hundred dollars from an ATM at like two in the morning. But anyway, my robbery situation turned out alright thankfully and I didn’t lose anything.
The rest of the week, I was just trying to fit in as much as I could before I left. My friends and I wanted to go to our favorite restaurant, Vista Hermosa in el centro historico one last time. I also wanted to try some more Ecuadorian foods before I left like fanesca, a soup with 12 grains, fish, bananas, cheese, peppers, and probably other stuff. It was basically like a super thick salmon chowder. This soup is unique to Ecuador and usually is made only during special religious occasions like Lent right now, for example. I also tried a plate called churrasco for lunch one day which is comprised of rice, some steak, papas fritas (French fries), and two fried eggs on top. It tasted pretty much exactly how it sounds.
This being my last week in Quito also meant it was my last week volunteering at the Hogar Corazón de María old folks home. On Thursday, we played our last game of Bingo with the ancianos and said our goodbyes. We also said our goodbyes to the family we know that comes every Thursday to visit. I also said goodbye to one of my friends, Carol, that I met at the asilo. She gave me a little bag type thing that she made herself as well as some little trinkets to remember her by. In addition to this, it was also a hard day because instead of going to the cafeteria where I normally go that has the higher functioning ancianas, I went to the cafeteria with all the ancianas that have mobility issues and need a lot more help. I helped one woman eat her soup and it took about 30 minutes to finish half of a small bowl. It was pretty sad because a lot of the women in this part of the asilo need a lot of help like this and some of them struggle a lot and are clearly miserable.
We had our exams on Thursday which included a test and a 10 minute oral presentation (in Spanish of course) about a Latin American country of our choice. I chose Venezuela. I made a powerpoint and did a some research on its history as well as its current president, Hugo Chávez. The last couple oral presentations I did, I was super nervous and I’d pretty much prepared exactly what I was going to say in the presentations. This time, I just decided to wing it pretty much. I had a general outline of what I was going to say but didn’t know exactly what I would say. I just decided to learn the material really well then just talk when I got up there. I was worried that I’d only take like 3 minutes and have nothing more to say about Venezuela but thankfully I was wrong and I ended up taking over 10. After our exams, the program director of ACLAS threw a little party for us and all of our host parents came. Rocío almost started crying. I was quite touched. Then we went back home and I started packing. Sam, Paul, and Meghan came with me because we all wanted to go get some ghetto food, as we call it, at my favorite hole in the wall “comida típica” restaurant in the Vicentina neighborhood. All my friends, Rocío, and Santiago (Santi, the other Ecuadorian student that lives with Rocío) came to ghetto food. The only things on the menu are bbqed pollo de piernas, de pechuga, mollejas, cuero, o pinchos (chicken legs, breast, gizzards, pig skin, or kabobs. Everybody got some sort of chicken and it was sooooooo good as always. Definitely a good last meal before I left. Then Paul and Meghan got on a bus for Manta on the coast for their last weekend in Quito. I had planned to just pack all night until I had to get a cab at 4am to the airport but apparently I’d allowed way too much time. I packed all my stuff up in about an hour and a half total and then Sam and I went to Plaza Foch to festejar one last time. Our plan was to sit at one of the outdoor restaurant areas in the middle of the plaza and see if any of our classmates were out partying as well. However, less than 20 seconds after we got out of the cab, we found a big group of our friends and we joined up with them. It’s weird how that has happened EVERY time that we’ve gone to Plaza Foch. We ended up having a great last night going to a couple different bars and ending up at our favorite dance club, No Bar, which never fails to be a good time. After that, I went back home, said goodbye to mi madre and took a cab to the airport. Side note: apparently the Quito airport is one of the most difficult to land at in the world because it is set in such a mountainous region. There is a part of Quito called Guápulo which is a hill in Quito that the airplanes need to fly over before they land. After they get over this hill, they need to descend pretty quickly so they don’t overshoot the runway. Apparently, there have been many incidents where it is extremely cloudy and the planes can’t see the ground and actually crash into Guápulo. Thankfully, this did not happen either of the times I flew into Quito.
All in all, I could not have been happier with my decision to study abroad in Ecuador. Paul, Meghan, and I were talking about it at Vista Hermosa and we agreed it was probably the best ten weeks of our lives as well as the best decision we’d ever made. Looking back on everything, it’s safe to say that I have absolutely no regrets about anything. Usually I’m not a person without regrets because I feel like it’s a natural emotion but in this instance, I have no problem saying it. I constantly felt like I was on an amazing adventure.
Near the end, people like mi madre and random acquaintances I met on the bus kept asking what my favorite part of Ecuador was and it was really hard for me to decide. Part of me loved the excitement and adrenaline of Baños where we went bridge jumping and canyoning. Then another part of me loved the beautiful beaches and unique wildlife of the Galápagos Islands. I think I decided that I liked my trips to the Amazonian jungle the best though. The scenery was so green and gorgeous. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Not to mention, the 5-7 hour bus rides to and from these parts were incredibly pretty as well. Watching the sun set while piranha fishing on la Laguna Grande, swimming naked under a waterfall (skinning cascada-ing we called it), and having monkeys climb over me were all incredible experiences that I’ll never forget.
Naturally, after having an amazing experience like this, I’m pretty bummed to be leaving it all and heading back home. The international exchange programs office told us we would have a bit of a culture shock and most likely have some trouble adjusting back to our normal life again. I was pretty sure that I was going to transition fine but when I was on the plane earlier today it hit me that I would never have an experience like that again with those same people. I met some Ecuadorians and people from the UW that are now some of my closest friends only after a couple months. It makes me really sad to know that I won’t be seeing mi madre, Rocío Garcia every day anymore and learning about her country. I couldn’t have asked for a better host mother. I’m not going to have my Ecuador routine of catching the bus with Sam every day anymore, eating $2 almuerzos for lunch, or leaving every weekend to experience a different part of the country. Looking back on it, it really is amazing how many different experiences I had in just one little country. It has beautiful beaches, huge snow-capped mountains, as well as extremely diverse jungle regions. When I first came to Ecuador, I had no idea that it had so much to offer and now that I’ve left, I don’t think I could have been more pleased in another country. I’ll definitely miss the whole adventure of it all as well as little things such as 25 cent bus rides, extremely cheap cab fares, Ecuadorian food and drink, fútbol always on TV, and speaking Spanish with random Ecuadorians I’d meet on the bus, in cabs, or at the asilo.
While I am really sad that my amazing adventure is over, there are definitely things I am looking forward to back in my normal life. For one, once I get back to Seattle, I’ll be leaving again in about 12 hours for Hawaii for Spring Break with my family and friend Rachel who decided to invite herself along. After that, I’m REALLY looking forward to getting back and playing soccer again. My old coach of 3 seasons resigned last fall after almost 20 years and I have only heard good things about the quality of our new coach so that is definitely something to be excited about. Being able to drink tap water and being able to flush toilet paper is also going to be really nice.
On that note, I think this blog is just about finished. I’ve never really enjoyed writing all that much but to be honest, it was actually pretty fun writing this blog every week. I’m sure I didn’t nearly do justice to my experience with my words and pictures but hopefully everyone that read it enjoyed it anyway. This experience has sparked a new love for traveling within me so I hope to return to South America again as well as explore other parts of the world in the (hopefully near) future. When I do, I’ll be sure to blog again. Until then, nos vemos, espero que te vaya bien, adios, chao.
|Mi madre y yo y nuestros ponchos|