With Week 2 coming to an end, I’m happy to say that things are going well. Adjustment is still occurring daily, but my life is starting to have a routine and I’m gaining confidence in every area of this adventure.
Notable Moments of the Week:
- Successfully rode the bus to and from school by myself. If you could peer into my thoughts during the first few days here while I was on the bus, you would understand what a huge accomplishment this is! On Day 1 I thought I’d never survive. Now I almost feel like a local who understands the inner workings of the city, even if I do feel dumb wearing my backpack in front of my body (safety first though, am I right?). Also found out my amigos Becca and Frank live in my neighborhood, so we’re able to ride the bus together more often!
- Successfully took a taxi by myself. Ha. There’s quite a bit that goes into picking a good/safe taxi in Ecuador- you have to pay attention to the color of the car (any black stripes equals a major NO), license plate, number on the front window, and number on the side door, all while standing on the side of a busy road trying to flag one down! I gave my taxi driver the intersection that I live on and he had no idea where it was (classic), but I was able to guide him to my apartment.
- Played with the most precious kids at a daycare. Some of the IES Students are in a Service Learning class, where we are paired with a local organization and get to volunteer there for 6 hours every week. I, along with my friends Caylee and Maria, am working in the nursery at Fundación Extreme Response (check it out! http://extremeresponse.org/how-we-serve/quito-dump/). The kids here are between ages 1-5 and they all come from a low socioeconomic status. Many of their parents pick trash in a local garbage dump and this daycare provides a safe place for their children to grow and play. I love these kids already. Probably learned more Spanish vocab from 5-year-old Alejandro than I’ve learned in my classes for a long time. Also may or may not have tripped and fell directly on top of two toddlers, but everyone was fine, so it’s all good!
- Started Classes. Already a big fan of every class that I’m in. It’s so fun to learn about Ecuadorian culture while being submersed in it at the same time! I’m already seeing opportunities to apply what I’ve learned to my everyday life here. Also, my profs are so cool. During Day 2 of classes, I laughed so hard I cried. If that’s not an indication that things are going well, I don’t know what is.
- Battled a Stomach Bug. Was bound to happen sooner or later and it’ll probably happen again. Conveniently, it also occurred on my first day of classes. It wasn’t the most fun day of my life, but I made it through!
- Survived my First (very small) Earthquake. To be 100% honest, I didn’t even know that it happened. So many loud trucks drive past my apartment that I didn’t notice extra rumbling. The next day at school everyone was like, did you feel the earthquake last night? And I was like, oh shoot, I thought it was a truck.
- Played Soccer. Juan Carlos, a staff member at IES, took some of us to play fútbol in the pouring rain at the local park. I thought I had adjusted well to the altitude until this moment, in which I physically could not breathe after doing hardly anything. I had to take approximately 10 water breaks in less than 40 minutes, but I’m determined to keep practicing and getting better every week. After we got tired of playing, we got to watch some local boys play the beautiful game. I’m positive that if they came and competed in the US, they would beat everyone because they’re used to playing soccer at 10,000 feet above sea level!
Trip of the Week: Mindo
No one in our program has classes on Fridays, so we left for Mindo on Friday morning, reaching our destination by about 11am. Mindo is a small town in the cloud forest of the mountains, about a 2 hour bus ride from Quito. We checked into the cutest hostel, Bio Hostal, where there was a beautiful rooftop terrace, hammocking spots, open space for card games and hanging out, and delicious breakfasts. What a gem of a place.
On Friday we headed to a butterfly sanctuary via a Mindo taxi, which is essentially just piling people into the back of a pickup truck. Here we were able to interact with hundreds and hundreds of butterflies. We put mashed bananas on our hand to try and get them to land on us (I was awful at staying still enough for this technique to work), but even without the bananas, the butterflies would still land on random places all over our bodies. It was a truly magical experience, as various members of our group described it.
We then went whitewater tubing down the river. I’m pretty sure whitewater tubing isn’t a thing in the US, but I’m so glad it’s a thing in Ecuador. Essentially, it is just six(ish) black tubes (like you get at a wave pool) tied together with rope. After balancing ourselves carefully on the tubes and gripping onto the rope, we were off down the river with our two guides, who were absolute legends. They kept hopping off our makeshift raft into the rapids to steer us around rocks and trees- all while wearing blue jeans, which we thought was hilarious. The water was freezing and it was so exhilarating that I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time down the river. I would do this again in a heartbeat.
After this, we toured an organic chocolate farm, where we were able to see how cacao is harvested and try various types of chocolate bars, hot chocolate, chocolate sauces, and THE WORLD’S BEST BROWNIES, all made right on location.
On Saturday, a group of us got up at 5:20am to head out on a birdwatching and waterfall hike. We saw at least 20 different toucans as well as many parrots in the early morning hours of the day. After this, we spent hours hiking up and down muddy trails, visiting seven different waterfalls. This hike was no joke- it was either uphill or downhill, with very few rests. My phone, which may or may not be trustworthy, said that we walked over nine miles that day. I may have fallen in the mud and into a river, but the beautiful waterfalls were absolutely worth it.
The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling at the hostel and in Mindo- eating more brownies, playing cards, hammocking, sampling some local cafes, and just chatting with friends. In my opinion, Mindo has the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. To end the night, we visited a discoteca, where we put our very American dance moves on display for all of the locals.
Today (Sunday), was spent enjoying breakfast, eating even more brownies, walking around town, and hammocking at our hostel. Myself and three other friends ended up staying later than the rest of the group and made friends over lunch with our waiter, who was 13 years old, and his little brother, who was 8. The 8 year old was absolutely hilarious: his job at the restaurant was to guard the tables with a squirt bottle full of water and spray the stray dogs away when they came near to customers. He mostly ended up talking to us at our table, doing weird little dances, and showing off. Needless to say, we have a new little amigo.
All in all, I really really love Mindo and will definitely be back later this semester- if not for the adventures and good times, then definitely for the brownies.