This week was just straight up FUN. I didn’t travel anywhere outside of Quito, but really found a lot to do in the city. Sunday was also election day. After observing an election in the US this past fall, it has been very interesting to see what this process looks like in Ecuador.
Tuesday was Caylee’s 21st Birthday and Valentine’s Day. In Ecuador, Valentine’s Day is called Día del Amor y la Amistad (Day of Love and Friendship). Therefore, it’s not just a day for couples to go on dates- it’s a day to celebrate friends as well! I honestly loved Valentine’s Day here, probably my favorite one yet. On the bus in the morning, almost everyone had a rose in hand and I passed countless people on the streets carrying bouquets of flowers with huge grins on their faces.
At school, my friend Frank brought in a rose for every girl in our program, which was so great. I also received a rose from the gelatto shop that we frequent far too often (or not often enough, depending on who you ask). To be completely honest, I felt very chévere carrying my roses around the city like the locals. Everyone was in such buoyant spirits and there were just a lot of love and friendship vibes going around. As I walked the streets, restaurants and coffee shops were filled with not only couples, but friend groups as well. It was awesome. I think I want to be in Ecuador every February 14th for the rest of my life.
It was also a blast to celebrate Caylee’s birthday here! At our service learning placement, the kids decorated her a special cupcake and everyone sang feliz cumpleaños. It was absolutely precious. After everyone was finished with classes for the day, we headed to Chili’s for some good American/Tex-Mex food. A few of us then headed to Rebel Saloon, a bar/restaurant with cool rocker vibes to finish off the night. It was honestly such a great, fun day!
The next highlight of the week was Thursday, when we rented a chiva for 2 hours to celebrate the two birthdays in our program this week. Chivas are unique to Quito- essentially they are just open air buses with strobe lights, music, canelazo (a mild alcoholic drink that tastes like cinnamon tea and is native to the Andes), and ropes to hold onto attached to the ceiling. The driver takes you all over Quito and you attempt to dance, but also work on balance skills as there are a lot of turns and stops. You also wear plastic cups on a string around your neck, which just adds to the hilarity of the whole thing.
One of the strangest moments of my life took place when we took a pit stop in the Historic Center of Quito and the driver made us all exit the chiva. As we stood in this beautiful plaza at 11:30pm, we were told to make a circle around the cumpleañeros (Caylee and Drew) and walk around them while they danced. Then we all did the Macarena. It was the most gringo thing ever and I wish I could’ve watched this moment from the perspective of a native because I can’t even imagine how dumb we looked. It was such a blast though! If you’re ever in Quito, I would 10/10 recommend taking a chiva with some amigos.
This weekend I got to spend some good quality time shopping for hiking pants, having deep 3 hour conversations in the food court of the mall, and exploring art museums with the IES Amigos. I know I’ve said it before, but I cannot emphasize enough how thankful I am for the cohesiveness of this group.
Next weekend is my host sister Dianita’s birthday, which I will be missing because of a trip to the Amazon. Therefore, we celebrated on Saturday afternoon. I had a great lunch with my host mom Katty, Dianita, and her boyfriend Alejandro. After this, we headed out to El Parque Metropolitano which is less of a park and more of a giant forest with fun activities sprinkled throughout. It’s so enormous that it feels like the equivalent of a state park in the US. We walked through a eucalyptus forest, observed a dog park, and had a few hilarious photoshoots. There were so many families out and about and a great view of the city and the mountains beyond. It was fun to venture out with my host family. Then we had pizza, coca cola, and mochas for dinner. #winning
A highlight of the day was riding in my host mom’s new car. This might sound crazy, but I’ve only ridden buses and taxis for a month and a half and honestly miss normal cars. Sitting in the front seat of a car as we drove through Quito with the windows down blasting “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was very freeing. Did I mention that I love my host fam?
On Sunday, Becca, Caylee, and I headed to the Teleferico. The Teleferico is basically a 10 minute ski gondola (minus the skiing part) ride up the side of one of the mountains that overlooks Quito. At the top, there are beautiful views of the city and of the mountains surrounding the city. At 13,000 ft above sea level, we ascended over 3,000 ft during our ride- you could pay for flavored oxygen at the top to help with the altitude! It was nice to sit in the sun and enjoy the sights. We also saw the most gringos and heard the most English that we have since we got here, which was very strange.
Ecuador is currently in an election year, and Sunday was voting day! Just to give some background, Ecuador has had President Rafael Correa in power for ten years. He is a leftist, somewhat socialist leader, and people either love him or hate him. The election had eight candidates, but the race was mostly between Lenín Moreno and Guillermo Lasso. Moreno is Correa’s former Vice President and has a platform of continuing the work that Correa started (or the People’s Revolution, as the work done for lower classes has been called). Lasso is from the center-right and has a campaign based on “change”- guiding Ecuador back in the path of capitalism and boosting the economy. Tensions ran high here: people were pitted against each other the same way people were in the US during our election in November.
Some interesting things about the election in Ecuador:
-Everyone is required by law to vote. Not voting results in consequences.
-Election Day is always on a Sunday (take note USA) so that people who have jobs and don’t have the freedom to take off work can vote! This provides better access to the polls for lower income/resource populations. C’mon Estados Unidos, we should honestly be doing this too (I mean, Tuesday? What even?).
-Voting is done without the usage of any electronics, and absentee ballots are incredibly hard to get. Early voting takes place in the Amazon, where it can take days to get results from the communities that are super off the grid. Otherwise? You’re voting on election day, end of story.
-Results are a lot less accessible than they are in the US. We had a dang Snapchat filter with results updated every second. Not the case here. I kept trying to google what was happening and was highly unsuccessful. I resorted to doing what the rest of the population does: watching the news, where updates were given at 5pm, 8pm, and 10pm.
-La Ley Seca (Dry Law) is king for two days before the election and one day after. The sale of alcohol is prohibited during these days and you aren’t supposed to drink at all either. I guess they want everyone to be completely sober at the polls, and I can’t say I blame them.
-Presidential candidates are not allowed to campaign AT ALL starting 72 hours before election day. When I told that my host family that our candidates campaign right up until the day before our elections, they were shocked!
-If no candidate gets over 40% of votes, there is a second election between the top two candidates in April. While results aren’t sure yet, it’s looking like there will be Round 2 between Lenín and Lasso.
-Protests are happening. Today is Monday and we all got sent home from school early with orders to stay in our houses because clashes between protestors and police could get violent. People are protesting fraud in the election system.
-Living in the capital city during elections is crazy, but super interesting! For as long as I’ve been here, there have been marches and gatherings that I’ve seen almost every week. There have been caravans and rallies on my street that are so cool to watch from my window. On Election Day, they closed down a street by my house for Lenín Moreno and his supporters to gather while the results were coming in. A few hours later, I saw them all on national news with the strange knowledge that I was so close by. Taxi drivers have constantly given me there political opinions as they’re driving, though I have no idea why because it’s pretty obvious I’m not a voter. Everyone was out and about on election day with the entire family. It’s a big deal in Quito, and I’m glad I got to witness it.
I’m glad I have the opportunity to watch the democratic process of a country besides the US firsthand- it’s so interesting to see the similarities and differences. For now, we’re waiting to see if classes will happen tomorrow depending on the protests. I fully respect people’s right to voice their disagreement or frustrations, but the extrovert in me is really hoping that classes will resume as normal- the thought of staying in my house all day without going anywhere makes me want to cry haha.
Chau from Quito!