“Ama la vida.” Love life. It’s one of the slogans that is plastered all over everything here in Ecuador. I love this phrase, because it can honestly be used in any context. Examples:
“Wow, we’re on an island and this is the coolest ever! Ama la vida!” (genuine)
“I just got the worst sunburn of my life. Ama la vida.” (sarcastic, but still forcing one to be somewhat positive)
Ama la vida is a concept I’m hoping to take with me for the rest of my life- that any situation, good or bad, can use a little positivity or humor, and that the world is full of things to be joyful about.
On Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to go to an Ecuador vs Colombia fútbol game. This game was a qualifier for the World Cup 2018 in Russia, so people here were hype. On Tuesday, the energy on the streets was insane: everyone was wearing their yellow jerseys and chattering hopefully about the results. We had really good seats close to the field, surrounded by an even mix of Ecuadorians and Colombians. This made for a very strange crowd cheering dynamic, but was still cool to observe. Unfortunately, Ecuador lost 2-0, but it was still so cool to be able to experience not only a Latin American soccer game, but a World Cup qualifier!
Over the weekend, some of us traveled to Puerto López, which is a little fishing village on the Pacific Coast. We took an overnight bus on Thursday night (shoutout to dramamine for giving me the best sleep of my life), so I was swimming in the ocean by about 6:30am on Friday morning. We spent Friday relaxing on the beach in front of our hostel: reading books, drinking batidos, taking walks, eating AMAZING shrimp ceviche, swimming in the ocean, having life chats, and watching the sunset.
On Saturday, we took a boat out into the ocean to visit Isla de la Plata. Isla de la Plata is jokingly known as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” because you can see some of the same animals, but for a very nice price! We hiked around a bit with a guide and saw blue-footed boobies, the smallest hummingbird in South America, lizards, and beautiful views of the ocean from some cliffs. The island was absolutely stunning. After this, we boated to the far side of the island, observing a giant sea turtle while we traveled, to go snorkeling. It was so great: we got to swim over a coral reef as we observed lots of tropical fish and explored our surroundings. Following our island adventure, we returned to Puerto López, where we got dinner and then sat on the beach in the dark with our adopted stray dog Loyalty (who was dubbed this name from the get-go on Friday morning when she followed us EVERYWHERE).
On Sunday we decided to head to Los Frailes, a beach inside of Parque Nacional Macalilla. Surrounded by mountains and covered with white sand, this pristine beach was peaceful and fairly empty. It also had some pretty monstrous waves that were great for bodysurfing. We ate packed lunches in the sand, swam a lot, and explored some rocks on the far side of the beach. What a relaxing way to spend the day. After our return to Puerto Lopez, we ate one last meal on the beach (and I said a sad goodbye to batidos de coco for awhile), watched the sunset, and then taxied to the bus station for another overnight bus. Once again, overnight bus coming in clutch: we were able to enjoy the entire day at the beach, take a bus during the night, and be back in Quito by 5am. A weekend on the coast was exactly what I needed.
Sunday was the second and final round of presidential elections in Ecuador, and things have been pretty tense. Lenin Moreno won, but not by much, so there have been protests all day. It will be interesting to see how the country continues to react over the next few weeks.
Today I had a really powerful interaction while waiting at the bus stop. There was a young man standing next to me, and he said something to me that I didn’t really hear. Most of my interactions with men in the streets here have not been good ones, so I started to ignore him before seeing something so astounding in his eyes: uncertainty. The culture of machismo in Latin America is so strong that this honestly shook me, so I asked him to repeat himself. It turns out, he was asking me, a gringa, for directions on how to use the bus system. I quickly found out that we had the same destination, explained how our bus would work, and told him we could get on the bus together. It was obvious to me that he wasn’t from Quito, so I asked him a little bit about himself. He began to explain to me that he had just moved here from Venezuela on Wednesday. 5 days in Ecuador. I was suddenly taken back to the week of January 2nd when everything was new and strange, and it filled me with empathy for this man. He went on to tell me how bad things are in Venezuela right now: he is an accomplished violinist and worked in a pharmacy, but couldn’t make enough money to survive. After doing various odd jobs around his own country, he realized that if he stayed in Venezuela, his situation would continue to be hopeless, so he moved to Ecuador. Now he is forced to find a job in a country that is already in a bad economic recession, not to mention that he is removed from everything that is familiar to him. When I mentioned that I was studying Social Work and Spanish with the hope to work with immigrants in the US, he joked that one day I would probably be helping him figure out life in the States too. We both laughed, but the fact remains that the struggles that face immigrants are not exactly humorous.
This man’s story really impacted me this morning. Ecuador is a country that is fairly open to the arrival of immigrants and refugees from places like Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Cuba. It reminded me that not everyone who comes to Ecuador is like me: a student who is able to travel and enjoy everything this country has to offer. People are coming into this country with immense pain, leaving everything they know behind to start a new life. When they arrive here, they face the same sort of prejudice and discrimination that immigrants in the US do. This man at the bus stop, who is evidently a smart and capable human being, may end up working as a bus vendor or other “low” job and will be seen as less than native Ecuadorians, whereas in reality, he is just as intelligent but has been through some hard circumstances that have shaped his present reality. This morning, I was reminded of the importance of EMPATHY- that every human on the face of this planet has a story full of joy and pain, and deserves to be treated with grace and love. Thank you to the man at the bus stop for reminding me of this.
I’m thankful for countless little interactions here that have continued to shape my worldview. It’s weird: the Emily that will return to the US in a month and a half will still be the same person overall, but with many changes for the good. My time in Ecuador is constantly pushing me to grow and adapt and learn and laugh. To that I say, AMA LA VIDA.