This was my last day of class in Quito, and it was very bittersweet. I’d had the same professor for 4 weeks and I had great classmates this week. Saying goodbye was sad for me, but I was incredibly excited to get to Cuenca (and hopefully feeling better). At this point, I was feeling somewhat better, but very tired and weary.
After class, I treated myself to a taxi ride and lunch at the Magic Bean again; I just can’t stay away! I’d called my taxi-driving friend, Bolivar, and arranged for him to pick me up 3 hours before my plane was set to leave. After struggling to drag all of my stuff (my backpack, giant backpack, laptop bag, and suitcase) down 4 flights of stairs, I had to say goodbye to my sweet host family and turn in my keys.
After a nice drive with Bolivar, I, again, had no problems at the airport. Everyone tells me how bad flying is, but I have not had that experience. I did have to pay for my 2nd checked bag, but that’s the price I pay to bring everyone’s Christmas presents home! The flight to Cuenca was uneventful, and a whopping *sarcasm* 35 minutes long. When I retrieved my bags and walked out, I immediately recognized Kip and Karen, my cousins who I was going to be staying with.
They were incredibly incredible, and I could have stayed with them forever, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself… Immediately, I learned that Karen is a fantastic cook and we ate well every day, which is perfect because I love to eat. They have a lovely apartment in a great location, and they gave me a whole bedroom to myself. I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome or a better last week.
At breakfast, I was in hog heaven (excuse my Midwestern slang). We ate bread with egg and onion baked in, red bananas (way better than imported yellow bananas) with cinnamon, peanut butter and mango jam, and I had milk for the first time in months.
Background info: Karen is my grandmother’s cousin. So we’re technically 3rd cousins, but I may also refer to them as my Aunt and Uncle, as it helped to avoid questions when we used these terms as opposed to cousins.
They then took me on a walking tour of the city, and I fell in love. The city had everything that I loved about Quito: the history, the churches, the people, the scenery
and mountains. Yet, Cuenca also lacked the things that I grew to resent about Quito: the traffic and resulting smoke/pollution, the threatening people, the rushing. I don’t know exactly where we walked, as I had much less time to become familiar with Cuenca than I did in Quito, but they showed me the beautiful square, the river, several churches, and the places that they go on a regular basis. It is such a beautiful city, and I so appreciated my family taking the time to walk me around and show me their new home.
Later on, we went out for dinner at their favorite pizza restaurant, La Furnace. The pizza in Ecuador is different than “American” pizza; I believe the sauce tends to be different. It is very good, and my mushroom pizza was delicious this night, and cold for snacks in the following days as well. The blackberry and coconut ice cream was a great dessert, as well.
After another delicious breakfast, we met Kip and Karen’s favorite tour guide, who was absolutely lovely the entire day. They had arranged a tour of the nearby area, beginning with the *ruins at Ingapirca. The ruins were first Incan, and then Canari (with an accent on the ‘n’), and the influences of both can be seen at the ruins, despite how little is left of the original structures. The guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, which made the cold, light rain we had worthwhile. I also ran into two other students from the school in Quito on this day, and on another occasion, as well! What a small world. I would highly recommend going from Cuenca to visit these ruins, as the drive is absolutely beautiful. Also, stop at the church built into the side of the mountain, it’s breathtaking.
After our tour of Ingapirca, we stopped for lunch at a typical Ecuadorian restaurant that mostly served pork. The food was amazing, as is the roasted/fried pork almost anywhere in Ecuador.
We then went on to Chordeleg, a town with many jewelry shops that specialize in handmade silver jewelry. I enjoy wearing rings, and bought a beautiful silver ring for $7, thanks to Karen’s bargaining skills.
I didn’t write much for this day… It was my first day of class in Cuenca. Apparently I should have known this, but I was pleasantly suprised to see the administrator/secretary from Quito in the office in Cuenca! It shocked me how much I appreciated seeing her, someone I knew, here on my first day at a new school (again). My teacher for the week was incredibly kind and friendly. I didn’t particularly enjoy my classes during this week, as the other students were not nearly as friendly and I was feeling burnt out on Spanish.
The three of us went to two different markets in town. One of the two large markets has an outdoor market where local people sell goods other than food, and I could buy one of everything sold there. It was all handmade, much of it made with natural materials. One of the most interesting things that I saw while away was the “healers” here. They treat spiritual illnesses, I’m unsure if these illnesses are considered possession, or something else… You go to them and pay, then tell them what is wrong physically or mentally, emotionally, anything. It is always attributed to a spiritual problem, and they begin by rubbing a whole egg on your body. They then crack the egg into a plastic bag and read the yolk, determining the problem. They then beat you with whatever herbs and plants they determine are needed to treat you, and finish by spitting water (holy water, vinegar?) on your body. It was fascinating to watch. Parents bring their children, oftentimes preventatively, but even adults come for these services.
The second market was a large indoor market where I bought some sweet chocolate and they bought their fruit. Kip and Karen have smartly started buying their goods from the same stalls at the markets. The people there recognize them, know that they live permanently in Cuenca and speak Spanish, and therefore give them appropriate prices and good quality products. We also enjoyed another pork lunch. The whole pig is roasted and then brought to the market, usually served with mote (a type of corn). Afterwards, I went to my second day of class.
In the morning, I walked down to the supermarket with Karen. It’s a pretty walk across town and then down by the river and the foods in the supermarket are still beautiful and fresh. After we crossed the river, we walked through Parque de la Madre, Mother’s Park, which is filled with amazing sculptures. Instead of cutting down the dead trees, local artists were allowed to come in and carve them into animals and representations of mothers, even benches. Another cool thing about the parks in Ecuador: they have exercise/workout equipment, as well as playground equipment for the children.
Again, I went to class, which I had alone and in the afternoons. I took four hours of class each day this week, instead of three, so that I could enjoy Friday, my last day, while still meeting my hour requirement.
Karen and I took a walk to do a bit of shopping at her favorite booths at a different market, but the owners were not there.
I had my very last class in Ecuador this day. My professor and I watched a movie (in Spanish), stopping periodically for me to explain what had happened. It was a bittersweet day, but I mostly felt relieved to have not only survived my classes, but passed and succeeded!
My last day in Cuenca, second to last day in Ecuador.
Karen and I returned to the artisanal market, where I got to meet Javier. Javier is a friend who works with tagua to make stunning jewelry and figurines. Tagua is known as “vegetable ivory”, as it comes from a plant and is more sustainable but is similar to ivory. He was so incredibly friendly and kind to me, he unknowingly made me sad to leave. I bought a beautiful yellow necklace and earring set from him and we took pictures together for me to share and promote his business, which I will do shamelessly, as he does great work. Check him out at El Mundo Ecologico de la Tagua on facebook.
We all went for a walk to the square this day. Karen brought her bird food; it’s peacefully entertaining to watch all of the pigeons.
We had another typical lunch out in the city. I appreciated that the restaurant served trout, as chicken or a vegetarian meal was losing its appeal. We stopped at the pizza restaurant again for an ice cream, and then Kip and Karen kindly encouraged me to take a nap before my flight. I so appreciated their concern and patience, as it took several days after my arrival for me to feel better after being ill. I took a nap every day while I stayed with them, and they always asked how I was feeling, which was comforting.
Their landlady is from an influential family in Cuenca, and she knows everybody. I immediately knew why everyone liked her; she’s friendly and inviting and soft-spoken. She bought us humitas, made delicious cookies, and horchata tea to celebrate my arrival and departure, and she gifted me a beautiful hummingbird painting to remember my visit to Cuenca.
As if to tie it all together, we ended up having the tour guide who took us too Ingapirca drive us to the airport. Kip and Karen waited with me at the airport to make sure that I got through security and everything okay, and as expected, I cried shamelessly as I walked away from them. I felt as if I could live in Cuenca, especially with them, forever, but it was time to go home.
The plane ride was just fine, and I had arranged to stay the night in a hotel near the airport. My transfer to the hotel was waiting when I landed, and he even helped me get my things to the door of my hotel room. The room was much smaller than a hotel room in the USA, but it was clean (I always check for bedbugs) and affordable. The water didn’t run in the sink, but otherwise, I wouldn’t complain.
I’M GOING HOME!!
After breakfast at the hotel, I spoke with my family on the phone and watched movies on my laptop to pass the time. The same driver picked me up and took me back to the airport, where I had no problems getting on my plane, besides having to actually wait to check my bags. I treated myself to lunch at the airport, where I met several very kind travelers.
The trip from Quito to Panama went smoothly, thanks to a motion sickness medicine-induced nap, and I waited at the gate to get on my next flight. I did have a two hour layover this time, as opposed to one hour. After some time of waiting, airport employees had us all get up and form lines to go through temporarily set-up security again, despite the fact that we’d all gone through security previously to enter the airport. I still do not know why we had to do this: maybe there was a threat; other passengers said that inconveniences like this were common with this airline, who knows… I tagged along to the end of a missions group as to get through security easier and avoid being hassled by anyone who thought I was traveling alone, and they were wonderful. They let me follow them and wait with them to get through security, and they let me wait with them afterwards until we could board the flight.
Once on the plane, I was nervous because I could see lightning almost all around the airport. I was afraid that the flight would get delayed or cancelled due to weather, and I just wanted to get home to my family… We eventually got on the plane 30 minutes late, and we then had to wait for a break in other planes landing and taking off, as we had missed our scheduled time. I sat by two students from Augustana who were very sweet, and we all felt the same way: we were excited to go home. I slept off and on throughout the entire flight to Chicago, and I could see Chicago when I finally woke up for good.
My heavy bags seemed much lighter when I walked out of the baggage claim (which took too long) and saw my family.