No matter the age, it seems the first day back to school is always an exciting, jitter-filled experience. Walking to Simon Bolivar’s Spanish School in Quito, Ecuador gave me flash backs to the fall weather in the Midwest, when I would be sporting new jeans and a sweater from the mail-order JCPenney catalog and thinking about all of the catching up there was to do with my friends. It used to be a big deal to my classroom early, choose a desk and organize all of the new pencils and books that were waiting in my backpack. This time the only thing I was wondering was if I would even be able to understand my teacher.
My one-on-one Spanish lessons lasted only a week, as they were intended as a crash course for the rest of the South American wandering I was about to start. The basics were taught and Friday was a fun day, complete with a trip to the market and a lesson on how to make Ecuadorian ceviche.
Above: Ecuadorian shrimp ceviche is served with banana chips and popcorn.
During the week of classes, we would walk 15 minutes back to our host family’s apartment for almuerzo, which was the biggest meal of the day and consisted of soup, rice, meat and vegetables. Martha, our guest mom, loved hugs, kisses and calling me “mi amor!”
Above: Host mother Martha serves home-cooked Ecuadorian cuisine.
The school was such of great benefit because we ended up meeting other travelers, mostly from Germany and the USA. With some of the new-found friends, we took a two hour, two dollar local bus, which was decorated with adornments hanging from the ceiling, to Otavalo, which is known for its weekend market.
Above: A local girl in Otavalo, Ecuador with her market purchase. It was squealing in the sack before she proudly took it out for the photo!
The livestock section of the weekend market was a showcase of everything from pigs to guinea pigs (which are used to make the national dish called cuy), all being sold for food to local Ecuadorians. The chaos of the market was in part created by crying babies, wrapped in long cloths and strapped to the backs of mothers and grandmothers.
Above: Children strapped to their mothers’ backs in typical fashion. There are so many babies!
Other noise contributors were squawking chickens, being held by their feet; an auctioneer, who sold household miracles such as super-sharp knives and infomercial style blenders; and food sellers, repeating “helado” or their product name for passersby to hear.
Above: Three chickens are held by their feet as this Ecuadorian lady negotiates a deal.
All of this commotion started at 5:30 am on the outskirts of town and lasted until 10 am, when everyone wandered into the handicraft market in the city center to stock up on things like hand-knit socks and winter hats. Since the elevation in Otavalo is over 10,000 feet, staying warm is a chore and many shawls and cozy alpaca blankets were for sale.
Above: Woven hair wraps are a popular item in the Otavalo market.
The entire weekend trip, including food, transportation and lodging cost around $20/ person. Ecuador has used the US dollar since 2000 when the sucre was replaced with the dollar due to an economic crisis. When the money exchange worker handed me dollars for euros, I had to smile. The green bills looked so familiar and I actually knew the denominations on the coins without having to inspect them one inch from my eyes.
Also through Simon Bolivar Spanish School, we had the opportunity to attend an intense Ecuadorian football (soccer) game. The match was played against Chile and was a South Africa World Cup 2010 qualifying game, which meant the stadium was PACKED! Arriving three hours beforehand, as advised by a local friend, our group ordered Ecuadorian lagers and toughed it out in our “ponchos plasticos” to stay dry while storms took their turns dumping on us.
Above: Gray skies do not dissuade Quito football fans.
I was impressed by the tenacity of the locals selling their goods. Whole families were frantically trying to pedal their goods in perfect unison with the weather. For example, in times of rain showers, people who sold umbrellas and ponchos started shouting louder, whereas later in the night, those selling tea and hot drinks marketed brilliantly in the cold weather.
Above: A local sells trinkets outside the game.
Once when a saleswoman and her little daughter heard someone yell for a poncho in the stands above me, they stopped and the mother threw her other goods consisting of candy and umbrellas, into her child’s arms in order to dig frantically for a poncho. She begged people to pass the poncho quickly to the buyer in the stands above and showed a brief sign of relief when her $1 coin was safely passed into her palm. She then grabbed everything back from her child, and I shouted, “Buena Suerta!” which means good luck. She quickly turned, smiled and said, “Gracias Chica,” as she hurried off to make her next big $1 sale.
Because all of these local experiences were possible through connections at Simon Bolivar School, I would like to say thank you to the staff there and would highly recommend this school to any people wishing to study Spanish in Ecuador. See www.simon-bolivar.com for more information.