We enrolled at Simon Bolivar school of Spanish in Quito and also stayed with a local family for a week. These were intensive lessons consisting of 5 hours per day and also about an hour of homework each night. The family we stayed with was highlighted by Martha, our new Ecuadorian madre. From the moment we walked into her house she embraced us and called us “mi amor.” Like my Michigan madre, Martha made her own raspberry jam, which was good but couldn’t be categorized as great. It was a nice way to spend a week as we would wake to desayuno, breakfast being served, go to school and then return for almuerzo, the big meal of the day. School was great and my profesora, Janet, was a perfect match for me. After the 2nd day I told her I really wasn´t interested in going over the homework and just wanted to practice talking and having a conversation. She agreed this was probably best and that´s how we carried on from then on out. After classes, we would explore Quito with new friends Anna and Jenna from the USA and then go home for homework and cena, which usually consisted of soup. Quito surprised us as a city as we hadn’t really heard much about it before arriving but it’s clean, modern and the public transportation is efficient. Also, near our school was a part of town affectionaly named “gringo-land” which had all of the comforts of home including several fine restaurants. The other comforting thing was that Ecuador has used the dollar since 2000, when their financial system and currency collapsed. On our last day of classes, Erin and I talked our profesoras to take a field trip with us to the local market. We bought the ingredients for ceviche and some beers and had a mini going away party before hopping on the bus for Otovalo, a mountainside village about 3 hours away from Quito.
Otovalo was bigger than we had imagined but still small enough that you could walk anywhere you wanted. The four of us woke early and walked over to the “animal market,” where locals come to trade livestock and other goods. This was definitely one of the highlights for us as we were able to see Indigenous people and their families trading 10 chickens for a piglet, or two cuy, the national dish of guinea pig, for a rabbit. The clothing was bright and colorful and my favorite was the hats that everyone wore, old gangster hats complete with fedora’s. After the animal market, we walked over to the local markets for food and handicrafts, each going on their own spending spree for gifts and memories.
The following day we woke early and caught a cab to the soccer stadium. Coming from Philadelphia and having gone to Penn State, I felt comfortable with the craziness of gameday. This was something I’ve never seen though. This was truly crazy. People die for their team, kill for their team and live for their team and the language in the stadium was definitely rated NC-17. Being that this was an extremely important match as it was a world-cup qualifying match between Ecuador and Chile, you really couldn’t go 10 seconds without hearing hijo de puto or maricon, son of a bitch and faggot. Believe me, I’m censoring the rest because once learning it’s meaning it often made us cringe. We all went with Diego, a local, who taught us the team song. All 50,000 people in the stadium would sing it together minus the 250 brave Chileans regulated to their respective area and sometimes you would hear the hopefull chants of si se puede, yes we can!
Tenemos que ganar
Here we go Ecuadorians
We have to win!
Ecuador won 1-0 after a late goal in the second half and at an elevation of 10,000 feet with constant rain, we were soaked and frozen to the bone and all ready for hot showers and bed. We fortunately got our wish.
Ecuador is the only country that when you trace the equator and longitudinal lines at 90-degree increments, you find land instead of water. Thus, it’s name is Ecuador or equator. A 90-minute bus ride from Quito is the Mitad del Mundo, the middle of the world monument and museum. This was built a long time ago and now with the invent of gps, it was learned the monument was actually 250 meters off. So, the lucky land owner next to the monument has built up his own museum complete with really interesting history and experiments. From balancing an egg on a nail head to noticing the differences between northern, southern and equatorial water flushes, the $3 entrance was well worth it. Also, on the exact equator line there are weird forces at play. For example, I sat down on a stool and four girls each using only their two index fingers attempted to lift me from the pits and backs of my knees. The first time, the could lift me about 6 inches off the stool. Next, they each waved held their hands over my yead in a stack of 8, “soaking up the energies” before trying again. On the 2nd attempt they lifted me up with ease about 3 feet! Strange but true and I’ll leave it to science to explain this phenomenon. Afterward we learned a bit about the local culture of the Incans and even saw how to make our very own shrunken heads! I think I´ll pass on making one though.