I’m falling in love with Ecuador. Like most special delights in life, it’s the unplanned and unexpected that make up a myriad of defining moments.
1. How to teach English
After a grammar exercise about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it quickly became clear that my high school students had no clue about Mark Twain nor slavery. Another asked me, one on one, if being gay is natural. I tell my students one thing: to always keep asking. Never take my opinion for law.
Allow for distractions, the mind needs to breathe.
I’m aiming to get TEFL certified with the university this February in order to continue a worldwide journey. Imagine this chinita in Columbia, South Korea, Thailand, UAE…wowsers!
2. How to travel successfully by bus
Do not rely on the Internet for timetables or routes. Ask at least 3 people on site including ticket sellers, taxi drivers, bus staff pitching to potential customers. Do as the locals do.
No one sits in assigned seats. Be prepared to see people arguing over your seat and to find another one.
In order to meet friends at Quilotoa, my host dad crowd sourced to find out that there’s no direct bus from Riobamba to Latacunga. I needed to get off at some random, no name stop, then take a taxi to the main station. Alone and amidst a hailstorm.
My nerves were calmed only after sitting next to a nice lady named Faviola who happened to be going to the same place. We split a cab even steven. Yeats said it best: Be Not Inhospitable To Strangers Lest They Be Angels In Disguise.
By sensational serendipity, I arrived at the exact same time as my crew from Quito, despite departing hours apart and from different cities.
3. How to make the most of…
Otavalo: Use the buddy system to bargain. It’s cheaper to buy 2. Take your time browsing and getting price quotes before dropping your cash. Smile.
Go to the birds of prey show at Condor Park. Notice which beasts value freedom over food. Search for the heart shaped crater embedded into the side of the mountain.
Riobamba: Eat hornado de chancho (slow roasted pork with orgasmic thick, crispy skin). It will help you forget that on the 3 hour car ride there, you awoke from your nap to the symphonic chords of a 10 year old puking profusely into a plastic bag.
Quilotoa: Camp for free at crater lake. Bring tons of sweaters, snacks, water, tp. Warm yourself with Puntas(moonshine baby).
In ink black darkness, we climbed down a steep, winding sand-rock filled trail armed with 2 measly, Ecua phone flashlights. The 1 hour hike uphill in scorching heat is a doozie. PLEASE SKIP riding the donkeys/horses: their legs are far more fragile than yours. It’s tempting, I know.
Once you get uptop, reward yourself with grilled goat. Indulge in rich, meaty papas(potatoes)for days. Demolish another table’s full plate of leftovers.
I befriended a stray black lab mix who later summoned her 5 member pack of protectors (will work for food). Slept like a baby through a vicious dog fight. I’ve got 99 problems but No Name ain’t one.
Find big sticks if you venture into the surrounding wilderness. The dogs are trained to aggressively guard the indigenous lands. Good news? You’ll hear them coming. Bad news? Our friend’s pant leg got nipped twice and I had to fend off rabies-r-us while it transformed my branch into a twig…with its mouth.
4. How to live with ever present danger
At night, four of my friends( both guy and girl together, local looking and gringo) have been robbed. Two of them at knifepoint. Scary, though the awareness these events are commonplace oddly comforts. Take a cab to your door if you live in prime-time petty crime neighborhoods like Foch.
If and when it happens, let go of whatever possessions you have.
Keep money in your bra. Always bring a friend to keep watch at the ATM.
Past 6 pm, I walk in a black, over-sized hoodie, hands stuffed in pockets(pseudo concealed weapon), ninja jaunt on, at an effin’ speedy pace. Better to be feared and/or too fast of a moving target.
If I outlasted Dorchester, MA…
5. How to learn any language
My host dad, in Spanish, asked me to keep the door unlocked for their return.
Except he had 2 moto helmets so I assumed there was an errand requiring me to get on a bike. To which I replied: muy frio (it’s too cold).
Read intent through the lens of body language, trust the vocabulary to expand after. Embrace the awkward because people will laugh. Laughter helps you learn.
6. How to survive a nightmare
I’ve met my favorite kind of people: survivors.
One spoke of nightmares: the kind that come when the brains of a 21 year old girl meet the concrete streets of Quito. Split seconds earlier, he’d asked his friend to slow down the motorcycle. It was all too late and far too fast for the boy high on adrenaline and the pretty young thang gripping tightly to his jacket. The friend lived, if that’s what you call it. Fate in the form of accident stole the show.
Another, an indigo child destined to change the world, sat with me on a grassy knoll of an unknown park next to a gaggle women in thick turquoise sweaters and prairie skirts. As they smoked their caramel cocoa cigarettes, she told me about how her boyfriend died, high on coke, his heart stopped. No, wait, that was another story. Hers killed himself.
Why must the best people be cursed with desolation? She cried and I felt her pain as my own for we have all loved someone who feels nothingness.
7. How pain begets joy
I said goodbye to a mosaic of circumstance, however difficult, for the possibility of a true-to-present self.
To find a real shot at the perfectly imperfect, you must continue learning: not the way you’d imagine through unaffordable degrees, but the school of life.
Travel, my friends.
The world is far too lonely. Give love to others, so they see less of your skin and more of your soul.
Let go of money to gain, whenever you can afford it. I used to make over 70k. Now I make less than $400 a month. You’d think it’d be more stressful with less money but it’s quite the opposite.
Relinquish the need for others to approve of your happiness and you’ll be one step closer. (Yes, I’m talking to you “be a lawyer-doctor-hedge fund manager or else” tiger parents.)
Help, however you can, in conversation or human touch, for richness comes in numerous forms.
Reach the eternal fountain of youth the instant you stop searching.
Love from E,