Category Archives: south america

An Introspective Perspective

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

It took about two days for my ears to finally adjust to the change in altitude and pressure after being home. For those two days, my entire body felt as if I was underwater, perhaps imaging floating around in the Pacific Ocean without a care in the world, enjoying the amazing beauty of Ecuador’s coast and the Galapagos Islands. Muffled inquiries accompanied by shouts for responses filled my days as I just seemed to take up space in my home, my mind lost in the middle of the world.

 

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This is me at the Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) monument made by the French. It is the most visited tourist attraction in Ecuador although it is actually not on the correct coordinates since it was calculated so long ago. It is pretty close though. Only in Ecuador, as my friends and I would say.

 

This past week, I have felt a whirlwind of emotions. As I enjoyed the last week or so of my study abroad in denial, I finally had to learn to say goodbye, a cruelly ironic term that seems to have a powerful spell over human beings, forever leaving us perplexed, angry, upset, hopeful, excited – too many contradicting emotions at once for one person to handle. Yet somehow we learn how to say goodbye, by either packing up those emotions, or learning to leave what we can behind as to not carry too much weight in the future. Although my family and friends here fill the void of the goodbyes and see you laters I handed out with trembling hands and watered down vision, there is a cultural void that exists after spending such a long period of time in another country.

 

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A shoutout to Ecuador for reconnecting me with the fun of watching soccer and attending live matches and also offering it as a culture experience.

 

The reverse culture shock is equally as cruel, eventually turning into something positive and life-altering (I am ready whenever you are), but right now it is just reminding me that I am a stranger in my own country, what was familiar is now strange and a foreign country still has my heart and understands me better than I seem to understand myself. I have been floating around a (my?) town that is too small and too big at the same time within a state in a similar situation, sitting on the coast of a country that could be the host of possibly 50 Ecuadors. The accessibility of taking a bus for a maximum of 10 hours to get somewhere you want to visit with a cost of at most $12 no longer as I sit in a town where a car is required if you want to get anywhere and where the cost of public transportation is equivalent to about 10 rides on the green bus in Quito or the Ecovia (the metro). One trip on the metro will get you to the Historic Center and satisfy your senses with an overwhelming quantity of churches built to show devotion and faith in a being that connects mainstream beliefs in the U.S. with those in Ecuador, disconnected primarily by a language barrier that seems to build walls between countries that are geographically connected to us. This language is one that now slips off of my tongue without thinking, hiding words and sayings in between my teeth so that even when I am speaking English, they can insert themselves in my sentences and remind me of the beautiful language that filled my eardrums for four months, my brain now bitter that after finally adjusting I now expect it to switch to English without a fight.

 

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Another shoutout to Ecuador for making me less afraid of llamas. They are pretty adorable.

 

The experience is hard to put into words, putting into consideration my language conflict or not, and it seems to make people think I did not enjoy myself. When someone asks me a question about my study abroad experience, my mind is forced to flip through what seems to be hundreds of different experiences and memories, all unique and important in their own way, a film reel of colors and locations and people and sounds and smells and feelings that each have their own significance. As I attempt to explain what it feels like to stand at the peak of a mountain or the bottom of a waterfall, my senses overload and my throat blocks words, building an awkward silence that cannot be fixed as I lose my train of thought and my mind wanders to some part of Ecuador that I did not spend enough time with.

 

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Not sure if I have mentioned these views yet? This is a beautiful view of Cotopaxi from Mindo, a rainforest in Ecuador that is filled with endless waterfalls to discover, amazing wildlife, and delicious coffee and chocolate!

 

However, as always, time continues to move forward and thus so do I, frequently finding myself missing the smells and sounds of the marketplaces in Quito or the morning serenades on the bus rides to campus. However, these smells have been filled with the smells of winter in Massachusetts accompanied by the holiday season. I quickly began to crave eggnog and all things festive and have luckily come back during a family oriented time of the year. Still, each aspect of what I miss from Ecuador finds something to cling onto here in the United States that either resembles it completely or somehow could possibly pass for it. Time progresses and I remind myself of the importance and relevance of progress right now.

 

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It will be hard to miss too much of Ecuador and not get reacquainted with the U.S. considering how adorable my nephew is and how much bigger he got in the past four months! Yes, I found a way to talk about my nephew in this blog. Proud auntie!!

 

As the United States finds itself on the brink of change, I know that I must stay motivated to be an active citizen and take part in the democracy that exists within my country. To be fair, the qualms and concerns of Ecuadorians are on a completely different level than ours here in the United States. We are not comparable, we have completely different histories and thus different perspectives on the world. Nevertheless, I will ensure that my voice is heard and I will work towards the future that I want for myself and my peers, always keeping in mind the beautiful country that opened my eyes to the importance and natural beauty of the world and living in harmony with nature and with people different from you.

As I move on in my life, I hope to keep Ecuador a part of my story, making my way back there one day, perhaps after graduating this May. I am not entirely sure what my plans are but I am sure that my experience in Ecuador will help me in my endeavors, whether it be by changing me into a more observant person, helping me with my Spanish, or offering me a place to live and spend some more time in after graduating. No matter what the case, my experience in Ecuador is one that I will never forget and one that can never be taken away from me. Thank you so much for reading my posts and for sharing this experience with me. I hope that you enjoyed reading and that one day, if you have not already, you are able to discover the beauty of Ecuador’s nature and culture firsthand, an experience that cannot be fully appreciated through the stories and words of others, no matter how intricately crafted they may seem.

 

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My first time in the Pacific Ocean! Thanks for everything, Ecuador. It might just be a tourism slogan, but it really sticks with me: “All you need is Ecuador.”

 

Take care,

Alicia ❤

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Just like Bowie, I Turned Myself to Face Me

As I begin to write this blog post, I can already feel a numbing sensation trickle down my arms as my eyes that have seen so much these past four months fill with tears. I will proofread for any typos but can’t make any promises with my watered-down eyesight.

I am a little afraid that I have almost changed too much since studying abroad, and that the culture shock when I return home will be a really difficult experience for me, but there is no need to worry about that yet I suppose. It is difficult to put into words for me how much my time here has meant to me. I hope that this post does this beautiful country justice.

If you had asked me one month into my study abroad experience how I honestly felt, I would have told you that I did not think I would make it through these four months. I had never been away from my family, my boyfriend, or the U.S. for so long. And now, here I am, three months later, not wanting to leave this beautiful country and the diversity that fills it, and living tranquilly next to an active stratovolcano. 

 

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Doing touristy things in Quito before leaving at Parque Carolina, an incredibly huuuge park in the middle of Quito that has soccer fields, basketball courts, volleyball courts, a track, vendors of any food you might be craving or didn’t know you were craving….essentially Ecuadorian culture in a park.

 

Honestly, I am not sure when things changed exactly. I don’t think it was a specific moment in my study abroad experience, but rather an accumulation of several things. I began to become more independent and I was getting through days with a smile on my face or laughter throughout the entire day more easily and easily. I became stronger as things seemed to fall into place. I was going on more and more adventures with new friends and disconnecting myself a little more from social media and the things that connected me with the U.S. (Actually I left my phone in a taxi and my laptop charger broke so I didn’t really have much of a choice…but as they say here in Ecuador, así es la vida, or “such is life,” so I had to move on.) I also was enjoying time on my own more, which is something I never really enjoyed prior to this experience. When I decide to explore Quito on my own, I almost always encounter someone who is surprised at my Spanish level and thus wants to talk to me more- a conversation that usually comes from them first trying to sell me some jewelry or $1 seco de pollo from a cooler.

My alone time throughout the city has also helped me realize how much I have changed in terms of being a more observant and in-the-moment person. Being more observant has definitely come from necessity, considering pedestrians here do not have the right-of-way and buses will start driving/shut the door before you’re comfortably on the vehicle. And living in a city for the first time has also made me more aware of my things when I am walking or on public transportation.

It is pretty much impossible to make a plan and follow through with it completely here, but that is part of the fun. Buses don’t really have schedules (and even if they do they aren’t always followed), some places are closed because they don’t feel like opening, detours appear and change daily, the list goes on and on. Although this would have frustrated me in the U.S., here it seems like an opportunity to enjoy and explore wherever your trip ended up taking you. I have definitely become more open to change during my time here and have become less nervous asking for help from strangers, especially since Ecuadorians always want to help, even if they have no idea where you are heading, and thus just make up directions…but you can’t even get mad because they are so sweet. Despite these challenges, I have successfully made it to several different cities and towns in Ecuador, one of them being Guayaquil, the most populated city in Ecuador, where I went to a Barcelona (a huuuge fútbol team from Guayaquil) soccer game that was an experience I will never forget! 

 

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Just a taste of the support the fans gave to their team in Guayaquil. It was even crazier than the two Ecuadorian national games I have been to in Quito. Soccer games are a great way to experience the culture, get some delicious and cheap food, as well as learn some interesting sayings…

 

If I had to elaborate on one aspect of my life here in Ecuador that I am going to miss incredibly when I return to Massachusetts it would be the diversity here in Ecuador. Prior to studying abroad, I always thought of the word “diversity” as something that referred to cultures and people. Although this is still the case, I also have been introduced to the environmental diversity of a country so small yet so incredibly diverse in terms of its people as well as its flora y fauna. Even in the capital, with its stressful traffic and diesel-filled air, there are still magnificent views of the snowcapped Cotopaxi from afar or the just as incredible but closer to home Pichincha Volcano that is engulfed by Quito. There is also a National Park nearby called Cayambe Coca that is a popular home for bears and consists of a beautiful mountain range and lake. Before coming to Ecuador I had only seen views like this in National Geographic or on postcards.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciated nature. 

Now, I can tell you that I don’t think I can fully live without visiting mountains or waterfalls or something that is a part of nature at least several times a month.

 

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An incredible view of the Cayambe Coca National Park. I am definitely going to miss seeing nature like this everyday.

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The breathtaking sunrise on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. My friend Caitlyn and I got up a few times to go for morning runs and our last day in the Galapagos we got up eeextra early to see the sunrise.

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The unbelievable Quilotoa Crater Lake in Quilotoa, a few hours south of Quito.

 

Beyond the environmental diversity here in Ecuador, there is a pluriculturalism that exists within the identities that fill this beautiful country, shown through the clothing that people wear, the customs and music they have, the holidays they celebrate, and the languages they speak. On just a 20 minute bus ride to campus I can hear people speaking Spanish, English, and Kichwa, as well as see people wearing very modern clothing (probably from Colombia or the U.S. since clothing here is very expensive), more conservative or practical clothing, as well as indigenous clothing, which can vary depending on the indigenous community they come from in Ecuador. During the morning bus ride I can hear someone singing modern American music to a group of indigenous folks playing their traditional instruments, and also singing rather sad songs that portray the indigenous history of this country that they promise to never forget. I have even seen people walking on the highway for several hours to see the Quinche Virgin and profess their faith and dedication to her during El día del Quinche.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciate diversity, that I am an open-minded person who appreciates differences across cultures as long as everyone is respected.

Now, I can tell you that I have an entirely new perspective of diversity, one that includes our beautiful earth that we have to appreciate and protect, as well as diversity through positive relationships I have witnessed between lots of different groups of people in one city, something that I hope our country will be able to reach in the near future.

 

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My beautiful friend Brittany and I with a past President of Ecuador, Lucio Gutiérrez!

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Just a bunch of gringos and Ecuadorians in the back of a pick-up truck. Nothing unusual for the countrysides of Ecuador!

 

Not only will I miss the diversity, I will also miss speaking Spanish daily and learning new sayings and Quiteño slang, as well as the connections with Ecuadorians, international students, my host family, and with myself that I have made thanks to my time here in Ecuador. But this is not goodbye. I know I will be back in Ecuador sometime soon, and I will see the new friends I have made who live in the States, and I will never forget the changes I have undergone as an individual throughout this experience.

Mil gracias mi lindo Ecuador

 

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A view of the Historic Center in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site, for obvious reasons I would say.

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Ready for my next adventure, wherever it might be! (Taken in Cuenca, Ecuador.)

 

I hope you all enjoyed this post! As always, thanks for reading!

Hasta pronto Ecuador,

Alicia

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Trading Buses for Boats and Pavement for Sand

Isabela Island

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Just a nice reminder, respira olores y colores meaning “breathe in scents and colors,” and there is no better place to do that than the Galapagos, that I promise you!

 

Droplets of the sparkling, turquoise water slowly began to cover my face, creating a blur of mystery during the two-hour boat ride to Isabela. As we grazed through the waves of the ocean, each bump was (not so gently) reminding me of my surroundings. The hairs on my arms shot up as the gusts of fresh, salty air danced around my face and neck, sending chills of excitement and incredulity down my spine when we approached the beautiful island of Isabela.

 

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It doesn’t get any more picturesque than this, folks. Shout out to my friend Tyler for his perfect pose for a reflective photo. There is something so personal for me when I am out on the water, usually leading to some self-reflection. Perhaps it resides within the fact that the ocean is immensely profound, leaving me to feel minuscule but also at peace.

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Here we are doing some kayaking on our first day on Isabela! Featuring the incredibly blue/turquoise/indescribable water of the Galapagos…you have to see it to believe it!

 

When we disembarked from the boat, we were greeted at the dock by some very danceable Latino music alongside lots of smiling faces – not only those of other tourists but also those living and working on the island, who were incredibly inviting. Aside from people, we were also greeted by some marine iguanas, lots of different birds, and some rather relaxed sea lions. As we all tried to hide our excitement as to not scare the animals away, the wooden dock slowly converted into a mixture of pavement and sand. This seemingly miniscule detail was something that stuck with me throughout my time there and still now after my return, as I am continuously discovering sand in my shoes from the trip. It also instigated a sort of reflection about the differences in a life with sand or pavement under the soles of your shoes, such as a life on Isabela or a life in Quito, two different cultures and communities I have been able to experience first-hand during this study abroad experience.

 

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Here are two beautiful sea lions advertising how Isabela “crece por ti,” or how Isabela grows for you.

 

I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous before leaving for this trip that the Galapagos was going to be an overly tourist-focused place, since I have heard that lots of island destinations usually are. Although Santa Cruz, the island with the highest populated town in the Galapagos Islands, seemed to be more focused on ensuring a pleasant experience for the tourists, Isabela, an island with only about 2,000 inhabitants, was significantly more focused on the natural way of things and less concerned with ensuring the picturesque experience for its tourists. However, it was also very easy to have an incredible time on Isabela due to the culture and the people of Puerto Villamil, the town we stayed at, who all knew each other and were very friendly, helpful, and informative.

 

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These pictures are from when we went snorkeling and my lovely friend Haley used her GoPro to take some incredible photos of the animals we saw, and told me I could put some of the photos up on my blog!

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This photo was taken by the USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) alum who planned the trip, Juan Francisco. We swam with this shark! I was only *slightly* terrified – but I survived because sharks are as friendly as Finding Nemo shows them to be!

 

Isabela Island was an incredible escape from my past few months in the city of Quito, which is just as equally as beautiful- a mountainous and breathtaking city full of its own wonders, just as the Galapagos is filled with wonders of nature, warm weather (even at night), and incredibly safe and trusting communities. I will never forget the experiences I had during my time in the Galapagos, and if you ever can go please do not hesitate! I can very confidently say that you will have the time of your life there, discovering the turtles, starfish, manta rays, penguins, flamingos, tortoises, marine and land iguanas, sea lions, sharks, sea horses and much more when snorkeling or even when just walking around the islands, as well as see incredible views of our amazing world, meet friendly and loving humans, learn about the history of the islands, Charles Darwin, and the volcanoes (some still active) on the islands, and most importantly, reflect on yourself and the impact that you have on this beautiful world.

 

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Not only was I able to discover these incredible islands during this time, I also got to know some amazing women from across the U.S. who are on exchange at USFQ as well! (We outnumbered the men, so we got our own very artsy photo.)

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A photo of the group from afar during our last hike on Isabela.

 

If you are interested in looking at more photos/videos of what I did during the Galapagos, my inspiring friend Caitlyn made a snapshot video of our time during the Galapagos and told me I could share it on my blog post so here it is! I highly recommend you check it out to get a little more of a feel for our experiences on the islands.

Thanks for reading!

¡Gracias por leer!

Hasta el próximo post,

Alicia ❤

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Speaking More Like an Ecuagringa Everyday

The title is a little funnier than you might think. Gringos (the Spanish term for anyone from a non-Spanish speaking country, although more specifically people from the U.S. who don’t speak Spanish very well) put Ecua in front of everything when speaking English to refer to something being more Ecuadorian. For example, to ask if someone has a phone number that works in Ecuador, you might say: “do you have an Ecuaphone?” which makes no sense, and that’s probably why it’s just so much fun! Or if someone is telling a story about their family and you’re not sure if they mean their family back home, or their host family, you might ask: “are you talking about your Ecuafamily?” It’s rather counter-productive, since it’s a pretty obvious marker that you’re not from Ecuador, but hey, what’s the fun in fitting in?

But that’s just gringo slang and here I want to focus on the infinite words and dichos (sayings) that exist in Ecuadorian Spanish. Ecuadorians are incredibly fun, cheerful, and loving, and this is also shown through the equally as colorful words that flow from young Ecuadorians’ mouths when talking with their peers that I have been attempting to mimic like a seven-year-old would her older sister.

5 ways to show enthusiasm in Ecuador (that I know of):

¡De ley! or ¡De una! – absolutely, definitely, of course

Simón – yeah, for sure

Chévere or bacán – cool

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An Ecuadorian might say that this view of the Panecillo is muy chévere or muy bacán, and I would definitely agree with them! This is from a trip to a museum in the Historic Center, a breathtaking area in Quito that I had the pleasure of visiting with my wonderful friend, Haley!

 

Quiteño ways to greet a friend in Ecuador:

¿Qué fue loco/a? – What’s up, friend? (Literally, “what happened, crazy?”)

¿Qué más? – What else is up? Usually used after asking ¿que fue?, but I’ve heard it as an intial greeting frequently as well.

¿Qué haces ñaño/a? – What are you doing, brother/sister? Ñaño is a Kichwa word for sibling but in Ecuadorian Spanish is also used to refer to a close friend. The influence Kichwa (an indigenous language and people that mainly live in the Sierra/Andean region of Ecuador) has on the Spanish here adds to the uniqueness of the Spanish spoken in Ecuador.

 

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A group of some ñañas that I have been so lucky to make during my study abroad here. This picture is from our trip a few weekends ago to the coast of Ecuador, to a town called Atacames. It was my first time in the Pacific Ocean and it was incredible!

 

Ways to ask someone for a favor:

Acolítame – help me out or come with me

No sea malito – no real translation, just used when a favor is needed. Literally means “don’t be bad” but doesn’t sound that harsh when Ecuadorians use it.

 

Kichwa terms that are used in everyday Ecuadorian Spanish:

¡Achachay! – a Kichwa expression used by Ecuadorians and Kichwas alike when they are cold (which is pretty much all the time, even when I’m ready to use arrarray)

¡Arrarray! – a Kichwa expression used when it is hot or if something is burning

¡Atatay! ­– a Kichwa expression used when something is gross

Guambra – Kichwa for child

Guatita – The diminutive of guata which means belly, either referring to a typical Ecuadorian food made with cow’s stomach, or the love handles someone might be trying to get rid of at the gym (or not).

Guagua – Kichwa for baby or small child

 

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Guagua de pan y colada morada, a traditional Ecuadorian pastry in the shape of a baby accompanied by a sweet semi-thick beverage (served cold or warm) during el Día de los Difuntos, celebrated on the second of November. It is a day of honoring those who have passed.

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A selfie with one of my favorite Ecuadorian guaguas!

 

Other fun traits of Ecuadorian Spanish:

Adding the suffix -ito/a to pretty much anything: ahorita (ahora; now), cafecito (café; coffee), gringuito/a (gringo/a), dolarito (dólar; dollar)

¡Qué bestia! – This saying has a lot of different uses. It can be a way to show surprise or sadness, meaning something like “how crazy!”

¡Chuta! – Shoot! Or no way! Used to show frustration or surprised. The more you are, the longer uuuu you should give it.

O sea – used as a connector between thoughts or sentences, like “um” in English. It’s usually dragged out like ooo seeeeaaaaaa (pronounced like say-ah, sort of). Probably one of my favorite aspects of Ecuadorian Spanish, probably because I like to use “um” and “like” frequently when I’m speaking in English too. Oops.

Adding “nomás” after any command, which basically makes no sense and is part of all the fun of Ecuadorian Spanish. It literally means “no more”, but when used in Ecuadorian Spanish means “no hay problema” or “no problem,” or “right along.” You might frequently hear “come nomás” (especially when eating at an Ecuadorian’s house) and “sigue nomás”, meaning “keep eating” and “keep going.”

One other fun aspect of Ecuadorian Spanish (and I would keep going if I could!) is that there are also some English loan words that have the same or similar meanings, but are pronounced as they would be in Spanish which makes them chévere in my opinion. A few examples are full which means “a lot” or “total,” depending on the situation. It usually precedes a noun, such as “había full gente”, meaning, “there were a lot of people.” Súper is also popular and is used in place of muy or demasiado, meaning “very” or “too much.”

 

I know this list is long, but there are just too many Ecuadorian slang words and sayings to choose from! If you ever visit Ecuador (Quito specifically) this list is sure to help you! Either way I hope y’all enjoyed learning about some specific Ecuasayings that I have had the pleasure of being surrounded by and attempting to use for the past two and a half months!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you keep on reading! (Or should I say, ¡lee nomás!)

Besitos ❤

-Alicia

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Building and Breaking Routines

One aspect of studying abroad that is definitely similar to my time at UMass, and really probably life in general, is how natural and easy it is to fall into a routine. I was very focused at the beginning of my semester at USFQ (Universidad San Francisco de Quito) to engage in any adventure presented to me and throw myself out there in order to make the most of my once in a lifetime experience here in Quito. However, the reality is that no matter how determined you believe you are, it’s nearly impossible to go on a trip every weekend, or do things during the week all the time, not only due to classes, but also considering your budget when abroad. So I find myself going to classes, getting lunch with friends, going to salsa club, and usually returning to my host family’s apartment or getting some work done in a café with friends, similar to what I might do during a semester at UMass. Personally, I don’t think there is any shame in routines, I think they help keep me sane and calm during stressful course loads, and especially now, since I’m surrounded by a completely new environment. While at the surface, things seem to be similar to my semesters in the U.S., there’s also this imbalance of nothing really being mine here, but having to make it mine so that I can enjoy my time here without missing home too much. Although having a planned out week and keeping things in a routine so that I know what to expect is how I normally like to live my life, I knew that this experience abroad would not have been what it has for me so far if I did what I normally would at UMass.

As a challenge for myself during my time abroad, I have been focusing on experiencing every day a little further out of my comfort zone. Not only by going on trips around Ecuador that may or may not be totally planned, but also by exploring Quito during the day on my own, reflecting and focusing on what I am experiencing in the moment instead of worrying about an assignment or whether or not I remembered to close my door so that the dog wouldn’t get in. Although spending time on my own and experiencing the area may not seem like something that exciting or challenging, as someone who is always looking for friends to spend time with and never wanting to do things on my own, I think this is a big step, and I have been enjoying my small doses of solitude and have been able to learn things about myself in a new country, which I think was a very important goal for me when I was thinking about studying abroad.

Unlike most weekends, where I spend time with groups of friends going out or going on weekend trips or going camping, a few weekends ago, I spent the Saturday in Quito on my own – and discovered the most amazing market, el Mercado Iñaquito, where I walked around and spoke with Ecuadorians who had stands there, bought and tried produce I had never heard of before, practiced my bartering skills, and had a delicious lunch. It was an amazing Saturday, and it was all on my own. Afterwards, I went to see a movie by an Ecuadorian director called Sin muertos no hay carnaval, which was an incredible story about life in Guayaquil, the most populated city in Ecuador, and was an amazing opportunity to learn more about Ecuadorian culture and life in Ecuador, as well as practice my Spanish (I’m pretty confident that I understood the majority of the film).

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El Mercado Iñaquito is an open-air market with stands that sell fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, toys, backpacks, clothes, flowers, kitchen supplies, and more! Here is a beautiful picture of the fresh produce area.

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For $3.50 I had this huge and delicious serving of hornado¸ a traditional Ecuadorian meal that consists of part of a whole roasted pig with mote (corn grains), fresh salad, avocado, and llapingacho (fried potato cakes), accompanied with a huge glass of fresh passion fruit juice. You can never go without fresh juice during a meal in Ecuador!

 

Although there is a lot of pressure to continuously go on adventures with other classmates or friends during your time abroad, I just want to stress the importance of taking time for yourself, while also exploring what is around you, especially if you find yourself spending a lot of time with others and not taking the time to think about the city you are living in and how it has been impacting you and you, it. On the other hand, finding balance is always essential, and I’ve also found that it helps to talk to others studying abroad about their experiences and also search for advice from those who are from the country you are studying in. Some of my Ecuadorian friends have given me advice on incredible places to visit and know in Quito and beyond, and this country never ceases to amaze me, whether I am by myself, reflecting on the space and what I hope to gain from my experience here, or with a group of friends, taking pictures and enjoying the natural beauty that is Ecuador. I will be doing just that this weekend in Quilotoa, a breathtaking crater lake in Ecuador that has trails to hike and unbelievable views.

Stay tuned for updates on the astounding beauty that is Ecuador, from this weekend’s trip to Quilotoa, next weekend’s trip to the coast, and a mid-semester break in the Galapagos! I feel an upcoming blog post about Ecuador’s flora y fauna coming your way.

As always, thanks for reading!

Besos,

Alicia

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

The Two Sides to a Sunday

I would argue that Sunday is the most conflicting day of the week. It’s the last day of freedom before Monday, a day that is introduced with an intrusive yet essential beeping that sneaks into my dreams as a car alarm, a phone call, or a door bell, to remind me of reality and responsibility. The purpose of a Monday is clear, whereas a Sunday’s identity is split into two: do I sleep in, have a late brunch, and watch some telenovelas with my host mom? Or do I wake up early, go to a café, and let my fingers carry the day away searching for definitions of Spanish words and phrases, creating essays, and analyzing short stories from brilliant Latino authors who blow me away with their complexity and ability to think beyond this dimension of time and space, like a script from the Twilight Zone?

 

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A productive Sunday with a delicious strawberry, mango, and banana batido (smoothie) and some Kichwa (an indigenous language that is primarily spoken in the Andean region and is a recognized regional language in Ecuador) homework.

 

Despite all of the differences between countries, cultures, and generations, I know that I can count on the destiny of any given Sunday being unclear for gringos and Ecuadorians alike. From Sunday trips to El Parque Carolina, to plans to meet up for lunch or explore downtown, there’s always some number of people not wanting to face the reality of a Sunday, similar to my experiences in college in the U.S., especially as a resident assistant. From my own personal perspective, the double-sided identity of a Sunday is one of the most beautiful aspects of being a human – and the similarity here in Ecuador to a Sunday in the United States has helped me realize that my infatuation with this day of the week is something that unifies my experience in the world with many others, even those living in another continent. It has also awakened me to realize that everyone needs a break sometimes, and that no one should feel guilty about it.

I hope that this post will inspire people to enjoy their upcoming Sunday, instead of worrying about the Monday that follows it. Although last Sunday was not an academically productive day for me, it was a day that I will never forget. It was the first time I had ever climbed a volcano, and I felt like I was on top of the world – a tiny gringa in a huge city, just taking it one adventure at a time.

 

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Views from the TelefériQo!

 

Pichincha Volcano is an active stratovolcano in Ecuador. Its two highest peaks are Wawa Pichincha (wawa is kichwa for child or baby) which is approximately 15,696 feet high, and Ruku Pichincha (ruku is kichwa for old person) which is approximately 15, 413 feet high. Luckily we did not have to hike from the bottom, since there is a gondola lift known as the TelefériQo, one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 10,226 feet to 12,943 feet. From there, we started our ascent to the top of Ruku Pichincha.

 

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Taking a break on the way up the volcano. Lots of water, snacks, and layers needed for this trip!

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Slightly intimidating goal…

 

As we got closer and closer to the top, the wind become harsher, but was still refreshing. When it wasn’t covered by clouds or fog, the sun beamed down on my skin, warming me to my core, inspiring me to continue trekking to the top of Ruku’s peak. After several stops for snacks, water, taking off and putting on layers, and of course, posing for pictures and admiring the breathtaking views, my friend Stephanie and I finally made it to the top of Ruku Pichincha. The group that we started with split up a little bit based off of pace and comfort level. It took us about 4 and a half hours to make it to the peak, but when we stepped foot on the top of the summit and saw the sign welcoming us to the la cumbre (the top), a gust of wind full of joy and pride whisked by me and as I took a deep breath in, this wind sent chills from the bottom of my toes to the tips of my fingers, and I knew that I made the right decision to make this Sunday a beautiful and inspiring day for myself. It was a day unlike any other, surrounded by the natural beauty of the country that is my home for the semester, as well as wonderful and supportive friends with whom I shared a common goal: to push ourselves, together and individually, to greater heights than we had ever gone before.

 

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We did it! After some slightly sketchy rock climbing. But as they say in Ecuador, así es la vida (such is life).

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And life is so, so worth it.

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

¡Buen provecho! A presentation of Ecuadorian food

Whether just to humor me or because you love food as much as this girl, imagine a lunch that somehow never ends, beginning with a fresh juice, then soup, followed by a plato fuerte, and all tied together with a sweet but small pastry. And to top it all off? Ecuadorian almuerzos (lunches) range from $2-4 and the city of Quito as well as Cumbayá, a small suburb where my host university is located. These cities are full of family-owned restaurants waiting to offer you traditional and delicious lunches. There really isn’t anything like it in the world.

 

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A sopa and plato fuerte at a restaurant near my school.

 

I find myself scrambling to find room for dinner after getting lunch with some friends, even after a few hours have passed. But alas, I find the space, not only to be polite and show my appreciation to my lovely host mother, but because the dinners she makes always have a rich and flavorful aroma unlike anything I have had the pleasure of smelling during a semester in college. (On a side note, University of Massachusetts was just ranked #1 for best campus food by the Princeton Review – go UMass! However, there is still nothing better than a home cooked meal, and I will always stick by that.)

 

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A dinner made by my lovely host mom! Llapingachos are a traditional Ecuadorian potato pancake, filled with cheese and butter – ¡que ricos son! They are traditionally served with a fried egg, sausages, and fresh avocado, as pictured above.

 

My host family here is a little different than a ‘traditional’ family. Since it is just me and my host mom, I have yet to truly experience the customs and expectations around a meal with Ecuadorian families. However, one aspect of the food culture here that I have learned is that Ecuadorians strongly believe that no one should eat alone. Even if my host mom has already eaten, she always accompanies me as well as anyone else who is over at the time while we eat.

 

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My host mom and I enjoying a Sunday in Nayon with some ice cream!

 

A few weekends ago I also had the pleasure of visiting Cayambe, a city that is not too far from Quito and is known for their bizcochos and homemade, fresh queso. Bizchocos are similar to biscotti and are usually served with fresh cheese and a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. If you ever find yourself in Ecuador, specifically near Cayambe, I highly recommend you try this snack! You can even watch as they make the dough and tour the bizcocho ovens inside certain cafes in Cayambe.

 

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Bizcochos, chocolate caliente y queso, a delicious breakfast or snack for only $2.50!

 

Food is an essential aspect of the culture here in Ecuador. It is the perfect example of the country’s diversity and colorful personality. There are traditional foods that are specific to certain cities, celebrations, and communities that all create the welcoming and beautiful environment that is Ecuador. Even after a month of being here, I still have many different foods to try, such as the Andean delicacy cuy, or roasted guinea pig, ceviche, a traditional meal from the coast that consists of seafood that has been ‘cooked’ with lime juice, and cevichochos, a traditional Ecuadorian street food that is a mix of chochos, a white legume, small or large corn kernels, ceviche, plantain chips, salsa, aji pepper, and lime.

 

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Choclo y fritada (corn and fried pork) a must have during your time in Ecuador!

 

Although Ecuador’s official language is Spanish, there is a large population of Quechua speakers, an indigenous language and community who live in the Andes and the Amazon regions of Ecuador. The indigenous communities here have a large influence on Ecuador’s gastronomy as well as its younger generations who bring their cravings back from their travels abroad. Although everyday is full of new surprises and unexpected but exciting challenges here in Ecuador, one thing is for certain: food will always be an essential, and delicious, aspect of Ecuadorian culture that imperative to displaying the many diverse environments- agricultural, marine, and beyond- that create Ecuador’s renowned and unique identity that I have been able to enjoy and participate in, even as a gringa!

 

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america, Uncategorized