Tag Archives: #solotravel

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

A Word on Being Alone

There’s a stark reality underneath the layers of all the newness that comes with study abroad (new friends, new “family,” new places). The reality is that you have transported yourself into to a completely other culture that is a whole 12 hour flight away from your home. An entire different set of humans living their lives here just as you had been living yours. They are speaking a different language and eating different foods. They shop at stores you’ve never heard of and at weird times of the day. You are surrounded by the unfamiliar and in this reality you are alone.

 

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Studying abroad can sometimes feel like you’re upside down. This photo was in the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo and was taken by Elías Adasme of Chile.

 

I don’t want this to sound like a message of fear. I want to explain that this sense of alone-ness can be your greatest friend. You create your own reality. Maybe at home, your reality was influenced by your parents or things your friends shared with you, whether it be interests, activities, ideas. Study abroad is your chance to really think about what you’d like your reality to be about and go ahead and create it.

Last weekend’s circumstances called for me to venture solo. My study abroad program had a field trip to Santigo to visit a few historically important sites and I decided instead of taking the bus back that evening with the group, I would spend the night at a hostel.

After navigating the metro system, I checked into my hostel. I was informed it was the largest hostel in Chile. While the man at the front desk was showing me around the hostel I experienced something like deja vu. The place felt like something that had appeared in a childhood dream. It had many staircases and hallways and a bohemian vibe. A kitchen with cooking things waiting to be discovered in the many cabinets. If you walked towards the center of the hostel you’d find yourself in an open air patio that continues on to the dining area. What looked like a modest, maybe shabby old brick building from the outside felt like a mansion of travelers from foreign lands on the inside.

 

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Santiago streets. It’s always the season to eat outside here.

 

After buying groceries, I spent a while under a tree in the park eating gummy worms and people watching. Perfect. I cooked dinner, a stir fry of broccoli, green onions, and bean sprouts while dancing around the other guests cooking their meals in the kitchen. We swapped a little Spanish as they monitored their pasta. Cooking dinner was very exciting because after three months of eating food cooked for me by my host family, it feels nourishing to cook for myself.

I felt like a queen.

I ate dinner with a table of girls I had never met, all from different countries all over the world. We talked and laughed and decided to find a place to dance that evening and went out together. We bonded over feelings of displacement and being inept at dancing the salsa.

In the morning the hostel had a nice breakfast included in the price of my stay so I ate as many pieces of bread as possible in true Chilean fashion, slathered in caramel-ly manjar* and consumed several cups of REAL coffee.** Fuel for my day. I planned to visit two art museums: Museo de Bellas Artes and Museo de Arte Conteporaneo.

*Manjar is similar to dulce de leche or a caramel-like spread. It bears resemblance to the caramel frequently used for caramel apples. However, Chileans put it on anything possible, like cakes, candy, donuts, and of course toasted bread for breakfast.

**It is rare to find real coffee here in Chile. If you order it in a restaurant or cafe, you will frequently receive a mug of hot water and packet of instant coffee powder on the side.

I had selected this hostel because of its walking distance to the art museums. I walked in the general direction of the museums and trusted my instincts. I stumbled upon a record sale and fingered through vinyls of many Chilean bands that I was ecstatic to recognize and had to restrain myself from spending all of my pesos.

 

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Records found at the pop up record fair. Los Prisioneros is a popular Chilean band that I recommend giving a listen.

 

I wandered through a flea market and craft vendors selling beautiful handmade clothing and jewelry. I walked through a cobblestone street surrounded by artsy cafes and bars. Eventually I found the art museums (free admission!) and spent several hours wandering around the two galleries. How fun it is to be on the other side of the earth and still be doing things you would do in your home town.

 

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Books for sale. Books in your second language seem to possess a new mystery because they reveal themselves in a whole different layer.

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More bizarre, cool things stumbled upon in the art market. Old cameras for sale.

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Photo found at Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. Called Las Dos Fridas, it is a play on the original painting by Frida Kahlo. This one is enacted by Chilean writer and artist Pedro Lemebel and photographed by Francisco Casas.

 

I got very hungry and decided to try the tiny cafe inside of the museum and was served an awesome meal of salad, soup, and spinach lasagna. The two cafe workers were about my age and had fantastic taste in music and when I paid for my meal we chatted about their great tunes.

I caught my bus back to Vina del Mar and was back home.

The point of this is that being alone is good for you. It develops self awareness, forces you to face your reality, and allows you to credit yourself with confidence. Embrace the uncomfortable zones of your identity. Pretend you are like a vegetable on a vine that needs rotation so that each side can face the sun. You may feel like a tree without roots for awhile, but by becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable you can learn a lot.

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Filed under Natalie in Chile, south america