Sunday, August 31, 2008

The First Few Days in a New Country

After long days of travel and getting adjusted in Quito, we met our host families on Saturday night. Along with two other volunteers, Bryce and Craig, I was picked up by Miguel, Marcia, and their son David. It's a big family with two sons, a daughter and son-in-law who have a 1 year old baby, Stephany, and a niece who lives with them because she is studying in Quito.

Bryce just graduated from Wake Forest and is from the Washington D.C. area. Craig is a lawyer in Atlanta, and it's a good set of guys. We were miffed at first because we'd heard that the house was an hour away from the orientation site, and since we're going to have long, 12 hour days, it wasn't something we were looking forward to. But that all changed once we met the family. Everyone is extremely warm and welcoming, immediately treating us like one of their own children.

Any doubts about the house were blown away when we arrived. It's basically a mansion just outside the city. The entire family lives here in two different buildings, and another building is rented out to another person. In the courtyard is a giant grill and tons of flowers and fruit plants from which you can pluck a fruit called "taxi" any time of the year. It kind of tastes like pomegranate but is stickier. There is a rooftop terrace with a view of the entire city, stretching in a narrow valley high in the Andes, over 9000 feet above sea level. Suck on that, Denver.

Besides a couple of headaches, the altitude sickness problem hasn't bothered me. Of course, when I walk up 6 flights of stairs, I feel like I just ran 5 miles, but that will hopefully improve with time. After a long dinner in which we talked about anything and everything, it was time for bed and our first day off.

On Sunday we had a picnic planned in a local park with the WorldTeach volunteers and their families. The picnic was supposed to start at 10:30, so of course we got there a little after noon. Piling into the family Land Rover, we got to see some of the city and learn our route to the city. Once at the park, with the mountain Pichincha in the near distance, we started to play soccer, or futbol. Within just a couple of minutes, we were winded and struggling, but we pushed on and played for at least another half hour.

It was great to play with Miguel and Daniel and some other volunteers. After some lunch, we headed towards La Mitad del Mundo, also known as the equator. We took the bus for 35 cents each way and were there within a half hour. The park cost $2 to get in, and of course, was nothing more than a tourist trap. A line runs through the park marking the difference between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, and everyone can be a putrid tourist and stand on the line for 5 seconds to snap a photo. Since I was already here, I did the same.

Some people argue that La Mitad del Mundo isn't actually the equator, and that it's further north of the official monument. We didn't check out the unofficial source, but rather walked around and listened to a live band perform over the line of the "equator." Whether or not we were exactly over the line wasn't really important. It's the ideal that you're straddling two hemispheres that's interesting enough, and in reality, you're still there.

Of course, being at 9000 feet with a cloudy sky all day, I didn't put on sunscreen. So Casper over here got sunburned. My nose is now shiny and boiling, as well as the lower half of my face. I'm going to have to start carrying around sunblock with me no matter where I go.

The initial expectations have been met and I have to say, I'm having a great time. Everyone we've talked to and spent time with has been great, and our hosts have been excellent and caring. Patient and considerate, we are made to feel right at home. And we are home, for the next month anyway. Then it's on to Machala.

The food has been delicious. At lunch you can get a good meal for $2, which includes soup and a drink. A taxi should cost about $1.25-2. A bus trip should cost no more than .25 cents. Everything in Ecuador, we've been told, is negotiable. It's time to put some good haggling experience to use. We've heard enough cautionary tales to ward off an army from invading, but we've also seen how gentle and kind the people can be. All you can do is keep living and look out for yourself. Life in Ecuador definitely won't be easy, but it will be a rewarding challenge that I'm excited to tackle.

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