As usual I was at my desk yesterday working, minding my own business and plugging away. But a mix of caffeine from the Green Hills tea and fatigue caused me to be momentarily light headed. Suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks, sitting at my desk, slightly dizzy.
I thought of Quito first. I miss the smell of the polluted air, the simultaneous hot and cold feeling, wearing layers and burning at the same time. The intoxication that high altitude unintentionally causes. With a slight pant and trickle of sweat from brow, you were light headed and briefly high as your blood rushed to your brain. Running across the highway, black clouds of exhaust smoke in your face, and the fear that someone was out there plotting to rob you right then and there, but you would be prepared. It kept you on your toes. God, I miss that.
I’ll admit that over time I’ve thought less about Ecuador, mainly because you have to move on with your life or get lost in the past. And now I’ve almost been down in Argentina for 6 months, so some of the memories are starting to fade and the details are blurring together. What exactly did that village smell like at lunch time? Was it boiling chicken and rice or manure? Maybe both.
Whereas when I first arrived here I continued to think about Ecuador consistently throughout every day, I now need to find the time to acknowledge it and give myself 5 minutes here or there to think it through. After all, I want to be here and now making the most of my experience in Argentina. But when those strong memories do come back it’s hard to tell if I’m dizzy from the caffeine or from the shock it brings to my system. A rare find of hot sauce brings me back to the Colombian restaurant Moliendo Café, with the tight tables with yellow paper underneath glass tops, photos and maps of Colombia adorning the walls, and the friendly old married couple who ran the place, though their true home was Medellín. I order an arepa and with the tiny wooden spoon in the brown jar, sprinkle a healthy dose of the ground up ají peppers, and my mouth is on fire.
My friend Lauren is in this country for another week or so before returning to Cuenca, but she too will be going home next month. Yet I’m still jealous that she gets to fly into Guayaquil and take the 4 hour bus up to Cuenca, going from coast and banana plantations to jungle to high altitude mountains in step. Some people will jump on the bus and sell fried banana chips for a quarter, or homemade ice cream already melting off the stick. And there’s ceviche, encebollado, and all kinds of almuerzos (about 2 kinds) for $1.50-$2.
What makes it hardest is that I don’t know when I’ll be back. And if I do make it back one day, how much will it have changed? Back in Quito in September, 2008, a few of the volunteers and host families got together on Sundays to play basketball. The Quito Baller’s Club. It made sense, doing something that brought our cultures together. Then on the last Sunday after the game and lunch, some of us went to the top of a lookout point at the TelefériQo, at almost 13,500 feet up. It made sense, doing something as enriching as that. I’m so far away from that point in Quito now, but not just in distance or elevation.