Well hello there everyone!
I've been putting off writing this blog entry because frankly I have so much to say that I find it difficult to start. So this will probably end up being pretty long. Bear with me if you will! First things first, I'm happy, healthy, and have yet to drink the water. Also, it turned out that there were a lot of us on the flight from Miami to Quito so I started making friends even before we crossed the Equator.
My program is very small, only 15 of us, but I'm delighted with everybody. Everyone is likeable and gets a long, and 15 isn't enough people to even start forming cliques so all in all the first week of orientation was really great. After the first night in Quito, they took us 45 minutes outside the city to San Antonio to a beautiful hosteria called Rancho Allegre. Even though it was our first day, our program directors split us into groups of 3 for our first "drop-off". Basically each group had a place that we needed to find in the town, but since none of knew what we were looking for, the point was to ask around until we found our location. As it turned out, the store we walked into to ask happened to be the Tienda de Aborrachas that we were looking for. Great success!
San Antonio also happened to be the location of El Mitad Del Mundo, or the Equator. So the first afternoon we all trekked up the hill to the monument and had fun taking pictures with half of ourselves in each hemisphere. We then proceeded to get drenched by an evening thunderstorm, but all in good fun. And after dinner we had our very first Salsa lesson! It was really fun, but at the same time quite shameful. The rest of orientation included our fears and expectations (of which there were many) and talks about health and safety. We had two different musical groups come and play for us after dinner and frankly I think they might have enjoyed it more than we did. All week we were discussing the idea of reciprocity, coming to a new place and trying to gain as much from the experience but also giving back. It turns out that most things we do are so amusing to the Ecuadorians that we are constantly providing entertainment. When they were playing music for us we were all trying half-heartedly to dance to what they were playing, but nobody knew what to do and at one point the guy playing the clarinet had to put it down because he was laughing too hard. One certainly learns not to take oneself too seriously.
And in addition we did a written and spoken language test in order to be placed in certain levels for classes, and did some solid group bonding (with the help of Pilsner, Ecuador's native cerveza). The last day in San Antonio we had another "drop-off" but this time a little more extreme. We were given a location within 90 minutes and had to find our way there, eat lunch, ask about the history of the place, find a never before seen object, and then navigate our way back to the hotel we stayed in the first night in the center of Quito. So I spent an hour waiting for a bus, then an hour standing on a bus while we drove up down, in and out of the cloud forest, which was utterly beautiful. And we finally arrived in Nanegalito, a very small town with a lot of little kids and barn animals. It was lovely, we talked to people, and then proceeded to get on a bus going in the wrong direction. Dios Mio! But no worries, we managed to hop off and catch the right one.
After one crazy night out in Quito where we were moving around in a pack of 15 gringos, we dressed up nicely, bought some flowers, and left Quito for el Valle de los Chillos to meet our home stay families. Let's just say that was a very nerve-wracking bus ride. My family lives in Sanloquí and I really like them. I have a hermana named Andrea who is 18, a little hermanito named Juan Diego who's only 1, and an hermano named Santiago who lives with his dad in Quito but visits on weekends. My mami and papi are really nice and the family spends a great deal of time together watching tv and laughing. They said that the first weekend would be the hardest, and I certainly would agree. The first night that I was here I went out with Andrea to her cousin's party and it was pretty nuts. A lot of laughing, dancing, and some really good food. It took a while for anybody to talk to me but after they had been drinking a while they warmed up.
My Spanish comes and goes. When I get overwhelmed I tend to get flustered and not be able to communicate at all, and everybody here talks so fast that I often have to ask them to repeat themselves once or twice. But we start Spanish classes tomorrow and the combination of studying the language and using it will be amazing. If all goes well by the time we get to our next homestay in Quito I'll have a lot more to say for myself.
All in all this has been the most action packed and exciting week I've ever experienced. Everywhere I go there is a gorgeous view on either side of me. Mountains, hills, trees, clouds, lots of sun, and so much that I've never even heard of or seen before. I went to the market with my mami, papi, and hermanito yesterday and I have never seen so many amazing looking fruits and vegetables in my life, especially since I've never heard of many of them before. But the produce here is outstanding (es muy rico) and they didn't seem too appalled that I don't eat most meat.
So here's week number one in a nutshell, definitely more to come as I continue my adventures and start to get settled into an Ecuadorian lifestyle. Besos to all, I hope you're happy and healthy, and not too cold! (not to rub it in, but it's been a constant 20-25 degrees Celsius everyday here. ☺)
Con mucho amor,