After arriving in Quito on a cold, rainy evening, I beamed with joy when I woke up the next morning and saw the bright shining sun. It lit up the abundant garden surrounding my host family’s home and I felt my mood instantly lift seeing the blue sky and all the thriving plants. To be honest, I had prepared myself for rain every day and all the sad emotions that come with them, so this brief parting of the clouds easily exceeded my expectations. Along with the shining sky, my host mom’s excitement to see me, the huge production of a breakfast that lay before me, and my host dad’s music warmed up the new home. Humming to the stereo, we made empanadas verdes and bolones, typical Ecuadorian foods made of green plantains, and we took our breakfast outside to the garden. All the energy I had lost on my long 15-hour travel day was coming back to me.
The afternoon launched me even further into Ecuadorian culture as we made our way into Quito for a big family lunch. Nine of us gathered around a huge dining room table and enjoyed a delicious, long three course meal. I had learned that lunch was the most important meal of the day in Ecuador and now I knew it was true. First, we had an avocado on a bed of greens stuffed with tuna salad. Second, a creamy homemade pasta with scallops and clams. And third, a fluffy tiramisu-esque cake enjoyed alongside warm coffee and tea. It was certainly colder in Quito compared to the suburb of Cumbaya where my host family lives, and over 1,000 feet higher. As the afternoon rains and chills came in, I felt comforted being in such a warm family environment so soon after my arrival. We took a long rest after dessert and then enjoyed homemade bread and baked cheese before heading out into the rain and back to Cumbaya for bedtime.
After three days of orientation in chilly Quito, the 11 of us at IES Abroad finally got to see the city, along with two Ecuadorian students at the local university we would be attending. Our tour of the historical center brought us up the steep stairs of the main basilica where we overlooked the colorful houses built on the hills and learned about the history of Quito. We continued onto the narrow cobblestone streets, through more churches and museums, passing elaborate street dancers and tasting traditional treats. Quito beamed with energy as the sun shone as bright as it had all week. We finished the tour with a welcome lunch at a hilltop restaurant, giving cheers to the next four months as we overlooked the expansive city and watched the lightning in the distance.
Friday morning brought more sunny skies, which made the Universidad San Francisco de Quito’s beautiful campus all the more inviting. After a series of presentations for the international students and a nice snack break on the steps of the Grand Hall, we toured around the university’s open halls and lush gardens. Feeling like I was back in high school on a college tour, I envisioned what it would be like to study by the student center or enjoy lunch on the grass. A whole new college experience awaited, even as a second-semester senior.
Our week of orientation ended with our first day trip outside of Quito. Rainy skies poured over us as we headed to Otavalo, a small town a few hours north with a famous artisan market and beautiful crater lake. We enjoyed a boat ride around the lake and a beautiful lunch made by a family who shared their indigenous heritage, passing around artifacts and playing instruments. We then visited a waterfall right as it started to downpour, and made a stop at the market before heading back to Quito.
Although the following Monday we were supposed to start classes, a cyber attack at the university delayed classes by a whole other week. Slightly concerned but admittedly also a little amused, a friend and I naturally decided to take advantage of the time to explore Ecuador. That Sunday, we got on an overnight bus and arrived at a small coastal town called Puerto Lopez early Monday morning. We caught up on sleep and enjoyed a relaxing breakfast by the beach and then made our way to a nearby national park to hike across white-sand beaches and surrounding cliffs. The air was hot and dry, and the sun was strong. We cooled off amid the calm waves and then made our way to Agua Blanca, where a small indigenous community has an archeological museum, trails, and a sulfur lagoon to swim in. They even gave us a free mud mask, which pleasantly soothed our already sun-burnt skin.
The following day at the beach we explored a nearby island, walking amongst blue-footed boobies and snorkeling alongside swarms of rainbow fish. Tall waves on the way back made the ride feel like a rollercoaster, but somehow I still managed to catch a little nap. Back in town, we topped the day off with coconut ice cream, sunset views, and dinner on the beach. After another day in the warm sand, we caught a night bus back to Quito and arrived in the early morning where the cold, rainy air woke us up immediately.
My first (two!) weeks of orientation ended with a short day trip to Papallacta, a small town an hour east of Quito known for its hot springs. The town lay much higher than Quito, bringing much cooler air and plenty of shivers. While part of our group chose to hike right off the bat, I opted to warm up in the hot springs, bouncing between the various different pools to find just the right temperature. After warming up, we enjoyed the nascent blue skies with a little hike along the river and around the flowery rainforest. We admired the tall mountains on either side of us and the cows grazing on hillsides. After another quick dip in the hot springs, we ventured back to Quito amid the chilly drizzle and said our goodbyes. At last, I arrived home to a house full of guests and the smell of delicious pan de yucca frying in the kitchen. I was finally warm again.
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My name is Elise Fuente and I'm a senior at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. I'm studying International Affairs with a concentration in International Development, and I have a keen interest in Latin America. I'm studying in Quito after a semester in Buenos Aires, and I hope to keep exploring the region as much as possible! I have passion for sustainability, service, languages, and the outdoors, but sometimes I still dream about being a chef. :)