Cotopaxi and other things I didn't do

Jessica Piper
December 18, 2017

The Cotopaxi volcano is a majestic, 19,347 foot volcano just outside of Quito. Its snow-covered cap is featured in many Ecuadorian tourism brochures and knick-knacks sold in markets. I had planned on climbing it during my final weekend in Ecuador—a spectacular way to cap off my four-and-a-half months in the country.

But, like so many things during study abroad, it didn’t go according to plan. I was struck by a severe bout of altitude sickness around 17,400 feet and had to come back down.

So instead of summiting Cotopaxi, I added it to the list of things that I didn’t do while studying abroad. It’s a long list:

  • I didn’t leave Ecuador. This semester wasn’t just my first time in Ecuador, it was my first time in South America. I’d had a fantasy of visiting the famous ruins at Machu Picchu, or at least getting to Colombia. (It’s only four hours from Quito by car). During my time here, people have told me how much I would love Argentina, Chile or Brazil. While international travel would have been awesome, I occupied most of my weekends travelling within Ecuador. I’ll have to save my Motorcycle Diaries-style South-American road trip for another time.
  • I didn’t try cuy. Cuy, or guinea pig, is an Ecuadorian delicacy. You can sometimes see people frying whole cuys in the street; they have been skinned before cooking and no longer look like the guinea pigs that children keep as pets, but the ears, snouts and four legs are still apparent. I want to think of myself as someone who is open to other cultures, but I backed out when I found out that cuys are expensive—about $25; a typical Ecuadorian meal costs about $5. So while I tried a lot of new foods in Ecuador, the taste of guinea pig remains a mystery to me.
  • I didn’t avoid trouble. I had my phone stolen on the bus in November, so I can’t say I avoided all hazards. (Like most robberies in Ecuador, it was nonviolent, and I am completely fine). Phones are expensive in Ecuador, so I bought the cheapest possible option and put up with it for my last month in the country.
  • I didn’t learn how to dance. Ecuadorians are known to be great dancers so I figured I could pick up some skills while I was here. My friends and I joked that we’d find cute Ecuadorian boys to teach us how to salsa or bachata, but the guy I ended up dating preferred rock music to reggaeton. He didn’t teach me how to dance, but he taught me a lot.

The list could go on and on—there is the restaurant my friend and I wanted to try but never got to, the fruit that my host mom said was really good but wasn’t in season. There are other places in Ecuador that I never got to visit.

I don’t regret only staying in Ecuador a semester. I miss my family and friends. I’m looking forward to moving into an apartment back at my college and replacing the burner phone I bought here with a better one. Still, as I pack up my things and prepare to leave, I wish I had more time.

Even though it is hard to head home, I think it’s a good thing to end my study abroad with some things unfulfilled. I don’t know where the next few years will take me, but I know I’ll have to come back to Ecuador—at the very least, I have to give Cotopaxi another try.

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Jessica Piper

<p>I grew up in Colorado, but moved across the country to attend college in Maine. I'm an economics and Hispanic Studies double major with a minor in math, but writing is my real passion. I work for my college newspaper and have done other work for several blogs, magazine, and websites.</p>

Home University:
Bowdoin College
Louisville, CO
Hispanic Studies
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