I got stung by a jellyfish at the beach last weekend. I was relaxing with friends in the lovely waves of the coastal town of Canoa when a blue creature made contact with my fingers, and I started cursing and screaming loud enough to attract stares from my fellow beach-goers. I lost feeling in my left hand for several hours and had shooting pains all the way up my arm. I am fine now, although the marks are still visible on two of my knuckles.
It wasn’t exactly how I had planned my beach vacation.
While my two-and-a-half months in Ecuador have been mostly positive, I have found myself in plenty of situations that haven’t gone according to my expectations. A few weeks ago, a friend and I went in a full circle on a bus route because we’d picked the wrong bus, and last week, I took us to the wrong shopping center because Quito has two malls named Quicentro.
I have stayed at a recommended hostel only to come away with bed bug bites. I have gotten lost more times than I can count, and I have run out of cash at inopportune moments. I have gotten sunburnt more often than is healthy. I got stood up once.
The day after the jellyfish sting, I got back in the water. The incident—like many of my experiences in Ecuador—has turned into a funny story. Plenty of people can say they surfed at the beach, but not everyone has been stung by a jellyfish, so I consider myself special. The times I’ve messed up public transport, I’ve gotten to see new parts of Quito. It’s a pretty city.
It’s hard to find a positive with bed bugs and sunburns, but these are problems I’ve shared with friends—and friendship makes everything more manageable. When a guy asked me out and then forgot to tell me that he “had stuff come up,” I learned how to say “you stood me up” in Spanish, and he was kind of impressed that I could call him out for it. (For anyone who dates Spanish-speaking people in the future, the verb phrase is “dejar plantado/a.” You’re welcome).
Ecuador’s official tourism motto is “ama la vida,” which translates to “love life.” For the most part, I have fallen in love (or at least in like) with the country—its beautiful mountains and beaches and forests, animals I had never seen before, foods I had never tried. Despite the pollution and catcalling, Quito bustles is a way that always feels alive. When anyone asks how I’m doing, I’m quick to tell them how happy I am here.
Still, studying abroad isn’t always easy. When I was lying in the hot sand of Canoa beach, writhing in pain as I held a vinegar-soaked napkin to my hand, knowing that my hostel wifi wasn’t good enough to call my parents and complain, I definitely wasn’t loving life.
Of course, loving every moment of Ecuador isn’t a fair expectation. Studying abroad is about encountering new challenges, and learning to overcome them, or at least managing to tolerate them until they pass. I know I will keep encountering the unexpected during my remaining two months in Ecuador—and I will come away a bit stronger because of it.
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<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>