Diving Headfirst into Quitoan Culture

Julianna Connelly
January 23, 2019
Group Photo at Mindo Park

¡Buenas tardes a todos!

      I have officially been living in Quito for two weeks, and it has been quite the entertaining ride thus far. I first arrived at 11:20 PM on January 7th and was greeted ceremoniously at the UIO airport by my Ecuamamá and her eldest son with a beautiful bouquet of red roses and hugs all around. I quickly learned that a customary greeting involves a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek, which although certainly different from the greetings I have become accustomed to in the US, was a welcome surprise. My Ecuamamá seemed more than pleased to be inviting me into her home for the next four months. Although I certainly felt more than a little overwhelmed at first by the constant buzzing of Spanish everywhere I turned, I reminded myself that my main goal for studying abroad in Quito was to improve my Spanish conversational skills. With that reminder blossoming in my mind, I inhaled my first breaths of Southern Hemisphere air and began my journey into the exciting unknown world of Quito.

      I would be lying if I said that after that first brief moment of fear, I suddenly became accustomed to the Quitoan way of life and magically blended in with the locals. In reality, I know I will continue learning the proper habits and cultural customs throughout my entire semester abroad, which unfortunately means I will always stick out like the gringa that I am (thanks to my pale skin, blonde hair, statuesque height and obvious ignorance of Ecuadorian culture). Having said that, I have been really enjoying my first few weeks just breathing in the vibrant livelihood I have encountered, from the towering cathedrals to the breathtaking mountains and the bustling city-life in-between. One aspect of this adventure I never really considered before I arrived was the fact that Quito is a massive city with 2.5 million people sprawled across 324 km² (125m²) of mountains. Not really coming from a large city, the immensity of Quito alone has forced me out of my comfort zone. Luckily for me, my school is within walking distance, so the main thing I need to be aware of is using sunscreen since I am living at an altitude roughly 1.5 times the height of Denver, CO (2,850 m or 9,350 ft).

     As part of my service-learning class, however, I need to take the bus to Extreme Response, the organization with which I am volunteering. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes, although traffic in Quito, especially during the middle of the day, is insane. When I got there, the kids gravitated towards me as if I was an alien creature (I probably do seem like one), pelting me with questions about how to say certain words in English. Within the span of one minute, I had probably translated 25 different words. And that is just one of the many unique experiences I have had in Quito so far! My first weekend here, IES Abroad took a group of 12 or so students to Otavalo, a beautiful maze of handcrafted indigenous artwork. The market is so immense that it would probably take someone multiple days to briefly browse through every stall. After learning the art of haggling in Spanish, I left feeling successful and competent (although, to be honest, I probably still paid more than locals would have). Nevertheless, I felt happy with my purchases as we made our way to our next stop: boating across Laguna Cuichocha, a crater lake resting at the foot of an active volcano. Talk about thrilling!

     My second weekend in Quito was spent exploring the nearby (2 hours from Quito by bus) village of Mindo, a tourist hotspot filled with adventure, including a marvelous three-hour hike through the cloud forest to witness the natural beauty of five distinct waterfalls. Because it was a little steep at times, I would say the hike can be done by anyone over the age of 7 or 8 (although I did see some locals hiking with kids as young as 3 or 4). The water in the lagoons was frigid in mid-January, but worth getting in nevertheless just to have had the experience. If you are a lover of nature hikes and beautiful photographs, this is a must-add to your list! I also recommend the Cinnamon House hostel ($10/night) which includes numerous hammocks, a ping pong table, a common kitchen and a relatively nice bunk bed situation. My only complaint was the rooster next door who crowed from 4:30-6:30 AM, so make sure to bring earplugs! Mindo is also well-renowned for producing the best chocolate in the world, so I recommend Yumbo’s chocolate tour ($8) which comes with free samples of chocolate, various syrups and to-die-for brownies. The butterfly garden is unfortunately closed in the winter months until the beginning of March (so I could not witness the marvel of hundreds of butterfly species flitting to and fro), but everyone I have talked to in Quito highly recommends it ($8)!

     With so many scintillating places to visit across Ecuador, I do want to be sure I also make time to simply take in the Quitoan culture, from the fun afternoon walks through Parque La Carolina to the exciting karaoke/discotheque night-life I have heard so much about but have yet to experience. Although there is so much more to tell, I will wrap up for now by saying that I have been surprised by the cruciality of family life in Ecuador. My Ecuamamá is a widow, but spends time every day with her three adult sons who are all married and live nearby. Because of this closeness, I have experienced numerous meals, Catholic masses and day-long trips to the park with the entire crew. They already consider me family, which makes the distance to my family in the States a little less painful. More to come on family life in my next blog because it truly deserves its own spotlight. Chao!

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Julianna Connelly

<p>I love writing, specifically about the relationship between humans and the environment. Not only have I written a number of self-help articles, but I have also written (and plan to write many more) poems about this crucial topic. Because the environment is very important to me and creative writing is one of my passions, I find that putting the two together keeps me happy, satisfied, and feeling both empowered and capable of changing other people's opinions about their relationship to the world around them.</p>

2019 Spring
Home University:
Indiana University
Indianapolis, IN
Explore Blogs