A Light in the Fog

Madison Kelly
March 22, 2020

We were sitting on the bus when we got the news. I’m sure everyone is sick of this by now, sick of hearing only about one thing, and I know I’m tired of thinking about it. So this blog post won’t mention that-which-will-not-be-named. Let’s just say, for unspecified reasons, our program was canceled, Ecuador had declared a state of emergency, and we were given 24 hours to leave the country or risk being trapped for months. It was a dramatic bus ride.

For days before, it was as though there was an ever-present fog hanging around us. It wasn’t thick enough that we couldn’t see through it - sometimes we even thought we could see the light at the end of it, the miracle that would appear any day. We would laugh about all of this at the end of the semester, we thought, laugh about that one week we thought we might get sent home. We carried on mostly like normal, but the fog showed itself in uneasy glances, in the spark of fear at an email notification. It settled itself around us as we traveled to Quilotoa, shaping the question in all of our minds, “What if this trip is our last?”.

It started with a single message from our program director, a “stay calm” text message that had quite the opposite effect. With no service and no context, the back of the bus, where we were all sitting, was thrown into chaos. We still had hours before we would have steady service, and the most we were getting was the occasional message. In the scramble that followed, we all worked to put together the pieces, dreading the picture that was inevitably emerging.

Tears were shed, parents were called, calls were quickly dropped. Everyone searched for a way out. My parents were in Canada, out of range, and I couldn’t get through to them. I searched through my email for my flight confirmation, desperate for a way to somehow switch my flight to the next day, before the midnight deadline. Panic was rising in my chest, the fog seemed to be closing in. I shut my eyes for a moment. I put in my headphones, left ear, right ear. I took a deep breath. 

I decided to do a word-vomit, to pull out my journal and write, in the illegible handwriting of someone who is in tears and also at the back of a bus that is traveling up and down rocky Ecuadorian mountain terrain, everything I was feeling. Here’s an excerpt:

“I feel overwhelmed. I’m not ready at all. I don’t want to leave these people. I’m going to miss these people that I’m crying with right now. I’m going to miss this place. I feel like I didn’t do enough. How did today start out so perfect and end up like this?”

Another deep breath. As a group, the panic was subsiding, leaving in its place a quiet sadness, the devastation that rolls in when you finally have to accept what you didn’t imagine would happen to you. We wiped tears away, hugged. We did Rose-Bud-Thorn, a little activity most of us picked up from our camp counselor jobs, sharing the best and worst of the experience. I reread what I had already written, determined to find the good, the light in the fog.

“I don’t want to leave these people.” How lucky am I, that in only two months, I can say that I’ve made friends for life? Our friendships, our relationships, would change, but I knew I wasn’t leaving all of my relationships behind in Ecuador. As Gabi, one of our professors might say, we are all entrelazados. Tied together, part of each other. To remove my friends from this experience would be to irrevocably change it. I’ll think of the people I’ve met on this journey every time I think of my semester abroad. Every time I buy ice cream, or bread. Shout out to y’all. Thanks for a crazy ride.

“I’m going to miss this place.” I have loved my time here. From the walks in the morning on Tuesday and Thursday to my classes, to Sundays picnicking in the park, to hiking up Chimborazo, the mountain closest to the sun. It’s a gorgeous country, and I am so fortunate to have lived here for as long as I did. Everywhere I went, there was beauty. And now I get to go back to the US having experienced it, with my pictures and my memories. I get to leave a place I love to go back to a home where I will be safe. That I have this privilege astounds me. I am so lucky to have had this time.

“I feel like I didn’t do enough.” Isn’t this always the case? No matter our intentions, no matter how much we try to make the most of every single day, there’s always something left unfinished. And we did a lot. We used every weekend we had to travel somewhere new, to have a different adventure. I just wish we had more weekends.

Even this past weekend, what had turned into our last, we had an adventure together. We had traveled to Quilotoa, an incredible lagoon inside the crater of a volcano. Friday night, upon arriving, it was rainy and muddy, but we made the short trek to the edge of the crater, eager to see the spectacular view we had been promised. We reached the top and looked down, out, up… nothing. Only the thick fog, rolling towards us, surrounding us in a way I’ve never experienced. We saw nothing. We headed back to get some sleep.

In the morning, we wandered towards the crater together again, sleepy. We stopped, all together, at the very edge, my shoes kissing the empty air below us. Far down, the lagoon was shining, currents of water moving in every direction, dispersing waves of green and blue. Someone mentioned, breathless, that it looked like the Northern Lights. On the shores of the lagoon, mountains stretched up, and behind them, clouds. All we could see at that moment was Quilotoa, in all of its beauty. We spent the morning and early afternoon inside the crater. We hiked down, then went kayaking across the water. We ate our lunch and laughed, I conquered a long-standing fear of horses and we rode them all the way up.

It was a perfect final adventure. Just the night before, there was no way one of us could have imagined the view that was awaiting us. The fog had obscured everything, so thick we could barely see three feet in front of us. And yet, behind the fog, was Quilotoa, a sight that beat out any pictures we had ever seen.

There is a light in this fog. Back home now in tiny Rhode Island, unable to even leave the house, I cling to the image I have, of me, surrounded by my friends, at the top of a lagoon in the crater of an Ecuadorian volcano. Maybe tomorrow, some of this fog will clear. We will see the view we are awaiting, or maybe just the first few steps of the path out. Until then, deep breaths. Hold on to the people you love. Wait out the fog. Remember the good things. Maybe tomorrow, the light will shine through.

Madison Kelly

<p>My name is Madi Kelly, and I am a junior at the University of Vermont. I am studying Linguistics and Spanish, with a minor in Deaf Studies. I am hoping to be an ESL teacher, and I have taught abroad in Ukraine and South Africa so far, but I have never been to South America, and I can’t wait to see Ecuador!</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Vermont
Barrington, RI
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