Turning 22 – Looking Forward

Three weeks ago (I’m terribly behind on my blog) was my birthday–a day which normally makes me feel badly that time moves so quickly and I just can’t keep up.

Looking back on the past year, however, gave me an odd feeling of pride. In this year I’ve lived in a foreign country: learning Spanish, making friends, understanding a foreign culture, keeping up with studies, etc. etc. At the same time, I got this terrible feeling in my stomach–a feeling of reality: I won’t be in Ecuador forever, and one day Quito will no longer be my home.

After being here for so long I still wake up every morning, breathe in the crisp air, and mumble “Achachay, que frío” (brrr, how cold) but still smile knowing that I’m so lucky to be smack-dab in the middle of the chilly Andes. I hate the cold and I still feel so happy here.

My birthday was on a Monday, and I never really do birthday celebrations specially for me. I didn’t plan anything and waited to see what would crop up. As always, Ecuador surprised me with a perfect opportunity. Some of my friends from Guayaquil were doing a university field-trip from the coast to the sierra. And luckily, I was able to join them!

It was the perfect chance to visit (and revisit) some of the main places in the sierra: Mindo, Quito, Otavalo, Laguna de Cuicocha, Ibarra & Cascadas de Peguche.

For the first time in 9 months, I finally went to Mindo and met up with the class there. Mindo is a huge tourist attraction two hours from Quito where it is warm and there is rafting, canyoning, zip-lining, tubing, you name it! I went to the Mariposario (butterfly garden) & zip-lined my way through the canopy forest.

A butterfly eating banana juice on my finger

Karlita right before our first zip-line

From there, we returned to Quito and I got a tour of my own city! The tour was different than the tour IES gives the students every semester, and I learned many new things that I should’ve already known. Quito continues to be such an interesting city and the beauty stuns me on a daily basis.

Colonial Quito

The next day we went to Otavalo (one of the largest indigenous markets in the world), Laguna de Cuicocha (a lake in the crater of a volcano), and Ibarra (the capital of Imbabura–a province touching Pichincha on the north).

Otavalo crafts

The group at Laguna de Cuicocha

The next morning, after a night of salsa-dancing in Ibarra, we went to the Cascadas de Peguche.

Karlita, Andrés, Beatriz & Evelyn at the Cascada de Peguche

Me, Evelyn & Edu

The bus left me in Quito and my guayaco friends (old & new) continued the journey south until Guayaquil, after exchanging bittersweet chaus, nos vemos prontos & hasta luegos. I went in only knowing a couple people, but costeños are really open and friendly, and I left having many friends to visit in Guayaquil the next time I’m there (which will be this weekend!).

This impromptu trip was not only the perfect way to celebrate my birthday, but the perfect way to say goodbye to the sierra of Ecuador, or rather, living in the sierra of Ecuador. For the past 9 months, I’ve built my life here: happiness, comfort, understanding. It feels like home because it is.

I would otherwise be extremely depressed to be leaving, but I say goodbye to the sierra knowing that I will be back soon. UCSD is on the quarter system and last semester I made the decision to take off winter quarter to spend time in Latin America working/volunteering/traveling/lo que sea.

I was going to settle down in La Paz, Bolivia, but I recently decided it is much too soon to say adios to Ecuador for good. Therefore, I’ll be going to Bolivia for the month of January to visit a good IES friend from last semester, but coming back home to Ecuador for the month of February. I will be returning, however, to live in Guayaquil on the coast!

One of the many words I love-to-hate/hate-to-love in Spanish is despedirse–the verb-form of goodbye. My Chilean friends brought it to my attention when I said goodbye to them last December, and I always remember how unique the meaning is since there is no direct equivalent in English.

I feel comfortable with this final goodbyes to the sierra but it is not a goodbye to Ecuador. And I will surely come back to visit Quito shortly since it is just an 8-hour bus away from Guayaquil and has so much to offer.