It is always tough to adjust to a new diet, but I ate something that made me sicker here than I have ever been before. The nausea/vomiting only lasted for a half day at least, but I don’t know if my whole system will be functioning correctly at any point during my stay. Between being sick and the small portions I expect to lose another 5 pounds on top of the 5-10 I lost studying for boards.
While it is no fun to be sick, I have definitely had some good eats as well. I have had beef tongue twice, which always sounds gross but I found to be quite good. Also, as expected, the bread is fantastic. Bread is one thing the majority of American just doesn´t do right, and the panerias (bread stores) have been a highlight of my trip here and when I was in Peru. One major difference from Peru, however, is the lack of Pisco here in Ecuador which is served with nearly every meal in Lima. In fact, no drinks are served with the meal at all until you are finished and then you get a glass. It drives me absolutely crazy to be honest, but I am trying to get used to it.
I am debating between playing it safe and just going all out crazy with street food because I am generally starving and it looks and smells delicious. I asking myself what was the worst that could happen and I realized it probably already had, so I will probably just go for it and have an update soon!
Quito is seated on top of a giant hill and looks down on its suburbs which sprawl the surrounding valleys. The low clouds and mountains in the background make for a beautiful view, one unlike any I have seen in the States at least. Ecuador boasts mountains, beaches, famous islands (Galapagos), jungles and a vibrant capital – there is something here for everyone.
This weekend we visited “El Mitad Del Mundo” which means the middle of the world. It was fun to straddle the 0.0 latitude line and claim to be in both hemispheres at once, but the real excitement was the entertainment surrounding the monument. Ecuadorian music and dancers entertained a couple hundred people and we were surrounded by vendors selling tantalizing snacks.
The emcee of the whole deal was very entertaining and would pick out foreigners from the crowd to come on stage with him and dance while he made jokes about them which the foreigner would have no hope of understanding. And wouldn´t you know it, I stick out like a sore thumb and was his next victim. He had me dance with the Ecuadorian flag, wear traditional garb and a hat with an attached pony tail all to make me look completely ridiculous. My host family captured the whole thing on video along with some pictures, so look forward to those soon. I was completely embarrassed but I relish the story and I am glad I didn´t chicken out and refuse the invitation.
I would love to visit the jungles, relax in Galapagos, and climb one of the many scenic mountains, but two weeks is just not enough time to take full advantage of the country. I will simply have to enjoy Quito and its Spanish architecture, massive cathedrals, packed buses and sometimes terrible traffic until I return.
For me, the most exciting part about travel is meeting the local people and doing my best to understand the local cultures. I will never forget the hospitality Allison and I enjoyed in Thailand last summer and I will always have a home in Peru, Georgia and now Ecuador. My host mom is absolutely wonderful. I love how motherhood is so universal, because even though I can only understand about 60% of what is said, I know what she wants if for me to eat more, wear my coat more often and sit at the kitchen table to converse as much as possible.
I don´t want to write a novel, so I will just run off a list of some cool notes I made about the culture I have experienced in Quito: ancestors are very important and when we visited the cemetery there were fresh flowers everywhere and more visitors than I have ever seen at a cemetery in the States; I always pegged South America as being very religious, which is definitely true to an extent, however, I think it is more correct to identify the people as very spiritual; there is so much less shame here, which is tough to explain, but whether it is dancing in public, singing out loud or feeling ill, I thankfully haven´t felt as vulnerable as I sometimes do in the States; driving is crazy here and unless you are in the front you won´t have a seat belt; there are no casinos in Ecuador as of a couple years ago (a huge difference from Georgia to say the least), public transit is very important and very crowded, although much more difficult to navigate than I found either Tbilisi or Bangkok (I was lost for hours yesterday and had to flag a taxi to take me back home).
I am not well read at all on the topic of politics in Ecuador, but I will share what I have heard and the little bit I do know because I find it very interesting. Also, there has been some recent stories about Ecuador which have made it to American headlines news : Snowden seeking asylum, an American high school graduate disappearing and a complicated lawsuit of Ecuador vs Chevron. My only sources for most of this info is my host family, the doctor I am working with, and something I saw on Reddit the other day, so take this all with a grain of salt.
Anyways, Ecuador is probably the most socialist country I have ever been to, and it has been interesting to hear how people living here feel about it. The doctor I work with really isn´t a fan of some aspects, but he said he tries to only concern himself with things he can change. He works in one of the biggest public hospitals in Ecuador and will see about 50 patients in the clinic over a couple hours and is required to fill out detailed paperwork on them all. When we asked if he got paid for each patient he saw, he said no. When we asked what incentive there was for seeing more patients he said that going to jail would be the consequence for not doing so. Take that for what it´s worth I guess.
Gasoline is only $2 a gallon here for the super stuff! I thought I was reading per liter initially, but it really is only $2 a gallon. My host dad said that it isn´t because they have oil here or have any special connections but because the government subsidizes it significantly. He was very against this subsidy as he wished it would go to schools, roads or other things as people that could afford vehicles could afford gas on their own. Everyone else would be able to rely on the public transit system which is already in place and effective. He also laughed about the whole Snowden asylum thing because he felt that Ecuador only wanted to offer Asylum to show it has power and a role in the world political scene – a little kid puffing up his chest if you will.
I am excited to learn more and I need to do some more research on the Ecuador-Chevron case where Chevron was found guilty of destroying precious land and now owes 18 billion dollars or something like that to the country. They refused to pay and instead took Ecuador to court in NY to say that the decision was corrupt and the whole thing is bogged down there. I don´t really know, but in the rankings that come out for corruption in government, Ecuador scored a 2.4/10 with 0 being the most corrupt, and 150th out of 184 countries for transparency in its government.
One final interesting note is that the US Dollar is the currency used here, which is super handy for us American travelers!
I will try to update the blog again and try to post pictures when I get the chance. It is difficult because the internet situation isn´t ideal and whatnot, but excuses, excuses… I will be home in a week!