Sunday, June 5, 2011

Reflection: Quito, Two Years Later

This week I entered a photo competition coordinated by my friends Jenn and Gabrielle (through their organization The Spotlight Project) for which the theme was “Show us your neighbourhood’s personality”. Dan and I both submitted photos which you can see in the online gallery here. Looking through the entries got me thinking about my neighbourhood here in Quito and how it has gradually, imperceptibly, become a part of me.           
            When I think of what defines my community here I think of the taxi drivers who have engaged me in fascinating, educational conversations, and others who have seen my gringa face and done their best to swindle me. I think of the graffiti that covers the abandoned buildings and walls of the city- it is sometimes political, sometimes crude, and often very beautiful. I will remember Quito through the lens of Parque Carolina on Sunday afternoons, filled with amorous couples, soccer-playing families and endless children. Unfortunately, what I will also remember is the sight of Styrofoam containers, wrappers and empty pop bottles that overflow out of the garbage cans and coat every free spot of grass. I will remember the grinding poverty reflected in the faces of the kids juggling limes at intersections. I will think of salsa music, ceviche, empanadas, and the warmth of the people who have made us feel at home here. 
I have to wonder: to what extent do the places in which we live become a part of us? When we leave, how much of our experience lingers – what do we take with us? More importantly, perhaps, what do we leave behind? 

Reading my friend (and co-worker) Holly's recent blog post made me realize that what matters most about our experience in Quito may be the relationships that have grown during our time here. Living and working in a culture that is sometimes delightful and sometimes baffling has caused us teachers to forge a deep bond built on shared experience (dare I compare it to a soldier at war?) I hope we will all keep in touch - but the truth is we will all move on to vastly different experiences and, Facebook and Skype notwithstanding, those relationships will change. 

In school, likewise, I am sure some students will forget our names by September, but perhaps there will be one or two who will have been changed in some way, who will remember me or Dan as a person who made an impact on their life. I hope so. In a life and a world that is so transient, I like to think that a human connection is what makes life meaningful, and what helps us appreciate the here and the now. I hope that over the next few weeks I will remember to cherish this place- and the people that populate my little world here - to the fullest.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pictures from Mompiche (see previous post)

This guy was racing us as we sat in holiday traffic on the way to the beach

On the road to Puerto Quito as the sun was setting...

A car that was worse off than rear windshield, broken windshield and windows,  a piece of metal hanging off the bottom and the passenger door was falling off!
Mompiche Beach

Mompiche...the view  during breakfast

Local kids playing on the beach
Relaxing in front of our hotel, Hostal Gabeal
Sabrina and Mike
Dan and his sandy toes relaxing after breakfast
Breakfast, plus a cheese empanada, scrambled eggs and a coffee, plus a coconut with a straw...$3.00


It's amazing what a couple days at the beach can do for your soul! After a hectic week of marking at the end of the grading period, we had a four-day weekend for the Carnaval holiday. Dan was craving a last chance to surf here in Ecuador, and I was craving some beach time, so we decided to head to Mompiche, a scruffy and charming little beach town in the Northern province of Esmeraldas.
We hadn't been to this part of the country yet, and it was interesting to see the differences between the North Coast and the South Coast, where we spent several weeks last summer. We only went to Mompiche and a nearby beach called Portete, but I found the area to be much more lush, clean and more beautiful than those further south. The beautiful weather helped, of course!
The food was incredible - I believe I ate shrimp in a different form for every meal: fried, in ceviche, encocado (cooked in a rich coconut sauce), al ajillo (cooked in a buttery garlic sauce). And a platter of fresh fruit for breakfast everyday! We definitely ate like kings.
Our friends Sabrina and Mike joined us for the long trek from Quito, which included an overnight stop in the jungle-y town of Porto Quito, where we found a hotel with an incredible pool and jacuzzi, yet no toilet seats. Our dinner there was frequently punctuated by dive-bombings by the largest (flying) grasshoppers I have ever seen - Dan estimates they were eight inches long! 
As we drove through the cloudforest by Mindo to get to Porto Quito the rain poured down in buckets and we passed an enormous mudslide, which we were fortunately able to pass without a hitch. However, we realized a little too late that the straps holding Dan's surfboard to the roof made the Bug a little less than waterproof. Mike tried to combat the water sliding down the straps into the backseat but by the time we arrived we were all damp, to say the least, and there was a sizable puddle throughout the car. 
The next day we heard a strange rattling in the car and decided that we needed to get it checked out before we went any further; the car turned out to be okay but the delays landed us in the traffic we had tried to avoid by leaving on Friday. Fortunately, we had downloaded about fifteen old podcasts of CBC's The Vinyl Cafe, which helped pass the time. Also, we never went hungry thanks to the many young entrepreneurs in the small towns we passed through, who brought baskets of homemade treats to sell to the drivers.

All in all, it was an interesting time getting there, but it was worth it for the perfect vacation we had in Mompiche. It felt so good to slow down for a couple of days, and take the time to float in the warm ocean, indulge in rich seafood and watch the pink and orange sunsets over the Pacific.