The morning after I arrived, my host family offered to drive me to the university. It was then, for the first time, that I truly felt my breath taken away; I was seeing the Andes for the first time. I was aware that Quito is one of the highest cities in the world, but I was not prepared for the magnificence of the Andes Mountains. Even if being at such a high elevation has come with altitude sickness, a change in appetite, and a few nights of restlessness, our proximity to this beautiful mountain range is worth it. It has caused me to reflect on the geological processes and earth’s history in this part of the world that allowed such a thing to come to be.
Since then, I’ve visited Volcan Pichincha, Old Town Quito, and Baños and have upcoming trips to Cayambe-Coca and Antisana, two of the tallest volcanoes in Ecuador.
By far, my favorite experience thus far was our trip to Baños. Along with five other students in the Ceiba program, the #rawplatoon, I visited this small town over the weekend. We visited the mercado, tried melcoche (a hard, unbreakable taffy only found in Baños), karaoked, biked to Pailón del diablo, and swung at the end of the world. Our 25km bike ride was a scenic ride along a busy road with few bike lanes. It was as beautiful and pleasant and as it was treacherous. We saw several waterfalls, witnessed folks bungee jumping and zip lining, and had some well-deserved empanadas after accidentally biking 5km past our destination. After, we visited Casa del arbol and had the chance to swing off the edge of the world. The swing has been on my bucket list, but like most places to visit on my bucket list, I didn’t believe it would become a reality for me any time soon.
We arrived to Casa del arbol an hour before sunset, hoping to take the perfect facebook cover photos (spoiler alert: we didn’t get any pictures). It took over an hour for it to finally be our turn, and the experience was full of more emotions than I could have imagined. As much as I wanted it to immediately end, I wanted to keep swinging and looking over the cliff into the abyss.
Finally, I’ll end with some lessons (and reminders to self) I’ve learned these few weeks:
When traveling, take every opportunity to talk and learn from the local people, even if small talk makes you uncomfortable.
Apparently, Mexicans and folks from Quito have similar accents (I’m mistaken for a Quiteña nearly every time I talk to an ecuatoriano).
Remember to love yourself, stay true to yourself, and remain critical of folks’ social positions and circumstances. Call out folks when their language, attitudes and actions are harmful to others’ identities and ways of life, but also remember to put your mental and emotional wellbeing first.
Sending a lot of love from this beautiful place.