When we were in Quito, my dad and I visited the line of the equator and stood on opposite hemispheres. Photo by Grace Webb
CUENCA, ECUADOR - All good things must come to an end, and my time in Ecuador was no different. I flew to South America in January to study Spanish in Cuenca, Ecuador for three months and got back home last week. But those three months sure had some adventures!
When I first arrived in Ecuador to study at a special language school, I felt pretty nervous about my Spanish skills and the thought of talking in non-stop Spanish for three months. Even as I studied for hours every day, I didn't feel like I was learning or growing that much as a Spanish speaker, and it could be frustrating sometimes when I'd stumble over myself trying to have a conversation with a native.
However, looking back over the three months, I realize now that I did end up learning a ton of Spanish. Three months ago, I always needed to ask my Latino friends to slow down so I could understand them better. Now, I can haggle with a fast-talking taxi driver with the best of them. There's a bit of encouragement there for all of us. Just because it looks like you're not getting anywhere doesn't mean you aren't; you just need to stick with it and you truly will improve.
I learned more exploring the streets than I did in the classroom, though. One afternoon, a bunch of my friends and I decided to brave the bus terminal to take a trip to la Virgin del Rocío, a church carved into the face of a cliff. It took us about an hour to get to the town, where the bus driver assured us we could hike up to the church.
Well, we could, and we did, but it took us about half an hour, since he failed to inform us it was actually two or three miles uphill out of town. It was definitely worth the trip, since the church was beautiful; it felt like standing on the balcony of a Scottish castle. Coming back down wasn't so fun, though, since we hiked right into a rainstorm. Needless to say, the bus ride home was very wet.
Perhaps not quite so exciting, but certainly as fulfilling, was my time volunteering at an orphanage in the city. The orphanage was for kids without parents and kids whose parents weren't fit to care for them. I was supposed to go help with homework, but we always ended up just playing for two hours instead. It might not seem like much, but the kids were just happy to play with someone who genuinely cared for them, and I was blessed to have the opportunity to be there for them.
The best part of my whole trip was when my dad showed up in Cuenca the last week I was in the country. I had intentionally left an extra week after classes so we could explore the country together. I don't get to spend that much time with my dad, so I was pretty excited to have a whole week with just him and me. (Unsurprisingly, I did not finish any of my homework the days leading up to his arrival.)It was a whirlwind of a week: we visited Cuenca, Quito, the Baños of Ambato and the Pacific Ocean. I think we spent more time in buses than out of buses. There's nothing like testing your Spanish by rolling out of a bus at 1 am after ten hours on the road and trying to haggle with a taxi driver to find your hostel.
At the Baños, we visited the Amazon rainforest, swung off a bridge and zip-lined a thousand meters over a giant forest valley. The Amazon was incredible. It's hard to imagine explorers and businessmen hacking their way through all that foliage to create rubber plantations a hundred years ago. Jumping off the bridge was kind of scary, so I'm glad my dad and I could jump together. They hooked us to a rope attached to a higher bridge and we plunged into space, sort of like bungee jumping. Sometimes, you need to go out of your comfort zone to make some incredible memories.
We also got to wade into the Pacific Ocean, straddle the line of the equator, and visit Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in Ecuador. We were exhausted by the time we boarded our flight back to the United States, but it was a good exhaustion. I'm still surprised we managed to see so much in such little time.
Being back in the states is really great. It's taking me a while to get used to American life; I still try to start conversations in Spanish. Part of me was glad to come back home, but part of me wished I could stay longer. I know I'm going back someday. It's just a matter of time...