Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wait a minute...Is this really my life?

One could say that the past few weeks have been a bit of a struggle for me here in Ecuador. The realities of life have caught up with me and the fact that this is not merely an extended vacation has settled in. To put it simply, I've been homesick. I miss my family, my friends, and my city. Each day thoughts of everything that I have been missing ran through my head on a constant loop cycle (see previous post) and this list of things that I can't wait to see and do have become a sort of mantra, repeated over and over for anyone willing to listen (thank you Dave).

I was walking to my classroom building last Thursday as I glanced up from the memos I had just received and caught a glance at the hills that surround the school. They are beautiful and beginning to flourish with new growth. Imagine my surprise as the thought, "I love it here," ran through my head. I stopped, stunned at what I had just been telling myself in light of the homesick tune I had been singing for weeks. Is it possible? The thing is, I DO love it here. I am often in awe that I am living this life, in this place, surrounded by things I have never imagined I would see and do.

The appreciation for Ecuador only grew as the weekend continued. Dave and I went with a group of friends to Quito and Otavalo for our long weekend break. The trip had been planned for weeks and we were looking forward to getting out of Guayaquil and seeing somewhere new. We stayed the first night in Quito, a very tourist-friendly city that is populated with North Americans. English abounds everywhere, in restaurants, shops, and parks. There were even a couple of English bookstores that I felt right at home in. There were sections of the city that reminded me of Boise, little neighborhoods that had boutiques and restaurants.

After a wonderful breakfast at the Magic Bean, we all headed to the village of Otavalo. Otavalo hosts Ecuador's premiere artisan market every day. Artisans from all over come to set up their wares and bargain with tourists and locals alike. The crafts are beautiful, made before your eyes, and inexpensive if you are willing to haggle a bit. Dave and I were only intending to spend a couple of hours walking through the market place, but we ended up spending six hours on a shopping extravaganza! We were able to complete all of our Christmas shopping and even managed to buy some prizes for ourselves. I was able to purchase six skeins of alpaca wool for only $4.50! The most amazing thing was just watching all of the activity and people. The market was buzzing with shouts showing off products and asking for the best offer.

During our stay, we were also able to travel to three other nearby villages that specialize in different crafts. I'm ashamed to admit that I only know their gringo names: Leather Town, Wood Town, and Weaver's Town. These places are filled with shops that only sell the goods attributed to their names. Wood town has furniture, sculptures, and nick-knacks all made from wood. Leather town specializes in shoes, purses, coats, and hats. And of course, Weaver's town has tapestries aplenty. Dave and I purchased a beautiful wall hanging that we are planning to put up in our apartment here, as well as hang in our home when we return to the states. We were able to meet the weaver and get his picture with our tapestry as well!

We stayed in a beautiful hostel in Otavalo, the Ali Shungu hotel. It is run by an American couple who have been in Ecuador for the last thirty years. They have completely decorated their hotel with items that can be found at the Otavalo market and it is gorgeous. There was also a wonderful restaurant and lounge area where guests could relax by the fire, play games, and eat amazing food. I can't wait to bring family and friends here when they come to visit. (Still waiting for that first visitor---come on people, you know you want to!)

Saturday night we headed back to Quito to continue to play and explore. We ate well, went book shopping, and spent a lot of time laughing with friends. With how comfortable I was in Quito, largely due to the "Americanized" environment, I was surprised to find myself missing Guayaquil. I definitely enjoyed my time in Quito, but it somehow felt too much like home. I missed hearing the soft flow of Spanish being spoken around me, instead of the curtness and volume of English. I missed seeing the vast span of different people, from all walks of life, that populate Guayaquil. Dave and I were both glad to be back home Sunday night, to a place that has now become recognizable, comfortable, and home.

Here are some more pictures of our weekend adventures: