I have officially been in Ecuador for 3 whole days now and life has already been full of good food, new friends, lots of learning, and lots of “what the heck?!” moments.
This week and until Wednesday of next week, the 5 other volunteers and I are staying at a hostel in Quito, Ecuador to complete our WorldTeach orientation. Our days are long and full of teacher training sessions that focus on health/safety, teaching tips, and Spanish lessons! I truly missed this feeling of getting to know a new city and I am so happy to be here in Quito. I don’t even know how exactly to describe Quito — it is most similar to my visit to Valencia, Spain. It is a big (actually huge) city that is surrounded by the mountains. It is quite surreal to walk around a hustling and bustling place with glimpses of the mountains in the background. The other volunteers and WorldTeach staff are fabulous and I know that this 8 weeks is going to fly by.
What the heck #1 – the buses!
Yesterday, we got to experience our first bus ride to get to the Megamaxi (basically Walmart). It is only 25 cents to take the bus! This, of course, is a fabulous deal. I have learned that everyone takes advantage of this deal. Every time that I thought that surely no more people could fit on that bus, more people fit on the bus. When it came time for our stop, we had to shove ourselves off and barely made it as a group.
What the heck #2 – TRAFFIC
I should also stop here to mention that Quito traffic is the craziest I have seen so far out of all of the places that I have been. Pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way and crossing is definitely at your own risk. Drivers do not seem to follow much pattern and the roads are extremely windy and curvy (the mountains, duh!)
A decade or so ago Quito was considered an extremely dangerous city but thankfully, it is fairly safe these days. WorldTeach is also very vigilant about our safety and really looks out for us and I have felt very safe! So far, the only bad part has been some catcalls and some stares — the stares are kind of expected considering that we are a large group of gringo ladies. We all follow general safety tips that I wouldn’t always consider in the United States (for those who know me, I am not known for my safety hahaha sorry mom). For example, here in Quito, I don’t carry my Smartphone around and only carry the cash I need with me and we stay in a group! This is one reason why I do not have a ton of photos to add to this blog! Riobamba is much safer, so I will have many more photos to come. The cash economy here has definitely been an adjustment for all of us. Ecuador does use the U.S. dollar but since things are cheaper here, they have trouble even breaking $20 bills. This leads me to my next point…
What the heck #3 – Cost of food
I had heard that food was cheap here but it still manages to surprise me every time. The food is also covered by the fee to participate in the program, so we are really fortunate! A common lunch here is about $3.75 (including tax and tip) and will include a soup, a hot main course, and a small dessert. Dinner is a bit more expensive and you can really find all of the options here in Quito.
You might be wondering, how is a young lady with little to no Spanish skills getting around and getting along in Ecuador?! Well, I am quite lucky to have several volunteer friends whose Spanish is much better than mine and who are able to communicate when I am not. However, I am trying to practice as much as possible and not worry if I make mistakes. The local people here are so extremely patient and kind with my floundering Spanish skills. As I mentioned previously, we are enrolled in Spanish classes here in Quito for 1 hour per day and I hope to continue lessons and practice in Riobamba.
What the heck #4 – toilet paper
My final what the heck moment thus far has to do with toilet paper placement. This one is not necessarily Ecuador specific, but still takes adjustment. No toilets here allow you to place toilet paper in the actual toilet. Instead, one must remember to place it in the trash can. I have heard from WorldTeach staff that this becomes a habit and that when we go back to the United States, we will actually have to re-train ourselves again! Luckily, in our hostel, the bathrooms are cleaned frequently and it isn’t really as gross as it first seems. Our hostel, Cafecito, is absolutely adorable. I am currently downstairs with some friends hanging out in the cute little lobby/bar. One of the bartenders actually just brought us a free drink – Canelazo (cinnamon spiced rum). Clearly, I am not missing much here in Ecuador!
Once again, I am just so happy to be here learning Spanish and training alongside some great people. I know that there will be ups and downs over the next two months (after all, we have been warned that we will all most likely get some kind of stomach illness during our stay here), but I am looking forward to embracing the journey. I look forward to sharing more about Quito and Riobamba in the next week or so!
P. S. I recently found out some of the amazing places that we will get to visit during our midsummer conference and our post-summer reflection trip and lets just say, there will be rafting, hiking, and ziplining in my future!