Reflecting on Ecuador

I read a post recently by a young lady that had backpacked in Ecuador and Peru in South America; she had great pictures of the local people (and llamas!).  I still remember one of the members of our exchange student program (AFS – American Field Service) walking right up to a llama and having it spit in his face!  It was amazing; and he was surprised!

I remember boarding the plane from Miami, Florida to Quito, Ecuador, and seeing the man across the aisle crossing himself…and thinking that maybe I had made a big mistake going to Cuenca, Ecuador for the Summer as a 16-year-old exchange student.

I still have a wool sweater I bought in Ecuador that is really warm, but I never wore it very much because it was knitted with the sticks still in the wool, as in from the sheep that rolled on the ground in that same wool.  I still have that sweater in the back of my closet – it sums up my trips to Ecuador in some metaphorical sense.

I took a picture of my feet on both sides of the equator, which is a really corny thing to do, but I loved it!  Quito is beautiful.  I didn’t love it quite so much after there was an earthquake while I was there in 1990, and I was coming down with hepatitis A and didn’t know it until several days later when I was home.  It was a long plane ride home.

The families I lived with in Cuenca, Ecuador, were so kind and generous.  I have memories of sleeping with heavy wool blankets that felt like the lead vest at the dentist’s office.  I can see the fire blazing on the cold winter (our summer) nights.  I can remember dreaming in Spanish for the first time and being amazed that I did so!

I took horse back riding lessons at the military base, and I can still see the machine guns in the hands of the men guarding the base.  I remember seeing machine guns everywhere I looked in Ecuador.  It was as though the country might just implode / explode any minute if they put down their guns.  That was 1985 and 1990.

There was lots of interesting food, most of which was delicious.  I can still taste the shrimp ceviche, a dish of marinated seafood – by far my favorite food in Ecuador – as well as cuy, which is a South American guinea pig – which was not a favorite, although pretty good.  I remember when we were traveling near the coast and my family decided that we should stop to get lobster for dinner.  Our van pulled into a small beach area with lots of fishermen around; then I notice that one of men is stripping down to swim shorts / underwear and dives in the water.  A few minutes later the man returns with two of the largest lobsters I have ever seen, and they were a beautiful purple – blue color. Really yummy lobster too!

Which brings me to the show I saw recently – Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations – on the Travel Channel, and the episode was filmed in Ecuador.  He decided that cuy could end world hunger; they reproduce rapidly and are quite tasty.  Bourdain thought that they should be called South American mountain pigs, and then Americans would eat them!  Probably true.  I read that they are now illegal to serve in New York City because they were being served at Ecuadorian festivals.  I don’t have any pictures of cuy from my travels (we ate it at the dinner table, not a street fair), so here is one from the Travel Channel website – you really have to see it to appreciate that the head and feet are still on the little animal, and the feet are the delicacy.  My family in Ecuador wanted me to have a foot, which I politely declined, as I don’t normally eat feet…

If your travels ever take you to South America, Ecuador is definitely worth the visit.  People are very friendly and the food is great; you can even pass on the cuy if they are not your thing – but definitely try the ceviche!

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