We´ve almost finished our vacation. Alina, Emily, Na and I. Two weeks of riding on buses and lounging in hammocks and seeing a different side of Ecuador than we´re used to.
For spending the last seven months of my life in this country, I´ve seen surprisingly little of it. Quito, Ibarra, Otavalo. A tiny portion of a tiny country. But what Ecuador lacks in size it makes up for it in diversity. In a two hour bus ride you can go from Andean Highlands to rainforest. Hop a bus to the coast and you fall sharply from the high altitude down to white sand beaches. It´s startling.
Unsettling, almost. I arrived in Canoa ready for hours of lying on the beach and reading in hammocks. Lonely Planet had told me Canoa would be perfect for this, quiet beach town, fisherman, surfers. And it was, in some ways. It was quiet, overcast. But, we hadn´t taken into account that Otavalo is above the Equator and Canoa below it. Where in Otavalo it is summer, on the coast it is winter. But something felt off about Canoa. I still can´t explain it. The people weren´t too friendly, every single food stand along the water had the exact same menu. I described it as ¨pleasant-ville, beach town style¨.
So we went south. To Puerto Lopez. Where we went whale watching: saw giant humbacks crest ten feet from our boat, saw a baby whale leap playfully into the air.
And now, for the wrap up of our adventure, we are in Baños. Baños itself cannot be described in just a few words. Tucked into the middle of the country, hidden by sloping mountains as if it is a fortress. It has it´s own sacred virgin who protects the town. The towering black basillica is lined with giant oil paintings of miracles in the city where the Virgin de Aguas Calientes has been sighted; saving people from burning buildings, stopping car crashes. Tungurahua, the active volcano above Baños, spewed fiery lava a few days ago, issuing an orange alert. We´re going to see it tonight.
After we go dancing.
If there is one thing you can´t escape in this country, it´s the music. Whether on the coast or in the mountains, reaggeton and salsa blast from every available stereo. In Otavalo it is just background music, bumping from neighbor´s homes and our students cell phones. But in the last two weeks it has come center stage, ever present on buses and in restaurants. The music so infectious that we almost never stop moving, subconciously swaying in our seats while we eat. How can you stay still to this music?
So we danced in Canoa, barefoot on the beach. And in Puerto Lopez, we sat in the sand and watched reaggeton videos projected on to a big screen. I made fun of it, their nasty lyrics and misogynistic images, but it didn´t take more than half a pilsener before I wanted to dance.
And in Baños, beautiful Baños. We arrived at nearly midnight after a twelve hour bus ride from Puerto Lopez, dropped our bags and went searching for a snack. Instead we found Celia Cruz, her deep Cuban salsa beats, and stayed until the bar closed, unable to resist the urge to dance to just one more song.
Time is running out for me here, something I can´t stop thinking (or writing) about. This was always my dream. To come to Latin America, to live and speak Spanish and work for a non profit. I majored in Spanish and International Studies and dreamed of walking the streets of this country, speaking this language without thought, but with enthusiasm. And I´ve done it. Yesterday someone complimented my Ecuadorian accent, and asked if I had Latina blood. I laughed. What a line to use on me afterall, who is all light skin, light eyes, light hair.
But I couldn´t help but thinking, my eighteen-year-old self would be so proud.