After our goodbye to the kids on Friday, the volunteers went out for our last official Pizza Friday. We went to the same place we usually do, but there was a funny sense of “finality” to it for a couple of reasons.
When we walked in to the little cafe/bar that we go to before pizza, the bartender (the same one that’s there every Friday) asked if we needed menus or if we were just getting our usual. Then, when we went to the pizzeria, we ran into Emilia’s cousins. Let’s have a refresher: Emilia is the 8th grade student who invited us all to her house at the very beginning of our trip. Her family owns a broccoli farm that we toured and her cousins were very hospitable when they offered us all whiskey. We had planned to hang out with them, but after communication fizzled, we didn’t.
After a couple of cervezas and pizza, Elsa and Megan went home while Tim, Karin, Mariana, Yarlon, and Yasser tried to convince me to go dancing. After Yasser said, “Come on, do it for Yass!” - a nickname I’d given to him maybe an hour before - I was convinced.
Saturday morning, Megan and I left for our second and final solo excursion. It’s always benefitted us to travel with our fellow volunteers because we knew such limited Spanish. Well, when we went to Otavalo by ourselves, it was only 4 hours away, we’d been there before, and we still had a few bumps in the road.
This time, we travelled to Cuenca, about 9 hours away, we’d never been there, and we didn’t have a single problem. I think our Spanish is getting better.
We left for Ambato around 9 and grabbed a second bus that went straight to Cuenca. We got there around 8:30pm. As we were leaving the bus terminal we were approached by a fellow named Luis who explained that he owned a hostel in the center of town, was $7 a night and included breakfast (don’t be scared - this is a common practice). So we hopped in his taxi and off we went! The hostel really was in the perfect location right in the middle of town.
We quickly found some dinner at the corner store (you know, the essentials: yogurt/cereal, chips, juice, and water) and called it an early night.
The next morning, we headed to our pick up location to wait for Miguel. Miguel was our bilingual tour guide for the Ingapirca Ruins tour. After he picked us up, we were met by our fellow tour-mate Erik. Based on his name I was guessing he was from Germany. Nope. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After he got in the car, the 4 of us were off to the Incan Ruins.
The Ruins were absolutely stunning. Miguel explained a lot about their history. Some of my favorites included the stone where virgins were sacrificed and the energy rock. The stone had a divot in it where you placed your head (and he insisted we have a photo taken) and Megan and I were pretty sure there were blood stains on it. The energy rock was a spot where you sat to get recharged, and right next to that was a spot where you placed your forehead on the wall and you were supposed to feel the energy of the Incan spirits.
After the Ruins and a quick (and very pleasant) lunch, we headed back to Cuenca, grabbed some pizza, and called it a night.
The next day we walked through the city and went to a couple of museums. They were both awesome (and free). We went to Museo del Banco Central, which was an Ecuador history museum. We also went to Museo de Arte Moderno, the modern art museum.
After walking practically the entire city all day, we decided to grab some dinner. I think it was the first time I’ve ever seen a salad in this country that 1) was lettuce-based and 2) had dressing on it. It was delicious. After dinner we flagged down a taxi to go to the bus terminal. We got there around 7 or 7:30, and our bus didn’t leave until midnight.
Megan and I were sitting at a table journaling when a man at the table next to us asked (in very good English) where we were from. So he sat next to us and we basically heard his life story. Patricio then asked us the dumbest mistake we’d ever made. When neither of us really had an answer, he offered his answer. He was 17 years old walking the streets of New York and met a woman. She was “45 or 50” and bought him dinner. He then went back to her hotel room and implied what happened next. Oh, and did I forget to mention that Patricio was wasted? He then asked what we were writing (in the journals). He said, “When I leave, you’re going to write about me aren’t you?” Megan said, “Well, yeah!” So he wanted Megan’s number so that she could some day send him a snippet from her journal for him to show his buddies. So instead, she said it would be published within the next two years, ripped a piece of paper and on it wrote, “amazon.com” and “Megan’s Ecuador Journal” so that he would know how to search for it.
After about TWO HOURS of this, Patricio gave us a farewell, and we were off on our bus.
We arrived in LaTacunga around 7:30 yesterday morning and grabbed another bus to Quilotoa. We got to the village outside of Quilotoa then took a cab to get the rest of the way.
Let me explain Quilotoa: it’s a volcano filled with water. When it erupted 800 years ago, it was such a large, violent eruption, that part of it collapsed into itself, creating the lake. Locals even belief the lake is bottomless.
Pictures just don’t do this place justice. It was stunning. And there were so many hikers around, but you couldn’t see or hear anyone because this place is so big. It was by far one of my favorite things I’ve seen on this trip.
Now, we had planned to go to Quilotoa for a long time, I was very much looking forward to it, and dreading it. Looking forward to it because it’s beautiful, and after actually seeing it, Megan and I wondered how it’s not a world wonder. Dreading it because it’s said to be a 1 hour hike downhill to get to it. And a 3 hour hike uphill to leave it. And the reason the uphill hike is 3 hours and not 1? Because you’re walking uphill in sand. So for every step you took down, you take 2 or 3 to get back up.
I knew I didn’t have the physical stamina to withstand that, but I also knew that there were horses you could take so if at any point I felt like I was going to die, I could just hop on. I also knew that I wouldn’t regret taking a horse, but that I wouldn’t have the pride I would have if I walked it, no matter how long it took.
So we walked. And took a break. And walked. And took a break. And after less than two hours, we made it back. I know it sounds silly because it was just a short hike, but at the end of it, I really couldn’t believe I had done it. Not only would it have been difficult for me at home, but keep in mind the difference in altitude here, which made it that much harder.
Yesterday evening we came back to the house (unbeknownst to the principal - we’re supposed to have left already), had dinner and everyone played poker while I DJed (honestly I had every intention of playing poker, but I just got too into picking out songs for everyone to listen to). It was a great way to spend our final night here. I genuinely enjoyed everyone’s company and I don’t think I’ve laughed so much or so hard since I’ve been here…except maybe the time Brauck tied curtains to his ankles and said he was in Cirque du Soleil.
Now this morning, Megan and I are finishing up some last minute packing and we’re off to Quito. It’s kind of surreal to think the very final leg of our trip is here. And I’ve been so preoccupied will all things Ecuador, that I’ve sort of been forgetting that my birthday is tomorrow.
Megan and I will be in Quito for a couple of days and then we will be met by our fellow volunteers. My birthday is the 1st, Yasser’s is the 2nd. So we’ll be having a birthday/send off bash. I’m looking forward to it, but definitely not looking forward to saying goodbye to the people that have become my family.
On that note… USA, I’ll see you in 4 days.