Until two years ago, I had never been anywhere outside the United States besides Canada, and the idea of jungles and wild tapirs seemed like something out of a fairy tale story. However, when my parents first told me that we were going on a trip to Ecuador for three weeks, I felt as if I would be entering a whole different world. I was filled with excitement, giddy nerves and curiosity. I knew the adventure would be a blast, but at that time I was unaware of just how much I would grow from my travels in Ecuador.
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The images my daydreams and fantasies had cast into my head of what the humid jungle, busy streets of Quito, and dry terrain of the Galapagos would be like were quickly shattered by an even more vivid picture as we explored, day by day.
I felt as if a postcard with a pretty picture sent to a friend was an demeaning understatement to the tangible beauty that surrounded me everywhere I went. How could I send a rectangle of paper when what I really wanted to share was the warm leathery touch of the gentle, old beggar by the pristine churches. I wanted my friends to smell the scent of authentic rice and beans and yucca (the stringy carbohydrate that accompanied every meal) instead of Taco Bell burritos which I had once thought were the symbol of all Latin American foods.
As a part of the Spanish immersion, my brother, Daniel, and I stayed for a week with an Ecuadorian family in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The family, a kind grandfather with wrinkles by his eyes, a grandmother with a laugh like melting butter and sugar, a mother, an uncle, and a son, all greeted us on their lawn the first evening.
“Bienvenidos. Mucho gusto,” said the grandmother, Yahira. Welcome. It’s so nice to meet you.
Over the next week I participated in many new activities, of which I never thought I’d get the chance to be a part. Between volunteering in a three-story animal shelter to nearly dying while horseback riding at 13,000 feet in the Andes, each new experience was awe inspiring and invoked in me a new mindset of the world outside of California.
Here were people who didn’t need “Starbucks” three times a day to fulfill their lives. They took strangers into their homes and weren’t hesitant to teach them things that aren’t learned out of a book.
That week, living with a family that barely spoke English while my brother and I barely spoke Spanish, I learned things beyond language itself. I learned about the curiosity and endearing determination in people’s hearts to help others in their travels and futures. I learned that children in Ecuador love to play ‘Grocery Store’ with plastic fruits and vegetables just as much as children in the United States of America. I also learned that I do not like the yucca plant; it must be pronounced “yuck-a” for a reason.
But most of all I learned that a picture is not an experience, and that local fast food is not foreign cuisine. My three weeks in Ecuador left me with new friends, memories and a desire to continue traveling and broadening my knowledge of people of different cultures.
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