Remember the first time you drove a car or used a credit card? What eventually becomes an everyday occurrence is really special the first time, and you can hardly believe you get to do it. Before we forget our firsts from this trip, I want to share them with you.
Our first coup d’état
This was not actually on our list of experiences to look forward to, but I’m glad it happened at the very start of our trip. It highlighted a few things for us:
• The US media does not report on world events very well
• Virtual friends are very real and willing to help (thank you, Twitter and Facebook travel lovers)
• Flexibility is important when you expect it and even more so when you don’t
We flew into Ecuador not knowing what the airport or the city of Quito would be like, though we were fairly certain our little lodge an hour away in the Andes mountains would be free from drama.
It helped to have contacts here if we needed them as well as reassuring conversation from Ecuadorians on the plane from Miami. Had we not known there was a coup attempt just before our arrival, we would have never suspected anything had happened. I’m very glad we listened to the people on the ground rather than the media reports, and this will be a lesson we continue to use as we travel.
Our longest transit time: 24 hours
I come from a small town in New Mexico, and no matter where I’ve lived it has always taken about 12 hours door-to-door to get there. In fact, I’ve often joked it takes longer to travel to see my family than it has for any international trip I’ve ever taken. Until now, that is.
We booked our flight with frequent flier miles, which means we left our friends’ house in Seattle on Friday at 9:30 pm Pacific for the airport, boarded a flight at 11:55, stopped in Dallas briefly, and then flew to Miami. We had a 7-hour layover here, which is when we left the airport for a visit with some friends and enjoyed a delicious Cuban lunch (including fried plantain, Karen!). After that, we boarded the plane that evening and flew to Quito, Ecuador. We landed just after 10:30 Central time, and after immigration, baggage claim, and the taxi ride to Casa Mojanda, we fell into bed at 12:30 am on Sunday morning.
Friends, this is exhausting. We were never in a plane longer than 4 hours, so there wasn’t any deep sleep to be had. And taking the altitude medicine made it worse because my hands and the back of my head were tingling the whole way.
Our lesson? Travel slowly, for shorter periods of time, and let our bodies rest along the way. We don’t intend to have another journey this long unless we are on a boat or train.
(Note: Warren had some experience on marathon travel from his trips to Indonesia and Singapore last year.)
Our first South American grocery-shopping trip
Because we plan to rent apartments and cook most of our own food on this trip, grocery shopping in other countries will become a very common thing. But for now, it is still very new.
We had a few delicious meals at Casa Mojanda after arriving, but we knew our budget would not allow 3/day for the entire time we were here. So we hitched a ride into Otavalo with the administrators of Casa Mojanda on Monday and did some grocery shopping.
Can you believe we left without any vegetables or fruits, bread, or even the makings of more than one meal? We got a little flustered with all the newness and basically came away with beans, rice, and a few household items.
It was a little humbling to realize how hard it was to shop when everything felt so new and we didn’t understand the language, and I have great sympathy for recent immigrants into any country as they try to assimilate. In trying to buy just a plain jar of spaghetti sauce, I was totally overcome. The Ecuadorians apparently use a lot of ketchup, but spaghetti sauce is not to be found. Nor are canned tomatoes.
Okay, so I know these exist somewhere because they do sell spaghetti noodles, but you can see how flustered this simple little shopping trip was for us.
We went back on Wednesday to a larger grocery story and had better luck (though still no spaghetti sauce!). We purposefully slowed down, meandered down the aisles instead of hurriedly shopping, and discussed how we would use the items. When you don’t have spices and condiments on hand, you have to think purposefully about how you are going to prepare food (or buy a ton of condiments).
Oh, and they do have Coca Cola Light here, which is a pretty good likeness to Diet Coke. (Yeah, I know I said I was going to give up caffeine, but I am not ready yet!)
Our first visit to a poor indigenous area
The area we are staying in has a high population of indigenous Quichua (pronounced kish-wa) people. We visited a school and community medical center near Casa Mojanda with another guest and our hosts, Catherine and Fernando.
We’ve all made jokes before about being poor. I know I’ve said it many times during the two years we saved to go on this trip. But poverty up-close is very different than going without cable or avoiding the malls.
The children in the preschool and primary school we visited were just like any other kids you’d meet in many ways: they played with each other, competed in sports, and had to be reminded to wash their hands. The indigenous children stand out just because they dress differently, the girls in brilliant white shirts with colorful embroidery and lace sleeves with long skirts, and the boys with long hair and braids. In every other way they could be the kids on your block.
Except for the fact that they don’t always have enough food or proper medical care.
Some of the kids only get to eat at school, and because funding is so tight, the administrator spends the majority of her time looking for additional funding and grants. And that’s if the school is lucky to have an energetic administrator. They do a remarkable job with what they have, and I was impressed with their organization, cleanliness, and obvious affection for the kids.
The medical center is housed in the school and the only funding available is for the part-time nurse. She is Quichua, which is a first for them. The nurses they have had before only spoke Spanish, which made it hard for them to communicate with the Quichua patients. You can see how this would impact medical care.
The posters all along the walls were about malnutrition and diarrhea, common ailments from poverty and bad hygiene.
The medicines in the pharmacy were abysmal. The nurse told us that the main medications she needed were vitamins and birth control pills, and what was in stock were heart medications and cholesterol pills. They take all donations, but many they can’t use, and often the pills are near expiration when they get them. We saw a gallon-sized plastic bag full of pills to be disposed because they had reached their expiration date. I doubt the pharmacy had that many pills of all the other active medications combined.
Poverty is real. There are many ways to keep from seeing in our daily lives and in our travels, but opening yourself up to it means you learn a lot more about other people. Sometimes you can help and sometimes you can’t, but defining someone only by their economic status and overlooking everything else about them robs you and them from learning from each other.
Our first minga
Most of us have probably heard of the old-fashioned term “barn raising.” This is where all the farmers of the area come together to help another farmer build a barn, and afterward there is eating, drinking, and maybe even dancing. It is a lot of hard work followed by play, and while they are usually helping one family, everyone benefits because they know they can count on the same help when they need it.
I thought this had gone out of style, save for religious groups and maybe the Amish. But we were pleasantly surprised to hear the sounds of Spanish guitar and singing on Sunday evening coming up the mountain. When we asked Catherine and Fernando about it, they said it was likely a “minga.”
A minga is a coming together of people in the rural community to do something good for a neighbor or community. Catherine, originally from France, told us that she and Fernando came to visit friends in the mountains once and became part of a minga. They got up early, were fed a hearty breakfast by some of the community women, and worked throughout the day. In the evening, there was food, dancing, and socializing.
The virtual minga
After learning the term “minga” I immediately thought of YOU – our virtual friends who all stepped in to help us as we were preparing to leave on our trip in the
midst of the coup.No, we aren’t in the same geographic community, but I do think of our relationship in terms of a minga – a virtual minga.
Sometimes we can get together to help each other. Other times, maybe we can find a worthy cause and band together to support it (see what Chris Guillebeau does with Charity:Water). And other times, we are just supporting each other in our quest to do great things, grow in ourselves, and make the world a better place.
We love having you in our community, and we’re excited to have you join us on this trip around the world.