“Bienvenido a Quito, Ecuador,” my host mom announced as I walked into what I was supposed to call home for the next five months. The house was two stories and very charming. My host parents were even more charming and greeted me with the line, “mi casa es tu casa.” They spoke very little English but were excited to learn in exchange for teaching me more Spanish. They helped carry my bags to my room, which was quaint and very homey. Here, I found their cat named Nacho-I am a cat-lover, so I was definitely excited for a cuddle buddy.
The next morning, my first real day in Quito, my host mom or “mama ecuatoriana” decided to give me a mini-tour of the city. As we drove down the street, the houses and buildings were of all colors, shapes, and sizes. She told me that the architecture was built in the old Spanish or Moorish style. Many of the shops and corner stores were old and seemed to shake unsteadily against the wind. My host mom explained to me that the houses and buildings are all packed together in a landform called the Guayllabamba river basin and are surrounded by the active volcano Pichincha.
Pichincha is a beautiful volcano in the Andes Mountains that you can see from almost any point in the city. It is incredibly tall and a very popular tourist attraction because of its beauty and accessibility to climb. Moreover, she told me that Quito is divided between colonial architecture, the old Spanish style and a more modern and improved design. There is a mixture of well-preserved colonial cathedrals as well as smooth contemporary architecture that illustrates the history and evolution of the capital.
As we stopped the car and got out, I noticed a tourist building titled, “Ecuador: ama la vida.” I found this slogan interesting but was not exactly sure what it meant. The sidewalks we walked on were sprinkled with people and there were vendors on every corner. Vendors were selling anything ranging from empanadas, a cultural stuffed pastry, to small packs of gum called chicles. They were of all ages, as I even saw 10-year-olds trying to sell candy or offering to shine your shoes with a makeshift container of supplies. Just by walking down the street, I could tell that Ecuadorian culture was very different. It was completely new, rich, scary, interesting, and beautiful. I could not wait to discover and experience it all.
Our first weekend to ourselves, my Boston College group and I decided to visit a nearby town called Mindo. This town is known for its beautiful cloud forest, which holds 5 percent of the world’s bird population. This weekend trip to Mindo was amazing from beginning to end. We arrived at our destination and set up camp in a hostel called El Rocio. I had never slept in anything like it. There were beds with mosquito nets, and the back door opened to a terrace with hammocks overlooking a beautiful view of the town. The hostel was creaky and lacking in hot water but was still very charming and at an impeccable price.
Once we were settled, we went to explore the cloud rainforest. We took a tarabita, or cable car, that ziplines across the top of the forest at about 500 feet in the air. The view was breathtaking. This cable car brought us to the starting point of our hike that then led to Santuario de las Cascadas, or five different waterfalls. As we walked, we heard the waterfalls before we saw them. It started off as a distant hum but as we came to the edge of the cascada, we could barely hear each other over the rush of water. We saw four of the five waterfalls and, although the water was freezing, we just had to get in. The floor was rocky, and at first the ice-cold water felt like pins and needles on our legs. Swimming in the waterfall was an incredible sensation, and I absolutely loved it. I loved it all.
I then realized the meaning of the popular slogan, “Ecuador: ama la vida.” Ecuador is a place of opportunity, of authentic culture, of breathtaking landmarks and invaluable learning experiences. As I fell in love with Boston, I am also falling in love with Ecuador and cannot wait to experience it to the fullest. I wish “ama la vida” to all-love your life and all it has to offer.