My first day at Quito’s 9,350 feet of altitude after a long flight began by meeting up with two girls from my SIT program (Camila and Teaghan) and two more whom they had met in their hostels. We headed to the Central Market in Centro Histórico/Old Town together to grab some breakfast before exploring the city. We were convinced that the soup we were being sold did not have actual sangre (blood), but rather an ingredient which they called sangre simply due to its color or consistency: silly assumption. We enjoyed the experience for what it was, got some extra iron in our oxygen-deprived bodies, and continued on to silly assumption number two!
We hopped a taxi, filled it with one too many people, and went up a nearby mountain on the TeleferiQo (Quito slyly snuck their Q into that one, but it’s just like any other ski-lift style hanging cars that take you up a mountain). On the way up, I clearly remember saying to the group “Hey, maybe we should walk down on that trail, it looks like a good time.” I could hardly make it to the door of the hotel by the end of the afternoon. At the top of the TeleferiQo, I learned that we had plans to hike up higher so we started walking up. I had no idea that the plan was actually to climb the inactive volcano seen in this picture. Below is another picture showing how far we actually made it and how much relaxing had to be done.
That night we met our academic directors and a bunch of the SIT group arrived in Quito! Our directors introduced themselves: Fabian, an Ecuadorian Anthropologist who seems to know absolutely everything about his country, and Leonore, a US citizen who moved to Ecuador to raise her children and who can tell some great stories. They asked us to pack a bag for a couple of days, fed us a delicious Ecuadorian corn-husk snack, and sent us off to bed. The next morning, we headed out to San Antonio de Pichincha, better known as the location of “La Mitad del Mundo,” a monument to the ‘center of the world’ with a line marking the northern and southern hemispheres; unfortunately, the line is in reality a bit off-center by current calculations.
Orientation in San Antonio consisted of reviewing schedules and expectations, health and safety guidelines, an introduction to experiential learning, lots of discussion about the homestays and cultures in which we will be living, an overview of the rules and regulations, etc. There was plenty of time to get to know one another a bit, as well as time to eat delicious typical Ecuadorian foods (we actually ate about five times a day!). We took advantage of the opportunity to practice our Spanish and to meet our first Ecuadorian friend, Roberto, the son of the Hostería owner. The directors had also set up a night to watch an Ecuadorian movie, a night to hear some Ecuadorian/Andean music, and a salsa class with Maestro Lucky! We also had a couple of “drop-offs,” in which we went to a certain part of town in groups to learn about the area; this observation and asking questions is a sort of introduction to what we will be doing with the Independent Study Project (ISP) later. Finally, we had the opportunity to talk with students from different universities of Quito about all sorts of topics: Ecuadorian slang, travel throughout the country, politics and religion, and everything in between.
Orientation also included a required reading of “The Green Banana,” a personal account by Donald Batchelder of “temporary difficulty, resulting in a discovery which resolved the problem while opening up a whole new perspective of shared belief and speculation.” He admits that the green banana had only ever been an unripe fruit to him, while the people whom he met had known of its properties and uses for years. The tale includes a rock which the people state marks the exact center of the world and how each person has his/her own center of the world; the author states, “Personal discoveries converge in a flow of learning moments, developing a healthy tug of war between that original center of the world from whence we come and the new center being experienced.”
Because of the orientation schedule, I did not get to visit La Mitad del Mundo monument in San Antonio. However, I believe my entire semester in Ecuador will be full of encounters of centers of the world, from the Intag Cloud Forest in northern Ecuador to the Rain Forest in the South, and that I have a lot of learning to do from all the people who I have the opportunity to meet along the way. Donald Batchelder says it best: “Personal discoveries converge in a flow of learning moments, developing a healthy tug of war between that original center of the world from whence we come and the new center being experienced.”
Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a green banana or two along the way?
You can read Donald Batchelder’s “The Green Banana” here: http://suzy-friendship.blogspot.com/2010/09/green-banana-donald-batchelder.html