Family is Everything

How often do you drop everything to have three hour meals with your family? What age were you (or will you be) “kicked” out of your parent’s house? Do you always hug and kiss your family when you first walk in the door and when you’re about to leave?

I have been blessed to have grown up in a family that values one another and time spent together, and has positive relationships with extended family. I grew up having family dinners after school, going to church together, going on family vacations, working together around the house, and celebrating all holidays and birthdays with both immediate and extended family. What I thought was a lot of family time, is nothing in comparison to the time that Ecuadorians dedicate to family.

My family never spends three hours eating one meal… not even on Thanksgiving or Christmas! Sure we have gatherings in which we spend quality time together for hours, but it is often focused on other activities. In Ecuador, it is normal on the weekends to have meals with extended family that have no schedule but typically are all afternoon or all night events. This is a weekly custom, not a holiday event.

I am learning that while in my West-Michigan culture family is valued, as it is in Ecuador, the dynamics within the family are very different. The issue of machismo is very prevalent throughout Latin America and is evident in the family dynamics in Ecuador, for example. The purpose of the wife or mother in the home is to work in the house so that the man of the house can rest. It is frowned upon for a man to be helping with cleaning in the home or doing laundry or cooking. Because of this reality, many women either are unemployed to work in the house, or the families hire a family employee to help fulfill this role. Often in the United States, we think of people who have help in their home to be upper class individuals but in Ecuador it is more weird if the family doesn’t have someone helping in their home. Finances are not a factor in the equation.

Growing up in my home, Saturday mornings were dedicated to “job lists.” Given the fact that my siblings and I always dreaded them, I realize how important this aspect is in being part of a family. In Ecuador, all of the household chores are for the wife/ mother/ maid to take care of so that the man of the home and the children can rest. If you are a working man, earning money is your only responsibility. If you are a child in a family that has given you the opportunity to study, your only responsibility is to study. Children and young adults in Ecuador do not learn how to work or save money, and this becomes problematic when they themselves get married and move out. (A quick side note on when “kids” move out of their parents home in Ecuador: it is normal for kids in their upper 20’s up until 30 to be living with their parents). They move from a world where everything was given to them, literally everything, to a world where they are on their own without any phase of transition. I was talking with a woman yesterday who was talking about this issue who told me that this is a problem because she got married at age 30 and had no idea how to do a load of laundry, clean, or cook anything. My parents have always helped and supported me and my brothers tremendously, but they also taught us to be responsible by giving us specific responsibilities that had to be carried out from a young age. Wow, am I so thankful for that now!

Hellos and goodbyes are also of incredible importance in Ecuador. This goes for family especially, but really applies to every aspect of the culture. One cannot enter or leave the house without saying hello to everyone and giving them a hug with a kiss on the cheek– it would be considered very rude. This same custom is important with friends and anyone you meet. The first day I got to school I was so thrown off by everyone greeting everyone, (including professors). The first time one of my professors greeted me, I was so thrown off by what was happening and I felt like a rude gringa. I greet my friends and family at home, but not so formally. Physical contact is also not always required when meeting up with friends and family at home, but in Ecuador they explain that they are very affectionate.

It has been very interesting to learn and experience these different cultural dynamics within family. I have learned about the aspects that could benefit the family culture of the United States, but also some of the difficult cultural realities that Ecuador faces within familial roles.

Lili & Edwin

This week I began my service learning placement in a small town called Lumbísi. This small village is only about 15 minutes from where I live and here I met two shining lights for Jesus! I am serving in a business run out of the home of an indigenous family. They work in agriculture, off of the land that they have inherited from their family to produce Chocho (a locally grown healthy protein) and a large variety of fruits and vegetables.

Tuesday was my first day. After meeting the couple and getting to know a bit of their story, I worked with Lili to harvest avocados for this week’s sales. As we were harvesting we got to know each other a little bit and she was glowing the entire time. She played worship music and spoke truth over me as we were in the garden… it was exactly what I needed.

Before Tuesday, I hadn’t met any Ecuadorians who were Christians. There are many Catholics here, few Christians, and many who don’t practice any sort of religion. I quickly found out that Lili and Edwin, the sweet couple I have the opportunity to learn from, were hurting from these facts as well. They choose to live out their faith daily around people who don’t appreciate it. They choose to live their lives following God’s Word, despite their community’s rejection. They choose to live out their faith, knowing that God has a purpose for them exactly where they are at.

Thursday was day two at my placement site. We spent three and a half hours sorting through the chocho, (see attached picture), to make sure that all the broken and impure chochos were taken out. Though this task was long and monotonous, I loved it! We just sat and talked for the duration of these three and a half hours, sharing about our lives and listening to worship music. The couple was elated that I was there to help them make this process, that takes them at least 6 hours together, take 3.5 hours instead! It is amazing how even the simplest things can bring so much joy and how much you can learn by simply taking the time to talk with people.

I know that I needed this time with Lili and Edwin this week, and it feels good to know how appreciative they were of my presence as well! Knowing that I get to spend my Tuesday and Thursday afternoons with people who love Jesus, care about people, and are passionate about healthy living gives me feelings of joy and hope for what this semester will bring. I am ready to cultivate the harvest the Lord has abundantly set before me this semester!

Oh right… you’re going to school there too

“How’s it going so far? I bet you’re having so much fun!” This is the content of nearly every message I’ve received over the past two weeks. While there is nothing wrong with this and I actually do appreciate the messages, I have to be honest in saying that I am not quite sure what to say.

In preparation to go abroad, I attended the mandatory orientation session given by the Center for Global Engagement at Hope. We were told that some of the things that students experience when they go abroad is difficulty in explaining how they are feeling because no one back home can really comprehend what you are experiencing. Another was that we would likely feel extreme emotions of lifetime highs and lows. Over these past two weeks, I can already say that this is so true. I have had some of the most incredible experiences in this short time already, but also have struggled with doubt and confusion.

Week two presented a new university, classes, professors, language, friends, culture. This too, was pretty overwhelming as the first week was for me, yet I loved it at the same time. The days I spent trying to picture what my school would be like when I came to Ecuador were finally given an illustration! The university campus is beautiful, the professors are very kind and patient, and the classes will challenge me. However, the best of all perks is that the university never has classes on Friday, making traveling on the weekends more of a reality!

It has been a frustrating and mentally defeating week as well. Each day this week I have had to change my class schedule at least one time, in attempt to figure out what will count for credits when I return. I spent this past fall detailing which classes I would take and emailing professors at Hope to get them all approved before I left. When I arrived and my program directors looked at my schedule, they told me that it was going to be way too hard. I was frustrated that they couldn’t have provided us with further information before we arrived, because I was not about to take a semester’s worth of classes that didn’t count for anything. After a lot more emailing and exploring every class that the university is offering this fall, I am getting close to having my full schedule set.

My mom said it best this week when she texted me,

“I’ve been thinking and praying about this and how these alterations, roadblocks, and detours cause you stress and make you doubt your choices, the things that you are doing, and make you wonder if it’s the right thing. Maybe this is a really simplistic view, but God knew that having everything approved beforehand would be your “confirmation/green light” to go [study abroad]. He may have specifically crafted that plan to you… yet when arriving in Ecuador, He has different plans and experiences for you. He is going to figure out a way for you to be in His plan, not yours. I know its hard and things going according to plan give us security and peace. God is going to use this experience to teach you a lot of things… not just school related. Being able to rest with the ups and downs and trust God is going to be vital to your experiences in life. Remember what I said to you as you left, even if things are not going according to how you thought they would or should, trust God… He will bring it all around for His good. His plans are for you, not against you!”

Here’s to a semester of taking the experiences that I am given as they come, growing through both the highs and lows, and believing that it is well no matter what!

Love from Quito,

Morgan

¡Bienvenidos a Quito!

Welcome to the land where mountains surround, altitude sickness occurs, hectic traffic and crazy drivers rule the roads, and where people are relational above all things! I left my cozy small town of Zeeland, MI, Monday morning to arrive in the large foreign city of Quito, Ecuador, for the semester. Yes, for the semester… I am still trying to convince myself of this even as I am here.

I arrived late Monday night and met my fellow international students through IES on Tuesday. Together we were given a tour of old town Quito, Iglesia compañia de Jesús, Iglesia San Francisco, and Basilica del Voto National (pictures attached, see google for more!). These churches are incredible in the nature of their architecture that reveals the religious and political history of Quito. Wednesday through Friday this week were consumed with full days of orientation to learn about rules, safety, academics, culture, and tourism of Ecuador. While the information was helpful and needed, they were very long days.

Luckily, we were rewarded after a long week with a group excursion on Saturday to the Otavalo market that is famously run by the indigenous Andean people selling anything and everything handmade in hundreds of tents in the street. On our way we stopped for a typical Ecuadorian breakfast of bizcochos with coffee or tea at a small restaurant with a view of Cayambe Volcano. We also did a short hike on our way to the market to Cascada de Peguche, a beautiful waterfall, where we got to slightly test our lungs in the altitude. After a time of much fun and buying all things alpaca at the market, we went to Laguna Cayapas Cuichocha. This lagoon is in the crater of Cuichocha Volcano, which we later found out is active and the fourth most dangerous in Latin America. We took a boat around the lagoon in the crater to see the bubbling volcanic gasses being admitted to the surface of the water; it was beautiful!

Despite the excitement of being in a new country, being able to travel, and seeking out new opportunities in language, academics, and culture, I have struggled this week with feeling overwhelmed. Jumping into a new lifestyle is not easy for me and we had so much information thrown into our brains that is so foreign in just a few days of being here. I’m struggling with the idea that the middle of May feels so far away, yet I know that I will regret saying that by the time May comes around. Ecuador is a country that has so much to offer, I just need to learn how to live into the person I was created to be in a new place, with new people, and with new opportunities.

¡Hasta pronto!

Morgan

 

(click on first photo to view as slideshow!)

Chiloe Made Me Fall in Love with Nature

Before you begin reading, I invite you watch this video first. It better explains the title than what I have written below. I always say that a video speaks a million words. I must say that I have always appreciated nature but never was really enchanted as I was by it when I filmed this video. Enjoy.

So, it’s been about a few months since I was able to to visit one of Chile’s most scenic places, Chiloe Island. The farthest I have ever been from the hustle and bustle of Santiago where I am living. It doesn’t get any better than the tranquility of only being able to hear my breath in the silence of the shores of the island or even to appreciate the unhindered sun rays penetrating through the thickets of green on afternoon hikes on its moderate hills. Prolonged hours of walking and trekking forgiven by the scenery that it all provided. My filmer-self wanted to capture everything and was frustrated that even what I caught didn’t capture the fullness of what I experienced. But I had to try to film what I could up until I got overwhelmed by it all, put my camera away and just took it all in. Somethings, however, I had to film. Like watching waters by our hotel ripple right under the dock taking the breath away from my friends was a shot that I couldn’t miss.

My filmer-self wanted to capture everything..up until I got overwhelmed by it all, put my camera away and just took it all in. 

Or the wandering cat in the forest that became our ambivalent companion our trek. Or the horses on the plains that seemed overly indifferent to our presence than they were focused on their grassy lunch. Or even just the creativity that seven dandelions, a sandy cliff, and a still puddle of the Pacific’s water can inspire. What did we learn from running around Chiloe’s shores? That nature provides us with flowery diadems, earthy mattresses, and water playgrounds. But how could I have not seen this before? Has the life of a busy college student killed the childlike spirit within me that I have forgotten what it is like to be a child? To explore? To question? To play? Questions like these began flooding in my head as I experience this all and with another one being “Where can I go to experience this again?”

“Nature provides us with flowery diadems, earthy mattresses, and water playgrounds.”

I wanted more. It was certainly something that I would make sure that I would dedicate more of my time to in my stay in Santiago be it hiking the cordillera or exploring the areas most untouched by the metropolitan influence in the country. My next stop, I decided, was San Pedro de Atacama. With only 20 days left until I visit the world’s driest desert where the stars are so large and clear that they almost seem reachable. I only hope that when I visit that I take in the experience for what it is and not for what it could be like in my next Instagram post or documentary. But I admit, that will be difficult for me to do.

“Ser sólo con la tierra, vivir en consecuencia con la tierra solo como hermano” / “Be with the earth, live accordingly with her, like siblings”

Below are some small videobits and photos that were left out of the montage above. It will say each video is 0:00 but you will have to press play until the white bar goes all the way through and it will play.

Resorts, Rest, and Realizations

After all of the adventures that I’ve been on this semester, from snorkeling with sharks to hiking a volcano to bungee jumping, it was okay with me this weekend when we decided to take a break and have a relaxing getaway. This weekend we went to a town called Papallacta which is located in the mountains east of Quito. We only stayed for one night and that was just enough time for me.

We stayed at a hot springs resort and it was probably one of the coolest resorts I’ve ever been to. The resort has tons of hot springs everywhere for you to try out the different temperatures and what not and all of them have incredible views of the mountains. We stayed in cabins which was a fun change from hostels and we had hot springs right outside our door.

Pretty much the whole time we were there I just relaxed in the pools with my friends, having good conversations and forgetting about all of the essays that we had waiting for us in Quito.

Before leaving the resort to head back to the city, a few of us decided to stay a bit longer and do a hike in Parque Nacional Cayambe-Coca. This hike was one of my favorites because it was easy and had amazing views of the mountains around us. We would walk through segments of a forest, crossing bridges over a river while inside the trees, and would come out into the presence of the green mountains that surrounded it all. Truly beautiful in every way.

 

Eventually we left to get back to the city in the most Ecuadorian fashion: waiting on the side of the road until a bus would hopefully come by. Don’t worry, we only had to wait about ten minutes before one stopped for us. It was a quick trip away but one that was necessary and that brought just enough rest for the upcoming week.

As I looked back on my photos from the weekend I was really struck by the mountains and began thinking about this theme of mountains in my semester. I have faced a lot of mountains this semester, literally and figuratively. Here’s the thing about them: mountains are rarely easy to climb. You feel weak and inadequate and want to give up. However as this semester has gone on I have become less intimidated by mountains and the challenges they bring because I have experienced undeserved grace and constant faithfulness in the most difficult climbs. The struggles are real and that is okay. Struggles are a part of life. But there is joy that comes when the thing that once made us weak is overcome.

 

Galápagos Getaway

The trip that we’d been waiting for all semester finally came this past weekend and oh was it even more incredible than I could’ve imagined. We went on our second and final IES sponsored excursion and this time it was to the Galápagos Islands. Yes, THE Galápagos Islands, complete with crystal clear water, giant tortoises, and the purest beaches. We packed a ton of different activities into our four days there, so for this post I’m just going to share some of my favorite parts.

First, here’s a bit of basic info about the trip: we left early on Thursday morning, flew to an island called Baltra, took a 10 minute ferry ride to an island called Santa Cruz and stayed there until Friday morning. On Friday we took a 2 hour boat ride to the island of San Cristóbal, where we stayed until Sunday.

Now for my personal highlights!

  • Boat tours

Something to know about me is that I LOVE, and I mean really love, boat rides. I have been blessed with the gift of never getting seasick which makes the whole boating experience way more enjoyable for me. This weekend was filled with boat rides so I was pretty content the whole time. Like I mentioned before, we took a 2 hour ride to get from one island to the other. I listened to music, continually reminded myself of where I was and how cool that was, and even got to drive the boat at one point (let’s just say I didn’t find my calling with that experience). We also took boat tours on Friday and Saturday in San Cristóbal. My favorite tour was on Saturday when we were on a boat from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (with some breaks on the beach and in the water) and we circled the entire island.

  • Snorkeling

Another pretty sweet thing that we got to do was snorkeling. We went snorkeling in three different spots, each bringing something special. The first time we went snorkeling we swam at a small island called Isla Lobos and swam right next to sea lions (sea lions are everywhere in the Galápagos by the way). The second time we snorkeled at a rock formation called León Dormido and we went through a cavelike structure where sharks swam beneath us. Our guide said they were vegetarian but I don’t know how much I give in to that…nonetheless the initial fear turned into awe. Finally, we snorkeled in a lagoon with more sharks, sea lions, giant sea turtles, and sting rays. Snorkeling kind of weirded me out at first because I’m not the biggest animal lover, but it’s actually such a cool experience and one that I highly recommend to all.

 

  • Exotic animals

As I just said, I am not a huge fan of animals. They kind of freak me out to be honest, but I don’t think you can go to the Galápagos without enjoying the exotic animals there. The sea lions were hilarious because while they are truly graceful animals in the water, on land they are the strangest creatures. They just flop around, sometimes pretty quickly, and make the ugliest noises. Think of a man vomiting and that sums it up. At night, hundreds of sea lions would come onto the beach near our hotel and would just flop around on each other and yell. I hated it but was so amused all at once. We also took a tour at a ranch where we saw the infamous giant tortoises. They really are giant, everyone. Aside from that and from the sharks, sting rays, and sea turtles, we also swam with numerous tropical fish and saw native birds. I still wouldn’t call myself an animal lover, but maybe I’m a bit more intrigued now.

 

  • Beaches

The beaches there…oh man. We went to small beaches where nobody else was which made the experience more special for our group. The sand was the softest I’ve ever felt, the water incredibly blue, and the views were beautiful. It was nice to have breaks from the boat and get to just relax on different beaches together. The beaches there are well taken care of and are so pure. My expectations for beaches are probably way to high now.

 

Overall, it was the trip of a lifetime. I admire the work that is put into keeping the islands clean and natural. Imagine if every beach was that pure and every body of water was the bluest of blues. What a world it would be. Get to the Galápagos if you get the chance because it’s amazing!

Since the beginning of the semester I’ve said that once the Galápagos trip is over the semester is going to close quickly. So here I am. The trip is done and I have less than a month left. Oh my goodness, how I’m at this point in the semester I don’t know, but there are still four weeks of adventures to be had and lessons to be learned. Happy last month to my IES amigos, let’s make it count.

Back to the Beginning

Wow. That’s the word that keeps filling my thoughts. Wow. Wow. Wow. This past week has consisted of a lot of reflection. I’ve reflected on my time here, how my life is going to transition soon into life at camp, and how I have been impacted/changed by Ecuador. At one point I was talking to my friend Emily about how awesome (literally I am overwhelmed in awe) it is that I have gotten the opportunity to come back to Ecuador.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention before that this isn’t actually the beginning of my journey in Ecuador. That story began five years ago when I came here on a mission trip with my home church. My church has a relationship with a camp/retreat center called Hacienda El Refugio in a rural town called Calacalí and each year my church goes to serve them. It was an incredible two week experience and one that has been so valuable in my life. Honestly, like I’ve said before, I never imagined that I’d be studying abroad in Ecuador. I saw Ecuador as a place to do missions, not to live in for a significant amount of time. But here I am.

So how the heck did I end up in Ecuador again? For my whole freshman and sophomore years of college I was set on studying abroad in Chile. I don’t really know why, it seemed cool and adventurous and different. I was excited about it and didn’t really consider doing anything else. The program would run from the end of February to the beginning of July of my junior year, so I knew that the summer I’d be spending at camp before junior year would be my last one there. I thought I was fine with that, but apparently not.

It was about halfway through the summer when I was hit with this heavy feeling that I was not supposed to be done at camp just yet. I felt like I was supposed to go back the next summer, meaning that I wouldn’t be able to go to Chile with their schedule. So I started looking into other programs in South America and Ecuador was the best option. That pretty much sums up how I got here, and there’s the first wow moment: I have been blessed to come back to a place that was so influential in my life years ago.

I have been very aware the last few days of how incredible it is that God had called me back here even when I didn’t understand why. I have learned more than I can express since being here and I’ve experienced life in a way that I couldn’t in the U.S.

Here’s the next wow moment that I had this week: I went to a church on Sunday morning and the congregation was filled with people from all over the world. Very cool. A pastor started talking about announcements and mentioned their young adults group. He then said that they would be going on a retreat in May. This next part really threw me. He said that they would be going to Calacalí for a retreat at Hacienda El Refugio. Wow.

I didn’t think that I would ever have the chance to go back there. This place that had been the start of my story with Ecuador that sticks out in my mind as a highly important part of my faith walk came into my life again through this random church that I decided to check out. So I asked the pastor about it at the end and I think that I’ll be going on that retreat. I get to go back to El Refugio and I get to go on a retreat, which I haven’t done since high school, so I’m pretty psyched.

I can’t even explain how I fully feel though. The odds that I would be able to go back to this tiny camp in Ecuador five years after I originally went were pretty low I thought. But God has yet again shown up and has chosen to bless me with the chance to return to the place where I learned to serve. To the place where I began a friendship with one of my best friends (shoutout to you, Soph). I was baptized on that trip. My faith grew into my own through my experiences in those two weeks. That trip was truly life changing for me and I can’t wait to celebrate all that the Lord has done in my life since that trip when I go back.

The service ended by singing the song “10,000 Reasons”, a song I haven’t heard in a long time, but it was absolutely perfect in that moment. The words say, “For all Your goodness I will keep on singing, 10,000 reasons for my heart to find”. In that service I had certainly seen His goodness yet again and I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

So there you have it. Sorry for the long post, but I’ve learned this past year that our stories are important to share. Our stories are just that, ours. My story is different than yours and that is pretty neat. God has written Ecuador into my story more than once and I am more excited now than ever to see where He leads me in this next chapter of life. Basically, God is good and aw man am I thankful for this week of wow moments.

 

Soaking It In

As of today I only have 6 weeks left here. That’s a pretty crazy thing to think about. I’ve known that I wanted to study abroad since I was in high school and to think that’s it’s coming to a close very quickly, well that’s just a strange thought. This incredible, wild, eye opening experience is going to wind down soon and I don’t know how to feel about it. Luckily I still have 6 weeks to enjoy this country and to continue to learn as much as I can from every encounter with the people and culture. So here’s to 6 more weeks of living an Ecuadorian life!

This weekend my friends and I headed to the coast. This time we went to a town called Puerto López that is about 8 hours away by bus. The first day we pretty much just hung out at the beach (in the shade of course because last time we went to the beach we learned our lesson about sunburns…), ate good food, and swam in the Pacific. It was nice to relax and get away from life in the city.

The next day we went to an island called Isla de la Plata. We took an hour long boat ride to the island and then went on a two hour hike. The hike wasn’t difficult, however I do think that I sweat more on that hike than I ever have in my whole life. The sun in Ecuador is no joke. On the hike we saw a few different types of birds, tropical flowers, and amazing views of the clear blue ocean. It was truly paradise. After the hike we got back on the boat to go snorkeling. The only other time I had snorkeled was in the glorious Geneva Lake in Wisconsin, which I don’t know if it counts because you can’t see a thing in that lake. Snorkeling here was way better (sorry Wisconsin). The water was so blue, tropical fish swam right next to me, and we were right above a coral reef which was pretty cool. After a while we got back in the boat to head back to Puerto López. The rest of the night was spent getting dinner, enjoying the beach a bit more, and hanging out in the hostel.

 

On our final day we went to a beach that was about 15 minutes away from where we were staying. The beach is called Playa de los Frailes and is located inside a national park. There was barely anybody at the beach which was weird because it was so beautiful. Right away we all ran into the water and some of us were taken aback (literally) more than others. Two of my friends and I got caught where the waves break and may have had an experience doing some somersaults underwater… but we got out just fine and figured out the better places to be in the water. After that we spent so much time jumping over waves and soaking in our last hours in the ocean that we could. We brought our lunches and had a little picnic on the beach, definitely felt like a family vacation. Later in the day we took a walk along the shore and climbed around on some rock formations at the end of the beach. Eventually we had to leave the beach to get back to town and grab dinner before going back to Quito on a night bus.

 

 

Overall it was such a fun weekend that was filled with equal parts adventure and relaxation. I’m not much of a beach person, honestly I’d rather be exploring a city or doing more hiking, but the beach was a nice break and being in the sun was incredibly good (I did get sunburnt again F.Y.I., but I can only reapply sunscreen so many times, ya know?). I love these weekends that we have to travel and experience different parts of the country. It’s definitely one of the best parts about being in Ecuador.

Soon I’ll be going to the Galapagos Islands which I’m psyched for and I can’t wait for all that the island has to offer. This weekend I’ll be in Quito and as of right now I don’t really have a ton of plans, which is kind of refreshing. Study abroad has been packed with traveling and activities (that I love), but it will be good to slow down and to not feel obligated to be somewhere or to fill my time. I can rest and enjoy a weekend in my city. 6 weeks left? Time to soak it all in.

Volcano Views, BBQs, & Fútbol Blues

Not going to lie, I think that this has been the busiest week I’ve had so far this semester. I’m in the midst of papers and presentations while still trying to enjoy new experiences. It’s definitely preferable to not have a ton to do, but that’s what study abroad means: doing school work while taking on a new culture and new adventures. It’s a bit stressful right now, but it’s still great, don’t worry.

This past weekend was pretty packed with activities. It began on Thursday night when a few friends and I went to a food truck garden (super cool, has Grand Rapids vibes) to watch a soccer game. Soccer, or rather “fútbol” is a huge part of the culture here. Everyone LOVES fútbol and has great pride for the Ecuadorian team. We watched Ecuador vs. Paraguay and unfortunately we lost, but it was still a fun time getting to see a part of the culture that brings everyone together.

On Friday a group of us decided to hike Cotopaxi, an active volcano located about two hours south of Quito. We were all pretty excited because we heard that there would be snow, a rare thing here. In the Midwest, I know snow is the last thing you want more of, but I was looking forward to it because it’s a little piece of home I guess. When we finally arrived, the volcano was hidden in fog. I could barely see the people walking in front of me. Also, this hike was the hardest hike I’ve done so far. It was a straight incline the whole time, but luckily it took less than an hour to get to the top. The top really meant a refuge about halfway up the volcano because the rest of the volcano is closed to hikers (it’s pretty dangerous past that point.) Halfway through the hike it began hailing. It was kind of painful to be honest, but when we finally reached the top the views were beautiful. It was snowing at the top and oh man, I was filled with joy. On our way down it snowed the whole way and we even stopped for a little while to have a snowball fight. A snowball fight in Ecuador on an active volcano? Madness. Cotopaxi has probably been one of my favorite adventures so far.

On Saturday we had a field trip to two cathedrals in the historical center. First we went to La Basílica del Voto Nacional. We had visited this church during orientation, but this time we got to climb to the top of the cathedral. We climbed up ladders to get to the top of the towers, which provided incredible views of the whole city. On top of that, the weather was perfect. No rain (a miracle in Quito), the sky was so blue, and the sun was shining. After that, we went to La Compañía de Jesús, a cathedral that is covered in gold on the inside. Overall, it was great morning doing some sightseeing in Quito.

In the afternoon, my friend Adrien invited us over to his host family’s “quinta”, there second home out in the country. It was more like an estate owned by the whole extended family, including houses, a soccer field, a playground, and they even own a few horses there. We barbecued for lunch and dinner which was another thing that felt like home. We ate a ton of meat, listened to music, talked about life, and forgot for a few hours that we were in Ecuador. Life felt very normal and familiar there. The barbecue was just what I needed at this point in the semester. It was a day to slow down and to just enjoy the company of good friends. It also didn’t hurt that we were eating food other than chicken and rice.

Sunday was dedicated to homework and was nothing too exciting, but I needed to use that day to prepare for the rest of the week. On Tuesday I actually went to an Ecuadorian soccer game. We bought tickets for this game months ago and were told it was going to be crazy because it was Ecuador vs. Colombia (they aren’t the biggest fans of each other…). Oh, and it was also a qualifier game for the World Cup in Russia 2018. It was crazy indeed. We ended up having seats that were surrounded by Colombians for the most part. Everyone was cheering the whole game and energy was definitely high. Unfortunately, Ecuador lost… but it was still a very cool cultural experience!

P.S. While we were trying to find our way into the stadium, a news station interviewed my friends and I! It was hilarious…So now Ecuador knows my name, that I’m from the U.S., and that I definitely thought that Ecuador was going to win (sigh).

So now I have to crack down on my homework because this weekend I’m heading to the coast! I’ll be visiting a beach town called Puerto Lopez and I’m very ready for a weekend of relaxation. Chau for now!